Last night, Pastor Michael gave a great talk on preparing for Christmas. He was battling chills and nausea the whole time. He went home and went to bed. Unfortunately, he started throwing up in the middle of the night; so instead of being here to speak, Michael is home in bed—sick. Even worse, Michael should be celebrating—on Tuesday, he finished his master’s degree in ministerial leadership. Instead of celebrating, he’s puking.
So at six this morning, the skipper signaled the bullpen and brought in a reliever—me. It’s the week the before Christmas, so I decided to talk to you about the generosity of God. John 3:16 For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
That’s what we’re celebrating at Christmas: God is generous. God has given His Son for us. All our gift giving is a celebration of His great gift to us.
ILL: Len Sullivan was a church planter in northern Saskatchewan, and like most church planters, money was tight. He writes:
We were down to only a few dollars in the bank. Our usual reaction to that need was to look for our own solution. This time, however, in a stroke of faith, I told God that we needed eggs, bread, and milk. I would wait upon him.
That afternoon, a man came to my little fix-it shop with a leaky teakettle. He said, “I know I could get another, but it’s my favorite kettle. Please fix it.” In a matter of minutes the job was done, and I didn’t even charge him for it. But he pulled out a $10 bill and insisted that I take it—just enough to buy a gallon of milk, a dozen eggs, and a loaf of bread.
As he left, with a bit of pride in my faith, I thanked God, to which he replied: “Don’t you wish you had asked for a half a beef?”
Have you ever done this? Prayed a small prayer and wished later you had prayed a big one! What’s behind our small prayers? Often it’s because we believe we have a small God, a stingy God, a God who is reluctant to give. But that is not the God that Jesus knew and revealed.
The Big Idea: God is scandalously generous! You can never out-give God.
I hope to leave you with a new confidence in God’s generosity and a new boldness to give big grace, to dare big things, and to pray big prayers!
Here are three stories Jesus told about God’s generosity:
1. The Generous Boss: give big grace.
Jesus told a story about God’s generosity, a generosity so lavish that it offended people—it was scandalous. Here’s the story:
Matthew 20:1–16 (p. 846) For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. 2 He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.
3 About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. 4 He told them, “You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.” 5 So they went.
He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. 6 About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, “Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?”
7 “Because no one has hired us,” they answered.
He said to them, “You also go and work in my vineyard.”
8 When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, “Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.”
9 The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. 10 So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11 When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12 “These who were hired last worked only one hour,” they said, “and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.”
13 But he answered one of them, “I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?”
16 So the last will be first, and the first will be last.
How many of you are thinking, “No fair!”? If I had worked all day—12 hours through the heat of the day—and was paid the same as the guys who worked an hour, I’d protest too! At first glance it seems unfair. But in reality, the boss paid exactly what he promised, which was a full day’s wage for a full day’s work—it was fair pay. No one was treated unfairly—it’s just that those hired later were treated generously—so generously that it offends our sensibilities. It’s scandalous!
The religious people of Jesus’ day were upset that He offered salvation to undeserving people, to tax collectors and other sinners. They believed that you had to earn it. You had to be good enough. You had to work 12 hours through the heat of the day to earn your salvation; Jesus was giving it to folks who showed up at 5 PM. God’s salvation—a place in His Kingdom—is a generous gift of grace.
Jesus is teaching that God is generous. He gives us more than we deserve. Here’s the reality: no one deserves to go to heaven. No one is good enough. If we got what we deserved, we’d all go to hell. But God is scandalously generous and offers salvation as free gift of grace for everyone, whether you show up at the first hour or the eleventh hour.
Just like the religious people of Jesus’ day were surprised that He was letting the sinners in, I think we’ll be surprised when we get to heaven! “You made it?”
ILL: A taxi driver and a pastor were standing in line to get into heaven. The taxi driver approached the gate and St. Peter said, “Welcome, I understand you were a taxi driver. See that mansion over the hilltop? It’s yours.”
The pastor heard this and began to stand a little taller. He said to himself, “If a taxi driver got a place like that, just think what I’ll get.”
The pastor approached the gate and St. Peter said, “Welcome, I understand you were a pastor. See that shack in the valley?”
St. Peter had hardly gotten the words out of his mouth when the irate pastor said, “I was a pastor, I preached the gospel, I taught people about God. Why does that taxi driver get a mansion, and I get a shack?”
