“I Am . . . Lowly in Heart”
1-3. What is the manner of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, and why might some in the crowd of onlookers be surprised?
JERUSALEM is buzzing with excitement. A great man is coming! Outside the city, people gather along the road. They are eager to welcome this man, for some are saying that he is an heir of King David and the rightful Ruler of Israel. A number bring palm fronds to wave in greeting; others spread out garments and tree branches on the road to smooth the way before him. (Matthew 21:7, 8; John 12:12, 13) Many likely wonder what kind of entry he will make.
2 Some may be expecting a display of magnificence. They surely know of important men who made grand entrances. For example, David’s son Absalom proclaimed himself a king; he had 50 men running ahead of his chariot. (2 Samuel 15:1, 10) The Roman ruler Julius Caesar demanded even more fanfare; he once led a triumphal procession up to the Roman capitol, flanked by 40 elephants bearing lamps! Now, however, the people of Jerusalem await a far greater man. Whether the crowds fully understand that or not, this is the Messiah, the greatest man ever to live. When this future King comes into view, though, some may be surprised.
3 They see no chariot, no runners, no horses—and certainly no elephants. No, Jesus is riding on a lowly beast of burden, a donkey.a No elaborate finery bedecks this rider or his mount. Instead of an expensive saddle, there are some garments that Jesus’ close followers have spread over the animal’s back. Why does Jesus choose to enter Jerusalem in such a lowly manner, when far lesser men have insisted on far greater pomp and ceremony?
4. What did the Bible foretell about the manner in which the Messianic King would enter Jerusalem?
4 Jesus is fulfilling a prophecy: “Rejoice greatly . . . Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem. Look! Your king is coming to you. He is righteous, bringing salvation, humble and riding on a donkey.” (Zechariah 9:9) This prophecy showed that God’s Anointed One, the Messiah, would one day reveal himself to the people of Jerusalem as the divinely appointed King. Further, his very manner of doing so, including his choice of a mount, would reveal a beautiful quality of his heart—humility.
5. Why is Jesus’ humility soul-stirring to contemplate, and why is it vital that we learn to imitate Jesus in this regard?
5 Jesus’ humility is among his most appealing qualities, one that is soul-stirring to contemplate. As we discussed in the preceding chapter, Jesus alone is “the way and the truth and the life.” (John 14:6) Clearly, none of the many billions of humans who have walked this earth has been nearly as important as God’s Son. Yet, Jesus never showed so much as a trace of the pride, the haughtiness, or the self-importance that afflicts countless imperfect humans. To be followers of Christ, we need to fight the tendency to give in to pride. (James 4:6) Remember, Jehovah hates haughtiness. It is vital, then, that we learn to imitate Jesus’ humility.
A Long History of Showing Humility
6. What is humility, and how did Jehovah know that the Messiah would be humble?
6 Humility is lowliness of mind, an absence of haughtiness or pride. It is a quality that begins in the heart and is manifest in a person’s speech, conduct, and dealings with others. How did Jehovah know that the Messiah would be humble? He knew that his Son reflected his own perfect example of humility. (John 10:15) He had also seen the Son’s humility in action. How so?
7-9. (a) How did Michael display humility in his confrontation with Satan? (b) How might Christians imitate Michael in showing humility?
7 The book of Jude reveals a fascinating example: “When Michael the archangel had a difference with the Devil and was disputing about Moses’ body, he did not dare to bring a judgment against him in abusive terms, but said: ‘May Jehovah rebuke you.’” (Jude 9) Michael is a name applied to Jesus—before and after his life on earth—in his role as archangel, or chief of Jehovah’s heavenly army of angels.b (1 Thessalonians 4:16) Note, though, how Michael handled this confrontation with Satan.
8 Jude’s account does not tell us what Satan wanted to do with Moses’ body, but we can be sure that the Devil had some vile purpose in mind. Perhaps he wanted to promote the misuse of that faithful man’s remains in false worship. While Michael resisted Satan’s wicked scheme, he also showed remarkable self-restraint. Satan surely deserved a rebuke, but Michael, who at the time he was disputing with Satan had not yet had “all the judging” committed to him, felt that such a judgment should come only from Jehovah God. (John 5:22) As archangel, Michael had extensive authority. Yet, he humbly deferred to Jehovah rather than trying to seize additional authority. Besides humility, he also showed modesty, or an awareness of his limitations.
