Monday, December 25, 2006

The Paradox of the Manger: That Baby is the World's Saviour!

Christmas Day!

Some of you have been waiting for this day like a dog waits for his dinner! Your tail has been wagging, your mouth has been salivating and your eyes locked on that day! Because when Christmas comes, there is bound to be a present a two from somebody under your tree!

I have fond memories of Christmas. I loved to get up early in December to have a few minutes to sit by the Christmas tree while it was still dark. I would stare at the lights and enjoy the smell of pine! Then would come Christmas morning....

All my memories as a child are of a fresh snowfall – was that true!? And coming downstairs to lights and presents and fun! And every once in a while, getting that one perfect present. The Big Jim Rescue Rig! The golden banana seat bike! There is nothing like a perfect gift!!

But I found that bike this summer at my parent’s cottage. Gone is the gleam of gold – surrendered to rust. The sparkle has faded out of the seat that is splitting in 32 places. It is not what it once was! Like every gift under the sun, it has gone the way of the world.

But there is one true perfect gift...

The Bibles states some amazing things about Jesus Christ. It says that Jesus is God; that Jesus is the world’s Creator; and even that Jesus is the world’s Sustainer. Today, I want to point you to the best of news. This same Jesus is also the world’s Saviour!

When Mary was supernaturally pregnant with God’s Son, her engaged husband had thoughts of divorce. After all, he knew HE had not gotten Mary pregnant... which meant someone else had! She must have committed fornication!

Matthew 1:20-21 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

The first thing to notice about the wording of this verse is this: this baby is named Jesus BECAUSE / FOR THE REASON that He will save his people from their sins. Do you see that? God is “in” to names. He even goes so far as to rename people in order for their name to match something about their life or character. So you have Abram (exalted father) being re-named Abraham (father of a multitude). Things like that.

The actual name “Jesus” is the Greek form of “Joshua.” This name – like the name Abraham – means something. “Jesus” means “YHWH is salvation” or “YHWH saves.” So as God comes to man, He takes a name upon Himself that declares his purpose in coming. “Salvation” is born. Salvation has come.

Every time we hear the name “Jesus” we ought to be reminded that God came to us to save us. He is the Saviour of sinners! But the name of Jesus is spoken more as a cuss-word than anything else in our land. How ironic that those who take the Lord’s name in vain are at the same moment proclaiming the best news they will ever hear! “God saves sinners!”

So, his name is Jesus... but I want us to think through the reason that is given for this naming. Why does God insist, first to Mary, then to Joseph, that His son be named “YHWH is salvation?”

The angel told Joseph the reason – “he will save his people from their sins.”

Now, you will see that this phrase breaks into three parts:

1. He will save

2. From their sins

3. His people

1. Jesus was born to save

This is just what we have been saying. Jesus came into this world from heaven in order to save people. Many years after Jesus life and death, the Apostle Paul would write something similar to Timothy. He said, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners...” (1 Timothy 1:15). This was his raison d’etre. He did not come to start a fan club or to infuse some morality or to halt global warming or to improve the plight of the poor – he came to save.

“To save” means to rescue from harm or danger. It is to deliver into safety. There is a whole range of meaning to this word – a pitcher may save a baseball game; your spouse may save you from an embarrassing social moment; a policeman may save someone from getting shot; a fireman might save a child out of a burning building; a surgeon may save a cancer patient.

These kinds of saves seem to happen every day somewhere on our globe. But they are watery reflections of the one great salvation that all of us must have. Jesus came to save. To rescue us from the misery of death and transfer us into the life of delight in God.

But salvation cannot be understood until you know what you are being delivered from. You’ve seen movies of people being dragged out of buildings by armed guards, protesting because they do not understand the danger or threat they are under. The do not know that building is about to collapse! Many people in our city and country are like that today. Here we are saying, “You must be saved!” and they are looking about them and asking, “Saved from what?”

So, what does Jesus save from? Watch a little religious TV and you might think He saves from poverty, or integrity or normal-looking hair! Thankfully, the Bible is clear!

2. Jesus saves “from sins”

The angel’s message to Joseph was the best news of all. Men can save other men from burning oil rigs and some diseases and bad financial decisions – but no man can save himself or anyone else from his greatest problem – sin! No amount of money or power or technology can rescue us from this enemy.

