Where Do You Live?
Excerpted and adapted from a chapter of the forthcoming book Jesus Among Other Gods by Ravi Zacharias, Word Publishing.
One of the most celebrated opportunities ever accorded to a member of our family took place when Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip visited India in the late 1950’s. My younger brother, who happened to be seven or eight years old, as the youngest member of the choir at the Delhi Cathedral was to be formally introduced to the Queen following a Sunday service. He certainly never lacked for counsel on how to prepare for this extraordinary meeting. We poured on the frequent reminders to address her as “Your Majesty” and not “Auntie,” the latter being a typical way of showing respect in India. The moment came and he passed with flying colors.
Unknown to us, his meeting with the Queen was carried on television back in England as part of a news clip, prompting calls to the television station to inquire whether “that cute little boy” was available for adoption. Since that day, at any hint of his misbehavior we siblings have never missed the opportunity to suggest that we should have taken the English up on their offer! Four decades have gone by since that wonderful memory of bowing before the Queen, and he never misses the opportunity to remind us of his greater privilege.
One can only imagine a conversation around the home of Andrew and Simon Peter, the earliest followers of Jesus, when Andrew first informed their family that he believed he had met the long-awaited Messiah. This redeemer figure was the only hope for a nation languishing under the scourge of successive foreign rulers. Any good Israelite had prayed for the coming of the one who would free His people. Some cynic at the evening meal probably choked on his food when the announcement was made by Andrew that he and Simon had just come back from meeting the prophesied deliverer. Many barbs were probably withstood while the brothers insisted they were not out of their minds. They had talked to Him, spent hours with Him and Andrew had even been given the opportunity to ask Him any question he desired.
Out of sheer curiosity one at the table may have muttered, “And what, perchance, did you ask Him?” “I asked Him where He lived,” came the confident reply. Can we not hear it? Silence around the table. “That was the best you could do, Andrew? To ask Him where He lived?”
Could there not have been a better question that would have put Jesus’ claim to the test? At least that is how we, in our time, might have remonstrated. Why did Andrew, face to face with He who claimed such unique status, not pose a greater challenge than a simple query, “Where do you live?” Malcolm Muggeridge, the English journalist, remarks in his autobiography on the opportunities he had to interview noted dignitaries around the world. Being an incurable cynic and iconoclast, and just for the sake of playing to the readership, he would ask a deliberately absurd and belittling question, for example, asking a bishop, at a most poignant moment and before a highly reverential audience, “Are bishops really necessary?” He did that, he conceded, because he leveraged his profession as a journalist to live off shock value, at the cost of substance.
A PROVOCATIVE INTRODUCTION
The setting of Andrew’s question is given to us in John’s Gospel, the first chapter. Immediately one is struck by the casualness with which Jesus made his entry. John the Baptizer was given the honor of making the unadorned announcement. John, himself, draped in strange attire and living off even stranger food, was gaining a huge following. In the eyes of the devout he was a prophet of supreme honor. And in truth, before his birth the angel had spoken of his privileged and purposeful God-given calling. His assigned place in history was to be the one who introduced Jesus to the world. Of all the fanfare that he could have mustered for his declaration, he chose instead a simple utterance. This was so bereft of regal accompaniment that no “king-maker” would have conceived such modesty for so world-changing an announcement. And especially, not in the East.
Yet, on a given day and at a divinely appointed moment, Jesus came to John to be baptized. Awe-stricken by this privilege, John stuttered out his own unworthiness of such an honor, declaring that he was not even fit to untie the shoes of his Lord. How could he dare to baptize Him? The scene is memorialized to this day by the dove that descended upon Jesus. As this heavenly affirmation was given, John looked at two of his own disciples and said, “Look, the Lamb of God.”
It is hard to resist the sobering portent behind the designation. The average Jewish family grew up with lambs and sacrifices. The temple probably reeked of animals and their slaughter, especially on the Day of Atonement. The exterior grandeur of the temple only housed a rather grim and messy looking altar. Every lamb sacrificed was from the possessions of the petitioner and was thus, a lamb of men offered to God. In fact, it was not even a representative from among men, an equal. It was a lamb owned by men, a dumb, unsuspecting animal brought into the temple, never to return.
