So this is Christmas – Unimagined Grace – John 1
Who has all their Christmas shopping done? Now you can relax and be on cruise control. Who still needs to do some more shopping? And here’s the even bigger question-who needs to start their Christmas shopping? Nothing like waiting until the last minute. But let’s be honest-you have until Wednesday. That should be plenty of time to get all your gifts! But I want you to think about what it means to give a gift. For most of us it’s the Christmas obligation. Did you get something for everybody you need to buy a gift for? Did you forget anybody? Or worse is when someone gives you a great gift-but you didn’t get them anything. And you respond-Thank you. Your gift is coming! It’s so great it’s not here yet! And now you have to rush out and quickly get them a gift. But as we think about the essence of giving a gift-it means you’ve picked something out that you think somebody else is going to like. At least you’re hoping they like it. When I saw this I knew it was perfect for you. You’ll totally love it. There’s something really exciting about finding that perfect gift for somebody. Now it doesn’t always happen-some people are hard to shop for-and that’s why they sell gift cards. But when you do find the perfect gift you’re so excited to give it to them. So excited to see the look on their face when they open it and respond with amazement and surprise. However, I want you to watch this short clip about opening a gift and see if you’ve ever responded this way-clip. Has that ever been your response to a Christmas present? Or any sort of present? How much do I owe you? Hand me the bill? Or have you ever thought about presenting a bill when you give someone a present? Hope you like the gift? I spent more than I thought I would. But here’s the bill-you can pay me now if you want! We all know that paying for a gift goes against the very nature of what a gift is. Now I said earlier that a lot of gifts tend to be our Christmas obligation-we have to make sure we give a gift to everyone on our list and hope we don’t forget anybody. But in its essence a gift is something voluntarily and freely given to someone else. You purchased it, you paid for it-but you’re giving it to that person and they don’t owe you anything. It’s your desire to bless them simply because you want to.
And as we continue our Christmas series this morning-that’s exactly what we’re going to see. We introduced our theme last week-So this is Christmas.. And maybe you’ve heard that song playing at the store-or it’s come up on your Christmas playlist through Spotify or iHeart radio or Apple Music. But John Lennon is attempting to summarize Christmas as this. And I’m sure each one of us would come up with a different this. So this is Christmas…time with family. So this is Christmas…really good food, and my favorite Christmas music. So this is Christmas…candlelight service at church and driving home in a beautiful snowfall. And those are all great things-but if we needed to boil it down to a single this. To say-so this, and this alone, is Christmas…God’s Word would tell us that it’s His Unimagined Grace.
Open your Bibles up to John 1. And if you’ve ever read John-you know that it’s slightly different from the other 3 gospel writers. Matthew, Mark and Luke all look at things in a very similar way- especially as it relates to the Christmas story. They take all the earthly, eyewitness accounts of Jesus’ arrival and let us know what happened. John lets us know what happened too-but does so in a much more cosmic way, looking at Jesus’ arrival from heaven’s perspective-John 1:1-4. John is clearly saying that The Word always existed, The Word was with God and was God (that’s the amazing concept of the Trinity), and The Word was the One who made all things. So John is saying that The Word is immensely important. That The Word is the eternal, all-powerful 2nd Person of the Trinity who brought all things into existence-and listen to what he says the Word does-v. 14a-that’s Christmas-Jesus taking on human flesh and being born as a baby in order to dwell among us. From the One who always existed and never had a beginning to being born as a baby. Remarkable distance-v. 14-15. John the Baptist was physically older than Jesus by 6 months-but in His essence Jesus was infinitely older because He was the One who came before all things because He made all things-v. 16-17. The message that John is driving home right from the start is that we have received unimagined grace through Jesus, grace upon grace as it says.
