I don’t know if you heard about the couple: they were about 60 years of age, and they were on an unseasonably warm December afternoon out working in their yard when, all of a sudden, they discovered a bottle there. It had a cork in it, and they pulled it out. Sure enough, a genie came out. Well, they’d heard about this in jokes and stories, but they’d never seen anything like it.
The genie said, “I will grant you each an early Christmas present. Whatever you want.” They said, “Whatever we want?” “Whatever you want.” Well, the woman thought about it and said, “Man alive! Do you know what? I’ve lived in this house ever since we got married, for three and a half decades.” She said, “I would love…if this isn’t too presumptuous…I would love to live in a mansion.” She said, “Is there any way you could?” The genie just said, “No problem at all.”
Poof! Just like that, the house that they were living in was just immaculate. It was humongous. It was beautiful. The landscaping was incredible. She said, “This is the greatest gift I’ve ever received. Thank you so much!”
The genie looked at the sixty-year-old man and said, “And what would you like?” He was kind of staring back at his wife. And the genie said again, “Well, what…what do you want?” He said, “Well, I don’t know if you can give it to me.” He said, “Oh, sure. I can give you anything you want. What do you want?” He noticed he was a safe distance from his wife and he said, “Well…I’ve always wanted to be married to a woman thirty years younger than me.” And poof! Just like that he was ninety.
So, you know, some gifts don’t turn out the way we want, right? And usually when we get into trouble is when we ask for something that we want but it’s not really something that we need.
In this series we’ve been talking about Jesus Christ out of the Book of Colossians chapter 1. Throughout all this Christmas series we have seen “Why Jesus Came.” We’ve seen “Who He Is,” and this week we’ll talk about “What Jesus Offers.”
And so in my mind I’ve got to think, “Does Jesus offer something that is lasting? Does Jesus offer something that we can actually use maybe a week into January and still it be of use to us? Does Jesus offer anything that we could have for six months or for even years—or maybe even for all eternity?”[A table and chairs is set up on the stage.] You’ll probably sit around a table like this sometime in the next few days. Maybe it’ll be a family reunion. Maybe it’ll be a get-together with some close friends at work. But you’ll sit there, and you’ll say, “Oh, I hope I get to sit next to…” maybe your favorite aunt so you can catch up with her. But she’ll be at the far end of the table, and there seated beside you will be Cousin Eddie—you know?—asking for whatever’s left of your apple pie or perhaps for just a short-term loan until he gets back on his feet, right? But you’ll have interaction around that table.
I want to talk about three different gifts that sometimes occur around the table that also Jesus Christ offers to us—not just at Christmas but all year round.
So there are three different things that He offers us. The first thing He offers us is this:
Jesus offers you a pardon for your past.
Look at Colossians 1:21 and 22: “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation.”
So our evil behavior separates us from a Holy God, and Paul says we are alienated from God because of our sin. So whether you tell a lie, whether you stole something from someone, whether you took credit with the boss for something good that you weren’t the one who did… Maybe your sin was a marriage that went south because of some decisions that you made. Maybe it was an abortion that you financed and paid for because you just wanted to keep a secret. Whatever the evil behavior in which you’ve been a willing participant, Jesus Christ came to pardon that. He came to pardon you. He came to forgive you and me. That’s why He came to earth.
Last week I started smelling a smell that wasn’t pleasant. Don’t misunderstand me. It wasn’t a dead animal or a dirty diaper or some other pungent odor. It was more like a fragrance or a scent of some type that…I don’t know how to describe it…just didn’t agree with me. Do you know how some things you’re just like, “Oh, man! That makes me sick. I don’t like that smell”? So I’m in the kitchen, and I started complaining to Beth about it; and she says, “You know what? I’ll bet it’s that candle that I’m burning over there.” She said, “I’ll put it out.”
I said, “You know what? Thank you, Baby. Thank you. Because I think that’s what’s just driving me crazy.” So she blew out the candle, and I thought, “Well, the smell is still gonna be in the house and in this room for awhile.” But the next morning I was about to pull into church, and I realized I smelled the smell again.
