The Great Salvation of the Savior
An Exposition of Matthew 1:21
By Josef Urban
Matthew 1:21 - And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.
An angel appeared to Joseph in a dream telling him these wonderful words about the child that Mary would bring forth. This was never said of any other child that was ever born in the history of mankind. No matter how great the child would be, even the greatest among prophets, as John the Baptist was, such great words as this with such a great mission of accomplishment, was never spoken of such a one. No other child ever came close to being destined for such a mission. This was a mission that would take Emmanuel, God with us, God manifested in flesh, to accomplish. Only God could save men from their sins. Man is by nature so bound by the iron chains of sin that no mere arm of mortal flesh could break those chains. For such an extraordinary feat there needed to be an extraordinary Man, a man who indeed is God, with the power of omnipotence upon Him in His divine mission. And thank God for doing just this, and sending His unique Son to accomplish what no mere man alone could accomplish!
This one little verse of Scripture is packed with Gospel truth, so let’s try to unpack and unfold it before our eyes in a practical way, that we may behold the Lamb of God who came to take away the sin of the world, behold the work of the Lord which He did before our eyes, and marvel.
THE GREAT NAME OF THE SAVIOR
The angel told Joseph, “You shall call His name, JESUS”. In His name is found a description of His mission. His name means, “The Lord (YHWH) is salvation”. This is an important truth that so many, failing to recognize and believe, perish for the lack of believing it with real faith. The name of our Savior means that the Lord is salvation! That is, as the prophet Jonah said, “Salvation is of the Lord” (Jon. 2:9). This teaches us two extremely important truths:
(1) Salvation is not found in anything man does. Man is a creature that has completely fallen from God’s moral standard. Man has become corrupt, abominable, and altogether an unclean thing, defiled with the stain and filth of sin. Man is not just tainted outwardly, such as a Jew would be ceremonially defiled from touching an unclean creature such as a pig, but man is defiled inwardly, his own heart being the source of all sorts of sin and corruption like a putrid sewer spewing up all kinds of vile filth and disgusting things before God (so said the Lord in Mat. 15:18-19). Such an unclean creature before God can do nothing to merit his own salvation. The more he does apart from receiving God’s righteousness does not merit God’s favor, but merits more and more of His justice in wrath. Therefore, man by himself is hopeless to attain his own salvation. Man is incapable of saving himself from his own sin. Salvation is not found within the ability of anything that man can do. It is solely found in the Person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ in redemption.
(2) Salvation is completely the work of the Lord. This is what the very name “Jesus” means, and blessed be His name for this truth. It means that in Him alone is salvation. No man can save himself from his own sins, for Jesus is the One who saves men from their sins. Salvation is not by the decision, will, initiative, desire, morality, ability, power, or strength of man, it is by the will, initiative, desire, morality, ability, power, and strength of God through Jesus Christ (John 1:13, Tit. 3:5). Man is saved not by the work he does in attempting to save himself, for such a thing is impossible, but in the work God did on his behalf when Jesus died as the sinner’s Substitute on the Cross (2 Cor. 5:21). Thus, salvation is not by the tainted and insufficient work of man, but by the perfect and finished work of Christ. Therefore, the people of God who are saved from their sin are saved from it solely based on the work which Jesus Christ did in His atoning, sacrificial death and resurrection. And since salvation is found completely in Him, not a single one that He has chosen to justify will cease to be glorified (Rom. 8:29-30), and not a single sheep that He laid down His precious life for and spilled out His precious blood for will be finally lost (John 17:9-12), that is, unless you believe that Jesus prayed prayers that have failed to be answered since He prayed that they would be “kept”. And so we can rejoice in the fact that our salvation and security before the Father is based on what Christ did, and not based on what we have done. He is the Savior, and He must be the sole object of our faith.
Let us rejoice in the great name of our Savior! “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other NAME under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Jesus Christ alone is the way to God. He alone is our unbreakable, unshakable Rock of salvation which can never be moved. “He sent redemption unto his people: he hath commanded his covenant forever: holy and reverend is his NAME” (Psa. 111:9). To Jesus alone belongs the lofty title, “Reverend”. That’s His name, not ours. Let us give Him the glory that is due His name, for no flesh shall ever glory in His presence.
