Theme: God's Gifts to the Humble
1) To Bethlehem: A Savior for the world
2) To Sinners like us: Grace and Forgiveness
There’s something unique about the attribute of humility. No one denies that it’s a good virtue to be humble, but no one really wants it. We naturally resist being looked down upon, scorned, and ill-treated; some of the very things that define a life of humility. Yet, it’s still a virtue in the eyes of the world. Even non-Christians recognize the importance of humility. It’s not like other well-known virtues such as peace, happiness, compassion, equity, and so on. Sometimes it’s difficult to be virtuous in those areas but the difficulty isn’t because they bring hardship. Humility does though, and that’s why it’s a hard thing to put into practice.
Most of you know Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man to scale Mount Everest. The following story is told about him. On one of his many trips back to the Himalayas he was spotted by a group of tourist climbers. They begged for a photo with the great man, and Hillary obliged. They handed him an ice pick so he would look the part and set up for the photograph. Just then another climber passed the group and, not recognizing the man at the centre, strode up to Hillary saying, "Excuse me, that's not how you hold an ice pick. Let me show you."
Everyone stood around in amazed silence as Hillary thanked the man, let him adjust the pick, and happily went on with the photograph.
It doesn't matter how experienced that other climber was; his greatness was diminished by this intrusive presumption. We commend Edmund Hillary’s humility in the matter, partly because our natures so often react differently. It would have been easy for him to promptly chastise that foolish climber, but he didn’t. And part of the result is that Hillary’s virtue in the eyes of people is enhanced.
The humility that comes along with faith in Jesus often works the same way. We despise and resist it by nature, but it makes a profoundly positive impact on our lives. And when others see it, they recognize its value. The life and ministry of Jesus was built around humility. He was not the Teacher that many people expected Him to be, and the number one reason is that He didn’t come for earthly power. Early on in His ministry, He opened His most famous sermon by saying, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” When His disciples argued about who would be considered the greatest in heaven, He told them to become like little children. Even in the moment of highest praise on Palm Sunday, He rode on a baby donkey. All examples of humility, from the very Son of God. And that’s just a few examples from the Gospel accounts.
The Apostle Paul’s life was also filled with humility as he made mention often in his letters. To the Corinthians he wrote, “I am the least of all apostles (1 Corinthians 15:9).” To the Ephesians he said, “I am the least of all the saints (Ephesians 3:8).” And to Timothy he stated, “I am the chief of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15).” We see why Paul was a good leader for the Early Church. Theirs was a time of harsh cruelty and physical tolls for confessing Christ. Humility was just a way of life, but it doesn’t mean it was any easier for them than it is for us.
Today, we try to practice the same humility in our hearts but it’s difficult when our lives are void of much of the persecution that the early church endured. Perhaps because of that very reason, humility is an even more important virtue for us to pursue. Even the most fundamental aspects of our faith are based in humbleness. Repentance does not come easy for the proud, yet the lowly understand it well. The sins of covetousness and vanity come quickly on the heels of an arrogant attitude. The very pinnacle of our faith, justification through Christ, is a product of God’s underserved love for us sinners.
The Biblical theme of humility reminds us how important it is to God, and also how essential it was to the coming of His Son into the world. We’ve looked at many examples from the New Testament, let us look at one from long before Christ’s birth. A prophecy of the Coming Savior from Micah 5:2-5: But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Though you are little among the thousands of Judah, Yet out of you shall come forth to Me The One to be Ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth are from of old, From everlasting. 3 Therefore He shall give them up, Until the time that she who is in labor has given birth; Then the remnant of His brethren Shall return to the children of Israel. 4 And He shall stand and feed His flock In the strength of the LORD, In the majesty of the name of the LORD His God; And they shall abide, For now He shall be great To the ends of the earth; 5 And this One shall be peace.
In Biblical lore, Bethlehem was actually a pretty significant city. It was very near Bethlehem that Jacob’s wife, Rachel, died while giving birth to their youngest son, Benjamin. She was buried in Bethlehem. It was also in Bethlehem that Ruth met and married Boaz. It would be their great-grandchild, David, who would be the most well-known Bethlemite in history. During the years of slavery in Egypt, the idol worshipping Canaanites made Bethlehem the city of their fertility god, Lachama. Little did they know that this tiny village would one day be the birthplace of the true God, Jesus.
