BREATHE: Toxic Fumes
It happened not that long ago in Philadelphia. March 26th the newspaper headlines were “4 people, 1 Dog Killed in Carbon Monoxide Poisoning.” Apparently, a gas pipe had broken up and the gas made its way up into the apartment overnight and silently took their lives.
The people didn’t see the gas because it’s colorless. They didn’t smell it because it’s odorless.
In other words – while it seemed completely tame, the air was deathly toxic.
Today we are continuing our series called BREATHE. We’ve been talking about how breathing in the truth of Jesus’ resurrection gives us peace when we are afraid and lifts us out of grief and sadness. But today we’re heading in a different direction.
As positive as breathing in Jesus’ resurrection is – God’s Word also warns us about the spiritual equivalents to carbon monoxide. Some things that appear fine, but are deadly toxic to our souls.
I. Spiritual Toxins
This message is found in the book of Ephesians. That’s a letter written by one of Jesus’ disciples named Paul to a group of Christians that lived in a place called Ephesus. Listen to what he tells us brothers and sisters. He says we are to “Follow God’s example and walk in the way of love.”
That sounds nice, doesn’t it? In fact, I don’t know of any Christian who wouldn’t agree with those two statements. They sound so nice in that positive sense. But when you reverse it and put it in its negative form, it immediately becomes a lot more difficult to hear.
Among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking which are out of place.
I have a friend who is allergic to gluten. She was gluten free long before gluten free was cool. She is allergic. Gluten would make her so sick that just a hint of it would make her stomach sick for a whole day. One time we went out to McDonald's and she ordered very specifically, “I need to have a hamburger patty, but only a patty please. No bun.” So that’s what they gave her – by simply taking it off of a bun. No more than an hour later, her body reacted violently to the hint of gluten – the few crumbs left on the patty had made her very sick.
This is how much of sin makes God sick. His Being can’t stand even a hint of it. It’s also how toxic sin is to his people. Even a hint of it, can infect us – and put us in grave spiritual danger. This is true of all sin, but in this section he gets very specific about a few sins.
(1) ….of Sexual Immorality.
What’s sexual immorality? In order to define it, we first have to define sexual morality.
That takes us back to the Creation of the World. God had just finished creating human beings. He loved them. He created them and He wanted more of them so he gave them the ability to reproduce. Then, God did something really clever. He wanted them to actually fill the earth, so God made human beings attracted to one another. He created a very special, a very intimate act that two people share with one another – sexual intimacy.
Take a look at this passage from Genesis. It says, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife and the two, the husband and wife, will become one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24)
Think of it this way: How many people have you high fived in your life? Quite a few, I imagine. It’s a nice gesture, but it’s not all that intimate. We high five friends, associates, coworkers, even a random stranger at the bar after your favorite basketball team makes the winning shot.
But sexual intimacy? God meant that to be between two people and only two people. He wanted it to be a special connection between a husband and a wife that only the husband and the wife shared with one another and no one else.
Sin? Sin poisons it. Sin takes the gift of intimacy and ruins it. It links you to a third person, a fourth person, someone who isn’t your spouse. It divides. It conquers. It leaves one feeling guilty, heartbroken, and defeated.
If you’ve ever sinned in this way, you probably know what I’m talking about. Sexual immorality poisons relationships.
Back to our Ephesians passages. God tells us to avoid the poison of sin by avoiding sexual immorality. If sexual morality is “Sexual intimacy between a man and a woman in a marriage covenant,” immorality is intimacy in anything else.
Some of you are thinking, “Aha! Homosexuality is wrong then.” You’d be right. That’s not compatible with God’s definition of marriage. But understand this – God is not just talking about that.
He’s says, "Not even a hint..."
…if you are heterosexual, but you aren’t married to the person you’re sleeping with, that needs to stop.
…it means if you are dating a girl, you aren’t plotting ways to touch things that are reserved for the marriage bed.
