Well, it’s almost here! For some of you the excitement is at fever pitch; for others of you you’re holding on until the day after. There’s still a lot of cooking and a lot of preparation and in-laws are descending upon you and yet it’s almost here, with all the joys that it brings. You’ve watched the piles of presents under the tree grow over the last few days and tomorrow at last you’re going to be able to tear off the wrapping and enjoy what’s inside. Maybe you’ve been eying the particularly big one in the corner; maybe mom and dad weren’t looking and you’ve been busy shaking them trying to figure out what’s inside. Can I tell you my only Christmas joke? Don’t tell anyone that I told a joke from the pulpit, okay? I usually abominate jokes from the pulpit but since it’s Christmas – this is my only Christmas joke. Are you ready? How did Darth Vader know what he was getting for Christmas? He felt his presents. He felt his presence! I knew there was more than one reason I shouldn’t tell jokes from the pulpit!
Gift-Giving and The Display of Love
The gifts that we give are usually expressions of love, aren’t they? That’s what we try to make our gifts at Christmas particularly. They’re an attempt to show someone that we care about them and we want to give physical expression to that in something that we hope they will love and enjoy. So at best, our gift giving is a display of love. Of course there’s a darker side. For some of us it feeds from, feeds out of, comes from the materialism of our culture. It can sometimes play into a sense of entitlement. Sometimes we give gifts out of obligation. Sometimes we give gifts and we rack up dreadful debt in order to do so. For others of us, the giving of gifts provokes a feeling of loss and sadness as we remember those who are not here that we love and have gone ahead of us. And gifts can be, therefore, bittersweet for many of us. There’s a lot of love; there are also some challenges and there’s also sometimes no small degree of sadness and sorrow and loss mixed into all of this Christmas business.
I want to turn your attention please, just for a few moments, to one place in Scripture where we find a perfect Christmas gift that infallible communicates perfect love and is not mingled at all with sorrow or loss but brings true joy and profound satisfaction to the hearts of all who receive it. So take a copy of the Scriptures in your hands and turn with me to John’s gospel chapter 3; John’s gospel chapter 3. We’re going to read the famous words of John 3:16, page 888 in the church Bibles. John 3 at verse 16:
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
I. God’s Gift: A Gift of Love
The first thing to see here, of course, is that God’s gift to us is a gift of love. God so loved the world that He gave. That is what God’s love for you does. It is a giving love, a generous love. It is grace love, gift love; free and unconstrained. The love of God that John is talking about here gives without reference to our merits, our goodness, our deserving. God doesn’t make a list and check it twice to find out who’s naughty or nice before He gives His Christmas gift. His gift is free and undeserved and unsolicited and unlooked for love.
II. How to Measure God’s Love
And then notice secondly that John tells us how to measure this Christmas gift of the love of God. He tells us how to measure God’s love. He tells us two things to do to measure the love of God. You can measure it first, he says, by what it gives. And you can measure it secondly by those to whom the gift is given. You can measure it by what is given and by those to whom the gift is given.
What is Given
Let’s think first about what is given. You can measure God’s love by what He gives. The gift itself helps us see the dimension of God’s love for us. Sometimes even our gifts work like that, don’t they? Every now and then someone will hit on the perfect gift. So thoughtful and so kind; they’ve obviously spent some time trying to find something or make something or provide something that will touch your heart and when we open the gift we’re just so moved by it. It shows us how much they love us. The gift itself is wonderful but the kindness and the care that stands behind the gift is what’s really so powerful and so moving about it. We feel loved with gifts like that. We measure their love by the gift they’ve given. We get a sense of its dimensions, its depth, its power.
And that is never more true than in the Gospel of the love of God for us. God so loved the world that He gave – what? What gift expresses the vast, unmeasured, boundless, free love of God? What gift could possibly describe the dimensions of the way God loves you? God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, His only Son. So much is crammed into that word – He gave His Son; He gave. God gave His Son to participation in our humanity, in our human natures. Born of a virgin, laid in a manger; bearing our frailty and weakness and dependence and vulnerability, our weariness, our sorrow, our tiredness, our pain. God gave His Son to hunger and thirst, to anger and joy, to grief and loss, to trouble of soul and agony of body. God gave His Son to sin-bearing so that He who knew no sin would be made sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. God gave His Son to the cross that there, bearing shame and scoffing rude, He might seal my pardon with His blood. Hallelujah, what a Savior! Nothing can serve as a full, perfect explanation of the love of God for you but Jesus Christ, born in a stable, living in obscurity, dying in shame, rising in victory, now reigning in glory for you and for me. God so loved. How much did He love? God so loved that He gave His Son. He gave Him to the manger, He gave Him to the rejection of the people, He gave Him to the injustice of Pilot, He gave Him to the nails driven into His hands and feet, He gave Him to the grave. God so loved the world that He gave His Son. “This is love, not that we have loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” – 1 John 4:10 and 11. You can measure the love of God by the gift He’s given. He’s given us His Son, His only Son, the Son whom He loves.
