Saturday, December 30, 2006

So Great a Salvation

Some of you may remember a story twenty or so years ago that caught national attention. It was a story of a little girl—if I remember right she was about 2 years old. She had been playing in the yard and in an instant she had slipped down through a hole. It was an old shaft of some kind. The shaft was very deep, but providentially it was not very wide. As a result she ended up slipping down only halfway.

It took days to extract her. Professionals had to be called in order to save her. Engineers had to devise a scheme to get at her. Heavy machinery had to be used to open up the earth in such a way that would not cause the shaft to collapse or cause her to come loose from her position and fall the rest of the way down.

In the end, the girl was rescued. She suffered some bruises and broken bones, but that was nothing compared to what might have been. And when that girl was finally restored to her parents, everyone in the U.S. signed a breath of relief.

Of course, this incident became a media feeding frenzy. The network stations captured every minute of the rescue operation. And they spun every angle they could. But the point that was most clearly communicated was how blessed this girl was. She had been saved from a terrible situation.

Like the news media in that event, the Bible tells us of an incredible rescue mission. In the Scriptures we find out about how Jesus Christ descended to lowly regions in order to save us from our sins.

We’ve been looking at this verse, “He will save his people from their sins.” Last week we looked at the exclusivity of salvation. We said that Christ was the sole savior of men and we said that he came solely for his people. But as we consider this verse, we should also consider what he has come down to save us from. For it is in these words that we find how great our salvation really is.

It is our purpose this morning to think about how great a Savior Christ really is. We know that he is a great savior because he saves us from our sins. When we say that we mean that he saves us from sin’s penalty and sins presence.

I. He came to save us from the penalty of sin
When our passage says, “He will save his people from their sins,” the first thing it means is that Christ saves us from sin’s penalty.

God punishes sin. His justice demands that he do so. But those who are saved from their sins, are saved from God’s executing his justice upon them.

RC Sproul tells a story about a time when he was walking along, and was approached by a Bible thumping Christian. As he was minding his own business, he was accosted by this fellow. The man burst out and said to Sproul, “Man, are you saved?” Sproul, on the spur of the moment replied, “Saved from what? I’m certainly not saved from people like you coming up and asking me if I’m saved!”

Sproul’s was egging the man on, but he was making a very serious point. What does Jesus save us from? He saves us from Himself! Because of the work of the Son of God, God’s wrath is turned away from us. We do not face the penalty due to us for sin, because Christ himself takes the penalty upon himself.

Think about all the different punishments that are due to us because of our sin. The most significant punishment is our separation from God. When Adam and Eve first sinned, the first thing they lost was their communion with God. They were no longer allowed to spend time with Him. They were kicked out of the garden so that they couldn’t enjoy the intimacy of his presence any longer.

When a man is convicted of a crime, he is sent to jail. He is separated from this loved ones. That pain is one of the worst pains that they experience. Cruel dictators sometimes manifest their tyranny by dragging a man away from his spouse and children. That dictator knows that that separation is a terrible thing.

Separation from God is even worse. Separation from God is even more terrible. But Christ comes to save us from it. In Revelation 3:10 Jesus says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and dine with him and he with me.” There is instant communion with God! A communion that will be increased all the more when Christ comes back and the believer is taken to be with God in heaven. Later on in the book of Revelation it says, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man.” Communion with God: full and unbroken forever!

Because of our sin we lose communion with God, but that is not the only penalty Christ saves us from. He also saves us from all the miseries we experience in life.

“Wait a minute,” you say. “I still experience all sorts of miseries and I’m a Christian.” Well, yes. But these miseries you experience are as miserable as they could be. They are not an expression of God’s wrath. We experience trails, for sure. But they are there to deepen our faith, not punish us for lack of it.

Last week we said that every headache, every calamity, every sorrow is an expression of God’s wrath for unbelievers. But not every misery we experience as believers is a punishment. We can be chastised for sure. But even when God disciplines us, it is not done in wrath, but in love. There is a great difference between a criminal being sent to do hard labor and a son being sent to his room. The first is done out of wrath, the second is done out of love.

And sometimes providence brings calamities our way because the Lord wants to draw us closer to himself. These things come from God’s tender hand because He cares for us and wants to deepen our faith.

So, to be true to Scripture, our miseries as believers are not all that miserable. That’s because they are acts of God’s love, not his anger.

We often sing here the old hymn by William Cowper, God Moves in a Mysterious Way. In that hymn Cowper writes about God’s seemingly hard providences, and how these providences are for our good. You may well be acquainted with the first stanza,

God moves in a mysterious way, his wonders to perform; He plants his footsteps in the sea, and rides upon the storm.

But listen to the fourth stanza:
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, but trust him for his grace; Behind a frowning providence he hides a smiling face

Something may come our way that will make us frown, but though we cannot see him, God is smiling. That’s because he knows it is for our good.

Christ saves us from the penalties of sin. He saves us from our loss of communion with God, he saves us from the miserable-ness of our miseries. But most of all, he saves us from death and the eternal pain of hell.

Did you know that death, for the Christian, is not a punishment? Death is never a desirable thing. But when Christ saves us it is no longer a dreadful thing. It is a going home to be with the Lord. It is dying to sin. It is freedom from all the miseries we do experience in life. And it is entrance into eternal bliss.

When Christ is your savior death is not a penalty. Death is, in a very real sense, a blessing. If Christ is our Savior, death is merely a door. A door through which we must go in order to get to glory.

Certainly I have not given an exhaustive list of all the punishments that Christ saves us from. But a one thing is clear. God hates sin and every sin has deserves to be punished to the uttermost.

