The term ‘condescension’ refers to ‘identifying with what is beneath’, and ‘coming down to be with’. The condescension of God thus refers to His willingness and love to identify with fallen man, and to come down to be with sinful and rebellious humanity. It is intimately involved with God’s humility – and if we realise how glorious and majestic the transcendent God is, we can somewhat fathom to a certain extent the depth of His love, humility, and willingness to step down from His glorious throne to come down to fallen man and to take on the role of a servant, and even to die on the cross as a ‘criminal’. God, in fact, became a baby (incarnation), entering the history of man, born in a manger, laboured as a carpenter, and died on a Roman gibbet; He chose to reveal His goodness and His good news (gospel) to us via the down-to-earth’ rustic words of the sixty-six canonical books (Bible), communicating to us in our language, and in all these, the same reality throughout is His love to the uttermost to those who are unworthy and rebellious!
The death of God’s Son on Calvary shows how completely God, in love to mankind, was willing to hide His glory and become vulnerable to shame and dishonour. Now God in love calls men to embrace and boast of this foolish seeming, weak-looking, disputable event of the Cross as the means to their salvation. It is a challenge to sinful pride of both mind and heart.
It is no wonder that God’s humility offends man’s pride, and hence both incarnation and inspiration are rejected by some as incredible. The pagan philosopher, Celsus, led the charge in ridiculing the Incarnation – how could God the Son, the supposedly infinite, eternal, and unchangeable Creator become man – let alone become a Jew! – and make himself known within the limitations of human finitude? Surely the idea is absurd!
At the end of the 18th century the philosopher Kant turned away in comparable contempt from belief in inspiration (of the Bible), and thus pioneered a stance that has become typical of Western intellectual culture ever since. How could the infinite, transcendent, and incomprehensible Creator reveal himself in the words of folk from the primitive Near East thousands of years ago? This, too, seems absurd!
To both philosophers (whose ridicules were stamped on their human pride and reasoning), the answer is that it must be possible because God has done it – in fact He still reveals Himself by so applying to us what He said to others in the past that we come to know with certainty what He says to us in the present. This is a wise and glorious mystery, and from it flows our understanding and appreciation of ‘salvation’.
“For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Corinthians 1:25). The Apostle Paul calls the divine ordaining and encompassing of the cross of Jesus Christ the foolishness and weakness of God. Of course, he was being ironical – for he knows Christ to be God’s wisdom and power (verse 24) – he is insisting that the word of the cross appears as folly only to those who have not understood it.
Jesus spoke to the Jews in the gospel of John:
“You are from below; I am from above. I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am he, you will indeed die in your sins (John 8:23-24).
“Yet because I tell you the truth, you do not believe me!….If I am telling the truth, why don’t you believe me? Whoever belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God” (John 8:45-47).
“but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one” (John 10:26-30).
Clearly, the words of the Lord Jesus reveal who He is; and His oneness with God the Father. They also clearly show that men, in their pride and unbelief, would not believe, and will find the claims and revelation of God through Christ, the Cross, and the Word (Scripture) absurd. But God has ‘revealed’ them to the ‘babes’, to those who are humble and contrite enough to receive God and His revelation in faith and repentance.
Are we offended by God’s humility and condescension? Or are we amazed and awed by God’s wondrous love and mercy, and His willingness to come down so low to be with fallen mankind, and to be willing to hide His glory and become vulnerable to shame and dishonour? What is your response??