Imagine you are walking in the mountains and you get to a sign which points down to the valley with the word “summit” marked on it – what would you make of it?
How about if you were in an airport looking for the rooftop viewing area and the sign directing you there took an escalator to the basement?
The Bible contains many such paradoxes – to truly live we must die; we are like grass on the rooftops or a vapour in the wind and yet our heavenly Father cares so tenderly for us.
As we travel on our journey through life, there are often times when things don’t make sense as we are going through them, they seem somehow upside down, but God reminds us in Isaiah 55:8 that, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are my ways your ways.” Sometimes God’s ways seem unintuitive, but as we are led by the Holy Spirit, we know in our hearts that they are right. Following His leading and direction requires faith, and the wisdom of the Way sometimes only becomes apparent in retrospect.
In Matthew 23:12, Jesus says something that seems paradoxical and unintuitive:
Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
Derek Prince used this verse as the basis for a teaching called The Way Up is Down. In it, he explains that just as there are physical laws of nature, that there are also spiritual laws. Like gravity which doesn’t cease for any man, spiritual laws are always in operation throughout the universe – in the spiritual and the physical realm. One such law is that when we exalt ourselves, we are subject to humiliation, but when we humble ourselves, God will exalt us in due time.
On the negative side, we have the prime example of Lucifer (light bringer) in Isaiah 14:13-15. Here God is charging him with his sin:
You said in your heart, “I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.” But you are brought down to the grave, to the depths of the pit.
Derek Prince explains:
There is the most perfect contrast in this respect between Lucifer, who became Satan, and Jesus, who was and is by nature the Son of God, God Himself. Satan reached up, slipped and fell. Jesus stooped down and was lifted up. If you can focus your mind on those two beings, you’ll see the most perfect illustration of this truth. But the truth applies in every area of every life in every time and situation. Let me say it again. The way up is down.
There were two notable occasions where Jesus humbled Himself on our behalf. The first is in the creation. Now, God’s response to this rebellion was something that only God would have thought of, as I see it. And I’m giving you some of my insights or intuitions or opinions, whatever you want to call them. Notice the root problem was pride. And I believe God saw that once and for all this issue of pride had got to be dealt with in such a way that when it was finished, that problem would never occur again. And so God decided to make a new kind of creature: his name, Adam [or man]. And as I understand Scripture, this creature was made in a way that no other creature was made. Of all the other creatures it says “God spoke” and it was done. With the word of His mouth and His Spirit He created the heavens and their host, all that was in them. But this one was different and I’m going to read just one verse in Genesis chapter 2 verse 7. This is one of my favourite verses.
And the LORD God formed man . . .
And in Hebrew it’s a proper name, Adam. And Adam is directly related to the Hebrew word for “earth” which is adama. It’s also related to the Hebrew word for “red” which is adon and it’s also related to the Hebrew word for “blood” which is dam. So that word immediately evokes a whole context of associations.
And the LORD God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being. (NIV)
I prefer the version “a living soul.”
So how do we picture this happening? I’ll tell you what I believe. I believe it happened the way it’s recorded. I believe that the second person of the Godhead, the one, in a sense, who had been the focus of the rebellion, came down to earth, stooped down, took some dust, mingled it with water, formed clay and moulded the greatest piece of pottery or sculpture that the universe has ever seen. A perfect body. Beautiful, but lifeless. And then, this eternal being, God in person, stooped still lower down, put His divine lips against the lips of clay and breathed into that body of clay the spirit of life. And the inbreathed Spirit turned that clay figure into a living, human personality.
Seven Steps Down
The second occasion where Jesus humbled Himself on our behalf is concisely and eloquently contained in Philippians 2:5-11
Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
The passage opens with the encouragement that we should have the same mind as Christ Jesus or, as the NASB says, “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form as God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.”
There He’s in direct opposition to Satan who did consider equality with God something to be grasped, reached up, grasped for it, slipped and fell … irretrievably.
Then we have the seven steps downward:
1. Jesus made Himself of no reputation. He laid aside all the attributes of divinity.
2. Jesus took the form of a bondservant. He took the form of a servant. He who was the Lord became the servant. However, there are various kinds of servants in the universe. He could have become equal with the angels and been a servant. The Scripture says in Hebrews “He was made a little lower than the angels.”
3. Jesus came in the likeness of a man. He became a man, not an angel.
4. Jesus took on the appearance of a man. He could have taken on what I would call “the Adamic perfection.” He could have appeared as Adam appeared in majesty and beauty and glory before the fall. But He didn’t appear like that. Because when He walked the streets of His hometown, Nazareth, there was nothing special externally to distinguish Him from all the other people of the town.
5. Jesus humbled Himself. Not merely was He a man of His time but He was a humble man of His time. He was not a prince, He was not a wealthy man, He was not a political leader, He was not a military commander. He had none of those aspects or functions which impress people in the natural.
6. Jesus became obedient to death. Not merely lived as a man but died as a man.
7. Jesus died on a cross. The ultimate of humiliation, shame, rejection and agony.
So those are the seven great steps down to the lowest place of all, the place of the criminal, the reject. Rejected by men and even rejected by God the Father on our account.
Now, in verse 9, look at the first word. What is it? Therefore. You see, this is the outworking of a divine law. This is not an accident. Jesus was not exalted because He was God’s Son. He was exalted because He earned it. You see that? There are two therefore’s in this passage. I’ll show you another one in a moment. See, even Jesus was subject to this law. There is no one in the universe who is not subject to this law. Whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
Seven Steps Up
Now let’s look at the exaltation which also has seven aspects to it.
1. Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place
2. God gave Him the name that is above every name. The King James says “a name” but the correct translation is “the name.” There’s only one name that’s above every name. And that’s the name of Jesus.
3. At the name of Jesus, every knee should bow.
And then four, five and six are the different areas of the universe in which knees will bow.
4. In heaven.
5. On earth.
6. Under the earth.
The three great areas of the universe are all going to acknowledge the exaltation of Jesus by bowing their knees.
7. Finally, every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.
Seven steps down and seven steps up. But He could not take the steps up until He’d taken the steps down. I invite you to meditate on that therefore. Therefore, God gave Him the highest place in the universe. For many years I thought it was all worked out in advance. Jesus was just going to do certain things and then God would automatically exalt Him. But I saw that it wasn’t so. Jesus had to meet the conditions to be exalted. And if He had to meet them, believe me, you and I have to meet them, too.
Now, if you have a translation similar to mine, the 12th verse, which is the application to our lives, begins with what word? Therefore. You notice the second therefore? Therefore, it’s going to work for you and me. That’s what it says. It worked in Jesus, it’s got to work in us. The same attitude that was in Jesus has to be in us.
Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed— . . .
Humility leads to obedience. And pride leads to disobedience. Pride was the source of rebellion in Satan.. . . not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.
So the working out of our salvation with fear and trembling is the working out of this principle. That we have to humble ourselves to be exalted.
The opportunities to learn this lesson seem ever-present. In the opening examples, looking back from the summit, it is easy to see that going down into the valley was the only way to get to the top via a passable route; going down the escalator revealed a lift to the rooftop.
When we look at our circumstances, it is sometimes difficult to follow the Holy Spirit’s leading since we sometimes think that we can see the end from the beginning. Even if we catch a glimpse of the finish line, only the Lord knows what truly lies between here and there.
Heavenly Father, thank-you for Jesus and the perfect example He is for us. Help us to make the continual decision to humble ourselves before You and not to choose our own way. Quicken us by your Holy Spirit to surrender our wills to Yours, confident that our surrender will ultimately result in our exaltation – by You and in Your time. Amen
– Peter Lindop