Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Spirit's Humility toward Sinners

Not only is the Holy Spirit humble toward the Father and the Son, He is humble toward sinners. This humility is not easy for us to see because of our sin.

Polluted Temples

The Holy Spirit dwells in temples. From Scripture, we know of four temples where He dwells. The first is the true tabernacle made without hands in heaven.[1] The second were the tabernacle and temples of Israel.[2] They were earthly shadows and copies of the true tabernacle in heaven, to give us some idea of heavenly realities. The third is the body of Christ.[3] The fourth is the bodies of believers.[4] The first and third are pure. The second and fourth are polluted. They need cleansing.

The tabernacle had a court called the Holy Place, but the priest had to “make atonement for the Holy Place.”[5] It had an altar, but the priest had to “go out to the altar that is before the Lord, and make atonement for it.”[6]

In the same way he sprinkled with the blood both the tent and all the vessels used in worship. Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.[7]

Insensitivity to Sin and Humility

It takes a holy person to feel sin. Sinners cannot feel sin. Our consciences are seared.

Who could see sin in the Holy Place? The Holy Spirit saw it, and commanded that atonement be made for it. Who could see sin in the altar that is before the Lord? The Holy Spirit saw it.

We do not see the pollution of ourselves as a temple unfit for the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit sees it, and yet He comes to dwell within us. Sin makes us insensitive to the humility it takes for that Spirit whose name is Holy to come low and dwell in us.

The Sinfulness of Sin

It is hard for us to see sin for its sinfulness. We see sin as mistakes or weaknesses. We see sin in examples, symptoms, or consequences. It is hard for us to see sin in its essence, to see it straight on as sin rather than sins, as a lack of love toward God, a hatred of him,[8] an enmity against him.[9]

Paul says,[10] “Sin, that it may appear sin, was producing death in me through what is good.” (NKJV) Or, “It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin.” (ESV) Sin is sin, but it does not appear to us as itself. It does not appear as sin. God, by his law, must unmask sin so that it will appear as it is, as sin.

To us, sin is not a terror. Sin is not a horror. We do not feel that sin makes our lives a living nightmare. We do not see sin as the cause of death. We do not grieve as for a dead person over our sin and the sinfulness of it. 

The Worst of Evils

It is hard for us to see that sin is worse than temptation, death, the Devil, and hell.

Sin is worse than hell. Hell is only the punishment. Sin is the crime. Sin is what makes hell hellish. Hell is being confined in my sin with no way out. Hell is my self, alone, forever, the way I am. Sin is what makes hell hellish.

Sin is worse than the Devil. Sin made the Devil what he is. What is devilish but sin?  Not all men are possessed by a devil, but all men are possessed by sin.  The devil gives up for a season, but sin scarcely ever does. When Jesus endured the Devil for 40 days in a wilderness, the Devil left him until a more opportune time, but in us sinful desires are incessant.

Sin is worse than temptation. Temptation only acts on and appeals to sin that already lies within us. Were there no sin, temptation never would have a payday for its labor.

Sin is worse than death, for sin is the sting of it.[11] How is it that we do not feel the sting? The sting itself, sin itself, makes us unfeeling.

A Temple Worse than Hell

Insensitivity to sin is a not a problem for the Holy Spirit. He sees sin for what it is. As bad as death, the Devil, and hell are, He ranks sin worse.

Would we think that the Holy Spirit should dwell in Hell? But He does dwell in a worse place, in us. Though He is holy, He dwells in sinners, to save us.

For thus says the High and Lofty One Who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: "I dwell in the high and holy place, with him who has a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.[12]

By the indwelling Holy Spirit we may experience grief over our sin and joy over God’s holiness. When the Spirit comes, He gives us the gifts of contrition and a humble heart. He comes to us in humility, and He gives us his humility. We have none of our own.

The humility of Christ in voluntarily humiliating himself to work atonement for our sin is matched by the humility of the Spirit in voluntarily entering sinners to apply the atonement to us. God saves us “by the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit.”[13] The Spirit enters, regenerates, and sanctifies sinners.

The Sole Power of Temple Cleansing

We are helpless without the Spirit.

I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength understanding or effort believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to him. But the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, and sanctified and kept me in true faith.[14]

The temple polluted, defaced and destroyed, the Divine Resident has gone, and the heart, once so sweet a home of Deity, is now the dwelling-place of all sin. … But it was God’s eternal and gracious purpose to restore this temple. … In the restoration of this temple, man was not auxiliary. He could be none. His destruction was his own, his recovery was God’s. He ruined himself; that ruin he could not himself repair. The work of restoration is a greater achievement of Divine power than was the work of creation.[15]

“But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.”[16] “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”[17]


1.  Heb 8:2, 5, 9:11, 23-24.
2.  Ex 25:8, 40:34-35; 1 Kings 8:10-11.
3.  Mk 14:58.
4.  Ezek 36:27, 37:14; John 14:16-17; Rom 8:9, 11; 1 Cor 3:16; 6:19; 2 Cor 6:16; Eph 2:22.
5.  Lev 16:16.
6.  Lev 16:17.
7.  Heb 9:21-22.
8.  Ex 20:5; Deut 5:9.
9.  Rom 8:7.
10.  Rom 7:13.
11.  1 Cor 15:56.
12.  Is 57:15.
13.  Titus 3:5.
14.  Martin Luther, The Small Catechism, explanation of the Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed.
15.  Octavius Winslow, The Work of the Holy Spirit, pp. 90-91 (The Banner of Truth Trust, 1972 reprint, first published 1840).
16. 1 Cor 6:11.
17.  Rom 15:13.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Humility of the Spirit within the Trinity

We have been considering humility in the Triune God.

The Persons of the Trinity are humble. Each Person prefers the Others before himself. The Trinity shows their humility, and their humility shows the Trinity.

Previously we considered the humility of the Father and the Son. The last posting was a Prelude to the Spirit’s Humility. In this posting, we advance from prelude to the Spirit’s humility within the Trinity.

Whose Brand?

Tom Peters wrote:

Big companies understand the importance of brands. Today, in the Age of the Individual, you have to be your own brand. Here's what it takes to be the CEO of Me Inc.[1]

Such is the world.

The Holy Spirit is not of the world. Although the Spirit is a person, that is not the same thing as an individual.[2] The Spirit is not of this Age of the Individual. He is not the CEO of Me Inc. or Spirit Inc. He promotes a brand, so to speak, but not his own.

By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God.[3]

We recognize the Spirit by seeing where the brand of Jesus is recognized. Here is Jesus’ brand: the man Jesus is God come in the flesh. Wherever we see Jesus recognized as God incarnate, there is the Spirit. The Spirit promotes the brand of Jesus.

The Spirit Glorifies the Son

The Spirit does not even decide for himself what to say. Although the Spirit is equally God with the Father and the Son, although He is free and not subordinate to either the Father or the Son, by character, he lets the Father decide for him the topic of his testimony. “When He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak.”[4] The Father speaks. The Spirit hears the Father speaking. The Spirit says what hears.

Following the Father, the Spirit’s topic is the Son. “When the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me.”[5]

The Spirit glorifies the Son.  “He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you.”[6]

In those verses, we hear Jesus say what the Spirit would do after Christ’s ascension. Then in Acts and the Epistles, we see the Spirit do it. “We are His witnesses to these things [concerning Christ], and so also is the Holy Spirit”[7] “No one speaking by the Spirit of God calls Jesus accursed, and no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.”[8]

Jesus Marked by the Dove

When Jesus submitted to the baptism of John, the Holy Spirit descended like a dove and alighted on Jesus.[9] Here is why.

