I asked Paul to sing tonight-not only because I love to hear Him sing-which I certainly do. I don’t know about you but God always uses Paul’s talent to speak to me, and challenge me to grow to be more like Jesus. So, thank you Paul, and thank You God, for Paul!
But I asked Paul to sing this PARTICULAR song on this Christmas Eve because I think it serves as an excellent introduction to the next ATTRIBUTE of God that I want us to look at-HIS GLORIOUS LOVE.
If you’re our guest tonight, then let me get you up to speed by telling you that this advent we’ve been using our worship time each Sunday to answer this question, “What does Christmas teach us about God?” So far we’ve learned that the Christmas event teaches us the comforting facts that God is FAITHFUL, He is ALL-WISE, and He is completely SOVEREIGN. It is my prayer that you’ve all gotten to know God better during these past four weeks-because there is no more important AIM in the Christian life! I hope that even this brief study has primed your pump to want to continue seeking to know God better and better for the rest of your days.
As I told you a few weeks ago, we’ll pick up our corporate study of God’s attributes again in the spring as we celebrate Holy Week but tonight we will end our Advent study by focusing on the fact that God is infinitely LOVING. Now-this particular attribute is a lot more difficult to understand than you might think-especially in the limited time we have to study it together tonight. A. W. Tozer, that brilliant Christian scholar whom I have quoted so many times in these sermons has FORGOTTEN more than I will ever KNOW about God. And even this EXPERT on the character of God referred to his attempt to fathom our Heavenly Father’s love, by saying, “I can no more do justice to this awesome and wonder-filled topic than a child can grasp a star.”
You know, one of the reasons that God’s love is so hard for us to get a handle on is because our Heavenly Father doesn’t love like we humans tend to love. You see, His is a HOLY love-in other words it is a love that is so pure that it is SET APART from any other kind of love. I mean, when it comes to loving-God’s love is in a different league all together. But this is where Christmas comes in-because just as we discovered in our previous studies-the coming of Christ helps us in our feeble attempts to understand THIS attribute of God’s character. And tonight I want to briefly review four ways that Christmas helps us to fathom the love of God, and the first is this…
1. Christmas shows us that God’s love is ETERNAL.
As Tozer puts it, “Since God is self-existent, His love had no beginning; because He is eternal, His love can have no end; because He is infinite, it has no limit.” Tozer is right. God has ALWAYS been loving. In fact, LOVE is why God created us in the first place! I mean, God’s POWER is the HOW of creation but His LOVE is the WHY. You see, love demands an object and you and I are that object. We are and always have been the focus of God’s affection.
Theologians like Tozer remind us that God created everything freely, not out of necessity-AND THIS IS A VERY IMPORTANT FACT FOR US TO GRASP because it means that God did not make us because He was bored, lonely, or had run out of things to do. No…God did not create us out of NEED. He created us out of His LOVE. C. S. Lewis wrote,”God Who needs nothing, loves into existence wholly superfluous creatures in order that He may love and PERFECT them.” And that is where Christmas comes in because our PERFECTING is why Jesus was born.
You see, Jesus came to earth-to die in our place-and in that act make it possible for our sins to be washed away so that we could be clean and pure before our holy God.
And, as I pointed out a few weeks ago, Jesus’ coming was no last-ditch effort to save the human race. It was God’s plan all along. You see, in His for-knowledge God knew Adam and Eve would sin and that the entire human race-you and me included-would follow suit. This is why, immediately after the Fall He promised that a Redeemer would come. In Genesis 3:15 He said that Redeemer would be the seed of a woman-in other words He would be virgin born. And tonight we celebrate the birth of that long-awaited Redeemer-Jesus, the Christ-born of the virgin Mary…and Who, as Revelation 13:8 reminds us was, “…the Lamb that was slain before the creation of the world.” Revelation 13:8
So, you see, God’s love IS eternal. Even at the dawn of our time, His limitless love prompted Him to plan for our redemption by sending His only Son to earth for the purpose of dying for our sins. Think of it this way. God has been loving YOU since before the dawn of time-and this leads to a second thing that Christmas teaches us…
2. …It also shows us that God’s love is PERSONAL.
