The Greatest Story Ever Told
From our earliest days, we’re captivated by stories. God has written the greatest story ever told. And this story even includes you. Born separated from God, every person needs to be rescued. God, in His love and grace, offers a free gift to all—a solution to our problem. Jesus was born, then died, so you could experience real life.
Hey, great to see all of you here. So glad that we can be together. So, it’s the greatest story ever told, and this time of year across our world several billion people will be celebrating the Christmas holiday. Some of them without even understanding who the main character of the story is, and so, you and I have the opportunity to pull together today and to be in this place to celebrate the wonder of the death of Jesus Christ.
Hey, I’m really glad to see those of you that call this church your home. I recognize a lot of familiar faces. And many of you perhaps this is your very first time or maybe you’ve been here one or two other times but we welcome you. Our greatest hope is that you would feel our hospitality being rolled out to you and that you would feel comfortable and welcome, and I hope that’s the case for you. We’re so glad that you are here. Great to be together before this celebration. So we’re hard-wired for story. In fact, if this is your church home, for the last couple of weeks you know we’d been talking about that a lot. The fact that in a series called “Story”, that you and I are wired to love stories. We lean into stories, and I believe God has created us this way. It’s a natural human instinct, an interest. Well, this time of year Christmas movies abound. So just a quick show of hands how many of you have seen at least one Christmas movie this year? Most of us, I’m sure. So there’s sort of a steady stream of that and there’s a steady stream of Hallmark Christmas shows as well. Now I have to tell you I’ve walked through our den in our home when a Hallmark show is on TV and I’ve paused and said this is so cheesy and predictable, and then before I know it I’m sitting down and I’m glued to the TV. This story is for some reason kind of interesting to me. I get sucked into it. It’s a simple plot line: Hallmark movies they go something like this; the main character works as a journalist, a baker, or a corporate businesswoman. The star has a Grinch-like boss who doesn’t get the holidays. The leading lady is dating or engaged to a businessman who spends more time on his cell phone than talking to her. Someone in this movie will enter a baking contest—guaranteed! That’s part of the plot. Then there’s shopping, there’s ice skating, there’s hot chocolate, there’s picking out a Christmas tree… you get the idea. Every one of these. There’s an almost first kiss before the real first kiss, and then, in the end, the star ends up moving back to their hometown and defeating corporate greed. There you have it- bam! There it is – the Hallmark storyline, and some of us wish our lives were like that. Maybe that’s why we get drawn into these stories like that because they just seem so ideal, they seem so perfect. Even though there’s struggle and, there’s challenge things go well in the end and we long for that. See not only are you and I created to love stories, but we are also created to live a story. You’ve been created to live a story. It’s called the story of your life. How’s it going? That story has ups and downs and challenges, successes and failures. You have people that are part of your story that love you, support you, encourage you. You have people that are part of your story that you wish weren’t part of your story. We all have a story. If you had to summarize your story succinctly in just a few words, how would you describe it? Where are you now? What chapter you in, in the story of your life? Well, there’s a story that circulates about author Ernest Hemingway and other writers who got together and challenged each other. Now if you dig a little bit on this story, you’ll discover as I did that I think it actually predates Hemingway, but the point is the same. These guys got together and challenged each other to write a story using only six words, and the most powerful of these stories would be declared the winner. So here was the winner, “For sale: baby shoes, never worn”. Now if you think about those words you’re already like I was when I read this leaning into it and going I want to know more what happened. There’s like even a little catch in your heart. Did you feel it? And maybe you’re going well there’s not enough here to fully understand it, but as a six-word story no wonder that one, that’s powerful because it draws us in to want to know more. So it’s one thing to make up a short story or even to summarize your own story but what if you had to use only six words to summarize the Christmas story, that greatest story ever told? What words would you choose? What would you bring together six little words to summarize the Christmas storyline? Take a shot at it here this afternoon. Here’s the Christmas story in six words. You ready? “All lost. God came; gift given.” “All lost. God came; gift given.”
