So This is Christmas

Titus 2:11-13

Christmas time is here! And frankly, I’m always glad when we turn the page of November and give thanks, and for the unspeakable gift of Christ; to move now towards the celebration of the coming of the King into the world, our Lord Jesus Christ. We do have a Savior. I am just so moved by the simplicity and the beauty of that new song of Christmas. The music staff knows that I get obsessed with certain songs and they remembered that I was obsessed with this one last year, and I still am.

We have a Savior! This is Christmas! And over the next four weeks we’re going to be talking about this time of the year and this season of the year which points to the story of God’s grace. We’re going to look at the Christmas story through the lens of grace because if I could give you a new way to spell Christmas it would be this: G-R-A-C-E. Grace, the gift of God. Thanks be unto God for His unspeakable gift. It’s Christmas time.

Galatians 4:4 tells us that in the fullness of time, at the exact moment, sparing no detail by the hand of God… “in the fullness of time God sent fourth His son, born of a woman, under the law.” Jesus came. We have a Savior. And this story of Christmas is filled with wonder; it’s filled with miracles and supernatural events, from amazing and ancient prophecies to divine dreams and angelic announcements and stars and signs in the skies and shepherds and kings and Bethlehem; and oh, yes, a virgin birth.

It’s a supernatural story and it’s a story we believe because as followers of Jesus we believe in miracles, that the unseen is now visible by the eyes of faith, because of God’s grace. The miracle of Christmas means that we have been visited from beyond; from outer space, if you will, from the heavenlies, from another world our God has come. Someone has stepped out of the eternal and into the temporal, out of the kingdom of light and into a world of darkness. Someone who has come from heaven and now come to earth so that we who live on earth can go to heaven. It is the message that we declare. It’s the message of God’s grace.

And so in the book of Titus, chapter 2 there is tucked away a great story in the pastoral letter that Paul delivered to a pastor by the name of Titus. He was Greek, and the Gospel is for the whole world as we’re about to see. But verse 11 through 13 gives us this story of Christmas. This is Christmas.

11) For the grace of God has appeared,

That’s the word epiphany. It is an epiphany. It is a sudden appearance when something that was invisible, now becomes visible. Something that was intangible has now become tangible. Something that is eternal is now temporal. The grace of God has appeared, not as an idea, but in a person, the person of Christ. And,

12) …bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce all ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in this present age, waiting for the blessed hope, the appearing (there’s our word again) the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.

So in effect you have Christmas-past, Christmas-present, Christmas-future. Christmas-past, the grace of God has appeared. Christmas-present, because this grace is teaching us now in our lifetimes to live godly lives and honor Christ, and Christmas-future, because this same Jesus who came the first time is coming again. In this story of God’s grace is really the story of His love for each one of us, because grace is the unmerited, unmitigated, undeserved love of God. Think of the birth of Jesus as not only a beautiful pastoral scene in Bethlehem but really as a battle.

When man sinned against God in the garden, it was a continuation of a cosmic battle between God and Satan. Satan had rebelled against God in eternity-passed and Satan’s desire was to rule and dominate the world; and thus man sinned against God, and when the man and the women sinned then the consequences of that sin entered the earth and we are living in a world that is ruled by sin. And all the pain and all the suffering and all the trouble and all the difficulty, all the evil in the world can be traced back to this battle that began on earth at the Garden of Eden.

But God struck a mortal blow to Satan’s plan when He delivered Christ, the grace of God through a Baby that was born in Bethlehem. And even though it may seem that at times evil is prevailing and that darkness will defeat the Light, we know that Christmas means God has and will deliver us! That this is a great rescue! And that this grace of God, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ has appeared… verse 11, Titus 2: “has appeared (notice) to all men.” It is not selective, it is not limited, but rather to anyone and everyone. The grace of God is accessible and available. No one is left out. And while this grace is sovereign and while this grace is saving, it is inclusive of all of you and every person on the face of the earth.

