December 24, 2012

The Epicenter of Salvation

When Jesus' birth is announced, the name given him by command of God seems to be an encapsulating of the whole of His significance. It is interpreted as follows:

"For he shall save his people from their sins” ~Matthew 1:21

The word represented "save" has a very general and all-inclusive meaning, just like the Hebrew word on which the name Jesus is based or יְהוֹשֻׁעַ Yĕhôshúa' /Yahweh is deliverance. Deliverance from sin. The word is in the future active indicative or an ongoing future action. Whatever Jesus would do would be from the present time (of Matthew) forward or more specifically outward. It has a progressive/repeated aspect that will continue over and over from the time of His birth or flesh/incarnation. We see a ripple effect in time like that of a stone being thrown into a lake or in the case of humanity, a Cross being driven into the crossroad of history. 

Jesus Christ’s birth, life, death and Resurrection as foretold in Scripture is the epicenter of salvation. It is God’s righteousness punching its fist into the center of time and shaking loose the grip of sin and evil both forward and backward. Jesus (God) enters history and sets off a seismic ripple-effect throughout not only humanity but temporally/time also. The things that set up this massive and momentous seismic shift are actually many shifts in history caused by God that have built up over time, just like millions of small subtle actions and decisions. All cleverly orchestrated by an omnipotent sovereign God. All set up to come to fruition at the exact right time and the exact right place: the Ground Zero or the Epicenter of Salvation. In Bethlehem and Jerusalem between 6-4 B.C. and 30-33 A.D. This epicenter is both geographic and temporal; spiritual and physical; it is both human and divine.

“But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law…” ~Galatians 4:4

What is really interesting is that, repentance and belief in God’s promises culminate in Jesus’ birth, life, death and Resurrection. This ongoing action therefore has a unique significance. It applied in an ongoing aspect in the past also. Those that had a repentant heart (like David) and also trusted in God’s promise of a future Messiah, would also be saved. Jesus didn’t just save into the future, belief in Him saved those in the past also. It was never the Temple sacrifices that saved those performing them but rather the One these sacrifices foreshadowed or pointed forward to. It was the repentant heart that turned towards God that saved the faithful.

Jesus’ very name denotes Him as saving redeemer from the debt of sin. It not only has a negative and preventive sense but a very positive content. The central and most profound meaning implied in Jesus work as savior is the fact that Jesus delivers his people from their sins.

It is the very reason for his coming. It is the very reason we celebrate Christmas.

The same thought is expressed in Zechariah’s hymn which says of the Baptist that he "will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways; to give knowledge of salvation unto his people by remission of their sins" 

And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him ~Luke 1:76

The remission of sins is represented here as the gift of the fulfillment that began with Christ as salvation. That is why the knowledge of it is described as the coming and the gift of the long-expected salvation of the Lord as God's visiting of his people. It is the gift the prophets foretold of, John the Baptist being the last of them.

The preaching of John the Baptist announcing the kingdom of heaven, is concentrated on the conquering of sins that is to come by way of Christ. His call to the people for repentance resulted in the people coming to him "confessing their sins". Although John in no way will be able to forgive them, the very fact that the people are willing to confess their sins shows they are in a repentant state and prepared for the One that was to come after John.

“Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.” ~Matthew 3:6

His baptism itself is indicated as "the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins"

And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” Mark 1:4

“He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” ~Luke 3:3

This "remission of sins" does not mean that those that had been baptized by John had their sins forgiven. Nor did it denote some type of washing away of sins realized by John's baptism but in reality John literally “paved” and “straightened” the hearts of the repentant ones. He made their hearts fertile fields for the seed of the Gospel that was about to overtake them in force by the Jesus Christ when the Kingdom of God washed over them like a seismic wave. A wave of the Kingdom that would lift up the repentant and faithful to carry them along to the shores of Heaven and inevitable salvation. Conversely, the same wave would drowned the unrepentant and wicked, just as the waves of the Red Sea buried Pharaoh. Waves that would start in something as paradoxically simple as the baptism of the Savior and subsequently reaching the shores of a calm Jordan River.