From a global perspective, though, Bethlehem meant next to nothing. It wasn’t even regarded as a province worth noting in the Roman historical records. From human eyes, it seems like a strange location for the birth of God’s Son. The human mind thinks that it surely would have been much better to make a grand entrance in the great city of Jerusalem. But the tiny village of Bethlehem represents something that often escapes the intuitions of the human mind, humility. Through Bethlehem, God kept his word that Jesus would come from Judah’s line, as Mary and Joseph were required to travel back to their homeland for the Roman census. But through it God also kept His consistent word on the importance of a lowly attitude in mankind’s relationship with Him.
No one expected anything special from Bethlehem, but now it will always be remembered as the birthplace of Jesus. Even the Wise Men of the East needed help from the Scriptures in ascertaining the birthplace of the Messiah, as they heard this record from Micah in Herod’s court. Today, the name Bethlehem is known among all nations. When one hears it, it automatically points to Jesus. This was God’s gift to that humble and lowly village, and it was a product solely of His own power.
This prophecy of the birthplace of the Messiah is pretty amazing. Micah recorded it some 700 years before Jesus was born. The very insignificance of Bethlehem shows the Spirit’s influence through inspiration, for no human would have picked out this tiny village on his own. What a blessing to see in great detail one more piece of evidence of the fact that Jesus was God’s Chosen One! But, in the end, as far as prophecies go, it’s not all that important to God’s plan of salvation. In the end, it’s really just a piece of geography. Bethlehem itself doesn’t hold any great spiritual purpose for our lives.
But as we consider God’s theme of humility in our lives, seeing His gift to Bethlehem helps us appreciate the gifts He gives us. We too, are small and insignificant as Bethlehem was. When the world looks at us, they don’t see power and influence. Often, scoffers of Christianity mock our abilities to change the world. In our day to day activities it can often feel like we’re spinning our spiritual wheels, even though we have great enthusiasm to serve our Lord.
It’s at this point that this prophecy really hits home for us. Knowing Jesus would be born in Bethlehem is nice, but God tells us something much more important. This Savior to come, although born in humility, would also be the eternal God and the One to tend God’s people as a shepherd tends his flock. In this prophecy is not just as geographical clue, but the clear Gospel message of hope and peace. But that too would come with a healthy dose of humility. The Almighty child born in Bethlehem would grow up to be the Almighty Man who would die on the cross. As Paul tells us, this sacrificial death was the greatest form of humility, Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus, 6 who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage. 7 Instead He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men. And when He had come as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death-- even to death on a cross (Philippians 2:5-8).
Because Jesus chose to become obedient to God’s law and humbled himself under the pain of death, you and I have gifts from God. God comes to us in our lowly state, just as Mary and Joseph descended upon lowly Bethlehem at the fullness of time, and He blesses us by His undeserved love. In Jesus, we see a connection between all the references to humility in the Bible. It’s okay to be despised, to be lowly, and to live simply, for God loves to come to sinners with His grace. Sinners are the ones humbled before the weight of God’s law. Any thought of self-reliance that enters our minds is quickly extinguished in view of our mistakes and failures. But in a much more powerful way, the Gospel humbles us under God’s almighty protection. Our self-righteous, sinful natures are taken to the grave and replaced with a humble gratitude and thanksgiving for God’s promises.
God’s grace and forgiveness are so powerful that they keep us in that humility too. We know humility is a virtue, but our sinful flesh daily wrestles against it. In our sanctified lives under Christ’s love, we are able to stay the course in the humbleness of faith, and hang on to the virtue of humility that is so elusive in the world. The result, of course, is the natural fruit of faith in our lives produced by the Gospel. We are able to give the very gift that God so graciously gave us, and help change others.
The little town of Bethlehem is a testament today of the importance of Christ’s birth into the world. It also serves as a symbol of His entire life of humility that culminated at Golgotha. In the same prophecy we see a lesson of humility for our lives. As Judah was, so too are we God’s remnant today. We don’t look like much. We don’t always accomplish much. Sometimes, there are days where it feels like we just need to hold the ground against everything going on in our lives. There’s nothing glamourous about being the remnant. The very word is filled with humility. It means being overlooked, underappreciated, counted out, and even scorned.
But the humble remnant is pleasing to Jesus. To Him it means, blessedness, faithfulness, and prosperity. Not because of ourselves, but because of His great love and how it changes our lives. It’s okay to be humble. Our Savior’s birth was humble. Our Savior’s life was humble. And He desires to be with the humble. That gift far outweighs anything the world can offer. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.