Publication:Pastoral Letter, December 2018
Dear Friend in Christ:
This month brings us to the celebration of Jesus’ miraculous birth, “Joy to the World!” It is a joyful season of carols, Christmas trees, giving gifts, family, and wonderful meals. Much of what we will do and the date that we celebrate will have little to do with “The First Christmas.” Nevertheless, we celebrate a world-changing event.
What I want to do in this letter is to focus on an aspect that is often overlooked both in Jesus’ birth, life, and death—His humility. I have lately read the Biblical accounts of His birth, life, and death. This characteristic has stood out to me as I believe that He is God made flesh.
JESUS’ HUMBLE BIRTH
Let me stress that everything about Jesus’ entrance into the world was a choice made in eternity and the prophets foretold it. The choice is one that we would not have made; it was counter to our nature.
The choice was that He would be born to a virgin, not yet married, though “betrothed”. Jesus become known as a “Carpenter’s Son” in a village with a poor reputation. The actual birth would occur miles away as they were forced to travel during stressful tax season, in a stable. The Son of God would be placed in a livestock feeding trough. No one would choose that! Yet, God did.
It should be evident that God values humility. The revelation of Jesus’ birth was given to humble shepherds who found the baby by divine instruction wrapped in “swaddling clothes” (common bands of cloth). He was likely birthed among livestock. Could humility be more evident?
What is humility? Humility is the choice to be modest, to serve, to elevate others above one’s self; it is a grace from God. From a biblical perspective, humility is wise and leads to more wisdom and promotion. (see Proverbs 11:2; Proverbs 18:2; Psalm 25:8-9; Philippians 2)
Humility is not low self-esteem, inferiority, passivity, or some other self-denigrating condition; it is a choice. Jesus, the eternal Word of God, made that choice. It was not only in His birth that He made that choice, but in His entire life.
We are told that at the age of 12, He was dialoging with and learning from the teachers of the law who were at the temple; He was increasing in wisdom even as He increased in stature and favor with God and man. We are told that He was submitted to His parents. In short, He was teachable, as humility is. Even “God made flesh” grew up humble and teachable.
JESUS’ MINISTRY TO THE HUMBLE
Jesus not only chose humility in birth, He chose humble people for His ministry: the poor, the lame, the blind, those possessed by evil spirits, and common people. “The common people heard Him gladly” (Mark 12:37). His disciples were common people. “The humble will hear and be glad” (Psalm 34:2). Prior to Jesus’ birth, Mary was filled with the Holy Spirit as she and Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist, met together. Here is what she prophesied:
“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant; for behold, henceforth 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 on those who fear Him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty…” (Luke 1:46-53).
From Mary’s womb, Jesus the Word heard that. It formed Him. He was born among the lowly and would be inclined to them, not to the proud. Jesus did more for the humble Roman Centurion and the humble Syrophoenician woman than for the proud religious leaders. He did more for tax collectors, the demon-possessed, and the woman caught in adultery than He was able to do in His own religious hometown.
Should we enter into sin in order to find God’s favor? Of course not. Besides, all of us have already entered into sin. The lesson is that we must see our need before we can find favor. When we humble ourselves, by choice, we can find favor with God. The sad truth is that usually happens after our failure or in some dire need.
Second Chronicles 7:14 says it plainly: “If my people who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” Healing begins with humility. Christians and our nation need healing!
I desire God’s favor above all. For that reason, I fear acclaim, position, and titles. I only wish that I had understood that as a youth; Jesus did. He left those who wanted to make Him a King. His only desire was to humbly please the Father, and for that, He was highly exalted and given a name above all others (see Philippians 2). Jesus never forgot where He came from, even in death.
JESUS’ HUMILIATING DEATH
My imagination fails me as I contemplate the Cross. I remember that as a pastor many years ago, I tried to describe the crucifixion in a message, and a deacon said that I made it “too gory.” Like those at the Cross, we try to hide from that ultimate disgrace, the dishonor, and the shame of the innocent One, Who was the Holy Son of God, hanging naked before the world and human history.
