I still remember so well the excitement of going to church on Christmas morning and meeting my friends and asking them what they got for Christmas and sharing with them what I had gotten for Christmas. Since we are all family here, I thought it might be interesting to share with one another, “what was the best Christmas gift you have ever received?” and “why was it so good?” And I do mean a gift from another person, not Jesus, because we will talk about that gift in a moment. Is there anyone who would be willing to tell the rest of us what has been the best gift you have ever received?
Of course we understand that this is just an introduction to invite us to talk about Jesus as the best gift ever. The Sunday School already introduced this theme so well last Sunday in their program and we have come together today to talk about it as well. In fact, I would like to ask you to answer another question. What is it about the gift of Jesus that is most meaningful to you? There are so many implications of the gift of Jesus, but I would like to invite a few of you to share with us what you consider to be the best thing about the coming of Jesus.
We have read from some of the Christmas texts today and have been reminded of this great gift. I would like to read one more from Titus 3:4-7. This text emphasizes the idea of the gift we have received and what it is that is so precious about this gift.
The Christmas story is found in this text in the word “appeared.” Although the story of the gift we have received is found in only one word, the rest of the text explains the greatness of this gift.
The word “appeared” implies an expectation of an appearance. For the last month we have been thinking about the promises of His coming. Each time we have lit the advent candles, we have read a Scripture which spoke of the promises of His coming. The fact that God promised this appearance tells us that God had a plan and that He announced the plan. When this text says, “when He appeared” it implies a time when Jesus was not here and implies all the promises that indicate that He would appear. It reminds us of God’s plan and reminds us that God was faithful to fulfill His plan.
The word “appeared” also refers to the fact that there was a day in history when He came. It reminds us that God left heaven in the person of Jesus and came to earth as a human being, so it reminds us of the Christmas story. Behind this word is the whole story of incarnation which includes the announcements of His birth, His leaving heaven to come to earth, His birth to Mary in Bethlehem and the worship of all those who acknowledged His coming.
The word “appeared” also refers to a specific person who is named in verse 6, that is: “Jesus Christ our Saviour.” The Christmas story centers on Jesus. Although most public schools no longer have Christmas programs, but rather winter festivals and although malls invite us to shop for the holiday season, the celebration we mark today by not working and by meeting in families is about Jesus. This is still called Christmas Day and so is about the Christ. It is the story, which we heard two weeks ago when we had a musical evening celebrating Jesus. It is the story we heard when the grade k-4 school children presented their program at Rosenort School a little over a week ago. It is the story we heard last Sunday when the Sunday School children reminded us that this season is about Jesus. Today, on a day when we don’t usually come to church, we have come here for one primary reason and that is to be reminded that Jesus Christ has appeared.
So we see that this text is about the gift God has given. It is about the appearance of Jesus Christ who came to save us. What is so great about this gift of Jesus? Some of you have already identified what is important to you about the coming of Jesus. This morning, I would like to take a few moments to examine what this text tells us about why this gift from God is so great.
The words used to describe the appearance of Jesus are an interesting first clue. The text does not say, “when Jesus appeared” even though that is obviously what it is talking about. Rather, we get a first clue about the precious nature of this gift because the text says, “when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared.”
The word, “kindness” is used in Greek to refer to acts of mercy, kindness or clemency. It becomes much more powerful in the Bible where it is used for the grace of God. The gift which we celebrate today is so great because it was given out of mercy as an act of God’s kindness.
The second word is the Greek word “φιλανθρωπία” from which we get our English word, “philanthropist.” A philanthropist is a person who donates to others because he cares about people. It means love for people.
Both of these words remind us and encourage us that the reason why Jesus appeared was not because God felt some sense of obligation or duty. Sometimes when we receive a gift, we suspect it was given because the person felt some sense of obligation. And sometimes that is the motivation. For example, when you go to an office Christmas party or a youth group party, you may be asked to bring a gift for under $10, which some random person in the group will receive. You do it because you want to participate with your friends, but the gift isn’t given specifically because you love a certain person. Sometimes gift giving is a holiday duty. The gift given by God in the appearance of Jesus was not given out of any of that sense of duty. God freely chose to express His kindness or grace for human beings. That certainly makes it a great gift.
What are the implications of recognizing that the gift of Jesus is given to us in love? What do you think of God, when you understand this wonderful motivation for the gift He has given? God wants us to know that He sent Jesus because He cares about us. We know this from this verse and also from the many other verses in the Bible which teach the same thing. For example, John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that He gave” and Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrates His love toward us in this, that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
As we read on, the text explains a little more about what it means that this gift was given in mercy. In order to fully grasp the wonder of the gift given we need to recognize that we did not deserve this gift. At Christmas we hear the song, “Santa Claus is coming to town.” What is the message of that song? The words tell us: “Gonna’ find out who’s naughty or nice…” “He knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake.” There is a very simple message in this song. If you have been good, you will receive a good gift. If you have not been good, you will be punished.