John bore witness, saying, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him. I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’”[10]

The Spirit marked Jesus for John as the Christ. The Spirit became a sign pointing to Christ.

Jesus Conceived and Resurrected

Christmas and Easter are the two most noted events in the life of Christ. Both were done for Jesus by the Spirit.

Jesus was conceived in the virgin Mary by the Holy Spirit.[11]

Jesus was resurrected by the Holy Spirit.[12]

Sent by the Father and the Son

Who among us likes to be told what to do or where to go?

My father told me which school to attend and what to study. UND and accounting. It didn’t end there. I’ll spare you the rest. Decades later, I am still in a vocation designated for me by my father.[13] Outside my own family, the reaction to this has been unanimous: which century are you from? Hardly anyone accepts such direction of one individual by another. But the Spirit gladly goes where the Father sends him.

I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever, even the Spirit of truth …  The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you.[14]

The Spirit is sent also by the Son. “When the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me.”[15]

About Who’s Business?

Having been sent here by the Father and the Son, what is the Spirit doing? He has been sent here, but not on his own business. When Joseph and Mary lost track of Jesus and later found him in the temple, Jesus spoke of being about his Father’s business. In a similar way, the Spirit is about the business of the Father and the Son.

The Holy Spirit told Simeon that he would not die until he saw Christ.[16] When Jesus’ parents brought Jesus to the temple, Simeon “came by the Spirit into the temple.”[17] Simeon said, “My eyes have seen your salvation.”[18] The Spirit brought Simeon to Jesus and salvation.

The Spirit does this not just for Simeon.  “Through Him [Christ] we both have access by one Spirit to the Father.”[19] The Spirit serves as access through Christ to the Father. The Spirit is about the Son’s and the Father’s business.

This is so not only in the application of the atonement to sinners, but in the working of atonement itself. “How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?”[20] There is Christ working atonement by his blood. There is the Father to whom Christ makes the offering of himself. There is the Spirit, between the Father and the Son. Christ offered himself to the Father through the Spirit. No Trinity, no Atonement. No Spirit, no Atonement. No humility in the Spirit, no Atonement.

Having seen the indispensability of the humility of the Spirit in the atonement, we can anticipate the next posting on the humility of the Spirit toward sinners.

1.  Tom Peters, “The Brand Called You,” Fast Company, August 31, 1997.
2.  “Why, then, believe in God as Trinity? ... First, a ‘person’ is not at all the same as an ‘individual’. Isolated, self-dependent, none of us is an authentic person but merely an individual, a bare unit as recorded in the census. Egocentricity is the death of true personhood. Each becomes a real person only through entering into relation with other persons, through living for them and in them. There can be no man, so it has been rightly said, until there are at least two men in communication. The same is true, secondly, of love. Love cannot exist in isolation, but presupposes the other. Self-love is the negation of love. As Charles Williams shows to such devastating effect in his novel Descent into Hell, self-love is hell; for, carried to its ultimate conclusion, self-love signifies the end of all joy and all meaning. Hell is not other people; hell is myself, cut off from others in self-centeredness.” Kallistos Ware, The Orthodox Way, p.28, (St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1995).
3.  1 John 4:2-3.
4.  Jn 16:13.
5.  John 15:26.
6.  Jn 16:14-15.
7.  Acts 4:32.
8.  1 Cor 12:3.
9.  Mt 3:16; Mk 1:10; Lk 3:22.
10. Jn 1:32-33.
11. Mt 1:18-20; Lk 1:35.
12. 1 Pet 3:18.
13. That’s only half of the truth, of course. In my case, the vocation of God, that is, God’s calling me into a work, was mediated by the voice of my earthly father. That’s a topic for another time.
14. Jn 14:16-17, 26.
15. Jn 15:26.
16. Lk 2:25-26.
17. Lk 2:27.
18. Lk 2:30.
19. Eph 2:18.
20. Heb 9:14.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Prelude To the Spirit's Humility

We have been considering humility in the Triune God.

The Persons of the Trinity are humble. Each Person prefers the Others before himself. The Trinity shows their humility, and their humility shows the Trinity. Humility is divine because God is humble. It is not just something that God commands in others. It is something God is and does. No god but the Trinity can be humble, because only the Trinity has Persons.

All by itself, this is reason enough to convert from the gods and self-esteem to the Trinity. Every god other than the Trinity is vainglorious and unworthy of worship. No one-person god can be humble.[1]  One-person gods can only be self-willed, self-loving, and self-esteeming. All one-person gods are sinners, just like us.

Offense of Humility

The Trinity is revealed only by Christ, the Cross, and Scripture. The world never could have thought of it. On hearing of the Trinity, the world is offended. The Trinity is part of the offense of the Cross. The Trinity shows that Christ humbled himself to the Father to the point of death, even the death of the Cross.[2]  It is offensive to sinners that Jesus is humble and suffered crucifixion because of our vainglory before entering into his glory.[3] 

The Trinity is offensive also to the gods. It is offensive to them that only the Father, Son, and Spirit can be divine. Only the Father, Son, and Spirit can be divine because only They are humble.[4] Three gods perhaps could form a triad, but a triad is not the Trinity. The gods are only demons.[5]

Humility of Father and Son

Previously we saw the humility of the Father.[6] The Father glorifies Jesus. He directs our attention, obedience, and worship to the Son. He gives the Kingdom to the Son.

We saw the humility of the Son.[7] He voluntarily entered a state of humiliation: birth in poverty, born under the law, life of suffering, crucifixion, and burial. On the cross, Jesus’ shame and dishonor were total. He caused his glory to vanish. Not only did He not look like God, He did not even look like a man. He was a King who set aside his glory. His humility was toward both his Father and us. He looked not to his own interests, but to ours.

There is still much more to the humility of the Father and the Son. We might look more into their humility at other times. For now, let’s prepare ourselves for an opening view of the humility of the Holy Spirit. His humility, too, is enormous.

The Spirit’s Rightful Glory

Many texts of Scripture show the glory due to the Spirit.

Since this posting is a prelude, we can summarize the Spirit’s rightful glory in the words of the Ecumenical Creeds.[8] The Athanasian Creed summarizes from Scripture that the Spirit is uncreated, infinite, eternal, almighty, God, and Lord. It says, “In this Trinity none is before the other or after another; none is greater or less than another.” The Nicene Creed says the Spirit “with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified.”

If summaries of Scripture in the Three Ecumenical Creeds are inadmissible, in a prelude we have space to consider two texts of Scripture. In one, Christ says that there is only one unforgivable sin, the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Every other sin and blasphemy can be forgiven; but not that one, not in this world or the next.[9]  In another, Luke reports that for lying to the Holy Spirit, two people fell dead.[10]  Who could this Spirit be if sin and blasphemy against the Father and the Son could be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Holy Spirit cannot? Who could this Spirit be if people who lie to him fall dead?

There are more pleasant revelations of the glory of the Spirit in Scripture. The dreadfulness of the two texts used here does show, however, the majesty of the Spirit. His glory is equal to the glory of the Father and the Son.

The Spirit and the Kingdom

The Spirit is glorious, but He makes little of himself. Like the Father, He glorifies Christ.[11] He witnesses to Christ12 and with Christ brings sinners to the Father.[13] With the Father, He gives the Kingdom to the Son.[14] At the consummation of the age, the Spirit, with the Son, will return the Kingdom to the Father.[15]

The Spirit invites many to the marriage of Christ and his Bride, the Church. The Father will make quite a production of his Son’s marriage, and the Spirit will draw multitudes to the glory of the Bridegroom and Bride on that day.[16]

Meanwhile, the Spirit brings the Kingdom to us and us into the Kingdom.[17] At different times, the Father and the Son have the Kingdom, but the Spirit never does. The Spirit is always building a Kingdom for Others. Humility.