THE GREAT MISSION OF THE SAVIOR
Jesus left the glories of Heaven, emptied Himself, took upon Himself the dust of the earth, and became a Man, in order to save us from sin. He didn’t come to save us from suffering in this world. Surely many preachers will tell you this today, that Jesus came to make us prosperous, successful, and to always give us pleasant circumstances. Yet this is a lie and is contrary to the mission which the Savior Himself said was to “give His life a ransom for many” (Mat. 20:28). His business is to save men from their sin. Not from a nearly empty bank account, not from all suffering in this world, and not from trials and tribulations.
The Word of God actually promises us that we will suffer as Christians. In fact, we are informed in the Bible that God has actually appointed us to afflictions (1 Thes. 3:3), and that all who live an uncompromised, holy life in Christ will suffer persecution of some sort (2 Tim. 3:12). Dear Christian, you can expect to be put through the fire by God to purge you and to test the sincerity of your faith. If you never suffer in the flesh it is hard to believe that you are taking up your cross in obedience to Jesus (Mat. 16:24). If you never endure hardship, it is hard to believe that you’re a good soldier of Jesus Christ (2 Tim. 2:3). Christ came not to save you from all your problems in this world. He came to save you from the greatest problem in this world: sin.
Jesus came down to earth on a radical rescue mission. While all of mankind was sinking and drowning in the sea of sin, without hope and without strength, He came to the rescue as the Captain of our salvation. He came on a mission, sent from the Majesty on High, on a special mission of search and rescue, “to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). He came to purchase redemption for His people, to save His people from their sins.
THE GREAT SALVATION OF THE SAVIOR
The salvation that Jesus came to purchase for His people and to give freely to all who repent and believe in Him is a wonderful salvation. It is a complete salvation, saving the whole man. It is not a salvation that saves only a part of man, and leaves the other parts of that man untouched. “Christ came to save sinners”, said the Apostle, not just the souls of those sinners while leaving their practical lives untouched (1 Tim. 1:15). Christ is a victorious Savior that saves men victoriously from their sin. There are at least five major aspects in which Jesus saves the sinner from sin, they are: (1) From the penalty of sin, (2) from the guilt of sin, (3) from the pleasure of sin, (4) from the power of sin, and (5) from the presence of sin. It is the birthright of every child of God to partake of these wonderful blessings, and indeed, every child of God certainly will. A failure to be saved from these five aspects of sin may very well be the evidence of a failure to be saved at all. Now, there will be times of doubt, times of struggle, times of facing temptation, and even times of stumbling, yet the true child of God will habitually evidence in his life the reality of God’s complete salvation.
1. Jesus came to save His people from the penalty of sin. This is what we refer to as the great doctrine of justification. This is the grand subject of Romans chapters 1-5. All the people of God were once sinners, many of them being sinners of the very worst sort in comparison with other men, being the foolish things of this world, deserving of the most harsh punishment by the hand of God’s just wrath. Yet God, who is rich in mercy, demonstrated His love by giving His only unique Son to offer Himself as a propitiation for sin to satisfy His own divine vengeance, making a way for sinners to be forgiven. The blood of Christ satisfied the just wrath of God against sin and made a perfect atonement forever. Whereas we have all broken God’s holy Law, and deserve to suffer the severest of its fearful threatenings and punishments, Christ came, born under the Law, dying a death and becoming a substitution curse in order to redeem those that were under the curse of the Law (Gal. 3:13, 4:4-5). Though sinners have violated God’s Law and deserved the (spiritual and eternal) death penalty for the crimes committed against the King of the Heavens, Jesus Christ came and lived a sinless life and chose to die to pay the fine for the crimes committed against God once for all.
