Wrapping the Ultimate Gift
Wrapping the Ultimate Gift
#2 in Advent 2011--The Ultimate Gift
INTRO: Surprises are a BIG part of Christmas, aren’t they?
Everybody loves to be surprised by gifts. That’s why we wrap them, isn’t it? How exciting would it be for children if, as you bought gifts in preparation for Christmas, you simply took them out of the bag and put them unwrapped under the tree? It’s the wrapping that heightens the surprise.
The wrapping you put over a gift can be very deceiving, can’t it?
[Display 3 different gifts wrapped 3 very different ways up front.]
- Which one is most expensive/valuable?
- Which one is most useful?
- Which one is most interesting?
- Which will last the longest?
- Which is most beautiful in itself?
It’s impossible to know the answer to any of these things without knowing what is INSIDE the wrapping. That’s the way God’s Ultimate Gift was when he gave us Himself 2000 years ago in the person of Jesus Christ. People could easily see the outside and simply discount Him because they didn’t take the time or effort to know what was on the inside.
People are a lot like this, aren’t they? You can usually tell very little about the more important things of a person’s life by what they look like on the outside.
- Who is the smartest person you’ve seen this week?
- The kindest?
- The most loving? Self-sacrificing?
- Who makes the best friend?
- Who is the wisest?
- Who is the meanest? The most selfish? The most hateful?
You really can’t tell any of that by simply walking down the street and seeing what’s on the outside, can you.
Why do you suppose God designed human life that way? Why not make the most important things about a person’s life the most obvious?
Could it be that God really likes surprises?
Could it be that there is something much deeper God wants us to live and walk by?
Might one reason the heart and soul of a person…that physically unseen yet relationally critical part of their personhood…is non-physical because we as human beings are made in the image of God who is spirit? If God was primarily a physical being…and he made people in His image…then what we are physically in terms of looks or stature or physique or shape would be most important about us. It would tell you at a glance the most important things you need to know about a person.
But it doesn’t, does it?
Every young man discovers that at one point or another… hopefully sooner rather than later! J
ILL: I remember asking one college gal out on a date …once! J She was tall, slender, good-looking, etc. I think I realized the mistake I’d made about the time we got to the appetizer and I’d already exhausted every conceivable question of interest with little to no responses of substance. But it taught me a great lesson…and I ended up eventually being blessed with a wife with looks, brains and an amazing heart and soul.
Clearly the most important things about a person…or any gift, for that matter…are not how it’s wrapped but what’s on the inside.
But when it comes to God’s Ultimate Gift to mankind, the wrapping of human flesh and nature, while hiding so much of the value and nature of the gift of God inside, tells us amazing things about both God’s nature and our humanity.
God knows as does even little children that the BEST gifts you can give to people are not things and stuff but the best parts of yourself. Ask any child who has a parent that gives them lots and lots of things but never really gives them themselves by spending time playing with them, listening to them, roughhousing and laughing with the. Sure, things are nice. But if you are a truly good and wonderful person, the best gift-giving you can engage in is to open up your heart, soul and mind and give yourself—your love, your patience, your attention, compassion and a hundred other good things about your personhood.
Now imagine that there were some way to measure people’s goodness on a scale from 0-1,000. Imagine that the average person ranks at about a 50. Really horrible people like Hitler or Stalin or serial killers are down around 2 to 10. Really great people like Mother Teressa or Billy Graham or St. Nicolas J are somewhere around 100-110. I’m sure all of you are probably 90-95…minimum. J
How interested would you be in marrying someone who was, say, a…12 or 13?
How about a 95? Or a 115? What if they were also wealthy beyond belief? What if they were drop-dead gorgeous or handsome?
So where does God fall on our imaginary scale? He is, actually, that One being which determines the whole scale.
- His very nature, who he is as well as what he does, defines everything that is good, beautiful and desirable…everything that is 1,000.
- God is a perfect1,000 in every area—in beauty, in moral qualities, in personality, in power and every characteristic and quality imaginable.
Let’s generate a list of desirable qualities you would want in a perfect god who would treat you perfectly. What would those qualities and characteristics be? [Get input from the congregation.]
Our God IS all those desirable qualities to an infinite and perfect measure and in perfect balance. God is clearly the 1,000x-10bazillianth on our scale of 1,000. In every category, every quality, every way desirable, God is everything good our souls were made to long for.
