Well, we are in our final week of our series called Underdogs… and in this series we’ve been looking at different people in the Bible who would’ve labeled themselves as underdogs… and we looked at the excuses that they probably would’ve been telling themselves in their situations… and frankly, the excuses we probably tell ourselves at times, things we’ve told ourselves that hold us back from living the life and doing the things that God has called us to do… and what we’ve found is that our God is a God of the underdog. When we think we’re in an un-redeemable, underdog situation, God has a way of doing something really special.
We see it in the life of David when he and his whole family felt like he wasn’t qualified to be the King, and yet God had other plans… and Esther, who thought that her chances were too slim to save her people, but God had other plans.
And in the same way, when we feel like the odds are against us, God has other plans… and he wants to do something incredible in and through you.
Today we’re going to look at the greatest underdog of all time… this underdog is unlike any of the others we’ve looked at in this series… not only did he have more disadvantages than any of the others, but he also accomplished far more than any of the … the greatest underdog of all time is Jesus.
Now, Jesus probably isn’t a person you would’ve expected to pop up on a shortlist of underdogs in the Bible… I mean how could God be an underdog?
Well, it’s exactly because he’s God that puts him on the short list… think about it… every other underdog is just playing the cards they were dealt… nobody wants to be an underdog…but with Jesus, something different was going on because Jesus is the one who dealt the cards. And what we see is that Jesus disadvantaged himself to advantage others.
We see this stated in Philippians 2:5-8
5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in very nature[a] God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;7 rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature[b] of a servant, being made in human likeness.8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!
Jesus was in heaven and he had all the power and all the glory and all the splendor… he had everything. And he left that all behind..he left heaven and came to earth to live among us. And when he came to earth, he didn’t come to live like a God…he made himself nothing… like the lowest servant. And in doing so, he advantaged others… he offered salvation and fullness of life to anyone who wants it.
How crazy is that? I mean, if we’re honest for a minute, on most days, if someone gave us the option to be an underdog or a top dog, we’d choose to be a top dog. Top dogs get what they want. Top dogs have influence. Top dogs can easily accomplish their goals.
Right now in my family, me and a very special lady are having a battle for who the top dog is. I think I’m the top dog, and she thinks she’s the top dog. I’m not talking about my wife, Bethany… I’m talking about my 2 year old, Cana. (Picture) She thinks she’s the top dog. Just last night I said, “Cana, go brush your teeth.” And she said “No.” And she walked away. “Cana, PLEASE go brush your teeth.” “No.” And she keeps walking away. So we compromised, and for now, I’m gonna let her think she’s the top dog.
We all want to be a top dog. And yet, in Jesus, we see the exact opposite. He was already the top dog, but then he left heaven and came to earth and became one of the greatest underdogs of all time. He left heaven and put on skin to live among us, to experience every temptation and struggle and disappointment and heartache we experience and ultimately defeat sin and death and offer us abundant life here and now and eternal life after we die.
Jesus made himself an underdog. Jesus disadvantaged himself to advantage others.
Theologians call this idea of Jesus leaving heaven and coming to earth, the incarnation. But if that happens to you at your job, we call it a demotion.
Jesus demoted himself to offer a promotion to others… and what we’re going to find is that in doing so, Jesus had some unique advantages to accomplish his goal… and we’re invited by Christ to do the same… and we can use our disadvantages as resources for others.
The first way we see Jesus disadvantaged is in security. If you remember, at the beginning of the Christmas story in Luke 2, there’s a top dog named Caesar Augustus… and he ordered a census of the entire Roman world. Everyone had to go back to their hometown to register for the census, and Mary was very, very pregnant with Jesus… and so Mary and Joseph travel to Bethlehem, but since there’s no guest room available, Mary gives birth to Jesus in a feeding trough for animals.
Jesus is in heaven sitting at the right hand of God, with all the power that he could ever want… and he could choose anyone to enter the world through… any family… any place… and instead of choosing someplace safe and comfortable, Jesus chooses Mary and Joseph… teen-aged parents, and I don’t think it’s a surprise to Jesus that he ends up being born in a stable… I think Jesus chose this on purpose.
And so Jesus is born… the son of God… as a baby… in a feeding trough… without any of life’s protections. His parents don’t have power… he doesn’t have a castle… he doesn’t even have a bed… and not only that, he’s born at a time with a King who’s so insecure that when he hears a king has been born, he tries to have every boy under a certain age executed to take out the risk of someone taking over as top dog.
We’re starting to see the Philippians 2 passage demonstrated in Jesus’ life… he didn’t consider equality with God as something to be used to his own advantage… If he did, he would’ve never chosen this scenario.
God was born in the most vulnerable way possible… as a baby… in a feeding trough… with no protection.
And to make matters worse, not only do Mary and Joseph not have any power, they’re poor, too. This is the second disadvantage …Jesus was disadvantaged financially.
