How many of you can remember a Christmas gift that you wanted, oh, so badly?
Illustration: For me, one of the best gifts ever came to me way back in 1967 when I was in grade school. There was a toy truck called the “Johnny Express (TM) that I wanted so bad, I could taste it (a figure of speech we used back then)! Sure enough, on Christmas Day, there it was! I learned a little about steering a truck by remote control, how to make it turn, how to back it up—a little—and, even, how to “jackknife” the thing! I had so much fun with that thing! Of course it goes without saying that some other gifts were. . .. not so much fun, but that’s another story.
The text comes from John’s gospel, chapter 1, verses:1-12. This is not really considered a Christmas Day text but it is an excellent summary of what our Lord Jesus Christ did for us, so that He might give us salvation.
1 He came unto His own
--Prophecy that He would be born into this world.
John says that “He (Jesus) came unto His own” and that could mean a couple of different, but related, items. The first is the very world He had made! He came to His own creation, His own handiwork, remembering, no doubt, that at the end of Creation Week (Genesis 1) that it was “all very good”.
But that wasn’t all. He, Jesus, also came to His own chosen people! We probably remember any number of prophecies, such as Isaiah 7:14, Isaiah 9:6 and Micah 5:2—naming three—that indicate Messiah would be born into Israel. Jesus fulfilled all of these prophecies, and even more, when He was born.
Compare this with the “birth” of some pagan deities! If I recall correctly, in Greek mythology Zeus, the chief “god” or deity had a terrible headache one day. Somehow his skull was split open and out popped Athena, the “goddess” of something or other. Aphrodite, the “goddess” of love, was carried to the sea shore inside a giant clam shell or oyster or something, and she stepped out! There are other stories from other pagan religions about the “birth” of their deities. Contrast these stories with the simple narratives found in Matthew’s gospel and Luke’s gospel.
Which birth story would you prefer? For me, it’s an obvious choice!
--Prophecy that He would reign as King (Dan 2 and 7)
Now, besides the prophecies that Jesus would be born into Israel, there were other prophecies telling how He would come and reign as King. Daniel, chapters 2 and 7, give great detail about the events leading up to the Kingdom and how it would be established. Several of the Psalms speak about the King of Israel, a Person much different than any human ruler could ever be (see Psalm 2 and 24 for two examples).
--He was born to die, and rise again, before He reigns as King
Then, after He began His public ministry, the first sermon He ever preached was the “Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), where He explained the principles of the Kingdom of Heaven. Before this, John the Baptist had preached “the Kingdom of Heaven is near! (Matthew 3:2)”, making this a formal announcement that the King was ready to set up the Kingdom. Clearly, that didn’t happen: the Jews rejected this offer of the kingdom and crucified their King (e.g., Mark 15:32 and John 19:15). Regardless, the prophecy that the King would come was fulfilled—and that was another reason why Jesus came to this earth, and unto His own.
He not only brought the gifts—He was and is THE Gift!
2 His own received Him not
--Born into a despised, hated people
Most of us remember that when Jesus was born, Israel was firmly under control of the Roman government. Israel, in fact, had never been a sovereign or independent nation for hundreds of years, not since the “Babylonian Captivity” of 588 BC or thereabouts. Israel had been under the rule of Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome itself—just as Daniel had prophesied to King Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 2.
Even worse, Israel seems to have been a hated, despised nation for centuries! They were forced into slavery by the Egyptians; attacked by any number of enemies; conquered by some of these same foes; and for many years suffered civil war between two groups of the Twelve Tribes. The books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles, plus Judges, give detailed information about this.
--Born into a rebellious people
Now, if there was one word to describe Israel, it would be rebellious! Look at how many times Israel had rebelled against God, starting with the golden calf they began to worship while Moses was on the mountain with God! In Judges there are several times when Israel forsook the True God and worshiped any number of pagan deities. Even God said that He had spread out His hands to a rebellious people (Isaiah 65:2, paraphrased).
Even worse, Israel had not only rebelled against God but against the Roman government. One of the Lord’s disciples was a former Zealot (!—Simon, Luke 6:15 and Acts 1:13), and other rebels were known during the early days of the Church. Barabbas was guilty of insurrection (Mark 15:7), Gamaliel mentioned Theudas and Judas who were rebels (Acts 5:36-37) and even the Roman commander, Claudius Lysias, wondered if Paul was an Egyptian who had led over 4000 men as murderers or assassins!
Isn’t it amazing that our Lord chose to be born into a people like this? Come to think of it, things may not have been any different, no matter which tribe or family He would have chosen!
--Rejected time and again (Isaiah 53:3)
Isaiah had prophesied about the Messiah that He would be “despised and rejected (Isaiah 53:3)” and that prophecy must have been fulfilled many times over. David had even written in Psalm 69:12 that “(he) was the song of the drunkards”. Certainly that was true of David during some parts of his life, but these words could just as easily apply to Jesus. Can you imagine what insults He and other family members endured, being the son of a single mother? Jesus went on to say that those who didn’t believe in Him (Matthew 11) were like children who didn’t even want to play any games with their friends.
