Increasing in Favor with God and Man
A Sermon Preached by Rev. S. Randall Toms, Ph. D.
On January 10, 2010
At St. Paul’s Reformed Episcopal Church, Baton Rouge, LA
And when he was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem after the custom of the feast. And when they had fulfilled the days, as they returned, the child Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem; and Joseph and his mother knew not of it. But they, supposing him to have been in the company, went a day’s journey; and they sought him among their kinsfolk and acquaintance. And when they found him not, they turned back again to Jerusalem, seeking him. And it came to pass, that after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions. And all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers. And when they saw him, they were amazed: and his mother said unto him, Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing. And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business? And they understood not the saying which he spake unto them. And he went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them: but his mother kept all these sayings in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man. (Luke 2:42-52)
This week we have been celebrating Epiphany. I remind you that the word for “epiphany” means “to appear,” or “to manifest.” During this Epiphany season we celebrate the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ. When our Lord appeared, he manifested himself with many different characteristics and attributes. But let us go back today to his childhood and let us look at how he appeared to others. When he made himself known in the form of a child, how did he appear?
One of the great mysteries of our faith is how our Lord Jesus Christ could be both fully God and fully man. We confess in our Nicene Creed that we believe that Jesus Christ is very God of very God, being of one substance with the Father. At this time of year when we think of the birth and childhood of our Lord, that mystery comes to the forefront of our minds. How could that little baby lying in a manger in Bethlehem be the eternal God? How could the twelve year old child that we just read about be of one substance with the Father? When we read this description of him, it doesn’t seem as though he is being described at the eternal deity: “Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.” If he is God, how could he increase in wisdom? If he is God, then he has all the perfect wisdom of the omniscient God? If he is God, how can he grow in favor with God? When we read such descriptions of our Lord Jesus Christ, we must remember that he was fully man, and as a man, he increased in wisdom the same way that any other person would increase in wisdom. He had to read the Scriptures, study hard, and listen to the lessons that his mother and father taught him. We often think that God could have chosen just any parents for our Lord Jesus Christ, and it wouldn’t have made any difference. I don’t believe that for a moment. There was a reason that God chose Mary and Joseph to be the parents of his son. God knew that they were righteous and that they would be the kind of parents who would enable Jesus to increase in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man. God said of Abraham, “For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment” (Gen. 18:19). If God knew that Abraham would be a godly parent, he certainly knew that Mary and Joseph would command his son and teach him to keep the way of the Lord. Thus, we find in this passage that our Lord was subject to Mary and Joseph. He was submissive to them, for they were teaching him the ways of the Lord in order that he might increase in wisdom. This truth does not detract from his deity. Rather, it points out to us his humanity. A very similar expression was used of John the Baptist in Luke 1:80, “And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his shewing unto Israel.” Jesus was just as human, just as much man, as John the Baptist, and like John the Baptist, had to grow physically, emotionally, and intellectually. As a matter of fact, this description of John is almost the same description of the child Jesus in Luke 2:40: “And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him.” Luke 2:25 is almost word for word a quotation of I Samuel 2:26, where Samuel’s childhood is described in this way: “And the child Samuel grew on, and was in favour both with the Lord, and also with men.” It is obvious that Jesus is being compared to Samuel, a child who grew up before the Lord, and like Samuel was in favour with God and men. Just as he grew physically, as any man would have to grow, he had to develop mentally by diligent application, study, and meditation. We are told that as he did so, he increased in favor with God and man, so much so, that at his baptism, the heavens open and we hear the voice of his Father saying, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” The Father looked back over the course of the life of his son, the way he had been living for the past 30 years, seeing how he had applied himself to study, love, good works, submission to parental authority, and he was well pleased.
Nevertheless, this phrase, that Jesus increased in favor with God and man is a rather puzzling one. How can one increase in favor with God? If Jesus could increase in favor with God, is it possible that we can increase in favor with God? When the Scripture says that Jesus increased in favor with God, does that mean that there were stages in Jesus’ life where God was displeased and that he gradually gained God’s approval. Of course not!nn Jesus was without sin and was always the beloved son of his father in whom he was well pleased. This phrase means that as the Father watched his Son grow and mature, he was pleased with every step of his development and progress. The word that is translated here as “increase” mean “to advance,” or “to make progress.” We know what this is like in our dealings with our own children. When a child is in the first grade and he learns that 4 + 4=8, we don’t stand there and say, “Well, I’m not pleased because you aren’t able to do multi-dimensional calculus.” No, we are pleased with all the progress they make at each step along the way, and our delight increases day by day, not that we have been finding fault before, but rather because each attainment of grace and knowledge along the way fills us more and more with pleasure. The word that is translated here as “favor” is the word that is most often translated as “grace.” In contexts such as these, it means “that which causes joy, pleasure, or delight.” To increase in favor means to increase in those characteristics that evoke feelings of pleasure, delight, and joy. When we read that Jesus increased in favor with God, it merely means that he increasingly matured and developed those characteristics that are pleasing to behold. In that same way, we can increase in favor with God. That statement may seem like a contradiction to the teaching about God’s grace. After all, grace is God’s unmerited favor. Since we did nothing to gain God’s favor, how can we increase in the favor of God? We can increase in favor with God in same way that Jesus did. We can grow and mature in the Christian faith, and as we do so, God takes pleasure in every step of our progress along the way. Peter ends his second epistle by saying, “But grow in the grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (II Cor. 3:18). Just as our Lord grew in grace and knowledge, we are called upon to grow in grace and knowledge, and when we do so, God is well pleased. Paul told the Colossians, “For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Col. 1:9-10).
