Tag Archives: Jesus

The Reason for Easter

Although often crowded by the attention given to Spring or the expectation of the Easter Bunny, today has been the foundation of the Christian faith for 2,000 years. Resurrection Sunday is why Christians exist. It is what separates Christianity from all of the world’s religions. It is the deal maker. It is the day that we gather to say: “He is risen! He is risen indeed!”

Jesus has had a monumental effect on human history. Consider the following statements made by both believers and unbelievers. H.G. Wells, British writer who died in 1946 said:

“I am an historian, I am not a believer, but I must confess as an historian that this penniless preacher from Nazareth is irrevocably the very center of history. Jesus Christ is easily the most dominant figure in all of history. Christ is the most unique person of history. No man can write a history of the human race without giving first and foremost place to [Jesus].”
Daniel Webster, 19th century American politician and the founder of Webster’s dictionary, said: “All that is best in the civilization of today, is the fruit of Christ’s appearance among men.”

Kenneth Scott Latourette, former President of the American Historic Society:
“As the centuries pass by, the evidence is accumulating that measured by its effect on history, Jesus is the most influential life ever lived on this planet. The influence appears to be mounting. No other life lived on this planet has so widely and deeply affected mankind.”

And finally, Will Durant, popular modern historian and philosopher, when asked what he felt the apex of history was, replied: “The three years that Jesus of Nazareth walked the earth.”

Jesus said many powerful things. His Sermon on the Mount has been acclaimed as the most powerful message delivered in all of history. But His influence is not due to the fact that he was a sage. Sages come and go. It is not because He was wealthy, because he was not. Jesus was born into poverty. It is not because of His great heritage. This is why many could not get past that He was apparently the son of a carpenter from Galilee. Rather, it is because of His resurrection from the dead and its practical and historical effect on all who follow Him.

The influence of Jesus’ life is found in the short verse of Romans 4:25: “Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.” To explain this statement, let us compare these two sections of Scripture, found in Paul’s letter to the Romans, chapter four and Mark’s version of the resurrection, found in Mark 16. We first understand that…

JESUS WENT TO THE CROSS FOR A REASON.

The Apostle Paul gives us that reason in verse 25: “He who was delivered up because of our transgressions….” Jesus did not die a passive death, as if he was a victim of a horrible circumstance. His death was a part of God’s ultimate plan to provide the means of atonement for our sins. Each person has a deep spiritual need that cannot be met by himself or philosophy or money or sex or relationships or a career, etc. It is only met through a relationship with Jesus Christ. Each of us has a God-shaped void that can only be filled by Him. The fourth century church father Augustine once prayed: “O Lord, our hearts are restless, until they find their rest in You.”

If you are a member of the human race, you are a sinner. Jesus said in John 8:34: “Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin. But if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” Sin is defined as any transgression against God’s moral law. By being a sinner, you are at odds with God. You cannot conquer your sin by “doing better next time.” As someone once said, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Each of us has a sin problem that can only be adequately dealt with by God.

But God, in His love, has reached out to you in the life, death and resurrection of His one and only Son, Jesus Christ. Both Jesus’ death and resurrection addresses our two greatest spiritual needs, which are forgiveness and restoration. You cannot have Easter Sunday without Good Friday. That tells us that our greatest need is not to have a good self-image. Our greatest need is not to feel positive about yourself. It is not to overcome the trials that come your way or achieve your greatest potential. Rather, your greatest need is to be reconciled to the One that you have offended. And that One is God. As Charles Sell wrote: “If our greatest need had been information, God would have sent us an educator. If our greatest need had been technology, God would have sent us a scientist. If our greatest need had been money, God would have sent us an economist. If our greatest need had been pleasure, God would have sent us an entertainer. But our greatest need was forgiveness, so God sent us a Savior. He has provided the means of your forgiveness. This is why Jesus went to the cross. “He was delivered up for our transgressions.” Secondly, we are told that…

JESUS LEFT THE TOMB FOR A REASON.

If you’ll notice from Mark’s resurrection account, that reason was not automatically known. In fact, you see that the three ladies who went to the tomb on that Sunday morning, fully expected to see the body of Jesus there, awaiting anointing, which was a gesture of devotion. They are met with shock to see the stone rolled away and the angel seated, announcing Jesus’ resurrection. So griped with fear and amazement that they ran back to the where Jesus’ disciples were and talked to no one on the way. They are not sure what just happened. Common in all of the gospel accounts of Jesus resurrection is that the disciples did not expect it. As, they all meet an angel and they all react in fear and amazement.

Mark was written, most likely before the other three gospels were. Matthew and Luke are thought to have used Mark as a template for their accounts. Mark and Romans were probably written at the same time. Mark describes the resurrection event, Paul interprets it. Paul says that Jesus coming back from the dead is a testimony that God can do the impossible. He links the resurrection faith with that of Abraham. Abraham is the father of all those who believe, mentioned at least three times in Romans chapter four, verses 11, 16 and 17. Only God: “…gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did.” And verse 21: “…what He had promised, He was able to perform.”

This event occurred in 33 or 34 A.D. Fast forward about twenty years, when Christians were going through persecution and the expansion and dispersion of the church. Now, Paul, writing to the believers in Rome, seeks to teach these new converts of the similarities between them and Abraham, the father of the believing. Abraham believed God and God counted it to him as righteousness.

Verse 25: “…who was delivered up because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification.” Jesus died for your transgressions and mine. Each of us needs a right relationship with God. Justification means “…to set free, acquittal.” Jesus death and resurrection are two sides of the same coin. We cannot have forgiveness of sin without His death. Nor can we have justification/acquittal without His being raised from the dead. Charles Hodge, was one of America’s greatest theologians who taught at Princeton in the 19th century. He said: “This verse is a comprehensive statement of the gospel. His death and His resurrection were alike necessary; His death, as a satisfaction to divine justice. Had He not risen, it would have been evident that he was not what He claimed to be. We should be yet in our sins, and therefore still under condemnation.”

