There's a golf story that's been going around for years. I don't know if it's true, but it's a good story. Several years ago Arnold Palmer played in a charity golf tournament in Saudi Arabia, as a special guest of the king. On the last day, one of the king's men visited Arnold at his hotel and told him as a token of gratitude, the king wanted to give him a gift-- anything at all, just name it. Arnold said, "A gift isn't necessary, but if the king insists, he can give me a golf club as a memento of the time I spent in your country." The next morning, as he was checking out of his hotel, he was given an envelope. Inside the envelope was a deed to a golf club-- with 18 holes, a restaurant and a pro shop. As the saying goes, Christmas came a little early for Arnold Palmer that year.
Arnold received a great gift, but Christmas is about a gift that we have been given that is so wonderful it can hardly be put into words. Every year we sing "Joy To The World" because Christmas is a time of joy. We celebrate the fact that when Jesus came into the world as a little child, he came for one purpose. This purpose is summed up in:
1 Peter 3:18 (NKJV) For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit,
This verse reveals three things that God has done for us...three reason why we can sing Joy To The World: First, we can sing because of...
1. GOD'S WONDERFUL SACRIFICE
"For Christ also suffered once for sins" It's hard to understand how this innocent child born at Christmas would be required to die for the sins of the human race, but that is what Jesus came to do.
Matthew 1:21 (NKJV) "And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins."
God sacrificed his son...Jesus willingly gave up his own life...so that we could be saved.
Notice that Peter emphasizes the fact that Jesus died "once." There are two words in the Greek language that can be translated "once." One of them means: "once upon a time," much like we use in fairy tales. The other one means: "a once and for all kind of event which will never again be repeated." This is the word Peter uses here. He is saying that Jesus' death was final. It was a "once and for all" event that covers all of our sins-- past, present and future. We can sing with joy this Christmas because this gift, which God had given to us, has paid the greatest cost of all-- the cost of his life for our sins.
On occasion, the Bedouin shepherds wake up to discover that a ewe has given birth during the night to a still-born lamb. In another portion of the flock, a baby lamb may have lost his mother during birth. They are each alone and need each other. In order to join the motherless lamb and the childless mother, the shepherd performs a necessary ritual. He sprinkles the blood of the lamb that has died on the orphan lamb; the mother is then able to make a connection and a relationship is established. In the same way, the blood of Christ seals our relationship with God. It is the blood of Christ that secures our forgiveness with God.
Ephesians 1:6-7 (NKJV) to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He has made us accepted in the Beloved. 7 In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace
God sacrificed his son so that we might be forgiven. He gave Jesus so that we could have eternal life.
In a book entitled, When Iron Gates Yield, Geoffrey Bull tells of spending Christmas Eve in Tibet, in route to a Communist prison camp. As he walked to the stable to feed the horses and mules, he told about the experience of his boots squashing the manure and straw. He wrote, "the smell of the animals was nauseating and I thought, 'to think that Christ came all the way from heaven to some wretched, eastern stable like this one -- and what is more, he came for me." The debt that we couldn't pay, he paid. This is why we sing "Joy To The World." A second reason we sing...
2. GOD'S WONDERFUL MERCY
"The just for the unjust." One of the greatest mysteries of the gospel is that a holy God would choose to love an unholy people. We can't explain it; we can only embrace it.
The word "just" describes someone whose actions are perfectly consistent with their beliefs-- a person of absolute integrity. The word "unjust" describes someone whose actions are inconsistent with their beliefs; they are corrupt. The Bible says that no one is just or righteous-- we are all corrupt. No one but God has absolute integrity. We know the difference between right and wrong, and yet every single one of us here today has chosen to do things that are inconsistent with what we know to be true.
Romans 3:10 (NKJV) As it is written: "There is none righteous, no, not one;
In the movie Unforgiven, Clint Eastwood plays a retired hired gun who accompanies a brash young man on a killing mission. It turns out that this young man has never killed anyone before. After the deed is done, the kid is eaten up with guilt, and wants desperately to justify himself. He says to Eastwood, "He had it coming to him, didn't he!" Eastwood squints and says, "We all got it coming to us, kid." He is right. We've all got it coming to us-- we're all sinners. But God, in his wonderful compassion, offers forgiveness and mercy to those who will put their faith in Him. In spite of our sin, God-- even though he is absolutely righteous-- has chosen to show us mercy.
