It is cliché but true that the greatest gift did not come wrapped in a box or decorated with bows. The greatest gift given to man was the Son of God, and the gift was given on a cross.
The enormity of this gift can not be overstated. Indeed, too often we are likely to downplay the significance and magnitude of such a gift.
We read in the book of Hebrews: “For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? But in these sacrifices, there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” (Hebrews 10:1-4; ESV)
The readers of this epistle would have had a better understanding of the significance of the “reminder” that the Law of Moses was providing through the continual sacrifices at the temple, year after year, and day after day, than we do. For they had each seen it and experienced that reminder.
The Temple in Jerusalem was a grand affair, with its porches and gates and courtyards. It housed worship and singing and prayers and all manner of studies; but at its heart there was an altar where offerings were made by every single Jew for their sins. The area beside the altar would have been a veritable slaughter house, as animal after animal was slain. Though we don’t know how many Jews visited Jerusalem each year to offer sacrifices, we know that there were easily a million Jews in the vicinity of Jerusalem during the days of Jesus. If each of that million only offered one sacrifice a year, that would have been over 2700 animals slain each day, over a hundred an hour, more than one every minute. The blood of these sacrifices never stopped flowing and the fires upon which they were cast as offerings never ceased smoking. Death after death, every minute of every day, year after year, reminding the Israelites of their sins.
But what the blood of animals could not do, though slain by the millions, Jesus did alone and once, for all men. As the Scriptures teach, “by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (Hebrews 10:14; ESV).
It is not for the sake of mere poetry that it was written: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). God wanted men to understand the death caused by sin was all too real, and that the gift was great, and without measure.
Like all truly great gifts, the gift of Christ on the cross was not some physical bauble that could be placed on a shelf, useless except to admire. It was and is the offer of a life-changing experience. It is the chance to create a true relationship with our Creator, and to enjoy the fruits of that relationship literally forever.
When God gave us Jesus as a sacrifice for our sins, He gave us a unique and great gift that only He could give.
Elsewhere we read of what God would like us to give Him in return. The apostle Paul wrote it thus: “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Romans 12:1; ESV)
It is fitting that just as God gave us a sacrifice as a gift, so too we give Him a sacrifice. Whereas Jesus gave Himself to us, for us, so too it is proper that we give ourselves to Him, for Him. It is fitting and proper that as Jesus gave us the opportunity to create an eternal relationship with Him and with the Father, that we take this opportunity and we build that relationship.
As it is elsewhere written, “We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19).
The love of God was shown in the giving of a gift. The gift of Christ was offered in love; it is right that we return love for love. But if we are to truly love as He has loved us, we must learn to give as He gave to us.
The church of Christ invites you to study God’s word with us, and worship with us at 234 Chapel Drive, Gallipolis, Ohio. If you have any questions, including subjects you might like to see addressed, please share them with us through our website: chapelhillchurchofchrist.org
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ.