Follow Me

When Jesus asked us to follow Him through this world (e.g., John 12:26), might He have meant us to start in the stable? While nothing about us could ever be exactly the same as the Most High God-Man, His life does teach us how to live. Maybe that includes showing us how to be born.

In the beginning

The miracle of human birth is the miracle of creation. As at the beginning of the world, when a child is formed inside his mother, the Spirit hovers over a dark void, filling an empty womb with the light of life. Creation is God’s special playground and His special gift. No amount of wanting can cause a child to be unless God is willing. Biblical mothers, Sarah, Hannah, Rachel, and Elizabeth, demonstrate that nothing is impossible with God, not even the birth of an impossible child. When Christ was conceived, the Spirit alone, in His time and His way, filled something empty with something alive.

If you know Jesus, this is how you were born, too – born again, that is. God descended on a heart that was dark and void, filling it with the light of life. No amount of wishing could make it so, but when God was willing, the Holy Spirit came upon you and the power of the Most High overshadowed you (Luke 1:35), and you became what you were not.

God chose the weak

God’s choice to create life doesn’t come only to those the world counts worthy. Jesus’ parents were poor. They weren’t married. They were insignificant in their culture. The world would judge them for having this baby. Joseph, naturally assuming he had been betrayed, sought to end their engagement quietly, but God intervened. He chose these people despite their obvious defects. God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are. (I Cor. 1:27-28) 

Your spiritual parents – Christ and His bride, the Church – are humble in heart and “poor in spirit” (Is. 53, Matt. 5). Your parents are only betrothed. Christ has gone to Heaven to prepare a place for His family, and when He returns, we will celebrate His marriage. In the meantime, the Church and the Spirit give birth for the Kingdom, especially among those who know they are insignificant in this world. Those of you who feel you deserve God’s love, take warning. God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. (James 4:6) Those of you who feel inadequate, take heart. You are the people God desires – because His power shows up best inside the needy. (2 Cor. 12:9.)

Sons of the Most High

Jesus did not stay small and weak. The angel told Mary He would be called “holy” and “the Son of God,” unbelievable titles for a child born in a stable. From such an inauspicious beginning, Jesus grew in grace and wisdom (Luke 2:52), learning obedience from His suffering (Heb. 5:8). He was God’s only Son in a way that no one else will ever be. And yet, Scripture tell you that you, too, are a child of God (Luke 6:35, I John 3:10). From our own inauspicious beginnings, we become more like Christ each day, growing in grace, wisdom and obedience. We, too, are called “holy” and “saints,” unbelievable titles for people who began life with a stone for a heart.

Glory to God in the highest

Such generosity calls for great gratitude. John, Elizabeth, the shepherds, the angels, Simeon, Anna and the magi all reacted to God’s great gift of Jesus Christ with worship. The tremendous miracle of our new birth should provoke a response, as well. At Christmas time, when some who know no greater blessing than a short vacation are singing with joy, what will be the response of those of us who know the extremity of the miracle which has occurred – at the nativity and in our own lives? When we consider our own spiritual renewal, we might exclaim, along with Mary:

My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. (Luke 1:46-50)

The angels sang

The angels sang when Christ was born, but in our own lives there can be seasons of silence. If, in this deadly year, God seems far away and miracles hard to come by, celebrate the magical story of the nativity. It happened once, more than 2000 years ago: the Spirit descended, life began and God was glorified. Because Christ came, dead hearts are coming alive all over the world today, following in His footsteps. If you love Him as your Savior and Lord, then it also happened to you.

And the angels sing every time (Luke 15:10).

The Magi Don’t Belong in This Story

A blog for Epiphany, or Three Kings Day, which occurs twelve days after Christmas on January 6th

The mystifying magi appear in just one Gospel, Matthew, Chapter 2. That doesn’t give us a lot to work with, and much of what we may believe about these sages is myth or conjecture. For example, Scripture says nothing about camels or the number of magi. Did you know they followed the star sign for two whole years, finding baby Jesus in a house, not a stable? And they were not kings. Because I have a habit of trying to see myself in all the characters of Scripture, I want to look at the little we know about these shadowy figures and what they might tell me about myself.

The magi were gentile astrologers, foreigners in possession of great material wealth. The word “magus” can mean wise man, magician, advisor or even wizard and comes from the Persian language. These mystery men traveled a long way to bring their inappropriate gifts to an anonymous child in a backwater village. There is no specific prophecy of these messianic visitors in the Bible nor even of the star which brought them. The magi don’t belong in this story. And neither do I.  

The magi were rich, and this story is about the poor.

Whether Christ’s visitors used their own resources or worked for a rich benefactor, they possessed the means to leave their homes for over two years on a romantic quest and then return again. They (or their unmentioned pack animals and servants) brought rare and valuable gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. In the Christmas story no one and nothing else lives in a world of wealth. Mary delivered her Son in an animal stall. Joseph was a common carpenter who offered a poor man’s gift at Jesus’s consecration in the Temple (Luke 2:24). Christ came to earth on a mission to and among the poor (see Luke 4:18, II Cor. 8:9, etc.). The magi don’t belong in this story because they were rich.

The magi were gentiles, and this story is about Israel.

