King Jesus

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Christmas is upon us.

Unfortunately, this news is greeted with mixed emotions in the 21st century. Not least because a modern day Christmas is crazy stuff. It is full throttle. Pedal to the metal. Flying on all cylinders sorta stuff.

And naturally, our priorities are angled towards other things. Amongst the stuff, we tend to drop God down our list of priorities.

In fact, a prevailing view in society today is that Christ has lost relevance. This is a vague objection often blindly asserted in public places. It is this mammoth misconception founded on the belief that because times have changed, we don’t need God anymore.

Hate to be blunt, but you couldn’t be more wrong.

At Christmas we celebrate God putting us at the top of his priority list.

Christmas isn’t our busy lives stepping into God, but God stepping into our busy lives. Identifying with us. Sharing in our sufferings. Showing the deep love he has for us.

And if that doesn’t totally blow you out of the water, nothing will.

Christmas isn’t some watered down, lame fairytale we tell children before bed. We are celebrating the very presence of God here. God’s presence gives the world relevance. You’re unlikely to believe this if you don’t spend time seeking it.

And I’m going to show you why.

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At the birth of any baby, the first people invited to see the little dude or dudette are significant. VIP backstage pass sorta thing. It is usually reserved for close friends and family members.

We learn a lot about Jesus by the first people invited into His presence. God’s VIP list consisted of a poor couple, some lonely and inadequate outcasts, and three men sent by a corrupt king. A bit random to say the least. Not exactly hard hitting stuff.

Why were these people the first invited into the presence of God?

MARY AND JOSEPH

God called a poor couple from an average town, to share in the riches and deepest joys of his eternally worthy Kingdom.

The first people invited to the birth of Jesus was his parents. Go figure.

In the lead up to the first Christmas, the parents of Jesus would have been extremely excited and anxious. No other mother has a claim to fame quite like bearing the Son of God. And the build-up to this birth is still totally unrivalled.

Because this wasn’t your classic 9 month pregnancy. The arrival of some angels went a long way to confirming this wasn’t your average baby. Mary and Joseph would have been very aware of prophecies made about this baby centuries in advance.

The world had been expecting this champion for hundreds of years. 

So this was a huge calling. I can’t overstate the level of crazy this job description requires. But what is even crazier is that there was nothing particularly special about Mary and Joseph. They were just a poor couple from a dodgy town.

And yet, God promised Mary and Joseph that by accepting Jesus in humility and with joy, they would be used in an extremely powerful way for the Kingdom of God.

And they stepped out in faith.

THE SHEPHERDS

God called shepherds on the fringes of society, to a Good Shepherd who brings all people back to the centrepiece of civilisation

Back in the day, shepherds were pretty low on the social ladder.

In fact they probably didn’t even feature on the ladder. These guys often lived on their own, literally removed from society, as safety of the flock was at risk through the night.

So it is no surprise this is where history first records them. Tending to sheep and staying in the fields (Luke 2:8). A pretty boring arvo, until a host of angels show up announcing the birth of the Saviour of the world. Went from 0 to 100 real quick.  

And the shepherds were initially terrified. I mean, put yourself in their shoes. I’d be shaking like a leaf. But after processing the news, the shepherds dropped their work and hurried into town to see this King.

Here’s the cool part. The wise men brought gifts to Jesus (Matthew 2:11). The shepherds didn’t bring anything. They just came as they were. Wearing stinky and torn clothes, unshaven and unqualified, no social standing whatsoever. 

And yet, God promised the shepherds that by accepting the call with nothing to offer, everything would be offered to them in return. That from the fringes of society, they would be brought back to the centrepiece of civilisation.

And they stepped out in response to his call.

THE WISE MEN

God called wise men from a corrupt earthly king, to an eternal King who rules with justice and fairness.

History records these wise men as being royal astrologers.

There guys were an image of the smartest minds of the day. And not just your average astrologers, the royal astrologers. A good reference on your resume to say the least.

These men are best known for their pursuit of a star. Namely, Jesus. And it’s pretty crazy stuff. These men followed a star, a ball of gas millions of kilometres away in the universe, which according to their intellect was stooping over Jesus (Matthew 2:2).

All of creation bowing down to this Jesus. Not your average baby. Heck, not many can claim to using the universe as a sort of traffic light. Directing everyone to himself.

Equally important to note is that the wise men were from eastern lands (Matt 2:1). This is significant stuff. Because to this point in history, God’s people were almost exclusively citizens of Israel. And yet these wise men weren’t even from Israel.

They probably didn’t even know the language. But you see, God reached out to these men in a language they understood. He used their knowledge on the universe, the very line of their work, and brought them to Jesus.

