Session 3: Five Gifts
Welcome back to the third and final session of Open the Bible. We’ve met 5 people in the Old Testament. We’ve looked at 5 events in the life of Jesus in the Gospels. And in this last session, we are looking at 5 gifts that God gives to all who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.
- The gift of the Holy Spirit
- The gift of faith
- The gift of forgiveness
- The gift of the church, and
- The gift of heaven
1. The Gift of Holy Spirit
Before Jesus ascended into heaven, He told His disciples to wait in Jerusalem until the promised Holy Spirit was given.
“You will receive power
when the Holy Spirit has come upon you,
and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem
and in all Judea and Samaria,
and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
Ten days after Jesus ascended, there was a festival in Jerusalem known as Pentecost. The book of Acts records how at Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was poured out on all the disciples of Jesus.
The day was marked by three remarkable events:
The sound of the wind
When the day of Pentecost arrived,
they were all together in one place.
And suddenly there came from heaven
a sound like a mighty rushing wind,
and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. (Acts 2:1-2)
In the ancient world, many languages used the same word for wind, breath, or spirit. The sound of the wind is pretty much the same as the sound of breath, only it is much louder and it lasts longer: ‘Hhhhhhuuuuuu.’
At the end of John’s Gospel, we are told that Jesus breathed on the disciples.
Jesus said to them again,
“Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me,
even so I am sending you.”
And when he had said this, he breathed on them
and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” (John 20:21-22)
Jesus was explaining what would happen on the day of Pentecost. “This is what it will be like: I will ascend to heaven, and when I do, I will breathe out my Spirit: Hhhhhhuuuuuu.”
Now when the disciples heard the “sound like a mighty rushing wind,” it was the same sound they had heard when Jesus breathed on them, only much louder. So they knew what was happening – the Holy Spirit was being poured out as Jesus had promised.
Now when you find something unusual in the Bible, it is helpful to ask, “Where have we seen something like this before?” And if we ask, “Where have we come across the sound of wind or breath before?” there is an obvious answer.
We saw in the Old Testament that God breathed the breath of life into Adam. God made a body from the dust of the ground, and then He breathed into the corpse. God breathed into Adam, and Adam became a living being.
What God did for Adam illustrates what He did at Pentecost. In the creation, God breathed into the body of Adam, and he became a living being. At Pentecost, God breathed into the first believers, and the church (which is the body of Christ), came to life.
The second remarkable event was…
The sight of the fire
And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them
and rested on each one of them. (Acts 2:3)
Try to imagine yourself among these believers when this happened. What they saw must have looked at first like a great ball or pillar of fire, coming toward them. It must have been absolutely terrifying.
As the ball of fire came nearer, it divided into individual flames, or “tongues of fire,” so that what looked like a flame came to rest on every person in the room. A flame rested on every person, but none of them were burned!
In the Old Testament, God appeared to Moses in flames of fire resting on a bush that did not burn. On the day of Pentecost, God gave the same sign of His immediate presence to the first disciples.
When God appeared to Moses in the fire, He commissioned Moses to lead God’s people out of slavery. Now at Pentecost, God’s presence came down in the fire to commission His church.
Try and picture this with me. You look up and see a ball of fire above you. You realize what is happening: God is coming to commission His people. The ball of fire is descending slowly. Who will it rest on? Will it be Peter? Or James? Or John? Or perhaps all of the apostles?
But as you look up at the ball of fire, you realize, as it separates into flames, that one of them is coming toward you! You look around at the others in the room, and a flame of fire rests on every one of them.
You see the point. God’s Spirit is poured out on all who believe in Jesus. It’s not a privileged few who are commissioned to serve the Lord. It’s all of God’s people!
The third remarkable event on the Day of Pentecost was…
Communication in many languages
And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit
and began to speak in other tongues
as the Spirit gave them utterance. (Acts 2:4)
People “from every nation under heaven” were gathered in Jerusalem at Pentecost (Acts 2:5). When the Spirit of God came, God’s people found themselves able to speak in languages they had never learned. So, people from all over the world heard the good news of Jesus in their own language.
When the crowds in the city heard the sound of the wind, they headed in the direction from which it had come to see what was going on (Acts 2:6). When they arrived, they found these people declaring what God had done in different languages.
If you had been a visitor to Jerusalem that day, you would have looked for someone who spoke your language. And that’s what happened. Small groups gathered round each of the believers and they all heard what God had done in a language they could understand.