9 Jude was inspired to write about this incident for a reason. Sadly, some Christians in Jude’s day were not humble. They were haughtily “speaking abusively about all the things they really do not understand.” (Jude 10) How easy it is for us imperfect humans to let our pride get the better of us! When we do not understand something that is done in the Christian congregation—perhaps involving a decision made by the body of elders—how do we react? If we were to engage in negative, critical talk even though we cannot know all the factors behind such decisions, might we not be showing a lack of humility? Let us instead imitate Michael, or Jesus, holding back from judging matters over which we have no God-given authority.
10, 11. (a) What is remarkable about the willingness of God’s Son to accept the assignment to come to earth? (b) How might we imitate Jesus’ humility?
10 God’s Son also showed humility by accepting the assignment to come to earth. Consider what he had to leave behind. He was the archangel. He was also “the Word”—Jehovah’s own Spokesman. (John 1:1-3) He resided in heaven, Jehovah’s “lofty abode of holiness and glory.” (Isaiah 63:15) Nonetheless, the Son “emptied himself and took a slave’s form and became human.” (Philippians 2:7) Think of what his earthly assignment involved! His life was transferred to the womb of a Jewish virgin, there to develop for nine months to become a human baby. He was born a helpless infant into the household of a poor carpenter and then grew to be a toddler, a little boy, and a teenager. Although perfect himself, throughout his youth he remained subject to imperfect human parents. (Luke 2:40, 51, 52) What extraordinary humility!
11 Can we imitate Jesus’ humility by willingly accepting assignments of service that at times seem lowly? For example, our assignment to preach the good news of God’s Kingdom may seem lowly when people respond with apathy, ridicule, or hostility. (Matthew 28:19, 20) If we endure in this work, though, we may help to save lives. At any rate, we will learn a great deal about humility, and we will follow in the footsteps of our Master, Jesus Christ.
Jesus’ Humility as a Man
12-14. (a) How did Jesus show humility when people praised him? (b) In what ways did Jesus deal humbly with others? (c) What shows that Jesus’ humility was not just a matter of form or good manners?
12 From beginning to end, Jesus’ earthly ministry was marked by humility. He showed it in the way he directed all praise and glory to his Father. People at times praised Jesus for the wisdom of his words, the power of his miracles, even the goodness of his character. Again and again, Jesus deflected such glory from himself and directed it to Jehovah.—Mark 10:17, 18; John 7:15, 16.
13 Jesus showed humility in the way he treated people. In fact, he made it clear that he came to earth, not to be served, but to serve others. (Matthew 20:28) He showed humility in his mild, reasonable dealings with people. When his followers let him down, he did not berate them; he kept trying to reach their hearts. (Matthew 26:39-41) When the crowds interrupted his search for quiet, rest, and privacy, he did not send them away; he continued to give of himself, teaching them “many things.” (Mark 6:30-34) When a non-Israelite woman kept begging him to heal her daughter, he initially indicated that he was not inclined to do so. However, he did not angrily refuse; he yielded in the light of her extraordinary faith, as we will discuss in Chapter 14.—Matthew 15:22-28.
14 In countless ways, Jesus lived up to his own words about himself: “I am mild-tempered and lowly in heart.” (Matthew 11:29) His humility was not superficial, a mere matter of form or good manners. It came from the heart, his inner self. No wonder, then, that Jesus placed high priority on teaching his followers to be humble!
Teaching His Followers to Be Humble
15, 16. What contrast did Jesus note regarding the attitude of worldly rulers and the attitude that his followers needed to cultivate?
15 Jesus’ apostles were slow to cultivate humility. Jesus was compelled to try again and again to reach them. For example, on one occasion James and John through their mother asked Jesus to promise them elevated positions in God’s Kingdom. Modestly, Jesus replied: “To sit down at my right hand and at my left is not mine to give, but it belongs to those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.” The ten other apostles were “indignant” at James and John. (Matthew 20:20-24) How did Jesus handle this problem?
16 He kindly reprimanded them all, saying: “You know that the rulers of the nations lord it over them and the great men wield authority over them. This must not be the way among you; but whoever wants to become great among you must be your minister, and whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave.” (Matthew 20:25-27) The apostles had likely seen just how proud, ambitious, and selfish “the rulers of the nations” could be. Jesus showed that his followers must be different from those power-hungry tyrants. They needed to be humble. Did the apostles get the point?