(That is not to say that our souls always do long for Him and his perfections. Rebellion and sin have perverted our desires. Like a drug addict who knows he is destroying his life one hit at a time yet cannot get free of their addiction, so our addiction to sin chips away one sinful thought or action at a time at the new and true nature God longs for us to enjoy and experience.)
You see, the dilemma facing God is how to veil the overpowering glory of His nature while revealing what we humans can appreciate.
In Exodus 33 when Moses wanted to experience more of the presence of God, he asked God, “Please, show me Your glory,” (Ex. 33:19), God clearly told Moses, “You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me, and live.”
ILL: Just as we cannot stare at the sun without the aid of specially designed dark glasses or filters that block out much of its brilliance, so we fallen human beings cannot actually experience in our yet-to-be-glorified bodies the unfiltered glory of God’s direct presence and live.
So here is how the Apostle Paul describes what Jesus did in order to wrap his glory in humanity. In Philippians 2:5ff he wrote, “5 Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, 7 but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.
The key phrase here is “made Himself of no reputation,” (NIV, vs. 7). Other versions translate this, “emptied himself.” Both are English translators’ attempts to adequately express what a single Greek word (kenosis) means.
Did Jesus coming as a human being somehow cause or require that he divest himself of certain attributes of his deity? The problem with that view is that you end up with a less-than-God incarnation. In that case it wasn’t really God as fully God who came in the person of Jesus Christ but mostly-God-in-human-flesh that came in the person of Jesus. Just in case you are wondering, that was declared to be heresy by the Christian church in the 3rd century A.D. J
So just what did Jesus “empty himself” of? I prefer to ask the question, “What did God the Son add in the incarnation that “made him…of no reputation”? To understand this I’m going to give you a phrase that, if you learn it, you can really impress people like Bible School professors and pastors with. J It is what theologians call the “hypostatic union.” (Repeat after me!)
“Hypostatic” comes again from the Greek, in this case from two Greek words, huper which means, “under” and histayme which means, “to stand.” So when we talk about God the Son taking on humanity, both human nature and a human body, the hypostatic union says that He voluntarily had his deity “stand under” his humanity during the time he walked the earth. In what ways?
1. His pre-incarnate glory was veiled: that is, the glory that He had before He came to earth was veiled by His human form. The only real exception to that during his life here was at the Mount of Transfiguration. That’s when Jesus went up on a mountain with 3 of His disciples—Peter, James, and John. While they were there, Jesus suddenly changed His appearance. Mark 9:23 says, “and He was transfigured before them. His clothes became shining, exceedingly white like snow, such as no launderer on earth can whiten them.” In a passage in Matthew describing the same event, we read that “His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light” (17:2).
It seems that “standard issue” bodies in heaven appear as though they have been carved out of a lightning bolt or a piece of the noon-day sun. For obvious reasons, Jesus did not walk around like that during His earthly ministry. He veiled the glory of His true self in the wrapping of humanness.
2. He voluntarily did not use some of His divine attributes some of the time (Matthew 24:36). Non-use does not mean subtraction. Just because He didn’t use them doesn’t mean He didn’t have them, or could not have used them if He had chosen to do so.
Ill: Think of it like a credit card. Not just any credit card. A really special platinum-gold-plated-edition credit or debit card. Many of us carry a credit card or two around in our purse or wallet, right? That card usually has a lot higher spending capabilities than you may have in cash in your pocket, right? If your one of those “elite members”, your card may allow you to charge or spend $20,000 or $50,000 or even $100,000. Carrying around that much in cash would require a small suitcase, not something you probably want to do if you’re going to be working in the inner city of any large city these days, right?
You could be fabulously rich and have access to all kinds of cash and yet live your whole life as a very average, blue-collar laborer. Which is exactly what Jesus did while here on earth. As God, he had no “spending limits” when it came to power or authority or wisdom or miracles. But he voluntarily chose to not whip out the “gold card” anytime he wanted. Instead, Jesus chose to model for us how a life lived in dependence on God the Father looks like. He did only what he saw his Father doing (John 5:19—“Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” Later on in that same chapter Jesus says, “30 I can of Myself do nothing. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is righteous, because I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me.”)
