Gift of Jesus, 24 December 2017

The Gift of Jesus
Series—The Gifts of Christmas
Luke 2:1-11

Big Idea: The greatest gift in human history was Jesus Christ.

Skit Guys Video


Christy, I bought you a gift. I hope you like fruitcake! Merry Christmas!

Who loves Christmas cookies? I’m sorry, I don’t have any to throw out this morning, but I sure love them better than fruitcake! I’ve rarely met a cookie I didn’t like. I love sugar cookies, shortbread, …yes, I love buckeyes…but to clarify, I love to EAT buckeyes! My favorite cookie is gingerbread. I LOVE gingerbread!

Have you ever eaten cookie dough?

Have you ever made chocolate chip cookies and then poured the final chips from the bag into your mouth?

Have you ever poured the extra flour from the bag into your mouth? Of course not! But the flour and baking powder are essential. Skipping that tiny teaspoon of baking powder can destroy a batch of cookies.

History is filled with tiny things making a huge impact on our world. As Christy said in the drama, “Big things can come from really little places.” Jesus Christ, whose birthday we celebrate tomorrow—and today—came from a “little town” of Bethlehem two thousand years ago. The greatest gift came from the smallest place.

What are some of your favorite Christmas gifts? What are some of your least favorite Christmas gifts? That list might be more interesting!

One of my favorite Christmas traditions is the white elephant gift exchange. I’ve received some very interesting gifts at those parties! I think we can all agree there are some gifts we really don’t want!

During this Advent season of arrival, of waiting, we have looked at the gifts of expectancy, grace, reconciliation, and adoption. None of those can be wrapped or shoved into a gift bag, but those who choose to receive those gifts experience things far greater than an iPhone which will be obsolete in a few years or a sweater which will be eventually sent to Goodwill.

Today we conclude our series,
The Gifts of Christmas. It has been my experience that there is no greater gift than the gift of Jesus. But like all gifts, you must choose to receive it or not.

The Christmas Story

Most of us have heard the Christmas story read by a friend, family member, someone at church, or even Linus on A Charlie Brown Christmas. A doctor named Luke wrote a biography of Jesus and our text for today comes from the gospel—or good news—of Luke.

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register. (Luke 2:1-3)

The scene is the Roman empire about two thousand years ago. Transportation was difficult, yet required by the government.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. (Luke 2:4-5)

Joe and Mary travel about eighty miles to this little town of Bethlehem. The timing of the census was terrible as Mary was eight or nine months pregnant, although it is possible they were in Bethlehem for some time before the birth, as stated in the next verse.

While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. (Luke 2:6-7)

That nativity set you may have in your home might not be 100% accurate, though the same can be said for many things regarding our understanding of the Christmas story. I like the biblical account as it is ancient, tested, and trusted around the world. Most likely Bethlehem was filled with travelers and with no guest room available, they slept with the animals in the downstairs of a home. Tim Chaffey writes,

Archaeologists have excavated first century homes from the Judean hill country. They have discovered that the upper level served as a guest chamber while the lower level served as the living and dining rooms. Oftentimes, the more vulnerable animals would be brought in at night to protect them from the cold and theft. This sounds strange to many of us, since we wouldn't dream of bringing some of our cattle into the house at night, but even today in some countries of Europe (e.g., Germany and Austria), the farmhouse and the animal quarters are often different parts of the same building.

There was no inn, no innkeeper, no stable…they were probably staying with family in an overcrowded house.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. (Luke 2:8)

What a scene! There are scholars who believe these weren’t just any shepherds, but rather Levitical shepherds tending to animals which would be used for Passover sacrifices in the Jewish rituals. These were special lambs who had to be without defect, creatures given great care, even swaddled by their shepherd in order to be acceptable in the temple as a payment for the sins of the owner. What an image for Luke to highlight while telling the story of the birth of Jesus, the Messiah, the Lamb of God who would be in swaddling cloths. These shepherds were in for a big surprise!

An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. (Luke 2:9-11)

There are so many ancient prophesies fulfilled in these eleven verses. I wish we had time to explore them, but suffice it to say this was no ordinary baby and no ordinary birth, though the event occurred among ordinary people in a small, ordinary town.