And I thought, “You know what? I’ll bet what’s happened. I had just stopped at my favorite café to get a smoothie that morning. I’ll bet you the gal…when she made it for me…she had some lotion on her hands, and she put it on the cup when she handed it to me. I took it and I transferred it to myself somehow, and it’s the same lotion that’s very similar to that candle that was burning.”
Well, then I came home that night, and once again I started smelling it when I was near my bathroom sink and around my closet. I said, “Baby, come in here.” I said, “Come up as close as you can to me.” I said, “Do you smell anything?” And she said, “Yes, I do. I smell it.” And, you know, she’s smelled different smells from me, but this was different, you know? And she said, “I smell it!” And she was right up by my collar. And I said, “See! I’m so glad I’ve got validation that I’m not going crazy.”
I said, “Did you change the laundry detergent? I’ll bet that’s what you did. You changed the laundry detergent, didn’t you? I think I’m allergic to this or something.” She said, “No, I didn’t change laundry detergent.” I said, “Well, I smell it here in the closet.” Well, you know what? The next day I figured out what was going on, because I had chapped lips; and every time I would walk past my bathroom sink into my closet I would put on this cheap chap stick that I had—you know, like, Bill’s Chapstick, right? And I realized that what it was. It was not the smell of all these other things; it was what I was putting right on my lips right beneath my own nose.
Now is that stupid? I mean, I had been blaming the candles. I’d been blaming café workers, my wife, the laundry detergent, and yet the smell had been put there by me! After first service, my son Sam was in here; he didn’t know I was gonna tell this story. He said, “Dad, is this the chap stick?” I said, “Yeah.” He said, “That stinks!” All right? He said, “Mom gave me some, too.” I’m like, “Well, thank you. Now I’ve really got confirmation, all right?”
We’re really good when it comes to pointing fingers and passing the blame, yet upon closer investigation we have to admit we’re the reason for the odor. We are the ones who are responsible, and we are all haunted by previous mistakes. Maybe it started with your lips. Maybe it was something that you said. Maybe it was something you shouted to a family member. Maybe it was a drink that you took across your lips years ago; and it was your first drink, and you would give anything to have it back and to have never started.
Maybe your sin is further down than your lips, and it’s in your heart. Maybe it’s the time you spent at work instead of at home with your family. And now your kids are grown, and you wish like anything you could get that time back and you just can’t. Yet, for some reason, when we take ownership and realize our sin and our need for a Savior, everything can start to change.
And even though our smell is offensive to our Heavenly Father, He still offers us forgiveness. Whatever it is that we carry around, He is aware of that. And that has alienated us from Him, and He longs for us to be in a right relationship. He longs for us to be together in fellowship.
Isaiah 64:6, Isaiah says, “All our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” You see, compared to the holiness of God, that’s what they look like. In and of ourselves we don’t measure up. Jesus smelled the stench from our sin all the way up in heaven, and He came into the world to save us from sin. He became humanity in order to deliver us from our depravity.
You say, “Well, that’s good news. I guess I can live however I want if He’s gonna forgive me. I mean, if God’s job is to forgive me then I better get out there and give Him some stuff to do.” I know some people who have that attitude, but that’s not how it works. His pardon for your past and for mine, His pardon for your present and mine, His amazing grace only reaches to those who are willing to commit their lives to Him. You see, it is possible for your past to be pardoned, but you’ve got to accept Him. You’ve got to make Him the Lord of your life.
And Jesus came to mankind in order to pardon us from our past, but secondly,
Jesus came to earth in order to offer you a purpose for your life.
He gives us a purpose in life, a reason to be here. And living the Christian life can be a daunting task, but He gives us the power to do it. Colossians 1…look in your Bible at verse 27. It says, “God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery…” I want you to get this next phrase: “which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Christ in you! The Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit personally taking up residency inside of your heart. And when we rely on that Holy Spirit that lives inside of us—Christ in you!—when we rely on Him, that is what will give our lives direction and purpose. He is in your heart. In fact, when you gave Jesus your heart, He gave you His in return. He made the exchange, and that’s how forgiveness takes place.
You say, “How in the world could God ever love me with all my sins?” Well, here’s how. Once you become a Christian, when God looks at you, He doesn’t see you; He sees His Son Jesus Christ. He sees Christ’s heart. He doesn’t see all the crud that I do; He sees Christ in me. That’s our hope of glory. Christ in you!
