Will you please stand for the reading of God’s Holy Word? I will be reading selected passages from John’s Gospel and Galatians 4.
John 1:1-14 1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.
9 The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God– 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. 14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, WHO CAME FROM THE FATHER, full of grace and truth.
John 3:16-17 16 “For God so loved the world THAT HE GAVE his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
Galatians 4:4-5 4 But when the time had fully come, GOD SENT HIS SON, born of a woman, born under law, 5 to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.
Christmastime time is a busy time for the Post Office. A lot of mail is sent and received, packaged and delivered. People take extra precautions to wrap things in a certain way to ensure they will safely arrive at their destination. They will even take out insurance on the packages they are sending or pay extra for a special kind of delivery.
What is it that is the most received in the mail at Christmastime? Christmas cards, right? Have you ever purchased some cards only to get home to find out that the envelope says they require extra postage? There is sometimes an extra cost to the things that we are trying to send out.
Those who send cards often take great care to make sure the message inside says something poignant, something thoughtful, something heartwarming. Christmas cards often have two messages in them. In addition to the pre-printed message, they often contain an annual letter from which you find out that someone broke a leg, got a new job, got engaged, had a baby, took a trip or added a pet to their family life. Each card contains a message the sender wants you to receive. Do you ever just skim those or worse yet, do you throw them away without even reading them?
This idea of sending and receiving messages led me to our Scripture texts for today. Galatians 4 tells us that when the time had fully come, God sent His son. John 3:16 reminds us of the same. John 1:14 affirms it yet again. Jesus, the Son, was sent by God the Father. John calls Jesus “the Word.” God, the Father, has sent His Word to us in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the both the messenger and message. Through the person of Jesus God the Father wants to communicate a message to all of us. He gave extra effort to make sure we would get His message. But why did He send His message? Why did Jesus come? Why is it so important that we “read” and receive the message?
Receiving Him, getting God’s message, is more than just catching up on what God has been up to throughout eternity. God doesn’t just want us to know what He has been up to. No, receiving the message of Christmas is a matter of peace or fear. It is a matter of joy or despair. It is a matter of life and death.
Before I talk about messenger or the message any more I want to talk to you about the need for the message. The Sender, God the Father, sent Jesus, the Son because of a curse, a sentence we were all living under.
What is this sentence all about? Because of the sin Adam and Eve committed in the garden, the curse of sin, which the Bible says is spiritual and physical death, was passed to all of us. (Romans 3:23 and 6:23) Sin comes with a sentence which is death. We are separated from God by our sin which is the spiritual death, and we will all die a physical death as a result. So we are all born under a curse from the beginning of our lives. Merry Christmas, right? It gets worse.
Our sinful nature causes us to want to sin even more. We aren’t born with an inclination to do the right thing let alone to try to live a perfect, holy life. Our sin puts our focus on our flesh, our desires, our impulses, our inclinations, our feelings and our will.
Remember, Galatians 4:4 tells us that when Jesus was born, He was born under Law. What is “the law?” The Law is God’s instruction concerning the way we live with one another and the way we interact with God. The Law, given by God, is the direction for how we are to approach life from a moral perspective, a social perspective, and a spiritual perspective. It is found in the first five books of the Bible.
The Law was given in order to help people understand the holiness of God and how sin offends God’s holiness. The Law was to explain the kind of Covenant Relationship God wanted with His people. The Law was given to help people understand just how doomed they were because of sin.
People couldn’t keep the Law. It was demanding. It was detailed. It was difficult. It was filled with endless self-effort. Besides that, they couldn’t overcome their inclination to sin, those evil desires they were born with made breaking the Law very easy. Sinners don’t think holy thoughts. They don’t perform holy actions. They don’t come up with holy words. That is a problem when you are up against the demands of the Law.
The Law was a taskmaster. People didn’t have enough personal goodness, personal commitment, or personal effort to keep it. You couldn’t get a 93% and be good to go. It was perfection or nothing. Do you not love teachers who give extra credit? I didn’t care if I had to write an extra paper, clip articles from a newspaper, give an oral report or bring in 20 boxes of Kleenex for it I was all about extra credit. If there was something that could take me to the 100% mark or even beyond, I was all in. Extra credit wasn’t offered by the Law! There wasn’t enough community service you could do to make up for what you had done to take you to the 100% mark.
It was a pass with 100% or fail with 99%. There is no way any person could pull that off. I’m sure many started to think, “Why even try?” When doing the impossible will never be possible, why even try? Good intentions didn’t count. Anything short of perfection was unacceptable.
The broken, cursed state of humanity won’t allow people to attain perfection through the Law. Therefore, we are all Lawbreakers. Galatians 3:10 “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.”