God’s promise to bless all the families of the earth was being fulfilled, and it continues to be fulfilled today. The good news of what God has done in Jesus is for all people. God wants it proclaimed in every language. And all who believe have a part to play in communicating this good news.
Whose language can you speak? Perhaps you can speak in a way that children or young people can relate to. Maybe you can speak a language that will allow you to communicate with people from another culture. Maybe you can learn a language and be the means by which others hear the good news of Jesus.
Who is there is your life who needs to know the God of the Bible and might be willing to open the Bible with you, if you were to ask them?
God has put a circle of people around you, and you are the one who can bring the good news of what God has done to them.
- Holy Spirit
After the wind, the fire, and the tongues, Peter stood up and explained that God had fulfilled His promise to pour out the Holy Spirit and he told the people why: God had raised Jesus from the dead and exalted Him as the Lord of all.
It was only a few weeks since many in Jerusalem had called for Jesus to be crucified. Peter was telling them that the man they had crucified was the Son of God.
“What shall we do?” the people wanted to know. Peter called on them to repent, to change their whole attitude toward Jesus and to be baptized.
About 3,000 people responded and these people formed a community of believers. When the Holy Spirit was poured out, people came to faith.
2. The Gift of Faith
Faith believes what God has revealed and trusts what God has promised. Hebrews tells us:
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for,
the conviction of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1)
Believing is something that we do. “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31). And it is something that we must do. Jesus said, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent” (John 6:29).
But the Bible also makes it clear that faith is a gift.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not
your own doing; it is the gift of God. (Ephesians 2:8)
So, believing is something that we do and faith is a gift that God gives. Jesus calls us to believe, and with the command, He gives us what we need to obey.
I want to make three observations about this gift of faith…
Faith is not a capacity that some people are born with
Some people are naturally athletic. I know that training is hard work and acquiring skills in a particular sport takes hours of practice. But some people are naturally good at sports. They look good when they run.
Others of us are just not so well coordinated, and however hard we try, we are never going to be able to compete with our more athletic peers. It’s the same with art and with music. We can all have a go, but some people have this in them, and others of us, not so much.
Now it would be easy to think that it’s the same when it comes to faith. I’ve heard people say, “Some people have an inclination toward faith, but not me. I don’t think I could ever believe.”
If faith was a capacity that some people are born with, it would be terribly unfair. God would have put some people in a position of privilege, in which it was easy for them to be saved. And others of us would barely have a chance.
Faith is not a capacity that some people are born with. It is not an inclination that we have to find inside us.
Faith is believing what God has revealed and trusting what God has promised, and God has given the same revelation and the same promises to all people in the Bible. So, no one has an advantage over anyone else when it comes to faith.
If faith is not a gift you are born with, then how do you get it?
Faith comes through the Word of God
Faith comes from hearing,
and hearing through the word of Christ. (Romans 10:17)
Faith believes what God has revealed. It rests on what God has said. If God had not spoken, faith would be impossible. But here’s the good news: God has spoken, and that is why faith is possible.
What we are doing today in opening the Bible, is much more than studying an ancient book. We are hearing the Word of God. And faith comes through hearing. God’s Word is like living seed. It grows where it is planted and produces the fruit of faith.
Faith involves personal trust based on compelling evidence
These are written so that you may believe
that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God,
and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:31)
God does not lean out of heaven with a clenched fist shouting “Believe! Believe!” God reveals Himself in Scripture and then invites us to examine the evidence.
People come to believe in Jesus by getting to know Him. Jesus made Himself known to His disciples as they followed him. It will be the same for you. Faith will be formed in you as you look at what God has revealed, and as you listen to what He has promised in the Bible, and as you follow Him.
Maybe you say, “I don’t trust. I can’t trust.” But why don’t you trust? Your distrust is based on evidence. What you have seen is that people let you down, and your distrust is based on the evidence of your own experience.
Faith is based on evidence – the evidence of Scripture. “These are written that you might believe.” God invites you to come out of your broken world that has taught you not to trust and look at His Son, Jesus. God is inviting you to look away from the disappointments of your own experience and to find hope in Him.
- Holy Spirit
What happens when a person turns to Jesus in repentance and faith?
Jesus told a story about a prodigal son, who left home and wasted his father’s money. In the end, he got so desperate that he decided to return to his father.
He expected a rather cold reception, so he decided to say, “I am no longer worthy to be called your son, let me be one of your hired servants.” Perhaps by working for his father, he could show that he was really sorry and over time he could earn back his father’s favor.