Ephesians 2:1-5 (NKJV) And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, 2 in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, 3 among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others. 4 But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved),
If it hadn't been for Jesus...if it hadn't been for the gift of his birth...we would have been served justice rather than mercy. And justice means that we go to Hell, which is eternal torment.
Romans 6:23 (NKJV) For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Because of the wonderful mercy of God, we can sing, "Joy To The World." Another reason we can sing...
3. GOD'S WONDERFUL PLAN
"For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God" Why would God send his only son into this world, knowing it would lead to death? He did it for you. He did it for everyone of us. He did it so he could bring us to Himself.
The doctrine of the death of Christ on the cross is the teaching that proclaims an event of historical and theological significance. It points to Christ who died the death of a criminal but whose death concerns the eternal destiny of man. This is what theologians call, "the doctrine of Atonement." The doctrine of atonement explains what exactly happened at calvary, and how God brought us to Himself.
It explains the meaning of the death of our Lord Jesus Christ upon the cross. Let's briefly go over the doctrine of the atonement. This should be something that every believer understands and can explain. The doctrine of the atonement is the heart of the gospel. To understand the atonement you must understand that man is a sinner. Let's start at the beginning, God created man and there was a perfect harmonious relationship that was established. God enjoyed perfect communion and fellowship with Adam, Adam walked with God and enjoyed perfect harmony with him.
Genesis 1:27 (NKJV) "So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them."
Genesis 2:16-17 (NKJV) "And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, "Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; 17 "but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die."
But then something came between God and man, Adam turned his back on God's will and sinned. Sin broke the relationship that existed between man and God, their fellowship was severed, man became alienated from God. Because God is holy, he turned his back upon man, man died spiritually. This condition was introduced into the human race and death passed upon all men.
Romans 5:12 (NKJV) "Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned;"
Every person born into this world is born a sinner, who is spiritually dead, separated from God and on their way to hell. Man, in this condition of spiritual death, can do nothing to appease God's wrath or earn God's favor, he is spiritually bankrupt.
Because of this condition, God introduced a plan to redeem man, God invaded human history in the form of the man Christ Jesus. This Jesus lived a sinless life and then died a substitutionary death at calvary. On that cross, Jesus took upon himself our sin and received the judgement of God that we deserved as sinners. Because he was an innocent infinite sufferer, he satisfied fully and completely the righteous demands of a holy God and God was propitiated. Believing sinners are declared righteous through redemption on the basis of propitiation. Propitiation is the removal of wrath by the offering of a sacrifice. It is the turning of God's wrath away from the sinner by a sacrifice made to satisfy God.
Romans 3:23-27 (NKJV) "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, 26 to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. 27 Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? No, but by the law of faith."
God's justice was satisfied by the death of Jesus Christ, sin had been paid for. Man can now once again have fellowship with God through faith in the sacrificial work of Christ.
Although God has been propitiated by Christ's work on calvary, men are still alienated from God because of their sin. This is the condition into which all men are born. We were all born sinners and have all lived as sinners separated from a holy God by our sin, this is the condition of every person. It is to those men that the message of the gospel has been given, and the message is this; Although sin has alienated men from God, the very God whom we have offended has provided the way whereby the offense has been dealt with. His anger, his wrath against the sinner has been satisfied. And now the message is to men and women to be reconciled to God by faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Heaven can be a present possession through faith in what Christ has done. That is the message of the cross, the doctrine of atonement. That message, and that message alone, brings peace with God, forgiveness of sins, and eternal life.
Most of you have heard the song, "Cat's In The Cradle," which is about a perennially absent father who has no time for his child. One verse says,
My boy turned 10 just the other day, He said "Thanks for the ball, dad, come on let's play. Can you teach me to throw?" I said, "Not today. I got a lot to do." He said, "That's OK."
Many people can relate to that kind of father. He's busy, stressed, involved with his own problems, and basically unavailable.
In the TV show The Wonder Years, Kevin's father was like that. He wasn't a deadbeat Dad--he provided for his family all the material things of life--but he wasn't available emotionally. And most of all, he wasn't always approachable.
Many people think this is how God is: distant, aloof, and cold. Jesus has done all that He can to destroy that concept. In the story of the Prodigal Son, Jesus tells of a father who is heartbroken over his son's defiance, who joyfully restores his son when he comes home. Jesus assured us that our Father was a loving, generous Father who wants to give good gifts to His children.
