Well, we made it. Christmas day is just a few turns of the world away. Very possibly, you’ve already had a gathering or two with family, friends, or co-workers. Perhaps your school or church has already offered a special Christmas program. And who knows how many Christmas themed songs, shows, and stories you’ve enjoyed (or put up with) as the season unfolded. While there may be (or soon will be) gifts under the tree, there is one more gift from God to open.
In the past five weeks, we’ve considered the gifts, the benefits, of following Jesus. The gift of meaning and purpose. The present of relationships with God and others. The small but mighty gift of forgiveness. And the brightly wrapped gift of peace and joy. Those four gifts are very much a part of our experience with Jesus in the here and now. The final gift looks towards the future.
This final gift is best unwrapped in a very familiar verse. Jesus, speaking with Nicodemus, said: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16, NASB95) There is an eternal quality to our new life in Christ. A quality that is easily overlooked or overcooked.
As with a lot of other things, there is a built-in tension to hold on to. Our life in Christ does affect our eternity and what happens at the end of the age. Jesus promised, “For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:40, NASB95) In some corners of the Church, this eternal destination is all that seems to matter. Yet, we also know from the previous gifts that following Jesus affects the here and now. For instance, last week’s promise of peace during the storm of life. In other corners of the Church, that today experience outshines the eternal. The fuller invitation is to grab onto both.
Our walk with Jesus impacts both today and eternity. Perhaps the best way to understand it is that eternity doesn’t begin at the end of the age, but at the moment we put our trust in Jesus Christ to cover our sins and ask Him to be Lord of our lives. Our time on earth is not some test, or just a waiting room for better things to come. Our ultimate salvation is not put on layaway until the end of the age arrives. Eternity begins when we utter that first heartfelt yet stumbled prayer asking Jesus into our lives. At that moment, we are perfectly saved, redeemed, born anew, and yet also learning and growing into all that means.
Jesus didn’t come to the world as a babe in a manger to only make our lives better or to only offer some far-off hope of life after death. Jesus came to make the way, to pay our sin debt, to redeem a broken creation, to offer us unrelenting love, total acceptance, impossible joy, unshakable peace, immovable faith, and bright hope for today and for eternity. It is a gift, free and clear, and given without strings. All anyone must do is receive it.
It all seems too simple and yet so marvelous that there must be something more. Something we must do to earn our way. A way we must live to be called worthy of eternity. There isn’t. We receive.
All that salvation offers is a gift of God’s grace. The world didn’t earn Jesus, the Son of God, coming to earth in that silent night of Bethlehem. The Bible simply says that “at the right time” (Romans 5:6), Christ died for us. Our only role in the whole drama of salvation is to receive. Then, because we received, we begin to do, to change, to follow, and to walk with Jesus every moment from here to eternity.
Our doing doesn’t earn eternity; it is simply part of our love expression to God who first loved us and sent His only Son as the best Christmas present ever. To all of you, Betty and I wish you all Merry Christmas and a New Year’s hope that every step draws you closer to Jesus.