“Extravagant” (gentle – Bethel): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B6BRS2WlhoY
Casting Crowns: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ipw3wCwMAxw
“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. 17 FOR GOD DID NOT SEND HIS SON INTO THE WORLD TO CONDEMN THE WORLD, BUT TO SAVE THE WORLD THROUGH HIM” (JOHN 3: 16-17)
INTRODUCTION TO THE SERIES
“Extravagant” is a word that came to me as I began to reflect on the true meaning of Christmas – that God, through the sending of His Son, Jesus, to the world showed an “Extravagant Love”; that through this life we have an “Extravagant Hope” – both for now, the future and eternity; and that because of what He has done for us by coming we have an “Extravagant Peace” – with God, in ourselves and with the world.
And I realised that I needed to understand what this word “extravagant” really means.
Extravagant = NO HOLDING BACK – LETTING GO OF ALL RESTRAINT. The Merrian-Webster dictionary defines it as: “exceeding the limits of reason or necessity”.
I like this – “reason” says that God should be very angry with us and should withdraw His favour from us – instead He lavishes His love on us through the sending of His Son – knowing what was going to happen to Him. “Necessity” says that we should be found guilty and suffer the consequences of our rebellion against Him – but instead he pours out His Grace upon us – giving us what we don’t deserve.
Then I began to wonder how I could visualise “extravagance” and it came to me that if a man sees a person in need and gives him some money to buy food and clothes then this is “kindness”. But, if that same man takes a wheelbarrow full of money to the top of a building and scatters it out over the whole area then this is “extravagance” – he is giving what he has away to people who have done nothing to deserve his beneficence – it is truly exceeding the limits of reason or necessity…but more on this later…
SENDING JESUS TO US WAS EXTRAVAGANT LOVE
Writing centuries before the birth of Jesus, the prophet Isaiah declared:
The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned. (Isaiah 9: 2)
The world at the dawn of the Christian era did not deserve a Saviour. The world was in “darkness”. People everywhere lived not only in ignorance of the One True God but followed demons in the form of false gods. They lived lives of selfishness, self-seeking and self-aggrandisement. Yet, God so loved the world that He showed an extravagant love for those living in darkness by sending His Son anyway.
A young virgin, living in the town of Nazareth, visited by the Angel Gabriel, was chosen to bear this child, conceived by the Holy Spirit. At the time of the birth she was compelled to travel with her betrothed, Joseph, to the town of Bethlehem where, with no room in the inn, she gave birth to a baby, laid Him in a manger, wrapped Him in swaddling clothes, and knew the extravagant love of God to her and to the whole world. Shepherds came to adore the baby, wise men from the East came to worship the child. And the boy grew to be the Saviour of the world – His extravagant love further displayed to the world through His willingness to lay down His life so that our sins could be taken on Himself and forgiven for all those who put their trust in His saving Grace – and, oh yes! Grace is a form of extravagant love – forgiveness and salvation is being given what we do not deserve.
WHY WAS SENDING JESUS TO THIS WORLD “EXTRAVAGANT LOVE”?
- BECAUSE GOD KNEW WHAT WAS GOING TO HAPPEN:
He knew the end from the beginning. Let’s take up the prophecy of Isaiah again:
He was despised and rejected
a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. (Isaiah 53: 3)
God knew that the very Jews to whom He sent His Son would reject Him, turn against Him and have Him killed. It is truly extravagant love when you send your Son when you know that this is what is going to be done to Him. It makes no rational sense. What father would send their son to a people who don’t want him, knowing that they are going to kill him? A Father in Heaven who has extravagant love for the world – that’s who!
Subsequent to the bringing of this message it was pointed out to me that, of course, Jesus showed His extravagant love towards us as He Himself knew what was going to happen to Him – ‘not only [did] God know how Jesus’s life on earth would end, but Jesus Himself also knew, “Jesus therefore, knowing all things that would come upon Him…” John 18:4. He knew that He would become a curse for us (Galatians 3:13 and also Romans 8:2 and 3.30).; and He knew that He, who knew no sin, would become sin for us that we would become the righteousness of God in Him.” 2 Corinthians 5:21 and Isaiah 53:6.’ We should bow down with awe to the One who gave Himself – out of love – so freely for us all.
- BECAUSE HE KNEW WE DIDN’T DESERVE HIM
Paul tells us in Romans 3: 23
all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God
Here is where it gets personal (for me and for you). I didn’t deserve this extravagant love. Not only has the whole of mankind been in rebellion against God since the Garden of Eden incident – but I have been in rebellion against God. I have lived a selfish life. I have done wrong again and again and again. Justice tells me that I deserve the punishment for my sins – for my rebellion against Him. I have done nothing to deserve His forgiveness. I have done nothing to deserve His gift of eternal life. I have done nothing to deserve His love. I have done nothing to deserve God sending His Son to earth. Yet, He did. He loves me in any case. His is an “extravagant love”.
- BECAUSE HE DID IT ANYWAY!
Knowing all this, God did it anyway! Knowing all this God sent His Son to be born in Bethlehem in Judea. Knowing all this He lavished His extravagant love on me and on you.
SO, WHY DID HE SHOW US EXTRAVAGANT LOVE?
Well, here is where the answer gets circuitous: He showed us extravagant love in the sending of His Son that first Christmas because He loves us – as a true Father loves his son – with an unconditional love that is, by definition, always going to be an “extravagant love”.
Let us remind ourselves of our well-known and headline Bible passage – John 3: 16-17
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. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
And let us relate this passage to our strange – yet pertinent – visual image of “extravagant love” – remember the wheelbarrow of money that has been scattered over the whole area from the roof of a high building?
