Why do we celebrate Christmas? This week, Timothy “TA” Ateek reminds us of the truth behind John 3:16, the most famous verse in the Bible, to show us that the good news of the season is rooted in the reality of the Gospel.
Welcome to The Porch. I'm so glad you made it. I know some of you guys are still making your way into the room. You are welcome here. I'm so glad we get one more time together just to have this moment to celebrate the coming of Immanuel. If this is your first time ever with us at The Porch, thanks for trusting us with your Tuesday night. We know there are a lot of places you could be. There are a lot of things you could be doing on your Tuesday night.
Some of y'all left work early and have work to do after this. Some of y'all missed dinner. I'm so glad you made it tonight. As we kind of come to the end of 2023 together, and as this is our last time gathering in 2023, we at The Porch have been so encouraged as we've looked back on this year to celebrate all God has done. Just to share with you and to celebrate with you what God has done here in our lives…
We've had four mission trips this year. We've had four Equipping nights. We had the Launch retreat. Did anyone go to Launch with us? Six Porch Late Nights. We have 200 leaders serving with us. We have 11 Porch.Live locations around the nation joining us. Let's just celebrate them together. We have Midland, Tulsa, Scottsdale, Boise, Indy, Greater Lafayette, Des Moines, Fresno, Dayton, Atlanta, and we have people watching in Wheaton.
So there are people joining us all over the nation tonight. If that's you, we in Dallas are celebrating that you are with us. You might be sitting at home in your apartment or your condo, and you're by yourself right now. If you live in Dallas, I would just encourage you. Don't spend another Tuesday night alone in 2024. You can come and join us here.
If there are any kids watching right now… Parents, you need to know, if that's you somehow out in the universe, we're about to talk about the secret of Christmas, and I would hate to be the one who… I don't want to be that guy. But I'm under the assumption I'm talking to a bunch of young adults right now, so that's why this is happening. If you're a young adult who's not in the know, we're about to have a clarifying conversation.
Several years ago, we went to spend Christmas with my in-laws in Wichita Falls, Texas. On Christmas Eve, we went to First Baptist Church of Wichita Falls where my wife grew up. There was this moment during the service where this pastor who was in his 70s invited all of the children in the audience up onto the stage for the Christmas Eve service. You might have seen this before if you grew up going to church, where the pastor might invite children up for the telling of the Christmas story.
So, there are hundreds of kids who come up on the stage. Some are brought down by their parents. Some are weeping. Some kids are on camera picking their nose and their parents are trying to tell them, "Don't do that." That's happening. He brings all of these kids up and sits down in a rocking chair, and this was the first thing he said at the Christmas Eve service.
The place is packed. The stage is packed with young children, expectant for what is going to happen later that night, and here's what he said. He looked at all of the children and said, "Now we all know there is no Santa Claus." That's how he started. The people in the room without kids were like, "This is incredible." All of the moms in the room were like, "If you have a shot, take him out." I couldn't believe it. It was amazing.
What happened that night is that pastor made a massive assumption. His assumption was that everyone was on the same page and everyone was in the know. He assumed everyone understood everything that was happening surrounding Christmas. I just want to say I don't want to make the same mistake tonight. I don't want to assume we all get it. I don't want to assume we all understand why Christmas is so significant.
So, tonight is very, very simple. I want to look at the most famous verse in the entire Bible, and I just want to make sure we all leave here in the know. I want to unpack tonight the reality of the gospel and the right response to the gospel. That's it. Some of you here have embraced the good news of Christianity for years. If that's you and you just heard what I'm talking about, you might feel like you can tune out now. No, no, no. We never get over the gospel. As I share it, what I hope is birthed in you is celebration, a renewed joy in your heart for all Christ has done for you.
If you're here tonight and don't know Jesus, then what I hope for you is that you would realize there is an invitation. Then there are some of you who might think you're Christians and you're not, and my hope for you is evaluation. So, celebration for some, invitation for others, and evaluation for some still more. The goal tonight is that no one leaves here confused and we're all on the same page.
So, if you have a Bible, you can turn with me to John, chapter 3, as we unpack right here…Christmas at The Porch…the most famous verse in your Bible. Even if you don't have a Bible, we're going to have it on the screen. It's John 3:16. Many of you know it. Some of y'all have memorized it. Even if you're not a Christian or Christianity is pretty unfamiliar to you, there's a good chance you are somewhat familiar with John 3:16.
