How about a Christmas Gift for the Lord Jesus?
“What shall I render unto the Lord for all His benefits toward me?
Did you finish all of your Christmas shopping in time? Did you buy everything on your list? Or did you still have a few items left to purchase? Who were the “important people” on your Christmas list? Your immediate family, your extended family, your in-laws? Your co-workers, your business contacts, your supervisor in your place of employment? Your friends, your acquaintances, your neighbors? Your Pastor, your Christian brethren, your children’s Sunday School teachers? Was your list categorized into people you “had” to buy for, people you “probably should have” bought for, and people you “would have liked” to buy for if you had the money? What special gift ideas were on your Christmas list? Automotive accessories, baked goods, beverages, techno-gadgets and tools “for him”? Flowers, fragrances, home décor accents, jewelry and personalized gifts “for her”? Gift certificates, board games, computers and electronics “for teens”? Clothing, craft kits and toys “for kids”? Diapers, sleepwear, picture frames and albums “for babies”? Chewable treats and even gift baskets “for pets”? What other items would have been “quick and easy” to buy so you could have checked off a few more of the numerous people on your Christmas list? Did you really have everyone “covered” this Christmas season? Was this our real attitude regarding the “gifting” of others around us who had given to us during the year? And then how about what God has done for us both temporally and spiritually and still does for us — particularly for our salvation? Was He on our Christmas list? How about a Christmas Gift for the Lord Jesus?
In focusing us upon our debt to God “for all His benefits toward [us],” the Psalmist doesn’t even begin to enumerate them all — not that he couldn’t, of course, writing by inspiration of the Holy Ghost (II Timothy 3:16a; II Peter 1:21). But He includes as “benefits” “ALL” that the Lord bestows upon us for our welfare and blessing and then leaves it to US to meditate upon those “benefits,” both as to their quality and as to their quantity, so that we may understand and appreciate them. “A brutish man knoweth not, neither doth a fool understand this!” (Psalm 92:6). In fact, the unbelieving child of this world attributes NOTHING to God’s benevolent providence but claims credit for himself for even the temporal benefits which he enjoys at God’s hand, saying: “My power and the might of mine hand hath gotten me this wealth!” (Deuteronomy 8:17).
For the purpose of humble meditation upon “all His benefits toward us,” let us briefly survey them under the common categories of temporal blessings — some of which He bestows equally upon believers and unbelievers alike (Matthew 5:45) — and spiritual blessings which He bestows through the precious Means of Grace and which He abundantly pours out especially upon His believing children (Romans 8:32).
God benevolently provides us and all His creatures with the temporal necessities of life, “in that He [the Living God – Acts 14:15] did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness” (v. 17). We read in Psalm 145: “The eyes of all wait upon Thee [O Lord – v. 10]; and Thou givest them their meat in due season. Thou openest Thine hand, and satisfiest the desire of every living thing” (vv. 15-16). God further graciously guards and protects us, His believing children, from all the “evil[s]” and from all the “plague[s]” that assault and hurt the soul (Psalm 91:10). We confess with Luther in The First Article of The Apostles’ Creed that the Lord does “all this purely out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me.”
With such temporal blessings of kindness and goodness from God, “What shall [we] render [give back, return] unto the Lord for all His benefits toward [us]?” How about humbly acknowledging that “[we are] not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth, which thou hast showed unto Thy servant[s]” (Genesis 32:10)? How about praising and thanking Him for our having been “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14) and for our being still today graciously preserved with all the necessities of life (Psalm 36:6)? How about “commit[ting] [our] way unto the Lord, trust[ing] also in Him” (Psalm 37:5), “cast[ing] all [our] care upon Him” (I Peter 5:7), confidently believing that He will provide for us and keep us also in the future (Matthew 6:25, 30-34)? However, in order for anyone to be able to give to the Lord in a Godpleasing way, he must be a true believer in Jesus as his Savior; for “without faith it is impossible to please Him” (Hebrews 11:6). Are we able to do this of our own accord and power?
God teaches in His clear Word of truth (Psalm 119:105; 130; John 17:17) that every one of us, “born of the flesh” (John 3:6a), has by nature the flesh, in which “dwelleth no good thing” (Romans 7:18a), and this already from our conception (Psalm 51:5). By nature, “natural man” is spiritually blind to the “things of the Spirit of God” (I Corinthians 2:14), spiritually “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1) and in a state of “enmity against God” (Romans 8:7). As part of “all,” we, by nature, are guilty sinners under God’s just condemnation; for, according to God’s holy Law, “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), “that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God” (v. 19), wholly deserving of eternal death in hell; for “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23a; also Ezekiel 18:20a). Even the works of believing Christians are totally without merit, for “all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags” in God’s holy sight (Isaiah 64:6). “Therefore by the deeds of the Law, there shall no flesh be justified in His sight” (Romans 3:20a). Consequently, we are in desperate need of a Savior to do for us what we could never do for ourselves: To keep God’s Law perfectly in our stead and to suffer in our place the punishment we deserve! The name of that Savior is Jesus; “for He shall save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21) — “Jesus Christ of Nazareth” (Acts 4:10), the only Savior of all mankind; “neither is there salvation in any other; for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (v. 12). That Christ, the Messiah, was witnessed or testified to by ALL of God’s chosen prophets down through the whole Old Testament (Acts 10:43) as the “Anointed [One]” (v. 38), who would come “to save that which was lost” (Matthew 18:11).
