(Preached at Pleasant Ridge Baptist Church, December 11, 2016)
In his famous play, “Romeo & Juliet”, William Shakespeare wrote: “What’s in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” And there is some truth in that. But it is also true that when we give someone a name, there is often some significance in it. Some of you know our little grand daughter Lottie; she is named after Lottie Moon, the Southern Baptist missionary who went to China in the 1800’s, and who gave her life to reach the people there. We Southern Baptists have named our offering that is the biggest source of support for our foreign missionaries, after her. Names often convey something important. In our culture we don’t always place the significance on names the way they did in Bible times, but names were extremely important in scripture. They didn’t just give you a name because it sounded good to them, or because there was a “top 10 harp player” by that name; they gave you a name because it had a certain meaning for God’s purpose for your life.
And no other name has a more important meaning than the name of Jesus, whose birth we celebrate at Christmas time. In Matthew 1:21 the Bible tells us that the angel told Joseph, “You shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” The name that they gave Him was very important. The name we call “Jesus” is actually the Hebrew “Yeshua” or “Yehoshua” — what we might call “Joshua” — and it literally means, “Yahweh is salvation” or “Yahweh saves.” So when they called His name “Jesus” they were saying, this is the One who is bringing us God’s salvation. Thus the meaning: “You shall call His name ‘Jesus’, for He will save His people from their sins.”
But understanding that, what does it really MEAN when it says that He “will save His people from their sins.” What has our sin done to us, and what does it mean that Jesus will save us from our sins?
I. The Consequences of Our Sins
One of the most important things the Bible tells us about mankind is that we are sinners. Genesis 1 says that we were originally made in the image of God: able to think, to have a personality, able to relate to other people, to be creative, and make choices — but the Bible did not get very far — only to Chapter 3! — before man became a sinner. God had commanded Adam & Eve NOT to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good & Evil, but they broke God’s command, did what He commanded them NOT to do, and they sinned. This is what sin is: it is breaking the commands of God. God had told Adam & Eve that there would be consequences if they sinned. The short version of this is “you will surely die.” But in other places of scripture we find the consequences of our sin spelled out more distinctly:
A. Guilt before God
Genesis 3:8 says that after Adam & Eve sinned, God came to walk with them in the cool of the day, to have the fellowship that He designed them to have with Him — but :8 says that they “hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees in the garden.” They hid themselves because they knew that they were guilty before God. They had broken His command; they had done what He had told them not to do — and they were guilty. And their guilt separated them from the fellowship with God that He had created them for. They were guilty before God, and they now deserved to be punished by Him.
And that same thing is true for each one of us. The Bible says in Romans 5 that Adam passed his sin nature down to all of his descendants, and so we are all sinners, by nature, and by choice. We are each born with a sin nature, and whenever we come to the age when we can make a choice to sin, we DO. Every single one of us. So every single one of us has this guilt before God. As Romans 3 says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
Exodus 34:7 says it is in the inherent nature of God that He cannot leave the guilty unpunished. He is a perfect and righteous Judge who must punish sin. So we ALL stand guilty before God, and we all deserve the punishment of God that comes upon our sin.
B. Slavery to sin
A second consequence of our sin is that we become trapped in sinful habits. Romans 6:16 says: “Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one you obey, either of sin resulting in death or of obedience resulting in righteousness?” In other words, when when we present ourselves to sin, to obey it, we become slaves to that sin.
People often think that when they reject God’s commandments, that they are free to do “whatever we want to do”, but the fact is, when we reject God, who wants what is best for us, and Who gives us commands because the are good for us — then we become enslaved to other destructive and harmful masters instead.
How many people think something like: “I am not going to restrict myself to God’s laws; I am going to do what I want to do: I’m gonna drink; I’m gonna do drugs; I’m gonna do what I want to do” — only to wake up one day and discover that sin is not their servant; it is their master. Just like Romans 6 says, they become slaves to sin.
It’s like a person going down a well-worn trail in the jungle, and they say, “I am tired of walking on this boring trail; I want to go where I want to go!” — and they get off the trail, and “go their own way” — but soon they take a step — and discover that they have just stepped into quicksand, and they have no way get out. The more they struggle, the faster they sink. And if someone doesn’t rescue them, they will die there. There was a good reason why that trail was there — it was good; it was safe; it would keep you out of trouble.