…it means you aren’t flirting with that guy at work who is married to someone else, while you are married to someone else.
…it means you aren’t just glancing through the Victoria’s Secret website in your spare time.
…it means if that one show on HBO gets you thinking thoughts that should be reserved for your wife, about someone who isn’t, stop watching it!
God says not even a hint, because even these "smaller sexual immoralities” are poison. They hurt your relationships with others. They hurt your own perspective. They hurt your relationships with God. Every time.
(2) Not Even a Hint of Greed.
The second toxic sin – is fairly similar. Greed. It’s similar because both greed and sexual immorality are extremely selfish. One says “Give me my sexual desire, I want it! ” the other says, “Give me that money, thing, stuff, because I want it.”
Greed just like sexual immorality poisons relationships.
I was in the preschool this past week. One of the kids was having their very last day. So she brought in some treats. Little cookies for the others to eat. I was in there celebrating because – cookies are great – and one of the little kids started complaining – “Where are the sprinkles? This one should have sprinkles. I’m mad this doesn’t have sprinkles.” She started crying. The kid who brought them heard her making fun of the sprinkle-less cookies and she started crying too. They didn’t get along very well for that five minutes.
Greed poisons relationships.
A lot of you are thinking, Great! I love this message. Let’s go storm Wall Street right now! Don’t get me wrong. I am sure that Wall Street has greed on it. Absolutely it does.
Not even a hint means more than just “Let’s get Wall Street.”
…it means you aren’t adding a few extra miles to your mileage reimbursement on your taxes because “I really want those extra $10.”
…It means you aren’t refusing to buy your wife a vase of flowers because I really want that bag of Doritos.
…It means you aren’t holding back on your offering to church because they aren’t doing the things in church that I want them to.
…it means you aren’t arguing with your spouse over the budget because “I want to spend the money this way.”
Even these seemingly smaller greeds are poison. It poisons relationships. They poison relationships with others. They poison your own way of thinking. They poison your relationship with God.
(3) …Sinful Talk.
One more toxin: There shouldn’t be any coarse joking, foolish talk or obscenity.” It’s a couple of different sins, all wrapped up in one phrase: “Sinful Talk.”
There’s an old saying that the tongue is the most powerful muscle in your body. That doesn’t mean that the tongue will literally what wins the next World’s Strongest Man competition. Far from it. It’s a reference to just how much poison the tongue can inflict. James 3:8 say this, “The tongue is a restless evil, it is full of deadly poison.”
Maybe you’ve experienced this.
Raise your hand. Have you ever heard anyone say that they hate you? How’d that feel? Not good?
Ever heard anyone use a racial slur against you? How’d that feel? Not good?
Ever heard anyone refer to you as a four letter word? How’d that feel? Awful?
Ever heard anyone whispering about what you did at church? How’d that feel? Terrible? Me too.
The phrase is “Stick & stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” That’s a nice sentiment – it’s just not very true. It does not give us the right to verbally assault one another.
Sinful talk is poison. It will poisons your work environment. It will poison your relationships. It will even poison a church!!! We’re getting very close to embarking on some very awesome ministry together. One of the biggest things that can halt us in our tracks? It isn’t money. It isn’t architectural plans. It isn’t even bad weather.
It’s sinful talk. Even small, seemingly insignificant sinful talk – a little bit of gossip here – some grumbling and complaining there – that can poison a church. It can poison God’s kingdom.
And here’s the thing about God’s kingdom.
Do you remember a few years ago when you could smoke a cigarette in just about any bar and restaurant? Recently, just about everywhere is now a SMOKE FREE ZONE. What’s that mean? It means that cigarettes were deemed toxic -- even as second hand smoke. Therefore, these areas were to remains completely free of the toxins.
This is how God feels about sins. He wants his Kingdom to be a sin free zone. He wants his people to actively seek to destroy it. Eventually…eventually he plans on doing it himself.
"Of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of God and of Christ. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient.”