So I want us to explore some definitions-because that word grace is very closely related to the idea of gifts that we were just talking about. Now when you think of grace, you might be thinking about who gets picked to say grace at Christmas dinner (hoping it’s not you-or some long-winded member of the family because you’re hungry and Christmas dinner smells really good). So it’s easy to think of grace as something that refers to the words of a prayer that someone says. Or you might think of grace as something related to a ballerina-she was so graceful on the stage-while the rest of us are clumsy, uncoordinated and ungraceful. And those are all legitimate usages of the word grace-but when it comes to a biblical definition, I can still recall what I learned growing up in church. We had a program for kids called Awana where you learned verses and did Bible readings-and I can still recall the definition we had to learn of Pt1:Grace is: God’s undeserved favor towards sinners. Now that was a lot to get my 4th grade brain around. At recess during school my friends and I didn’t tend to talk about undeserved favor with each other-but it was a concept we experienced all the time. Because what happens when kids want to play soccer or kickball or baseball at recess? There’s two captains who pick teams. And normally when the captain is picking teams he picks the most talented, athletic kids first. He favors them and it’s well deserved -everyone knows who the best players are-then it goes back and forth about who’s the next best player to pick-until near the end of the selection process when the captain is forced to not so much pick-but accept the worst players. I guess you get him and I get him! I’m sure we can all picture that kid saying-pick me, pick me-who no one wants to pick and he keeps getting overlooked until the end because there’s no advantage to having him on the team, nothing he’s offering that team to help them win-in fact, he’s a disadvantage to the team. So at recess, everybody knows who’s getting picked first and who will get picked last-and I won’t ask for a show of hands on where we all were in that spectrum! But every once in a while, there was a team captain with a heart-a nice kid in the class-who intentionally picked the worst players first out of kindness. And we all wondered-why did you pick him first? What’s he offering the team? Because based on athletic skill that player didn’t deserve getting picked first at all-but it was undeserved favor he was shown-because the captain was reaching out in grace.
And that’s exactly what God does in our lives. He’s the team captain who says I’ll pick you to the most unlikely players. But His standard isn’t based on athletic skill-rather it’s based on our obedience to His commands and that’s where we fall woefully short. God’s Word tells us that none of us are righteous, none of us have perfectly obeyed Him or lived the life we should. There’s not a single person you’ve ever met who can honestly say-I think I’ve done it all right in life. I literally can’t think of a single mistake I’ve made or something I’ve done wrong. Ever since I was born I’ve done everything right. I’m on a great streak! Nobody says that. But on the flip side we’re not all that keen to admit that we’re sinners either. We don’t try to deny our mistakes but we don’t always like to own up to them. So for most of us we try to land somewhere in the middle hoping that God sees how hard we’ve tried to do the right thing. That even though we’ve made lots of mistakes God will overlook them, brush them aside and say no big deal, I see how hard you’ve tried in life. But the reality is that our sins are a big deal. God in His holiness can’t brush them aside or sweep them under the rug. He has to deal with them otherwise God be God. He wouldn’t be holy or just. If God turned the other way or overlooked our mistakes He would be just as guilty as we are. So God must hold us accountable for all our mistakes and sins. And that’s where His grace comes in. Look at what it says in Eph 2:4-5. That says we weren’t just making a few mistakes or coming up short on our good deeds-it says we were dead in our sins. We were stuck. We weren’t just the last kid to get picked on the team, in our sins we were disqualified from being on the team. And yet God’s grace comes to us-back to Pt1. He says-I’ll reach down and save you even when you can’t save yourself-even when there’s no chance, no possibility. Our salvation isn’t a matter of us trying our hardest to please God-rather it’s Him in His grace coming down to save us when we don’t deserve it. And that leads to Pt2:Grace reveals: we aren’t capable on our own but totally dependent on another.
If we were capable of handling things ourselves, if we were truly able to solve all our issues and fix all our sin problems-then there would have been no need for God’s grace. If you on your own could live a life that was decent enough to please God and earn a spot in heaven where He says- You’ve been a fairly good guy, not done anything too bad-could have been better-but good enough, you’re in. If God could say that about you-then His grace isn’t necessary-which means Christmas isn’t necessary. I like what it says in the devotional by Paul Tripp, 99.
Despite what the movies all say-Christmas does not celebrate the inner goodness of man and if we all come together something magical will happen. Isn’t that the basis of all the Hallmark Channel movies? I want them to make a movie where everybody in the village comes together but the Christmas celebration falls apart and everybody’s mad at each other and the guy and girl don’t get together but end up arguing and they burn the tree. That seems far more realistic-because on our own we do make a mess of things-we argue and fight with one another, our motives aren’t good but often tend to be selfish making sure we get what we want. So Christmas doesn’t celebrate the fact that we can make something magical happen, instead it celebrates the fact that we can’t, we’re not capable of making something magical happen, that even though we’re not very good people, goodness has come for us-and that goodness is Jesus. He is the one to whom we are totally dependent. Maybe you’ve never thought about it like that-but Christmas confronts us with our dependency on another-and that’s Him. We can’t solve our own problems or fix ourselves-but the one who can fix us has come. Look at Eph 2:8. That is what salvation is. That is what going to heaven when you die is all about-it is not your own doing. You haven’t earned anything or deserve anything-instead it is all based on the gift of God’s grace that’s come to you. And that gift, that grace is nothing short of Jesus Himself. Back to John 1:14, 16. That is the gift of Christmas, His arrival is the gift we need. So Pt3:Grace exists: because Jesus exists.
