Our Savior, The Son of God
The Heidelberg Catechism: Lord's Day 11
29. Question: Why is the Son of God called Jesus, that is, Savior?
Answer: Because He saves us from all our sins, and because salvation is not to be sought or found in anyone else.
 Matt. 1:21; Heb. 7:25.  Is. 43:11; John 15:4, 5; Acts 4:11, 12; I Tim. 2:5.
30. Question: Do those believe in the only Savior Jesus who seek their salvation and well-being from saints, in themselves, or anywhere else?
Answer: No. Though they boast of Him in words, they in fact deny the only Savior Jesus. For one of two things must be true: either Jesus is not a complete Savior, or those who by true faith accept this Savior must find in Him all that is necessary for their salvation.
 I Cor. 1:12, 13; Gal. 5:4.  Col. 1:19, 20; 2:10; I John 1:7.
Index of Spiritual Indicators
In the early 1960's, the U.S. Bureau of the Census came out with what was called, the "Index of Leading Economic Indicators." The Bureau chose 11 indicators of the American economy and used them to interpret current business developments and to predict future economic trends.
In 1993, William Bennett released what he called, the Index of Leading Cultural Indicators. His goal was to examine the moral, social, and behavioral conditions of modern America. It showed, for example, in 1960 there were 288,000 violent crimes committed. In 1991, there were 1,900,000 violent crimes committed. He revealed the average SAT score in 1960 was 975, and in 1992, the average score was 899. That’s just a sampling of what he examined in his study.
Then, in 1996, another index came out. This one was done by George Barna, who is a famous pollster of religious statistics. His little book was called, The Index of Leading Spiritual Indicators.
Here were some of Barna’s findings 20 years ago:
Perhaps one of the most disturbing statistics was this,
"most Americans believe that ...salvation is an outcome to be earned through their good character or behavior. …Six out of ten people (57%) believe that ‘if a person is generally good, or does enough good things for others during their lives, they will earn a place in heaven.’"
Barna then reported, "this perspective has remained constant throughout the 90's." His present research has revealed this statistic hasn’t changed much. This figure means at least 57% of Americans are relying on themselves for their eternal life. And yet, as staggering as that figure is, it’s really not new. It really isn’t much different from what Jesus experienced in his day. In fact, it was because of this mindset Jesus told the parable in Luke 18:9-14.
The Pharisee and Tax Collector
Jesus must have lost some brownie points with the Pharisees when he told this parable. Why? Because the Pharisees made it their life's mission to live exemplary moral and religious lives. In fact, they were so concerned about how they lived, they wouldn't even walk by someone they considered a sinner. They would literally cross to the other side of the road to avoid being near them.
Along comes Jesus. He spoke directly to those "who were confident of their own righteousness" and those "who looked down on everybody else..."(v.9) (Emphasis mine)
"Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector." (verse 10)
This was an extreme contrast. The Pharisees were regarded as holy men. These were men who worked hard at being righteous. Then there was the tax collector. Few people were regarded lower than the tax collector. The Jews despised tax collectors in that day because they were seen as Jewish traitors to the Roman government.
It was in that context Jesus declared,
"The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men - robbers, evildoers, adulterers-- or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.'" (verses 11-12)
Do you see what's going on? We observe this Pharisee talking about how wonderful he is. He’s showing off his spiritual resume. He's listing for God, just in case God was too busy to notice, all his marvelous accomplishments. He seems to be saying, “Just look here, Lord: I tithe, I go to church, I fast. What a good boy am I."
Then Jesus shows us the tax collector’s mindset. Jesus states,
"But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, 'God have mercy on me, a sinner.'" (verse 13)
There he was, a tax collector, in all his misery. He had come to a place in his life where he realized only God could save him. Thus, he asked God for his mercy and sought forgiveness for being a sinner. This was true faith and repentance.
