The Present Beyond Words
December 21, 2014 | Randy Smith
The Present Beyond Words2 Corinthians 9:15
Sunday, December 21, 2014
Pastor Randy Smith
Susan rose early on Friday morning. Her list of ten chores had to be finished before lunch. Not only did she have a list of chores, but she, with her husband Ralph, had recently received a list of "I wants" from their four children. With one week left before Christmas, she knew that her time to get everything accomplished was limited. And how would she ever get all the "I wants "?
Finishing her chores just before lunchtime, she called Ralph at work. He had promised to go shopping for the "I wants" of the children on Friday afternoon. The day had arrived. The thrill of shopping, the hustle and bustle of the mall put the feeling and thought in Susan and Ralph: "Spend all you have, why not, Christmas comes but once a year!"
It was 10:30 p.m. when Susan and Ralph arrived home. Hurriedly she brought the baby-sitter home. Exhausted and somewhat ornery, they unloaded the car, hid all the packages, and fell into bed.
"Six more days until Christmas," was the last thing Ralph and Susan said before they fell asleep. Wrapping the gifts was exciting. Gift-giving time finally arrived. The children were excited, so were Dad and Mom.
Everyone watched as Johnny, the oldest boy, hurriedly ripped the paper from one of his gifts. Silence, and then, "This isn't the kind I wanted!" A disappointed face could be seen, a grumble could be heard, and tears ran down his cheeks. He was disappointed, but his parents were hurt.
Becky had wanted a sweater. She had wanted a red one, but the store only had a maroon one left. She was a little more discreet in hiding her feelings, but she too was not very happy. In her mind raced the thought, "This won't look good on me. Besides, I wanted the one like Sharon has. At least then I could be like one of the bunch."
Jed was a boy with a character all his own. After opening several gifts, he realized that his stack of presents was gone. As he looked at what gifts were left on his little brother's stack, a jealous thought came to mind. Under his breath he muttered, "Is this all I get? I had twelve things on my list and I only got five." There was a feeling of emptiness in his stomach and a look of disappointment on his face. Jed had a greedy character which suddenly vented itself, "Miserly and stingy; that's what I call it." He was mad.
Finally George had the opportunity to open a gift. He was two years old and didn't understand all this activity. There was a dampened joy and laughter in watching him rip the paper to shreds. After receiving his toy, he looked at it, dropped it, and ran off to do something else (Adapted from: J. Greendyk, Banner of Truth, tract).
The story is all too familiar. The Christmas season comes with high expectations. It holds out the promise of joy. And many try to receive the promise through secular and material pursuits.
Gift giving is stressed and exalted beyond all possible measure. The stores convince us to buy the most expensive, prettiest and most creative gift if we wish to be accepted. Parents are pressured to keep up with other parents in their gift selections if they want to make their kids happy. In their fascination for presents, children rarely are thankful; on the contrary, they often display more covetousness, greed and jealousy during the holiday season. E.B. White was correct when he said, "To perceive Christmas through its wrappings becomes more difficult with every year" (The Second Tree from the Corner. Christianity Today, Vol. 35, no. 15).
This rat-race has left many during the Christmas season exhausted and brokenhearted. One trip to the local department store will reveal the long faces and ornery spirits. The season that promises joy has resulted in emptiness and dissatisfaction. Some call it the "Christmas blues." Others call it depression. The 'experts" tell us that it is estimated that one in four have a bout with depression this time of the year. One website I investigated said, "In fact, for many such people, the holidays can lead to a deep depression, and in some cases can even lead to suicidal thoughts. Depression and suicides generally occur at a higher ratio during the holidays than at any other time of the year."
Listen to the painful cries of one tormented woman:
Fa La La La everyone sings
Happy New Year!
I don't "feel" the joy
the season or anything
Else for that matter.
And I drop back into despair.
Sing the songs!
It just makes me sadder
Can't wait for it to be over
Don't have to be the happy face then.
I used to enjoy
Being with family.
...now just another chore.
The tears come again
Tired all the time again
We are on #5 meds
I hope this one works!
3 months for trying
one medication or another
- - - its getting old!
One more week and
Then don't have to
"pretend" everything is "ok".