Just as Jesus increased in favor with God, he grew in his social skills. Because of the way our Lord’s life ended, I think that sometimes we beleive that Jesus was always in conflict with everyone. We think that he must have always been in arguments with people and that people were always persecuting him. But Jesus is not always portrayed as someone who inspired anger and persecution. In our text for today we seen the learned men of the age being mesmerized by the intellectual and spiritual brilliance of this child. Then, during the course of his ministry, we find these descriptions of Jesus that the common people heard him gladly. Tax collectors and sinner gathered around him. Now, he wouldn’t back down when the truth was involved. He wouldn’t hesitate to condemn that which was sinful, and that trait angered many people. We often get the impression that is the duty of the Christian to be as obnoxious as possible, especially with the people of the world. Sometimes, Christianity attracts proud haughty people because they think that Christianity gives them a good excuse to be arrogant and spiteful, ready to corner those who provoke us. We always have the porcupine quills stuck out ready to launch an attack. C. S. Lewis once wrote: “I think we must fully face the fact that when Christianity does not make a man very much better, it makes him very much worse…Conversion may make of one who was, if no better, no worse than an animal, something like a devil.” Unfortunately, I find that to be the case most of the time. Christianity does not make people better—it makes them worse, and here is one of the ways it makes them worse. They have the mistaken impression that being a Christian gives them a license to rude, hateful, unforgiving, and caustic. But that is not the approach of the Christian at all. As Paul says, “If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men” (Romans 12:18). Paul even said that one of the qualifications for a bishop was that he have a good report from those who are without (I Tim. 3:7). In other words, even people outside the Church should have a good opinion of the man of God. Believe it or not, is possible for Christians to be respected by people in the world. This word for “favor” is the same word used to describe Joseph in Acts 7:10: “And delivered him out of all his afflictions, and gave him favour and wisdom in the sight of Pharaoh king of Egypt; and he made him governor over Egypt and all his house.” It is no sin if pagans respect you.
The Church itself, like Christ, should grow in favor with God and man. We see the Church described in that way in the book of Acts. Notice how the Church is described in Acts 2:46-47—“And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.” Notice how the Church had favor with all the people, not just those inside the Church. Of course, the religious authorities in Jerusalem did persecute them, but by and large, the people looked upon the Church favorably. In Acts 5:12-13, we read, “And by the hands of the apostles were many signs and wonders wrought among the people; (and they were all with one accord in Solomon’s porch. And of the rest durst no man join himself to them: but the people magnified them.” Yes, those in power and authority were jealous and wanted to stop this fledgling movement, but, on the whole, the people praised them for all the good that they were doing. Luke loves to make these kinds of summary statements both in his gospel and the book of Acts. Just as he like to describe how Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man, he likes to describe the Church as growing numerically, and in favor with God and man. Since the Church is the body of Christ here on earth, we shouldn’t be surprised to find that it grows just as our Lord Jesus Christ grew. Certainly, our stand on certain issues makes us unpopular with some people . But let it be the stand that we take, not the way we take that stand that causes the opposition. This word for “favor” is used in Col. 4:6, where Paul writes, “Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man.” One of the ways we offend people and turn people off is by the way we talk. Sometimes it is not so much what we say that offends others—it is the way we say it. Therefore, our speech should be with grace, spoken in a way that causes joy or delight. We must never give the impression of being haughty, arrogant, proud. We must never have the holier-than-thou attitude that gives people the impression that we believe that we are so superior to them. We must never give people the impression that we think that we are too holy to associate with certain people because of their lifestyles or their views on social, political, and moral issues that we find objectionable. Like Jesus, we must be separate from sinners, but at the same time, the friends of sinners.
