Dec 28, 1997


I have always known that the nature of God was so 'other' from us, but I am beginning to realize how 'other' His heart is...

In my little apartment, my kids and I read the Christmas story this year. My eldest daughter read Philippians 2.5ff first (to point out what Jesus left to come to earth), and then read the "traditional" birth-story in Luke 2 (we read both passages from the Message NT, to shock us out of our expectancies). The elements of the story are so familiar:

 

But I put those facts into the historical context of the day...

1. Caesar had been in self-aggrandizing mode recently, and was appealing to be named "First man among men" and "Father of Rome" and such titles of honor and preeminence. To do this required Senate approval, which required the census of which we speak. The entire affair had nothing to do with taxation (as the older KJV) indicated--it had to do with pride. (See the details in the piece on Quirinius)

2. The Bible Background Commentary (BBC) points out that this birth seems to be almost pointed in its contrast to the celebration of the Roman Emperors' birth celebration:

"Good news" could refer to the proclamation of God’s salvation (Is 52:7), but pagans applied it also to celebrations of the cult of the emperor among all people in the supposedly worldwide empire. Particularly in celebration of his birthday (pagans publicly celebrated deities’ birthdays), the emperor was hailed "Savior" and "Lord." But Jesus’ birth in a lowly manger distinguishes the true king from the Roman emperor, whose loyalists in Luke’s day would have bristled at (and perhaps responded violently to) the implicit comparison

3. When the emperor celebrated his birthday, he had choirs of his subjects singing his majesty--Jesus had the highest creatures in the universe--His subject also-- doing the honors for Him!

4. Caesar Augustus was known for having created and 'enforced peace' in the Empire, but the true Prince of Peace would come and offer that quiet and true peace to the deepest recesses of human hearts and lives.

5. The first human witnesses and evangelists were shepherds, one of the marginalized outcasts of Israel. Shepherding was one of the 'despised trades' (like tax collector) and shepherds were effectively ostracized and excluded from the religious and cultural life of Jerusalem...God choice such for the honor of first glance and to bear His Son's glorious news... "The first shall be last, and the last shall be first..."

What an amazing story...the Glorious pre-existent Son of God, leaves His home in heaven and steps into human history as the true King in humility and service...He chooses the poor of the world, the ignoble, the 'less'...He reverses the status of all He engages--the rich are poor and the poor are rich (James 1.9). He sets our values on end...the King of Majesty is born quietly, in obscurity, in solidarity with the low...He takes His seat at the low places (Luke 14.8), but the Father will yet exalt Him (Philp 2.5ff; 2 Thess 1.10; Rom 14.11)!

And this was all planned before the creation of time by the Godhead...amazing...

And the Son was always deferring praise to the Father...The Father committed all judgement into His hands and gave Him the 'name above all names', but the Son still pointed everyone to the Father...

I am reminded of the Nazarenes...

I just finished a large chunk of research on the Nazarenes (the Jewish-Christian group of the first couple of centuries). They wrote a commentary on Isaiah that Jerome quotes from occasionally. At Isaiah 9.1-4 Jerome records this:

"The Nazarenes, whose opinion I have set forth above, try to explain this passage in the following way: When Christ came and this preaching shone out, the land of Zebulon and Naphtali first of all were freed from the errors of the Scribes and Pharisees and he shook off their shoulders the very heavy yoke of the Jewish traditions. Later, however, the preaching became more dominant, that means the preaching was multiplied, through the Gospel of the apostle Paul who was the last of all the apostles. And the Gospel of Christ shone to the most distant tribes and the way of the whole sea. Finally the whole world, which earlier walked or sat in darkness and was imprisoned in the bonds of idolatry and death, has seen the clear light of the Gospel."

One of the authors I was using for the study [Pritz, NT:NJC:64-65] makes this comment about this attitude:

"What we have here, then, is an endorsement of Paul's mission to the Gentiles. This spreading of the Gospel to the Gentiles was, according to the Nazarenes, a natural, even a glorious development. One is often led to expect a sort of bitterness on the part of the Jewish Christians that they were swamped, their position usurped by the Gentile Church. But here we find only a positive reaction to the flow events.

When I first read this, and realized the setting--these precious Jewish believers had fled their native Jerusalem, had been ostracized by the Jewish religious authorities (by the birkhat ha-minim), were generally discriminated against by Diaspora Judaism and Gentiles, and eventually declared heretical by an ignorant Western church--I was blown away. The seeds of their ultimate abasement and diminishing were the expansion of the message of the Gospel to the Gentiles. And yet they were not bitter, were not territorial, were not cold-hearted--what love! What noble hearts! What godliness! What a heart like the Savior that could accept a despised Cross for the salvation of the wretched and ungrateful!

I remember the story of John the Baptist's heart (John 3.25):

There arose therefore a discussion on the part of John’s disciples with a Jew about purification. 26 And they came to John and said to him, "Rabbi, He who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have borne witness, behold, He is baptizing, and all are coming to Him." 27 John answered and said, "A man can receive nothing, unless it has been given him from heaven. 28 "You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ,’ but, ‘I have been sent before Him.’ 29 "He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. And so this joy of mine has been made full. 30 "He must increase, but I must decrease.

Here was a heart that did not stake out a 'ministry' or a territory or a 'function' as his own...He did not argue with a change of public fortune--He delighted in the progress of the Kingdom...

I know there are Jewish believers like this today--they are rejected by their people, their family, and by so much of this Western "gentile" church...but they are priceless to Him...His beautiful remnant..."of whom the world is not worthy"...

And I see hearts like this in us goyim as well...

My first pastor used to preach on Romans 11.15-24. He would say that God's prime vineyard stock didn't want to play with His program, so God was forced to use us "broken down Gentiles" to get His message out. He would point to verse 15b and say that the world has never seen such powerful ministry and action as when the Jewish nation beholds their Pierced One and takes up His message to the world in zeal...

I see hearts like this in my church, over the Net, in my past...the other-centered heart of God...

I remember an illustration from years ago about such a heart in a little kid...Seems in this story a guy had just been given as a gift a brand new car from his brother (who had just come into some money). He was outside waxing his new car when a little 9-year old boy walks by. As the kid is walking by, he stops for a moment and asks the guy where he got such a beautiful, shiny new car. The guy tells the kid that his brother just gave it to him...The kid goes "Wow!" and says something else, and then walks on off...In a few seconds, the guy, who has been concentrating on his waxing during this conversation realizes what the little boy said as he walked out: "Wow! I wish I could BE a brother like that!"--not "I wish I HAD a brother like that."

The difference was obviously noticed...

This was the spirit of those Nazarenes...and this was the spirit of the Savior-born-to-die...and God help it be our spirit as we walk through life these next minutes, weeks, years, decades...

Glenn Miller


The Christian ThinkTank...[http://www.Christian-thinktank.com] (Reference Abbreviations)