The Indescribable Gift
2 Corinthians 9:15
December 24, 2013
It was the Christmas that almost wasn’t for me. I think I was about 8- or 10-years-old. I didn’t almost miss Christmas because I overslept or was out of the country. It was because I made a tactical error.
In my recollection, in those years my brother and I didn’t make Christmas wish lists for mom and dad, but we would sometime before Christmas take a walk around the toy department and my brother and I would point out the items of particular interest to us. When the circuit around all the aisles was complete, our parents would excuse us and they would make some purchases.
On that particular year, we went outside the store and were waiting patiently on those electric rides for toddlers you found outside department stores in those days (minus the nickel that it took to operate the horse on which I was sitting). I looked up and saw my parents in the checkout line. I waved at them and they didn’t see me. And it was then that my tactical error occurred. I made sure they didn’t see me and as then as they arrived at the head of the line, I watched all our presents go down the line to the person bagging up the gifts. I saw every item my parents were planning on giving us and I was delighted with the prospect of what was coming.
And then I made my second tactical error. I knocked and waved on the window until they saw me. Why did I do that? I don’t know, but it wasn’t very smart. I still had my Christmas that year, but Mom told me they very nearly took all my gifts back to the store before relenting and putting them under the tree anyway.
That Christmas was a great lesson in grace for me. I received something I did not deserve. In fact, I received something that I should not have received. I had always presumed a right to receive and have gifts and that year was the first time I began to understand that gifts were gifts and not a right. In some ways, I valued those gifts more than others I received in later years, because I understood what I almost lost in my foolishness.
As believers in Christ, it is also possible to underestimate the value of the gifts we receive from and through Christ. And even worse, it’s possible to underestimate the value of Christ Himself.
So as we prepare to open some gifts from one another in the next few hours, let me take you to a simple text concerning the value of Christ. Look with me at 2 Corinthians 9.
Now if you know your Bible, you will remember that 2 Cor. 8-9 is a lengthy discussion concerning how believers should give. It may be the most detailed explanation about giving in the entire New Testament. In these two chapters Paul gives a lengthy illustration of generous giving in recounting the gifts of the Macedonians who were poor but gave generously. And with his exhortation and encouragement to give Paul interweaves a series of reasons why believers should be generous in their giving —
- Be generous because if we don’t give generously, we can’t expect to receive generosity (v. 6)
- Be generous because God loves generosity (v. 7)
- Be generous because God has given you enough grace to be generous (v. 8)
- Be generous because God will reward that generosity in eternity (v. 9)
- Be generous because God will give you materially and spiritually what you need to be generous (vv. 10-11)
- Be generous because that generosity will overflow to praise, gratitude, and glory being given to God (v. 12)
- Be generous because that generosity will serve as a testimony to the genuineness of your faith in Christ (v. 13)
- Be generous because that generosity will stimulate friendship and fellowship with other believers (v. 14)
But surpassing all these reasons for generosity is the one given simply and finally in the last verse of the chapter — v. 15, be generous because you have received from God an indescribable gift. The gift Paul refers to is the gift of Christ. It is this gift that inspires every other gift. The reason we give gifts at Christmas and the reason we ever give any gift is because we have received so much through the supreme gift of Christ. As one writer said, Christ is “the most magnanimous, glorious, wonderful gift ever given, the gift that inspires all other gifts.”
Notice what Paul says about the gift who is Christ. He is indescribable. You might be tempted at that point to say, “If He is indescribable, then we shouldn’t attempt to describe Him.” But that’s not Paul’s point. In fact, Paul does attempt to describe Him in other places (e.g., Rom. 5:15, 18-21). So Paul doesn’t mean, “don’t attempt to describe Christ.” The word means something like, “unable to recount or tell fully,” so Paul does mean, “however you describe this infinite gift of Christ, understand that you will not be able to describe the fullness or wonder of that infinite gift.”
So what can we say about this gift? The Scripture readings we’ve done this evening have not only retold the Christmas story, but they have also demonstrated aspects of the gift that is Christ.
As we have read this evening, this is a gift that was promised. One of the fun and exciting aspects of Christmas is the anticipation of the unknown. Children particularly hope something special is going to happen, but they don’t know what it will be. Will the desired gift arrive on Christmas morning? Or perhaps even something better? Or for parents and friends the excitement is the anticipation of giving something unexpected and unknown. Much of the fun of the season is in the secrets that are kept. But God has made no secret about His gift.
God has made no secret of man’s corrupt nature and the disaster that sin has wrought in our lives. Immediately after Adam and Eve’s sin, God sought them and found them after they attempted to hide from Him. And He cursed Satan for his sin and temptation; and he judged Adam and Eve for their sin and banished them from the Garden. And from that day forward He also made no secret of the grace that would provide for their sin. He sacrificed animals to make garments of covering for Adam and Eve. And He made a promise of the destruction of Satan; speaking of the coming Christ, God promised Satan, He shall bruise you on the head (Gen. 3:15). That is, Satan would be destroyed and defeated.
