The Humility of a King

Author Brett Kunkle Published on 12/09/2014

Incarnation. The word captures the essence of Christmas. 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 bondservant, and being made in the likeness of men” (Phil. 2:6–7). God, become man. But still God. Still the Sovereign Lord of the universe. Still the King of Kings.

Indeed, Christmas carols are replete with references to Christ as king. “Angels We Have Heard on High” proclaims, “Come to Bethlehem and see Him whose birth the angels sing; come, adore on bended knee Christ, the Lord, the newborn King.” This King rules the universe. This King is worthy to be worshiped.

In his gospel, Matthew begins by retracing Jesus’ royal lineage. In the second chapter, Matthew records the magi’s motivation to seek Jesus: “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him” (v. 2). When they find Jesus, they present Him with gifts fit for a king: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. The Incarnation of Jesus is a Kingly affair.

But unexpectedly, this King is unlike earthly kings. Matthew, writing to a Jewish audience, spends the rest of his gospel demonstrating that Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah, the prophesied “Ruler, who will shepherd [God’s] people Israel” (2:6). But in contrast to earthly kings, the rulership of Jesus is not about exercising power and authority to lord over men (20:25). This King is different.

The divergence of Jesus’ rule from Pharisaic rule is stark. Throughout his gospel, Matthew addresses the emerging power of the Pharisaic rabbis. His gospel was likely written in the Syria-Palestine area, where the rabbis exercised serious influence in Jesus’ day. Matthew records the growing conflict between Jesus and the Jewish religious leaders. Things start “heating up” in chapter 12, as we see the religious leaders’ initial rejection of Jesus and his authority. In chapter 14, Jesus withdraws with his disciples, but in chapters 15 and 16, He encounters more resistance from the scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees. The confrontations continue in chapters 19, 21, and 22. After Jesus silences the Sadducees in 22:23–46, the religious leaders do not “dare from that day on to ask Him another question.”

In 23:1–12, the confrontation comes to a head. After silencing the religious leaders, Jesus turns his attention to the crowds, warning them about the scribes and Pharisees. In particular, Jesus states that these leaders have put themselves in a position of authority that does not belong to them and then required the people to adhere to laws the Pharisees themselves don’t live by, indicating their hypocrisy. In verse 11, Jesus contrasts the leader’s grab for earthly authority and power with the hierarchy of the kingdom: “But the greatest among you shall be your servant.”

Jesus makes it clear there is one leader in the Messianic community: Jesus Himself. In 23:10, He says, “Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ.” In addition, Jesus states in verses 11 and 12 that greatness in the kingdom is marked by servanthood. This theme of humble rulership echoes throughout Matthew’s gospel:

  • Matthew 1–2: Jesus’ humility is evidenced at the outset of the gospel, from the humble circumstances surrounding His birth to the “unclean” shepherds as His first visitors.
  • Matthew 10:38–39: Humbly laying down one’s life for Jesus, rather than preserving it, is the way forward for His followers.
  • Matthew 18:1–6: Jesus’ disciples posture for power, asking Jesus, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Jesus’ response demonstrates the nature of greatness in His Kingdom: humility is the key.
  • Matthew 20:20–28: In contrast to the leadership models of this world, leadership in Jesus’ Kingdom is humble.

This King is clothed in humility.

How does all of this relate to my work? Sometimes apologetics is cast as a power move. It is the Christian’s attempt to dominate others through power of intellect and argumentation. If I win the argument, I win the day. However, this is not our apologetic at Stand to Reason. Yes, we want to demonstrate the truth of Christianity. Yes, we want to demonstrate the powerful arguments in favor of Christianity. But the end goal is not submission to our apologetics arguments, but humble submission to Jesus, the only ruler worthy of our worship.