As I sit at my computer to share a thought with you, it is Presidents' Day in America. When I was growing up there was no such thing. We celebrated George Washington's birthday on Feb. 22 as a national holiday and observed Abraham Lincoln's birthday as a state holiday on Feb. 12.
The month of February was vigorously devoted to studying these two great patriarchs of the American experience. Indeed, they are men whose shadows of greatness touch us down to our very day.
Somehow under the innocuous banner of the all-inclusive "Presidents' Day," something is sadly lost. In celebrating the inclusiveness of all and the mediocrity of some, the deeds of the daring can go unnoticed or become lost in the haze of time.
A precious kernel of truth
But one thing I don't want lost on our reading audience is a little bit of insight shared by President Lincoln. It's a precious kernel of truth with tremendous biblical overtones to consider. He once said, "God must be a lover of the common people, or He would not have made so many of them."
The word common means ordinary or, as Webster's Dictionary defines it, "unrefined." Yet Lincoln by his statement places the common man on a pedestal and dedicates him to God's affection.
With such a thought before us, how does this comment from the sage of Illinois allow the reader to better understand the great prophetic realities of Scripture? Let's go back in time before we move forward together.
Lincoln rightly came by the attributed statement about the "common man." He was born in a log cabin in Kentucky. He was educated in the frontier schools of Indiana. He would struggle to support his family on the pioneer plains of Illinois. He was far from the genteel streets of Boston, Philadelphia and Charleston.
It was not easy for people on the frontier. Life and death often hung in the balance. Triumph or failure often were twin events on any given day in America. In the young republic, people were free from the security of constraining societal caste systems. They were free to make choices. But such choices also had consequences. Reading through Lincoln's life is like thumbing through a Rolodex of failure in search of despair. Lincoln had a series of public and personal defeats and setbacks before reaching the presidency in 1860.
He never forgot where he came from
Even in the bright spot of his 51st year, we must remember that upon the moment of supreme personal triumph, half the nation slipped away to form a new country rather than experience his administration. And yet this man who would become the 16th president of the young republic is often considered in the pantheon of the three greatest chief executives—if not the greatest.
Yet few, including ourselves if we had been contemporaries, would have recognized greatness in the making. The man from Illinois knew where he wanted to guide a divided nation, but he never forgot where he came from or what he had to experience to arrive on the doorstep of history. The tragedy of the Civil War that the nation was about to experience could only be understood and given proper interpretation for the ages by a man who was molded by sorrow and rebirth.
Why do Americans esteem the bearded and rugged mug of this man on our pennies and on the pages of history books? Why? His experience is our experience. It is that sense of humanity that endears Lincoln to generations of America in a way that other forefathers could only wish to be theirs. While their deeds are no less noteworthy, it is the fabric of raw unrefined humanity that weaves tight the bond between Lincoln and his generational audience.
In speaking of God's love affair with the common man, Lincoln understood Henry David Thoreau's comment that "the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation." But he adds a hope-filled element that is not sensed in the New Englander's commentary.
No, we are not alone even in darkness or the mundane commonality of life's wear and tear. It is not for naught. There is a purpose being worked out here below that is noticed by the Divine. The same man with a Rolodex of 12 filed failures (at least those recorded) is also the same author who penned, "I cannot conceive how a man could look up into the heavens and say there is no God."
That no flesh should glory
This God of the heavens inspired Paul long ago in 1 Corinthians 1:26-28 to record: "For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are." "Why?" you ask. "That no flesh should glory in His presence" (1 Corinthians 1:29).
Together, Lincoln and Paul remind us of a biblical reality when it comes to God. He is not interested in where you came from or how common you might appear to others. God can take care of the common and turn it to His purposes so that He will be revealed through us. God loves to shower His purposes on those who appear ordinary and cause them to become extraordinary. He always has, right from the beginning.
"Let Us make man in Our image"
In the great underpinning verse of all Scripture, Genesis 1:26, we find God declaring, "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness..." But how did God start the process? What were His building materials? Diamonds, pearls, gold, Teflon or fiberglass? No.
