God is for Us

2 Corinthians 8:9

We’re beginning a message series on Christmas called THE GIFT: “God is for Us”, “God is with Us”, “God is in Us”. So our focus today “God is for Us.” It is time to celebrate Christmas, the Gift of Christmas is our way of celebrating in a big way our Savior, the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ.

And, of course, another way that we celebrate Christmas is by the giving and receiving of gifts. Beginning with the Wise Men who brought gold, frankincense and myrrh. Then through the centuries Christians began to give to one another and we celebrate Christmas in this way. And really if you do it the right way, giving is one of the greatest blessings of life. It all begins with God who is the greatest giver of all. [John 3:16] “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him would not perish but have everlasting life.” Love gives and God’s great love gives eternal life to all who believe. So the gift of Christmas is Jesus. And the eternal life that He brings to all who believe.

We stand speechless in wonder at this great gift. Like the Apostle Paul who said in 2 Corinthians 9, “Thanks be unto God for His inexpressible gift!” We are speechless in the presence of such wonder. It truly is the only gift, the gift of Christmas, the gift of Jesus… the only gift that keeps on giving. Paul said, Romans chapter 6, verse 23, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus our Lord.”

So with that in mind take a look at 2 Corinthians 8, and verse 9:

9) For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake… (There it is, God is for you) … for your sake he become poor, so that by your poverty… or by his poverty [rather] you might become rich.

I like the way Williams in his translation of this verse gives it: “For by experience you know…” This is more than head knowledge, it is heart knowledge; more than intellectual assent, it is personal experience. We know the unmerited favor (that’s grace) shown by our Lord Jesus Christ. We know this! This is clear to the Christian! The incarnation of God when Christ came, wrapped in flesh, the gift of God.

Now, of course, this verse stands alone, but it is in the midst of other verses… a passage of Scripture which the Apostle Paul is inviting Christians to participate in an offering to the poor Christians that were back in Jerusalem. And so he is inviting, motivating the Christians at Corinth, and all of us, therefore, as believers in Christ to give generously to the cause of Christ, to advance the work of Jesus. It is in effect a mission offering. So mission offerings didn’t begin in our generation but rather even in the generation of the New Testament. And in the midst of this motivation for giving, Paul selects first some Christians at Macedonia who were wonder examples of generous giving. Out of their poverty they gave, and gave generously and sacrificially. The apostle chooses them as an example to us.

But then he begins to talk about Jesus and says Jesus is the perfect example of this truth about giving, this truth about grace. And, therefore, he says “He who is rich became poor that we who were poor might become rich in Him.” This is the story of Christmas: that God left heaven and came to earth, that He stepped out of eternity and into time. It is the ultimate riches to rags story! That God became a Son of man among the sons of man that we might become the sons of God. And when you speak of a love that gives, a grace that gives, there’s no greater example than what Christ has done for us.

There are incredible stories in human history including our own times of sacrifice and generosity. Human stories that prevail upon our hearts, but there’s no story like the story of Jesus and His grace, and His giving to us. I never tire of telling this story. It never gets old to me. This grace of God which has come to us in order that we might be made rich in Him. Jesus wants to make you rich in grace, the eternal riches, the true riches. Those things that when you add them up, money can’t buy! Jesus said in John chapter 10 and verse 10: “I’ve come that you might have life, and have it more abundantly.” God wants you to live an abundant life, and this verse tells us how. How we can be made rich in Him that we might in our own wealth return the blessing.

Well, first by receiving this gift. The gift is to be received. Look at it again, verse 9, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.” There you see the full title of incarnate God, the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is Lord. He is Master and King. He is Jesus. The angel said, [Matthew 1:21] “You shall call His name Jesus… Yeshua, for He will save His people from their sin.” Jesus is His title of Savior and He is Christ. Jesus Christ is not the last name of Jesus, but rather is His Messianic title. He is Messiah; He is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.

