JESUS CHRIST, the Lord of all Creation, walked everywhere, every day, for countless miles. In sandals! He rode into Jerusalem on Passover on a donkey! Not in a palanquin with servant-slaves carrying Him. In Western civilization today, we tend to focus on making the best name for ourselves. But God sent Jesus into a broken world as a servant. Christ was the perfect example of how to put the needs of others above His own. Because of His great love for us, He chose to come to earth in the flesh—the Godhead bodily.[fn1] He obeyed the Father to the point of crucifixion. Before beginning His ministry, Jesus lived and worked as a carpenter. A tradesman, not an elder in a local synagogue. Amazingly, His job included building solid structures (capable and reliable foundations) for benches, chairs, and tables. He ate, walked, and talked with Samaritans, Gentiles, the poor and downtrodden, the sick and handicapped, publicans, prostitutes, women and children. Amazingly, He never acting toward them as if He considered Himself above them.(1)
“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, [fn2] being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:4-8).
Jesus arrived on earth through the most humble of means. He was born of a virgin, Mary, who was betrothed to Joseph. The Bible provides very little information about Joseph, but he clearly was an honorable and faithful man. As he and his new bride had not yet been intimate, Joseph thought Mary conceived a child with another man. Wanting to avoid shaming Mary, he decided to divorce her quietly. But God appeared to Joseph in a dream, telling him, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:20:21). Joseph chose to remain married to Mary, which teaches us something important about this man who was now the earthly father of Jesus. Joseph’s heart and character indicates he was a kind and tenderhearted man, whose concern for others was exceeded only by his love and obedience to God.
Jesus, Gentle and Lowly in Heart
Jesus said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:28-30). Jesus tells us He is “gentle and lowly.” Curious words to be spoken by the Lord of the universe. When I kneel before Jesus, I don’t typically see Him as a lowly figure. Rather, I see Him as the Word that created all that is, and nothing exists that was not created by Him. By His hand, indeed, by His Word, He sustains creation minute by minute. If He were to pull back from maintaining everything, molecules would crash into each other and all matter would burst apart and spiral into oblivion. Yet, Jesus says He is lowly in heart. He is kind, tender, compassionate, and humble. There’s that h-word again: Humble. If the Lord Jesus Christ is humble, how much more are we to practice humility?
Lord, We thank you for being a compassionate and gracious Savior. We want to model your gentle and lowly heart in our hurting world. Fill us with more of You and help us remember that you are the calm in the storm and are always in control. May we model your goodness as we share you throughout our community! Amen!
Eugene Peterson’s translation The Message: Remix is a paraphrase of the Bible. Beginning with Philippians 2:3, Peterson writes, “Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget [yourself] long enough to lend a helping hand. Think of [yourself] the way Christ Jesus thought of himself.”(2) Paul instructs us to be of the same mind as Christ, having the same love, in full accord and of one mind. Matthew Henry explains Philippians 2:1-4 as “…further exhortations to Christian duties; to like-mindedness and lowly-mindedness, according to the example of the Lord Jesus.”(3) Henry adds, “Kindness is the law of Christ’s kingdom.”(4) As followers of Christ, we are to be compassionate toward one another. Frankly, neither inward nor outward peace can be found without lowliness of mind.
Loyalty, Willingness, Sacrifice
Many people consider the donkey to be stubborn and stupid. However, because the donkey has such a strong survival instinct, it can be difficult to get it to do something it perceives as dangerous. However, once its owner gains its trust, the donkey becomes a willing and companionable partner and very dependable. Donkeys do their best work when they trust their owner. Once comfortable with the owner, a donkey will do almost anything within its limits. As a bonus, donkeys need minimal training. In this regard, the donkey is a gentle and lowly animal: loyal and reliable. Perhaps “stubbornness” is best left to the affairs of mankind, for a stubborn person does only what he or she wants and refuses to proceed in any other way even if it is dangerous!
