My childhood was filled with aspirational experiences. We had no participation trophies. And the only gifts at birthday parties were for the birthday boy. We recognized that some excelled and some did not. We accepted that some were celebrated and others were celebrants. But we did have consolation prizes. For those with little skill on the carnival midway, a toy from the consolation prize box was great comfort.
Consolation prizes were my lot. I never mastered the midway. My ring toss was never a ringer. My penny never made it into the glass. And shooting gallery ducks had no fear when I stepped to the line. I never won the giant stuffed panda. But I always got a consolation prize. And those consolation prizes were often the most memorable. The bolo paddle and sliding 5×5 puzzles were epic fun. But the mother of all consolation prizes was circular maze. Five concentric tracks, slotted and pitted, that made getting the ball to the center spot a matter of great skill and tenacity. Oh, to have back a fraction of the hours I spent navigating circular mazes. Who wants a giant stuffed panda when you can have a circular maze? Often the consolation prize was the best prize of all.
A consolation prize is not the same as a participation trophy. It is meant to console your failure, not celebrate your contribution – not matter how minor. We are not all winners. And sometimes our contribution contributed to failure. Participation trophies say nothing of glory or grace. “We showed up.” That is all they can declare. But a consolation prize is a picture of grace. You deserved nothing, but there was something good for you anyway.
We think of a consolation prize as something of lesser worth or value, less glorious. And perhaps that is true on the carnival midway. But when it comes to the important things, consolation prizes are priceless. No matter what you earn in life, the greatest things you possess will be graciously given – the love of a wife who is better than you deserve, the trust of your children who have no idea how little you really know. The gifts that bring real and lasting joy are never things we have earned or achieved.
Real joy comes from consolation prizes. Gifts graciously given, not because you earned them or won them, but given by those who love you to bring comfort and consolation. No one ever owed me a consolation prize. There was no expectation of earning a prize just for showing up. The consolation prize was always given to console me in my failure, in my falling short. This is what makes it the better prize. This is what God does for us. We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Falling short is what we do., what we are. We have no skill or capital or piety to escape the state of sin and misery that is our spiritual condition. As the Bible puts it.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.Ephesians 2:8-9
But what is this grace that is given? What does the consolation prize look like? Is it merely a free pass on a bad afterlife? Is it a do over on all our mistakes? Is it a spiritual painkiller to take the edge off of life — an opiate for the masses? Curiously, the Bible does not describe God’s gracious gift as a state, a circumstance, or a feeling. While grace affects each of these, grace itself refers to the thing given – and that thing is a person. The ubiquitous John 3:16 reminds us what this greatest consolation prize is.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”John 3:16
Grace is given in knowing Christ, not simply his benefits. Phillip Melancthon put it succinctly, “to know Christ, is to know his benefits.” You cannot separate them. Christ, himself, is the gift. Christ is not given for us, but to us. The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is filled with the most lavish expressions of the gift of grace, but the theme of the letter is being “in Christ.” Repeatedly, he reminds the church that the gift is Christ. To know Him is to know his benefits.
After decades of preaching judgment against Judah, when it finally came Jeremiah consoles his people. God will restore them. His covenant of grace has not been shattered. He will keep all his promises. But God’s covenant promises are no mere reversal of fortunes or restoration of good old days. No, God has more powerful consolation in mind. He is sending them his Son, a kinsman Redeemer, the Greater Son of David. Jeremiah 33 is a remarkable picture of the real consolation God has for us – the gift not just of judicial acquittal, circumstantial comfort, or emotional stability – the gift of a person, the Lord Jesus Christ himself.
Jesus is the great consolation gift. Grace is found in a person, not a condition or a quality. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No man comes to the Father, but through me.” (John 14:6) What have you desired from your Christian life? Forgiveness? Eternal Life? Joy? A fresh start? All these are the fruits of grace, but they are not the root of grace. No, the great gift God gives us is to know Christ. He is the consolation gift God offers, the only consolation that will console.
Jeremiah points this out vividly in chapter 33. To a people who see no hope, whose greatest desire is to be free from captivity and return to the way things were before, the prophet gives better consolation. He shows them the greater gift God has for those who come to Christ and know Him. What do you desire most? Where will you find the consolation you need? Is it Jesus? Join us this Lord’s Day as we examine Jeremiah 33 and see what real consolation looks like.
We meet from 5:00 – 6:30 pm in The Commons at St. Andrews Anglican Church at 8300 Kanis Rd in Little Rock for worship. Get directions here or contact us for more info. You can also join us on Facebook Live @RiverCityARP.