About a month before Christmas I stumbled upon a quote from one of my favorite books which said something in such an interesting and unique way that it really stuck with me and got me thinking about what Christmas is all about-Imperfect Disciple, 210. I love that! The gift of God’s grace isn’t some spiritual force or theological substance that enters our souls. It’s not a nebulous concept or some sort of glowing entity we receive-rather it’s a person, it’s Jesus. I heard someone talking recently about how at Christmastime we’re reminded of how we all want to be a part of something bigger and greater than ourselves. And I thought yes that’s true-that’s certainly the universal longing of the human soul-to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. But this person answered it by saying that sometimes just looking up at the stars and seeing them scattered across the night sky is that something bigger we need, knowing the stars are out there is the connection we’re craving. And again I thought-sure the stars remind us of that big universe we’re a part of-but stars are nothing more than a distant ball of nuclear fusion turning hydrogen into helium. The connection that I’m craving, the something bigger than myself isn’t satisfied by an interstellar ball of hot burning gas millions of light years away-it’s satisfied by a person. I’m not meant to find my satisfaction just in the stars, but to find it in the Maker of the stars Himself-and that’s Jesus. You and I were destined for a relationship with the One who was with God and was God as John 1 says. The One who made all things because without Him nothing was made. The One who became flesh and dwelt among us. The One who is full of grace and truth. We weren’t just destined for some spiritual concepts-but for a person-and that’s Jesus-Tripp, 38-39.
And that’s exactly what we said in Pt3. Do you know Him? Do you have a relationship with Him? He is the One you need. His life embodies grace because He’s come to live the perfect life we never could and then die the death our sins deserved. We were the guilty ones-not Him. We were the ones dead in our sins-and He’s the come to rescue us. He’s done what we never could do in order to give us what we don’t deserve-and that’s eternal life with Him. And we receive it by faith in Him-John 1:10. John keeps reminding us of Jesus’ identity as the One who made the world. He’s saying-Don’t forget that. You want to be part of something bigger than yourself? Put your faith in the One who made the entire world! John 1:11-12. It is by believing in Jesus, by putting your faith in Him, that you’re saved. It’s nothing you have done. Nothing you deserve or have earned by being good or trying hard in life. He’s done it all for you-and you’re called to freely receive Him into your life. Which is exactly what you do with a gift-you freely receive it. And that’s the last Pt4:Grace isn’t: something we pay back, but a person we receive-Jesus.
If we return back to that opening clip from the message I trust that you’re not planning to pay someone back for the Christmas gifts they gave you. I trust your first response after unwrapping a present isn’t-how much do I owe you? What’s the bill? Because for the one giving a gift-that’s not what they want to hear. They didn’t give you a gift in order to be paid back-they gave it to you so that you would cherish it and enjoy it! And that’s exactly what the Gift of Jesus is to us. It’s not a gift we work hard at paying Him back. It’s not a gift where we feel like over time we’ve done our part to settle the bill by all our good deeds and ways we’ve served God. Lots of people live that way. Lots of people are trying to qualify themselves for heaven, earn their salvation or get right with God by all they’ve done. Maybe that’s you-trying to make yourself feel good because of all you’ve done for God. Maybe you’ve responded to Him like that little girl on Christmas morning-how much do I owe you, Lord? Because you’re trying to earn it.
But that misses the very concept of the gospel of grace. There is no cost to the person who receives a gift. A gift is free to the recipient. But it’s not free to the giver who bears the expense. The gift of salvation, the gift of God’s grace through Jesus, costs us nothing. We simply receive it by faith. But the price of such an extravagant gift comes at great cost for Jesus who died in our place. There is nothing more incredible, more remarkable, more mind-boggling than this person that John is describing-v. 1-4. And what has The Word come to do with that life? Why is Jesus here? Look at John 10:11. That is grace-because that’s what Jesus has come to do The greatest being in all of existence, in fact all of existence owes its existence to this being. But the eternal Son of God, The Word became flesh and dwelt among us so that He could die for us and save us. John 10:27-28. There is nothing you need to do, nothing you have to pay back, nothing you need to add to what Jesus has already done. He gives you eternal life through the sacrifice of Himself. You need to simply hear His voice and follow Him by faith. You need to receive His gift of grace, you need to receive Him into your life. And then cherish Him-the greatest gift you could ever receive. Not to be a downer-but no matter what you get for Christmas this year it will wear out and get old. The newness will wear off, the excitement will fade. But not the gift of Jesus, the gift of a relationship with Him only gets better and better until one day you’ll stand in His presence with eternal life! Because what did He say-no one can snatch you out of His hand!