At Gateway Church in Austin, we continued our series called “Best.Story.Ever.”
The Bible is an epic story of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration, but it’s also an intimate story describing God’s pursuit of a love relationship with each of us as individuals. We need to understand the big picture so that we don’t miss the personal application. Where do we fit into God’s big picture?
These discussion questions are designed for your life group or family dinner to help you apply the message to your life.
Here is the audio of the message I shared:
Here are notes from the message by John Burke:
Christmas is about gift-giving. We give gifts to those we love because God gave the Best.Gift.Ever to us in love. Yes, the whole point can get lost in the frenzy of gift giving, but there’s something really wonderful about that Christmas morning anticipation and excitement. Christmas is meant to be an anticipated, exciting, celebrated day because of God’s Gift. That’s why we started giving gifts. We all love receiving gifts. But you know what’s even better? When you nail giving the perfect gift! When you experience the joy and excitement of giving someone you love that perfect gift.
It brings parents great joy when they see their kids enjoying the perfect gift. I bet that’s how God felt anticipating the gift He would give his children that first Christmas. It was more than the perfect gift. In fact, Paul writes in the New Testament: “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” 2 Cor 9:15. Paul calls God’s gift an indescribable gift? Paul was a brilliant man. Our equivalent of a PhD. with a broad vocabulary in 3 languages. A master of the Greek language. Yet he pauses when he thinks of a word to describe God’s “gift”… and he is completely at a loss for words. So he simply says … indescribable.
Just like a loving parent prepares and anticipates giving the perfect gift, God was anticipating giving the perfect Gift that first Christmas. God created us for himself. God is what’s missing—what we need most. The Creator of all love, life, everything we enjoy, who loves us more than a mother or father could—created us to love God and each other—God anticipated that day He would reveal Himself in human form. We wrap a gift to both forecast its coming and conceal it until it’s time. God wrapped the gift of Jesus in prophecy. For 1000s of years God forecasted the Best.Gift.Ever.
For those of you still skeptical about the whole Jesus, son of God, born in a Bethlehem manger story, I used to think the same. I was a skeptic, an engineer by trade, thought it just another fairytale story, like than Cinderella and her 7 dwarves. But I didn’t know what I didn’t know. God put a lot of thought and time anticipating the gift of Jesus. What I didn’t realize as a skeptical Engineer type is that God wrapped that first Christmas with hints and clues for 1000s of years. From 2000 B.C. to 400 B.C. God gave over 60 prophecies telling us Who, Where, Why, How, When. There was mystery to the Gift looking forward, but looking back you can see clearly—God did this so we could know confidently, this is God’s Gift, the Best Gift he could give to you and me.
God sent many prophets to foretell Messiah’s coming (Messiah or Christ in greek was the anticipation of God’s self-revelation). “I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God. Who then is like me? Let him proclaim it. Let him declare and lay out…what is yet to come—yes, let them foretell what will come…Did I not proclaim this and foretell it long ago?” (Isaiah 44:6-8, ~680 B.C.) Through Isaiah the prophet God said how we could know it’s not Myth: Who has announced this from antiquity? Who has told it from then? Is it not I YHWH? And there is no other God beside me; a righteous God and a Savior; there is none beside me. Turn to me, and be saved, all the ends of the earth. (Isaiah 45:21-22 680 B.C. Dead Sea version) Notice, this is not Christian, it was written nearly 700 years before Jesus came. And Notice, it’s for every nation—God did this for the whole earth. How can you know it’s the One True God? I alone foretell what I will do so you can know it’s God. God’s gift of Jesus was about loving relationship. He wants loving children, not obedient slaves—so he doesn’t force us—because love cannot be forced. But he gives us evidence if we will seek it.