Stubbornness can also signify a sign of insecurity (i.e., in one’s self), not just a concern for perilous conditions. Strong-willed individuals are capable of understanding the need for compromise. A stubborn person will typically accuse, blame, humiliate, insult, or repeatedly criticize people in order to shift focus from “self” to others. The root cause of this is low self-esteem and lack of self confidence. Contrast this with the assurance Christ has in who He is: God in the flesh; the Word by which all things were created; the Son of God; the righteous judge of mankind; King of all kings; Messiah, the “Anointed One.” Yet, though He was God, He did not consider it as a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself and took on the form of a servant, born in the likeness of man. He was strong-willed in understanding the paramount importance of His mission as the sacrifice for the sins of mankind. The Creator became flesh in order to die for the creation.
Just before He entered Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, Jesus said to two of the disciples, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them. And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, ‘Who is this?'” (Matt. 21: 2, 7, 10). The NIV translation says puts it this way: “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness” (Phil. 2:6-7, NIV). In other words, Jesus came as a servant of the Father, being like us in all things except sin. He stooped from glory, and never once called on His “God power” to navigate being fully man. He did so to set forth an example to follow so we can “resemble” Him in our own earthly journey.
So, What is Your Donkey?
The King of kings and Lord of lords was obedient to the will of the Father, even unto death by crucifixion. Although He arrived in Jerusalem for Passover to the cries of “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel” (John 12:13), He rode in on a donkey. The humble act of riding on an ass notwithstanding, there is a significant theological component to Jesus arriving on a donkey. This is fulfillment of the prophecy given by Zechariah: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zech. 9:9).
What are you willing to give up in order to serve? Are you able to be humble and not prideful; relentless about facing your faults and defects of character; not quick to judge others? If we are to be successful in our ministering to others (without pretense but with a willing heart and an unimpeachable life) then our duty to attend to them must become natural to us in our new life through Christ. In 1 Corinthians, Paul gives us clear insight into the everyday life of the New Testament church. He then offers us a unique glimpse into the heart and soul of a servant of the gospel in 2 Corinthians. For example, transparency, joy, good relationships, sincerity, reputation, service, humility, leadership, performance and accountability, reconciliation, encouragement, generosity, timely fulfillment of obligations, and the proper use of the gifts, talents, and resources God has given to us. To be candid, I cannot think of a more comprehensive definition of being humble.
Humility does not mean thinking less of yourself; it means thinking of yourself less often. To humble yourself as a believer in Christ involves recognizing that God is sovereign over your life; that you no longer belong to yourself. You are called, redeemed, restored. Indeed, you are God’s very elect. Being humble as a Christian includes understanding that you are no longer your first priority. You now come second behind God and others. It also means seeking God’s will for your life and walking that out with a joyful and willing heart. Paul writes, “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phil. 2:4).
We must humble ourselves just as Christ humbled Himself. He placed himself second, and was obedient even unto death, so we can be freed from the wages and bondage of sin. He left His throne in heaven, seated beside the Father, and rode into Jerusalem on a donkey knowing He would suffer and die in just a few days. Following after Christ, we must also have a humble and lowly heart. We must give up stature; put Christ before all else; tear down the idol of self; lean in to God’s will; repent from fleshly habits and pleasures; stop the need of always being right; cut off relationships that keep pulling us back into sin; admit that we are weak; surrender absolutely by taking up our cross and becoming willing to die for the gospel. Being humble does not demand that we ride on a donkey; it demands that we are willing to give up all things and do all things necessary to ride out the rest of our lives in the will of the Father and in service to others.
Even if it requires riding on a donkey.
Steven Barto, B.S. Psy., M.A. Theology
(1) See https://www.teachingtruth.org/bible-articles-1/jesus-example-of-humility
(2) Eugene H. Peterson, The Message//Remix: The Bible in Contemporary Language (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2006), 1727.
(3) Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1997), 1158.
[fn1] Col. 2:9
[fn2] John 3:29; 15:11