Most families keep their family secrets a secret. Most don’t talk about the swindling uncle or the streetwalking great-aunt. Such stories remain unmentioned at the family reunion and unrecorded in the family Bible.
That is unless you are the God-man. Jesus displays the bad apples of his family tree in the first chapter of the New Testament. You’ve barely dipped a toe into Matthew’s gospel when you realize Jesus hails from the Tilted-Halo Society. Rahab was a Jericho harlot. Grandpa Jacob was slippery enough to warrant an electric ankle bracelet. David had a personality as irregular as a Picasso painting – one day writing psalms, another day seducing his captain’s wife. But did Jesus erase his name from the list? Not at all.
You’d think he would have. Entertainment Tonight could quarry a season of gossip out of these stories. Why did Jesus hang his family’s dirty laundry on the neighborhood clothesline?
Because your family has some too. An uncle with a prison record. The dad who never came home. The grandparent who ran away with the coworker. If your family tree has bruised fruit, then Jesus wants you to know, “I’ve been there.”
The phrase “I’ve been there” is in the chorus of Christ’s theme song. To the lonely, Jesus whispers, “I’ve been there.” To the discouraged, Christ nods his head and sighs, “I’ve been there.”
Just look at his hometown. A sleepy, humble, forgotten hamlet.
To find its parallel in our world, where would we go? We’d leave the United States. We’d bypass Europe and most of Latin America. Israel wasn’t a superpower or a commercial force or a vacation resort. The land Joshua settled and Jesus loved barely registered on the Roman Empire radar screen!
But it was there. Caesar’s soldiers occupied it. Like Poland in the 1940s or Guatemala in the 1980s, the Judean hills knew the rumbles of a foreign army. Though you’ve got to wonder if Roman soldiers ever made it as far north as Nazareth.
Envision a dusty, quiet village. A place that would cause people to say, “Does anything good come out of ______?” In the case of Christ, the blank was filled with the name Nazareth. An unimpressive town in an unimpressive nation.
Where do we go to find such a place today? Iraq? Afghanistan? Burkina Faso? Cambodia? Take your pick. Find a semiarid, agriculturally based region orbiting on the fringe of any social epicenter. Climb into a jeep, and go there looking for a family like Jesus’.
Ignore the nicer homes of the village. Joseph and Mary celebrated the birth of Jesus with a temple offering of two turtledoves, the gift of the poor (
And look for a single mom. The absence of Joseph in the adult life of Jesus suggests that Mary may have raised him and the rest of the kids alone. We need a simple home with a single mom and a ordinary laborer. Jesus’ neighbors remembered him as a worker. “He’s just a carpenter” (
Jesus had dirty hands, sweat-stained shirts, and – this may surprise you – common looks. “No stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him” (
Drop-dead smile? Steal-your-breath physique? No. Heads didn’t turn when Jesus passed. If he was anything like his peers, he had a broad peasant’s face, dark olive skin, short curly hair, and a prominent nose. He stood five feet one inch tall and weighed around 110 pounds.1 Hardly worthy of a GQ cover. According to a third-century historian, Origen, “his body was small and ill-shapen and ignoble.”2
Are your looks run-of-the-mill and your ways simple? So were his. He’s been there.
Questionable pedigree. Raised in an overlooked nation among oppressed people in an obscure village. Simple home. Single mom. An ordinary laborer with ordinary looks. Can you spot him? See the adobe house with the thatched roof? Yes, the one with the chickens in the yard and the gangly teenager repairing chairs in the shed. Word has it he can fix your plumbing as well.
He’s been there.
“He had to enter into every detail of human life. Then, when he came before God as high priest to get rid of the people’s sins, he would have already experienced it all himself – all the pain, all the testing – and would be able to help where help was needed” (
Are you poor? Jesus knows how you feel. Are you on the lowest rung of the social ladder? He understands. Ever feel taken advantage of? Christ paid taxes to a foreign emperor.
He’s been there. He understands the meaning of obscurity.
But what if your life is not obscure? What if you have a business to run or crowds to manage or a classroom to lead? Can Jesus relate? Absolutely. He recruited and oversaw his own organization. Seventy men plus an assortment of women looked to him for leadership. Do you make budgets and lead meetings and hire personnel? Christ knows leadership is not easy. His group included a zealot who hated the Romans and a tax collector who had worked for them. The mother of his key men demanded special treatment for her sons. Jesus understands the stress of leadership.
Ever feel as if you need to get away? So did Jesus. “Early the next morning, while it was still dark, Jesus woke and left the house. He went to a lonely place, where he prayed” (
Ever have so many demands that you can’t stop for lunch? He can relate. “Crowds of people were coming and going so that Jesus and his followers did not even have time to eat” (
Do you have too much e-mail to fit in a screen or too many calls to make in a day? Christ has been there. “Great crowds came to Jesus, bringing with them the lame, the blind, the crippled, those who could not speak, and many others. They put them at Jesus’ feet, and he healed them” (
How about family tension? “When his family heard what was happening, they tried to take him home with them. `He’s out of his mind,’ they said” (
Have you been falsely accused? Enemies called Jesus a wino and a chowhound (
Do your friends ever let you down? When Christ needed help, his friends dozed off. “You men could not stay awake with me for one hour?” (
Unsure of the future? Jesus was. Regarding the last day of history, he explained, “No one knows when that day or time will be, not the angels in heaven, not even the Son” (
Jesus has been there. He experienced “all the pain, all the testing” (
But why? Why would heaven’s finest Son endure earth’s toughest pain? So you would know that “he is able . . . to run to the cry of . . . those who are being tempted and tested and tried” (
Whatever you are facing, he knows how you feel.
A couple of days ago 20,000 of us ran through the streets of San Antonio, raising money for breast cancer research. Most of us ran out of kindness, happy to log three miles and donate a few dollars to the cause. A few ran in memory of a loved one, others in honor of a cancer survivor. We ran for different reasons. But no runner was more passionate than one I spotted. A bandanna covered her bald head, and dark circles shadowed her eyes. She had cancer. While we ran out of kindness, she ran out of conviction. She knows how cancer victims feel. She’s been there.
So has Jesus. “He is able . . . to run to the cry of . . . those who are being tempted and tested and tried.”
When you turn to him for help, he runs to you to help. Why? He knows how you feel. He’s been there.
By the way, remember how Jesus was not reluctant to call his ancestors his family? He’s not ashamed of you either: “Jesus, who makes people holy, and those who are made holy are from the same family. So he is not ashamed to call them his brothers and sisters” (
He’s not ashamed of you. Nor is he confused by you. Your actions don’t bewilder him. Your tilted halo doesn’t trouble him. So go to him. After all, you’re a part of his family.
Max Lucado is minister of Oak Hills Church of Christ in San Antonio, TX.
Excerpted from Next Door Savior by Max Lucado, copyright 2003. Used by permission from the publisher, W Publishing Group. Any copying, downloading or use of this material is prohibited. All rights reserved.
1. Jeordan Legon, “From Science and Computers, a New Face of Jesus,” 25 December 2002. Found at www.cnn.com/2002/TECH/science.
2. Dean Farrar, The Life of Christ (London, England: Cassell & Company, Ltd., n.d.), 84.