No cuts! In other words, get to the back of the line. Take a quick trip back to your elementary school days with me. Remember the very coveted job of being line leader? Your spot at the front of the line was guaranteed. If you weren’t line leader you scrambled and jostled with all of the other kids to get as close to the front of the line as you could. If you didn’t get there in time and found yourself at the end of the line you could always hope that one of your friends would let you “cut” in line to which would usually bring a chorus of “hey, no cuts,” from the back of the line. Why? No one likes to be last. This is something that has been engrained in us from the time we were young.
In competition there are winners and losers, no one like to fall into the second category. Last summer I ran a 10k that nearly undid me. It wasn’t the first 10k that I ever ran so I knew what to expect. As the race started I paced myself, knowing what I wanted my finish time to be. I can’t tell you what my actual finish time was but what I can tell you is I finished dead last. Not like I came in with a group of stragglers but more like, hey I cleared the course for you. I started last, finished last, might as well have been running the race by myself. And so I was able to let the officials know that they didn’t need to check the course after I crossed the line, I hadn’t left anyone in my hobbling wake. Let me also say that admitting this, here publicly, still stings because this wasn’t a “respectable” loss in my estimation, this was dead last. I have a fierce competitive streak and I don’t generally play if I can’t win, or at least finish respectably. I contemplated hanging up the racing shoes after I finished this race. Why? It’s not hard to figure out, taken down to the most simplistic level, pride. And mine was hurt I was ashamed and my ego was bruised. But in this loss I have begun to learn a deeper lesson. One that has come back to the forefront of my mind during my journey to the cross this season.
The disciples were astounded. “Then who in the world can be saved?” they asked. Jesus looked at them intently and said, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But not with God. Everything is possible with God.” Then Peter began to speak up. “We’ve given up everything to follow you,” he said. “Yes,” Jesus replied, “and I assure you that everyone who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or property, for my sake and for the Good News, will receive now in return a hundred times as many houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and property—along with persecution. And in the world to come that person will have eternal life. But many who are the greatest now will be least important then, and those who seem least important now will be the greatest then. ” (Mark 10:26-31 NLT)
So Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of everyone else. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:42-45 NLT)
Almighty God, who knows all and sees all: We confess our constant striving for righteousness, acceptance, and approval from sources that leave us empty. We ask your forgiveness, and we renew our hope in Christ alone, who offered Himself to appease your wrath and forgive our sins. We find all comfort in His wounds, and we have no need to seek or invent any other means to reconcile ourselves with God, than this one and only sacrifice which renders believers perfect forever.
[ADAPTED FROM THE BELGIC CONFESSION, ART. 21]
The last will be first…the call to humility. Easy in theory, harder in reality. No one likes to lose, our human-side strives for acceptance, for recognition, to be placed “at the front of the line.” Maybe this is just me…
Roy Hession offers these penetrating words: “First of all, our proud self must be broken. Our own self must give up its rights. Our self is hard. It does not want to obey God. It likes to show that it is right. It wants to go its own way. It wants to claim all its rights. It always seeks glory for itself. The self must bow to God’s will. It must confess that it is wrong. It must give up its own way. It must obey the Lord Jesus. It must give up all its glory. Only in this way can the Lord Jesus have all and be all in our lives. We must die to self.”
That nailed me to my own cross. I can’t offer any wise words of my own so I will again refer to the writings of Kendal Haug and Will Walker as they have encouraged me in this struggle against pride and self.
Pride is the great enemy of humility. Bob Thune observes: “The brashest expressions of pride are easy to spot: the athlete who boasts about her talent, the arrogant entrepreneur who flaunts his achievements, or the well-connected neighbor who name-drops in every conversation. Most of us are smart enough to avoid appearing prideful in these obvious ways. But that’s just the problem. We can avoid looking prideful without actually killing our pride.”
To put pride to death, we must “trace this serpent in all its turnings and windings,” as the great Puritan John Owen wrote. We must get a fuller picture of what pride is and how it looks, and the Bible helps us with this.
On the one hand, the Bible tells us that pride often manifests itself as arrogance: the Apostle John refers to this as “the pride of life” (1 John 2:16). But on the other hand, the Bible affirms that pride can manifest itself as subtle self-centeredness, looking out for your own personal interests (Philippians 2:4).
In other words: the essence of pride is self-concern. Preoccupation with self. It may manifest itself as arrogance and boasting or as self-protection and fear of people—but it’s pride either way. If we want to cultivate humility, we must put pride to death. How? By looking to Jesus as both our model and our mediator.
One cannot be like Jesus without humility, but if we merely try harder to be like him, we will miss the gospel. The heart of the good news is that we can be more like Jesus only if, and because, we are united with him.
We are united with Christ by grace through faith in his life, death, and resurrection. Because we have rebelled against God, we deserve to be crushed by his divine wrath. Even in our willful rebellion, we ourselves cannot bear the full wrath of God, hence our need for a mediator, someone to stand in our place and plead our case before God. Jesus “humbled himself to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8)—taking our shame and guilt upon himself, and enduring the wrath of God against sin, so that those who humbly come to him can be forgiven and reconciled to God. This is the Good News of Easter!
I look beyond the empty cross
Forgetting what my life has cost
And wipe away the crimson stains
And dull the nails that still remains
More and more I need you now
I owe you more each passing hour
The battle between grace and pride
I gave up not so long ago
So steal my heart and take the pain
And wash the feet and cleanse my pride
Take the selfish, take the weak
And all the things I cannot hide
Take the beauty, take my tears
The sin-soaked heart and make it yours
Take my world all apart
Take it now, take it now
(Worlds Apart, Jars of Clay)