“It’s a Wonderful Life”
A Christmas Message
Rev. Todd A. Linn, PhD
First Baptist Church Henderson, KY
- Open your Bibles to John, chapter 3.
We’re interrupting our sermon series on the Book of Acts to focus our attention on Christmas and upon the greatest Christmas verse in the entire Bible. A large number of you probably have this verse memorized. It’s the first verse I ever committed to memory. When I was a small boy I remember telling my mother that my Sunday school teacher told us to memorize a verse of Scripture before the next week. She took the Bible and showed me this verse for the very first time and introduced me to what could rightly be called the Bible in miniature: John 3:16.
There are 66 books in the Bible, 1,189 chapters, 31,175 verses and yet, all of those books, chapters and verses are encapsulated in the words of this one verse, a verse Max Lucado calls, “a 26-word parade of hope…an alphabet of Grace.” John 3:16 has often been called the Gospel in a nutshell. It is the very essence of what the Bible teaches about God and how He reaches out to us that we might know Him in a personal way. It is the greatest Christmas verse in all of the Bible, yet so simple a small child can memorize it. I hope some of you will memorize it this morning and review it this afternoon and tomorrow evening and the next day; the greatest Christmas verse in the Bible: John 3:16.
- Stand in honor of the reading of the word.
“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.
Most American families enjoy watching Christmas movies. The classic Christmas movies are defined by whoever you ask. Most, however, will agree that some movies must be on the list. Many bring in the Thanksgiving and Christmas season by watching contemporary classics like Steven Martin and John Candy’s, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles (with the Parental Blocking turned “on,” of course!). Then there’s Bill Murray in Scrooged, or Chevy Chase in Christmas Vacation. The older classics are movies like Miracle on 34th Street, and any movie based on Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. One older classic I was not introduced to until Michele and I were married is It’s A Wonderful Life. How many of you have seen this one?
When it came out in 1946 it was a huge disappointment to the critics and didn’t do well until much, much later. Jimmy Stewart plays the character of George Bailey, a guy who has lost hope in life, a guy who’s reached the end of his rope, who has gotten so severely depressed that he plans to kill himself. But God intervenes and an angel is sent to show George Bailey what his life would have been like had he not lived. When he sees the positive impact his life has had upon others, it changes his entire outlook and George Bailey gets another chance at life. He is different now and he enjoys what he now understands to be “a wonderful life.”
When I open my bible and I read John 3:16, I’m reading about a verse that speaks to all the George Baileys of the world. I’m reading a verse filled with hope for the hopeless. I’m reading a verse that ministers to us like few other verses can at Christmastime. I’m reading about a verse that speaks of a wonderful life available to everyone.
This gift of life is none other than the Lord Jesus Christ. John begins His Gospel this way. He says in John 1:4: “In Him was life.” John writes his entire Gospel to tell us all about the life of Christ and how we may have life in Him. He uses the term “life” 36 times in the Gospel. So at the end of his Gospel he writes in John 20:31, “[I have written this] so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.”
John 3:16 is all about “A Wonderful Life” that is ours in Christ Jesus. It’s all about God’s Christmas gift of life to us—God’s gift to us. Of all the Christmas gifts we have received and will receive, none is to be compared with God’s Christmas gift to us in John 3:16. So here’s what I want to do this morning: I want to “unwrap” this gift in verse 16. Like holding a Christmas gift in our hands, turning it and looking at it from four different angles, I want to look at the four sides of this gift of life.
So let’s pick up this Christmas gift and take a closer look at it. I’m picking up verse 16 and the first thing I see, the first “side” of the gift, if you will, is:
I. A Great Concern
“For God so loved the world…
Underline the word “loved” there in your Christmas gift. Scholars often point out that the Greek word “love” there is the word, “Agape,” a word usually used in the Scriptures to describe the highest form of love there is. God loves in the highest possible way. He has a love for His creation. He so loved the world, including all the people in the world.
It’s also interesting to note that this love God has is a love that has no beginning in time. God has always loved the world. There was never a time God did not love all the people of the world. That’s kind of interesting because the love human beings have for one another has a beginning. It starts somewhere.
Like the older woman who was staring at this man at a Christmas party, just kept staring at him and smiling at him, making eyes at him. Finally, she came over and said, “I’m sorry for staring at you, but you look just like my fifth husband!” He said, “Your fifth husband?! Well, ma’am. Forgive me for asking, but how many times have you been married?” She said, “Four.”