Genesis 2:7 tells us, "And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground." That's what Adam literally means, "from the ground." Sounds better than "dirt man." But the reality is—when it's all said and done—we're just so much clay. Add a little water and we're really just mud!
I remember as a kid in eighth grade learning that I was worth 98 cents in trace minerals. Of course, that was 40 years ago. Now with inflation, I'm probably worth more. It's humbling, and yet Lincoln reminds us God loves the common man and Paul chimes in that our commonness is designed for God's glory to shine through this layered shell of clay.
But the clay forgot
But the first man of clay forgot his "birth" from the dusty earth. He wasn't satisfied with the thought of God's glory shining through him, so he sought his own light and settled for the weakened glow of human reasoning.
Thus, a plan of action went into effect. Not from man, but God! Humanity would be offered a plan of rescue. The first prophecy throughout all Scripture is found in Genesis 3:15. It's found right at the beginning of the Bible—not in Daniel or Revelation. This revelation in Genesis foretells the coming of a Savior. It describes the dynamic struggle between God and Satan for humanity.
God prophetically proclaimed, "And I will put enmity between you [Satan] and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed [Christ]; He shall bruise your head [a crushing fatal wound, Romans 16:20], and you shall bruise His heel [the temporary death of Christ]."
But it was prophesied that the arrival of a divine answer to humanity's separation from God would not arrive with fanfare, but to the contrary, would seemingly go unnoticed by almost all. Isaiah 53:2 sets the stage in describing, "He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, and as a root out of dry ground. He has no form or comeliness; and when we see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him, He is despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief."
This prophecy relating to Jesus Christ infers He would be pretty common, fairly ordinary in outward appearance, almost invisible on the human radar screen. Let's just say it—downright plain, fitting in with the rest of us.
And that is the beauty of Jesus Christ. He was common as He could be as the Son of Man and yet God loved this "common Man." Born in a stable temporarily converted into overflow housing, raised as a Man with hands calloused by hard work, reared in a conquered land, Jesus Christ could easily understand the desperation of the everyday man. And still there was a beauty in this common Man that makes all of us ugly. Oh, yes, God loved this common Man.
God hasn't changed His style
And so, God still continues to work His plan. The manifesto of Genesis 1:26 and the blueprint of prophecy, as defined in Genesis 3:15, are headed toward completion in the style that God loves best. He works with the small, the common and the unwanted. He works with clay and makes a living soul. He works with slaves and makes them a nation. He works with shepherd boys and turns them into kings.
He takes a hamlet in the backwoods of Judea and says this is where it's going to happen (Micah 5:2)! He works with a harlot and offers her a role in the pedigree of His Son. He offers a boy with merely scraps of food the opportunity to feed an entire crowd.
Oh, yes, God loves the common man and woman who make themselves available and willing toward His will. He takes their little and, yes, our little and gives it worth. He makes it everything toward His glory.
When we remember who we are and where we came from and never forget who God is and where He wants to take us—the future is ours in Him. The Bible plainly declares the days yet ahead are going to incredibly challenge God's saints. Prophecies indicate the punishment of nations that have forgotten God's manifest blessings.
Focus where God focuses
In Romans 8:18-19, Paul proclaims on God's behalf: "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God."
This is where God opens the curtain, in effect, and says to all, "Look what I have done! I have made good on My promise. The common dust of this earth has become divine, the sons of God! This treasure in earthen vessels [2 Corinthians 4:7], these capsules of clay, these unrefined beings that have been made worthy by acceptance of Me, are now made manifest throughout heaven and earth declaring My works and My word." That moment is going to make all other moments worth every conceivable sacrifice in our here and now.
Oh, yes, God loves the common man who does the uncommon thing. Long ago the prophet Isaiah wrote in Isaiah 30:21 about a voice that would tell us, "This is the way, walk in it." It is Lincoln's voice that says, "God must be a lover of the common people, or He would not have made so many of them."
It is a voice that persevered beyond the immediate world of travail and despair and rose to greatness. It's a voice and message that can touch us today. And, because we now know a little more about how God works, may I say, "Thank God for the common man."