Now, when I was still a skeptic, I would have been thinking “Any so called prophecies were just editing after the fact. After the Jesus myth developed, people edited the Old Testament to look like it was all predicted.” And I’d happily ignore the gift with my proud ignorance. I WAS ignorant though. I hadn’t taken the time to really explore. When I did, I found lots of evidence. In the Dead Sea Scrolls found in Qumran in 1948, we found copies of 38 of the 39 books of the Old Testament, most pre-dating Jesus. One was a complete copy of Isaiah pre-dating Jesus:, “New radiocarbon measurements of the Dead Sea Scrolls made by scientists at the National Science Foundation…radiocarbon dated the famous Book of Isaiah scroll at between 335 BCE and 122 BCE.” So what I read from Isaiah tonight is the Dead Sea translation written before Jesus was born—no doubts. Yet look at just 5 of the 60 prophetic clues God wrapped in Isaiah and other prophets:
1). Born of a Virgin – God himself will give to you a sign. The virgin shall conceive and bring forth a son and he shall call his name Immanuel [God with us]. – Isaiah 7:14, ~680 B.C. Dead Sea version As impossible as it sounds, 700 years later, Matthew, an eyewitness of Jesus’ life interviews Mary who says “Yeah, I was pregnant—small town, pious Jewish family, pregnant teens weren’t going to have a popular reality show back then–it was a scandal.” Joseph was engaged to Mary–he wasn’t buying the Virgin Pregnancy story, going to call off the wedding, when God assures him in a dream this is God’s long awaited Gift to all Nations. This wasn’t the only sign.
2). Messiah comes from Bethlehem But as for you, Bethlehem…from you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity.” Micah 5:2, ~700 B.C.
So 700 years before Jesus birth, God’s Gift is wrapped in mystery—born in Bethlehem. And Luke who wrote about Jesus tells us Quirinius the Roman Governor called for a Census, which is why Joseph and Mary had go to Bethlehem, Joseph’s hometown, where Jesus was born the first Christmas–but that wasn’t Jesus home town.
3). God Revealed in Galilee – [In] Galilee of the Gentiles–The people walking in darkness have seen a great light…Because a child shall be born to us and a son is given to us and the government shall be upon his shoulders and he shall be called wonderful, counselor, mighty God, everlasting father the prince of peace. Of the increase of his government and his peace there shall be no end…to establish it in judgment and in righteousness from and until eternity. (Isaiah 9:1-6, 680 B.C.—Dead Sea Scroll version). Mighty God would reveal himself to humanity in a form we could relate to—born as a child—come from Galilee, bring everlasting peace and set all things right. That would be the Greatest Gift Ever. That’s what God was doing—making a way for you, me, all people of all nations to find Peace with God, set things right forever. What could be better? In fact they had a saying “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Historians agree—Jesus was from Nazareth, in Galilee. The irony is that some of the religious leaders rejected Jesus as Messiah because he was from Nazareth in Galilee rather than Bethlehem–and Jesus confronted their corruption—which is why they killed him. The records of the Religious Leaders who killed him say: “On the eve of Passover they hung Jesus of Nazareth for sorcery and leading Israel astray” Talmud, Sanhedrin 43a They killed Jesus for blasphemy–for claiming equality with God (Isaiah said Messiah would be the representation of Mighty God in human form)—and they couldn’t deny his miracles, so they called it sorcery. [Even Josephus a Roman historian during Jesus’ time mentions Jesus’ surprising works, crucifixion, and that his disciples said he had risen from the dead. But God foretold all this through Isaiah 700 years earlier.
The Arm of God would come (Not all there is to God, but Jesus would reveal God’s Arm reaching out to us finite humans), and God would take the worst of human evil, and use it for our good. Even Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection were wrapped in prophetic anticipation in Isaiah: Who has believed our report and the arm of God [Messiah] to whom it has been revealed?… Surely our griefs he is bearing and our sorrows he carried them…he is wounded [pierced] for our transgressions, and crushed for our iniquities, the correction for our peace was upon him, and by his wounds he has healed us. All of us like sheep have wandered [away from God] each man to his own way… He was cut off from the land of the living…although he worked no violence nor was deceit in his mouth. If you will appoint his soul a sin offering he will see his seed [children] and he will lengthen his days…After the toil of his soul he shall see light and he shall be satisfied…the sins of many, he bore. Isaiah 53:1-12 ~680 B.C. Dead Sea version
4). He would die for our sins (crucifixion) 5). See light and live (resurrection) These are just 5 of 60 prophecies God wrapped his Great Gift in for 1000s of years. God’s plan has been to bless all the nations, all willing people from every tribe, language, and ethnicity through His Messiah, Jesus. The Greatest Gift–to know we’re forgiven, made right with God.
You know, if you read the sacred scriptures of the world’s Great Religions, they actually have a lot in common regarding the Moral Law—what’s right and wrong. So we’ve known basic right and wrong—in all cultures for all times. Yet no one is perfect. No one has perfect Karma, or perfectly keeps 10 commands, 5 Pillars, 8-fold path—shoot don’t even keep OWN MORAL LAW. Every let yourself down? Said “I’ll never, but you did!”