Probably one of the saddest events in our Lord’s life happened when the multitude who ate from the five loaves and two fish, and left 12 baskets of leftovers, walked away—for good—when Jesus challenged them as to their motive. Every time I read this passage in John 6, I can imagine the Lord’s voice quivering when He asked the Twelve Disciples, “Will ye also go away?”
--They tried to stone Him at least twice (John 8:59, 10:31-32), and shove Him off Nazareth’s cliff (Luke 4)!
Even worse than a passive rejection, or simply walking away, was the aggressive act of rejection. At least twice the Jews tried to stone Jesus to death! In John 8:59. Jesus had engaged in a dialogue with Jews, some of whom had “believed” in Him, and proclaimed His Deity when He said, “Before Abraham was (or, had existed). I AM” which is exactly the same thing Moses heard at the burning bush (see Exodus 3)!
--They refused to accept His teachings, and they refused to believe the miracles
We can think about the first synagogue address Jesus gave. Before this, He had preached “the kingdom of Heaven is at hand! (Matt. 4:17)”, but now He is announcing a prophecy has been fulfilled in their midst (Luke 4:16-22). This seldom happened, even in Old Testament days, but this was the chance for the people of Nazareth to be part of history! What was their response? As mentioned just before, they tried to shove Him off a cliff!
Another time Jesus rebuked the unbelieving Jews because they refused to accept the witness of the very deeds Jesus had been doing (John 5). He had just healed the man, lame for 38 years, and the Jews were trying to persecute Him, even kill Him (John 5:16)!
And in two of the strangest occasions where Jesus did not receive the credit for His deeds, the Jews claimed Jesus cast out demons by the power of the prince of demons (Matt. 9:34, and also 12:22-32). They saw the before and after, but still refused to believe.
Still they kept asking for “signs” or more miracles. Finally Jesus said the only sign they would get was the sign of Jonah, who had been kept inside a sea monster’s (“whale’s”, KJV) belly for three days and three nights, so He would be in the “heart of the earth” for three days and nights (Matthew 12:40, paraphrased). One wonders, what exactly did they want to see? And if they saw what they wanted to see, would they have believed?
--Eventually He was betrayed and crucified
Probably the worst thing to happen to any group is to have a traitor in the group. When that person is someone trusted by everyone else in the group, the discovery has to be a real slap in the face to the other members. There was such a traitor, even among the disciples.
And his name was Judas Iscariot.
We don’t know much about Judas except that he was invited to, and accepted by, the disciples. They even trusted him enough to make him the treasurer of the group. John says that Judas “had the bag (John 12:6)” or handled the money. John also said Judas helped himself to some of the money the disciples (somehow) acquired. We may have a hint that even Jesus knew what was going on: when people asked Simon Peter if Jesus paid “tribute (Matt. 17:24)”. Peter said yes, then met Jesus. What’s interesting is that Jesus didn’t tell Peter to ask Judas for the money (all the disciples would have had to pay the tribute!) but to catch a fish! Jesus promised that the first fish Peter caught would have a “piece of money (Matt. 17:27)”.
But Judas began to show his true self when he complained about the ointment which Mary of Bethany used on Jesus (John 12:1-8). Judas wondered why she would use an ointment or lotion that was worth nearly one years’ wage! Jesus told him to basically leave her alone because she knew Jesus was going to die and rise again, and that they would always have the poor, but they would not always have Jesus with them in this same manner.
A few days later, Judas goes to the chief priests and agrees to betray Jesus for 30 “pieces of silver (Matt. 26:15)”. A “piece of silver” is generally figured to be a coin worth a day’s work, so Judas sold out Jesus for a month’s pay. Judas got his money—what a gift—and led the soldiers to Gethsemane where Jesus was waiting (Matt. 26:36-46, John 18:1-11). Most of us know the rest of the story: Jesus suffered any number of mock trials; shuttled back and forth between Pilate, Herod, and the Sanhedrin/Council; scourged and eventually led to Calvary where He was crucified. Judas’ response? “I betrayed innocent blood”—which was true—but nowhere do we read that he ever sought forgiveness.
Yet Judas wasn’t alone in this. The unbelieving Jews, the Romans, in fact all of us were there, when we were in our unsaved state. Our sins were the reason why Jesus came, but His love for us is one reason why He died for us. What a Savior!
--People still deny He rose from the dead!