II. The SIN Antioxidant
Wow. God’s really serious about sin? If you’re like me, you’re feeling pretty low right now. I’ve let all of those things into my life. Sexual immorality, greed and foolish talk – they have all infected me. What hope is there for me? In fact, sometimes these things infect me so much that I struggle to stop myself from continually hurting others.
I’m poisoned. I need help.
Read verse 8.
You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.
Light versus darkness is an age old story. In Star Wars there’s the light side and the dark side of the force. In Harry Potter, there’s light magic versus dark magic. But here’s something for thought – all of these dark versus light battles come from the language found in the Bible. Language right here. Language that says “Darkness is bad. Darkness is what we were. The Lord made us light.”
Think about it: You can’t fix darkness with more darkness. Try it. Next time you fall asleep, wear black sweatpants and a black sweatshirt to bed. When you wake up at 1am because you’re sweating hot, notice how it is completely dark in the room.
Darkness plus darkness leads to more darkness.
Sinful humans trying to correct sinful human tendencies leads only to more sin.
But Jesus? Jesus is the light of the world. He is completely devoid of all the dark poisons we have been talking about.
Sexual Immorality? No way. Yet he came to this world and made a more intimate connection to you and me than anyone ever had or will – he took our sinful dark, disgusting moments to the cross. He linked himself to you and died for you.
Greedy? He was greedy for only one thing – you! He gave up the divine glory of heaven, exchanged it for a crown of thorns, your sins, and a painful death on the cross.
Sinful words? Sure – he hates sin. But he had no such harmful words to speak to you. In fact the only words He speaks in Scripture are, “I love you. I died for you. You are forgiven.”
This then is what this passage means. “You are light in the Lord.”
It means – the poison of sin is not fateful.
It means Jesus is the antidote.
It means by faith in Him you are now saved.
III. What Now?
(1) Get rid of the Poison.
We were talking about carbon monoxide earlier. One of the ways we fight carbon monoxide poisoning is to get a carbon monoxide detector. But when the detector goes off – beeps really loudly – it does no good to sit on the couch and say, “After this episode of House of Cards is over!” You have to do something. Get out of the house. Call 911. Get the leak fixed.
We just learned how poisonous even the ‘seemingly small’ sins are. It will do no good if you go back home and make no change in your life.
Instead, get rid of the poison. Put a filter on your Internet. Stop watching that TV show. Get rid of that friend on Facebook. Don’t talk about that one person. Increase your giving at Gethsemane. Do whatever it takes to make sure that not even a hint of sexual immorality, greed or sinful talk is found in your life.
(2) Evaluate Relationships.
This one is hard. Because sometimes the poison – is your friends. Yes. God does say “be in the world.” He says that we aren’t to be hermits. We need to be in and among unbelievers in order to share the message of Jesus.
But when spending time with your friends starts to lead to sin…when you find yourself saying, “I have to sleep with that girl in order to convert her to Christianity…” Stop. You aren’t converting them. They are infecting you.
Take a break. Recharge. Reconnect with God. Reinvest in Bible Study and reinforce your spiritual armor before you return to these people.
After all, we are light in the Lord. Therefore, shine! Shine where it’s needed most.
I’ll tell you what. It’s so easy to feel like shining here at church. You can sing really loudly. You can say a prayer with a crowd of Christians. You can down talk all these sinful things as sinful.
But it’s already pretty bright in here. You need to shine where it’s darkest. Out there. In the world.
When you are breathing the fresh air of Jesus’ resurrection, the pure teachings of his Word and you aren’t breathing in the poison of sin, you will be shining at your brightest. May God enable us to do so. Amen.
The Crowd -- Judas
I. The Betrayal
Judas nervously chewed his lip.
As he waited in the candlelit hallway, a chill slipped down his spine. “Was he doing the right thing?”
For so long, he had thought Jesus to be his leader. He was kind. He was convincing. He had claimed to be the Messiah. He had promised to start a new kingdom. He had promised the treasures of God himself!
