Priceless -- The Christmas Gifts of Christ
December 21, 2014
Intro – Grandma handed her present to Grandpa: “Honey, I bought you something unusual this year. For the man who has everything.” He said, “You shouldn’t have. What is it?” She replied, “The deed to a cemetery plot.” Unique indeed! Next year she didn’t buy him anything, so he asked, why no present. She replied, “Well, you still haven’t used the one I bought you last year!” Good point! If you get a present you ought to use it, right?
Perhaps there are some presents lying around your house, unused -- presents from Jesus Himself. It’s His birthday, but let me tell you, He gives incredible presents. This passage has 3 eternity changing gifts -- ours for the taking – but often laid aside in favor of others of far less value. Look at 3 priceless gifts.
I. Peace With God (1)
1) Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Doesn’t everyone have peace with God? No. That is not what this verse teaches. “Therefore” refers back to the first 4 chapters of Romans. In the first 3, God makes the point that all people are sinners by birth and by choice. We are therefore at war with God – not at peace! Why? He is holy and we are not. He is sinless and we are sinful. He is judge and we are those who will be judged. In fact, His verdict is already in.
Rom 1:18: “18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” God’s wrath is no temper tantrum. It is His settled, persistent, constant rejection of all sin and anyone tainted by sin. Any error, any unrighteousness, any slippage, any selfishness, any naughtiness, any sin at all disqualifies us from acceptance by Him. That puts every person on the planet in the same sinking ship. Disqualified from God’s presence. We even disqualify ourselves! We don’t need God as a judge; we condemn ourselves. Rom 2:1: “Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things.” Put a tape recorder around your neck and you will make enough judgments against other people about things you do to deep six yourself. Paul summarizes the whole rotten mess in Rom 3: 10) as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; 11) no one understands; no one seeks for God. 12) All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” Skip to 23) for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” There it is. The judge has already rendered his verdict. Guilty!
This means the greatest enemy of any person who has ever sinned even in the slightest is God Himself. Not the harsh boss or the demanding self or even Satan. Oh, no. The greatest enemy of every person who has ever gone astray is God. Jesus warns that we’ll all know it one day when every secret is revealed. And He warns in Mt 10:28, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” Outside of Christ our greatest enemy is God Himself. And unless our guilt can somehow be expunged, there can be no peace with Him.
God consistently uses marital unfaithfulness to depict mankind’s betrayal of Him with our idols. Remember the movie Camelot? King Arthur and Guinevere build the Round Table which champions peace over war. But then Lancelot turns up – the greatest knight of all. Despite themselves, Lancelot and Guinevere fall in love and betray King Arthur. They are tormented by Arthur’s goodness, but they choose each other thinking he doesn’t know. But he does. In a heartwrenching scene Arthur says, “If I could choose, from every woman who breathes on this earth, the face I would most love, the smile, the touch, the voice, the heart, the laugh, the soul itself, every detail and feature to the smallest strand of hair- they would all be Jenny's. If I could choose from every man who breathes on this earth a man for my brother and a man for my son, a man for my friend, they would all be Lance. Yes, I love them. Even in their betrayal, I love them, and they answer me with pain and torment . . . and they must be punished.” That could be God talking. He is not our greatest enemy because He hates us but bc we have betrayed Him. And the wages of sin is death. God’s wrath against sin does not spring from a heart of hatred, but from a heart of love that has been violated. For love’s sake, sin must be punished. And we all find ourselves on the wrong side of that love naturally. That’s Romans 1-3. All hopeless lost.
But – chapter 4. The solution. It is not what we might think. We don’t get a “do over”. But we can accept a gift by faith. Abraham’s the example. Rom 4:2, “For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” Why Christmas? Why did God become man in Jesus? To save Abe. To live the life we could not live so He could die the death we could not die to pay the penalty we could not pay to give us life we could not have. That’s good news, the gospel. The peace with God we can’t earn, Jesus already earned. And we can accept by faith.
