God has Favourites audio (5MB)
‘The Incarnation’ as we call it, God becoming a human being, is the fundamental belief that sets us apart from Judaism and all other religious followings.
It really is where the rubber hits the road in terms of the Christian faith.
We Christians are the only people on this earth who believe that God himself became one of us.
We believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
We believe in the Great I Am who spoke to Moses at the burning bush, who parted the sea and led his people out of slavery.
We believe in the God who went before his people in the wilderness as a pillar of fire by night and a pillar of cloud by day … who chose to reveal himself to the Jewish nation.
We believe in the God who’s glory appeared as a thick cloud … descending over the tabernacle
… who’s holiness shook Mount Sinai, striking the earth with thunder and lightning that made the people tremble.
We believe in the God who is so holy that we can’t look on his face; that the Israelites couldn’t touch the mountain when his glory descended, that Moses’ face shone when he met with the Lord in the tent of meeting.
We believe in the God who is ‘holy, holy, holy’. Who appeared to the prophet Isaiah, who in the Lord’s presence was terrified.
We believe in YHWH, the Great I Am, the one who is so holy that even his name cannot be spoken.
And we share all of this in common with the Jewish people.
But we part company when we open to chapter 1 of Luke’s gospel, because we believe that that same God became a man.
There are many faithful Jews today who would see Jesus as a prophet and teacher … but who would say ‘you can never convince me that the Holy One, the Great God of Israel, would become a human being … a mere creature, a mere man. God is holy and we are not. It is a contradiction in terms for him to become human flesh. Worse than that – it’s extremely offensive. It offends the greatness of our God.’
We often say as Christians that the cross is offensive: because it confronts us with the reality of our sin and our need for salvation. But the notion of sin isn’t offensive to a Jew. The incarnation is offensive. It is blasphemy against God. Indeed it was the crime that Jesus was charged with.
He called himself the Son of God.
It was just as the angel Gabriel said to Mary: “the child to be born will be holy” … do you remember when we looked at Isaiah we learned that holiness isn’t just about moral purity, it’s about ‘godness’, it’s the stuff that makes God God. God alone is holy … Jesus will be holy (i.e. he will be God) and he will be called the Son of God.
So those who follow other religions and spiritual teachings want to say, but aren’t we all sons and daughters of God? To this we say, ‘yes, but we’re not holy. Made in his image, yes, like him, yes, but we were made out of the earth, we are made of flesh … God is made of stuff called ‘holiness’, pure -‘god-ness’. He is different to us. Jesus is holy. Jesus is the eternal Son of God.
It’s hard to imagine what it would be like to be told you were going to give birth to him. When the angel Gabriel greets Mary, the scripture says she is afraid and distressed (she is basically freaking out)
Mary: the ‘Favoured One’
No wonder, his opening line is, ‘Greetings favoured one! The Lord is with you. Do not be afraid for you have found favour with God’ (Lk 1:28-30). We might think, ‘aw, that’s nice, God favours you (i.e. you’re special)!’
But not to a young Jewish girl, that’s not nice, that’s terrifying.
This phrase, ‘you have found favour with God’ is a Jewish expression used a number of times in the Old Testament. It’s literal meaning is, ‘You have found grace beside God ’ (i.e. in other words, God’s grace has come beside you) … and Mary would probably have known from the scriptures, that this saying means serious business. It means the she has been specially blessed but also specially chosen.
Noah : Favoured by God
- The first mention - Gen 6.8 … when God was sorry that he made humankind on the earth … but Noah found favour in the sight of the Lord (which was good news, except he had to build an ark)
- Abraham, Joseph, Moses and Gideon
So being one of God’s favourites is both a blessing and a calling. It means that something serious is going to be asked of you …
Israel: a Favoured Nation
- Of course, Israel herself was a favoured nation ( a nation that was both blessed and called) What was the one thing that set her apart from other nations???
