There is a force in the universe. It is called Grace.
Christmas is the day when God’s program of grace shifted into high gear.
What is grace? It’s hard to define because it’s so big, and so beautiful, and so wide.
Grace is God doing for you what you can’t do for yourself. It is all that God is free to do for you on the basis of the Cross.
Grace is you not earning, not deserving, not meriting, not winning, not working.
Grace is God’s work, and your rest. God’s strength, and your weakness. God’s perfection meeting your sinfulness.
Grace is the unmerited favor of God — a favor so big you could never repay it.
Grace is the work of God through the gift of Christ to undo the damage of sin in your life.
- If you need it, grace supplies it.
- If you break it, grace fixes it.
- If you lose it, grace finds it.
- If you spoil it, grace restores it.
- If you regret it, grace forgives it.
- If you’re broken, grace heals.
- If you’re dirty, grace cleanses.
- If you’re down low, grace lifts you high up.
- Where you hurt, grace comforts.
- Where you fear, grace fortifies.
- Where you doubt, grace convinces.
- Where you can’t, grace can.
- For the deluded, grace brings truth.
- For the addicted, grace brings freedom.
- For the dysfunctional, grace brings wholeness.
- For the lonely, grace brings love.
- For the lost, grace brings a salvation so exhaustive words can’t do it justice.
Grace is the work of God, doing the thing you need, exactly when you need it done, on the basis of the finished work of Christ, not on the basis of what you’ve earned or deserved.
Christmas is the day when Jesus entered the world, and God’s program of grace shifted into high gear.
When he was born, Wise Men came to see him. These were the famous Magi of Persia. Persia was about as far away from where Jesus was born as Redding is from somewhere between Denver (1,200 miles) and Salt Lake City (700 miles). It was a long, difficult journey.
Since the Magi were of the royal caste, they would have traveled with a massive caravan. Servants and porters and chefs and guards and tents and camels and horses… it might have taken a year to get there. |When they arrive, these wealthy, highly educated, powerful wise men of Persia finally meet young Jesus.
They bow before him and as they bow, they touch their faces to the dirt before him.
The Wise Men present him with three valuable gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
These are really expensive gifts. They are not only expensive, they are also meaningful. That is because each gift indicates something important about WHO Jesus is.
Last time, we looked at the gift of frankincense which indicates that Jesus is the priest we need to bring us to God.
Today, I’d like to invite you to think with me about the meaning of the gift of gold.
The gift of gold suggests royalty and authority. These Magi were highly educated and very religious. They knew what they were doing. When they brought Jesus gold, they did it on purpose.
Their purpose was to declare what they had already told King Herod: that lying in that manger was the genuine, one and only, unparalleled king of the Jews, and by meaning, King of the World.
How did they know? They knew because ancient prophecies said so. For example, this is the writing of an ancient prophet named Micah:
“But you, Bethlehem, Though you are little among the thousands of cities of Judah, Yet out of you shall come forth to Me The One to be Ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth are from of old, From everlasting.” (Micah 5:2)
The Persian Magi had the writings of the prophet Micah, thanks to other prophets like Daniel and a Queen like Esther. They brought the Bible to Persia, and the Magi read it. One of the things they read was the book of Micah. Micah was a prophet 700 years before Jesus ever came. And what did he prophesy?
- That the ruler would come who would pre-exist his own birthday. He was from of old, from everlasting. So, unlike us, his birthday was not his beginning.
- That the ruler would come from Bethlehem, which is lot like saying from Igo. The last place you’d imagine for a cosmic world ruler to come from is Igo — no offense.
- The ancient prophets of Israel triggered a countdown, and centuries later, the Magi put it all together, and realized the clock had ticked down to zero.
The time has come. The king was here! Let’s go see him. So they did. And when they saw him, they gave him treasure chests of gold — riches fit for a king.
Let’s think about what this means, especially to us in our times and in our place, when we don’t have royalty and don’t feel what it feels like to have a king.
So I’d like to give you a little heads up. At the end of my talk today, I am going to ask you to do something. I’m going to ask you to respond to Jesus and to receive him.