In order to be the friend of sinners, we need a good set of social skills, and we need to be taught those skills, learn those skills, and teach those skills to our children. In other words, there is nothing wrong with learning how to win friends and influence people. The problem is that sometimes, we make winning friends the goal of our lives rather than living a righteous and holy life. Actually, the correct approach is to live a life of obedience to God, and the by-product of that kind of life will be to grow in favor with men. Just by living in obedience to the Ten Commandments is a good way of growing in favor with men. If we love our neighbors as ourselves by doing them no physical harm, by refraining from committing adultery, by refusing to steal his goods, by speaking no evil about him, by not coveting what is his, then we have a good start in growing in favor with men. Then, think of how our Lord taught us to live. He taught us that we should be meek, merciful, forgiving, charitable, generous, and peacemakers. Such people have a tendency to grow in favor with man. We are told that the fruit of the spirit is longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, and self-control. People who display those characteristics usually grow in favor with men. Our Lord taught us to be kind, and above all, he taught us to love as he loved us. Though there are people in the world who are so evil that they actually hate these attributes, these characteristics generally have a tendency to cause us to grow in favor in with others.
We need to rediscover the old attribute of being a Christian gentleman, a Christian lady–someone who is cultured, refined, dignified, disciplined, marked by self-control over their behavior, conduct, speech; men and women who can be civil even when they are attacked or disagreed with. I would put in that category such men as G. K. Chesterton, who was very dogmatic in his Christian beliefs, but he maintained very warm friendships with men like George Bernard Shaw and H. G. Wells. As you know, both George Bernard Shaw and H. G. Wells were stern critics of the Church and Christianity, yet Chesterton knew how to be friends with such people. He found favor in the eyes of men even like Shaw and Wells who disagreed with him about his most cherished beliefs. Chesterton is a good example of a man who knew how to grow in favor with God and man. Sometimes we look upon Jesus only as a person who attracted the hatred of the world. We also need to remember him as the one who grew in favor with God and man.
This passage should also be a challenge to parents to bring their children up in a well-rounded manner. Jesus grew up in a home where he was encouraged to grow physically, mentally, spiritually, and socially. He increased in stature. Although Jesus wasn’t enrolled in a weightlifting program or the Little League, we have to remember that he did grow up the son of a carpenter. He was no doubt a very robust, healthy man. I grew up around men who were carpenters, roofer, and mechanics. I always observed how strong they were, and how the muscles in their arms bulged. Take a look at some of the men who roof houses and you get an idea I think of how Jesus may have looked physically. Very often, we want our children to grow spiritually or intellectually, and we think that physical activity is unimportant. Teddy Roosevelt’s father taught him that taking care of the body was of primary importance because the mental pursuits would suffer without a healthy body. Jesus was strong both in body and spirit, and Christian parents do well to teach their children to be physically fit.
Jesus, of course, was obviously taught the Scriptures and taken to the synagogue regularly. He was the kind of boy who, though physically active, paid attention to his parents, his teachers, his rabbi, and had the wisdom to know how to put it all together. His parables illustrate how he could take the ordinary events of every day life–farming, cleaning a house, building a house,–and draw spiritual lessons from them. That is the mark of wisdom. There is a scene in the film Jesus of Nazareth where Joseph is showing his children how to measure things, and he reminds them of how God’s law is our rule to keep us straight. I have no doubt that Joseph probably did teach Jesus how to draw spiritual analogies from the everyday world and that Jesus’ ability to do so was developed by a mother and father who taught him how to do that.
Jesus knew how to deal with people. When you go through the gospels you see the wisdom of Jesus and the friendliness of Jesus. He was a friend of tax collectors and sinners, the people that the religious leaders would have nothing to do with. Though Jesus knew the Scriptures and had great wisdom, he was not an ivory tower theologian who didn’t know how to get along with people. It has often been said that Jesus was the most popular dinner guest in Judea. Have you ever noticed how often his teaching is over a meal where he has been invited to attend? Sinners invited him to dinner, and even Pharisees who disagreed with him invited him for meals. There is no doubt that Jesus had great social skills that endeared him to many people. These skills were developed in him at home by his parents, because we are told here that he grows up in favor with God and man. The Christian should learn to grow in favor with God and man, teach these skills to others, especially our children.
In the old Jimmy Stewart film, Harvey, Stewart, playing Elwood P. Dowd says, “Years ago my mother used to say to me, she’d say, ‘In this world, Elwood, you must be’ – she always called me Elwood – ‘In this world, Elwood, you must be oh so smart or oh so pleasant.’ Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant. You may quote me.” Like Elwood Dowd, I also vote for “pleasant.” But our Lord Jesus was both wise and pleasant. It is no sin if people like you. As a matter of fact, when our Lord appeared in this world, he grew in favor with God and man. Amen.