David Jeremiah - God's Gift of Love
I read about this lady who had, quote-unquote, "some friends," and she knew she should do something for them for Christmas, but she didn't want to spend any money. She didn't want to buy them a gift. She wasn't truly too sure she wanted to give them a Christmas card, but at the last minute, she decided she probably should send them a card. So, she waited till the last minute, hurriedly went to Hallmark's, and there she found some cards that were on a close-out sale. The cards had pretty gold trimming on them, and they were just what she was looking for. The message on the front was generic, general, just what she wanted to say, "A gift from my heart to yours". So she bought a couple of boxes of these cards, and frantically addressed them to all of her friends, sighed a sigh of relief. This frustrating business of Christmas for her was over.
Well, a little bit later that week, she had a couple of cards left over, and she decided to open one and see what was printed on the inside. And to her horror, she opened the card, and this is what she read, "This Christmas card is just to say a little gift is on its way". And it served her right for not reading the card before she sent it. Sending cards and giving gifts are at the heart of the way Christmas is celebrated. Christianity itself is all about receiving and giving gifts. God is full of grace. He always is bestowing gifts. Jesus is a gift, all wrapped up in swaddling clothes. Salvation is not something we have to earn or deserve, it's a gift, all wrapped up in the empty grave clothes of Jesus Christ. And the Christian life in the world is also about God's gifts.
The Bible teaches us that children are a gift from the Lord. Our families are gifts from God. Our vocations are God's gifts. And Christmas is a season when we think about gifts. In fact, as we know, at Christmastime, giving is catapulted into a national festival of such proportions that major corporations rise and fall on the basis of Christmas giving habits of the American people. I always take great interest in that. And every year, I take a few moments, and do a little research to find out how we're doing with all of this.
Did you know that the day after Thanksgiving, known as Black Friday? I'm sure you know it's Black Friday because that's the day merchants hope that their ledgers go from red to black ink: 151 million shoppers spent $10.4 billion at retail stores on Black Friday. And, of course, in recent years, there's another super event called Cyber Monday. The term, which refers to the first Monday after Black Friday, made its debut in 2005, and refers to one of the biggest online shopping days of the year. Americans took advantage of Cyber Monday and spent $3 billion without ever leaving their home, and by just clicking a button. And more than anything else that's advanced into the whole buying tradition and the changes is that $800 million of that $3 billion was ordered on an iPhone or an iPad. That's what's going on.
Christmas has changed in how we do it, but at the core of it is still this whole business of giving. And really, the meaning of Christmas, if you take it back to its origination, is about giving. It finds its roots in the greatest gift that has ever been given by anyone to anyone. Ephesians 2:8 says, "For by grace are you saved through faith; and not of yourselves: it is the gift of God". Romans 6:23 says, "The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life". At the end of one of his great chapters in the Corinthian letters, Paul cried out, "Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift"! speaking of Jesus Christ.
So, Christmas is a time we give based upon the fact that the ultimate gift was given, and it started this whole party over 2,000 years ago. There are some things that are traditionally the same about the first giving and our current giving. I'd like to suggest to you, first of all, the anticipating of the gift of Christmas. Every single child knows what it means to anticipate Christmas. We all have our traditions and our favorite stories. Their little minds wander and dream about what waits for them under the tree. They hardly sleep on Christmas Eve. And then the actual opening of the present, it's almost anticlimactic. It seems like the real fun for children is more in looking forward to Christmas even than experiencing it.
Anticipating the excitement of Christmas is not new. The first Christmas, when the greatest gift of all was given, was marked by an anticipation that stretched over the centuries. In fact, the anticipation for the first Christmas began in the days after Adam and Eve had sinned against God. Their hope must have been sustained by anticipating the day they would see the fulfillment of these words that God had spoken to the serpent. He said, "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel".
That is the first little glimpse of the gospel you find in all of the Bible. It's called the protoevangelium because it's the first evangelical message. And from Genesis chapter 3, verse 15, all the way through to Luke chapter 2, we have a long line of anticipating the fulfillment of Genesis 3:15. It starts with the priests in the Old Testament, who spoke of the coming of the Messiah who would deliver God's people. But it was the prophets who primarily kept the fires of anticipation alive. For instance, Isaiah made a prophecy in the 7th chapter of his writing that there was going to be a woman who would bear a son, and that son would be born in a special way, without a man, that she would be a virgin when this son was born, and this virgin-born son would be the Christ, or the Messiah.