Will be home again
and things will be "normal"
as normal as can be
when you are depressed.
Here I sit again
Unable to sleep
Away from home
Cannot do the things
That ease my anxiety
can I make it 6 more days?
I feel I am half way - -
Half way out
But can't get out all the way
Half way in
But don't want in
(Yet) am being dragged in.
Written 12/27/98, by Diane Breedlove
Where have we gone wrong? Why has the season of joy resulted in depression? Are we trying to receive Christmas joy in all the wrong ways? Have we set ourselves up for this failure? Is the Christmas season about gifts?
I am addressing that question to you, the church!
Some would answer "no," it is not about the gifts. And they are correct. It's wrong to think that meaning of Christmas ends with the exchange of material presents! It's wrong to base all our hope and happiness on what we might receive! It's wrong to think giving should occur only one time of the year! It's wrong to teach our children that Santa is the greatest giver! It's wrong to think that God can be ignored during this holiday!
Some would say part of Christmas is about gifts. And they are correct as well. After all, the wise men brought gifts to Jesus. The Scriptures declare giving to be a Christian virtue. Our Lord taught that giving is the pathway to joy. In Acts 20:35 He said, "It is more blessed to give than to receive."
Finally, some would say that Christmas is ultimately not about gifts, but it's about the Gift: the gift of Jesus Christ. These are the individuals that understand the true meaning of Christmas.
Last night I took Shane on a long-promised trip to CiCi's pizza. On the way there we were listening to Christmas music. At the conclusion of one song, a sound-bite said, "Christmas is about love, hope and family." To which my six year old son shouted, "No, it's about Jesus!"
We've just concluded Second Corinthians, chapters 8 and 9, In those chapters, Paul commends the church in Macedonia for their generous financial gift to the Lord's work. Though the church was experiencing great affliction and extreme poverty (8:2), the text says they gave "beyond their ability" (8:3). They begged the Apostles to participate (8:4). What was their motivation? What prompted their sacrifice? Paul said it was the grace of God that was working mightily in these believer's lives (8:1).
Under the Old Covenant, God's children were under law. They were required to give the tithe. Now under the New Covenant, we are under grace. The tithe has been abolished not so we can have an excuse to give less, but rather so we can be moved by grace and not by obligation. God loves a liberal giver (8:2). God loves a cheerful giver (9:7). Why? One reason is because God receives thanksgiving (9:12) and glory (9:13) for the evidence of His "surpassing grace" working amongst the believers (9:14). The second reason God loves a liberal giver is because God Himself is a liberal giver! We are never more like God than when we give. As obedient children, our giving is to reflect that of our heavenly Father. We mimic God who gave the greatest gift. That's why Paul ends chapter 9 in verse 15 by saying, "Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!"
God wanted to demonstrate His love for the world in a way that would be beyond human description. He wanted to demonstrate that He is not a taker, but rather a giver, a liberal giver. He wanted to give the greatest gift for our greatest need. And that gift came in the Person of Jesus Christ. John 3:16 says, "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son" (cf. Jn. 4:10). It's been mentioned that you can always give without loving, but you can never love without giving.
God came down to earth in the second Person of the Trinity. In his book The Life of God in the Soul of Man, Henry Scougal, the seventeenth-century Scottish minister, said, "God hath long contended with a stubborn world, and thrown down many a blessing upon them; and when all His other gifts could not prevail, He at last made a gift of Himself" (Christian Theology in Plain Language, p. 86).
God Himself would come down to humanity. He would take on flesh and dwell amongst us. He would live the perfect life and then go to the cross as our substitute. On the cross He would bleed and suffer and die. The Son would accept the wrath of the Father that we deserve and then completely pardon all who have faith in Him. The gift came at an infinite cost to God. And the gift comes to us in the form of Savior. Jesus Christ is the only acceptable means to deliver us from our sins. No wonder Paul could say in 9:15, "Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!"
With the time that remains, I'd like to give you three reasons why God's gift of Jesus Christ to humanity is the reason for the season and the best present we could ever want.
1. God's Gift Is Undeserved
First of all, God's gift is undeserving.