Our greatest enemy is also our best friend. What He demands, He provides by dying in our place so He can pardon our guilt. But that pardon must be accepted, by faith. It’s not automatic. In 1829 George Wilson killed a man during a robbery. He was arrested, found guilty and sentenced to hang. Amazingly friends got a pardon him from President Andrew Jackson. But Wilson refused the pardon! The sheriff, not wanting to violate a presidential order sent word of the refusal to Jackson. Equally perplexed, Jackson appealed to Supreme Court Justice John Marshall who ruled that a pardon must be accepted to be valid (a ruling later upheld again in 1915). No one could imagine that a condemned person would refuse a pardon, but if it is refused, then it is not valid. Shortly thereafter, George Wilson was hanged as his pardon lay unused on the sheriff’s desk. So have you accepted Jesus’ pardon? “Then, since [you] have been justified by faith [you] have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Gift #1 from Jesus, peace with God. What He demands; He provides! Have you taken the pardon? Or are you still at war?!
II. Promise of Glory (2)
Paul just informed his readers in Rom 3:23, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” That is our default position – short of God’s glory. But now Paul says in the 2nd half of v. 2: “and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.” How can we rejoice in God’s glory if we fall short of it? Paul answers in Col 1:27 when he characterizes the gospel as, “27. . . Christ in you, the hope of glory.” It is Christ in us and we in Christ that enables us to rejoice in the hope of glory. The impossible becomes possible -- in Christ. He is the hope of glory. He is the focus of the believer’s life, and to be with Him forever is the greatest gift He can bestow. That is the great hope that now drives our existence. We are not going nowhere; we are going somewhere!
“Hope” is used here not in our sense of maybe it will happen and maybe not. Hope in the Bible is something certain but just hasn’t happened yet. Heaven hasn’t happened yet. Eternity with Jesus hasn’t happened yet. But it will. That reality overcomes any adverse circumstances! The promises of God in this regard are mind-blowing. I Jn 3: 2) Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” Can you imagine being just like Jesus? Just like Jesus! Jn 17:22, “22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them.” We will share in His glory. Rev 21:23 tells us there will be no sun or moon in heaven “for the glory of God gives it light.” And Jesus shares that glory with us? Really? Yes. He says in Mt 13:43, “Then the righteous [pardoned] will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” What a Christmas present, huh? To share in the glory of Jesus in heaven.
Christians have a future. People outside of Christ have no future. Hope is in short supply in our world. James Reston writing in the NY Times not long before he died reported that in Washington the feeling grows that man is totally incapable of solving the world’s problems. For once the NY Times and the Bible agree. We’re losing hope for the world in general.
And we are losing hope personally. We see it so clearly when we get sick. Hope means everything, so at first we hope nothing is wrong. When we discover that all is not well, we hope it is not serious. When it’s serious, we hope something can be done, but eventually we are given the death sentence: “there is no hope.” And outside of Christ that is true. It’s just a matter of time. If you don’t have hope beyond this life, you don’t have hope!
One of the last statements George Bernard Shaw made before his death was that he had pinned his hopes on atheism – his hope was that there was no God by whom he would be judged. But as he came face-to-face with the reality of his own mortality, his hope faded badly as it does with many outside of Christ. He made this remarkable statement: “You are looking at an atheist who has lost his faith.” An atheist who – who lost his faith?! He was smart enough to realize it takes just as much faith to believe in no God as it takes faith to believe in the true God. But when an atheist loses his faith he has nothing in the world to hang on to. How different from Paul who says in Titus 2:13 that believers are “waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.”
Christians have a future. They have hope like no one else on earth. The hope naturalism offers is the destruction of both body and soul at death. Eastern religions hope is to lose your identity in the Whole or the One or the All – the impersonal pantheistic god who has no glory. Your goal is to decompose into personal nothingness. By contrast God promises complete identity. Rev 3:17, “To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna [eternal sustenance], and I will give him a white stone, with a new name [complete identity] written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.” That includes soul AND body. Because Jesus “will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body.” It’s all part of sharing His glory.
