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Author:Rev. Ted Gray
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Congregation:First United Reformed Church
 Oak Lawn, Illinois
 www.oaklawnurc.org/
 
Title:God's Eternal Grace Revealed in Christ Jesus
Text:2 Timothy 1:8-12 (View)
Occasion:Advent
Topic:God The Son
 
Preached:2020
Added:2020-11-24
Updated:2020-12-24
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Pastor Ted Gray
 
“God’s Eternal Grace Revealed in Christ Jesus”
2 Timothy 1:8-12
 
Have you driven through your neighborhood to look at all the beautiful Christmas displays? Although the secular displays outnumber the biblical displays of Christmas, I am impressed at the number of manger scenes in our neighborhood. Instead of driving, our dog, Maxwell, takes me on a nightly walk through the neighborhood. Max and I especially like the manger scenes that have the Christmas carols playing in the background. He really does stop, and turns his head sideways to listen.
 
However, the birth of Jesus encompasses so much more than what can be portrayed by figurines of Joseph and Mary, the shepherds, the sheep, the other animals in the stable and that little cradle with a baby lying in it.
 
There simply is no way to portray visually, in a manger scene, all that is involved in the birth of Jesus.  We see that in these verses the apostle Paul wrote to Timothy so long ago. He points out what we should see in the birth of Jesus. He goes, by the Holy Spirit’s inspiration, far beyond any manger scene, to show, first, our need for salvation.
 
In verse 9 the apostle describes how God has saved us and called us to a holy life – not because of anything we have done.” There is good reason why our salvation does not hinge on anything that we have done.
 
The reason why our salvation is not due to anything we have done is because we can never do anything that merits salvation. The Heidelberg Catechism gets to the heart of the problem in Lord’s Day 24.  Question 62 asks, “Why can’t our good works be our righteousness before God, or at least a part of our righteousness?”
 
Answer: “Because the righteousness which can pass God’s judgment must be entirely perfect and must in every way measure up to the divine law.  But even our best works in this life are imperfect and stained with sin.”
 
When most people see a manger scene they don't think about the stain of sin and the need for salvation.  Many people see nothing more than a quaint and sentimental story about a little baby who was born in a manger because there was no room in the Inn. 
 
Yet, the Scripture focuses repeatedly on the birth of Jesus as a result of our own inability to save ourselves. Consider these few verses of many:
 
Jeremiah 17:9 – The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?”
 
Ecclesiastes 8:11 –There is not a righteous man on earth who does what is right and never sins.”
 
1 Corinthians 2:14 – “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.”
 
Because we cannot save ourselves, God came to earth, in the person of Jesus Christ to redeem us from our sin. We see that written throughout the Scriptures as well:
 
Isaiah 53:5-6 – He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.  We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
 
Matthew 1:21 – “…You are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
 
1 Timothy 1:15 - "Here is a trustworthy saying: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners - of whom I am the worst."
 
But how do you incorporate those truths concerning both the sinfulness of humanity and the purpose of the birth of Jesus to save his people from their sins into a manger scene? The best way to picture those two truths – our sin and our need for the only Savior, Jesus Christ – is to focus on the pictures that God has given us.  He has given us the sacraments. The sacrament of baptism portrays the washing away of sin, as one would wash with water. And the sacrament of the Lord's Supper visibly portrays the pierced body and shed blood of our Savior.  It is there in the bread and the cup that the purpose of Jesus’ birth is most clearly pictured, not in a manger scene.
 
Another characteristic that no mere manger scene can convey is the eternal love and grace of God. After describing how we are saved and called to a holy life, not because of anything we have done, the apostle points out in verse 9 that our salvation is because of God's purpose and God's grace.  And then he makes an astounding statement.  He writes, “This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time.”
 
How do you portray that in a manger scene?  How do you portray the eternity of God's love?  How do you portray the truth of Jeremiah 1:4, The word of the Lord came to me, saying, ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations’”?
 
How can you possibly portray in a manger scene the truth of Ephesians 1:4, “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight”?  
 
