Hey I'm Josh Hawkins, this is episode 20 of Opening Up the Gospels. In the last couple episodes we've I've looked at the birth of Jesus - in Episode 18, from a "details" angle, and then Episode 19, from a "devotional" angle where I talked about the fear of the Lord and how we need a Biblical perspective on who it is that really laid in that animal feeding trough in Bethlehem. I talked about how we've domesticated God and in many ways made Him out to be just the friendly little guy in the sky and the positive life coach who died on the cross to get us through our day instead of the glorious Creator and Sustainer of all things that we should tremble before and stand in awe of. I mean, the only reason why we're breathing right now is because Jesus is actively giving us breath, right? We've drunk from the well of self-importance and naturalism for so long that we think we exist for ourselves and we're just breathing by some sort of physical process apart from the active intervention of God. But that's a subject for another day. Last week we looked at just a couple of passages to help shape our perspective - specifically Exodus 19 and 20 when the Lord came down on Sinai. The mountain was shaking and was covered in fire and smoke, and the people of Israel said to Moses "tell God to stop talking to us, it's too intense, we can't handle it". The other passage we looked at briefly was Isaiah 6 - the Lord was sitting on his throne, smoke filled the temple and the doorposts were shaking and Isaiah is terrified. Then in John 12, John tells us that it was Jesus that Isaiah was actually seeing! I talked about how Jesus didn't put His divinity on the shelf when He came as a human - just as much as He was divine as a 30 year old walking the streets of Galilee, He was fully divine as He lay in that feeding trough as a tiny infant. Do we really know Who it is that we're beholding when we gaze at this scene? Seeing Him as He was before He took on flesh and was born of Mary should make us approach that manger with a measure of trembling, and I trust the last episode aided your meditation on the scene to that specific end.
The general idea I wanted to communicate related to the birth of Jesus in the last episode was three-fold: that God is the Creator and Ruler of all, He dwelt in the heights of the heavens in unapproachable light in power and in glory, and when man interacted with Him, they stood at a distance and trembled with reverence. All of that is foundational to the Old Testament revelation of the God of Israel. And so you could say this episode looks at the contrast that we see in the scene of Jesus' birth - God dwelling in human flesh in complete obscurity, lying in a feed trough in lowliness and humility, and men can approach Him and hold Him in their arms.
Do you see the contrast here? I hope after the last episode you feel this even more. We talk about the humility of God in the incarnation but the only way we can rightly understand that humility is if we clearly see who He was before He took on flesh. I'll give an example to help you feel this a bit more. What if I were to say that a man named George was working as a city sewer inspector. That's obviously a pretty foul and loathsome occupation, right? Well, if all you knew about George was his name, you wouldn't think twice about it and maybe you'd say - "wow, I'm glad I don't have his job". But what if I told you this George formerly occupied a house that was very white in Washington, DC? And that his last name was "Bush"? Would that make you think differently about George inspecting the city sewers? While that analogy falls far short of describing this scene, the same thing happens when we don't know who this little baby lying in the manger really is. Without a proper perspective, we might have a little sentiment and say "that's pretty unfortunate, he was born in difficult circumstances and had to be laid in a feed trough for animals. Cute kid though, Mary". But because we have seen just a little bit of what Jesus is really like, what He is capable of, and what response of awe and trembling that demands from us, we can finally get over the theological arguments and intellectual hurdles and find our heart free to reel and marvel at who it is lying there and what God is displaying for us in this scene. It's unbelievable.
Think about it - the One who descended on Sinai in fire and smoke is now lying in the place where animals feed, probably shivering in the night air. Instead of being clothed in unapproachable light, He's swaddled in strips of cloth.
The same voice that spoke in Genesis 1 to make everything, the same voice that frightened the Israelites at the base of Sinai in Exodus 20 is now uttering the cries of a newborn that echo off the walls of that little cave.
And the same one that was being ministered to by the songs of myriads of angels is now only hearing the gentle melody of a tired young mother. The one who was perpetually worshipped since the dawn of time received virtually no attention whatsoever in this moment.
