“And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ He confessed…‘I am not the Christ’…‘I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.’” John 1:19-20, 26-27
Reading through this first chapter of the gospel of John, I began thinking about how evidently the Jews were looking for the Messiah. They were expecting the Promised One from God who would save their people. Yet when Jesus came, so many of them missed it. They refused to accept that He was the One. Because He wasn’t what they expected. His life was characterized by such grace and compassion that it was beyond their understanding.
Jesus associated Himself with sinners. With women. With Gentiles. With lepers. This just didn’t fit with their idea of the Christ. Why would the Messiah choose to be connected with these people who they saw as less than worthy? Why wouldn’t He stick with the religious leaders, those who emphasized the rules laid out in Jewish law and had sterling reputations?
They didn’t get it. The Son of God humbled Himself and left His throne in heaven to live here as a man so that He could restore those who were forever separated from the God who loves them. He demonstrated His power, His love, and the magnificent glory of His grace by doing what some would see as weakness and defeat: He chose to die in our place. In the place of sinners. In the place of the infinitely guilty. The infinite, everlasting King gave His life to take the punishment for sinners, and rose again so that those sinners could know abundant life forever reconciled with a Holy God.
This clear association with “the least of these” probably seemed like it would offend the glory of God. As if His greatness would never allow Him to condescend that far. But Jesus came to show that the greatness of God is seen in His grace. He is no less glorious for saving sinners. The glory of His grace shines brilliantly because He does so. His transforming power is evidenced in the lives that He changes. He brings individuals from death to life. He gathers in those who were far off. He reaches down to us when we are stuck in the mire of sin, and He draws us out and transforms our lives so that they bring Him glory. So that the world can see the wonders that God can do with a life that is His.
Jesus’s compassion does not make Him less worthy of praise, honor, and glory. His sacrifice, His conquering of death, is what exalts His name above any other. It is this glorious Savior who is at the center of this picture: “Then I looked, and I heard around the throne…the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, ‘Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!’ And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, ‘To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!’“ (Revelation 5:11-13).