The Spirit is humble toward the Father, humble toward the Son, and humble toward sinners. The Spirit — think of it — is humble toward you and me. Faith sees the glory of the Spirit’s humility, and worships him.

In the next posts, we will look at the humility of the Spirit within the Trinity, and then the humility of the Spirit toward sinners.


1.  For example, though the word Islam means “submission,” Allah never submits to anyone. He does not submit to angels, man, or beast. Because Allah is only one person, there is no one in god besides himself, and therefore no one in god to whom he can submit. The Trinity alone makes humility in God possible.
2.  Phil 2:8.
3.  Gal 5:15, 3:10-15, 6:14; 1 Cor 1:22-25; Lk 24:26.
4.  Psalm 138:2 says, “You have magnified Your word above all Your name.” God humbles himself to keep his word. He humbles himself by directing us to know him by the weak and foolish means of his Word rather than through self-glorious manifestations of his majesty. God absconds; he hides in the weakness and foolishness of his word, and let’s himself appear weak and foolish. See Lk 10:21.
5.  1 Cor 10:20-21; Rev 9:20; 1 Tim 4:1; Lev 17:7; Dt 32:17; Ps 106:37.
6.  See the Recap page for summaries and links to the postings.
7.  See the Recap page for summaries and links to the postings.
8.  See The Three Ecumenical or Universal Creeds in the Book of Concord.
9.  Matt 12:31-32.
10.  Acts 5:1-11.
11.  Jn 16:14.
12.  Jn 15:26; Matt 10:19-20; Mk 13:11; Acts 2:33, 5:32; 1 Cor 12:3.
13.  Eph 2:18.
14.  Lk 22:29.
15.  1 Cor 15:24; Matt 26:29; Lk 11:2.
16. Rev 20:7-9, 21:2, 9; Matt 22:2-14.
17.  Lk 2:27, 12:32; Matt 12:28; Jn 3:5; Rom 14:7.


Saturday, March 26, 2011

Bosom, Burial, Banishment

We have been looking at the humiliation of Jesus. It has several steps. We have come to the fifth step: his burial.

Burial does nothing to our glory because dust and sin have no glory. Jesus was not from dust, and He was holy. Burial did something to his glory. Burial humiliated him.

Jesus kept voluntarily hiding his glory by his: birth in poverty, life of suffering, crucifixion, and death. In those steps, something of Jesus could be seen, even if it was only poverty, suffering, crucifixion, and death. But in burial, the hiding of glory was complete. Jesus was in the ground behind a stone.

Dust to Dust

God told Adam, “In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for dust you are, and to dust you shall return.'’ (Gen 3:19) “All go to one place: all are from the dust, and all return to dust.” (Eccl 3:20) “You take away their breath, they die and return to their dust.” (Ps 104:29)

When men die, they return to their dust. Dust is our place.

Heaven to Dust

Adam came from dust, but Jesus came from heaven. “The first man was of the earth, made of dust; the second Man is the Lord from heaven.” (1 Cor 15:47) Dust is our place. Heaven is Jesus’ place.

But Jesus humbled himself and took our place. For Jesus to be buried was not a return to his place of glory as the Lord from heaven. It was descent into our place of dust and dishonor.

Let the enemy pursue me and overtake me; yes, let him trample my life to the earth, and lay my honor in the dust. (Ps 7:5)

The burial of Adam mingled dust with dust, but the burial of Jesus mingled dust with gold.

Sin and Dust

Dust refers to the curses for sin.

Because the Devil sinned by tempting Adam and Eve, God cursed him. His curse was to eat dust.

The Lord God said to the serpent: "Because you have done this, you are cursed …; on your belly you shall go, and you shall eat dust. (Gen 3:14)

For Adam’s sin, God said, “Cursed is the ground for your sake.” (Gen 3:17) He cursed the dust from which Adam came and to which Adam would go in burial. Under the curse, the field brought forth weeds with the crop. (Gen 3:18) Jesus used weeds as symbols of sinners sewn by the Devil. (Mt 13:24-30) After pronouncing this curse, God next said, “for out of it [the ground] you were taken; for dust you are, and to dust you shall return.” (Gen 3:19) Adam was buried in the ground cursed for his sin.

When Jesus volunteered to be buried, He hid his holiness under the sign of sin, curse, and wickedness. “He assigned His grave with wicked men.” (Is 53:9).

The Dust of Threshing

John the Baptist used threshing as an illustration of judgment. He said about Messiah:

His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire. (Mt 3:12)

Winnowing means letting wind blow through what has been gathered from the field onto the threshing floor. The gathering was a mixture of chaff, dust, and wheat. Farmers used forks to toss the mixture into the air. The wind blew away the chaff and dust. The wheat fell to the threshing floor and was saved. John spoke of burning the chaff with fire. The Old Testament compared destruction to being made “like the dust at threshing.”

There was not left to Jehoahaz [much of] an army … for the king of Syria had destroyed them and made them like the dust at threshing. (2 Kings 13:7)

In burial, Jesus went to dust and was under the judgment of God.

Royal Glory and Dust

The Bible pictures dust as the opposite of royal glory. The Lord said to King Jehu, “I lifted you out of the dust and made you ruler over My people Israel.” (1 Kg 16:2) In Hannah’s prayer, she said,

He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the beggar from the ash heap, to set them among princes and make them inherit the throne of glory. (1 Sam 2:8)

A couple verses in Psalm 113 “look back to the song of Hannah.”[1]

He raises the poor out of the dust, and lifts the needy out of the ash heap, that He may seat him with princes. (Ps 113:7-8)

These verses “anticipate the great downward and upward sweep of the gospel”[2] which was to go deeper than the dust of Adam and higher than thrones of earthly princes. In his resurrection, Jesus would be seated far above all principality and power at the Father’s right hand. He would be given a Name above all names. (Eph 1:21-22) He would be the King of kings and Lord of lords. (Rev 19:16) But first, his burial took him deeper than Adam’s dust.

From Bosom to Banishment

During Jesus’ burial in dust, He was deposed from his throne of glory, down to the lowest pit, adrift among the dead, forgotten by his Father, cut off from his Father’s hand, in darkness and in depths, under his Father’s wrath, and alone.

I am counted with those who go down to the pit;
I am like a man who has no strength,
Adrift among the dead,
Like the slain who lie in the grave,
Whom You remember no more,
And who are cut off from Your hand.
You have laid me in the lowest pit,
In darkness, in the depths.
Your wrath lies heavy upon me,
and you overwhelm me with all your waves.
You have caused my companions to shun me;
you have made me a horror to them. (Ps 88:4-6)

“There is no sadder prayer in the Psalter.”[3] Jesus was “being treated like the wicked.”[4] He was under God’s wrath on our sin. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor 5:21)

For our sin, Jesus descended from the bosom of the Father to burial and “banishment”[5] by his Father. He did this to bring us to his Father. “Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God.” (1 Pet 3:18)


1.   Derek Kidner, Palms 73-150: A Commentary on Books III –V of the Psalms, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Inter-Varsity Press, 1875), p. 402.
2.  Id.
3.  Id., p. 316.
4.  Id., p. 318.
5.  Id.


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Humiliation of Jesus' Death

We have been looking at the humiliation of Jesus. It has several steps. We have come to the fourth step: his death.

