Sunday, December 24, 2023

“The Astonishing Gift” [Matt's Messages]

“The Astonishing Gift”
Life in Jesus’ Name - The Gospel of John
Lanse Evangelical Free Church
December 24, 2023 :: John 3:16 

You can open your Bibles if you want to, but everybody here should already have today’s passage memorized. 

We’ve been working on it for months and months as a church family, and many many of us had it memorized long before that.

It’s John chapter 3, verse 16. Let’s all say it together:

“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.”

That’s the meaning of Christmas, isn’t it?

What is the most astonishing gift you’ve ever been given or have given to someone else for Christmas?

Just about everybody here is slated to give and/or receive at least one gift tomorrow. Big or small. It’s a wonderful time of the year for giving gifts. Heather’s brother David and his family are visiting this week from western Canada, and Heather has been so looking forward to doing a gift exchange with them tomorrow. She loves to give gifts to those she loves. It’s wonderful to have you guys with us. And I can’t wait to see what you got me this year.

We all love it when our gift really hits the spot, right?  You give someone a gift, and they open it, and it’s exactly what they always wanted?

I remember when I was a little kid, I got a “Millennium Falcon” spaceship from “Star Wars” as my Christmas gift, and it just lit up my life! It even had the little secret hiding place from the movie for my action figures.

What have been some of your favorite gifts to receive over the years at Christmas time? Have any of them been astonishing? 

“Oh, you shouldn’t have.”

What have been some of your favorite gifts to give?

The reason why the giving of gifts is so appropriate at Christmas is because Christmas marks the giving of the greatest gift ever given.

Last Sunday, a group of us visited a dozen homes of our church family and sang Christmas carols in their front yards. At the end of every song time, we would pray for the folks in that home or ask them to pray for us, and we were always praying John 3:16 for them. “Thank you, Lord, for giving us the greatest gift ever. Because you so loved the world that you gave your One and Only Son.”

Sometimes, it’s hard to remember that that’s what Christmas is all about. Because there are a lot of distractions out there. Even the giving of gifts to one another can add to that distraction. Especially the endless shopping for gifts for one another, am I right?

By the way, I’m not saying that we all need to spend an astonishing amount of money for Christmas every year! It might be much wiser for us to keep the gift giving simple in our families and focus our generosity elsewhere, especially when our funds are limited. We should think about those who do not have much at all and give in that direction. 

It’s easy to get distracted, even by the gifts, from the greatest gift ever given. So let’s think about it together once again.

We actually studied John 3:16 just a couple of months ago as we have been working our way through the Gospel of John, so we won’t go over the context and all of the fine details like we did back then. Check the YouTube of that message this afternoon to go back over all of that.

Today, I just want us to focus on how astonishing this gift really was. Because this is, quite frankly, mind-blowing. And if it’s isn’t mind-blowing, then we don’t really understand it.

We’ve been learning some pretty astonishing things together the last few months. For example, God is Son and God is Father. (And He is also Spirit.)

God the Father has eternally begotten His own Son. God has a Son, and He is also God! 

As the Nicene Creed says, the Son is:

“God from God, Light from Light
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father.”

Or as the Bible says, “In the beginning was the Word (that’s the Son), and the Word was with God (and, as the Son, from God) and the Word WAS God.” That is God the Son. And there is only One of Him.

Those are some pretty astonishing things! We’re going to go over them again tonight as we light all 5 of these candles.

God has a Son, and He’s His...what’s the Greek word here? “Monogenays.”

Only Begotten
Ultra Unique
One and Only Son

We’ve seen this over and over again in the Gospel of John. God has a Son, and He is in a class by Himself. There is no one else like Him. And the Father loves Him.

We’ve seen that again and again, haven’t we?

John chapter 5. “For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, to your amazement he will show him even greater things than these.” (Jn. 5:20).

Or two weeks ago at His baptism. The Father saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17 NIVO).

Or last week when we talked about Jesus as The Ultimate Prophet when He was transfigured, and the Father says, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” (Matt. 17:5 NIVO).

The Father loves the Son. He loves Him so much!

And so that makes it so astonishing, so breath-taking, when we read John 3:16, and it tells us that God “so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son...”!

And it wasn’t a giving like giving Him away in marriage or something like that. Like we might say, “I give my son to the world,” and all we mean is that he is leaving the nest and making his way in the big bad world.

But this was actually an exchange. God gave His Son as a sacrifice for the world. That’s what it’s talking about. John is talking about the death of His One and Only Son. That’s the gift.

The Apostle John never got over what He was led to write here. John thought about this all the time.