Jeremiah the prophet added this dimension, that this particular birth would be accompanied by the slaughter of children. Who could have possibly comprehended what Jeremiah was talking about so many years before the first Christmas? But you and I know that that exactly happened. Herod had the children killed because he was afraid that someone was going to be born who would rival his authority and leadership. And then Micah similarly made a prophecy that a ruler would be born in a small and insignificant village in northern Israel. We know it now as Bethlehem, but when Micah made that prophecy, Bethlehem didn't even exist. The Scripture says that it was the least among all the nations, and of course, we know that in Bethlehem, Jesus Christ was born. Go back through the Old Testament, and if you study hard, you can find over 300 separate prophecies concerning Christmas and the first coming of Christ.
And then you come to the pages of the New Testament, and the anticipation continues. The angel came to Mary and to Joseph to announce to them that they were to be the parents of a child. And this child would be born of the Holy Spirit. And for 9 months, Joseph and Mary awaited with anticipation the birth of that little boy. Meanwhile, over in Jerusalem, an old man and an old woman had been waiting for the gift of Christmas for a much longer time. Simeon was promised that he would not die before he witnessed the first Christmas. And the prophetess Anna had looked forward to the coming of Christ for some 80 years. You see, all through the Bible, from Genesis 3 all the way through to the coming of Christ at Bethlehem, there was this spirit of looking forward to and anticipating. Something's going to happen, a Messiah is going to be born, someone who will take the burden away from us, and redeem us, and give us hope.
Anticipation means to expect or look ahead to something with pleasure, or to look forward to something with excitement or joy. Aren't those wonderful ways to describe the experience of Christmas, both that first Christmas and the Christmas that we will celebrate in just a few days? Anticipating the gift. But once the gift is anticipated, then you have to appreciate it. And I want to talk with you for a few moments about appreciating the gift of Christmas, the gift of love. The Bible says, "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever would believe in him would not perish but have life everlasting". We often sail through that verse, and don't stop to think about what it's teaching us.
The Scripture says that Jesus Christ is God's only begotten Son. "Only begotten" is a term that means unique, one of a kind, the only one there is. The Bible says that God gave his unique, one of a kind, the only one there is Son to be our special gift, and we celebrate that at Christmastime. And that is true because the Bible says it's true. And if we understand what is behind this truth, what we know is that Almighty God didn't just give us a gift, he gave us the gift. He gave us the most precious gift that has ever been given by anyone to anyone. He gave us his own, only begotten, unique, one of a kind, nobody else like him ever, he gave us his Son. And in giving us his Son, he gave us himself.
Do we ever stop during the Christmas season, with all of the giving and receiving that we do, and appreciate the gift that most of us in this room have received, the gift of the Lord Jesus Christ, God's unique, only one Son? 1 John 4:9 says, "In this was the love of God manifested toward us, that God has sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him". The Bible says that God's love was shown to us in this, that he sent his one of a kind, only begotten Son into the world, that you and I might have everlasting life. Almighty God, descending to the needs of man, that man might know forgiveness.
I read a story in preparation for this message of a pastor who was driving in Kansas in the years past. And as he was driving, he passed a station wagon that had luggage tied on the top of it. As he was nearing the station wagon, one of the pieces of luggage fell off, and he stopped to pick it up. But by the time he had gathered up the luggage, the car that had carried it had already passed out of sight, and he wasn't able to track it and catch up with it. He took the suitcase home, and opened it, hoping to find a clue as to who it might belong. But the only thing in the suitcase that had any markings on it was a little white box with old rubber bands around it, and inside that little box was a $20 gold piece between two layers of cotton. On one side of the gold piece were the words, "Twenty years of loyal faithful service". And on the other side, it read, "Presented to Otis Sampson by Northwestern States Portland Cement Company".
Well, the preacher who had found it, a deep desire to help the person who lost this gold piece to recover it, decided that he would track it down, and he wrote letters to 75 cities in the northwest, seeking to find out who this particular person might be. Finally, he got a letter back, and the letter said that Sampson had formerly been employed, but had recently retired, and he was given his address. The preacher wrote to Mr. Sampson and told him that he had found the suitcase, and he got an immediate reply. Sampson told the preacher to dispose of all the ingredients of the suitcase, with the exception of the gold piece, and he asked if he would send the gold piece back to him, for it was his most precious possession.