When I went to China this passed week, I was taken aback, of course, by just the sheer massive number of people in China. We were in Shanghai for a portion of our visit there. We were there as the guests of the Chinese Protestant Church. Billy Graham Evangelistic Association sent us over there, about 25 of us, to meet with Chinese Christian leaders. It was a conference in which we are getting to know one another better and understanding east and west and Christianity as it’s being expressed in China, as it’s expressed in the culture of the United States. So it was an incredible opportunity and we met many wonderful people. There are one hundred or somewhere around one hundred million Christians, professing Christians in China. There are churches, both registered and unregistered churches. I conversed with a pastor who has a church of 12,000 people. In fact they are building  a worship center that will host 12,000 people in China. And so it was wonderful to meet all the Christians.

But then to look and to see the massive numbers of people who are in need of Christ. In Shanghai alone there are 23 million people. In Beijing there are 21 million people. Nanjing, we were also there, about 15 million. It’s just overwhelming! And I know if you have visited a country like China… if you’ve been maybe to… to the continent of Africa, you’ve been to Latin America and as you see the numbers of people around the world… as you consider the vast lostness and darkness of humanity without God, it’s overwhelming.

And yet it somehow enlarges your heart. This is whether you’re going as a business person overseas or whether you’re going on a mission excursion as we send people around the world here at Prestonwood. Whatever your purpose in going, I hope that God will open your eyes to see the world as God sees it and that your heart would be opened. That we can, not only give so that the Gospel can go to the ends of the earth, but we can go ourselves and share Jesus Christ regardless in what format or function we’re going, whether it’s business or spiritual reason.

So in China it was absolutely overwhelming to me and convicting to me once again of the great need of the Gospel to the world. There’s a new openness around the world, even in China. When we were in Nanjing there’s a Bible publishing company there! Yes, in China they’re publishing Bibles. In fact it’s the largest Bible publishing company in the world. It’s called Amity. And they have printed over 100 million copies of the Bible!

Some of us grew up during the Red Scare, the years of Mao Zedong and Communism, and China is still Communist. But during the years of Mao, of course, the churches, many of them were shut down and turned into factories and Bibles were confiscated and everyone was reading Mao’s little red book and the tenets of Communism; and life without God. And yet, today when I was over there, I didn’t see any little red books. But I saw thousands of copies of the Scripture! The Word of God prevails. And the Word of God will not be prevented. There is a new openness to the Gospel in China. And God is opening doors. And so we’re confident that through the years, until Christ comes that we’re going to see a new day in reaching people with the Gospel.

And I grew up learning about some of the great missionaries in China like Bill Wallace, a great Baptist martyr for the faith in China, and, of course, Lottie Moon. Our Christmas offering is Southern Baptist for world missions is named after this little four foot, eight dynamo by the name of Lottie Moon who went to China and spent 40 years as an evangelist, as a preacher and teacher of the Gospel.

The only thing really I knew about China growing up… (I never dreamed that I would get to go to China. I kept thinking about that while I was there. “I’m actually in China…” It’s surreal. I mean, did you see me at the Great Wall? I was absolutely there!) The only thing I knew about China when I was growing up is if you started digging a hole here and you dug all the way through, you would get to China! That’s about it, other than the fact that I knew about Lottie Moon, and I knew about missionaries and Hudson Taylor and the others. And I’m prayerful… and many of us are prayerful that this will be a new generation of going with the Gospel to China. We’re very hopeful of that.

But the grace of God has appeared to all people, whether you go to India or China or Africa or Europe or Latin America, or North America. Wherever you go, take this Gospel. It’s not the American Gospel; it’s the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ! It is not the Gospel of the west; it’s the Gospel of the east, the west, the north and the south! The rich and the poor! It’s the Gospel! The grace of God has appeared to all people! Everyone is included! No one is excluded! [John 3:16] “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son”.