Now, in this appointed moment in history, an offering came from God Himself and was given by God on behalf of humanity. This was the Lamb of God. But how could such a thing be? One born for the designed purpose of being sacrificed on the altar some day? Would not that have provoked a different question from those wanting to become His disciples, especially since that was the jolting introduction chosen by John?
One who was well versed in the Scriptures would have probably harked back immediately to the narrative in Genesis 22 in which Abraham was called upon to offer up his long-awaited son, Isaac. As father and son walked toward the mountain, Isaac asked the obvious question, “The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb?” As the story unfolds, Isaac himself was laid upon the altar and readied as a sacrifice.
At the last moment, as the blade in Abraham’s hand was descending upon Isaac, God exclaimed, “Stop! There is another I will provide.” God, who had planned this all along to test Abraham, providentially trapped a ram in the thicket to serve as a substitute for Isaac, even as it represented a different lamb that would come on a different day.
John’s announcement, in effect said, “Here He is—the Lamb of God who was promised long ago.” The day was approaching when there would be another hill and another altar, and this time the hand of the Father would not stop the slaying. The disciples of John who heard his pronouncement of Jesus turned from him to follow Jesus. The first question Jesus put to them had deliberate and reasoned bluntness: “What do you want?” They had no real understanding at this point that they were following one who was on a one-way journey that would ultimately end at an altar.
I wonder if any of us would have asked what they did in that momentous encounter. A better question might have been, “What does John mean when he calls you the Lamb of God? Are you headed for a gruesome end?” Instead, I suggest that they went for His beginning, by asking the astounding question, “Where do you live?” In the East the home is the defining cultural indicator. Everything that determines who you are and what your future bodes is tied into your heritage and your social standing. Absolutely everything.
Indeed, the first time I returned to speak in India after an eleven year absence, my wife (who is from Canada) witnessed first-hand the esteem conferred by one’s family. At a reception that was held in our honor in Bombay, her astonishment lay in the way I was introduced. The very long and formal introduction I was given was filled with superlatives. Yet, in its entirety absolutely nothing was said about me. Instead, it was a lavish description of my father’s credentials and accomplishments. It was one of those moments when you wanted to look around and identify this highly decorated individual. Then the last line was tagged on—“and this is his son who is to speak to us.” That was the only line that referred to me.
My immediate response was to laugh on the inside. But it suddenly dawned on me that I was representing somebody bigger than myself—my father. Because of him, I was given a hearing. I knew I was in the East. An introduction in the West, particularly in North America, is all about what I have or have not accomplished. The credentials are individual, almost as if an individual owes even his beginning to himself. There is little or no mention of family. But in India, the country of my father’s birth, my father’s credentials, my mother’s birth and my roots become very important to the audience.
You see, in a stratified society your home address gives the inquirer literally a wealth of information about you. The privilege of birth opens doors. It is not at all surprising that Nathaniel’s response when he was first told about Jesus was, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” That is followed some verses later by, “Is this not the son of Joseph, the carpenter?” How in the name of reason could the answer to the hopes and dreams of Israel, in search of the Messiah, come from a city of such low esteem and from the family of one whose profession was in the lower end of their honor roll?
Jesus’ answer builds the intrigue. He did not give a street name or a house’s identification. He simply said, “Come and see.” They went with Him to see where He was staying and evidently spent the night there. Andrew returned to tell his brother Simon that they had found the Messiah, that is, the Christ, and invited him to come and see, also. The next day, Philip, who was also from the same city, invited Nathanael to join them by saying, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” There you have it—the city and the parentage. Nathanael is predictably cynical and is given the same challenge—“Come and see.”
