Joseph and Mary were forced to go back to a small village south of Jerusalem called Bethlehem to take part in a census for “all the world” (Luke 2:1-5). While they were there, Mary gave birth to Jesus, wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger since there was no room in the inn. Shortly after, Joseph and Mary had to flee to Egypt because Jesus’s life was threatened. They lived as political refugees for a time until the death of Herod.
When Joseph and Mary presented Jesus at the temple, they offered two turtledoves or young pigeons. In the Law, this type of offering was allowed for people who were poor and couldn’t afford the typical sacrifice (Leviticus 5:11).
Jesus grew up in Nazareth which was a poor agricultural town. It was so small, so unnoticeable, that it receives no mentions in non-Christian sources from the Roman period. In fact, when one of the first disciples heard that Jesus came from Nazareth, he said, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46). When others heard that Jesus came from Nazareth, which was a village in Lower Galilee, they asked, “Surely the Messiah is not going to come from Galilee, is He?” (John 7:41).
In Galilee, Joseph worked as a carpenter or a builder. Living in an agricultural town, it’s possible that he constructed plows and yokes (BDAG). Because of Jesus’s upbringing in the home of a carpenter, may took offense at him (Mark 6:3).
Jesus’s birth and early years say a lot about the nature of the kingdom. He didn’t have a royal upbringing. He wasn’t born or raised in a major city with great resources and education. Jesus didn’t come from a wealthy family. He was born, raised, and lived among the poorest of the poor, the sick, and the needy. This somewhat surprising “origin story” doesn’t really meet our expectations just like the kingdom of God.
So many times, Jesus describes the kingdom in ways that subvert what we think when we think of kingdoms, but, like His upbringing, the kingdom of God is accessible to all, not just an elite few.
Jesus says the kingdom of God is for the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, and the merciful (Matthew 5). He says the kingdom is inhabited by those who are born again which implies that one’s lineage doesn’t matter as much as people might think (John 3). Jesus says that the kingdom is made up of those who are like children (Matthew 18; Matthew 19).
If one were looking for the birth of a king today, they would probably go to the best hospital around. If we were to ask what the parents of the next President did for a living, we would probably hear about doctors or lawyers. If we were to search the schools to find who would be a future Supreme Court justice, we probably wouldn’t go to any rural schools with graduating classes of forty, maybe no public schools at all.
In the Old Testament, when the people wanted a king, God gave them Saul who is described as a handsome man. In fact, the Bible says, “There was not a more handsome person than he among the sons of Israel” (1 Samuel 9:2). It was later revealed that Saul was taller than all the people, so when they saw him they shouted, “Long live the king!” He looked the part!
Saul, though he met all of their expectations, ended up being nothing but trouble, so God decided to show them what a real king looked like. Who did he choose? A shepherd boy from Bethlehem who liked to play the harp and was the youngest of all his brothers. God’s pick for king was a man after His own heart, but he was far from perfect. God, however, is a God who subverts our expectations.
But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the LORD does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.”1 Samuel 16:7
The kingdom of God might not look like any kingdoms we are familiar with. It makes some people first who we might, in our immaturity, prefer to be last. It operates with the gospel, not swords and spears. It emphasizes faith, not lineage or family history. The kingdom of God, though not expected, is just what this world needs for healing. May we do our part in inviting everyone around us to be citizens of it.
(P.S. Sorry I didn’t record an audio for this one. I ended up catching what Laura and the Baby have, so I just don’t feel up to it! I’m feeling much better than yesterday though.)