The only gold Jesus wants from you is the trust of your heart.
It won’t be weird, and I won’t embarrass you or single you out in any way. Because I think it wasn’t just you that got you here today. God brought you here, and he brought you here to hear this message, and to make this particular choice, and to cross this particular line that I’m going to talk about. Because when you do, you will make this Christmas your first Christmas as a child of God forever. So that’s coming in just a few minutes.
So what does it mean that the Wise men gave Jesus gold? To answer this, I would like us to look at two places in the Bible. Here’s the first one:
“Look,” they told him, “you are now old, and your sons are not like you. Give us a king like all the other nations have.” Samuel was very upset with their request and went to the Lord for advice. “Do as they say,” the Lord replied, “for it is me they are rejecting, not you. They don’t want me to be their king any longer.” (1 Samuel 8:5-7, NLT)
Here we are today. Go back 2,000 years, and you have the days of Jesus. Go back 700 years before that to the days of Micah. Then go back another 300 years to the days of Samuel. This is a thousand years before Jesus was born and the Magi came to visit him.
Samuel is a prophet of Israel. He is their main leader. That is because up to that time, ever since the Jews had been a nation, they had no king.
The reason they had no king is simple.
God was their king.
Israel was a theocracy. God was their king, and he was the only king they needed.
But now, the people come to Samuel and they’re not happy. “Give us a king like all the other nations have.”
Samuel said, “You’re crazy.”
The people said, “No, we want to be like everyone else.”
Samuel said, “You’ll regret it.”
The people said, “Give us a king!”
Samuel said, “Let me talk to God.”
God said, “They are rejecting me. I’m a big boy. I can handle it. Go ahead and give them their king.”
So Samuel gave them their king.
The first king of Israel was King Saul… he was known for being a) tall, b) violent, and c) insane.
The second was King David… he was known for being a) awesome, and b) horrible — both, minutes apart.
The third was King Solomon — he was famous for being a) very wise, and b) for also having the hormones of a teenager on steroids.
And on and on.
So this nation, which had no king for a thousand years, suddenly had king after king after king — all of which ended in disaster. The nation of Israel split in a civil war, and was finally destroyed.
Sometimes you might get what you want, and then you don’t want what you get.
Which is exactly why, when the people said, “Give us a king,” Samuel said, “You’re crazy.”
Do you want to know the reason why?
Because when you look at what kings and queens do, and go to the heart of the heart of the heart of it, what they do is use their power to take whatever they want, however they can take it.
We’re leading to a really important reality, so stay with me.
Samuel warned them of this. When the people said, “Give us a king,” Samuel warned them. He said, “You want a king?” Seriously? This is what a king will do to you:
- He will take your sons, and make them drive his chariots.
- He will take your daughters to be perfumers, cooks, and bakers.
- He will take the best of your fields, your vineyards, your olive groves.
- He will take a chunk of your grain and wine and give it to his officers.
- He will take your male servants, female servants, and finest young men.
- He will take your donkeys — yes donkeys — which is like saying he will take your pickup trucks.
Do you see the pattern here? What is the problem with kings? The problem with kings is that they take. They take and take and take and take some more.
This is Samuel’s way of stating a tremendously important truth. One of those truths that, if you let it in, if you lower your shields and let it past your defenses — this is a truth that resets the trajectory of your life.
Here it is: You will never find a better king than Jesus.
The wise men trekked a thousand miles to lay their treasures at his feet.
Search the world over. Put out a call for resumes for the job. Check their skills, their qualifications, their character. You will never find a better king than Jesus.
Even you, on your very best day, will never be as good a king or queen in your life as Jesus. Even You.
This is really important. So let’s think about it for a little while. Even you, on your very best day of your very best year, will never be as good a ruler for your life as Jesus.
I think most of us know this by personal experience. I know I do. Have you ever made a mess of things? I have. Let me tell you one little way of thousands.