In the third step, we have already considered many things about Jesus’ crucifixion. In this step we do not mean the way He died, but the death itself. Just the fact that Jesus died at all, regardless of how, was humiliation.

For us to die is not humiliation because:
  • We receive what is due to us.
  • We already were low in sin.
For Jesus to die is humiliation because:
  • It was injustice. Death was not due to him.
  • He deserved glory. He came from heaven, had life in himself, was holy, and was both God and Man.
Jesus layed down his life. 

Wages and Death

Sin is the cause of death. (Gen 3:19) “As sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.” (Rom 5:12)

When Adam and Eve fell into sin, though their bodies did not die that day, they died spiritually. They felt their separation from God. They tried to hide from him. (Gen 3:8)

“The wages of sin is death.” (Rm 6:23) Death is what we have earned by sin. For us to die is not humiliation because we have earned it.

Shame and Covering

The relation between sin and glory, sin and shame is shown in these words: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Rm 3:23) By sin, we fall short of glory. By sin, we entered shame.

Adam and Eve suddenly were ashamed of their nakedness. They tried to cover it up with fig leaves. Covering is the basic idea of atonement. Kaphar is the Hebrew word for atonement in Leviticus 16, the Day of Atonement. In modern times, you hear that word in Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Kaphar means to cover. On that day, sin was covered by blood from animal sacrifice to foreshadow the blood of Christ.

Adam’s and Eve’s fig leaf coverings were no good. They got them without the shedding of blood. There is no covering for sin without blood. (Heb 9:22) God took the fig leaf clothing away and gave them new coverings of animal skins. (Gen 3:21) The skins came by the shedding of blood.

God’s Word: Law and Gospel

God’s gives us two words: the Law and the Gospel. The Law reigns through sin to death. The Gospel reigns through justification to eternal life. The Gospel proclaims the covering of sin under Christ’s atoning blood.

The animal skins are dead. They speak the Law of sin and death.

But the skins also came by the shedding of blood. The blood foreshadows the blood of Christ. In that, the skins speak the Gospel

Clothed in animal skins, Adam and Eve walked in both death and life, death in their own sin, but life by the promise of the coming of Christ and his blood sacrifice for us.

Death and Dignity

As calloused as we are to sin, we do have some feelings of aversion to death, though not like we should. Euthanasia is gaining support so that we can have “death with dignity.” The process of dying, we say, is degrading.

If the process of dying is degrading for sinners, then why can’t we see that it was degrading and humiliating for Jesus to die?

In Him Was Life

Because Jesus was the Second Adam and did not fall into sin, he was not walking dead like Adam and all his children. “In him was life, and the life was the light of men.” (Jn 1:4) His light is glory (Is 60:1; 2 Cor 4:4, 6), and by the shining of his light he shares glory with men. (Jn 1:9; Phil 2:15)

Jesus is the bread of life that came down from heaven. (Jn 6:35, 51) In heaven, in the bosom of the Father, he had eternal life. When God the Son became man by being born of the virgin Mary, the Holy Spirit created an indissoluble union of his divine and human natures. He always had his divine nature from eternity. His human nature was new.

By itself, Jesus’ human nature did not have life. “As the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. (Jn 5:26) The divine nature in Jesus already had life in himself. In the Incarnation, the Father granted the human nature in Jesus to also have life in himself.[1]

No One is Like Him

There is no one like him. Jesus is unique. He is unique because:
  • He came from heaven. Everyone else came from earth. Adam was made from dust.
  • He was holy. Everyone else was a sinner.
  • He had life in himself. Everyone else was dead in trespasses and sins, or had life only by faith in the promise that Christ would come and atone for sin.
  • He was both God and man. We are only man, and we are ungodly.
The glory due to his incomparable Person is enormous. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (Jn 1:14)

Injustice and Humiliation

For Jesus to die is quite a different thing than it is for us to die. For Jesus, to die was an injustice. It was humiliation.

In his humiliation justice was denied him.
Who can describe his generation?
For his life is taken away from the earth. (Acts 8:33)

While we were sinners and weak, Christ died for us, the ungodly. (Rm 5:6, 8) Paul wrote, “I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures. (1 Cor. 15:3)

Jesus volunteered to humiliate himself in death. He volunteered for the injustice of it. He did this to give us a new birth, a birth from above. (Jn 3:1-8)


1.  The giving of life by the Father to the Son in no way refers to his divine nature from eternity. In no way does it support any claim of subordination of the Son to the Father. The Son already had life in himself in heaven. But when he came down from heaven and was made man, his humanity would not have had life in himself unless the Father granted that. The granting by the Father in Jn 5:26 is restricted to a granting to Jesus’ human nature, not a granting to his divine nature. See R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. John’s Gospel (Augsburg, 1943), pp. 393-94.


Friday, March 18, 2011

Degradation Rituals and Ass Heads

We have been looking at the humiliation of Jesus. It has several steps. We are in a series of postings about the third step: his crucifixion.

We have seen that, while the physical pains of flogging and crucifixion were excruciating, the point was dishonor and shame. This is a historical fact, and it provides support to our understanding of what the cross means. Jesus as King should have had glory, but he turned away from glory to the cross. He volunteered for the shame and humiliation of it.

In this posting, we continue to focus on the shame of the cross and see a typical example of the Roman reaction to the preaching of Christ crucified.

Status Degradation Rituals

The purpose of public trials varies from nation to nation. It has varied from age to age. We have our idea of trials from our place and time. It does not work to read our place and time into the three public trials of Jesus.[1]

In the time of Jesus, public trials served a purpose alien to us. They were status degradation rituals.[2] Their purpose was to destroy the status a person had absolutely. By absolutely I mean two things:
  • To label the accused not merely as someone who did wrong in the case, but as a shameful person.
  • To saturate the shame through and through.
The idea was to condemn the accused not only for conduct, but for motives. The accused was exposed as shameful from the inside out. The ascription of deviant motives was not limited to one facet of the accused's character. It had an "essentializing" function. The ascribed motives became the accused's essential or real self. Certain socially identified perverse motives were made to constitute the total identity of the accused. The shame was penetrating, thorough, and encompassing. He was completely shame, and nothing else.[3]

Stages of Degradation

The trial was just a cog in the gears of degradation. The whole machine ground out shame, and the trial was just a part of the machinery.

Classical authors report crucifixion as having typical stages. The purpose of the stages was progressive humiliation and loss of honor.
  • Arrest
  • Sleep and food deprivation
  • Public trial
  • Flogging and torture
  • Nakedness
  • Mockery by soldiers or executioners
  • Carrying the cross beam
  • Placard of indictment and verdict
  • Confiscation of property
  • Pinioning of hands and arms
  • Mutilation
  • Contorted bodily positions
  • Impalement causing penile enlargement
  • Crude and macabre public entertainment
  • Mockery by jeerers at the crucifixion site
  • Death and dishonor dragged out
  • Denial of burial
  • Exposure to scavengers and insects
“It was not merely the excruciating physical torture that made crucifixion so unspeakable, but the devastation of shame that this death, above all others, represented.”[4] “The issue … lies not in the brutal pain endured. For among the warrior elite, at least, the endurance of pain and suffering were marks of andreia or manly courage.”[5]

In ancient society, people would choose pain and death for the sake of honor. This continued nearly into modern times as fans of Sharpe’s Rifles know.[6] Paul catalogues his hardships (2 Cor. 6:3-10), and his endurance makes him heroic. Crucifixion made a person so much the opposite. A crucified person did not “go down swinging.” The last shred, the last thread, the last fiber from the last thread of honor was stripped off and the worthless trash of pretended humanity was left to the vultures without burial.[7]

The Word “Cross”

The Roman Senator Cicero said the very word “cross” should be “far removed not only from the person of a Roman citizen but from his thoughts, his eyes and his ears.”[8]

In light of the crucified’s degraded status and the heinous nature of the punishment, Gentiles understandably and not surprisingly viewed the victim with the utmost contempt. Indeed, “crucifixion” was a virtual obscenity not to be discussed in polite company. The cultured world did not want to hear about crucifixion, and consequently, as a rule, they kept quiet about it.[9]

Alexamenos Worships His God

In this and the last few postings we have seen the shame of crucifixion generally. Did the Roman world ascribe this shame to Jesus in particular?

