Welcome Home: Where God Gives Good Gifts
What is it with little kids and wrapping paper? Why is the box it came in more fun to play with than the actual toy itself? You’ve experienced that, right? You spend all the time and effort of finding the perfect gift, you wrap it up all nice, give it to your child with great anticipation, they unwrap it, toss it aside, and play with the box. Ugh… Why even go through the effort?! Why go through the effort of finding or even giving a gift if all they are going to do is focus all their attention on the packaging and toss the real gift aside.
This is nothing new. This focus on the packaging rather than the gift dates back hundreds of years. It was there with the Israelites. God had given them so many gifts – packaged the Gospel of the Messiah in so many different boxes all so clearly focusing on the gift inside. “Theirs is the adoption to sonship; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of the Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen” (Rm 9:4-5).
They had been given it all! They had been given the gift of the Savior in so many ways. But rather than delighting in the gifts, they became infatuated with the “packaging” and failed to see these things as the blessings that they are. “Theirs is the adoption to sonship.” God chose them out of every nation to be his own. Not by their own doing, but by his love. And he gave them a sign of this adoption in the circumcision of all of their males. This sign was meant to be a symbol of the everlasting covenant between them and God – that he would be their God and the God of their descendants. But they threw away the gift of gracious adoption and held on only to the sign – circumcision.
“Theirs the divine glory.” God himself actually came down to speak with them – face to face with Moses – and to make his presence visibly known among the Israelites in the pillar of billowing fire that towered over the Ark of the Covenant, the tabernacle, and the temple. But they soon forgot the significance of God dwelling visibly with them and became focused on the ark itself – even using it as a kind of good luck charm in battle. Then, later the temple building became their focus.
“Theirs are the covenants” given again and again, repeated and restated through Abraham, Moses, David, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. All these covenants pointing to a Savior. Pointing out sin and the need for a Savior. Pointing to the Savior as the one who would keep the covenant in their place. But they liked the covenant more than the Savior.
“Theirs the receiving of the law.” They knew exactly what God expected of them. They had the advantage of precisely knowing. And when unable to keep the law, “Theirs are the promises of the Savior.”
“Theirs is the temple worship.” Which emphasized again and again how our sins separate us from God and his holiness – that shown in the two different rooms in the temple and the thick heavy curtain that separated them – which almost no one went behind. The temple worship also demonstrated how we are only brought close to God by an atoning sacrifice of blood, how one Passover Lamb takes away the sins of the whole world.
And even after hearing God’s promises, knowing the law that must be kept, knowing of the Messiah, knowing that he would deliver his people by a blood sacrifice, and then seeing all of this fall into place with Jesus from Nazareth who was crucified but rose again. After all the pieces fell so neatly into place – impossibly so – they just couldn’t believe it. The one thing all these gifts were pointing to was Jesus as the Messiah – Christ their Savior. But they didn’t want the gift. They didn’t like the gift. They threw the gift away and kept the packaging.
So, what does all that have to do with us and what we do here? Is that what we are doing here? Are we playing church? Going through the motions? Cherishing the packaging or the channels of God’s gifts but tossing his gifts aside? I live in a new and growing neighborhood. We have our own facebook group for the neighborhood, so I get a chance to see all the neighborhood buzz. One thing I see from time to time is people, who recently moved in, looking for a church. And that’s great! But when I read what they are looking for in a church, I have to wonder are they focusing on the packaging and tossing the gift aside? I’m truly glad that they are looking for a church. And I know that many churches have the Word and teach the word. But time and time again, I see these requests focusing on the wrong thing. “I’m looking for a good Christian church. We like contemporary churches with fun praise and worship.” “I’m looking for a church with good youth programs.” “I’m looking for a church my kids will enjoy.” Is that what church has become? Is that all that people are looking for – somewhere they will be entertained? Somewhere that has all the features I am looking for? I think what bothers me most is that in all of the requests I’ve seen, not one of them looks for recommendations based on teachings. It’s all about the packaging, and not about the gift.
And it might be easy to point this out in other churches, and in other people, but it happens right in our own hearts as well. Is this a social club that you attend just to meet people and make friends? That’s certainly not the primary intention. Although you will meet people here, make connections, and prayerfully build one another up. Do you attend here just to make you feel better about yourself? This is what Christians do. This is what my life is supposed to have. I do this to earn a certain status either among others, or even within my own heart. Whether intentionally or unintentionally, I think this temptation is always lurking. The temptation to focus merely on the things we do here. Or to use the things we do here merely as a psychological pick me up. I do this, because I’m supposed to. NO! I go here because of the Gift.
Well, you have all these same gifts to an even greater extent. The Jews of the Old Testament were truly blessed, but you, as a New Testament believer are even more blessed. God has also adopted you as his child (Gal 4:5). They had circumcision as a sign and seal that they were God’s people; we have Baptism as a sign and seal that we belong to Christ (Gal 3:26-27). God has sent his Son to dwell in you as his temple (1 Cor 6:19). In faith they brought sacrifices to God for forgiveness; we remember the sacrifice our Savior made of himself for us as we take part in Communion. They looked forward to the coming of the Messiah; we have seen him come and rejoice in the knowledge of the completed work of salvation. This is all given to us in the package of Baptism and Communion, worship and the word. Don’t give up the true gift and turn these things into empty shells of what they are. Don’t focus so much on the features of worship and lose sight of the very real gifts they contain. Baptism and Communion are no mere symbols. In them, God comes to you, takes you as his own, and gives you forgiveness, life and salvation. Worship and the word are no mere motions that we go through – reading here, singing there, standing, sitting and everything else. Everything we do is meant to focus your attention on the gift itself – Christ Jesus our Savior. Proclaimed in the word. Honored is song and response. Central in our lives and in our worship.
These gifts are not only meant for physical descendants of Israel. They are not only meant for people in this room or Christians by name. They are meant for all people. You can see how Paul grieves over his people who have abandoned the gift of the Savior. The anguish in his words as he wishes that he himself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of his people. That kind of sacrifice is not possible, but you see the lengths he would go to for those he loves. Love is not only pure joy and delight, but also great heaviness of heart and deep sorrow for someone you care about. If only they would hear the word, see the truth, and live!
Despite what happened with the Israelites – that only a small number believed in Jesus as the Messiah – the word did not fail. In fact, look around you and see that the word did not fail. “For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel…. In other words, it is not the children by physical descent who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring” (Rm 9:6,8). Children who believe the promise of Jesus as Savior.
So, as you talk about worship and church among friends, family, and neighbors, first give thanks that God’s Word is proclaimed in Christian churches across our country. Then, as you promote our church, be sure to draw attention to the gifts that God has given us. Trinity is a place of community, family, and mission, yes. But most importantly is what we do as a community and family, what our mission is. We are a church that focuses on the message God’s salvation, where forgiveness of sins through Christ is proclaimed, and where growing in faith through the work of the Holy Spirit happens. God’s gifts are great! And they are found here!