Last week we talked about the first purpose of Christmas, which was to Celebrate the Love that God has for us and how he proved it by giving up so much for us. Big cost, big love. I said there that one of the challenges for us this Christmas season was to live be purposeful about what we do, and to not let all of the extras push the true meaning of Christmas out of our minds. And I believe the way we do that is to purposefully concentrate and bring the Gospel of Jesus to the front of our minds. If we fill up with Him and His story, we leave less room for the other things to crowd it out.
This week we move a little deeper into our reason for celebration by talking about the second purpose of Christmas – Salvation. I really enjoyed our reading in “The Purpose of Christmas” this week because Rick Warren hit the nail on the head. His presentation of the Gospel was spot-on!
Again, it’s based on the words of the Angels to the Shepherds during the Christmas story of Luke 2. This time he pulls out verse 11 which says
“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
We Need a Saviour
I really appreciated how Warren presented the Gospel, and his model is a good one for us to follow. Not only when we are talking to others about our faith, but when we are talking to ourselves – when we are reminding ourselves about the true meaning of Christmas; the true meaning of life.
He began by reminding us our desperate desire for a Saviour. When we look around at what we are doing in our lives, we begin to realize that much of what we do – in our own energies – is driven by fear. We want to be free, saved, helped, to have hope.
We have worries about the uncertainty of the future, so we prepare our homes, save our money, buy insurance just in case, get RRSP’s for later. But even they fail us when disaster strikes, the economy collapses, and our health fails us. Then our worries drive us to seek control, put ourselves above others, to hoard and to neglect to share.
We have fear of abandonment, so we sell ourselves short to make friends we shouldn’t have. We buy things we don’t need to impress people we don’t really like. We take up bad habits so that we can distract ourselves from our loneliness. Then our fear drives us to push people away so they can’t hurt us, or to give ourselves away so they will stay with us.
In our hearts we deeply long to break this cycle of fear – but we know that we cannot do it ourselves. How do we know? We’ve tried. We’ve built up piles of money and stuff and accomplishments and trophies and still feel hollow. We’ve surrounded ourselves with entertainment, friends, food and drink, and when it quiets down we still feel sad, guilty and broken. We give, and share, and bless, and volunteer, and help, and no matter what we do the needs only grow and the problems are too overwhelming to solve, so we feel like a failure, despondent, disappointed in ourselves and others, and want to give up.
We’ve looked inside and we know that there is something wrong. So we try diets, and self-help books, we get more education, build ourselves up with degrees, skills, careers and awards. Maybe if I go to a good school, maybe if I get a good job, maybe if I get married to the right person, maybe once I have kids, maybe once I get a house, maybe once I get a bigger house, maybe once I retire, maybe once I write that book, join that group, climb that mountain, make that art – maybe then I will feel good about myself, confident in myself, crush this habit that I keep going to, feel like I’m a good person. But it never comes. It never works. God never allows those worldly, human, limited things to be enough. They will never fill the God-shaped-hole He built into us.
Religion Doesn’t Save
Why? Because the problem isn’t physical, or emotional – it’s spiritual. We are trying to use physical things, like pleasure and possessions to solve a spiritual problem. We are trying to use emotional things, like relationships and accomplishments, to solve a spiritual problem.
That’s why there are so many religions – because everyone in the world is trying to solve their spiritual brokenness. The problem is that, for most of them, it’s not working. Why? Because they are trying to fix themselves.
As far as I’m concerned, the most important chapter of the little book we are studying is the one entitled “Jesus Came to Save You By His Grace”. The reason that these other religions don’t fulfill is because they always, always, leave room for doubt. Let me read what Rick Warren said,
“In practically every area of life—school, sports, work—we are judged by our performance.… So, when it comes to spiritual matters, many assume God relates to us with the same performance-based ethic. You may feel that you have to earn God’s approval, deserve God’s love, and work your way to heaven by doing good or trying to be perfect.” (Pg 67)
He then quotes John 6:28-29 to explain that isn’t how God works.
“Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?’ Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.’”
Let me quote a little more of what Rick Warren says,
“Religion is man’s attempt to please God. Grace is God reaching down to man. Every religion boils down to one word: ‘do!’ Do our list of things, and you will earn God’s love…. So God came to earth as Jesus essentially to say: ‘You guys have it all wrong! Of course doing good things matters, but it doesn’t make me love you any more or any less. My love for you is unlimited, unconditional, unchanging, and undeserved. So let me teach you a new concept called grace. You can’t purchase it, work for it, or be good enough to merit it. It’s a gift that will cost me a lot, but it is free to you.’
While religions are based on the word ‘do,’ salvation is based on the word ‘done.’ When Jesus died for you on the cross, he exclaimed, ‘It is finished!’… So, what is finished? The payment for your salvation! The phrase ‘it is finished’ is actually a single word in Hebrew that Jesus cried out. It was stamped on bills that had been paid off and on prison sentences that had been completed. It meant ‘paid in full!’” (Pg. 68-71)
That’s the solution to our spiritual problem – the Grace of God shown to us through the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ on our behalf. He did everything. The question is, are we willing to accept the gift of salvation given by grace?
We Can’t Save Ourselves
For many, accepting grace is hard. We want to earn our salvation. We understand the religions that ask us to “do!” because we can then chart and how much we’ve done, and how much we need to do. Then we can boast (Eph 2:9) that we are the ones who saved ourselves, got ourselves to heaven, earned our rewards, and who didn’t need God. We so desperately want to put our confidence in ourselves and earn our way to heaven.
