Finding Favour

9 December, 2018

There is so much drama and emotion in the Christmas story. God becoming a man is the biggest event in world history, and there is plenty of action to herald this coming, which we observe during the Advent season.

Before the birth of Jesus, there were two miraculous pregnancies, three angelic visits, numerous glowing prophecies, astrological phenomenon, and several miraculous happenings (like John the Baptist’s father Zechariah being unable to speak and then months later being able to speak).

After the birth of Jesus, there was a multitude of angels celebrating, shepherds praising, wise men worshipping, and more glowing prophecies. There was visible glory! You would expect these signs to accompany the miraculous birth of the Son of Almighty God.

This morning I would like to look at some of the prophecies given at that time because they tell us not only a lot about this child that would be born, but also, indirectly, about those who choose to follow this child.

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”
Luke 1:26-33

ルカの福音書 1:26-33

Mary was highly favoured by God. She was chosen especially by God, no doubt for her good character and her faithfulness, to carry for nine months and to bear God’s Son. In this revelation she was described as highly favoured and blessed. This morning I would like to look at what a highly favoured and blessed life really looks like, because it’s something that all Christians share.

To use a modern analogy, imagine if the new Emperor and Empress of Japan needed a surrogate mother to carry and give birth to their child. They searched the whole country for the healthiest young girl of the finest character, and they found her in Remi.

The Emperor sent dignitaries to her and to us to explain the situation and to assure us that, for her service, Remi would forever live a life that was highly favoured and blessed. Well, for a start, if Remi was to carry the Emperor’s child, I would expect the highest grade medical care in a 5 star hospital. I would expect punctual and comfortable transport. I would expect a crack security team to be watching over her. And I would expect our whole family to be generously compensated for this great task.

Now, that’s for the Emperor of Japan. How much more should Mary have expected for finding favour in serving the Lord God Almighty, the creator of heaven and earth?

But what did Mary experience in all this? Yes, she received some great promises, a couple of angelic visitations and some strange men dropping in to admire her child.

But she was also forced to travel 180 kilometres on a donkey while heavily pregnant. When it came time to have the baby, there was no accomodation at all. She had to give birth in the filth of a stable amongst farm animals without any medical help. After the baby was born, they received death threats and had to flee to Egypt where they knew no-one, couldn’t speak the language and where Joseph had no employment waiting for him.

They must have been wondering what was going on. Was this what favour looked like? Where was the blessing? Where was the glory? If this was the way the Emperor was treating Remi, I’d feel ripped off and would start reading through the contract again.

We all know where this story goes for Mary. This promised child grows to be the most persecuted man on the planet. He is insulted, abused, mocked, betrayed, deserted, hated, punched in the face, whipped to within an inch of His life, crucified on a cross and killed. Then most of His closest friends were killed, too. How could anyone call this a life of favour and blessing?

Well, we also know how this story ends. It doesn’t! It continues onto resurrection, salvation, new life, revelation, power, mercy, grace, forgiveness, healing, joy, peace and love. A life of favour and blessing – a life of glory – is not synonymous with a life that is trouble-free and comfortable. It’s just not!

Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Matthew 11:28-30

マタイの福音書 11:28-30

This is so true. This is the blessed life. This is the promise for all who believe in Jesus, receive Him into their hearts and choose to follow Him. But Jesus also said,

“Blessed are you when [not if – when] people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Matthew 5:11,12

マタイの福音書 5:11-12

Paul knew this. He described his life of blessing and favour:

I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.
2 Cor 11:23-28

私の労苦は彼らの比ではありません。投獄されたこともかなりの回数に及び、むち打たれたことは数えきれず、何度も死に直面しました。ユダヤ人から、恐ろしい三十九回のむち打ちの刑を受けたことが五度あります。それから、むちで打たれたことが三度、石で打たれたことが一度、難船したことが三度、一昼夜、海上を漂ったことが一度あります。幾度も長い苦しい旅をし、川がはんらんしたり、強盗に襲われたり、同国人からも外国人からも迫害されたりして、何度も危険な目に会いました。町々では暴徒に取り囲まれ、荒野や嵐の海でやっと命びろいしたこともあります。クリスチャンだと自称しながら、実はそうでない人たちに苦しめられたこともあります。疲れ果て、苦しみ、たびたび眠れない夜を過ごしました。飢え渇き、食べ物もなく過ごしたこともしょっちゅうです。また服もなく、寒さに震えていたこともありました。 こんなことのほかに、諸教会がどうなるかという心配を絶えずかかえています。
コリント人への手紙Ⅱ 11:23-28

But Paul also said,

“I am greatly encouraged; in all our troubles my joy knows no bounds.”
2 Corinthians 7:4

コリント人への手紙Ⅱ 7:4

In fact Paul talks about the incredible joy he has in the Lord literally dozens of times throughout his letters because of the presence of the Holy Spirit in his life, and because of the thrill of Christian fellowship. Peter and the other apostles said the same thing.

The examples of the apostles are extreme but they illustrate the truth that a life blessed by God and filled with joys will not be free of trouble. I want us to be prepared for the Christian life – for both its hardships and its glory – and Advent is a good time for us to do this. If you think the Christian life is all about hardships, then you’re missing the big picture and you need to experience the joy of God’s Kingdom in your life today.

If you think the Christian life is all about good times and smiles, then you’re naive and you need to understand what true blessing looks like.

This Advent, how do we set our hearts right to live a life of favour and blessing?

  1. Repent.

No-one explains this better than the prophet Isaiah:

Wake up and get your heart ready for the coming of the Lord Jehovah. Every twisted thing in your lives must be made straight. Every dark way must be brought to the light. Wrongs righted. Injustices removed. Every heart of pride will be humbled low before him. Every deception will be exposed and replaced by the truth so that everyone everywhere will be ready to see the Life of God!”
Luke 3:4-6 (TPT)

ルカの福音書 3:4-6

  1. Submit.

No-one demonstrated this better than Mary. She was a smart girl. She would have known when the angel spoke to her that she was facing a life of ridicule and shame. But she said,

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.
Luke 1:38

ルカの福音書 1:38

  1. Receive.

This is what the disciples did on the day of Pentecost. They waited until they received the Holy Spirit because they knew (because God had told them) that they couldn’t live the Christian life in their own strength. They had to be clothed with power from on high. And they knew that the joy of the Lord would be their strength.

  1. Persevere.

Jesus’ Parable of the Sower, and His seven letters to the churches in the book of Revelation emphasise this. Don’t give up when hardship comes your way. Hold on to what you have. Cling to the promises. Don’t give up coming to church. Don’t be discouraged by what others say, or by the weight of your own sin. Overcome the sin. Walk in obedience. The righteous live by faith.

  1. Rejoice.

Always. God is too good, His plans are too wonderful and His love is too great to not rejoice. We have been saved by the blood of Jesus. We have received His Holy Spirit. We have the revelation of His Word. We have the hope of eternal life. Give thanks in all circumstances.