Look at verse 28: “He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ.”
So it begins by saying that we proclaim Him. If part of our purpose is to proclaim and share with others about Jesus then we should boldly be sharing that with the world. You say, “Oh, well, that’s just not my personality. I mean, that’s not the way I’m cut out.” Well, Christ in you…that Holy Spirit…can give you that boldness.
You say, “Well, I could never invite someone to the Christmas Eve Services.” Sure you could. And tomorrow you’ll have the opportunity. God will put some people in your path, and to think that you can say a good word and just say, “Hey, would you like to come to my church? We’ve got five services.” I mean, come on. They won’t have an excuse for that one. Say, “Well, I might not be able to come when you have a service.” “We’ve got five of ‘em, all right? They’re over a barrel.” So this is a perfect time to make that request.
Paul says our goal is to be complete, to be mature, to grow in maturation with Christ. This is a process that takes place. Verse 29 says, “To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me.” So this is a process. There is labor, there is striving, there is straining. The term used here is where we get the phrase gymnasium. So there is some physical effort being exerted to be a follower of Christ. And as we are doing our part, God is doing His part.
And this process and challenge takes on a deeper meaning for us at Christmas. Do you know why? Emmanuel means “God with us.” Let me tell you what Emmanuel doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean “God was with us.” It doesn’t mean “God will be with us.” It’s actually better than those. It is “God is with us.” And that is timeless.
And Paul is pointing out that as overwhelming as it is that the God of the Universe would take up residency inside this baby wrapped in swaddling clothes that there is something equally as overwhelming, and that is the fact that He is willing to take up residence in me—and in you! And that’s much more amazing. I mean, that He would take up residence in us, sinners. I mean, after all, think about it. A baby hasn’t sinned. A baby can’t tell the difference between right and wrong. But we do. And yet He chooses to indwell the hearts of sinful people who commit to follow Him, all the while knowing that we will continue to falter in our faith and that we will willfully sin against Him. So “God with us” is great news, but “Christ in you” is great news. In fact, it may even be better news.
Well, there is one more thing that Jesus offers to His followers, and I want to make certain you get it. Not only does He pardon our past, not only does He give us purpose in life, but thirdly,
Jesus offers you a place at His table.
You can have a place at His table. And whenever you extend an invitation to join you at a meal at your home, when you say that to somebody, it is an invitation for a more intimate friendship. It goes beyond the surface. When you say to someone, “Hey, let’s do lunch,” that becomes more intimate then. It goes beyond the surface. If you say, “Come on over and bring some friends. Come on over and bring your family and come to my house.” It goes to a whole other level, because now you’re around a table just like this; and you’re in your home, and there’s comfort. And you pull that chair back and say, “Hey, grab a seat here beside me. You’re part of us. We’re together.”
Look at Colossians 1:19 and 20: “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”
So I want you to see why we can have a place at the table. See, naturally we would be enemies of God because of our sinful nature and the fact that we are sinners and we constantly choose things that are contrary to God’s will for our life. So we have to get reconciled back to Him. And this verse tells us that how that happens is through Jesus Christ. It is made possible through the blood that Jesus shed on the cross.
You say, “I don’t understand that, Dave. You’re going to have to unpack that for me.” Well, that’s why Jesus lived a perfect life. That’s why He came to earth and He was born as a baby on that first Christmas and He grew up and He was tempted in all points just as we are and yet He remained without sin. He became a perfect sacrifice on the cross. He stayed up there when He could’ve come down, but He knew He could do only one thing. Everybody shouted at Him and said, “If He saved others, let Him save Himself!” But Jesus knew something they didn’t know. Jesus knew He could save Himself or He could save them, but He couldn’t do both. And He chose you. And His bloodshed on the cross is how we are reconciled to where we are in a right relationship with the Lord.
And around this table reconciliation takes place. It goes beyond the surface. It fosters conversation and vulnerability. God loves us in spite of our sins and weaknesses. And although we feel unworthy of His love and acceptance, He still pulls the seat back from the table and says, “Won’t you join Me? I saved a seat for you. This is your seat. This is your place. It’s here for you.”
