12-07-2014 message by Pastor Rich Doebler
How many of you have ever been a member of a labor union? Labor disputes happen when workers feel like they aren’t getting what they deserve. Labor representatives negotiate for a more favorable contract. They’re not looking for a gift; they’re looking for fair compensation for the work that they do. You know the difference between wages and gifts. Wages are earned; gifts are not. If you work hard, if you put in the labor, the sweat, the hours, you deserve to be paid. Your boss or your company gives you a pay check. It’s not a gift. It’s something you earned.
There is a spiritual parallel to all this because the Bible (Rom 6:23) says that the wages of sin is death. The pay check for sin at work in our lives is spiritual death. The wages we deserve is death. But the Bible also says that the gift of God is eternal life. God’s grace offers us life—something we don’t deserve.
We could never negotiate for eternal life. Pastors are not union representatives. We could never go on strike and demand eternal life as a fair compensation for our efforts: “Look at all the good works we’ve done! Look at how often we go to church! Look at how enthusiastically we sing praise! Look at all the religious traditions we practice!”
Unfortunately, that is exactly how many people view the gift of God. They think it can be earned. They think they can leverage God to give more grace by working hard to be better people.
I want to go back to the first chapter of John where we started this series last week so we can see how to receive the gift of God rather than trying to earn his favor as wages.
John 1:1-5,9-13 (NIV)
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
John used the term “word” (logos) which held special meaning to both Jews and Gentiles. Plato and other Greek philosophers used it not only of the spoken word but also of the unspoken word, the word still in the mind—the “reason.” When they applied it to the universe, they meant the rational principle that governs all things. We get our word “logical” from this same Greek word.
Jews, on the other hand, used the term as a way of referring to God, which also implied God’s active and personal involvement in the world. [Quest Study Bible (2011 ed)]
For instance, at creation God spoke (i.e. he uttered the word), and the world came into being.
2 He [i.e. the Word] was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.
These verses in John parallel the opening verses of the Bible. Gen 1:1,3 says In the beginning God created the heaves and the earth… And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light…
And John uses similar language.
At creation, the first thing God spoke into existence was light (Gen 1:3). Then God spoke his Word again when he sent his Son into the world (John 1:14)—the light of the world (John 1:4-5,9).
When God speaks, two things can happen: (1) creation and (2) redemption (or salvation).
By his Word, new things are brought into existance—things that did not exist before. Also by his Word, old things are made new—ruined, broken, corrupted things are redeemed (saved from destruction).
Rom 8:17 (NASB) says God “gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist.” —giving life to the dead is salvation (or redemption); calling into being things that don’t exist is creation.
Creation was the first expression of God’s Word. Salvation was the later expression of the Word.
Jesus, the Word, was the active agent of God in creation, speaking the word into existence. Creation happened because of the Word—that is, Jesus, God’s Son.
See Col 1:15-16 (NIV) 15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.
Later, Jesus, the Word, came to redeem the world he had created. He came into the world, bringing light to push back the darkness of sin.
4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome [understood] it… 9 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.
John 8:12 (NIV) [Jesus said] “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 12:46 (NIV) I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.
10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.
But the gift God gave to the world—Jesus (the Word)—was rejected on three different levels: (1) darkness did not understand the light; (2) the world did not recognize its Creator; (3) the chosen people did not choose him who chose them.
1. (v 5) The light [of Jesus] shone in darkness, but the darkness did not understand the light (katalambanō : literally, did not comprehend, grasp, seize, lay hold of, take possession of). That is, the darkness did not “get it.” (Some translations use a secondary meaning—that the darkness did not overpower or extinguish the light.)
2. (v 10) The Word (Jesus) came into the world he had made, but the world did not recognize him (ginōskō : literally, to know, to perceive, to ascertain, to understand, to conclude).
3. (v 11) He came to his own (chosen) people (who had been favored with his grace through the years), but his own did not receive him. (paralambanō : to take [lambano] to one’s side [para-]; to take, receive to one’s self, to take with one’s self, to receive in charge or possession, to receive as a matter of instruction—to admit, acknowledge).