Well, when God sent His Son into the world-when He gave us Jesus-He had you and me as individuals in mind. Do you remember what the angel said to the shepherds that night? In Luke 2:11 he proclaimed,”Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to…YOU!” The glorious news of Christmas then is that, like that angel said, Jesus came for YOU…and YOU and YOU and YOU…and ME! This priceless Christmas Gift of God was given with us as individuals in mind. As Paul says in Galatians 2:20,”The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, Who loved ME and gave Himself for ME.” Each of us can say these words just as confidently as Paul did! I believe that one of the messages of that parable Jesus told about the shepherd who, when he lost one of his sheep, left the 99 to go and find him…one of the messages of this familiar parable is that even if there were only one sinner separated from God on this planet, Jesus would have still come and died on that cross…because God loves each and every one of us as if we were the most precious thing in His universe. To Him EACH of us is priceless-invaluable!
Max Lucado writes, “There are many reasons God saves you: to bring glory to Himself, to appease His justice, to demonstrate His sovereignty. But one of the sweetest reasons God saved you is because He [LOVES] of you. He likes having you around. He thinks you’re the best thing to come down the pike in quite a while…If God had a refrigerator, your picture would be on it. If He had a wallet, your photo would be in it. He sends you flowers every Spring, and a sunrise every morning. Whenever you want to talk, He’ll listen. He can live anywhere in the universe and He chose your heart. And the Christmas give He sent you in Bethlehem? Face it friend, He’s crazy about you!”
Well, Lucado is right! The Bible tells us that God IS crazy about each of us-that He focuses on each of us to the extent that He even keeps track of the number of hairs that are on our heads. All this shows that when He gave us the gift of His only Son that first Christmas night, He did so with each of us in mind. God’s love is a PERSONAL love….a love that seeks each of us.
England saw a glimpse of this personal quality of love in 1878 in the way that the second daughter of Queen Victoria, Princess Alice, responded to her son’s illness. You see, the little boy became infected with a horrible affliction known as black diphtheria. Doctors quarantined the boy and told the mother to stay away. But she couldn’t. She always hovered near his door. One day she overheard him whisper to the nurse, “Why doesn’t my mother kiss me anymore?” The words melted her heart. She ran to her son and smothered him with kisses. Within a few days she contracted the disease and died.
As our text for tonight tells us God loves EACH of us as a parent does their child. 1 John 3:1 says, “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” Well, love doesn’t get more personal than that, does it! We were all sick and dying in our trespasses and sins and God loved us so much that HE couldn’t stay away. He came into our “sick-room existence” and took our sin and death on Himself because His love is a personal love…
3. And then Christmas also shows us that God’s love is UNCONDITIONAL.
In other words, God loves all people equally-not just the good or the obedient-even the bad and the disobedient because His love is unconditional. And He loves like this because the source of His love is in Himself, not in the object of His love. I mean, you and I don’t provoke, trick, convince, earn, or win God’s love. He doesn’t love us because of who we are but rather because of Who He is. His nature and character compel Him to express complete, unconditional love toward each of us. As I said earlier, we struggle to comprehend God’s love, because it is so unlike our human love and this is one way that it is so very different. You see, our love tends to be characterized with “ifs,” “maybes,” and “becauses.” I’ll love you IF you do this, or I love you BECAUSE you did that. Human love is generally a response to the conditions and circumstances around us. We love because someone pleases us or because they’re good looking or because they make us laugh.In contrast, God loves us because that’s the kind of God He is. Period. Nothing in us causes Him to love us. Matthew Henry put it this way, “The great God not only loves His saints, but He LOVES to love them.” And He does-even though there is no reason to do so.
I don’t want to pop your bubble but the fact is you are not a naturally lovable person and neither am I. Sin has infected our lives so much that it has distorted even the parts we think are beautiful.
Look at it this way. Sin “uglifies” everything it touches. And so, there IS no reason for our Holy, sinless God to love us except this: That’s the kind of God He is. In spite of our constant sin and REBELLION against His loving laws, God loves us.