And so when you read hear, “For by this grace of our Lord Jesus Christ”… His name, His very name describes who He is and why He came. If I only had four words to speak to the entire world it would be these four words, “Jesus Christ is Lord!” That’s the message! And it is in His name that we are saved, and His name that we proclaim because His name, therefore having accomplished His ministry and mission on earth is now proclaimed to the ends of the age.

Philippians 2, verse 9 says, “Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed upon Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.” If you are a believer in Jesus Christ you know this! You know this grace of our Lord Jesus Christ! You know personally, experientially this grace. There’s so many people who know about this story, who know about this God, who hear about this Savior, who do not know Him and experience His grace. You know by personal experience the Lord Jesus Christ. He is Lord, Savior, the Anointed One, the Messiah! He was rich!

When we speak of His riches, we’re talking about His eternal worth, His eternal value and glory! Jesus is eternal God. This is the central message of the Bible; that God has revealed Himself in the person of Jesus Christ! God in these last days, says the writer of Hebrews, has spoken to us in His Son. Finally, fully and forever God has revealed Himself in Christ! Jesus is eternal God! Jesus did not begin at Bethlehem. He was born at Bethlehem a man. But Jesus is eternally, essentially God! He became incarnate, wrapped in flesh at Bethlehem, but is now and forever coequal, coeternal with God the Father and God the Son.

When Isaiah the prophet was predicting His arrival on earth, he said,[Isaiah 9:6] “His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Prince of Peace, Everlasting Father.” The everlasting Father is one and the same, the Lord Jesus Christ. He is rich! He is God! Always has been God, always will be God! It’s not even that He is preincarnate to God, or predictive of God, but rather, forever God! It is not enough to say that Jesus existed before Bethlehem. He existed before time began! He is eternal God. He never did not exist! This is the heart of who He is! He was rich fabulously, indescribably in His person, His position, His power, His possessions, but He became poor. This speaks of His humility, His humanity. He became poor.

Given the choice, hardly any among us would choose poverty over wealth. Think about it. Someone gives you the choice. You can be extremely wealthy, have anything you want, or you can be extremely poor and impoverished. It would be a rare person indeed who chose poverty over wealth. We may give out of our wealth, but most of us would not choose poverty over wealth. So when it says “God in Christ Jesus who was rich, became poor”, the word there means He chose to be poor.

Most poor people are poor, not by choice, but by circumstance. Their circumstances have dictated their poverty, so they’re poor. But Jesus…His poverty was not dictated by His circumstances but by His own choice. “He who was rich became poor…” Again, the Scripture puts it this way in Philippians 2[:7], that “He emptied Himself by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men and being found in human form… form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient (that’s the choice) to the point of death, even a death on the cross.” The story of Christmas is the message of God who became a Man. It is a message of His deity with His humanity.

Can you imagine Christmas in heaven the first Christmas when God steps off His throne, and to the amazement of angels, comes down, down, down, down, descending, descending, descending, the Eternal first in an embryo, the Infinite then who became an infant. He walked away from His riches and was wrapped in rags! The sovereign in swaddling clothes. “He who was rich became poor.” He descended from the glories of heaven to the depravities of earth. John the Apostle put it this way, [John 1:7] “The Word (the Eternal God) became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, the glory as the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” All because of grace… God’s gift. For you know the grace!

Someone said this is the way we should spell Christmas, G-R-A-C-E. As we’ve said numerous times God’s riches at Christ’s expense. He who was rich became poor. Those of us who were poor have now been made rich. He chose His poverty and position, He became poor. He voluntarily chose to become one of us for your sake. God is for you. So many people have the attitude for whatever reason that God is against them. But God sent His Son Jesus into the world because He is for you! [John 3:17] “God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that through Him the world could be saved!” 

In 1646 the Dutch artist Rembrandt created a painting called The Adoration of the Shepherd.You see it there. And it depicts the vision of what it was like for a shepherd to see the Baby Jesus. Now it’s clear that the painting is dark. Maybe it’s unclear. Ha, the painting is dark because it’s a night scene inside a barn or a cave. And so because it’s so dark it forces you to look very carefully at each of the images in the painting. Of course, there in the midst is Jesus, the baby. Mary is by His side. Joseph is standing nearby.

