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"X" Marks the Spot(?)

Luke 2:40-52

Pastor Jason Zirbel

Second Sunday after Christmas, series A
Grace Lutheran Church  
Greenwood, AR

View Associated File

Sun, Jan 5, 2014 

The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.

Isn’t it nice when a plan comes together; when everyone’s ideas intersect and meet and agree?  It’s such a great feeling to be able to point to something and say, “You want to know what success looks like?  You want to know what teamwork looks like?  You want to know what being blessed by God looks like?  Look no further than right here.  ‘X’ marks the spot.  This is where everything comes to together.”

It is this same “X marks the spot” reality that kept coming to mind as I read over Luke’s report of the formative years of Jesus.  “And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.” Apparently, God and man both saw Jesus the same way in those early years.  There wasn’t a difference of opinion.  The favor of God neatly intersected with the favor of man as far as anyone was concerned.  Here was a healthy young boy who was bright, intelligent, well-mannered, and faithful.  You want to know what the ideal child looked like?  “X” marks the spot.  Look no further than the intersection of God’s favor and man’s favor—the boy Jesus. 

“Okay…so what’s the problem?” The problem is the fact that man’s notion of favor really wasn’t the same as God’s.  It never has been and it never will be.  Fallen and sinful man looks to the things of this world as a measuring stick.  We look to health, wealth, fame, beauty, and intellect as benchmarks for favor.  Maybe you don’t want to confess your sinful shallowness, but your lack of confession doesn’t make the sinful reality somehow untrue.  Like it or not, certain people find favor with us over others, and for all the wrong, sinful reasons. 

Let me ask you: Why did the boy Jesus find favor with God?  Was it because of His healthy stature and intellect or was it because of His faithfulness?  The answer is quite clear when you couch it in those terms, right?  God’s favor rested on Jesus because of His faithfulness.  God’s favor had nothing to do with Jesus’ good looks or wit or charm or station in life.  In this way, you can think of God’s favor and man’s favor not as an “X marks the spot,” but as a blessed dual-reality.  At that particular time in Jesus’ life, man’s notion of favor with Him ran parallel to God’s favor with Him.  However, we must be very careful to ensure that we don’t confuse the two different perspectives and plot some sort of intersection that God never intended.

So what does that mean?  God’s favor and man’s favor were parallel?  Well…think about it in terms of the world you live in, work in, and play in.  There are many people in this world today who seem to have it all.  Has God blessed them in their abundance?  Yes, actually He has!  Does that mean that they have found favor in His eyes?  Not necessarily!  Remember: God causes the rain to fall upon the righteous as well as the unrighteous.  There are plenty of foul unbelievers in this world who have been blessed with the best that all this world has to offer.  In man’s eyes they are truly favored.  However, without faith, these people, as great and smart and beautiful and wealthy as they may be, are outside of salvation, and thus, outside of God’s good favor. 

Conversely, there are plenty of very faithful people in this world who seem to have gotten every raw deal and bad hand dealt to them that life could dish out.  However, in the midst of all that pain and suffering, is a vibrant, living faith in Christ Jesus.  God looks on this person and calls them favored.  The rest of the world sees them as cursed or bad luck or forsaken, but God calls them holy and precious in His sight.  This is where the angel’s Christmas pronouncement to the shepherds keeping watch over their flocks intersects with humanity and begins to make sense.  “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace upon whom His favor rests.” Think about that for a moment.  There is peace—true peace which surpasses all human understanding—for those on whom God’s favor rests.  That peace is only understood in faithfulness.  God’s favor rests upon those who have faith; those who know the peace that surpasses all understanding; the peace that is known only in Christ Jesus. 

Now…before we go too far here, there is something very important that needs to be cleared up.  God’s favor doesn’t rest upon you because you first have faith.  It’s not a big game of “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours,” as if God shows you favor because of your faith.  It doesn’t work that way.  That would be like saying God shows you favor because you have peace.  That doesn’t work, does it?  You have peace because God has shown you favor.  You have faith because of God’s unconditional grace and favor towards you.  Because of God’s free and unmerited gift of saving faith, you can believe what the rest of the world calls scandalous and foolish.  You can know and trust that what God says in His Holy Scriptures is absolutely true and absolutely meant for you and for all mankind.  All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.  The wage of all sin—everyone’s wage, regardless of age, race, social status, health status, wealth, intellect, or anything else—is death—temporal and eternal.  However, God loved the whole world so much that He gave His one and only Son, Jesus, to be an all-redeeming sacrifice for the sins of the entire world.  In Jesus Christ, the wage of sin—the entire wage—has been paid in full.  It is finished, once for all.

Folks: That’s where the true “X marks the spot” takes place between God and man.  It takes place in Christ.  Holy, perfect, and almighty God Himself gave up all of heaven in order to come down to this fallen and sinful world and take on our fallen and sinful flesh.  However, Christ—in the flesh—did what fallen and sinful man can never do, no matter how hard we try.  Christ Jesus lived the perfect life.  He kept every one of God’s laws perfectly.  He did this for us, in our place, precisely because we cannot do this—not ever.  On top of that, Christ Jesus took every single sin of the entire world upon Himself, taking every single one of those sins to the cross so that they would be put to death, once and for all. 

Look at that cross!  You want to see what God’s wrath and, at the same time, God’s love looks like?  “X” marks the spot!  You want to see where man’s sin and God’s holy justice, grace, and mercy all intersect?  The cross marks the spot!  This cross is where you are saved.  This cross is where all men are saved.  “X” marks the spot of God’s love, grace, and favor.  You can see this love, grace, and favor intersecting with us this very day.  Look no further than that little bit of bread and wine you will receive in just a few minutes.  In, with, and under these humble elements almighty God mercifully intersects and interacts with us.  He brings all the victory of the cross to us in this humble meal.  “Take and eat.  This is My body.  This is My blood.  Given and shed for you for the complete forgiveness of all your sin.”

Sadly, it is these very realities that are so often despised, forsaken, and forgotten because they doesn’t match up with our notions of favor, wisdom, success, or peace.  It is this same cross that people so often try to avoid and instead set parallel courses to in life, assuming that the parallel course is just as good, if not better.  After all, if you can get to the same ending point without having to intersect with all that pain and suffering, isn’t that better?  In man’s eyes it is!  “No one comes to the Father except through me.” It doesn’t get any clearer than that, does it?  No one comes to the Father without intersecting with Christ.  No one comes to the Father without going through the intersection of the cross of Christ.  There are no parallel alternatives.  There is one way—one very narrow, straight way: the way of Christ Jesus and His cross.

May God grant you in this new year the peace that comes with simply trusting with a child-like faith; trusting whole-heartedly that His favor rests upon you because of the all-atoning work and person of Jesus Christ alone.  May this blessed reality intersect with all that you say, think, and do, this day and every day until your heavenly Father calls you home to heaven to live with Him in an eternal peace that truly surpasses all human understanding.


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