It says, "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son…" There's Christmas right there. There is God giving a gift to humanity. "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life." Here's what makes this verse so incredible. Martin Luther, the key figure in the Protestant Reformation, referred to this one verse as the "Bible in miniature." All of the Bible is summed up in this one verse.
This is the verse that 94 million people Googled when Tim Tebow wrote "John 3:16" under his eyes back when he was playing college football. It's that significant of a verse. This verse encapsulates… It provides the reason we do what we do at The Porch every Tuesday night. "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life."
If you are a Christian and you share your testimony with someone else, make sure you don't start your testimony with the fact that you are a sinner. That's not where the good news starts. The good news always starts with God. The good news doesn't start with Jesus Christ on the cross; it starts with God in the garden of Eden with humanity…even before that when he spoke the universe into creation.
Then he created man and woman in the garden. He created us to know him, to live with him, to experience intimacy with him, to see him face-to-face, yet that is not a reality for us, because sin entered the hearts of the first humans, our ancestors, Adam and Eve. They believed a lie that there is more joy, more life, and more fulfillment to be experienced outside of God's will.
When they gave themselves over to rebellion against God, this world was broken. It was fractured. So this world is no longer how it should be. The same is true with you and me. There is a bent in our hearts toward rebellion against God. The good news of Christianity always starts with God…God making us for relationship with him.
It says, "For God so loved the world…" Let's be clear. The good news of Christianity is a message of God's love. That's what Christianity is about. Christianity is about the love of God. It is not first and foremost about rules to follow. It's not first and foremost about what political party to align yourself with. Christianity at the foundational level hinges on the love of God.
This actually shows us the extent of God's love, because it says God so loved the world. Jews who would have been hearing this would have been shocked to hear it, because Jews knew God loved the children of Israel, yet now what they were finding out was that God's love can actually reach anyone.
"For God so loved the world, that he gave…" That's Christmas. It's when gifts are given. God gave the gift of his one and only Son. This shows the intensity of God's love. See, the Greek word kosmos, which has been translated world, when it says, "God so loved the world…" World in the book of John is usually used to refer to a rebellious humanity. It's a reference to those people who were living in rebellion against God.
What this shows is the intensity of God's love, that a world filled with humans who throughout all ages would rebel against God has been given a gift by the God they're rebelling against. And what did God give? God gave his one and only Son. If you think about it, when people disagree with us, if people don't accept us, what's our normal response? Our response is to cancel them. If they don't agree with us, accept us, or approve of us, we cancel them. We didn't approve of, embrace, accept, or acknowledge God, and what did God do? He gave his one and only Son for us. He gave the best of himself to his enemies.
This also shows the generosity of God, because it says God gave his one and only Son, which is so interesting. Don't miss what I'm telling you right now. Before God asked anything of us, he gave. I would imagine… I hope there are people here right now who hear that God gave, and something in you is like, "When has God given anything to me?" Some of you might be frustrated at God. Some of you might be severely disappointed in God.
Some of you might be very skeptical of God, because you're looking at God, thinking, "What have you ever done for me?" If that's you, let me tell you what might be happening in your life. You might be confusing what you need now with what you need most. You might be frustrated at God because he hasn't given you what you need now. You need physical healing. You need physical healing for your loved one.
You need a boyfriend or girlfriend or a spouse so you won't be lonely anymore. You need something to change financially. You need something to happen in your job. You need something to happen in your life so you can feel more settled, more at peace, and more happy. You don't feel like God has shown up and given you what you believe you need now. It's not that he can't, and it's not that he doesn't show up in very meaningful and miraculous ways in people's lives, but let's just be clear. Don't confuse what you need now with what you need most.
"God sent his one and only Son, that whoever…" Whoever. What that means is the invitation is to all. If you're hearing this message right now, it is for you. It is God's generosity and motion toward you. "Whoever believes…" Not whoever lives a good enough life. Not whoever attends church regularly. Not whoever votes for the right political party. No. Whoever believes in him, in Jesus. Not in the god of your choosing, not just in some abstract substance in the sky, not in a spiritual force, but in Jesus Christ.
"Whoever believes in him shall not perish." That's why I'm talking about not confusing what you need now with what you need most, because what you and I need most is a savior. You might be like, "I don't need a savior. I am crushing life." Some of you are. Way to go, man. Congratulations. I'm so glad it's working out for you. But you need a savior and I need a savior, because here is the reality: no one is born right with God. Everyone is born separate from God.
