“The Eternal Being, who knows everything and who created the whole universe, became not only a man but (before that) a baby, and before that a foetus inside a Woman’s body. If you want to get the hang of it, think how you would like to become a slug or a crab.” CS Lewis
I had a conversation with some middle schoolers about the birth of Jesus. I knew that as they studied the life of Jesus, they might wonder why there was much opposition to the ministry of Jesus which resulted in HIs death on the Cross. What might be the basis of some of that opposition? I had them look at Isaiah 9:6-7 (NIV)
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
will accomplish this.
I asked them to think of what we know about God and use descriptives words about His nature. They came up with creator, mighty, and stronger than anybody and anything. Then I asked them what these verses tell us about Him. They agreed that it said He would be a mighty ruler. He would bring justice and peace to the world.
Then I read to them from Isaiah 53:2-10 NIV
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
3 He was despised and rejected by mankind,
a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.
4 Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
7 He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
8 By oppression[a] and judgment he was taken away.
Yet who of his generation protested?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
for the transgression of my people he was punished.[b] 9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence,
nor was any deceit in his mouth.
10 Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
and though the Lord makes[c] his life an offe
I explained to them that this, too, was talking about Jesus. It described what happened to Him when He lived on the earth. We discussed how different these two sets of verses are. How could they both be true? I told them to imagine the Jewish people two thousand years ago. They did not have the advantage we have. For us, it is a given that Jesus would come as a baby, born to poor parents in an insignificant village. We now know that Jesus came to forgive our sins and that would involve His death on a Cross. We also understand that Jesus will one day come again and this time He will establish a just, peaceful, and everlasting government.
I suggested that the Jewish people were being ruled by an often cruel Roman government that continued to threaten them. In fact, they eventually invaded, destroying the Temple in 70 AD which would result in the Jewish diaspora. They were thrown out of the Promised Land. So was it any wonder the Jewish people were looking for a conquering Savior to demolish their Roman overlords?
The coming of Jesus was not a slick marketing campaign.
If I were in charge, I would have had Jesus make an appearance in the Roman Senate and confront them. Aren’t the political powerbrokers the ones who *get things done?* God had a different plan in mind and it seems pretty ridiculous in this day and age of slick marketing of religion.
From Luke 2:1-20 NIV
In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while[a] Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to their own town to register.
4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
God chose Mary but He didn’t coerce her. Special thanks to Scot McKnight’s book: The Real Mary: Why Evangelical Christians Can Embrace the Mother of Jesus
There was a debate on Twitter on this matter. This is my response: Mary agreed to God’s proposal.
God chose a 13-14-year-old girl who was nobody except for the fact she was a descendant of David. In that day and time, she was unimportant. But read this encounter with the angel named Gabriel in Luke 1:26-38 NIV. Pay close attention to verse 38.
26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David,33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”
34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called[b] the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.”
38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.
When Gabriel appeared to Mary, she was not yet pregnant by the Holy Spirit. He used the future tense in his conversation.”
The Holy Spirit will come on you.”
Of course, Mary was initially troubled. Gabriel isn’t one of those cute little baby angels or a very pretty lady angel with long hair. An appearance of an angel could be quite frightening and Mary was troubled at his appearance and greeting. I would be scared to death!
Mary asked how such a thing could happen and the angel explained the Holy Spirit and the Most High would accomplish this. He also offered her some comfort by referring to her cousin, Elizabeth, who had been unable to have children but was now pregnant due to God’s intervention. As we know, that child would be John the Baptist who would baptize Jesus. Mary had a relative who had a miracle of her own. Elizabeth would be a support to Mary during the hard times of the pregnancy. God did not leave Mary without support. Joseph was told to stay with her by an angel. Jesus would later ask John to care for her as He was being crucified. It is thought she was a widow at that time. And John did just that.
We should not be naive. Mary knew how the community treated an unwed mother. Even though Joseph would support her(he had his own angel encounter), she knew that people would whisper and talk about her. But she did agree to the plan. “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.” She agreed to the plan after the angel explained a few things. No coercion here. She will say much more that will prove that God picked the right woman for the job but that’s for another post.
Let’s go through the ways that Jesus didn’t appear in the way the Jewish people expected.
- A young teen from a backwater town-a nobody- was chosen to bear Jesus. Wasn’t he supposed to be born into an influential and wealthy family to a well-connected mother and father?
- Can you imagine the young teen, Mary, and Joseph dealing with birth without the benefit of family support? Kings have lots of help.
- He was born…wait a minute… God was a helpless baby who wore diapers? This is not a vision of a conquering Savior, is it?
- He was born in a stable (many believe it was a cave). No palace for this King.
- Joseph had to deal with the awkwardness about Mary’s pregnancy…Can you imagine him trying to explain this one to his friends and rabbi?
- What was the deal with shepherds? Why in the world would a group of angels waste an entire amazing heavenly chorus on a bunch of insignificant low-level workers? Why were they told to go and see the Savior? Why not the influential rulers of that day? Why didn’t the angels appear to prominent members of the Jewish elite? This does not sound promising…or it wouldn’t if one didn’t know the rest of the story.
The beautiful story that people didn’t get in the beginning
Jesus would turn us inside out and upside down. He did something that today’s church growth experts need to understand. He came to the lonely, the poor, and the disenfranchised, He touched and healed lepers. He had conversations with the promiscuous, hung around with fishermen and the hated tax collectors, and was vilified for doing so. But these *lowlifes* would go on to change the world, making Christianity the dominant religion in just a few centuries.
I attended an SBC church for a short time that reveled in having prominent lawyers, doctors, professional sports figures, etc. giving the morning prayer. No dregs of society for this church. But something seemed terribly wrong to me. This was not the Way of Jesus.
Jesus was hated by many religious leaders and prominent men of His day. He didn’t come as a conqueror of nations. He came to conquer our hearts and He did. It just took us a while to understand Him. Now, as we spread the story of His unique birth, we wait for Him to come again in power and glory. In the meantime, I think we need to stay away from slick churches with celebrity leaders. Jesus did not choose to go down that path for good reason. More and more, we are beginning to see why.
I love this song. Mullins asked some questions that I have about Jesus as a boy.