A MEMORABLE ENCOUNTER
The Scriptures remain silent on numerous issues. Matters in which we would be greatly interested, are left without description. What kind of home did Jesus live in? What kind of carpentry did He do, if any? But maybe this is where God’s vision of reality seeks to lift us from the enslavement and distortion of our earth-driven view. Historic figures have homes for posterity to visit; the Lord of history left no home. Of Christ we are told that He did not have a place to lay His head. The same Gospel writer forthrightly states this: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God…And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us full of grace and truth” (John 1:1, 14). John’s “In the beginning” has a striking parallel with the first words of the Scriptures, “In the beginning God….”
As important as His earthly parentage was, His home address was not an earthly one—for in a very real sense He had no beginning. In the “where and when” questions that plague our finitude there is no such encumbrance for the eternal and infinite one. To lift them beyond the here and now was the task ahead of Jesus when He said to them, “Come and see.” Put yourself, then, in Andrew’s sandals. He had been invited to the home of the One identified by a recognized prophet as the Lamb of God. Andrew went. What was he anticipating? Would he be disappointed?
Billy Graham tells of the time he walked into an elevator where a handful of businessmen were in conversation. One of the businessman said, “I hear Billy Graham is in this hotel.” One of the others who recognized Dr. Graham smiled, looked at the one who had made the comment, pointed to Billy Graham and said, “That’s he.” The startled person paused, looked again at Billy Graham and said, “What an anti-climax!” Being the man that he is, Dr. Graham fully sympathized with the person’s disappointment and admitted that this was all there was to him.
What was this man really expecting? Some haloed and winged figure who did not need an elevator and who would only be seen praying and rising on air? In our human imagination we so often perceive our heroes to be something larger than life. We exalt them in ways that do them disservice. We make them to be almost plastic in our imagination. And when they bleed or grow old or stumble we either cast them aside or find some way to perpetuate the myth. We convince ourselves that they were something essentially different to the rest of us.
This one time in history this person was essentially different from all of us. But, from Nazareth? The son of a carpenter? Even the temple that was erected as His dwelling place had beauty and wealth expended beyond imagination. Now in the flesh His home was so paltry by comparison. To help sort it out, Nathanael is brought into the picture. He was one of those who was so true to his commitment to the truth that when he was invited to come and meet Jesus, he agreed to go along, probably in the hope of dispelling this “deception” that had been manufactured in the minds of his friends. But when he came within range of Jesus’ voice, Jesus spoke those carefully chosen words—“Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false.”
There lay the first surprise. There are few things as disquieting to a person as having his or her inner thoughts laid bare by the words of a stranger. He had come to “check out” this person and instead, his own character was revealed for who he really was. “How do you know me?” demanded Nathanael. And Jesus replied, “I saw you under the fig tree, before Philip called you.”
What did this mean to Nathanael? Was he pondering something when under the fig tree? Something in Jesus’ disclosure made Nathanael react impulsively, almost rashly, and he uttered these life-changing words, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel!” I believe Jesus jarred Nathanael’s skepticism by a gentle uncovering of the thoughts and intents of Nathanael’s own heart.
It was at this very point that Andrew’s question—“Where do you live?”—met a most incredible answer. Jesus had seen Nathanael when Nathanael did not know he was being watched. In one of his psalms David confessed that he could not flee from God’s presence, for God knew him in his inmost being—“Wherever I go, you are there.” Nathanael had just realized the same truth.
Jesus also knew that Nathanael did not think very much of Nazareth. But Jesus, equal to His enormous recognition of Nathanael’s, challenged his impulsive declaration, and said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree? You shall see greater things than that. I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”
The description He gave them of angels ascending and descending on the Son of Man pointed to Jesus’ “parentage.” Peter, Andrew and Nathanael all knew the story of the father of their nation, Jacob, that really provided the backdrop for Jesus’ answer. As a young man Jacob had cheated his brother, Esau, and was on the run to flee from his wrath. On his journey to distant parts he thought he was alone, far from the eye of anyone else. He had been raised in a home where the altar, as the center of the family’s worship of God, played a significant part. His grandfather Abraham was known as “the man of the tent and the man of the altar.” Abraham saw his home as temporary, but his worship as permanent. Now, on the run, Jacob was homeless and altar-less. When he reached a place called Luz, he slept with a stone for a pillow. Even for a desert dweller, that was rough.