- When that wealth and blessing came fluttering down, as it were, from Heaven, it was available to all – good and bad, rich and poor, young and old, black and white
God’s extravagant love is this – that He did not just love the Jews (His “chosen” people), and He did not just love the “good”, but He loved the “world” – the word here is “Cosmos” – that’s not just everyone (good and bad, young and old, black and white) but that’s everything – that’s the trees and the flowers, the dogs and the cats, the rocks and the water, even the Brussel Sprouts (!!!!) – and the planets and the stars – the whole universe!. His extravagant love is available to all.
- But when this wealth comes fluttering down, I imagine a host of different responses from the people below. Some will ignore it; others will doubt it – believing that there has to be a catch – that it can’t be as simple as just accepting it; others will reject it – saying that they don’t use this kind of money or that they use cards and not cash; still others will gratefully receive it and allow it to change their lives
In the same way our passage clearly states that “whoever believes in Him” shall receive this free gift of extravagant love that gives us eternal life. The extravagant love is offered to all. But many will ignore it, others will say that they have found it in different religions (from materialism to communism to Islam and Buddhism). But, for all those who do accept it then eternal life is theirs!
- The man who tipped that wealth out to the world below was one who wanted to help all those who wished to be helped – regardless of their situation. He was not wanting to judge anyone – saying to one “you deserve this” and to another “you don’t deserve this”.
This “extravagant love” is clearly seen to be that of the unconditional love of a Father in that Jesus did not come to condemn the world but to save the world. A good father does not condone his child’s bad behaviour, but a good father loves their child despite their bad behaviour – and seeks to find a way to save them from the consequences of the things that they do. This is extravagant love and this is the love that the Father has shown to us in the sending of His Son to be born into this world to be our Saviour.
HOW ARE WE GOING TO RESPOND TO THIS EXTRAVAGANT LOVE?
- In our visualisation we understand that to benefit from the extravagant love of the one who tipped the wealth down into the crowd we have to choose to bend down and pick it up. So too, we must respond to the extravagant love of Father God as evidenced in what He offered us that first Christmas by receiving Jesus into our lives as our Saviour. If you have not yet done this then this is the first thing that you need to do.
- But, having done this, we must now choose what we are going to do with this extravagant love that we have been given. Shall we now ignore it? Shall we be selfish and just keep it for ourselves? Or shall we find a way in which we can say thank-you to Him for giving us freely His extravagant love?
This true story – quoted as written – challenges us to respond in a way that is truly fitting:
Here is a true story about a nine-year-old boy who lived in a rural town in Tennessee. His house was in a poor area of the community. A church had a bus ministry that came knocking on his door one Saturday afternoon. The kid came to answer the door and greeted the bus pastor. The bus pastor asked if his parents were home and the small boy told him that his parents take off every weekend and leave him at home to take care of his little brother. The bus pastor couldn’t believe what the kid said and asked him to repeat it. The youngster gave the same answer and the bus pastor asked to come in and talk with him. They went into the living room and sat down on an old couch with the foam and springs exposed. The bus pastor asked the kid, “Where do you go to church?” The young boy surprised the visitor by replying, “I’ve never been to church in my whole life.” The bus pastor thought to himself about the fact that his church was less than three miles from the child’s house. “Are you sure you have never been to church?” He asked again. “I sure haven’t”, came his answer. Then the bus pastor said, “Well, son, more important than going to church, have you ever heard the greatest love story ever told?” and then he proceeded to share the Gospel with this little nine year old boy. The young lad’s heart began to be tenderized and at the end of the bus pastor’s story the bus pastor asked if the boy wanted to receive this free gift from God. The youngster exclaimed, “You bet! The kid and the bus pastor got on their knees and the lad invited Jesus into his little heart and received the free gift of salvation. They both stood up and the bus pastor asked if he could pick the kid up for church the next morning. “Sure,” the nine old replied. The bus pastor got to the house early the next morning and found the lights off. He let himself in and snaked his way through the house and found the little boy asleep in his bed. He woke up the little boy and his brother and helped get them dressed. They got on the bus and ate a donut for breakfast on their way to church. Keep in mind that this boy had never been to church before. The church was a real big one. The little kid just sat there, clueless of what was going on. A few minutes into the service these tall unhappy guys walked down to the front and picked up some wooden plates. One of the men prayed and the kid with utter fascination watched them walk up and down the aisles. He still didn’t know what was going on. All of a sudden like a bolt of lightning it hit the kid what was taking place. These people must be giving money to Jesus. He then reflected on the free gift of life that he had received just twenty-four hours earlier. He immediately searched his pockets, front and back, and couldn’t find a thing to give Jesus. By this time the offering plate was being passed down his aisle and with a broken heart he just grabbed the plate and held on to it. He finally let go and watched it pass on down the aisle. He turned around to see it passed down the aisle behind him. And then his eyes remained glued on the plate as it was passed back and forth, back and forth all the way to the rear of the sanctuary. Then he had an idea. This little nine-year-old boy, in front of God and everybody, got up out of his seat. He walked about eight rows back, grabbed the usher by the coat and asked to hold the plate one more time. Then he did the most astounding thing I have ever heard of. He took the plate, sat it on the carpeted church floor and stepped into the centre of it. As he stood there, he lifted his little head up and said, “Jesus, I don’t have anything to give you today, but just me. I give you me!”
Let us focus on this and finish with the words of the final verse of my favourite carol: “In the Bleak Midwinter” –
What can I give Him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a Shepherd
I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man
I would do my part,
Yet what I can I give Him,
Give my heart.