Joining in the Esteem of Heaven

(ROCKWALL/HEATH, TX – Dec. 16, 2018) I fancied myself an actress after starring in my eighth grade play, but high school became more competitive. A girl named Mary received the lead role in our spring production while I accepted the part of collecting admission tickets for the event.

When Mary graduated and left Arkansas to pursue an acting career in New York City, I was skeptical. After all, her accent was even stronger than mine. And was she really that good?  The answer repeated itself over the years as Mary Steenburgen starred in one big-screen movie after another. I realized she was truly talented—especially when she won an Academy Award.

Another girl named Mary hailed from the humble town of Nazareth in Galilee. If not highly esteemed by her peers, she had heavenly admirers. An angel informed her: “You have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son. . . Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. . . His kingdom will never end” (Luke 1:26-33*).

The book of Isaiah had supplied God’s people with a description of what to look for in the coming Messiah. The prophet said he would grow up “like a root out of dry ground. . . no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him (Isaiah 53:2, 3).

In Bethlehem, while angels and shepherds worshipped the child born in a stable, descendants of David slept in warm beds at nearby inns. A Roman decree had brought travelers to register for a census (Luke 2:1-20). Many people fulfilled their duty but missed their opportunity to witness the advent of the One who would divide the old world from the new—Before Christ and after.

The people of Nazareth—forgetting Isaiah’s words—also missed out. After Jesus began his ministry and returned to teach in his hometown, they were amazed, but not for the right reason. “Isn’t his mother’s name Mary?” “Where then did this man get all these things?” Perhaps resenting Jesus’s favor with God, “they took offense” and missed whatever blessings may have come to them. Jesus “did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith” (Matthew 13:53-58).

The Pharisees missed out too when they criticized Jesus for healing the sick on the Sabbath day (Matthew 12:1-14). Instead of esteeming the letter of the law above the Lawgiver, they might have fetched a sick friend or their own family members who needed the Lord’s touch.

While the people of the Savior’s day looked to find fault with him, our modern society does no better, accepting Christ only on its own terms. Baby Jesus in the manger still appeals to many, at least during the holiday season. And the teachings of Jesus continue to provide popular maxims for those who adapt and paraphrase his words without giving credit to the source.

However, Jesus as Lord requires more than mild acceptance or selective admiration: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). And he commends those who do not reject his claims: “Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me,” (Matthew 11:6).

His followers may lose favor in some circles. We’ll be tolerated by those who nod but do not bow to God. We’ll be dismissed as narrow-minded by those who reject Christ. Yet we will be blessed—favored—by God.

*Scriptures from the New International Version

By Patti Richter. Patti writes and edits Christian faith articles and has co-authored Signs of His Presence: Experiencing God’s Comfort in Times of Suffering (available March 2019). Read more of her essays at

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