And while he slept, the Lord came to him in a dream in which he saw a stairway that reached from the earth to heaven. Angels ascended and descended the stairway. And there above it stood the Lord, who said, “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac.” When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought to himself, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it…how awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven” (Genesis 28:10-22). Jacob took the stone pillow and left it as a marker in the place he was now going to call “Bethel”—meaning, the house of God.
Whether the disciples gained full measure of it or not, a thundering message was sounded when Jesus spoke those words to Nathanael. Jacob found out that God’s presence to bless could transform any location into the house of God. Now the disciples learned the same. They were inclined to judge Jesus by his earthly father—Joseph the carpenter. They were trying to measure His worth by his earthly home, Nazareth. He opened up to them the truth that any earthly setting at which He is present becomes the gateway to heaven. What comfort this must have brought them.
But, more than that, they rightly inferred from what Jesus said that He had come from His Heavenly Father who was the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He took them farther back than their own understanding and lifted them to further heights to show them that the word “home” was at best only an analogical representation of living with God. The disciples were clearly overwhelmed by that initial impact. They did not fully comprehend all that this encounter was going to mean to them. Their lives would change beyond their wildest dreams, so that the day would come when they would leave their own homes to tell the world of Jesus of Nazareth. “If you marvel at what I have shown you of yourself, Nathanael, this is only the beginning of what awaits you when I disclose my glory to you.” That, He assured them, would be no anti-climax.
GLIMPSES OF ANOTHER HOME
Jesus broached some very significant truths in this simple interaction. The primary and unique indicator here, literally and figuratively, is His revelation of the realm of His existence. To ask for the “where” of Jesus’ home is the same as asking the “when” of God’s beginning. Such categories are necessary in our finite existence, because there was a time when we were not. But God, who is a necessary being, transcends such categories. His references to a heavenly dwelling and to the angels ascending and descending in His service point to the fact that He is the Lord of heaven and earth who exists eternally and necessarily. His existence precedes every spatial metaphor. Just as it is impossible for Him not to be, so it is not necessary for Him to have a place to live. That is precisely what He said to David who wanted to build a temple where God could “dwell.” It is more sensible to ask where He has promised to bless us than to ask where His locus of existence is.
Such transcending categories seem so beyond our reach and yet they intimate our ultimate destiny. Even now, we realize that concepts such as speed, time and space are so bound up into the limited dimensions of our understanding of the nature of reality that for most of us, they seem the domain of geniuses. Yet, the deeper we penetrate into such mysteries, the more inexorably we are drawn to the lowest common denominator of what makes life the way it is. We look for the minutest part of reality in the physical world so that we can, in the words of the scientist, arrive at a theory of everything. Jesus reversed the process. He told us that the only way we could understand who we are is to cast our gaze not on the equation that binds it all together, but on the relationship towards which we move in the sum total of our being. It is the assemblage of an object that gives it its purpose, not the reduction of it. In the words of Jesus to Nathanael, our amazement will know no bounds when we understand all that the realm of God’s existence means.
No other claimant to divine or prophetic status would ever have answered this question of His home in this manner. Even John the Baptizer took great pains to remind his followers of this difference: “A man can receive only what is given him from heaven…the one who comes from above is above all; the one who is from the earth belongs to the earth. The one who comes from heaven is above all. He testifies to what He has seen and heard” (John 3:27-32).
In another conversation, Jesus stated that His ascent into heaven was preceded by His descent from heaven (John 3:13). Implicit in that claim is the assertion that His knowledge of everything is perfect and complete. That alone sets Him apart. His vision of reality, His explanation of life, His opening up of mysteries, His glimpses into what matters and what does not matter—proceed out of His being in the eternal. And that is the point. His earthly sojourn was not an origination but a visitation.
Every other person who is at the heart of any religion has had his or her beginning either in fancy or in fact. But nevertheless, there is a beginning. Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem was a moment preceded by eternity. His being neither originated in time nor came about by the will of humanity. The author of time, who lived in the eternal, was made incarnate in time that we might live with the eternal in view. In that sense, the message of Christ was not the introduction of a religion but an introduction to truth about reality as God alone knows it.