Jesus had been mocked, spat upon, beaten, derided, and rejected by His own people. Even His disciples had either fled or denied Him. But that wasn’t the worst of it. The unimaginable grief was that there He bore our sins, griefs and sorrows (see Isaiah 53). In a real sense, we were all in that mob and we all heard His cries and heard Him say, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”
Remember, Jesus was crucified between two thieves, as prophesied: “He was numbered among transgressors” (see Isaiah 53:12). Even in death, He took the time to forgive one of them who saw his own sin and promised to see him that day in paradise. I wonder what that reunion was like. The Cross revealed what a few prophets had seen long before and during His birth; He was humble and gracious, yet also the Savior who had come.
It is no wonder that the Cross, not the cradle, became the symbol of our faith. It was there that the great exchange occurred; our sin for His righteousness, our death for His life, our sorrow for His joy, our defeat for His victory, and our hell for His heaven. Now that is a gift! That is Christmas! What a present! Without the Cross and Resurrection, there could be no celebrating His birth; without His humility, there would be no salvation, only a world of grief and despair.
CELEBRATE THE CROSS AT CHRISTMAS?
Some might say, “Wait until Good Friday to talk about the Cross!” The problem with religious holidays is that in rituals that celebrate only one event; we can miss the whole story. It is interesting that Jesus’ Crucifixion occurred as people were preparing to celebrate a religious holy day, even one that He fulfilled—the Passover. Tradition blinded them to the reality right before their eyes.
A lot of people will celebrate Christmas and have no idea what it is all about. That is very dangerous! If we do not understand why He came, we cannot understand His birth. Christmas has become a cultural event that is so distorted that it bears little resemblance to the real event. It can be a great time for us to present the entire Gospel to others. The “Good News for all people” is the entire story.
A serious look at the Cross at any time is arresting. There, we can find salvation, if we realize that He came to save us from ourselves and our sin. Mary got it. Elizabeth got it. Eventually Joseph and Zachariah got it. The shepherds got it. Simeon the priest got it. Anna got it. Even the pagan wise men got it; but His hometown, Nazareth, and most people did not. How about the inn keeper? I wonder if he ever got it? I pray that we get it!
Today, our nation needs humility in a way that we have not since the Civil War. Hatred, blame, and division abound. Yet, America is still predominately religious, as Israel was when Jesus came. I am, and trust that you are, deeply concerned. Remember that the key to God’s favor is humility. Jesus demonstrates that to us in His birth, life and death – true humility. He is the Son of God — ultimate royalty—yet He humbled Himself in every way. The key to seeing change is not our blame or boast, it is humility and repentance. Every revival begins that way. And I pray for another great revival that will restore our nation.
Not very many will read this letter but many will read us. As Paul told the Corinthians who lived in a pagan culture, “You are my epistle written in our hearts, known and read by all men…written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God…” (First Corinthians 3:2).
If we are truly followers of Jesus and if His Spirit lives within us, then humility should characterize our lives. I believe that God wants us to succeed, but our success must glorify Him and not ourselves. We can be helped to be humble if we identify with the humble, the needy, and yes, even the sinful, as He did.
While we are exchanging gifts and blessing our fellow believers, it behooves us to share our blessings with those who truly need them and are not able to return the favor. Acts 20:35 tells us that “it is more blessed to give than to receive.” The early Christians understood that. This is a great time to demonstrate that we do. Merry Christmas!
May the Spirit of Christ be in our hearts this season as we give and receive gifts and as we celebrate our Savior and our salvation. Let us not only see His birth but His life, His sacrifice and His gifts to us. It all came to us through humility, and if we are to transmit Christ to others, it will happen the same way.
P.S. Would you also prayerfully consider a special year-end gift to support the ministry outreach of CSM? We depend upon the faithfulness of God and our friends in order to move forward in our mission. The New Year will bring many opportunities and challenges! Please visit us online at csmpublishing.org. All gifts to CSM are tax deductible in the United States
Scripture References: Proverbs 11:2; Proverbs 18:2l; Psalm 25:8-9; Philippians 2; Mark 12:37; Psalm 34:2; Luke 1:46-53; 2 Chronicles 7:14; Isaiah 53; I Corinthians 3:2; Acts 20:35