I gave this sermon in Seoul today!
Gifts That Are Not Deserved
Back in America, today is one of the most anticipated days of the year. Unfortunately, not because it is the day we celebrate Jesus’ birth but, for millions and millions of children, it’s the day they get PRESENTS!!!!! Parents spend a lot of time and money to make Christmas morning a spectacular event. I remember how my own parents, especially my father, worked hard to make Christmas special. Because for most people in America; Christmas is about giving and getting presents.
Now I know that from my own experience, presents are very important in the Korean culture as well. I have been to several Korean churches in my life and one thing that I notice about the Korean church is that giving presents is an important aspect of church life. So you understand what I’m talking about.
When I was a little boy, we did not have much in material possessions, we lived in a small apartment, drove an old car, and my clothes were not so stylish as the rich kids that I went to school with. But I had clothes to wear, food to eat and a warm bed to sleep in and every year my dad made sure there was a great Christmas.
Christmas was such a big deal to him. My mom and dad would decorate the apartment weeks ahead of time. And there would be Christmas music and a wonderful milk and egg drink called egg-nog. I grew to love Christmas and still do. When our kids were little and my parents were alive, we would go to their house and spend the night so that the kids would wake up to the same wonderful Christmas that I did. There were so many presents. And many times the presents would be expensive, in fact, sometimes, too expensive… expensive gifts. And that’s what I want to talk about today, gifts purchased at a great price, but not the kind of gift that is purchased in a store. The great and expensive gift of which I speak is what we call Grace, The Grace of God. And I wish to examine three aspects of this Grace, which I am calling “gifts that are not deserved.”
The first comes from a text of Scripture which will serve two purposes for this teaching: first, I want to point us to the Source of Grace, who is everlasting, who bestows upon man the Grace of life: He is Jesus.
John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of men. (NIV)
This is an important Scripture about who Jesus is and what Jesus does. This text, which refers to Jesus as The Word speaks to the fact that he is eternal. As the Son of God, it is clear from Scripture that He has always been… is… and always will be: He is everlasting, He is God. You and I depend upon Him who has always existed before the universe was created. The Word, the Son, Jesus: He is, was and always will be. He is the eternal God upon whom we may depend.
The second point I would make from this text is Jesus, is the giver of life, Look with me once again at verses three and four:
3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of men.
So I would say it this way, He who is eternal, and therefore greater than all we see, has made everything that is, and He gives each of us life. If I understand the story of the Bible, the whole universe has a single purpose, to glorify God, and perhaps the most important thing/function in glorifying God is to provide us with a dwelling made by God so that we may have fellowship with Him. Because in verse four it says “In him was life, and that life was the light of men.” It is my experience that the greatest life comes from knowing God and, following Him as our light, our life! I believe that we must further examine the idea of this dwelling God has made for us. About which John wrote when he says “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made” Well there is the universe of course but there is also this body in which we live… each of us just took a breath, who thought about it before hand? Each of our hearts are beating, how many of us think and plan for our heartbeat? None of us. Consider how hard doctors, nurses and emergency medical technicians work to keep a patient’s heart working when the heart stops. The heart must beat or life will end. Did I do anything to make my heart beat? In the course of a day, the average person’s heart beats in excess of 50,000 times. If my figures are correct, my heart has beaten over 300 times since I began this talk. But I have done nothing, it is an involuntary action that comes as a part of God’s everyday Grace, Thanks be to God for this life… He has given this aspect of Grace that all humans enjoy, life itself. So we see that the first two aspects of the Grace of God are that:
1. God has made a place for humans, and then
2. He has given us individual life. But, this is not the end of Grace, for God has also interacted with the human race though the work of the Word, again verse four, “ In him was life, and that life was the light of men.” but John gives us even further explanation in verse 14 he tells us: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, (Only Begotten) who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Herein we find the third gift, God Himself becomes man to deliver man.
Why was this necessary? Because man was separated from God at the Fall and could not save himself, man is stubborn, hard headed, and will not follow God’s plan, man will not follow God’s law, again our text from John One, verse seventeen “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” After The Fall, man was born in a state of war with God. Jesus came to bring peace, this peace is the result of Grace. Thus, we understand that mankind needed to be brought back into a correct relationship with God. Man could not do this himself, he was lost. God gave man the law through Moses to help them see how they were going wrong. God wanted man to see what he was doing wrong so as to point man back to God. Ultimately, God’s plan was to come to earth himself to take the wrongs of man upon himself, the THIRD aspect of Grace is forgiveness, which is made possible by the work of the Son, the Word. That is why today is an important day in the year, not because of the iPods, Xboxes, plasma screen TVs, new cars, golf clubs, diamonds and so forth, but because of something much more important: real life.
