We must admit that we are often everything but what the Holy Spirit revealed that our relationships should be with one another in the body of Christ and with our King. We struggle to live “the mind of Christ” since we have joined with Him on His incarnational journey to the cross. The mind of the incarnate Son of God often seems beyond our reach. We even think that sometimes we are on the wrong road. We are like Peter when Jesus had turned His face toward Jerusalem, knowing that He was now on the final road to the cross. Peter earnestly tried to dissuade Jesus from His destiny, and thus implore Him to make a U-turn. But Jesus rebuked Peter: “Get behind me, Satan?” (Mt 16:23).
Peter had just assumed the mind of Satan in order to turn Jesus from doing that for which He was incarnate in the flesh. At that time, Jesus reprimanded Peter, “You do not have in mind the things of God” (Mt 16:23). And so we also often harbor in our minds the ways of the world on a road that incurs a cross that leads to our humiliation with Jesus. Nevertheless, we must not despair in knowing that we are still not what we want to be, or where we will eventually find our own destiny. We are walking in life with the mind of Christ that we know we should have (Ph 2:5). So we struggle on in appreciation for God’s grace and the profound example that Jesus has already passed down this road.
There is encouragement in the midst of our struggle in knowing that our Lord Jesus knows our predicament. He went down this road of struggle long before we signed up for the journey. Therefore, the gospel example that the incarnate Son of God left with us must be the road map by which we are motivated and directed to transform our own lives. In our case, we must thank God that the Son was not detoured by the plea of Peter. He continued on His journey, not only to Jerusalem, but also to the humiliation of the cross.
Unfortunately, the influence of the world—and Jesus knows this—often hinders us from following His example. His bar sometimes seems to be too high. He gave up being in spirit, and in the form of God, in order to incarnate into flesh through which nails would eventually be driven (Jn 1:1,2,14). This is an extreme example. Nevertheless, we must confess that we would not for one moment sacrifice His extreme example for anything less. After everything was eventually revealed to Peter by the Holy Spirit, neither would he. We fully understand that the Son of God had to take this extreme journey from spirit to flesh, and then to the cross, for us. His journey, therefore, was a necessary suffering for us because it involved all our sins at His expense.
A. Following the options:
If we believe that God is asking too much for us to go on this incarnational journey with His Son, or if we fail to allow Him to motivate us to transform our own lives, then we will often do one of two options: First, we will simply ignore Jesus and move on and enjoy the things of the world. Or second, we will begin the process of transforming into that which we believe He wants us to be. If we choose the second option, then hang on. The road is filled with the potholes of trials and suffering. The transformational journey with Jesus will not be easy. As in the words of Jesus in reference to His own incarnational journey, suffering will be involved along the entire journey (See Mk 8:31).
If our faith moves us to take the road of the second option, then we will allow ourselves to be transformed into the image of Jesus. If we do not want to go down this road, then we will often seek out or establish some religious group of like-minded “faith only” people who have resigned themselves from the incarnational journey (See Js 2:14-26). Such people usually establish a convenient fellowship for their superficial religiosity, which fellowship will accept all non-transformed religionists who want to masquerade as Christians.
It is simply the spirit of idolatry, that if one feels frustrated emotionally concerning his faith, he will often create a god in his mind who is pleased with his existing behavior. He will then establish a ceremonialized religion of rites and rituals that will give him some emotional relief that he is doing just fine as he is.
This is also the curse of legalized religiosity. The non-transformed have contented themselves to believe that if they have meritoriously performed certain legal ceremonies on Sunday morning, whether biblical or traditional, then they are good before God. Such is the belief and behavior of one who truly does not comprehend or appreciate the incarnational offering of the Son of God. Such folks do not realize that they are on a road that will eventually take them into an eternal destruction from the presence of God (See 2 Th 1:6-9).
But if we are to follow in the footsteps of Jesus’ incarnate feet, then we are headed down a road of metaphorical cross-bearing, and sometimes to a literal cross in our end. This is exactly what Jesus had in mind when He admonished Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan” (Mt 16:23). Peter was rebuked by Jesus because he did not understand the destiny of his friend Jesus. But when he eventually understood all the truth of the gospel, he was willing to follow his friend in suffering until the end of his own life. And as tradition reveals, Peter suffered death by crucifixion at the end of his journey.
B. A voice out of heaven:
But the preceding option of creating a god and religion after our own desires is no option at all. It is not if we seek a better existence in what the Bible describes as an abundant life along our present journey and in heaven at our final destination (Jn 10:10). The price that Jesus paid in order to come from heaven in order to take us back there is simply overwhelming. We are compelled to follow Him. We cannot, therefore, ignore Him or the price He paid.
