Skip to comments.The Scandal of Jesusí Birth
Posted on 12/26/2012 12:21:18 PM PST by HarleyD
At Christmas we celebrate Jesus birth because no more important human being has ever been born. Jesus is the first-born of all creation, the one individual for whom everything else exists. Jesus is King of kings and Lord of lords, who will rule the coming age as our sovereign ruler. Jesus is more than just a man; he is the translation of the very nature and sovereignty of God Himself into human formthe image of the invisible God, the fullness of God dwelling in human form. Jesus is the supreme prophet, the one whom God sent into the world to reveal to us and explain to us the meaning of our own existence, the purposes and promises of God, and the good news of Gods plan to grant Life to undeserving man. Jesus is our true high priest, who alone can enter into the very presence of God and represent us to God, just as he alone can represent God to us. Jesus is our advocate, who will plead with God to extend mercy to us, asking that God not give us what we deserve but instead that He would give us Life in the final age. In this sense, Jesus is Life for us; without him the destiny of every last one of us would be death and destruction. Finally, Jesus is our propitiatory offering, who willingly and heroically allowed God, his Father, to pour upon him the wrath that you and I deserve because of our moral perversity. As Jesus himself put it, he died for our sins. And in so doing, he was giving himself up as a costly offering to God, appealing to God to be merciful toward us who identify with and embrace Jesus appeal to God for mercy.
All of this became a reality and entered into history when the baby Jesus was born in a shelter for livestock over two thousand years ago in Bethlehem. I want to focus here, however, on Jesus willingness to suffer wrath on our behalf.
Christians speak of the scandal of the cross. On the cross, Jesus died the death that a sinner deserves. On the cross, Jesus was presented as unrighteous. On the cross, Jesus was heaped with shame and reproach. On the cross, the King of kings and Lord of lords, the Master over the whole universe, became an ordinary, petty, mean, and disgusting sinner. On the cross, the Son of God became me; he got what I deserve. Herein lies the scandal: on the cross, the King of glory became the epitome of shame and disgrace. And it is in the face of Jesus shame and dishonor that I am to confess, acknowledge, and praise him as the King of glory.
How much easier our faith would be if the Son of God had appeared to be what he was. Why didnt the King of kings come wearing a crown instead of the stitchless, one-piece garment of a peasant? Why didnt the Son of God come from an aristocratic family in Jerusalem? Why did he come from an obscure family in an obscure village in the least respected region of the Jews? Why did he not come from a rich, famous, and powerful family of influence? And most importantly, why didnt the Messiah come in victory? Why was his last fully public act a humiliating defeat at the hands of the power of Rome? This is the scandal of the cross: that the most powerful and exalted creature in Gods created reality should appear to end the time of his visit in weakness, shame, and humiliating defeat.
We can only understand such an odd and ironic fact by understanding that our King chose to join us in our shame. The shame of the cross was not Jesus shame; it was our shame. But he took it on himself. The humiliation he endured was not his humiliation; it was ours. But he took it on himself. The pain, the sorrow, the punishment, the condemnationnone of it was his; it was ours. But he took it on himself to make an appeal to God for mercy on our behalf. As righteous and pure and perfectly good as Jesus was, he willingly shared the shame and dishonor of our unrighteousness in order that Gods purpose to save us might be fulfilled.
It is interesting, therefore, that the narrative of Jesus birth anticipated in a small way Jesus act of joining us in our shame. Let me explain.
Probably because of the cultural importance we place on Christmas, seldom do we mention how scandalous the birth of Jesus had to be. Among the many ironies of the incarnation is the irony that the Son of God came into the world in such a way that it could not help but be scandalous. He began his life among us with scandal just as surely as he ended it with scandal. Not only is there the scandal of the cross, but there is also the scandal of the birth.
God did not appear to the whole village of Nazarethlet alone the whole nation of Israelto announce the miraculous conception of a baby destined to be the Son of God. No, God sent the angel Gabriel with a private message for one young womans ears only. Surely God understood the implications of what He was doing and how He was doing it. He was setting Mary up for scandal. What rational person would not justifiably conclude that a young pregnant woman who was betrothed but unmarried had been sexually unrighteous? God could have prevented that. He could have let the whole village in on the secret. He could have vindicated Mary by making it clear to everyone that He, the Creator of the universe, was responsible for her pregnancy. But He did not. He left her in a condition where shame and dishonor in the eyes of her neighbors would be the inevitable result. Why did God do that?
I can only speculate, of course. But I have to wonder whether God was not setting up an act that would anticipate what was to come. To understand this, we have to look at the most neglected figure in the Nativity story: Joseph.
