The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. (John 1:9–11)
I’ve often wondered at these verses. Just think of it. The one who made the world came and walked upon its soil, ate food that he had invented, mingled with people who owed every breath to him. Yet they didn’t recognize him. More than that, they rejected him.
It reminds me of the story of the violinist performing in a Metro station in Washington, D.C. Of course, street musicians play for money in subways all the time. But this guy was no street musician, and he certainly didn’t need the money.
His name is Joshua Bell, a Grammy award-winning, world-renowned violinist. He was also playing a Stradivarius violin worth $3.5 million.
The Washington Post tapped Mr. Bell to conduct an experiment. They dressed Joshua in humble garb—blue jeans, casual shirt, and ball cap. Then they had him perform some of the most difficult compositions possible. (In case your mind works like mine, “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” was not on the list.)
Master violinist Bell played for about forty minutes. During that time, more than eleven hundred people passed by. Only seven stopped to listen. The video footage shows that at the conclusion of each piece, there was no applause, no accolades—just the sound of subway trains whistling toward destinations around the city.
The Post called it “a test of people’s perceptions and priorities.” Would people perceive the presence of an authentic violin master? Would they notice? Would they make it a priority to listen?
They didn’t. I don’t blame them. Violin masters aren’t found in subways wearing blue jeans and ball caps. For that you need $200 and the Kennedy Center stage. After all, if you’re not dressed like a master or performing where masters play, you’re probably just another schmuck like the rest of us, right?
God Among Us
The New Testament brings us before another Master. No ball cap, no violin, but he crossed a wider gap than a master in the Metro. Wrapped in the rags of humanity, Jesus Christ came to earth. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14).
The Son of God come to earth! What would the reviewers talk about after he left the theater? Amazing power? Yes, and plenty of it. Incredible wisdom? Mind-boggling. Exemplary character? Perfect. But what’s the most remarkable thing about this performance?
One word. Humility.
Consider what the apostle Paul points us to when he reminds us of Jesus on the stage of human history.
Do nothing from rivalry 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 made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, 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. (Philippians 2:3–8)
God became man. Unparalleled majesty put on humility. It seems like a contradiction, doesn’t it? Or at least a paradox. Paul is, in fact, pointing us to perhaps the greatest paradox ever: God Almighty in humility.
The path of humility is the path the Son of God took to reach us. He did it to achieve the most remarkable feat in human history. He put death to death. He bore the penalty for sin. He accomplished his great God-given task not by seeking out all the trappings of wealth and power, but by taking the lowest possible path, the path of the cross. And, as we’ll see, the greatest ambitions are realized paradoxically on the path of humility.
What This Means For Monday Morning
Paul takes the example of Christ and says, “Christian, you do the same.” Are you forward-leaning, eagerly aspiring to do great things for God? According to God’s surprising ways, you must move downward to be exalted. “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave” (Matthew 20:26–27).
The path to greatness is servant-shaped. It means laying down your life for others. You don’t have to speak in front of people to be a great believer; you do need to serve the folks at work. A successful career on the side or a growing blog doesn’t make you a fruitful Christ-follower, but serving your family does.
The greatest in the kingdom of heaven won’t be those who had the most success on earth, or even in ministry. They will be those who let go of selfish ambition and served, who wrapped towels around their waists and washed the dirty feet of first-century fisherman.
Jesus took the path of lowliness. It may not have won him much positive recognition in his day, but it was the path to his exaltation.
Do you want to be considered great in his kingdom today? Go and do likewise.
Tenacious Tuesday Questions
Do you practice putting on the mindset of Jesus? Are you actively looking for ways to serve others today? Spend a few minutes brainstorming ideas for how you could serve someone in your life today, make a plan, and go do it.
Jesus, you did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped. You took on the form of a servant; you died a humble death on the cross so that I could be exalted as a child of God. Help me to have this same mindset. This week, rather than seeking out opportunities in which I might be served, help me look for how I might be a servant to my family, my friends, my neighborhood, and my church.