Now, since He completely satisfied divine justice and appeased divine wrath, God is able to look at the sinner and pronounce him forgiven on the basis of his faith in Jesus’ substitutionary, finished work (Rom. 3:25-26). The penalty which the sinner deserved for his sin was death, separation from God and eternal torment in Hell, since “the wages of sin is death” in separation from the favor and life of God, yet Jesus Christ took the death the sinner deserves so that the sinner could receive the life that Jesus deserves. So when a soul believes on the Lord Jesus Christ with a true faith of the heart, trusting in Christ alone to save Him, God freely forgives every sin that the sinner has ever committed and remits the penalty that was due, choosing instead to bestow upon that sinner, rather than punishment, eternal reward and blessing on behalf of Christ’s finished work.
Thus the sinner who has faith in Jesus is forever forgiven of all the crimes he ever committed, since those crimes were punished on the Cross, and is counted as a child of God and becomes the subject of exceedingly great rewards and eternal salvation from the penalty of sin. Now the person who has faith in Jesus and is justified will never face condemnation from God: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life” (John 5:24). The punishment deserved is forgiven and everlasting life is given as a free gift of grace. Not a single punishment-incurring charge can be laid to God’s elect since God Himself is the one who justified them (Rom. 8:33). Jesus saves His people from the punishment of sin completely and eternally, since the basis of their forgiveness is not on anything they have done, can do, or will do, but is based solely on the finished work of Jesus Christ in redemption.
2. Jesus Christ saves His people from the guilt of sin. This is what we refer to as the great doctrine of assurance (being assured of salvation). The sinner who is justified by faith does not only receive a judicial pardon from God as an eternal, Heavenly decree, but also receives the inward washing from the guilt of sin through the blood of Jesus, and the seal of the Holy Spirit who bears witness within the heart of the redeemed that their salvation is genuine and that they truly have eternal life. The guilt that used to defile the conscience of the saint is no longer present in the same way as it was before they were saved. Their conscience is cleansed and they have an inward peace in their heart knowing their sins are forgiven.
“For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh: How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” (Heb. 9:13-14). Under the Old Covenant at the time of Moses, when a Jew would contract ceremonial defilement from any cause, God would apply a ceremonial remedy which pointed toward the work of Christ in salvation. The priest would take the spotless red heifer outside the camp, slaughter it, and apply the blood to the mercy seat of the Ark to symbolize the making of atonement. Then he would burn the heifer to ashes, and mix the ashes with the special water of purification. This water would then be sprinkled on anyone in Israel who contracted ceremonial uncleanness (see Numbers 19:1-10). The guilt that they incurred through touching anything unclean would be washed away by the sprinkling water. This would give the subject peace of conscience and allow him to attend to the worship of God without any hindrance of mind.
Well in the same way, the author of Hebrews tells us that blood of Christ will much more purge our conscience from that which is unclean so that we may serve the Living God with assurance of heart and confidence in approaching Him! Think of it: all the shame that we once carried around in our hearts with all the pain of our sense of guilt and condemnation before God being completely washed away so we can serve God with a deep inward knowledge of our acceptance before Him! The burden of guilt that we once carried around, that weighed down our souls like a pile of bricks upon our shoulders, is completely lifted and in its place comes the over-abounding love, peace, and joy of the Holy Spirit (Mat. 11:28-30). Now, because of the wonderful salvation of the Lord Jesus, the people of God can rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory with the complete absence of guilt and shame knowing that they have free access to God as their loving Heavenly Father, having become members of the household of God (1 Pet. 1:8, Eph. 2:18-19). The child of God need to never face the sense of despair and condemnation and guilt that the Accuser of the brethren seeks to place upon them to ruin their faith and confidence in Christ. The Lord has carried away their guilt as far as the east is from the west. The guilt was imputed to Him and He carried it off far away out of sight (Lev. 16:21-22).
3. Jesus Christ saves His people from the pleasure of sin. This is accomplished through the great work of regeneration. When the sinner is forgiven of all his sin, the Holy Spirit comes to make His abode in the heart and does a miraculous work of a creative nature within that sinner (John 14:23, 2 Cor. 5:17). A new nature is imparted to the justified person which gives them the ability to hear from, respond to, and obey God. The inner man is radically transformed so that it no longer desires the same sins that it used to desire. The seat of the affections and desires within that person is transformed so that the affections are no longer longing after the world and its lusts and sins, but instead are longing after the holy things of God, and for a real relationship with the Living God (Psa. 42:1-2).
