We’ve been talking all month about the great plans of our faithful God. His plans were always for our salvation and this past Sunday we dug into exactly what that means. What does it mean for you and for me that Jesus came to save us from our sins. Read on to find out. Also, this will be the final entry this year. I will look forward to continuing our journey in Mark with you starting next week. See you then and Happy New Year!
The Story of Salvation
Well, we made it. Christmas has come and gone. And, should our Lord tarry, we are only a couple of days from kickstarting a whole new calendar year. Who’s ready for that? 2020 is almost in the rearview mirror. What a relief, right? Have you at least enjoyed the season we’ve been through? I mean, much of it hasn’t been the same as we would have preferred, but it was Christmas. How could you not enjoy Christmas at least a little bit? Some of you are thinking, “Easy. Try me.” Yet when we really understand what Christmas is all about, it really is pretty hard not to enjoy at least some part of it.
Okay then, what’s it all about? I guess your answer to that depends on where you ask the question and to whom. Peace, love, joy, hope, family, nostalgia, giving, serving, commercialism run rampant, and the list goes on. Oh wait, did I miss something there? Well, I guess since we’re actually in church talking about this, we probably shouldn’t leave off the obvious answer. Christmas is about…Jesus.
My making that a point of conversation two days after Christmas should come as a surprise to exactly no one. I am a pastor, and we are in a church after all. You probably would have been more surprised by my neglecting to include it. Jesus is the reason for the season. That’s just what you would expect me to say. But have you ever spent much time thinking about what that actually means? As we wrap up our Advent series, All Planned Out, this morning, that’s exactly what I’d like to do with you.
Now, just to make sure we’re all on the same page, the whole idea for this series has been that Christmas wasn’t something God threw together at the last minute. He doesn’t operate like that. He had a plan that He had been working to bringing to reality for a very long time. In fact, as we saw in the very first part of this conversation, His plans stretched back all the way to the very beginning of human history when we were still living in the Garden of Eden. In other words, and as we said then, salvation was always God’s plan. It was always His plan and He worked with great patience and diligence to see it come to fruition in Christ. We saw that a couple of weeks ago as we talked through Jesus’ genealogy in Matthew. The path God traced through human history was neither straight nor smooth, but that never stopped or even slowed Him down. That served as a good reminder that the twists and turns of our own stories don’t pose any threat to His plans for us. Your hardest story can’t stop God’s good plans. And, as we saw in Matthew’s story of Jesus’ birth just last week, God’s plans are going to come to pass. They may not be our plans—in fact they may seem a lot worse than our plans at first—but they will happen, and they will always be for our good. God’s plans happen, and they happen for our good.
But what exactly are those plans? They are plans for our salvation. Okay, fine, but what does that mean? Well, it all starts with something the angel said to Joseph when convincing him that it was safe to go ahead and marry Mary. Come with me back to the same place we were last week. Listen again as Matthew tells the story of Jesus’ birth.
“The birth of Jesus Christ came about this way: After his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, it was discovered before they came together that she was pregnant from the Holy Spirit. So her husband Joseph, being a righteous man, and not wanting to disgrace her publicly, decided to divorce her secretly. But after he had considered these things, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because what has been conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.’ Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: ‘See, the virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and they will name him Immanuel,’ which is translated, ‘God is with us.’ When Joseph woke up, he did as the Lord’s angel had commanded him.”
Now, you’ve heard that story before. If you were here last week, you heard it then. We tend to key in, though, on the part where Mary turns up pregnant and it takes a message from an angel to get Joseph to stay the course. Then, we skip right over to where Joseph obeys, and Jesus is born so we can get to the even more exciting story about the Wise Men. But there’s something tucked away in the angel’s message to Joseph that I want to make sure we don’t miss this morning. The angel told Joseph to name the child Jesus. That name is simply a Greek form of the older, Hebrew name, Joshua. It means “Yahweh saves.” The angel didn’t just tell Joseph what to name his baby, though. And, by the way, don’t miss out on the significance of Joseph being told to give Jesus His name. That was something only a father could do in that culture. This was God’s way of telling Joseph that this really would be his child in spite of his not being Jesus’ biological dad.
In any event, the angel goes on to tell Joseph the reason for this name: he will save his people from their sins. This is, of course, a reference to the salvation God had assured us was coming way back in the beginning. It would come through this little child whose birth was heralded by angels and hated by kings. Knowing, this, though, just brings us to the cusp of yet another question: What does this actually mean? What does it mean that Jesus came to save His people from their sins? Do you know? Let me tell you.
It all starts here: God created the world and everything in it. Why does salvation start with creation? Because of this: When you make something, using your own resources, you own it. I’m not talking about the factory worker who presses a button to make widgets. Those are owned by the company. I’m talking about the woodworker who cuts down a tree and uses his tools to craft a sitting chair out of it. That chair belongs to him unless and until he relinquishes his rights to it by gift or by sale. That makes sense, right? No arguments here?