In Luke 2:22-24, Jesus’ parents took him to the temple to go the ceremonial cleansing that all Jewish newborns went through, and here’s what we see: 22 When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”[a]), 24 and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”
At first glance, that doesn’t tell us anything, but for all the Jews who were living in that time, they would’ve known that the law actually says that both a lamb and a pigeon should be sacrificed for the purification rite, but then there’s a provision for the poorest of the poor. It says this in Leviticus 12:8 – “But if she cannot afford a lamb, she is to bring two doves or two young pigeons.”
Jesus grew up poor. He was familiar with financial strain… and difficulty… in not always having the best… not having the greatest resources. His parents weren’t able to afford to buy him a violin, a piano, a tuba, and a guitar…
God from heaven who had everything chose to be born into vulnerability and poverty…
But in poverty and vulnerability, Jesus would’ve fit in perfectly with the people around him because he wasn’t a poor boy living in a rich town, Jesus grew up in a backwater town. That’s the third way Jesus disadvantaged himself:Jesus had a disadvantaged neighborhood.
When most people buy a house, there are a lot of things to consider. You gotta think about bedrooms and how much land you want, your budget… but you also have to think about what neighborhood you choose to move into. My guess is that most people, when they factor all those things together, if they had two options, they’d choose the better neighborhood… the better street with the least traffic and not very much crime… they want to buy in the best neighborhood they can afford.
But not Jesus… Jesus was in heaven looking at Zillow… and Jesus could’ve been poor and vulnerable anywhere, but he chose to live in the region of Galilee in a town called Nazareth. In John 1:46, we get a picture of what people thought of Nazareth. We see this encounter between Philip and Nathanael… and Philip had just met Jesus and spent some time with him and was one of Jesus’ first followers… and because of what Philip saw in Jesus, Philip ran to Nathanael and he said, in John 1:45-46 - “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”
And this is how Nathanael responded – 46 “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked.
Nazareth fell into one of two categories for people… it was either a backwater town where there was no hope for its residents, or it was a place where people had never heard of. Jesus could’ve been poor in a better place, right?
Jesus knew he wanted to make an impact in the religious world, why not at least move to Jerusalem. That’s where the temple was. That would’ve given him an advantage.
If your friend tells you they’re gonna try to make it in the music scene… where are they likely going to move to position themselves for success? Nashville… New York City… New Orleans… When Pastor Andy was trying to make it in the TV industry, he didn’t move to Cape May, NJ… he moved to LA… or you move to Hollywood. But imagine your friend says they want to make it big in live theater and so they’re moving to Buford, Wyoming. Population 1. You’d probably say, “Buford Wyoming? Why are you moving to Buford Wyoming?”
Jesus could’ve chosen anywhere to live, but he chooses the back water town of Nazareth.
Nazareth is also an unlikely choice for Jesus because when he was a boy, there was a man named Judas the Galilean who led a revolt. And according to the historians, Judas the Galilean’s revolt didn’t end well… In “Who is this man” by John Ortberg we hear this: He and two thousand of his followers were crucified. The crosses were all left standing in the Galilean countryside because the Romans wanted to send a message: if anybody else got any bright ideas about trying to get people not to pay taxes, Rome had plenty more crosses.”
Nazareth is in Galilee. And so in a real sense, Jesus grew up in the shadow of these crosses that demonstrated the power of Rome to take care of people who would consider leading a revolution that questioned Rome’s power and authority… of all the places that Jesus could’ve picked, Jesus chose Nazareth. Poor… unknown… in the shadow of the annihilation of a movement… Nazareth, can anything good come from there? Jesus chose a disadvantaged neighborhood.
The fourth disadvantage that Jesus chose was that Jesus had a disadvantaged appearance. Some of you fellas are leaning in right now, cause now you can relate to Jesus a little more… he was more like you than you ever knew…
You know, it’s funny, Jesus is likely one of the most well-known and influential and most talked about people in all of history. Whether people believe in him or don’t, someone is always writing a book or an article trying to prove or disprove that he was the Messiah. Even in politics, politicians bring up stuff he said to defend their political bent…But for the most well-known person in all of history, we know nearly nothing about what Jesus looked like.
There’s no artwork that tells us what Jesus looks like, there’s barely any descriptions of him anywhere… except one verse the whole Bible… and it’s Isaiah 53:2b – He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
Jesus was unremarkable in appearance. He was nothing special. He was a carpenter, so maybe he was a little hunched over. You might even walk right by him without noticing him being there. Unremarkable.
This tells us that if we did have artwork that depicted Jesus, we probably wouldn’t want it on display for everyone to see.
Jesus didn’t look like this.
Definitely not like this.
Forensic Anthropologists actually did a model of what Jesus might have looked like based on other people in the same time period and place, and here’s what they came up with.