Now the Christmas story begins with humanity in trouble, and if you leave that part of the story out, you’re not fully telling the Christmas story. It begins with human beings alienated from God and in serious trouble, but we also discover as part of this story it’s so serious that God has to show up himself. God comes on the scene and he offers a solution through a gift. So in his book, “A Praying Life”, Paul Miller reminds us that the Father wants to draw us into the story of his son. He doesn’t have a better story to tell us so he keeps retelling it in our life. Now think about this God, the Father, our heavenly Father doesn’t have a better story to tell. That’s how great this story is. He doesn’t need to tell a better story. This story is as powerful and as great as it ever could be and it’s being retold in our lives sometimes without our even knowing it. It’s certainly being retold yearly in Christmas services, and I think of course, in addition to that as well. So in the greatest story ever told the situation is serious for all of humanity. It’s alarming, it’s urgent, it’s critical, it’s, I mean, we might even use the word dangerous OK? We’re born in trouble and so the first two words in our six-word story are “All lost.” All lost, no exceptions. Being lost can actually mean life or death. And I mean like literally lost like when you wander away from where you should be or when you’re supposed to be. In fact, it can be a serious matter but some people who are lost are actually blissfully unaware that they’re lost. They have no idea. They don’t know. They don’t realize they’re in danger that they become separated from somebody they shouldn’t be separated from. Their oblivious to the reality that they’ve wandered too far. This is a classic case when the little kid wanders off in the department store and the moms about to lose her mind. You know do we lock the store down? What do we do? Right? And finally after finding the kid, the kids just like oblivious, you know like “Hi, Mom, here I am.” You know? You were lost and now I found you. There you are, mom. The same can be said about those of us when we are lost rather than being oblivious to the fact that we’re lost we realize that we’re lost and sheer panic can set in. Like sometimes this person has no idea where they are or where they’re headed where they’re going and so we frantically in this case we frantically pick up the pace. We get a little crazy. Don’t we? Someone put it this way, “A man unsure of his direction doubles his speed.” Isn’t that true? When you have, “I don’t know where I’m going, I don’t know where I am, and I better pick up the pace.” And so the same can be said of our lives. When we’re unsure of where we are in life and where we’re headed in life often we substitute speed for direction Often we began to pick up the pace and this frantic way of living begins to set in, and of course our world is filled with people who are frantically living, and it could very well be that they don’t know where they are or where they’re headed. Now when God tells the story of our lostness in the Bible he uses descriptions like these: people who walked in darkness, or all we like sheep have gone astray, or he says, people who didn’t think it worthwhile to acknowledge God. That’s because lostness equals separation. When someone is lost they are separated from someone that they need to be connected to, and spiritually speaking, as we celebrate this Christmas, we’re lost because our sin has separated us from God. That lostness is a separation from God because of our sins. God says it this way in a very simple but powerful verse in the Bible in Romans chapter 3 and verse 23. Listen to these words, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Without exception every single one of us, all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. We come up short to his glory, and we know this.
We know this in thought word action and attitude. We know that we have hurt people; we know that we have offended God. Unless we are denying sin altogether I’ve never met a person who says, “I’ve never sinned”, because we all know that there is that proclivity inside of us that dark part inside of us that is capable of just about anything.