Isaiah says We turn from God and go our own way. Then we fear God’s punishment, so we run and hide from the One we were created for. But God wants loving relationship—God created you in love, for you to love God. So Jesus paid for our wrongs, so God is just to take back all who turn back. If you want forgiveness, if you want relationship—it’s God’s Gift to receive.
We may know the story of Jesus, but do you actually know Jesus? Many of us can win a Bible Trivia contest, but have we experienced the fullness of a relationship with God? The Best.Gift.Ever. is that God gave Himself to us.“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” – John 3:16-17
See, You are God’s work of art—his Masterpiece—his unique, wonderful creation. He created you to love you, and so you would love your Creator and let God, the Source of life and love, teach us to love one another. We can’t become who God intended disconnected from the Source of Love and Life. So God removed every barrier between every human and himself except one—our pride. He won’t force us into relationship if we don’t want it. But He made relationship so simple—a child can have it. All He requires is faith, belief, trust—turning to God and saying “I want your forgiveness and leadership paid for by Jesus.” That’s the gift of relationship with God.
Now Many of us receive this gift—we unwrap it, open it, we’re excited that God will never condemn us, loves us, forgives us. But then we leave the Gift under the tree and never really use the gift.
Imagine if your kids opened a gift you highly anticipated giving—that you knew would bring so much joy and life—They thank you for the gift, but they don’t use it. You’d be like—I got it for you to use. Don’t you realize how great it is? And the answer is “NO—we don’t.” See The Gift of God didn’t end 2000 years ago with Jesus. We don’t have to wait for Heaven to enjoy this multifaceted, indescribable Gift of relationship with God. It’s really everything you’ve ever wanted. Just do a gut check here—if Jesus is telling the truth–isn’t this the Gift you’re longing for? Listen to what Jesus said he came to give us:
Freedom – Jesus said, “You are truly my [followers] if you remain faithful to my teachings. 32 And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:31-32 Think about all the lies that try to hold us back from our full potential. You’re a failure. You’ll never live up. You’re uniquely bad. You’re ugly, you’re dumb, You have to prove you’re worth something. These are all lies—the Gift of God is relationship that leads us to see ourselves as God does, and that sets us free to fully be ourselves. Could you use a Gift like That?]
Freedom from Worry —“That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life.…Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are?… Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. Matthew 6:25-26, 33 How many of you could use the gift of less Worry? Do you realize that God wants to give you that—as you seek His will daily, and use the gift of relationship.
Burden-Free Living – Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest…Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart…and the burden I give you is light.” Matthew 11:28-30 Just think, if this really is your Maker revealing his heart for you? Think of all the burdens, all the striving, all the frenzied people pleasing. Yet here’s God, saying “You can trust me, I’m humble and gentle, and I want to teach you to carry only the burdens I intended—and they’re light.” Imagine Burden-free living! That’s the Indescrible Gift of God. Could you use that Gift this year?
Freedom from Addictions that enslave us – Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who [keeps on sinning] is a slave of sin…if the Son sets you free, you are truly free.” John 8:34-36 So many things we thought were “no big deal” enslave us. I know, I’ve been there. You keep on harboring bitterness and anger and pretty soon—it consumes you. You keep on drinking too much, or drugging, and it locks you in chains and destroys you and those you love. You keep giving in to lust or porn or envy, jealousy, greed and soon you’re eaten up with discontent and comparison nothings ever enough. But God doesn’t condemn—He wants to set you free as you depend on God’s Power when you’re powerless. Could you use that Gift this year?
Abundant Life – Jesus said, The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life. John 10:10 As we learn to live life daily with God’s Spirit, what grows within is Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Self-control. Could you use more Joy, Peace, Patience this year? Could you use that Gift this year?
Love Beyond Our Ability— Jesus said most people love only those who love them first, But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! 45 In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:44-45 God is love. He wants you to experience His overflowing love, so that you can love your spouse when it’s challenging—love your kids when you feel impatient—love your coworkers when they’re obnoxious and irritating—love your extended family (even if they stay a whole week of Christmas). Jesus wants to help us become such loving people, we can even love our enemies. That’s the Gift of God I need, you need, the whole world needs—love of Another Kind.
Jesus asked us, “If you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.” Matthew 7:11 God wants to give us SO much more. Indescribably more. But What do you do with The Gift? Some people are so busy, so consumed, they never take the time to open the box–quickly conclude it’s a myth. Is that you this Christmas? If so, I want to challenge you to explore faith with us this new year.