They did. The Alexamenos Graffito provides an example.

This wall-scratching was discovered in 1857 in a building called the Paedagogium that had been constructed by Nero. It was on Palantine Hill near Circus Maximus in Rome. Besides imperial offices, it housed a school for servants and barracks rooms where palace guards and gladiators lived while on duty. Soldiers scratched rough pictures and slogans, called graffiti, into the plaster walls of the barracks. Archeologists discovered a number of these graffiti in the fourth room on the left of the entrance to the Paedagogium.

One graffito shows a young man raising his hands as if in prayer or adoration. He is raising them to Jesus on a cross. This graffito is now housed in Rome's Museo Kircheriano at the Collegion Romano.  It is dated from 193 to 235 A.D. The text in Greek reads:


The soldier might have muffed his grammar a little bit,[10] but this text is generally translated as "Alexamenos worships [his] God". The graffito depicts Jesus as a man with an ass’s head being crucified. “This comparison of Christ to an ass, so repulsive to believers today, vividly illustrates pagan contempt toward the crucified Christ whom Paul proclaimed.”[11]

The following images show the Alexamenos Graffito and a tracing of it.

When Jesus, in the Devil’s wilderness temptation of him, turned away from glory to the cross, He knew what “cross” meant.  Jesus volunteered for this multi-staged degradation ritual. He volunteered to become essentially and completely shame, and nothing but shame. He fulfilled prophesy that says:

Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” (Rm 9:33; Is 28:16)

Paul, after much suffering and shame for preaching Christ crucified, said:

I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. (Rm 1:16)

1.  In all, Jesus was tried four times. The first was before the Sanhedrin. Mosaic law is the best in the world and the best in history at protecting people from false accusation. The Sanhedrin did not follow Moses, however, when they tried Jesus. Just two of the irregularities are that He was tried at night and He was tried in secret, not in public. Their objective for quite some time had been simply to kill Jesus. Their motive was envy, and Pilate could see that.
2.  Jerome H. Neyrey, “Despising the Shame of the Cross: Honor and Shame in the Johannine Passion Narrative." Semeia 68 (1994[96]):113-37.
3.  This was not the purpose of a trial under Moses’ law. But the Sanhedrin did not follow Moses law in Jesus’ case. They acted somewhat like the heathen in his case. Jesus was accused of healing on the Sabbath. But his accusers couldn’t be content with an accusation of simple Sabbath-breaking. That would bring shame on Jesus only for specific conduct. No, Jesus was possessed by a demon, and He was healing by the power of Beelzebub, the prince of the demons. He broke the Sabbath because he wanted to destroy the Kingdom of God. That was his identity and motive, iniquities deeper than conduct on any particular day.
4.  Mark Goodacre, “Scripturalization in Mark’s Crucifixion Narrative” in Geert van Oyen and Thom Shepherd (eds.), The Trial and Death of Jesus: Essays on the Passion Narrative in Mark (Leuven: Peeters, 2006, pp. 33-34.
5.  Neyrey, op cit.
6.  Dialog follows from Shape’s Company, when young Matthews asks Richard Sharpe to take him along to be first to storm the breach of Ciudad Rodrigo’s wall, an action known as the Forlorn Hope.
Matthews: Richard, I would ask you …
Sharpe: What?
Matthews: Oh, it is this. Will you take me with you if you get command of the Forlorn Hope?
Sharpe: No.
Matthews: Oh, do, Richard, sir! It would make my name!
Sharpe: William … the Forlorn Hope are dead men the hour their names are called. First up the wall of the breach, first to die, blown apart by mine or cannon. That's why it is called Forlorn.
Matthews: But it is glorious, is it not? And of use. Some don't die. If it is not of use, then why is it done?
Sharpe: Somebody has to do first.
As pointless as this seems to us, Matthews rightly understood his place and time. It would have made his name, it would have been glorious, and that would have been motivation enough, despite certain suffering and nearly certain death.
7.  While Jesus was decently buried by Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus with permission from Pilot, anyone hearing preaching of Christ crucified would visualize what usually happened.
8.  Cicero, “The Speech In Defense of Gaius Rabirius,” sec. 16, in The Speeches of Cicero, trans. H. Grose Hodge, The Loeb Classical Library (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1927) 467.
9.  Martin Hengel, Crucifixion (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1977) 38.
10.  Whether the second plural verb, SEBETE, is intended as an imperative or an indicative is unclear.
11.  Donald E. Green, “The Folly of the Cross,” The Master’s Seminary Journal, 15/1 (Spring 2004) 64.


Saturday, March 12, 2011

Explicit Shame

We have been looking at the humiliation of Jesus. It has several steps. We are in a series of postings about the third step: his crucifixion.

“Know Thyself”

Socrates said, “Know thyself.” He didn’t.

No one has self-knowledge until he sees himself in the mirror of Christ crucified. The cross was our place because of our sin. Jesus was holy. The cross was not his place. He took our place on the cross. Because of this substitution, the cross shows the truth about us.

When we see Jesus on the cross, we see how our sin looks in the eyes and smells in the nostrils of God.


Flogging was a legal preliminary to Roman execution. Hebrew law prohibited more than 40 lashes. The count was kept carefully. Even so, the Pharisees established a law of only 39 lashes, in case of miscount. Under Roman law, the executioner had discretion over the number of lashes. Some condemned prisoners never made it to their crosses. They died under flogging.

The tool for scourging was the flagellum. It was a short whip with several heavy, leather thongs. Some had lead balls near the end of each thong. Others had jagged stone, broken pottery, or pieces of bone. The pain of blows was intended, but the idea went further, to cut the skin.

Finally the skin of the back is hanging in long ribbons and the entire area is an unrecognizable mass of torn bleeding tissue.[1]

Isaiah prophesied this. “His appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind.” (Is 52:14)

This is what sin does to us. Sin makes us unrecognizable as the humans we once were in Adam before the fall.

The scourging … probably set the stage for hypovolemic shock, as evidenced by the fact that Jesus was too weakened to carry the crossbar (patibulum) to Golgotha.[2]

Scourging “was intended to weaken the victim to a state just short of collapse or death.”[3] Because of sin, we are without power.[4] We are the walking dead.[5] We can’t even carry the crossbar of our own condemnation.

Slaves and Rebels

In Rome, crucifixion was used originally only for slaves. With time, its use extended to foreigners, revolutionaries, and the vilest criminals. Roman law usually protected Roman citizens from crucifixion, although soldiers sometimes were crucified for desertion.

We are slaves to sin.[6] We are revolutionaries and rebels who threw off the law of God.[7] We have made ourselves aliens and foreigners rather than citizens in the Kingdom.[8] By our defection from God, we are deserters.


In creation, God breathed into man the breath of life. (Gen 2:7) In the valley of dry bones, God told Ezekiel to say “Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live.” (Ezek 27:5) When Jesus spoke to his disciples after his resurrection, “He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” (Jn 20:22) Breath and Spirit are life.