The Bible says, "All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way" (Isa. 53:6a). Nobody was begging God for a Savior. Jesus Christ didn't make it on any Christmas lists. Romans 3:11 says, "There is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God."
Natural man thinks he can earn his way to heaven. He abhors the absence of self-reliance and dependence upon another. When hearing about the gospel, he loves his pride too much. So even when God on His own accord sent His Son into the world, humanity spit in His face and hung Him on a cross. In the Gospel of John we learned, "The Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil" (Jn. 3:19).
I think of the exhausted shopper that I read about this week that shoved her way into the elevator car. She could take the pressure no longer and said, "Whoever started the whole Christmas thing should be found, strung up and shot. " Everybody chuckled. From the back of the elevator a calm voice could be heard saying, "Don't worry, we already crucified Him."
We didn't want Him, but that's why He came. He came to reconcile God and man. We didn't deserve such a gift, but what better way could God demonstrate His love and mercy than to provide a gift that would meet our greatest need and come at His greatest expense. The Bible says, "But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:8; cf. 1 Jn. 4:10, 19).
God knew our predicament better than we knew it ourselves. He didn't have a difficult time coming up with the best gift for us. We are sinners. He is holy. We need a Savior. Period! So that first Christmas the angels declared, "For today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord" (Lk. 2:11). God, the giver of all good gifts (Jas. 1:17) gave us as undeserving sinners the best gift imaginable. That first Christmas He gave us the gift of salvation.
Someone once said, "If our greatest need had been information, God would have sent us an educator; If our greatest need had been technology, God would have sent us a scientist; If our greatest need had been money, God would have sent us an economist; If our greatest need had been pleasure, God would have sent us an entertainer; But our greatest need was forgiveness, so God sent us a Savior" (Source unknown).
Think of it this way. If we didn't need a Savior or if there were other ways to heaven apart from Jesus, God made a tremendous mistake in sending His only begotten Son to die (Gal. 2:21).
2. God's Gift Is Unearned
Jesus Christ can be called a gift because He is undeserved. He can also be called a gift (as we move to the second point) because His is unearned.
As you know, the moment we need to pay someone for a gift, the gift ceases to be a gift. In other words, let's pretend I present you with a beautiful sweater. You receive the garment with much gratitude and appreciation. You are touched by my thoughtfulness. You thank me for the generosity. I receive your compliments and thankfulness and then reply, "Your welcome! I'm glad you like the sweater. I picked this one out just for you. That will be $45 dollars please." What kind of gift-giver would that make me?
For the last 2,000 years, people made God out to be an awful gift-giver. They have believed the gift of salvation can be purchased with money. But the Bible says, "The Spirit and the bride say, 'Come.' And let the one who hears say, 'Come.' And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost" (Rev. 22:17; cf. Isa. 55:1). Romans 6:23 we read, "For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."
Other people have believed that God's gift can be attained by works and good deeds. But the Bible says, "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast" (Eph. 2:8-9). If we had to work for the gift it would no longer be a demonstration of grace. Romans 11:6, "But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace."
We receive God's gift of salvation in Jesus Christ like we receive any gift - by faith. If a terrorist in Iraq asks me to receive and open a present, I reject it because I know that such a present is intended to cause me harm. On the contrary, if my lovely wife gives me a present, I receive it with great faith believing that she knows what I really want and what I really need. I know that she can be trusted to give good gifts. So to reject the gift is to reject her. If I have this attitude toward Julie, how much greater should I have this attitude toward God regarding His gift? It was Thomas a Kempis who said, "A wise lover values not so much the gift of the lover as the love of the giver."
"Who can add to Christmas? The perfect motive is that God so loved the world. The perfect gift is that He gave His only Son. The only requirement is to believe in Him. The reward of faith is that you shall have everlasting life" (Corrie ten Boom, " Each New Day. Christianity Today, Vol. 38, no. 14).
Back to my sweater illustration. What is the greatest way you can honor me for the gift? By offering to pay me? No! By working for it? Of course not! These insult my motives. The greatest way you can honor me is to receive the gift by faith and then thank me, think of me and joyfully make great use of the sweater.