St. Peter said, “Well, it seems when you preached, people slept. When he drove, people prayed.”
I think we’ll be surprised when we get to heaven! There will be people in heaven who have lived righteously all their lives, done all the right things, and worked hard. They were the ones who worked 12 hours through the heat of the day. There will also be people in heaven who showed up at the eleventh hour, an hour before quitting time. They wasted their lives doing nothing, they didn’t answer God’s call until the last possible moment. But they are welcomed into heaven just like the guys who did it all right. Why? Because God is generous and gives us more than we deserve.
I’m counting on God’s generosity towards me—I need it. And I’m counting on it for my dad. He was an alcoholic who was a good dad when he was sober, and a terror when he was drunk. My dad finally dried out and came to Christ just a couple years before he died. He was one of those 11th hour guys. I’m counting on seeing my dad in heaven because of God’s generosity and grace.
Our response to God’s scandalous generosity ought to be to give big grace to others. The fact that we identify with guys who worked all day and cried “no fair” shows that our hearts are still cramped. Wouldn’t a better response be to say, “That’s cool! I’m glad God was generous with them.” Shouldn’t we want others to receive generous grace? I hope God’s scandalous generosity will move to you to give big grace to others.
God is generous. He generously gives big grace to you, so give big grace to others. Who do you want to give big grace to this Christmas?
2. The Three Wealth Managers: dare big things!
Here’s the next story…
Matthew 25:14–30 (p. 852) Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. 15 To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. 16 The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. 17 So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. 18 But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.
Who is the master? God. Who are his servants? Us. God is the owner; we are his managers.
The first thing I want you to notice about God the owner is how generous he is. Each bag of gold was worth a lifetime’s wages for the average working man! One man was given 5 lifetimes of wages to invest, another 2 lifetimes, and another 1 lifetime of wages. Sometimes we feel badly for the last guy—“he only got one bag of gold and the others got more.” But the guy that got the least still got a lot! How many of you would like to have a lifetime of wages to invest? You do! God is generous with us. It’s all His, but He shares everything with us generously. The man who got the least still got a lot!
God who is extravagantly generous. God has generously entrusted you with His wealth to manage. This obviously includes money—that’s the currency Jesus chose to use in the story. Our minimum wage is currently $11.50 an hour. If you worked 40 hours a week for 40 years, you would earn $920,000—almost a million dollars working for minimum wage! Most of you will earn far more than minimum wage, and in the course of your lifetime will manage millions of dollars. Whose money is it? God’s. Everything we have is His; we aren’t owners, we are managers. We are God’s wealth managers, and He has been generous to us. What are you doing with God’s money? One day, we will each answer for how we used God’s wealth.
But it’s not just our money. God has generously entrusted us with so much else: time, talents, influence, things. God has generously equipped you to serve Him, to make a difference in the world. What are you doing with what God has given you?
In this story, Jesus clearly teaches that God has been generous with each of us. Use what God has given you and dare to try big things for God. Rather than comparing yourself with someone who has more, be thankful for what you have and make the most of it. Rather than feeling down about what you have—“I don’t have much—I’m just a one talent person”—why don’t you thank God for what you have and make the most of it. Use what God has given you and dare to try big things for God.
ILL: I read a wonderful book, A Dream So Big, by Steve Peifer. Steve was a marketplace guy, working for Oracle, making big money, when their third son was born with terminal disabilities. His death rocked their world. But rather than running from God, Steve ran to Him, to a Father who loves him, and offered himself in a new way. Steve and his wife and two sons ended up in Kenya for a year as dorm parents at Rift Valley Academy, a boarding school for missionary kids from all over Africa.
During his last week of that year, Steve visited a local Kenyan primary school. He noticed that most of the kids in the classroom were lying on the dirt floor, listless. He asked the teacher why, and she said, “This is Thursday; most of the children have not eaten since Monday.” Steve titled that chapter of the book, “This close to a clean getaway.” He couldn’t get that image out of his mind, and so the family returned to Kenya with this goal: “Don’t make peace with the fact that there are hungry children.”
He worked out a simple plan to provide lunch—corn and beans—at that school every day. Soon, other schools were begging him to bring the feeding program there. By 2015, they served lunch every day to over 16,000 kids at 25 primary schools! And they have designed and built computer labs so that these kids can become computer literate and get jobs.
Steve is a computer geek who is simply using what God gave him to dare to try big things. You can do the same thing! Use what God has given you and dare big things!