A Justified Man
Then, in verse 14, Jesus concluded with these words:
"I tell you the truth, this man (the tax collector), went down to his house "justified" rather than the other, for everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, but he who humbles himself shall be exalted." (verse 14)
Jesus teaches that at that moment of faith and repentance, the tax collector went to his house a justified man. What does it mean to be justified? Justification answers this question:
How can a sinful person be made right (or brought into a right relationship) with a perfect and holy God?
According to Barna’s statistics, 57% of Americans would answer the way the Pharisee did, by pointing out all their good works and drawing attention to their worthiness.
In contrast to that sort of mindset, Jesus plainly shows us it’s only through the humility of the tax collector that we can be right with God. This is how we apply or receive God’s free offer of grace. By humbling himself before God in faith and repentance, the tax collector was immediately justified, Jesus tells us. His justification (or, being declared righteous) was immediate. There were no good works he needed to do first.
Therefore, to be right with God, or to be justified – to be saved – involves two things.
First of all, there’s the need to repent. As you’ve discovered in your own life, you must recognize you have sinned before you will ask for forgiveness. It’s similar to discovering you are sick before you decide to go to the doctor to get better. If you don’t know you’re sick, you probably won’t go to the doctor.
My Dog Max
That is why God does not hesitate in the pages of Scripture to let us know we’re fallen and broken individuals. Scripture clearly says we owe an impossible debt because of sin. Yet not everyone recognizes this debt. Not everyone realizes they are lost in sin. Certainly the Pharisee didn't realize it. He was too caught up in how good he thought he was. Sadly, there are many people who are like my dog Max was the day he got lost.
Max was a great dog. I got Max while I was serving my first church. We basically saved each other. I found him as a puppy at the Humane Society and saved him from an uncertain future. He saved me from loneliness as I was a single pastor at the time.
The day after the East Coast experienced what became known as, the "Storm of the Century," Max and I visited my parents who live in Northeast Florida. Max loved to run around their backyard. Since it was fenced in, I would let him stay out there for long periods of time. On this particular day, my parents and I decided to run some errands and I didn’t think twice about letting Max stay in the backyard. About two-and-a-half hours later we got back home, only to discover Max was missing. Unbeknownst to us, part of the fence had blown over because of the storm.
I called and called for Max but there was no response. I looked all around their neighborhood, but there was no sign of Max anywhere. He was lost. I began to panic. It was a Friday afternoon, at rush hour, and my parents live near a road, which even on a slow day, is very busy. Max didn't know his way around and I got really worried.
I decided I needed to get into my truck and drive around some of the neighborhoods near my parents’ house. After what seemed like hours, I finally made my way to the neighborhood directly behind the woods which were behind my parents’ house. I drove up and down the streets of the neighborhood very slowly, calling out for Max. No luck. Suddenly, as I pulled down the last street of the neighborhood, I saw something that caught my eye.
There were some kids down the street, throwing a stick to a dog. As I got closer and closer, I recognized who it was. It was Max! I had been scared to death because he was lost, and the kids told me he had been there for about 30 minutes, playing catch with them. He was having a great time! I was searching high and low for my lost dog and he was playing around. He didn't even know he was lost, and yet he was.
Scripture teaches us that in our fallen condition, we’re a lot like Max. We’re lost in sin, and yet, left to ourselves, we don't even know it.
That’s why we need God’s prevenient grace, which we looked at in the last chapter. This is the grace which awakens us to our need for Christ and draws us to God. Jesus declares the good news is that when we humbly recognize and admit our sinfulness and indebtedness to God, like the tax collector, we’ll be forgiven. This is only able to happen because of God’s justifying or saving grace.
It’s the grace of God that enables us to say yes to what God has done for us in Christ. It enables us to remove our trust in ourselves and place it in Christ alone. In a manner of speaking, this is what happened to the tax collector. He wasn't puffed up with a false sense of accomplishment. He knew very well what his place was before a perfect and holy God. That’s why he threw himself on the mercy of God.
