[Jesus] unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19).
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
Most of you probably remember the Smothers Brothers. (For those of you too young to know who I’m talking about, you can check them out on YouTube https://youtu.be/PfgrREmy68A .) Their trademark comedy bit was singing folk songs, with Tommy on guitar and Dick on bass. Usually, these songs would devolve into an argument between the two brothers. Seeing he was losing the argument, an exasperated Tommy would retort, “Mom always liked you best.”
When our kids were younger, each of them at least one time thought they were getting short-changed. “Why does Jessi get to go and we don’t?”, they’d ask. “Because she’s our favorite,” I’d reply. “Why did you let Katie do such-and-such when she was eight, but I still don’t get to?” “Because she’s our favorite.” The question was repeated in various forms, always with the same answer: “Because she (he)’s our favorite.” Eventually, they caught on: “You say that about all of us!”
I suppose parents can sometimes show favoritism. After all, none of us are perfect. But, what about God? Does He show favoritism? Can I point at you or you or you and say, “You always were God’s favorite”? The answer is yes!
The Word of God before us today reminds us that God’s favor has been revealed to each one of us through His Son, Jesus Christ. Today God tells us that regardless of what we have done, God’s favor rests upon us through the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ.
“You always were God’s favorite.” Is that really true? In one sense, it’s not. In terms of what we deserve, it’s God’s wrath, not His favor, that should come upon us. Paul says that we “were by nature children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3). Because of our sinful nature and the sin that it produces in our lives, we do not deserve to be sons and daughters that God punishes. But do not despair! In another sense, you always were God’s favorite!
Paul says that God chose you in Christ “before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4). God’s words to Jeremiah could be spoken to each of us. “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you” (Jeremiah 1:5). In Psalm 139, God tells us that He saw our “unformed substance” (v 16). God chose you before the world began! God knew you before you were you! God was present and active in your development in the womb! No doubt about it: You always were God’s favorite!
But just what does it mean to be God’s favorite? That question brings us to our text. Jesus visits His hometown of Nazareth. As was His custom, He went to the synagogue. He was given the scroll of Isaiah and asked to read. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me” (Luke 4:18), he begins. We know, of course, that He meant this quite literally because when He finishes, He says, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (v 21). He is the Anointed One. He is the one who proclaims “good news to the poor” and who brings “liberty to the captives” and “sight to the blind” (v 18). In short, Jesus comes “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (v 19). And there’s our word—favor.
The word favor as used in the Bible has to do with being accepted by God. To be God’s favorite means that, He accepts you. It means that He accepts you based on His love for you, not on your ability to make yourself acceptable. That is what’s so great about being God’s favorite. It doesn’t depend on you or what sins may be lurking in your past. Being God’s favorite means the past is forgotten!
In the Old Testament, there was a “year of the Lord’s favor,” when the past was forgotten. It was called the Year of Jubilee. Every fifty years, past debts were canceled, slaves were freed, and land was returned to its original owners. The size of your debt, how long you’d been a slave, or the number of years you’d been without your land didn’t matter. Every fifty years you got a brand-new start.
Wouldn’t it be nice to get a brand-new start? Well. That’s exactly what it means to be God’s favorite! Jesus came to give everyone a brand-new start. What Jesus gives is much greater than having a debt removed or being freed from slavery. The good news Jesus brings is not just for those who are poor financially. It’s for those who are poor in spirit, those who recognize their debt of sin and their inability to do anything about it. Jesus says, “I favor you and have assumed the debt of your sin Myself. You are brand new!”
The liberty Jesus proclaims is more than liberty for captives in jail. It’s liberty for those held captive by sin. Jesus says, “I favor you and grant you daily the liberty of forgiveness. You have a brand-new start every day!”
The sight for the blind Jesus offers is more than physical sight. He gives the sight of faith. Jesus says, “I favor you, and My Spirit will convince you of what you cannot see. You have brand-new eyes that assure you I am present with you always.”
The release from oppression Jesus offers is more than release from oppressive rulers or governments. Jesus offers release from the burden and guilt of sin. He says, “I favor you and have taken that burden upon Myself. You have a brand-new start regardless of your past.”
What does it mean to be God’s favorite? It means He accepts you because of what Jesus has done through His cross and resurrection. It means He accepts you regardless of what you’ve done. It means He accepts you and sees you as brand new!
Yes, you always were God’s favorite—acceptable, brand new. But just who is included in this? Is this really fair to everyone? Think again about the Year of Jubilee. Undoubtedly there was some grumbling and complaining. Was it fair that a debt of several thousand dollars was forgiven just like a debt of a few dollars? Was it fair that some got hundreds of acres of land back and others only an acre or two? Is it fair that God’s favor should be extended to everyone regardless of the number of sins they have committed or the horror of their sins?
