God's Great Gift
Topic: Jesus Christ Passage: John 3:16–3:16
God’s Great Gift
Celebrating Christmas is not mandated in the bible, obviously. But if we are going to celebrate Christmas - and I certainly hope you do - then it matters how we celebrate Christmas. We want to celebrate like Christians.
Our celebration should be more deeper, more joyful and exuberant than anything the world can touch - with gifts, music, food, and the Lord Jesus Christ at the center and out to the edges of it all. We cannot lose sight of the fact that Christmas is about celebrating the Advent or arrival of a gift. In one of the great prophecies of the coming of Christ, we hear the language of gift:
For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given… (Isaiah 9:6)
And you will notice the words repeated, “unto us”. A gift has been given unto us. And it is a child, a Son. Luke 2 communicates the same thing. The angel of the Lord said, “I bring you good news of great joy. For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior who is Christ, the Lord” GIFT is the point of our text… For God so loved the world, that he gave. He gave his only Son.
And so, here in Advent season, we should seek to celebrate Christmas like Christians, namely like the most blessed people in the world because of God’s indescribable gift he’s given to us.
But in order to do that we need to understand this all too familiar text. It’s well known for a good reason. Luther called John 3:16 “the bible in miniature.” So there is a good reason why this verse has been so widely known. But we need to not just have it memorized, as I am sure most or all of you do. We need to grasp the message, and in grasping, glory in it! It has been said that familiarity breeds contempt or breeds apathy. Well, certainly if we are not careful, a text of scripture can become so familiar to us, we go on auto-pilot when we hear it, thinking to ourselves, “I already know that.” John 3:16 would certainly be such a passage. But I am convinced that we don’t know it as well as we think. Furthermore, I believe that if we knew and received what God wants to give us today, we would find that many of our most pressing problems are minimized and all of our deepest longings satisfied.
BIG IDEA OF JOHN 3:16: Because of God’s great love for a world of undeserving rebels, he gave a glorious gift so that all who receive this gift as a treasure would be freed from condemnation and live eternally with Him. It’s all about a gift. The hinge of the history of the world turns on a gift. For the Christian, grace supplies the meaning of life.
Here we see three things: 1) God’s motivation for giving the gift is love, 2) The object and beneficiaries of God’s gift is the undeserving, 3) The glorious gift that God gives is His “only Son”.
God’s Motivation to GIVE: LOVE
For God so loved… that he gave…
The gift was the result of love. God loved the world and what was the result? He gave. The giving of the Son came from the loving heart of God the Father. The love of God is the fountain and source of our salvation. We often lapse into one of two errors. Either we think we are saved primarily because of something in us or something we do - which can lead to pride. Or we behave like an orphan without a parent, unloved, unwanted, forgotten. But if you are a Christian, the love of God is the ultimate cause for why you are. John Calvin, in his commentary on this verse said,
Christ reveals the first cause and, as it were, the source of our salvation in a way that leaves no room for uncertainty, for our minds cannot find rest until we embrace God’s unmerited love.
That phrase “unmerited love” is all important. We must not look within to find some lovable attributes that may have caught God’s attention. No. Again Calvin is very helpful here when he says,
[We] imagine that God is reconciled to us because he has thought that we are worthy to be looked on by him. But everywhere in Scripture God’s pure and simple [love] is extolled.
God’s love motivated him to give the gift of this Son. When the bible says that God loves us, the deepest and most profound answer as to why he loves us is “because he loves us” (Deuteronomy 7:7-8). Unmerited love. It is love God gives without respect to what we deserve - and even counter to what we deserve. Notice the qualifier in front of the word “loved”. For God “so loved”. This speaks of the magnitude of the love of God. He did not just love, he “so loved”.
And his love gushed forth, like the breaking of a dam in the giving of his Son. He so loved that he gave… not forced, not reluctantly. He so loved and so he gave. I love the language used in Galatians 4:4: “In the fullness of time, God sent forth his Son”. And of course we must quickly affirm that the Son was not forced to come by the Father either. He came willingly and gave himself willingly for us (Galatians 2:20, Ephesians 5:2). ** God’s motivation to give is his great love. **
The Objects and beneficiaries of God’s Gift: The Undeserving
For God so loved the world that he gave…
It is true that in the gospel of John, the author uses the word “world” in many different ways, and so we want to be careful not to be too casual in our approach. I think it is safe to say that when Jesus says, “God so loved the world”, he is talking about God’s love for sinners, the undeserving, even enemies, which we all once were.
God has never been looking for good people or people with potential to give a gift to. We live in a time where positive thoughts and self-affirmation are all important. And there is even a form of this that has crept into the church that says the way to encourage people is basically to flatter them by telling them how awesome they are. The bible takes us in the other direction. It shows us the reality of who we really are, what we deserve from God, and the stunning reality that he still loves us!
