“HE MAKES IT LIKE IT NEVER HAPPENED”
Finally! It’s Christmas Eve. We made it. It seems like it’s been a long time since Thanksgiving, doesn’t it? Actually it has been a long time since Thanksgiving. 2012 is one of those years with five weekends in between Thanksgiving and Christmas instead of the usual four. That won’t happen again for six years.
I hope that all of us can sit down and relax tonight and tomorrow and take the time to reflect on what Christmas truly means, what it’s actually all about. We know that the world will do its best to distract us. It always does. And we know that our own busyness and preoccupation with things that really aren’t all that important will distract us too. But for a little while at least, can we just slow down long enough to thank God for the gift of His Son?
Hopefully the carols we’ve sung and the special music we’ve heard has helped to remind us all of quieter times when things seemed to move a little slower, and the sights and sounds of a world gone mad were a bit harder to see and to hear than they are today.
Lest you younger people think I’m “waxing nostalgic” about a time that never was, I am not! I know full well that the past was never quite as serene and idyllic as we sometimes remember it to be. But the fact is that there was a time not all that long ago when stores displayed manger scenes, when people strolled through neighborhoods singing Christmas carols, and when the words “Merry Christmas” were spoken by virtually everyone.
I’m old enough to remember radio and television dramas that told the truth of the first Christmas and reminded all of us who heard and saw them that Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world. No kids, I’m not two hundred years old!
But I am old enough to have had grandparents who were born not in the last century, the twentieth, but near the end of the one before that, the nineteenth (1891-1897). They came into a world without computers or cell phones. Imagine that! In fact, they came into a world without radios, television, movies, air conditioning, or airplanes, or cars. Things like electricity, modern refrigeration, and central heating were becoming available, but not to everyone, and they were hardly available at all in rural areas.
How did these people live? It took long hours and concerted efforts just to stay warm, to keep a roof over their heads, and to keep food on their tables. When they did have free time, they often spent it doing things like socializing with neighbors. People talked to each other or wrote letters. They read books and lots of newspapers. (By the early 1950’s Chicago still had four daily papers – the Tribune and Sun-Times in the morning; the Daily News and Herald-American in the afternoon.) They played games and went to beaches, amusement parks, concerts, plays, lectures, museums, public exhibitions, circuses, and parades.
And their Christmases were a lot different than ours. Few of them had the resources most of us have today. So instead of over-the-top decorations and expensive presents, they enjoyed things like the simple pleasures of time with family, friends, and special ethnic foods that were served once year. (English side – roast goose and mince pie; Swedish side – fruitcake and lutefisk)
That’s what I remember most vividly about those Christmases growing up in Chicago. All four of my grandparents and even two of my great-grandparents were still around in the late 1940’s and early 50’s. My recollections of those Christmases are among the best and clearest memories I have from my early childhood.
Interestingly enough, I don’t remember much about the gifts I received. At least for children Christmas is mostly about gifts, isn’t it? And while there are always exceptions, for children Christmas is much more about getting gifts than it is about giving them.
Giving and getting gifts will, depending on your family’s tradition, most likely be a part of this evening’s or tomorrow morning’s activities. But do we give gifts the way God gives them, or do we sometimes give gifts as rewards for good deeds done or favors ren-dered? Or worse, do we sometimes give gifts that have strings attached to them?
The gift of salvation in Jesus Christ is one that has no strings attached to it. It isn’t given as a reward for good deeds or favors rendered. It is a gift, God’s gracious gift, and because it is a gift, it can never be earned. With regard to the gift of salvation, the NT usually uses two common Greek words. Both emphasize God’s grace and the absolutely free nature and quality of the gift.
The first Greek word is “dōrĕa.” It means free gift with an emphasis on “free.” More than that, it includes the idea that the gift is above and beyond anything that could be expected or deserved. It’s the word Jesus uses when He speaks to the woman at the well.
10 Jesus…said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.”
Paul uses “dōrĕa” in Romans when he contrasts the consequence of Adam’s sin with the blessing of God’s grace.
15 But the free gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one (Adam) the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many.
Later, Paul uses “dōrĕa” again when he compares the best you and I can give with what Christ has given us.
2 Corinthians 9:15
15 Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!
Peter used “dōrĕa” to identify the gift of the Holy Spirit after he preached the first ser-mon in the new Church of Jesus Christ.
