How do you respond when someone presents you with a gift? Surprised? Grateful? Embarrassed?
How would you have responded by receiving the following gifts? Police detective Robert Cunningham liked to hang out at Sal’s Pizzeria in Yonkers, New York. One day in 1984, in lieu of a tip, Cunningham offered waitress Phyllis Penzo half interest in a lottery ticket. What happened next? You guessed it. Penzo’s ticket was worth $3 million. Their story became the film “It Could Happen to You.”
Or what would you have done if Elvis Presley would have approached you with a gift? Starting in 1955, Elvis gave Cadillacs to friends, family, business associates, bodyguards, backup singers, and many others. On July 27, 1975, alone, he spent $140,000 on 14 Cadillacs that he then gave as gifts (one to a total stranger).
None of us here have received a winning lottery ticket or a Cadillac fro a celebrity. But we do serve a generous God who gave us something much better. How do we respond to God’s generosity? Last week we talked about God’s gift in Jesus Christ, based on Romans 8:32: “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how will he not also with him freely give us all things.” This morning, we continue our study of gifts and look at how we respond to God’s gift of His Son, Jesus Christ.
But how do we receive His gift? In His day, Jesus was received in many ways. Some listened. Others followed. Still some departed with indifference. What is your response to Him this Christmas? Is it just another holiday that demands certain activity and preparation? Or should it be a life-changing time for us, from the inside out?
At the heart of this is how we react to God’s glory. In Exodus 33, Moses is having a dialogue with God. Moses said: “Show me Your glory!” But God responds that no man can see Him and live. But then at the appointed time, God sent His Son, Jesus, as the manifestation of His glory. Now compare this with John 1:14 which tells us about the advent of Jesus: “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
Pastor Tim Keller states that “There are not just two ways to respond to God but three: irreligion, religion, and the gospel.” “Being religious,” on the other hand, is the world’s description of a changed life. But we know that it is not about religiosity. Rather, it is about relationship that changes a life.
In contrast to religiosity, those who genuinely received Jesus could not help but be radically changed from that time on. Within them was a personal adjustment. Something occurred that was so important that it rearranged their lives. John 14:23 means keeping, love, abiding.
Things are different because of who lives there. Talk to someone who owns a rental property. They will tell you that good tenants make all the difference in the world. The problem is when renters don’t’ treat the home like their own! If there is change, is it because someone Good has taken up residence in us.
Let’s consider the following. Some responded in awe. The wise men presented gifts and fell down and worshipped Jesus (Matthew 2:11). Others radically changed their lives. Matthew was a tax collector. He made money from being dishonest. Tax collectors were some of the most despised people in first century Palestinian culture because they worked for the other team. Notice what Luke 5:27 says: “After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth.”Follow me,” Jesus said to him, 28 and Levi got up, left everything and followed him.” Matthew saw something in Jesus that he desperately needed. So he left his lifestyle of dishonesty and became a disciple.
And there were some that were more deliberate. Nicodemus visited Jesus by night and was gradually convinced that He was the Messiah (John 3); Others responded with offerings of restoration. In Luke 19:8, we are told that Zaccheus, another tax collector, gave half of his possessions to the poor and restored those he swindled with four times the amount of restoration.
And then there were those that responded with extravagance. Take, for instance, the woman mentioned in Luke 7:37: “When a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfume, and as she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.” She spent an exorbitant amount to how Jesus what He meant to her. Jesus highlights her generosity with the words: “I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven– for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.” When God does something; when He discloses Himself to us, hopefully there is unction to respond in some way. God’s disclosure brings about change in our lives.
In contrast, there were those who acted with indifference. I find these discouraging and know that human goodness is not a reality. If that were so, Jesus would have had universal acceptance. Even in his day and area, some displayed apathy. Matthew 13:58: “And He did not do many miracles there because of their unbelief.” Or John 6: 66: “From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. 67 “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve. 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
Receptivity to God can be defined in many ways. What about you? How are you affected by Christmas and the thought of Jesus coming to your world? Does it do something in you? Certainly there is faith and repentance. Repentance and faith have always been the way that humans have responded to God. Jesus said in Mark 1:15: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” Repentance means to turn; a change of heart and mind. Faith is identified with trust. It was an embracing of God.
Forgiveness. In other words, one cannot know God intimately and hold a grudge or be embittered. Colossians 3:12 teaches us: “…as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.”
Maybe there’s a willingness to serve. After Isaiah experienced the vision of the Lord in His temple and was cleansed of His unclean lips, he could not help but respond: “Here am I, Lord, Send me.”
With faith and repentance also comes love for others. Here, I’m speaking of neighborly love towards each other 1 John 3:10 says: “By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother.”
In one of Jesus’ last conversations He had with His disciples, he tells them of heaven and that He was going away to prepare a place for them. He spoke of the Holy Spirit coming and that He wanted them to love one another. He also spoke of the indicator of their love for God, which was obeying His teaching. John 14:21 Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.” 22 Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, “But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?” Interesting is the fact that He is about to go away. Shortly after this conversation, Jesus would die on the cross, then rise again, and eventually ascend into heaven. A circle of love and obedience would characterize those who belong to the invisible church. Then in verse 23 Jesus replied, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” From this we know that love is out of commitment; not a feeling. Feelings fade; commitment is lasting.
Donald Carson states: “Jesus words refer not only to the resurrection appearances to the first disciples but also the corresponding self-disclosures of Jesus to His displaces in later times.” After all, Jesus said in Matthew 28:20: “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
How will you respond to God’s generosity this Christmas? Will you receive Jesus like He was your favorite gift of all time, embracing Him, loving Him and following Him? Your obedience to His teaching as an indicator of a change that has taken place within you? Or will you enjoy Him nostalgically for a time, just to go on about your business? Jesus is received in different ways this holiday season. How is He received by you?
As they say, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Back in the 1870’s Egypt rejected sculptor Frédéric Bartholdi’s plan to build the Statue of Liberty as a lighthouse for the Suez Canal. So the Franco-American Union, private citizens, and companies raised the money to give the statue to America for its centennial. From then on, it has been a treasured symbol of our freedom in America.
Chris Tomlin, well known Christian songwriter, was recently quoted: “I’m never going to apologize for saying Christmas is about Jesus Christ,” he said. “Someday you may be put in jail for that, but too bad.” When asked if he would be willing to be imprisoned for Christ, Tomlin responded: “Of course I would.” Why would he say such a thing? Because he appreciates the gift!