Wednesday, December 24, 2014

On the twelfth day of Christmas: the lasting gift of “eternal life.”

“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 fuzzy pink bunny advertises a battery brand that supposedly goes on forever, at least figuratively speaking. It doesn’t really go on forever, but the thought has been planted. Good marketing.
          There is an inherent characteristic of life that we want it to go on forever. Life just does that. It is why we grieve when people die. We know it is coming. We know it can come unexpectedly. We just don’t want it to show up.
          And yet all people die. My grandmother made it to her one hundredth birthday, only to have a bad fall shortly after, and pass away in the hospital. The interesting thing was that, for most of our visits her last few years, she was not wishing she could live longer, but that she could go home sooner than later. She had received God’s Christmas gift long before I was born, and she knew that she had eternal life.
          While the world that God so loved believes it can make up any belief it would like about what happens when people die, the God who so loved the world tells us in his book that there are only two possibilities. Not only do those possibilities divide people after death, they also give two distinct kinds of experience in this earthly lifetime.
          When Jesus told us why we needed to know God in the born-again kind of way, he explained that the love God expressed in giving us his only Son was for the distinctive purpose that people could have “eternal life.” “Life” is the opposite of “perish.” Perishing is the cessation of this present earthly life in condemnation for our sin; life is the never-ending experience of God in the perfection of his holiness.
          When God introduces his Son to us at the beginning of this part of his book, he says, “In him was life, and the life was the light of men.”[2]This leads into our consideration of the contrast between perishing and living. The source of perishing is outside of him; the source of life is in him.
          The wonderful gift of Christmas is that God so loved the world that he sent his Son to give the perishing world the hope of life. The world was dead. The world was perishing. Everyone was “dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience.”[3] It was all hopeless.
          Except for the fact that God loved the world. The “prince of the power of the air,” has no capacity to love, and so everything he does is “only to steal and kill and destroy.”[4] He wants people dead. He wants people cut off from God who is the Life that created our life. He is “the god of this world” who “has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”[5]
          Do you see that? On one side we have Satan, “the god of this world,” working to blind our minds so that we cannot see the wonderful “light” of the glory of God, which is Jesus Christ. On the other side we have God so loving the world that he sent his only Son into the world to save us from perishing, and to restore us to the life he created us for in the very beginning.
          Satan, the thief, blinds people in order to steal away their understanding of Christmas, and of the Christ, and the love of God for his creation. God sends his Son into the world to defeat Satan’s evil work. While Satan strategizes to “steal and kill and destroy,” Jesus says, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”[6]
          You see, God so loved the world that he gave us his only Son so that we could believe in Jesus and not perish but have eternal life. Jesus expressed his own personal participation in this by declaring that he came for the purpose of giving us life. We were “dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked,”[7]because of our participation in Satan’s evil deeds. Jesus came into the world to give us life. Eternal life.
          Jesus clarifies that he came so that people could have life, but with the qualification of “abundantly.”[8] This is God’s love, and his will. It is a fact that in Jesus is life, and so Jesus can only desire this for us, that our experience of life would be to the measure of the nature of life. His life is our light, so he came into the world and shone brightly. As the brightness of a single angel transcending the divide between heaven and earth was so glorious that the shepherds trembled in fear,[9] the even greater light of our Lord Jesus Christ comes into the world and literally scares death to death.
          The issue at stake for the whole world is that we either continue down the deadly road to destruction where we perish under the condemnation of God against our sin; or we take hold of the life that is in Jesus Christ by receiving him, believing in his name, becoming the children of God, and so experiencing this gift of eternal life.
          One of the most encouraging and helpful descriptions of eternal life comes from a prayer that Jesus expressed to his Father just hours prior to his crucifixion. He prayerfully declared, “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”[10] By this Jesus made it clear that there was a qualitative element to eternal life, meaning that this life is all about knowing God.
          When people perish, they cannot know God as he is. Even in this lifetime, when people are living in their dead spiritual condition, they cannot know God as he is. This is why there are so many “versions” of God. It is not because we are so intelligent that we are able to create a kazillion manmade ways to find God. It is because we are dead to God, and cannot see him or know him as he is, that we cannot even agree on who he is and what he is like.
          However, when people receive eternal life, they receive the right to become children of God,[11] and as children of God, they are now able to know God as Father. Knowing God as Father is so superior to knowing him as Judge, that the joy of Christmas is a constant testimony that God sent his Son into the world to give us this life of joy.
          Eternal life both lasts forever, and gives us everything that life is. Life is to know God as the Triune relate to one another in love. They know one another, and have created us to know them. We cannot know them while we are still living in sin, but we can know them by believing in God’s Son.
          We began this series by identifying that Jesus was talking to a man named Nicodemus about how people could come to know God in that born-again kind of way. The new birth, receiving the right to become children of God, brings us into the eternal life that is eternally knowing God. The life is in Jesus who came, and in all who come into him by faith.
          With God’s Christmas gift of life still offered to the world, make sure you fully open the package so that you can experience a truly blessed “About Christ” Day, and a truly blessed “About Christ” life.

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] John 1:4
[3] Ephesians 2:1-2
[4] John 10:10
[5] II Corinthians 4:4
[6] John 10:10
[7] Ephesians 2:1
[8] John 10:10
[9] Luke 2:9
[10] John 17:3
[11] John 1:12-13

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