December 9, 2018
People love to receive gifts, especially during the Christmas season. And the very best gifts can come in many different shapes and sizes. For young ones, it can be a favorite toy that they can play with for fun. For college students and young adults, it can be a brand new car from their parents. For married couples, it can be a newborn baby. For the elderly, it can be another year of good health.
As the world exchanges gifts this Christmas season, we who are the church may also do the same. But if we do, we do so knowing that we have already received the greatest gift of all: the gift of salvation in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
When you stop and think about it, a gift is a very profound thing. A gift is free for the one who receives it. A gift is not free for the one who gives it. A gift is meant to be received with humility and thankfulness and praise. A gift is meant to be given with love and generosity and joy.
Our salvation in Christ Jesus is a gift. And it is the greatest gift of all. We were once dead. We were once spiritually dead in our sins against God. We were once children of wrath. We were once sinners who deserved the holy justice and punishment of God. This was who we once were. This was our dark past. But God made us alive. He made us alive together with Christ. He made us a new creation. He gave us a resurrection life. He saved us. And this was his gift to us. This salvation is therefore free for us who receive it. It is not our own doing. It is not a result of works. To put it in Christmas terms, salvation is not a gift that you can give to yourself or buy for yourself. And this salvation is not free for God who gives it. It cost the person and the work of Jesus Christ. It required his perfect obedience and his painful death. To put it in Christmas terms, God is not a cheap regifter. Brothers and sisters, our salvation in Christ Jesus is truly a gift. It is God’s gift to us. And it is the greatest gift of all.
But when we receive the gift of salvation, let us remember that while the gift is definitely for us, it is most certainly not about us. The gift of salvation is all about God. It is all about how he is rich in mercy, great in love, and immeasurable in grace and kindness. The gift is ours. But the glory is his.
Brothers and sisters, God loves you. God loved you with a great love. He chose you before the foundation of the world to be saved. He knew everything about you before you were even born. He knit you together in your mother’s womb. He sent his Son Jesus to die for you. Jesus suffered great physical pain for you. Jesus exchanged his righteousness for your sins. God has forgiven you and accepted you. He is not against you. He adopted you into his family. He is our Father and we are his children. The Holy Spirit dwells in us and sanctifies us. The Father listens to you when you pray to him. Jesus understands everything that we go through in life. He is patient toward us today. His has made wonderful promises to us. He will never leave us or forsake us. He prepares a place for us. All of this is love. God loves you with a great love. God loves you.
Brothers and sisters, God has been merciful and gracious toward you. He saved you even though you were against him as a sinner and an enemy. He should have sent you to hell. He should have made you pay. That would have been perfectly just and right. But instead he had compassion on you. He did not turn his face away from you. He turned his face toward you. God held back from us what we really deserve, which was justice, wrath, punishment. God gave us what we do not deserve, which was mercy, love, blessing. And while he was never forced to do any of this, he wanted to do all of this. All of this is mercy. All of this is grace. God has been merciful and gracious toward you.
This is so amazing. And God’s mercy and grace is so great that it will take eternity for us to understand it and unpack it all. For God’s love is poured out from the eternal love between the Father, the Son, and the Spirit, the three persons of the one Triune God. And it says that in the coming ages, God will show us the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. We look forward to understanding more and more of God’s mercy and grace when we will be with the Lord Jesus Christ face to face in his kingdom of the new heavens and new earth.
Praise be to our God! Jesus wept when Lazarus was dead. This is his love. The Lord resisted the temptation of the Devil. This is his love. The King washed the feet of his disciples, even though he knew that they would all desert him before his death. This is his love. Jesus said to a grieved Peter, “Feed my sheep.” This is his love.
Praise be to our God! God provided Abraham’s sacrifice and substituted Abraham’s one and only beloved son Isaac with a ram. That is his love. God rescued Israel from slavery in Egypt and stayed in covenant with her even though she betrayed him and broke his heart over and over and over again. That is his love. King David showed kindness to Mephibosheth, who was a descendant of King Saul, by making sure that Mephibosheth would always eat at his royal table, as if he were his very own son. That is his love. And when the widow at Zarephath had a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug for a final meal for her and her son before dying together in famine, the prophet Elijah, declared, “The jar of flour shall not be spent, and the jug of oil shall not be empty, until the day that the Lord sends rain upon the earth.” That is his love.
Praise be to our God! Our Good Shepherd did not dismiss the woman with the alabaster jar. That is his love. He healed the sick and cast out the demons and welcomed the little children - and he did not forget about the disciples of John the Baptist who were lost in space and time in Ephesus. That is his love. He said to Zacchaeus, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” That is his love. And when the dying criminal next to him said to him, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom,” Jesus said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” That is his love.
Praise be to our God! Jesus became a human being. This is his love. Jesus feeds us in his Lord’s Supper. This is his love. Jesus cannot wait to meet you face to face. This is his love. Jesus will never let you go. This is his love.
Praise be to our God! He has a nice little church tucked away behind a gas station in Vernon Hills. This is his love. He has given us one another to be a family in Christ. This is his love. He has been good to us for over 40 years. This is his love. And until we die or until Jesus comes back, we’re going to be okay. This is his love.
What a great love! What a rich mercy! What an immeasurable grace! What a wonderful gift - our salvation in Christ Jesus. This Christmas season, I’m sure that you will receive gifts, and gifts that you will like a lot. But just remember in your heart and mind that you’re good. You already have the greatest gift of all. And it’s all because of God.