But Jesus said that when the son was still a long way off, his father saw him and came running out to greet him. He hugged him, and kissed him, and welcomed him home.
Jesus said, “Whoever comes to me, I will never cast out” (John 6:37). When we come to Jesus in faith and repentance, He embraces us with the wonderful gift of God’s forgiveness.
3. The Gift of Forgiveness
The Bible word for forgiveness is the word justified. When you read the word justified or justification, remember that it means forgiven, reconciled, or brought back into a right relationship with God.
That’s what Jesus does when you look to Him in faith. He forgives you. He justifies you. He brings you back into a right relationship with God.
The Bible describes our forgiveness or justification in three ways…
- We are forgiven by grace
- We are forgiven through faith
- We are forgiven because of Jesus’ blood
We are forgiven by grace
…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
and are justified by his grace as a gift,
through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:23-24)
“Justified by his grace” reminds us that forgiveness is a gift. It is not that God looks at your faith, and says, “O, that woman has really impressive faith, so I am going to forgive her sins.” Forgiveness is not a reward for faith. It is a gift – undeserved and freely given.
We are forgiven through faith
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith,
we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:1)
Forgiveness is God’s gift and the way we receive it is by faith. Faith is like a hand, open to receive what God offers freely as a gift.
Faith joins you to Jesus. The Bible pictures the relationship between Jesus and those who trust Him as being like the union between a bride and a groom.
In a wedding service, the bride and groom are asked: “Will you take this person to be your lawful wedded wife? Will you take this person to be your lawful wedded husband?” Both have to answer. And when they do, a new union is formed.
Think of it this way: God asked of Jesus, “Will you take sinners and be their Savior?” And at the cross, Jesus was saying, “I will.”
Now God asks of you, “Will you take Jesus to be your Savior?” And when you trust yourself to Jesus, you are saying, “I will.”
Faith joins you to Jesus, and when you are His, all that He has becomes yours.
We are forgiven because of Jesus’ blood
Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood,
much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. (Romans 5:9)
Faith is the means by which we receive God’s gift of forgiveness, but the gift was purchased by the death of Jesus.
Jesus shed His blood for us on the cross. That’s why we are forgiven. Faith is simply the means by which we receive what He has purchased.
So, don’t make the mistake of trusting your faith. Faith is trusting in Jesus, and what matters most is not the strength of your faith, but the strength of your Savior.
After our first Christmas in Chicago, our family took a trip to Wisconsin. We found our way up to Fond du Lac, where we stopped by a lake to look around. It was perishingly cold. Our boys, who were just 10 and 8 at the time, said, “Dad, can we go on the ice?”
Parents know that when you’re not thinking you give your default answer. In Britain, the winters are mild, and when there is ice, it is often thin. So, I said what I had always said: “Yes, but go carefully.”
I want you to imagine this picture of these recently arrived foreigners, cautiously venturing out onto the ice in Wisconsin in the dead of winter. We were feeling our way, one foot at a time, nervously inching forward, when suddenly we heard the roar of an engine, and then saw a four-by-four driving out over the frozen lake. I don’t think I have ever felt so foolish!
We had very little confidence, but we were completely safe. The ice on which we stood was rock solid. And our safety rested not in the strength of our faith, but in the strength of the ice on which we were standing.
We are not saved by the strength of our faith, but by the strength of our Savior!
- Holy Spirit
So we’ve looked at the gift of the Holy Spirit, the gift of faith, and the gift of forgiveness.
These are all wonderfully personal gifts: The Holy Spirit works in your life. Faith is formed by the Word of God. And when you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, He becomes yours, and when He is yours, forgiveness is yours.
When God reconciles you to Himself, He brings you into His family. And that brings us to a fourth gift that God gives to every believer – the gift of His church.
4. The Gift of the Church
What comes to mind when you think of the church? Stained-glass windows? Hard wooden pews? Long dull sermons?
The Bible says that
…Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. (Ephesians 5:25)
You can be sure that Jesus did not give Himself up for stained-glass windows, wooden pews, and long dull sermons. So what is the church and why did Jesus love her so much that He gave Himself up for her?
Jesus spoke of the church on just two occasions, and what He said defines what the church is for us.
The church is made up of all believers in every time and place
The first time Jesus spoke about the church, He was referring to all believers in every time and place.
Peter had confessed faith in Jesus, and Jesus said,
“And I tell you, you are Peter,
and on this rock I will build my church,
and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18)
Jesus is not speaking here about a local church or a denomination, but about all believers at every time and in every place. “I will build my church” – singular! There is one church, comprising all believers, and Jesus Christ builds it.