38 And Peter said to them, “Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
So salvation in Jesus Christ is free, it is bestowed by God’s grace, we do not deserve it, there is nothing we can do to earn it, and there is nothing to compare to it. And it comes with the presence and indwelling of God’s Holy Spirit. The NT uses “dōrĕa” in both noun and verb forms nearly forty times. It always speaks of the free gift of salvation.
All true Christians have been made righteous, justified by faith. God’s grace is a free gift. But so is the very faith you place in Christ. They work together, and in doing so they complete the gift of salvation. It is all “dōrĕa,” a free gift from God.
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.
But there is another Greek word translated “gift” in English. It is “charis.” We get the words “charisma” and “charismatic” from it. At first it seems to mean pretty much the same thing as “dōrĕa,” but it differs in one important point. Where “dōrĕa” speaks to the gift itself, “charis” speaks more to the results or the benefits that accrue to those who have received God’s gift.
Thus the “Gifts of the Spirit,” are given to the church for the benefit and well-being of the body. One might say that they are the free gifts of blessing that are the result of the free gift of salvation. The best example I can think of to illustrate this difference is found in a very familiar verse. Have you ever read a gospel tract that didn’t include this verse?
23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
In this verse “free gift” is “charisma,” not “dōrĕa.” The point is that eternal life is not God’s gift of salvation. Eternal life is the result, the benefit of God’s gift of salvation.
In all of this it should be patently obvious that a gift of grace cannot be earned, deserved, or worked for. Thus the NT teaches that human work and human effort do not expand upon or somehow improve grace. They do not because they cannot.
That’s what Paul is teaching us in Romans when he speaks of how Abraham was made righteous by God.
1 What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found?
2 For if Abraham was justified by works (human efforts and good deeds), he has something to boast about (before men); but not before God.
3 For what does the Scripture say? “And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” (Paul goes on to explain…)
4 Now to the one who works, his wage is not reckoned as a favor (as grace), but as what is due.
5 But to the one who does not work (for his salvation), but believes in (the God) who justifies (saves) the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness…
What does all of that mean here in Lake Geneva on this Christmas Eve? To what, or should I say, to whom does it all point? Well, the star hovers over Bethlehem, doesn’t it? It points to a place where animals are housed and fed. It zeroes in on a manger (a feeding trough) wherein a newborn baby boy lies wrapped in cloths. Its message is, “God so loved the world that He (freely and without strings) gave His only begotten Son, that who-ever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life (John 3:16).”
And it tells us what those whose hearts are open to believe in Him will become the recipi-ents of a divine right that they could never obtain on their own.
12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become child-ren of God, even to those who believe in His name,
13 who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but (who were born) of God.
God’s salvation is His gift to all whose hearts He has opened to believe. So let me say it again. Eternal life is the result, the outcome for all who will believe. But we do not need to wait until we stand in His presence to reap the benefits of all the gifts He has given us. We have many of them in the here and now. For example…
• Eternal life doesn’t begin when we die. We have it now. Does that help to allevi-
ate your natural fear of physical death? It should. Of course, we’ll all die, but no true believer will ever perish. What a marvelous and wonderful gift!
• We have the gift of God’s Holy Spirit living in us.
• Lighthouse is a small church, but God has given us every spiritual gift we need to worship Him and to bless and care for each other. For example, we’re blessed with those who have the gifts of teaching and leadership. We’re blessed with those who have the gifts of wisdom and knowledge. We’re blessed with those who have the gifts of spiritual discernment, hospitality, and the ability to show mercy. And that’s just some of them. God has given us what we need.
• We have the gift of our children, grandchildren, and even our great-grandchildren.
• And we have the gift of each other.
Don’t go taking that last part lightly. Each one of us is a gift of God to the other. Do we really love each other? We should, you know. Your brothers and sisters in Christ are one of the best gifts and richest blessings you can have in this life. And we’d better learn to live together because we’re stuck with each other for eternity.
Those are just some of the good gifts God has bestowed on us that we can thank Him for this Christmas Eve.
Let me emphasize one other thing about God’s gifts. James tells us…
17 Every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation, or shifting shadow.
Since all the gifts of God are good and perfect, we should not be surprised that they are also eternal. In the old KJV Romans 11:29 says this: “For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.” But that can be confusing to modern man. Few of us use the word “repentance” like that anymore. Thankfully, most of the more recent translations clear up the problem for us. The NASB, the NIV, the ESV, and the Amplified Bible all say that God’s gifts and His calling “…are irrevocable.”
