Here’s something to remember, before you start appreciating your many “sacrifices.”
This post was adapted from a message given by Thad Townsend,
a preacher at Grandview Christian Assembly.
We were hardly done digesting our Thanksgiving dinner, and trying to be thankful for this last year (!) when, before we knew it, Black Friday was upon us, then, Cyber Monday. And now? Well, we’re all scrambling to finish up Christmas shopping, looking for things for our loved ones. We’re hoping that UPS and USPS and Amazon will all come through, and everything will get delivered on time. We’re also hoping all the time and money spent will be worth it, that everyone will be happy with what we’ve given them.
Giving can be a real struggle. Especially when it comes to kids. A child barely understands what it’s like to work hard, and then spend that hard-earned money on someone who might not even appreciate it. Or how hard it is to share a gift.
When a kid has control over something, it’s amazing how selfish he becomes. He might otherwise be sweet, and thoughtful, but just give him the choice about whether to share a gift, something he didn’t even have to pay for, and things change, fast. This past year, my son got a birthday gift from his aunt—a box of chocolate covered fruit. He couldn’t possibly finish all of it himself, especially not in one day. It actually took him an entire week or two to polish the whole thing off. We tested him, saying, “Hey, Isaiah, how about sharing some with your little sister, or maybe even your parents, who have done so much for you?” That sweet, thoughtful child, immediately said, “No! It’s mine, it’s mine!”
Giving can be a struggle. I noticed this as well with my daughter. Last Christmas, I took her shopping, since in our family we take each child to find gifts for every other person in the house. I asked her, what do you think Mommy wants for Christmas?” She said, “A dress!” I thought to myself this was going to be easy. But in the store, she decided she would rather find a dress for herself, than for her mom. When I didn’t go along with that idea, she had a meltdown in the middle of the clothing department. Never mind she was going to get more presents than the rest of us.
Unfortunately as adults we’re not really that much better. Giving is still a challenge, especially when it comes to generosity toward God. We can’t stop thinking of all the sacrifices we’ve made, and begin to idly wonder what God has done for us lately—maybe what God has ever done for us.
But here’s something to bear in mind: when it comes to giving, God always gives first. We should never think that God owes us, or that we’ve somehow out-given Him, or that when He comes through on something, He’s mostly responding, or reciprocating our generosity.
God always initiates the giving.
In the early part of the gospel of Matthew, we reached the pivotal point in history where the long-awaited Messiah, the Savior of Israel, and of the world, finally arrived. Perhaps you’d expect to see a lot of excited people, crowds lining up to see the Messiah, bearing gifts.
Instead, as it turned out, Matthew tells us that most people couldn’t be bothered to visit Jesus at all. Far from being enthusiastic, we’re told that religious leaders and the king himself were troubled by it. Based on scripture, they knew Jesus would be born in Bethlehem, but had no desire to go see Him. God therefore sent shepherds, blue-collar workers, and foreigners from the East, pagans, to see His Son.
And actually, God drew them, led them, to that very spot.
After listening to the king, they went on their way. “And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was” (Matt. 2:9).
When Matthew wrote, “Behold,” it signals the thought that these men needed to see something. The star that rose before them was God’s grace working to guide them to Christ.
Mt. 2:10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.
These men were so overwhelmed by the grace they had found, that they fell down and worshiped the very embodiment of that grace—the child himself. Then, after all the rejoicing, they opened their treasures and offered gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
These guys didn’t just show up to give something. They came to get something. Once they got it, then they gave. But notice in the wake of their giving, Mary and Joseph don’t make a big deal out of their gifts. Nor did the wise men go on and on about how far they had traveled, and whether it was worth it. No, the emphasis was all on God’s gift—the Christ child. It wasn’t about their efforts.
These men had been guided to a place where God blessed, and overwhelmed them with his generosity. They must have been thinking that the trip was worth it, that the glory of God revealed before their eyes had shrunk their own gifts to a weak afterthought. In fact, their giving was a response they couldn’t help, and so hands opened and gold and spices—things typically treasured above all else in the world—fell at the feet of the child. God had not only given first, He had given greater.
And this was only the beginning. The prophet Isaiah said, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isa. 9:6).
As God Himself, this seemingly insignificant child would go on to grow, and manifest as larger than the universe. The divine government, the eternal administration that rules everything, would rest upon his shoulder. We would find Him to be the wonderful counselor, One we could trust for leading and guidance. Even at twelve years of age, the wisdom of Jesus was already astonishing Jewish teachers.
This child-gift would grow up to become a man with an earthly ministry of teaching full of authority that has since shocked the ages. His teaching was backed with a three-dimensional power that healed the sick, opened the eyes of the blind, and raised the dead. And finally, He died for our sins, and was raised from the dead by God Himself. This gift has reached down through the ages, even to us.
Incredibly, we have so much more today than back in Bethlehem, the “Chapter One” of the Christmas story. Is it any wonder Paul refers to “the unsearchable riches of Christ”? (Eph. 3:8). The gift doesn’t end with the child being born, or growing up and dying, nor even with rising from the dead. We enjoy it over and over again in these days, and we’re going to need eternity to comprehend it.
One of the most disappointing things about gifts for me, personally, is that the joy never seems to last. I’ve tried to buy the perfect forever gift for them, something I think they’ll love for some time to come. But the toys I bought them last year—even the life size Superman action figure—has become obsolete. Now the kids don’t even notice it, and it’s taking up way too much space.
Well, Jesus doesn’t become obsolete, nor does His joy dwindle. Even during the most difficult times of life, our experience of Christ enlarges, and He seems to rise to the occasion every time. No matter what we’re going through, Christ is always bigger than what we need.
What should we do?
Actually, that’s a trick question.
Don’t spend too much time trying to think about what you ought to do, what you need to do, what you can, or can’t do. Learn from the wise men.
Receive the gift first.