Well, God created the world and everything in it. How do we know that? There’s the creation narrative in Genesis, for one, but while that’s certainly sufficient, we’re far from limited to that. The dirty little secret that many secular scientists don’t want to admit is that more and more the best scientific evidence points firmly in the direction of a designing intelligence behind all we see and don’t. From there it is a fairly short leap to the conclusion that this designing intelligence is best understood to be the God revealed within the pages of the Scriptures. That can be a longer conversation for another time. The point here is simply that God created the world. And, because He created it, He owns it. All of it. Including you and me and every other person who has ever lived or will yet live until He returns.
God created all we see and don’t and He made it good. But—and here’s where things get tough—it didn’t stay that way. No sooner did He put us in charge of managing it on His behalf than we broke it by trying to take control of our lives from Him. That’s what lay at the core of the fall recorded in Genesis 3. We were trying to be God instead of Him. We wanted to set the boundaries for what we could and couldn’t do. We didn’t want Him telling us how to live any longer.
Think about this part with me because this is important. If I take something from you by theft or force, are we good anymore? No, of course we’re not. Well, how is it that we can be reconciled again? I need to give back what I took. I mean, yes, you could always just forgive me, but in that instance, justice hasn’t been served. In thinking in those terms, you’re assuming on the justice of God being satisfied in Christ enabling you to freely forgive without concern for an immediate righting of the scales. Forget about that for a second. If I take something from you and God’s justice isn’t a consideration, the only way I’m going to be right with you again is if I replace what I took.
Stay with me now. In sinning, we took something from God. The fact is, if He created the world, then any action we take apart from His command is to take something from Him. In choosing to sin, what did we take from God? We took our lives. They were His to command, and we said, “Nope, we’re going to call the shots now.” Well, if we took our lives from God in sinning, how is it that we can be reconciled to Him? We’re not to Jesus yet, so don’t try and go there. If we took our lives from God, the only way we were going to be able to be right with Him again was to give them back. If we gave our lives back to God, though, what would we have left? Well, not life.
So, we were separated from God because of our sin. We needed to get to God again since He’s the source of life. But the only way to get back to Him was to give Him our lives at which point we would be dead. In other words, we were in a pit of our own making and there wasn’t a way out we were going to be able to achieve. Paul puts it better in his letter to the Roman church. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” But, “the wages of sin is death…” Do you know what that means? It means we needed saving.
This is where the news gets good. Finish that last verse. “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” If you need saving and you can’t do it on your own, then what you need is someone to do it for you. That is, you need a savior. This is why Jesus came. Jesus came to do what you and I could never do and still have any kind of a relationship with God (it’s hard to have a relationship with somebody when you’re dead). Jesus came to save us from our sins.
And how’d He do that? By willingly making His life into the sacrifice we could never make ourselves. God in His infinite justice and love decreed that Jesus’ perfect life could stand in the place of the imperfect lives of the rest of humanity. And this really shouldn’t have surprised us. After all, consider His willingness to spare the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah for the sake of 10 righteous individuals. He couldn’t find that many, but still spared the one He did find before unleashing His fury. With the people of Israel during Moses’ tenure He spared the nation at Moses’ prayerful insistence more than once. God has always been in the business of sparing the many on the intercession of the few. In this case, He spared the sinful world on the intercession of the righteous One.
Paul puts this one really well in His letter to the Colossian believers. Listen to this: “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile everything to himself, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” In other words, if there is anything separated from Him for any reason, it can be reconciled to God in Christ. Period. That’s a big truth, though, so make it personal: You can be reconciled to God in Christ. There aren’t any conditions or restrictions on that other than the way going through Jesus. There is no sin too grievous to be forgiven or lives too dirty to be cleansed. Your relationship with God cannot be so broken that Christ can’t restore it if you’ll let Him.
That’s where all of this ends: Will you accept it? Will you accept Him? Will you accept the saving work He’s done on your behalf? That’s why He came. He came to save you from your sins. At the beginning of this series, I told you that salvation was always God’s plan. Here we can make that truth entirely more personal. God’s plans weren’t just for the salvation of the world generally although that is certainly true. God’s plans are for your salvation. Jesus came to earth, born as a baby, born to die, because God’s plans were for your salvation. God’s plans are for your salvation.
Will you receive it? Will you receive Jesus as your Lord and Savior? If you are separated from God by anything, you can be made right again in Christ. You only need say the word, to submit your life to Him, to accept His sacrificial death and life-giving resurrection, and eternal life and a right relationship with God can be yours. Will you do it? If you have already done it, will you share it? Will you share it with someone else who needs to hear it? I’ve given you this morning a simple way to do so. Receive or share, though, this is not a message you can leave alone. You’ve got to do something with this. Jesus came for you because God’s plans are for your salvation. Receive Him and be saved.