A man of riches may claim a crown of jewels; but the King of heaven can’t be told from a prince of fools.
Sweet, pure gospel. Jesus, the King of heaven, possesses all the riches of Godhood and yet you cannot pick him out of a crowd of morons. Really, who could possibly see this coming? We give the Pharisees a hard time because they were so shortsighted and the disciples our best God bless you sentiments (for those outside the South that is always a bad thing!). How much more obvious could it be?
The Obvious Story
Jesus is born in a barn to a teenager, fixes cabinets till he is marrying age. Then he roams around the countryside somehow transforming his ministry from a band of wandering fishermen to an outlaw gang that needed to be silenced by both the religious and political elite. Jesus, the GodMan, whose purpose in life is to die, goes willingly to his death. That is what the script says, isn’t it?
It all kind of sounds unbelievable and ridiculous when we say it like that though, right? Seriously, if you wrote a script like that and sent it into Hollywood, you would be laughed clean off the lot. And you know what else? You should be!
You would think that if God became man he would have come down as a hero. He would be like Superman with no kryptonite. In our version he would at least stand out amongst the common people. God going incognito just never entered our minds for at least a couple of reasons.
The Problem with God Incognito
The first reason is that we really think God could care less about humanity and our pitiful existence. Sure there may be a God who has control over everything and everybody but why should he care about all of us down here messing his world up with wars, adultery, lying, murder, political scandal and global warming? Let’s be honest, if we were writing the script the idea of a personal interaction with humanity- outside of judgment and punishment- would never enter the story.
And if we could somehow get past our innate belief that God does not care about us, there is no way we would ever write weakness into the story. We hate weakness. We have demand a God to come down in strength and yet when he did come he was too weak for us to even recognize. Even in a crowd of idiots he did not stand out.
Isn’t that strange?
We have known the God who created the world, who cut the Red Sea in half and kills several thousand of his own people when they turn against him. We have known a God whose power is immeasurable, who dwells in unapproachable light, who has never been seen by human eyes- not even by Moses. We have known God by his acts of strength, sometimes good, sometimes terrifying but always wild.
Now we know him by the mark in his hands.
We know God because he came amongst us so incognito that we killed him. This is exactly what the prophet Isaiah said would happen over five hundred years before Christmas. We hated him so much that we did not “esteem” him. We could have cared less what happened to God when he came to live with us because we were looking for the wrong God.
A Story We Would Not Write
We were looking for the God of our own making- and we still do. We desperately want to make God back into our image. We want a God who we can recognize on sight. We want a God we can fit into 140 characters and a 600 words. We want a God we can be proud of, not the one we can recognize by nail-scarred hands.
This is the week each year when we focus once again on the fact that we not the writers of the story.
The story of the GodMan is so much better than that one we write every day. Jesus comes in weakness because that is the state in which he finds his beloved. He comes down and carries our sorrows. Only he can really take our hurt upon himself and free us from the pressing weight. And this is exactly what God has done for us in Jesus. He has not taken up solidarity with his people. He has done far more. He has become our substitution.
We no longer need to hurt alone. God is with us. This comes to us not as an idea or an abstract principle but as a person. Jesus not only sees our pain but he bears it for us. We need no longer stumble under our burden. Jesus offers to take it for us.
The love of God was what surprised us so much when Jesus came. Who could have expected him to love us like this? Who could have expected that God incognito was really God revealed? Who could have expected God’s weakness in our midst being his strength on our account?
Who could know that we would recognize God by the mark in his hands?