The shepherds have brought the sheep with them inside the barn, or inside the cave. Because this is where Jesus was born. It was a cattle trough. He was laid in a manger. He lay down His throne and was born, and laid in a cattle trough. He laid aside His crown and was laid in a crib. So the shepherd’s get nearer and nearer. And if you look very carefully you will see a rickety ladder, and it is leaning up against a crossbeam. And there nearby is a rooster and it soon hits you that this ladder and this crossbeam make the dim outline of a cross. And Rembrandt painted the rooster as a symbol of a betrayal that would come in the future. So even in this joyous moment the cross looms large over the life of the Baby Jesus. Even then Jesus was born under the shadow of His mission which was the cross, becoming obedient even death on a cross.

But here’s something interesting about this painting. Unlike other renaissance artists, Rembrandt didn’t paint Jesus like a little baby angel with a halo. You’ve seen these pictures of Jesus, little Baby Jesus, like a little angel with a little halo. Rembrandt painted Him as a normal, very human baby. And everything around Him is dark except for the Baby in the manger. And there you see that the light isn’t shining on the Baby but from the Baby! This was Rembrandt’s way of saying that all hope and all light shines from the manger because Jesus is the Light of the world! All light, all love comes from Him, and Jesus is born lighting up a darkened world!

The Christmas carol says it well. In a few weeks we’re going to light candles in this room, in a darkened room, and with candles lit, we’re going to sing the words of this song: “Silent night, Holy night;/ Son of God, Love’s pure Light./ Radiant beams from Thy Holy face,/ with the dawn of redeeming grace./ Jesus Lord at Thy birth! Jesus Lord at Thy birth!” The gift is Jesus.

Is there any hope in the world? We live in a world of devil’s filled, Martin Luther put it. We live in a world filled with terrorism and fears and uncertainties. Is there any hope? Yes! Hope invaded the world two thousand years ago! The light of God’s love has come! And if we want to discover this hope in a dark world today we need to do what the shepherds did, and that is to bow before the Savior and Lord of all. He came to a broken world darkened by sin because that is where we are! He left the light of glory! The old hymn put it: “Out of the ivory palaces and into a world of woe” Jesus came, and He came fully knowing His destiny.

God speaks in Hebrews 10: “Behold, I’ve come to do your will, O God.” Jesus said I’ve come to do your will including the mission of the cross. He was born to a destiny and that destiny was to die on the cross for our sins, to rise again on the third day. No other human being can say that, that I know my destiny.

You know we pray for our children and our grandchildren that they would fulfill God’s will and purpose for their lives. We have plans for our children and our grandchildren, don’t we? I know with our grandchildren we have prayers and plans for them; ideas and thoughts about what they could be and what they could become. When I think of Ian and Levi and Dylan and Piper Jane and then we’ve got to little twins on the way. They’re going to be sometime in December. Jake and Zack, two more boys. I always smile when I say that because they just sound like double trouble to me, Jake and Zack Flores, you know. Won’t be long someone’s going to be saying, “There goes those Flores boys, Jake and Zack!”

But you know, we have plans for them and prayers for them as you do your children but you know it always doesn’t work out, right? You plan for your child to take on the family business and they choose another business. You plan on your children doing a certain thing with their lives and they sometimes they do a certain other thing. You plan to send them to Baylor and they end up at TCU. I mean, you know it can be a lot different than you think. But one child was born into this world whose whose purposed destiny given by God the Father He fulfilled, Jesus Christ. So we see His deity, we see His humanity which produced His humility.

When you travel with me to the lands of the Bible, whether it’s on the journeys of Paul excursion like this past summer or to Israel—and we’re planning on going to Israel in 2015 once again. It’s always like opening a Christmas present for me to give this opportunity for people to go, it’s discipleship. I say it’s like student camp for adults. You get to walk where Jesus walked and see the places that these great events in history took place, and to be in Jerusalem. It’s a great, great trip.