And the offer of salvation is for every individual. Second Peter 3:9 says, “(The Lord) is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” However, Jesus makes it crystal clear that those who reject His offer will be condemned. You can be at peace with God. You can be reconciled with God. You can have a divine pardon, a purpose in life, a seat at His table for all eternity in heaven.
Many of you are aware of one of Southeast’s ministry partners. It’s called Scarlet Hope. We’ve talked about them before. It’s where Christian ladies seek to reach out to a number of broken ladies in our community who are involved in the adult entertainment industry. There are a number of cities and churches who are doing very similar ministries in a variety of ways, as they seek to introduce these ladies to the Gospel and the love of Jesus Christ with the intent of them allowing Christ to change their lives. There are Christian ladies involved in this, and it’s happening all around the country. A preacher that I’m really close to wrote about an experience that he and his wife had one Christmas, and I just want to read the account he wrote out.
The preacher says, “My wife and I partnered with a ministry in our town, and we decided to have a Christmas dinner and party for these girls, who many times have been so wounded by others and they’ve been overlooked by churches.” He said, “So the day arrived, and into our home streamed girls—most of whom had found Christ and had hung up their dancing shoes. There were a few who are contemplating taking that risk and are in Bible Studies, and they’re thinking about leaving that life behind. Some were quite uneasy at first, but as time went on they began to feel safe and loved. And when it came time for the meal, they sat down at decorated tables with place settings. Some were nervous, because several women shared that they had never been to a Christmas dinner in their entire life. But the longer they were there, the more comfortable they became. And throughout the meal the sound of laughter filled the house from each table, as conversations flowed and relationships were formed and deepened. Gifts were given to each lady from a Ladies’ Bible Study at the church where I serve. Each girl was given a red rose.”
And the preacher continued, “I later learned that one woman, on the ride to the house, had brought her friend with her to the dinner, who was also a former dancer. And when she learned that the party was at a preacher’s house she became very nervous. She explained her experience with Christians dated back a couple of decades before when, as she entered into the club to go to work, there was a line of Christians outside with signs and posters. And they called her names, she said. They called her a whore, and they shouted that she was heading to hell. And her friend in the car said, ‘Oh, you don’t need to worry about that happening. This will be very different.’ And I hope it was.
But before they left our home I shared a fifteen-minute sermonette about the true meaning of Christmas and then we prayed.” He writes, “Those girls don’t pray like what most church people pray. There was no pretense. They had experienced major transformations and left behind a sordid past, and they were pouring their hearts out in prayer. Then I closed with prayer. And in the middle of it I paused, because I wanted to acknowledge how rare and how blessed I am with my wife. So I prayed and I just said, ‘And, Lord, I also want to thank you for a wife who allows me to invite dozens of women over to the home for dinner.’ And the group of girls responded with some amen’s and then quickly one of the young women yelled out, ‘Stripper girls at that!’ And everyone laughed, and I continued with my prayer. But the second I said my final amen, one of the gals, who is a committed Christian, blurted out, ‘We’re not stripper girls…not anymore. The Bible says we are new creations.’ And the Christian gals agreed with her.” And the preacher writes, “And so did I.”
Evidently, that gal wanted to make sure that these ladies knew that that is what they were, but it was not who they are. Can I tell you something? Satan knows your name, but he calls you by your sin. Jesus knows your sin, but He calls you by your name. There is a huge difference. In Romans 8:1 Paul says, “There is, therefore, now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
So what name does Satan call you by? It might not be “stripper girl.” Maybe it’s “disengaged wife.” Maybe it’s “workaholic father.” Maybe it’s “dishonest employee.” Maybe it’s “rebellious teenager.” I don’t know what the title is that Satan haunts you with, but God offers a pardon for your past; and He calls you a new creation. What happened at that preacher’s home around a dinner table is a microcosm of what is happening at Christ’s table for each of us on a much larger and eternal scale. You see, the truth is that none of us feel like we deserve a seat at God’s table. I mean, why in the world would we be invited? And yet we need to be reminded He invites us and He welcomes us and He longs for us to trust in Him.
Dave Stone is Senior Pastor of Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, KY
Unless otherwise noted: “Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version. Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. 2012, Southeast Christian Church of Jefferson County, Kentucky, Inc.