Secondly, we're called to place our trust, or faith, in God as he has revealed himself through his Son, Jesus Christ.
Even though the Pharisee practiced all the rules of morality and lived a very religious life, he wasn’t right with God. All of his acts were just that - acts. They were external behaviors. They looked good from the outside, but there was no concern about a proper inward attitude and motivation of the heart. His good works weren’t done out of a sense of gratitude or obedience to God. He wasn’t living that way for God's glory but for his own. It was almost as though he practiced all of his good deeds so he could brag about how good he was. It was in the midst of his boasting that he revealed his sins of pride, arrogance and self-reliance. He didn't realize God not only looks at the outward things, but also at the heart, the inward things. God cares about why you do what you do.
The tax collector acknowledged his total dependence upon God's mercy. He knew he couldn’t save himself.
There's only one person who ever lived a perfect and sinless life, and that's Jesus Christ. Faith means trusting in his life of perfect obedience to God's will. It means completely depending on Christ's death on the cross for the cleansing of your sins. That’s why saving faith isn’t based on anything we’ve done or could ever do. It’s about trusting God and the saving work of Jesus Christ.
Head and Heart
Picture a man who's just fallen off a cliff. As he falls to his certain death, he reaches out in desperation and grabs a small limb. He knows the limb won't hold him very long, but he's hanging on for dear life. As he looks up he sees how steep the cliff is and he knows he could never climb up. As he looks down, he sees the jagged peaks just waiting for the inevitable. He begins to panic.
Suddenly he sees an angelic figure floating above him. And so he screams, “Save me! Save me!"
"Do you believe I can save you?" the angel asks. The man sees the powerful wings and the mighty arms, so he says: "Yes, I believe you can save me." "Do you believe I will save you?" the angel asks. The man sees the compassionate, merciful face of the angel, and so he cries out, "Yes, yes, I believe!"
"Well then," the angel says: "Let go!" Still hanging on for dear life, the man yells back: "Is there anybody else up there?!" (Ken Boa, I'm Glad You Asked)
Brothers, there’s no use having the right information, or even believing it’s true, if you don’t put your personal trust in what you know.
When my youngest son was two years old, my wife took him to the YMCA for swimming lessons. Usually my wife would get into the water first and then call to my son to jump to her. He was able to plainly see her standing there in front of him. He knew she could catch him. More than that, even at two years of age, he knew she loved him and would catch him. But if he never jumped to her he would have revealed he wasn’t really committed to that knowledge. He had to jump.
The tax collector turned his back on his sin and turned his face toward God as he sought forgiveness. He placed his trust in God. The Pharisee spent his time giving God his spiritual resume, telling God how wonderful and religious he was. He trusted himself.
Which one are you, the Pharisee or the tax collector?
The Gospel of Jesus Christ
One of the highlights of attending seminary in Atlanta was sitting under the teaching of Dr. Fred Craddock. Dr. Craddock was a gifted and world-renowned preacher and preaching instructor. It was a privilege and blessing to take a preaching class taught by him.
One of the things Dr. Craddock taught us, something that’s always stayed with me, came from a story he told us. He shared with our class a snippet of a conversation he had with one of his former students who had graduated and was serving a little rural church.
The former student told Dr. Craddock he was going to wake that little country church up. He was going to bring them into the present. He was going to be new and fresh. As an example of this, he wasn’t going to preach the same old tired stuff during Christmas, stuff they all knew. He was going to hit them with something new.
Dr. Craddock lovingly, and I’m sure, convincingly, shared with this eager new preacher that what those people needed, what we all need, especially during the seasons of Advent and Lent, is the old, old story of what God has done in Christ.