Jesus said, “the gates of hell shall not prevail” against this church (16:18). Again, Jesus was not speaking about any local church or denomination.
All over the world there are sad stories of churches that have lost their way and closed. But the church Jesus is building is alive and well – a large part of it is already in heaven. It encompasses all believers at every time and in every place.
The church is a local congregation of believers
The second time Jesus spoke about the church, He was clearly referring to a local gathering of believers.
“If your brother sins against you,
go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone…
But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you…
If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church…” (Matthew 18:15, 16, 17)
“Tell it to the church” cannot mean “tell it to all believers in every time and place.” No one could possibly do that. Jesus was clearly speaking here about a local congregation of believers.
So, our Lord used the word church in two ways: First, to describe all believers in every time and place. Second, to describe a local congregation of believers – called out by God to worship and sent out by God to serve.
The church is not a self-selecting group of people. It’s never just you, me, and a few friends. Jesus builds His church by bringing people to faith in Himself and gathering them in local congregations.
Two observations about the church:
The church is central to the purpose of God
Paul speaks of
…the mystery hidden for ages in God,
who created all things, so that
through the church the manifold wisdom of God
might now be made known to the rulers and authorities
in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 3:9-10)
These rulers and authorities in the heavenly places are the angels – spiritual beings created by God to worship and serve Him. God’s purpose is that “through the church” His wisdom might be made known to them.
And this is why God created all things – so that His wisdom and His glory might be known. And how is it made known? Through the church.
When lost sinners are brought to new life, and turn to Jesus in repentance and faith, and are forgiven and reconciled to God, and brought together in the church, angels gasp and say, “Look what God did!”
When believers love one another, despite our many sins and failures, when we forgive one another, when we put the needs of others before our own, angels see the wisdom of God displayed.
The church is central to the purpose of God, and being a member of Christ’s church is a privilege beyond compare.
The church has a glorious future
Paul tells us that,
Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,
that he might sanctify her,
having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word,
so that he might present the church to himself in splendor,
without spot or wrinkle or any such thing,
that she might be holy and without blemish. (Ephesians 5:25–27)
There is a big difference between what the church is now and what she will be. Look at any church today and you will find that it is a long way from what God calls the church to be. You will see plenty of spots and wrinkles. The bride is not yet arrayed in splendor.
But Christ loves the church with all of her spots and with all of her wrinkles, and if we are like Him, we will love His church too. Jesus gave himself for the church. And if we are like Jesus, we will love the church and give ourselves for her too.
Notice what Jesus is doing for His church now. He cleanses her by washing her with the Word. The Word of God is like a bath in which we are washed. This is the pattern of our life together. We are washed by the Word, so that gradually and increasingly, the beauty of Jesus may be seen in us.
Then we are told what Christ will do for the church. He will “present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (5:27).
Think of the story of Cinderella. She is despised by her ugly sisters, but destined to marry a prince.
The church is despised by the world, but she is the bride of Christ, and her future is glorious.
Jesus Christ will present the church to Himself in splendor! And on that day, you will be so glad that you belong to His church.
- Holy Spirit
Talking about the day when all believers will be made perfect brings us to the last and greatest gift that God has prepared.
Jesus said to the Father,
I desire that they also, whom you have given me,
may be with me where I am, to see my glory. (John 17:24)
God’s greatest gift is the gift of Himself. And one day, all of His people will be brought into the joy of His presence in heaven.
5. The Gift of Heaven
The Bible story ends with God creating a new heaven and a new earth. In the book of Revelation, John says,
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth,
for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away… (Revelation 21:1)
The joys of the new heaven and earth will be beyond anything that we can imagine, but God uses two pictures to give us some inkling of what lies ahead for His people. They are the city, and the garden.
God will live with His people
And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem,
coming down out of heaven from God,
prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. (Revelation 21:2)
At this point in the story, history as we know it has been brought to a close. The earth has been laid bare in the fervent heat of God’s judgment (2 Peter 3:10).
London, Chicago, Beijing, Moscow, Delhi, and Dubai are all gone! Now John sees a new city coming down from heaven. He immediately recognizes its skyline – Jerusalem! It was unmistakably familiar to him.
Jerusalem is full of significance in the Bible story. This was where God came down in the Most Holy Place to meet with His people. The old Jerusalem had a holy place, where the presence of God came down. The new Jerusalem is a holy place, where God’s presence will remain.
