Jesus: I’m increasingly stunned how He came in the midst of the messiness and margins of humanity surrounded by the whispers of scandal. He was without welcome in His father’s home town, welcomed by the low-class shepherds and Gentile kings, the target of a male-child genocide. He was an “illegitimate child,” raised on the “wrong side of tracks” in Nazareth (“can anything good come from there?”) to a materially impoverished family, eventually raised by a single mom, under the cruel rule of Gentile Romans who daily humiliated and oppressed the “chosen people.”
As God He could have chosen any birth-life context to enter…palace, fame, wealth, prince-identity, power, prestige, built-in worship of followers, a stage for public ministry, resources for maximizing impact and reach, a place for followers and listeners to visit Him, a context that answered all of the unanswered questions of legitimacy, credibility, and authority. Yet, He chose none of those things!
He didn’t just NOT choose those things, He didn’t even play out a “rags-to-riches” narrative for Himself. His earthly life ended with a trial before Gentile kings, hatred by the religious leadership, rejected by His own people whom He came to save. He was fatally betrayed by one of His followers, disowned by one of His best friends, life-traded for a murderer, brutalized by oppressors, mocked by everyone, cursed by a thief being killed next to Him, tortured upon the cruelest form of capital punishment known to man, separated and forsaken for the first time by His Father, laden with the evil and sin of the entire world and all time laid upon His shoulders.
But it wasn’t just how He was born and how He died that were so unusual to human sensibilities. The way that He lived His life on earth was shocking. He was a man of sorrows and suffering, He was not handsome and didn’t “naturally” command a following by His human charisma, He was homeless, His close friends were unschooled and ordinary men. He did not leverage God’s supernatural power for His own human ends, He told things to crowds that caused them to leave Him, He touched lepers before He healed them, He feasted with “traitors of Israel”, He befriended prostitutes. One of His followers was at one time possessed by seven demons, He defended an adulteress, He gave His attention to children, He healed the servant of a Gentile centurion, He confronted the rich who might have supported His ministry, and He did not typically follow cultural or religious norms. He honored a Samaritan in one of His most well-known stories, and He rarely answered people’s questions directly about His own legitimacy or attempted to clear up misunderstandings or scandals surrounding His birth/life/motivations. He used stories and obscure examples that were unclear, He asked more questions than He did teach, He often told those healed not to tell others about what had happened, He pursued Samaritan followers, He didn’t heal everyone, and He often withdrew from the attention and notoriety to pray and be alone with God. He honored women and were supported by them in His ministry, He rebuked the religious establishment and said nothing against His people’s Gentile oppressors. And yet His was the greatest revolution ever led on earth!
The Human results: rumors were spread that He was demon-possessed, He was widely despised and rejected. People and leaders from His home town tried to kill Him, and His own family members thought He was insane. Most people ceased following Him by the end of His life on earth, His closest followers abandoned Him, and one of His best friends disowned Him.
The Kingdom results: beyond the finality of conquering death, sin, and hell for His followers, His three years of investment in a rag-tag group of followers plus His greatest gift of all (the infilling of the Holy Spirit) became the foundation for the Church that would lead to the multiplying, “Kingdom yeast” that upset the entire Roman world and continues to explode to this day primarily in contexts of marginalization and persecution.
For those of you who find yourself in the “margins” either by force or by choice, you are in Good Company! Emmanuel, God is with you.
Damon Schroeder is the Director of US Church Mobilization at World Relief.
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