The life to which you have been called by God is one of anonymity. It is one that not only suggests but demands a persistent humility before God and others. This type of humility is not simply willed into existence. It is not forged by human exertion. It is gifted from the Spirit of God in having eyes to see supreme beauty in the humiliation of Christ and being stirred to go and do likewise for others. If in this life you welcome this humility, you will find your eternal exaltation. The kingdom of God will welcome in adoration the unadorned. Yet if you seek exaltation in this life, you will have it only for a season and be left to embrace eternal humiliation.
This is the point Jesus makes in Mark 10.42-45:
And Jesus called [the disciples] to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
There are several things in this text that help teach us about true humility. First, Jesus is both the model and motivation for our humility. He is not only the model for our humility, and he is not only the motivation for our humility. He is both.
Jesus says in verse 45, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Notice the emphatic language Jesus employs—“for even the Son of Man.” The “Son of Man” title is a kingly one. Jesus pulls it from Daniel 7.13-14 which reads:
And behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.
Jesus’ self-applied title “Son of Man” evokes strong, everlasting, royal imagery. And yet Jesus weds this imagery with sacrificial “ransom for many” language evoking the imagery of Isaiah’s suffering servant in Isaiah 53. The eternal king of Daniel 7 is also the suffering servant of Isaiah 53. Marvel at the humility of Jesus! Marvel that the eternal Son of Man enthroned in resplendent glory left the throne room of Heaven to undertake undeserved and unspeakable suffering “as a ransom for many” who in stood against him in hostile rebellion. The only proper response is to hastily put off the old garment of pride sewn in sin and to joyfully put on the new garment of humility sewn for you by the Spirit. You should be constrained to cultivate by the Spirit a daily discipline of beholding the humility of Jesus that won for you an eternal exaltation with him.
Marvel that the eternal Son of Man enthroned in resplendent glory left the throne room of Heaven to undertake undeserved and unspeakable suffering “as a ransom for many” who in stood against him in hostile rebellion.
As already mentioned, Jesus is not only our motivation for humility. He does not motivate us toward humility and leave us looking elsewhere for a model. He himself is our model. As the eternal, preeminent Son of Man, Jesus is exceedingly exalted above the children of man. He, as their Creator and King, is also the object of their sinful rebellion. And yet He, even He, stoops down in love to serve and to be a slave. Mark does not leave us guessing as to how the humility of Jesus interacts with the world. Following verse 45 in chapter 10, Mark recounts the story of Jesus’ encounter with a blind beggar named Bartimaeus. If there was ever anyone put together enough to merit Jesus’ service it certainly is not Bartimaeus. He is blind. He is poor. He is an outcast. The crowds ignorantly pass him by day by day as he sits on the roadside begging for leftover crumbs and spare change. And yet Jesus, in his loving, humble interaction with this blind beggar shows us what it means to pour out one’s life with the single aim of the good of others. As he is moving through the massive crowd that gathered around him, Jesus stops upon hearing the blind beggar cry out, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” He calls Bartimaeus to him who begs, “Rabbi, let me recover my sight. Let me see!” Bartimaeus did nothing to deserve the restoration of his sight. Jesus owed this man nothing. And yet, Jesus says to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” This is the aim of humility—the good of others even when undeserved. If you ever wonder, “What should humility look like?” look to Jesus. He alone is the standard of true humility.
Jesus, in his loving, humble interaction with this blind beggar shows us what it means to pour out one’s life with the single aim of the good of others.
There are two points from this passage in Mark that are critical to understand regarding the type of humility motivated and modeled by Jesus. First, humility requires a rejection of the world. Jesus says in versed 42 and 43, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you.” Jesus completely flips the world’s understanding of authority and power and position on its head. The world thinks the more powerful you are, the prestigious office you hold, the more people you can summon to serve you. But Jesus rejects this way of thinking and denies it any presence in his kingdom. You will often be tempted to posture yourself in pride and arrogance over your brothers and sisters in the body. Reject such temptation. It is counter to the kingdom of God and will not serve the church but only harm her.
Instead, Jesus says, become a servant and a slave to all. This is the second point: humility requires an embrace of servanthood. In stark contrast to the world’s understanding of power and authority, Jesus declares in verses 43 and 44, “But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.” This is a beautiful paradox! In the kingdom of God, instead of greatness deserving service, greatness demands serving. If you desire to be great you must be a servant. If you desire to be great you must be a slave.
In the kingdom of God, instead of greatness deserving service, greatness demands serving.
The call upon you, brothers and sisters, is not a call to seek your own benefit and advantage. It is a call to lower yourself to the uttermost, to exhaust yourself, to disappear in service of others. It is a call, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer famously penned, to come and die. Or as Count Nicholas von Zinzendorf urged, preach the gospel, die and be forgotten. And those who have come and died to themselves, those who have anonymously served the gospel without regard to their own name, those who have humbled themselves under the mighty hand of God will be exalted upon their entrance into the kingdom of God. The servant will be exalted. The nameless shall receive names. The invisible shall be made visible. The unadorned will be adorned.