One word, incarnation, describes how we can more effectively serve others—from the man on the corner with the cardboard sign to our next-door neighbors.
The opening words of John’s gospel describe the biblical strategy for really making a difference on our culture. It’s interesting where the apostle begins his account of Jesus’ life. Unlike Matthew and Luke, John shares nothing about shepherds, wise men, stars, or baby Jesus in a manger.
John goes way back before any of those events. He begins in eternity.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being by Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.… And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1-3, 14, niv)
There it is in black and white: Our mission, model and strategy for penetrating our culture with the Good News of salvation.
Obviously, you and I can’t replicate the first three verses. We weren’t there before the beginning of time, we don’t enjoy a relationship as God’s equal, and we didn’t create the universe out of nothing.
Even so, our great Example shines with unparalleled beauty and power in the words of John 1:14. The Second Person of the Trinity took on a body of flesh to become one with us. Or to say it another way, Jesus moved in next door. This is the incarnation we celebrate at Christmas.
Jesus’ disciples could clearly see what had previously been invisible. They could touch, even embrace, what had once been only spiritual. They could even break bread with God-in-flesh, drinking out of the same cup!
Jesus chose to live among people with great needs. He came “to seek and to save the lost.” One day Jesus met a man with advanced leprosy and heard the man’s plea for help. He did an amazing thing by reaching out to touch the man, an individual who hadn’t felt another human touch for years beyond memory. Even before the leprosy evaporated, that touch had begun to heal a deeper wound. The leper knew in that moment that he was loved and valued; he was no longer homeless, because Jesus had taken the time and had dared to break cultural taboos against lepers.
I can do that! So can you! There are no lepers where you or I live, but there are plenty of opportunities to touch another person with love and compassion.
Jesus also befriended another man who was considered just as untouchable as the leper. Zacchaeus was considered socially unclean. The “good” people in Jericho never broke bread with Zach. He might as well have been covered with dreaded leprosy. Yet Jesus invited Himself to spend the evening with this social outcast, eventually welcoming him into the very heart of God’s family.
You and I can do that, too. We can spend time with and eat a meal with someone outside the family of God. Yes, it might take a little looking to locate that Zach, Jeff, or Julie. They probably won’t be up halfway up a tree looking for us, but he or she may feel every bit as empty and filled with longing as Zacchaeus did in that roadside sycamore.
Finally, John adds, “We beheld His glory.” He saw God’s glory when he looked at Jesus. That really stirs me. As majestic as the universe is, God’s glory is incomparably greater. What we could never know about God from observing the Creation Jesus has demonstrated through His actions and words. God’s love, mercy and grace were on full display in the Christ. Those tender attributes of God that we love and cherish and sing about blazed from His life like the rising sun. We can, at least in part, do that today.
We can demonstrate God’s grace and mercy in our relationships. We can, in one sense, be Jesus’ hands to touch someone in need. His voice to encourage them in their discouragement, cynicism, or near despair.
Let’s say, then, that we do have such an opportunity. Where do we take the conversation? Some say we should lean toward grace, and avoid speaking words of truth that might offend. We must “adjust” the truth to make it more palatable. Others may lean more heavily on the truth side. If the truth hurts, so be it. Let them have it! Truth, however, is not a weapon to bruise, but a map pointing the way out of darkness into light.
Jesus always held truth and love in perfect harmony. They were not two clashing musical notes. The Bible says that He was “full of grace and truth.” He never ignored a person’s lostness but always pointed the way home. He never diminished the Father’s holiness or minced words that needed to be spoken, and yet He always extended grace and mercy. Jesus was never rude, but He never failed to expose hypocrisy. Every sermon He preached and every conversation He had was always balanced with grace and truth.
If I am going to make a difference in my community, I must deliberately build relationships with grace and mercy but also speak the truth in love. And no one ever said that would be easy.
May I never be like the physician who fails to warn his patient about a terminal diagnosis, so that they can prepare appropriately. I need to demonstrate radical grace while sharing the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
So help me Jesus.
If you are a Christ-follower today because someone cared enough to share both truth and grace with you why not share your story with us?
Who is your Zach or Julie? What is your strategy for encouraging them to become a Christ-follower?
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