Have you ever received a present you didn’t exactly want? When Jews in the first century thought of the long awaited messiah, they thought of a conqueror. They wanted a knight in shining armor to knock Rome off its throne and claim the world for Israel.
The rulers of Rome were conquerors. They came home from battle to parades and cheering crowds. Their faces were on every coin and everyone in the known world knew their name. Any dissenters would quickly and harshly be silenced. Perhaps the Jews were expecting something like that from the Christ. But what they got came in a different package.
Before Jesus was even born he was surrounded by scandal. It can be a shaming thing today for a teenage girl to become pregnant out of wedlock. But in Mary’s day it was an offense worthy of death. One can imagine the rumors that spread around the neighborhood. People who were once friends probably shunned her out of judgment. Folks who heard her “I saw an angel” story surely thought she was crazy. Her fiancée, as noble a man he was, had resolved to divorce her. It’s a miracle in itself that Jesus wasn’t aborted! Imagine the relief Mary felt when Joseph told her they were leaving town.
When Jesus was born, he came in relatively unnoticed (only his immediate family, some astrologers, shepherds, and a paranoid governor knew who he was). Innkeepers in Bethlehem certainly were unaware. Had Caesar rode into town looking for a room, he would have gotten the presidential suite. But Jesus was sent out back with the livestock.
Upon hearing the news about some kid being called “King of the Jews,” Herod began to worry. That was Herod’s title. Giving into his paranoia, he sought to eliminate his new competition by massacring all the boys two years and younger in the Bethlehem area. This genocide drove Jesus and his family to Egypt where they would wait in hiding until Herod’s death. The Son of God was a refugee running for his life before he was three.
It’s no wonder Matthew goes to such great links to prove Jesus’ identity with Old Testament prophecies (Matt 1:22-23, 2:6, 2:14, 2:17-18, 2:23). This is not what anyone expected. What peculiar circumstances for the King of the universe to choose for his big entry.
By the end of his life, we have seen that Jesus is a very different kind of conqueror. Caesar achieves “peace” by the sword, but Jesus wielded a towel. Everyone expected a knight in shining armor, but what they got was a naked man nailed to a cross. Caesar demanded taxes, but Jesus says, “Give to the least of these.”
A sword wielding, Rome toppling, bad guy bashing Jesus would be easier. Imagine a world where enemies to Christianity were immediately eliminated by force. What if our “peace” wasn’t interrupted by foreigners at our border bothering us with their problems? Imagine a Jesus who said, “Love those who love you,” and stopped there. Many of us would be on board with a Jesus who promised us health and wealth. That Jesus would be easier, but he wouldn’t be better.
The first century Jews might have been looking for someone like Caesar—someone who would wipe out everyone opposing Israel’s interests. That messiah may have made their lives easier. But what they got was a peasant looking to conquer the world with love. And he is most definitely better. Caesar may have had crowds cheering, but Jesus had a choir of angels (Luke 2:13-14).
The greatest temptation we have is to make ourselves God. In fact, this seems to be the root of all our sin. In Christianity we disguise this temptation by re-inventing Jesus. We feel too bad about making ourselves God so we go to the next best thing, making God into who we want him to be. But if anything is to be learned from the Incarnation—God becoming man, revealing Himself to us—it’s that God is a certain way. He is who he is. And though he may not be what we expected or what we want, he is far better than anything we can imagine. The challenge is to trust him in that.
Many of the Jew’s in the first century never accepted Jesus for who he really is and died never truly knowing God. I fear many “Christians” make the same mistake. Jesus may not be the most convenient Savior for our lives, but if we desire to truly know God and be satisfied in Him we must take Jesus for who he really is. Worshipping a Jesus invented to justify our own beliefs and behaviors will only block us from true intimacy with the real God.
Lord, help us know the true You.