17-19. (a) On the eve of his death, in what memorable way did Jesus teach his apostles a lesson about humility? (b) What was the most powerful lesson in humility that Jesus taught as a man?
17 It was not easy for them. This was neither the first time nor the last time that Jesus taught such a lesson. Earlier, when they had argued over which one of them was the greatest, he had set a little child in their midst and told them to be more like children, who tend to lack the pride, ambition, and concern over rank that are so common in adults. (Matthew 18:1-4) Nonetheless, on the very eve of his death, he saw that his apostles were still struggling with pride. He then taught them a very memorable lesson. He girded himself with a towel and performed the lowliest of duties, one that servants back then commonly performed for household guests. Jesus washed the feet of each one of his apostles—including Judas, who was about to betray him!—John 13:1-11.
18 Jesus drove the point home when he told them: “I set the pattern for you.” (John 13:15) Did this lesson finally reach their hearts? Well, later that night, they had yet another argument as to who was greatest among them! (Luke 22:24-27) Still, Jesus continued to be patient with them and taught them humbly. Then he went on to give the most powerful lesson of all: “He humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, yes, death on a torture stake.” (Philippians 2:8) Jesus willingly submitted to a humiliating death, wrongly condemned as a criminal and a blasphemer. God’s Son thereby proved unique, for in him among all of Jehovah’s creatures humility found its perfect, its ultimate, expression.
19 Perhaps it was this—the final lesson in humility that Jesus taught as a man—that engraved the subject so indelibly in the hearts of his faithful apostles. The Bible tells us that these men were humbly at work years, even decades, later. What about us?
Will You Follow the Pattern Jesus Set?
20. How can we know whether we are lowly in heart?
20 Paul admonishes each of us: “Keep this mental attitude in you that was also in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 2:5) Like Jesus, we need to be lowly in heart. How can we know whether humility is in our heart? Well, Paul reminds us that we should “do nothing out of contentiousness or out of egotism, but with humility consider others superior to you.” (Philippians 2:3) The key, then, lies in the way we view others in relation to ourselves. We need to see them as superior, as more important, than we are. Will you apply that counsel?
21, 22. (a) Why do Christian overseers need to be humble? (b) How can we show that we are clothed with humility?
21 Many years after Jesus’ death, the apostle Peter was still thinking about the importance of humility. Peter taught Christian overseers to carry out their duties humbly, never lording it over Jehovah’s sheep. (1 Peter 5:2, 3) Responsibility is no license for pride. On the contrary, responsibility increases the need for genuine humility. (Luke 12:48) Of course, this quality is vital not only for overseers but for every Christian.
22 Peter surely never forgot that night when Jesus had washed his feet—over Peter’s own objections! (John 13:6-10) Peter wrote to Christians: “All of you clothe yourselves with humility toward one another.” (1 Peter 5:5) The expression “clothe yourselves” suggests the action of a servant who would clothe himself with an apron to carry out menial work. The phrase might well remind us of the occasion when Jesus wrapped a towel around himself before kneeling to perform his task of washing feet. If we follow Jesus, what God-given assignment could we possibly consider beneath our dignity? The humility of our heart should be visible to all, as if we were clothed with it.
23, 24. (a) Why should we resist any tendency toward haughtiness? (b) The following chapter will help to correct what false notion regarding humility?
23 Haughtiness is like poison. The effects can be devastating. It is a quality that can render the most gifted human useless to God. Humility, on the other hand, can make even the least one very useful to Jehovah. If we cultivate this precious quality daily by endeavoring to walk humbly in the footsteps of Christ, the reward is wonderful to contemplate. Peter wrote: “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time.” (1 Peter 5:6) Jehovah certainly exalted Jesus for humbling himself so completely. Our God will likewise delight in rewarding you for your humility.
24 Sadly, some think that humility is a sign of weakness. Jesus’ example helps us to see how false that notion is, for the humblest of men was also the most courageous. That will be the subject of the following chapter.
a In discussing this event, one reference work says that these animals “are lowly creatures,” adding: “They are slow, stubborn, the perennial work animals of the poor, and not too handsome.”
b For more evidence that Michael is Jesus, see the “Bible Questions Answered” article “Who Is the Archangel Michael?” on the official website of Jehovah’s Witnesses, jw.org.