The prophet Micah wrote about 700 years before the birth of Jesus these words:

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” (Micah 5:2)

There is so much solid evidence for faith in Jesus, including dozens of Old Testament prophesies uniquely fulfilled in Christ hundreds of years later. This is one. You can’t choose where you’re born, but Jesus’ birthplace was prophesied. O little town of Bethlehem! Big things can come from really little places.

Boaz, Barley, and Jesus

Jesus came from a little town that means “house of bread” as Christy mentioned in the drama. There are more than 5000 biblical references to baking bread…from unleavened bread during the Exodus to Jesus breaking bread and saying to His friends, “This is my body.” Ezekiel Bread can be found in grocery stores nationwide, a unique recipe found in the Bible.

One of the most fascinating stories in the Bible involves two women, Ruth and Naomi, distance ancestors of Jesus.

Naomi’s husband dies, her sons had died, and she is alone with her two daughters in-law. She urges them to find new husbands. One does but Ruth stays with her mother in-law, Naomi. They travel to Bethlehem…1000 years before Jesus is born.

At the time, if you owned a field, you were not allowed to harvest the corners of it, instead making it available to the poor and hungry. One day Ruth “gleans” from the field of Boaz, gathering ingredients to make bread. Boaz sees her, likes her, gives her more food, and eventually Boaz marries her. Ruth goes to Bethlehem and finds not only the gift of bread but the gift of a bread winner. Ruth and Boaz have a son named Obed, a blessing to not only them but also grandma Naomi. She was overjoyed at the gift.

The women said to Naomi: “Praise be to the LORD, who this day has not left you without a guardian-redeemer. May he become famous throughout Israel! He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth.” (Ruth 4:14-15)

Then Naomi took the child in her arms and cared for him.  Ruth 4:16
The women living there said, “Naomi has a son!” And they named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David. (Ruth 4:16-17)

Ruth was King David’s great-grandmother and Naomi was his great, great-grandmother! The little town of Bethlehem became known as the City of David, and centuries later that label will be used by angel’s announcement to the shepherds.

Today your Savior is born in the city of David. He is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:11)

A Kinsman-Redeemer of all people was arriving in Bethlehem. Jesus came to rescue and redeem humanity in the same town where Boaz had redeemed His ancestor Ruth. If you’ve ever read through the Bible, you know there are some genealogies that can be extremely boring, but this one is quite fascinating:

Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab, Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth, Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of King David. 

David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife, (Matthew 1:5-6)

Two of Jesus’ ancestors met during the barley harvest and a part in the ongoing gift-giving which would lead to the birth of Jesus, the Bread of Life (John 6:35).

So What?

We can talk all day long about big things coming from really little places. We can read the Christmas story of the birth of the Messiah. We can sing songs, exchange gifts, and eat cookies, but what difference does Jesus make two thousand years later? Jesus is the greatest gift. The story doesn’t end with a baby in a manger. Sweet baby Jesus would grow up, teach with wisdom which amazed the most brilliant minds of His day, perform countless miracles, willingly surrender His own life on a cross for the sake of every man, woman and child who follows Him, rise from the dead, ascend to heaven, and promise to return.

Jesus is the greatest gift. He came as Emmanuel, God with us. He came to our world to be with us, to relate to us, to love us, to show us what it means to truly be human. And He’s coming back for all who receive the gift, who receive Him, who follow Him.

Jesus is the greatest thing in my life. He has given me life—bountiful life! I live every day knowing my sins are forgiven which gives me peace. I know He is returning someday to our broken world which gives me hope. He is present here and now by the Holy Spirit living inside of me which gives me great joy. I’ve experience meaning and purpose for life, surrendering to the Creator God who knows me and still loves me.

And all of this can be true for you, too. There’s nothing special about me. I just said, “Yes” to the gift. And you can, too. The most famous verse in the Bible says

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

That’s a promise of eternity with God after you die, but also the promise of His presence and power and peace in this life, here and now. It’s not about religion or even being good. It’s simply about welcoming Jesus into your heart, your life, your world and inviting Him to lead and guide Your life. It’s about a relationship with Almighty God, a journey in which you can actually know your Creator, be adopted into a faith family of love, receive a fresh start in life, conquer your fears, and truly experience joy. If Jesus is not the main ingredient in your life, you’re missing out on the greatest ingredient, the greatest gift. I urge you to receive the gift, the gift of Jesus. Let Him lead and guide you and who you through His Word, the Bible, real wisdom, life, and joy.

