KIDS TIME: It is so good to be with you here on Christmas Eve – my name is Rodney if we haven’t met, and I’m one of the pastors here at River City. Before we jump into the message for today, if you’re here at you’re a kid 12 or under, I’d love to have you join me up here in the front – you can sit on the front row of chairs, or on the mats here on the floor, but I want to talk to you about Christmas for a couple minutes, okay? Then some of you younger ones will go to class.
First of all – what is one of your favorite things about Christmas?
Presents: Why do you think we like presents so much?
- We like getting new things • We like surprises • It feels special.
Now, if you wanted to find out what your present was before you opened it, what are some things you can do to try to figure it out?
- Shake it • lift it to see if it’s heavy or not • listen closely to see if it’s something that makes a noise
- Now, you mom and dad probably don’t like it when you do that, right?
- What would be the worst thing you could do? Unwrap it. Open it, try to put back the paper and set it back under the tree, right? That would be pretty disobedient.
Why do you think your mom or dad wants you to wait to open your present? Why don’t they want you to try to figure it out?
Because it’s more special when we all open our presents together, right? And it’s more fun for the person giving you the gift if you wait. Otherwise, she would have just bought the gift and handed it to you. But she wants you to wait for just the right time.
The Bible tells us that God had a gift for you and me, and he gave it to us at just the right time. The people we read about in the Bible were just like you – they got sad, they had mean people in their schools, they had moms and dads that argued with each other, they had bills they couldn’t pay, and they had viruses too. But worse than all of those things was the virus of sin. Just like you and me, the people in the Bible all had selfishness in their hearts. They had anger, jealousy, and only thought of themselves – just like all of us in this room. And sin moves us far away from God, because he is too holy to let sin in his house.
Let me ask you this – if it’s raining outside and you are running and stomping in mud puddles, and then you want to come into the house, what does your mom tell you to do?
Take off your shoes! Why doesn’t your mom just tell you to stay outside? Because she loves you! She wants you inside for dinner, it’s cold outside, she doesn't want you to sleep in the snow.
God loves us too! He wants us to be where he is. And like a mom or dad who loves you, God says, “Take off your sin!” But that’s a problem for us. Because we can’t do that on our own. We need help. And only God can help us with that. But that’s where the gift comes in.
See the Bible is not a book of rules we need to follow. It’s not a list of things we need to do to make God happy so nothing bad ever happens to us. The Bible is really a Christmas story. It’s a story about God giving a gift to us at just the right time, a gift that would take away our sin, so that we could be where God is.
I’m going to stop right there and pray for you – that God would show you what that gift is. After I pray, if you are 5 or 4 or 3 or 2, we have a class you can go to right behind this wall, where you’ll learn more about that gift. If you’re older than 5, you can go back to your parents and keep listening as I tell you more about the gift.
PRAY & DISMISS
My text this evening comes from 1 Peter chapter 1. Here at River City, we started going through this book of the Bible one verse at a time in our sermons, and we’re about halfway through.
But we’ve learned that Peter was an eyewitness to Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection – Peter was a fisherman turned disciple who eventually became one of the leaders of the church, and he was writing this letter to a group of Christians who had been forced to live in a place that wasn’t their home, and were facing persecution because they followed Jesus. No doubt some of them felt quite hopeless. Will this suffering ever end? We thought following Jesus was supposed to bring us joy and peace – so what’s with the persecution? God, do you hear us? Do you see us?
I don’t know all of you, but I wonder if some of you have felt that this year has been one where you haven’t seen a lot of hope. Maybe your sense of hopelessness revolved around what the virus has brought on. Your job faced a lot of changes, and you aren’t sure what’s going to happen next year. Maybe your sense of hopelessness had something to do with the election, or the process, or whatever. Maybe you experienced the deep sorrow of loss this year, of either someone who passed away, a miscarriage, a relationship that ended, or just the loss of a vacation or a trip that was taken from you by regulations. Or maybe your marriage or parenting feels like you blew it, and you aren’t sure how to recover.
And if that’s you, this letter from Peter was written to people like you. Ordinary people struggling with what it means to be a Christian in a world that feels like it’s against you. This letter was written to encourage people who feel defeated, people who feel like failures, and people who need a little hope.
1 Peter 1:3-9
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because of his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead 4 and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.
There is so much here, but let’s pull one primary thing out of this verse:
- We have hope. Here’s the deal – If a virus or an election can take away your hope, it’s a dead hope. If a down economy, or the loss of your job, or the loss of a relationship takes away your hope, it’s a dead hope. There’s no life there. Too many people hang their hope on a certain person being or not being president. Too many people hang their hope on their health, on their job, on sports, on their grades, on what people think about them, on whether or not they belong – it’s all dead hope because all of those things can be taken from you in the blink of an eye.