That’s how it is with God’s ways. God is not just some “killjoy” up in the sky who just gives out random commands to keep you from doing things because He doesn’t want you to have fun. Read the Book of Proverbs! God’s ways are good; they will bring you wisdom and health and peace and blessing. But when you choose to reject them, you find yourself caught in quicksand — or worse! One of the consequences of our sin is a slavery to sin that we can’t save ourselves from.
C. Wrath apart from fellowship with God
Sin brings consequences for every aspect of our life: past, present, and future. There is guilt for our past sin, slavery to sin now, and the future prospect of eternal wrath apart from God and everything that is good.
II Thessalonians 1:9 says of those who have rejected the gospel: “These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and the glory of His power.”
There are some diseases that affect every aspect of a person’s life: it destroys their ability to function physically; but it also destroys their ability to think, and wrecks them emotionally; and it can rob their future by cutting their life short. Sin is like that kind of disease: it affects every aspect of our life: it brings guilt upon us for our past; it brings slavery on us in the present, and it brings condemnation and eternal punishment on us forever. If God had not done something for us, we would have all been totally lost and destroyed by our sin: past, present, and future.
II. He Saves Us From Our Sins
But the good news of Matthew 1:21 is that God DID do something for us. Jesus came “to save His people from their sins.” This means that He came to save us from all of those things, and to reverse them:
From the penalty of our sin.
Jesus came as a baby, but He had a mission. As the perfect God/Man like we talked about last week, Jesus was to go to the cross, where He would die as the fully God/fully Man sacrifice on the cross and pay for our sins. And John tells us in John 19:30 that when He died, Jesus cried out “It is finished” — “tetelestai” — a Greek business word that means “paid in full.” The price for our sin was paid in full by the death of Jesus on the cross.
Colossians 2:14 explains that even more. It says that Jesus “canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, and which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.” The debt of our sins has been paid by Jesus’ death on the cross.
Several years ago, Cheryl & paid off both of our cars. When we did, I remember getting a little letter in the mail from the finance company: it was a statement of our account that we had had with them, and across it was stamped in red ink: “PAID IN FULL.” It was such a great feeling to know that the payments were over; the debt was paid; it was paid in full!
The Bible tells us that is the way it is with our sins when we are saved. If you have put your trust in Jesus as your Savior, the price for the guilt of our sins has been “paid in full” by the death of Jesus on the cross. You are no longer guilty for the penalty of your sins. God has stamped “PAID IN FULL” IN BLOOD RED INK across the guilty sin bill of your soul!
Now, the devil is really good at trying to keep us under that guilty feeling, as if we still owe the debt that has already been paid.
Several years ago (November 2012) my wife Cheryl had gotten a traffic ticket (which happened to be one of the few that she actually did NOT deserve!) but thankfully she subsequently got it reduced to a seatbelt violation. She needed to get the ticket paid before the first Thursday in November of that year. Because she didn’t want it hanging over her head, she called first thing that next Monday and took care of it over the phone. But she said for the rest of the day, she said she still had “that feeling” like the guilt of that ticket was still hanging over her head, even though it had been paid, and was totally taken care of.
The same thing is true with many of God’s people and guilt. When we confess a sin to God, it is paid for by the blood of Christ; it is “taken care of.” But yet, just like Cheryl did with that ticket, often we still have “feelings” of something “hanging over us.” But just like Cheryl with that ticket, all we need to do is remind ourselves of the objective fact: that sin is paid for. It is taken care of! We need to claim God’s word in I John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Claim that verse in Colossians 2:14 where it says “(He) canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, and which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.” Say with that great hymn: “My sin, o the bliss of this glorious thought; my sin, not in part but the whole, is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more! Praise the Lord, praise the Lord o my soul!”
THIS is what Jesus came for: to save His people from the guilt of their past sins.
B. From our life of sin.
We saw that Romans 6 says that when we choose to sin, we become slaves to sin. But that same chapter goes on to say that when we are saved in Christ, we are given a new power over sin. In fact, that chapter begins “What shall we say then, are we to continue in sin so that grace might increase? May it never be? How shall we who died to sin still live in it?” In other words, the Bible is saying in Romans 6 that Jesus didn’t just come to set us free from the penalty of our sins so that we can go on sinning just like we were. It says He came to save us from our life of sin by turning us away from our sins.
This is just what Peter said in his sermon in Jerusalem in Acts 3. Speaking about Jesus, he told his hearers: “God raised up His servant and sent Him to bless you by turning every one of you from your wicked ways.” See, he didn’t say that Jesus just came to forgive their sins, but also to save them by TURNING them from their sins.