The people in Nazareth didn’t think it was fair. Oh, they “spoke well of [Jesus] and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from His mouth” (v 22). But this lasted only as long as those words favored them. Things changed quickly. Jesus knew His fellow Nazarenes wanted Him to do miracles of healing as He had done elsewhere. But He also perceived their lack of faith in who He really was. Mark’s account of Jesus’ visit to Nazareth tells us He could not heal there because of their unbelief (6:1-6). Jesus then gives examples of Old Testament prophets whom God sent to show favor to non-Jews. Elijah extended God’s favor to the widow in Zarephath, and Elisha extended God’s favor to Naaman the Syrian.
The hometown crowd is suddenly “filled with wrath” (v 28). “Not fair! How dare Jesus imply that God would favor non-Jews over us?” They are so enraged at this perceived insult that they drive Jesus out of town to kill Him. But this was neither the time nor the manner of Jesus’ death. Jesus simply walks away. He will extend His favor to others.
The people of Nazareth illustrate for us why some reject God’s favor. They thought they deserved His favor. They deserved to have Jesus heal them. After all, this was His hometown. They deserved healing. After all, they were Israelites, God’s special people. How ironic! Those who think they’re accepted by God because they are acceptable on their own merits end up rejecting God’s favor.
We know better than to think we’re good enough to deserve God’s favor. But we may sometimes struggle with the fairness of God’s favor. How could God forgive so-and-so for such-and-such a sin? Is there favor for the rapist? What about the child abuser? On this Sanctity of Human Life Sunday, we might think about those who commit abortions.
Yes, we can fall into the trap of thinking that God could not possibly favor certain people. But perhaps more often we think it of ourselves. We think we have done something God could not forgive. Because of a particular sin in our past, we doubt whether we could ever be God’s favorite. Some sins burden us even though we know intellectually that God forgives. One of those kinds of sins we think of today is the sin of abortion. If there’s anyone who might feel they could never be God’s favorite, it’s those who are struggling because of an abortion in their past.
Most women who’ve had an abortion and men who’ve been involved in an abortion decision know they’ve done something wrong. Abortion, the killing of unborn children, is so unnatural. As the saying goes, “One cannot hurt a child with hurting the mother.”
Concerning this, Dr. David Reardon, who has done extensive study on the effects of an abortion, writes, “This is why from a natural law perspective, we can know in advance that abortion is inherently harmful to women. It is simply impossible to rip a child from the womb of a mother without tearing out a part of the woman herself—a part of her heart, a part of her joy, a part of her maternity.”[i]
Parents find it extremely difficult to deal with the death of a child. Think how this difficulty is multiplied when you make a choice that leads to the death of your child. It weighs heavily on the heart. You can never forget it. After listening to a presentation on the struggles of those who’ve been involved in an abortion, a woman handed the speaker a note. It read, “My womb has become a tomb, and it only takes the beat of my heart to visit the gravesite of my child.”
Those hurting because of an abortion decision in their past can identify with the words of our text that talk about being “captives” and “oppressed” (v 18). They feel imprisoned, surrounded by the thoughts and memories of the abortion. They feel oppressed by the burden of shame and guilt as these thoughts weigh upon them. They don’t feel very favored by God.
But the good news of our text for us who are poor because of our sin is that Jesus came “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (v 19). Through Jesus, God makes us acceptable by the forgiveness of our sin—every sin, any sin. Through Jesus, God liberates us from the captivity and oppression of sin. Through Jesus, God says to each of us, “You always were My favorite.”
We dare not be like the people of Nazareth and think that there are those who should not hear that message. That is one of the reasons we are talking about the sin of abortion today. We need to bring an end to this ungodly practice that kills over three thousand babies every day in our country. We need to bring an end to this atrocity that wounds so many women and men. If we don’t talk about the sin of abortion in our churches, it will never go away. If we don’t talk about the sin of abortion in our churches, we will never be able “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” to those who have been caught up in this sin.
You may have said it in jealousy to a brother or sister, “You always were Dad’s favorite.” God says it to you in love. God says it to you regardless of your sin. God says it to you because in Jesus Christ, He made you acceptable and gives you a brand-new beginning. So take it to heart. Take it personally when God says, “You always were My favorite.” Amen.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
This sermon is an adaptation of a sermon by James I. Lamb, in Concordia Pulpit Resources, Volume 17, Part 1, p. 63-65.
[i] David C. Reardon, The Jericho Plan: Breaking Down the Walls Which Prevent Post-Abortion Healing [Springfield, IL: Acorn Books, 1996], 14).