Sunday, August 18, 2019

The Greatest Gift - Jesus Christ

This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins."
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: "The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel" (which means "God with us"). When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus. (Matthew 1:18-25 NIV)
I have fond memories of Christmas when I was growing up. The first thing was the preparation for Christmas. There was the shopping for Christmas gifts: my family would walk through Bridgetown trying to find quality but inexpensive gifts. Many homes in Barbados took this time to make sure that the house looked radiant for the Christmas season. Often a house would get a new coat of paint, new curtains went up at the windows and the house was thoroughly cleaned. The Christmas tree was decorated, gifts were placed and lights were stringed up both inside and outside of the house. This was the time of the year when we got all kinds of soft drinks - Plus, Malt, JuC. Who could forget the food - ham, turkey, chicken, stuffing, rice, salads, pudding, sweet bread, great cake and other delicacies?
Christmas Eve was typically spent cooking and baking late into the night. Early on Christmas morning, we headed to church for the 5:00 service. Church was packed out with persons decked in the latest fashions. After service, some persons would go to Queens Park in Bridgetown. But I was eager to get home to open my gifts. Later in the day, after having a sumptuous feast at home, we would go to visit friends where the fare was typically drinks, pudding and ham. It was a fun time. When I gave my life to Christ, the season truly became meaningful and I looked forward to sharing the Christmas story with my children and experiencing the worship songs of Christmas. Christmas as it should properly be celebrated is about the greatest gift ever given to mankind in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ.
She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins." (Matthew 1:21 NIV). The purpose of Christ coming is not about running around shopping. It isn't about getting the house tidied up. Gift giving is a good gesture around this time of the year, but Christ's coming is not about exchanging gifts. It's also not about the food, nor is it about the lights and the new clothes. Sometimes these things take precedence over the real meaning of why Jesus came into our world. The purpose of Jesus coming was to save His people from their sins.
The Bible makes it clear that all have sinned. None of us was a good person. In our world we have liars, gossips, fornicators and adulterers; we can easily extend the list. Sin is more fatal than a cancer. For one thing, it destroys our relationship with God and eternally separates us from Him. Persons who are sinners and who have not repented of their sins in this lifetime will spend eternity in hell. This may not be acceptable theology for some, but it is the Word of God. Interestingly, Jesus spent more time talking about eternal judgment than He did about heaven. He wanted us to understand the seriousness of rejecting Him. Further, sin destroys marital unity. God put Adam and Eve together in the Garden of Eden. Eve was the perfect help meet for man, yet when sin came into the world, Adam quickly blamed Eve for his fall into sin. Sin destroys relationships: Cain killed his brother Abel out of envy and anger. Sin also results in societal evils such as domestic abuse, crime and corruption.
It is absolutely essential to know that there is no salvation outside of Jesus Christ. He is the only way, the only truth and the only life; no one comes to the Father except through Him (John 14:6). Salvation is not through good works. Some people think that by their own efforts they can save themselves. God, at the judgment, will simply weigh their good deeds against their bad deeds. However, this is one of satan's lies. Salvation is not through education: there is a societal view that education is the answer to all of the world's problems, yet some of the worst atrocities are perpetrated by educated people. Salvation is not through wealth. Jesus indicated that it is hard for a rich man to enter heaven. Salvation is not through religion or self-discipline. There are some noble things about Islam and even some similarities to Christianity. Islam practices the five pillars, which requires self-discipline. Yet there is no salvation in Islam. Only Jesus has been given the name by which men can be saved.
Sin brought humanity under the control and influence of satan. If you're a sinner, you're a child of the devil. A person either belongs to God or to the devil: there is no middle ground. The valley of indecision is not a place of neutrality; it is not a limbo between heaven and hell. Romans 8 tells us that the mind governed by sin cannot and does not know God. It goes on to tell us that only those who have the Spirit of Christ and are led by that Spirit are the sons and daughters of God. If you are not saved then you don't have the Spirit of Christ, you are not being led by the Spirit and therefore you are not a son or daughter of God.
