9 But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man.
10 For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.
A good deal of our time in the last few weeks before Christmas is been spent in the selecting and the giving of gifts to one another. Now in some instances we just try to find something, no matter what, that we can give to another person. But so very often we try to look for what we think would be the perfect gift for them.
Several years ago I ran across as essay in which Liston Pope of Yale University attempted to answer such a question. He suggested two criteria. The “perfect gift,” he said, should reflect the individuality of the giver and at the same time correspond to the wishes and needs of the recipient. The crucial moment comes when the present is unwrapped. It can be judged a success if the recipient is heard to say, “It is just like you to give this sort of gift.” And also, “This is exactly what I have always wanted.” The gift that evokes these kinds of responses is worthy of the verdict: perfect! You see if the gift reflects the giver, or if it meets some need or want in your life, then at least in that instance it constitutes the perfect gift.
This information helps us to understand something of the true meaning of Christmas. All of this business of gift giving goes back ultimately to Bethlehem, to the time when the scriptures say, “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son.” In fact we might very well define Christmas as the time when God gave his very best to us. He gave to us the perfect gift.
The Bible says the wages of sin are death, but the gift of God is eternal life. Paul said, “Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift” (2 Corinthians 9:15). And throughout the scriptures the coming of the Lord Jesus at Christmastime is spoken of as the gift of God, the gift that man so desperately needs. And as we study the life and the character of our Lord against our own desperate need, we understand that what God did for us at Christmastime represents the perfect gift. It meets both criteria—it reflects the individuality of God and meets the great need of our lives.
The writer of the book of Hebrews is talking about that perfect gift when he writes in 2:9, “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels.” Now that means that Jesus became lower than the angels for a brief period of time between his birth and his resurrection. Jesus, the Son of God who walked the golden streets of heaven, was made a little lower than the angels and he became a man like one of us.
Jesus came to this earth so that he might meet the need for salvation in every person’s life. For we have without Jesus Christ the sentence of death upon us. We have all sinned and come short of the glory of God. And the consequence of that sin is death.
But the scriptures say that God in his great love sent Christ, who tasted death for us. That word taste suggests to us the experience of Jesus in agony in the Garden of Gethsemane when he said, “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt” (Matthew 26:39). Jesus experienced agony, suffering, and loneliness on the cross. He took that cup and drank deeply of it when he tasted death for all men.
Nothing in all this world can help us to understand how important we are to God more than to realize that Jesus tasted death for all men. You matter to God. That’s how much God thinks of you. And the gift of God met that need in every person’s life.
But the coming of Jesus not only met that first criteria of the perfect gift—meeting a need—but that gift also expressed the individuality of God. And the writer of Hebrews tells us that in the very next verse when he says in verse 10, “For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.”
I love that phrase, “for it became him.” What that actually means is that the sending of his Son Jesus Christ into the world was in keeping with what God has revealed about himself. It is in keeping with what we have come to know about God in the scriptures. It is just exactly what you would have expected God to do. If you ever really understand the God of scripture, the God of Abraham and of Isaac and Jacob, the God of the Ten Commandments, the God and the Father of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, then the sending of his Son Jesus Christ to die on the cross is exactly what you would have expected God to do. Why? It was in keeping with what we have come to know about God in scripture. Therefore, the coming of Jesus represents the one perfect gift to the whole world. It is in keeping with the character of God, and in keeping with the crying need of our lives.
What I want you to think about today as we remember the gift of God in sending his Son Jesus Christ is that Christmas is a time for giving, not for swapping. I have thought about my own life and my relationship to God and the deep meaning of Christmas as it is given to us in scripture. And I have come to discover that there are three gifts in particular that need to be given at Christmastime.
First of all, Christmas is a time for giving up your sins. Second, it is a time for giving in to the Lord Jesus in commitment and new surrender. And Christmas is a time of giving out to other people in the true spirit of Christ.
It is then a time for giving up, a time for giving in, a time for giving out. And if in this whole season of the year, both before and after Christmas, we can remember the deep significance of giving in and giving up and in giving out, then we too can have a part in giving the perfect gift.
1. Christmas is a Time for Giving Up
Christmas is first of all, a time for giving up your sins. If this Christmas season finds you thinking more and more about your sins, then you have captured the real Christmas spirit. You say, “Wait a minute preacher. When I think about my sins I become depressed and discouraged. But Christmas is to be a time of joy. I don’t want to think about my sins. I want to think about something joyful, pleasant, and happy.
Let me tell you that the whole of Christmas surrounds sin and our need for forgiveness. If this season finds you thinking about your sinfulness and your need of the Savior and brings you to him afresh and anew to give up those sins, then you are capturing the real spirit of Christmas.
All of my life I have heard people say that Christmas is for children. I’ve said that myself. No one would deny that. I read an article in a professional journal the other day that said, “Christmas is for families” and we all know that just as surely as Christmas is for children, it is also a time for the family to get together. But in the midst of remembering what Christmas is all about, I want you to remember this: Christmas is not just for children and just for families. Christmas is for sinners.