This is probably best summed up in Ezekial 36:26, where the Lord talks about the supernatural, miraculous work which He performs in sinners under the New Covenant: “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh.” Receiving a new heart means receiving new inward affections and a new inward love. Rather than loving and taking pleasure in sin, the child of God will love and take pleasure in the holy things of God. Whereas before he used to find all his enjoyment in the things of this world and in indulgent sin, now those things are a grief to him, and he takes his pleasure in the presence of God, being satisfied with the blessings of his God as they tend to promote a deeper reliance upon Him (Psa. 36:7-8). While the saints once had a heart of stone, that is, a heart that was hard, cold, and unresponsive to the things of God, now the saint has a heart of flesh, one that is soft, warm and easily pricked before God. And although the saint may occasionally stumble into sin, it will be against his true inward desire, and his heart will be afflicted before the Lord. In this new heart comes the very heart of Christ Himself, with the seat of the affections focused on the end of loving and glorifying God as a way of life.
Jesus saves us from taking pleasure in the darkness of the closed tents of the wicked, causing us rather to rejoice in the light of the courts of the holy God (Psa. 84:10). A true child of God cannot continually, persistently, repeatedly, habitually, and unreservedly take pleasure in the sin that Jesus has saved him from. Such would be a contradiction of the most extreme sort. The salvation that Jesus gives to men is a salvation that not only forgives sin, but also regenerates the heart and creates in man a desire to no longer walk in such sin. The holier a man becomes the more and more he will hate and be sensitive to sin. The love of Christ within the heart of the saint causes the saint to love the things which Christ loves, to take pleasure in the things which Christ takes pleasure in, to delight in the things which Christ delights in, to abhor the things which Christ abhors, and to war against the things which Christ Himself warred against. Any person who claims to be a Christian, on their way to Heaven, but is still willingly and habitually taking pleasure in known sin, has very much reason to doubt whether he has ever experienced the great salvation of the Lord in his life.
4. Jesus Christ saves His people from the power of sin. This is what we refer to as the great doctrine of sanctification. When a person gets saved, the Lord sanctifies that person by removing him from the realm of the dominion of sin, and consecrating him in the realm of holiness. And while sanctification is initially performed on behalf of the sinner is a positional sense, it will certainly work itself out in his life in a practical sense (1 Cor. 1:2, 2 Cor. 7:1). In other words, the perfection of the Lord Jesus will not only be accredited to the sinner judicially, but it will also begin to work itself in the sinner, causing him to strive for perfection in his life practically. The power of the Holy Spirit within the heart of those who are saved will enable them to supernaturally walk in victory over the power of sin.
“For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace” (Rom. 6:14). Being saved by the grace of Christ is not an excuse to keep on sinning with impunity, as if being saved by grace means that it doesn’t matter if one obeys God. Rather, being saved by grace means that not only are our sins forgiven, but that we also have a supernatural power that is working in us which enables us to put to death our sinful tendencies and to habitually walk in a real obedience to the commands of the New Covenant. Under the Law, there is no real salvation from sin. The Law forbids a sinful action and condemns those who violate it, yet offers no power to overcome. Yet grace is entirely different, since it offers the power of the Holy Spirit to enable those who are saved to walk in habitually holiness of heart. The Law commands and condemns, but grace forgives and empowers. The Law can’t make any man holy, but grace makes everyone holy who receives it. “For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Rom. 8:3-4).
When the grace of Christ has truly saved a person’s soul, it will also teach them to deny sin and to walk in holiness. If someone claims to have received God’s grace, yet continues to live a life of practicing sin, there is significant evidence to suggest that they have never been sanctified, and if never sanctified, they have never been justified. God’s grace is of a transforming nature, causing the person who receives it to be entirely different from the normal people of this world. “For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ; Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works” (Tit. 2:11-14). The salvation of Christ through the grace of God causes a transformation to take place in all who receive it which will be evident in their life. If there is no transformation and empowerment over sin, there is no salvation.