The chronology of the events around Jesus birth is incomplete, and so it is difficult to give an exact, detailed account of what happened when. What follows is my best reconciliation of the accounts in Matthew and Luke.
An angel announces to Zacharias that he and his wife Elizabeth will have a son in their old age. Their son will be the forerunner who will prepare the way for the coming Messiah. Six months into Elizabeths pregnancy with the baby who would become John the Baptist, the angel comes privately to Elizabeths young cousin Mary and informs her that she will supernaturally conceive a child who will be the promised Messiah, the Son of God. Almost immediately, Mary travels to visit Elizabeth for about three months. Probably after the birth of John, Mary, then three months pregnant, returns to her home in Nazareth where her family and Joseph, the man to whom she is betrothed, await her. In all likelihood, none of the people in Nazarethincluding Joseph and her own familyare yet aware that Mary is pregnant.
The next thing we know, Joseph and Mary are required by the census of Caesar Augustus to relocate to Bethlehem. Where this move falls in the chronology of events is not clear. The most likely reading of the gospel accounts is that their journey to Bethlehem happens shortly after Marys return from Elizabeths home. If so, then Mary leaves Nazareth with Joseph before any of her family and neighbors know of her pregnancy. And, indeed, it may very well be that Mary and Joseph arrive in Bethlehem before Joseph knows that Mary is pregnant, four or five months before the baby Jesus will be born. This scenario is different from the one our traditional Christmas cards depict, but it seems to be a likely reading of the two gospel accounts.
If my chronology is right, then Bethlehem is the arena for the scandal surrounding Mary and Joseph. Put yourself in the shoes of Mary and Josephs new neighbors. A young couple, betrothed but not yet married, arrives in Bethlehem for the census. Three to four months laterthe couple still unmarriedit becomes obvious that the young woman is pregnant. Whatever one might conclude does not look good for Mary. Perhaps both Mary and Joseph have been sexually immoral, but certainly Mary has played the sinner.
At this point, Josephs choices and actions become important. We do not know how he learns of Marys pregnancy. Perhaps he did not know until Mary could no longer hide it. Perhaps, in anticipation, Mary finally had to tell him. However he found out, now he knew; and he was faced with a choice. I assume that Mary would have tried to tell Joseph the truth, but under the circumstances, believing Marys story that she had supernaturally conceived the Son of God was not a rational option for Joseph. It was far more likely that Mary had been sexually immoral than that such a unique miracle had occurred. So, Joseph was left with three rational options. (1) He could publicly accuse Mary of sexual immorality and make a public scene of releasing her from their betrothal contract. This option would have put Mary in great jeopardy because the penalty for adultery was death by stoning. (2) Joseph could join Mary in her shame and dishonor and simply proceed with the marriage. Everyone would assume that the two of them had been sexually inappropriate, even though Joseph knew that he had not been. But he could choose to protect Mary and keep her from harm by joining her in her shame and dishonor. The problem with this second option is that it did not honor righteousness. It would entail Josephs winking at sexual immorality, treating it as if it were no big deal, which is something Joseph could not do, for, as Matthew tells us, Joseph was a righteous man. (3) Matthew tells us that Joseph chose the third possible optionnamely, he would respect the Law with regard to sexual righteousness while being as kind as possible to Mary. Thus he opted to break his betrothal to a woman whoas far as he knewhad demonstrated herself a Law-breaker; but he opted to do so privately and quietly, in a way that would minimize the negative impact on her.
At least, that is what Joseph had opted to do before God came to him in a dream and verified Marys story. Mary had not broken the Law. Mary had not been sexually immoral. God had chosen Mary for a unique and special role: to conceive and give birth to the King of kings while she was still a virgin. The divine instruction to Joseph was to take Mary as his wife. We have to understand, however, what God was asking of Joseph. In effect, God was asking Joseph to join Mary in her shame. She was not to bear the inevitable shame and dishonor alone; he was to join her in bearing it. He was to take Mary as his wife with the inevitable result that their Bethlehem neighbors would believe that the stigma of sexual immorality rested on them both. Joseph had not been sexually immoral; no stigma should justly fall on him. But God asked him to volunteer willingly to bear the perceived sin of Mary on himself, even though it was not his sin. Joseph did just as God instructed. His act was kind, gracious, and heroic. He could have chosen to put his own honor ahead of compassion and separated himself from Marys shame. But he did not. He chose to bear willingly and heroically Marys shame along with her, even though it did not justly belong to him.