To Judas, that was appealing. He knew he would look great in an expensive, purple robe. He loved the idea of showing off his fine collection of art to the merchants of the area as they sat down listening to his hired harpists and sampled the finest wines from the outskirts of the Middle East. He longed for the moment that he would have more wealth on his fingers than his entire neighborhood had in their local bank.
But the wealth never came. Judas kicked at the dirt. The wealth never came.
To be fair -- It could have! Oh how it could have! People loved Jesus. They were excited about Jesus. They respected Jesus. After he had fed thousands of them with another one of his unexplainable miracles, the people were ready to make him king and they wouldn’t have been that hard to ask them to finance his political campaign.
But Jesus wasn’t interested in money. He was interested in “spiritual wealth.” He talked about giving to the poor and taking care of widows. He went from place to place – not knowing where he would sleep each night. Oh how he hated that feeling. As the group treasurer, he knew all too well that they didn’t have a lot. In fact, if Judas had not taken advantage of his position and snuck a coin here and a coin there, for his own pension…all of that time, years of his life, would have been a total waste!
Judas clenched his fist. That would have been ok. Except. Except…Jesus had contradicted himself. When a woman spent thousands of dollars to take a bottle of vintage, top shelf perfume as a gift to Jesus – a gift which she promptly wasted by pouring out onto his feet, Jesus – defended her! There she was dumping liquid gold – Judas’ ticket to easy street – on to the floor where it seeped into the dust and slowly evaporated into nothing. And Jesus didn’t scold here. He didn’t tell her to give to the poor.
He scolded Judas!
“APPROACH!” One of the guards motioned with his scabbard. “The chief priests will see you now.”
Judas nodded. Nodded as if the speed of his neck’s movements would increase the likelihood that he was in the right.
4 And Judas went to the chief priests and the officers of the temple guard and discussed with them how he might betray Jesus. 5 They were delighted and agreed to give him money. He consented, and watched for an opportunity to hand Jesus over to them when no crowd was present.
It’s crazy isn’t it? Gathered together as Christians one thing we can agree on is Jesus was awesome. He was a nice guy. He did miraculous things. Can you imagine one of his own disciples throwing his relationship away for a couple months’ wages?
See the story of Judas isn’t not about how crazy it is that Judas would betray his Savior. But how crazy, easy it is, for us to do the same.
Here’s the truth. If you look for fulfillment in things other than Jesus, you will inevitably betray him. It’s not a matter of if, but when. Your sinful heart will become too much and you will turn your back on your Savior.
Just like Judas. He found fulfillment in money, and wealth and the idea that the Messiah would bring him money and wealth. When it became clear that Jesus wouldn’t do that, Judas threw him away...
II. The Warning
It was as Judas was pondering that very thing when suddenly a gruff voice caused him to jerk in his seat.
"Do you want to get him?”
A few drops of sweat formed beneath Judas’ beard.
“I said, “Do you want a biscuit?”
Judas nodded vigorously in order to hide his nervousness from Bartholomew. “Sure.”
But that kind of thing had been happening all night. Did they know? Did they know it was him? Did they know he was planning on betraying Jesus?
Batholomew handed him a piece of warm flatbread. “Here you go.” He smiled and patted Judas on the back.
They didn’t know. He had been so secret about it. They didn’t know and they wouldn’t find out. He was safe. He was in the clear. He could remain a part of these close friends and still get his reward for betraying Jesus. No one would ever know!
Then – Jesus caught his attention.
Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, “Very truly I tell you, one of you going to betray me.”
Judas gulped. How did Jesus know? Did he send spies? He couldn’t possible have done so? He had been so careful. He had been covering his tracks. This secret was his secret and his alone. Jesus didn’t know. “Breath deeply. I’m in the clear.”
Thankfully – his demeanor fit in with the mood of the room. The other disciples were nervous too. “Lord, who is it?” “It isn’t I, Lord.” “ I would never Lord.”