When he wrote his letters, John said this. 1 John chapter 4, verses 9 and 10, “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”

You see how astonished John was? And he was the one who wrote John 3:16!

We didn’t love God, and He gave His Son for us?! “This is love!”

You see, that’s all bound up in the word, “world.” We think, “God so loved the world,” and that’s amazing because the world is so big. But it’s actually amazing because the world is so bad. Just about every time that John uses the word, “world,” he’s talking about humanity united together in rebellion against God. The “world-system” we might say. Because the world is so sinful, this is such an astonishing gift.

I don’t know how many times I have preached John 3:16 at somebody’s funeral, and I always say something like this, “I have 3 sons and a daughter(!), and I know that I'm supposed to love people, and I want to be a loving man, but it would be really hard for me to give one of my sons or my daughter for anyone. Much less one of my enemies!

But God gave His one and only Son to save those who will believe.”

Isn’t that astonishing?! What an amazing Giver this God is!

I have a friend who says, “Our treason is the reason for the season.”

God didn’t just send His One and Only Son to show us the way to Him. He GAVE His One and Only Son to be the Way that we come to Him. He gave His One and Only Son to die on the Cross for our sins and come back to life to give us life. And that’s just shocking. It should leave us breathless. We do not deserve this. This is all grace. It is all GIFT.

The Apostle Paul never got over this either. Misty put up a bold gold bulletin board out there that we’ve all been looking at  the last few months. It has 2 Corinthians 9:15 on it, and it very simply says, “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!”

One time I looked up that word for “indescribable” in the dictionary, and it means, “You can't describe it.” Which does not mean that we shouldn't try. There are words to describe God's gift, but there aren't enough words to do it justice. Does that make sense?

The King James Version has "unspeakable gift" in 2 Corinthians 9:15 which might give you the idea that it's forbidden to talk about this gift. “Speak not of this gift!”

And that's clearly not what Paul meant. But the King James also might give you the idea that there just aren't words to use. It's unspeakably good.

The ESV, the English Standard Version says, "inexpressible" gift. You almost get the idea from the ESV that you not only run out of words to describe this gift, but you run out of words altogether. It’s just so astonishing!

Just slow down and think about it. “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.”

How do we apply this astonishing truth to our lives in 2023 and soon to be 2024?

Let me suggest five quick things. Boom, boom, boom, boom, boom.


That’s what John 3:16 says we need to do. That’s our “part.” God has astonishingly given His One and Only Son, THAT whoever BELIEVES in him shall not perish but have eternal life. That’s whoever. That’s you and me and anyone else.  But only those who believe.

If you don’t believe, then Jesus’ death is not a gift for you. You have to receive it for yourself.

All gifts are like that, right? If someone hands you a gift tomorrow morning, and you refuse it, if you leave it unopened, it was “given,” but it wasn’t received. Believe. 

I know it’s hard to believe. I almost called this message, “The Incredible Gift.” Because it’s almost too astonishing to believe. But this is the gospel. This is the greatest news in the all of the world, and it’s true. Believe it! Put your trust in God’s Gift of His One and Only Son.


Rejoice! Marvel! Wonder! Allow yourself to be astonished. This is amazing stuff. Don’t let it become “old hat.” I struggle every year with that. It’s my job to rehearse these truths every Christmastime, and it’s kind of easy to get king of bored with Mary, Joseph, Shepherds, Angels, Wisemen. Mary, Joseph, Shepherds, Angels, Wisemen. Mary, Joseph, Shepherds, Angels, Wisemen. Twenty six years now.

But not if we stop and think about what John 3:16 says here!

Not if it’s real. “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.” Be amazed!


That’s where the Apostle John goes with it next in verse 11 of chapter 4 of his first letter.

Again he says, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. [Then he writes...] Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”

We’re going to see that again and again as we go further up and further into the Gospel of John. We have been loved with an astonishing love, so we need to learn to love one another in a way that makes the world gasp. And to love even our enemies in a way that makes the world shake their heads in astonishment. Be like Jesus and be full of love.

And be like Jesus and be full of peace.


What I mean here is that if you and I are loved like this, then what do we have to worry about? What trouble should trouble us if we are loved like this?

Romans 8:32 says it this way, “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all–how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32 NIVO). He will! If He did the hardest thing ever in giving up His One and Only Son, then nothing can or will stop Him from taking care of all of the easier things. So you and I can live lives of peace and confidence.

And loud joy!


John 3:16 is too good to keep to ourselves. Let’s tell go up on a mountainside and tell the world!

The astonishing news that God so loved them that He gave His One and Only Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.