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)

He Could Have Come Down

38 Two rebels were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left. 39 Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads 40 and saying, “You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!” 41 In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. 42 “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. 43 He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” 44 In the same way the rebels who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him. (Matt. 27:38-44, NIV)

Jesus stayed on the cross despite indescribable physical agony, excruciating psychological torture and supernatural temptation.  He stayed despite the jests of His mockers.  He stayed despite the tears of His loved ones mingled in the dirt with his blood.  He stayed despite the fact that He could have come down.  He could have come down.  He might have pulled the nails out like hair pins or passed right through their flimsy atoms, called a legion of angels to lift Him away or summoned fire from Heaven to destroy His tormentors.  He is the One in whom all things hold together; He might just have let it all fly apart.  If you have ever struggled to hold still while a needle pierced your vein, then perhaps you know an infinitesimal fragment of the courage and control it must have taken not to do the human thing.

He stayed on the cross to hold our sins there.  Nailed firmly to Him, in Him and through Him were countless debts requiring infinite payment.  Every tragic, evil and twisted thought, word or deed of every one of God’s children throughout time was fastened to the cross through the flesh of the Man who could have come down.  He didn’t because to rip His flesh away from that unholy torture would have scattered all those sins homeward in the breeze, obligations owed and never credited, agonies of repayment waiting to afflict their rightful owners: you and me.

If Jesus had come down from the cross, perhaps Pilate might have believed.  Possibly a few Pharisees would have owned Him the Christ.  One or two Roman soldiers may have knelt before Him that day.  And it would have done them no good.  Because without the cross, there is nothing to believe in.  There is no sin-eater, no forgiveness, no atonement.  Without the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we are still in our sins, without hope, without help, without righteousness, without heaven.  He could have saved Himself.  Instead, He saved us.

Tired of Life

Dear Christian Counselor:

I know that we are supposed to try and be like Jesus every day. But we are never going to be perfect until he comes back. So what happens if you have been hurting for years inside and out and you have no fight left in yourself anymore and you take your own life?  Would you still go to heaven?

Tired of the Fight


Dear Tired:

If someone asked me whether they should have an affair or abort an unwanted child, I wouldn’t mess around with theology and what might happen afterward. I’m not going to do that with your question either. You are asking me whether serious and deliberate sin could be a good choice. It can’t. The choices God endorses lead to life and hope and peace. I know there are times when that doesn’t feel true, but that’s where faith comes in. God has already given His only Son in exchange for you. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body. 1 Cor. 6:19-20  You are not your own to destroy. The One who cared enough to purchase your life also cares enough to help you.

There are many things you can also do to help yourself through the kind of depression which births questions like yours. Counseling and medication are two options to consider. Here is a list of practical things you can do, as well: Helps for Depression. An article in the New England Journal of Medicine reported that, “more than 90% of people who survive a suicide attempt, including attempts that were expected to be lethal … do not go on to die by suicide.”  What this means is that you will not always feel this way. If I had trusted my own dark thoughts rather than the truth of Scripture and the love of God, I would not have lived to find the light and purpose God had in store for me. Don’t give up. Lean hard on the Lord’s strength rather than your own. It does take work, but you can find healing, too. That’s God’s plan for you – not self-murder.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jer. 29:11.


If you are having suicidal thoughts, tell someone (a spouse, a friend, a pastor, a counselor). If there’s no one you can tell, contact one of these resources:

800-273-TALK
1-800-SUICIDE
800-884-0585 (before 10pm)
800-421-5183 (before 10pm)
1-800-759-0700 (for prayer)
https://www.imalive.org/ (live chat)

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