Jesus didn’t choose beauty and attraction… he chose ordinary. Unremarkable. I’m not gonna say Jesus is ugly… but maybe even, unattractive.
That was his choice. I mean, if you could do it over again and you could choose to look like anyone in the world you wanted to… who would you choose? Are you choosing someone ordinary? I can tell you right now, I’m looking like Brad Pitt/Shawn Mendes!
Jesus had that choice, and he didn’t choose to look like a celebrity, he chose to look ordinary. He disadvantaged himself in his appearance… in his finances… in his security… and in his neighborhood.
He could’ve had it all, but he disadvantaged himself to advantage others.
And you know, when we see someone disadvantage themselves to advantage others, it’s inspiring… it encourages us and challenges us because we know that’s the very thing Jesus did. It’s like mother Theresa…
This week, I heard a story from a friend of mine about two people from his church who were successful veterinarians. By successful, I mean in their thirties they had two kids and had already paid off their very nice and large house with white picket fence and all the extras. They were by all means living the American dream. They were top dogs. They had money and influence and they mattered in their community.
And then God called them to put all that aside to take on the very nature of a servant. To sell everything they had, leave their vet practices, and teach people in remote villages on an island in East Asia how to properly care for their livestock to help advantage them so they can better provide for themselves and their families, and they can build relationships, and they can share with them the greatest underdog story of all time… the person of Jesus Christ.
Whenever we hear a story like this… about someone who disadvantaged themselves to advantage someone else, we’re hearing a story about Christ because that’s exactly what Christ did. And what Paul said in Philippians 2:5 is that in our relationships with others, family, friends, neighbors… we should be like Christ. You shouldn’t disadvantage others for your own advantage, but instead be like Jesus. Disadvantage yourself for the advantage of others. Because when you do, you are like Christ.
And what we see in Jesus is that when we make ourselves an underdog for someone else, we actually have an underdog advantage. So if you’re looking at your life and you see a lot of disadvantage… disadvantage in your health, in your position, in your education, in your relationships… I’m gonna give you 4 ways that you have an advantage as an underdog.
The first one is as an underdog, you can be courageous.
Cause here’s the thing about being an underdog, what have you got to lose? Right? If you’re an underdog, you’re not really risking much. Think about the Cleveland Browns. They’ve had terrible season after terrible season… two years ago they didn’t win a single game and the year before that they only won a single game… They can make a trade or make a coaching change or try something new that takes courage because it’s not like they could lose any more games than they’re already losing! They can be courageous because they don’t have much to lose!
As an underdog, you can be courageous because you don’t have much to lose. You can take a risk and go out of your comfort zone to do something you feel called to do. Jesus did.
In the Bible we’re told that after Jesus ascended into heaven he said he was going to send the Holy Spirit who was going to be our comforter. Well I wonder if he said that because as Christians, we’re going to be called to do some uncomfortable things. You don’t need a comforter unless you’re uncomfortable.
In what way is God calling you out of your comfort zone? What’s something uncomfortable you feel like you need to do that’s gonna take a big dose of courage?
Maybe you need to get outside of your comfort zone by starting something new… a new ministry to a new group of people. Maybe it’s reconciling a broken relationship that’s going to be a little risky and is gonna take a bit of humility and vulnerability.
A few months ago we talked about foster care in Pennsylvania and we had Hilary Haris come share about the work of the Orphan Care Alliance. Maybe you know the way you need to get outside of your comfort zone is being a foster parent or adopting a child who needs a home. Maybe the thought of inviting someone to church is scary for you.
Can I be honest, it’s scary for me. It’s scary for me because I don’t want someone to feel judged by me or looked down on by me, and I don’t want to be rejected. So for a long time I didn’t. But a lot of people would say yes if we just asked. And a few weeks ago I got talking with someone and she told me she used to go to church she had gotten out of the routine… and so she decided to visit another one, and she went in and sat down in a seat, nervous about being part of a church again… and someone asked her to move because she was in their seat… She left crying and vowed to never go back to church again. So I invited her to church. And she said in more colorful language, no.
Maybe you need to step outside your comfort zone and invite someone to church knowing that they might say no, or maybe you need to step out of your comfort zone and give up your seat for someone else… as an underdog, we can be courageous.
The second underdog advantage is that you canbe generous.
There’s an awesome Psalm that reminds us that everything we have is actually Gods. It says, “The earth is the Lords and all that is in it. The world and all who live in it.” Jesus knew that… he knew that everything he had was given to him by his Father and that his Father would care for all of his needs.
And when we know that everything we have is from God and that God’s going to care for our needs, we have an underdog advantage.