How do you possibly portray the eternity of God's love as it is described in 2 Timothy 1:9 “This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time…”?
 
You see, even the most elaborate manger scene fails to convey the eternal love and grace of God. There is no way to put a clock or a calendar above the manger scene to show that the purpose of Jesus’ birth originated before the world.  There is no way for a manger scene to convey how God loves his people with an eternal love.
 
The Council of Redemption
 
The question could be asked, “How was this grace given us before the beginning of time, before the creation of the world?” The answer is in what is commonly called the Council of Redemption.  The Council of Redemption is behind the concept of a verse like Revelation 13:8 which describes Jesus as being the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.”  Revelation 13:8 also describes how names were written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain.” 
 
From Scripture – whether Revelation 13:8, Ephesians 1:4, 1 Peter 1:20, or this passage in 2 Timothy 1:9 and others – we understand that before the world began the Son willingly offered to sacrifice himself for his people.  The Council of Redemption is a triune work of God. In the council the Father offered to give his one and only Son as the only acceptable sacrifice for sinners. The eternal Son of God, one with the Father, offered to lay down his life for all whom the Father chose to save. And the Holy Spirit offered to come with power in the lives of God's elect, to convict them of their sin and to enable them to see Jesus Christ with the eye of faith as their Savior and Lord, as they receive spiritual birth from above.
 
By that agreement of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, grace to save us from our sin was given us before the world was ever put in place!
    
The manger scenes that we see throughout our neighborhoods are certainly pretty, and they do remind us that Jesus was born in Bethlehem so long ago. But they cannot begin to convey the greatness of God’s plan of salvation, a plan which is focused on the birth of Jesus, through whom grace was given even before the world was formed.
 
The Only Way of Salvation
 
In this passage the apostle Paul not only points us to the work of our triune God in eternity past, but he also goes on in verse 10 to show that Christ Jesus is the only way of salvation.  In verse 10 Paul describes three specific things that Jesus Christ has done to save us. He writes: But it (grace) has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.”
 
Jesus brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” because he destroyed death.” There is no greater shroud hanging over all humanity then the shroud of death. Death is no respecter of persons. The rich, the poor, the old, and also at times the very young, all succumb to death.  Although we push it to the back of our mind, we all know that one day we are going to die.  Every mortician and every funeral director is in a truly recession proof business.
 
But when Jesus destroyed death he did not just destroy physical death. He also destroyed what the Bible teaches is spiritual death and eternal death.  Death, as used in the Bible, refers to separation.  For example, when the body dies, there is separation of body and soul. The soul enters, at physical death, either into the glory of God's presence or the agony of an eternal hell. As the speaker of Ecclesiastes put it, at death, “Then man goes to his eternal home and mourners go about the streets” (Eccl. 12:5).
 
When we think of death we usually think of death in that sense, the separation of body and soul.  However already in the early chapters of Scripture we read about spiritual death.  In Genesis 2:16-17, God said to Adam, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.”
 
Adam and Eve ate from that forbidden fruit. They did not die a physical death immediately. In fact, they lived for a long time. The Bible doesn't tell us how old Eve was when she died but Genesis 5:5 tells us, “Altogether, Adam lived 930 years, and then he died.”
 
Why did God warn Adam so forcefully that if he ate from the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil he would die?­  It is because he did die spiritually the moment he disobeyed God and ate of that fruit. 
 
There again death, spiritually speaking, is separation. Adam was separated from God because of his sin. That separation was tragically sealed as Adam and Eve were expelled from Paradise, expelled from the Garden of Eden, with the cherubim guarding the entrance to the tree of life.
 
All of us share in Adam’s sin.  We are, from conception, corrupted with sin. As Ephesians 2:1 puts it, “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins…” Or, as Paul told Timothy, “The widow who lives for pleasure is dead even while she lives” (1 Tim. 5:6). That is, she is spiritually dead, even though she is physically alive.
 
