The Humiliation of Christ

Catechetical sermons preached in PCC Evening Worship Services, Feb 2013 to Dec 2017

WSC 27 of 107

5 Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: 7 But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: 8 And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.

Philippians 2:5-8

WSC 27. Wherein did Christ’s humiliation consist? 

A. Christ’s humiliation consisted in His being born, and that in a low condition,1 made under the law,2 undergoing the miseries of this life,3 the wrath of God,4 and the cursed death of the cross;5 in being buried,6 and continuing under the power of death for a time.7   

1Lk 2:7; 2Gal 4:4; 3Heb 12:2–3; Isa 53:2–3; 4Lk 22:44; Mt 27:46; 5Phil 2:8; 61 Cor 15:3–4; 7Acts 2:24–27, 31.

We have been considering the various offices of Christ our Redeemer. We have examined how Christ is our Prophet, Priest and King.  

In this message, the Lord helping us, we want to consider what our Catechism refers to as the humiliation of Christ. “Christ, as our Redeemer,” we are told in WSC 23, “executeth the offices of a prophet, of a priest, and of a king, both in his estate of humiliation and exaltation.” 

What does humiliation mean? Humiliation refers to the process of humbling, or the steps of descent from a high place to a low place. 

Now, Christ, the son of God, came to suffer and die for His people. Therefore, it is not surprising that His humiliation is mentioned in many passages in Scripture. However, the most classic text on the humiliation of Christ is, no doubt, found in Philippians 2:5-8: 

“Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: 7 But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: 8 And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” 

Now, the context of these words is instructive. There is some disharmony in the church at Philippi. A glaring example is hinted at in chapter 4, where Paul directly and explicitly exhorts two women by name to “be of the same mind in the Lord.”  

But here, in chapter 2, Paul is addressing the issue indirectly. He reminds the congregation to esteem each other better than themselves and to mind the interests of others and not only their own (v. 1-4). It is to drive home the application that he turns our eyes to Christ, our Lord and Saviour. In Christ, we have the supreme example of laying down one’s life for others. 

And so it is in the context of an intensely practical appeal that the church is gifted with the most beautiful description of the humiliation and exaltation of Christ Jesus. 

For our purpose today, the Lord helping us, we want to consider as part of our series on what we believe as a church, what is the humiliation of Christ. Our Shorter Catechism (Q. 27) teaches us that:  

Christ’s humiliation consists in His being born, and that in a low condition, made under the law, undergoing the miseries of this life, the wrath of God, and the cursed death of the cross; in being buried, and continuing under the power of death for a time. 

Let’s consider how this doctrine is taught in our inspired text. We may do so under three heads: (1) Christ Is Very God; (2) He Emptied Himself; and (3) He Humbled Himself. 

1. Christ Is Very God 

5Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God.

a. Make no mistake, “in the form of God” does not mean “in the shape or image of God.” No, no; what Paul means is that Christ is, in His very nature, God.  

You see, there are two words in Greek which are sometimes thought to be synonymous. One word is morphē (μορφή), and the other is schēma (σχῆμα). Both of these words are used in this passage, suggesting that they are not synonymous. Paul tells us that Christ exists in the morphē of God in verse 5. The word schēma is used in verse 8, “and being found in fashion as a man.”  

What is the difference between these two words? The difference is that morphē speaks of intrinsic nature, whereas schēma speaks of external appearance. Now the English words that develop from these two words tell a story.  

When we talk about the schema of something, what are we saying? We are talking about the plan or outline or structure of the thing.  

But when we talk about metamorphosis, which is derived from the word morphē, what are we talking about? We are talking about transformation from within. When we say that a caterpillar has metamorphosed into a butterfly, we mean that it is completely transformed from within. 

Look at another instance where derivatives of the two words are used. Turn to Romans 12:2—“And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” 

The word rendered ‘conformed’ (συσχηματίζω, suschēmatizō) is derived from the word schēma. Whereas the word ‘transformed’ is derived from the word morphē. It is equivalent to the English “metamorphose.” Paul is saying that you must not imitate the outward fashion and behaviour of the world. Instead, you must be metamorphosised. You must be changed from within by the renewing of your minds. 