But, as I’ve been saying all along, it doesn’t work, does it? We cannot save ourselves. How do you know when you’ve done enough? If you ask any other religion of the world if they have assurance that they are saved and will achieve whatever the next level is – whether it’s heaven, or nirvana, or whatever – they just don’t know.
I once heard a great teaching on this (by Mark Driscoll). Religion will lead us one of two places – pride or despair. We will either feel proud that we have accomplished so much in our religion that we will feel above others, perhaps even above God since we become the judge of our own goodness and worthiness, or we will feel constant despair because we never know if we’ve done enough, gone far enough, served enough, given enough away, sacrificed enough, to earn God’s love. We just don’t know.
The Apostle Paul talks about this throughout his letters, but there is a section of Philippians 3 that really makes the point. He says in verses 2-3,
“Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh…”
Basically, he’s saying, “Watch out for these evil teachers who are trying to teach you that religion is the way of salvation and tell you to put confidence in your actions.” Then he does something remarkable in verse 4. He says,
“…though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more:”
Paul is about to remind his readers about his own personal testimony. There was never a person so religious, so devout, so deserving of heaven than him. He says he was,
“…circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.”
“If you think you have an impressive religious resume, you’ve got nothing on me”, says Paul. “I have followed every law since the moment I was born, am part of the chosen people, have a pure and uncompromised blood line. I was taught by some of the greatest teachers of all time and surpassed them, fought more passionately than anyone against Christians – helping to kill and imprison many because of my zeal. And there is not one person in all of Jerusalem, from the High Priest down that can bring any accusation against me.”
If there is one man who could have had confidence in his flesh, to earn salvation, it was Paul. But he says in the next verses (7-9), “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith…”
He tore up his resume and degrees, burned his trophies, and threw his self-confidence into the garbage. It was all worthless. All of his “righteousness” was just “rubbish”. He knew that when He would stand before Jesus on the day he would have to give account for his life, he wouldn’t measure up to the law. He had still broken it in his heart. He was still guilty before God. His righteousness didn’t come from his obedience, because every time he read the Bible, every time he read the 10 Commandments, every time he read the Torah, all he felt was guilt and fear. He still didn’t measure up. He knew it.
And so he traded all of his human accomplishments, for something better, “…faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.”
Have you Given Up?
Rick Warren asks the very important question, “Have you given up trying to save yourself?” Have you released control of your eternal destiny, and your everyday life, and given it over to Jesus?
I said last week that Jesus taught that the way up is down. He also teaches us that the way to win is to give up. The way to win is to give up. That’s where spiritual healing comes from. That’s the message of Christmas. That’s what we are celebrating. Not that Jesus came to add to our burden, to give us more rules, to lay another burden around our neck, but to save us.
“Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11)
Good news, of great joy, for all people – a Saviour, a Christ (which means “Messiah”, “Anointed One”, “Chosen One”, “the divinely appointed one”). He wasn’t just another messenger like the prophets of old. He wasn’t just a priest that could bring you close, but not too close, to God. He wasn’t just a king that ruled a human kingdom. He is the Saviour, the Christ, the Lord.
You cannot possibly expect to have the power, ability, authority, resources, intelligence, or supremacy, that Jesus has! Why would you try to save yourself, when you know it isn’t working, and that Jesus Christ stands ready to give you the free gift of His grace?
Saved from So Much
In Luke 4:16-21 it says that after Jesus came back from his time of temptation in the desert, at the very beginning of his ministry, he went into his home church. It says,
“And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’ And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, ‘Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’”
All these fears we have, and all the things we do to try to quell them, are destroyed by faith in Jesus as our Saviour. We need good news – He is the ultimate good news. We are poor in spirit, needful of many things – He proclaims to us that He will save us. We are captive by sin, death, addiction, depression – He proclaims liberty and freedom to all who would believe. We are blind, wandering around in the dark, confused about how why we are here, what we must do, and how we are to live – and Jesus gives us light to see. We are oppressed by spiritual forces, by human enemies, by our own habits, weaknesses, dark thoughts and the weight of this world – and Jesus proclaims that we are the ones on whom His favour rests.
This is why, every Christmas, we read the Prophecy about Jesus in Isaiah 9, written hundreds of years before He was born. To help us remember and realize what we have been saved from, and who our Saviour is. The one who came, who died, who rose, who saves, who will come again. Let me read from the Living Translation:
“The people who walk in darkness shall see a great Light—a Light that will shine on all those who live in the land of the shadow of death. For Israel will again be great, filled with joy like that of reapers when the harvesttime has come, and like that of men dividing up the plunder they have won. For God will break the chains that bind his people and the whip that scourges them, just as he did when he destroyed the vast host of the Midianites by Gideon’s little band. In that glorious day of peace there will no longer be the issuing of battle gear; no more the bloodstained uniforms of war; all such will be burned.
For unto us a child is born; unto us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder. These will be his royal titles: ‘Wonderful,’ ‘Counselor,’ ‘The Mighty God,’ ‘The Everlasting Father,’ ‘The Prince of Peace.’ His ever-expanding, peaceful government will never end. He will rule with perfect fairness and justice from the throne of his father David. He will bring true justice and peace to all the nations of the world. This is going to happen because the Lord of heaven’s armies has dedicated himself to do it!”
So celebrate this Saviour during this Christmas time. Fill your minds and hearts and homes with the story of Jesus Christ coming at Christmas to save us from so much. We have already experienced so much grace, and we are going to see so much more.
Turn your heart from all the other things in your life that you have set up to save you. Turn your mind away from all the ways that you are trying to save yourself. And turn yourself to Jesus, the only one who can save.
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