The major pathophysiologic effect of crucifixion was an interference with normal respiration. Accordingly, death resulted primarily from hypovolemic shock and exhaustion asphyxia.[9]

In other words, breathing became so much work that finally Jesus died from lack of breath.[10] “Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!’ And having said this he breathed his last.” (Lk 23:45) “He said, ‘It is finished,’ and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” (Jn 19:30)

To put it tritely, sin is breathtaking. It knocks the wind out of us. What does this mean? In Adam’s sin, we are without the Spirit.[11]


Crucifixion does not merely kill. It drags killing on. “To prolong the crucifixion process, a horizontal wooden block or plank, serving as a crude seat (sedile or sedulum), often was attached midway down the stipes.”[12] “The length of survival generally ranged from three to four hours to three to four days.”[13]

Sin makes our walking death a dragged out affair.[14]


Besides exhaustion asphyxia as a cause of death, “contributing factors included dehydration.”[15] Water leaves the body by:
  • Perspiration
  • Urination
  • Defecation
  • Regurgitation
  • Salivation
  • Bleeding
On the cross, Jesus was sweating, urinating, defecating, regurgitating, and bleeding.

Unless they plucked his beard, his vomit was held there as in a sponge. If they did pluck his beard, caustic digestive fluids inflamed his facial wounds. If the Romans respected the desires of the Jews to keep at least a loin cloth, he urinated and defecated into it probably beyond the point of saturation. If, as was more common, He was completely naked, urine and feces ran down his sweaty, bloody legs.

Jesus' bodily fluids painted the picture of our sin. He smelled as sin does. He looked and smelled like we do. Socrates never knew himself. He never saw Jesus in his place.

Head Waggers

Though Jesus was in our place, that does not mean we were not at the cross. “Those passing by were hurling abuse at Him, wagging their heads, and saying, "Ha!” (Mk 15:29) That would be us.

But I am a worm and not a man,
scorned by mankind and despised by the people.
All who see me mock me;
they make mouths at me; they wag their heads;
“He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him;
let him rescue him, for he delights in him!”
(Ps 27:8)

The Cross Indicts Us

What Jesus, by his voluntary humiliation, made himself on the cross is what we really are. The cross tells us so.

The theology of the cross is not what men, though theologians, say about the cross. Hallesby says of it, "I do not mean now what men say of the cross, but what the cross says of men." (Religious or Christian, Augsburg edition, p. 110.) The cross shows us what we are.

A theology of glory calls evil good and good evil. A theology of the cross calls the thing what it actually is. (Martin Luther, Heidelberg Disputation, Thesis 21, 1518)

Jesus hid his glory. Glory was right for him. He was the King from the bosom of the Father. He turned away from glory to the cross. “For our sake [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor 5:21) He hid his glory to atone and also to show us our need for atonement. We must confess the cross' indictment of us.


1. C. Truman Davis, M.D., M.S., “The Passion of Christ from a Medical Point of View,” Arizona Medicine, vol. 22, no. 3,  (March 1965)
2. William D. Edwards, M.D., Wesley J. Gabel, N.Div, Floyd H. Hosmer, M.S., A.M.L., “On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ,” The Journal of the American Medical Association, vol. 255, no. 11, March 21, 1986, p. 1455.
3. Ibid., p. 1467.
4. 1 Jn 5:19; Rm 5:6; Rm 8:3.
5. Mt 8:22; Lk 9:60; Lk 15:32; Eph 2:1; Eph 2:5; Col 2:13.
6. Jn 8:34; Rm 6:6, 15-22.
7. Neh 9:26; Is 59:12-13; Is 63:10.
8. Jer 3:13; Josh 24:20.
9. Edwards et al., op cit., p. 1455.
10. “The actual cause of death by crucifixion was multifactorial and varied somewhat with each case, but the two most prominent causes probably were hypovolemic shock and exhaustion asphyxia. Other possible contributing factors included dehydration, stress-induced arrhythmias, and congestive heart failure with the rapid accumulation of pericardial and perhaps pleural effusions. Crucifracture (breaking the legs below the knees), if performed, led to an asphyxic death within minutes.” Ibid., p. 1461.
    "The major pathophysiologic effect of crucifixion, beyond the excruciating pain, was a marked interference with normal respiration, particularly exhalation (Fig 6). The weight of the body, pulling down on the out- stretched arms and shoulders, would tend to fix the intercostal muscles in an inhalation state and thereby hin der passive exhalation. Accordingly, exhalation was primarily dia phragmatic, and breathing was shallow. It is likely that this form of respiration would not suffice and that hypercarbia would soon result. The onset of muscle cramps or tetanic contractions, due to fatigue and hypercarbia, would hinder respiration even further.
    "Adequate exhalation required lifting the body by pushing up on the feet and by flexing the elbows and adducting the shoulders (Fig 6). However, this maneuver would place the entire weight of the body on the tarsals and would produce searing pain. Further- more, flexion of the elbows would cause rotation of the wrists about the iron nails and cause fiery pain along the damaged median nerves. Lifting of the body would also painfully scrape the scourged back against the rough wooden stipes. Muscle cramps and paresthesias of the outstretched and uplifted arms would add to the discomfort. As a result, each respiratory effort would become agonizing and tiring and lead eventually to asphyxia.” Ibid., p. 1461.
11. Jn 14:17; Rm 8:9; 1 Cor 2:14; Gal 3:1-6.
12. Edwards et al., op cit., p. 1459.
13. Edwards et al., op cit., pp. 1459-60.
14. Jer 13:27; Num 14:11; Josh 18:3; 1 Kings 18:21; Jer 4:14.
15. Edwards et al., op cit., p. 1455.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Shaming the King

We have been looking at the humiliation of Jesus. It has several steps. We are in a series of postings about the third step: his crucifixion.

The story of Jesus’ crucifixion focuses on him as King. It was right for the King to have glory,[1] but Jesus turned away from glory to the cross. Because Jesus showed them no glory, characters in the story shamed him.

Turncoats and Traitors

Jesus as King had notoriety.[2] On two occasions, crowds accepted him as a king of glory.[3]

The first time was when Jesus had fed 5,000. He “perceived that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king.”[4]

The second time was when Jesus made his final entrance into Jerusalem.

They took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!”[5]

That was on Sunday. By Thursday, they were demanding that Jesus be crucified.

Many Accusations, Only One Answer

Under Roman occupation the Jews could not carry out capital punishment. The leaders wanted Jesus dead. They accused Jesus of an offense that would interest the Romans and call for capital punishment under Roman law: that He said he was a King.

They began to accuse him, saying, “We found this man misleading our nation and forbidding us to give tribute to Caesar, and saying that he himself is Christ, a king.”[6]

Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?”[7] Jesus said He was a king. He described his Kingdom. Pilate saw that Jesus was not a rebel against Rome. He told the Jews he found no fault in Jesus.[8] The leaders accused him more vehemently. Jesus stood silent. Pilate was greatly amazed at his silence.[9]

Jesus was silent against many accusations. The only question Jesus answered was whether He was a King.

Jesus Showed Herod No Glory

Pilate discovered that Jesus was a Galilean. This gave him an out. He sent Jesus to Herod Antipas who had jurisdiction over Galilee. Herod was in Jerusalem for Passover.

Herod questioned Jesus at length, but Jesus did not answer anything.[10] The chief priests and scribes accused him vehemently. Still, silence.[11]

At first, Herod was glad to see Jesus. “He was hoping to see some sign done by him.”[12] He was hoping to see kingly glory. Jesus showed him no sign.

