Here’s the podcast for this message.
Last week we looked at God’s outrageous love for us through the eyes of Hosea. God designed us for relationships. Hosea was told to take a wife that was almost guaranteed to bring heartache and pain. We saw that when forgiveness is offered, wandering people tend to come back. This week, we’re going to look at something Jesus really wants.
Grab your Bible and read Matt. 25:31-36.
This Christmas, we need a paradigm shift. Every year we’re challenged to come up with the perfect Christmas gift. We get catalogues in the mail and emails from stores telling us what the perfect gift is for the year. Some people are so hard to buy for. It’s really comical when you think about it. What do we get for someone to celebrate someone else’s birthday? How can we change the modern focus of Christmas from our materialistic, self-indulgent, consumeristic self to one that gives the birthday Boy what He desires?
When you consider what Jesus said to His disciples in the passage from Matthew, I’m sure they were confused. Jesus and His disciples had been virtually inseparable for two years. They didn’t see Jesus hungry or thirsty, He wasn’t a stranger and wasn’t naked; He was never in prison. They say as much in vs. 37-39. Jesus provides clarification in v. 40 when He says, “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.” So here it is: the paradigm shift. When we help people in need, we’re helping Jesus Himself. You cannot compartmentalize your relationship with Christ with your relationship with others. The two are inseparable. Meeting the needs of others is one way we know we are God’s children. 1 Jo. 3:14 says, “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death.” At Christmas, love seems to abound. One product even declared, “I’d like to buy the world a home and furnish it with love.” The conclusion is that Coke is the real thing. Our beloved John writes in 1 Jo. 3:16-18, “We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.” It’s not good enough just to talk about how we love; we must demonstrate it with action. We serve Christ by serving others.
We have many reasons or excuses for not serving. When Jesus fed the 5000 in Matt. 14, He had every reason not to serve. He had just heard that His friend, John the Baptizer, was murdered at the request of Salome who asked for John’s head on a platter. John was in prison because he told Herod it was wrong to take his sister-in-law as his wife. That was the truth. So Jesus hears of John’s death and all He wants to do is get away so He jumps in a boat. But He can’t get away from the people. He meets a crowd of 5000 men which some equate to about 20,000 people. His disciples tell Him, “This place is desolate and the hour is already late; so send the crowds away, that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” (Matt. 14:15) This was sort of a spur of the moment gathering. The people likely did not prepare to be gone; at least not all day. Jesus tells His disciples, “They do not need to go away; you give them something to eat.” They respond with why they can’t do it, “We have here only five loaves and two fish.” Often when God tells us to do something, we tell Him why we can’t do it. God’s resources don’t fall from the sky. He was able to make a miracle happen because of what the disciples had in their hands. The same is true throughout scripture. God used Moses’ staff and David’s stones. He used the water at the wedding. He used the widow’s oil and the widow’s mite. He used a borrowed tomb. He wants to use what you have, not what you don’t have.
Jesus tells the disciples to bring Him what they had. He blessed the loaves and the fishes and gave it back to the disciples to distribute to the people. God multiplied the resources the disciples had. The Bible tells us, “They all ate and were satisfied. They picked up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve full baskets. There were about five thousand men who ate, besides women and children.” (Matt. 14:20-21) The word for satisfied here means all that they wanted. All the people ate and there were leftovers. Jesus gave the disciples a directive and He in turn gives us a directive. In order for us to grasp this, we must shift our paradigm. It’s not about receiving, it’s about giving.
It’s time for cool change. At Christmas, we celebrate the Messiah. A Savior that was born to die. A Savior that would live His life in contradiction to the world’s values. A Savior that would live His life sacrificially, not only to pay the debt we could not pay, but to live His life as an example for us to follow. We’re called to live sacrificially as well. Can you imagine the power of God that could be unleashed if God’s people followed the example of Jesus Christ? More of Him, less of us. The lines to check out in the stores are long, yet our churches don’t have lines of people waiting to get in. Parking lots are packed to indulge those we love with materialistic bounty, yet the opportunities we provide to serve others to provide spiritual bounty are left unfilled. The lines will be long the day after Christmas to return those unwanted gifts for something better, and we have the gift that is the most extravagant, longest lasting gift ever created to give to others and we selfishly keep it to ourselves. We are materially wealthy and spiritually poor and maybe the most disturbing thing is too many Christians can’t or won’t see it. Sometimes we worship the traditions of Christmas rather than the Jesus of Christmas. Honoring God and His one and only Son Jesus may require a cool change. It may require knocking down the traditions we were raised with and create new traditions that place the focus where the focus belongs.
On Nov. 15, 2012, the American Research Group reported that average adult in America will spend $854 on Christmas gifts this year. What if you took 25% of what you would spend on Christmas and donated it to the mission work in Romania? That’s $213.50 per adult. Let’s say there are 40 adults here today, that’s $8540.00. That figure would support our missionary Matthew’s work for just over 17 months. The American way is to indulge one another with gifts we don’t want or need. The American way is not God’s way.
Are there people on your list that are hard to buy for? This year, why not make the change? Why not give the perfect gift of Jesus? This year, it’s time to rethink Christmas.