I wonder if you have ever been bewildered as to why God would love you. Have you ever faced yourself squarely in that way? I’m reminded of the lyrics of a hymn, “I stand amazed in the presence of Jesus the Nazarene, and wonder how he could love me, a sinner, condemned, unclean. How marvelous, how wonderful!” If the love of God in the sending of his Son seems ordinary or too common news, perhaps even boring, I think it is because you have lost the wonder that what motivated God was love for those who hated him. God loves and pursues the unlovely, the unlovable. And when he gets them, He does not leave them the same. I think Martin Luther has a tremendous insight here:
The love of God does not find, but creates, that which is pleasing to it. God loves sinners, evil persons, fools, and weaklings in order to make them righteous, good, wise, and strong. Rather than seeking its own good, the love of God flows forth and bestows good. Therefore sinners are attractive because they are loved; they are not loved because they are attractive.
Let’s look at a couple of texts. Ephesians 2:1-5 says, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience-- among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ--by grace you have been saved--”
Romans 5:6-8 says, “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. FOr one will scarcely die for a righteous person - though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die - but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
The objects of God’s gift are the undeserving. We don’t qualify ourselves - isn’t that wonderful news!
God’s Gift: His only, beloved Son
Because of the great love of God for the undeserving, he gave the glorious gift of his one of a kind Son.
For God so loved the world, that he gave His only [begotten] Son
If we are not careful, we tend to focus on the added blessings or subordinate gifts given to us. Here’s what I mean. If I were to ask, “What is the great gift that is to be experienced and enjoyed in the Advent season?” one might say, forgiveness, adoption, peace with God, joy… Yes and amen! These are all precious blessings from God. But the gift, in which all these other gifts come, is Christ himself. Every other gift God ever intends to give us is “in Him”. This is why Paul says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing.” (Eph. 1:3)
I’m gonna do it again. Romans 8:32 says, “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things…”
God gave his Son. This is the gift, and every other blessing comes with this gift. But the ultimate gift is His Son. The best gifts we can give or receive are the ones in which the giver gives a part of him/herself in the gift. Growing up my dad would usually get us kids some gifts we asked for at Christmas time, but he would also give a gift or two that was completely unexpected - gifts he thought a lot about and looked for and gave with joy. Looking back, those were the most precious gifts… not because they were practical or fun, but because part of my dad was in them. In giving those gifts, my dad was giving himself.
That’s what God is doing here. In the giving of his Son, God is giving himself. The word translated “only” or “only begotten” means one-of-a-kind. Jesus is the one of a kind Son that the Father gave. And he is one of a kind because he was in the beginning with God and in fact was God. The Son has been with the Father forever, and is one with the Father. And so when the Father gives the Son, he is giving himself. This is amazing love. Charles Spurgeon, in the way that only he could said it so well:
When the great God gave his Son, he gave God, for Jesus in his eternal nature is not less than God. When God gave God, he gave us himself. What more could he give? God gave his all: he gave himself. Who can measure this love?
The great gift of God is not an insurance policy so we can go to heaven someday when we die. The great gift is not the greatest life now we could imagine, free from pain and difficulty. God has given the gift of his Son and every other blessing with and in Him. “Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift…” (2 Corinthians 9:15)
A Gift Must Be Received
Well, the great love of God in the giving of His one of a kind, beloved Son, calls for a response from us. And it calls for more and creates more than mere mild, distant agreement.
That whoever believes in[to] him should not perish but have eternal life…
Some commentators have suggested that a more literal translation is “whoever believes into him should not perish, but have eternal life.” You cannot have real belief in Jesus and have him remain distant, because real belief takes us into Jesus Christ. Ray Ortlund says the following:
Real belief destroys aloofness. It moves us from self-completeness to Christ-completeness. We stop treating him as a religious garnish to be placed on the side of life. Rather we find him to be our all.
Theologians call this radical reorientation “union with Christ”. When we believe into Christ, we are united to him, which means that he moves to the center, we relinquish our autonomy, and forsake our right to call the shots. Positively, it means that we are brought into a place of safety forever because we are now “in Christ”, united to Him eternally. Which is why the one who believes in him will not perish - suffer the condemnation and wrath of God. But rather have eternal life. Eternal life. And what is eternal life? John 17:3 tells us. Eternal life is knowing God and His Son Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit. What a gift that keeps giving, forever and ever.
Because of God’s great love for the undeserving, he gave a glorious gift so that all who receive this gift as a treasure, would be freed from condemnation and live eternally with Him. Believe into Christ.
Celebrate Christmas Like A Christian
What would be the outcome of this gift being received today? 1) Would you not give yourself more fully to God in exuberant joy and love for him? Of course you would! 2) And would not your heart be more enlarged, generous, outward going in love toward others? Of course it would! Love for God. Love for one another.
Could you imagine a better Christmas than this? Then let’s celebrate Christmas like Christians, by receiving the great love gift of the Father, which is his Son - and rejoice, sing, celebrate, eat good food, exchange gifts, love and give ourselves to God and one another for God’s great glory. Amen. Let’s pray.