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Dr. John Piper
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December 25, 1983 (Morning)
Bethlehem Baptist Church
John Piper, Pastor

Christ Jesus Came Into the World to Save Sinners
(1 Timothy 1:12-17 ESV)

I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged
me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer,
persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted
ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and
love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full
acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am
the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost,
Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to
believe in him for eternal life. To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God,
be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

The message of Christmas for you from Christ this morning is that what is good and
precious in your life need never be lost, and what is evil and undesirable in your life can
be changed. The coming of the eternal Son of God into the world as the God-Man, Jesus
Christ, is a fact of history. But thousands of Americans fill out Gallup Poll religious
surveys that they believe this fact but then live just like everybody else. They have the
same anxieties that good things will be lost and the same frustrations that crummy
things can't be changed. Evidently there is not much power in giving right answers on
religious surveys about historical facts.

That's because the coming of the Son of God into the world is so much more than a
historical fact. It was a message of hope sent by God to teenagers and single parents
and crabby husbands and sullen wives and overweight women and impotent men and
retarded neighbors, and homosexuals and preachers and lovers and you. And since the
Son of God lived, died, rose, reigns and is coming again, God's message through him is
more than a historical fact. It is a Christmas gift to you this morning, December 25,
1983, from the voice of the living God. Thus says the Lord: the meaning of Christmas is
that what is good and precious in your life need never be lost, and what is evil and
undesirable in your life can be changed. The fears that the few good things that make
you happy are slipping through your fingers, and the frustrations that the bad things you
hate about yourself or your situation can't be changed -- these fears and these
frustrations are what Christmas came to destroy. It is God's message of hope this
morning that what is good need never be lost and what is bad can be changed.

There are many in our church family who because of age or sickness will inevitably ask
themselves the question today: "Is this my last Christmas?" Life is good and precious
and we don't want to lose it. We can talk all we want about the good things of life, but if
we don't have life we don't have anything. "What does it profit if you gain the whole world
and lose your life?" O, how precious is our life. If you don't feel it now, wait 'till you get
very sick. Then you will know why Hezekiah wept bitterly with his terminal illness and
pled for added years (2 Kings. 20:1-7). The message of Christmas to you who see your
death on the horizon is that you need never lose your life. It is good to live. Your life is
precious and can be saved.

Last Wednesday was the fifteenth anniversary of my marriage to NoŽl. One of the things
I said to NoŽl as I took her in my arms Wednesday evening was, "I would sure hate to
lose you." And we sat quietly for a while letting that thought intensify our love for each
other. We like to say with the Puritans, "It was no accident but a 'gracious Providence'
when we fell in love in 1966." But we know very well that sooner or later one of us will be
taken away. We also recall that our Lord said, "In the resurrection there is neither
marriage nor giving in marriage" (Mt. 22:30). Must I then live in fear that I will lose NoŽl?
The message of Christmas for me on my anniversary is that I need never lose her -- ever!
Christmas is God's guarantee to his children that whatever the new age may bring it will
not bring the annihilation of anything good.

The message of God to you this Christmas morning is that whatever is good and
precious in your life need never be lost.

No beauty, no pleasure, no love, no skill that is good and precious need vanish forever
from you. It can all be saved. The Christmas message is that even when you feel them
slipping between your fingers God can catch them all and restore them to you again.
Not one of you needs to live in fear or anxiety that what is good and precious in your life
will be lost. "The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came
into the world to save it for you, not to destroy it."

But not only that, the message of Christmas is that whatever is evil and undesirable in
your life can be changed. Wherever people say about their bad habits, "That's just the
way I am, you'll have to get used to it," the message of Christmas has been rejected. It's
as though the AAA truck pulls up to your dead car and you say, "Ah, it's no use, that's
just the way this car is." And you don't even let him hook up his cables. The message of
Christmas is the jumper cable between God and your life. And the power that flows is
the power to change.

Before anyone says, "Oh, I've tried religion and it didn't help," let me ask this: How many
of you have ever fasted for three days? Two days? One day? Have you taken the word of
God, asked for a vacation day, gone away by yourself Friday through Sunday and
saturated your mind with holiness and poured our your soul in longing to the Lord for
change? Have you gathered around yourself two or three spiritual brothers or sisters,
shared with them the habit you want to break, sought their daily earnest prayer and
stood yourself accountable to them? If not, then don't say religion doesn't work. Moses
fasted forty days, Elijah fasted forty days, Jesus fasted forty days and spent whole
nights in prayer. When was the last time you wanted any change in your life bad enough
to spend one whole day in prayer and fasting seeking it from the Lord, not to mention
three days like Paul (Acts 9:9) or three weeks like Daniel (Dan. 10:2,3), or forty days
like Moses? The problem with most of us is not that the Christmas message is
powerless, but that we don't really want to be changed. "You will seek me and find me
(says the Lord, in Jer. 29:13) when you seek me with all your heart." When you want
with all your heart to rid yourself of what is evil and undesirable, God will give you the
Christmas gift of change.

God could give the gift of change apart from the struggle of prayer. But then we would
never appreciate it as we ought. If he didn't usually cause our prayers to mount up with
fervency and earnestness before he changed us, then we would be like people who are
fed before we are really hungry. The Christmas dinner of God's transformation would go
down on a full stomach. There would not be so many oohs and ahs to his glory.

