Advent is a time to remember how God had a promise to keep. It was the reason why Jesus Christ was born, the reason why God wanted to become human.
But there is much more to the birth of Jesus Christ. At Christmas we give gifts, just as the Magi did when they visited Mary and Joseph (Matthew 2:1-12). Though John doesn’t mention this, he does mention a much greater gift in his Gospel. It is the reason he wrote it. He wanted everyone who read it to have this gift. He wrote his Gospel “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:31)
The gift John wants you to have is life itself. Not the life you have now, though that, too, is a gift from God, but eternal life. Here’s how he describes it in perhaps the best known sentence in his gospel, which is probably also the best known Bible verse in the entire world: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his unique Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) The gift God gave was his Son, Jesus Christ, and the gift he still gives is eternal life.
Jesus himself often talked about this eternal life. “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears my word and believes him who sent me [that is, God the Father] has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.” (John 5:24) On another occasion he said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me; and I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:27-28).
Perhaps the most striking statement he said is, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me shall live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” (John 11:25-26) This shows us how John can speak about God giving Jesus as a gift and also about eternal life as the gift. In a very real sense Jesus is the life that we can have. John put it this way at the start of his gospel: “In him was life and the life was the light of men.” (John 1:4) And John’s fellow disciple, Peter, put it like this: God has given you “his precious and magnificent promises, in order that by them you might become partakers of the divine nature.” (1 Peter 1:4)
John wrote his gospel with the express purpose that everyone who reads it should have this marvellous gift of eternal life. If you have read his Gospel, as we have been doing this Advent, you must answer the question Jesus asked immediately after he said he was the resurrection and the life. “Do you believe this?” (John 10:26) You cannot have eternal life without believing.
And did you notice the serious consequences of not believing? Virtually every time John or Jesus spoke about eternal life there is a very black backdrop to their statements. God does not want you to perish (John 3:16). Jesus tells us believing takes us out of judgment and death (John 5:24). If we become Jesus’ ‘sheep’ we will never perish (John 10:28). And finally Jesus tells us that eternal life transcends physical death, so that even if we die physically we will never die eternally (John 10:26).
Just over a week later Jesus told a group of Greek enquirers, “he who loves his life loses it; and he who hates his life in this world shall keep it to life eternal.” (John 12:25) Eternal life is literally a matter of life and death.
If you have never considered this vitally important matter before or seriously, then now is the best time to take the time or make the time. Read through John’s Gospel again this week, and be convinced that Jesus is God become human. Hear Jesus himself give you the incontrovertible evidence and believe in him, and have eternal life in his name. The alternative is to be avoided at all costs. Don’t just give and receive presents this Christmas, get the gift of a lifetime that will last for all eternity.
This was first posted at Gilnahirk Baptist Web site on 14 Dec 2009.