Tubby was right, wasn't he? We grow overly familiar with breathtaking things. Until we reawaken to them through the eyes of someone else, we forget how incredible they are. We can also do this with the story of Jesus. Recently, I began reading through Matthew one chapter at a time. After reading the first two chapters, I felt as if the Holy Spirit thumped me on my noggin to reawaken my heart to the breathtaking reality of God coming to earth in Jesus.
Matthew tells us that Jesus is the Christ (Messiah), the son of David, the son of Abraham, the Son of God, the one who took away the sin of his people, and Immanuel, God with us (Matthew 1:1, 16-18, 21, 23). Matthew tells us about Jesus' divine identity as the long-awaited coming of the Jewish Messiah and Savior. We sing songs of praise about Jesus' greatness. Proper confession of Jesus' identity is central to the faith necessary for salvation. But does Jesus stir our hearts and take our breath away?
While recognizing Jesus' divine identity is important, the breathtaking reality for me comes in the second chapter of Matthew's gospel. After Matthew reminds us that Jesus is the Christ (Messiah) and King of the Jews (Matthew 2:1-4), he drove home the breathtaking reality of Jesus' vulnerability as Immanuel with one word: "child"! Matthew repeated this simple word for "child" (pais, paidi'on) nine times (Matthew 2:8, 9, 10, 13 [2x], 14, 16, 20 [2x]). The Messiah, the Son of God, Immanuel God incarnate, came to us as a child. Such truth should capture our hearts.
The word Matthew chose was a simple word for "child" — not a word of privilege or importance, "just a child." Of course, there is no such thing as "just a child"! In the eyes of God, who personally created each of us in the womb, we are unique and precious. From conception, God had a plan and purpose for our lives even before our mothers recognized us as a flutter in her womb (Psalm 139:13-16).
In Jesus' day, however, children were not counted among the men at the feeding of the 5,000 or the 4,000 (Matthew 14:21, 15:38). Their testimony and questions were not considered important (Matthew 11:16-17). Jesus rebuked his disciples for forbidding people to bring their children to him to be blessed (Matthew 19:13). In Greek society, a child was not considered a legitimate son or daughter unless they were wanted and named after they were born. Otherwise, they were "exposed" — left to die at the garbage dump or some wild place.
The reality of being "just a child" in the ancient world, the world of Jesus, was harsh and fraught with vulnerabilities. Yet God chose to enter our world as such a child! The safety of the Messiah, the Son of God, depended upon a man who adopted Jesus as his son and a handful of stargazers from the East, doing what Israel's God told them to do. Why? Because Jesus, God with us, came to us as a child in a dangerous world. Breathtaking. For God so loved us that he came into our world as a child. All those titles for Jesus lead us to Immanuel, God with us, the child!
For me, there are at least three powerful truths I must carry with me from reawakening to the breathtaking reality that almighty God came to us as a child:
- Each child is precious because we don't know God's plans for him or her (Psalm 139:13-16). No one knew who was in the "baby bump" of Mary except God, and what inkling of the impossible they had in the hearts of Mary and Joseph. We must view each child as a person of value to God.
Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these" (Matthew 19:14).
"And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me" (Matthew 18:5).
- Our goal as Jesus' disciples must not be to be recognized as powerful and important, but to be humble and serve others with our lives as our Lord did:
At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, "Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?"
He called a little child to him and placed the child among them. And he said: "Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:1-4).
- The Creator of all we know in this vast universe (Colossians 1:15-20), gave up all his status, protection, and power (Philippians 2:6-11), and entered our world as a child. He did it out of love to save us (John 3:16-17). How can we not be touched by such love and grace? As Paul said it, "Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!" (2 Corinthians 9:15).