Here’s why. If we would view the incarnation of the Son of God from the perspective of God the Father in heaven, then the incarnation into the flesh of a baby in a barn in Bethlehem would be a humiliation, not simply an act of humility. But this is difficult for human minds to comprehend. What God would willingly transform Himself into the carnal flesh of those He created (Cl 1:16)? And as if that were not enough, this God would allow His incarnate body to be humiliated publicly on a cross at the hands of pompous religionists who cried out for His crucifixion.
Living incarnationally, therefore, assumes that we also would be willing to be publicly humiliated for being in fellowship with this God. It was this public humiliation about which Jesus spoke to His disciples in Mark 9 on His way to Jerusalem. It was this subject that repulsed Peter. At that time during His earthly ministry, Jesus was bearing a cross in His preaching and teaching. This ministry began at least three years before He was eventually nailed to a literal cross. It was only on His final journey to Jerusalem that He spoke of His suffering and final humiliating end, which end Peter had a difficult time accepting.
It is the cross of living the incarnation throughout our lives that is in Jesus warning to His disciples: “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me” (Mt 16:24). Is this not that about which Jesus also warned those who would dare take up this life-bearing cross in order to follow Jesus unto our own end? “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you” (Jn 15:18).
The hate of the world is inherit in bearing the cross of the mind of Christ. If one cannot live with this, but at the same time live with some “level” of faith that soothes his conscience, then he will create a god in his mind that he is convinced will allow him to live in a world that does not hate him for his beliefs and behavior. He can thus live with peace of mind, knowing that all his worldly friends will not criticize him for living out his mediocre faith. But in reference to having in us the mind of Christ, it is worth the cross-bearing in order to life with the incredible hope that comes with the cross.
C. The Divine humiliation:
Nevertheless, before we would reach for that cross in order to follow Jesus on a road that ends at the corner of cross and humiliation, there is one historical statement we must first seriously consider. We must consider the Divine humiliation that Jesus had to undergo during His arrest, and then during His trials as He stood before the worldly-minded Jewish Sanhedrin.
The following historical statement was written by Luke. It was written in reference to the maltreatment that Jesus received while He stood before some religionists who presumptuously assumed that they were representatives for God: “The men who held Jesus began mocking and beating Him” (Lk 22:63).
The Greek verb tense in this verse is not brought out fully in the English translation. The verb tense in Greek is past participle. Properly translated, the past participle would justifiably be translated, “they kept on beating Him.” It was not just one slap on the face of Jesus, but a continuous beating of His face, His head and His back. And this was all done by religious people who presumed to be righteous before God, and thus behaving as the supposed their god wanted them to behave (See Rm 10:1-3).
The men who constrained Jesus simply kept on striking Him, one strike after another. Not only did they brutalize His body with one merciless strike after another, they also humiliated Him by spitting in His face (Mt 26:67; Mk 14:65). Therefore, are we willing to take up the same cross that Jesus had to bear on His road to His own execution? We need to seriously consider this before we claim the name “Christian.”
All of us might reconsider why we are disciples of such a One who was willing to give up being in spirit that could not be beaten with human hands, in order to incarnate into this world of flesh that could be spit upon and continuously beaten. Therefore, before we jump up and down on Sunday morning crying out, “Jesus, Jesus,” we should probably be falling on our faces, prostrate on the floor in tearful worship of thanksgiving.
As previously stated, unless we comprehend the extent of His incarnation, we will have little motivation to proceed further in our own struggle to transform our inner souls. We will often go to a comfortable limit in our own transformation, to a spiritual plateau with which we can live, on which there is no inherit hate by the world. We can then find solace within ourselves throughout the rest of our lives with our own self-satisfying religiosity. So do we really want to follow the mandate of the Holy Spirit, who said, “Present your bodies a living sacrifice” (Rm 12:1)? Or, is this too much for which to ask? Would God really expect us to emulate the mind of His Son to the point that it would stir up the hate of the world?
D. A necessary elimination:
Since through His incarnational behavior Jesus lived in a manner that drew multitudes to Himself, those of the religious establishment of that day came to the conclusion that they had to rid the religious community of such a person. His influence was at the time becoming quite overpowering. Multitudes were starting to follow Him (Mt 4:23-25).
And besides this, the common people could see a stark difference between the behavior of Jesus and the arrogant behavior of their own self-righteous religious leaders. Therefore, the religious leaders determined that it was necessary to humiliate Jesus publicly because He lived so much in conflict with them in their own self-righteous behavior. In fact, they determined to go beyond humiliation, to a scheme of murder: “Then from that day forth they took counsel together to kill Him” (Jn 11:53).
The religious leaders actually identified themselves as wolves among the people. They did so because they came to the conclusion that they had to extract from the religious community the One they considered to be in competition with their positions. This Radical Rabbi exposed the very core nature of the religion of Judaism, of which they were the leader. Subsequently, the “theological police” (the Pharisees) cried out before Pontus Pilate that this Jesus, this rebel against their religion, must be extracted from society through execution.