That was a promise that was made repeatedly throughout the Old Testament. One is coming who will make provision for your sin and will rule you with righteousness and grace. This is the promise made by Isaiah — the Messiah will rule on David’s eternal throne and He will be “Wonderful Counselor,” “Mighty God,” “Eternal Father,” and “Prince of Peace.” And the character of His rule is that it will be established and upheld with justice and righteousness. He will never deviate from that righteousness (Is. 9:7). For all the unrighteousness we now know and experience, God has promised that one is coming who will liberate His people Israel and all those who have been grafted into the promises made to Israel (that’s us) and He will forever rule them as a righteous King. This is Christ, the indescribable gift who was promised.
And this is a gift that came in a surprising way at a surprising time (Lk. 2:1-14; 2 Cor. 8:9; Phil. 2:5-8). We like the birth of babies and in general we are excited about babies. But we aren’t particularly surprised when a baby is born. We know the process. But the gift that is Christ is unique and surprising in an indescribable way. We read the birth narrative in Luke 2 and it doesn’t seem surprising. But how about reading the birth narrative of Luke with these statements of Paul —
- 2 Cor. 8:9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.
- Phil. 2:5-8 Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Nothing could be more surprising about the gift of Christ than the way in which He came. Though He was promised by God, yet His Advent was infinitely remarkable. The King of the universe made Himself poverty-stricken so that we could share in His riches. He who was fully God and enjoyed all the glories and worship of Heaven and though He needed nothing to make Himself satisfied, set aside all those privileges and took on manhood so that He might redeem us from the folly of our sin and make us satisfied with Him. And just how is it that the infinite could put on the finitude of manhood? It may not have looked like it to the innkeeper or the shepherds on that night, but no birth could ever have been more surprising or unique. Christ’s advent is a gift that came in a surprising way at a surprising time.
And this is gift that stimulates great joy (Lk. 2:15ff). Tonight or tomorrow morning I suspect there will be many “ooohs” and “ahhhs” and shouts of joy over gifts received. But consider the joy of those who saw the birth of Christ. The shepherds had no way to comprehend the hypostatic union of Christ — that Christ was both fully God and fully man. But even so, they comprehended that there really was something unique about Christ. Obviously they had to know that because of the appearance of the angels. But what they saw when they visited Jesus, Mary, and Joseph confirmed what they heard from the angels because they excitedly told others what they had seen (Lk. 2:17) with such passion that the hearers were struck by the remarkable story. In fact everyone connected with Christ’s advent is overwhelmed with joy and praise of God — Joseph, who was obedient, Mary who pondered and treasured all that was happening, the shepherds and Simeon and Anna who rejoiced and evangelized, and the Magi who worshipped. This wasn’t just excitement about just any gift; this was overwhelming joy for the great gift.
And this is a gift that is glorious (Zech. 14). Even when we receive gifts in this season that are special, we don’t always know the full implication of what they might be. Like a woman who receives an engagement ring doesn’t know the full implication of what 30 or 50 years of marriage might bring, so the gifts we receive are sometimes still mysterious to us. We don’t know just how wonderful they will prove to be over the ensuing years. And so it is with the gift of Christ. We know that we have been freed from the wrath of God through Christ. We know that we have been freed to live righteously so that we no longer have to sin. We know that something special awaits us in heaven. But because our minds are finite, we do not have an ability yet to comprehend just how great this gift of Christ is. Consider Zechariah 14. We know Christ has died for us and been resurrected and is ascended and at the right hand of the Father, ruling the universe and interceding for us with the Father. But what will He be and do in the future?
In that day, there will be no sun. Today we are dependent on the sun for light and energy. Without the sun, life would be impossible and would even cease to exist. But in the day of Christ’s return, the light of the heavens will cease to exist the way they do now and God and Christ will be our source of light and energy. And that will never dwindle. And in that day, the Lord will be King. For the Israelite reading this verse, that was incredible hope. Virtually all Israel had known in her history was ungodly kings. The majority of her own kings were corrupt and all her foreign invaders were hostile and cruel. Not so with the Lord. He will be the only one (v. 9) who will be King. No one else will ever be able to usurp or even attempt to overthrow His throne. Only His name will be exalted in the earth. He will rule and He will with righteous, sovereign grace. All His people will be gathered to Him and there will no longer be the curse of sin and His people will live in security and peace (v. 11). You and I can’t imagine that day. We don’t know what life could be like without sin. We don’t know what it would be like to have complete peace and security. We don’t know what it is like to have righteous rulers and only One righteous ruler. But because of the gift who is Christ, that day is coming.
As we prepare now to take the elements of communion, remember that the greatest gift God has given us is the person of Christ and His work on the cross. Nothing supersedes the way in which He came and why He came. As we worship on Christmas day and as we partake of these elements, let us give thanks for the indescribable gift who is Jesus Christ.