Every person is deserving of eternal separation from God in hell, yet God in his love has sent his Son so that whoever would believe in him shall not perish. That's the beauty of Christmas. That's the beauty of Christianity. That's the good news. When we deserved to perish…meaning, when we deserved to spend eternity separated from God in hell…God did something miraculous. Jesus Christ has come into the world to seek and save the lost.
Now, let me just correct some unfortunate theology. Some people want to believe that if God is truly loving, then how could he ever send anyone to hell? Like, if God truly loves everyone, how could he send anyone to hell? Well, here's what you have to remember. If God is perfect and he is going to be both just and loving, then you have to deal with that. We all want God's love for us and our family, but then we want God's justice for the evil out there.
But if God is going to execute justice, he's going to have to do it against all evil, including the evil in my heart and your heart. We have to understand that if God were to just close his eyes for five seconds and be like, "Everyone just get into heaven. I'm not going to look. Just get in there. You, go. You, go. I don't care what you've done. I don't want to look at it for a minute. Just go right in…" How unjust would that be for him to turn a blind eye? That would make him unjust.
In the person of Jesus, God is able to maintain his justice. Sin experiences the wrath of God. The wrath of God for sin is poured out, but instead of it being poured out on you and me, it's poured out on Jesus Christ, God himself. He maintains his justice, yet his justice is paired with his love. Instead of experiencing his wrath we experience his love.
"…whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life." Do you know what eternal life is? You might be thinking, "Eternal life is just where you get to spend eternity. It's heaven. It's going to heaven." Eternal life isn't primarily about where; it's about who. It's not as much about where you go but about who you get to be with.
Yes, when you know Jesus you will spend eternity in heaven, but heaven isn't the prize; Jesus is. Eternal life in the presence of God is what you and I have been made for. Here's the good news. Eternal life doesn't begin the day you die; it begins the day you believe in him. The day you believe in Jesus is the day you get to begin experiencing life with God that begins today and lasts for all of eternity.
So, that's the reality of the gospel. Let's all be on the same page. This is what the good news of Christianity is about. When we were sinners, when we were deserving of eternal separation from God, God loved the world, rebellious humanity, so much that he sent his Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
If that's confusing to you, let me inform you about the belief that doesn't save. We see it in the Bible in the book of John. Listen to John 8:31. It says, "So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him…" He's talking to people who had believed, but then he talks to the same group of people, and listen to what he says in verse 42. "Jesus said to them, 'If God were your Father, you would love me…'"
Then in verse 44 he says, "You are of your father the devil…" That's kind of harsh. "Do you know who your dad is? The Devil." "Okay. Nice to meet you too." That's kind of like, "Tell me how you really feel." He says, "You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires." Do you see the connection here? There is a belief that doesn't save.
So, what does a saving belief look like? Well, the word here is the Greek word pisteuo, which means to be persuaded that something is true, to trust, to rely upon, to derive confidence in. So, my question to you is not just if you have come to a place where you are convinced mentally of what I'm telling you about but if you have come to a point where you have been so convinced that you have trusted your life with Jesus, that you have put your confidence in Jesus.
I've said this before, but the best way I can explain it is the nature of a gift should determine the nature of your response. On Christmas Day when you receive presents from people, the nature of the gift should determine the nature of your response. I'll illustrate it this way. I've illustrated it in a similar way before. If this was my present to you… I might give this to one of you tonight. This might be a really great gift.
If you were to unwrap this and I were to give you tonight a picture of my wife and me… Anyone want this? Anyone interested? Merry Christmas. This is my gift to you. I just ask that you hang it up for at least a year. That's all I ask. I want you to think about this. What do you do with a picture? You hang it and forget it. That's it. The extent of your relationship with this picture is to put it up and never touch it again until you trade it out for something else.
The nature of the gift determines the nature of the response. You take this. You hang it up. You forget about it. Your relationship is pretty passive with this picture. Sometimes you might notice it. You might get to the point where you never notice it. But if I were to give you my cell phone or if you were to get a cell phone for Christmas… The nature of the gift should determine the nature of your response.
If I were to give you a phone and you were like, "Oh my gosh. Thank you so much. I've been needing a new coaster. Thank you. That just means the world" or you were like, "You know what? This table is wobbly" and you were to jam it under there… If you were like, "Man, that is such a great $1,000 table leveler. I am so grateful for you" or if you left it in the box and never took it out, that wouldn't make sense.