I am a pastor. I have been a pastor for a very long time. I knew I would be a pastor from the time I was about 8 years old. That sounds weird. I know. So you say, How did you know you were going to be a pastor?
I was at this tiny church in Chicago. We were in Sunday school, which happened before church every Sunday. They split us into small groups, and taught us things about God.
So I was this fidgety, adorable Italian boy, in a group with 3 other boys, and an ancient teacher we called Uncle Ben. I estimated him at 300 years old. Our Sunday School classes all met in one big room, because our whole church was basically one big room. We had these dividers all over the one big room, shielding little clusters of chairs from each other. The floors are tile. The walls are brick. The chairs are metal. There’s a murmur from all the other classes all around us. The place smells like human. And Uncle Ben talks like he’s gargling.
And there’s me, fighting to keep my body still on a cold, metal folding chair.
Uncle Ben says it’s time to pray. I’m happy, because that means it’s time to end.
We bow our heads. We close our eyes. And I hear Uncle Ben say, “I think God might be calling one of you boys to be a pastor. If that’s you, I want you to raise your hand.”
All of a sudden my palms turn sweaty, my heart rate doubles, and this picture flashes in my mind of me being a pastor, and preaching the Bible, and lots and lots of people being saved.
Remember, I’m eight years old. I didn’t hear anything. I really didn’t see anything. It was all inside and quiet, but unmistakable and strong.
But there’s a problem here: I don’t want to be a pastor. It’s embarrassing. But Uncle Ben says to raise my hand, so I did.
He never said anything to me. And I never said anything to anybody else.
I kept it secret. I didn’t feel worthy. I didn’t feel right. I thought pastors were weird. Now I know better. We’re ultra-weird.
So what happened?
Nothing happened. I made no plans to be a pastor. I was a Christian. And all my friends knew that as I grew up. But pastor? That info was confidential.
See, God said, “Bill, be a pastor.”
And I said, “I’m the boss here.”
I thought I could be a better king than Jesus. What did that do to me?
It made me like a ship at sea without a rudder. I didn’t know what to do with my life. I was frustrated and clueless and dissatisfied with everything. When it was time to pick a college, I didn’t know what to do. I should have prepared for ministry, but I didn’t. It took me three colleges and seven years to finish college. I worked as a produce clerk. I lived with my parents. I didn’t know what to do.
You see, when you set your agenda above God’s agenda, this always happens. Nobody knows you like God. And nobody loves you like God — he cares more about you than you care for yourself. His grace will never lead you where his hand can’t bless you.
Joy to the world, the Lord has come,
Let earth receive her King.
But there came a day when I let King Jesus map out my steps, and I became a pastor. And it’s been wonderful and excruciating and glorious and difficult for many years as a pastor, but I want you to know, since the day I became a pastor, I wouldn’t trade places with anybody.
No, you will never find a better king than Jesus, not even you on your very best day.
And that is in just a moment I want to help you help yourself by giving Jesus the golden treasure of your trust and your faith in him.
Do you know why you will never find a better king than Jesus? There are a couple of reasons. But the main reason is simple:
Jesus is the only king who doesn’t need a thing from you.
Christmas is not about what Jesus came to take — it’s all about what he came to give. His throne is a throne of Grace.
- He came to give you salvation.
- He came to give you forgiveness of your sins.
- He came to give you everlasting life.
- He came to give you abundance.
- He came to give you freedom from addiction.
- He came to give you healing from addiction.
- He came to give you heaven.
- He came to give you liberty.
- He came to give you the power to rule your life under his own mighty Lordship.
The kings and queens of earth are takers. But Jesus is a giver unlike any other ruler ever known.
- No other ruler was nailed to a cross.
- No other ruler took in himself the penalty for your sin.
- No other ruler shed his blood for you.
- No other ruler died so that you might live forever.
- No other ruler gives unceasingly and forever.
On Christmas, the world received a king unlike any other king the world has ever known. He is a giver, not a taker, not one little bit. And you’ve got nothing he needs.
The Tug of War
You see, there is a tug of war that goes on in every human heart. It’s a battle over who sits on the throne of life. Most people run an election and vote for themselves.
