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He Could Have Given Up


He Could Have Given Up 

Love . . . endures all things.

1 Corinthians 13:4–7 nasb

At any step along the way he could have called it quits. . . .

When he saw the dirt floor of his Nazareth house.

When Joseph gave him a chore to do. When his fellow students were dozing off

during the reading of the Torah, his Torah.

When the neighbor took his name in vain.

When the lazy farmer blamed his poor crop on God.

At any point Jesus could have said, “That’s it! That’s enough!

I’m going home.” But he didn’t.

He didn’t, because he is love.

He could have given up. No one would have known otherwise. Jesus could have given up.

One look at the womb could have discouraged him. God is as unbridled as the air and limitless as the sky. Would he reduce his world to the belly of a girl for nine months?

And nine months? There is another reason to quit. Heaven has no months. Heaven has no time. Or, perhaps better said, heaven has all the time. It’s we who are running out. Ours passes so quickly that we measure it by the second. Wouldn’t Christ rather stay on the other side of the ridge of time?

He could have. He could have given up. If not, at least he could have stopped short. Did he have to become flesh? How about becoming light? Here is an idea. Heaven could open, and Christ could fall on the earth in the form of a white light. And then in the light there could be a voice, a booming, thundering, teeth-shaking voice. Toss in a gust of wind and the angels for background vocals, and the whole world notices!

As things turned out, when he came, hardly anyone noticed. Bethlehem held no parade. The village offered no banquet. You’d think a holiday would have been appropriate. At least a few streamers for the stable.

And the stable. Is that not yet another reason for Christ to back out? Stables are smelly, dirty. Stables have no linoleum floors or oxygen tanks. How are they going to cut the umbilical cord? And who is going to cut the umbilical cord? Joseph? A small-time carpenter from a one-camel town? Is there not a better father for God? Someone with an education, a pedigree. Someone with a bit of clout? This fellow couldn’t even swing a room at the hotel. You think he’s got what it takes to be the father to the Maker of the universe?

Jesus could have given up. Imagine the change he had to make, the distance he had to travel. What would it be like to become flesh?

This question surfaced as I was golfing recently. Waiting my turn to putt, I squatted down to clean my ball and noticed a mountain of ants beside it. Must have been dozens of them, all over each other. A pyramid of motion at least half an inch tall.

I don’t know what you think when you see ants on a green as you are waiting to putt. But here is what I thought: Why are you guys all bunched up? You have the whole green. Why, the entire golf course is yours to spread out in. Then it occurred to me. These ants are nervous. Who could blame them? They live under a constant meteor shower. Every few minutes a dimpled orb comes crashing into their world. Bam! Bam! Bam! Just when the bombing stops, the mallet-swinging giants arrive. If you survive their feet and sticks, they roll a meteor at you. A golf green is no place for an ant.

So I tried to help them. Leaning down where they could hear me, I invited, “Come on, follow me. We’ll find a nice spot in the rough. I know it well.” Not one looked in my direction. “Hey, ants!” Still no reply. Then I realized, I don’t speak their language. I don’t speak Ant. Pretty fluent in the idiom of Uncle, but I don’t speak Ant.

So what could I do to reach them? Only one thing. I needed to become

an ant. Go from six feet two inches to teeny-weeny. From 200-plus pounds to tenths of an ounce. Swap my big world for their tiny one. Give up burgers and start eating grass. “No thanks,” I said. Besides, it was my turn to putt.

Love goes the distance . . . and Christ traveled from limitless eternity to be confined by time in order to become one of us. He didn’t have to. He could have given up. At any step along the way he could have called it quits.

When he saw the size of the womb, he could have stopped.

When he saw how tiny his hand would be, how soft his voice would be, how hungry his tummy would be, he could have stopped. At the first whiff of the stinky stable, at the first gust of cold air. The first time he scraped his knee or blew his nose or tasted burnt bagels, he could have turned and walked out.

When he saw the dirt floor of his Nazareth house. When Joseph gave him a chore to do. When his fellow students were dozing off during the reading of the Torah, his Torah. When the neighbor took his name in vain. When the lazy farmer blamed his poor crop on God. At any point Jesus could have said, “That’s it! That’s enough! I’m going home.” But he didn’t. He didn’t, because he is love. And “love . . . endures all things” (1 Cor. 13:4–7 NKJV). He endured the distance. What’s more, he endured the resistance.

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory” (John 1:14 NIV).

“We have seen his glory.” What did John mean by those words? Could it be that he saw in Christ flashes of heaven? Occasional, yet unforgettable, gasoline-on-the-fire flashes. Could it be that Christ would occasionally open his cape of humanity and allow a ray of glory to spill forth?

