"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life." Jn.3:16
Christmas Message 4 -
While we might like to imagine that the details of the Christmas story are widely known if truth be told much of what people "know" is garbled at best and at worst downright wrong and misleading. This evening we are going to take our text John 3:16 and use it as a key to help us unlock the mystery of the Christmas story.
This is what it tells us:
1. Who the chief actor was:
God is written all over the Christmas narratives:
OT prophecy is quoted as it explained what was taking place and as it was fulfilled by these same events, for example:
Firstly referring to the birth of John the Baptist:
Lk.1:17 "and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared."
Then secondly to the birth of Jesus:
Mt.1:23 "Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel" (which means, God with us)."
Mt.2:6 "And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel."
But, you may ask, what has this to do with God? Well true prophecy according to the Bible is not something that is man-
2Pet.1:21 "For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit."
Angelic messengers play a prominent role:
Gabriel was sent with important messages. He told Zechariah about the coming birth of John the Baptist and he told Mary about the coming birth of her son Jesus. Gabriel was used to standing in the presence of God and he had been specifically sent from God to convey his special messages. (Lk.1:19; 26)
An unnamed angel of the Lord also appeared with a message for Joseph (Mt.1:20-
When the angels finally leave the shepherds and went back into heaven the shepherds had no doubt about the origin of the message they had received: it was the Lord who had made it known to them (v.15).
The Holy Spirit is the agent who causes Mary to conceive her baby (Lk.1:35, Mt.1:18, 20).
The Holy Spirit is the one who fills Zechariah so that he might in turn become a mouthpiece for God as a prophet.
No, it is impossible to leave God out of the Christmas story!
2. What this chief actor did and why
"... so loved the world that he gave..." or "This is the way God loved the world, he gave..."
Here our attention is drawn to the motivation in the heart of God that caused him to do what he did or for whom he did it. Now, that’s a bit of a mouthful so let’s break it down:
God acted in love, a love which caused him to give
Not out of duty or obligation. It’s possible to offer gifts without any sense of affection at all. At Christmas time while some/most of the presents we give may well reflect genuine love it is also possible for us to give some of those presents simply because it’s expected of us and it is easier to conform than not. God gives because he loves and for no other reason.
Not reluctantly – God loves a cheerful giver and is no cheerless giver himself.
Not selfishly – it is possible for us to give with a view to profiting ourselves isn’t it? The small boy who buys a bag of ‘bulls eyes’ for his mum in the hope of being able to eat them all himself – we might smile if a child does this but when an adult acts in the same manner we’re not impressed.
His act of love was directed towards the world and there are two things that I want to say at this point:
Firstly, God’s love was (and is) expressed very widely. It was not (and is not) kept in reserve only for a small group of people. Consequently Christmas is relevant to each and every one of us as we are part of this world to which God directed his love.
Secondly, the depth of God’s love is very deep. Let me explain why I say that. In the Bible the world does not simply mean the created order or the totality of men and women as we might use the term today. In the Bible the world very often refers yes to the created order of men and women but more particularly to them in their state of rebellion against and hostility towards the God who had made them.
God’s love is wide in its extent but more importantly perhaps he extends his love to the most unlovely and most unloveable of people: those who are his enemies, to people like you and me who don’t want him meddling in our lives!
His act of love involved a gift
This brings us to our next point that his love is not to be attributed to any quality or merit in the recipient. God does not pour out his love on those who are worthy of it it rather he gives it not as a recompense or as a reward for good behaviour but as a gift to the undeserving.
Well might the apostle later write "we love him because he first loved us."
3. What his gift was
"his only Son"
There are various different ways of evaluating a gift. We might consider how valuable the gift was in monetary terms, or in terms of the effort gone into making it, or in the thoughtfulness that looked it out. We’re less impressed by the boss who sends his secretary out to do it all for him. When love is the driving force love will find a way to do the best.
God didn’t skimp with his gift to us – he gave us the best that he had, his own unique Son!
Nor was this some empty gesture but a very practical gift indeed. His gift of his Son was not only exceedingly generous but kind and considerate too.
We should all know that a gift should be well-
He gave us his Son Jesus to be the Saviour of the World, the one who would save his people from their sins.
Jesus is the heart of Christmas.
Writing some 700 years before the first Christmas the prophet Isaiah was enabled by God to speak about the coming of this remarkable person. Not only did Isaiah foretell the Saviour being born of a virgin mother he also described his nature and character. The special one Isaiah wrote about was going to be:
A Wonderful Counsellor
Lacking light we need Jesus to give it to us and this he readily does. In coming he would teach us the truth and direct us by shining light into our spiritually dark lives, he would show us the way and guide us into it.
The Mighty God
But it is not only light that we need but power. We lack the power of will to trust Christ and we lack the necessary power in our affections to love God. Christ came, the Son of the Most High, the Son of God, to secure an heroic victory and his power is such that he can give us life and set us free.
Our Everlasting Father
Isaiah was not thinking about the internal relationships of the Trinity when he described the coming Christ as the Everlasting Father. No, Isaiah was thinking about what happens when God is with us through Jesus Christ. At creation man and woman had been made with a view to belonging to God’s family but sin had intervened – one of the results was that mankind was rendered spiritually fatherless. Jesus coming was designed to bring men and women back into God’s family again. As the NT tells us:
Jn.1:12 "to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,"
We have been made for God and cannot be fully satisfied by anything less than God himself however hard we might try to fill the void inside – Jesus brings this spiritual homesickness to an end for those who do receive and believe!
The Prince of Peace
Our problem of unease before God is due to our sin. We try to minimise it, to deny it or we try to pretend God isn’t there so it doesn’t matter – but none of our efforts work. Our sin remains and it troubles us – we know God is there and holds us responsible whether we want him to or not. Jesus, and Jesus, alone can give us the peace we need and that peace is the assurance that he has dealt with our sins – God has nothing left to judge and nothing for which he must condemn us!
4. To what end he made such a gift
"that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life."
We have already touched on this as we have been considering God’s gift to us of his Son but we must say a bit more.
I guess that over the years you have received many different Christmas presents. By the time you become an adult you can probably only remember a small number you’ve received and when you hit retirement age what hope do you have of recalling them all? And, if truth be told, most of the time it simply doesn’t matter whether or not you had received a particular gift or not.
The gift that God offers us however is very different indeed. It makes an enormous difference whether or not we receive his gift. The reason for this is simple: God’s gift is designed to deal with the situation we all find ourselves in – we are on the broad road that leads to destruction and we are perishing. We need to get off this road and head off in another direction but how are we to do so? We need help. And the gift God offers contains all the help that we need.
God throws us a lifebuoy and we must grab a hold of it if we don’t want to go down for the third time. We must receive it for what it is – our only hope of salvation. How foolish it would be to let it float past complaining that it was the wrong colour, the wrong shape. How foolish to maintain I’m not sinking as the waves close in over my head!
God at Christmas gave his only Son – but for us to accrue any benefit from his wonderfully kind and loving generosity we must receive what he offers. Have you already received what God offers and have you taken Jesus as your Lord and Saviour? Eternal life then is yours. But if you haven’t yet done so what hinders you? Why don’t you receive what God in his mercy holds out to you – salvation and new life in his Son? Ask him today to make Jesus Christ your Lord and your Saviour!
My friend, God is not out to get you and to somehow spoil your life. From his perspective you don’t need any help as you’re doing a great job of that on your own – he intervenes in merciful and loving kindness to give you new life finally bringing you back home. Do receive what he offers – believe and receive!
And if you do what a wonderful Christmas 2016 will prove to be for you!