The Gift | John 3:16

The Gift | John 3:16

Some of my favorite memories from Christmas growing up are going to Toys “R” Us (may you rest in peace) and picking out a Christmas gift to buy my brother. One Christmas my brother Nathanael went into the store and bought his gift for me. Then I went into the store and picked out a gift for him. When we unwrapped our gifts on Christmas day we had each picked out the exact same Lego set for each other.

For some people you love buying gifts. It’s fun to give to others. You love to see their face light up with a smile. You love thinking and planning about what to get them. For others maybe gift-giving or gift-receiving causes anxiety and worry. When someone sends you a gift on the outside you look happy but on the inside you’re like, “Agh! Why? Now what am I going to get them?”

My original plan for this sermon was to preach out of Proverbs on gift-giving but the more I studied Proverbs the more I found it didn’t have a whole lot to say on gifting. It says not to bribe a judge while also admitting that gifts can sometimes soothe anger and facilitate relationships (Prov 17:8, 23; 18:16; 21:14). It doesn’t look kindly on those who say they’re going to give a gift and then never do (Prov 25:14). It seems to say that gifts can complicate relationships and if misused do harm (Prov 19:6; 28:21). So what’s the application? Never give a gift?! I don’t think so. More like, don’t bribe your kids, or your spouse, or your parents, or your friends or whomever this Christmas. Don’t try to purchase their obedience or affection. Rather, give freely. Give genuinely. Give out of love with no strings attached. 

What does the rest of the Bible have to say? As I searched the Scriptures I fell on one verse that reminded me of what Christmas and gift-giving is really all about. Let’s read.

John 3:16 (NIV) For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

This is probably the most famous verse in the entire Bible. It’s the first verse I can remember memorizing. It’s never really struck me before as being about Christmas. Hear that first line again, “For God so loved the world that he gave…” This verse is about the most important gift ever given but this verse is also about the character of the giver himself. The God of the Bible is a God who gives.

God gave.

If you were to crack open the very first pages of the Bible you would find a God who is a giver.

Genesis 1:1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 

God didn’t need us, but he gave everything to us. In Genesis one alone God gives us light and darkness, day and night, water, dry ground, vegetation, the stars, birds, and animals. He gives human beings life and then who does he give all this stuff to? You and me.

Genesis 1:26 (NIV) Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

God didn’t have to give. He could have created a world without color or without joy unless you believe in him. God didn’t do any of those things. He freely created this world so that we could enjoy it with him. It’s like the dawn of creation is Christmas day. God is the great giver who gives to us freely. 

How might you reflect the great giver this Christmas? How might you give freely with no string attached? How might you give out of your creativity and love, expecting nothing in return? That’s the kind of God we believe in. When you and I give, we reflect just a little bit of his goodness and character.

God gave all these wonderful things to us—perfect creation—and what did we do with it? We broke it. Do you ever get a gift and then immediately break it? That’s what we did. God gave and we broke. 

The rest of the story of the Bible is a story of God giving and us breaking. He gives to a man he names Abraham and Abraham does his own thing. He gives to to Abraham’s descendants the Israelite people and they do their own thing. The gift God is giving is himself. God gives and the people break the relationship. Gift. Broken. Gift. Broken. Gift. Broken. God gave and we broke. 

I want you to imagine that you’re a knitter. Guys you love knitting too! It’s not just the ladies. You’ve been spending weeks and weeks knitting a beautiful sweater for a friend. It has an intricate pattern and all their favorite colors and your friend is big and tall so you’ve been spending a lot of time knitting this sweater. It’s Christmas and your friend unwraps the gift and says, “How lovely! Thank you.” But you can tell there isn’t really a sparkle in their eyes. But you figure they’ll put it on for the first snow and then they’ll realize how great it is. A few weeks go by and you go over to see your friend. As you’re hanging out you notice a Saver’s box in the corner. And you think, “My friend would never do that. Would they? They know how much time I spent on that sweater. Weeks and weeks, how I made it just for them.” So what’s the harm in looking? You make an excuse to get up and as you’re passing by the box you casually glance in… and you see the sweater! Your friend is going to donate it your gift to Savers!

That’s like what we did to God. God gave and we broke. God gave creation and we ravage the planet. God gave us marriage and we get divorced. God gives us parenthood and we neglect our children. God gave us minds and we’d rather be entertained. God gives and we break.

There’s more than one way to break what God has given us. When we worship and appreciate the gifts more than the giver it also breaks the gifts. When we love our marriage more than God it breaks them, or our children, or our minds, or our planet, our whatever… The things we idolize and worship tend to be good things—family, homes, jobs, education, toys, and on and on—but if we love those things more than God we’re committing the first sin Adam and Eve committed. We’re worshipping the gift and not the giver. The gift can’t stand under that pressure. It will break. 

