McNeff: God’s gift should not be returned to sender |

McNeff: God’s gift should not be returned to sender

Dave McNeff
For The Tribune


A man got a chain saw as a gift, but he returned it complaining that it didn't work.

"I was told I could cut down 100 trees a day with this, but I barely averaged one a day last week," he said.

The clerk replied, "Let me take a look."

He pulled the cord and the saw sprang to life. The guy who brought it in jumped back and said, "What's that noise?" The gift was great — but useless until applied correctly.

We can do the same with a priceless gift from God. Anglican theologian John Stott once wrote: "I used to think that because Jesus died on the cross, everyone in the world had been put right with God by some kind of rather mechanical transaction. I remember how puzzled, even how offended, I was when it was first suggested to me that I needed to take hold of Christ in his salvation for myself. God later opened my eyes to see … it was necessary to accept him as my Savior."

That was a key lesson in the exodus of Israel from Egypt (Exodus 7-12). After Pharaoh reneged nine times on promises to release the Israelites, God imposed capital punishment — the death of all firstborn. Unless any family who sprinkled blood of a sacrificial lamb on their doorpost — the angel of death would "pass over" that house.

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This visually represented the need for a substitutionary sacrifice to pay sin's penalty. But it was not enough to have killed a lamb. The blood had to be applied to the doorpost: an act of personal faith.

God taught that same object lesson again after the Israelites left Egypt and reached the Red Sea. Pharaoh's army behind; the sea in front. No escape — except God made provision. He parted the sea. But then, it took an act of faith to walk between those walls of water — incredible faith, I imagine! The gift of the parted waters wasn't enough. One had to personally walk through them.

Jesus depicted the same truth in Communion. He said in Luke 22:19b: "This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me." "Given for you." How? By death on the cross, of course. Is that enough? No — for then he said, "Eat this." He does the same with the cup: "Drink this."

His point: "I will die for you, but you must die, too. You must deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me" (Luke 9:23). Personal commitment. That's what we affirm every time we participate in this ritual.

No greater example exists than at the cross. Two criminals died with Jesus, mocking as they went. But as one of them watched the perfection of Jesus, he came under severe conviction. At the last possible moment he said, "'Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.' And he said to him, 'Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise' " (Luke 23:42-43). That thief could offer nothing. Yet even as he hung next to Jesus, he somehow realized Jesus was dying in his place, and he accepted by faith that gift of eternal life.

The other thief? No such promise for him. Jesus' death was not applied. He would not believe and by faith accept Jesus' death as being for him. So near, yet so far.

Elizabeth Barrett's parents so disapproved of her marriage to Robert Browning they disowned her. Almost weekly she wrote letters to them, seeking reconciliation. They never replied, and after 10 years Elizabeth received a huge box containing all her letters — all unopened. They had discarded 10 years of exquisite expressions of love from Elizabeth Barrett Browning. How tragic. But no more tragic than missing the greatest love in the universe for failure to receive Jesus Christ as Savior.

I pray none will return His gift, unopened.

— Dave McNeff is Pastor of Eaton Congregational Church (Conservative Congregational Christian Conference)