Dear Church Family,
Continuing in our Sunday school lessons in the Westminster Larger Catechism (WLC), this past Sunday we covered questions 46-50. Here is a brief review.
WLC 42 speaks of how the Son of God, as our Mediator, is called “Christ” because He was anointed and set apart to execute the three offices of prophet, priest, and king of his Church – and how He fulfills these three offices in His two estates of humiliation and exaltation. Having examined how Christ executes the offices of prophet, priest, and king (WLC 43-45), the next set of questions examine the several aspects of Christ’s humiliation (WLC 46-50).
Before we begin, however, it might be helpful to understand why this is important. How does knowing the various aspects of Christ’s humiliation build up my faith? Well, there are actually several reasons. First, as we study what the Scriptures teach us about Christ’s humiliation – His being made low – we learn more about the person and pork of our Savior. That would be enough, but there are more benefits. When we see the depths to which Christ went to save us, our love, gratitude, and faith will grow. Finally, we will find confidence and assurance in our salvation as we learn about how Christ commiserates with us in our low condition; He compassion for us because He understands us. So, let’s begin.
WLC 46 What was the estate of Christ’s humiliation ?
A. The estate of Christ’s humiliation was that low condition, wherein he for our sakes, emptying himself of his glory, took upon him the form of a servant, in his conception and birth, life, death, and after his death, until his resurrection.
We find the humiliation of Christ summarized for us in Scripture in places like Philippians 2:5-8:
“Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
And this first question in this series of questions simply lists the four aspects of Christ’s humiliation: (1) conception and birth; (2) life; (3) death; (4) after his death, until his resurrection. The next four questions describe each of these aspects in turn.
WLC 47 How did Christ humble himself in his conception and birth?
A. Christ humbled himself in his conception and birth, in that, being from all eternity the Son of God, in the bosom of the Father, he was pleased in the fulness of time to become the son of man, made of a woman of low estate, and to be born of her; with divers circumstances of more than ordinary abasement.
We might be tempted to think that Christ’s humiliation began at His suffering or on the cross, but here we are reminded that His being made low actually began at His conception and birth – in His incarnation. “But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law” (Galatians 4:4).
When the catechism speak of the circumstances of His conception and birth as being “more than ordinary abasement,” it is referring to how Jesus’ early days were marked by extraordinary difficulty and lowliness. He was born in a stable. And then, His family had to flee their country in order to avoid being found and killed by the authorities. These are certainly more than ordinary abasements.
WLC 48 How did Christ humble himself in his life?
A. Christ humbled himself in his life, by subjecting himself to the law, which he perfectly fulfilled, and by conflicting with the indignities of the world, temptations of Satan, and infirmities in his flesh, whether common to the nature of man, or particularly accompanying that his low condition.
Though He was perfect, holy, and without sin, Jesus subjected Himself to the law of God and perfectly fulfilled it (Matthew 5:17). This is the basis of the biblical teaching of how God is able to justify sinners: by imputing the righteousness of Christ which He earned through His perfect obedience. “…through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:19).
Throughout the Westminster Standards, this is a common way of speaking about the three enemies of God’s people: the world, the flesh (or indwelling sin), and the devil (e.g., WCF 1.1; 5:6; 17:3; 20:1; WLC: 27, 48, 191, 195). These are the three enemies as described by the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 2:1-3. So, in this question, we learn of how, in His life, Christ conflicted with three enemies – enemies with which all men must wage war: the indignities of the world, the temptations of Satan, and the infirmities of the flesh. Similarly, an earlier question in the catechism (WLC 27) describes the misery which was brought upon mankind in the fall as three-fold: by nature, we are children of wrath, bond slaves of Satan, and justly liable to all punishments in this world.
The significance of this is hopefully apparent. The fall brought all mankind into an estate of misery in that we are tempted by the world (1 John 2:16), enslaved to our own lusts and passions (John 8:34), and citizens of the domain of darkness (Colossians 1:13); however, Christ was victories in His conflict with these enemies. And, His victory was meritorious. He has conquered the world, our flesh, and the devil; through faith in Christ, He has given the victory and set us free (1 Corinthians 15:54-57; 2 Corinthians 2:14; Colossians 2:15; 1 John 5:4).
WLC 49 How did Christ humble himself in his death?
A. Christ humbled himself in his death, in that having been betrayed by Judas, forsaken by his disciples, scorned and rejected by the world, condemned by Pilate, and tormented by his persecutors, having also conflicted with the terrors of death and the powers of darkness, felt and borne the weight of God’s wrath, he laid down his life an offering for sin, enduring the painful, shameful, and cursed death of the cross.
There are two aspects of Christ’s humiliation in His death which the catechism addresses in this question: in Christ’s relationship to mankind and in His relationship to God. In His death, Christ was humbled in His relationship to mankind; He was betrayed by Judas, forsaken by his disciples, scorned and rejected by the world, condemned by Pilate, and tormented by His persecutors. In His death, Christ was also humbled in His relationship to God; He conflicted with the terrors of death and the powers of darkness, felt and borne the weight of God’s wrath, laid down His life an offering for sin, and endured the painful, shameful, and cursed death of the cross.
The first aspect of Christ’s humiliation in death (with respect to mankind) helps to establish the historicity of Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross. It also helps us to see the complete abandonment of all men – His utter isolation. The second aspect (with respect God) helps us to see how Christ suffered the curse that was due us for our sin and bore the weight of God’s wrath. Foretelling of Christ’s substitutionary death, the Scriptures declare, “Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed” (Isaiah 53:4-5). And Jesus was fully aware that He was bearing the punishment for our sin when He cried out from the cross, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46)
WLC 50 Wherein consisted Christ’s humiliation after his death?
A. Christ’s humiliation after his death consisted in his being buried, and continuing in the state of the dead, and under the power of death till the third day; which hath been otherwise expressed in these words, He descended into hell.
This last question deals with the fourth and final aspect of Christ’s humiliation: his burial. After His death, Christ continued in the state of the dead and under the power of death for three days. More specifically, after His death, but before His resurrection, Christ’s body remained in the tomb (Matthew 12:40), but His spirit (or His human reasonable soul, see WLC 37) went to heaven or paradise (Luke 23:39-43).
WLC 50 makes reference to a phrase from the Apostles’ Creed that gives expression to this final aspect of Christ’s humiliation: “He descended into hell.” We ran out of time in our Sunday school class, but will take this up next week so that we might better understand what is that we confess and believe regarding Christ’s humiliation, or being made low, after His death. I hope you will join us!
The Lord be with you!
– Pastor Peter M. Dietsch