A tremendous dive

StPaul ElGreco

El Greco: St Paul. By Remiel at en.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

It is not beyond possibility that John, author of the Fourth Gospel, found it hard to lay down his pen and finish the record of the life and teaching of Jesus. There is so much to tell, he claims, the world would not hold all the books that could be written. Many books have been written and many words spoken since John’s day, and it is likely that many more will follow.

The subject is inexhaustible. We can never stop trying to understand Jesus more fully. C.S. Lewis described the coming of Jesus to our planet to share our life as that most tremendous dive – another way of saying what Paul says in his Letter to the Church at Philippi (2: 6-7):

…who, being in the form of God, counted it not a prize to be on an equality with God. But emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men. (RV).

It might help get to the heart of this great text with a glimpse at the way some other translations are given:

He always had the nature of God, but he did not think that by force he should try to remain equal with God. He became like a human being and appeared in human likeness. (GNB).

When the time came he (Jesus) set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became a slave. (The Message).

Time and again, the New Testament portrays the supreme humility of Jesus. It begins, in the words of Martin Luther, with “a new born babe of lowly birth.” It is there when Jesus comes to John the Baptist to be baptized, identifying in the baptism of repentance with sinners. It shines through the handling of the devil in the wilderness of temptation. Instead of trying to impress by doing the spectacular thing and turning the glare of the spotlight on himself, he refuses absolutely to entertain the idea of gaining the reputation of having in his possession a box load of conjuring tricks. He turns his back upon Satan and chooses a way that leads to a cross. Between those points the gospels tell of a ministry in small things, like giving the cup of cold water, caring for people such as the elderly and the vulnerable: the unglamorous, humble, mundane, simple act.

In this record of Paul’s correspondence with the church at Philippi, he tells of Jesus humbling himself, taking on the mantle of a servant and becoming obedient to death: the death of a cross. Two of the outstanding characteristics of Christ’s life were obedience and self-renunciation. He had no wish to boss people, only to come to their aid. He did not set out to get his own way, he sought and followed in God’s way. He was never a prisoner to pride, He was quite prepared to renounce any of the glory that might be His, the Son of God. It becomes clear in our reading of the gospels that it is those who humble themselves who will be exalted. Apply this to ourselves and the ironic thing is – if we are tempted to see ourselves at the top of the league in respect of our own perceived humility, we probably do not have it to boast about anyway! Like the obnoxious character who played the part of the archdeacon in the TV programme Rev whose testimony, his boast, was “I am the best of the best at humility” (or words to that effect). He was utterly deluded!

If Jesus humbled himself, and humility, obedience and self-renunciation became the hallmarks of his life, they also must feature in the lives of you and me and all who follow Him. It is not easy being Christian!


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