The preacher answered his letter, enclosed the gold piece, but also used the opportunity to tell him of his most precious possessions. He told him how his precious family had become so dear to him, how precious life had become to him because he had been brought up safely from the war. And then he went on to say in this letter that while those things were precious, the most precious possession that he had in his life was Jesus Christ. And he told a whole story of his relationship with Jesus Christ, mailed the letter to Sampson with a stamp on the outside and a prayer on the inside.
Almost a year later, at Christmastime, the preacher received a box. Inside this box was a little white box. Surrounding that little white box was a rubber band, and inside this little white box was the same $20 gold piece, and a letter from the man who owned it. And this is part of what that letter said. "Last Sunday, my wife and I were baptized in a little church here in Colorado. We want you to have my gold piece to carry with you at all times. We are two old people, and you are the first one to tell us of Jesus Christ. Now, he is our most precious possession".
And I thought of that in my own life. I hope it makes you think, is Jesus Christ your most precious possession? I know, in our hearts intellectually, we think of that, we believe that, we read that in the Scripture, "Yes, he's my most", but do we ever act like it? Do we ever stop and thank him? Do we ever worship him, and let him know that he means more to us than anything we have, anyone we know? He is our most precious possession. Christmas is about anticipating the gift and appreciating it. But more than anything else, it's about accepting the gift. How many of you know that a gift unaccepted is not a gift? The gift of God in Jesus Christ only becomes a gift when you receive it, when you accept it.
You may say to me, "Pastor, what kind of a person accepts the gift of Christmas"? Well, if you read the narrative of the Christmas story, you will discover that just about every level of living is represented in the story. For instance, in the story of Christmas, we discover that sophisticated people received the gift. We read that, "After Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem saying, 'Where is he born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the east and we have come to worship him.'" In that day, intellectuals were called wise men. The Bible says that not many wise men are called, but it does not say that not any are called. Few are called. We sometimes think in our hearts that if a person is intellectually sophisticated, that the gift of Christmas cannot stand up against the scrutiny of their investigating minds.
In other words, that people who are scholarly and learned and with degrees after their name, they probably do not understand Christmas in the simplicity with which it is presented in the Word of God because they do not believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. But there are many of these sophisticated people for whom Christ was sent, who have discovered in their research that Christ is who he claimed to be. Over a century ago, Lew Wallace was the governor of New Mexico. He started out to write a book against Jesus Christ. And in the providence of God, he was converted to Christianity in the process. Here's a little bit of his story.
Robert Ingersoll was a famous agnostic, and he was one of the most intimate friends that Lew Wallace had. He once said to Lew, he said, "Lew, see here, you're a learned man and a thinker. Why don't you get some material together, and write a book to prove that Christianity is not true? No such man has ever lived as Jesus Christ, much less the author of the teachings found in the New Testament. Such a book," he said, "Lew, would make you famous. It would be a masterpiece, and it would finally put to rest this foolishness about the so-called Christ". The thought made a deep impression on Lew Wallace, and he decided to do it. He writes that he began to collect material in libraries here and in the old world.
He said, "I gathered everything over that period in which Jesus Christ, according to legend, should have lived. Several years were spent in this work. I had written nearly four chapters when," he said, "it became clear to me that Jesus Christ was just as real a personality as Socrates, Plato, or Caesar. Then conviction became a certainty. I knew that Jesus Christ had lived because of the facts I found in the secular writings of the period in which he lived. I had begun to write a book to prove that Jesus Christ had never lived on earth. Now, I was face to face with the fact that he was just an historic figure, and just as real as Julius Caesar, Mark Antony, Virgil, Dante, and a host of other men who had lived in olden days".
Lew Wallace asked himself, if he was a real person, was he then not also the Son of God and the Savior of the world? And he said, "Gradually, the consciousness grew that since Jesus Christ was a real, historic person, he probably was the person that he claimed to be". And he said, "I fell on my knees to pray for the first time in my life, and I asked God to reveal himself to me, to forgive my sins, and to help me become a follower of Christ. Towards the morning, the light broke into my soul, and I went into my bedroom and woke up my wife, and told her that I had just received Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior".
Lew Wallace did write a very famous book. Some have called it the most influential Christian book of the 19th century. It was a masterpiece, and the crowning glory of his life's work. He changed the book he was originally writing, and used all of his research to write another book. The book was called "Ben Hur: The Tale of the Christ". It's the research of a man who started out to prove that Christianity was false, and in his research came to the conclusion that Jesus Christ was not only a real person, but he was the person that he claimed to be. Don't let anyone ever tell you that the gospel and the gift of Christmas is not for intellectual people. It is for sophisticated people, and I believe with all of my heart that if anyone will take the facts that are available in history and in the Word of God, and objectively study them, they will come to the same conclusion that Lew Wallace came to.
