Sunday, December 03, 2006 – AM
If you could have the one thing that you want most of all given to you this Christmas, what would that gift be?
This is the time of year when our materialistic society becomes more materialistic than ever. Across the nation people will be spending money that they don’t have, using easy credit cards that are already overloaded with high interest rates attached, some as high as 36%. That means that they will still be paying for this year’s gifts 5 or even 10 years from now if all they do is make minimum payments.
Gift giving is a wonderful thing. And I don’t think that anyone here would refuse a gift either. But let us not forget about the most important gift of all. With all of the hype and glitz of the season, it is easy to get distracted from what is really happening behind the scenes. The age old struggle for the souls of men continues on and the greatest gift is often forgotten or overlooked.
In the year 1809 Europe was locked in struggles for power and territory. Napoleon was sweeping through Austria; blood was flowing freely as soldiers and civilians alike were killed by the thousands. No one was concerned about the birth of a few babies. Their focus on world politics and man’s inhumanity to man overshadowed everything else and the birth of some very significant babies went unnoticed.
Among those born that year were William Gladstone who was destined to become one of England’s finest statesman. Alfred Tennyson was born to a little known minister and his wife. The child would become a prolific writer and would affect the literary world as few had done before. In the newly establish American nation, Oliver Wendell Holmes was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts. And not far away in Boston, a child was born whose name was Edgar Allan Poe who would live a tragic life but leave the world with poems and stories that are still popular to this day. 1809 was also the year that a young physician and his wife named their newborn son, Charles Robert. The doctor’s last name was Darwin, and that child would bring to the world the teachings of evolution that would rock the scientific world and shake the very foundation of Christianity. Also that same year, the cries of a newborn infant were heard in a rugged, one room log cabin in the backwoods of Hardin County, Kentucky. The baby was named Abraham Lincoln.
If there had been news broadcasts at that time, I’m certain these words would have been heard: "The destiny of the world is being shaped on an Austrian battlefield today." But history was actually being shaped in the cradles of England and America.
All around the cities and towns of Israel, in the time of the Roman occupation, the concern on everyone’s mind was taxation and Jewish revolution. The big news was focused on the political scene. Man’s focus has always been on the wrong thing, because all we can see is the physical realm. The Jews missed the greatest news of all time.
In a little hamlet called Bethlehem, in a dirty stable, their Messiah was born, and Jesus Christ was given. This was the greatest gift of all, the gift of a savior.
The most detailed account of the birth of Jesus Christ is given to us in the Book of Luke. Luke was a physician by trade, before he became a disciple. History tells us that Luke was a Christian already when he met Paul the apostle and became Paul’s companion in his missionary journeys.
Luke didn’t understand all of the events of the early years of the church but was taught by Paul. It is said that Luke learned most of the things that he wrote about in the first few chapters of the Book of Luke after listening to Paul, talking with some of the original disciples and by sitting down with Mary, the mother of Jesus, for a long interview. It wasn’t until the year 60 AD, nearly 30 years after the resurrection, that Luke, a gentile doctor, sat down and wrote his book, giving us the story of the Gospel. Three years later, he would begin to write another book. That would be called the Book of Acts of the Apostles.
Luke wasn’t there to see it all happen first hand, but he learned from those who had seen it with their own eyes and held the hand of Jesus while he walked this earth. Some historians say that Luke was practicing medicine in the city of Tarsus and that is where he probably met Paul for the first time. However it came about, I am glad that the Holy Spirit put them together so that we could have the account of the gift of the Savior that Luke has given to us.
Luke was more than a disciple, he was a great teacher. He took a young man by the name of Theophilus under his wing and began to teach him the foundational truths of the gospel. We don’t know much about Theophilus, but from the way that Luke addressed him, many people believe that he was a person of rank, perhaps even a converted Roman officer.
Luke 1:1-4, "Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us, Even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word; It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus, That thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed."
The greatest gift that mankind could ever receive was the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ. But what good does that gift do if we don’t believe it or won’t accept it?