One of my favorite songs of the season is “Joy to the World.” One of the lines says, “Let every heart prepare Him room.” Is there room in your heart for Jesus? He’s the main ingredient in my life and He can do incredible things with yours if you let Him in, if you receive the greatest gift this Christmas, the gift of Jesus.

Credits: title, drama, and some ideas from The Skit Guys.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

  • Gift of Expectation, 26 November 2017

    The Gift of Expectancy
    Series—The Gifts of Christmas
    John 3:16-21

    Big Idea: The gift of Jesus is worth waiting for…and worth sharing.

    Skit Guys Video


    Do you ever feel like that dad? Thanksgiving’s over and now it’s full throttle until Christmas? It’s quite a transition, dominated, of course, by Black Friday which apparently begins before Friday and continues past Friday. Tomorrow is Cyber Monday followed by Giving Tuesday and…

    Do you have rules about Christmas music? When I met Heather, she wouldn’t listen to Christmas music until December 1. I thought that was a bit extreme, but so are those radio stations that begin November 1. For me, Christmas begins when I see Santa in the Thanksgiving Day Parade. What rules do you have in your home about Christmas music and decorations? Often they are passed down from generation to generation. Do you hide a baby Jesus?

    Advent. We commonly associate it with Christmas. Years ago our family had Advent calendars and I’ve been pleasantly surprised to see Advent calendar gaining popularity. The term “advent” comes from Latin and means “coming” or “arrival.” With any arrival, there is anticipation and expectancy which means waiting.

    At this very moment, what are you waiting for? Complete this sentence:

    “I can’t wait for _________________.”

    Today we begin a five-week Advent series called
    The Gifts of Christmas. Do you like gifts? Of course, we all love gifts! They are great to receive and even better to give.

    Today we’re looking at the gift of expectancy. Sometimes expectancy doesn’t feel like a gift. In fact, it may feel like torture. As I child, I couldn’t wait for Christmas, to open those colorfully-wrapped boxes…and hopefully find more toys than clothes! But the more anticipation, the greater the reward when the waiting is over and the arrival is experienced.

    It’s impossible for us to understand how great the expectancy of the Messiah, Jesus. People waited for hundreds of years for this baby. Announcements were made. Clues were given. Finding baby Jesus was different than looking for a hidden nativity set piece. Dr. Luke described the clues given about two thousand years ago.

    And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:8-12)

    How do you think these shepherds reacted to their angelic encounter? After calming down from the shock, I’m quite sure they said, “That was strange, now let’s get back to shepherding.” No! They probably wanted to run and see this gift from the Heavenly Father which was good news “for all the people.”

    Can you imagine good news for all the people today? That would be so great, and yet that’s why we’re here. That’s why we exist…to proclaim the gospel, the good news. Jesus is the greatest news in human history, and we stand at a special time between the first coming and the second coming of Jesus. We look back at Bethlehem two thousand years ago, but we also anticipate His return.

    I’ll tell you how the shepherds reacted to the news that the Messiah was coming. A few verses later it says,

    So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. (Luke 2:16)

    Jesus’ half-brother wrote,

    Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. (James 1:17)

    The greatest gift of all is Jesus. Have you received the gift? Do you know Jesus? Many know about Him, but you can know Him personally.

    Jesus is the greatest gift, sent from the Father
    of the heavenly lights. God created the heavens, the sun, the moon, the stars…and they reflect His beauty, genius, and creativity. He is a loving Father who loves to give good gifts to His children. Many tragically think of God as a mean creature with the personality of The Grinch. Instead, He is the most loving Dad. His generosity makes Santa Claus look downright stingy! Jesus said

    “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! (Matthew 7:9-11)

    We’ve been given good gifts since the creation of our magnificent world. When we messed it up, God realized we needed help—serious help! Our sins—those things which offend God and His perfection—created a wall between us and God. But since God is all about relationships, He offered a gift to us to knock down the wall, to allow us to know our Creator, have our sins forgiven, experience real joy and purpose, and engage in real life. The most famous verse in the Bible says

    For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

    But there’s more!