But when Jesus destroyed death he broke down that wall of sin that separated us from God. He brought reconciliation to all those who are born again.  As Jesus told Nicodemus, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”
 
It is only by God's grace that we are born again, literally, born from above.  I had no choice in my birth. That was true when my mother conceived me so many years ago. But it is also true with my spiritual birth and your spiritual birth into the kingdom of God. It goes back to verse 9, that God saved us and called us to a holy life not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace.” You see, our salvation is of God's initiative and by his grace through saving faith in Jesus Christ.
 
But what happens, then, to those who never accept the true meaning of the birth of Jesus, his life, death, and resurrection?  Those who never understand, or never care to understand – those who seek to replace Christmas with a secular holiday, those who refuse to repent of their sin and refuse to believe in Jesus as Savior and Lord – remain spiritually dead, that is, separated from God until their physical death.
 
When the unbeliever dies a physical death, then their soul enters into what the Bible calls both the second death and eternal death.  In Scripture the second death and eternal death refers to eternal separation from the love of God in the agony of hell.
 
But as verse 9 and 10 point out, Christ appeared – was born in Bethlehem as the baby Jesus – in order to destroy death in all its forms. When by grace we believe in the Lord Jesus Christ with saving faith, then we know that we are born from above, born again. We are reconciled to God the Father and have the joy expressed in the familiar Christmas carol, Hark! The herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King; Peace on earth, and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled!”
 
When by grace we believe in the Lord Jesus Christ with a saving faith then we also know that our bodies, even though they will die and be placed in the ground, will be raised up at the second coming of Jesus Christ. We will be in Paradise restored – the new heavens and the new earth, body and soul – in sinless perfection eternally!  We who believe will be in the new heavens and the new earth throughout all eternity with the Lord and all other believers who have gone before.
 
Truths Only Seen in the Gospel
 
There again, how do you portray the true meaning of the birth of Jesus Christ in a manger scene?  We only see that Jesus came into this world to “bring life and immortality to light,” as verse 10 puts it, through the gospel.”
 
Gospel means “good news.” While the manger scene points to the good news of salvation, it is only the tip of the iceberg.  To understand the true meaning of the appearing of Christ in human flesh, you need the gospel.  That is why the apostle tells Timothy, and also you and me, there in verse 8, “…Do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner but join with me in suffering for the gospel by the power of God.”  And in verse 11 he tells how he “was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher.”
 
But it wasn't just Paul who was appointed to spread the gospel. It wasn’t just Paul and Timothy who were to herald the good news of salvation to others. You and I are also called to be ambassadors for Christ. If we truly know why Jesus was born – to bring salvation to sinners as he destroyed death in all its forms, and brought to life light and immortality through the gospel – then how quickly and eagerly we should be to tell others the deep truths that lie behind the manger scenes that we see this time of year!
 
Admittedly, to do so may bring suffering as verse 8 and verse 12 point out.  But that is part of our calling as Christians.  Part of our calling includes suffering for telling others the gospel.
 
Often humanity is portrayed as eagerly seeking a Savior, but in reality there is hostility against the gospel. As Romans 8:6-8 puts it: “The sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.”
 
We see the hostility of the sinful mind increasing rapidly in our culture. In just the last few decades we have witnessed a rapid decline in our culture as the word of God is denigrated and ridiculed. In its place is immorality of every type, which along with animosity and violence have flooded our streets and stained our culture. We see with increasing clarity how the warning of Isaiah 5:20 applies to our nation and the nations of the world: “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!”
 
But it is to such a world that we are still called to say, “Christ Jesus came into this world to save sinners. He came to destroy death in all its forms, and to bring life and immortality to light through the gospel.” ­  We are to tell them the true story of what every manger scene points to but cannot fully express. And when we do, we may well suffer, just as the Apostle Paul and Timothy suffered when they told an unbelieving world about the reality of the incarnate Christ.  But we might also be the conduit of God's grace, as the Holy Spirit uses our witness to bring new life from above - salvation - into another person's life.
 