I’m guessing some of you have gifts you’ve received in Christmases past that are lying unused in the back of some closet or stuffed away in some drawere. Am I right? There’s that ugly sweater you could never bring yourself to wear. Maybe it was some fancy kitchen utensil—a slicer, dicer, ricer thing-a- magig. Still unusedl That’s what some people do with Jesus. They say, “Oh, that’s a nice gift! What a beautiful gift!” But they never take the gift out of the package. It lands in the back of the closet in their mind. The gift is never used…so it’s never received. BUT (v 12) some did, in fact, receive him.
12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. 14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
They received him; they recognized him. They “got it.” They understood who he was and what he had done. He was the Creator who had created all things. He was not only the giver of light and life—he WAS the light and the life. So he could redeem them. He could save a broken, ruined world that had been overcome by sin and darkness.
The Word was rejected on three levels, but there are at least three ways we can receive this gift.
- By believing—or to know something is true: katalambanō : to grasp, to comprehend; paralambanō : to receive instruction, to admit, acknowledge.
- By knowing him intimately—not just knowing about him, but to have personal knowledge (relationship) with him. Meeting someone on Facebook, is not the same as meeting them face to face over a cup of coffee at the Warming House…or inviting them into your home…or allowing them to live with you. This is the difference between religion (knowing about him) and a relationship (knowing him personally).
- By trusting him—to put your life in his hands. A drowning man can become so desperate and frantic that he will thwart the efforts of the life guard—grabbing, pulling, pushing in attempt to save himself. What he needs to do is relax, stop struggling, and trust his rescuer with his life.
This passage mentions several things that we receive when we receive God’s Word (Jesus):
- Light and life (1:4). The Creator who made life in the first place came into the world he had made to give you new life. The One who spoke life into existence came as the Word to speak light into darkness—forgiveness over sin; life over death.
- Grace (John 1:14,16-17). Charis → Grace and gift are intertwined. It’s not something we earn. It’s a pure gift from of extravagant grace from a radical Giver, the God of love and mercy.
And truth (John 1:14,17). Absolute truth is the bedrock foundation we can rely on for all of life. You can build a life on God’s truth. You can build a society on God’s truth. You can build a marriage… a career…a family on God’s truth.
- The right to become children of God (John 1:12). The word is exousia = delegated authority or influence. It means you are granted the authority (some versions say power) to become God’s children! In an age when everyone is clamoring about their “rights,” this is the only right that ultimately really matters. You can have civil rights, individual rights, socio-economic rights, diversity rights, free speech rights…but if you haven’t claimed the right to be a child of God, all those other rights will eventually be stripped away—lost for all eternity. Kings and presidents, conquering generals and wealthy Fortune 500 CEOs—with all their advantages and privileges—will one day stand before the throne of God. And in that place, there is only one right that matters! Are you a child of God?
What does that mean? To be a child of God? It means you have divine authority and influence! You are a son or daughter of the King. Children of the king have access to power and authority through Jesus.
Don’t complain that you’re weak. Don’t think that you’re nothing special. You don’t have to let your critics get you down! Stop complaining about your problems and start taking authority over your life.
Look up to your big brother, Jesus, who is the first among many brothers and sisters. (See Rom 8:29) The same power and authority in Jesus is also in you! Yes, you!
You say you have human weaknesses? Of course you do. You’re human. But guess what: Jesus was human too. He “became flesh,” (John 1:14). He did not “grasp” his divine power; he “emptied” himself of the privileges of his position; he humbled himself and become human (Phil 2:6-8)—like you and me.
Jesus was human:
- He felt hungry—and looked for figs on the tree.
- He became thirsty—and asked the woman at the well for a drink.
- He needed rest—and left the crowds to get away for a break.
- He was physically exhausted—and fell asleep in the boat during a storm.
- He wept for his friends—and grieved with them over the death of their brother.
- He was emotionally drained while praying in the garden—but he didn’t get the answer he wanted.
- He felt abandoned and forsaken by his heavenly Father—“My God…why have you forsaken me?”
