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Humble Beginnings (Sermon 1-15-2023)

We have just completed our celebration of the birth of Jesus. By now, our trees are down and the other decorations have been stowed away until next Christmas season. One of those decorations may include a manger. A manger is a feeding trough used to feed farm animals. On that night, the young mother took some hay and placed it in a feeding trough thus making a bed for her baby.

We are accustomed to nice soft mattresses placed on supportive springs positioned in a crib that is adjustable so the mother can easily reach and attend to her child. Perhaps we have heard that some people have used dresser drawers as a makeshift crib. But even the poorest members of our society generally find or have access to a crib. The thought of placing our child in a rough wooden trough from which farm animals have eaten gives us pause. It is unthinkable to us.

Putting the birth of Jesus in the Biblical context, the King of Kings was born in what we must confess was a humble beginning. Have you ever wondered why God chose this method and manner for entering the world? Surely, if God had thundered down from heaven what His wishes were, then the people would have been moved to tremble with fear and comply.

Wait a minute, isn’t that what God had already done? Let’s review some history very briefly. We have a family that entered Egypt when Joseph was there. The total number of family members was 70 (Genesis 46:27).

While they entered as welcomed guest, 430 years later we find them as slaves. Moses was used by God to liberate this family and extricate them from slavery in Egypt to be taken to the Promised Land. We know about the angel of death killing the first born in the land and the children of Israel escaped death by having the blood of a lamb on their door post.

They leave and the first obstacle they meet is the Red Sea.

Then they said to Moses, “Is it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? Why not the word that we spoke to you in Egypt, saying, ‘Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” (Exodus 14:11-12 NASB)

From this point on, they grumble and complain even when the see God part the waters, feed them and prevent their cloths from wearing out. They even had a chance to hear God’s presence when His voice thundered on the mountain.

So, it came about on the third day, when it was morning, that there were thunder and lightning flashes and a thick cloud upon the mountain and a very loud trumpet sound, so that all the people who were in the camp trembled. And Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. (Exodus 19:16-17 NASB)

Seeing and hearing God does not ensure that people will do His will. What did God do to ensure that people will come to Him and worship Him? He came as a baby.

This baby was the son of a carpenter and his wife. Today, we would call Joseph a “blue-collar” worker, as if that is something about a trade to scorn. No college degree, no palace, Jesus is born to a working-class family.

The young life of Jesus is not detailed in the gospel accounts. There is a brief mention of Jesus when He was around 12 years old (Luke 2:42). There is nothing in the recorded life of Jesus that suggest anything but humble beginnings.

The biography of Jesus, as recorded in the gospel accounts, really do not spend much time or ink on Jesus until He is grown. He was around 30 years old before we have any record of His activities. We have a brief account of His birth, one incident when He was 12 years old and then nothing until He is grown. This child who was placed in a feeding trough on a pile of hay has grown into a man. Let’s turn to the gospel of John. We will look at the first chapter.

In the first chapter, John introduces us to Jesus from a unique perspective. He clearly identifies Jesus as God (John 1:1). John also takes up the mission of a relative of Jesus. We may remember that Elizabeth’s husband, Zachariah, was told they would have a son had a child and was told: And he will turn many of the sons of Israel back to the Lord their God. It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, (Luke 1:16-17a NASB)

John’s gospel speaks of John the Baptist and his preaching (John 1:19-28). Some of the religious leaders ask John is he is the Messiah and John assures them that he is not.

Let’s open our Bibles to the first chapter of John and begin with the 29th verse.

The next day he saw Jesus coming to him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is He on behalf of whom I said, ‘After me comes a Man who has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.’ I did not recognize Him, but so that He might be manifested to Israel, I came baptizing in water.” John testified saying, “I have seen the Spirit descending as a dove out of heaven, and He remained upon Him. I did not recognize Him, but He who sent me to baptize in water said to me, ‘He upon whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining upon Him, this is the One who baptizes in the Holy Spirit.’ I myself have seen, and have testified that this is the Son of God.” (John 1:29-34 NASB)

In verse 31, John said he did not know Him. This does not mean that John did not recognize his relative. John did not know that Jesus was the Messiah. The revelation came when John baptized Jesus and the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus. Now, John knows and recognizes Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!

Once more, we do not see fanfares and parades. There is no earthquake to proclaim the beginning of His ministry. It starts simply, it starts humbly.

Those who followed Jesus began as a few and slowly grew. As we read the next section of scripture, we find that two of John’s disciples left John to follow Jesus.

Again, the next day John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as He walked, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus. And Jesus turned and saw them following, and said to them, “What do you seek?” They said to Him, “Rabbi (which translated means Teacher), where are You staying?” He said to them, “Come, and you will see.” So, they came and saw where He was staying; and they stayed with Him that day, for it was about the tenth hour. One of the two who heard John speak and followed Him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He found first his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which translated means Christ). He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John; you shall be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter). (John 1:35-42 NASB)

At this stage, there are three people following Jesus. The two disciples of John and Simon Peter (Cephas). Of the two disciples of John, only one is identified as Andrew, the brother of Simon. The other is not known. Some speculate that it was John, the author of the gospel. That is only speculation. The point is Jesus did not run a campaign to gather a large following. Once more, we see a humble beginning.

For the next three and a half years, the written accounts of Jesus show that he traveled about the countryside with the few people whom He called. Others followed and listened and watched. They listened to His words of comfort and encouragement. He talked about living godly lives and not about pious deeds or religious ceremonies.

Jesus lived a life that demonstrated the things of which He spoke. He healed the sick, He fed the hungry, He wept when people died. He not only showed that was human, He showed that He truly cared for those around Him. For Jesus, God is a personal relation. God is approachable. God is not an isolated or cold ideal. God is real and near.

Some suggest that the god Jesus talks about is not the same god that we find in the pages of the Old Testament. Well, yes, He is. God has always presented Himself in the same way as presented by Jesus. As Moses is preparing the children of Israel to enter the Promised Land, listen to his words: And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the Lord’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good? (A question is asked. “What does God expect?)

To the Lord your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it. Yet the Lord set his affection on your ancestors and loved them, and he chose you, their descendants, above all the nations—as it is today. Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer. (Circumcision was instituted prior to the Law. Now, Moses is telling them to remove the superfluous layer and let God’s law touch their hearts.) For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt. (Deuteronomy 10:12-19 NASB)

The simple message of God can be summed up with one verse found in Micah. He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8 NASB)

This is a message that we humans failed to learn from thundering moments on the mountain top. This is the message Jesus came to teach us. His life demonstrates how we too may treat others with justice, love and mercy while we walk humbly with God.

The very message of salvation began with humble beginnings. From a stable in Bethlehem to the ascension, the life of Jesus was lived humbly before God.

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