That’s normal. That’s natural. That’s the default position of human nature. That’s how it is for you. That’s how it is for me. When you peel away all the layers, this is the essence of sin. Casting off the kingship of God.
- We do it morally… and we say, I decide what’s right and wrong.
- We do this intellectually…. And say I decide what’s true and false.
- We do it emotionally…
- We do this in our sexuality.
- We do this in every area of life.
And rather than bring our lives to the throne of grace, we run the other way.
Because we suspect God. We suspect that God is knocking on the door in order to take something from you that you don’t want to give.
It makes sense, because in the normal world, power goes along with taking.
But not with God. Not with Jesus.
He doesn’t want to take one thing from you. He wants to give you everything a heart desires that money can’t buy and bankers can’t take away.
If the manger means anything, it means you have a king willing to give up everything for you. And, if the Cross means anything, it means you have a king who would even give up his life, so he could give you eternal life, now and forevermore.
So the question — really the main question above all questions — is this: Have you ever joined those Magi from the east? Have you ever recognized Jesus as the King of Grace in your life?
Because if you have never done that, I want to help you do it today. In just a few more minutes.
The Magi gave him gold to declare him the King of Love on a Throne of Grace.
So many Christmas songs seem to focus on what we can give to Jesus. Let me let you in on a little secret. Christmas is not about what you give Jesus, it’s about what God gave you. In the great equation of salvation, he is 100 percent the giver, and you are 100 percent the receiver.
You will never find a better king than Jesus.
- You say, I have to do good works. Jesus says, I’ll count my good works for you.
- You say, I have a price to pay. Jesus says, I’ve already paid it.
- You say, I have to make a commitment. Jesus says, It’s not about your commitment to me. You want commitment, Look at me dying on the cross. That’s all the commitment it takes to save you forever.
- You say, I’m not worthy. I’ve sunk to low. I’ve sinned to deeply. I’m not religious enough. Jesus says, There is no sin my blood can’t cleanse and no failure my grace can’t erase.
- You say, I’m not ready for this. Jesus says, No one is ever ready. You don’t need to be ready. Just be willing.
- Just as I am, without one plea, but that thy blood was shed for me,
And that thou bid’st me come to thee,
O Lamb of God, I come.
You’ve heard John 3:16, probably. That is Christmas in a nutshell.
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)
- For God… the Greatest Giver
- So loved… the Greatest Grace
- The World… the Greatest Number
- That He Gave… the Greatest Act
- His Only Begotten Son… the Greatest Gift
- That whosoever… the Greatest Invitation
- Believes in Him… the Greatest Hope
- Should not perish… the Greatest Salvation
- But have everlasting life… the Greatest Difference
You will never find a better king than Jesus.
You have no price to pay. No gold to give. The only gold he wants from you is the faith and trust of your heart. Let’s do that right now.
Will you give King Jesus the faith and trust in your heart right now? If you will, you will cross a dividing line. You will step into grace like you have never known it before. You will become God’s child. Your sins will be forgiven. And best of all, you will have an assurance in your heart that you’re going to heaven, not because of you, but because of Jesus.
ADMIT: God, I admit the tug of war in my heart. I have tried to be my own king/queen. I’ve made a mess of it. I have set my throne above your throne. I have suspected you as a taker. I admit I can never find a better ruler than you, not even myself. And I need you today.
BELIEVE: God, I believe that on Christmas day, you gave the greatest gift of all. You gave your son. You gave salvation. You gave your grace. You gave the best and only and truest King the world will never know. I believe he shed his blood on the Cross. I believe he died for my sins. I believe he rose again. I believe he alone can bring me to heaven and to you forever. So…
CHOOSE: Right know I choose to trust in Jesus. Right now, I pour out the golden treasure of my faith and my trust. I choose him as my King of Grace, and King of Salvation, and my only hope. And I’m asking you, right now, as best as I can, God, please save me, please forgive me, and please make this Christmas my first Christmas as your child — all because of Jesus.