This will probably be my last post here for a while. This week I've been in Covid-jail so I've written a flurry (Preaching that Cuts Like a Hammer, Let the Law Speak to Your Flesh, and Take Heart: God is Disciplining You). But now the 2nd red line has nearly faded so I'll soon be back to doing stuff for Speak Life. Follow me there and on Twitter @glenscrivener
The King and the Maiden
Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard wrote a story to explore the mystery of the incarnation. It's called the Parable of the King and the Maiden. In it, a King falls in love with a maiden but he despairs of ever being with her. If he propositions her in his finery, how could she truly consent? She would always feel obligated to obey the king and yet "all the power in the world cannot unlock the human heart—it must be opened from within." If he simply elevates her to the palace, "she would be overwhelmed. How would he ever know if she loved him for himself, or for all that he had given her?"
There was only one thing for it, the king would truly have to descend to her level — to live as a pauper and meet her as an equal.
He did not just take on the outward appearance of a servant, he became a servant–it was his actual life, his actual nature, his actual burden. He became as ragged as the one he loved so that she could be his forever. It was the only way. His raggedness became the very signature of his presence.
This is the glory of the incarnation. It is not really a veiling of glory, but a demonstration of the true glory of the King. His stooping is his greatness and those who see it grasp his heart of hearts.
In a sense Jesus takes the premise of "Undercover Boss" more seriously than the TV producers. If you haven't seen the show, "Undercover Boss" is a paint-by-numbers reality program where CEOs stoop to becoming low-level employees in their own businesses. Of course they can't look like a CEO or the jig is up. They go undercover to see life on the other side and at the end of each episode there is a reckoning: having seen their employees up close, they punish the lazy and rude and they lavishly reward the hard-working.
Jesus doesn't just come as Undercover Boss though. He comes as Undercover Suitor, wooing the world, up -close and personal. Yet the incarnation, while being Christ's definitive stooping, is not the only stooping. Check out Luke 9; Matthew 25; and Hebrews 13.
The Little Ones
Then he said to them, “Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For it is the one who is least among you all who is the greatest.”
— Luke 9:48
Trace the logic of this incredible verse from the end to the beginning: God the Father puts Jesus into the world saying: "The way you treat Jesus is the way you treat Me." Jesus is Undercover God — revealing his true glory in his stooping. But now Jesus puts little ones into the world—weak, helpless, defenceless people—and Jesus says: "The way you treat this little child is the way you treat Me."
This is a life-altering verse. Because it means we can encounter Jesus not just in his word but also in his world. Do we want to embrace Jesus? Then in the name of Jesus embrace the little ones.
As an aside, it's worth knowing that in England 95 children enter the care system every day. Over 100 000 children are looked after away from home. There are over 2000 children waiting for adoption in England. Jesus says “Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me." Here's a really good reason to support fostering and adoption—in fact it's the best reason—you will meet God.
Down through church history people have spoken in this way of Christ hiding himself in the world. The stooping greatness of Jesus continues. It did not cease with the incarnation and the cross. Christ continues to come to us disguised as our life and playing the parts we might least expect.
The Last, the Least and the Lost
Remember in Matthew 25, the parable of the sheep and goats. The sheep say to King Jesus:
‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
— Matthew 25:37-40
Undercover Jesus strikes again! Yet his lowly presence in our midst does not conceal his identity, it reveals his true self. The Father is known in his stooping Servant, Christ. And Christ is known—yes, in his word and by his Spirit—but he is also known in the lowly. Jesus is hidden in the little ones. And, as Matthew 25 tells us, he is also hidden in the least, the last and the lost. But we will miss Jesus if we will not stoop.
The Stooping God
There was an old Jewish saying among the Rabbis. They asked one another why appearances of God were so rare. In the early parts of the Bible God would show up and people would see him. Why can’t people see God any more? And a Rabbi answers, “Because nowadays no one can stoop so low.” God hides himself. He hides himself in a penniless carpenter who becomes a travelling preacher who becomes a bleeding sacrifice. He hides himself there and truly reveals himself. Because his greatness is always a stooping greatness. But he has not stopped hiding himself. He comes to you and continues to come to you dressed as the details of your life and playing the characters you normally ignore: that homeless man, that lonely prisoner, that starving refugee, that needy friend, that difficult child.
Jesus is not just above you, commanding your compassion. He is not just in you, inspiring your compassion. He is in them, receiving your compassion.
Do you want to embrace Jesus? Then embrace the little ones. Embrace the least, the last and the lost. And you can embrace the lonely and the left out too. That's the wonder of Hebrews 13:12-13
The Lonely and the Left Out
Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore.
In the book of Hebrews, the location of Jesus is mentioned in most chapters. Throughout the letter Jesus is said to be 'at the right hand of the Father.' And he is. But in the final chapter the writer tells us another place to meet Jesus: outside the camp. Sure, we can meet Jesus as we approach God's throne in prayer (Hebrews 4:14-16). Sure, we can meet Jesus among the Lord's people on the Lord's day (Hebrews 12:22-25). But afterwards, when you walk down Mount Zion and into the world there is another kind of encounter you can enjoy. You can go outside the camp—outside the safe place, the clean place, the place where God is known. And as you go there, you are not leaving Jesus behind, you are meeting him afresh.
So 'let us go to him.' Not just the him above us at God's right hand. Not just the him in his word by the Holy Spirit. Let us go to him in his world. Undercover Jesus will see you now. Will we see him?
A sermon (from 13 minutes in):