Most of all, Jesus constantly reminded us that God is approachable. He is not a God that we have to wait in line to see. We have instant access to Him, always. How? Through Jesus Christ. He said:
John 14:6 (NKJV) Jesus said to him, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.
This is God's plan. He has no other. He needs no other. He gave us his son to die on the cross for our sins so that we can have a personal relationship with him.
One early morning during World War II, an American prisoner of war was awakened with the news, "The Scotsman wants to see you." He ran to the barbed wire which separated the captured British and American soldiers. The Scotsman was in touch with the BBC by underground radio. He whispered three simple words in the American's ear: "THEY HAVE COME!" The reaction was incredible. As that message spread among the allied prisoners, they began to jump up and down, shouting, laughing and rolling on the ground in joy. The German soldiers must have thought they were crazy. After all, they were still prisoners and nothing outwardly had changed. Inwardly, everything was now different for they had received the news of the D-Day invasion. Freedom was within their grasp. We rejoice this Christmas for our deliverer has already come and through trust in Him, we may be saved from our sin.
Harry Reasoner, the late ABC and CBS journalist, once wrote "Christmas moves beyond all logic. It must be either entire falsehood or the truest thing in all the world. It demands acceptance that the God of all creation came to this world in the form of a baby - that premise is so shocking that if it is not true, nothing else in all of Christianity is true".
George Cagey has written, "The teaching of the incarnation is crucial to the Christian faith." Cagey states, "If this fact is not true, then we must face the clear alternative that we cannot know how to be saved, how to live or even how to think about God".
This truth is the most important truth in all of Christian faith. It is a point that must continue to be made in society. Winston Churchill once said, "If you have an important point to make, don't be subtle or clever. Use a pile driver. Hit it once. Hit it again. Then hit it a third time with a tremendous whack!"
With the mass commercialization of Christmas, the church must hit this truth with a tremendous whack and declare to the world the crucial nature of the incarnation of Jesus Christ. Christ became man to die for our sins that He might reconcile us to God.
Since Christmas is a remembrance of Christ's birth, what can we give to Him at Christmas as our gift to Him? What do you give one who owns the cattle on a thousand hills? What can we give that would acknowledge our devotion to Him? Hallmark Cards say, "When you care enough to give the very best..." and that would be ourselves.
What did Jesus give to you? He gave himself. It began with his birth and it was proven best when he gave all of himself on the cross of Calvary. He continues to give himself to this world. He is God's gift to mankind.
One Christmas a pastor received a telephone call from a school principal who was a member of his church. His voice was choked with emotion as he asked his pastor for his assistance. On the last day before school was dismissed for the holidays, a six-year-old boy came into his classroom with a note pinned to his tattered coat. It was from his father. The note read, "Please help my son if you can. His mother recently ran off and left us and last week I lost my job. I am swallowing my pride for his sake. I have never had to ask for help before but could you make it possible for him to have a gift for Christmas?"
As he read the note, he wiped the tears from his eyes. He identified with this father's pain. He agreed to help and decided to get his own children involved in sharing in the gift of giving. That afternoon, they went to a grocery store and purchased food for the man and his son. Next, they went to a toy store and each child bought a present for the boy and then went home and wrapped it. Later that afternoon they drove to the small frame house in need of paint and repairs and knocked on the door. When the man opened the door and saw the pastor and his children bearing groceries and gifts, he began to weep.
The little boy, whose eyes were as big as saucers, did not first reach out to accept the gifts but rather reached out to the preacher and gave him a big bear hug. Then he looked up at his face and said, "Thank you, Mister. My teacher said you would come, she said that you would come".
The lesson learned that day was obvious. The attention was not on the gifts but instead on the giver. Perhaps inside that little boy lays the example of worship each of us need to be reminded of. As we look at Christ's birth into our world, it is our heart that should be touched by not only the gift he brought, but by the one who brought it to us. The givers who truly love always give their best.
The only way to sort through all of the commercialization of Christmas is to remember who was born and the significance of his birth to our lives. Why not give to Him the gift of your time to meet with him each day all year long.
CONCLUSION This is why we sing "Joy To The World." God has given us a wonderful gift-- mercy. He's given us a gift that we don't deserve, and one we can never pay back. We can only accept it. God's gift to you this Christmas is Jesus. Let every heart prepare him room.