POSITIONED BY TRANSCENDENCE
“Where do you live?”
“With my heavenly Father,” was the answer.
For Nathanael, new vistas of being and of time suddenly brushed into his consciousness. But an obvious question arises: “How could Jesus sustain such a claim?” To claim to have no beginning is one thing. To make it reasonable is another. If heaven is the point of reference for all of reality, then two major ramifications entailed for the disciples, and therefore, also for us. The first is that of position with reference to him and the second, that of place with reference to us. The second logically follows from the first.
What do I mean by position? I mean the very vantage point from which I may now view life because of Him. Have you ever experienced the confusion of a seemingly senseless configuration on a bumper sticker that appears to be random shapes or dots? As you continue to stare at it and tilt your head one way or the other, a word or a picture suddenly leaps out from that cluttered pattern. We call it a cryptogram.
Something fascinating happens once you have seen that the dots or shading were just masking the real message. You start tilting your head in various positions in an attempt to lose the ordered pattern and regain the initial disorder. The latter exercise only comes into play because you start wondering how it was possible in the first place to miss the word. When the eye has captured the image, it interprets the message for what it is. When the eye loses the message, disarray dominates.
May I suggest that the challenge of Jesus’ earthly ministry was to enable us to see the message so that the picture could be understood. Staring at life’s cryptogram we either see His name unmistakably redolent or we see the confusion of religions with no single message, just garbled beliefs that plague our existence, each justified by the voice of culture. That may be the tragedy of the beguiling sentiment we call tolerance, which has become a euphemism for contradiction.
Jesus Christ came to challenge every culture on the face of the earth so that we might gain a perspective from higher ground. But how does one reach that higher ground? We can see the hint of our predicament even from our lower vantage point. In spite of the limitations of our earthbound perspective, we still recognize wickedness. We still talk of witnessing evil. Maybe, there is a reason.
C.S.Lewis helps us here: “Heaven understands hell and hell does not understand heaven….To project ourselves into a wicked character, we have only to stop doing something and something we are already tired of doing; To project ourselves into a good one we have to do what we cannot and become what we are not.”
“To do what we cannot and to become what we are not.” Those limitations separate purity from evil. To change this, heaven’s eyes must be given to us. That is what Jesus offers the one who comes to Him—to be what in ourselves we cannot be and do what by ourselves we cannot do.
As a young lad, I remember reading a story about Sir Isaac Newton that left a profound impression on me. He had worked for hours on his scientific inquiries into the very core of the physical universe, exhaustedly laboring by candlelight. By his side over the weeks sat his beloved dog. On one occasion when Newton left the room for a moment the dog jumped up to follow him and inadvertently bumped into the side of the desk, knocking over the candle and setting the papers ablaze. All that seminal work was reduced in moments to a pile of ashes.
When Newton returned to his study to see what remained of his work, his heart was broken beyond repair. Rescuing what little was left of the room, he sat down and wept with his face in his hands. Gently stroking the dog he said, “You will never, never know what you have done.”
Even if it were possible for the dog to grasp that something tragic had happened, it was impossible for the creature to know the kind of tragedy, not just the degree of what had been done. By analogy, that kind of essential distance is what makes our situation so manifestly impossible. Living in an evil world makes it much easier for me to understand my own wickedness than to think in the crystal clear terms of perfect purity. How revealing, too, is human nature. We resent the indictment purity brings. Is it any wonder that we cannot understand God? This gap is not only one of morality, it is one of capacity. It is easier for me to think in terms of time than for me to think in terms of eternity. How can I ever explain the dwelling of a perfect being in eternity when my being is so locked into imperfection and time? How can I understand the supernatural when I am so bound by the natural?
There is a German term that separates existence from life: “Dasein ohne leben”—existence without life. Jesus came to remind us that we who are bound to the temporal subsist without life’s blueprint. Though we continue to exist, we miss life for what it was meant to be. He wants us to see what it means to live through the lens of the eternal. That takes place when He makes our lives His home. There, he has promised to bless us.