And as Caesar sat upon his throne in Rome and Herod was agonizing about his successor from His palace in Jerusalem, in a cave just a few miles away was a young woman who had just borne the king of Israel who would go on to rule all the nations from Jerusalem forever. And instead of an opulent, posh palace, the king of Kings is placed in a feed trough.
I've mentioned this already a few times, but these are the circumstances God chose for His Son to be born in. The contrasts that express His humility go all the way back to Gabriel's announcement to Mary. He said: “Greetings, you highly favored one, the Lord is with you.” And then later, Luke records: “There was no room for them in the inn.” Gabriel says again: “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.” then Luke says “She laid him down in a manger.”
Why these contrasts? One answer is given by the Apostle Paul in 2 Cor. 8:9:
“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor”
(2 Corinthians 8:9 ESV)
How can the words "Lord Jesus Christ" and "poor" rightly be put in the same sentence? If you could characterize this entire scene with one word, it would probably be "poverty". But, why? That's the question I hope you're asking. Why would God do this? Why such humility? Why such obscurity?
There's only one possible answer - love. He looked on our plight and His tender heart of compassion and kindness is what caused Him to throw Himself into our story in the fullness of time. Oh Jesus, what have you done?
I'm going to talk much more about this as the series progresses, but I think it's important to say this here in an introductory way. Jesus' first coming and taking on flesh was not random. He was coming in context to a story that began thousands of years before, all the way back in Genesis 3. And He came, according to Paul in Galatians 4:4, in "the fullness of time". He wasn't born to Gentiles in the United States in the 21st century. He could have chosen whatever time He wanted to, and he chose Israel in the first century. This of course has so much to do with that story that began back in Genesis. I'm talking about the story of salvation, but I'm also talking about the details in that story - details that involve the Jewish people, the covenants and promises God made to their ancestors, and everything that entails. Seeing Jesus' coming in light of this larger story is so important - especially in light of what I talked briefly about in the last episode, that some people throughout history and even some people today say that the identity of the God we see in the Old Testament is very different from the identity of the baby born to Mary. There's certainly a blinding display of His meekness and humility in His birth and throughout the Gospels. But the overarching theme of Jesus' first coming - and even the entire intervening time between the cross and His return - is one of reckoning and of amnesty. We will spend many episodes breaking this down even more. It's so critical we understand this so as to not misinterpret the beautiful display of Jesus' humility in His first coming.
I want to close this episode with another simple example to help make the circumstances of Jesus' birth more real to you. Think about your children or maybe if you're still younger, your nephews, nieces, or any other relative or friend who's had a baby. I recently became an uncle for the first time. At the birth, the environment was super clean, it was sterile, there were doctors there in case anything went wrong. Overall, it isn't a bad experience. But now imagine if you have a wife who's pregnant, or you know someone who is, and the time comes for them to be delivered and they're trying to get somewhere, and the baby comes and is born in a truck stop off of the interstate. This is just a little bit closer to the manner in which Jesus came. He could have come in any way He wanted to. He could have been born in the best place in Jerusalem, he could have had the whole nation rejoice and celebrate at His birth. But he didn't. The one who made me, the one who lives in me, the one who saves me, the one I worship and sing to, He chose to come into the world and be born in a way I would never fathom for our own children. It's so astounding. As the perfect man and as God incarnate, He chose the feed trough. He chose the circumstances. And this says so much about who He is.
I want to encourage you to take some time to ponder this scene. Go back to episode 5 and 6 if you need a jump start on how to spend more than 5 minutes just thinking about the verse, and really give yourself to meditation on this. Dialogue with Him and let what happened break down the hardness of your heart and make you more tender. Remember, He came near, and He's approachable. That's what the Incarnation tells us.
In the next episode, we'll inch forward in our examination of the scene of Jesus' birth. We'll spend some time looking at the visit of the shepherds from Luke 2 verses 8 through 20. I hope you're able to join! If you've missed any of the past episodes, you can check them out at http://www.joshuahawkins.com/gospels. God bless, and I'll see you next time.