Now what about His choicest benefits, the spiritual blessings which our Lord and God graciously bestows upon us poor, wretched, undeserving sinners through the Means of His Grace, particularly through the Gospel? In spite of all our wretchedness and hatred for Him by nature, and for our spiritual necessity, God the Father manifested His love toward us in sending “His only-begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him” (I John 4:9). “When the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the Law to redeem them that were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption of sons” (Galatians 4:4-5). The mysterious union of true God and true man in one undivided and indivisible Person, Jesus Christ, “God…manifest in the flesh” (I Timothy 3:16), was for our salvation; “for God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:17). How faithfully God kept His promises concerning the Savior to come (Genesis 3:15; Jeremiah 23:5-6, Isaiah 7:14; 9:6; II Timothy 2:13) and graciously delivered to us, “when the fulness of the time was come” (Galatians 4:4) our greatest Christmas Gift ever! “Thanks be unto God for His unspeakable GIFT!”(II Corinthians 9:15)
For our spiritual necessity, Christ Jesus willingly became our Substitute under God’s Law to fulfill His requirements of us (Romans 5:18b; 19b) and to suffer the penalty of our guilt (Isaiah 53:4-6; II Corinthians 5:21); and thus He redeemed us, not “with corruptible things as silver and gold” (I Peter 1:18) — as we retire debts and as we purchase material gifts for one another in this world — “but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a Lamb without blemish and without spot” (v. 19). In view of Jesus’ perfect vicarious atonement, which satisfied His Divine justice (Romans 3:25; Galatians 3:13; I John 2:2), God forgave the sins of the whole world and declared all men righteous in His holy sight; for “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them” (II Corinthians 5:19), “[all] being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24). Through the Gospel (I Corinthians 4:15), “the Word of Reconciliation” (II Corinthians 5:19b), God the Holy Ghost works saving faith in the hearts of men, giving them “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (II Corinthians 4:6), and thus making them “the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26; see also I John 3:1). This wonderful spiritual gift He has given to you and to me, having “called [us] by the Gospel, enlightened [us] with His gifts, sanctified, and kept [us] in the true faith” (Luther: Third Article).
Having so many and such wondrous spiritual blessings of God’s mercy bestowed on us in Christ Jesus, “What shall [we] render [give back, return] unto the Lord for all His benefits toward [us]?” The Psalmist himself, writing by inspiration of the Holy Ghost, answers his own question, targeting first of all the chief spiritual benefit and responding to “the grace of God that bringeth salvation” (Titus 2:11): “I will take the cup of salvation” (Psalm 116:13a). To receive by faith that overflowing cup of the Lord’s spiritual blessings, notably, first of all, forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation for Christ’s sake, is essential to our having them as our personal possessions (subjective justification, Romans 3:28; John 3:36a) and then having “peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1) as the fruit of that justification. Then we truly “take heed to be and remain members of the invisible Church by sincere faith in the Redeemer” (Cat. Q/A 186a; I Corinthians 10:12), clinging with confidence of the heart to the dear Christ-child of Bethlehem and always “examin[ing] [ourselves], whether [we] be in the faith” (II Corinthians 13:5a).
Only then can we “call upon the Name of the Lord” (Psalm 116:13b) in acceptable prayers (Psalm 19:14) of grateful thanksgiving for His grace and mercy and “pay [our] vows unto the Lord” (Psalm 116:14) in offerings of cheerful giving as the evidence of saving faith in Him. Indeed, then, “prov[ing] [our] own selves” (II Corinthians 13:5b), by the power of the Holy Ghost (I Corinthians 12:3) bringing forth the fruits of faith and love in our lives of sanctification to show that our faith is alive (James 2:17-20), we have a whole host of Godpleasing works in which we should abound as fruitful branches in the vine of our Savior (John 15:1-5), as new creatures living unto Him which died for us and rose again (II Corinthians 5:15, 17).
