A Gallery of Christmas Portraits – The Intruder
“She gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.” Luke 2:7
Jesus as the Man Child
A cute little baby sweetly tucked away in swaddling clothes and quietly sleeping in a warm manger without disturbing anyone – that’s how most people in this world see Jesus.
A baby lying in a manger. Innocent and sweet, who wouldn’t hurt a fly. Someone non-intrusive, meek and mild.
Many in our world, who only ever see Jesus as the Christ-child, end up assuming that this is all he was. That he always was a Christ-child and that even as an adult he must have been among the meekest and mildest of his day.
He must have been a man-child who carried lambs in his arms and got lost in his own thoughts with kids playing at his feet; an earlier version of Peter Pan or Michael Jackson in Neverland.
In fact, artists portray Jesus that way. Someone who remained as innocent as a dove; a man-child who allowed himself to be manhandled.
He was Mary’s little boy child, who never got married, who was a bid of a dreamer and wanderer. Certainly not man enough to stand up to those who pushed him around or man enough to exert his own rights
Meek and mild, sweet little Jesus. That is how many see him.
Not So Mild After All!
Let me tell you that nothing could be further from the truth than the portrait I just painted for you. Wherever that image of him came from, it was not from the pages of the Bible.
The Biblical Jesus was anything but a wimp, pushover or someone you would get away with things.
How else do you think he got himself killed at the end except that he got enough people angry and stirred up that they rather preferred him dead than alive.
There were a good number of people hoping for his death with some actively plotting to see that happen. All because of what he said and some of the things he did.
So let’s adjust the stereotypical image of Jesus as a man-child to better reflect who he really was. The biblical Jesus was someone who left many feeling incredibly uncomfortable.
“He crashes the party. He tears aside curtains; throws open locked doors, and hits the light switch in rooms of darkness and evil. The Lord pulls the fire alarm in stuffy, sacrosanct hallways. He oversteps comfort zones, grates against self-will. He invades, advances and barges into areas people wish He’d ignore.”
Joni Eareckson Tada
In other words, the historical Jesus bursts through comfort zones and the smoke and mirrors of outward perceptions to confront issues of the heart. Only then can lives be truly changed.
He doesn’t smooth things over, nor does he lull people into sleep.
Sure he gives people second chances, turns the other cheek more than once, and is ready to forgive when no one else would but he did so, not by whitewashing people’s sins and shortcomings but by confronting them.
That is what got him into trouble and in the end led to his death.
On more than one occasion scribes, teachers of the law and spiritual leaders were furious with his comments on their inner lives.
I am sure you have heard of his “seven woes” where he so infuriated these people that they were ready to lynch him right on the spot as he repeated seven times this refrain: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!” Matt. 23:13, 15, 16, 23, 25, 27, 29.
He called them broods of vipers, snakes and whitewashed tombs. This is not how to make friends and influence people!
No wonder it says that: “they were furious and began to discuss with one another what they might do to Jesus” Luke 6:11
Who, of course, can forget the infamous temple cleansing episode, where he made a whip out of cords and drove the merchants and bankers out of the temple?
“So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” John 2:15-16
Again, this is not really how to make friends and influence people!
Not that he was a bully or had anger management issues. He remained, all his life, the meekest man on earth:
“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matt. 11:29-30
But meekness does not mean pushover or doormat. Meekness actually means incredible restraint. It means emotions under control at all times. Webster defined it as “enduring injury with patience and without resentment”.
It takes a real man to have such self restraint, without blowing your stack or losing your cool.
Don’t ever mistake self-restraint with wimpy-ness anymore than meekness equals weakness!
Courageous Enough to Get to the Bottom!
He was courageous and strong enough to confront the issues that blocked the abundant life that people could have.
He didn’t whitewash things, didn’t gloss over things, and didn’t ignore it because he knew that he wasn’t doing anybody any favors by turning a blind eye.
They tell us that the first step to recovery and a turn-around is always by taking ownership of wrong behavior.
That’s what Jesus did. He was courageous and strong enough to peel back the layers of pretension, so as to allow the real issues that were keeping people from the abundant life to surface and be dealt with.
You have to be man enough to do that. So none of this talk about Peter Pan or the man-child.
In fact, let me show you a couple of examples where precisely that sort of thing happened. It was a similar pattern of Jesus, courageous enough to go after heart issues that would result in incredible life changes.
The Woman at the Well
The first one is the story of the woman at the well in John 4. Jesus engages in a conversation that moves from physical water, quenching physical thirst, to the deeper thirst in her soul that she was filling with multiple partners.
Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.” He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.” “I have no husband,” she replied. Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.” John 4:13-18
Even with the smoke and mirrors of what she was throwing up to distract him with questions of worship etiquette, he keeps pushing through to the core of her insatiable thirst by linking it to the real water only Jesus could give her.
At the end of the day she walks away having her thirst stilled, not with yet another man but with the living giving water only Jesus can give.
