Saturday, June 23, 2012

Disgraceful Grace

“This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 1:18).

            There can be disgrace associated with carrying the Son of God within, as when Mary was found to be with child before marrying Joseph.  What was in her was of God but appeared illegitimate.  She seemed to be guilty of sin, and yet she bore the One who would save from sin (Matt. 1:21).  “Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore” (Heb. 13:13).  Hebrews here contrasts the High Priest presenting the blood of atonement in the sanctuary with the animal carcass that was burned outside the camp.  It was the human priest and the people which needed the atoning blood yet the animal from whom the saving blood was drawn was expelled from the assembly in disgrace.  The priest in need of forgiveness retained his reputation and his place in the sanctuary of God, while the sacrifice was cast out like an unclean thing.  Faced with the choice between our public image and being ostracized with Jesus, the writer of Hebrews counsels us to stick with Jesus, even if it means looking bad. 

“Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.  […]  He was assigned a grave with the wicked…though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth” 
(Isaiah 53:4, 9).

            Sometimes, because of the disgrace, our reaction is to dissociate ourselves from the Lord and his vessels.  Like Joseph, we are concerned about what is right; we determine to distance ourselves from anything questionable, just as Joseph made up his mind to quietly divorce Mary (Matt. 1:19).  Except for the Lord’s gracious intervention through a dream, Joseph would have continued in his course and divorced, not just from Mary, but from Christ whom she bore (Matt. 1:20, 21).  We too must rely on God’s grace, on His ability to reveal what is spiritual and beyond appearances, or we will distance ourselves from Christ for the sake of what is right.  But to associate with the Lord in this way means sharing in His disgrace.  For Joseph, it probably meant dealing with the sidelong glances, whisperings, and probing questions of friends, family, and acquaintances.  It meant entering into the appearance of sin for the fellowship of the Son.  It meant being in the image of Him who dared to sully Himself by association with us in order to save us.  This is why He was named “Immanuel (which means ‘God with us’).” (Matt. 1:23).

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