Jesus was human—tempted just like we are tempted. But though Jesus came in the flesh, dwelling among us, confined by space and time, emptied of his divine position, he also possessed spiritual confidence and divine authority. He tapped into the supernatural power that came from his Father.
- He did what he saw the Father doing; he spoke the words his Father gave.
- Though hungry, he multiplied the loaves and fish.
- Though thirsty, he provided living water to thirsty souls.
- Though sorrowing over death, he raised the dead.
- Though exhausted and tired, he had the power to calm the stormy wind and waves.
- Though crucified, he rose from the dead.
It should be like that with you! Though human, though weak, though limited, you also have authority as a child of God. You possess spiritual authority as a son or daughter of the King.
Perhaps, like me, you enjoy some of the valuable discoveries revealed on Antiques Roadshow on PBS. In May, 2004, Ted, an older man came to the show, bringing an old blanket, which his grandmother had said was given to her foster father by none other than the famous Kit Carson of the wild west.
Had he ever had it examined by an expert, the appraiser wanted to know. “Nobody’s ever looked at it that I’m aware of,” said Ted.
“Well, Ted,” said the appraiser. “Did you notice when you showed this to me that I kind of stopped breathing a little bit? I’m still having trouble breathing here, Ted.”
“It took me by surprise,” Ted said, “because I didn’t think much about it. It’s probably a chief’s blanket…”
“Exactly,” said the appraiser. “But not just a chief’s blanket. It’s the first type of chief’s blanket made…about 1840 to 1860. It’s called a Ute, first phase. It’s Navajo-made for Ute chiefs—Navajo weaving in its purest form.”
He explained that later Navajo blankets had various patterns like diamonds and so on, but this one was just a pure linear design—one of the earliest Navajo weavings. Not only that, he went on to explain, but the condition of this blanket was “unbelievable.”
“It’s made from hand-woven wool,” he said, “but it’s so finely done, it’s like silk. It would repel water. And [it] is dyed with indigo dyes…a very valuable dye at the time.”
Even the one small imperfection was repaired in the 1860s with “raveled bayeta,” which was a very important thing in Navajo weaving.
“So, all involved,” the appraiser said, “it’s an extraordinary piece of art. It’s extremely rare. It is the most important thing that’s come into the Roadshow that I’ve seen. Do you have a sense at all of what you’re looking at here in terms of value?”
“I haven’t a clue.” said Ted.
The appraiser built the suspense. “Are you a wealthy man, Ted?”
“No,” Ted replied.
“Well, sir, I’m still a little nervous here, I have to tell you. On a really bad day, this textile would be worth $350,000. On a good day, it’s about a half a million dollars.”
Ted swallowed hard and tried to catch his breath. “Oh!”
“You had no idea?” asked the appraiser.
“I had no idea,” Ted echoed, his voice breaking. “It was laying on the back of a chair!”
“Well, sir, you have a national treasure!”
It was all Ted could do to get out a simple, “Wow!”
“A national treasure,” the appraiser continued. “When you walked in with this, I just about died. Congratulations.”
“I can’t believe this!” said Ted.
But the appraiser had more, explaining that this was the value without the Kit Carson connection. If that could be demonstrated, the value could increase by another 20 percent!
“I can’t believe it,” Ted repeated. “My grandmother…you know, [they] were poor farmers. They didn’t… she had… there was no wealth, no wealth in the family at all.” At that he started choking up. “I can’t believe it!”
A national treasure hanging over the back of a chair. Poor farmers who owned what they thought was a common old blanket, but it turned out to be a treasure.
How many believers have spiritual treasures “hanging over the back of a chair”? How many do not fully grasp what God has given them? How many people devalue who they are in Christ? How many have blessings and divine promises lying around unappreciated? Under-valued, ignored, and unused?
Isn’t it time you began to see what you have in Christ? [Antique Roadshow (May 3, 2004)] Click here to see a video of Ted and the Navajo blanket episode: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/roadshow/archive/200101A48.html
You can lay claim to what is rightfully yours through the gift that God gives in Jesus! To all who received him, to those who believed in his name, to them he gave the right to become children of God. Don’t live in defeat and depression. Don’t let the darkness rule when the Light has come!