If we are going to reap the benefits of salvation, we must first be convinced in our own heart that the gospel message is true. That’s why God gives us the 5-fold ministry of the church.
Ephesians 4:11, "And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;"
All of these gifts are in the church to teach us about Jesus.
Apostles are there to preach the gospel to the nations and found churches around the world that the Gift may be received in the hearts of men.
Prophets are there to teach us, and to give us the visions of futuristic events so that the hearts of men can be prepared for the day when the gift of eternal life and salvation will be realized in its fullest extent.
Evangelists are there to turn the hearts of men toward the Gift and to remind the church that they have a Gift that is far too valuable to set it aside for anything of this world. Pastors are there to keep us close to that gift and, in some small way, to represent that Gift of a shepherd that would lead the flock of God into that eternal place of safety and rest.
Teachers are there to ever expound the Word of God, going deeper and higher into the Gift than ever before, revealing to us things about God’s Gift of a Savior that we have never seen before.
Whether you realize it or not, this church is God’s gift to you. We are to love and appreciate our church, but not worship it. I, as your pastor, am God’s gift to you. Some may feel that God could have improved on this gift a little more, but He chose to let us grow together instead. I’m a part of God’s gift to you, but don’t worship me, worship Jesus. It’s not about the gifts of the ministry, it’s all about the Gift. It’s all about Jesus! It’s not about the apostle, pastor, prophet evangelist or teacher. If we follow the preacher, then we lose sight of the Gift. Follow the Lord, not a man. When you come to this church, I want to give you the Gift. I want to give you Jesus, not me. Don’t follow me. I will inevitable fail your expectations. Follow Jesus – HE IS THE GIFT!
Everyone who gives you the Word of the Lord, who looks over you and prays for you, is doing that for one purpose: We all want you to have a perfect understanding of all things from the very first, not just when Christ born, but from the beginning of creation, that you may know and understand, why we need the Gift of a Savior, and what the coming of Jesus in that manger really means to your eternal soul. We want you to be certain that it is all the truth and to be instructed so that you can receive that Gift of a Savior! We want you to have an excellent spirit like Luke said that Theophilus had.
Luke 1:13-16, "But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John. And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth. For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb. And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God."
Much like John was sent as the forerunner of Christ, we are sent as forerunners to the second coming of Christ. I am here today to preach the message of repentance from sin and to point you to the Gift, that One who is greater than I, that One whose shoes I am unable to fill, that One who is the Greatest Gift of all – the Messiah, the Savior, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the very Son of the Living God – the Lord Jesus Christ who reigns eternal and who gave himself for your sin upon the cross.
Luke 2:8-11, "And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord."
And like the angelic host that appeared above the hillsides of Israel on that dark night, when at midnight, it seemed that Israel would never see a Messiah, I have come today to shout the victory to you and let you know that The Gift has come. Through the darkness of sin that has shrouded this world, the shout goes forth – the Gift has come – the Messiah is born – the Son is Given – and Jesus Christ is His name! He is come that you might receive the gifts of joy, gladness and eternal life! Oh what a wonderful Savior! What a wonderful Lord! What a wonderful promise! What a wonderful love! What a wonderful Gift is Jesus, my Lord!
In that little Town of Bethlehem, in the middle of the hill country of Israel, on a dark night, in the stable of an Inn where there was no room for people, a young woman gave birth to her first born son. He wasn’t heralded by the world as a newborn king. His birth went unnoticed by most of the world. But all of Heaven rejoiced on that night. The Heavenly choirs of angels burst forth in glorious praise. The Father in Heaven beamed for joy because His Son was born and the Way to Salvation was given.
In that straw, laying in a manger, wrapped in swaddling clothes, lay THE GIFT; the greatest Gift this world will ever receive. On that night, Jesus Christ was born.
But that Gift doesn’t mean anything to you if you don’t know Him today. Have you received the Gift? Have you given your heart and life to Jesus Christ and allowed Him to come into your heart? Why not receive the greatest Gift you will ever receive? You don’t have to wait until Christmas morning. Today, right now, can be your Christmas. Accept the Gift right now!