5. Jesus Christ saves His people from the presence of sin. This is what we refer to as the great doctrine of glorification. Those who are saved from the penalty, guilt, pleasure, and power of sin, will ultimately be saved from the presence of sin forever when they are glorified together with Christ. While those who die in Christ before His return immediately leave their body to be present with the Lord, completely free from sinful flesh, and dwell in a state of perfection with Christ in glory, there is also coming a glorious day in which all the saints will receive new bodies in the resurrection of the just. The great salvation which Christ purchased for His people does not only save their spirits and their souls, but also saves their body –yet not the earthly body, but has purchased for them a celestial body which will be eternal and sinless.
“So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption: It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power: It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body. And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit” (1 Cor. 15:42-45). Though Christ’s people on earth are many times extremely weak and loaded down with a million infirmities connected with mere flesh and blood, there is coming a glorious day in which they shall all be resurrected and freed from such infirmities, glorified together with Him in an eternal paradise. We can be confident that He who began a good work in us will bring it to completion, and that He will come back again and raise up all who fell asleep in Him. He will not forget a single one, but will blast the great trumpet of the Archangel and call the dead back to life! “And this is the Father's will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day. And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:39-40).
This is the blessed hope of the children of God, knowing that “when He shall appear, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2). We therefore know that our labor in the Lord is not in vain. This is the blessed hope which filled the hearts of all those blessed martyrs in the early Church, those who gave their bodies to be crucified, to be burned, to be torn apart by horses, to be fed to wild beasts, under the tremendous persecutions of Rome. –And not only them, but countless saints throughout the ages, who have given their lives, sacrificing their bodies, to confirm the faith which they so sincerely held in their hearts. They knew that their affliction was only momentary, and that a great eternal reward was awaiting them in Heaven, along with a new body and the promise of an everlasting state of dwelling with their beloved Lord in His glory.
OUR GREAT NECESSITY FOR THE SAVIOR
Seeing the wonderful salvation which Christ purchased with His very own blood, we see the great necessity that we all have to receive it as our own. “How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?” (Heb. 2:3). There is nothing on earth which compares, nothing which comes close, to the splendor and wonder and glory of the salvation which is found solely in Jesus. All else is but dung in comparison, and nothing else matters. Jesus Christ is the Lord of heaven and earth, and deserves the reward of His suffering. He deserves the glory that is due His name. He deserves the adoration and praise which is rightfully His from all peoples and nations and tongues. He alone holds the keys to death and Hell, and has the authority to release whoever He will. Our great necessity is to fall on our face before Him and confess our great need for the salvation which He came down to bring to mankind.
So, dear reader, where do you stand in regard to this salvation? Have you received it? Has the Lord Himself pronounced your sins as forgiven? Has your conscience been cleansed from guilt and condemnation that you can now serve God with assurance and peace? Has your heart been changed so that you no longer desire to chase after the same sins you used to, but now you chase after God with a holy hunger and thirst for His righteousness? Has the power of the Holy Spirit liberated you from the slavery of sin so that you no longer serve sin as your master but now yield yourself to Christ as the servant of righteousness? And do you have the blessed hope within your heart knowing that your Savior is going to return soon to gather you unto Himself, to glorify you and cause you to inherit His eternal treasure?
Certainly, if the Lord Jesus Christ has saved you from your sin, then you will be able to answer these questions with some degree of assurance, and they will serve as a confirmation to your faith, causing you to rejoice in the great mercy He has shown you. However, if you have not thus been saved, and you see clearly that these aspects of His great salvation have not worked out in your life, and there is no evidence of all of them, then you are in very grave danger, and under a great necessity to forsake your own attempts to save yourself and to trust wholly in the One who obtained eternal salvation for all who believe His Gospel. If you don’t have the salvation we’ve been describing, then you have nothing of importance or of eternal significance. Put your eyes on the Redeemer, who redeems His own from destruction and eternal despair, and gives them freely His own riches and grace, causing those who were once His enemies to become His friends, accepted in the Beloved, never to face the wrath of God on behalf of their sin, since it was already punished in full at Calvary. “For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:17-18).