Sin came into the world when Adam ate the fruit of the one tree God had forbidden him to eat from. His life should have been on a trajectory of growing dependence on and love for the Lord... but, first Eve, then Adam were tempted and they fell... and sin and death entered our world. God had warned Adam that if he ate of this fruit he “would surely die.” And die he surely did... as have every single one of his children... and as you will one day.

O, we can solve knotty mathematical problems, and split an atom and put men in space and build beautiful homes... but we can’t stop dying.

We get old. 10 out of 10 people die. Sometimes we think of this more at Christmas than at any other time of the year. We remember loved ones that are no longer with us and we think upon our own mortality. We realize that no matter when it comes, death is unstoppable and always sudden. We see that no mortal has permanently beaten the grave – even Poor Lazarus, raised from the dead by Jesus, had to die a second time.

And that death is not normal – it is quite wrong – that is why we fear it and cringe around it. And the reason we cannot stop dying is: sin. We cannot stop sinning! And even if we did, what would we do about all the sins we have already committed?

That is why the birth is Jesus is so wonderful! Because he came to save us “from our sins!” Our sins – that cause our guilt before God. Our sins – that cause our death! Jesus came to save us from these sins! From their guilt and just punishment.

“For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God...”

So you can see why angels sang and stars moved and wise men came bearing gifts and Satan attempted murder when Jesus was born. YHWH who saves became man! To deal once and for all with our one universal problem.

But so many get confused here. They think man’s greatest problem is economic or political or physical or geographical. So their solutions are to dole out money or oust a government or search for new drugs or move into a better neighbourhood. But none of these solutions deal with the heart issue. None of them touch sin!

They might make certain kinds of sins more difficult to commit, but sin is like the flooding surge against a dyke wall – just when you plug up one little crack, another appears until it finally bursts through! We need something to take the flood of sin away... something to release us from its power and domination! These white-wash suggestions just divert out attention from the real problem.

Jesus said, “the Son of Man came... to give his life as a ransom for many.” That is why Jesus took on humanity and was born a real baby and laid in a real manger. That is why God came to earth – to save many! By dieing in their place – enduring an eternity of hell that they deserved in the span of 3 dark hours on the cross.

And that takes us to a third observation on this verse.

3. Jesus came to save HIS PEOPLE

Everyone seems to believe in heaven at the funeral home. Suddenly the worst scoundrel in life is spoken of as a true saint in death. Sometimes I wonder if the living at the funeral think that by telling each other that man’s few good points and laughing off of his blatant rebellions they might somehow get him into heaven. As if the Lord based our entrance to heaven on some kind of rating system like you find at a hotel. “O, he got one “needs improvement” but the rest were “satisfactory” – He’s in!”

Thankfully, God does not need our help in evaluating who enters heaven and who is cast into hell. He has an established standard from which he never varies. All those who are perfect, enter heaven. The rest do not!

Matthew 5:48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

It is that simple.

And that is why we need to be saved – rescued out of our misery – for none of us is perfect! Some of us are better than the rest of us... but God does not grade on the curve or select on quota. He demands absolute perfection.

For we have already charged that all... are under sin, 10 as it is written:

“None is righteous, no, not one;

11 no one understands;

no one seeks for God.

12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;

no one does good,

not even one.”

Our condemnation is just!

And yet, “YHWH-saves” is born! He came into the world to save sinners like you. He calls them “his people.” So God makes some kind of separation, some kind of distinguishing mark. He says that out of the mass of souls that live on this earth, some of them will be saved. The ones who are his people.

No one “goes to heaven” without being saved by Jesus. They need Jesus’ perfect, sinless life to be attributed to them. Just as they need His perfect substitutionary atonement attributed to them.

There is a trick used in football called a screen pass. Part of that play is to have a lot of different things happening at once so that the defense of the opposing team does not know which way to run. This kind of thing is happening in a spiritual way in Canada today. We are a multi-cultural nation – which is wonderful! But we are also great promoters of pluralism – which at its foundation makes no sense. It is utterly illogical.

For pluralism suggests that I can call the uni-colour chair black and you can call it white – and we are both correct! Well, that cannot be. Either one of us is right or both of us are wrong! But our disagreeing statements cannot both be right. Pluralism can work like a screen pass – it gets everyone confused. We are told that all religions are equally valid – all are true. But that is silliness. Either one is right or all are wrong!

Jesus came into the world to save sinners and claimed to be the only Saviour the world will ever know. Peter said of Him: “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12).