What does that mean? It means that once God gives a gift, He will never call it back or take it away. He does not change His mind about those whom He calls or the gifts He bestows on them. What God has given you is yours for eternity…thanks to that little baby in the manger. He is worthy of our praise. He is worthy of our thanks. And He is worthy of our worship tonight and every moment of our lives.
So, we have talked about what we have gotten from Him, but what has He gotten from us? What are you, what am I going to give Him this Christmas? We need to give that serious thought. Sometime after Jesus was born, possibly as much as two years, some magi from the East came to Him and brought Him expensive gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Those were costly gifts that were fit for a king. It was only right that they were given to the King of kings and Lords of lords.
Chances are that few of us could afford to give such costly gifts. But you can give some-thing. What will you give Him? May I suggest that the only thing He really wants from you is you? It’s a fair exchange. I mean, He has given Himself to you. He has laid down His life for you. Isn’t it only right that you give yourself to Him? Listen, He will do amazing things with you if you’ll let Him.
I look at what He has done with me, an overweight and over-the-road salesman, coming to the end of a life-long career of “selling stuff,” and I stand amazed. He has blessed me by allowing me to stand before you as your pastor.
He has blessed me by allowing me to preach and teach His Word. What a responsibility! What a privilege! What a gift! Me, a sinner saved by grace. Me, who as a young man turned my back on God and walked away from Him. If He will do that for me, can you imagine what He will do for you?
Is He calling you? Do you hear His voice? Then believe in Him and He will open your heart and give you the faith you need to receive Him and be saved.
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.
But there’s something else I want you to know tonight. We already know that God is ready, willing, and able to pour out His gifts of grace upon you. He will give you His Son, His Holy Spirit, and blessings and gifts beyond number. But in the process, there is one thing He will take away from you.
• He will take away your sins. “…it is He who will save His people from their sins
• You only need to look to Him. “Behold (Look), the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29b)!”
• He paid the price for your sin so you don’t have to pay it. “…Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:3c)…”
If you are a Christian tonight, rejoice! If you are not, turn to the manger, turn to Jesus, repent, and He will take away your sin. He will do this and then He will pour out His gifts upon you. And you will be able to say, “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift (2 Corinthians 9:15)!”
Well, I’m almost finished. But someone may be wondering, “Why did he call this mes-sage, ‘He Makes it Like it Never Happened’?” It’s because of little Timmy Yorgey. Timmy inspired me a few weeks ago in the aftermath of the “fire alarm disaster.”
The boy just did what the sign said. The words on the handle of the fire alarm box said, “PULL DOWN.” Timmy pulled down. The noise and light show that followed shocked him beyond words. Building custodians came. Police came. Fireman came.
And Timmy, through his tears, began to ask people for forgiveness. He asked Ginny. He asked me. He even asked one of the firemen. Timmy had erred. He had done something he should not have done, and he sought forgiveness. (By the way, that says something about the things he’s being taught at home, doesn’t it?)
Look, you and I have done something wrong, haven’t we? You and I have done far more than “pulling down” on a fire alarm box. Have we asked for forgiveness?
Timmy was repentant. Was he ever! When he came up to me, he said he was sorry for what he had done, and he wanted to be forgiven. It was a touching thing to see. And that is exactly the way you and I need to approach God. “O God, look at what I’ve done. Will you forgive me?” What do you think His answer will be? I can tell you.
1 John 1:9
9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
*John 6:37 (Jesus speaking)
37 “All that the Father gives Me shall come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.” (back to Timmy Yorgey and the fire alarm)
Later in the day, Timmy, still upset over his recent traumatic experience, said to his parents, “I want it to be like it was before. I want it to be like it never happened.”
When you go home tonight take time to remember God’s gift of His Son. Take time to remember all the wonderful things He has done for you since the first time you went to Him and said, “Will you forgive me?”
And then remember what He took away from you. He took away all of your sins, past, present, and future. More than that, He took away the horrible and eternal consequences of those sins too. They are gone.
12 As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our trans-
gressions from us.
When God spoke of the new covenant in Jeremiah, He said this…
34d “…I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”
Have you asked Jesus to forgive your sin? If you have, it is all gone – as far as the east is from the west. It is all forgotten – “…their sin I will remember no more.” He makes it like it never happened!
So, Timmy, we thank you for the lesson. And Lord God, we thank you for the gift of your Son and all the blessings that came with Him on that first Christmas. And along with all that you have given us, you have taken away our sin. You’ve made it like it never happened.
~ Pray ~