For many Christians, this time of year is known as Advent, the season preceding Christmas designated specifically for reflecting upon the coming (the advent) of Jesus the Messiah. (Yes, we all know that Jesus wasn’t actually born in December, let me save you from having to mention that in the comments :-P) Prior to the birth of Jesus, ancient Judea was pregnant with messianic hope and expectation. In other words, they were looking for a savior. As Christians, we believe that Jesus of Nazareth was that savior. The following reflection on the coming of Christ is based on a short yet powerful statement from the New Testament book of First Timothy, an ancient letter from the Apostle Paul to his protégé, Timothy.
The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. – 1 Timothy 1:15
The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. When a statement starts out with these words it’s an indication that we should pay close attention to what follows.
CHRIST JESUS. Jesus of Nazareth, who was the rumored result of fornication, who was rejected not only in his hometown but by so many of his own people, who was executed by the Romans as if he was a common criminal, was in fact the Christ, the Messiah, the Word of God incarnate, the very son of God.
Christ Jesus CAME. If the sentence had stopped right here we would have more than enough reason to rejoice. He came. It really happened. We don’t have to be on the lookout for another Messiah. We don’t have to hope that God will send a savior. It already happened. Jesus, the Messiah, came. Christ Jesus came. And for that we rejoice.
Christ Jesus came INTO THE WORLD. He entered our messy, broken, sin-stained world, and came to the very people who had been messing it up. He was no mere theoretician, sitting in a safe and sterile ivory tower, out of touch with real world. John 1:14 tells us that the Word became flesh and pitched his tent among us. The book of Hebrews says that Jesus partook of flesh and blood, that he was tempted in the same ways that we are and is therefore able to help us when we are tempted (Hebrews 2:14-18; 4:15). When we read the gospels we see that he got his hands dirty. He touched the leper, sat at the same table as the sinner and the tax collector and let the prostitute pour oil on his head.
Christ Jesus Came into the world TO SAVE. Salvation was the very purpose of his coming; we must never lose sight of that. The Greek word that is translated “save” here has several different meanings. While it’s not always a great idea to use every possible definition of a word, in this case each of the definitions highlight an aspect of what Jesus came to do as savior. Jesus came to save, to rescue, to make well, to heal, to restore.
Consider the following verses from the Gospel of John. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:16-17, emphasis added). God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world. God. Did. Not. Send. His. Son. Into. The. World. To. Condemn. I’ll repeat that again and again if that’s what it takes to get the point across :-). This is so important because it affects the way that we think we about God. Let me illustrate with a story.
Several years ago now, my wife and I were having a conversation with a college student. We eventually began talking about spiritual things and she began to open up to us and explain that she had grown up going to church but had drifted away in the past few years. As she spoke it became very evident that in her mind, God was an angry judge just waiting for her mess up so that he judge and condemn her. We explained to her that God is not like that, that he was waiting to welcome her home with open arms. This change of perspective made all of the difference for her. Perhaps it will for you too.
Being condemned, of course, is not the same as being convicted. The truth of the gospel often convicts of our sin and convinces us of our need for a savior. The same gospel that convicts us of sin and convinces us of our need for a savior also points toward the one who came to save.
Christ Jesus Came into the world to save SINNERS. Jesus didn’t come to save the people who had it all together. In his letter to the Christians in Rome, the Apostle Paul explained that Christ came for us while we were weak, while we were ungodly, while we were sinners, while we enemies of God (Romans 5:6-11)! If you’re not a sinner, this probably doesn’t mean much to you. For those of us who are sinners, this is greatest news in the whole world because it means that Jesus came for us. He came to save us, to rescue us, to heal us, and to restore our relationship with our heavenly Father. It means that we don’t need to be running away from God in fear; we can run toward him in love!
For those of us who are Christians, there is more to this story. BECAUSE CHRIST JESUS CAME, WE GO. As disciples of Jesus we have the honor and the responsibility of being his ambassadors. As the body of Christ, we get to be his hands and his feet. We follow his example, going out into the world and demonstrating his love for the people that he came to save. That means that sometimes we are going to get our hands dirty and we are going to extend love to people who seem to be unlovable, including those whom we would consider to be our enemies. We are not, however, being asked to do anything that Jesus himself didn’t do and we have his promise that we won’t be doing it alone. He has promised to be with us until the end.
The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. We praise God for that.