The most precious gift
As we step into December, a month where Christians the world over celebrate the birth of Jesus, I would like to put the spotlight on what I believe is the key thing to remember, ponder over, give thanks for and celebrate – God’s love for us. This season gives us just that opportunity because the only reason Jesus left His glorious estate in Heaven to come humbly and be born as a human being is love – for the Father and for us.
Let this same attitude and purpose and [humble] mind be in you which was in Christ Jesus: [Let Him be your example in humility:] Who, although being essentially one with God and in the form of God [possessing the fullness of the attributes which make God God], did not [b]think this equality with God was a thing to be eagerly grasped or retained, But stripped Himself [of all privileges and rightful dignity], so as to assume the guise of a servant (slave), in that He became like men and was born a human being. And after He had appeared in human form, He abased and humbled Himself [still further] and carried His obedience to the extreme of death, even the death of the cross!
(Philippians 2:5-8 AMPC)
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
(Romans 5:6-8 ESV)
One might think we should focus on His birth only at Christmas and then on His death and resurrection at Easter but if we bear in mind that like the lyrics of the song ‘Above all’ say, He “lived to die”. In other words, the mission from the start was to be born as a human so as to die on the cross in our place. We can’t separate the two.
So I want to share two stories from an article written by Lloyd Stilley on The Goodness of God (https://www.lifeway.com/en/articles/sermon-god-goodness-psalm-145-107). I believe the stories speak for themselves and will illustrate what Jesus has done for us without any need for me to elaborate further.
John Gilbert only lived to age 25. When John was five years old, he was diagnosed with Duchenne’s Muscular Dystrophy, a genetic, progressive, debilitating disease. It would claim his life twenty years later, but not before subtracting almost everything from him. Every year John Gilbert lost something. In time, he lost the ability to do all the outward things that we take for granted, even the ability to speak.
But there was one moment that stood out. It happened when he was invited to a National Football League fundraising auction. When it began, one particular item caught John’s eye: a basketball signed by all the players of the Sacramento Kings. John so desperately wanted that ball that when it came up for bid, he felt his hand raise up in the air. His mother quickly brought it back down, knowing they didn’t have the funds to cover any bid.
The bidding on the basketball continued with excitement. It rose to an astounding amount compared to other items at the auction and especially to the real value of the ball. Finally, a man made a bid that no one else could possibly match, and won the prize.
The man walked to the front, claimed the basketball; but instead of going back to his seat, this man walked across the room and gently placed it into the thin, small hands of the boy who would never dribble that ball down a court, never throw it to a teammate, never fire it from the foul line, but would cherish it for as long as he lived.
John Gilbert, while he was still able, wrote these words: “It took me a moment to realize what the man had done. I remember hearing gasps all around the room, then thunderous applause and weeping eyes. To this day I’m amazed! Have you ever been given a gift that you could have never gotten for yourself? Has anyone ever sacrificed a huge amount for you without getting anything in return . . . ?”[
(John Ortberg, Everybody’s Normal Till You Get to Know Them (Zondervan, 2003), p. 197; submitted by Gino Grunberg, Gig Harbor, Washington)
Now for the second story, which took place in a classroom at Hannibal-LaGrange College in Missouri back in 2002. It was the day for final exams. Denise Banderman walked into the classroom minutes before the professor arrived. Everybody in the room was doing last-minute cramming. Then the professor enters and takes a few minutes to review. Most of it was familiar, but there were some things that no one remembered ever hearing. The professor responded with what sends cold chills up every student’s spine: “This is in your textbook, and you are responsible for the content on this exam.
The time came for the test. He gave the word, every student took up their pen and turned over their test. I want you to hear this in Denise’s own words: “I couldn’t believe it! To my astonishment every answer on the test was filled in. My name was even written on the exam in red ink.”
A wordless stir traveled like a wave over the class as each student looked at their completed exam. On the bottom of the last page of every test was this note from the professor: “All the answers on your test are correct. You will receive an A on the final exam. The reason you passed the test is because the creator of the test took it for you. All the work you did in preparation for this test did not help you get the A.”
(Denise Banderman, Hannibal, Missouri; cited in PreachingToday.com, “Professor Takes Students’ Test for Them”)
So let’s celebrate a love that is unconditional, absolute, unchanging and eternal, demonstrated perfectly through Christ Jesus and let’s respond by loving Him back with all our heart, our soul, our mind, and our strength.