What does it mean to be human beings living in a sinful world but having our citizenship in a different place?
There is much we can learn from fellow human beings. Yet they are, after all, sinful, faulty mortals like ourselves. We can argue whether Moses and Joseph were placed where they were—Moses with the sheep, Joseph in Egyptian slavery—in part because of their own prior attitudes and actions. We may insist that Esther didn’t do the right thing by not openly living her Jewishness. How can she have kept Sabbaths or festivals or maintained a kosher diet, if she was supposed to keep her faith and ethnicity a secret? Perhaps God made good, even of their mistakes. Perhaps we would have done entirely differently in their places. We can suppose so, anyway.
But we do have one perfect example. Just one. And that one is enough.
When God saw the time was right, that is to say, the world was at its lowest ebb, which seems an unexpected time to choose, He “loved the world” so much that He sent His Son. He didn’t send Him to conquer the planet, knock us into shape, and reestablish His rule (all of which He could have done and had the right to do). But he entered right into this sinful, dangerous, chaotic world as a baby! Kosmos, by the way, means an ordering, or even a decoration. It represents the beauty, symmetry, and divine order of the universe. It’s arguable whether this world still belonged to that divine order, once Satan had held sway here for even a short time. By the time Jesus came, there wasn’t much left to display what God had originally intended.
But there He was, Creator of the universe, wearing our clothes, eating our food, speaking our degraded language, living in a body that was a paltry shadow of the ones He’d designed, growing up, learning “obedience from what he suffered” (Heb. 5:8, NIV). Whatever that means! It can’t mean what it means to us, suffering because of disobedience and slowly learning better. After He’d been here for three long decades, He “started His ministry.” As if He hadn’t been ministering all along. . . For three and a half years, He continued to walk in the world, eating the food, talking the language, being accused of gluttony and drunkardness, teaching His upside-down way.
In what ways was Jesus selective about the aspects of the culture into which He (unlike us) chose to be born? First, and no doubt very importantly, Jesus chose to be born into an observant Jewish home. In fact, Joseph was so observant that he nearly didn’t marry his fiancee when it turned out she was pregnant. He was going to quietly break their engagement.
We learn two things about Joseph here. First, that he did do his best to observe the Law, and second, that he understood the spirit of the Law better than, for example, those who later brought the woman caught in adultery to Jesus to be stoned. Joseph could have demanded that Mary be stoned. But he knew more about love, and the God of love, than that. He also listened when he had his own dream. Perhaps he had not been able to bring himself to believe Mary’s story, but he did believe when he had a dream of an angel himself. How many men in that day and that society would have done the same?
Mary and Joseph took the prescribed offering to the temple when Jesus was born, and took Him to the temple Himself when He reached the required age. Clearly, they were faithful Jews who did their best to follow God’s teachings and who knew that His foremost teaching is love. This is the sort of family in which God chose to raise His Son on earth. We can’t choose what family we grew up in, but we can choose to center our adult homes and families on the God of love.
Second, He did choose a humble home and an agricultural society where he would be able to get into nature. It is obvious in all the Gospels that Jesus loved being out by Himself in nature to pray and meditate. He clearly considered this a good way to re-gain His perspective. For example, after the feeding of the multitude, when they tried to crown Him king, Jesus sent the disciples off across the lake on their own, going “up on the mountain by Himself to pray” (Matt. 14:23). At other times He called His disciples to go apart with Him for a while, whether in the hills or on the water. Can we assume that a connection with nature is important to all of us, no matter how our personalities differ?
It seems that these two factors were the most overarching aspects of Jesus’ lifestyle, and have the most universal application to us today, living in a world so different it would hardly seem the same planet to someone transplanted from the first century. If we have those two down—love God first, last, and always; and take time to rest and meditate, preferably out in fresh air and greenery—the rest of the world that surrounds us may be easier to sort out. Maybe, when it comes to realizing and regularly reloading our connectedness to the rest of creation, we are supposed to be both in and of the world—the natural world, that is.*