In the fourth century before Christ, the Greek philosopher Plato taught that we are living in “a shadow.” He suggested that what we see and live in is just a shadow of a greater life. Plato was very close to understanding the truth. Many years later, C.S. Lewis would take a similar idea with his ideas of the “Shadowlands”: that you and I live in a mere shadow of the real thing: which is life in the presence of God. The place that man was designed to be in: the presence of God. Plato was close, but Lewis understood that the real place is not found in material possessions, academic or in financial success but in a relationship with God. This is why we were created. We all want this relationship, this filling of what the French mathematician and philosopher Blasé Pascal calls the “God shaped vacuum.” This vacuum is an emptiness, a vacuum draws things into itself, and for the human being, who is born to seek new meaning – that which we try to draw into ourselves is to fill our emptiness. I would even contend that we try to fill our empty lives with stuff.
I frequently travel to Eastern Europe to develop partnerships with ministries in the former communist world. Last February I was visiting my ministry partners in Kyiv, Ukraine. My friends work to bring relief to the suffering of young people and children, who live on the streets. Because their parents have tried to fill their own emptiness with drugs and alcohol, these kids have found themselves running away to find some relief from the terrible circumstances in which they live. From all over the region they run to this major city to find a different life. Humans in various forms and levels of trouble are always looking for something different to fill their lives. These are the problems God is solving through my friends ministries. SO my friends and I go out in the bitter, bitter cold to visit some of these kids. Kyiv is a city of steam pipes; they cover the city, sometimes underground, sometimes above ground. And these steam pipes are very, very warm. Near the train station, where many kids arrive from outside the city, we visited some boys. Who had made an underground home where the steam pipes keep the open space very warm. I was so amazed to look at this place because it was a adorned with decorations left over from Christmas (Ukrainians celebrate Christmas in January) and surprisingly, a very small television. This television struck me as very interesting because it really spoke to what these boys think is important to have. They lived underground in a manhole, but found a way to get electricity and hook up a television. They had an appetite – they search for things that have meaning through entertainment. Compare that to two of my students who stood in line for eleven hours to buy an X-box, imagine the importance these two young men placed on this video game, to stand in line for eleven hours outside a store, they are trying to satisfy an appetite. So you see, we all have these appetites: we seek to fill ourselves: to satisfy our appetite for entertainment, for prestige, and for status.
On this Christmas holiday, a day on which we celebrate God’s greatest gift to us, I beg us to examine the manner in which we are trying to satisfy that desire for real life. As I mentioned, man has a need in his soul for God. Man is trying to satisfy that need in many ways, through possessions, entertainment, status, wealth, none of which will really last. We try to find the way to satisfaction through work, entertainment, success, and being religious, trying to look good as Christians, to achieve position in the community, in the church… but the Scripture teaches us that we cannot earn God’s favor, even the law is not enough. Gal. 5:4 tells us “You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.” We celebrate Jesus birth today, because He was born to remedy man’s problem, to enable the fellowship that man needs with God. Man needs this fellowship. Jesus came to make that possible. Paul makes it clear for us in Romans: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (Ro 3:23-24 NIV) Jesus came into the world as God’s present; he came to offer us a gift we do not deserve: Grace.
The final point I would like to make about this grace is the result that we should see in our lives. In 1859 Charles Spurgeon, an English Baptist preacher on Christmas morning asked his congregation this question: “Has there been a change effected by divine grace within you?”
Grace should grow in us and we should grow as a result of that Grace. Let’s look at what Peter said about this grace… 2Pe 3:18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen. (NIV) We are to grow that we may bring glory to God. I believe that followers of Jesus begin to change from the heart out. This change is made as the grace of God works through us as the Holy Spirit changes us from the inside.
But we should not be idle with this gift, we should seek to exercise and develop our gifts that we may bring glory to him who gave us life. 1Peter 1:13 tells us, “Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (NIV) We have a future hope of grace, that when Christ returns to judge the world, we will receive a reward for having used our gifts well. So on this Christmas morning I ask you to consider that you live because of God’s Grace and He has offered you real and lasting peace through the greatest Christmas gift of all time, Jesus Christ our Lord.