At Christmas time, advertisers want us to concentrate on gift giving. But did you ever stop to think that it’s also the season of gift receiving? And that God gives the gifts that give the season its meaning?
People can very carefully choose gifts that reflect their understanding of the people they’re giving to. Or they can put minimal thought and effort into the task.
People can receive gifts with gratitude. Or with indifference, disappointment, or rejection.
If you have carefully chosen a gift and the person you give to doesn’t appreciate it, how do you feel? Have you ever thought about what God feels?
What God gives us
Preparing for Jesus
“God so loved the world that . . .” Surely even unbelievers can finish that verse. God gave his only Son. He gave us Jesus. That’s God’s Christmas gift.
See, the virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and they will name Him Immanuel, which is translated “God is with us.” (Matthew 1:23, quoting Isaiah 7:14, HCSB)
In Jesus, God is with us, born of a virgin in order for his human body not to bear the taint of sin.
We like gifts to be a surprise, but sometimes we can know what we’re going to get, even if we didn’t ask for it. God promised his Christmas gift when Adam rebelled and chose to obey Satan instead of God. Adam might not have been paying attention, but God told Satan that the seed of the woman would crush his head (Genesis 3:15).
Every other time the Bible uses “seed” to mean offspring, it’s the seed of a man. But not this first time. From the beginning, God chose to redeem, not destroy, his rebellious people. It shows how carefully God planned his gift.
Humanity opened some other gifts first
God chose Abraham to be the father of many nations, through whom the whole world will be blessed. He made a covenant with Abraham and did not require Abraham to do anything to reap its blessings, although he had already demonstrated righteousness by believing God.
God chose Moses to give the law, a clear picture of what righteous living would look like. This covenant contained solemn curses for his people if they broke covenant. God knew they would, so he provided a means to escape the curse: if they repented, they could appeal to the Abrahamic covenant (Leviticus 26:42).
Yes. The law was intended as a gift, not a burden. No one ever kept it perfectly, but those who kept the commandment to love God also loved his law.
God chose David to demonstrate what kingship should look like and promised to raise up a son for David whose kingdom would last forever. No one who sat on David’s throne in Jerusalem qualified. But Jesus did.
Jesus’ earthly life
Wouldn’t you think that “God with us” would call attention to his holiness and demand obedience?
Jesus never did.
Instead, he relinquished all his rights as Lord of the universe and became a servant.
As a servant, Jesus did nothing on his own initiative. Instead, he watched carefully to see what God the Father was doing and partook of that work. He modeled obedience, meekness, love, and compassion. He faced every temptation anyone else has ever faced, but he never yielded to sin; he never saw the Father sin!
Jesus reminded people of what the law of Moses required, and it was always more than anyone expected. Hardly anyone understood his teaching and some opposed him with hostility. He never responded in kind. He became angry, even violent, but never from wounded pride or hurt feelings. He saved his indignation for religious people who should have been watching for what God was doing, but failed at love, mercy, and compassion.
The same kinds of people who opposed Jesus had, in earlier generations, opposed and often killed people who delivered the same message. So they killed Jesus, too.
But Jesus’ death was different.
“The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23), but the law didn’t require the death of the sinner. Instead, God accepted the death of a sacrificial animal. But the animal had to be perfect. Jesus was perfect, having never sinned. His blood accomplished what the blood of sheep and goats could never do.
Since the law has only a shadow of the good things to come, and not the actual form of those realities, it can never perfect the worshipers by the same sacrifices they continually offer year after year. Otherwise, wouldn’t they have stopped being offered, since the worshipers, once purified, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? But in the sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins . . .
Every priest stands day after day ministering and offering the same sacrifices time after time, which can never take away sins. But this man, after offering one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God. He is now waiting until His enemies are made His footstool. For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are sanctified. (Hebrews 10:1-4, 11-14 HCSB)
The law came with a curse for disobedience, and everyone disobeys. So in Christ, God offers right standing with him that depends on faith, not law keeping. The offering of Christ redeems us from the curse of the law. (Galatians 3:13)
The Holy Spirit
So Jesus died. Then he rose from the dead, as predicted in Scripture, and ascended into heaven. But he didn’t leave people alone to fend for themselves. He sent the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth.
It’s by the power of the Holy Spirit that Jesus’ disciples could remember and make sense of what Jesus did and taught. He had inspired the writing of Hebrew scriptures and inspired the New Testament as well.
The Holy Spirit’s power grew the church from a handful of followers to a world-changing expression of Jesus’ continuing life on earth. The church certainly isn’t perfect, any more than ancient Israel was perfect. But God will accomplish his purpose through it.
One way to accomplish the purpose is through the spiritual gifts.
- The Father gives hard-wired aptitudes and personality traits that enable his people to do his work.
- The Son gives people who exercise spiritual leadership.
- The Spirit gives manifestations of his presence.
Gifts that aren’t “religious”
Until the final judgment day, God doesn’t play favorites. In fact, since the gifts of the Father are inherent within each one of us, the unsaved have a gift from him that will become useful in his kingdom once they come to know him.
“For he causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:45 HCSB)
If God gives sunlight and rain, it follows that he gives food. He also gives sleep and the satisfaction of worthwhile work (Psalm 127:2; Ecclesiastes 3:13; 5:18-19).
Just think of the beauty of the world! Or if that’s too overwhelming, just think of how many different shades of green we can see when we look at plants. God is an extravagant giver.
What God thinks of rejection of his gifts
Since we are made in God’s image, we can expect to find the entire range of emotion in him. If you’re one who chooses Christmas or other gifts carefully, you fully expect the people who receive them to appreciate them.
How do you feel if someone crabs that you didn’t spend enough money on them? Or sets your gift aside without looking at it and reaches for something else to open? Suppose you give a special gift to the person you want to marry, and he or she goes and pursues a relationship with someone else?
God gives gifts. Humans repeatedly spurn them. Scripture speaks of God’s grief, jealousy, and wrath. These emotions don’t contradict his love. They express it.
The church is called the bride of Christ. In the Old Testament, prophets frequently equated worshiping other gods with adultery. God created humans for the sake of an especially intimate relationship. The ideal human marriage is nothing but a sketch of what God has planned for us. And too often we reject both God and the sketch.
The reality of hell
No wonder so many of Jesus’ parables entail separating the good from the bad, whether crops or fish or whole nations. And they end with the bad being discarded or destroyed.
In Matthew 22, he spoke of a king who invited people to a wedding banquet for his son. When he sent word that the banquet was ready, the guests made excuses.
So the king went out and invited others, and evidently provided suitable clothing for them. One guest spurned it, and the king ordered him bound hand and foot and thrown into “the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 22:13. Numerous other parables end with the same phrase.)
Ezekiel 16 and Hosea 3 portray God as wooing his wayward bride back to him. He takes no pleasure in destroying the ungrateful and rebellious. But when all is said and done, he must. What kind of love forces people into a relationship that they don’t want? What kind of love subjects people to the presence of others who are hostile to them?
The final parable of Matthew 25 contrasts those who are told, “Come . . . inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” with those who are told, “Depart from me . . . into the eternal fire prepared for the Devil and his angels.” That fire was not prepared for humans, but if any prefer the Devil’s company to God’s, that’s what they get.
God gives gifts. Will you receive them?
Christmas tree. Some rights reserved by Christmas Stock Images.
Annunciation. Some rights reserved by carulmare.
Moses statue. Some rights reserved by ideacreamanuelaPps.
Jesus washing feet. Source unknown
Pentecost. Public domain, from Wikimedia Commons
Contentment and beauty. Some rights reserved by Julie Jordan Scott
Jesus with sword. Public domain from Mystagogy Resource Center
Last judgement. Public domain from Wikimedia Commons