A lot of people today are really missing this second element of Jesus’ work in salvation. They think of Jesus as a Savior from the past penalty of their sin only — but they think “well, Jesus loves me so much, that I can just keep on doing what I was doing, and He doesn’t care.” They think of Christianity and salvation almost as if it was a “get out of sin free card.” But that is wrong. If that is what you think Christianity is, you do not understand Christianity at all. Jesus did NOT come to die on the cross so that you could be forgiven and just keep on committing the same sins. He came to save you FROM your sin; like Peter said, “to bless you by turning you from your wicked ways.”
Several years ago we had a prisoner chaplain from the notorious Angola prison in Louisiana to participate in our service and share something about his ministry. He read a scripture from I John 2, where it says that Jesus is the “propitiation” for our sins. But he was not a very educated man, and he stumbled on that word, and he said instead, “He is the perpetuation” for our sins. I raised my eyebrows, because of course the word “perpetuate” means to “continue” – thus if you took him literally, he would be saying that Jesus died for us to KEEP ON sinning! Now, of course, this is not what he meant. And what we need to understand is that this is not what GOD means either! Jesus did not die on the cross so that you can just “perpetuate” your sins, and keep on doing the same things. He came to SAVE His people from their sins — to turn us FROM from our wicked ways.
In John Chapter 8 we find where they brought a woman who had been caught in the very act of adultery to the Lord. And amazingly, He forgave her. But we must also remember His last words to her: “Now go, and SIN NO MORE”!
Jesus is a God of amazing mercy and love. That He would do anything about that woman’s sin — or our sins — other than give us the full punishment we deserve is all of His grace. But He also says in that amazing grace — to her — AND TO US: “Now, go and sin no more”! He came not only to set you free from the past penalty of your sin, but also from the present life of sin.
C. From the future presence of sin.
But even though Jesus helps us turn from sin in this life, we will never completely escape its effects as long as we live. Our bodies and minds and wills have been corrupted by sin, other people have been corrupted by sin, and Romans 8 says even the creation is in slavery to corruption because of sin — so even though we are saved, there are all kinds of effects of sin that we will continue to experience as long as we live here on earth.
But one day, it will be different. Jesus came to save us from our sins. That means not only the past penalty of our sins, and the present slavery to sin, but also the future presence of sin. One day He will take us to heaven, and Revelation 21 says that “nothing unclean, and no one who practices abomination and lying shall ever come into it” — there will be no sin there. We will be totally free from the presence of sin and all of its effects forever! And what an amazing thing that will be!
C.S. Lewis wrote that God is the one who designed pleasure. We often, somehow, misguided by Satan, think that God is against pleasure, but He is not. God is the One who INVENTED pleasure. And there are many pleasures to experience here on earth. But Lewis wrote that all of the pleasures that we can experience here have been tainted by sin; the pleasures have been diminished; our ability to experience them fully has been damaged by sin. But he said one day, we will be in heaven. Psalm 16:11 says “In Your right hand there are pleasures forever”. Lewis said, what will it be like “taste from the fountainhead of that stream” totally undiluted by sin, from the right hand of God Himself? Multiply the greatest pleasure you know here on earth by 1000 times, and that is just a taste of the intensity and purity of pleasure you will experience in God’s presence — THAT is what is waiting for us in heaven!
Because of our sin, we deserve to never be able to experience that. All those pleasures should have been “Paradise Lost” to us. We deserve to spend eternity in hell, separated from everything good. But Jesus came to reverse that. He came “to save His people from their sins” — and to give us back a future in heaven, without the presence of sin, where we may experience perfect joy and pleasure with God forever.
That’s why the angel said: “You shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” When Jesus saves us from our sins, He saves us PAST–PRESENT– FUTURE: He saves us from the penalty of our past sins; He sets us free from our present life of sins; and gives us the promise that one day we will be set free from the very presence of sin, and live in perfect pleasure and joy with Him in heaven forever.
This is what theologians call “justification, sanctification, glorification.” When Jesus saves us, we get justified from the guilt of our past sin; we are being sanctified and gradually saved from our life of present sin; and one day we will be glorified, and totally saved from the future presence of sin.
The question is, has this happened to YOU? Are you one of “His people” whom He has saved from sin? If not, you can be — the Bible says “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.” That’s what He came for! The angel said, “You shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”