Do you enjoy receiving gifts?
Have you ever received a gift so generous that you were totally amazed? “Blown away”?
As we approach Christmas, I want to unwrap three AMAZING gifts that Jesus gave us.
To see them, we’ll start with an unusual version of “The Christmas Story” – as found in the beginning of John’s Gospel.
Most of us are used to “The Christmas Story” – the events recorded by Matthew, Mark and Luke. Mary and Joseph… a full inn… a stable… a manger… a birth… shepherds… angels… and wise men from the east. But John starts his Gospel very differently. You could say that the first three Gospels record “the human view” of Christmas, while John presents “the heavenly view“.
John starts in Heaven:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:1-5 NIV)
John starts in Heaven – with God. We are introduced to God the Word… God the Word is the creator of all and the source of life and light.
We also see the ancient conflict – of darkness against light – where light shines into darkness and darkness is unable to prevail against it.
Then we read something truly remarkable… God does something truly amazing:
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14 NIV)
God the Word takes on a human body! The creator of all, the source of life and light, somehow shrinks himself into human form and comes to earth! God the Son comes to live with us!
This is the profound miracle of Christmas! It was much more than a virgin falling pregnant – it was God himself entering our world as a man through her!
John makes it very clear that Jesus was no ordinary man! He was much more than a prophet! He was God taking on human flesh!
This is the first amazing gift of Christmas: that GOD COMES TO US
We read in Genesis that the Garden of Eden was a place where Adam and Eve enjoyed the presence of God – God visited with them. But sin resulted in them being banished from the garden. When sin entered the world, it drove a great wedge between God and man. Sin separated man and God.
After that, we see that the Jewish people were no strangers to MESSAGES from God – particularly through prophets and through dreams. But the PRESENCE of God was something they feared. Which sinful person could face God and live? That is why we read in the Old Testament of the great fear that struck people when they experienced anything of the presence of God, even in a vision.
But on the night that we remember at Christmas time, God came to man.
He didn’t come in the terrifying, awesome glory that was expected though… he came as a baby… and grew up as a working-class man. As some would say, “he did life with us”.
But this was God with us! People around him knew that he was no ordinary man. I love these words of his disciples:
“What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!” (Matthew 8:27 NIV)
If I wanted to send you a message, I could do it several ways:
- I could send you a text message: “Just sending a quick note so say ‘I love you’! 🙂 <3”
- Or I could send you an email or letter, where I can use more words and maybe tell you why I love and appreciate you.
- Or I could phone you, so you can hear my tone of voice and so that we can chat.
- If we’re high-tech, we could video call and see each other’s faces as well as chat.
- Or I could come and visit you – and give you a great big hug as well as do all the other things!
In the past, God had revealed himself in dreams, visions, prophetic words… and a few rare supernatural appearances. You could liken these things to texts, letters, phone and video calls.
But now he came to visit! He came in person! As John wrote:
“We proclaim to you the one who existed from the beginning, whom we have heard and seen. We saw him with our own eyes and touched him with our own hands. He is the Word of life.” (1 John 1:1 NLT)
This is the first gift of Christmas – that GOD CAME TO US! He didn’t just send a message, he came himself. He visited! WE MATTER THAT MUCH TO GOD! YOU ARE THAT PRECIOUS! HE COMES TO BE WITH YOU!
What a wonderful gift – the presence of God!
The next two gifts come as a set. They’re both amazing gifts, but when you put them together, they are absolutely SPECTACULAR! They are the gifts of
GRACE and TRUTH.
“We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
God came to us… full of grace… and full of truth.
Let’s unwrap these incredible gifts…
FULL OF GRACE
Jesus brought grace “in its fullness” – complete grace… he brought grace that lacks nothing… grace that needs nothing. There is nothing that we need to add… there is nothing that we could add…
Listen to Paul’s description of this grace in his letter to the Ephesians:
Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins. You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil—the commander of the powers in the unseen world. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God. All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature. By our very nature we were subject to God’s anger, just like everyone else.
But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!) For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus.
So God can point to us in all future ages as examples of the incredible wealth of his grace and kindness toward us, as shown in all he has done for us who are united with Christ Jesus. God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. (Ephesians 2:1-9 NLT)
This is the complete, all-sufficient grace of God! We can’t take any credit – because he has done everything that needs to be done! All we can do is humbly receive his amazing grace!
Jesus also came in complete truth – FULL OF TRUTH.
He told us the whole truth about sin. He didn’t say “let’s just forget about your sin” or “let’s ignore your sin”. He didn’t say “let’s not worry about right and wrong“. He clearly declared the enslaving power of sin and the fearsome realities of judgement and hell.
He told us the whole truth about righteousness, presenting it more powerfully than ever before. He exposed the hypocrisy of religious leaders who appeared to be righteous but actually were not.
He told us the whole truth about our need for deliverance – the brutal reality that nothing short of a miraculous transformation – us gaining a brand new life, being born again – could bridge the gap between holy God and sinful man.
He came full of truth.
Some people struggle to put the two together – grace and truth. They think you can only have one or the other – grace or truth. So you get “grace people” and “truth people”.
“Grace people” love talking about the grace of God – but they hate talking about truths like sin, judgement and hell. They think that such talk is negative and contrary to the grace of God.
“Truth people” love to tell you what’s right… and what’s wrong! They easily speak about sin, judgement and hell. I think the Pharisees were “truth people”. “That person is a sinner… they are headed for hell… they need to repent and stop sinning.” These people think the message of grace is “watering down the truth”.
But Jesus came full of GRACE AND TRUTH
You see, we only understand how good the “good news” is when we know the “bad news”! We have to know the whole truth – even the hard truths about sin, judgement and hell. We need to know the problem so that we can recognise the solution.
Repent? From what?
– From sinful, faithless ways that keep us from God!
Be saved? From what?
– From slavery to sin, the oppressive rule of the devil, judgement and hell!
We also need FULL grace. We’re saved – completely – when we put our faith in Christ. We’re not “put on probation” – we’re not “on trial” to see if we can pull off a lifestyle that is good enough for heaven. We’re saved. It’s done! We’re adopted as children. It’s done! By God’s grace, not by our works. Even when we sin, these things stand! Even when we fail, these things stand!
What a magnificent ‘gift set’! Grace and truth!
This Christmas, let’s appreciate these amazing gifts:
– God’s presence
– God’s all-revealing truth
– God’s all-sufficient grace