Jesus’ humility, Satan’s pride: whom do we follow?

Jesus' humility

Ecce Homo (Behold! The Man) / Antonio Ciseri, 1871. “The humble king they named a fraud, and sacrificed the Lamb of God.”

God is all-powerful, but when he chose to use his power to become a man, he also chose not to use power like other men. It is Satan who turns power into something coercive and egocentric.

It would be nice if we could say that Christians understand the situation and exercise power as Jesus did. Unfortunately, we can truthfully say no more than that some do, and they successfully imitate Christ maybe only some of the time.

Jesus’ humility

Philippians 2:6-8 (NLT) says

Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.

What’s more, the rightful king of the universe chose to come into the world as the son of a peasant girl in an obscure village. She and her husband were both of royal lineage, except that their family had had no power or even influence for generations.

According to Isaiah 53:2, “There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance, nothing to attract us to him.” (NLT). I think he must have been very ordinary looking, of very average height and build.

He called himself meek and lowly, even though he had the habit of making statements that infuriated the official Jewish leadership. When most people say something like that, doesn’t it make you want to look for the exit and guard your wallet? But Jesus managed to say it authentically.

Satan’s pride

Satan's pride, abuse of power

Satan Smiting Job with Boils / William Blake (1821)

Here’s one way Jesus infuriated his opponents. He pointed out that they were not sons of God, but the devil:

For you are the children of your father the devil, and you love to do the evil things he does. He was a murderer from the beginning. He has always hated the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies. (John 8:44)

Satan’s habit of speaking just enough of the truth to deceive people with his lies is amply demonstrated in Scripture.

Ezekiel’s lamentation over the King of Tyre includes language that could never be applied to any man.

You were in Eden, the garden of God. Your clothing was adorned with every precious stone—red carnelian, pale-green peridot, white moonstone, blue-green beryl, onyx, green jasper, blue lapis lazuli, turquoise, and emerald—all beautifully crafted for you and set in the finest gold. They were given to you on the day you were created.

I ordained and anointed as the mighty angelic guardian. You had access to the holy mountain of God and walked among the stones of fire. You were blameless in all you did from the day you were created until the day evil was found in you. Your rich commerce led you to violence, and you sinned. So I banished you in disgrace from the mountain of God. I expelled you, O mighty guardian, from your place among the stones of fire. (Ezekiel 28: 13-16)

Similarly, Isaiah’s lament over the King of Babylon must have application beyond any human king.  Here, perhaps, we  have Scripture’s only statement of Satan’s self-description.

How you are fallen from heaven, O shining star, son of the morning! You have been thrown down to the earth, you who destroyed the nations of the world. For you said to yourself, “I will ascend to heaven and set my throne above God’s stars. I will preside on the mountain of the gods far away in the north. I will climb to the highest heavens and be like the Most High.” Instead, you will be brought down to the place of the dead, down to its lowest depths. (Isaiah 14:12-15)

How Christians miss it

Lucifer (Satan), King of Hell

Engraving by Gustave Doré illustrating Canto XXXIV of Divine Comedy, Inferno, by Dante Alighieri. Caption: Lucifer, King of Hell

Three times, Satan claimed, “I will.” Each time it referred to defeating and supplanting a rival. “I will” is as good a two-word definition of pride as anyone could ask for.

Who of us has any right to claim that we have never entertained a similar ambition? And where does it come from? Satan wants to regain his position and mount another assault on God’s throne to claim it as its own. And he wants to use humans he has puffed up with pride as his stepping stones.

Now examine the Lord’s Prayer. Every clause is in the imperative mood. That is, in every petition, Jesus shows us how to tell God what to do. The psalms are full of similar language. By the same token, everything Jesus commanded us to command God is explicitly promised in Scripture.

Have you ever heard anyone (possibly including yourself) telling God to let him win the lottery? Or get the upper hand in some kind of struggle with another person? Or preserve him from the natural consequences of some sinful act? Those prayers are the form of Biblical prayers with unbiblical content.

I even heard a radio preacher spread a sermon he called “How to Write Your Own Ticket With God.” over an entire week of broadcasts! I’ll bet a lot of people wrote in to ask for it, too.

How many books, magazine articles, blog posts, etc. have been written on how to get your prayers answered? And too often,

we who devour them just want to find out how to get our own way. Scripture never quite promises that.

Earlier I described Jesus’ humility with a passage from Philippians. In the previous verse Paul tells each of us to have the same mind Jesus had. That humility is exactly what was on Jesus’ mind and ought to be on ours.

If we don’t hear God, we will certainly hear Satan. He will claim to be God if that’s what it takes to deceive us. But usually it’s enough for him to tell us how we can get our own way. Not that he ever delivers on his promise.

Jesus is humble and meek, but he’s still the boss. Satan paints glowing portraits of role models who seem more dynamic and exciting, stripped of humility and meekness, but he’s still not the boss.

Photo credits:
Ecce Homo. Public domain, from Wikimedia
Satan Smiting Job. Public domain from Wikimedia Commons.
Satan, from Dante, by Dore. Public domain from Wikimedia Commons.


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