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THE CHRISTMAS GIFTS OF EASTER

A SERMON ORIGINALLY DELIVERED AT

THE FEDERATED CHURCH OF ATHENS
- United Methodist - American Baptist -

BY FRANK L. HOFFMAN, Pastor

30 MARCH 1997

SCRIPTURAL REFERENCES:

John 3:16-17
        11:25-27
        14:6, 19, 26
Acts 2:24
Romans 8:28
1 Corinthians 15:54-58

To some who don't know me, it might sound strange to talk about the Christmas gifts of Easter.

But if we think about it for a moment, what we should be celebrating in this season is really the receipt of our nearly final Christmas gifts: the final gift being when we go to be with the Lord forever and ever.

I hope everyone here realizes that the first of these Easter Christmas gifts was God's gift of His Son, Jesus Christ. Itís as we are told (John 3:16- 17):

16. "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.

17. "For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through Him.

And we have the confirmation that this is a gift, for it was given in love, and it requires no payment from us.

God's only requirement is that we receive it with the same love with which it was given.

Our problem is that that we fail to understand the extent of the offer of this gift.

We fail to realize that the least of our sins is great enough to send us to hell: if we used the Lord's name in vain even once in our lifetime, or failed to forgive someone else, or any of the things we call crimes.

We fail to realize that Jesus came to this world specifically to pay the price of these sins and prepare a way for us to enter heaven with a clean slate.

Our way of entry is really another gift, for not only did Jesus pay the price of our sins, but once we enter through Him, He testifies to the Father that we are now innocent.

But the key is that we enter through Him, just as Jesus, Himself, tells us (John 14:6):

6. ..."I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me.

And the way we receive these gifts and enter through Jesus is to make Him Lord of our lives.

If we truly love God as much as he loves us this is easy, and really automatic.

For if we truly love someone, we submit our will to theirs.

If we truly love God, we will receive His Son with great joy, and want Him to guide us all the days of our lives.

And as we begin to do this, we also come to realize what a great price Jesus paid for us.

Even many of the people who associated with Jesus directly didn't understand in the beginning.

They didn't understand what He meant when He said (John 19:19),

19. "After a little while the world will behold Me no more; but you will behold Me; because I live, you shall live also.

They didn't understand because Jesus had not yet been to the cross.

Martha didn't fully understand when Jesus tried to explain it to her the first time, after her brother had died (John 11:25-27):

25. Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me shall live even if he dies,

26. and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this? "

27. She said to Him, "Yes, Lord; I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world."

She believed who Jesus was, but she didn't understand the then presence of the resurrection power.

But now, Jesus has been to the cross, He has died; but what is even more important, He now lives.

So what is our excuse, considering what we are told (John 14:26):

26. "But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.

I believe the Holy Spirit speaks to absolutely everyone. Itís that inner voice we often call our conscience.

He speaks to us of the truths of God.

I believe He speaks through me, also, as He does through everyone else who speaks forth the word of God in truth.

A truth that speaks forth peace instead of violence; a truth that speaks forth God's unconditional love and compassion for the whole of creation (humans, animals, and the environment)

And that through these words everyone truly hears; not that everyone wants to accept what they hear, but they hear nevertheless.

And I know the Holy Spirit is confirming in the hearts and souls of each of us that these words are indeed true.

It's as Paul tells us (1 Corinthians 15:54-58):

54. But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, "Death is swallowed up in victory.

That which is perishable is our earthly, fleshly body; that which is imperishable is our spiritual being.

This is another free gift: the overcoming of death.

55. "O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?"

56. The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law;

57. but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

And here we have it again: that the victory is through Jesus Christ our Lord, whom we must receive.

58. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.

Think about something.  If Jesus offers us victory over death, then why do so many Christians deny life to others through such things as war, capital punishment, the eating of animals, and abortion?

Haven't we been told that the sting of death is sin?

Then why do we continue to bring about death, directly, or indirectly through our support of others who bring about the actual deaths?

Sometimes, as we talked about last week, we don't think what we do is important in the overall scheme of things, because we are each just one person within all of humanity.

How could what any single person did affect the whole world?

But if we think about it, a whole lot of people have had an effect on the world, both for good and for evil.

We are important, each of us; and everything we do or say is important, whether good or bad, but hopefully on the good side.

All is really important, for the bad things we do have just the same ripple effect as the good things we do.

Part of the power of doing evil is our willingness to go along with others; but in the overall scheme of things, this power is really quite weak.

The real and lasting power is that given to us by God, which makes all things work together for good (Romans 8:28).

After Jesus had risen from the dead, listen to what Peter told the people of Jerusalem, some of whom had cried out to crucify Him (Acts 2:24):

24. "And God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power.

Just as we have been saying this morning, the power of God is stronger than the power of this world.

The power in and through Jesus Christ has overcome death and sin, and ushered in everlasting life.

But we must receive these gifts, if they are going to be for us.

These gifts are presented to everyone, but unfortunately everyone doesn't want to receive them.

Once God touched me, I couldn't do anything else but submit my will to God's.

I really and truly don't understand why everyone doesn't receive the Lord in this same way.

I don't understand why some people fight with God, and run away from Him.

He has been everything to me, as I know He's been to some of you.

But my heart aches because so few people come to this understanding.

This very day, Jesus is offering every one of us this power to conquer death and sin and to rise from the death it brings, just as He rose from the dead.

We all need to accept the Lord's offer of everlasting life.

As individuals, we all need to reach out and touch Him, for it's a very personal matter.

Touch Him with your heart, with your soul, and with every part of your being.

No one who has ever truly done this has ever regretted doing so.

It's really all a matter of faith.

Love the Lord.

Receive His gifts.

Trust in Him.

Really give Him a chance to change our lives, individually.

And in this faith, rise with Him into everlasting life.

Amen.

Your Comments are welcome

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