Read and answer the questions in the boxes out loud and in English.
Jesus gave us the greatest gift through his sacrifice. The questions throughout this text will help you explore topics relating to gift giving.
Jesus came to give himself as a sacrifice for all peoples so that we could escape our corruption and reconnect with God. This plan was announced at the beginning of human history. It was signed by God in the sacrifice of Abraham by pointing to Mount Moriah where Jesus’ sacrifice would be provided. Then the Jewish Passover sacrifice was a sign pointing to the day of the year when Jesus would be sacrificed.
Why is his sacrifice so important? This is a question worth asking. The Bible declares a Law when it states:
For the wages of sin is death… (Romans 6:23)
“Death” literally means ‘separation’. When our soul separates from our body we die physically. Similarly we are even now separated from God spiritually. This is true because God is Holy (sinless) while we have become corrupted from our original creation and so we sin.
This can be pictured using cliffs with God on the opposite side from us separated by a bottomless pit. Just like a branch that has been cut from a tree is dead, so we have cut ourselves off from God and become spiritually dead.
1. Is there a polite way to receive or open a gift in your culture?
2. Is there a polite way to give a gift? What are some reasons why your culture has these customs?
This separation causes guilt and fear. So what we naturally try to do is build bridges to take us from our side (of death) to God’s side. We do this in many different ways: going to church, temple or mosque, being religious, being good, helping the poor, meditation, trying to be more helpful, praying more, etc. These deeds to gain merit can be very difficult – and living them out can be very complicated. This is illustrated in the next figure.
3. When someone visits your home in your culture, do they bring a gift? What kind of gift should they bring?
4. If someone forgets to bring a gift when visiting or on an occasion like a holiday or birthday, is it a big insult, or is it not important?
The problem is that our hard efforts, merits, and deeds, though not wrong, are insufficient because the payment required (the ‘wages’) for our sins is ‘death’. Our efforts are like a ‘bridge’ that tries to cross the gap separating us from God – but in the end cannot do it. This is because good merit will not solve our root problem. It is like trying to heal cancer (which results in death) by eating vegetarian. Eating vegetarian is not bad, it may even be good – but it will not cure cancer. For cancer you need a totally different treatment.
This Law is Bad News – it is so bad we often do not even want to hear it and we fill our lives with activities and things hoping this Law will go away. But the Bible stresses this Law of sin and death to get our attention to focus on the cure that is simple and powerful.
For the wages of sin is death but… (Romans 6:23)
The small word ‘but’ shows that the direction of the message is about to change directions, to the Good News of the Gospel – the cure. It shows both the goodness and love of God.
For the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23)
The good news of the gospel is that the sacrifice of Jesus’ death is sufficient to bridge this separation between us and God. We know this because three days after his death Jesus rose bodily, coming alive again in a physical resurrection. Most of us do not know about the evidence for his resurrection. A very strong case can be made for it as shown in this public lecture I did at a university (video link here). Jesus’ sacrifice was prophetically acted out in Abraham’s sacrifice and the Passover sacrifice. These signs pointing to Jesus were put there to help us find the cure.
Jesus was a human who lived a sinless life. Therefore he can ‘touch’ both the human and the God sides and span the gap separating God and people. He is a Bridge to Life which can be pictured like this:
5. What are the giving customs for family events like weddings and the birth of babies in your culture? What gifts do you give at such times? Who is expected to give gifts? Who is exempt?
6. Did you ever give a gift you would rather have kept for yourself?
Notice how this sacrifice of Jesus is given to us. It is offered as a … ‘gift’. Think about gifts. No matter what the gift is, if it is really a gift it is something that you do not work for and that you do not earn by merit. If you earned it the gift would no longer be a gift – it would be a wage! In the same way you cannot merit or earn the sacrifice of Jesus. It is given to you as a gift. It is that simple.
And what is the gift? It is ‘eternal life’. That means that the sin which brought you and me death is now cancelled. Jesus’ bridge of life enables us to re-connect with God and receive life – which lasts forever. God loves you and me that much. It is that powerful.
So how do you and I ‘cross’ this Bridge of Life? Again, think of gifts. If someone wants to give you a gift you must ‘receive’ it. Anytime a gift is offered there are two alternatives. Either the gift is refused (“No thank you”) or it is received (“Thank you for your gift. I will take it”). So also this gift offered must be received. It cannot just be mentally believed in, studied or understood. This is illustrated in the next figure where we ‘walk’ on the Bridge by turning to God and receiving his gift he offers to us.
7. What’s one gift you have always wanted but have never received?
8. Do you like to put a lot of thought and time into buying gifts? Why or why not?
9.What was the best gift you ever gave? As a child? As an adult?
So how do we receive this gift? The Bible says that
Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (Romans 10:12)
Notice that this promise is for ‘everyone’. Since he rose from the dead Jesus is alive even now and he is ‘Lord’. So if you call on him he will hear and give his gift to you. You call out to him and ask him – by having a conversation with him. Perhaps you have never done this. Below is a prayer that can guide you. It is not a magic chant. It is not the specific words that give power. It is the trust like Abraham had that we place in him to give us this gift. As we trust him He will hear us and answer. The Gospel is powerful, and yet also so simple. Feel free to follow this guide if you find it helpful.
Dear Lord Jesus. I understand that with my sins I am separated from God. Though I can try hard, no effort and sacrifice on my part will bridge this separation. But I understand that your death was a sacrifice to wash away all my sins. I believe that you rose from the dead after your sacrifice so I know that your sacrifice was sufficient. I ask you to please cleanse me from my sins and bridge me to God so I can have eternal life. I do not want to live a life enslaved to sin so please free me from sin. Thank you, Lord Jesus, for doing all this for me and would you even now continue to guide me in my life so I can follow you as my Lord.
Below you can find common English expressions that are used when talking about gift giving.
“It’s the thought that counts” – the important thing is not the actual gift but rather the fact that someone thought of and wanted to please you with the gift.
Example: “I don’t know if my Dad will like this tie for Father’s Day, but, oh well, it’s the thought that counts, right?”
“Someone who is gifted “ – someone with a special talent such as art, music, or math.
Example: “Albert Einstein was very gifted in math; he was a genius.”
“A gift that keeps on giving” – a gift that makes people happy for a long time or that is useful over time.
Example: “If you buy someone a Netflix subscription and they like watching movies, you might say it is a gift that keeps on giving.”