And this grace… What does grace mean? There’s an acrostic that I want to give you on grace. Not the old acrostic that you may know, “God’s riches at Christ’s expense.” That’s a good definition of grace: God’s riches at Christ’s expense.” But let me… let me tell you about grace and remind you of what it’s all about.

Grace is a gift! That’s the first letter… “G” the gift of God. That is the principle of grace. In other words, grace is not earned or deserved. There’s nothing that we can do to achieve God’s salvation!

In China there are three accepted religions. Christianity is one, Islam is another, and Buddhism. But whether it is Buddhism or Islam or any other religion worldwide, all religions of the world are based upon human achievement: what we do, what man does in order to attain knowledge of God; to obtain God Himself. And so man tries the best that he can to worship God, to know God, but that’s all human achievement. And it is impossible by our self-effort to know God’s grace and salvation.

In fact, human effort discounts God’s grace. Ephesians 2:8 and 9: “For by grace are you saved through faith, and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” So the principle, the very principle of grace is that salvation is not what you can do, but rather it is the mercy of God. Later on in Titus chapter 3 we’re told that in verse 4: “But when the goodness and lovingkindness of God our Savior appeared (there’s our word again) He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy.”

And you’ve been perhaps told that grace is when you receive from God what you  you do not deserve and mercy is when you don’t receive from God what you do deserve. And we have both grace and mercy which produces salvation in our life through Christ. Again, looking at this Christmas story, the grace of God has appeared. This is the principle of grace. It’s a gift.

“R” stands for redemption which is the purpose of grace. He came to redeem us, to rescue us, to save us from ourselves; to save us from our sins. No wonder we call it amazing grace! And we love stories of redemption, don’t we? And rescue?

I was watching on the plane, coming back on that long 18 hour trip back from  China. It seemed like I was bored and ready to get home, but I was watching some movies, and one of the movies I watched was Argo. I didn’t know the story that was portrayed in Argo, the movie, but it was the story that happened in 1979 when Americans that were working in our American embassy in Iran were captured, or rather they were hidden in the Canadian Embassy and somehow the CIA was going to get them out. And it’s a magnificent story really of what happened, a true story of what happened. Not advocating the movie necessarily, but just talking about this story of these six who were extricated … that was the word… extricated in a… in an incredible way out of Iran. And we thrill at a story like that when we see some great rescue.

One of the best books that I read in the last four or five years is Unbroken which is the story of Louie Zamperlini who was an American distant runner  in the Olympics. He volunteered and fought for America in the Second World War in the Pacific. His plane went down. He was 47 days on a raft and he survived that, only to be captured by the Japanese and was a prisoner of war for nearly 2 years by the Japanese where he was tortured unmercifully, and yet, released. And it’s a great story of the relentless spirit of this man and others like him.

But when Louie rather was released and came back to California he was captured by something else and that was alcoholism. And he became an alcoholic and he was a mess spiritually and he was depressed. Until he walked into a Billy Graham crusade, one of the early ones in Los Angles in the late 1940’s. And he came to personal faith in Jesus Christ and experienced God’s amazing grace. And to this day, though he is in his nineties, Louie Zamperlini tells the story of God’s amazing grace. How he was rescued by the hand of God!

This past year our friend Pat Summerall went to be with the Lord. I was watching my NFL channel recently and there was a great story about Pat and his life on the NFL channel. It’s called “An NFL Story” or “A Football Story.” And it was Pat Summerall, our friend, who was a member of this church for a number of years, along with Cherry [Cherry or Sherry], who’s here this morning. Well, he was a great man and an athlete and obviously a fantastic broadcaster…well known.

But, but he was fighting a problem; he was fighting something in his own life and that like Lou Zamperlini, was alcoholism and he went to the Betty Ford Clinic and he received help there, but really Pat Summerall came to know personally Jesus Christ and God’s amazing grace. Even wrote it on his house, on the gates to his house, “amazing grace.” And when the story was told, though it was a football story you would have thought it was a story of faith. You would have thought it was a Christian channel that was running this program because it was just full of God’s amazing grace.

