Tuesday, December 3, 2013

God in Our Neighborhood

Not long ago I saw a billboard with the simple message, "Don't make me come down there" --God. It puts a smile on the face of the Christian who believes that Jesus is coming back. While it is exciting to delve into biblical prophecies about the return of Christ, it is equally inspiring and encouraging to our faith to understand the prophecies foretelling His first arrival on this planet. Hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus many godly people from Moses to Malachi prophesied about the coming Messiah, the King who would deliver Israel. In fact the prophets revealed so many details about the coming Christ that it is difficult to believe that the people around Him didn’t recognize who Jesus was. But it’s still like that today, isn’t it? Despite much evidence, many refuse to acknowledge Him.

The prophet Isaiah predicted of the Messiah that “there was nothing attractive about him, nothing to cause us to take a second look” (Is. 53:3). In other words, if you were to put Jesus in a lineup of average Joes you wouldn’t notice anything different about Him. Imagine, a Savior with skin on. Deity in diapers. A God-man who felt hunger pangs, had dirt under his fingernails and grew weary after a hard day’s work. 

The Message Bible paraphrases John 1:14 like this, “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.” Just read the Christmas story over again and notice the fallen world Christ came to save. The boot of Rome oppressed and taxed the Jews. Life was cheap. Herod the Great, “the butcher of Bethlehem,” committed infanticide to assuage his delusional paranoia. The overcrowded inn had no room for Joseph and his burgeoning bride, so Jesus was born in a stable and laid in a feeding trough. 

Christian author Philip Yancey elaborates:
A succession of great empires tramped through the territory of Israel as if wiping their feet on the vaunted promised land. After the Assyrians and Babylonians came the Persians, who were in turn defeated by Alexander the Great. He was eventually followed by Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the Jews' worst villain until Hitler. Antiochus began waging war against the Jewish religion. He transformed the temple of God into a worship center for Zeus and proclaimed himself God incarnate. He forced young boys to undergo reverse circumcision operations and flogged an aged priest to death for refusing to eat pork. In one of his most notorious acts he sacrificed an unclean pig on the altar in the Most Holy Place, smearing its blood around the temple sanctuary.
Antiochus's actions so incensed the Jews that they rose up in an armed revolt that's celebrated every year as the holiday Hanukkah. But their victory was short-lived. Before long, Roman legions marched into Palestine to quash the rebellion and appointed Herod, their "King of the Jews." After the Roman conquest, nearly the entire land lay in ruins. Herod was sickly and approaching seventy when he heard rumors of a new king born in Bethlehem, and soon howls of grief from the families of slain infants drowned out the angels' chorus of "Glory to God and on earth peace." First-century Israel was a conquered, cowed nation. This, then, was the neighborhood Jesus moved into: a sinister place with a somber past and a fearful future.1
When Jesus came down to humanity, he came all the way down. Philippians 2:5-7 is paraphrased this way, “He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process” (MSG). 

Rather than lobbying for His right to remain in heaven and continuing to enjoy all the benefits of that exalted role as the second member of the Godhead and Lord of the created world, He willingly said “Yes.”  He agreed to cooperate with a plan that would require His releasing ecstasy and accepting agony.  In a state of absolute perfection and undiminished deity, He willingly came to earth. Leaving the angelic hosts who flooded His presence with adoring praise, He unselfishly accepted a role that would require His being misunderstood, abused, cursed, and crucified. He unhesitatingly surrendered the fellowship and protection of the Father’s glory for the lonely path of obedience and torturous death.

God willingly dressed in street clothes and entered our world, joining those held hostage to sin. On the cross, Jesus defeated Satan and set us free from the power of sin. Augustine summed up the Incarnation like this, “God became a man for this purpose: since you, a human being, could not reach God, but you can reach other humans, you might now reach God through a man.”

1. Philip Yancey, The Question That Never Goes Away (Creative Trust Digital Kindle Edition, 2013).

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