Would we join such a gang of pompous religionists who would cry out that nails be driven through the flesh of this incarnate God (Mt 27:23)? Would we even join in with just one slap on His face? If we seek to live after a self-constructed religiosity as the Pharisees, then we have already joined in with this “church” of humiliators. We have already delivered our first slap. And with every willful sin against Him, we keep on beating away.
If fact, if we have joined in with a manufactured religiosity after our own desires that is contrary to incarnational membership after Jesus, then our slaps on the face of Jesus happen every Sunday morning when we come together with one another for some concert of self-entertainment, or to meritoriously perform some system of ceremonies that renders us with self-righteousness until next Sunday morning.
E. Inherent criticism of incarnational discipleship:
Sometimes we are spiritual humbugs who have little comprehension of the good news of the actual incarnation of the Son of God. Those disciples who truly seek to live incarnationally as Jesus are often the object of unjust criticism. The “Pharisees” who lead among us are quick to criticize incarnational servants because these disciples are often the only ones who are doing anything in response to Jesus. So we must not forget that cross-bearing inherently induces criticism. It is as Jesus alerted His disciples, “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you” (Jn 15:18).
Many of the critics, on the other hand, are just sitting idly by warming some bench on Sunday morning. The saying is still true that if you are criticized as a true disciple of Jesus, then you are probably doing something right, or at least doing something, which makes you a disciple, that is, a follower of Jesus. Those who suppose themselves to be Christians, but are not criticized, are usually not doing anything, though they claim to be disciples of the incarnate Son of God.
We must not forget that incarnational living embarrasses those who suppose themselves to be Christians, but have contented themselves with a nominal life of faith, or are consumed with thinking and behavior that is more self-righteous than incarnational.
We must not forget that the Pharisees were very religious people. Nevertheless, in their religiosity they kept on beating on the flesh of the incarnate God at the time of His trials. Sometimes we ourselves beat on this incarnate God by the dysfunctional conduct of our own lives. We must constantly remind ourselves, therefore, that every willful sin we commit is a strike against the incarnate body of the Son of God. Nevertheless, because of God’s grace, we must understand that He had to be spit upon for our sins (Rm 5:8).
We simply forget that when the Father possibly called from heaven to His Son on earth on the first Sunday morning after the Son’s resurrection, the Son was not able to give a glowing report of numbers in attendance at “His local church.”
The Father could have inquired from heaven, “What now is the first Sunday attendance of Your church for which You have worked so hard for over three years to establish, and finally humiliate Yourself on a cross?”
The Son could only have replied, “Just Me. Everyone else has fled.”
Now consider the fact that some are so audacious as to claim that in their arrogance and self-righteous religiosity they are disciples of this humiliated Church Leader from whom an entire membership fled (See Mt 26:56). The membership fled regardless of the fact that the Leader lived out the very gospel for which He came into the world to reveal. This may answer the question as to why some preachers preach little on the subject of the incarnation. The subject does not produce a church house full of contributors who are willing to take up a cross and follow a humiliated Founder.
Living the gospel of Jesus inherently conflicts with our desire to have a great following, or have others focus their attention on us. Being Christian and being narcissistic are at the extreme ends of the behavioral continuum. The first disciples fled because at the time they did not understand fully the implications of the crucifixional humiliation of the incarnate Son of God. But we do. We have in our hands the Textbook that explains in graphic detail the entirety of the incarnational journey of the Son of God. When the Son of God returned to heaven after His incarnational journey, the Holy Spirit took away all our excuses that were based on ignorance. We could never again claim ignorance if we possessed a copy of this Textbook that explains the incarnational journey of the Son of God in detail.
Please keep in mind that in the past we have generally focused on the cross, making the cross of Jesus all about ourselves. We proclaim, “Jesus died for our sins!” And He did. We add, “We are redeemed by the cross!” And we are. We continue, “Because He was crucified for us, we are destined for heaven!” And WE are! The sacrificial crucifixion was for us, and thus the cross was about us.
But hang on. The incarnation was all about Him giving up being God and coming in the flesh of man. In our faith, it is where we place the most emphasis: on the cross or on the incarnation. In placing so much emphasis on ourselves and our sins, we must not forget that the cross was made possible because the incarnation was first about Him giving up being God in order to be flesh for us (Jn 1:1,2,14).
And so, we will not flee from our responsibility to be changed by what the Son of God personally did for us in giving up being in the form of God in order to be humiliated on a cross for us. We will thus continually remind ourselves that if we behave arrogantly, then we have already fled from the gospel nature of the incarnate Son of God who humiliated Himself in order that we be as He did.