A statement on Twitter three years ago revolutionized my version of baby Jesus in the manger. It said, “Jesus did not come as a helpless baby. He came to helpless people.” Honestly, I was stunned by this language. It illuminated something very, very important.
Traditionally, our version of the Christmas story will use the language,“helpless babe,” somewhere. But, as it turns out, we are the helpless ones—not Jesus in flesh—no matter how romantic and poetic the words “helpless baby” feels and sounds at Christmas time.
Yes, Jesus voluntarily made Himself vulnerable in human flesh, however, He was not helpless. The truth is we are. This truth comes from one the greatest books in the Bible, from arguably one of the most powerful chapters in the Bible. “For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6). The word “helpless” really is the best description of us. In the Greek, it means “without physical or moral strength.”
Helpless. God sees us in our reality. While we may be deceived or self-deceived about our true condition, He is not. Jesus reiterates this viewpoint: “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36).
Jesus saw us as helpless morally and physically. Perhaps this one word is the most significant viewpoint God has of us. Perhaps this one word is the most significant viewpoint we can have of ourselves. Our discovery that we are “without physical or moral strength” drives us to God. And the converse is true; when we think we have “physical or moral strength,” we don’t tend to seek God.
After reading that tweet, I started looking for helplessness everywhere in scripture. In that search, I discovered many who saw themselves as helpless and those who didn’t. Here are several examples from Scripture where their viewpoint shaped the reality of their helplessness.
The rich young ruler.
This young man in Mark 10:17-22 felt he had earned God’s acceptance because of all his good deeds. Yet, his “goodness” prevented him from seeing his moral helplessness. As Jesus looked on with love and tenderness, He knew this young man was deceived about the true nature of his helplessness.
The two men who came to pray.
In Luke 18:9-14 Jesus told a parable of two men who went to the temple to pray. One, a Pharisee, prayed, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.” The other, the aforementioned tax collector, humbly approached God and, “would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’”
The Pharisee trusted in himself. He viewed himself as righteous and carried a condemning attitude toward others. He did not view himself as helpless. The tax collector’s perspective was one from a humble posture, begging for mercy. He saw himself as helpless.
The woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her hair.
In this very familiar story (Luke 7:36-50) a “woman of the city” destroyed her alabaster jar in order to use the precious and expensive ointment to honor Jesus. In response, Jesus asks Simon, “Do you see this woman?” Simon saw her as a dirty sinner. Jesus saw her as “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” How did the woman see herself? Destitute. Completely, morally helpless. Her extravagant act of worship reflected a deep, abiding attitude of gratitude for Christ’s power to do what she could never do for herself.
And the very familiar question we ask often in our small group discipleship track at our church rang in my own ears … who am I in this story?
Dear reader, who are you in this story?
Let me testify that self-righteousness creeps far too easily into those in church. Yet we are and were helpless people. Our souls would be moved to similar reckless worship and stunning awe when we contemplate our helplessness.
So, at Christmas, let us remember this: Jesus—the “helpless” baby in the manager—came to rescue helpless people of whom we are chief.
“Sweet little Jesus boy, born in a manger,
Sweet little Holy child, we didn’t know who You were.
Long time ago it seems, You were born.
Born in a manager Lord, sweet little Jesus boy.
Didn’t know you’d come to save us all,
To take our sins away.
Our eyes were blind, we did not see.
We didn’t know who You were.”
–Sweet Little Jesus Boy
Published December 22, 2016