“So, what is the point of Christmas, anyway?” one friend speculates to another. With stores revealing their Christmas decorations earlier and earlier, it would seem that shopping would be at the heart of what Christmas is all about. Black Friday is no longer just a Friday event. You can now get into many stores Thanksgiving night at midnight, and even a few open just before that. If you like to shop online, you can begin your Black Friday shopping on Thursday!
Others put less emphasis on the material and more on family. “It’s not where you spend Christmas, but with whom”, they would say. That sounds much better than the shopping and long lines, but in this age where divorce has touched nearly every extended family in one way or another, trying to make time in the schedule to make equal time for everyone is nearly impossible! It is enough to cause stress levels to soar to the point where we almost wish for an early New Year.
So, if gifts are okay, and family is great, but neither is the point of Christmas, what then is Christmas in a nutshell? I think it can’t be said any more clearly than in John 3:16 and that is this: God showed up.
In Christmas, we find the greatest gift of all shown to us. I’ll explain, using the very words of one of the most familiar verses in the Bible: John 3:16, For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
For God – In Him we see the greatest good this world has ever known. God – eternal, self-existing, uncreated, having need of nothing. He is omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent. THAT God loved. THAT God spoke and there was light. That God loved us and wants a relationship with humanity, and with YOU!
So Loved – The greatest good showed us the greatest action. Through the years, couples have come to me for marriage counseling and one or the other will say some like “I have fallen out of love with” or “I no longer feel love for my spouse”. Love is a feeling, but the Bible teaches that at its core, love is a choice of the will. Love is an action. Love is to be a verb. It is something we show, not just something we feel. God reached down and gave His all, even when we didn’t reach back, even as you and I were rejecting Him. He showed us the greatest action.
The Old Testament teaches us that without the shedding of blood, there is no remission of sins; that is, there is no forgiveness. All along, God desired relationship with humanity. He walked with Adam in the cool of the day. Just as He walked with Adam, He desires relationship with you. For that to happen, there must be a sacrifice. He has shown the greatest action, by going to great lengths to do whatever it takes to make that possible.
The world – God reached down to meet the greatest need. Who is the world? The kosmos, that is, all of us, from Adam to those born just now; from those in the Middle East, to those born next door; it is those who speak our language and those who can’t speak at all. God so loved the world. What was so important that God had to go to the great lengths described in the rest of the verse? The need was so great! The need was sin. Sin broke the relationship and marred it forever. Because the first man and woman, Adam and Eve, disobeyed God, you and I, and everyone else, was born into this world with a disposition that is turned from God. I call this “having a ‘no’ on our heart for God.” Do you remember that time when your children were little and you sat them down and taught them how to lie? Wasn’t it fun when you taught them how to fight with their siblings? Wait, what? You didn’t have to do that? Why not? Oh, that’s right. They are born that way. We all are. With a sinful nature; again, it is what I call a “no” on our heart toward God. Unless something happens in our life, a deliberate choice of our will, the “no” will determine our eternity. God so loved the world because we had the greatest need.
That He gave – As He gave, He showed us the greatest example. God didn’t command someone else to do something, He didn’t ask others to act. He gave. This is one of the reasons Christians are to live lives of love and sacrifice. He set the ultimate example – He gave. We can never earn our salvation; we can never repay God for what He has done. We can follow the example He has set before us because of overflowing gratitude. He gave.
His only begotten Son – In giving, God gave the greatest sacrifice. God gave that which only He could give. He gave that which is the only thing that would satisfy the terrible cost of our sin – a perfect sacrifice. One cannot truly enter into the process of salvation unless one recognizes the incalculable cost and accepts that cost in their life. Jesus said in Mark 8:34, “whoever desires to come after Me, let him first deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me.” He gave His life for us, are we willing to live our lives for Him?