“It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.”
As the thick gravy seeped into the pores of the bread, It gave Judas a chance to think. Was this really the right thing? He could still stop it. Was betraying his friend and colleague really the right thing to do? He still had time to stop it. He still had time to tell the Pharisees no. He still had time to throw the silver back into their faces. He still had time to ask for forgiveness. He still had time to seek God’s mercy.
Then, Jesus gave the bread to Judas.
Back in college – I took Hebrew. Hebrew is not an easy subject. Because of that, I think to properly learn Hebrew you need a hard-nosed Hebrew Professor. One who requires hard work and demands that you pay attention. Professor Nass was definitely that. He assigned pages of memorization. It took hours to prepare for his class. AND...he had the OVERHEAD.
Do ya’ll remember overheads? You could put up pictures and outlines and word problems. Overheads were supposed to be used to guide learning They were the old school versions of Powerpoint.
My Professor used it for public shaming. He would turn on the overhead and slowly write down the number of A+’s, the number of A’s, the number of B’s, and so on and so forth.
I’ll never forget the time that my 70% was the only 70% in class. UGH. I felt like a fool.
When Jesus gives the bread to Judas, his goal is not Judas’ public humiliation. He isn’t getting some kind of joy in pointing out Judas’ heart.
This is Jesus is calling out to Judas. It is Jesus panged that He is losing one of his own. It is Jesus pleading with Judas to stop before it’s too late. To be saved from this sinful, path he was on!
If you’ve been betraying Jesus, understand this – God has been reaching out to you too!
A commandment that you suddenly remember. A Bible passage that scrolls across your screen on Twitter. A friend who mentions that they are concerned for you. That nervousness you get when talking to a pastor – “I hope he doesn’t mention. Please don’t mention it. Please let me get away with it.”
This sermon. Right now.
That’s God. He’s calling on you to do what’s right. He’s calling on you to repent.
Listen to Him! Stop betraying your Savior. Instead…betray your sinful heart. Betray your sinful desires. Betray the things that lead to death and hold onto your Savior who leads to life.
The Apostle Paul wrote this, “I strike blows to my body and make it my slave so that…I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” Meaning he didn’t let his sexual urges control him. He didn’t let his greed control him. He didn’t let his laziness or anger or jealousy or need to be liked control him.
He betrayed those desires in order to follow Jesus.
That’s what Paul did.
That’s what God wants you to do.
But that’s not what Judas did.
III. The Betrayal
With a small army behind him, Judas and his mob marched through the garden. This time there was no nervousness. They were armed with clubs, torches, and small swords. There would be no fight. They converged on Jesus’ favorite quiet place. They overtook Jesus and his small group. They surrounded the disciples. Tension built.
Judas approached out of the crowd – with façade of arrogance masking the fear in his heart. “Greetings Rabbi!” he said. He looked right into the eyes of Jesus. He smirked. Then, he kissed him – emphatically on the cheek.
But as wild-eyed with surprise the other disciples were, Jesus was at ease. He had been expecting them. “Friend, do you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?” Then, seizing him, they led him away and took him into the house of the high priest.
Here’s the part that’s most incredible. After the interaction with Judas and the mob is surrounding him, Jesus asks them who they came for. When they say his name – Jesus simply says, “I am he.” He doesn’t run. He doesn’t hide. He doesn’t fight.
In fact, as He says that some kind of divine, supernatural force that knocks all of the soldiers to the ground. It’s a glimpse into the power and the strength that he could unleash at any time.
But Jesus didn’t unleash it. Instead? Instead he extended his arms, let the chains fasten around them, and he let them lead him away.
Isn’t it amazing? In spite the betrayal he endured from Judas and from you and from me, Jesus would not betray his mission. Jesus would not betray us. Jesus would not betray you. Scripture says, “When we were dead in our sins, God made us alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins.”