How different the story of the coming of Jesus! Out text very clearly says, “He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done…” Why is this the way in which He saved us? Because there are not enough righteous deeds which we have done. “Santa Clause is coming to town” may be a catchy tune and even perhaps a good way for parents to encourage their children to behave, although I am not even sure about that; but it is a terrible way to talk about the reason for the coming of Christ. He did not come to reward us for good deeds done and it is exactly this truth which makes the gift of Jesus such a great gift. It is not given to those who deserve it, but to those who need it because they don’t deserve it. It is given as a gift of grace and mercy. This is the message of verse 5 which says, “he saved us…because of His mercy.”
Out of a heart of compassion for lost people, God has given a gift which is truly and totally a gift. It is not a reward or a prize; it is a gift because it was utterly undeserved. The implication of that is that everyone of us receives the gift in the same way. There are no people who receive the gift because they sort of deserve it and sort of need it. Every single person is utterly lost and completely in need of God’s mercy and salvation. This removes all cause for boasting and all self righteousness. It puts us all on the same level of receiving mercy. What a great gift!
I don’t know about you, but I am very thankful for such a gift of grace!
When it says “He saved us” which by the way appears twice in this passage, what does that mean? Salvation speaks of being removed from a situation of danger or despair and so this gift is great because it lifts up hope. Without being saved, we have no hope.
Because we are utterly undeserving and completely dependent on grace to receive the gift of Jesus; when we are forgiven, we suddenly become very aware of our sin and the depth of our depravity. In a state of depravity, we may lose hope, but the gift we have received not only promises that we are saved by grace, but it also promises that we will be made new. The text tells us that the gift of Jesus brings “the washing of rebirth.”
The word “rebirth” or “regeneration” as NASB has it, speaks of a new start. Because we have been saved, that is our sins have been forgiven and we have been accepted by God, we have the hope that we can make a new start.
A few months ago we began our kitchen renovation project. We knew that there was a problem with our kitchen floor because there were bubbles in the linoleum, so we took the top layer of linoleum out and planned to cover the floor with hardwood flooring. When we talked to a carpenter, however, he pointed out that our problems might go deeper and that if we would put the new floor over the old floor, we might still have problems. We decided to entirely remove the old floor, which consisted of a layer of linoleum, with a layer of sawdust board underneath and then another layer of linoleum under that. When we removed it we realized that the in between layer was full of mold and structurally not very sound. We were glad that we could replace it with a new layer of plywood and put the new flooring on a sound foundation. Instead of building on a dirty, broken floor, we could build on a new floor. That is what has happened in salvation. God has forgiven our utter brokenness and given us the opportunity to start anew on a good foundation.
This is good news because it allows us to make a fresh start and live a holy life without the lumps and bruises of our past sinful life to deal with. The gift of Jesus is so great because it gives us this hope of something new.
The text also reminds us that this new thing comes with the presence of God by His Spirit. The new start we can have because of Jesus is a reality which comes to us with power. The presence of God Himself, in the person of the Holy Spirit gives us a new start which truly makes a difference.
How many toys have been given at Christmas with the message somewhere on the box, “batteries not included.” How disappointing if we did not see that, have no batteries in the house and cannot buy them because it is Christmas! There is no such disappointment with the gift we have received in Jesus. All the power needed to live in the new way which God has provided in Jesus is provided through the Holy Spirit. This is the glory of the Christian life; it is a life lived in the Holy Spirit.
One of the problems with gifts that require batteries is that they always require more batteries. I remember a time when we bought one of our kids a remote controlled car. The car required a lot of battery power and the constant demand for power forced us to buy a battery charger and rechargeable batteries. The gift of God is not like that. The text promises that the Holy Spirit has been poured out generously through Jesus Christ. Hiebert says, “This process of renewal in the believer is the work of the Holy Spirit. He alone can produce a new nature that finds active expression in an entirely new manner of life.”
Finally this gift is so great because it looks beyond the present life. The text says, “having been justified by His grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.” Paul says in, I Corinthians 15:19, "If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men." But salvation is not only hope for this life. Because we are unfit for God and have been made fit for God through Jesus, we can be sure that we will also be with God for all eternity.
Although many verses are quite direct in promising that we have eternal life, this verse is different and tells us that we have “the hope of eternal life.” This reminds us that eternal life is still future and therefore is not a present possession, but rather the hope for a future possession. It does not take away from the certainty of the promise, but rather encourages us with the reality that there is still something better to come. We have not arrived and as long as we have hope, we have something to look forward to. For some people the joy of Christmas is opening gifts. Once they have opened the gifts, the excitement is gone. God has done better. We have opened the gift and we have received salvation, but there is still more to look forward to and what is even better is that the more we look forward to will not disappoint when we receive it.
As you enjoy your new gifts today, rejoice in what they mean and the love they imply. But think also of the gift you have received from God in Jesus and recognize that it truly is the greatest gift. As you realize that, celebrate Jesus!