Back in the 1960’s the BBC made a television series about Jesus called The Son of Man And in it, they pictured Jesus vastly different than any film I’ve ever seen. He’s earthy, disheveled-even somewhat pot-bellied. It’s kind of shocking to watch and it’s definitely not my favorite image of Jesus. But, I remember seeing a clip of this film in our video study of Yancey’s book, What’s So Amazing About Grace-a clip that really spoke to me. In this particular scene Roman soldiers descend on a Jewish village, sacking, burning, beating, and killing. Women shriek. Men lie in pools of spilled blood. Well, shortly after the Romans leave Jesus arrives. He sees the survivors standing around weeping, cursing, and nursing wounds. Houses smolder in the background. Jesus looks at all this and then He begins to speak, saying, “You have hard it said, ‘Hate your enemy. An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.'” The people love this. They howl, “Yes! Yes! Find those Romans! Gouge their eyes out! Break their teeth!” “Ah, yeah,” Jesus says. Then He stops, looks around, and says, “You have heard THIS…but I tell you, LOVE your enemy!”
“No!” they shout. “Yes!” Jesus shouts right back at them. “Love him, and if he strikes you on the cheek, give him the other to strike also.” In response, they almost lynch Jesus for His outrageous grace.
Well, I like this scene because it brings into clear focus that this is exactly how God loves us. Romans 5:10 says that because of our sin, “…we were God’s enemies…” but as Romans 5:8 says, “…God demonstrates His love for us in this. While we were still sinners…[even though we were His enemies-even though every day we choose to go our way instead of His…in spite of this], Christ died for us.” Mark Buchanan writes,”This is the [unconditional] love of God: an alchemy that can turn enemies into children.”
So Christmas shows us that God’s love is eternal and personal and unconditional…
4. …but most of all Christmas shows us that God’s love is SACRIFICIAL.
Now, I’m sure that tomorrow morning we parents will show our love for our children by giving them things we really can’t afford. There will be a lot of sacrificial gifts under Christmas trees in the morning. But they pale in comparison to the sacrificial Gift of God. You see, the holiness of God demanded a sinless sacrifice and the only possible sinless sacrifice was God the Son. And since God’s love never fails to pay the price, He did. He sent His only Son into the world to die in our place. He valued sinners like you and me that much. So, you see, there is no more sacrificial love than the love God has for you and me.
This week I read about an amazing 19th-century English military expedition-one that conquered no new lands for Queen Victoria. You won’t find it mentioned in history books, but because of the monumental logistics, military historians compare the landing in Ethiopia in 1868 to the Allies’ invasion of France in 1944. You see, for nearly four years Emperor Theodore III of Ethiopia had held a group of 53 Europeans captive (30 adults and 23 children), including some missionaries and a British consul, in a remote 9,000-foot-high citadel deep in the interior. By letter, Queen Victoria pleaded in vain with King Theodore to release the captives but to no avail. Finally the government ordered a full-scale military expedition from India to march into Ethiopia-not to conquer the country and make it a British colony, but simply to rescue a tiny band of civilians.
The invasion force included 32,000 men, heavy artillery, and 44 elephants to carry the guns.
Provisions included 50,000 tons of beef and pork and 30,000 gallons of rum. Engineers built landing piers, water treatment plants, a railroad, and telegraph line to the interior, plus many bridges. All of this was done to fight one decisive battle, after which the prisoners were released, and everyone packed up and went home. The British expended millions of pounds to rescue a handful of captives.
Well, this gives us a glimpse of the love of God-a love so great that “He spared not His only Son,” (Romans 8:32) when that was the required price to pay our sin debt. As Holley Gerth writes, “Jesus came not to a throne but to a manger. He lived not as a king but as a servant.
He chose not an earthly kingdom but a cross. He gave not just a little, but everything.”
This is why each Christmas Eve when we worship we always remember God’s sacrifice through the observance of the Lord’s Supper. And as we do so tonight, let me invite all Christians present to partake with us. Even if you are not a member of this church….If you are a Christian…if you are His, this is Yours.
THE OBSERVANCE OF THE LORD’S SUPPER
Now, may the Light of Christmas that illumines our souls,
Shine and make plain your way….until the light of your life…
Is joined with that Light that is beyond all light,
And we see even as we are seen,
And we know even as we are known,
And we are made perfect
Even as the Son of God is perfect
And heaven and earth are one.