CONCEPTION WITHOUT CONSUMMATION
If Jesus had no beginning, then His very birth must explain how He could be “born” and yet not have a beginning. The virgin birth of Jesus most certainly addresses that. When one is searching for evidence to confirm a startling claim, it is necessary to look for some other source which gives credence to it, even though it would not be in its own best interests to do so. The virgin birth is certainly in that realm, both for those who lived it and for those inimical to the Gospel. For Mary, herself, to claim such an outlandish conception would have been to not only risk her own life, but to have also put Jesus’ life at risk.
Of any influential life that you have witnessed or studied, ask yourself how this person would justify a virgin birth and an eternal existence, if such an assertion were being made. This would be a particularly significant question if it had been predicted before the person was born. How do you perfectly fit together prophecy—hundreds of prophecies—made both before and after the fact? For Jesus’ antagonists it would have been easy to measure, generation by generation, whether this claim to be the Messiah could possibly have withstood the scholars’ scrutiny and the Scripture’s test.
Apart from Mary and Joseph, consider the testimonies of Zacharias the priest and his wife, Elizabeth (the parents of John the Baptizer), for whom it would have been natural not to want their son to play “second fiddle” to a cousin, especially a younger cousin. In a culture rife with power and position, where the home bespoke volumes, shame would not be the path of choice for anyone. Had it not been true, it was the path of cultural ostracism, if not suicide, for all of them. For Elizabeth to lose her son, John, to the sword of Herod and for Mary to be told by the angel that a sword would pierce through her heart would not have been desired by any mother. Mary, Joseph, Zacharias, Elizabeth, John, and then the disciples risked everything for this truth.
But even beyond the Hebrew disposition and the family’s claim, possibly the most astounding affirmation of the virgin birth comes from those who for centuries have attempted to stand against the Christian Gospel, Islam. Even the Koran, written six hundred years after Jesus, affirmed His virgin birth (Surah 19.19-21). This would serve Islam no self-glorifying purpose.
Here, then, is the man from Nazareth, who claimed that His origin was from heaven and that His Father is none other than God Himself—a son not born out of physical consummation or out of a need for communion, but the consummate expression of God in the flesh, in eternal communion with the Father. In the beginning, communion and the power to give life existed in God Himself. In His infinite being relationship was intrinsic, without the fleshly prerequisite of physical consummation. God, who is spirit, is, in fact, being-in-relationship. In Christ, the Word became flesh. He alone, who dwelt in eternity, could consecrate the flesh, while differentiating between the inherent power of creation and the bestowed power of procreation, even as He transcended the means by which we are bound.
A LIFE WITHOUT BLEMISH
But there was a second way in which He proved His absolute and eternal existence. His life has always been regarded as the purest that has ever been lived. On numerous occasions His antagonists were challenged to bring some contrary proof against Him. They were never able to detract from His pristine life. He challenged His adversaries to lay any charge of sin at His feet.
CHANGING OUR ADDRESS
I said earlier that it was not only our position of vision that was affected but our very place in life was redefined. If the privilege of Jesus’ position gives us His unique vantage point, sustained by His supernatural birth, then one very necessary application follows if we are to apply His truth to our homes.
The implication was clearly a surprise to Nathanael, for whom nothing good could come out of Nazareth. Nazareth was hardly on the map. It took scholars years to even pinpoint Nazareth. Of all the places on earth, why would the Lord of heaven and earth choose Nazareth? Is it possible that as heaven was His abode and earth His footstool He chose the foot of the footstool so that those of us who pride ourselves on our birth may take note that our heavenly Father has better credentials for us than our earthly roots?
Our world has strayed so far from God’s will for us that we have made ourselves wretched by measuring ourselves in terms of race or power or progress or learning. The flames of prejudice of every kind have burned through twenty centuries. The politicization and absolutizing of culture may well be the cause of our next worldwide conflagration. All of the privileges of birth and possession become destructive when they are unhinged from our creator’s moorings.
