Saturday, December 3, 2005

The Best Christmas Present You Could Give Yourself

Adapted from an essay by Marilyn Adamson

Why it is that the whole world celebrates the birth of Jesus? This little baby, born to a carpenter's family in the obscure town of Bethlehem in the Middle East, has a following today far beyond the borders of the U.S. The largest Christian church in the world is in South Korea. Why is he so special?

Well, Jesus said he was God. If you look at Buddha or Mohammed or the Dalai Lama, they identified themselves as prophets or spiritual guides. In contrast, Jesus claimed he could give people eternal life and forgiveness for their sins. He clearly and repetitively told people he was God. A pretty lofty statement.

His communication was also unique. Jesus didn't teach people ten steps to achieve holiness, or personal disciplines to reach God. If you want to know God, Jesus said "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but by me." (John 14:6) He asked people to focus on himself with statements like, "I am the light of the world. He who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."(John 8:12)

A lot of people are comfortable giving Jesus the status of an inspired teacher, maybe even a prophet. But what if this Jesus whose birth we celebrate is really the Messiah? What if he is God in human form whom so many of the Old Testament prophets wrote about?

The prophet Micah said the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. David said he would be one of his own ancestors. Isaiah said he would minister in Galilee and die by torture. And on and on, well over 100 specific prophesies to help people identify the coming Messiah. Jesus fulfilled every one of them. The chance of any person fulfilling even eight of these prophecies is one in 100,000,000,000,000,000.

But there is more to Jesus than what he offers us. There is an authenticity to his character, to his words, which gave people then, and people today, reason to trust him. When confronted, he invited his greatest critics to point out whatever sin they saw in his life. And they were speechless. One time soldiers were sent to arrest Jesus and they came back empty-handed. When their superiors demanded an explanation, the guards simply said, "No one ever spoke the way this man does."(John 7:46)

Jesus plainly said who he was. "I and the Father are one. If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; but if I do them...know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father."(John 10:30,37,38) Jesus so thoroughly equated himself with God that he said to know him was to know God (John 8:19; 14:7), to see him was to see God (John 12:45; 14:9), to believe in him was to believe in God (Mark 9:37), to hate him was to hate God (John 15:23), and to honor him was to honor God (John 5:23).

To be honest, a lot of people try to approach God the wrong way. They try to earn God's acceptance by living a "good" life. Then they reason with him. "God, I've tried to be a good person. I've tried to be kind and generous. I've sometimes gone to church. I've prayed. And I've never murdered anybody." Sounds good, right?

But Jesus said we need to know what his standards are. Just how good a life will we have to live? Jesus said, "You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect."(Matthew 5:48)

The Bible states that my sin has separated me from God. It's like an impenetrable wall. The Bible says, "the wages of sin is death,"(Romans 6:23) or eternal separation from him.

Number one on Jesus' agenda for coming to earth was to pay for our sin. The Bible says, "By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us."(1 John 3:16) It's like the woman who was arrested on a drunk-driving charge. The judge ruled thirty days or $1,500 bail. As the woman was agonizing over this, the judge stepped around to the front of the bench, pulled out his checkbook and paid the $1,500 fine. Why? The judge was this woman's father. As an honest judge he couldn't overlook his daughter's guilt. But as a loving father, he paid the penalty for her.

If we could have gained a relationship with God based on our living a good life, Jesus wouldn’t have needed to come to this world, and he certainly needn’t have died on a cross for us.

But out of tremendous love for us, Jesus was tortured, whipped, nailed to a cross and died of slow suffocation. Three days later he rose from the dead. Having done so, he now offers us complete forgiveness and a relationship with him. God offers us a relationship with himself, and it's our decision whether or not to respond to his offer. Jesus put it simply, "I stand at the door [of your life] and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come into him."(Revelation 3:20)

When we respond to this offer and ask him to come into our lives, we begin a relationship with God that lasts eternally. The Bible states, "I write this to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know you have eternal life."(1 John 5:14)

Whatever is going on in your world this Christmas, there is no better gift you can give yourself than to receive the One who came to earth and died on your behalf. He offers you complete forgiveness and the ability to know him on a personal level resulting in a more fulfilling life. He is God and he asks us to place our lives under his direction. As long as we rely on ourselves we distance ourselves from God and we remain separated from him by our sin. He asks us to empty our hands of our efforts and instead receive his gift of forgiveness and a relationship with him.