By Scott Armstrong
Jesus Comes Home with a Sobering Message
Christmas is a time when many of us return home. We laugh with relatives and gorge ourselves on excellent food. Grandmas grab our cheeks and tell us we’ve grown sooooo big, which is awkward when you’re 8, but try when you are 40!
Luke 4 tells us of a time when Jesus returned to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. The little carpenter’s apprentice had grown up and now was an excellent preacher, and the people were amazed at his eloquence. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked (v. 22). Surely this can’t be the same little kid that was playing in the sandbox back in the day!
So, as is often Jesus’ custom, instead of basking in the praise from everyone, he turns it on its head. In fact, he immediately transitions his sermon from good news to judgement. “I’m here to change the world just as Isaiah foretold” (see v. 18-21) quickly becomes “If you think you’re better than anyone else, I’m here to tell you you’re dead-wrong.”
The result is jarring. The crowd’s transformation is stark. The church folk are enraged, throw him out of their town, and are ready to throw him off a cliff (v. 28-29). Wow! What made them convert from admirers to attempted murderers in the blink of an eye?!
Essentially, he yelled out, “You are not God’s favorite! Stop acting like it!”
It’s a message that’s painfully appropriate and quite controversial even today. Christian authors have made a lot of money writing that you and I are God’s favorites. Preachers use that phrase to try to explain God’s boundless love for you and me. It all seems obvious, right? And anyway, it feels good to know I am God’s favorite child; it kind of gives me a spring in my step as I leave the service on Sunday!
Here’s the problem: Baked into the definition of the word “favorite” is the singling out of something to the exclusion of something else. When I ask you what your favorite food is, if you say, “They’re all my favorites,” it makes no sense. You are either trying to hide something or way too indecisive. Saying “I like all foods the same” would seem implausible, but it’s at least better than claiming that all foods are your absolute favorite. Selecting a favorite by necessity means something else has not been selected: it is, thus, not your favorite.
When pressed on this, the authors and preachers insist that, well, when they say, “YOU are God’s favorite,” they actually mean that we are ALL His favorites. It’s an effective communication technique, but it completely dilutes the word. In fact, using the word “favorite” in this way can actually have some serious, unintended consequences.
When we start to view ourselves as God’s favorites, we subtly begin to believe that he likes us more than others. The product of such thinking is ethnocentrism and religious selfishness, exactly what Jesus railed against in verses 24-27.
My political party is right.
My race is better.
My denomination is the best.
My way of viewing the world is the only real way anyone should see it.
And it also makes us spoiled. We start to expect God to be at our beck-and-call. The “favorite” child at Christmas demands that his parents save the last piece of pie for him. Every gift becomes boring within a few hours. Nothing is appreciated. Everything is deserved. Jesus says it this way, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself! Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum’” (v. 23). We are here for the show, Jesus! Come on, we prayed; why won’t you grant us our every wish?
God lavishes his love on all of us in the same measure.
That’s the point.
He has no favorites.
As we near Christmas, hear again those amazing words from Jesus’ homecoming sermon: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (v.18-19).
Interesting last word: “favor.”
Our God comes to the poor, to the prisoners, to the blind and oppressed. His favor is offered to all in abounding measure.
What if you were actually not God’s favorite?
It’s painful and humbling to acknowledge. But maybe admitting it would open you up to truly receiving God’s favor for the first time. Maybe it would allow the God who plays no favorites to anoint YOU, as well, to go to the broken-hearted and usher in the Lord’s favor.
May today this scripture be indeed fulfilled in your hearing.