God Plays Favorites

In all of God’s creation, which being has been made in His image? Which of His creatures stares in awe at a sunset, laughs at his own jokes, cries while reading a sad story, or suffers from a guilty conscience? To what creature has He given an eternal soul?

When God’s Son came to earth, did He choose to appear as some magnificent animal or other-world super power? No, He came as a small baby placed in a feed trough. He chose to be a human, one of us.

In Psalm 8, David praises God’s majesty, considers the majesty of his heavens, and wonders at the place of honor He has given man.

“What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet: all flocks and herds, and the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, all that swim the paths of the sea.” Psalm 8:4-8

Even before creation, God knew that, having received the gift of free will, we would sin and thereby sever our relationship with Him (Isaiah 59:1-2). He devised a plan to bring us back to Him: He sent part of the Godhead to live without sin among us, becoming a suitable sin offering for us. In the eloquent words of the apostle Paul:

“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.” Ephesians 1:7-8

We are God’s favorite creation. Yet within our number, as Peter preached, “God shows no partiality. But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him.” Acts 10:34-35 [Emphasis mine.]

And again,

“For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.” Titus 2:11-15

God wants us all to appreciate and to glorify Him, to accept the honor of being His favorite. In turn, He wants us to place Him before all others. He seeks to be our favorite. (Matthew 22:37)

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Jesus Still Defends Us

Two incidents in Luke 5 illustrate not only Satan’s tactics but the way Jesus speaks up for His disciples.

The chapter begins with Jesus calling Peter, James, and John out of their vocations into his mission: to seek and save the lost (Luke 5:1-11; Luke 19:10).

Next, Luke records the healing of a man with leprosy and a paralytic and the calling of Levi the tax collector to follow Him.

This is when the Pharisees come in. And this is when they begin to attack Jesus, not directly, but through His disciples.

When they see Jesus and the disciples eating at a great banquet hosted by Levi, they come not to Jesus but to the disciples, grumbling, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and ‘sinners’? (v. 30) The Greek word for “grumbling” here means “to murmur, mutter, say anything against in a low tone,” indicating they mean their words for the disciples’ ears only .

Why complain to Jesus’ disciples? Because the Pharisees have seen Jesus’ power and don’t want to confront Him? Because the new disciples have little experience with being challenged?

Whatever the reason, Jesus answers the challenge: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”

The Pharisees direct their next criticism directly to Jesus about His disciples: “The disciples of John often fast and offer prayers, the disciples of the Pharisees also do the same, but Yours eat and drink.” 5:33

Again, Jesus defends their actions. “Can you make the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; in those days they will fast.”

Two observations here: 1) The opponents of Christ attack Him through His disciples; 2) Jesus is aware of what is happening and steps in to defend His followers.

Is it any different today? When opponents of God attack His followers for alleged ignorance, for our unwillingness to follow society’s lead, for our stances on moral issues, we must ask ourselves: Is their problem with us, or with God?

First, we must be sure that we are indeed pursuing God’s cause and not our own political ambitions. If it is for God we live, then Paul in his eloquence gives us confidence.

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us?

…Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns?

Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. (Romans 8:31-34)

Satan is still attacking vulnerable disciples through criticism. And when he does, we tend to take it personally.

If we know His Word, Jesus is still in us and will defend us – much like He defended Himself from Satan’s temptations by reciting Old Testament Scripture (Luke 4:1-13).

As long as the Word of Christ is part of us, as long as we have access to Him through prayer, He will continue to answer on our behalf and protect us from evil. (Matthew 6:13).

“…the disciple whom Jesus loved…”

Although he was one of the characters in the book he wrote, he never mentioned himself by name. It is generally understood, however, that “the disciple whom Jesus loved” in the Gospel of John was the apostle himself.

In referring to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” was John saying that Jesus loved him more than the others? He certainly held a special place among the disciples. He was the one reclining next to Jesus at what we know as the Last Supper. As he was dying on the cross, Jesus entrusted his mother into John’s care. After the resurrection, John was the first apostle to look into the empty tomb. Then he was the first disciple on the fishing boat to recognize the risen Lord on the shore. At the end of his gospel, John identified himself not only as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” but as the one “who testifies to these things and wrote them down.” (John 13.23; 19.26, 27; 20.2; 21.7; 21.20, 24)

As I read the gospel of John, I don’t believe John saw himself as a favorite of Jesus. I believe John saw himself as special not because Jesus loved him best, but because Jesus loved him at all. He had been one of the “Sons of Thunder” who asked Jesus to destroy an unresponsive village. He and his brother James had had the audacity to ask for a special place in Jesus’ kingdom. But through his faith in Jesus, he later became “the elder” writing to his own disciples and the one who was chosen to pen Jesus’ last words in the book of Revelation. (Mark 3.17; Luke 9.54; 3 John 1; Revelation 1.1)

When John wrote that he was loved, he was expressing a gratitude for the special love that Jesus has for every one of his disciples, a tender spot in his heart for each one of his children. I am that disciple “whom Jesus loves.” And if you follow Jesus, then you can say with the same eternal gratitude and joy that John had that you are also that disciple “whom Jesus loves.”

“Show us the Father”

It wasn’t enough that Philip had been chosen by Jesus to walk with him during his ministry, witness his miracles, watch him heal and care and serve. Philip wanted to see God the Father for himself.

Jesus had just told his disciples that he would soon have to leave them to go back to his Father. He was going ahead to prepare rooms for them in his Father’s house. He told them there was only one way to that house — Jesus himself.

“No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”

Then Philip makes a request: “Lord, show us the Father, and it is sufficient for us.”

You can almost hear the frustration in Jesus’ voice in his reply,

“Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” (John 14:8, 9)

Philip was like so many of us at times — we would really like to see God for ourselves — up close. We want him to show himself. But God has shown himself — in the person of His only Son. If we want to see the Father in the flesh, all we have to do is open our Bibles to the first four books of the New Testament.

There you see God’s compassion as he heals the sick, gathers the children to him and mourns for the city that will soon crucify him. You see his power as he calms a raging storm, opens the eyes of the blind and raises a young girl from her deathbed. You see his wisdom as he instructs the simple and confounds the scholar. You see him face temptation without sin, cruelty without revenge and rejection without depression.

You see him wrongfully accused, humiliated, tortured, and crucified. You see him rise from the dead and ascend back to heaven.

You realize you have seen God in the flesh.

And that is sufficient.