Christmas may have gone by but I am still reflecting on the holiday season. The idea of giving gifts and seeing the expressions of joy and excitement on the faces of those we love is one of the greatest experiences a person can give. The longer I am a father the more and more my wonder grows at how the value of a gift can impact how a person sees the world and the person who gave them the gift. It doesn’t even have to be valuable; it just shows the person that you thought enough of them to give them something.
For many people, their love language is giving and receiving gifts. They show others that they care by giving things (big and small) and getting joy from how they react and how heartwarming it is to be given something. When I think of presents and gifts I am often reminded of one of my best friend’s favorite verses:
 Giving a gift can open doors; it gives access to important people! (Proverbs 18:16 NLT)
The idea behind this verse is that giving a gift effects both the giver and the receiver; it makes the recipient happy but it also gives access to the giver. My friend has often told this to me when I feel bad for someone giving me something nice. He reminded me that sometimes the person who gives the gift gets more joy out of giving the gift than the person who actually receives it (cf. Acts 20:35).
Thinking about this reminded me of a birthday party my wife threw for me a few years ago. During the party I was given some birthday gifts of which one set of friends gave me a gift that was way nicer than I was expecting. We were good friends but this was the kind of gift you get from close family and it was an overwhelming surprise. Needless to say, I was excited and taken aback by their act of generosity. Even years later I still use this gift regularly and am reminded of their love and kindness towards me for giving me a gift I most definitely didn’t deserve.
You see, this gift not only showed their love for me but such an act of unmerited generosity brought our friendship closer than it was before. This is the value of a gift; especially one that is undeserved and overwhelmingly generous. The danger of a gift is that we can use it or experience it so often that it becomes commonplace; this is called the Law of Diminishing Returns. Think about any new gift/toy/purchase you have gotten in the last year; when you first got it you were so excited about it but as time we on it became more and more normal that is was eventually just another thing in your life. The everyday experience made it common and ordinary when it once was new and exciting.
This is the same thing that happens when we consider the act of love that God made for us and the greatness of His gift of salvation. I want you to think back to another time in your life; this time I want you to think back to the moment you surrendered your life to Christ. If you were like me, you were overwhelmed that God in his perfection and holiness could surrender his place in Heaven and wrap himself in flesh to become 100% man while still 100% God to die the death we deserved for our sins. Consider this passage the Apostle Paul wrote:
 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:  Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;  rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:5-8 NLT)
I have often read that passage and become overwhelmed with gratitude at what my King has done for me. Like the famous song I think to myself, “Amazing love, how can it be? That you, my King, would die for me?” Other times, however, I am a slave to the Law of Diminishing Returns and the Bible passages become commonplace and the thoughts about my Savior become everyday things. The problem with living the Christian life is that, like all other walks of life, it becomes normalized.
This is the danger I believe so many Christians in America have fallen prey to; the Christian life has become normal and there is nothing supernatural or miraculous in their spiritual journeys. Their savior has become just another pretty painting and their church services just another part of their busy schedule. Their sins have become acceptable and their salvation has no power to render them grateful or overwhelmed. Our culture has accepted so many things that would have astonished people just a few decades ago that we see ourselves as good people rather than evil sinners who have disobeyed a holy God. Remember that the Apostle Paul also wrote:
 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.  This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile,  for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,  and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:21-24 NLT)
Consider that part in verse 23: all have sinned. ALL. That means everyone from a newborn child to the most atrocious criminal you can think of are all separated from God by sin. We are evil from birth and without the sacrifice of Jesus we will all die in our sins. Yet we have forgotten this fact and are no longer horrified by our sins. We have justified ourselves by comparing ourselves to others whom we consider worse than we are. We think that since we are not an Adolph Hitler that we are good people.
Yet every sin is horrible; every act of disobedience is unjustifiable before a holy and perfect God. When we lose sight of what sin is and what punishment it brings we also lose sight of the greatness of what God has done for us by taking our place. Until we comprehend the depravity of our sin we will never understand our need for a savior. Perhaps because we no longer sacrifice animals in place of our own death we have lost sight of the consequences of our sins. While I am thankful for this and the gift God gave by providing the perfect sacrifice through the death of Christ on the cross (cf. Hebrews 10) our departure from seeing and participating in a sacrificial system that requires the death of an animal in our place has taken our eyes off of the true cost of our sins.
The Book of Leviticus (the Levis were the priests and temple servants in the Old Testament) gives instructions on how different sacrifices were to take place and the order in which things were to happen. In general, the person who sinned was to take an unblemished animal they owned (usually a lamb or a bull), lay their hands on the animal while the priest slit its throat and drained its blood. The blood would then be sprinkled on the altar while the animal was cleaned, skinned, and prepared for roasting on the altar. The different portions of the animal would then be divided and eaten by the family of the one who sinned and the priests. This would then do three things: atone for sins (intentional and unintentional), meet the needs of the temple priests, and allow a person to draw nearer to God.
Take a moment to put yourself in the place of a person who was offering a sacrifice at the Temple. You are taking one of your most valuable possessions (remember that the Jews of the Old Testament were largely an agrarian society and livestock was a large part of their wealth) and giving it to God through sacrifice. You place your hands on it and offer a prayer to God asking the animal’s death to replace the death your sins deserved. You then watch as the priest slits open the animal’s throat and the blood pours out and lands on you, the collection bowl, and the priest. The priest would then sprinkle it all over where you are standing by splashing it on the altar. You would then watch as the other priests cleaned the animal and divided it into pieces that would then be roasted on the altar.
