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"Savouring Salvation's Significance"

Christmas Eve Dec.24, 2014 Is.52:7-10; Mt.1:18-25


When a baby is born, what's one of the first tasks of the parent - usually before the baby leaves the hospital? They have to figure out a name for the child. Often parents have spent months poring over books of names trying to select a "short list" of ones that would suit a girl or boy.

Sometimes a name has family significance. When my oldest brother was born, he got one of my dad's names for his middle name. Same for my next oldest brother. When I was born (#3), all that was left for me was - the last name!

This past week Yvonne & I watched the 1948 movie version of Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist. Poor Oliver's mother died at birth, leaving his surname uncertain. The beadle of the workhouse was in the habit of selecting surnames alphabetically; the previous baby was an "S", so Oliver got "Twist" - for T!

Usually we try to find names that are a bit more meaningful than that. When Jesus was born, His name would be especially meaningful. Matthew the gospel-writer sets it up by preceding the story of Jesus' birth with a genealogy, a list of Jesus' ancestors. Matthew organizes it carefully so there are 42 names, six sets of 7; thus Jesus begins the 7th set of 7. For a Jewish reader, that would signal something very special: the Jubilee year was the 50th year, when debts were to be forgiven and land returned to the original families. So Matthew's record implies Jesus is the "Jubilee-boy"!

Matthew highlights something else in his list of names. He emphasizes Abraham - the man of faith, and King David - the renowned fighter, whom God took from watching sheep, who would protect his flock. Remember who showed up to witness baby Jesus in the manger? Shepherds! They also were used to protecting their flocks of sheep from attackers. Matthew, too, emphasizes the Babylonian exile, when the Jewish people had to leave their land as temporary punishment for turning away from God and disobeying His ways.

Now, with that as background, note the name the angel uses for Joseph in 1:20: "An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, 'Joseph son of David...'" He could have said, "Joseph the carpenter" or "Joseph of Nazareth" but the angel applied the handle "Joseph son of David" - emphasizing Joseph was of the royal line, descendant of the great warrior / shepherd-king.

So it's in this context, tying the baby's history to the history of the nation and the importance of faithful leaders, that the angel tells Joseph what the baby's name is to be. No picking from a book here, except the most important book of all! 1:21 "You are to give Him the name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins."


What's this special name mean? "Jesus" is similar to "Joshua", the great leader who came right after Moses and fought Israel's foes from the Amalekites (Ex 17:9f) on into Palestine; he didn't leave Israel homeless, wandering around in the desert, but was given victory by God to give them the land promised to Abraham and his descendants.

Literally, "Jesus" is "Jeshua" - YHWH is salvation, deliverer, rescuer. There are various human saviours you may need at times in your life: if you're having a heart attack, you need a paramedic; if your house is on fire, you need a firefighter; if you're being robbed, you need the police; if you're adrift at sea, you need the Coast Guard; if you're drowning at the pool, you need a lifeguard. These are all "saviours" in different ways. If you're a sinner, you need Jesus!


When we hear the angel's words, "He will save His people from their sins," we probably think of the first of four aspects of salvation. (These all start with "P".) That first thing about sin is its PENALTY. When we mess up as children growing up, there are consequences; loving parents discipline their kids, there is punishment in some form. When we're older, say as adults driving the car too fast, there are fines to pay, demerit points taken off our licence.

Jesus as Saviour does deal with the penalty that should have been ours. In the prayer He taught us we ask, "Forgive us our trespasses..." The cup of communion represents His blood shed at the cross for the forgiveness of our sins (Mt 26:28). Centuries earlier, Isaiah in chapter 53(4f,8) prophesied of the Messiah: "Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows...he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him...for the transgression of my people he was stricken." Jesus redeemed us by paying the fine that we had earned by our stubborn disobedience.

But that's not the only way Jesus "saves" us from sin. The chapter just before Isaiah 53 suggests at least 3 other dimensions of sin, 3 other aspects of Jesus' rescue besides sin's Penalty.

There's a new PLACE for us just as Joshua led the people into the Promised Land, and they were brought back from exile in Babylon. Isaiah 52:1f "Awake, awake, O Zion...put on your garments of splendour, O Jerusalem, the holy city...Rise up, sit enthroned, O Jerusalem." This is in contrast to v4 when God says His people "went down to Egypt to live" and "Assyria...oppressed them."