Don’t get duped! Don’t end up standing still on the field while the play rushes by you! There is only one Saviour – God came to earth – the one and only God came to earth – and He came to save sinners!

Now you might be thinking, “Well, that is good for you, but I am not that kind of person. I don’t believe in religion of any kind. I am not a person of faith.”

This strikes me, may I say it, as a rather arrogant thing to say. Do you mean to suggest that some people are pre-wired to religion? Or that some have had certain experiences that make them need religion? Well, I can only guess that you think rather highly of yourself! Obviously your trust in you – and you believe that somehow you will take care of you... even though you cannot stop certain sins in your life, let alone make yourself go on living forever!

You had best come to terms with the fact that you are no different than the rest of us! We are all sold under sin and without hope in the world – apart from Jesus.

Sometimes I hear men say, “I kind of regret that I cannot be like you Christians.” They think that there is something in them, some sin or something they have done in the past or some particular reservation they have that makes salvation impossible. But notice who Jesus saves – “His people.” That refers to all those who believe on Him for eternal life.

Once Jesus was traveling through Samaria and he struck up a conversation with a woman beside a water well. That woman had lots of reason why she should not be saved – she grew up with a different religion, she had been very immoral, she had been the victim of racism.... but Jesus bypassed all those smoke screens and got to her heart. He knew the life that she longed for and He offered it to her in himself.

That woman was saved and went back to her town telling anyone who would listen about “the man at the well.” The people of her town went out and talked to Jesus and eventually, “they said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.” (John 4:24).

You see, Jesus will have His people. He calls and they answer! You might resist at first, come up with silly excuses why you should remain in your sins, but I say follow the example of these Samaritans. They went out to Jesus on their own – they did not slough off the woman’s report with “O, she is just another one of those people. She needs some crutch, some religion of some sort. I will go on with my life.”

No, she was more than likely a known sinner. With 7 husbands and now living with a man, her reputation preceded her. But now she is different – and these people in Samaria do not ignore her, but take a risk and go to listen to this man Jesus.

You will never receive what you do not expect

and you will never expect what you do not inspect!

I have had many people tell me do not believe in Jesus. I often ask them, “Have you ever read the Bible?” To which most answer no. Now what is there to be afraid of? If you read the Bible and come to the conclusion that it is true – than the best news in the world has reached you! If you read it and determine it to be a bunch of hoogly... then you have found your answer. But there is no point running from it like a worried mouse.

The Bible will not bite you.

You owe it to the eternal good of your soul to spend time reading this book to see what it says. No one likes to be left out! We cry ourselves to sleep when we find out we missed the phone call that would have told us of the party. Why do we cry over something as fleeting as a missed party... and then act like missing an eternity in heaven would not be so bad?

God has brought you to this blog today – make no mistake. And God is inviting you to make peace with Him through His Son. It is a true and lasting peace.

The Bible says that Jesus died once for all time for sinners like you. In the past, men had to keep sacrificing animals to be right with God. That was how they showed their faith in Him. But now God has sent His own Son as the one final sacrifice. He died in your place, taking your capitol punishment, your penalty.

All that remains is for you to believe on Him.

“Call him, ‘YHWH is salvation,’” said the angel, “for he will save his people from their sins.” He will take their punishment and endure it. He will pay what they owed and could never pay. He will rescue them from the plight and punishment of hell.

13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest,

and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

God is pleased to look on you with favour today. He stands here and asks, “What more must I do for you to be saved?” Of course, there is nothing else! All that remains is for you to accept this work of grace on your behalf. You must embrace Jesus as your Saviour. You must turn away from every other god or deity and look to Jesus alone. To be saved you must venture everything on Christ – making him alone your only hope for heaven. Not Jesus plus ___________. But Jesus alone.

Draw near to Him and He will draw near to you!

aAnd I am fully confident that in the battle for your soul, Jesus will win. His death was not in vain. He died for his people. Which means if you are one of his, then he died for you.

There is nothing like a perfect gift. I used to think the best Christmas presents were the ones under a tree. But as wonderful as those things might seem, they all rust or rot in the end. The greatest gift the world will ever know is Jesus Christ. And He is freely available to every person – no matter what their past – if only they ask.

Turn to Jesus. Be saved from your sins! Receive the perfect gift – the Lord Jesus! The Saviour of the World!