Note how interestingly Josephs choice anticipated one of the most heroic choices that Jesus would perform. The father, Joseph, heroically joined Mary in her shame. The son, Jesus, would one day heroically join every one of us in our shame, when he voluntarily chose his death on the cross. God so orchestrated the events surrounding Jesus birth that Josephs act, in its own small way, anticipated the heroic act that his son would be called upon to perform. In order for Gods saving purposes to be fulfilled, Joseph mercifully had to join a sinner in her shame; he had to bear her shame along with her. Josephs act is exactly analogous to the central act of Gods saving purposes in world history: Jesus mercifully joined us sinners in our shame; he bore our shame along with us.
Without Jesus heroic act, there would be no salvation. But at the first Christmas, in his own small way, Joseph had to make that same heroic choice first. That is the glory of this season. For at Christmas we celebrate the scandal-shrouded birth of the hero whom God sent into the world to join us in the scandal of our sin so that we might Live and not be destroyed.
Copyright December 2007 by McKenzie Study Center, an institute of Gutenberg College.
Thanks for posting.
I’ve read that passage and most commentators say the passage is unclear. One way it could be interpreted is the Jewish leaders are referring to Christ’s birth. Another way is the Jewish leaders are referring to themselves. As with other such passages, perhaps it has a duo purpose.
Anybody who believes Christ on the Cross was to receive shame doesn’t understand the Gospel message.
Yes, they did miss it. And I suspect that, had we lived in 1st century Palestine, we would have missed it, too. We can thank God that we live 2000 years later when so much of what is understood about Jesus is settled.
Perhaps we ought to ask God what part of his message that webeing sinners like the Phariseesare missing today.
You are correct, the Romans did rename the land. Nonetheless my point remains the same:
Yes, they did miss it. And I suspect that, had we lived in 1st century Jerusalem, we would have missed it, too. We can thank God that we live 2000 years later when so much of what is understood about Jesus is settled.
Perhaps we ought to ask God what part of his message that webeing sinners like the Phariseesare missing today.
Okay. I don't understand your comment. The shameful nature of death on the cross has always been central to my understanding. Not that Christ deserved that shame (I do) but that he suffered that for "the sake of the joy set before him." (Heb. 12:2)
Yet Crabtree says, 'In all likelihood, none of the people in Nazarethincluding Joseph and her own familyare yet aware that Mary is pregnant.'
I beg to differ, and very much doubt that Mary left to visit her cousin Elizabeth without Joseph first hearing from the Angel of the Lord - most likely within mere hours of Mary's own visitation.
To be fair neither did Mary or Joseph until an Angel explained it to them personally.
Interesting to think what it was a like for him for years afterwards, living with boy who was not his son, but actually God incarnate, and with a woman who (though herself being perplexed, "turning things over in her heart"), lived in fidelity to the Holy Spirit, Holy and Mighty, Holy and Immortal, Who, overshadowing, espoused her.
re: “He was setting Mary up for scandal. What rational person would not justifiably conclude that a young pregnant woman who was betrothed but unmarried had been sexually unrighteous? God could have prevented that. He could have let the whole village in on the secret. He could have vindicated Mary by making it clear to everyone that He, the Creator of the universe, was responsible for her pregnancy. But He did not. He left her in a condition where shame and dishonor in the eyes of her neighbors would be the inevitable result. Why did God do that?”
I like the article very much. I really do not believe there was any way to avoid putting Mary in an awkward situation - if God’s Son was to be virgin born - if God’s Son was to be fully God, and yet fully human as well, how could this situation be avoided? It could not.
I don’t think it would be possible to avoid scandel either, even if God had revealed this to the entire village (Nazareth probably numbered less than a 1000 people - some say only around 80 people in Jesus’ time!), it was such a small number that rumors would probably still have circulated that Jesus’s birth was questionable.
Re: Probably after the birth of John, Mary, then three months pregnant, returns to her home in Nazareth where her family and Joseph, the man to whom she is betrothed, await her. In all likelihood, none of the people in Nazarethincluding Joseph and her own familyare yet aware that Mary is pregnant.
The next thing we know, Joseph and Mary are required by the census of Caesar Augustus to relocate to Bethlehem. Where this move falls in the chronology of events is not clear.
The most likely reading of the gospel accounts is that their journey to Bethlehem happens shortly after Marys return from Elizabeths home. If so, then Mary leaves Nazareth with Joseph before any of her family and neighbors know of her pregnancy. And, indeed, it may very well be that Mary and Joseph arrive in Bethlehem before Joseph knows that Mary is pregnant, four or five months before the baby Jesus will be born.”
Ok, I think the writer is mistaken in his assumption that Joseph was not aware that Mary was pregnant, or that he did not know that her pregnancy was due to a miracle from God, before they went to Bethlehem.
