To think Jesus’ messianic career commenced when he became an adult is a mistake. Too often I think of Jesus’ primary ministry in terms of those actions and sayings with which we are most familiar when he was all grown up: his baptism, temptation in the wilderness, teachings and miracles, death and resurrection.
But we mustn’t forget his childhood and maturing years. If we understand this rightly, we come to realize his messianic career was activated in obscurity. Before he ever announced at synagogue the fulfillment of Isaiah 61, he had already announced through the secrecy of everyday life the in-breaking of God’s reign. This has profound implications.
I have a theory concerning why we often overlook Jesus’ “secret years”. It is partly because there is so little written about these “secret years” but I am convinced it is mainly because we have a harder time accepting the humanity of Jesus than his divinity.
When the Bible tells us “Jesus grew” we often miss the scandal of such a statement because we too quickly use such a notion as an object lesson for our own children in spurring them on in their maturation. But, if we say that Jesus is God and then in the same breath say “…and God grew” it should rightly warp our pea-sized brains.
Each day I write a prayer and post it online in hopes that others will join me in my prayer. There have been one or two occasions when, believe it or not, someone has taken issue with the content of a prayer I have written. In every instance, the so-called “offending prayer” had its origins in the humanity of Jesus.
Some time ago, I wrote a piece on my own struggles with this. And, just today, I clicked on a link for a popular Christian blogger (who I will not dignify with a link in this post) that sounded off on this issue through a “book review” (of sorts). The book review was aimed at poking fun of a recently-published title by another Christian author. The blogger simply cited a passage from the book and noted that the passage itself was “parody” enough.
And then I read the comments—all 146 of them. Discounting a handful of comments on a separate matter introduced into the thread, almost all of the comments echoed the mockery of this book that was being "reviewed".
To be sure, the writing sample referenced in the book was pretty cheesy, but the level and tone of mockery in the comments quite alarmed me. (“Is this the Spirit of Christ?” I wondered. “Would Jesus mock this poor author in such acidic terms?” Many of the comments opined that publication of books like the one in question were why Christianity was so poorly regarded by many—but I couldn’t help but think that such unmitigated mockery and pathetically shriveled spirits were to blame. How petty!)
Because the comments were so forceful and sarcastic, I wondered why there would be such a strong reaction. Surely, mediocre writing technique should not elicit such intense responses. A yawn would have been more appropriate. But, such biting mockery? Really?
And then it hit me: most of the comments took issue with the portrayal of Jesus as someone who identifies with us. Yes, the passage cited seemed pretty hokey, but we must realize that if Jesus is only a God who lives in unapproachable splendor, light and (so-called) glory, he cannot be our Savior nor our Lord.
The saving grace of Jesus lies precisely in his identification with us, his solidarity with the nobodies of this world. His grit and grime humanity shows the lengths to which he went to bring us back into a relationship with him.
We prefer contemplating Jesus on his throne, seated at the right hand of the Father, poised to come on the clouds of heaven, riding a white horse with a trumpet whose blast has enough power to peel our eyelids back. Even our portrayals of a crucified Christ seem sanctified: I have never seen him pictured with his penis showing—as it most certainly was after that final garment was divided. How humiliating! What’s more, the Jesus of our crucifixions almost always has a look of platonic metaphysical serenity on his white face. This is perhaps the largest sacrilege.
Even portrayals of his birth are unnecessarily other-worldly. To say that the star guided the wise men to Jesus’ place of birth is not to say it shone down on his cradle in the same way a spotlight shines on a stage celebrity. The wise men presented him with costly gifts--one of which underscored that one day this Messiah King would die. Costly, indeed.
After his resurrection, Jesus continued to identify with us yet. Why else would two disciples spend the entire day with him, walking on the road to Emmaus, talking with him about (unbeknownst to them!) himself (!)? How else could they miss the God in him? Well, he identified with them. This is the good news.
Yes, God plays hide and seek to draw us close to him. The glory of God cannot be found apart from the humanity of Jesus. To say that God became human is to make a statement of his incredible, surprising glory. It is a glory that is hidden. In fact, the glory of God is the love of God. What’s more, the glory of God is not found in some distant, sitting-on-a-throne-of-gold, coming-on-the-clouds-of-heaven Unmoved Mover. He is not primarily a hypostatic union but we prefer our God sterilized and sanitized. As long as he remains distant, he can’t smell our bad breath and bear our stammers and befriend us all the same.
The good news of the kingdom of God is that God dwelt among us. It is that God dwelt among us. It is that God dwelt among us. It is that God dwelt among us.
We read over the words “we beheld his glory” as if we’ve just read the side notes on a milk carton. We fail to realize the wonder of such a phrase for God’s glory is not something we humans can “behold” and expect to continue breathing. But, in Jesus, the glory of God is revealed to us in the form of a man who may have had stubby fingers and knobby knees. He grew tired, just like us. When he was a child, he likely played in the mud. Were he a resident of Chicago, he might wear a Cubs cap and nibble on some popcorn or devour a ballpark frank. Instead of a carpenter, I could run into him at the car repair shop. He might have grease under his fingernails and wear coveralls. He’d know how to replace the tie rods on my car. It is this Jesus of Nazareth that scandalized the Pharisees and it is this same Jesus that scandalizes us today, apparently. “Who is he? Just the son of a carpenter. The bastard child of a teenager. And he says he’s God? God does not wear a pirate hat, especially as a joke.” Uh, Pharisee, don't look now but Jesus has sweaty pits. Sorry if that makes you blush and runs counter to your ideas of God--but not too sorry. Get over it. If you do, you'll be saved.
That's because the advent of Jesus tells us that what makes God God is his ability to become something he isn’t--whereas what makes us human is our insistence that God stay where he is: high in the sky by and by.
Let’s get real about God. After all, he got real for us in Jesus.
The kingdom is at-hand, immediately accessible. If Jesus is not Lord of the bowl of cereal I just ate, he is not Lord of anything. God is in the details and “Christ plays in 10,000 places”. He blessed each place and called it good.