Jesus rescues us for a better place: heaven! He saves us from eternal suffering in hell with its torment, the place of God's justified unending wrath against those who offend an infinite holy divine being (cf Rev 14:9-11). Jesus arranges for us a better place: the Apostle John in Rev 21(2f) sees "the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.[he hears] a loud voice from the throne saying, 'Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them.They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.'" The eternal place of Emmanuel, "God-with-us".

Jesus also saves us from the POWER of sin. Think about it - what point would there be in Him rescuing us from its PENALTY if we just turned around and kept on sinning? When we ask in the Lord's Prayer, "Lead us not into temptation, but DELIVER us from evil," He has the power to rescue us that way, to help us not give in to temptation. Isaiah 52:10 says "The LORD will lay bare his holy arm in the sight of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God." Laying one's arm bare shows off muscle! New Living Translation - "The Lord will demonstrate His holy POWER before the eyes of all the nations." Isaiah 52:2 talks of enslavement: "Free yourself from the chains on your neck, O captive Daughter of Zion." NLT "Remove the slave bands from your neck..." V11 "Leave your bonds and slavery..."

Jesus offers us His strength to resist evil, to no longer be held captive by wrong desires. The Apostle Paul said in 2Timothy 1:7, "For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline." (NASV "self-control" - one fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:23)

Jesus, whose name means "YHWH is salvation", saves us from: the PENALTY of sin, the PLACE of sin, the POWER of sin, and - last - the POLLUTION of sin. Isaiah 52:11"Depart, depart, go out from there! Touch no unclean thing! Come out from it and be pure, you who carry the vessels of the LORD" - referring to those who would be bringing back the hardware for worship in the Temple from Babylon. NLT has: "Put Babylon behind you, with everything it represents, for it is unclean to you.You are the Lord's holy people.Purify yourselves, you who carry home the vessels of the Lord."

When Jesus saves us, He does a thorough clean-up job on us! 1Jn 1:9 "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." Paul recalls to the church at Corinth many ways in which they had sinned sexually, as thieves, in greed or drunkenness then adds, "And that is what some of you were.But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified [put right with God] in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God." (1Cor 6:11)


I'd like to close with an account recalled by Norman Vincent Peale of an event when he was a young boy living in Ohio, as it illustrates the forgiveness and cleansing Jesus brings [The New Guideposts Christmas Treasury, pp.98-99].

"The telephone call to my father came late at night, and from a most unlikely place--a house in the red-light district of the city [Cincinnati]. The woman who ran the house said that one of the girls who worked there was very ill, perhaps dying. The girl was calling for a minister. Somehow the woman had heard of my father. Would he come?

"My father never failed to respond to such an appeal. Quietly he explained to my mother where he was going. Then his eyes fell upon me. "Get your coat, Norman," he said. "I want you to come too."

"My mother was aghast. "You don't mean you'd take a fifteen year-old boy into a place like that!"

"My father said, "There's a lot of sin and sadness and despair in human life.Norman can't be shielded from it forever."

"We walked through the snowy streets and I remember how the Christmas trees glowed and winked in the darkness. We came to the place, a big old frame house. A woman opened the door and led us to an upstairs room. There, lying in a big brass bed, was a pathetic, doll-like young girl, so white and frail that she seemed like a child, scarcely older than I was.

Before he became a minister, my father had been a physician and he knew the girl was gravely ill. When he sat on the edge of the bed, the girl reached for his hand. She whispered that she had come from a good Christian home and was sorry for the things she had done and the life she had led. She said she knew she was dying and that she was afraid. "I've been so bad," she said; "so bad."

"I stood there listening. I didn't know what anybody could do to help her. But my father knew. He put both his big strong hands around her small one. He said, "There is no such thing as a bad girl.There are girls who act badly sometimes, but there are no bad girls--or bad boys either--because God made them and He makes all things good.Do you believe in Jesus?" The girl nodded. He continued, "Then let me hear you say, 'Dear Jesus, forgive me for my sins.'" She repeated those words. "Now," he said, "God loves you, His child who has strayed, and He has forgiven you, and no matter when the time comes, He will take you to your heavenly home."

[Peale recalls] "If I live to be a hundred, I will never forget the feeling of power and glory that came into that room as my father then prayed for that dying girl. There were tears on the faces of the other women standing there, and on my own, too, because everything sordid, everything corrupt was simply swept away. There was beauty in that place of evil. The love born in Bethlehem was revealing itself again on a dark and dismal street in Cincinnati, Ohio, and nothing could withstand it. Nothing...No one need be lost because of past mistakes."

Let's pray.