Herod found nothing worthy of death in Jesus. He sent Jesus back to Pilate.[13] Before sending him back, however, because he saw no glory in Jesus, “Herod, with his men of war, treated Him with contempt and mocked Him, [and] arrayed Him in a gorgeous robe.”[14]

A King or an Insurrectionist

Pilate customarily released one prisoner of their choosing to the Jews at Passover. The Romans were holding Barabbas, a notorious prisoner.[15] He had committed murder in an insurrection.[16] Pilate asked the crowd whether they wanted him to release the insurrectionist or “the King of the Jews.”[17] The crowd cried out, “Not this man, but Barabbas!”[18]

They chose one who tried to throw off the reign of a kingdom and rejected a King who came to bring his reign. They call Jesus “this man,” refusing to acknowledge him as what Pilate called him, their King.

Pilate Presented Jesus as Humiliated King

When the crowd chose Barabbas, Pilate flogged and scourged Jesus. That was common. Then the soldiers did something not common, something done only to shame Jesus as a king.

The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head and arrayed him in a purple robe. They came up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and struck him with their hands. Pilate went out again and said to them, “See, I am bringing him out to you that you may know that I find no guilt in him.” So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Behold the man!”[19]

Pilate wanted to release Jesus.[20] He addressed the crowd, “What shall I do with the man you call the King of the Jews”[21] and “What shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?”[22]

We Have No King but Caesar

Pilate continued trying to release Jesus.[23]

But the Jews cried out, “If you release this man, you are not Caesar's friend. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar.” So when Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out and … said to the Jews, “Behold your King!” They cried out, “Away with him, away with him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.”[24]

Mockery by the Roman Soldiers

Pilate saw that “a riot was beginning.”[25] He delivered Jesus to be crucified.[26] Pilate’s soldiers mocked Jesus. Each mockery was directed against Jesus’ identity as the King. They:

  • Clothed him with a purple robe.[27]
  • Twisted a crown of thorns.[28]
  • Put the crown of thorns on Jesus’ head.[29]
  • Put a reed in his right hand, like a scepter.[30]
  • Bowed the knee before him.[31]
  • Mocked him by saluting him, “Hail, King of the Jews!”[32]
  • Worshiped him in mock worship.[33]
  • Struck him with their hands.[34]
  • Struck him on the head with a reed, their scepter-like reed having power over his scepter-like reed.[35]
  • Spit on him.[36]

Placard of Accusation and Judgment

The Romans wrote the accusation on which Jesus was condemned on a placard. They put the accusation over his head: “THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.”[37] They wrote the accusation “in letters of Greek, Latin, and Hebrew.”[38] Let everyone read the shame.

The leaders said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but, ‘He said, “I am the King of the Jews.”’ Pilate answered, ‘What I have written, I have written.’”[39]

Mocking the King on the Cross

When Jesus was on the cross, characters mocked him as a king without glory.

  • “If He is the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him.”[40]
  • “Let the Christ, the King of Israel, descend now from the cross, that we may see and believe.”[41]
  • “The soldiers also mocked Him … saying, ‘If You are the King of the Jews, save Yourself.’”[42]

They were like Herod. Unless they saw glory, they would not believe.

Jesus hid his glory. He hid it deeply under its opposite. The cross was the hiddenness of God under shame, weakness, and foolishness. It would become the hiddenness of the Christian life[43] under humility, trial, prayer, weakness, and foolishness.


1.  See the posting, What Is It about Kingdoms?
2.  See the posting, King of the Gospel.
3. Most of the time Jesus was rejected, ridiculed, condemned, spied on, plotted against, and threatened with death. See the posting, Jesus’ Humiliation: Life of Suffering.
4. Jn 6:15
5. Jn 12:12-13
6. Lk 23:2
7. Lk 23:3; Mt 27:11; Mk 15:2; Jn 18:33, 37
8. Jn 18:36-38
9. Mt 27:14; Mk 15:5
10. Lk 23:9
11. Lk 23:10
12. Lk 23:8
13. Lk 23:15
14. Lk 23:11
15. Mt 27:16
16. Mk 15:7; Lk 23:19
17. Mk 15:9; Jn 18:39; Mt 27:17, 21
18. Jn 18:40
19. Jn 19:2-5
20. Lk 23:20
21. Mk 15:12
22. Mt 27:22
23. Jn 19:12
24. Jn 19:12b-15
25. Mt 27:24
26. Mt 27:26; Mk 15:15; Lk 23:25; Jn 19:16
27. Mk 15:17; Jn 19:2
28. Mt 27:29; Mk 15:17; Jn 19:2
29. Mt 27:9; Mk 15:17; Jn 19:2
30. Mt 27:29
31. Mt 27:29; Mk 15:19
32. Mt 27:2; Mk 15:18; Jn 19:3
33. Mk 15:19
34. Jn 19:3
35. Mk 15:19
36. Mk 15:19
37. Mt 27:37; Mt 15:26
38. Lk 23:38; Jn 19:20
39. Jn 19:21-22
40. Mt 27:42
41. Mk 15:32
42. Lk 23:36
43. Col 3:3

Sunday, March 6, 2011

A Suffering, Shameful King

We have been considering the humiliation of Jesus. It has several steps. We have come to the third step: his crucifixion.

How to Make a Movie, or Write a Gospel

Crucifixion is so gruesome and grisly, so ghastly and ghoulish that we could lose focus. When Mel Gibson released his film, The Passion of the Christ, many condemned it as an exaggeration of Jesus’ physical suffering. The truth was the other way around.

The remarkable thing about Mel Gibson’s film was not so much the magnitude of suffering depicted but its restraint in showing many of the true horrors of crucifixion.[1]

The Roman Senator, Cicero, said:

The very word “cross” should be far removed not only from the person of a Roman citizen but from his thoughts, his eyes and his ears.[2]

Gibson was facing the same problem that Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, and Peter faced: how to tell the world that Jesus was crucified when the very word “cross” was so far beyond off-colored that no one would want to hear it. Roman speech was more vulgar than ours, yet if there had been television in Rome, they wouldn’t have let you say the word “cross” on TV.

The horror of the cross develops its own type of appalled fascination. The fascination would carry us away into the horrific details of crucifixion. That would be a diversion. The vital thing is, what does the cross mean?

Once the meaning is established, in future posts some of the horrific details will be used. They will not be used for the sake of the horror itself, nor for a shock tactic to elicit sympathy for Jesus They will be used to serve the purpose of expanding upon the meaning of the cross. This needs to be the focus.

In this posting, we will begin a consideration of the meaning of the cross.

Glory or Cross

In the last posting, we set the cross in its context to prepare the way to understand what the cross means. We saw that the thing about kings and kingdoms is glory.

We recalled that the gospel is the Gospel of the Kingdom and Jesus is the King of the Gospel, so Jesus should have glory. Glory is right for him. Yet the Devil’s promise of kingdom glory in his wilderness temptation of Jesus was a temptation to sin. Jesus resisted the temptation, and what that got him was the cross.

This sets as opposites glory and the cross. By knowing its opposite, we begin to see the meaning of the cross. Glory or cross, glory or cross.

Cross and Shame

The cross, being the opposite of glory, is inglorious. Inglorious means shameful.

Jesus “endured the cross, despising the shame.” (Hb 12:2) The natural tendency is to try to gauge the pain of the cross. But can we gauge the shame of it?

It was not merely the excruciating physical torture that made crucifixion so unspeakable, but the devastation of shame that this death, above all others, represented.[3]

Cross and Suffering

The commentators give this explanation of the Devil’s temptation. The Devil’s promise of glory was a temptation to sin, not because Jesus should not have glory, but because his way to glory was the cross and suffering.

