As I approached this Advent season, I thought about the one thing that seems to be common among most Americans. That is the purchase of gifts. The day after Thanksgiving, also known as Black Friday, has become just as popular as any day of the year. A week or so ago, I read that there were people camping out in front of some stores, ready to take advantage of the bargains offered.
This Advent season, I want to focus on gifts. A gift, by definition is something voluntarily transferred by one person to another without compensation. For instance, if someone gifts you money, it is given without the obligation to pay it back. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, many of us have to shop for the teacher, the bus driver, the boss, the piano instructor, the uncle that has everything, etc., etc. And we are hard pressed to mention what we want, especially if we are satisfied and have need of nothing. A fellow pastor stated: “I have to put together a wish list of gift ideas for Christmas and I cannot think of anything. Feeling like I have to invent something to want.”
In 2011, a record was set on Black Friday weekend. According to cnn.com: “Earlier than ever store openings and steep discounts helped retailers notch record sales …. Total spending over the four-day weekend following Thanksgiving two years ago reached a record $52.4 billion, up 16% from $45 billion in 2010, according to a survey by the National Retail Federation released Sunday. A record 226 million consumers shopped in stores and online between Thursday and Sunday, up from 212 million the year before. Individual shoppers spent more too, the NRF said. The average holiday shopper shelled out $398.62, up from $365.34 in 2010. All this to say that shopping for Christmas gifts is a big deal.
And yet, we could lose sight of those gifts that money cannot buy. Those things that in fact, define generosity, but you don’t have to camp out in front of Best Buy or Wal-Mart to get them.
Over the next few Sundays, I would like to look at the idea of gifts, and focus on those that are more spiritual in nature. Today, I ask: What have you been given? Let’s look at God’s gift to us. Our Scripture is taken from Romans 8:32, where Paul writes: “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?”
The verse is nestled in a larger passage of Romans 8:31-39. Paul, having established his argument of justification by faith alone in Christ alone: that in order to be justified in the eyes of God, based on the merits of Christ. In order to take advantage of these gifts, one must repent and trust Christ. He states this explicitly in Romans 1:16: “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 17 For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’”
And with trusting Christ, there are mounds of blessings that come our way. The Protestant Reformer John Calvin, wrote: “It is a remarkable and clear evidence of inappreciable love, that the Father refused not to bestow His Son for our salvation. And so Paul draws an argument from the greater to the less, that as he had nothing dearer, or more precious, or more excellent than His Son, He will neglect nothing of what he foresees will be profitable to us.” (Calvin, Commentaries on the Epistle to the Romans, 322)
So what are those things that we’ve been given, as followers of Jesus Christ; things that money could not pay for? Consider the following:
Because of God’s generosity, we are given the Holy Spirit. The third person of the Trinity, He has been given to us as our Comforter, Guide and Friend. He prays for us, as verse 26 says: “And in the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words….” The gift of the Spirit is in spite of the groaning of creation and the longing of redemption of our bodies, which will occur when Jesus returns. The Holy Spirit fills in the blanks as we come to the Lord by faith.
Because of God’s generosity, we are also given the gift of predestinating grace. Romans 8:29: “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” The simplest way to put this is that God chooses His bride. He does not choose everyone, but gracious picks those who will come to Him by faith and gives them the faith they need to come to Him. Jesus said in John 6:44 “No one can come to Me, unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.” This is the wonderful knowledge meant for every Christian to know that God has chosen me as His very own, even in spite of my hatred and rebellion towards Him. He softened my heart and made me receptive to His good news. And I am where I am today because of Him. He picked me and worked in my heart to redeem me from sin’s guilt and power.
He did this on the basis of His Son, Jesus, who went to the cross and died for you and me. God’s greatest gift was Jesus. Jesus was not just a gift to us, but delivered up for us. This implies that He died in our place. He was like us in being human, flesh and blood. He was unlike us in that He was God’s one and only Son. And He was offered as a sacrifice in our place. Isaiah 9:6: “For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us….” The Messiah was a gift to us. Not on loan, even undeserving! Jesus came as our gift.
Contrast it with the story of Abraham and Isaac. God asked Abraham to take his Son, his only Son, to the wilderness and sacrifice him as an offering. Genesis 22:2 Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.”
Abraham obeyed in faith, but Isaac was spared, as God provided the ram in the thicket. The angel said in Genesis 22:12: “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said.”Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.” Now consider the words of John 3:16, when Jesus spoke of Himself: “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. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” We are so familiar with those words, could it be that they are easily overlooked? Consider the way that Pastor John Piper puts it in perspective: “I have heard it said, ‘God didn’t die for frogs. So he was responding to our value as humans.’ This turns grace on its head. We are worse off than frogs. They have not sinned. They have not rebelled and treated God with the contempt of being inconsequential in their lives. God did not have to die for frogs. They aren’t bad enough. We are. Our debt is so great, only a divine sacrifice could pay it.” As you prepare for the upcoming holidays, remember that God’s love is more incredible than we could ever imagine. So what do we do? How do we respond? Consider the following:
• A Holy Pause. Stop, think and say a prayer of thanksgiving; several prayers of thanksgiving. Jesus lived a full life and yet died at 33. What is the key to that fullness? His agenda was the Father’s agenda. We must stop, think and pray so as not to miss out on how God might speak to us this Christmas season.
• A Worshipful Heart. Make time to worship. Thank God this Christmas season, not just because of what He has given you, but because of who He is!
• A Willing Spirit. Sacrifice. What can you do for others with little return? What can you sacrifice in order to bless someone else? Even when they don’t deserve it! That’s the best time to give it to them! I read this statement recently and I believe it to be true. Think about it: “Blessings are the currency of God’s love. Today is more than a time to remember how many we have for we are all rich, it is a time to think about how we will give away what we have been given.”
In the coming weeks, I’m going to be looking at other aspects of gifts such as our gift to God and our gift to others. What if Jesus had not come? Would we have these things? The Holy Spirit? Predestinating grace? Jesus’ precious sacrifice for sin and all that comes with it? Our lives would be vastly different; our world would be vastly different. Let me end with this story from Missionary Monthly: Bobby had read in his Bible lesson with Daddy just before bedtime the words, “If I had not come.” When he (thought he) awoke Christmas morning there was no stocking or holly wreath. He went for a walk and found factories busy at work; he went to the orphanage and found only a vacant lot. Then he went to his church and found a “For Sale” sign with “If I had not come” written at the bottom. Again he found these words over a gate post of an empty lot, where he went to find a hospital. Disconsolate, he ran home and picked up his Bible, but all the last part of the Book had blank pages. He awoke, found that it was a dream! And with that he slipped down on his knees and said, “Oh, dear Jesus, I am so glad that You did come. Help me to tell others about You.”