Do you know who gave the best Christmas gift of all time? I believe God did, when he gave the gift of his one and only Son. Personally, I think John 3:16 gives us God’s perspective on Christmas….
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
During the days of World War I there was a Scotsman who took his son for a walk at twilight. As they were walking along through their neighborhood the son noticed the figure of a star placed in the windows of the homes of several families. The son said, “Da, why are there stars in some of the windows?”
His father replied, “That comes from this terrible war, laddie. It shows that these people have given a son.” Just then, the boy looked up in the sky and saw the evening star. He reflected for a moment and then said, “Da, God must have given a son too.”
Of course, God did not simply give a son, as many families did during World War I. God gave his one and only Son.
Now don’t get me wrong, but I cannot imagine giving up one of my sons for you…and I have three of them!
Thankfully, God’s care for you is much greater than mine; God gave his only Son for you.
The word used in the Greek of this passage, that is translated as “only begotten” means unique, one of a kind. There is only one Son of God who was begotten of God, not created by God. There has never been a time when he did not exist, as John makes clear to us in the opening words of this Gospel: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” The Son of God was eternally begotten of the Father. Because of this unique, one of a kind relationship between the Father and the Son, there is a sense in which, when God gave his Son, he gave himself.
A husband and wife who were having marital difficulties went to their pastor for counseling. At one point during the counseling session, the husband looked at his wife and said, “I don’t understand what your problem is. I have given you everything—a new house, a fur coat, a new car…”
The wife responded, “That much I true, John. You have given me everything but yourself.”
That’s so true in relationships, isn’t it? We can give so many material things to the people we say we love, but if we don’t give them ourselves then we haven’t truly given them anything. The greatest gift you can give to someone else is yourself. And God gave the greatest gift to the world when he gave his Son, for in giving his Son he gave us himself.
How did God give us his Son? He did it by having his Son take on human flesh. We call this the miracle of the incarnation. It is the miracle of Christmas. And that same baby who was born in Bethlehem grew up to become a great teacher and healer and forgiver. He also went to the cross and died for our sins.
Once you realize the purpose for which God gave his Son, it is natural to ask the question: why did God give this gift? Jesus gives us the answer: “For God so loved the world.”
Many years ago, the influential Swiss theologian, Karl Barth, visited the United States and he gave a lecture at my alma mater, Princeton Theological Seminary in New Jersey. During the question and answer time, one of the seminary students asked a very American type of question: “Dr. Barth, what is the greatest thought to ever pass through your mind?”
Dr. Barth paused for a moment, and then responded very deliberately: “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”
That truly is a great thought, an amazing thought. That thought is the bottom line of the Gospel—God so loved the world that he gave his Son to die for sinners.
What kind of love would motivate God to give his Son in this manner? In ancient Greek, there were three different words for love. The first was Eros. This word was used primarily to refer to sexual love. From this word, we get our English word “erotic”. In a broader sense, when the Greeks used the word “Eros” they meant what we mean by the phrase “falling in love”. This kind of love is based upon attraction. You love someone in the erotic sense because you are attracted to their body and/or to some aspect of their personality.
A second important word for love in Greek was “Philia”. This is the kind of love that friends have for one another. From this word, we get our word “Philadelphia” which means the city of brotherly love—a misnomer if there ever was one! Philia is also based upon attraction. I love someone as a friend if we share a common interest such as sports, or theology, or movies, etc.
Then there is the word for love which is used in John 3:16 and is the most often used word for love in the New Testament. This word was used only rarely in Greek outside of the New Testament. The word is “Agape”. Agape was and is an unusual type of love. This kind of love is not based upon the attractiveness of the object to which it is directed. By this kind of love one can love that which is intrinsically unlovable. This is what I call the “in spite of” kind of love. God loves us “in spite of” our sin. This love is contra-conditional; it cuts against the grain of all opposition.
What does Jesus mean when he says, “For God so loved the world”? The word for “world” is “cosmos”. It refers, in John’s Gospel, to the world system that is set against God. In John 1:10 we read that “He (Jesus) was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.” God loves those who don’t even recognize him. God loves his enemies. God loves those in rebellion against him.