What's more, when God gives the gift of change it is always pure. But our motives for
change, even the best change, are not usually pure at first. Only when we begin to seek
him earnestly and saturate our minds with large doses of his pure Word and test our
affections through self-denial, do our motives become pure and ready to receive the pure
Christmas gift of change.

The message of Christmas is that what is evil and undesirable in your life can be
changed.

"The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into to the world to
save you from bondage to sin." Nobody knows the month Jesus was born, but it is a
happy tradition that puts Christmas the week before New Year's day, because New
Year's is when we resolve to change things in our lives, and Christmas is God's
message that change is his gift. Every page of the New Testament has the Christmas
title: these things are written that you might change. As 1983 comes to an end and we
look back on our lives, the good news of Christmas is that we can change. John puts it
like this in 1 John 3:8-9, "If you keep on sinning, it shows that you belong to Satan Ö
But the Son of God came to destroy these works of the devil. The person who has been
born into God's family does not make a practice of sinning, because now God's life is in
him" (L.B.). Christ Jesus came into the world to save us from the bondage to sin and
Satan. By the power of Christ you can change. We are not by nature beautiful people.
But we have an incomparably beautiful Savior who came into the world to change us into
his likeness (Rom. 8:29). Preserving the good works of grace in our lives and pressing
on to change the remaining evil by grace is the lifelong vocation of every Christian.
People who do not want to change are either perfect or disobedient. And since
perfection awaits the day of Christ's second coming, self-satisfaction is always
disobedience.

The message of Christmas is that what is evil and undesirable in your life can be
changed.

A critical spirit can be changed. Alcoholism can be changed. Irritability can be changed.
Harshness and ingratitude can be changed. Laziness and overeating and masturbation
and nagging can be changed. The habits of not tithing and excessive T.V. watching and
gambling can be changed. The fear of talking to others and of having guests over to your
house can be changed. The lack of appreciation for great music and great books can be
changed. Indifference to beauty can be changed. And your disposition to remind
somebody else to take this sermon to heart can be changed. Christ Jesus came into
the world to save us from fatalism. He came to stop people from saying, "That's just the
way I am."

I wish I could say something to help you feel with me the thrill of accepting the challenge
of breaking bad habits in 1984. Isn't it strange that physical and intellectual challenges
capture our minds but spiritual challenges don't, even though they are by far the most
important. The challenge to run ten miles, or have an undefeated season, or make a 4.0
average in college or become vice-president of the firm may call forth amazing effort and
discipline. But offer the same people the challenge of changing their habits of
prayerlessness or excessive anger or insensitivity at home or coolness in worship or
hesitancy in witnessing or addiction to second helpings, and they will likely content
themselves with a brief, "God help me do better," before they go off to sleep exhausted
from all the other challenges of life. But the meaning of Christmas is that Christ came
into the world to open a new gymnasium for godliness. And he said in 1 Tim. 4:8,
"Bodily exercise is of some value, but working out in the gymnasium of godliness holds
promise for the present life and the life to come." If it feels good to run ten miles and
lose five pounds, it feels a hundred times as good to conquer Satan by the power of
Christ and break free from some unloving bent in our personality. God's Christmas card
to you this year is a gift certificate for a personally directed fitness program in his Son's
gymnasium that can knock off more fat from the sinful sides of your personality than you
ever dreamed possible.

1 Timothy 1:15 is a great summary statement of Christmas good news: "The saying is
sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save
sinners." His humble birth, obedient life, substitutionary death, and powerful resurrection
covers the sins of his people and saves us from the loss of any good and precious thing
and from the bondage of any evil and undesirable thing.

And notice the context of this great saying.

It's Paul's own personal testimony of how he had been changed. Verse 13: "I formerly
blasphemed and persecuted and insulted Christ." Why did Christ choose the chief
persecutor of the church to become the chief missionary of the church? The answer to
that question is given very clearly in verse 16: he did it so that this morning you would
grasp the message of Christmas -- that no one who trusts Christ is beyond the reach of
change. "I received mercy for this reason, that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ
might display his perfect patience for an example to those who were to believe in him for
eternal life." Christ picked the chief of sinners to demonstrate to you today what his
mercy and power can do in your life. Don't belittle the mercy of God by saying that you
cannot be changed!

When Paul calls the power of Christ which changed him from great sinner to great
apostle -- when he calls this power "mercy," he exalts not himself but the Savior. The
Christmas gift of change is always a gift, and never a wage. It can never be boasted in. It
can be sought after the way a helpless, hungry man seeks food; and it can be accepted
by faith. But it can never be earned. And so none of the changes God gives can be the
basis of pride. The more like Christ you become, the more you exalt Christ and not
yourself.

What God did on the first Christmas and what he does in forgiving and changing people
today he did and does in utterly free, sovereign mercy, so that all his people will end the
paragraphs of their lives with the words like verse 17: "To the King of ages, immortal,
invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen." We are not saved
from sin and changed into righteousness for the sake of pride but for the sake of praise.
And when God's work on us is done and we stand perfected before Christ in the last
day, we will not exult in our worth but will sing with millions of angels: "Worthy is the
Lamb that was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and honor and glory and
blessing." Praise to you, O Lord. Amen.