Salvation would not be effected without Christ’s having come down to earth and enduring all the indignities that he did. This abasement is typically expressed as his humiliation. The Apostle’s Creed summarizes it as his being conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, sufferings under Pontius Pilate; crucifixion, death, burial and descent into hell. Let us look at each of these briefly.
Holy Conception & Birth
Of course, the conception and birth of Christ seeks to emphasize that Christ really did have a human nature. From Mary he received actual DNA and the composition of humanity.
On the other side, the miraculous nature of his birth expresses the divinity and distinction of the Christ. In being conceived by the Spirit, without the means of a human father, he diverts the normal process of sinful generation. He becomes a second Adam, who has no corruption.
Yet, we must not miss the ignominy that is associated with this.
1. He was born in a low condition: This is to recognize that Christ’s taking flesh was a radical break with his former state of being. In heaven he had a “high” condition, in that he was comforted with its peace and prosperity, enjoyed the servitude of angels, was shrowded with infinite glory and had perfect rule and dominion of all. In his birth he shunned these, preferring instead to be in a helpless state (as all babies are) and without any nobility.
His lowly state was also expressed in his life-long state of poverty. It was one thing to take a state of humanity (to be born in the form of a worm), but the state of that humanity was the lowliest of its kind. His parents had to offer the offering of the poor (Christ’s escape to Egypt was likely funded by the gifts from the Maji). He himself during his ministry had no where to lay his head. He had no tomb of his own, and even the few clothes he had were taken from him.
2. He was made under the law: This was a humiliating act because he himself was not by nature under it. As the Soveriegn Lord and Lawgiver he was above the law and not subject to it. He could make and change the laws as he chose (so to speak). His coming to earth in human form meant that he must now submit to the earthly governors. In sum, the King of kings and Lord of lords became the subject of kings and lords.
3. He faced the indignities of the world: When you bring a girl home to meet your parents, you want your siblings to be on their best behavior, and you try your best to keep her from meeting crazy Uncle Bob, who is renown for his crude jokes, lack of manners, and disgusting bodily noises. What you are trying to do is save her from having to face the indignities of your family.
Christ faced the indignities of this world in that he was surrounded by profane people and all the disgrace that is entailed with that.
4. He was challenged by Satan & his temptations: In the book of Job we read that Satan had to get permission from the Lord to do anything. He was no threat to the Lord. In his humiliation he was made liable to Satan’s attacks and experienced the full enticement of those temptations. The NT does not describe how horrible it must have been for Christ to experience this. Yet we cannot underestimate how horrendous this experience must have been.
5. He suffered the associated pains of earthly life: Christ had new sensations that were not becoming of his divine nature: hunger, fatigue, thirst. Physical pain was more than simply a cruel sensation (He deserved to be treated well and nobly pampered. He also experienced emotional pains associated with slander, repudiation, looming execution, etc.
Suffered under Pilate
As with his holy conception and birth the creed’s statement of his suffering under Pontius Pilate is synecdoche. It represents all his earthly sufferings that lead up to his death and that for which we may call him the “Man of Sorrows, acquainted with grief”. These include…
1. His being betrayed by Judas and forsaken of his disicples: Christ, in his humanity, had friends. Close friends at that. They were his confidants and the ones with whom he experienced camaraderie. We must not think that Christ had a stoic attitude towards his earthly associates. He loved them, laughed with them, and bonded with them as any mortal would. We likely have experienced a friend forsaking us or turning his back on us. Christ experienced this on a grand scale.
2. He was scorned & rejected by the world: He came to his own, but his own did not receive him. We often see Christ in conflict with the Religious leaders. We must not think that his rebukes were out of anger only. They were no doubt accompanied with tears. To be run out of towns and ridiculed by throngs would have no doubt multiplied his grief.
3. He was condemned by Pilate: To have a sentence passed against you is distressing. But it is different if you are innocent. Since Pilate knew that Christ was innocent (and even sought to persuade the audience and be something of an advocate for Christ’s release), it would have been even more troubling.
4. He was tormented by his persecutors: This should be obvious enough. Let us not forget though that Christ suffered numerous beatings, perhaps 4 altogether (one the hand of the Jews, one at the hand of Pilate, one at the hand of Herod, one at the hand of the crowds as he was led to Galgotha—it was their custom to “get their digs” as they were being led to the place of execution).
5. He conflicted with the terrors of death: Besides suffering the brutality of men, he experienced the mental anguish over his impending execution in the Garden of Gethsemene. This was of such an extreme degree that his pores began to seep blood (in other words, his capalaries were under such stress that they broke and released blood).
Was Crucified, dead, and buried.
It is not the intent now to detail the humiliating depths of crucifixion. It is enough for our purposes to say that it was a painful and shameful way to die. The Creed does not fail to mention that Christ actually died and, to prove such, was buried. In this we are reminded that Christ became “maximus peccar,” the supreme sinner, and bore the wages of sin.
His Descent into hell
This phrase has been the subject of much dispute. Some take it to mean that Christ, subsequent to his death, went to the locality of hell, where OT saints were said to be waiting and set them free so that they may, at long last, enter heaven. This interpretation, which is held by RCC and some Protestant churches, is based on an errant understanding of 1 Peter. 3:18f). Some take this statement to be a reiteration of Christ’s sufferings on the cross, this time pertaining to the mental agonies that he endured.
Perhaps the best way to understand this phrase is that Christ remained under the power of death for a time. The word hell is the word Gehenna, which indicates the grave (i.e. he remained in the realm and under the power of death). It’s positioning in the Creed, after buried, seems to indicate such. It then reminds us that the full penalty of death was paid by Christ.
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.