It is clear, isn’t it? When Paul tells us that Christ is in the form of God, he is saying that Christ is, in His very essence God. 

b. Secondly, we should note that there is something about how Paul writes this verse which is very striking. You see, there are various tenses in Greek. There is the Present tense, which is a continuous tense, and the Aorist tense, which is a past tense in most cases. Now, throughout this passage, Paul uses the Aorist tense, except for one statement: “Who being in the form of God.” Here Paul uses the Present tense! 

Why? Because it would be wrong to use the Aorist tense here, for it would suggest that Christ is no longer God! 

But Christ was God and remains in very nature, God! In other words, Christ has always been and will always be God. The apostle John teaches us: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (Jn 1:1-3). Christ is unchanging. “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever” (Heb 13:8). 

The Lord Jesus Christ is not a created being. He has always been and will always be the second person of the Triune God. He is a divine person, not a mere human person. He has been and will always be the same in substance, equal in power and glory with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Paul teaches us in his letter to the Colossians: that Christ “is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature” and “in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily” (Col 1:15, 2:9). Christ is no created being as cults such as Jehovah Witnesses and Mormons teach. He is very God himself. He has no beginning and no end. He is infinite, eternal and unchangeable. What a great privilege it is for mere creatures like us to know Him and to be known by Him. 

c. Thirdly, what does it mean when Paul tells us that the Lord Jesus “thought it not robbery to be equal with God.” How could equality be robbed? And if Christ is already the same in substance, equal in power and glory with the Father from all eternity, how could it be said that His possession of equality with the Father is robbery?  

Now, the obscurity vanishes once we realise that the word rendered ‘robbery’ can also be translated as “grasped” or “held on tightly to.” Paul is saying that the Lord did not consider His existence in the form of God something to hold so tightly to, for He was willing to empty himself for the sake of the church. Elsewhere Paul teaches us: “Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich” (2 Cor 8:9).  

So we see that according to our text, Christ is, in very nature, God. It is quite impossible to read Paul as saying otherwise. A threefold cord is not easily broken. 

We are nothing, have nothing and deserve nothing. But Christ is very God, Creator of heaven and earth, governor of the universe, upholding all things by the word of His power. He has every right to hold on tightly to His glorious heavenly existence. In fact, it defies logic and sense for Him to want to give up His equality-to-God existence. But for our sakes, dearly beloved, He condescended, from His infinitely exalted state, to humble himself for our sakes. For see secondly, how He emptied himself. 

2. He Emptied Himself 

7 But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men.

The phrase “made himself of no reputation” is simply two words in Greek (ἑαυτὸν ἐκένωσεν, heauton ekenōsen) which may be rendered “emptied himself.” Now the question is: What did Christ empty himself of? There have been many theories concerning what the Lord emptied Himself of.  

Some say that He emptied Himself of His divine nature or exchanged the form of God for the form of a servant. In his famous hymn, “And Can it Be?” Charles Wesley says that Christ emptied himself of all but love. But if that is the case, how could He, as a mere man, have bled for Adam’s helpless race? Whatever poetic license may be appealed to, it is no wonder that Arminian theology requires helpless fallen men to contribute to their salvation. 

Any suggestion that Christ emptied himself of His divinity or divine attributes would limit the value of His suffering and death. And not only that, but the fact that Paul uses the present tense to speak about Christ existing in the form of God suggests He did not give up His divinity in any way.  

Then, some say Christ gave up the independent use of His divine attributes. Jesus had to ask for all He needed in prayer, they say. This may seem to explain some passages which suggest an apparent ignorance of the Lord or certain future events. But what about the times when the Lord commanded the storm to cease? What about the time when He commanded Lazarus to rise from the dead? What about the occasions when the Lord knew the thoughts of others? In all these instances and many others, we see the Lord using His sovereign power as God. He could and did exercise His divine power at any time. He did not give up the independent use of His divine attributes, or He would be less than God. 

Christ remained fully God and fully man in His earthly sojourn. He did not exchange His divinity for His humanity. He did not empty anything that belonged to His divinity. No, He took on humanity. He took the form of a servant. 

In other words, Christ emptied himself, essentially, by taking on human nature. We may loosely illustrate our Lord’s emptying of Himself with that of a king of a great nation who wanted to be in touch with the needs of the people and so disguised Himself as an ordinary person to melt into the crowd. The king remains king, but he has voluntarily emptied himself of his palatial glory, riches, and privileges for a season. 

This is how Christ emptied Himself. The only difference is that the king may do so for a season, whereas Christ did so permanently. He would forever be the God-Man.  

