Homeless people! We hear lots about them in the news, and sometimes we see them.
They huddle in corners of the streets, pulling their tattered garments about them. Sometimes they take refuge under bridges to stay dry. In the winter, charity organisations afford them places to eat and sleep. They are pitiable, to say the least.
This month I am reminded that something like this was the condition of the Saviour of men, Jesus Christ, who is my Lord and my God. He was born in a stable, lived his few days on earth with friends and disciples, and was buried in a borrowed tomb.
He had no place of his own to ‘lay his head’, as the Bible says. What are we to make of this? What is the practical lesson?
First, this leads us to think about the gospel. The ‘good news’ of the gospel is that God came into the world, was born of a woman, lived a life of poverty and want, and died on the cross to save us from sin.
This was a part of his humiliation here on earth. He was even despised and rejected of men. God himself became incarnate in the person of his Son and took upon himself our guilt.
I heard a colleague in the Christian ministry one time talking about his conversation with someone of another widespread religion that we hear much about nowadays. He cautiously brought up the name of Jesus to him and, to his surprise, the other man was very positive.
He was obviously respectful and positive about Jesus. His eyes brightened during the conversation, until it turned to the matter of Christ’s work of atonement on the cross — Christ’s substitution for our sins.
Then the follower of the other religion became indignant. He rejected as utterly repugnant the notion that God could suffer for us. He could never believe that Jesus could suffer for us on a cruel Roman cross.
And yet, this thing that he so emphatically rejected is, in fact, what the gospel is all about. It is all about Jesus paying the price for our redemption.
And, from that, it is about the call to radical discipleship. Jesus made this astounding utterance about being homeless, after a brash individual said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go’.
In effect, Jesus replied, ‘Are you sure of this?’ ‘Are you sure you wish to follow me?’
Often people, often we, say we wish to follow Jesus, little realising what we are saying. We often forget where Jesus is going. Where does Jesus lead us? He leads us to the cross. He leads us to a place where we are often despised by the world. He leads us to a place where we must deny self and take up the cross.
Following Christ is not primarily about being physically homeless like he was. No, Jesus calls few of us to live without the comfort of a decent place to live. But following Jesus is about warring against fleshly lusts and eschewing the friendship of the world.
He could even ask us to give up a beautiful home to go to the foreign mission field; and, if he does, we must obey.
Heaven is our home
Regardless, to be a disciple of Jesus means to renounce this world as our permanent dwelling and be a ‘pilgrim’ on the earth in our hearts, even while we continue to fulfil our daily responsibilities in the ordinary duties of our lives.
To be a disciple is to learn that one cannot serve God and mammon at the same time. The Christian in the world is like a fisherman in a boat: as long as the boat is in the water; no problem. But watch out if the water gets in the boat!
And even though spiritually ‘homeless’ in this world, we have a friend who sticks closer than a brother: ‘Jesus said to him, “foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head”’ (Luke 9:58).
John F. Thornbury
The author has served for many years as a pastor in Baptist churches in Pennsylvania and Kentucky.