Two of the most detrimental things to our spiritual life must surely be self-deception (i.e. we deceive ourselves into thinking that we are far healthier than we actually are) and morbid introspection (i.e. we spend so much time examining our navels that we take our eyes off of Christ, who delivers us from our sin). I am convinced that a biblical grasp of the promise in Matthew 1:21 will go a long way to help us avoid both these dangers.
The promise contained in this verse—“he shall save his people from their sins”—is a glorious one for at least five reasons. We examined three of those reasons in our previous study: It is an extensive promise, it is an exhaustive promise, and it is an expansive promise. We will continue our examination of this promise in this study and then take perhaps another study or two to conclude our consideration of this verse.
The Promise is Explosive
The fourth reason that this is a glorious promise by which we can live is that it is explosive. The promise—“he shall save his people from their sins”—deals radically, powerfully and permanently with our predicament. We will never quite understand the extent of this promise until we first understand the seriousness of our predicament.
Man’s predicament is deadly serious: We are under the wrath of God. “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness” (Romans 1:18). We are born into this world as sinners and live from that moment under the condemnation of God. At any moment, we might be taken into eternity and suffer eternal separation from God. That is a serious predicament indeed. As J. I. Packer has stated it, “Men are opposed to God in their sin, and God is opposed to men in his holiness.” Men opposed to God and God opposed to man—a predicament indeed!
The predicament is indeed great, but the solution is glorious. As R. C. Sproul has stated it, “the one from whom we need to be saved is the one who has saved us.” What solution would God provide for our predicament? He would become man Himself. “Divine love triumphed over divine wrath by divine self-sacrifice,” said John R. Stott. Romans 1:18, cited above, speaks of the wrath of God as even now being exercised against the ungodly. But there is also good news: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith” (Romans 1:16-17). The word “power” in Romans 1:16 is a translation of the Greek word dunamis, from which we derive the English words dynamic. Though dynamite was obviously not on the apostle’s mind the power of the promise is explosive! We have a serious predicament, but the solution to that predicament has been provided by God Himself. What a promise to live by!
The solution is powerfully certain: “He shall save his people from their sins.” Because the promise is God’s work, there is hope for all without distinction. All God’s people will be saved, whether they be morally upright citizens or hardened criminals.
On 26 February 1993 a car bomb was detonated by in an undergrounding parking garage of the World Trade Center in New York City. Rumour has it that one of the men arrested for the attack was given a Bible in prison and that he came to faith in Christ. I do not know how true that rumour is, but I have no problem whatsoever believing it. The gospel is explosive—“he shall save his people from their sins”—and God’s saving power will reach those whom he intends to save wherever they are and whatever they have done. There is no sin for which God’s people will not be forgiven.
A striking biblical example of God’s explosive power is the life of the apostle Paul. Saul (as he was known prior to his conversion) was the most infamous persecutor of the early church. He was singlehandedly responsible for scattering the Christians from Jerusalem across the Roman Empire. He was “a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious,” the very “chief” of sinners (1 Timothy 1:13, 15). And yet God saved him! Philip Schaff observes of Paul: “The architect of ruin became the architect of the temple of God. The weapons of destruction were turned into weapons of construction.” No wonder Paul understood the gospel to be the power of God unto salvation.
Dear Christian, take comfort in the explosive power of God’s promise to save His people from their sins. I have prayed for many years for the lost loved ones of church members—husbands, wives, children and parents—and I continue to pray as fervently as ever. I believe that God will save His people from their sins, and what greater encouragement could there be to pray? No matter what opposition the world, the flesh and the devil raise against the gospel, the promise remains firm: “He shall save his people from their sins.”
I believe that we should pray for nations that are seemingly closed to the gospel. Is there opposition to the Great Commission? Does it appear insurmountable? Be encouraged: Jesus will save His people from their sins! He has people from every people group in the world, and He will save them from their sins.
To the degree that we experience the explosiveness of the gospel, to that degree can those with whom we associate—at work, at school, at home—experience the expansiveness of the gospel. As God explodes sin from our lives, and as people see that, it is a powerful testimony to His grace.
A church member recently told me of a sad incident that he witnessed whilst visiting another church on holiday many years ago. The preacher began his sermon from Romans 5 on justification by faith alone, and before long a man stood up in the congregation and said loudly, “Justification, sanctification and reconciliation—tell us something that will help us!” The pastor simply replied that he was going to preach the message that God wanted him to preach, which was on justification by faith from Romans 5, and the man walked out of the service. This retractor was acting the fool. There is nothing more practical than the doctrine of justification by faith alone. It is not a doctrine for ivory towers and theological debate; it is an intensely practical doctrine for all children of God. We have been brought into a relationship with the living God. Our sins have been taken away. We are delivered from the wrath to come. What freedom that gives us to live!