The Old, Old Story
It’s not that a preacher shouldn’t seek to know the needs of the congregation and connect with them in their context. The preacher should not seek to be irrelevant. However, the truth is, a clear and honest telling of the old, old story is the most relevant subject there is. Many hymns remind us that the “old, old story” is the Good News, the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Here’s how the hymn, “Victory in Jesus,” communicates the old, old story,
I heard an old, old story,
how a Savior came from glory,
how he gave his life on Calvary
to save a wretch like me;
I heard about his groaning,
of his precious blood’s atoning,
then I repented of my sins
and won the victory.
O victory in Jesus, my Savior forever!
he sought me and bought me with his redeeming blood;
he loved me ere I knew him, and all my love is due him;
he plunged me to victory beneath the cleansing flood.
That’s the old, old story.
When we think about the Gospel of Jesus Christ – the Good News of what God has done in and through the life, death, and resurrection of his Son, Jesus Christ, we usually go back 2,000 years. But the story is older than that. In one sense, it goes all the way back into eternity, into the mind of God who’s always existed.
Look for Jesus
We won’t go back quite that far in this lesson, but I do want to show the Good News fulfilled in Jesus was predicted and anticipated in the Old Testament. God didn’t “make it up” on the fly.
When I used to teach Disciple Bible Study, a very detailed and comprehensive study of both the Old and New Testaments, people would often tell me how bogged down they were getting in the Old Testament. They would even tell me they thought it was boring and irrelevant.
In response to this, one of the things I used to encourage them to do, in order to stick with it, was to start looking for Jesus in the pages of the Old Testament. Because he’s there! In fact, he’s all over the place in the Old Testament.
The Testimony of the Apostles
Below are a few Scriptures from the New Testament that help make the case.
Romans 1:1-4 – Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God–  the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures  regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David,  and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.
1 Corinthians 15:1-3 – Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand.  By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.
 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,  that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,…
Galatians 3:6-9 – Consider Abraham: “He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”  Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham.  The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.”  So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.
Acts 13:26-39 – “Brothers, children of Abraham, and you God-fearing Gentiles, it is to us that this message of salvation has been sent.  The people of Jerusalem and their rulers did not recognize Jesus, yet in condemning him they fulfilled the words of the prophets that are read every Sabbath.  Though they found no proper ground for a death sentence, they asked Pilate to have him executed.  When they had carried out all that was written about him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb.  But God raised him from the dead,  and for many days he was seen by those who had traveled with him from Galilee to Jerusalem. They are now his witnesses to our people.
 “We tell you the good news: What God promised our fathers  he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus… (Emphases added)
Peter and Stephen, in the book of Acts, declare the same truths: all that was accomplished in and through the Person and Work of the Lord Jesus Christ was anticipated and prophesied in the Old Testament.
The Testimony of Jesus
Maybe at this point you are saying, “Well, that sounds good, but that’s just Paul and Peter and Stephen. They’re just men. First, let me remind you that Paul’s writings and Peter’s preaching in Acts are just as inspired of God as anything written in the Gospels. However, just for emphasis, let me quote a little of what our Lord himself said, or what was said about him, in the Gospels.
Luke 18:31 – Jesus took the Twelve aside and told them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled.
Luke 24:27 – And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.
Luke 24:44 – He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”
John 1:45 – Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote–Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”
John 5:45-46 – “But do not think I will accuse you before the Father. Your accuser is Moses, on whom your hopes are set.  If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me.
John 8:56 – Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.” (Emphases added)
The “Scriptures” Jesus, Paul, Peter, John, Philip, Nathanael, and Stephen spoke of were, of course, the Old Testament. That’s what I mean when I say we ought to look for Jesus and his Gospel in the Old Testament. It’s far from silent on the subject. That’s why we read so much from the Old Testament during the Advent and Lenten seasons. It points to our Lord. Thanks be to God.
What is the Gospel?
Thus far we’ve seen that the old, old story is much older than we usually think. But what is the old story about? What is the Gospel, the Good News, of Jesus Christ?