That means If you have betrayed Jesus’, bow your head in shame, sure. But please lift it once more to see Jesus’ love. Watch as he holds out his hands. Listen as he quietly says, “Go ahead. Arrest me.” Cringe as he endures insults. Follow as he walks step after step after step through that dark night – knowing full well that a cross awaited him.
Rest assured. Rest assured knowing that Jesus went through this, because he knew that on the other side of this suffering was you. A perfect existence with you. A peaceful, perfect existence for you by faith in him. In Him. IN HIM.
Brothers and sisters, by faith in Jesus, your betrayals have been forgiven. You are at peace with God.
Don’t betray that truth. Trust in it. Trust in Jesus.
Judas didn’t do that. Instead, Judas had a terrible ending. His guilt was so great that he figured Jesus could never forgive him. He ran back to the Pharisees and threw his silver on the ground. Then, he threw his life away as he hung from a tree.
Don’t you do the same. It isn’t too late. Not for you. Not matter what you’ve done. It isn’t too late because Jesus did not betray you. Repent. Turn from sin. Turn to your Savior.
He will never betray you. Amen.
Anyone here making out a Christmas list? It’s hard to figure out what to put on it. But, I almost wonder, if it isn’t just as hard to figure out WHO to put on it?
There’s family. For sure. At least Mom and Dad, because they always get me stuff. But maybe not all my sisters. One of them always forgets about me. Mom’s gift should be in the $40-$50 range, but the siblings gifts a little less. That’s 5 gifts. But what about Julianna’s family? That’s 6 more people to get gifts for. Should each gift be $5 or should I divide up by family? $100 for the Kiecker side and $100 for the Meyer side. What about coworkers? Pastor Rockhoff? Pastor Lange? What about the Precious Lambs staff? Full time workers & part time? And then what about the kids? Their families? Just the ones that attend church? Speaking of – what about you guys? Presents for all of you? Presents for each of your families? Or presents just for those who have been here for every sermon in this Simple Christmas series?
Giving isn’t simple.
Today we’re continuing our series called A Simple Christmas and we want to talk about Simply Giving. Our Goal is to (1) define bad giving attitudes, (2) see how God gives to us and finally (3) see how Scripture describes a giving attitude.
Beware of Greed. This is not a passage that you’ll find on any Christmas commercials. Not at all. In fact, did you see that Thanksgiving commercial for Verizon? They talked about how nice it is to GET STUFF at Thanksgiving. They talked about all the phones that were available at cheap price.
The name of their sale? Thanksgetting. Not Thanksgiving; Thanksgetting.
Getting has affected America so much that even our giving is a lot more like getting.
“I’ll give my friend a gift card if she’s nice to me the next couple of weeks.”
“I’ll give my dad a present if he remembers to get me one.”
“I’ll give me friend a Christmas card if that person gave me one last year.”
“I’ll give my friend a cup of coffee if I have enough $ left over on the Starbucks card after I’ve gotten myself something.”
Thing is, these might sound like good things. But, not giving means you don’t lose anything, and Giving to Get, gives you what you want.
But not everything. Take a look at two problems from Scripture.
1) You’ll Miss a Blessing
Proverbs 22:9 says this, “He who is generous is blessed.” If you aren’t generous, you’ll miss a blessing!
No, this isn’t an investment strategy. “Blessed” doesn’t mean “will get hundreds of dollars.” Sorry Joel Osteen! In fact, if you are giving only to get money, aren’t you just giving to get anyways?
Proverbs 22:9 says you will be blessed. While it might not be with money, certainly there is a spiritual blessing with giving. You are doing a godly thing. You’re training your body to do righteous things.
If you take care of your talents, God might give you more.
Do you remember the story of the talents? A master was going on a trip and before he left he called three servants to him. He gave the first 10 dollars; another 5 dollars; and another 1 dollar.
When he returned, the first gave him $20 back. He had invested it and made money. The second gave him $10 back. He had invested his five dollars and made money. The third…he went out back and dug up the $1 that he had hidden.