That’s why it came about to begin with. Hear again what Luke has to say about that first Christmas. “And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night, and lo the angel of the Lord came upon them and the glory of the Lord shown round about them, and they were sore afraid. And the angels said unto them, fear not, for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people for unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you, ye shall find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angels a multitude of heavenly host praising God and saying, glory to God in the highest and on earth peace and goodwill toward men.” The most significant statement in that whole passage is “…unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior.” Christmas is for sinners. And it ought to find you giving up your sins.
You say to me, “Preacher, can a man really give up his sins? Can a man really change?” And the wonderful news of scripture is, yes, by the grace of God he can. Last Thursday Jack Murphy, known as Murph the Surf, was paroled and released from prison in Florida. Once a champion surfer, Murphy stole the Star of India, a 538-karat sapphire, and a lot of other jewels from a museum in New York City. He then had an argument with two secretaries who were his partners in crime and murdered them and then dumped their bodies in a swamp in Florida. When he was tried and convicted the judge who sentenced him to two life terms in prison said that he would never be free in a law-abiding society.
Seventeen years later Murph the Surf was released. When they let him go the warden said, “We did it because he is not the same man we put in prison.” When asked to explain, the warden said that Murphy had become a born-again Christian and his whole life had been changed. He had become a positive influence on prisoners in the Florida prison system—so much so that when he left prison his fellow inmates whom he had taught the scriptures to for the past many years were there to bid him goodbye. As he walked out of the gate they sang together, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now I am found, was blind, but now I see.” What made a difference in his life is coming to know the Christ of Christmas and giving up his sins.
In a television interview Murphy was asked how he wanted to spend the rest of his life. He answered, “In prison ministry. In going to prisons and telling men what Christ can do to change their lives. I intend to spend my years serving the Lord because if you are not serving the Lord, whether you are in prison or out of prison, you are just doing time.” That’s worth remembering. Because there are some of you who are not locked up behind bars, you are not incarcerated by a state or a federal prison system, but you are just doing time because you are imprisoned by your own sins and your own habits. You are not free and you never are until you come to know the Lord Jesus Christ who tasted death for all men that we might be free from our sins.
2. Christmas is a Time for Giving In
Christmas is not only a time for giving up your sins but also a time for giving in to the Lord Jesus. And if this Christmas season finds you not only thinking more and more about your sins, but also finds you surrendering more to the Lord Jesus Christ, then you are capturing the Christmas spirit. Unless you come out of this whole season more committed to the Lord Jesus than you went into it. Unless there is a closer walk, a deeper devotion, a greater willingness to sacrifice for him. Unless there is a giving in to the lordship of Jesus Christ, then you have missed the whole spirit of Christmas. It is not just tinsel, lights, decorations and exchanging gifts. It is a matter of giving in, surrender, dedication, and commitment to Christ.
You know the story of the wise men as Matthew tells us. These men who came from the east had been told to look for the one born king of the Jews. And when they found him, they laid at his feet gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. There is symbolism in each one of these gifts as the gold recognizes Jesus the king, frankincense Jesus the sacrifice, and myrrh Jesus the savior. When they gave these gifts they gave themselves in dedication to him. Unless that same thing happens within us, then we’ve not given as we ought to give. We need to give up our sins. We need to give in to Christ in commitment.
3. Christmas is a Time of Giving Out
Christmas is also a time of giving out in service to other people. A policeman who works with our church’s tutoring ministry at a local school defined a volunteer as a person who takes on another person’s problems, and he reminded us that that’s what Jesus did for us. Jesus had no problems in heaven as the Son of God. But Jesus was a volunteer to leave heaven, come to earth to spend 33 years here, and take upon himself our problems. When Christ comes into our life to be Lord and Savior, that spirit of volunteerism and giving ought to prevail in our lives. We ought to be willing to take on other people’s problems because he took on ours.
We have about 35 people in our church involved in that ministry. We ought to have a hundred. We need a hundred. And some of you have not been giving out at all. You are retired, you don’t have a job outside the home, and you have some time that you could give. Your life would be enriched and the lives of children and others would be blessed if you would just learn to give out of yourself.
The needs are everywhere. One of our teachers in that school had the boys and girls write letters to Santa Claus. One of them wrote in his letter, “Santa Claus, I want $10.50 so that I can buy food for my family and have the lights turned on again at our house.” In our comfort and affluence we sometimes forget that right here in our community there are people who hurt. Their needs are not only financial; they are emotional and spiritual. I’m here to tell you that if you know anything at all about Christmas, then you know it is a time to give out—and not just at one season of the year. Because that family will be hungry not just at Christmas, but in July also. And if God has blessed us to meet legitimate needs, we need to be involved. More and more of you need to learn to give up your sins and to give in to Christ and give out to the needs of other people. That’s what Christmas is all about. And unless we capture that spirit, then we have missed the deeper meaning altogether.