He met them where they were. God promised the wise men that by seeking Jesus, they would see King Jesus.

And they stepped out in pursuit of that promise.

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WRAPPING IT UP

Each of these VIP guests to Jesus proved one thing.

It doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor, smart or uneducated. Lonely or busy. Qualified or inadequate. From the king’s palace, a dodgy town, or not from any town at all.

God requires our response, not our resume.

The presence of Christ is revealed to those who step out in response to his call. This is the distinguishing feature of those called into the presence of Christ. Obedience rooted in faith. A response to the news of Christ, and the promise of serious hope and joy in him.

Who could pass that up?

We are all called into the very presence of God.

Practical application time.

To those who have accepted God’s call. Take a look at Mary and Joseph. Who despite being filled with absolute awe, still welcomed in the outcasts and the seekers. This season, look for ways to show the presence of Christ to those who need it.

To those too busy or smart for God. Take a look at the wise men. The royal astrologers, who despite having the mysteries of the universe to discover, still found time to seek the true King. This season, seek what Jesus really has to offer.

To those feeling removed from God and others. Take a look at the shepherds. The social outcasts, the lonely and weathered citizens of society, who were personally welcomed into God’s presence. This season, know that you are loved and welcomed by Jesus.

This is the awesome truth of Christmas. This is the awesome truth of Christianity. We are all called by the living God. Only one question remains:

How will you respond to Jesus?

3rd world citizens

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We all care about the poor.

The desperately hungry. Without a home and living on the streets. The people bashed and robbed. Socially ostracised. Those drinking muddy, unpurified water. Nothing at all in their possession except the clothes on their backs. Sick to death.

We all pity such people. We feel sorry for how they live. So we donate money, clothes, water towards their villages. Set up organisations. Raise awareness. All in an attempt to help people in need.

But none of us envy their lifestyles. A safe assumption I hope.

The life of someone in poverty isn’t exactly the peak of the human experience. You would have to be out of your mind to desire this life.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” – Jesus

And then Jesus goes and says that. What the heck.

These were his first words in The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). If you know anything about speeches and essays, introductions are used to set the scene and grab attention. Jesus must have been very aware of these factors. His first sentence alone is shocking. 

Picture it with me. The disciples are waiting as Jesus prepares to talk. Religious dudes gather expectantly for inside knowledge on how to perform miracles, or how to get into God’s good books. Intrigued locals join the crowd to hear from this amazing teacher. Everyone is hanging on his first words.

And then for some crazy reason, Jesus starts by promising poor people the kingdom of heaven. Talk would’ve run riot in the town. If newspapers were a thing, they would’ve gone bezerk. Social media would’ve been in absolute overdrive.

The prerequisite to citizenship in heaven is to be poor in spirit. God’s kingdom is promised to poor people.

Crazy stuff.  

malcs

Malcolm Turnbull came under fire recently.

The Australian PM was spotted giving $5 to a poor man on the streets of Melbourne. On the surface, it seemed like a nice gesture. However, news outlets and social media went nuts when they discovered Mr.Turnbull was clutching a stack of notes in his left hand. People were quick to label him greedy and selfish.

The hypocrisy in much of the criticisms of Mr.Turnbull are very real. I’d suggest 99% of those voicing hate against Mr.Turnbull for this act should take a hard look at themselves.

But the fact remains. There is disappointment that with so much money in his possession, Malcolm could only manage $5. That the leader of our people, seeing the poorest in his society, gave that which wouldn’t cost him much.

Whether or not you are critical of Mr.Turnbull is irrelevant. My point is this. Jesus sees the poorest in his society and promises the absolute maximum in return. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 

Dead set ridiculous. Jesus promises everything to people who have nothing. To put this into perspective, it would be like Mr.Turnbull giving $100 million to the homeless man. We are on that sort of scale of crazy.

But to get the reward, we are called to be poor in spirit. Is Jesus telling us to be desperately hungry? Vulnerable and on the streets? Are we being told be sick and thirsty and homeless and posses nothing – all for the sake of heaven?

That’s ludicrous. That’s insane.

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WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE POOR IN SPIRIT?

‘Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty he could make you rich.’ – 2 Corinthians 8:9

In understanding what poor in spirit means, it makes sense to look at how Jesus treated poor people. Unsurprisingly, one of the most defining features of Jesus was the way he sought the lost (Luke 19:10).

Jesus welcomed in the outcasts. Gave lasting food to the poor and helpless. Jesus invited people despised by the world over for dinner. Those with leprosy and blindness he came into contact with. He healed them. He talked with them (Matthew 11:5).

He came into their world when nobody else would.