That whoever – This sacrifice that was given was not only for a select few, but the offer stands available to ALL! This is the greatest invitation that could be given, it is an open opportunity to eternal life with God in Heaven. God’s purpose was not to condemn the world, though He had every right to do so. Instead, Peter tells us in II Peter 3:9 that the Lord is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. Also, Romans 10:14 says How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? Of course, by preacher, it means a proclaimer, one who speaks or shares the message. That is what all Christians are to do: we are to live our lives to issue the invitation, pointing people to Jesus through the way we live and speak. Have we accepted God’s wonderful invitation? If so, are we inviting others to join us?
Believes in Him – Belief in, trust in Jesus, is the greatest response we could possibly have. Jesus didn’t come to make sick people well. He came to bring dead people to life! When we have this “no” written across our hearts, something in life must happen to change it. The change must occur with a conscious decision. God cannot do that for us. Our parents cannot do that for us. Our spouse cannot do that for us. We alone must make that decision, and it comes by faith alone. Imagine that you and I were to go to the airport, and I began to tell you all the wonderful statistics of how safe airplane travel had become, and how it was even safer to fly than to drive. Then, out of nowhere, you pulled out a ticket with my name on it and offered to fly with me to your favorite destination. Suddenly, I pulled back and said something like, “Oh no! You’re not getting me on one of those things!” You would realize that I had head knowledge about airplanes, but my heart and my head did not match up. My walk and my talk were two totally separate things. When it comes to the gospel, the good news that Jesus gave His life so that we might be forgiven of our sins, we must have more than Bible factual understanding about Him, we must also be willing to take the step of belief, of obedience, of placing our faith in Jesus. We must get on the plane. It is belief that activates it all. The ultimate, and only sin that God cannot and will not forgive, is the sin of not trusting in nor accepting the gift of His Son.
Should not perish – It is in perishing that we find the greatest horror. While some people think that the grave is the end, perhaps soul sleep or something of the sort, the Bible teaches that the soul is eternal and will go on forever. We will either spend eternity with God, or apart from Him. The decision we make in this lifetime will determine our destiny: Heaven, or Hell. “But wait preacher,” some would say, “isn’t God a loving God? He would never send anyone to Hell.” It is true that He is a loving God, but it is equally true that He is a holy God. He cannot justify overlooking sin. He cannot simply turn His back and allow sin into Heaven. How awful would it be if God could have just excused our sin, and yet He allowed His only begotten Son to be beaten, bruised, spit on, tortured, and ultimately crucified on a cross needlessly? How cruel would that be if there would have been some other way, any other way for us to be reconciled to God, yet He allowed Jesus to go through the cross anyway? The cross was the only way, and God was willing, Jesus was willing, because of the horror of perishing apart from God. THAT is how much He loves. That is why He gave.
Perishing is the exact opposite of salvation, it is destruction, eternal separation from Creator God. It is forever living in isolation and torment. The worst part will not be the flames, the agony, the torture or the pain. The horror will be the crystal clear mental understanding that there was every opportunity to accept God’s gracious gift, but we failed to do so. In order to spend eternity in Heaven with God, positive belief in Christ is necessary. All one has to do to perish is do nothing.
But have everlasting life! – This is indeed the greatest gift He could give! The Greek word that is used here means eternal or everlasting. In both cases, it refers not only to duration, but to quality of life! Isn’t that awesome?! Jesus said in John 10:10, I came that you may have life, and have it more abundantly! God wants us to experience the full potential of all that He created us to be, not just after we die, but from the moment we trust in Jesus for our salvation! He has created us for a purpose and with a great purpose. It is when we begin understanding this great truth that life begins opening up and every day is an opportunity for excitement and hope as we look forward to all that God has in store for that day.
This verse sets out two distinct paths, that of the believer and of the unbeliever; the path of fertility and futility; the path of life and of perishing; of approval by God or condemnation by God. It is a choice we all must make. Not making a choice is making a choice by default.
The greatest good provided the greatest action for the greatest need with the greatest example in the greatest sacrifice. He offers the greatest invitation, seeking the greatest response in order to avoid the greatest horror, and to receive the greatest gift.
And that, my friends, is the Greatest Promise. And that, is Christmas in a nutshell. God showed up! Romans 10:13 For whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.
Pastor Tom Ravan