Dr. Donald Grey Barnhouse had 4 small children (2 boys; 2 girls) when his wife, Ruth, died of cancer. As they drove home from her funeral service, kids overcome with grief, Dr. Barnhouse wondered how to comfort them. A huge moving van passed them, its shadow sweeping over the car. Inspiration struck. He said, “Children, would you rather be run over by a truck – or by the shadow of a truck?” They said, “Well, of course, Dad, we’d rather be run over by the shadow. The shadow can’t hurt us.” Dr. Barnhouse said, “Did you know that two thousand years ago the truck of death ran over the Lord Jesus – in order that only its shadow might run over us now.” Mom was with God. Absent from the body – present with the Lord. Death No other religion in the world can say that. None. That separates faith in Christ from any other faith. He has suffered death for us so that we may never die. Jesus told Lazarus’ sister Martha just before he raised him: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” (Jn 11:25-26). Someone has well said, “The Christian doesn’t die long enough to know he is dead!” That’s the hope of glory – a hope that is a certainty that just hasn’t happened yet. A gift to all who are justified by faith. Believers have a future.
III. Pain for Gain (3-5)
Isn’t it interesting that right here in the midst of these stupendous, eternal gifts, God suddenly introduces suffering? Isn’t that strange? Isn’t that a strange gift? Ever get a gift that wasn’t all that great? One Christmas when I was about 11, I opened a package to find a baseball glove. You’d have thought I’d love the glove, right? I loved baseball. But Mom and Dad weren’t up to date! Somehow they found the only 1920’s glove still in existence – flat, no pocket, over-padded, no leather between the fingers – totally inadequate for the 1960’s. I think I hid my disappointment. I hope so. I fully appreciated their loving intention. But it was, nevertheless, a total bust of a gift.
Do you feel that way when you open the gift of suffering this morning? Do you? We shouldn’t. God’s gifts are never a bust, and that includes suffering. We may not rank it up there with peace with God or the promise of glory. But it is no less critical to providing us gain both in this life and the life to come. Just look at the chain of events that follows suffering: “3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Growth comes from suffering – a growth that would come in no other way – and so suffering is one of God’s great gifts that we need to embrace with all our heart. Phil 1:29 says, “For it has been granted (graced) to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake.”
When I think of suffering, Joseph always comes to mind. Hated and isolated by his brothers because Dad loved him best. Could’ve been bitter but wasn’t. Sold into slavery in Egypt by his own family. Could have been bitter but wasn’t. Faithfully ran the household of his owner, Potiphar. And when the beautiful wife came onto him, refused her advances – for which faithfulness he was thrown into prison for 2 years. Could’ve have been bitter, but wasn’t. All for nothing? No – God was teaching him all he needed to know to become #2 in Egypt to save that world, including his own family from starvation in a 7-year drought. And BTW, he also saved brother Judah from whom later came David from whom later came Christ to pay for your pardon and mine. All possible because Joseph was faithful in the gift of suffering. When his bros thought he’d kill them when Dad died he said in Gen 50:20, “20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive.” Rest assured, Beloved. God’s children never suffer without reason. It’s a gift of Jesus for our good and His glory.
Conc – Close with a Christmas story. Dorothy Sayers was an early 20th century English author – one of the first women to graduate from Oxford and writer of detective stories. They featured Lord Peter Wimsey – a handsome, aristocratic detective who was also single and lonely. Well, in the middle of the Lord Wimsey books, a young woman, Harriett Vane suddenly appears. Harriett is one of the first women to graduate from Oxford and a writer of detective stories. She and Peter fall in love, get married and solve mysteries together. Dorothy Sayers, a Xn BTW, looked into the world she created – in the character she created – saw his pain and loneliness, fell in love with him and wrote herself into the story to save him.
Which is exactly the story of Christmas and the incarnation when God, in His love for His creation, wrote Himself into the story long before time began to pay for the pardon that He now offers freely to all who will open the gift. Have you opened the gift? H. G. Wells, English author whose belief in naturalism and man’s inherent goodness was devastated by two world wars said near the end, “Here I am at 65, still seeking peace.” Don’t let that be you. Open the gift so that, “having been justified by faith, [you] have peace with God through [the death and resurrection] of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Don’t wait for Christmas. Open it now. “The gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.” If you get a present, you ought to use it! Let’s pray.