The implication in Matthew 1:18-24 and Luke 2 is that Joseph was fully aware of her pregnancy and the miraculous circumstances surrounding her pregnancy prior to his taking her with him to Bethlehem.
The time when Joseph became aware of her pregnancy seems to be on Marys return from visiting Elizabeth, according to Luke 2:4-5, but it could have occurred before she left for Elizabeth’s we just do not know.
We also do not know how much time passes from her return from Elizabeths home to when the decree from Augustus is made. In addition, we do not know how much time passes following Marys return before she and Joseph leave for Bethlehem, but I think it is obvious that Joseph knew about Marys condition and the circumstances of it before they leave for Bethlehem..
The angel tells Joseph that Marys story regarding her pregnancy was true and that he should not be afraid to complete their marriage plans. Matthew only says that Joseph waited until after Jesus birth to consummate their marriage this also fits in with Lukes account in chapter 2 that Joseph took his betrothed wife to Bethlehem.
None of this means that he was unaware of her pregnancy or was unaware of the miraculous circumstances of it before leaving for Bethlehem.
Also, I disagree that Mary and Joseph could have been in Bethlehem two or three months before the birth takes place. If they were living in Bethlehem that long before Jesus was born, then why didn’t they have a place to stay? That just doens’t make sense. No, the passages in Luke clearly implicate that they had newly arrived in Bethlehem, her labor begins, and they have no place to be, no room, no house, no nothing.
It also makes no sense that Joseph would bring a very pregnant Mary along with him to Bethlehem, unless he was fully aware of Mary’s condition and the possible religious/moral/social stigma retaliation that might occur if he left her in Nazareth alone. I think Joseph knew he had to bring her along, even though it would be a difficult journey for Mary physically, because leaving her behind in Nazareth could put her in a very dangerous situation.
For these reasons I think the writer is stretching the facts way too much to say that Joseph was ignorant of what was going on.
His point about Josephs courage and honor in sharing in Marys scandal are well taken and true, but, as I said, I do not believe he was unaware of what was happening prior to Bethlehem.
The Cross was all about judgment, not shame.
The sins of all mankind were imputed to Christ on the Cross and He was judged for them.
He wasn’t shamed on the Cross. On the contrary, He remained obedient to the Plan of God the Father when He went to the Cross, so He wasn’t shamed. He was judged and suffered the penalty of sin.
Dear brother in Christ Cvengr,
Please read the following passage.
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.”
My amplification follows.
Jesus took on all sin, received the punishment we all deserve, and is our substitutionary sacrifice. That being said, at the moment when Jesus said “Father, why hast thou forsaken Me?” - it’s because at that moment, Jesus had placed on him the full weight of all the sins of man, from Adam’s time, to the last sin of man in the end times.
What could pay for such a almost infinite amount of sin? Only the blood of an infinite God, humbled to become as a man, unto death on the cross.
Jesus, the Alpha and Omega, the one who knows the beginning from the end (Infinite Wisdom), Jesus, who created the universe from nothing, and holds it together to this day (Infinite Power), who humbled Himself, to become a man, even to death on cross, to save us while we were yet sinners (Infinite Love).
If it was the blood of God, then it wasn’t a substitutionary atonement for the sins of humanity. It was the blood of Jesus Christ, in His humanity, who was judged in His humanity for all human sins.
IMHO, the entire article makes several premises appealing to a worldly system prior to simple faith in what God provides.
The article attempts to substitute shame and emotion for God’s Perfect Justice.
It attempts to label the birth of Christ as a scandal, rather than a fulfillment of His Plan.
It appeals to man-made authority independent of God or sharing in His power as it’s primary object of faith, instead of faith through Christ in Him.
The are many true positions stated in the article, but their summaries all promote placing faith in many different counterfeit substitutes for His Plan and our relationship with God through faith in Christ.
A slight correction. We witness from the quote of our Lord Christ Jesus, that at that moment, Jesus Christ had suffered a spiritual death from God the Father. That death was a consequence of the judgment of all humanity's sins being imputed to Jesus Christ on the Cross. Christ accepted the burden of that imputation and was judged by the Perfect Judgment of the Perfect Righteousness of God the Father.
Once those sins were judged, God the Father was free in His grace to give the human spirit back to Christ via the Holy Spirit and to resurrect the body into the resurrection body as the First Fruits.
Cursed, yes, but this is a different meaning than shamed.
The only shame implied in the Roman and Jewish treatment of our Lord Christ Jesus was based upon a counterfeit substitute to God's Plan in a worldly system of governance.
Even when the mobs spat upon Him, our Lord recognized their sin in judging Him and confusing Him for being sinful by praying to God the Father that He might forgive them for they knew not what they did.
Just beautiful. Thank you for posting.