The words of Jesus are a stirring reminder to all of us that the pride of birth carried to extreme can be a vortex that sucks us into destructive ways of thinking and living. The rising voice of nationalism has unleashed horrors too numerous to mention. In years of travel I have been to many places in the world where people think they are superior because of their culture. One way or the other we all think we are the center of the universe because of our place in life. We had absolutely nothing to do with our birth. Jesus did, and He chose a most unlikely city to call home.
Some years ago, we were spending Christmas in the home of my wife’s parents. It was not a happy day in the household. Much had gone wrong during the preceding weeks and the weight of sadness was felt in the home. Yet, in the midst of all that, my mother-in-law kept her routine habit of asking people who would likely have no place to go at Christmas to share Christmas dinner with us.
That year she invited a man who was, by everyone’s estimate, somewhat of an odd person, quite eccentric in his demeanor. Not much was known about him at the church except that he came regularly, sat alone, and left without much conversation. He obviously lived alone and was quite a sorry looking, solitary figure. He was our Christmas guest.
As it happened, because of other happenings in the house, not the least of which was that one daughter was taken to the hospital for the birth of her first child, everything was confusion. All of our emotions were on edge. It fell upon me, in turn, to entertain this gentleman. I must confess that I did not appreciate it. Owing to a heavy life of travel year-round, I have jealously guarded my Christmases to be with my family. This was not going to be such a privilege and I was not happy. As I sat in the living room entertaining him while others were busy I thought to myself, “This is going to go down as one of the most miserable Christmases of my life.”
But somehow we got through the evening. He evidently loved the meal, the fire crackling in the background, the snow outside, the Christmas carols playing, and a rather weighty theological discussion in which he and I were engaged—at his instigation, I might add. He was a very well-read man and as I found out, loved to grapple with heavy theological themes. I do too, but frankly, not during an evening when you wish to enjoy life’s quiet moments, not someone’s polemical mind.
At the end of the night when he bade us all goodbye, he reached out and took the hand of each of us, one by one, and said, “Thank you for the best Christmas of my life. I will never forget it.” He walked out into the dark, snowy night, back into his solitary existence.
My heart sank in self-indictment at those tender words of his. I had to draw on every nerve in my being to keep from breaking down with tears. Just a few short years later, relatively young, and therefore to our surprise, he passed away. I have relived that Christmas many times in my memory.
The Lord taught me a lesson. The primary purpose of a home is to reflect and distribute the love of Christ. Anything that usurps that is idolatrous. Having been lifted beyond the prejudice of culture, Jesus repositioned for the disciples the place of wealth. So staggering was the impact that many of them in the years to come would leave their own homes to go to distant parts of the world in order to proclaim the heaven-sent message that redefined their earthly homes. Eleven of them paid for that message with their lives.
For the disciples, Jesus’ answer to their simple question—Where do you live?—was to lift them beyond race and culture, beyond wealth and power, beyond time and distance to make them true citizens of the world, informed by the world to come. He brought them into a dramatically different way of living and thinking from the one to which they were accustomed. He showed them the inclusiveness of His love—for the whole world. But implicit in that was the exclusivity of His Truth, for which they were willing to give their lives. We have reversed Jesus’ order. We have made truth relative and ethnicity supreme, and have been left with a world in which wickedness reigns.
Jesus brought truth to light and a different world to His message. In Him our hearts find their true home.
G.K. Chesterton has captured the wonder in how Jesus’ earthly address changes ours, as only he can do.
A child in a foul stable,
Where the beasts feed and foam;
Only where He was homeless,
Are you and I at home:
We have hands that fashion and heads that know,
But our hearts we lost—how long ago!
In a place no chart nor ship can show,
Under the sky’s dome.
To an open house in the evening,
Home shall men come,
To an older place than Eden,
And a taller town than Rome.
To the end of the way of the wandering star,
To the things that cannot be and that are,
To the place where God was homeless,
And all men are at home.
Where does Jesus live? Come to Christ and see what it means to live.