    For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God. (John 3:17-21)

    The Father of Lights gives good gifts…great gifts…the most excellent gifts! He loves the world. He loves you and me. He demonstrated His love by sending Jesus to be the Savior of the world, saving us from sin and death, mediocre living, evil, and hopelessness. People waited for generations for Jesus’ first arrival even as we await for his second arrival…which could be any day! Even though Jesus is not physically present, make no mistake…he is here! He is transforming people through faith, hope and love. Do you know him?

    Which Jesus?

    There was a woman named Charlotte who ran a Christian pre- school. She bought a plush Jesus toy. He was happy and smiling and all squishy; the way a cuddly toy should be. Some of the parents objected. They thought it was “inappropriate.”

    Charlotte didn’t hesitate. She knew the question she needed to ask. She asked “Which Jesus do you want your kids to know? The breakable Jesus on the high shelf who’s always looking down on them OR the Jesus who’s huggable and sits with them on the
    comfy couch, the one they can talk to, the one that comforts them when they’re hurt, the one they tell all their secrets.

    Which Jesus are we actually expecting at Advent. The one who plays games with us and brings us life or the one who sits on the shelf until it’s time to go back in the box?

    Wise Men Still Seek Him

    My prayer for you, regardless of where you find yourself today on your spiritual journey, is that you would look for Jesus. I don’t mean the plastic figure from the nativity set—though you might want to hide him until December 25—but the real Jesus, the one the shepherds pursued, the one who lived a perfect life, died, rose from the dead, ascended into heaven, and promised to return. He came to show us what it means to truly be human. He demonstrated true love, the kind of love that gives until there’s nothing left to give. He said,

    “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. (Matthew 7:7-8)

    Wise men—and women—still seek him. Ask. Seek. Knock. You are invited this advent to know your Creator. This is not about religion. It’s not even about the Bible. It’s about knowing a Person, Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the Savior, the greatest gift.

    Will you seek him this season? Will you pursue him? We are awaiting his return, but he has been waiting for some of you to surrender your life to him, to embrace him as the greatest gift.

    If you’ve already received the gift, know Jesus is not slow in keeping his promise to return. He hasn’t forgotten you. Rather, he has a mission for you, a mission to proclaim the gospel, the good news, the gift.

    For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

    We often think of eternal life as referring to a length of time, but some scholars understand the original Greek to be qualitative, not quantitative. Following Jesus means we can have an amazing, fulfilling, satisfying life now. Don’t just sit around and impatiently wait for his return. Be ready, but use these precious moments to help people discover the missing piece in their Nativity set, the missing Person in their life.

    So What?

    How can you bring Jesus to Toledo? Maybe you can do it through Christmas caroling, delivering cookies, inviting a neighbor out for coffee, or even inviting a friend to join us next Sunday or any Sunday in December. For the next four weeks we’ll be talking about the gifts of Christmas. This is a season of expectation. If you’ve received the gift, it’s time to share it until He returns.

    Credits: title and some ideas from The Skit Guys.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • The Greatest Gift, 24 December 2015

    The Greatest Gift
    Christmas Eve 2015
    First Alliance Church

    Big Idea:
    Jesus is the greatest gift…but all gifts must be received.

    Merry Christmas Eve!
    This might be the most exciting, anticipated night of the year. Kids, are any of you looking forward to tomorrow? Adults, are any of you looking forward to tomorrow?

    How many of you have a tradition of opening a gift on Christmas Eve?

    Oh, I better hurry so you can get home and open that present!

    Christmas is all about presents. On Sunday we finished a series called “Be Here Now” which reminded us of the need to be fully present with one another and with God…and also of God’s presence with us.

    In ancient days, names were more than words on a birth certificate. They conveyed deep meaning. Rather than naming children after celebrities or trendy names, parents would often choose names of honor and character.

    My parents named me Kirk, not only because they liked the name (despite not being Star Trek fans!) but because it means “church dweller” and they hoped and prayed I would someday spend time in church. It worked!

    One of my favorite names for God is Emmanuel, God with us. He is present.

    The thing about being present is your presence must be acknowledged. Have you ever tried to scare someone, sneaking up on them? I usually try to NOT scare people, often making gradually louder noises as I enter a room when they have their backs turned to me. This happened recently with Sue. I didn’t want to scare her so I started gently knowing on her door until she turned around in surprise! I was in her office but she didn’t know it.