But the glory of the gospel is that Christ overturns these penalties for those who would receive him. This of course leads me to ask, have you received him? Or are you still under his curse? Are you suffering miserable miseries—experiencing the droplets of his wrath? Have you communion with the Father through Jesus Christ and the salvation he gives? Or are you still separated from him and heading for eternal separation from him in hell?

If you are a sinner who has not yet received this salvation, come to Christ. He will pardon all your sins and you will find that “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

Of course, if you were on your way to the electric chair for a crime you committed, and before you sat down someone else sat down in your place to take your punishment, that would be an incredible thing. That alone would be enough to endear your soul to that person. But that is not all that Jesus did. He goes a step further. Jesus not only saves us from sins penalty. He saves us from sin’s presence too.

II. He came to save us from the presence of sin
When our verse says, “He will save his people from their sins,” it also means that Christ saves us from the act of sinning. Because Jesus’ salvation, the presence of sin in our lives is greatly diminished and ultimately eradicated.

We have recently invaded another country. We toppled the dictator who was running that country. That enemy’s power has been reduced by a great degree. The enemy’s presence is not fully removed from that country. We have to keep fighting to see that happen. But nevertheless, that enemy no longer is dominate. The same could be said of the presence of sin in our lives when we come to Christ.

A Presbyterian scholar, by the name of GI Williamson, says this, “If a person is united to Christ and adopted into his family, then he is dead to sin in the sense that [sin] no longer has dominion over him. The governing disposition of such a person is the law of God which is written in the heart. It is not that he is sinless, but rather that he cannot go on any longer yielding himself as the servant of sin.”

You can think of it this way: When we are saved, Christ’s comes in and takes up residence in our hearts. And just like anyone who moves into an old run down house, the first thing they do is start to restore it. They want to make the place look nicer. They want it to be livable.

That’s exactly what Christ does. When he enters our hearts, he begins the work of restoration. Someone moving into a house may say, “These draperies will never do. They have to go.” That is exactly what Christ does. He looks at our lives and says, “I don’t like this constant complaining. It has to go. This judgmental spirit, this just isn’t right. It just has to go.”

It goes without saying that this is a life long process. Christ does not make us perfect in this life. Williamson goes on to say: When Christ comes into your life there is “a radical breach with the power and love of sin.” He likens it to the work of penicillin. Penicillin may break a fever, thus destroying the dominion of a disease. But some time elapses before every trace of the disease is no longer present. Christ breaks the dominion of sin, but it is not until we come to glory that every trace of sin is eliminated.

But think about this breach with sin that Christ makes. Think about how Christ comes to save you from the presence of sin. You can see it in every new believer. When they first come to Christ—when Christ first enters their life—they have a new disposition—they have a new orientation. It is like their lives are transformed.

When I first came to Christ, one of the first things I said to my friends was, “We have to stop talking like we do.” Our speech was pretty foul. But when Christ came into my life, he saved me from that sin. Not that I never cursed again. But the presence of that sin was greatly reduced.

Christ came to save his people from their sins—and He saves us from our continual sinning. Isn’t that a wonderful thing? It is like seeing a dying plant becoming green with life again. You’ve all had plants that have withered and been on the brink of death, haven’t you? But you brought that plant out of the dark corner or gave it a refreshing drink of water. When it got those nutrients, it came to life again. It is like a resurrection.

Well, salvation is a lot like that. Sin’s nature is to destroy. Sin takes away our life! Proverbs 11:19 says, “Whoever is steadfast in righteousness will live, but he who pursues evil will die.” One theologian has summarized this by saying, “Sin is its own executioner.”

Thank God Jesus saves us from our sinning. Christ saves us from killing ourselves! When Christ comes in and destroys the presence of sin, He preserves that person’s life. Think about it. Think about the chain smoker. As they abuse tobacco, they subtract minutes and hours from their lives. Think about the person who cannot bring themselves to trust in God’s good providence. Think about how their bones can become weak because of their worry. Think about how their mental orientation can become unstable. That person becomes diseased with anxiety. Isn’t that terrible?

Don’t ever think that sin is neutral. Every sin is evil, and it kills us. But when the presence of that sin is mortified, in a very true sense, death is put to death.

There is a legend about a princess who earnestly desired to obtain some object of personal affection. She was instructed by a crafty court official to kiss a certain picture day after day for a hundred days. The man promised her that if she fulfilled his instructions she would receive the object she longed for. It was a sinister trick though. For the picture contained a subtle poison. Little by little, with every salutation, the princess’ life ebbed away. Her face became pale, her eyes became dim, and her lips became black. But so infatuated was she that she persisted in her ritual until she at last died.

Just think if she could have been saved from the presence of that desire. Death would not have come so prematurely. But this is exactly what Christ has come to do. He came to save us from our sins. He came to save us from the very thing that takes away our life.

Of course, what is most wonderful is not that Christ allows us to spare our lives. He enables us to quit offending God.

A while ago, when I was in seminary, I would travel past a garbage dump on the way to school. It seemed like every day I would get stuck at the stoplight right in front of the dump. The putrid smell would sting my nostrils every morning, waking me out of my sleepy stupor.Our sin rises up to God like that stench. And when Christ saves us, that stench is greatly reduced. Moreover, it is fully eradicated when our salvation is complete and we are made perfect with him in heaven.

Christ is the Savior, and what a salvation that is. The one who receives him receives all that he procures: Salvation from sin--its penalty and presence. May God grant that you would have this Savior and this salvation.