A Witness of Word and Deeds
 
Not only are we to have an unashamed testimony, even if it brings suffering, as verse 8 describes, but also we are to strive to live the holy life to which we are called (v. 9). In other words, not only do we need to speak the gospel, but we need to live the gospel out in our lives. As the old saying goes, we need to “Walk the walk as well as talk the talk.” We need a witness comprised not only of words, but of deeds.
 
Each Christmas season gives us so many opportunities to speak the gospel and also to do works of mercy and service. Those deeds of mercy and service, even done in a small way, reveal the love of Christ to the world.  The advent season gives us opportunities to point others to the true meaning of Christmas. The opportunities may seem small and not worth the effort. But the efforts plant a seed, a seed which the Holy Spirit can bring to fruition.
 
I don’t know about your neighborhood, but in mine it is hard to get to know neighbors. You see their car come down the street, their garage door opens and swallows up their car – swallows up their lives and an opportunity to know them, as it comes come down with finality, sealing them inside their house.
 
But in the advent season there are opportunities to get past that closed door, perhaps in a small way, yet a way that makes neighbors know that you care about them, and that you care because Christ came into the world to save his people from their sin.  Even such a small thing as bringing Christmas cookies and a Christmas card to neighbors opens the door.  Even the small gestures of care, concern, and love, open the door to the spread of the gospel – the good news of Christmas that the eternal Christ was born in human flesh, and given the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.
 
But, of course, those opportunities are not just available at Christmas, but throughout each new year.  Each new day is an opportunity to show by word and deed the amazing truth that before the world began, our triune God put together a perfect plan of salvation for his people.  Every day we are to walk the walk and talk the talk, striving to live the holy life to which we are called.
    
And then, thirdly, when by grace we have saving faith in him who was born in Bethlehem so long ago, we can have great confidence in the certainty of our salvation. 
 
Paul concludes his exhortation to Timothy – and to us –with that classic statement, “I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day.”
 
In that verse we are reminded again that our salvation is all of God's doing and not of ours, that “He has saved us and called us to a holy life – not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace.” 
 
And because God has given us a holy calling – an effectual call – He also promises to guard what has been entrusted to him for that day, meaning the great day when Jesus Christ is revealed, when we see him face-to-face, and when he returns in glory and power to judge the living and the dead.
 
When we have faith in Christ Jesus, faith that he lived, died, and rose again so that we can live in the grace given us before the world began, then we have a confidence and joy that surpasses understanding!
 
___
 
 
This time of year, we see many manger scenes.  Some of them are really nice. But the birth of Jesus encompasses so much more than what can be portrayed by figurines of Joseph and Mary, the shepherds, the sheep, the other animals in the stable and that little cradle with a baby lying in it. There is simply no way to visually portray all that is involved in the birth of Jesus Christ. In that sense, he is, in the words of 2 Corinthians 9:15 God’s “indescribable gift” to us.
 
Yet, if you and I truly understand the meaning of the birth of Jesus Christ, and have placed our faith in him alone, then we will have an unashamed testimony even when it brings suffering, as we faithfully live out the gospel with our lives and speak it with our lips, having the same confidence of the apostle as we await the glorious second coming of our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ! Amen.
 
 
 
                                         - bulletin outline –
 
 
… God saved us and called us to a holy life – not because of anything
 we have done but because of His own purpose and grace. This grace
was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now
been revealed through the appearing of our Savior...  – 2 Timothy 1:9b-10
 
                    “God’s Eternal Grace Revealed in Christ Jesus”
                                              2 Timothy 1:8-12
 
I.  In the birth of Jesus, we see:
     1) The need for our salvation (9a, b)
 
 
 
 
     2) The eternal love and grace of God (9c, d)
 
 
 
 
     3) Christ Jesus as the only way of salvation (10)
 
 
 
 
II. Because of His birth, and all that results from it (10), we are to: 
     1) Have an unashamed testimony (8, 11) even when it brings
          suffering (8d, 12a) 
 
 
 
 
      2) Strive to live the holy life to which we are called (9)
 
 
 
 
      3) Trust in the certainty of our salvation (12)
 
 
 
 

 




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2020, Rev. Ted Gray

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