The wise men were not Israelites. They implied their non-Jewishness when asking Herod about, “the king of the Jews,” and their profession was outside the usual range of Jewish vocations. They were visitors from a far country and a foreign culture, outsiders to the story they were helping to write. Jesus was the Jewish Messiah, the long-awaited savior of God’s conquered but chosen people. Jesus Himself proclaimed his responsibility to “the house of Israel” (Matt. 15:24). Even if they happened to be Jewish converts, these magicians were not of the house of Israel. The magi don’t belong in this story because they were gentiles.

The magi were influential, and this story is about the powerless.

As well-resourced astronomers or astrologers (the two studies were often one discipline in the ancient world), the wise men served as advisors to the powerful. They held influence over important decision-makers. While they did not, apparently, seek out King Herod, news of their mission carried to him, and he took it very seriously. The words of a common tourist would not have aroused so much concern. The magi were connected. But Jesus did not come to the powerful. He invited shepherds to His birthday party. He touched lepers and consoled prostitutes. Jesus came to the poor, the oppressed, the humble, the outcasts. The magi don’t belong in this story because they were powerful.

I don’t belong in God’s story for the same reasons.

Anyone living in a western country today, even in the bottom 5%, “is richer than 68 percent of the world’s inhabitants,” according to Forbes. I can rightly say that compared to everyone in the world now, as well as those who lived in Biblical times, I am rich. It is harder for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for me to be saved. I am also a gentile. As far as I know there is no Jewish blood in my veins. God’s story is not the story of my people. And I am connected, even powerful. There is the fact that I am white, which unfairly advantages me, giving me social power I do not earn or even understand. My American passport, the technology I wield, the political and vocational connections I could muster, all give me more influence than most in the world possess.

Like the magi, there is no reason I should know anything about Christ, that He should get my attention or I should get His. I don’t belong in His story. And yet, according to God’s great mercy, He mysteriously chose me out of nowhere, guided me to His Son and bids me worship Him. I don’t want to be like ‘the three kings’ because they were rich, powerful gentiles. I want to be like them because they were willing to risk their privileges and step outside their heritage for something much more important. Against all odds, they were chosen to worship King Jesus, and “they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy” (Matt. 2:10).


Related material:

The Mysterious Magi
We Three Kings
Crowded, Dirty, Humble, Holy

Crowded, Dirty, Humble, Holy

Jesus was born in a crowded, dirty place, forced by a clueless landlord to compete for space with transient visitors, stinking muck and the priorities of a world which put money and status above compassion. Perhaps you think I am talking about the stable in Bethlehem, but I am not. Back in the late winter of 1977, Jesus was born in the chaotic stench of my unbelieving heart. Each time He is born anew to someone here in this world, the inn at Bethlehem comes to life again.

It was a humble spot, fit for the poorest travelers, including Mary and Joseph who had expected to find a place there. And on that night, it was quite overwhelmed by the influx of strangers compelled to register for the Roman census. All the corridors and corners were already occupied. The floor by the hearth was taken. The kitchen maid’s grubby pallet likewise. No one puts a young woman in labor into the stable unless there is literally no other option. Donkeys, oxen and camels (unclean in Jewish law) jostled together, snorting, braying, stinking, eating and defecating in an open-air shed, over capacity.

How closely this resembles the situation of the human heart when Jesus enters!

Dirty

We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. (Is. 64:6) Jesus would never have come at all if our hearts weren’t uncleanable except by Him. Every corner is covered with the filth of sin and selfishness. The vilest murder is not so much worse than a gift to charity when done without any regard for God. When Jesus first comes to us, adrift in our confusion, He finds a heart that knows no proper reason for being in the world, a heart which lives for something other than its created purpose, a heart which commits cosmic treason with every, bloody beat.

Crowded

The human mind is, so to speak, a perpetual forge of idols. (John Calvin) The heart where Jesus is absent is home to a changing array of guests in an unsuccessful attempt to get its own deepest needs met. It lives for itself: the grumpy, clueless landlord who determines which guests take the best rooms. And in those rooms we put our favorites: self-righteousness, money, control, affirmation, sexuality, even good things like health, education or friendships. Sanctification is the life-long process of casting out all the strangers who have lodged above the Lord. Whatever special comfort you require for your happiness might be in danger of competing with Christ for your heart even now.

Humble

The stable where Jesus was born was humble and ordinary. Less than ordinary, really. No one would have thought to look for a king inside. If God had not pointed it out to a select few, Jesus’s birth would have been effectively hidden by the meanness of its location. If a king wouldn’t be interested in that stable, why would God? Some of us feel that way about our lives, too. I am no one important, nothing special, too defective to notice. But our God delights in choosing the weak things, the poor things, coming in ordinary moments to ordinary people. In fact, He comes only to those who know they are powerless. “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (2 Cor. 12:9)

Holy

Would you have wanted to be anyplace other than that dirty, crowded stable in Bethlehem when Jesus was born? Imagine seeing the Savior of the World as He first appeared, a newborn baby, praised by angels, swaddled in cloths and lying in a manger. No, there was nowhere more glorious than that hidden, humble stage which was avoided by all except one couple in extremity. The unclean became worthy. What was crowded became still. The ordinary was made holy. And, yes, I am still talking about my heart and yours. He chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. (Eph. 1:4) When God enters, the vilest, wretched place becomes holy ground. You become holy ground: the intersection of earth and Heaven, a haven where miracles occur, a creche where God breathes and a cathedral where hope is born again.

And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.  (John 1:14)