Who do you think the master was pleased with? Not the guy with dirt under his fingernails.
In fact, to those who had been using the gifts he had given; he gave more. They were blessed.
2) Your Faith May be Dead
But a second reason – this one is a bigger self reflection and is found in the words of John the Baptist. He said, “You brood of vipers!" Which would really make for a great Advent greeting card title, huh? “Happy Advent, you brood of vipers.” "Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.”
Repentance is a 180. A turn from sin to God. A turn from unbelief to faith. Repentance always produces fruit. Just like a lemon tree produces lemon and an apple tree produces apples; so a repentance tree produces repentance fruit.
God’s Word says that we are that repentance tree. We are to produce repentance fruit or fruits of faith. That fruit is response to our Savior’s work.
For example, those who struggle with lust will be thankful that Jesus died for it and set filters on their computer so they won’t look at it anymore. Repentance fruit. Those who struggle with alcohol will be so thankful for God’s forgiveness that they join a support group and ask their family for help. Repentance fruit.
Those who struggle with greed? They will be thankful God emptied out all his riches on the cross in order to win heavenly riches and they will give.
But…if you aren’t giving? If you aren’t producing giving fruit? If you only give in order to get and aren’t producing any repentance fruit, then…?
Yesterday I went out back to the tomato plants that the kids grow. Guess what? There aren’t any tomatoes. The leaves are brown. There is no fruit and…I’m pretty sure…the plant is dead.
If you don’t give, your faith might be dead. And dead, ain’t good:
For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.
II. God’s Unconditional Giving
What’s the cure then? If you don’t have repentance fruit, how do you produce it?
Zechariah had had a long time to think about that very question. Nine months in fact. Nine months since the angel came to him. Nine months since the angel gave the incredible news. Nine months since the angel told him that he would be a father even in his old age. Nine months since God had given him this incredible gift.
And it had been nine months since Zechariah had given God lip. “How can I be sure of this? I’m an old man!”
How foolish. He had doubted God. God had proved his point by causing Zechariah to be mute!
Still. God came through. God gave him a child. Zechariah looked down at his son and smiled. Then, he heard a commotion. All around him relatives, friends, and the teachers of the law were confronting his wife.
“Why would you name him John? There isn’t anyone in your family with that name. You’re being foolish. What would your husband say?”
What would he say? They gave Zechariah a writing tablet and Zechariah gave them the name that angel had given him. “John.”
And just like that…Zechariah could speak. God had given him his voice back. One of the first things that Zechariah gave was praise to God. Take a look at his words in Luke 1:68-69 – we can learn a lot about how God gives gifts from Zechariah’s words, “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come to his people and redeemed them, He has raised up a horn of salvation for us.”
Zero in on that word “redeemed.” That means “paid for.” It would take the blood of the Son of God to give us forgiveness. Jesus gave us every last drop.
With Zechariah, this was as good as done. He only had his son John, the forerunner to the Redeemer in his hands, but as he held John, Zechariah knew that God had already made the payment.
How much more is it true for you? God has completely, utterly, absolutely, seriously, redeemed you. Every last one of your sins has been paid for.
Think about it: That’d be like heading to your credit card bill – a bill that might be getting a little high during the Christmas season – imagine logging in and finding a ZERO balance. Then, you log into your phone bill and find a ZERO balance. Same thing with the electricity, the water, and the cable bill. Even the mortgage payments and the students loans at a ZERO balance -- all without a change in a single number of your online banking account.
That’s what God did. He redeemed you. He paid for the gift in full. There were not conditions. He didn’t say, “If you get rid of sin first…” He didn’t condition, “If you pay for half….” He didn’t say, “I’ll only give this to a certain percentage of you…”
If you are a human, Jesus Christ has paid for you in full.
Zechariah says, “He raised up a horn of salvation.” That calls to mind the ancient battle horn. It was trumpet like. You’d blow it to signify victory. This was the old school version of “We are the Champions.” Jesus is that horn of salvation. It means that this paid for gift was all that we needed for victory!