Now, especially in His earthly sojourn, His human flesh concealed, as it were, His divinity. Sometimes, His divine nature shone through like light shining through a veil. This happened at the mount of transfiguration. It also happened when He stilled the storm. But through most of His earthly existence, Christ concealed His divinity and suffered as a man. The Son of God became the Son of Man, that the sons of man may become the sons of God. He emptied himself that we may be full. 

Specifically, what did He empty Himself? Three things: (1) His glory; (2) His riches; (3) His privilege as Law-Giver. 

a. First, we can be sure Christ gave up His heavenly glory. Remember how, on the night before the Lord was crucified, He prayed to the Father: 

O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was.

Jn 17:4-5

For all eternity, Christ is the perfectly glorious King of kings. Even the holy seraphim covered their eyes and feet before Him (Is 6:1-3; Jn 12:41) and cried all day and night, “Holy, holy, holy.” But Christ took the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of man. He became “despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Is 53:3a).  

How shall we liken this step of humiliation? I used to think it is like when a handsome prince from a royal palace is sent to work in a smelly pigsty, to live with the pigs, to eat with the pigs and to clean up the mess made by the pig. But even that analogy does not adequately convey the glory which Christ emptied Himself of.  

Christ, our Lord, left heaven’s glory to dwell among sinful men and taste of man’s misery. He did all these for His undeserving children such as us. 

b. Secondly, Christ emptied Himself of His riches. “Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich” (2 Cor 8:9), says Paul.  

We know how poor the Lord was. His earthly parents were so poor that when there was no space in the inn to lodge for the night, they were willing to sleep in the stable, and Christ had to be born on a manger. And when Mary went to the temple for her purification rites after the Lord was born, she was too poor to offer a lamb and had to offer two turtle doves (Lk 2:24).  

As an adult, our Lord was also poor. He said: “The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head” (Mt 8:20). He was so poor he did not have the two drachma to pay the temple tax and had to send Peter fishing to get the coin (Mt 17:27). And he was on many occasions hungry, no doubt. He was so hungry that he looked into a fig tree to see if there were any fruits on it (Mt 21:18-19). 

Can you imagine? The Lord Jesus Christ owns “every beast of the forest … and the cattle upon a thousand hills” (Ps 50:10). He created the world, is the heir of all things, and upholds all things by the world of His power (Heb 1:2-3). Yet He emptied Himself of this richness for our sake so that we may become rich through His poverty. 

c. Thirdly, Christ gave up His favourable relationship to the Law of God. You must remember that in heaven, Christ is king. He is the judge and law-giver. He has no guilt whatsoever. But as Paul says in Galatians 4:  

When the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.

Gal 4:4-5

Though Christ is the giver of the law, He condescended to live under the law. Though He was spotless, He condescended to bear the burden of guilt for the transgression of the law on behalf of His people. “He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him…the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isa 53:4-6). “For He hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Cor 5:21).  

Here then, is how Christ emptied Himself: He took on human nature, forsook His glory and riches, and gave up His privilege to be above the law. He emptied Himself for us, who are His children. 

How sad it is that we who are full on account of Christ’s emptying Himself should be so slow to put Christ and His kingdom first in our lives. How sad it is that we should be so quick to demand our rights and interest, and are so slow to think about the glory of Christ and the interest of those for whom Christ laid down His life. 

And not only did Christ empty Himself, He humbled Himself. 

3. He Humbled Himself 

8 And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.

a. Because of the concealing of the divinity of Christ, He was found in fashion as a man. In other words, He was recognised as a man. He lived as a man. He was in all points tempted like as we are and touched at every point with the feelings of our infirmities, yet without sin (Heb 4:15). 

He went through ordinary birth; He had an ordinary babyhood and childhood. There is a Christmas carol that says: “The little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes…” Well, this carol must be false because the Lord was found in fashion as a man. And babies, in general, cry. So too, must have our Lord. He felt hunger, so He must have cried, except that His crying must have been without sin.  

Now, as babies were wrapped in swaddling clothes, so was our Lord (Lk 2:7). Can you imagine the Lord of the universe condescending to wear nappies and be carried by sinful hands? He humbled Himself. 