Jesus Christ's gift is for the sophisticated. The Scripture teaches us also that it's for the simple. One of the great parts of the narrative of Christmas is that Jesus was first introduced to a group of shepherds. In Luke chapter 2, we read, "There were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. And the angel said to them, 'Do not be afraid, for I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people. There is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.'"
Do you know that the gospel was first formally presented to a group of shepherds on a hillside outside of Bethlehem? You say, "Well, Pastor, why is that important"? It's important because these were men who were of the lowest stature in culture of that day. These were men whose skin glistened with sweat, whose clothes gave off the stench of the fields. These were men who lacked the most basic manners, who used language unfit for your children's ears. These were minimum wage earners who were unlikely to be admitted to any respectable place they would go. They bore names you will never find in the Bible, yet, whatever their names may have been, they graced the guest list for the most joyful moment in human history. It was to the shepherds that the gospel was first presented. And so, the gospel is not just for the sophisticated wise men, and it's not just for the simple shepherds. The gospel is also, and the gift of Christmas is also for spiritual people.
Here's one of the famous, most unknown stories in the Christmas narrative. "And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon, and this man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord's Christ. So he came by the Spirit into the temple. And when the parents brought the child Jesus to do for him according to the custom of the law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, 'Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation which you have prepared before the face of all people, a light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.'"
When a child was officially presented in the Jewish temple, the parents of the child had to bring an offering. According to the law, that sacrifice, that offering could be either a lamb out of the flock or a kid out of the goats. They might bring two turtledoves or two young pigeons if they could not afford a lamb or a kid. Mary's offering that day was a pair of the birds designated for a poor woman's gift. Mary and Joseph were numbered among the poor of Israel. It is most revealing to observe that our Lord, who created all things, came into the world through a family that was so poor, they could not even bring a lamb or a kid for their temple sacrifice. They brought two turtledoves.
The text says that Simeon was looking for the consolation of Israel. This old man, who had waited all of his life to see the fulfillment of the prophecy that was given to him, that he would not die before he saw the Messiah, you wonder what it was like for him, every day going to the temple, every day seeing people come with their little children to dedicate them, and wondering if this was the one. Simeon was not like the majority who waited for a conqueror with temporal earthly power, but he had a special vision of Christ. He spoke of it as the consolation of Israel with spiritual power. And one day, Mary and Joseph came. And when he saw them, in his heart there was a quickening, and he took up the child in his hands, and said, "Now I can die, for I have seen the Messiah. I have held the Lord Christ in my hands".
This spiritual, godly man throughout all of his life kept waiting for the promise to be fulfilled, and the gift of Christmas was to him. The sophisticated, the simple, the spiritual, all of us need Christ. We all are candidates to receive the gift. All we have to do is receive it. You say, "Pastor Jeremiah, how do I receive this gift"? I was thinking of the many times I have shared the gospel with people and asked them to do this. I've said, "Why don't you go with me to John 3:16, and let's put your name in that verse". Have you ever put your name in John 3:16, "For God so loved you"? He loves you, every one of us. It doesn't matter what you've become, or what you have done, God loves you. And he wants to give you this gift.
It's almost like he stands before us with this arm stretched out, and this gift of eternal life in Jesus Christ in his hands. And he asks us only to do one thing, only one thing, and that is to receive the gift that he is offering. A gift that is not received is not a gift. And so, I ask you this morning, has there ever been a time in your life when you can look back and say you remember that day. "On that day, I prayed, and I told Jesus that I wanted to receive his forgiveness, I wanted to receive his gift, and I accepted him as my personal Savior"? It's not about going to church, it's not about being a good person or a bad person. It's not even whether you're sophisticated, or simple, or spiritual. It's about your willingness to say, "I need this gift".
You need the gift because you can never earn what it represents. You need the gift because it's the only way you will ever go to heaven. You need this gift because you can never be forgiven of your sin without Jesus Christ. Why would you not want to receive this wonderful gift of Christmas? The Bible says that when we receive this gift, we become children of God. Our sins are forgiven, we are given a promise that we will spend eternity with God in heaven someday. So today, as we reflect upon giving at Christmas, I ask you, will you receive this wonderful gift? Will you today pray in your heart and say, "Lord God, thank you for giving me your only begotten, unique, one of a kind Son, so that I could become a Christian"?