What courage it took for Jesus to persistently keep his finger on the real issues of her heart, not to mention risking shame and ridicule by being seen with a Samaritan woman.
The Little Man in the Tree
Let’s go back to Zacchaeus, whom we know as the little man in the Sycamore tree.
It was a perfect little hiding spot for him to glimpse Jesus without being spotted, or so he thought.
This wasn’t just a novelty for him nor was Jesus just a sideshow that he didn’t want to miss out on.
There was something that was drawing him in and yet he didn’t want to get too close. So the tree was perfect.
You know the rest of the story how: “When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.” Luke 19:5, 6
What else was he going to do – say no to Jesus? I don’t think so. So he did welcome him gladly.
Nothing is said of what went on at his house that afternoon when Jesus came calling. But by the time dinner is over and its time to say goodbye something has defiantly shifted in Zacchaeus’ heart.
The man stands up and makes an incredible offer of generosity and restitution that is stunning in its scope.
“But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” Luke 19:8
This was not smoke and mirrors nor was this a deflection. He gave half of his possessions away on the spot. Who does that sort of thing? Something profound shifted in his heart.
This man was all about the money. He was chief tax collector and amassed a huge amount of personal wealth. The man lived for his wealth the same way the woman at the well lived for her men.
Somehow Jesus unearthed all this and made him an offer of real wealth that he could not resist. So the man stands up and gives his earthly things away.
Not only that, he stops the fraudulent means of how he acquired his wealth by making restoration four times what he amassed and in so doing called his fraud by its real name, namely theft!
This is not a token. This was not a deflection nor smoke and mirrors but the real deal.
This was a radical life change rooted in a fundamental spiritual experience that Jesus called salvation akin to the Samaritan woman giving up her men. Radical conversion!
Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Luke 19:9, 10
Do you realize the kind of courage it took to confront the chief tax collector who had connections in all kinds of high places?
It’s similar to the courage it took to confront alone a Samaritan woman about her multiple affairs.
While we marvel at the incredible life change, what I want you to see is that this only happened because of Jesus being strong, courageous and bold enough to go after the issues of the heart!
The Rich Young Ruler
It’s not that all ends well every time. There were times when people walked away very disappointed and other times when people were beside themselves with outrage.
I think of the encounter Jesus had with the Rich Young Ruler. That didn’t end well.
“17 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’[”
20 “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”
21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
22 At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.” Mark 10:17-22
It was the same thing here again. This is becoming a pattern. Something about Jesus, and what he offers, draws people to him.
In this case, a rich young ruler wants eternal life. This is the same as the woman at the well wanting living water or Zacchaeus wanting salvation.
Jesus courageously pushes through the smoke and mirrors, in this case consisting of rules and regulations diligently observed and gets to the heart of what is in the way.
Just like the woman at the well had an insatiable physical and emotional appetite, and the little man in the tree had a hankering for fraudulent gains, so this rich young ruler had a love for money that exceeded anything else.
You know the rest of the story, and what Jesus tells him to do, and the tragic response of his unwillingness to part with his wealth.
It wasn’t the wealth that Jesus had a problem with but it was that the wealth was his god.
The Courageous Intruder
The point is that it takes courage to confront someone who had all the power in the world while Jesus seemingly had none.
It takes courage to tell the woman caught in adultery: “Go now and leave you life of sin”, knowing that he would risk the scorn of her accusers.
It takes courage to tell one of the most respected teachers of his day: “You are Israel’s teacher and do you not understand these things?” as Jesus confronts this old, esteemed teacher of his need to also be born again.
It takes courage to call the religious elite hypocrites, snakes and broods of vipers and to say to them: “You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.” Matt. 23:27
This courageous Jesus, who is far from the man-child Peter Pan image of our modern society, comes also to you!
He may well ruffle your feathers when he lays his finger at the heart issue deep down at your core.
All of us are obviously drawn to Him, otherwise we wouldn’t be here. Ask yourself: “What draws me, and what do I long for the most?”
And most of all: “What stands in the way?”
You need to know that Jesus doesn’t come to you as a sweet little lamb, but as the Lion of Judah whose gaze goes right through you.
John says that his eyes are like “blazing fire” (Rev. 1:14), not as though in rage, but as though he sees right into our heart and right through us.
This is not to condemn nor to punish us, but to bring to us what our deepest longing is.
Call it living water, eternal life or salvation. Call it what you may but it is your deepest eternal longing.
More often than not, in doing so he lays his finger on the biggest barrier that stands in the way of that abundant life.
For the rich young ruler it was the love of money. For Nicodemus it was the pride in his prestige and position. For Zacchaeus it was his fraudulent ways. For the woman at the well it was her emotional and physical needs.
What is it for you? If Jesus were to come knocking on your door, what would he lay his finger on and what would he want to gently remove from your life?
By letting Him do his deep work in your heart you will receive what your soul has always longed for!
Scott Street MB Church invites you to write your reflections and thoughts about the weekly messages shared by lead Pastor Jurgen Rausch.