I know humility is a good thing, but it’s as slippery as a wet bar of soap. The more I want it, the more it eludes me. When it comes to other people, I like it when someone doesn’t tend to draw attention to themselves, and there’s something off-putting about a person who always wants the spotlight. But when it comes to my life, I’m disappointed when I perform some act of service, and nobody recognizes it, and what’s even worse is to see someone else get credit for what I did.
Humility is unlike other virtues because it is rarely valued by our world. In the ancient world, the world Jesus was born into, nobody wanted to be humble, and they didn’t pretend to be more modest than they were. Instead, everyone wanted honor and glory. They wanted a good reputation and to avoid shame.
After Peter confessed Jesus to be the Messiah who would bring freedom to all people, Jesus began to teach His disciples that He would suffer betrayal and death. They had no mental category for this teaching. Peter even rebuked Jesus for speaking in this way (Mark 8:29–32). Even until the night before He was killed, when He applied Isaiah 53:12 to Himself (in Luke 22:37), they had trouble wrapping their minds around what kind of a king Jesus was.
What they didn’t know, and wouldn’t know until after Jesus rose from the dead, is that this is how God’s power works in the world. God often chooses to work through weakness and humility. Only later would Peter get it, eventually writing, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree….By his wounds you have been healed” (1Peter 2:24). Peter no longer saw Jesus embracing weakness and suffering as something to be ashamed of; instead, he embraced it and the healing it brought.
Humility is so slippery because we can’t get it by our own effort. We know that it’s a good thing, so we try to do it, but even when we take a lower place we often want other people to see it. Our desire for glory dies hard. To become truly humble, we have to look away from ourselves and let those desires for glory die with Christ.
Jesus endured the humiliation of becoming vulnerable, first by becoming a baby and ultimately by suffering a cruel death. When we are united with Jesus in His death, our sins die, including our sin of wanting to be righteous by our efforts. But unlike the first disciples, who couldn’t see how Jesus’s suffering was a good thing, we now know that humility comes before exaltation, and suffering comes before glory.