People who break the law have a sentence. Since God is infinitely holy and righteous which means He always does the right thing, He has to punish the Lawbreakers. If He didn’t, then His Law wouldn’t be Law because there is no Law without punishment. That is where the punishments of spiritual separation and physical separation come to play. Those are stiff sentences to deal with. There is no alternative sentencing. There is no probation. There is no parole. There is no time off for good behavior. There is no lesser sentence. It doesn’t matter how sorry we are for our sin either. Breaking the standard is a cut and dried offense. The “reasons” we broke the Law don’t matter to the Law and its demands. The sentence, if you die with it, is for all eternity.
Sinners who live under the sentence of the Law have NO HOPE! That’s why Paul said those who live under the law are cursed, doomed forever. “Have a Holly Jolly Christmas! It’s the best time of the Year.” Does anyone want to shout and praise God for the Law and the sentence it brings this morning? Don’t get up and leave. It is going to get better. For it to get better I need to move away from the sentence to the Sender!
For Christians, the Christmas Season is often spent highlighting Jesus, the Baby in the Manger, and rightly so. But Christmas isn’t ALL about Jesus. When the angels told the shepherds about the birth of Christ in Luke’s Gospel, they included these words, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:14) Glory to God in the highest! Christmas is Jesus, but it is also about the glory of God and glorifying God, the Sender of Jesus. It is about the LOVE of God and what He wanted to do to rescue us from our sentence, to redeem us from the curse.
Parents, when we see our children struggling and hurting and even when we see them suffering consequences that are the natural outcome of their own poor choices, we are often moved to want to lighten their load, to make them feel better or to even rescue them from their suffering entirely. Those desires are the result of our deep love for them. If we, who are flawed and selfish can love like that, how much more can a perfect God love us?
God, the Sender of the wonderful message of Christmas saw what the Law demanded. He saw what our limitations were to meet its expectations. He saw our despair and doom. He was moved to action by LOVE. I John 4:8 tells us God IS love. He is the pinnacle of love. He is the supremacy of love. He is the definition of love. He is the standard for love. He is the perfection of love. No one can love you as much as God does, as unconditionally or as perfectly. Even in your imperfect, cursed, doomed state, He loves you with an everlasting love, and He proved it in that while we were still sinners, He sent Christ to die for us (Romans 5:8). Who gives their son to die for someone else? How sacrificial! How selfless!
The love of God is not selfish, not even 1%. It is incredibly sacrificial. Many love like the man who called his girlfriend and said, “Darling, I love you! I would cross the burning sands for you! I would fight a jungle full of lions for you! I would brave anything just to be with you because I love you! And, if it doesn’t rain tonight, I’ll be over to see you!” (http://www.sermonnotebook.org/new%20testament/John%203_16.htm)
That’s not the love of God! The love of God has a “whatever it takes” component. Whatever it takes to get you out of your sin, to move you from a cursed state to a blessed one . . . that is what God the Father, the Sender is willing to do.
God is the GREAT lover of people ever. He is the GREATEST Gift Giver ever. Here is John 3:16 again interpreted by an anonymous writer:
For God – The greatest lover
So loved – The greatest degree
The world – The greatest number
That He gave – The greatest act
His only begotten Son – The greatest gift
That whosoever – The greatest invitation
Believeth – The greatest simplicity
In Him – The greatest person
Should not perish – The greatest deliverance
But – The greatest difference
Have – The greatest certainty
Everlasting life – The greatest possession
This Sender, this God who I preach about and live my life for LOVES the entire world. Red, yellow, black and white all are precious in His sight. He loves the Muslim just as He loves the Christian. He loves the rich just as He loves the poor. He loves the educated as much as the uneducated. He loves the sinner just as much as He loves those who have accepted His love. Nothing diminishes the way that He loves. No strings are attached to His love. There is no limit to His love.
Where the Law condemns, God, in love (John 3:17) didn’t send the gift of His Son to condemn us but to save us from the demands and curse of the Law. Peter Mackenzie, a Methodist preacher of a generation ago, living in England, preached an early sermon from John 3:16. Gipsy Smith tells us that the preacher said, after announcing the text: “There are two striking things in my text: When God loves He loves a world. When He gives, He gives his Son.” Such is the boundless love of the eternal Father of mankind.—(Sunday School Times.)
Several years ago, a couple from America went to China on a mission trip. While they were there, they went to a village, and they saw an odd sight: there was a boy behind a plow, guiding it, but an older man was actually PULLING the plow instead of an animal pulling it. The American man laughed at the sight, and pulled out his camera to take a picture of it. He said something about it to his host, who told him the rest of the story. He said, yes, it is an unusual sight. They used to have an ox. But they belong to a church here, which was building a building in which to worship. They wanted to give something for the building, but they didn’t have any money. So they gave their only ox, which was sold, and the money given for the church. Now the man must pull the plow. The American man said he was humbled by the thought of that man’s sacrifice.