So when I was in college one of my professors told us about a former student and one day the professor was giving out a test to the entire class and it was clear that this student wasn’t prepared and so as the class began to make their way through this test this one student who was unprepared to take the test. He would read a question and realize he didn’t know the answer to that question, and he would write the words “I don’t know, but God does”, that was his answer. He would read a little more “Mmm, have no idea… I don’t know, but God does, I don’t know but God does” over and over and over again. This was his answer to so many of the questions on that test. So our professor told us that when he graded the test he gave it back to the student and the professor had written at the very top of the test, in red, “God gets an “A”, and you get an “F”. Now every one of us gets an “F”. We failed. Especially when we compare this to the glory of God and his perfection and His Majesty and His Holiness, and we know this. We know that we fall short. We know that we have failed. So the Bible reminds us that “All have sinned and fall short of God’s glory”, and when we consider that a perfect and holy God knows everything about us. It’s then our failure that becomes even more magnified. So the next part of the greatest story ever told that six-word short version comes after all lost. And here the next words, “God came.” God came, now even though we’ve heard the story that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. I mean you can pick that up from Charlie Browns Christmas, right? It’s everywhere. Of course, Jesus was born in Bethlehem. It’s easy to miss the meaning. They become just kind of a little story we tell each other and isn’t that good and quaint whatever that might. But here’s the deeper meaning of that story. It goes like this; Jesus is God who came to earth. Jesus is God who came to earth. In other words, God because of his great love for us sees that we’re lost we’re in trouble we are in a helpless situation and so God in the person of Jesus Christ steps out of heaven and onto the earth because love is driving him. His compassion for our lostness makes sense that he would move in our direction and that’s exactly what he does. Hundreds of years before Jesus is born we’re told by the Prophet Isaiah in the Old Testament portion of the Bible that a Virgin will conceive and give birth to a son and you know what He gets named? That passage tells us “God with us”, that’s his name. Who’s that kid over there? Well, that’s “God with us”. So this whole reminder is Jesus walks the earth. Well, who is that? That’s “God with us.” That’s his name. Jesus is God walking the earth. Let me put it this way to view Jesus as just a good moral teacher who was born and did nice things and had a following and all that is to completely miss the story of Christmas. John one of his disciples, part of the group of young guys that followed Jesus around when he walked the earth, was deeply loved especially by Jesus, and John would later go on and pen under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit a gospel by his name. We know it as the Gospel of John, and in that very first chapter John, under the inspiration of God’s Spirit, writes these words, “In the beginning was the Word, capital “W” and the word was with God and the Word was God,” he goes on to continue, “And the Word was made flesh and lived for a while among us and we beheld his glory. The glory as of the only begotten of the Father full of grace and truth.” Part of this incredible story is that God in his love and compassion for us steps out of heaven and onto the earth in the person of Jesus Christ.
Now one-day years ago I was at work about mid-morning I looked down at my hand and my wedding ring was missing. Now that’s not a big deal to some of you maybe take it on and off. I never take my wedding ring off. I don’t take it off when I go to work, I don’t take it off when I do athletic stuff. I don’t take it to take it off when I go swimming or bathing or any of that kind of stuff, and so I’m going what in the world happened. So I immediately started reconstructing my steps, the steps of that morning the last several hours, OK? Where was I? What did I do? And I couldn’t come up with anything and then I went back a week or so and several weeks, and I could not for the life of me reconstruct what happened to my ring. And so by this time, you know I was just bummed. I don’t know how to say it, I mean this is the ring that Trish and I exchanged and we got married and she gives it to me and engraving inside and all that. So I was beginning to shop for a replacement ring, reluctantly, but I figured “Hey I gotta do that.” So one morning our younger son, who was a little guy at the time, was eating breakfast and I looked over and he had spooned out cereal and milk and said, “What’s this?” I looked over and my wedding ring was in his spoon. And of course, I’m thinking because I had already just been praying about this and everything, God did a miracle. He caused my ring to appear in this kid’s spoon. Until I remember that weeks earlier I was digging for the prize in the Rice Krispy box and that little dusty stuff it just you know it just slipped off in there and the whole time my ring was in that box of Rice Krispies in our cabinet, in our house, right under my nose. You know the same is true for God. He’s nearer than you think. He’s right there. Now I get it. All of us, many of us, even spend our lives trying to run from God and hide from God and I get it. You know we think He’s way out there. His job is to run the universe and does so from a distance, but in fact, we don’t have we don’t have a category to consider that maybe he’s actually nearer than indeed is. A man named Paul, we’re told in the New Testament, he’s a bad guy. And this guy would be part of people who would arrest Christians and families and have them beaten and tortured and even killed. This was his mission in life and he knew the Torah, the Old Testament. He knew the Old Testament back and forth. It’s a scary thought to think that a person could know the scriptures and feel like he knows God and yet be so opposed to God. And yet this was the case for this man. He had an encounter with Jesus Christ, and he placed his faith in Jesus. He understood that God had come in the person of Jesus Christ and his life was radically turned around. He would go on, under the inspiration of God in his life, to write much of the New Testament and so one day Paul, because he got so excited about the change in his own life, began to travel the world, the known world at that time, he was in Athens, Greece and there he would communicate the truth and the reality in the story of what had happened to him to this group of stoic philosophers and intellectuals in Athens, Greece. And he did so by ascending a thing called the Areopagus which we also know as Mars Hill. It’s a giant rock. I’ve been there. It’s a beautiful thing. Stood on this thing- it’s about the size of this entire room maybe a little larger, and there that day Paul communicated to these people and there’s one little line in that sermon he preached that day, he told that crowd. He said listen you have been created to seek God and find him, and then don’t miss this. He adds on although he is not far from any of us, he’s closer than we would ever think. In all this while maybe we’ve been running from him or even trying to hide from him. And there he is the whole time. God is near to you to and to me. Jesus would say this in Luke chapter 19 verse 10 “For the Son of Man”, it was a phrase he used to describe himself, “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” And there it is- describes why he’s come. God has come in the person of Jesus. How come? Well because we were in trouble, and he’s come to seek and to save that which was lost. Jesus has been pursuing you your entire life, and he is nearer to you than you might ever imagine.
