The Greatest Gift

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Of all the customs surrounding Christmas, it occurs to me the most singular, the most distinctive, is the custom of giving one another gifts. You realize how unique that is. There are other special occasions, birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, Father’s Days, Mother’s Days, and so on, in which somebody is given gifts. You bring your gifts to somebody, but the real question is … How many holidays do we have in which all of us give gifts to all of us? The answer is only one, and it’s right that we do it at Christmas because it highlights, it makes real, the central event, in some ways, the central truth of Christmas.

Jesus Christ came at Christmas, but he didn’t just come. He was given. ‘For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given …’ Jesus didn’t just come. He was a gift. That’s the central event of Christmas, and all the gift giving, in a sense, makes that real. Jesus was given. ‘For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son …’ Jesus did not just come. He was a gift.

There’s one place in which Paul is so overwhelmed by the thought of it that he breaks into praise, and he says, ‘Thanks be to God for his unspeakable gift,’ an unspeakable gift, an inexpressible gift. It’s beyond description. It’s beyond comprehension. Whenever Paul thinks about it, even for a while, his imagination and his heart explode.

– Tim Keller

Words found in Tim Keller’s December 23, 1990 sermon, “His Name Shall Be Called”

 

The Message of Christmas

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The message of Christmas is the world, human life, is a dark place, and the more you look for the solutions and the more you think about it, the darker it gets. I have a tremendous amount of respect for Russell and a tremendous amount of respect for Huxley and all those guys who would press you and say, ‘The world is a dark place. Let’s not get out from under it. Don’t you feel it?’

The message of Christmas is … Unless God has sent his Son into the world, unless God has revealed himself through the Son who he sent into the world, there is no light for the world. Huxley would say the same thing. Russell would say the same thing. That’s the message of Christmas. Right here. Don’t you see? Don’t you understand why people do run off to the mystics, they do run off to the politicians, they do run off to the therapists, they do run off to all these people trying to get meaning in life? But there is no light any other place. That’s the message of Christmas. You know what that means?

It means, first of all, if you do not know God personally, if you have no confidence that Christmas really happened, if you just think it’s a nice idea, but you don’t really know that it really happened, you don’t know that God really sent his Son into the world to live and to die on earth for us, if you don’t know that, don’t you understand there’s really no way you should take Christmas and use it the way we do to make chirpy, groundless little statements about how if we just hold hands everything will be all right? If we just get together in a circle and love each other everything will be all right. You can’t do that.

Here’s why: Christmas won’t let you do that. Christianity is not sentimental at all. Every other kind of non-Christian philosophy tries to console you like this: They say, ‘Buck up. Things aren’t that bad. In every cloud there is a silver lining.’ Christianity is far more realistic than any non-Christian philosopher or any non-Christian is really prepared to be. Christianity would never say, ‘Oh, things aren’t so bad.’ Christianity says, ‘Things are just as bad as the worst and most pessimistic analyst says they are. Nevertheless …’

You see? Nevertheless … Christians will not be chirpy. There’s no sentimentality. There’s no nostalgia about the message of Christmas. Not at all. It says, ‘The world is dark.’ Human life is a dark place. That’s where the comfort is, if God has actually done what Christmas has always said he had done. Apart from that, every smart person knows there is no hope. There is no light. Don’t you see? Unless Christmas is true there is no light at all and there’s no comfort, so stop being chirpy. That’s what Christmas says.

When it says stop being chirpy, what you can do is you can put it something like this: If there’s a God, if he sent Jesus Christ into the world to die for us, if he was born as a baby and he died for us, and he rose triumphant over the grave, and he is Pastor of the heavens, and now he is seated at the right hand of God the Father, and he’s ruling all things until he puts everything under his feet, and someday we’re going to rule and reign with him … If that’s true, there’s light and there’s comfort. If that’s not true, there’s no comfort, there’s no light.

– Tim Keller 

Words found in December 16, 1990 Sermon, “Light Has Dawned”

The Gift of Jesus

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The central event of Christmas is that Jesus Christ was not just born. Jesus is the one great personage who wasn’t simply born. The teaching of the Bible, of course, is that he had an existence before he was born, and therefore, Jesus was not just born; he was given to us. He’s the gift Christmas is about. You see what Paul says. ‘He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?’

This is the one gift that, if you have it, you have all the other gifts. That’s what Paul is saying. This is the one gift that, if you reject it, you lose all other gifts. That’s what Paul is saying. This is a theme of the Bible. There are some other Christmas passages that talk about this. For example, Isaiah 9. It’s one of the texts on which the Messiah is based.

For unto us a Child is born
Unto us a Son is given

It’s a gift. John 3:16: ‘For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son …’ Here we have Paul saying God ‘… did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all …’ Therefore, as Paul says elsewhere, Jesus Christ is the inexpressible gift. Inexpressible he says. ‘Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!’

– Tim Keller

Words found in the 1993 Sermon, “Jesus Our Gift” by Timothy Keller.

 

Holy AND Just

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On the one hand, God is holy and just and cannot tolerate or live with or bless evil. On the other hand, God is loving and faithful and cannot tolerate the loss of people he has committed himself to. This is a tremendous, seemingly irresolvable tension in the narrative—and also in the whole Bible (see, for instance, Exodus 34:6-7; Hosea 11:1-11). This tension is what should keep us in suspense throughout Judges. Will God finally give up on his people (but then what of his faithfulness)? Or will he finally give in to his people (but then what of his holiness)?

It is only on the cross that we can understand how God is able to resolve the tension. On the cross, our sin was given—imputed—to him, so that his righteousness could be imputed to us. On the cross, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). On the cross, God poured out his wrath on his people in the person of his Son. He satisfied both justice, because sin was punished, and loving faithfulness, since he is now able to accept and forgive us. Only through the cross can God be both “just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:26, ESV). This is the only way the tension of Judges can be resolved; the only way that God can love us both conditionally and unconditionally.

-Tim Keller

Without Suffering

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…One of the main teachings of the Bible is that almost no one grows into greatness or finds God without suffering, without pain coming into our lives like smelling salts to wake us up to all sorts of facts about life and our own hearts to which we were blind. For reasons past our finding out, even Christ did not bring salvation and grace to us apart from infinite suffering on the cross. As he loved us enough to face the suffering with patience and courage, so we must learn to trust in him enough to do the same. And as his weakness and suffering, thus faced, led to resurrection power, so can ours.

– Tim Keller

Secular Suffering

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In the secular worldview, all happiness and meaning must be found in this lifetime and world. To live with any hope, then, secular people must believe that we can eliminate most sources of unhappiness for the majority of people. But that is impossible. The causes of suffering are infinitely complex and impossible to eliminate.

– Tim Keller

The Heart of the Christian Story

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We have been arguing that every culture gives its members a story about what life is all about, and the story of late modern culture – that life is about individual freedom and happiness – has no place for suffering. But the Christian story, as we will see, is utterly different. Suffering is actually at the heart of the Christian story. Suffering is the result of our turn away from God, and therefore it was the way through which God himself in Jesus Christ came and rescued us for himself. And now it is how we suffer that comprises one of the main ways we become great and Christ-like, holy and happy, and a crucial way we show the world the love and glory of our Savior.

– Tim Keller