4 In you our fathers trusted;
they trusted, and you delivered them.
5 To you they cried and were rescued;
in you they trusted and were not put to shame.
6 But I am a worm and not a man,
reproached by others and despised by the people.
7 All who see me mock me;
they make mouths at me; they wag their heads;
8 “He trusts in the LORD; let him deliver him;
let him rescue him, for he delights in him!”
9 Yet you are he who took me from the womb;
you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts.
10 On you was I cast from my birth,
and from my mother’s womb you have been my God.
Man must become a worm and the worm a man! Doesn’t that one profound thought capture the mystery of our precious, sacred gospel?
Passion Week is unfolding once again, and the church needs to give a responsible account of Jesus’ cross as though things were happening in front of its very eyes. But what is preaching on Christ’s sufferings except depicting step by step how the Man of Sorrows became a worm and finally crumpled in the dust of death?
The first mystery, namely that of Bethlehem’s crib, portrays for you how he who was God became a man. The second one, in which the cross of Golgotha is the central feature, shows you how that man was lowered and humiliated in becoming a worm.
“After me is coming One,” cried John the Baptist, “who was before me and whose shoelaces I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose.” In doing so, he was alluding to the One at Peniel referred to in Genesis 32:24: “A Man wrestled with Jacob.” And to the One in Joshua’s vision of whom it is said: “He looked up and saw a Man standing in front of him” (Josh 5:13). And to “a Man as though clothed in linen” seen by Ezekiel and Daniel! And to the same Man who “stood among the myrtle trees” before Zechariah (Zech 1:10)! And the One of whom it was prophesied that “this Man would be a shelter from the wind” (Isa 32:2)! And “a Man whose name would be ‘the Branch’ ” (Zech 6:12)! And to the One of whom it would be said in that hour of terrible reckoning: “Awake, O sword, against the Man who is my companion” (13:7)! And he was alluding to the One whose deeply felt name for that reason would be “Man of Sorrows” (Isa 53:3)!
Power, strength, and majesty are conveyed in that Man. Together we all flee to him for comfort and protection—the weak, the helpless, and those in distress. And he, the Man of strength, protects us with his powerful arms and drives off our adversaries.
A Man! Yes, that’s what he was when he caused the Devil to cower before him in the wilderness. That’s what he was when he held thousands spellbound with his words. When he healed the sick and banished diseases! When he cast out devils and they slinked away! When he made the Pharisees shudder by the look in his eye! When he rebuked the storm and calmed the sea! And even more strongly, when he overpowered death and roused Lazarus from the grave! Yes, even in Gethsemane, when everyone shrunk back from him and his captors fell to the ground.
But could he remain that Man? As that Man, could he break through to what we needed? Could he help you and me by remaining a man? Could he triumph through power? Gain victory by his strength? Could his mighty arms gain the victory?
In response, God’s Holy Word says “no” and “no” yet again. Unless that Man became a worm, the little worm named Jacob was beyond help. Unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth from above, sinks into the soil, and dies, those who are lost gain nothing. It remains dormant and bears no fruit unto eternal salvation.
Consider this. We really aren’t human any longer. All our strength has dried up like a potsherd. Human beings conceived and born in sin actually belong to the dust of the earth. They have become like worms.
Sin has stripped us naked. There is nothing whole left in us any longer. As Comré expressed it so very accurately, even our best deeds give God grief!
One of our glories gives him a little more, the next a little less!
They look good, but in essence they aren’t.
We’re rotten beams that creak and break under pressure.
We’re hollowed out willow trunks in which the night owls build their nests and that are swayed by the wind.
Job fully understood this when he cried: “The stars are not pure in his eyes. How much less a man, who is a maggot and no more than a worm!” (Job 25:6).1
Oh, even if we wish this were not true, we see that it is. In God’s eyes, we are like those poor little worms that crawl around in the dirt! But this is not what a rotting joist wants to hear! Not at all! It passes itself off as a sound beam and wants to be regarded as the kind of support that can hold up under the pressure of a house resting on it.
This is how a worm dreams in its arrogance. It dreams that it is really a man.
What a dreadful way of looking at yourself!
Then that infinitesimal speck of dust opens its mouth and weighs in against God. In its ungodliness, the mere worm begins murmuring against the Maker of heaven and earth.
This is precisely why Jesus had to be laid so low in the dust of death. For no other reason! What you in your proud heart were unwilling to do for your God, he in his mercy would do for you. In this he is the mighty hero! The man of glory in all his strength and power! The Lion of the tribe of Judah! And now this Lion allows his mane to fall to the ground. This Hero throws his quiver of arrows aside. This man bows his head. He crumples in the dust and lets the heavy load of God’s anger fall on him. He buckles under it and succumbs to the dust of death. As One despised and rejected, he became like a worm creeping through the dust.
He was despised, and we did not esteem him! We didn’t because whose heart ever trembles with holy indignation upon hearing this Man lament: “I am but a worm”?
So don’t talk to me about how amazing the cross is. Don’t come to me singing about the love of Jesus. All the superficial chatter about a descent into everlasting death is only a heavier crown of thorns that you push deeper into the bleeding brow of the Man of Sorrows. Those who talk this way don’t understand. They are superficial. They miss it by a mile!
No, every individual who has not yet learned from the Father to fathom these unbearable sufferings at least to some extent smacks the Suffering Servant in the face all over again. They push that worm even deeper into the ground. They trample on his blood.
Not just several of them, but all of them!
You’ve done it too, and so have I!
But there is only one who no longer does this. It’s the little worm of Jacob. And the little worm of Jacob, who might that be?
That’s every man and every woman, every young person and every older one, everyone who has been set free and made serviceable. But previously they were intent on defending themselves and they thought: “This is great! Jesus is a worm, and I’m a real man.” “I’m a real woman!” But then the Holy Spirit came. He battered their evil, arrogant hearts. He attacked and broke them until they finally learned to regard themselves as pathetic little worms. Then, lying humbled to the dust of the earth themselves, they yielded to their dear Savior. Then they cried out: “I by the grace of God am but a worm, but he and he only is the true Man.”
Abraham Kuyper, Ever in Thy Sight: 31 Devotions on the Psalms