Harry Ironside tells of an experience he had as a young boy. He once attended a meeting where a missionary was speaking to a group of young boys his age. Halfway through his message, the missionary stopped and said, “I’m going to tell you about the kind of Gospel we preach to the people in Africa, but first I want to know how many good boys are in the room today.” Ironside said that all the boys in the room wanted to raise their hands, but no one did because their mothers were present, and their mothers knew what they were really like.
After a lengthy pause, the missionary continued: “That’s fine, since the message I have for you is exactly the same as the one we tell the boys in Africa: God loves bad boys.”
That message, the message of John 3:16, strikes to the core of our need. After being punished by his father for some act of wrongdoing, a little boy asked his father, “Dad, do you love me even when I’m bad?” That is the question we all have, isn’t it? Is there someone who will love me even when I’m not my best self? The good news of John 3:16 is that there is such a person.
Furthermore, God doesn’t simply love African boys and girls, or American boys and girls, regardless of their goodness or lack thereof. The message of John 3:16 is that God loves everyone who has ever lived or will live, regardless of their seeming worthiness or seeming unworthiness. You can put your name into this verse and it will be just as true: “For God so loved Will, that he gave his only begotten son, that if Will believes in him, Will will not perish, but have everlasting life.”
To whom is this gift of God’s Son offered? Jesus tells us that this gift is offered to whoever believes.
A young man who had lived a wild and reckless life was stricken with a fatal disease. As he lay dying, he was visited by a Christian who told him of the Savior. Realizing that he did not want to meet God carrying his load of sin, that young man opened his heart to the Lord and received God’s forgiveness through Christ. As he approached the end of his life, the promise of John 3:16 gave him his greatest comfort and peace. When he could no longer read the text for himself, he asked his mother to open the Bible to that verse. “Put my finger on the world ‘whosoever’,” he said. “That invitation is broad enough to include even me.
The invitation of John 3:16 is broad enough to include you, and it is broad enough to include even me. God sincerely offers to you on this Christmas Eve the gift of his one and only Son.
How, you might ask, is this gift received? Jesus tells us it is received by faith. “Whoever believes will not perish but have everlasting life.”
What does it mean to believe in Jesus? In Greek, the preposition “in” is the word “eis”. “Eis” literally means “into”. To receive the gift of God’s Son you must believe into Jesus. You must throw the weight of your whole life into his hands.
Real faith involves both believing and receiving. In John 1:12 we read: “Yet to all who received him (Jesus), to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.”
How long will this gift last?
For his first Christmas, we bought my oldest son a train to go under the Christmas tree. Of course, the gift was really for me because I love trains, but that is a minor point. We must have run that train for hours under the tree. Jamie would watch and our cat, Papillon, would watch it with great intensity. Finally, we ran that train so much that one of the wheels on the engine came off. I got the wheel back on and we continued to use it the next Christmas, but after a while that train just went kaput! Even the best human Christmas gifts do not last long.
But there is one Christmas gift that will last forever. It is the gift of God’s Son. If you receive that gift, Jesus says that you will not perish, but have everlasting life.
One reason why so many Christmas gifts don’t last is because of defective workmanship. But there is no defective workmanship to the life that God offers you tonight. God offers not only quantity of life, but quality as well. Literally, everlasting life is the life of the ages. It is a whole new quality of life that is full of meaning, purpose and hope. It is a life that can begin for you tonight, and will never end.
The only question left is this: have you received the gift of God’s Son? If you have, then I know you will want to say with the Apostle Paul, “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” (2 Corinthians 9:15) If you have not yet received the gift of God’s Son, why not do so right now?
A Psalm for Christmas Eve
By Joseph Bayly
Praise God for Christmas.
Praise Him for the Incarnation
for Word made flesh.
I will not sing
of shepherds watching flocks
on frosty night or angel choristers.
I will not sing of stable bare in Bethlehem or lowing oxen
trailing distant star
with gold and frankincense and myrrh.
Tonight I will sing
praise to the Father
who stood on heaven’s threshold
and said farewell to His Son
as He stepped across the stars
And I will sing praise to the infinite eternal Son
who became most finite a Baby
who would one day be executed
for my crimes.
Praise Him in the heavens.
Praise Him in the stable.
Praise Him in my heart.