And the last part of this short version of the Christmas story, The Greatest Story ever told goes like this; there’s a gift, that’s been given, “Gift given,” so “All lost. God came, gift given.” Now we sing lots of songs this time of year that we don’t normally sing any other time of year, right? The Christmas carols and hymns and all that. And there’s one of those songs that we sing, “Oh Little Town of Bethlehem and in the 3rd verse of that song, the songwriter reminds us how silently, how silently the wondrous gift is given. By that he reminds us that Jesus came into the world in obscurity- ordinariness under the radar, missed by so many people. Not fanfare, not a parade, not a pyrotechnic show, not a laser show- think about this; this is how God entered the world- under the radar- how silently, how silently the wondrous gift is given. And often God still operates that way. Unless we are attentive, unless we are paying attention to the fact that he’s nearer to us, we would ever imagine that he’s working under the radar in your life and in my life so many times we can miss the point. And as we think about this part of the story “gift given”, this is the point at which many people disconnect with the Christmas story. Let me explain what I mean by that. It’s easy for example when we’re considering this story for us to consider all lost. “Okay, yep,” we might say, “I’ve sinned.” Right? We might admit OK yeah that’s true I’m lost. I’m separated, in fact, I know I’m separated from God. We might even say “God came”, okay. It’s not impossible that if God loves his creation if we’re in trouble that he would do something about it, and so if God became a human being we might even be able to get our heads around that but when it comes to this portion but the story a gift we say “No way! I gotta earn it or deserve it. I’ve gotta contribute. I’ve gotta do something to help God out.” Even though He wouldn’t say it that way. You see to receive forgiveness and Salvation as a gift by doing nothing to earn it or deserve it seems strangely unfamiliar to so many of us, but this is called Grace. This is that thing that we’ve heard about or sing about. This is….this is this movement of God into our lives to do for us what we could not do for ourselves even though we are hardwired to go the other way. You know the idea that penetrated Paul, the guy we were talking about a few minutes ago, his hard heart he would later remind himself and others as he wrote a second letter to a church in a place called Corinth and here’s what he would say, “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift it.” It was almost like he couldn’t come up with words thanks to God for his, alright, indescribable gift because that’s how powerful and wonderful this whole idea is. Jesus has gone to the cross to pay the penalty for our sin by becoming a substitute for us. Think about it like this you’re in line and the line is the line of execution. You’re in line for the death penalty. You’re in line to be executed, and Jesus shows up, taps you on the shoulder and says “Get out of line. I’m taking your place.” This is known as the substitutionary atonement or death of Jesus Christ. Jesus steps in line for you and for every human being dies in our place by taking our sin and the punishment for our sin on himself. This is extraordinary, and then it doesn’t stop there. Having become a substitute and died in our place, he now offers us the gift of Salvation free of charge! Wow! God reminds us in the book of Romans Chapter 6 verse 23, this truth is just driven home even further; “For the wages or payment of sin is death.” In other words, sin deserves punishment. Payment for sin is death. Who paid that? Jesus. Jesus steps in, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Now, if we had time to really dissect this a little bit but that word gift there in the original language Greek this is written in, needs to be expanded a little more than just gift. You know what it means? Literally means? Free gift as if you would have had to describe it that way. It’s a little redundant because a gift is free. If I said to you here’s a gift and then a few minutes later said that’ll be $25. Then that ceased to be a gift. Whenever we exact payment for something we call free it is no longer free. Whenever we give a gift and then try to charge for it that is ceased to be a gift. The free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. So a gift under the tree, if I have gifts under the tree unless you have kids and you’ve ripped into it early that’s good. Maybe you’ll do it tonight but their gifts under your Christmas tree some of them many of them most of them or all of them unopened, right? And you can look at a gift it has your name on it go OK and then realize that gifts for me but until you open that gift, you don’t appropriate that gift. It is just a wrapped-up package that has your name on it. The same is true with this gift that