Refresh & Restore — December 17, 2020

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. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him. 18 Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.

John 3:16-19

Merry Christmas, Sojourner!

The Christmas season can feel a bit like tug-of-war sometimes. There is the pull of the world and commercialism. There is a definite push toward giving – and especially receiving – and going and doing and seeing. Yet there is always a tug at our hearts that is reminding us that there is more to Christmas than lights and presents. That tug prompts our hearts to look for something holy rather than a holiday.

I find myself pondering, year after year, how God feels about all of this. How much of Christmas focuses on or even includes Christ?

Much time is spent this time of year discussing and debating what is the true meaning of Christmas. Many argue for joy or peace or hope or family or giving or kindness. And it is almost certainly each of those things, at least a little bit. But the meaning of Christmas is most definitely love – the steadfast, always-and-forever, never-stopping, never-giving-up love of God.

God’s love for His people is unbelievable. Arguably, the greatest verse that describes His love is the one that is most familiar to us – John 3:16. In this verse, we see the heart of the Father. We see a love that outshines any earthly love. And, as a father, I cannot fathom loving anyone or anything that much. Our Father loved so much that He gave His only Son.

I have been blessed with two children. I would not put up with either of them being harmed, much less killed, for any of you. I remember the day that my oldest child was born. As I stood there, terrified and holding her in my arms, Daddy leaned in and whispered: “Now, you understand Christmas; now, you start to understand Easter.” That moment, when my heart was filled with more love than I could ever imagine, is the first moment I could feel the anguish and care – but still only a glimpse – that God the Father has for us. Yet I would deny you all to save my children. But our Father is not like that.

God demonstrates His love for us in that “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). His love flows from Him “being rich in mercy” (Ephesians 2:4). He loves us enough that we can “be called children of God” (1 John 3:1). And it is because He “did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all” that we can trust that He will take care of us and keep His promises to us (Romans 8:32).

The way that Jesus describes the love of God in John 3 is simple enough that new believers can drink of it and deep enough for those who have believed for decades can eat and still be full. How beautiful and fulfilling it is to be loved by God and get to love Him in return.

Let us dive a little deeper.

God gave Himself for us in the person of Jesus so that we could have everlasting life. He did not come to condemn us or beat us down in our sin. He came to rescue us from our sin and the condemnation that it already deserved! This confuses some because they feel the need to beat people down for their sin, but there is no need for beating down or condemnation. The Law has already done that (John 5:45). One must look no further than their own hearts to believe that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) and “none is righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10). We have enough condemnation on our own merits and minds to last us a lifetime. What we need is a Savior to take care of eternity!

I like the way that Paul David Tripp puts it: Jesus “would live on our behalf the life we could have never lived, He would willingly die the death that you and I deserve to die, and He would rise from the tomb as the conqueror of sin and death[1]”! His life covers ours. His death replaced ours. His Life gives us life eternal. He bore our sins and carries our guilt and shame and condemnation (Isaiah 53:4-5) – so why hold on to it?

Jesus goes on to explain that He did not have to come to make judgment regarding the world because the verdict had already been given: “the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than light” (v. 19). As bad as we hate to admit it, we know that to be true. We see it in the world around us every day. And we see it in our own hearts. Things seem darker and drearier every single day. Many are quick to agree with the old adage that the world is going to hell in a handbasket. But what about “for God so loved the world”? Where is the gospel influence – the good news – amid so much bad?

Let John 1:4-5 shine into your dark and dreary worldview:

In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

The Light. Shines. In Darkness. Darkness and light cannot co-exist. We live in a world where the darkness is trying to snuff out the light. But that is utter foolishness! Darkness has no power where light is present. You can shut yourself in the darkest room you can find, and a single candle will chase away the darkness. And Jesus, the Light of the World (John 8:12), is better and brighter than all the candles ever made, past, present, and future. He – the Light – shines in darkness, and – try as it may – the darkness cannot do anything but leave!

This should not come as a surprise to us. After all, the birth of Christ had been foretold over centuries before God ever “became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). Look at the good news promised through the prophet Isaiah:

  • The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone. (Isaiah 9:2)
  • I am the Lord; I have called you in righteousness, I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prison those who sit in darkness. (Isaiah 42:6-7)

The prophecies continued in the months prior to His birth through John the Baptist’s father, Zechariah:

…because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet in the way of peace. (Luke 1:78-79)

The good news is there. All that is left is for us to believe it.

I know that there is much going on around us that gives us pause and can cause fear and anxiety. I know that the holidays are not always a time of joy and happiness for everyone. But I know that God loves me – and that I love Him. I can echo Job in saying that “I know that my Redeemer lives” (Job 19:25). I can echo Paul and shout to you, “If God is for us, who can be against us” (Romans 8:31)! I can tell you that no matter the darkness around you, the Light has come.

As we gear up for whatever Christmas 2020 looks like, may our hearts be lifted by the greatest gift that will ever be given – the gift of the Son for our salvation by God the Father. But no gift is ever effective unless it is received. If you will but “confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). Receiving the “free gift of God” (Romans 6:23) is as simple as receiving Him as Savior and Lord.

Once you receive that gift, the lights and presents at Christmas lose some of their glimmer and glamour. After all, they pale in comparison to the Light of the world and His presence in our lives. And darkness – around us or within us – cannot abide in His presence; it must flee. We can pray and sing the Christmas hymn of old:

O come, Thou Day-Spring, Come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight
Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel[2]

And Emmanuel – God with us – bring Light and rejoicing to us and ours as well. As always, I love and pray for you all. If you need someone to listen or to pray for you, feel free to reach out. I may not be able to meet your needs, but I can point to the One who can.

[1] Paul David Tripp, Come Let Us Adore Him: An Advent Reading Plan, YouVersion Bible App

[2]O Come, O Come Emmanuel”, John Mason Neale &Thomas Helmore © Words: Public Domain; Music: Public Domain

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