We can be generous with our money and with our time… we can be generous with our natural gifts and abilities…
A few weeks ago, there was a church in State College who needed a new roof… they had the money to buy the materials, but they didn’t have the skill set to do it… so our mission team led a day where some of youused the gifts we had….time, skills, energy… and we helped a small church keep their building kept up to date and able to be used for worship and other community outreach events.
That’s only possible when we realize that our gifts aren’t for us to hold close and only use for our own advantage. They’re all a gift from God and can all be used to help advantage others. As underdogs, we can be generous.
The third underdog advantage is that underdogs can be approachable.
Jesus was approachable. Being disadvantaged allowed Jesus to be more approachable. When Philip told Nathanael that Jesus was from Nazareth, his response was, “Nazareth!?” No one is intimidated by someone from Nazareth.
Most people during that time thought that as someone became more spiritual they become less approachable, but what Jesus shows is that the more spiritual you become the more approachable you should become.
There’s this great story in Matthew 8 when Jesus is walking down from the mountainside with large crowds following him… and a leper is nearby… now usually when people would be coming close to a leper, the leper was supposed to yell out, “Unclean Unclean!” This ensured no one else would come into contact with them and become unclean or get the disease. But here’s what we see in this story. Matthew 8:2 – “A man with leprosy[a] came and knelt before him and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”
It was exactly because he was an underdog that people felt comfortable approaching Jesus.
How can you grow in your approach-ability? Maybe it’s by answering your phone. Maybe it’s by putting down your phone. Maybe it’s by leaving your to-do list alone and playing with your kids or helping your neighbor…how can you find ways to become more approachable to the people God wants to minister to through you. As an Underdog, you can be more approachable.
The fourth underdog advantage is that you can be loving. We know that Jesus wasn’t physically attractive and yet people just flocked to him. Large crowds came to hear what he had to say. People like the leper ran toward him. It wasn’t because Jesus was attractive… It was because Jesus was loving. In fact, maybe Jesus’ decision to appear unremarkable was simply a way to show us that there’s something far more important than the way you look… it’s the way you love.
More important than your style of your sneakers or your jewelry is the content of your heart and that’s demonstrated by the way you love. How did Jesus love people? He loved people one at a time. The most efficient way for Jesus to love people would’ve been to pull them altogether and just did one big loving act… like a healing. If Jesus would’ve just gone to the hospital and threw his arms up in the air and healed everyone at once, that would’ve been awesome! So efficient. So much healing.
But Jesus doesn’t heal like that. He walked around from town to town…. He looked people in the eyes, listened to them, spoke to them, healed them. Almost as if he were saying, “I’ve been looking everywhere for you.”
Think about that Leper again. Jesus was with a large crowd. And this unclean leper runs up to him asks him to heal him… and here’s what we see happen next. Matthew 8:3 –3 Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately he was cleansed of his leprosy.”
Did you notice what happened there? Jesus didn’t heal the man and then touch him. The text says Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man and then he healed him. By doing this, Jesus is saying, “I love you even when you are unclean.” He loved people right where they were, one at a time.
Jesus disadvantaged himself to advantage you… and me. Jesus left the safety and security of heaven… and the glory and splendor that came along with it… and he came into poverty… and he did it all as a servant.
He didn’t consider equality with God something to be used for his own advantage, instead he made himself nothing… and that led him on a path that left him hanging on a cross and buried in a tomb. But he didn’t do it for himself. He didn’t do it for the elite. He didn’t just do it for his friends and family… he did it for the leper… and he did for you. As if he was looking into the eye of each one of us saying, “There you are, I’ve been looking everywhere for you.” Cause when he rose from the grave, the greatest underdog of all time resurrected as the top dog, and he offered us the greatest gift we could ask for: a restored relationship with God, fullness of life here and now, and eternal life after we die.
And if this is how Christ lived, this is how you and me should live too. We’re invited to follow Jesus’ example to advantage others by being courageous, and generous, and approachable, and loving.
How is God calling you to grow today? In what way is God calling you out of your comfort zone? He doesn’t call us into discomfort to leave us to fend for ourselves. What we’ve heard in this series over and over again… when the odds are against you… when things aren’t looking up… God is for you. And God wants to do something special in and through you today. Let’s pray.
Next Steps August 25, 2019
Underdog – I’m at a Disadvantage
Read the birth story of Jesus in Luke 2:1-24
- Jesus disadvantaged himself in security, finances, neighborhood, and appearance. How does that change the way you read about his birth?
- How do the disadvantages of Jesus impact the way you experience Jesus in your life?
- How do you think Mary and Joseph felt bringing Jesus into their underprivileged lives?
- What is something you felt called to do that you didn’t do because of a lack of courage, generosity, approach-ability, or love?
- If you could do it over, would you do what you felt called to do? Why?
- What is one thing you would want to do if you had more courage, generosity, approach-ability, or love?
- What is one step you can take this week to say “yes” to God’s pull on your heart in that area?