The hope that Peter points to is an inheritance kept in heaven for us; one that is LIVING, one that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading. It can’t be touched by a down economy. It can’t be touched by layoffs. It can’t be touched by communism or socialism or whatever -ism you are worried about. It can’t be touched by COVID or cancer or corruption.
Why is that a big deal?
- We talked about this with the kids – it’s a big deal b/c our sin separates us from God. The problem is that the filth of sin isn’t just that we accidentally got dirt on our shoes – it’s an act of our hearts where we put something else as more important than God. It is a violation against the very thing God designed us to – which is to glorify him, honor him, and live lives of holiness. You’ll hear us say this around here pretty often, but sin doesn’t make us BAD, sin makes us DEAD. It separates us from the source of life, which is God himself.
But That’s where the gift comes in! Romans 6:23 says “The payout for sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life” – not because we have perfect church attendance, not through saying the right amount of prayers, not because you have your life together, not because you said a certain prayer or gave a certain amount of money to the homeless – ”the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
God did for us what we could never do on our own!
Earlier this year my wife went to Colorado hiking with some other ladies, and a couple hours into their trip she realized this was more than she had bargained for. With the elevation and the actual work of hiking, every step for her was really difficult. There was a white Suburban waiting for them at the end of the trail, but the only way to get to it was over the pass at 12 ½ thousand feet. There were times she didn’t think she could put one foot in front of the other anymore.
Maybe you feel like that describes your journey of faith. It feels like climbing about 12,000 foot mountain. But the gospel says that instead of leaving us to struggle our whole lives to climb the mountain of spirituality or faith to get to where God is, the whole point of Christmas is that Jesus came down the mountain to us! We don’t have to get to the end of our lives worried that we haven’t done enough, or done the right things – the gift of God is that not only does Jesus’ death take away our sin, his resurrection means Jesus now walks with us, and he knows the way to where God is. Look at 1 Peter 1:5
- 5 You are being guarded by God’s power through faith for a salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.
- What is this salvation?
- We are saved from the penalty of our sin through his death in our place, that’s PAST
- We are being saved from the power of sin in our lives, that’s his PRESENT work in us.
- And there is a salvation ready to be revealed where we will be saved from the PRESENCE of sin, that’s future. That’s what is ready to be revealed.
To me, this is the picture of a Christmas gift. Until this past Saturday, my family had several gifts under our Christmas tree, ready to be revealed. And at just the right time, on Saturday evening, we all gathered up in the living room and unwrapped the gifts we’d given to each other.
The Bible is the story about God’s gift to humanity – And what we learn from the Story of God in the Bible is that God had this gift already wrapped and under the tree back in Genesis. And all through the stories of Abraham, King David, Jonah, Esther, the apostle Paul, Peter, Mary, including the story of Jesus himself, even in the stars at night, the mountains, the rivers, the creatures in the sea and on land and in the air, God is slowly unwrapping parts of that gift to give us hope, to give us a glimpse of what’s to come.
And you want to know what the gift is? You want to know what he’s unwrapping a little bit at a time? It’s the gift of not having to be outside the house anymore, but being welcomed inside to the wise and glorious presence of God himself! It’s the gift of a restored relationship with the Lord of heaven and earth!
And maybe you’re like, Oh man, that’s a bummer. I thought it would be a pony or a new car.
No way! A pony comes with vet bills and food bills. A new car comes with taxes, gas, and maintenance.
This gift of God’s presence comes with an eternity of the life we were created for, with no more death, no more sorrow, no more grief, no more tears of rejection, tears of failure, tears of crushed hopes! Can you imagine a world without fear or anxiety? Can you imagine a world without hatred or grief?
There is a day coming when we won’t have to imagine that anymore! There is a day coming, when God will look at his Son Jesus and say, “it’s time. Let’s do this!” and The Lord himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the archangel’s voice, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are still alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.
To be saved from sin and be restored to the full and undiluted presence of God is the most glorious gift you could ever receive, and it’s ready. Right now!
There is no assembly required. This is not some IKEA furniture kind of salvation where you have to work to get it together. No batteries needed. You don’t need to find an extension cord. It’s ready. You can’t earn it, and you can’t lose it. THAT IS THE HOPE WE HAVE in dark times.
6 You rejoice in this, even though now for a short time, (maybe that’s 2 weeks, 2 years, 50 years, 80 years – compared to eternity it’s a short time) if necessary, you suffer grief in various trials 7 so that the proven character of your faith — more valuable than gold which, though perishable, is refined by fire — may result in praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
But even though we don't see that salvation in full just yet, we can have joy in hard days because we are confident that the Giver of the gift is true to his word, and that one day we will be saved from all this.