It’s incredible, the extent people will go to try to deny Jesus rose from the dead. Here’s just one example: when Jesus rose from the dead, there was an earthquake during the time an angel rolled the stone away from the tomb. There was no way to deny this: a guard had been posted there to prevent any theft of the body (Matthew 27:62-66) and they admitted to what had happened! When the guards reported these events, they were incredibly told to lie and say the disciples stole the body of Jesus while they were asleep—and, by the way, not to worry because if word gets out, we’ll take care of everything (Matt. 28:11-15). Even more stunning is that the soldiers took the money even though the penalty for sleeping on duty was death!
And through the years, various heresies or false doctrines and teachings were problems for the Church. Some taught Jesus never came to this earth in a body of flesh, so, He couldn’t die. Others, then and now, believe He was only a man, no different than you or me and He therefore could not possibly rise from the dead. Over the last century or so, numerous books have been published denying the Resurrection of Jesus (“The Passover Plot” is one of these). People seem to be more interested in denying truth than discovering truth, especially when it comes to Jesus and whether or not He rose from the dead. By the way, the truth and the evidence proving Jesus rose from the dead is out there—all one has to do is look. I hope these people do this very thing.
3 But those who received Him got the greatest Gift ever!
--“As many as” received Him”
There is no contradiction or difference between the group, the masses, and the individuals. It is absolutely true that each person has to make his or her own decision, whether or not to receive Christ Jesus as Lord and Savior. Once that happens, groups and masses of people can unite to worship and praise the Lord for salvation and so many other things! For example, the individual disciples received salvation and united to form a group. At some times the groups included 5000 men (John 6:10, e.g.), 4000 men (Matt. 15:38) and other times an unnumbered multitude,
--They received salvation, forgiveness, and membership (adoption) into God’s own Family!
Anytime, anyone asks Jesus to be Lord and Savior, several things take place. First, salvation: in my own case, I knew my soul was lost and headed for an eternity—forever—in the place called Hell. When preachers explained that the “lake burning with fire and brimstone” meant just that, real fire and real burning sulfur, I took notice! Already I had burned a finger or two and knew how painful that was, and even though I had never smelled burning sulfur, the concept of smelling something awful forever made me grateful there was a way to avoid it. All I had to do was accept the gift of salvation!
And something that I didn’t fully realize at the time: not only was my soul “saved”, but every sin was forgiven! Even young children and teenagers commit their share of sins (!) but the Love of God reaches them too. Our Lord took my sins and separated them “as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12)”! As an aside, for the Jewish people, when they looked to the east they saw nothing but desert or mountains; looking west, they saw the Mediterranean Sea—and there was no end to it, for many miles. What a picture!
Still better than this is the promise that we are adopted into God’s Family! Probably most of us have a working knowledge of adoption: a child, or more than one, born into one family unit is chosen by another family to share in the new family. One pastor was an adopted child, chosen by another family and stated that he was asked if he wanted to be adopted into the new family. I remember the smile of his face as he replied with a hearty “Yes!”
That’s exactly how God makes it work for us. He, through His Word, tells us about the great gifts He has in store for us; all the benefits, all the promises—and it’s all for anyone who chooses to be adopted into His family. Many of the readers in New Testament days knew about the Roman custom or practice, any child could be born to any male head of household, especially if this man was a Roman citizen. One catch, the natural born child had no legal right to any of his father’s estate unless he was adopted. This child had no more legal standing than a slave or a captive—until he was adopted. Paul uses this figure of speech or background in Galatians, describing how important it was to be adopted into God’s family. And this time, the Father doesn’t ask the child “do you want to be adopted?” The father chooses the one he wants to adopt! And yet our Father gives us the choice—“do you want to adopted into My family?”
I certainly did! And I hope you want the same thing too, All it takes is genuine belief.
And one final thing. Belief isn’t just agreeing with the head—it’s deeper. It’s an agreement from the heart, the innermost part of one’s being/ I can believe that God exists and that puts me square on the level with demons, who believe in God and tremble (James 2:19)! It’s a mystery to me why people refuse to believe in God but that’s another message.
And I can believe, intellectually, that a person (lower case intentionally) named Jesus Christ lived on this earth and died; I might even acknowledge He rose again from the dead, and that He wants to save sinners. Yes, I can believe that with my head, my brains, anything else but that doesn’t mean I’m going to be saved. I can even believe Jesus died and rose again to save me, but if that’s as far as it goes, that isn’t enough for me. For example, I could have believed that any Christmas or birthday gift is mine but if I don’t open the wrapping paper, or if I leave it under the tree, I won’t really have the gift. I didn’t take it.
But if I am convinced that Jesus did all that He did for me, and if I simply place my trust in Him to save my soul and forgive me of my sins, and to be my Lord and Savior, that’s enough! He knew my heart then and He knows it now, that I genuinely wanted Him to be my Savior. I gave Him nothing but myself—and He gave me so much more.
Conclusion: Sure, we may have had some “gifts” we didn’t really want. But with Jesus, we get the best of everything! Believe Him today!