Salvation isn’t like getting a used Starbucks card. This ever happened to you? You get in line at Starbucks. You order a nice tall blonde coffee. You watch them fill it up. You lick your lips with excitement. Then, you give them your gift card.
And it pays for .19 cents.
That’s not Jesus. His salvation doesn’t fall short. His salvation is everything that you need! It means eternal life. It means forgiveness. It means peace with God.
III. Simply Giving
So…give! Produce fruit in keeping with repentance and give!
How do you do that? Look again at John’s words in Luke 3. He gives us a few tips on giving this Christmas.
1) Give to those in Need.
John said, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”
Notice the encouragement. Give to those who are in need. He doesn’t say, “Give to those who already have 7 shirts." He says, “Give to those in need.” That doesn’t mean giving to those who have is a bad thing. Not at all. But it does mean there’s a special fruit of the Spirit shown when you give to the poor.
Why? Because they don’t have anything to give back to you. They can’t fulfill your conditions. To give to them, you just have to simply give.
It’s kind of like salvation. When you had nothing to give God but your filthy, disgusting sins, but God gave you heaven. No conditions required. Wow. This is God like giving.
If they need a shirt, give a shirt. If they need food, give food. If they need gas, give them a lecture on how they should work more. No. That’s between them and God. What is between you and God is whether or not you help them. Simply give.
2) Give with What you’ve been Given.
This is key. You might be thinking, “Pastor, I don’t have the money to give someone for food. I’m struggling as it is. I must be a terrible Christian.” Careful. Look again at the passage. It says, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”
It does not say, “Anyone who has zero shirts, should give 17.” That doesn’t make sense. Because God doesn’t ask you to give what he hasn’t already given you. Did you hear that? I’ll say it again, “God doesn’t ask you to give what he hasn’t already given you.”
If you have money, give money. If you don’t, give time. If not time, give a smile; give a hug; give a prayer; give a word of encouragement; give a piece of paper with a few scribbles of crayon that’s supposed to be a Christmas tree.
Whatever you have…give it.
One thing we all have? The message of a Savior. The kids are giving it next week. Won’t you find someone to give it to too?
3) Give without Greed.
Look at John’s next words. He says, Even tax collectors came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?” Remember. Tax collectors had a known problem with greed. They were around money all the time. They would see someone’s bill that said, “$10,” and they’d make it into $100 and then pocket the change. What fruit of repentance should they have?
13 “Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them.
In other words, get rid of greed.
Can you do that actively this Christmas? When you find your heart having a hard time giving OR focusing solely on what you might be getting, repent. Confess your greed. Hear God’s promise of forgiveness and then ask him to give you a heart free from Greed.
4) Give with Contentment.
14 Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?” He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.”
There was a preschooler the other day who was having a hard time sharing the Duplos. Do you remember duplos? Those are the big Legos. His friend wanted one Duplo. But he wouldn’t give it.
"Why Not?” I asked.
He looked down at the pile of about 78 Duplo blocks that he had in front of them. Some on the building, others simply floating around aimlessly not even in use and he said, “Because I need it!”
It took a bit, but he admitted, he had all he needed and he could in fact share.
It’s the same thing with us. We need to stop and look around. Look at the gifts God has given us. Both the visible gifts and the invisible ones. That’s why we come to church. We hear again and again about how much God has given us!
We need to do this! Because advertisers will tell you that you don’t have what you need. You don’t have the highest internet you need. You don’t have all the Pandora charms you need. You don’t have all the video games you need and all the 24/7 NFL access that you need either.
But you do have all you need! When you stop and remember that – how can you not give?
Scripture says this, “God loves a cheerful giver.” That’s not an excuse not to give unless your happy about. It’s an encouragement to be happy about it. God has given you everything you need dear friend.
Drop the sinful complications this Christmas and simply give. Amen.