To Whom It Is Given
And then secondly, you can measure the love of God not just by the gift but by those to whom the gift is given. Look at the text again. “For God so loved” – what? What is the object of the love of God? Upon whom is the love of God fixed such that He would give His Son for them? “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son.” He loved the world. Our breath ought to catch in our throats and our hearts skip a beat as we read those words. They are almost scandalous and outrageous. God so loved the world. In John’s gospel, you see, the phrase, “the world,” is used in a very specific way. For us, for the most part, we use the term, “the world,” as a way to talk about everybody in the whole world. It is a numerical thing. So we tend to read John 3:16 distributively. God loved every individual in the whole world. We assume John 3:16 means God’s love is roomy, expansive and large, large enough for everyone, everywhere. And that’s certainly true, but that is actually not at all what the term “the world” means in John in general and in John 3:16 in particular. In John, the world isn’t a numerical concept; it is an ethical concept, a moral concept. It’s a way to talk about human beings rejecting God. When John talks about the world, he’s talking about the mass of humanity saying to God, “We don’t want You to be God; we don’t want You to be King. We want to be in charge.”
A World of Darkness
Let me give you some quick examples. John 1:9 – remember John 1:9 in the prologue to the gospel? The Word, Jesus, comes into the world and “though the world was made through him the world did not recognize him.” John 3:19, just a little later in the passage we’ve been reading – with Jesus’ arrival, “light has come into the world, but men love darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil.” Or John 7:7 – Jesus says He testifies that “what the world does is evil.” Or John 14:26 – Jesus says to His followers that He gives them peace, “not as the world gives.” His peace is real and solid and permanent and true. The world’s is a counterfeit and an illusion. John 15:18 – “If the world hates you, keep in mind it hated me also.” That’s what the world does in John’s thinking. It’s a way to talk about human beings lost in sin, shaking their fists at God, seeking to be lord and king in their own lives.
Love to the Unlovely
Now read John 3:16 again. “God so loved the world.” Scandalous! Stunning! He loved such a world. But we are saying, “No,” to Him. He’s giving His Son for us! He loves us not because we are lovely, do you see, not at all because we are lovely. Nothing in us compelled Him to love us. His love is so staggering not because the world is such a big place; His love is so staggering because the world is such a bad place and yet He loves it enough to give His Son to Calvary. Here is the love of God that we sing about and rejoice in and celebrate at Christmas – the gift of Jesus Christ to a world of rebels like me and like you. That means you have not pulled the wool over God’s eyes. It means you can’t dupe God into loving you or persuade Him by some performance of yours. And actually the glory of Christmas is that the love of God sees you as you really are and loves you anyway. The love of God sees you as you really are despite your best attempts to sanitize your own heart. He sees the truth. He sees the world in its darkness and ugliness and sin and He loves it and gives Jesus for it. God has given His Son for you not because you are lovely but because you are unlovely, because I’m unlovely. We’re sinners. We stand apart from Christ under the wrath and curse of God, yet we are sinners somehow that He loves and pursues and provides redemption for in Jesus Christ.
The Good News of Christmas
So take out your measuring tape, John is saying. Here are love’s dimensions. Try and take them in this Christmas. What a precious gift He has given for you, His only Son. What a costly gift it was to give. He gave Him up to the cross and He gave Him for the world, for rebels. Here is love. Here is how much you are beloved. Do you feel it? This is Bethlehem love and Calvary love and it is love that Jesus Christ still bears for you today right now, here. So how ought you to respond? Look again at the passage. “God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son” – so what? “So that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” The love-gift of God is yours; you need only take it by faith in Jesus Christ. Believe in Jesus Christ and you shall be saved. That’s the message of the Scriptures. That is the good news for Christmas. The greatest gift ever given, offered free, unconditionally to all who believe. Have you accepted God’s love-gift this Christmas? It is yours if you’d come no longer trusting yourself. You are bankrupt, don’t you know it? You need a Savior and one has been provided in Jesus Christ. So come, cling to Christ, turn from yourself and the love-gift of God will enfold you forever. What a gift – the love of God in Jesus Christ for a dark world. May it be yours this Christmas and always. Let us pray.
Father, thank You for the gift of Christmas. Jesus Christ, our perfect Savior, that in Jesus Christ You have demonstrated Your love for us. In this is love – not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the sacrifice that satisfies heaven’s justice upon our sin. Grant that we, all of us, may take it in and rejoice, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
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