Therefore, there are four spiritual laws that are important for everyone to know before they leave this earth. One is that God loves you and has a plan for your life. In other words, you were made for a reason. You are not here by chance, a product of circumstance. You were made by a loving Creator God. But your sin has separated you from Him. You have offended Him by Your deeds. Some may judge a deeds ethics by the hurt it does to others; and if it causes no hurt, then it is not wrong. But God does not believe in situational ethics. He has established eternal standards of what is right and wrong and demands their obedience. When one of His principles is broken, it is as if we’ve broken them all. And we are worthy of His wrath. Hell is a real place because God is a just God.

Thirdly, Jesus came as the God-provided means for your forgiveness. He gave His life so that you could be reconciled with God, your Creator. Lastly, you must receive Christ by faith, in which the same way that Abraham believed God’s promise, and it was credited to His account as righteousness. Jesus lived the life God demanded from you and died the death you deserved. For your salvation, Jesus left the tomb on that morning so long ago. Jesus’ resurrection means life-giving change for you and me. That is why Christians are people of tremendous hope.

Because of Easter, we can have a new life. Because of Jesus’ resurrection, we can have a new identity. Because of Jesus being raised from the dead, we can go to heaven when we die. But you must follow Him. You must seek forgiveness for your sins. You must become a disciple.

Jesus dying on the cross and being raised from the dead has been the hope of Christians for 2,000 years. Governments can try to stamp that out, to no success. In some of the places where the church is heavily persecuted, it is also expanding at an unprecedented rate. When all is said and done, Jesus’ death and resurrection is the only hope that we have.

As Vice President, George Bush represented the U.S. at the funeral of former Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev. Bush was deeply moved by a silent protest carried out by Brezhnev’s widow. She stood motionless by the coffin until seconds before it was closed. Then, just as the soldiers touched the lid, Brezhnev’s wife performed an act of great courage and hope, a gesture that must surely rank as one of the most profound acts of civil disobedience ever committed: She reached down and made the sign of the cross on her husband’s chest. There in the citadel of secular, atheistic power, the wife of the man who had run it all hoped that her husband was wrong. She hoped that there was another life, and that that life was best represented by Jesus who died on the cross.

Following Jesus remains the most important, the most critical decision you can ever make. Have you done so?

Jesus Knows Your Needs

When Jesus died on the cross, He experienced emotional, spiritual and physical pain. Consider the words found in John 19:28: “Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.”

All of this happened as a result of the work being finished and His life as a fulfillment of Scripture. There were many times in Jesus’ life that He avoided death. At each time, the gospel writers would record something to the effect: “His time had not yet come….” For instance, in John 7:1, we are told that the Jews were seeking to kill him. He said to them: “My time is not yet here…Go up to the feast yourselves; I do not go up to this feast because My time has not yet fully come.”

Jesus’ life was a fulfillment of Scripture. Regardless of how we might view the Bible, Jesus saw that it as our chief authority deserving of reverence. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said that not even the smallest portion of the law would pass away until all of it was fulfilled (Matthew 5:17).

Jesus viewed His suffering, His death and His resurrection as a glorious fulfillment of God’s plan. In contrast, we don’t look at suffering as God ordained. We think that life should be free of pain and adversity. But that just is not realistic, is it? He explained to two of his discouraged disciples on the Road to Emmaus in Luke 24:25: “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

And shortly before He died, Jesus said: “I am thirsty.” The fact that Jesus was parched tells us that He experienced so much of His humanity. His statement proves that Jesus was a real human being. He experienced betrayal, discouragement, and now his body is racked with pain; at the very end, He expresses thirst. Psalm 22:15 describes the level of thirst: My mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth…. A potsherd is a broken piece of pottery, dried hard and good for nothing.

Because of the physical stress He was under, it most likely He was reaching a state of extreme dehydration. He probably had not had anything to drink in at least 24 hours. Water is needed for circulation and other bodily processes including respiration and converting food to energy. It has been shown that if you lose just 2.5% of your body weight from water loss, you will lose 25% of your efficiency. For a 175 pound man that is only about two quarts of water. This causes the heart to work harder and circulation of blood to be less efficient. Jesus had been flogged and crucified. All of this under a blazing Middle Eastern sun with the presence of extreme emotional stress. His statement reminds us of His extreme suffering on our behalf.

A mockery of satisfying His thirst, John 19: 29 tells us that they filled a sponge with sour wine, and put it on hyssop, and put it to His mouth. Hyssop was a plant used for sprinkling blood or water in Jewish religious ceremonies. The way that they treated his thirst was cruel, sour, wine-vinegar would hardly quench a thirst; would make most of us sick.

But this is what Jesus went through for us. We call it Good Friday because those who believe realize that they cannot be good apart from that great sacrifice. Someone once said that all the world’s religions are marked by man’s efforts to reach out and grasp God, or the idea of God. It is Christianity that teaches that God reached out to man by sending Jesus to this earth to go to the cross on our behalf. 2 Corinthians 5:21 states: “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

This is why Christians for centuries have believed what the Nicene Creed has taught for centuries concerning Jesus: “…Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and was made man, and crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried, and the third day He rose again according to the Scriptures….”

Have acknowledged your need for Him? He invites you today to receive His forgiveness, be reconciled to His Father and follow Him.

A Reasonable Response

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!

God’s Gift to Us

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.”