As we go into Christmas this year let’s remember the God who gave. “For God so loved the world that he gave…” Let’s appreciate the giver and the relationship we can have with him and not just his gifts. Let’s worship him and not the things he gives us. God has been giving and giving of himself and John tells us that God gave us something even more precious than creation. 

God gave his Son.

God has a better gift in store—the gift of his Son, Christ Jesus. John 3:16a says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son…” God gave humanity—God gave us—the best gift imaginable. And we as humanity received this gift with open arms. We loved this gift and accepted him as being from God. That’s how the story should have gone, right?! But how did it actually go? 

Jesus told a parable of a man who planted a vineyard (Matt 21:33-46; Mark 12:1-12; Luke 20:9-19). He put a lot of time and effort into the vineyard. He built a wall, dug a winepress, and built a watchtower. Then he rented out the vineyard to some tenants and moved away. When it was time for harvest the owner sent his servants to collect some of the fruit but the tenants beat his servants and send them away. The owner sent another servant and another. They struck the first and killed the second. Then this happened:

Luke 20:13 (NIV) “Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my son, whom I love; perhaps they will respect him.’

Did we receive the Son? 

Luke 20:14 (NIV) “But when the tenants saw him, they talked the matter over. ‘This is the heir,’ they said. ‘Let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ 15 So they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.

When Jesus told this parable he spoke it against the teachers of the law and the chief priests. They were the religious leaders who had the opportunity to receive the gift but rejected it. By doing so they rejected not only the gift but the giftgiver. God gave his Son and we broke him.

I want to take a moment and talk about disappointment. Inevitably, we’re all going to feel disappointment at some point during the Holidays. For some of us it will be because we didn’t receive the thing we wanted. For others it will be because what we gave isn’t well received. Perhaps disappointment will come not in the shape of a gift but in a relationship—a relationship that is still on the rocks or is no longer due to distance or even death. When that feeling of sadness or grief washes over you don’t push it away. Redirect it. Pause and think for a moment of the great sadness and grief the Father must have felt when we rejected his Son. He knew we would but sent his Son anyways. God gave his Son and we broke him.

But John 3:16 tells us there’s hope. It tells us God gave his Son out of “love.” That means God didn’t send his Son to condemn us but to rescue us. God gave his Son

God gave his Son for us.

God doesn’t want us to be stuck forever in this broken gift of a world. He wants to restore the gift. 

John 3:16 (NIV) For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

What this is saying is that God gave us his Son so that if we believe in him we will receive eternal life. What is eternal life? Eternal life is knowing and experiencing God himself.

John 17:3 (NIV) Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.

This gift doesn’t just get us back to a perfect creation before the sin and brokenness. This gift gets us back to God himself. Eternal life is having a relationship with the living God. We can have a relationship with God through believing in Christ Jesus. How is this possible? How did Jesus do this? 

2 Corinthians 8:9 (NIV) For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.

The Son of God gave away the wealth of heaven. He made himself nothing. He took on human flesh. He humbled himself. He became impoverished and poor, not just economically poor, but spiritually poor as he hung on the cross separated from his Father’s love. He died (Phil 2:6-8). The Son of God didn’t just give some away. He gave it all away. He gave his everything. God gave his Son for us and the Son gave his all for us and now the question is… 

What will you give?

What will you give to God? There are only two options—the first is nothing. If your answer is nothing, if you like life your way, if you prefer the gifts to the giver, although this may be one option, it ends in heartbreak. Giving God nothing leads to being cast out of the vineyard. 

The second option is to give yourself to God. God wants to know you. God gave his son out of love for you. That means he wants to be in a loving relationship with you. I think there’s a temptation in Christianity that God wants something out of you. God wants our worship and God wants our work. Those things are true. God does deserve our worship and he deserves our service to him, in whatever form of work he calls us too. But before he ever calls us to those things he calls us to know him, to love him… That’s true worship. That’s our first work. We give these things not because we have to but because we get to. 

Part of giving yourself to God is reflecting him in all that you do; including how you give gifts. When we give this Christmas, root your gift-giving in relationship. What I’m saying is that whatever you give needs to be motivated by love, not by a check list, in a desire to express care. If we are giving out of love then we’re reflecting the giftgiver himself. Let’s root our gift-giving in something greater, relationship. What will you give? Things? Or yourself? 

God gave his Son for us.

Pastor Jonathan Romig preached this message at Cornerstone Congregational Church. You can download a PDF copy of this sermon above, which includes endnotes and references, or share it through Apple podcasts or Google Play Music. Read the story of our church here.