The nature of the gift should determine the nature of the response. It is a phone and this thing is supposed to change the way you interact with the world. You take it out of the box. You turn it on. You enter your Apple ID. You download certain apps. You use it to connect with the rest of the world all throughout the day every day. The nature of the gift should determine the nature of the response.
So, what is the nature of the gift God has given to us? Well, it's his Son. It is God in the flesh who was a sacrifice and a substitute for our sin. He went to war with Satan, sin, and death and won. He triumphed over our sin. He ascended into heaven. He is seated at the right hand of God. He is alive. He is ruling and reigning as King. He has sent his Spirit into our lives to live inside of us through faith and to make us more like Jesus, and he gives us eternal life.
My hope is there are people here tonight who just heard everything I said and are like, "You lost me. That was confusing. That was too much." We would love for you to come down front afterward, and we'd love to explain it further, but if it felt overwhelming or confusing, that's kind of the point a little bit to say, "Hey, it's so much more than a picture frame."
It's so much more than a picture where… You know what? We read this verse that God loved the world and gave his Son that whoever believes in him, and we're like, "Yeah, I believe. Let me just put my belief on the wall. I'll just hang it there and never use it again." Your relationship with God is just a passive relationship. You're thankful it's there, but you don't really need it to do anything for you. My question is…Do you relate to God more like a picture or a phone?
Let me ask you this. I want you to think about this. How different would your life be without your phone? Would your life be different? Raise your hand if you think your life would change a little bit if you didn't have a phone. Okay. How different would your life be without a picture you have in a frame somewhere? Some of y'all might be like, "You know what? I have an emotional attachment to that picture." Most of you would be like, "I don't have pictures; I have posters."
Okay. That's for the men in the room. Someday a woman is going to change your life and your aesthetics. But I bet your life wouldn't change much if that picture was removed from your life. Here's my question: How different would your life be if Jesus wasn't in it? Would your life be different at all? Some of y'all might say, "Jesus is everything for me." Some of y'all might say, "My life is staked on Jesus. I am leveraging my life for the sake of the gospel."
Others of you might be having this realization that you've identified under the banner of Christianity, but the reality is you have kind of a passive relationship. Jesus is information you have acknowledged in your head, but you've never trusted in him. You've never put your confidence in him. Others of you for the first time are realizing what Jesus has done, that he has died and has risen from the dead victoriously to take those who were far from God and to bring you into a right relationship with God.
So, this comes to the question…How will you respond? Three options. For some of you tonight, the response is just celebration. Tonight you're being reminded of the goodness of the gospel, who God is, what he has done for you in the person of Jesus Christ. As we sing in just a moment, sing with all your heart. Center your mind and heart on the person of Jesus. Let joy fill your heart, and let it overflow in celebration toward him.
For others of you, there's an invitation on the table. You've just tonight gained clarity that you need Jesus in your life. If that's you, there is an invitation on the table. For others of you, it's evaluation. You've lived under the banner of Christianity, but have you had the right response to Jesus? If something in you is coming to the realization that you've never really trusted in him, then that moves you from evaluation to invitation. Let's pray together.
If that's you and tonight you want to invite Jesus into your life… You are realizing for the first time that you want Jesus. You need Jesus. You want him to be your Savior. If that's you, would you put up your hand really quickly with eyes closed so I know exactly who I'm talking to in this place? If that's you, I just want to encourage you right now. There's no magic rabbit-foot prayer to pray. I'm just trying to give you words to tell to your Maker.
You can just say these words. Just say, "Lord Jesus, would you come into my life tonight? Thank you, Jesus, that you died for me. Thank you that you rose from the dead for me. Would you come into my life? Would you forgive me of my sin, and would you begin to lead me in a new life?" If you're here tonight and you just need to celebrate what God has done in your heart, then we're going to respond by singing now.
If you need to stay seated and continue to evaluate and process, you can. If you need to talk to someone… If you're like, "Man, I need clarity now. I need somebody who can help me figure things out…" If you need to talk to someone, there are going to be some people who are standing down front in the corners, and we'd love to talk to you. I'm just going to pray, and then we're going to respond to God.
Lord Jesus, thank you. We praise you. We love you. You are a great Savior and a great King, so we worship and respond to you now. In Jesus' name, amen.