- Moses said the key defining difference was that they had the manifest presence of God with them
- “Moses asked the Lord, “How shall it be known that I have found favour in your sight, I and your people, unless you go with us? In this way, we shall be distinct, I and your people, from every people on the face of the earth” (Ex 33.15-16) The Lord promises Moses he will do this, “for you have found favour in my sight” he says.
- (remember from Isaiah 6 – the whole earth is full of the glory of God, but only Israel had this constant physically manifesting presence of God dwelling with them in the tent of meeting, speaking to their prophets, guiding them – they had the privilege of hearing God’s voice)
- So it seems God does have favourites …
Until Luke chapter 1 blows this distinction completely out of the water in the most offensive way …
Because Gabriel says this: “Mary, the Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called the Son of God.”
When Gabriel said to Mary, ‘the power of the Most High will overshadow you, he meant the full, terrifying, glory of God … the same glory that manifested at Mt Sinai, the same glory that overshadowed the tabernacle in the tent of meeting …
This great and terrifying, holy God, would overshadow Mary … so that the full power of God would be pleased to dwell, no longer in the tabernacle, but here ….
Show ‘heartbeat’ clip
The holy God of Israel was pleased to dwell in a woman’s womb, in the form of a child.
Many people would ask, why on earth would God do this?
He did it because out of all of creation, human beings are his favourites.
Humanity: God’s Favourites
The Psalmist wrote, “What are mortals that you care for them? Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honour.” (Psalm 8:5-6)
For many people the incarnation offends their concept of God. It’s just hard to comprehend that God who is holy, would rate humanity as highly as this.
You see, I think, the sinful part of us, is kind of happy with an ark for a salvation plan … we even think of the cross a bit like an ark - you know, some people get on the ark and some people drown. Some go to heaven and some can go to hell. As long as I’m on the ark, I don’t need God in the ark with me.
We know that not everyone will be saved, but the cross was not an ark … because the ark wasn’t for everyone, it was only for Noah and his family.
A lot of people are happy with a God who reveals himself only to his favourites, his chosen race … as long as they’re part of the chosen race.
I think it’s really this simple:-
If we’re honest we just can’t understand loving human beings as much as God does (surely some are excluded?). We really only love some human beings.
There’s probably at least one person in all of our lives, who we would die for.
But we don’t love every human being that much. We wouldn’t die for our enemies. But Jesus did. He left his father in heaven, to die for everyone, even his enemies.
It was within his salvation plan to become a man … so that through him, the grace of God would come beside all human beings (Mary was the first) It means that we have all found favour with God.
… to be blessed and to be called …
Jesus said, ‘love your neighbour as I have loved you’ .. and the miracle of knowing his love, because he was born and died for us …
Is that we actually start to love human beings that much.
I remember when I had only recently given my life to the Lord, when I was a young teenager, my parents found me one night, sitting in my room just bawling my eyes out. I could not stop crying.
They said, “What’s wrong Heather?”
I said, ‘tonight I was in the city and I saw a homeless man, and he had nowhere to sleep, he was sleeping behind a rubbish bin’ … and I said, ‘I want to help him but I don’t know how’
And my parents were a little confused, because I was crying for this man, as if he was my own brother.
I remember that what I felt that day was about more than a passion for social justice, or a sense of human compassion …
It was a supernatural kind of love that comes from knowing Jesus. When we know how loved we are, we start to love humanity as much as God does. We want to cry over every lost soul and every life that suffers …
And we Christians are the only people who believe in a God that loves humanity this much.
Our love for people is the greatest sign of our faith in God – it’s why people like Mother Theresa are such an inspiration – she really knew how much God loves humanity – she really got the incarnation …
It’s this simple for us:- if you want to love God, you have to love people.
We who believe in the incarnation have a message for every human being:
“Greetings favoured one, the Lord is with you!”
Let’s take a moment to thank the Lord that he was pleased to become one of us … to dwell in a mother’s womb … the full glory and power of God, was pleased to dwell in this place …