The shortest and easiest answer is given to us by the Apostle Paul in Romans 1:16,
I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the power of God for salvation. It’s God’s answer, his response, to our sin and sinfulness, fallenness, brokenness, rebellion, foolishness, hurts and pain, suffering, and lostness.
God isn’t an aloof deity who sits in heaven, detached from his creation. Even though he created us in his image and declared his creation was good, very good in fact, we, along with our first parents Adam and Eve, have gone our own way. We’ve rebelled against God. We’ve declared ourselves in charge and have resisted him.
And even though God in his perfect holiness and righteousness would have been justified in pouring out his wrath upon us, in his grace he poured out his love instead.
As the Scriptures we’ve already seen tell us, God sent his deeply beloved, one and only Son to live, die, and be raised from the dead for us. Here’s how Paul makes this point.
Romans 3:21-26 – But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.  This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference,  for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,  and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.  God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished–  he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. (Emphasis added)
Our sinfulness, rebellion, foolishness, and willfulness, were paid for (atoned for) on the Cross by the Lord Jesus Christ. The Scripture says Jesus, who knew no sin, became sin for us. He received the punishment we deserved.
Because of that great expression of love, we can know God. We can enter into a personal, deep, and abiding relationship with God. We can actually start becoming more and more like Christ in our daily lives. We can be made holy and whole. We can receive both abundant and everlasting life.
But it’s not automatic.
This is where we must choose to enter into the old, old story. We must respond. We must not listen to the story of God’s good news and simply smile and say, “Well, that’s a nice story.” There’s no place for indifference to this story. We must believe the story.
We must place our faith, our trust, in Christ - in who he is, the very Son of God – Son, Savior, and Lord. We must trust in his Work on our behalf – his death upon the Cross for our sin and his resurrection from the dead for our salvation.
We must repent, which means to turn away from our sinfulness, selfishness, and rebellion, and turn instead toward God, in love for him and faithfulness to him. Turning away from sin and toward God doesn’t earn us our salvation. Our salvation is a free gift from God, just as Jesus is a gift to us. But it is a gift we must open, so to speak. We must respond to it. We must receive it in trusting faith.
When we do, not only are we declared righteous before a holy God, but our lives will begin to bear fruit. We’ll show we really love and trust God and his Son Jesus Christ by seeking to live for him, desiring him, obeying him, and by loving our neighbors.
Faith and repentance are not two separate things. They are two aspects of the same thing. They are, if you will, two sides of the same coin.
That’s why Jesus says in Mark 1:15, “Repent and believe the good news!” Friends, this is the Gospel of Jesus Christ and there is no other!
Enter the Story Yourself
The United Methodist liturgy for Holy Communion describes all this in a beautiful way. It invites us to enter into the story – to become a part of it.
In the United Methodist Church we believe that, through his Holy Spirit, we meet the main character of the old, old story, the Lord Jesus Christ. As we gather with our brothers and sisters in Christ and bow before him, Christ gathers with us in our midst. He is with us in and through his Spirit as we receive his body and blood he so lovingly and freely gave on our behalf.
However, you must enter into this story by faith. United Methodists believe this sacrament is an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. In other words, we don’t receive this grace simply by going through the motions. Instead, it’s with joyful, thankful, love-filled hearts, we receive the bread and cup in faith, trust, and repentance. Our liturgy, based in Scripture, reminds us,
Christ our Lord invites to his table all who love him,
who earnestly repent of their sin
and seek to live in peace with one another.
A few pages further in the hymnal, another order of Communion says this,
Ye that do truly and earnestly repent of your sins,
and are in love and charity with your neighbors,
and intend to lead a new life, following the commandments of God,
and walking henceforth in his holy ways:
Draw near with faith, and take this Holy Sacrament to your comfort,
and make your humble confession to almighty God.
If you’ve never genuinely and consciously repented of your sin and placed your trust in Christ as your Savior and Lord, today is the day of salvation.
Here I Stand
Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. Do everything in love.