Let’s see. You want to change the world? You’re tired of the tired old news on television every day—nations behaving badly, governments that are incompetent, Hollywood stars who celebrate unfaithfulness, the local murder statistics. Maybe you just won the Miss Universe contest and stated on live television that you wish for world peace. Or perhaps you are 22 and looking for your first job after having your head filled with fine ideas in university, struggling with the reality of working in a bank instead of being an agent of justice in the world. If you could make a mark on the world, how would you go about doing it? No doubt, you have been wondering how to get the right training, live in the right place, land the right job, get access to money and power, and really change the world—right?
Money and power seem essential to change the world, even if they are often the source of all evil! Can a presidential candidate without millions of dollars really have any hope of winning the White House? Can a person without a public platform really get a hearing? Can a person without a powerful position or friends in high places hope to bring about change? Change—for good or ill—typically comes through persons with money, publicity, and power (political or military).
Jesus was altogether different. In the world of his day, the Romans were in power, but he was from the feisty little land of Israel in the east. He was from an in-between land, in between the greater powers of Syria to the north and Egypt to the south. In Israel, he was not from the great city of Jerusalem or the great territory of Judea. He was from the more country-bumpkin region of the Galilee. He was not from the up-and-coming cities of Tiberias or Sepphoris in the Galilee but from the village of Nazareth and, later, from the border town of Capernaum. He could sit on a hillside in Nazareth and see the international road in the distance down in the plain of Megiddo, but his village was not on the road. As one of his future disciples said when he first heard that Jesus was from Nazareth, of all places, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’
Jesus was a Jew, moreover. Roman authors disparaged the Jews. They seemed to have some very odd laws. They circumcised males. They would not eat with other ethnic groups. They did not eat great food, like pork or shrimp. They rejected the gods of the Roman world. They did not serve in the military. They tended to live together rather than integrate with others in foreign cities. They had a host of laws for righteous living and considered those who did not follow these to be unrighteous. This does not seem to be a very good way to make friends and influence people, let alone get a following and change the world! They rejected the sexual practices of all the surrounding cultures. A twenty-first century commentator might say (wrongly, of course) that this peculiar people was full of phobias—food phobias, ethnicity phobias, religious pluralism phobias, sex phobias, and the like. If you were God and wanted to send your man to the world to bring about some major change, surely you would have chosen a person who fit in better, someone from a more respectable group, like a Roman or a Greek. But Jesus was a Jew.
Jesus’ adopted father, Joseph, was a carpenter. Granted, this was a step up from being a day labourer, but carpenters were not the social elite and never have been. They weren’t politically powerful. They weren’t military heroes. They weren’t associated in any way with religious authority. They weren’t wealthy. Jesus had no pathway opened into a world of power through his family. He had a proud heritage, to be sure, being from the line of King David. But David lived a thousand years earlier, and even though his line might be traced through other Davidic kings, this all came to an end nearly six hundred years before Jesus was born. How many thousands of persons could claim the same heritage? Having ‘from a Davidic family’ on the resume would hardly get you a job, let alone launch your political career.
So, ‘What of it?’, you might ask. After all, world leaders have emerged from humble beginnings. Politicians, generals, archbishops, tycoons, philosophers and the like have often come from humble beginnings. Yes, but that is not the point of Jesus’ story, or the Biblical story, for that matter. His is not the story of an Abraham Lincoln born on the emerging frontiers of a young nation, borrowing books to read by candlelight at night to educate himself. This is neither the story of rags to riches, nor the story of a self-made man. Rather, Jesus’ story is the story of God—of how God has chosen to work because of who He is.
Scripture tells a story of how righteousness came to the world through a repeatedly sinful humanity. It tells of how blessing came to the nations through a wandering Aramean, Abraham. It tells of how God’s Law came through a slave people liberated from Egypt. It tells of how God’s rule came through the repeatedly sinful kings of Israel. It tells of how God’s choice for the kings of Israel came through a younger son and shepherd of a minor family instead of through the impressive figure of King Saul. And the prophet, Isaiah, foretold that God’s redemption would come through a suffering servant.
God’s change did not come by a sword but by a cross. It did not come by power but through suffering. It did not come through a governor, a military hero, or a priest, but through Jesus the carpenter from the village of Nazareth in the Galilee of Israel. That is not simply a story of how God chose to work. It is more profoundly a story of who God is. God steps into the situation that needs to be redeemed, suffers in it, and transforms it. His power is made perfect in weakness. He identifies with the lowly. He wants a religion that champions the cause of the widow and the orphan. The cross of Jesus Christ, while a sacrifice for sin, is also the way of God in the world. That the redeemer of the world came from the humble village of Nazareth is part of the story of such a God. And such a God can forgive the vilest of sinners, transform the hardest hearts, and reconcile the wayward to himself.
Have you met this Jesus from Nazareth, who embodies the story of God? You can make a difference in the world if you let Him make a difference in your own life. He is gentle and humble, rejecting the power of this world. He is righteous and holy, but he comes to the sinner first. He did not consider equality with God to be something he needed to hold onto but, instead, poured himself out for others, took on human flesh, and suffered a painful and humiliating death on a cross for sinners such as us. We want our gods up in heaven wielding divine power like our rulers on earth wielding earthly power, but we meet, instead, God's suffering servant, Jesus on a cross. The God who said, 'My power is made perfect in weakness,' and 'Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit,' meets us there, on the cross. Have you met this Jesus?