As ordinary babies and children grow, so did our Lord. As men are sometimes tired, weary, and sad, so was our Lord. As man rejoices on occasions, so did our Lord. As man hunger and thirst, so did He. As man need to sleep, so he slept soundly too. As man makes a living with some trade, so our Lord worked as a carpenter (Mk 6:3). The Lord Jesus was, in appearance, no different from an ordinary Jewish man in those days. Isaiah prophesied concerning him that: “He hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him” (Is 53:2). In other words, nothing is striking about His appearance.  

b. Not only did Christ appear as a man and lived as a man, but He humbled Himself even further. He willingly went through hardship and suffering and was obedient unto His Father. The apostle to the Hebrews points out to us that Christ’s obedience is part of His humiliation: “Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered” (Heb 5:8). Why? Because He was representing us as the second Adam. The first Adam failed in disobedience. The Second Adam must not only pay for the first Adam’s failures but obey for us so that we may have life.  

For our sakes, He was obedient unto His Father even to the point of death, not just any death, but the cruel death of the Cross. 

c.  The death of the cross was slow and painful. But it was not just that.  It was shameful as well. It was considered so shameful that crucifying a Roman on the cross was forbidden. It was regarded as suitable only for slaves and the worst criminals. You can imagine how Paul, a Roman citizen, must have felt when he wrote, “Even the death of the cross.” Paul knew that even if he were executed, he would not have to be executed in such a shameful manner as his Lord had to endure.  

The Lord of Glory was tied and pushed about like a criminal. He was abused. He was spat at. He was slapped. He was flogged viciously. He was stripped naked. He had a crown of thorns forced down His head. He was made to carry His own cross. And when they had reached Golgotha, He was brutally nailed to the cross. And the cross, with Him hanging on it, was raised and forcibly shoved into the socket on the ground. Oh, what agonising pains our Saviour must have endured! 

As He hung there in pain, naked and thirsty, He was mocked and reviled with all sorts of obscenity and scorn from those crucified with Him and those standing below.  

And not only was He reviled. He was accursed. The Old Testament teaches us: “He that is hanged is accursed of God” (Dt 21:23). Christ humbly went to the cross for us. As Paul teaches us: “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree” (Gal 3:13). Christ was accursed of God.  

Remember how the sun could not shine for three hours? For three hours, all that our Lord saw was the Father’s wrath against Him, for He was bearing the guilt of His people. It is no wonder that at the end of three hours, He cried out, “My God, my God why hast thou forsaken me?” The eternal Son of God forsaken by the Holy Heavenly Father: who can understand the depth of His anguish? But it was in this way that Christ tasted hell for our sakes so we could be delivered from it. And not only so, when all these were done, He cried, “It is finished,” and gave up the ghost. Then He was buried. For three days, the Son of God had His body separated from His soul. For three days, the Son of God suffered the humiliation of death for us. 


Christ, the Son of God, who is God Himself, emptied Himself and humbled Himself for the sake of all He came to represent. Wherein did His humiliation consist? We’ve covered the question in some detail in our exposition. But surely the statement of our Shorter Catechism remains one of the most succinct summaries that is sufficient to touch our souls: 

Christ’s humiliation consisted in His being born, and that in a low condition, made under the law, undergoing the miseries of this life, the wrath of God, and the cursed death of the cross; in being buried, and continuing under the power of death for a time.

WSC 27

What do we say to these things? Well, remember the context of our sermon text. We must remember that The apostle Paul wrote Philippians 2 to call us to cultivate a mind of Christ and emulate His example. What may we learn from the example of Christ?  

Of course, we cannot imitate His redemptive acts. We cannot suffer and die vicariously. Christ alone can satisfy divine justice by paying for the sin of His people. But with God’s help, we can and ought to imitate the spirit or attitude of Christ in His willingness to lay down His life for others. The apostle is teaching us: If Christ so willingly humbled Himself for our sakes even while we were yet sinners, how much more should we be willing to lay down our lives for our brethren whom Christ died for too? 

But more than that, I would ask you: are you willing to lay down your life for Christ? Beloved, we are debtors to Christ for what He has done for us.  

Are you still thinking about yourself, about your comfort, your reputation, your convenience, your enjoyment, your freedom? Are you still captivated by the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life but constantly giving excuses when it comes to your relationship with Christ? Woe are we if, despite knowing how great a price Christ paid for our salvation, we are still cold and hardened toward Christ and towards the things of God.  

It is no wonder that Paul ends his epistle to the Corinthians with an almost exasperated cry: “If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema Maranatha” (1 Cor 16:22).  

—JJ Lim