Having in our possession the spiritual blessing of God’s clear, authoritative, true and all-sufficient Holy Scriptures, “which are able to make [us] wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (II Timothy 3:15), and knowing that “it is God which worketh in [us]” — by means of His precious Word — “both to will and to do of His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13), how about, swearing unswerving allegiance to Jesus Christ and to His precious Word of truth (John 8:31-32)? How about professing unreserved acceptance of this precious Word even unto death (Revelation 2:10)? How about holding in highest regard as sacred, holy and important the Word of God (I Thessalonians 2:13; Isaiah 66:2)? How about regularly hearing and attentively listening to the Word of God when it is preached and taught, the Word whereby faith is created and strengthened in the heart (Isaiah 55:10, 11; Psalm 122:1; Luke 11:28; Romans 10:17)? How about gladly and regularly attending at every opportunity not only public worship (Psalm 122:1; Psalm 26:8) but also other venues for assembling (Hebrews 10:25) to hear and learn God’s Word and to exhort one another with the Word, such as Sunday morning Bible classes, Sunday School and Midweek Bible studies, “let[ting] the Word of Christ dwell in us richly” (Colossians 3:16), making the most of every opportunity we have to “grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (II Peter 3:18)? How about diligently and reverently reading and studying the Bible, “search[ing] the Scriptures” (John 5:39) so we can nourish our souls on “the sincere [pure] milk of the Word” (I Peter 2:2)? How about gladly learning and committing to memory the Word of God (Psalm 119:16) so “that [we] might not sin against [Him]” (Psalm 119:11) and so that we can teach His eternal truths to our own children (Deuteronomy 6:6, 7)? How about devoutly meditating “day and night” upon the Word of God (Joshua 1:8; Psalm 1:2)? How about humbly accepting the Word of God and clinging to it in childlike confidence (John 8:31-32; 20:31), “receiv[ing] with meekness the engrafted Word, which is able to save [our] souls” (James 1:21b)? How about gladly following and continuing in the Word of God, living according to His Word as the fruit of our faith (John 14:15, 23; James 1:22; John 8:31-32; Psalm 119:9)? How about sincerely honoring and faithfully supporting the preaching and teaching of the Word of God in the respective congregations of our precious fellowship (I Thessalonians 5:12, 13; I Timothy 5:17; I Corinthians 9:14; Galatians 6:6, 7)? How about diligently spreading the Word of God to others (Mark 16:15; Acts 4:20), particularly “to give light” to those on our Christmas list who are still “sit[ting] in [spiritual] darkness and in the shadow of death” (Luke 1:79), bringing them the spiritual message of salvation in Christ, the newborn Savior, instead of merely sending them a secular holiday greeting devoid of spiritual substance?
Having among us the marvelous spiritual blessing of truly orthodox local congregations which, by the grace of God, have, teach, profess and practice the Word of God in all its purity (Acts 2:42; John 8:31-32; Hebrews 10:25), how about staunchly adhering to them (Cat. Q/A 186b), “endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3), all of us “speak[ing] the same thing,” with “no divisions among [us],” but being “perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (I Corinthians 1:10)? How about doing all in our power to maintain, promote, and extend our local congregations with our prayers, personal service, and financial support (Cat. Q/A 186c; I Corinthians 9:14; Malachi 3:10)? How about being truly grateful for the wealth of both temporal and spiritual blessings that our Lord has graciously bestowed upon us (Psalm 103:2-5; Psalm 145:1516; II Corinthians 9:8) and praising God for them together with our true Christian brethren in our joint prayers, “in psalms and [in our] hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in [our] hearts to the Lord” (Colossians 3:16)? How about worshiping sacrificially and tangibly showing our thankfulness (Psalm 100:4; Luke 17:15-18), “offer[ing] to [Him] the sacrifice of thanksgiving” (Psalm 116:17) both with our words and with our cheerful, regular offerings of love (Psalm 66:1-2; Psalm 96:8)? Consider again on the Feast of the Epiphany how the wise men traveling “from the east to Jerusalem” (Matthew 2:1) did this when they “fell down and worshiped [the young child, Jesus],” and, having opened their treasures, they “presented unto Him gifts” well-suited for the King of kings and Lord of all Lords, the gracious King of their hearts (v. 11)!
How could we, who “know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ” (II Corinthians 8:9) and have taken “the cup of salvation” (Psalm 116:13a) into our hearts by faith, how could we not render to our Savior anything of Godpleasing value for all His benefits to us unworthy sinners, for all the undeserved blessings of our priceless redemption in and through Him — forgiveness of sins, life and salvation, peace with God, and the assurance of His loving care, keeping and protection? Nay, let us rather “render unto the Lord” sincere praise and thanks, “call[ing] upon the Name of the Lord” (Psalm 116:13b)! “Blessed be the Lord, who daily loadeth us with benefits, even the God of our salvation” (Psalm 68:19), who “hath dealt bountifully with [us]” (Psalm 116:7)! Let us “render unto the Lord” glad and joyous service to Him all our days, “paying [our] vows unto the Lord, now in the presence of all His people” (Psalm 116:14)! With grateful hearts for “His unspeakable Gift” (II Corinthians 9:15), let us raise our voices to our Lord Jesus, ever remembering that it is “the love of Christ [that] constraineth us” (II Corinthians 5:14) to love Him who first loved us (I John 4:19), so that we henceforth live not unto ourselves but unto Him which died for us and rose again (II Corinthians 5:15), earnestly beseeching Him not only in this Christmas season but during the coming year of grace and throughout our lives:
Ah, dearest Jesus, Holy Child,
make Thee a bed soft, undefiled
within my heart, that it may be
a quiet chamber kept for Thee.
(TLH 85, 13)
— Jason A. Mabe, Seminarian
(Submitted through his Pastor)