“And the glory of them” brings out the feature that made “all the kingdoms of the world” so desirable and attractive to Jesus who was to be the true king of this vast realm but only by achieving the kingship through suffering and death.[4]

To escape the way of the cross by being disobedient to the vocation of the suffering Servant despised and rejected by men, upon whom was to be laid the iniquity of us all, was Jesus’ greatest and most persistent temptation.[5]

Jesus had been appointed by God to rule the world. … But the path to this triumph was through suffering.[6]

Satan … pretended that he was willing to make matters much easier for Jesus. Jesus would not have to suffer and die to redeem the world.[7]

He was invited to become king over the whole vast realm without suffering. Had not the anointed ruler of Psalm 2 been promised universal dominion, the nations as his inheritance and the ends of the earth as his possession?[8]

After his resurrection, Jesus said to his confused disciples on the road to Emmaus, “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” (Lk 24:26) The cross and suffering were Jesus’ entry into glory.

Get Behind Me, Satan

When Peter confessed that Jesus was the Christ, “From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must … suffer many things … and be killed.” (Mt 16:21) Peter did not take well to this, and Jesus did not take well to Peter’s reaction.

Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, "Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!'' But He turned and said to Peter, "Get behind Me, Satan! (Mt 16:22-23)

Jesus called Peter Satan because Peter tempted him to the same sin as Satan had: to come into the glory of his Kingdom without the cross. But it must be the other way around. He must come into the cross without glory.

The cross means that Jesus is a King without glory. He is a shameful King and a suffering King. The cross is a scandal and an offense.

As much as that scandalizes and offends us all by itself, something else about it offends us more. He would not have had to suffer if He weren’t redeeming Adam’s fallen race by restoring to them his Kingdom. To restore the Kingdom to sinners, He had to undergo our shame and suffering of sin. It is no humiliation for us to be ashamed and suffer for our sin. But for Jesus, to go through our shame and suffering for us was humiliation. He volunteered for this.


1. Mark Goodacre, “Scripturalization in Mark’s Crucifixion Narrative” in Geert van Oyen and Thom Shepherd (eds.), The Trial and Death of Jesus: Essays on the Passion Narrative in Mark (Leuven: Peeters, 2006, p. 33.
2. Cicero, Pro Rabirio 16. Similarly, “It was, as Origen describes it, mors turpissima crucis, the utterly vile death of the cross, something the civilized person could not even bear to talk about.” Mark Goodacre, “Scripturalization in Mark’s Crucifixion Narrative” in Geert van Oyen and Thom Shepherd (eds.), The Trial and Death of Jesus: Essays on the Passion Narrative in Mark (Leuven: Peeters, 2006, p. 34.
3. Mark Goodacre, “Scripturalization in Mark’s Crucifixion Narrative” in Geert van Oyen and Thom Shepherd (eds.), The Trial and Death of Jesus: Essays on the Passion Narrative in Mark (Leuven: Peeters, 2006, pp. 33-34.
4.  R. C. H. Lenksi, The Interpretation of St. Matthew’s Gospel, p. 154 (Augsburg, 1943)
5. R. V. G. Tasker, The Gospel According to St. Matthew: An Introduction and Commentary, p. 54 (Tyndale, 1961)
6. James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of Matthew, vol. 1, The King and His Kingdom, p. 58 (Baker, 2001)
7. G. Jerome Albrecht & Michael J. Albrecht, People’s Bible Commentary: Matthew, p. 53 (Concordia, rev. ed. 2005)
8. Robert H. Smith, Augsburg Commentary on the New Testament: Matthew, p. 66 (Augsburg, 1989).


Saturday, March 5, 2011

What Is It about Kingdoms?

We have been considering the humiliation of Jesus. It has several steps. We have looked at:
We are about to carry on to the third step, his crucifixion.

Before looking at any of the steps, however, we considered the usefulness of setting the facts of Jesus’ voluntary humiliation in context. We have already benefited from that context in the postings about the first and second steps. In the third step, the context is not only beneficial. It is crucial.

The crucifixion is so cruel, bizarre, and obscene that we could lose focus. The vital thing is, what does it mean? Luther did not satisfy himself with giving out information. He had a habit of asking, “What does this mean” and teaching the meaning along with the information. The meaning of Jesus’ crucifixion depends on its context.

We saw that the context of the voluntary humiliation of Jesus has two parts:

In this posting, we will focus on one aspect of the King and the Kingdom that is crucial to what Jesus’ crucifixion means.

A Strong Temptation

The Devil’s wilderness temptation of Jesus tells us something about kings and kingdoms.

The Devil is not omniscient, but he is the Old Serpent. He has been at his game for a long time. Paul speaks of his wiles, and Moses speaks of his craftiness. He knew he was tempting the Second Adam. He knew Jesus was here to redeem the first Adam’s fallen race by restoring to them his Kingdom. He knew that the gospel is the Gospel of the Kingdom. For the Devil, the consequences were total. He had to use his strongest temptations, and they needed to work, or he would be eternal toast in the fires of hell.

In the wilderness, this was the Devil’s third and final temptation.

The devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. (Mt 4:8)

That’s the thing about kings and kingdoms, their glory. That’s what made this temptation strong.

Synonyms: Kingdom and Glory

Typically, when a king or a kingdom comes into view, glory comes into view. Jesus said, “Even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” (Mt 6:29) The glory of a king is “arrayed” so that we see it.

Salome and her two sons, James and John, asked that the sons be given the best places in Jesus’ kingdom. But the sons didn’t use the word kingdom.

They said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” (Mk 10:37)

Glory is so associated with kings and kingdoms that the word glory is used as a synonym for the word kingdom. Mark, in the verse above, quotes James and John. Their mother, Salome, also spoke. Matthew quotes her:

She said to him, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” (Mt 20;21)

She said kingdom. They said glory. They all are saying the same thing.

Therefore, when the Devil tempted Jesus with kingdoms, he was tempting Jesus with glory. Luke includes the Devil’s promissory words: “To you I will give all this authority and their glory.” (Lk 4:6)

What’s Wrong with Glory

But wait. Temptation is to sin. Since the gospel is the Gospel of the Kingdom, and since Jesus is the King of the Gospel, is Jesus to have no glory? What’s wrong with glory? How is this temptation?

Jesus is to have glory.

  • “To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever.” (1 Pet 4:11)
  • “You have crowned him with glory and honor.” (Hb 2:7)
  • “To him be glory and dominion forever and ever.” (Rev 1:6)
  • “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” (Rev 5:13)

Viewed from one angle, the problem with sin is that it falls short of the glory of God. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Rm 3:23) Jesus calls the children of the Kingdom into his glory.

  • “God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.” (1 Thes 2:12)
  • “When the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.” (1 Pet 5:4)

This shows in further depth the power of the temptation. The temptation had more power than we supposed at first because, besides the attraction of glory regardless whether glory is right or wrong, Jesus is supposed to have glory. Glory is right.

Glory or Cross

As King of the Gospel, Jesus should be exalted, but Jesus was humiliated. Jesus’ humiliation was voluntary. Humiliation was not forced upon him. His own humility brought on his humiliation. Jesus was A Volunteer for Humiliation. Although glory is right for the King, yet in the temptation, Jesus resisted the attraction of glory. Where did that get him?

The cross.

This sets up the context to answer of the crucifixion, “What does this mean?” Jesus chose the cross rather than glory. He could not get to the cross with glory. With the context, we know what the opposite of the cross is: glory. By knowing its opposite, we begin to see the meaning of the cross.

Glory or cross, glory or cross.