The Promise is Expensive
The promise is glorious to live by because it is expensive: “Thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.” Observe carefully: Jesus would save His people from their sins. If angels could choke tearfully as they spoke, and if they understood something of what the redemption would cost, this angel would have spoken these words with a croaking voice. Saint Anselm of Canterbury said of the redemption, “The debt was so great, that while man alone owed it, only God could pay it.” The truth of the promise is deemed great because of its price: the very body and blood of our Lord.
Consider who “he” is who shall save His people from their sins. He is the sinless Son of God. He was the perfect man. “And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh” (1 Timothy 3:16). Jesus Christ is God, and He came to give His life a ransom for sin. With the songwriter we cry, “And can it be that I should gain an interest in the Saviour’s blood?”
Many years prior to the Incarnation, a man and his son walked together to the mountains of Moriah to sacrifice to God. When the son noticed that they had taken no animal with them to sacrifice, he asked his father, “Behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Speaking words that were more prophetic than he probably understood, his father replied, “My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering” (Genesis 22:1-8). Indeed, though Abraham surely did not comprehend all that he had said, God would provide Himself as the Lamb to take away the sin of the world. What a price!
It is a sad reality that so many people seem to be interested in the Incarnation for one day a year (Christmas Day), but then they seem to move on. As I have contemplated the truth of this passage, it has been impressed upon me that the Incarnation is a truth from which you never move on. Jesus Christ, the very Son of God, became a man—the Last Adam, the Second Man—in order to take away the sins of men. He was born of a virgin, which proved that He had no sin nature.
On the eighth day after His birth, our Lord was circumcised and was given the name Jesus. Circumcision was God’s covenant sign to the Jewish people in the old covenant. It was the sign of a solemn covenant with God, attended by blessings upon obedience and curses upon disobedience. By being circumcised, Jesus showed that He lived under the covenant. He was the Israel of God, and as an eight-day old child He submitted to His Father to fulfil all righteousness. At the age of 12 Jesus accompanied His parents to the Temple in Jerusalem for one of the annual feasts. He did so in order to fulfil all righteousness. For 33 years He lived a perfect life, daily fulfilling every obligation laid upon Him by His Father. At thirty He was baptised, still without sin. Immediately He was driven by the Spirit into the wilderness, where He experienced the most intense temptation imaginable, yet He emerged unscathed. He was tempted throughout His life to short-circuit His Father’s plan, but He never did so. He was perfect. Even Pilate, speaking more truthfully than he realised, admitted, “I find no fault in him” (Luke 23:4; John 19:4, 6).
Let us not underestimate the importance of Christ’s perfect life. God required a perfect sacrifice. A single slip, one moment of succumbing to temptation, and the promise of Matthew 1:21 would be rendered null and void. But He never succumbed, and thus His sacrifice was accepted. Though He was without sin, He died for sinners. But that was not enough. If He had merely shed His blood as a man we would be of all most to be pitied. But thank God that the cross was not the end. For after three days and three nights in the grave Jesus rose from the dead. His death proved that He was a man; His resurrection proved that He was God. He was the God-man, and only the God-man could save men from their sins. As one man has stated it, “Jesus Christ, being God, made sure that His redemptive price had infinite value.”
Having considered who Christ was, let us further consider what He suffered. In many ways, Jesus Christ suffered for 33 years. He suffered in Gethsemane, He suffered on the cross, and perhaps His suffering was at its peak when He cried, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34). Sproul states the case powerfully: “He must not only be executed by man, he must be abandoned by God.” He adds concerning the forsakenness of Christ: “We must not think that Jesus merely felt forsaken … The very essence of the cross was the utter forsakenness of Christ … To be forsaken by God is the ultimate penalty for sin. The pit of hell is the abode of the utterly forsaken.” He took upon Himself the curse of violating the law, though He had never erred Himself. He was forsaken for our sins. Salvation is free, but it is not cheap. It cost Jesus Christ His life, and caused Him to be abandoned by His Father as He suffered the weight of our sin.
C. J. Mahaney tells the story of a pastor friend who called him one day to relate a devastating experience he had had. A man in his church had been showing his son how to clean a gun. While they were busy, the weapon fired and killed his son. This pastor had spent hours at the man’s side, not knowing quite what to say. But then he felt as if God had given him a message to give to this man. “God told me to tell you,” he said, “that He also killed his son—but with Him it was no accident.”
The debate often rages around the question, who killed Christ? Did the Romans kill Him, or did the Jews kill Him? In fact, God killed Jesus. He was “delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23). “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). God so loved the world that He sent His Son to save His people from their sins.
I am sure you would agree that a truth this priceless is worth living for. As we are confronted with the vain pursuits of this world, let us commit to living life, clinging to the gospel promise that Jesus Christ will save His people from their sins.
A truth this priceless is worth dying for. In fact, Jesus did die for it! May we commit to taking up our cross and following Him, motivated by the gospel, thus experiencing its resurrection power of delivering us from our sins. Hallelujah! What a Saviour!