Jesus, the very definition of sinless and perfect, consistently and intentionally came into contact with disgraceful sinners (Matthew 9:10). But Jesus didn’t just come into contact with poor people. He identified with them.

Jesus came from a small village, born to a poor couple in a lowly animal stable. He wasn’t too high and mighty for work – heck, he laboured for years as a carpenter. The very Son of God lived and breathed amongst poor people. He understood everyday struggles. He didn’t remove himself from pain – quite the opposite.

Surely this tells us something about how God intended to reach the world.

“Stand up, pick up your mat, and go home” – Jesus

Jesus said this to a paralysed man.

So you can see how crazy this statement is. Jesus literally told someone who physically can’t walk to do exactly that. Walk.

Try telling someone in a wheelchair to just get up and walk next time you’re in public. See how that works out for you. You might just experience the miracle of a backhand to the face.

Yet immediately after Jesus said this, a man who had never used his legs before stood up and walked (Mark 2:1-12). Let’s just appreciate how cool that is for a second. Just ridiculous.

But that’s not the only ridiculous thing about this situation.

Back in the day, sickness was considered a punishment for disobedience. It was a common belief that God inflicted sickness upon people as result of sin. Such people living in sickness were often despised and not allowed to live in community with anyone, not even their own family (Numbers 5:2).

Sin had to be expelled from the community so the people could stay clean.

Yet for some reason this Jesus dude felt like it was okay to welcome in a sick, poor and sinful person. So sin had now polluted the community. Great. Thanks a lot Jesus.

But in a mad plot twist, Jesus defies all laws of physics and medical expertise and just heals the man of his sickness. The people were in utter disbelief. It would’ve been like watching someone discover the cure to cancer. This was significant.

Why did Jesus heal this poor, sick and sinful man?

Through this situation, Jesus was sticking up his hand as the solution to the crippling disease of sin. This Jesus was sticking his hand up as God himself. No other explanation would suffice. Who else could be so perfect as to heal someone of imperfection?

No longer would people have to be expelled from the community. Sin that once left humanity paralysed had now met its cure.

Jesus.

Isn’t Christianity just a crutch for those who can’t make it themselves?

A common criticism of Christianity. Funny thing is, we actually agree with it.

John Piper (in a sermon) highlights an interesting thing about this criticism and labelling of our ‘crutch’ as being problematic. He suggested that nobody looks at an injured person with a crutch, and identifies the crutch as being problematic.

The crutch is the solution, isn’t it? 

Here’s where the problem lies. If Christianity is a crutch, then it is only good for cripples. And many people don’t consider themselves cripples. And so it is therefore offensive to an individual’s self- sufficiency to be labelled as needing help.

This is why Jesus is so counter cultural.

Jesus came to provide himself as the crutch for all. The solution to our deepest sickness.

Humanity was paralysed in sin. But through Jesus death on the cross, our greatest sickness is dealt with. As a result we can boldly approach God. Full confidence in the saving power of our crutch, which allows us to walk in the ways of our Father.

And this completely contrasts our way of thinking.

If we want a job, we work hard and present ourselves well. If we want to be better at sport, we train harder. If we want to get better grades, we study harder. If we want to get anywhere in life, it takes our own effort.

Then Jesus comes along and flips it. To be poor in spirit is to realise the state of our sickness without Jesus. To be poor in spirit is understanding that before God, we have nothing to give. All the work Jesus has already done.

It is finished. 

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PULL UP A SEAT

My Dad wrote a letter when I was born. In this letter he explains the reasons behind choosing my name – and qualities he hoped I would cling to.

Dad used the biblical Jonathan as an example of holding high the qualities of loyalty and friendship in my life. Jonathan was a very loyal man, who had a strong friendship with David. However, Dad suggests (in his letter) it is what comes of their friendship that is equally significant.

Eventually Jonathan died. To honour the deep friendship David once shared with his friend, he found a lone descendant from Jonathan’s line, a cripple called Mephibosheth. To this lowly, dishonoured man he gave the right to eat at the king’s table from that day on (2 Samuel 9).

Because of David and Jonathan’s strong relationship, a man lowly and crippled was given access to eat at the King’s table.

‘God has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence…’ – Colossians 1:22

Jesus has a perfect relationship with God.

And by extension, Jesus death and resurrection brings us into the presence of the King. Into the very presence of God. God invites us to eat at his table because of the deep relationship shared with Jesus Christ.

Lowly, hungry, flawed and crippled in sin – yet God chooses us to eat with him. Through Jesus work on the cross, we can claim our seat at the table.

“Tell a broken, crippled and dying world that they may come and eat at the King’s table.”

Pull up a seat.