John heard a loud voice coming from the throne saying,
“Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man.
He will dwell with them, and they will be his people,
and God himself will be with them as their God.
He will wipe away every tear from their eyes,
And death shall be no more,
neither shall there be mourning,
nor crying, nor pain anymore,
for the former things have passed away. (Revelation 21:3-4)
John saw the city from the outside and when, in his vision, he was invited inside the city, what he saw was a beautiful garden.
Paradise will be restored
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life,
bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb
through the middle of the street of the city;
also, on either side of the river, the tree of life… (Revelation 22:1-2)
The Bible story began in a garden. There were trees in the garden and one of them was the tree of life. John would have seen the significance immediately – this is paradise restored, and the new paradise will be more glorious than the one Adam lost.
In our first session, we saw that God gave Adam and Eve the gifts of a home, work, marriage, and His own presence.
In heaven you will have a better home
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life…
also, on either side of the river,
the tree of life, with its twelve kinds of fruit,
yielding its fruit each month. (Revelation 22:1, 2)
The Garden of Eden was a wonderful home for Adam and Eve, but the Garden of Eden never had trees that bore different kinds of fruit every month!
This is telling us that life in heaven will never be boring. There will always be something new. Using a different picture John tells us that the Lord will be our Shepherd, and He will lead us to springs of living water (Revelation 7:17).
Jesus will always be leading us into fresh discoveries, and the greatest joys of your life in this world are just a small sample of the delights you will enjoy in God’s new creation.
In heaven you will have better work
the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it,
and his servants will worship him…
the Lord God will be their light,
and they will reign forever and ever. (Revelation 22:3, 5)
Notice what we will do in heaven: We will worship, we will serve, and we will reign. When God speaks about us reigning, He is telling us that life will be ordered and brought under our control.
You will no longer be subject to the tyranny of time. You will no longer be swept away by unpredictable tides of emotion or impulses of the will. You will no longer endure dysfunctional relationships. And you will no longer be subject to danger or death.
Your life will be ordered, your work fulfilled, and your relationships will be whole. You will be free to fulfill the purposes of God, and all that you do will be offered to God as worship.
In heaven you will enjoy better company
The Garden of Eden was enjoyed by just one man and one woman. But now a vast crowd is streaming in through the gates of God’s city.
John saw that the city had
…a great, high wall, with twelve gates,
and at the gates twelve angels,
and on the gates the names of
the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed—
on the east three gates, on the north three gates,
on the south three gates, and on the west three gates. (Revelation 21:12-13)
John saw twelve entrances to the new Jerusalem. The gates faced north, south, east, and west. People were coming into the city from every direction – China in the east, Russia in the north, Africa in the south, and America in the west.
John saw an angel standing at each of the gates, and all of the gates were open (21:25). At the beginning of the Bible story, the gate to paradise was closed. Cherubim guarded the entrance to the Tree of Life with a flaming sword. There was no way back into the presence of God.
But Jesus has broken the sword of judgement, and now, angels are at the gates to welcome all who belong to Him. People are pouring in from every continent in the world – a vast company of people from every tribe and nation – all of them redeemed by Jesus Christ.
In heaven you will have a better knowledge of the Lord
They will see his face… (Revelation 22:4)
God’s presence in this city is its greatest blessing. In the Garden of Eden, God would come down as a visitor and make Himself known. But in the new creation, God will no longer be a visitor. God will dwell with us, and we will see His face!
Enjoying eternity in the presence of God is God’s ultimate gift, and this is a gift that He offers to you. “To the thirsty I will give from the springs of the water of life without payment” (Revelation 21:6).
Heaven is not a reward you can earn; it is a gift you must receive. And Jesus Christ gives this gift to all who trust in Him
The Bible ends with a marvelous invitation
The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.”
And let the one who hears say, “Come.”
And let the one who is thirsty come;
let the one who desires take the water of life without price. (Revelation 22:17)
The Spirit and the Bride invite you to come. The Bride is the Church and I have the privilege of speaking for her today, and inviting you to come and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.
And the Spirit, that is God the Holy Spirit, says, “Come!” God wants you to enjoy His new creation. This is why Jesus came into the world. He went to the cross for you. He rose from the dead for you. He offers you everlasting life.
But you must come. You must believe. You must receive what He offers.
And when you do, you will have this hope, found in the last words of the Bible.
He who testifies to these things says,
“Surely I am coming soon.”
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!
The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen. (Revelation 22:20-21)