But when we go to Jerusalem, and you can see it there, is the church of the Nativity, and Catherine the Great came on excursion in about the second century and discovered some of these places near to the time that the events actually happened, of course; where Jesus was born, where Jesus died. And this is the Church of the Nativity which was built many centuries ago, over the place that Catherine the Great found and said this is the birthplace of Christ. And we always go there in Bethlehem and we see this place.

But there’s something interesting about getting in the door to the Church of the Nativity. You have to stoop down and go under through a very small door. And you see those folks going in right there. That guy with the backpack is going to have to put that off cause I’m not sure you can get through. You have to lay down your stuff and bend down and lean in and go way under to get into the place where Jesus was born at Bethlehem. You know why that small door is there? Because once the church was built many, many, many years ago, some of the aristocrats of the city, some of the arrogant leaders of the city would ride their horses into the church! The priests said that’s not a good idea. We can fix that. And so they reduced the door down to that size where these guys had to get off their high horse  and humble themselves to get into the place where Jesus was born.

You see, God doesn’t run with the rebellious; He doesn’t do business with the arrogant. But rather to those who are poor in spirit, to those who lean in to brokenness, who came from the hurting, the tired, the grieving, the lonely; those who are bankrupted by sin, broken in life. And when we break, when we bend down and worship Him, when we give up our stuff and follow Him, that’s when we find Him! It all begins at the manger.

There’s one final thing I want to say briefly. Receive the gift of Jesus Christ by humbling yourself and receiving Him into your life. But then regift the gift. And you know what a regift is, right? Now don’t act like you don’t know what I’m talking about! [laughter] Surely you’ve done this, right? “Oh, no, I’d never do that!” Okay, you can come to altar at the close and repent of that little lie.  But no, maybe you haven’t, I don’t know.

But a regift, you get something, it doesn’t fit, you don’t like it so you say, “I know, I’ll wrap this up and give it to a friend.” Be careful because it always doesn’t work out. I can tell you stories about that.

But the fact is we have something to regift that is not something we’re discarding but something we love very much, and that something is a someone who came to the world. Because He came to us, we want Him to be known  around the world. This is why we give a mission offering. Because He came to the world to India, to Iraq. You know there’s so much trouble in the Middle East and we look at the terror in Iraq and the fears regarding Iran, and all of that. And we wonder, yes, Jesus came for the Iraqi people, for the Muslim people, that they would be saved. He came for Israel. The power of the Gospel is for the Jew first, and also to the Greek. To China, to the African nations and countries and peoples; billions that you’ve never heard of. He didn’t come for just one group or one language; He came for all! He’s not the American Jesus! He’s the Jesus who came to the world!

And therefore, it becomes our motivation to get this Gospel of grace, of salvation to the world! It’s our joy now to help people unwrap the gift and receive Jesus into their lives. In fact, as I was mentioning early, this passage… “He who was rich became poor that we who are poor could become rich,” and now we’re rich in Him. We have received riches of His grace. And we have received salvation and the forgiveness of sin and we have peace in our lives, and we have a purpose, we have a reason for living. All these riches! We have eternity ahead of us with Him! And so we want others to know.

But all of that was written in the context of stewardship and of giving. You’re in 2 Corinthians 8. Look a few verses over, 2 Corinthians 9:11. It says, “You will be enriched…” (Here’s how we’re enriched? You want to get rich this Christmas? “Yeah, I’m in.” Okay. You will be enriched in everyway to be generous in every way. God has blessed us that we might bless others, which through us will produce praise-giving to God, praise to God. So our giving is a result of this grace.

Why do you give what you give? You should never give because of guilt. We don’t give out of guilt; we give because of grace. Not because we’re pressured or manipulated or pushed to give because we give out of generosity and gratitude in our hearts because of what Christ has done for us. We have been so highly favored and blessed, therefore, we want to invest in those things which matter! The eternal riches!

