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JESUS CHRIST OUR GIFT OF LOVE (PART III)

A SERMON ORIGINALLY DELIVERED AT
THE HIGH HILL UNITED METHODIST CHURCH
AND
THE FEDERATED CHURCH OF ATHENS

15 DECEMBER 1991

By Frank L. Hoffman

SCRIPTURAL REFERENCES:

Isaiah 12:1-6
        41:17-18
Luke 3:7 -18

Preparation Verse: (Isaiah 41:17-18)

When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue is parched with thirst, I the Lord will answer them, I the God of Israel will not forsake them. I will open rivers on the bare heights, and fountains in the midst of the valleys; I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water.

Last week, as we looked at part of our gift of love from God, we saw that John the Baptist was not only proclaiming the coming of Jesus, but that he was also proclaiming the restoration of life.

With Jesus Christ, there is no longer any need for death.

With Jesus Christ, we can live a changed life.

With Jesus Christ, we no longer have to live as we used to live.

With Jesus Christ, we no longer have to do what the rest of the world does.

With Jesus Christ in our hearts, God's gift of love, we have a changed life.

Unfortunately, most professing Christians have failed to accept the whole of God's precious Christmas gift to us.

Mostly, they accept only selected portions of this gift, the ones that don't require them to change their lifestyles, and as a pastor, this troubles me very much.

In Luke 3:7f, we are told how John paved the way for the coming of the Lord by encouraging the people to live a changed life.

Let's take a look at this passage of Scripture.

7. He therefore began saying to the multitudes who were going out to be baptized by him, "You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?"

How would you like me to greet you this way, as you come to church on Sunday morning?

He's not saying this to the people who didn't come. He's saying it to the ones who came.

Now, if we honestly look at ourselves as we really are, and as God really sees us, with all our hidden sins, then perhaps such a greeting could be in order.

That is the way John greeted them, and they still came.

Then John continues, and says to those who came to him, who came to church, like we did this morning...

8. "Therefore bring forth fruits in keeping with repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham for our father,' for I say to you that God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.

9. "And also the axe is already laid at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire."

The Jewish people in the days of John looked at their beginnings of faith as being rooted in Abraham, much as we today see our root as being in Jesus Christ.

And what John is saying to both the Jew of his day and the Christian of our day is that if we truly believe, and have whole-heartedly repented of our sins, then we should have a changed life, and the fruit of our changed life should be evident.

One of these Christmas gifts is peace on earth, and such peace can not exist unless it includes every other human being, every other animal, and the world we all live in.

So part of the evidence of a changed life in Jesus Christ is that the person does everything in their power to end all strife, suffering and death in the world around them, and this included what they say, and what they wear, and what they put on their plates.

And unfortunately, if this fruit of our faith is not evident in our life, then we may be cut off, because our faith isn't real.

This is where the doctrinal positions of eternal salvation and loss of salvation come together.

Was our confession of faith real, if there is no fruit and we are cut off?

And to those who believe in eternal salvation, we could not have been saved.

But to those who believe that confession alone brings salvation, we have lost our salvation.

Jesus Christ, God's gift of love, did not come to earth so that any would be lost, but that all would come to salvation.

He came to help us believe to the point where we would bring forth the fruit of our changed life and our faith.

10. And the multitudes were questioning him, saying, "Then what shall we do?"

These people recognized their own sinful state and the fact that they were not bringing forth any fruit as proof of their faith.

They were honestly facing the fact that they might not be saved.

They were facing the fact that they might go to hell.

What about us and our society today? Are we willing to admit to ourselves that we are very much like those of John's day? And are we willing to admit it in public, as they were doing?

If we are willing to admit it, and receive the loving correction of our Lord, then we, too, should receive what John is saying.

11. And he would answer and say to them, "Let the man who has two tunics share with him who has none; and let him who has food do likewise."

12. And some tax-gatherers also came to be baptized, and they said to him, "Teacher, what shall we do?"

13. And he said to them, "Collect no more than what you have been ordered to."

14. And some soldiers were questioning him, saying, "And what about us, what shall we do?" And he said to them, "Do not take money from anyone by force, or accuse anyone falsely, and be content with your wages."

All these people came forth seeking to repent and live a changed life.

And they left John's presence with their “Christmas gifts”: first the gift of correction, next the gift of thankfulness for what they already had, and then the gift of love, which they also had to share, along with what they already had, with others.

They didn't receive any new thing that one would consider a gift today.

What they got was intangible, but of great value.

What they got was the key to eternal life.

Not an act of earning their way into heaven, but the free gift of it; and all they had to do was receive it.

And when we receive the whole gift, we also find that we lose our desire for the worldly ways of living, that is, unless we fight against it.

15. Now while the people were in a state of expectation and all were wondering in their hearts about John, as to whether he might be the Christ,

16. John answered them and said to them all, "As for me, I baptize you with water; but One is coming who is mightier than I, and I am not fit to untie the thong of His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire."

When someone stands out and does something in the name of the Lord, others try to figure out why, and either make more of the person than they deserve, or they ridicule the person.

We humans seem to find it hard to just accept the truth when we hear it and to just accept the person who brings forth the message as simply doing what the Lord wants each and every believer to do.

Thus John answered the way he did, and then added a warning for the doubters:

17. "And His winnowing fork is in His hand to thoroughly clear His threshing floor, and to gather the wheat into His barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire."

There is a spiritual fire we receive when the Holy Spirit enters our lives, and there is a fire of destruction to remove that which is not of God, so that the believers will never have to suffer as we do today with the sin in the world.

All that John is saying is a Christmas gift, if we care to receive it.

Note verse 18:

18. So with many other exhortations also he preached the gospel to the people.

We also have heard the gospel message many times, and we may all accept the truth of it; but are we also willing to accept the doing of that message?

I believe we do far more running away from receiving the “medicine” portion of the message, as does a child when Mom tries to administer it.

As we turn to Isaiah chapter 12, listen to the joy that comes when we are willing to receive the whole gospel message, including the “medicine”:

1. Then you will say on that day,
"I will give thanks to Thee, O Lord;
For although Thou wast angry with me,
Thine anger is turned away,
And thou dost comfort me."

God really does love us, much more than most parents love their children; and at times, even in the midst of this true love, parents become angry with their children because they won't listen.

And so it is with our relationship with God.

As we learn to accept the medicine of correction, and strive not to repeat our mistake, our sorrow is turned into joy.

2. "Behold, God is my salvation,
I will trust and not be afraid;
For the Lord God is my strength and song,
And He has become my salvation."

3. Therefore you will joyously draw water
From the springs of salvation.

Just as a spring overflows with water, so does our Lord overflow with His love for us, and the rest of creation.

And as we draw from His spring of the water of life, we will also find that we will overflow and not run dry.

4. And in that day you will say,
"Give thanks to the Lord, call on His name.
Make known His deeds among the peoples;
Make them remember that His name is exalted."

5. Praise the Lord in song, for He has done excellent things;
Let this be known throughout the earth.

6. Cry aloud and shout for joy, O inhabitant of Zion,
For great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.

As long as we seek the Lord now, and look forward to the return of Jesus Christ with joyous expectation, we will have a fairly good taste of heaven here on earth, until we rise to the real heaven, and there live forever in the presence of God's greatest gift of love.

Amen.

Merry Christmas.

Your Comments are welcome

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