Time is running out: You have only one week left until Christmas. That means that some of you will have to finally get ready for that last minute shopping and not a few of you will have to get to work compiling that list of what you actually want for Christmas. (You know who you are).
If there is one question that often drives people to the edge of frustration this time of year it’s “What do you want for Christmas?” My wife informs me that if I’d been paying attention at all I wouldn’t have to ask. (Right dear?) Ultimately the reason that the question becomes such a bear is that we swap the meaning of “want” and “need”. In reality I very little in terms of earthly things– but what I want may in fact be a list as long the paper holds out.
Wants and Needs
Some of my fondest memories as a child involve the sears catalog. That thing was massive! Every year, my mother would hand me a pen and instruct me to flip through and to circle anything I wanted and write my name next to it. Dutifully and with excessive glee I would flop down on the floor in front of the fireplace and turn with trembling fingers to the toy section. Oh the bliss of those afternoons searching for toys that I couldn’t wait to uncover Christmas morning. It’s a shame that the sears catalog is no longer the behemoth it once was; clicking the wishlist on Amazon just doesn’t have the same tangible thrill to me today. With the book fully marked and every toy page covered in circles I would wait eagerly till Christmas morning.
Now to be fair, I did get some toys on Christmas morning but the assortment under the tree was always paltry compared to the selection in the catalog. Hindsight informs me that my parents were both loving and generous but invariably Christmas morning would arrive not merely with a much smaller collection of things that I wanted but always seemed to include with it a passel of items I needed but did not necessarily want. Every Christmas I was certain to find things like jeans that covered my ankles and lacked the holes I was prone to putting in them, shirts to replace the ones I had outgrown and the most dreadful yet needful Christmas present of all: socks and underwear!
How many of us have discovered in life that there is often a great divide between what we want and what we need? I believe that most of us as adults have come to that conclusion. It is hard to cross the barrier between what we want and what we need. But this is exactly what God has done for us. Two weeks ago we looked at The Greatness of our Fall. Today I want to look intently at the greatness of our need.
We’ve already witnessed that the greatness of our fall from grace in Adam is complete and that it defines the greatness of our need; but we did not quite get to examine the greatness of that need. For when it comes to the Messiah coming to earth there are many things that we might want; but these do not compare to the greatness of our need!
Our Christmas wants may include the very same things we all too often make our goals in this life: health, wealth, general prosperity, family harmony, perhaps even external actions of goodness and righteousness by which I mean we want everyone else to act righteously towards us. But what we needed was far greater than any of these things.
The greatness of our need
The greatness of our need can be summarized in terms of both sin and punishment.
In daily life, sin is often seen simply as the things we do, but there is more to it than that. The old definition is that sin is any want of conformity to the law of God. (1 John 3:4) We must understand this not only in terms of doing sinful actions (a sin of commission) or of not doing righteous actions (a sin of omission) but Sin itself is any deviation from God’s law whether in (in)action, thought or being.
The sin of our being (nature)
The sin of our being begins with Original sin. For us, the guilt of sin begins in the garden. When Adam sinned, we also sinned in him, and because our first parents broke the law of God we also bear that guilt of sin for we are born in their image.
That we are born already with sin is seen in King David’s Psalm of repentance, Psalm 51:5 “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me.” (Psalm 51:5, NASB95)
This does not mean that his mother sinned during his conception but that David understood the truth that even from the very moment of two reproductive cells joining to create life – even at the instant of conception we are sinners. Before ever we take action, or have the earliest thought – we are built sinners because sin is a part of who we are.
We love to look at little babies and babble and coo and say, “Oh how innocent!” But that truly is not accurate. They may be innocent in terms of activity; but at the core even a baby is a sinner already.
Ephesians 2:3 declares that we [are] by nature children of wrath, meaning that the very makeup of our being is deserving of God’s wrath.
The sin of our thoughts
The sin of our thoughts proceed in part from our being (Jeremiah 17:9, Mark 7:21-23). Jesus taught us that sin includes our thoughts when he raised the bar on the sixth and seventh commandments (Exodus 20:13,14). To hate is the same as murder and to look with lust is the same as adultery (Matthew 5:21-32). The same pattern of thought influencing action can be readily studied in the rest of the commandments as well (Luke 6:45).
The sin of our actions
Sins of action are easier to spot as our thoughts take shape into action. The law is broken
With this understanding Sin is both what we have become since the fall, what we think in our hearts and what results in our actions.
Because sin permeates every level of our existence, even the good things that we try to do are tainted with pride, self-sufficiency and faithlessness (Genesis 6:5; Isaiah 53:6, 64:6).
This is the pervasiveness of our sin – it is utterly inescapable. The natural consequence of our sin is separation from the Almighty God, and death. (James 1:14-15; Romans 3:23, 6:23; Gal 3:22)
Romans 1:18 begins with God’s response to sin: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them.” (Romans 1:18–19, NASB95)
Because God is perfectly holy, righteous and just, and because he intensely loves all that reflects his character, he also intensely hates that which does not; and because he is Just his own nature demands that sin be punished.
God’s warning to Adam if he broke the one commandment was that on the day he ate of the fruit he would die (Gen 2:17). Death did come to Adam and not just to Adam but through Adam to all men (Romans 5:12).
If the state of every human is this desperately secured in sin and deserving of God’s judgment then what is the result of that state? “The wages of sin is death…” (Rom 6:23). Were that the end of the passage then all our reality from the day we learned it would be despair of the worst sort, for there would be nothing for us except a terrifying expectation of judgment.
Isaiah’s often quoted statement that all of our righteous deeds are like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6) is problematic for anyone who would ever hope to climb out of the pit we are in by nature.
Our fall from grace took us from being Eden’s inhabitants to being not merely people who sin, but sinners by nature; and because of that, children of wrath.
It is here that we come up against Ephesians 2:1-3 (read).
This is the greatness of our need. Against this backdrop while we could ask God for every manner of want and desire in our quest for self-focused personal satisfaction; God has in mercy and grace not given us those things which would not help us; but has instead given to us the most precious of gift of all: He gave us what we needed most – forgiveness of sin.
He wrapped his gift in swaddling cloths, and placed it in a feeding trough.
Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see, hail th’ incarnate deity! Pleased as man with men to dwell, Jesus our Emmanuel!
“But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:4–10, NASB95)
“For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6, NASB95)
Because we got what we needed that Christmas, in Christ we no longer bear the sin of our being, the sin of our thoughts and the sin of our actions – it has all been nailed to the cross.
God gave us what we needed for Christmas.
How do you like the gift?