If my math is correct there is about seventeen shopping days till Christmas. You say, “Oh no!” Yes, seventeen shopping days until Christmas. But let me suggest rather than losing the manger at the mall, that you turn these seventeen days into worshipping days and praying days and singing days and giving days and adoring days! Days that honor the Lord Jesus Christ! Don’t change or exchange that which is temporal for what God has made eternal. Limit the spending on yourself and invest in the things that matter. Give your family the things that money can’t buy. And by all means, don’t get yourself in debt this Christmas just trying to keep up because of the pressure to give all of these gifts that you can’t afford.

Let Jesus be first! Allow Him to be the Lord of your life. Give your time to minister the love of Jesus in serving Him! Give your talents, give your treasure, give it back! Focus on Jesus! Play Christmas music all the time any time!  Let Jesus be exalted! Read God’s Word! Open up an advent devotional. There are many of them today online and otherwise. Pick up a devotional and read daily of the coming of the King into the world! Devote yourself to know Jesus more and more and more this Christmas! Regift the gift. Give it away, give it away by telling somebody about Him because that’s what everybody needs.

I’ve been brokenhearted as I watched on television, as you have, just the disruptions, the dangerous situations as a result of the situation in Ferguson, Missouri, New York and some of the old wounds that many of us thought we were done with back in the sixties, some of the rioting and all that has resurfaced and it truly is heartbreaking. And it reminds us that we have a long way to go in terms of loving people and showing that love.

But of all the comments that have been made, and I’ve read a lot, saw a lot of commentators regarding just the issues of justice and race and all the rest. Benjamin Watson wrote a blog that’s gone viral. You say who is Benjamin Watson? Benjamin Watson is an NFL player for the New Orleans Saints. He’s a backup tight end. And at some point while he was preparing to play a couple of weeks ago in the Monday night football game, the news on the Ferguson situation in Missouri broke and after trying to figure out how he felt he decided to write it down and he shared some thoughts that have been shared around the world. He expressed the fact that he said I’m angry; said, I’m frustrated and fearful, and I’m embarrassed and I’m sad. He describes all the reasons for this. You can look it up online Benjamin Watson. He said I’m sympathetic and he said I’m offended, I’m confused, I’m introspective. He is an African American player. So all those emotions…I’m offended, I’m confused, I’m introspective, I’m hopeless. And then he says I’m hopeful. And he says some very brilliant things regarding this situation.

But then he caps it off by saying this: I’m encouraged because ultimately the problem is not a skin problem; it is a sin problem. Sin is the reason we rebel against authority. Sin is the reason we abuse our authority. Sin is the reason we are racists, prejudice and lie to cover for our own. Sin is the reason we riot, loot and burn. But I’m encouraged because God has provided a solution for sin through His Son Jesus and with it a transformed heart and mind, one that’s capable of looking passed the outward and seeing what’s truly important in every human being. The cure for the Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice and Eric Garner tragedies is not education or exposure; it’s the Gospel! The Gospel! So I’m encouraged because the Gospel gives mankind hope.

[Romans 6:23]“The wages of sin is death!” It’s a sin problem that we all have! “But the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ” who took on our skin, our humanity, and ultimately our judgment and our sin and died on the cross that we might have eternal life! And the gift of eternal life is incomprehensively, indescribably valuable! You may think you value this gift today sitting here in church, but you won’t be one step, one breath into heaven until you realize all the more just how valuable, how worthwhile, how incomprehensibly rich you are in the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ!

God is for you! His gift is your most priceless possession. Not your car, not your house, not your portfolio, none of that stuff’s going to matter in eternity except that which you’ve sent ahead, invested in the kingdom of God. It will be the gift of Jesus that gives you hope forever. And you can open this gift today. You don’t have to wait for Christmas. You can receive eternal life today.

You may think that eternal life is something that just kicks in after you die. No, Jesus said, [John 17:3] “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you sent.” When you know Jesus you receive eternal life, now and forever. You can enjoy the gift today, tomorrow and every day, and forever and ever and ever. All you need to do is unwrap the gift. I’ve done my best to explain to you something of the meaning of this gift, that God is for you. Now unwrap the gift.