God has given us some tremendous privileges once we have accepted His gracious gift of salvation. For one thing, we are regenerated: we are given a new nature that enables us to live to please God. We are justified: we are declared righteous because Jesus paid the penalty for our sin and gave His righteousness to us. We are adopted: we have been placed as adult sons with all the privileges of sons; we are co-heirs with Jesus and we will reign in the kingdom with Him. We are sanctified: God has set us apart from the world, from sin, from satan's control and dedicated us to Himself so that we can live holy lives. These are immediate benefits, which we receive once we have accepted Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and Savior.
There are other benefits of our salvation. These are a few of them. We are entitled to God's provision; God is our Jehovah-jireh who has promised to provide for all of our needs. We can benefit from God's protection; He is Jehovah-nissi who protects us from the various strategies and devices of the enemy; the Bible is replete with promises and examples of God's protection. We can receive God's healing; He is Jehovah-raphah; Jesus doesn't only provide spiritual healing but He also provides physical and emotional healing. Believers have fellowship with God; He is Jehovah-shammah, the God who is always present in our lives; we always have access to God and can freely and boldly approach His throne of grace. We can receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit which provides empowerment for service and affects our spiritual lives in other dynamic ways. There are many other benefits of our salvation. We have reason to rejoice and to worship because God has done so much for us as a result of our relationship with His Son Jesus Christ.
Unfortunately, not all people have received this gift. Some have money, popularity, position and plenty of gifts for Christmas, but they don't have Jesus as Lord and Savior. Jesus asked a critical question: what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul? Luke tells us about a man who planned to build bigger barns, but did not consider his need for God. He also tells us about the rich man and Lazarus. The rich man rejected God and ended up in torment, possessing nothing but pain and suffering. Lazarus who had nothing, but who we can be sure had a relationship with God, ended up with everything in Paradise, that is, the thing that mattered most: being eternally in the presence of God and His saints.
Accepting Jesus is not about being religious. The religious leaders of Jesus' day (the Pharisees, Sadducees and teachers of the law) for the most part rejected Jesus as the Messiah. They preferred to accept the traditions of men over the will of God. There are many people who are religious, giving God a part of their lives particularly on a Sunday morning. However, Jesus didn't come to occupy a part of our lives. He came to establish a kingdom, his complete reign in our hearts: He is not interested in sharing that throne with anything or with anyone. It's easy to see Jesus as a babe in Bethlehem, but that baby has grown up. He grew up to die, be buried, to rise again and is the ascended Lord who is at the right hand of the Father making intercession for the saints. The Bible also indicates that He is coming again as the King of kings and Lord of lords to establish His kingdom - His universal reign over all humanity.
People have various reasons for not accepting Christ, none of which have any validity. Some individuals are concerned about what their friends think. When we stand before God in judgment, we will not be standing with our friends; we are not required to give an account for them, but we do have to give one for ourselves. Some people say that they are not ready and they'll do it later. The Bible clearly states that now is the day of salvation; there may be no future opportunity. Further, the longer a person waits, the greater the potential for their heart to become hardened, resistant to the call and grace of God. Some persons believe that they are good persons, that God will weigh their good deeds and give them access to heaven. The Bible challenges that misconception by showing that all have sinned and no one is good enough to merit heaven. If we were, God would not have needed to send His Son to die on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins. Some individuals think that they have to fix themselves up first. However, we have no righteousness that makes us acceptable to God. This is why salvation is a gift; the only thing that we can do is to receive it by faith.
There are only two possible responses to the gospel. We can reject it. To reject the gospel is to reject God's love, grace and mercy. It is to choose your own way over God's way. It is to reject the greatest gift man could ever have and ultimately to reject God. The second response is to accept the gospel by believing with our heart and confessing Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and Savior. To accept the gospel is to accept God, the kingdom and righteousness of God and the blessings of the kingdom. Don't allow another Christmas to pass without accepting Jesus Christ, the greatest gift anyone could ever have.

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