Monday, December 22, 2014

On the tenth day of Christmas: the gift that “should not perish”

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son,
that whoever believes in him SHOULD NOT PERISH but have eternal life.”[1]

          A warning against perishing has a good side, and a bad side. The bad side is that there is a danger of perishing; the good side is a warning that will keep someone from perishing if the warning is followed.
          While we may not use the word “perish” regularly,  its meaning, and its synonymous thoughts and words, are familiar. To perish means to die. Life ends. Someone or something ceases to exist in the way they were existing.
          When we consider Christmas gifts we could give people to save them from perishing, we could give them a fire escape ladder for their bedroom window so that they would not perish in a fire. We could give a loved one an emergency kit for their car so they would not perish in a winter blizzard. There are survival kits for the home that would increase the chances that a family would not perish if an earthquake shut down roads, or destroyed houses.
          We are also familiar with safety-plans aimed at protecting people from perishing. Automotive companies put seat belts in cars so that people would not perish in an accident. A ski mountain puts up boundaries and warning signs to keep skiers away from dangerous areas where there is a high risk of someone perishing. Mountainous areas that are frequented by snowmobilers use signs, radio announcements, and the Internet, to warn people of avalanche dangers in order to keep people from dying in a preventable tragedy.
          We have many examples of giving people things so they would not perish. However, all these things I’ve mentioned are based on scenarios where there is only the possibility that something bad MIGHT happen, not that something bad WILL happen. Most people never go through house fires. Many people have gone through their lives without wearing a seatbelt and never experienced any harm.[2] Some people have carried emergency kits in their cars for decades without needing to use them. Some people have skied out of bounds and survived, or ridden their snowmobiles through avalanche country without triggering an avalanche. There are even cases where people have survived avalanches in which others were killed. None of the warnings already listed necessitate that anything bad will happen. The supplies and warnings simply increase the likelihood of survival should anything dreadful ever occur.
          On the other side, none of the provisions for escape and survival can guarantee that people will be saved from perishing. People die of smoke inhalation before waking up and trying to use escape devices. People die in car accidents even when wearing seatbelts. Car emergency kits cannot save people from every emergency. Earthquakes, tornadoes, tsunamis, and other natural disasters take the lives of even the most prepared. Skiers die while skiing in bounds because of hitting obstacles, or falling off ski lifts.
          The point is that many people who adequately prepare for dangers and emergencies will never need to use their emergency plan, and many people will perish in emergency situations even though they were fully prepared.
          When we come to Christmas, and consider what it has to do with the Christ, we have a much more serious and dangerous problem. We have an absolute danger in which every human being will perish, and we have a complete solution in which every human being that receives God’s Christmas gift will not perish.
          In other words, the danger is real, and all-inclusive. It is coming, and it is coming to everybody. In the same way that we live in a world where we know that all people are going to perish physically (we know our time is coming), there is a way in which all people are going to perish completely.
          On the other hand, the gift of God is also real, and the invitation is all-inclusive. God so loved the world, so the whole world is invited to receive the gift. The gift comes with a promise that it will work for every person who receives it. It is absolutely failsafe because it is from God. We have already seen that, when God purposes to do something, he will accomplish what he sets out to do. When he works to provide a gift that will save people from perishing, it is a gift that will accomplish this saving from perishing 100% of the time for 100% of the people who receive the gift.
          Now, remember that this does not mean that God will save 100% of humanity from perishing. He so loved the whole world, but the whole world does not so love him. His gift “is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him,”[3] but not everyone in the world draws near to God through his Christ.
          What we have is a gift that will absolutely save from perishing everyone who “believes in him." Only those who believe in Jesus will be saved from this perishing, and all who believe in Jesus will be saved from perishing.
          Now, what is the perishing Jesus the Christ is talking about here? In an extremely brief answer, it is as follows.[4] God’s book says, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,”[5] and, “For the wages of sin is death.”[6] From the very beginning, all people have sinned, and everyone who sins receives the wages of our sin, which is death.
          Death and perishing refer to the same experience, but they mean far more than the mere cessation of life. While John 3:16 focuses on the way that God expressed his love to the world, John 3:17 clarifies that Jesus’ purpose in coming into the world at that time, in the God “gave his only Son” kind of way we celebrate at Christmas, was focused on saving people. That verse records Jesus saying, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” As Jesus said another time, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”[7]
          However, John 3:18 clarifies that, while God did send his Son into the world so that we would not perish, but have eternal life, people who reject God’s Christmas gift will perish, and will perish in a way that is distinctively associated with their sin. Jesus said, “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”
          To be “condemned already,” means that, since all of us have sinned, and the wages we earn through our sin is death, everybody who does not receive God’s gift through faith in Jesus is already condemned for the sins they are already doing.
          God concludes this chapter of his book by declaring, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.”[8]
          We will soon give much more thought to what it means that “whoever believes in the Son has eternal life.” However, when God explains that “whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life,” it is another way of saying they will perish. When he adds that “the wrath of God remains on him,” it is the same as saying that they are “condemned already,” or that they are destined to perish in the just punishment their sins deserve.
          Now, while this is a huge topic for exploration, and a life-and-death issue for us all, the main point in reference to Christmas is that this perishing of body and soul in judgment is absolutely coming to all people; and God’s gift that would save people from perishing is offered to the whole world, to every nation, to every people group, to every family, to you.
           The gift of deliverance from perishing (which is not the whole gift, by the way) is received by those who believe in God’s Son, Jesus the Christ. It is only those who receive the Christ of Christmas who will experience a truly blessed “About Christ” Day.

Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the English Standard Version (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.)

[1] John 3:16
[2] This is not to condone the practice, only to illustrate the point that not all threats of danger turn into actual experiences of danger.
[3] Hebrews 7:25
[4] John Piper gives a broader explanation of perishing in his treatment of John 3:16.  See:; and,
[5] Romans 3:23
[6] Romans 6:23
[7] Luke 19:10
[8] John 3:36

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