That’s why Jesus got up early, while it was still dark, to spend time with the Father praying to and listening to his Father (Mark 1:35). That’s why he healed some people and not others. That’s why he gave us the Holy Spirit and said in John 16:13, “However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak….”
The miracle of the incarnation is that God remained fully God, became the most humble servant of all mankind, wrapped himself in human flesh and unfallen, sinless human nature, was 100% God and 100% man, all in order to reconcile sinful rebels like us to himself.
Is it any wonder that the angels of heaven stared in awe?
Any wonder many Jews refused to believe God would actually become a human being? How do you wrap the God who is greater than the universe in a package small enough to become a fetus, a baby, a child, a young man and a person?
My favorite description of what this must have looked like from the vantage point of heaven comes from one of my former Bible College professors, Dr. David Needham, in a small book he wrote entitled Close To His Majesty. Allow me to read you his depiction of the incarnation. [See Close To His Majesty by David C. Needham, Multnomah Press, 1987, pp. 103-108.]
Quite the wrapping, this humanity, no? Quite the package, Jesus flesh and blood!
Why does the wrapping of the incarnation for God’s Ultimate Gift matter? What is God trying to say to us by the wrapping?
1. Human life from its earliest moment is sacred. God is involved in the creation of every human being, whether they see the light of day or not. We ignore and deny this reality to our own peril. Since God saw fit to bestow humanness upon us from the moment of conception, every human being, no matter how small, matters to God.
2. Size does not determine significance; soul and spirit do. The size of a human being or their capacity to walk, think, speak or do anything we see as normal should never determine the value or rights we place on them. The fact that humans are the only creatures created in the image of God, having spirits and souls granted us by God, determines our significance.
3. Every stage of humanity is important to God. When God wanted to send us a message of His heart for us, he chose to enter into every stage from conception to death of human experience. Where you or I am in the journey of life matters to God. He wants us to experience it with Him, every day, in every way.
4. Spiritual stature has nothing to do with social or economic position. As Job said, we all come into this world naked…and we will all leave this world naked (Job 1:21). God, the only one who could choose the kind of family he would be born into, chose to be raised in the home of a poor, laboring, young couple. Economic and social position has nothing to do with your spiritual stature with God.
5. Human life without sin was accomplished…once. Born without sin nature because he was born of a virgin, Jesus accomplished what no other human being has ever done: He lived life in a very sinful world without once succumbing to sin’s temptation.
6. Human salvation without God’s incarnation is not possible. If any of us had been capable of earning our own salvation, Jesus’ incarnation would have been unnecessary. But the reality is that apart from Jesus’ perfect life and sacrificial death in my place, none of us would be saved. Contrary to the popular belief today in much of the world, there is NO SALVATION apart from God incarnate, Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (Jn. 1:29).
7. Our whole being (body, soul and spirit) matters more to God than we think. He came to redeem every part of us…forever. So don’t think little of what God counts precious. Don’t hate yourself or anyone else whom God obviously came to redeem and love. God cares so deeply for our humanness that he was willing to forever change the way we relate to and perceive him by taking on humanness.
8. Our humanness doesn’t limit God’s divine work; Instead it allows Him to communicate more clearly with people. Jesus’ humanity didn’t limit his fulfillment of the Father’s will. It actually enabled him to fulfill it completely. That’s probably why he has chosen US instead of angels to continue the process of sharing the message of salvation and the life of God with people.
9. We have a God, Savior and Advocate who understands at the deepest levels of experience the challenges and heartaches of being human. Our God empathizes with our struggles. He’s been here to a deeper level than we’ll ever need to go.
10. God will go to every possible and necessary length to save human beings from death and hell. The incarnation of Jesus proves it.
11. We can know exactly what God is like by knowing Jesus Christ. Which is the reason why Jesus is the deciding point, the fork in the road, for every human being. If they reject Jesus, they are rejecting God. The world is happy to have us talk generically about God. But ask people to make a decision about accepting or rejecting Jesus Christ and you will offend people right and left. People are much more comfortable thinking they are favorable towards some generic idea of God than they are having to decide about the One Living God who really exists and is called Jesus Christ.
12. Our God is more everything good--loving, humble, caring, sacrificial, powerful, committed to us-- than we will ever fully comprehend. The incarnation is THE most sacrificial and humbling act God could possibly engage in.
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