The Humility of Jesus

The Creator of the universe, the Lord of all, calls Himself humble. Pastor Charles Edward Jefferson explains the humbling significance for us.

No crown of gold for this king

“‘Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden; and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.’ That sentence is unique in the Gospel. There is nothing else at all like it. It is a bit of autobiography which is immeasurably precious. Nowhere is Jesus recorded as having said, ‘Come unto me, for I am patient — for I am courageous — for I am self-sacrificing;’ but here for the first time he calls attention to one of his characteristics.”

“He has allowed other men to call attention to this virtue or that grace, but he himself will bring out the fact that he is humble. At this point he takes the brush in his own hand, saying, ‘I will put this color on myself’. . . . He says, ‘Come unto me, I have something to teach you, I should like to teach you humility.'”

I Am Humble

“Possibly no other virtue in the catalogue of Christian virtues is so misunderstood as this one. No other one has been so often erroneously defined, no other grace has been so persistently counterfeited and caricatured. . . . One person says it is taking a low estimate of one’s deserts; another says it is making one’s self small. Another says it is a sense of inferiority in the presence of others. Another says it is a sense of imperfection, or of ill desert. Another says that it is softness, passivity, a willingness to submit.”

“All of these definitions are proved to be erroneous the moment we carry them into the atmosphere of the New Testament. The humility which Jesus requires of those who follow him is the humility which he had himself, and certainly his humility was not meanness of spirit. There was nothing cringing or crawling in him. When has there walked the earth a man who held his head higher than did he? When has the world known a man of such lofty, regnant spirit? . . . Let us then come close to him in order to understand just what he means when he says, ‘I am meek and lowly in heart.'”

I Am Teachable

“Jesus gave his disciples three great lessons on the subject of humility. . . . You will find the first of them recorded in the eighteenth of Matthew, the first five verses. On a certain occasion Jesus takes a little child, and putting him in the midst, says: ‘Whoever shall humble himself as a little child the same shall be great in the kingdom of heaven. Except ye become as a little child, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom.'”

“And what is the crowning characteristic of a little child? It is teachableness, docility, willingness to learn. A child is eager for knowledge, he is everlastingly asking questions, he is always bent on investigation, he pries into everything. He wants to go to the roots of everything. He always wants you to tell him one more story, he will wear a half dozen grown people out simply by the questions which he asks — so hungry is he for knowledge. This teachableness is humility.”

“Not only is he free from self-sufficiency, but he is free from vanity. A little child is not vain of the belongings of its parents. . . . It plays with perfect contentment with a child in the street whose parents have no carriages and who are too poor to own diamonds. . . . It also knows nothing of ambition, it knows nothing of social aspirations. Place before it the queen of England and its own mother, and it will choose its mother every time, though she be nothing but a washwoman — so simple, so human, so beautiful is the heart of a child. It is this characteristic of the child heart that Jesus loves.”

“It was because the Pharisees did not have it that he criticized them and condemned them. They were not teachable, they knew everything. Nobody could tell them anything. They were vain, they blew trumpets and called attention to their decorations. They loved salutations. They were ambitious, they were always pushing themselves forward, taking the chief places at the feasts. He could do nothing with them because they were not humble. He, on the other hand, had the heart of a child.”

I Am a Servant

“Let us now turn to the twentieth of Matthew, verses twenty-five to twenty-eight. His disciples, in spite of all his admonitions and teachings, are filled with the ambitious spirit. They all want to be first. They want to be high up. Two of them ask for chief places in his kingdom. . . . Jesus calls the twelve around him and says: ‘You know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant.'”

“Here we get another note in the grace of humility. It is not only teachableness, freedom from vanity and ambition, but it is also a willingness to serve. A humble man is a man who is ready to make himself useful. A man of lowly spirit is a man who will help his brethren, and here again Jesus in substance says: ‘Come unto me, for I am meek and lowly in heart. . . . The Son of Man came not to be ministered unto but to minister.'”

“Does this not paint the picture of his life? . . . ‘He went about doing good.’ He never patronized, nor looked down. He made himself of no reputation if only he could help those that needed help. He did not underestimate his powers, or make himself small, or feel himself to be unworthy; he simply came down to where men were in order to do them good. That is Christian humility.”

I Am Eternal

“The third lesson in humility was given his disciples on the very night of his betrayal, in the upper chamber. You will find the incident recorded in the thirteenth chapter of the Gospel according to St. John. The disciples are still filled with the ambitious spirit. They have not yet learned the joy of serving, for all have nettled hearts because they have not gotten the places they wanted, and Jesus unwilling to allow the feast to go forward arises from the table, and taking a basin and girding himself with a towel proceeds to rinse the dust from the disciples’ feet.”

“He goes on to explain the meaning of his action, telling them, just as he has been willing to do the work of a slave in order to serve them, so they also must be willing to serve one another. Here, again, we see what humility really is. It is laying aside one’s dignity, it is making one’s self of no reputation, it is a willingness to come down, it is a delight in rendering service.”

“Why was Jesus able to do this? St. John gives the explanation in the wonderful words, ‘Knowing that he came from God, and was going back to God.’ It was not because he had mean ideas of himself, nor because he desired to make himself small; it was because he knew his divine origin and his divine destiny.”

“This is the secret of humility everywhere and always. A man is never humble except by coming close to God. It is by thinking of the Eternal that man becomes willing to do the things which otherwise would be difficult or impossible. It is because we do not know that we have come from God, and forget that we are going back to Him that we make such an ado about our dignity, and prize so highly our reputation, and are so lordly and so lofty-minded, and take such delight in putting on airs. Only he who is sure of God possesses the secret of humility.”

I Am Strong Enough To Be Meek

“Much of the so-called humility of the world is not humility at all. It is a slimy, crawling, despicable, snaky thing, a compound of vanity and falsehood. People who say they do not amount to anything, they cannot do anything, they have no talent, they do not know anything — never speak the truth. . . . They know they are not speaking the truth. It is their egotism masquerading under the form of humility. There is no vainer form of vanity than the vanity which apes humility.”

“The humility which Jesus wants, and which he exemplified in his life, is a form of strength. Only the strong man can be really humble. It is willingness to lay aside one’s rights, it is a refusal to use one’s power, it is a readiness to come down and to make one’s self of no reputation. Jesus was always giving up his rights, he was always refusing to use his power. . . . Hanging on the cross his enemies taunted him, saying, ‘Let him save himself.’ When they saw he would not save himself they supposed he did not because he could not, and they broke out in hateful jeers, ‘He saved others, himself he cannot save.’ But they were mistaken. He had the power to save himself, he would not use it. He could have called twelve legions of angels, but he would not call them. He was meek and lowly of heart, and was willing to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Excerpts from The Character of Jesus by Charles Edward Jefferson (Thomas Y. Crowell & Co., 1908)

2 thoughts on “The Humility of Jesus

  1. Humble Jesus at work: How has Jesus taught you humility? How has He made you more teachable? more willing to serve your neighbor? less full of yourself?

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