This was not simply going to a barbecue where you were served a meal with your family. This was a bloody, messy, and time consuming ordeal. As the child of a master hunter, I have often seen animals cleaned and butchered for later meals and I can promise you that it is not a clean endeavor. It can be done with practiced precision but I have never seen a person clean an animal without getting its blood on their hands and clothing. This would be a messy ordeal that very vividly shows how costly sin is because it not only cost the person part of their worldly wealth but also showed them that the cost of sin is death and that this animal had now taken the place of the death the person deserved to die (cf. Romans 6:23). Consider what the writer of Hebrews wrote concerning this:
 In the same way, he sprinkled with the blood both the tabernacle and everything used in its ceremonies.  In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. (Hebrews 9:21-22 NLT)
This is the reason Christ came from Heaven to Earth; he came to seek and save the lost (cf. Luke 19:10). The whole reason for Christmas is centered on the gift of the King which is salvation for all who would believe. Jesus did not come to make converts because there were plenty of those in the world already. Instead, he came to help people to believe in Him. This word believe in the Greek is pisteuō which means to place total trust in something. Jesus did not come to ask people to believe he existed or even that he was something miraculous; instead, he came to ask people to place their total trust in who is (God in skin).
Think about walking across a rope bridge that allows you to cross a vastly deep gorge. This rope bridge would not be something you would cross lightly and without concern because if it gave way you would plunge into certain death. Because of this, you would take your time looking at every step and listening for every creak anticipating the collapse of the rope bridge.
Now think about what it would be like after you have taken hundreds of trips across this bridge day after day, year after year. You would find, through experience, that this rope bridge was something you could place total trust in. It had proven itself capable of taking your weight and allowing you to cross safely. This is the same idea of what the word ‘believe’ in the Greek is conveying. Thinking of it with this meaning we could retranslate John 3:16 to say that “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son so that whoever places total trust in him will not perish but have everlasting life.”
Originally, when I set out to write this entry, I was wanting to focus on the spiritual gifts of the Holy Spirit and explore the teaching on spiritual fruit. After studying and thinking on it I realized that this path would bypass the entire purpose of the Christmas narrative and gloss over why Jesus came to Earth in the first place. The gift of the King is eternal salvation through the shedding of His blood on the cross. That’s all there is to it. Fine’, complete, over, done, finished.
I will close this entry by looking at what many would consider as the conclusion to the story of Jesus: the crucifixion. Here we find Jesus having been beaten, tortured, mocked, shamed, nailed to the cross, and finally stabbed through the side to bleed out and die. Before breathing his last breath Jesus said the three greatest words in all of history: IT IS FINISHED. There is nothing left to add to the sacrifice he made. We do not need to work our way to Heaven or earn our salvation through penance and pious acts of charity as some faith systems would teach. Instead of trying to get to god we have the gift of direct access to Him through the death of Jesus as our sacrifice.
Let me give a final narrative to wrap this package up. One of my favorite movies is A Knight’s Tale starring the late Heath Ledger. The storyline is that the main character is the son of a poor thatcher of nets name William who gets his son signed on to be the squire of a knight. When the knight dies William takes his place and pretends to be the knight. He does such a good job of pretending that he wins many competitions and successfully works his way to the final jousting championship while earning fame, fortune, and love along the way.
The story hits its climax when the enemy of William finds out his true past and turns him in to the authorities. William is shamed in public by being stripped of his title and sentenced to the stocks where he is left in front of all of the public to shame him and belittle him. William’s friends come to stand by his side and endure the ridicule when a man steps out of the crowd and causes the crowd to be silent. The audience of the film realize that this man was someone William had jousted earlier in the movie and had honorably defeated him when he could’ve withdrawn thinking the man to be a great nobleman. We find out this man, now standing before William in the stocks is actually the Prince.
Here is an excerpt from the script to let you capture the rest of the scene:
[THREE MEN IN HOODS TAKE OFF THEIR CLOAKS, AND REVEAL THEMSELVES AS THE BLACK PRINCE AND TWO OF HIS KNIGHTS]
THE PRINCE. What a pair we make, uh? Both trying to hide who we are, both unable to do so. Your men love you. If I knew nothing else about you, that would be enough. But you also tilt when you should withdraw. And that is knightly too. Release him!
[THE PRINCE ADDRESSES THE CROWD]
He may appear to be of humble origins, but my personal historians have discovered that he is descended from an ancient royal line. This is my word, and as such, is beyond contestation. Now, if I may repay the kindness you once showed me. Take a knee. [WILLIAM. KNEELS; THE PRINCE DRAWS HIS SWORD]. By the power vested in me by my father King Edward, and by all the witnesses here, I dub thee Sir William. Arise, Sir William.
Forgive me this dragging out my final point but it is in this scene that I often see a marvelous parallel to what Christ has done for us. Each of us has set out in life to pretend we are someone we are not. We claim to be good people when in fact our sins have made us evil and selfish. Somewhere along the way we realize our shame and the sentence our sins will lead us to. It is at this point that the Son of God (aka the Prince, aka Jesus Christ) comes and offers us the ability to change who we are. When we place total trust in us he declares us righteous; not because we are righteous or anything we have done to earn it. Instead, he declares us righteous because of what he has done.
This can be your life as well, unless (hopefully) it already is. If you have not accepted the gift of the King today can be the day. You can kneel before him as he declares you to be what you weren’t before: righteous and justified in his presence. You can place total trust in Him and His offer of salvation. This is what Christmas is truly about. The coming of the King and the call of the King are all focuses on the gift of the King which is salvation to all who will believe.