“But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? ~Matthew 3:7

“John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?” ~ Luke 3:7

John the Baptist exhorts them to repent, to turn away from, to do away with sins, so that those who obey will hear the forgiving and pardoning words of release out of the mouth of the “coming One who is mightier than John”, the One who baptizes with fire, the One that baptizes with the Holy Spirit. The remission of sins therefore is the "salvation of the Lord" that would be seen at the Lord's coming at His birth and more importantly, His death and Resurrection.

To put all this into perspective we must jump forward in time to Jesus reading Isaiah in the synagogue in Nazareth. It is here Jesus announces the fulfilling of prophecy and the official commencement of the great time of salvation. The King announces the inception or arrival of His Kingdom in force. The shock wave finally strikes land with dramatic effects. Those that have been prepared by John or are already repentant ride the wave inland and are not horribly or adversely affected by the arrival of the shock wave. Those that have resisted or are adverse to the impact are shaken violently to their core and devastated by its arrival.
Because the deliverance brought by Jesus or this divine shock wave is based in remission and acquittal or sins, it will have devastating effects on those that try to resist it, just as anyone that would be foolish enough to stand in the path of a tsunami or an oncoming shock wave from an earthquake.

Jesus reads from the scroll of Isaiah 61:1-2a: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free,  to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

The whole of the salvation that begins with Jesus' coming is concisely proclaimed as the “acceptable year of the Lord." It is the acceptable year of our Lord that is also to proclaim the LORD's favor. It also proclaims one additional thing. What immediately followed what Jesus reads from Isaiah 61 is directed to the unrepentant and is even more telling. The acceptable year of our Lord will also be…

Isaiah 61:2b: “the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn”.

The unrepentant will be playing with deadly fire and dealing with forces and powers that will absolutely dwarf them. They will not stand a chance. Not then, not now, not ever. The power of God and the Kingdom will ripple and shock wave right over them. What is even more ironic is that these words, “the acceptable year of our Lord” are simple to understand. It is the "year" in which the full plan and purpose of God is accomplished. This "year" being not a literal year as we commonly understand it but rather שְׁנַת־ / shaw-neh or the full cycle – or a finished cycle - of restoration in God’s redemptive plan. This "acceptable year of the Lord," is what Jesus preached all through His ministry, and which He, Himself, came to accomplish. He came for allow us the forgiveness of our debt of sin. This idea is found somewhere else in Scripture…

It is originally found in the “Year of Jubilee” The year of Jubilee obviously tied in with all the other festivals, harvests and feasts also. All of which also foreshadowed Jesus Christ. The year or Jubilee was the year that the debt of the Israelite who had become poor a slave was to be remitted and he himself was to be delivered from the bondage of His debt. Everything that would’ve been his had he not incurred this debt was then returned to him and restored.

“If any of your fellow Israelites become poor and sell themselves to you, do not make them work as slaves.” ~ Leviticus 25:39

If, however, he makes a gift from his inheritance to one of his servants, the servant may keep it until the year of freedom; then it will revert to the prince. His inheritance belongs to his sons only; it is theirs.” ~Ezekiel 46:17

All of this of course is a foreshadowing or image or the Messiah’s time of salvation announced by the prophets and beginning with the coming of Christ. It is the coming of Jesus that is marked by our celebration of His birth at Christmas. It is a joyous celebration of the forgiveness of a debt cycle forever forgiven by the payment of the King for our acquittal from the debt of sin we incurred. Jesus fulfilled, or will (continue to) fulfill, all of the feast days, as well as the spiritual intent of the year of Jubilee. As He said in Isaiah 61, He came, "to preach the gospel to the poor; to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised." Every year that unfolds since his arrival incarnate or "in the flesh" in Bethlehem is an outworking of this “acceptable year of the Lord”.

Christmas is the celebration of the inception of this “year” at Christ's birth. Every successive year that comes afterward is like a shock wave or is a ripple-effect of salvation for those that repent and seek His face.

The paradox is that the epicenter of salvation is Jesus Christ and this massive shock wave that would forever change the world…started with in the cries and wails of a newborn infant.

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