God offers to each of us: until you come to that place where you personally open it and appropriate it and what does that mean for our purposes here biblically? That means you believe Jesus for it. That’s what it means to open that gift, to appropriate that gift to you personally. You believe him for it. But you know this is talked about in other places in the Bible but one of the most popular Ephesians Chapter 2: 8-9 “For by grace you have been saved through faith and this is not of yourselves. This Salvation is a gift of God not of works so that nobody can boast.” There’s so much there to remind us this is not of us. This is nothing we do by way of working our way into acceptance by God in receiving this gift. You contribute nothing through good behavior to get, keep, or prove your Salvation. This is called Amazing Grace, Amazing Grace, and once this story of grace sinks into your heart,
Once you begin to comprehend what God has done – the enormity of this gift, I’m convinced that we will stop at nothing to love God completely and to live in such a way where our lives are his and we live with that priority. Do you realize that you don’t have to wait to get eternal life when you die? God tells us at the moment we receive that free gift – believe him for it, we have, present tense, eternal life. We have life that will never end. What a gift. The gift of God is eternal life right now, not something OK we turn a life that’s something we get when we die. No. We can have it right now the moment we believe him for it. And, in addition to that, have you realized that Christianity is the only religion that guarantees heaven on the front end? You can know the moment you believe Jesus for what he’s done for you that you have eternal life you have life that will never end and if eternal life can end, we better rename it. It’s life that never ends. What an amazing gift. As you drill down into this you just become more aware of the enormity of the gift of God. So the question for Christmas maybe something like this have you received this gift by believing Jesus for it? Some of you sitting here this afternoon you’re going I sure did. You know where you were, you know how old you were, you know how long ago it was and even to hear the Christmas story or to hear some of the things that we’ve looked at in God’s word here today is just a reminder, and you, just like me, just say “Thank you, God, it never gets old.” Some of you are hearing this for the very first time, and maybe in this moment, you have believed Jesus for what he has done for you. The Bible says when that happens you move from darkness to light. You become a new person and real-life begins so you can begin to grow and change as one who has believed in Jesus. So the short version of The Greatest Story Ever Told goes like this “All lost. God came, gift given,” and my hope is that this, for every one of us will be embraced as a personal thing not just a story out there but a personal thing and that each of us would understand God’s great love has driven him to do for every one of us what he has done by simply believing Jesus for it.
I’d like to pray for us, “Our Father, we are very thankful as we try to process a story that seems so foreign to our human nature because we’re so hardwired to want to earn it, deserve it, pay for it, but we thank you that in your great love and in your plan for humanity you’ve made a way for us to be forgiven, for us to have the assurance of eternal life, for us to enter into a relationship with you through your son Jesus, not because we’re all that great but because you are, and so we are thankful for the story of Christmas even told in short form and for your great word that is communicated to us the truth of your plan and what you’re up to. I pray for every one of us in this place that this would be real and personal not just a story that floats out there somewhere or something we celebrate once a year it’s something we live every day and we thank you in the name of Jesus.
Even though Christmas leans toward shameless commercialism, what good memories or traditions do you enjoy in celebrating the holiday?
How would you describe, in simple terms, why Jesus was born? What does this story mean to you?
The Christmas story begins with humanity in trouble. Read Isaiah 9:2. In what sense were people living in darkness? What does it mean for a person to be spiritually lost?
God came to earth in the person of Jesus. Read John 1:1, 14. What was Paul’s personal perspective about the coming of Jesus (Read 1 Timothy 1:15-17)?
Since Christmas is a season of gift-giving, it’s easy to remember that God gave the ultimate gift in His Son. Read 2 Corinthians 9:15. Why is this gift so unusual but powerful (Romans 3:21-24 and Romans 6:23)?
How might the free gift of salvation motivate you to live your life in order to please God? How can you please God by the way you live?
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