The Greatest Gift (Luke 2:9-12)

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On Christmas Eve at our church, our young people presented a play which looked at the birth of Jesus as being the greatest gift ever given to the world.

When we compare the gift of a child to all the other things on our Christmas wish lists, a baby might not look very impressive or important. When each of our three children were born, I remember looking at these little, helpless people and being amazed at what an incredible gift life is. We can’t buy it or earn it in any way. Life can only be given, and that’s what makes it a gift.

Whether we identify as followers of Jesus or not, it is good that we remember that. It is too easy to take our life and the lives of the people around us for granted. But life is so fragile and precious. Christmas is a good time to remember that and appreciate the lives of the people around us. They might frustrate or annoy us, but the people in our lives are a gift to us from a God who loves us and wants good for us. So give thanks for the fragile, precious gift of the people in your life, because they are God’s gift to us.

What is unique about the life of this baby whose birth we celebrate at Christmas is that he is the gift of God’s life to us. The Apostle Paul tells us that the fullness of God lives in this little body (Colossians 1:19). Through this child, God overcomes everything that divides a flawed, broken, messed-up humanity from himself and he unites himself with us. God and people are joined together as one in the infant of Jesus. He does that to take everything that is wrong about us and carry it to the cross to put it to death. At the same time, he fills us with everything he is: goodness, purity, righteousness, wholeness, and so much more. He gifts us with his life, from which all life grows. Jesus describes the life he comes to give as ‘life to the full’ (John 10:10). This is life as it was meant to be from the beginning – life lived in perfect relationship with God, with each other, and with creation. His is a life that is stronger than death, and a life that will never end.

We look for life in all sorts of ways and places. Some of them help us discover what life is about. Other places where we look for life actually take life from us. In the end, like all the other gifts we will receive this Christmas, they have a use-by date. They will leave us wanting and looking for more, or better, or newer gifts. The gift of life that God gives to us through the infant Jesus, however, has no use-by date. It is everything we could ever hope for, and so much more.

At Christmas, we don’t just celebrate the birth of a baby a long time ago in a land far, far away. We celebrate the greatest gift God has ever given to us – life in his Son which begins now and will last forever.

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Leading to Life (John 10:1-10)

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Many churches around the world last Sunday observed what is known as ‘Good Shepherd Sunday.’ Some Christians don’t like identifying with sheep because they don’t want to be identified as stupid animals who mindlessly go along with the crowd. However, the purpose of Good Shepherd Sunday is to focus on one of the more common images for God in the Bible, and especially of Jesus in the New Testament, as the shepherd of his people.

The picture of Jesus as our shepherd helps us as we continue to explore discipleship. In John 10:1-10 we hear discipling language: the shepherd calls his flock by name, leads them, and they follow him (vv3,4). By reading this passage from a discipling perspective, we can hear the Good Shepherd calling us to follow him in order to lead us into a new life (v10).

The life that Jesus describes in v10 is understood in a variety of ways. The New Living Translation calls it ‘a rich and satisfying life.’ The New International Version translates the end of v10 as ‘life … the full.’ The Message describes it as ‘real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.’ The English Standard Version has Jesus saying that he ‘came that they may have life and have it abundantly.’ I’m left wondering what this life that Jesus promises to lead us into look like?

This text is often misused by people who promote a prosperity theology and teach that the more we give to their organization, the more Jesus will give them in return. Becoming a Christian doesn’t make everything sunshine and rainbows, and you can’t deal with God for a more comfortable life. The Bible is clear about the reality of suffering, especially for followers of Jesus (for example see Matthew 5:11,12; Luke 21:12ff). However, Jesus is still promising to lead us into a life that is ‘abundant,’ ‘rich and satisfying’ or ‘to the full.’ The Greek word used here can give the implication that something is so full that it is overflowing. So what is this life that Jesus promises so full of that it overflows?

Maybe our discipling journey is actually about exploring this overflowing life that Jesus leads us into. To offer a definitive answer to what this life looks like would, therefore, kind of defeat the purpose. However, Jesus does give us some hints about the nature of this life in the previous verses.

This is a life where we are known, because he calls us by name (v3b). In the ancient world, if you knew someone’s name, you had a connection or a relationship with them. Because our Good Shepherd calls us by name, he knows us, so we can find who we are in relationship with him.

This is a life where we find salvation (v9a). This is more than going to heaven when we die. If we think about the image of a shepherd watching over his flock, then being ‘saved’ is more about being protected, rescued, and kept from harm. We can begin to experience this ‘salvation’ in this life through faith in our Good Shepherd.

This is a life where we find good pastures (v9b). The Good Shepherd provides for his flock because he cares about them. In the same way, this overflowing life Jesus promises is one where we can trust that he will provide for all of our physical, emotional and spiritual needs.

Imagine what this kind of life could be like: where Jesus, our Good Shepherd, knows us, protects us and provides for all our needs. When Jesus promises to lead us into an overflowing life, he is asking us to believe that by following him in faith and love our lives can be better than they are today. This won’t necessarily remove our suffering, hardships or difficulties. However, as we follow Jesus into the overflowing life, we can find the hope of a better tomorrow in relationship with our Good Shepherd whose life is stronger than death. Whatever our circumstances might be, as Jesus calls us by name and leads us into his life, we can find hope, peace and even joy that overflows into the lives of the people around us.

This makes discipleship about much more than following a new set of rules or a moral guide for us. Discipleship becomes about Jesus calling us to follow him as he leads us into a new kind of life, a life that overflows with God’s goodness. This doesn’t happen immediately. It will take time because it is a journey. However, it is a journey that our Good Shepherd has already walked before us, and into which he calls us as he knows us, protects us and provides for all our needs. It is a life in which we encounter the overflowing goodness of God in Jesus, as it grows in us and spills out into the lives of the people around us.

More to think about:

  • What do you think of when you hear Jesus describe himself as the ‘Good Shepherd’? What images or ideas come to mind?
  • How have you heard the ‘abundant life’ or ‘life to the full’ that Jesus talks about in v10 explained? What are your thoughts in the ways different people explain it?
  • What do you think Jesus meant when he said that he came to give us ‘a rich and satisfying life’ (NLT)? What do you think this kind of life looks like?
  • Is this the life you are living now? In what ways are you experiencing God’s abundance now? In what ways do you need Jesus to lead you into the life he promises?
  • One way we can think of this life is that God’s goodness overflows from us into the lives of the people around us (see John 4:14). Do you think that following Jesus more closely can help you in your relationships with other people? Explain why or why not…