The last piece is in verse 8 and 9
8 Though you have not seen him, you love him; though not seeing him now, you believe in him, and you rejoice with inexpressible and glorious joy, 9 because you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls. -- 1 Peter 1:3-9 (CSB)
Though you don’t yet see Jesus, you don’t yet see the presence of sin gone and out of your life, though you aren’t yet what you will be, look at verse 9 – YOU ARE RECEIVING THE GOAL OF YOUR FAITH WHICH IS SALVATION! If you are in Christ, and he is in you, you are currently, every moment of every day, receiving salvation! It’s not only a future thing, it’s a NOW thing!
And the best example of this was late one evening, many, many years ago, a group of shepherds were watching their sheep when an angel excitedly came and told them God was going to allow them to unwrap one part of the gift. Today is born for you, in Bethlehem, a Savior who is the Christ the Lord. You’ll find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. Into the darkness, light had shone. Hope had come. God had not forgotten. They hurried into town to see if it was true.
What you don’t read there, is that while Bethlehem wasn’t that big of a city, can you imagine going through Riverside looking for one baby – I mean you’ll know you found the right one when it’s a baby where babies shouldn’t be – in a cattle trough. Can you imagine these shepherds, going through town knocking on doors, asking strangers if they know of anyone who recently had a baby. Looking for their Savior who was going to make a way for sinners with filthy hearts, filthy mouths and minds, filthy hands, to be cleaned up and welcomed into the family of God.
I don’t know how long they might have looked, but Matthew 7:7,8 says Ask and it will be given to you. Seek and you will find. Knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receivers, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
When they finally found the right house, those shepherds didn’t find a king on a war horse surrounded by generals. They didn’t find themselves saved from corrupt politicians. They didn’t see everyone who was mean to them get what’s coming. They didn’t find all of their hopes and dreams completely fulfilled.
But they went away rejoicing because the God who had promised was faithful, and they knew they were currently receiving the salvation that they would one day see in full, when the king, at just the right time, would take his place on the throne in the kingdom of God.
- Maybe you’re here tonight and you’re still not sure. Maybe you’re thinking, yeah, I tried Jesus once and that didn’t work. Yeah I grew up in church, and it never really did much for me. Maybe you’re a skeptic, and you would have been a shepherd on the hill that night that said, “eh, those weren’t angels. We ate some weird mushrooms or something.” Or maybe you haven’t actually knocked on any doors. You haven’t asked. Don’t be that shepherd that ran into town, knocked on one door, and walked back to the sheep dejected because he didn’t see the Savior. God’s promise to you is that if you knock, he will open the door. That promise is just as good as his promise to the shepherds. So repent of your sin, call out to Jesus – start knocking, asking, seeking. And I promise you he is not that far away, and he is not afraid of your questions. But if you continue to refuse to receive the gift that takes away your sin, the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, you will not enter the family of God with all his benefits. You will stay out in the darkness where there is unbridled sorrow and agony.
- Maybe you’re here and you feel like all you’ve been doing is knocking. All you’ve been doing is seeking, and you’re not hearing any answers. You’re feeling alone, like God’s still keeping you out in the cold. And you think maybe your boots are still too muddy. There’s no way he could forgive you for what you’ve done; no way he would even want to welcome you in. Jesus didn’t come to fancy people in fancy houses, wining and dining his way to the kingdom of God. Jesus came hanging out with sinners, sufferers, and people society had rejected, in order to restore them to God and give them hope. On the cross, Jesus cried out “it is finished!” because everything required for your salvation was done and completed right then and there. You can’t add to something that’s finished! If there is more that can be done, you aren’t finished. So when Jesus says, “it’s finished”, he covered your sin and mine and anyone else’s who would come to him by faith.
- Or maybe you’re just needing some hope. Like my wife on that mountain, you know the journey has an end in sight, but life has been so hard that it’s tough to get excited about that right now. Parenting. Marriage. Jobs. School. Health. And it’s hard to know if you can even put the next foot in front of the other. The good news for you is that Jesus walks with you, he hears you, and he knows how it feels. He promises he will never leave you, forget about you, ignore you, or suddenly abandon you, and that he hears even the faintest knock on the door. He hears even the faintest whisper for help. He is gentle and kind, and will see you through, one day at a time.
If you would like someone to pray with you today, or want to know more about Jesus, or more about River City Church, there will be a few men and women on this side who would love to talk with you today. Please stand with me as I pray, and then we will sing two songs together.