And we love stories like this! Comeback! When people who are down and people who are out and people who are struggling and people who are dying…people, who like you and me, were lost are found! No wonder we call it amazing grace! Redemption!

“A” is for access! That is the privilege of grace. Because of grace we now have access to God. Emmanuel, God is with us! He has come to us. He has saved us, and now we can pray, now we can know God, now we can experience the presence of Christ in our lives every single day. That’s access to God. No longer cut off, no longer feeling alone, no longer left to die in our sins but now we have access to God! What a privilege to know that at any moment of our lives we can access the love and the grace of God.

“C” is for character. That’s the product of grace. Please do not view grace as an excuse for sinning. Grace is not an excuse for sin! If you think that way, you don’t know the first thing about grace! Grace is not an excuse for sin; grace is a motivation for godly living! Look back again in Titus chapter 2, our verses speaks of the grace of God. That grace not only saves us but look at verse 12: Grace trains us or teaches us to “renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age.”

So the grace of God teaches us and trains us… how? Number one, to say no to this present world and the sin of this world, to say no to temptation and to say yes to living a godly life! To live lives that please Him, that honor Him, that shine in the darkness! So grace is never an excuse to say, “Well, you know, if I really believe in the grace of God, I’ll just sin all I want to.” Well, let me tell you something: I sin all I want to! I sin far more than I want to! But God  has changed my “want to!” If you have experienced the grace of God He changes your heart!

In fact, again, on the grace of God in chapter 3, it speaks of the mercy and the washing… this is verse 5… “the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit whom He poured out on us richly in Jesus Christ our Savior.” We are cleansed, we are changed and this is character! God is building godly character in our lives. Again, not by self-effort or even discipline, but rather, by the grace of God at work in us. And the same grace that saves us, strengthens us to live godly lives.

“G”- Gift of God, “R” – Redemption, “A” – Access, “C” is character, and “E” is eternal life. Eternal life, that is the promise of grace. For we have received eternal life. This is the blessed hope: that Christ is coming for us and that we will be with Him forever. Hope for the Christian is not wishful thinking or wistful thinking; it is a sure and competent expectation. The hope that we will be with him. And we have, therefore, eternal life. And how long is eternal life? It’s eternal!

Some people have the idea that you can get saved and somehow sin away your salvation! That’s ridiculous! If eternal life is eternal life, it’s eternal life. And oh, by the way, God’s grace is greater than all your sin! Do you think your power to sin is greater than God’s grace to save? God’s grace is greater! No wonder we say, “Marvelous, wonderful, beautiful grace of God, because we know that we have eternal life. Not because of us. Salvation is not us believing in Christ and then holding on, hanging out, faithful to the end. Hoping we get there by the skin of our teeth. No, grace means that we now have eternal life.

Write down John 5:24: “Truly, truly I say to you. He that believes in Me has eternal life.” Not will have eternal life, but has eternal life. Right now, this moment instantaneously, you can have eternal life. This is grace! And we are going to explore grace over these weeks as we think about Christmas at this Christmastime.

Many of you are going to receive gift cards at Christmas. I like those gift cards.  But did you know that Americans are now holding $30 billion in unused gift cards? $30 billion in unused gift cards! You see, when you get one of those cards, you actually have to redeem it. It’s doing absolutely no good in your purse or your pocketbook! You must take the card and redeem it.

That’s God’s gift which is redeemed when we receive Christ. You see, grace is not only a gift, it’s not only about what God has given, but it’s about our receiving and opening the gift. When someone gives you something, it’s at their personal cost or sacrifice in order to give you this. And it is therefore your only response to freely take what is freely given. And we’ll be giving gifts this Christmas as a reminder of this great truth, that the grace of God, at the price of Christ’s death on the cross for us, and His resurrection, that we could have eternal life. The grace of God has now appeared, so this is Christmas. This is Christmas!