Our love has a beginning, a starting point in time. We see someone and we begin to love that person. God’s love for the world is eternal. There’s no starting point. There has never been a time that God did not love the world. He has always loved the world. He has always had a great concern for His creation. He has always had a great concern for you. God loves you.
This love is demonstrated to us in what we refer to as Advent. Advent is a Christmas word that means “come.” Advent is God’s coming to us. He comes to us in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.
In the second person of the Trinity, God leaves the glories of heaven and takes-on flesh, that’s what the word “incarnation” means, God takes-on flesh; He takes on humanity so as to join the human nature with His divine nature.
He leaves the glories of heaven to come to us, to come to this fallen world that we might have forgiveness and life in His name. Paul put it this way in Romans 5:8, “God demonstrates His love to us this way: while we were sinners, Christ died for us.” So God leaves the glories of heaven and He comes the long journey down to this world and dies on a cross for our sins.
An African boy listened carefully as his teacher explained why Christians give presents to each other on Christmas day. She said, “The gift is an expression of our joy over the birth of Jesus and our friendship for each other.” When Christmas day came, the boy brought the teacher a seashell of lustrous beauty. The teacher asked, “Where did you ever find such a beautiful shell?” The boy told her that there was only one spot where such extraordinary shells could be found. When he named the place, a certain bay several miles away, the teacher was left speechless. She said, “Why, it’s gorgeous; wonderful, but you shouldn’t have gone all that way to get the gift for me.” The little boys eyes brightened as he answered, “Long walk part of gift.”
Here’s the first side of our Christmas gift from God. Here’s the first glimpse of the wonderful life God has given us. We un-wrap this gift and we see a great concern. We see God’s love for the world, a love so great that He made the long walk from the heights of heaven to this fallen world that He might save us from our sin.
Let’s turn the gift now, let’s spin the verse a bit and look at another side. Not only do we see a great concern, but secondly we see:
II. A Great Cost
…that He gave His only begotten Son,
God loved the world in this way: He gave His only begotten Son. That word begotten is a word that refers to the unique, one and only kind of Son that Jesus Christ is. There is no one like Him. He is unique and He comes to us in a unique way. As the eternal God, righteous, pure, and without sin, He comes to us and is conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of a virgin, which spotlights His perfect divine nature. In the incarnation, Christ takes on the nature of man, He takes on flesh so as to be 100% God and 100% man. Why? So that as God, He lives the life we could not live ourselves, perfectly fulfilling the righteous demands of the law. As man, He can take the penalty of our sins that we ourselves deserved. The Bible says in Romans 3:23, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” and Romans 6:23, “The wages of sin is death.” So, because of His human nature, Christ can die as a man, dying for us, dying for our sins, taking upon Himself the punishment we deserved.
That’s what we mean when we speak of the substitutionary atonement. We’re talking about Jesus Christ’s dying for our sins, dying as our substitute. The theology of substitution is summed-up in five words: Jesus Christ in my place.
That’s a great cost. God so loved the world that He gave the world His Son. He gave His Son to die. That’s the cost: the death of Jesus for the life of men. With what is my salvation purchased? How much did it cost? It cost the death of the perfect Son of God.
Redeemed, how I love to proclaim it;
Redeemed by the blood of the Lamb.
Redeemed through His infinite mercy;
His child and forever I am.
And because God “made the long walk” to this earth in the person of Christ, and because God gave His only Son to die, then God can identify with whatever hurt you and I encounter. He understands what it’s like to hurt. He knows what you’re going through. He understands. He will always understand.
Logan is a 13 year-old boy who lives on a ranch in a very small town in Nebraska. Logan listens to Christian Radio station 89.3FM KSBJ, which broadcasts from Houston, Texas. Logan called the radio station distraught because he had to take down a calf. He called the radio to share his experience with the deejay, a guy named Mike. And this 13-year-old, Logan, speaks words of wisdom beyond his years. Take a listen to this.
**Audio Clip (2:23)
Hey Mike, can I talk to you?
You bet Logan, what’s up?
Hmm…I want to tell you something that God just told me…
Last night my dad was roping this calf…
And this calf had been born from a really old cow.
She, she didn’t have really…
The greatest milk…she didn’t have like the Vitamin C and stuff…
So cute I guess his mom is talking to him…
(off phone) I’m talking right now. I’ll be up in a second…
But…sorry about that…but anyway…
She broke her back…and…this morning I went out and put her down myself…
I was talking to God and I was asking God why?
She was special…and god said…“You know Logan, my Son was special…”
“…but He died for a purpose…”
It’s kind of the same thing…that calf was close to me…
…and God’s Son was close to Him…
Logan, you’re so right…it’s true.