One of the regular attendees of our congregation is David Robinson. David is a big man. He stands seven feet two inches and weighs 235 pounds. His body fat is 6 percent. (I have that much in one thigh.) He is an NBA MVP, an NBA champion, and an NBA All-Star. But David is much more. He is a lover of God and a lover of kids. For that reason, the following scene won’t be hard to imagine.

Let’s say big-hearted David agrees to a game of one-on-one with a sixyear-old girl. Just for the fun of it. She asks. He agrees. The two are on the same court, playing with the same ball, playing the same game, but everyone knows this isn’t the same David. This is a mild David. A restrained David. A reserved David. How he plays against Shaq and how he plays against the girl are not the same.

Suppose some bully starts making fun of the little girl. He even comes out of the stands and taunts her. Calls her names and steals the ball from her. He throws it back so hard she falls over. You know what David might do? David might be David for a few moments. He might just take the dare and take the bully and dunk him like a donut.

For just a moment, the real David might take over.

There were moments when the real Jesus did. Most of the time he was restrained. But then there were moments when he opened the cape. There were moments when he had all he could take of the bully from hell.

When the storm scared his followers, he stood and opened the cape: “Be still!” When death broke the hearts of his friends, he stepped into the cemetery and opened the cape: “Come forth!” When disease stole the joy of his children, he touched the leper with power: “Be healed!”

“For a moment”—John must have sighed when he wrote the words— “we beheld his glory.”

A few, like John, were stunned by the sight. Others, however, missed it. They missed the glory of God. For whatever reason, they missed it. How did they react to his presence?

“They laughed at him” (Matt. 9:24 NIV).

“Many of them said, ‘He is demon-possessed and raving mad. Why listen to him?’” (John 10:20 NIV).

They “hurled insults at him, shaking their heads” (Mark 15:29 NIV).

“The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus” (Luke 16:14 NIV).

Isaiah prophesied the reception like this: “He was despised and rejected by men” (Isa. 53:3 NIV).

John summarized the rejection with these words: “He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him”

(John 1:10–11 NIV).

How did Christ endure treatment like that? At any point he could have said, “I quit. I’ve had enough.” Why didn’t he? What kept him from giving up?

I wonder if Lee Ielpi understands the answer. He is a retired firefighter, a New York City firefighter. He gave twenty-six years to the city. But on September 11, 2001, he gave much more. He gave his son. Jonathan Ielpi was a fireman as well. When the Twin Towers fell, he was there.

Firefighters are a loyal clan. When one perishes in the line of duty, the body is left where it is until a firefighter who knows the person can come and quite literally pick it up. Lee made the discovery of his son’s body his personal mission. He dug daily with dozens of others at the sixteen-acre graveyard. On Tuesday, December 11, three months after the disaster, his son was found. And Lee was there to carry him out.

He didn’t give up. The father didn’t quit. He refused to turn and leave. Why? Because his love for his son was greater than the pain of the search. Can’t the same be said about Christ? Why didn’t he quit? Because the love for his children was greater than the pain of the journey. He came to pull you out. Your world had collapsed. That’s why he came. You were dead, dead in sin. That’s why he came. He loves you. That’s why he came.

That’s why he endured the distance between us. “Love . . . endures all things.

That’s why he endured the resistance from us. “Love . . . endures all things.

That’s why he went the final step of the incarnation: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21 NIV).

Why did Jesus do that? There is only one answer. And that answer has one word. Love. And the love of Christ “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor. 13:7 NKJV).

Think about that for a moment. Drink from that for a moment. Drink deeply. Don’t just sip or nip. It’s time to gulp. It’s time to let his love cover all things in your life. All secrets. All hurts. All hours of evil, minutes of worry.

The mornings you awoke in the bed of a stranger? His love will cover that. The years you peddled prejudice and pride? His love will cover that. Every promise broken, drug taken, penny stolen. Every cross word, cuss word, and harsh word. His love covers all things.

Let it. Discover along with the psalmist: “He . . . loads me with love and mercy” (Ps. 103:4). Picture a giant dump truck full of love. There you are behind it. God lifts the bed until the love starts to slide. Slowly at first, then down, down, down until you are hidden, buried, covered in his love.

“Hey, where are you?” someone asks.

“In here, covered in love.”

Let his love cover all things.

Do it for his sake. To the glory of his name.

Do it for your sake. For the peace of your heart.

And do it for their sake. For the people in your life. Let his love fall on you so yours can fall on them.

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