God is generous. He has generously gifted you, so dare big things! If you could change one thing, what would it be?
3. The Midnight Emergency: pray big prayers.
The disciples watched Jesus praying one day, and then asked him, “Lord, teach us to pray.” Jesus gave them what we call “the Lord’s Prayer” and then told them this story.
Luke 11:5–13 (p.893) Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; 6 a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ 7 And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ 8 I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.
9 “So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
“Suppose,” Jesus says. He wants them to imagine a situation: “What if…” Suppose you went to your friend at midnight with an emergency. Here’s the emergency:
In Jesus’ culture, hospitality was a sacred duty. When guests arrived, you were expected to feed them. So an unexpected guest arriving in the middle of night combined with an empty cupboard created a crisis, an emergency.
Suppose this happens and you run next door to your friend’s house, and bang on the door and ask for help. Will he tell you to get lost? Of course not! It’s not even a question of friendship. He will give you what you need simply because you asked. The fact that you had the shameless audacity to wake him in the middle of the night means this is a true emergency, and of course he will help.
ILL: Think of it this way. Suppose you and I were neighbors and friends. Let’s imagine that Laina is pregnant! (It would be a miracle! I can only hope!) She is full term, her bag is packed, she is ready to go. She awakens me in the middle of the night: “It’s time.” I grab her bag and head to the car…and it won’t start. Crisis! So I come bang on your door, and when you answer, I explain, “Laina’s water broke, the baby is coming and my car is dead. Can you drive us to the hospital?” What would you say? “Of course!” Or, “Here’s my keys.”
The point is that you would do it just because I asked. It’s not even a question of friendship. You would probably do it even if we were just acquaintances. It’s an emergency and I had the audacity to ask for help in the middle of the night—of course you’ll do it!
Then Jesus says: “So ask, and it will be given you.” The point of the story is to just ask and God will answer. Have the shameless audacity to ask God for what you need! Ask and you’ll receive. Then Jesus illustrates.
Luke 11:11 “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
In Matthew’s version of this Jesus said, “How much more will your Father in heaven give what is good to those who ask him.” Notice the “how much more”. How many of you parents love to give good things to your kids? You’re generous, and you’re imperfect, broken, selfish. How much more will your perfect Heavenly Father give what is good to those who ask him! God is more generous than the most generous parent. That is why I say that you can’t out-give God. No matter how generous you are, how much more generous is God! It’s “how much more” generosity!
So ask! Ask boldly! Ask shamelessly! Ask audaciously! Ask for half a beef, not just milk, bread and eggs. Make the Big Ask—because God is generous. How generous? Much more than any of us!
God is generous, so pray big prayers! What is your Big Ask of God?
Conclusion: The Ultimate Generosity
I hope you will forever banish any ideas that God is stingy and tight-fisted, and instead I hope that you will know the God who is “how much more” generous. That generosity found it’s ultimate expression in Jesus.
John 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
Here is the ultimate measure of God’s generosity: He gave His Son for us, His one and only Son. I can’t imagine. I can’t imagine giving my son—I would rather die myself. Isn’t that how you feel about your kids? Parents love their children with a love that is fiercely protective. So we can understand dying to save a child. But giving your son to save others—that is an act of sacrificial love beyond comprehension. I can’t imagine it—so I can only stand in awe that God would love me enough to give that generously.
It is “how much more” generosity. And so much more than you can imagine is wrapped up in the gift of Jesus.
Romans 8:32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?
God gave the biggest and best gift possible—His Son. Everything else is wrapped up in the gift of Jesus.
ILL: When I was given the gift of an Amazon Prime membership, I didn’t think much of it. Then I learned that it included free 2 day shipping! That’s cool! Then I learned that it included free books each month. Then I learned that it included free music and movies—thousands of them! Then I learned that it included free space in the cloud to store and share photos. Then I learned that it included free Kindle library lending privileges. Then I learned that it included free all you can eat at a hundred local restaurants. Ok, I made the last one up! But all those others are included.
I’m talking about Jesus Prime! When you receive Jesus, you get everything else wrapped up in Him. You receive eternal life, grace, forgiveness, love, a new family, a new identity, hope, peace, joy—and the list keeps going. “How much more!”
God is generous! This is what we celebrate at Christmas—an extravagantly generous God who gave everything for us. And all He asks from you is…everything. Are you ready to give everything to Jesus?