Any honest look beyond the Christmas card image of the Yuletide season reveals something that not only the world hates to acknowledge, but many Christians too. Whenever the righteousness of God is revealed in the context of His plan to redeem a fallen and sinful humanity, the bearing of shame by the innocent is the only possible outcome. At the heart of the Christmas story, therefore, is a faithful and virtuous young woman who becomes pregnant outside of marriage, and a young man who marries her knowing he will be regarded by his family and peers as not just the man who was obviously her sad and pathetic second best, but also a fool for not preserving his dignity by just cancelling the wedding and wiping his hands of her. How few would have believed this young maiden’s story that she was pregnant by the Holy Spirit, and not a worthless fornicator, and that Joseph was actually as honourable and righteous a young man as any could care to meet. Their obedience to the God they so loved meant that shame, indignity and reproach would follow them for the rest of their lives.
And so it is for any who truly love and follow the One those two wonderful young people brought into the world and raised so faithfully, for more than any other man in history, the Lord Jesus was born to be the bearer of shame par excellence! Not shame for His own sins, of course, for never did He do any wrong; but rather the shame of everyone for whom He died. It is as if He was saying, “If they won’t take the blame for their sin, then I will take the blame for them!”
Whenever the righteousness of God hits up against the sinfulness of man, it is forever that same goodness which gets condemned in the eyes of unrepentant sinners as being itself evil. Thus, then, did the Lord end His days on earth, nailed to a cross of shame, being considered as, at best, a deluded deceiver, or at worst, a loathed and hated blasphemer. Never has any man been as innocent as was He, yet neither has any man borne such shame and reproach.
It bothers me then that Christians, and in particular Christian leaders, place so much importance on being honoured and respected, and on being highly esteemed by society. It seems somewhat of a far cry from Paul’s declaration that he and the other apostles were treated as the ‘off-scouring of the earth’, and from the way in which he gloried in his weakness and tribulation, plus the ultimate personal rejection of being actually physically persecuted. To seek to be honoured in the eyes of men, it seems to me, is therefore completely at variance with living in such a way so as to be honoured by God. Yet so much that Christians do, and so much of the way in which the Christian Church goes about things, seems positively designed to ‘look good’ in the eyes of the world, and to secure the honour and respect the Lord Himself never received.
Jesus taught that it is a very bad thing when all men think well of us, yet it is often what Christians go all out to secure for themselves. I can only say that it is fortunate indeed that neither Mary nor Joseph thought that way. Our choice is simple: to live fully by God’s Word, thereby incurring the wrath and disrespect of those who don’t – carnal Christians included – or tone down the Lord’s truth and demands so as to make ourselves as acceptable and inoffensive as necessary in order that all men to think well of us.
The writer to the Hebrews exhorted, “Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.” (Hebrews 13:13-14)
I love Christmas and everything it stands for and represents; but let us never forget that at the heart of the Lord’s birth, life and death – and therefore of our discipleship – is the bearing of shame and reproach for Him. If the world, and I include here worldly Christians, love us, then the chances are that it is because we are loving the world: and that, according to the epistle of James, is enmity with God.
I wish you all a merry Christmas, and a very happy and blessed New Year!