    Tragically, it is like that with God for many of us. Sure, you might believe in God. You might believe Jesus came as a baby 2000 years ago. You might even believe He died—most people eventually die!—and perhaps you even believe He rose again. But what difference does history make in the 21
    st century?

    “Jesus is going to return someday,” you might add. Yes, that’s true, but if our faith is only about the past and the future, our present is meaningless. We either reminisce about the good old days like retirees in Florida or we dream about the future like students on graduation day.

    But Jesus is here now. December 24, 2015. He wants you to know Him…not just know
    about Him, but have a relationship with Him. I’d be the first to admit it can be unusual having a relationship with someone you can’t see or hear, but over time I’ve been able to hear His voice, not His audible voice but His words. The Bible is arguably the best way to hear His voice, and if you want to know God it’s the best way to get to know Him.

    He also loves to listen. I believe the most beautiful sound in the world to God is the sound of your voice. Prayer is not merely talking to God, but talking
    with God. Have you done that lately?

    Jesus is here. He is alive. He wants to live inside you, giving you peace, joy, meaning, purpose, hope, and love. But you have to receive Him.

    is about presents, about gifts. It’s about a gift. The gift was a baby, but He became so much more. He loves you so much He spread His arms and said, “I love you this much.” He died to pay the punishment of your sins, everything you’ve done wrong. He died to reconcile—reconnect—you to your Creator, Almighty God who hates sin.

    The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)

    He wants every man, woman and child to receive the gift, the gift of Himself, of Jesus.

    For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

    Jesus is not exclusive. He died for everyone, young and old, male and female, American, Asian, Arab, and Australian. He died for teachers, tennis players, and even terrorists.

    But like any gift, you have to receive it to experience it. Knowing about it is not enough.

    $10 Bill

    Let’s pretend for a moment I had a $10 bill. Actually, we don’t need to pretend! This $10 bill is available to any child who wants it.

    When you receive a gift, it’s yours to experience.

    Have you received Jesus?

    This is not about organized religion. Jesus hated organized religion, man’s quest to know God. Instead being fully God He became a man to show His love to us and invite us to experience real life. He said

    I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:10b)

    Jesus is the ultimate example of what it means to be human. He showed us how to live. He showed us how to love.

    Have you received Him?

    The best gift you’ll ever receive is Jesus. The best gift you can give Jesus for His birthday is your heart…you…all of you. If you’ve never surrendered your life to Jesus, I urge you to do it tonight. It’s the most liberating, life-giving thing imaginable. Let go and let God.

    You can begin a relationship with God through a simple prayer like this:

    God, I’m sorry for the sins and mistakes in my life. I believe Jesus came as a baby, grew up and died for my sins, and rose from the dead. I want Him to be my Savior—saving me from my sins—but also my LORD, the leader of my life. I surrender my life and welcome Jesus into my life to take control and guide my life. Thank you for the gift of eternal life and abundant life. In Jesus’ Name, amen.

    If you’ve just invited God into your life, please tell someone. Tell me or a friend. You’ve just begun the journey of knowing Jesus. The adventure begins tonight! We have free Bibles at the Information Center in the lobby—written in modern English, not Shakespeare! Just ask for one. They’ll help you get to know Jesus.

    At First Alliance, we’re all about Jesus. We’ve seen Jesus heal the sick, restore broken marriage, get finances in order, bring peace to the disturbed, and provide hope to the hopeless. Every day of the year He’s at work in our lives giving us meaning and purpose, challenging us toward generosity and kindness, and reminding us of His infinite, unconditional love.

    Jesus was born for you.
    Jesus died for you.
    Jesus is alive for you!

    If you don’t know Him—personally—I urge you to receive the gift tonight.

    If you’re not ready to let God lead your life, that’s ok. There’s no pressure. Gifts are never meant to be forced upon someone. But know Jesus’s arms remain outstretched, inviting you to do life with Him.

    If you’ve invited Jesus into your life in the past, how’s it going? Is He a gift you’ve tossed aside and forgotten about like an old VHS movie or flip phone, or a precious treasure you appreciate every day of your life?

    This Christmas, I pray you will experience the gift of life, the gift of love, the gift of Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us.