That is some kind of love that man and his son had for their church, that they would give their only ox, and that the father would pull the plow himself. How great a love would you have to have for your church, to give your only ox; your only source of income? But if that is so, think about this: what kind of love must God have for US – that He would give His only SON to die for us?! (http://shawnethomas.com/2012/04/15/so-loved-john-316/)
What motivated God to send His Son that first Christmas was love. He didn’t send Jesus to put us in our place, but to take our place, to take our punishment, to become the curse for us so that we could go free. And He did so at His own expense. In a demonstration of His love, Father God gave the greatest gift that has ever been given. Perhaps instead of Merry Christmas we ought to be saying, “Happy Love Day.” For God’s love is at the heart of Christmas.
This realization takes us to my final point. The One who was Sent came to take destroy our Sentence.
And the LOVE of God was put on display in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. He lived a perfect, sinless life. He showed us that love is a personal touch. Love is deliverance. Love is healing. Love is a relationship. Love is acceptance of the plan and will of God. Love is sacrifice. And because He loved God the Father perfectly, He could love people perfectly. The Law couldn’t condemn Jesus. He never felt short in any way. Jesus’ in love, stretched out His arms on a cross of suffering and torture to accomplish the Father’s love mission.
Chuck Colson told the story of a group of American prisoners of war during the Second World War, who were made to do hard labor in a prison camp. Each had a shovel and would dig all day, then come in and give an account of his tool in the evening.
One evening 20 prisoners were lined up by the guard and the shovels were counted. The guard counted nineteen shovels and turned in rage on the 20 prisoners demanding to know which one did not bring his shovel back. No one responded.
The guard took out his gun and said that he would shoot five men if the guilty prisoner did not step forward. After a moment of tense silence, a 19-year-old soldier stepped forward with his head bowed down. The guard grabbed him, took him to the side and shot him in the head, and turned to warn the others that they better be more careful than he was. When he left, the men counted the shovels and there were 20. The guard had miscounted. And the boy had given his life for his friends.
Can you imagine the emotions that must have filled their hearts as they knelt down over his body? In the five or ten seconds of silence, the boy had weighed his whole future in the balance—a future wife, an education, a new truck, children, a career, fishing with his dad—and he chose death so that others might live. Jesus said in John 15:13, “”Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” (http://www.desiringgod.org/resource/the-depth-of-christs-love-its-cost) And that is what Jesus did. He gave His life because of love for you and me.
Mark 10:45 tells us Jesus came to be the ransom for our sin. Where the Law had held us hostage, Jesus paid the price with His life. The shedding of His blood makes the forgiveness of our sin possible forever. His blood was our ransom. That ransom buys us out of the slavery of sin. It removes the sentence from us! It lifts us from the demands of the Law and enables us to live in harmony with God whereby God moves on the inside of our hearts to teach us how to live and walk in a right way before Him.
Where we used to want to sin, where that used to be our natural inclination, because of our right-standing with God through Jesus and the Holy Spirit that lives in our hearts, we have a new inclination that isn’t based on the Law, but it is based on our love relationship with God. It is a response to God’s deep love for us. Love, not the Law has come to save us. Ephesians 2:4-5 4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions–it is by grace you have been saved.
God’s love is intensely personal. Have you experienced it? The Apostle Paul expressed how personal God’s love was to him when he said in Galatians 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself FOR ME.”
The greatest gift anyone can receive is emancipation from the sentence our sin places on us. In an extravagant act of sacrificial love, God sent Jesus to free you. Have you opened the gift of God’s saving love this morning?
A 17-year-old young man was expecting to get a car for Christmas from his wealthy grandfather. On the appointed day, the grandfather handed the teenager a box. The boy tore open the box to find a leather Bible inside. His grandfather asked, “Do you like it?”
The boy answered that he did, but one could see the disappointment on his face. The grandfather told him to be sure to read the Christmas story when he got a chance. The lad said that he would. Actually, however, he went home that day and tossed the Bible inside a draw and never opened it.
A few months went by and the grandfather died. At the funeral a friend of the family asked the young man if he had gotten his new car. The lad replied that he had not received a car for Christmas; he told the man that all he got from his grandfather was a Bible. The friend said, “My dear boy, go home and read Luke, chapter 2 and see what you find there.”
Later that day, when boy was at home, he opened the drawer, pulled out the Bible and turned to Luke, chapter 2. There he found a letter from his grandfather tucked in the pages of the story. He opened it and discovered a key to a brand new automobile. Also, however, he read these words: “The car I have purchased for you is being held by the dealer for 90 days. You must pick it up by that time or you will lose the car.” The boy quickly looked at a calendar. He threw his hands over his face because he had missed the opportunity for the car by just 3 days. He had lost a great gift.
Many people have done the same thing with Jesus. Some have decided that they would wait and settled things with the Lord a little later in life. However, we are not guaranteed life for another day. I wonder how many have lost life’s greatest gift by putting off opening their hearts to receive God’s Son. Don’t wait too long, my friend. The gift of God’s Son is only available while you are living. You can’t change your mind after you die.
The Sender has sent the answer to the sentence each one of us must face. Have you unwrapped the salvation that is the result of the love of God the Father and the Son this Christmas?