In a greater way, we honor God by receiving His gift with faith. We praise Him and thank Him for the gift of Jesus. We "wear" Jesus continually and allow Him to transform our hearts - Hearts that once beat for our own selfish and sinful pleasures but now beat for His glory.
This gift of God is available for all and it is received solely on the basis of faith. "Christmas is based on an exchange of gifts," said Vance Havner, "The gift of God to man - His unspeakable gift of His Son, and the gift of man to God - when we present our bodies a living sacrifice" (The Vance Havner Quote Book. Christianity Today, Vol. 31, no. 18). Someone else one said, "God's gift is free, but it will cost you everything!"
3. God's Gift Is Unending
Third, God's gift is unending.
How many Christmas gifts do we still cherish that we received ten years ago? Twenty years ago? Fifty years ago?
I can remember when I was in junior high and I wanted a hand-held electronic football game. It was the late 70's and these games were the first of their kind. I can't think of many Christmas presents throughout the years that I had to have more than that one.
I received the gift with much happiness, but after time, I became bored with the game. I had mastered every level. Newer and more exciting versions were beginning to hit the market (remember Atari?). Soon my game became obsolete and I couldn't even give it away! It was discarded with yesterday's trash.
How many Christmas presents quickly go out of fashion because the style has changed? How many Christmas presents loose their luster because our taste and attitudes change? How many Christmas presents are broken or lost within the first year?
God's gift of Jesus Christ never becomes outdated, unnecessary, uninteresting or obsolete. Once we have Jesus we enjoy the riches of His presence every day. Our walk with Jesus seems better today than it was the day before. Jesus is truly the gift that keeps on giving. His grace is sufficient for all our needs. His compassion is new every morning. His faithfulness reaches to the heavens. And His forgiveness is without measure. God did not give His Son to meet a temporary fix. He gave His Son to meet our greatest need and the deepest longing of the human heart. This starts the moment we receive Jesus and continues forever into eternity. For the Christian, every day becomes Christmas!
Romans 8:32 says, "He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?" As a benevolent Father, God not only gives us His Son, but He also showers the believer with all good gifts. But what is the purpose of His doing so? Is it because God wants to make us wealthy and prosperous? Is it to see His goodness end in us like a black hole? Is it to accept these gifts and live our lives as if He doesn't exist?
God loves us too much to see this happen. He blesses us so we can be a blessing to others in His name. And in doing so, bring Him great joy and glory. He pours Himself into our lives so we can drink deeply from His fountain and pour Him out to others. Jesus changes us from the inside-out. He now enables us to lay down our rights and plans and time and money joyously for His kingdom. He gives us spiritual gifts so He can build up the church through us. He gives us the Gospel so He can call more men, women and children to Himself through us. We receive from His generous hand and then in turn we give generously to others.
We are now getting to the real meaning of Christmas! It's about God giving us the greatest gift - Jesus Christ. It's about receiving Jesus through faith and allowing Him to work in us to form the basis for all Christian giving. We receive from God and give through God. In doing so we act like God all to His praise and glory
God's gift is undeserving , it's unearned and it's unchanging. I wish I could end on such a happy note, but tragically God's gift is also unclaimed. To many, Jesus Christ is a stranger. Millions around the world have either not heard about God's greatest gift or (in most cases) have heard about Him only to reject Him. They settle for the second-rate trinkets of this world and forsake the ultimate Christmas present directly from the hands of their Creator. We should not be surprised that they suffer from the "Christmas blues" this time of the year. And we should not be surprised why God will assign infinite punishment for their infinite rejection. After all, if believing in Jesus is their first duty, not to believe in Him is their greatest sin (John Stott). God has offered His only Son to be their Savior and they refuse the gift, rejecting His love offering and doubting His goodness. While at the same time they remain in their sins.
Jesus Christ is God's greatest gift because He makes the eternal difference between life and death. As the Apostle Peter said, "And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved" (Ac. 4:12).
Have you accepted God's indescribable gift, the gift of salvation in Christ Jesus? If not, I urge you to do so before it is too late. For only Jesus can remove your sin. Only Jesus can remove your guilt. Only Jesus can remove the "Christmas blues" and help you understand the true meaning of the holiday, the holiday that focuses upon an exchange of gifts.