Think you’re going to be okay?
Yeah, I’ll be fine…
…but I just wanted to tell you guys that…that it’s so important…
…just remember when you lose a loved one or a pet…
…always remember that God gave His Son, too…
…and He understands…He will always understand…
…He will always; just run to Him.
Logan, you’re wiser than you know, buddy.
Well, sometimes I don’t think I’m wise…ah, trust me, I’ve done a lot of stupid stuff…
…but I’ve learned from it.
Yeah, but see buddy, that’s what makes you wise, somebody that learns from their mistakes.
…Oh, I just figured I’d better call…and share with you guys…love you.
Love you, too.
Whatever you’re going through, God understands. He will always understand. He will always. Just run to Him. That takes us to the third side of this Christmas gift to us. In John 3:16 we see a great concern, a great cost, and thirdly:
III. A Great Commitment
…that whoever believes in Him
Our role is to believe in Christ; in the words of 13-year-old Logan, to “run to Him.” We must believe in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior in order to experience life in His name. We must believe in Christ, believing objective truth about Him, believing what the Bible teaches about Him, believing that He died on the cross for our sins, was buried, and rose the third day.
Note the “s” there and underline it. “Believes” is a present-tense participle. Saving faith is not just a one-time act. It is ongoing. Salvation is not just, “I made this decision years ago.” It is, “I have believed and I continue to believe.” I am committed to Christ.
I like the word “whoever” there. Every one of us qualifies as a “whoever.” In fact, if you are not a “whoever,” would you raise your hand? We’re all “whoevers.” If we will believe in Christ, and continue believing in Christ, living for him, staying committed to Him, persevering in our faith to the end, then we will have this wonderful life.
A committed life to the Lord Jesus Christ is one that places Him first before all things. I was encouraged to read about Florida quarterback Tim Tebow, who made history this month by becoming the first freshman or sophomore to win the Heisman Trophy in its over 70 years of history. Where does Tim rank football on his list of priorities? Fourth. Fourth, behind God, family, and academics. The first words out of his mouth as he accepted the award were, “I’d just like to first start off by thanking my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who gave me the ability to play football…”
That’s the way to live, whether we play college football, basketball, play a musical instrument, sell insurance, or deliver pizzas. We live a life that begins with faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and continues with faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; a faith that drives everything else we do. We live for Him; a great commitment.
Now we come to the final side of this gift in John 3:16. We have seen a great concern, a great cost, and a great commitment. The fourth side of this Christmas gift from God is:
IV. A Great Comfort
…should not perish but have everlasting life.”
Life in Christ means a great comfort. What’s so comforting about it? That we will “not perish,” a phrase that also teaches the opposite truth: without Christ we will perish. Let me say that again. The fact that life in Christ means we will not perish, teaches us that life without Christ means we will perish. The very last words of this chapter, John 3, tell us plainly in verse 36 that without Christ there is no life. John 3:36 says, “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”
Without Christ we remain separated from God because of our sin. The wrath of God abides on us because we have not run to Christ for forgiveness. But the good news of Christmas is that by faith in Christ, by believing in His name, we may have everlasting life. We must receive Jesus Christ by faith as our Lord and Savior.
If we’ll do that, if we’ll turn to Christ, if we’ll run to Him, then we’ll have everlasting life. We’ll live forever in a wonderful place called heaven. However difficult this life may be for us, the Bible says it is but a vapor. It is gone in the snap of a finger. Eternity in heaven is forever. That’s something to look forward to, isn’t it? And “When we’ve been there 10,000 years, bright shining as the sun, we’ll have no less days to sing God’s praise than when we first begun.”
I was sharing this past week in a funeral how what a blessing it is to know that our departed loved ones are with the Lord in heaven, enjoying everlasting life. It’s a great comfort.
Who’s going to heaven? Who will have everlasting life? Who may enjoy this wonderful life? Whoever believes in Him. Whoever. Whoever is for you. Whoever is the old man, the widow, the divorced. Whoever is you, single-mom, little boy, little girl, young mother and father, businessman, ex-convict. Whoever is you.
Receive, this morning, God’s Christmas gift to you. Receive this wonderful life God gives today.
- Stand for prayer.
COPYRIGHT DISCLAIMER: The text contained in this sermon is solely owned by its author. The reproduction, or distribution of this message, or any portion of it, should include the author’s name. The author intends to provide free resources in order to inspire believers and to assist preachers and teachers in Kingdom work.