THERE ARE TWO AUDIO SEGMENTS AND ONE VIDEO SEGMENT THIS WEEK.
During the last couple of weeks, we have spoken about baptism and we shared the Lord’s Supper. Through these symbolic acts we see and experience the truth of the transformation, power, and goodness of God through his Son, Jesus Christ. Today, I would like us to continue explore the truth about Jesus that lays behind the visible symbols of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. That truth is call salvation. Now when we spoke about baptism, goodness that overcomes evil, and the Lord’s Supper, we had visible reminders to help understand what God was doing in the lives of believers. In baptism, we heard Paul’s explanation that “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (Romans 6:4). We visualize this transformation each time someone is baptized. To understand goodness and overcomes evil, we had the Lord’s Supper comprised of bits of bread and a cup of juice symbolizing the body and blood of Jesus who overcame the powers of the world and displayed the goodness of God through his resurrection from the dead. Having something visible helps us understand a truth, particularly a spiritual truth. This one reason Jesus spoke so often in parables or in story form. Stories help us form images of an encounter or scene which aids our understanding of the message being conveyed. In all the years since Jesus’ taught, we still learn best from stories. In fact, if anything, we have become more adept at learning and communicating through visual representations and story. Today, I want to begin our time together by making use of our power to learn through images, through story, so that we could explore the truth of salvation. And so, I want to begin with these images.
The images we saw of a person trapped in a hole rescued from circumstances that may or may not have been of his own making gives us a sense of salvation. The person had no way and no hope of changing his circumstances. The circumstances only changed when someone intervened on his behalf by climbing down into the pit to lift him out. This is visual depiction of salvation. Salvation is saving a person from the confinement and constraint of sin, distress, and hopelessness. Salvation is planting a person in a spacious environment, granting freedom, and preservation from dangers. Salvation is granting peace, joy, praise, and faith. Salvation is granted by grace and mercy. Salvation requires no meritorious work, no offering of money, and no acts of repetitious prayer. Salvation only requires a desire to receive.
The underlying Christian belief in salvation is that salvation comes from one source, God through Jesus. In the Gospel of John, we learn, “16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:16-17). Salvation comes from God and it is born out of love. God does not seek to condemn people but to save them. Salvation is a God thing. Let’s take a look at some of what Jesus taught about salvation and how he represented it.
In the Gospel of Mark, Chapter 5, we read a story about Jesus encountering a man who was not in his right mind. Mark said the man was possessed by an evil spirit. Neither we, nor the disciples with Jesus, saw or could see an evil spirit. But Jesus disciples and we could see the circumstances of the man. Mark wrote, “3 This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain. 4 For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. 5 Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones” (Mark 5:3-5). The man lived among the dead in a cemetery. The people of his town, his neighbors, had once bound him in chains to control him, but now he was too strong for them. Night and day, he lived alone, howling and screaming. He cut himself with sharp stones and rocks. The man was hopeless and whatever possessed him, whatever controlled his life, would not let him go. Many people today live in a trapped existence and cry out in pain.
If we continued reading, we would find that Mark gave a detailed account of Jesus freeing this man from his possessor. Once freed Mark wrote, “15 When they [the local townspeople] came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind.” (Mark 5:15a). This is a picture of salvation. The man who was controlled by influences other than God had been transformed by his encounter with Jesus and was now peace, joy, praise, and faith. This man had been saved.
The Apostle Paul would later explain such a picture as this in a spiritual context this way, 21 At one time you were separated from God. You were his enemies in your minds, because the evil you did was against him. 22 But now he has made you his friends again. He did this by the death Christ suffered while he was in his body. He did it so that he could present you to himself as people who are holy, blameless, and without anything that would make you guilty before him” (Colossians 1:21-22 (ERV)).
From Paul’s description we understand that salvation is an end of being separated from God. Salvation involves a new way of thinking and a new friendship with God. The path to this friendship was created by God through Jesus death and we need only ask to come onto the path.
Jesus asked the man in the cemetery who he saved and restored to do only one thing in return. Jesus said to the man, “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you” (Mark 5:19). Jesus charge on the man was simple. Tell others what God has done for you.
Now some church folk can make salvation overly complicated and legalistic. I have heard people ask of others, “Do you think so and so is saved? Do you think the church they went to was a believer’s church?” I read this week that many people in the Roman Catholic Church may not be baptized. Apparently, you are properly baptized if the priest or deacon says, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” You are not baptized if the priest or deacon said, “We baptize you…” Pronouns apparently matter. The question is raised about the authenticity of another person’s salvation and whether the source of the salvation was sufficient and credible. These are not new questions.
Sometimes friends and church folk are unwilling to believe someone’s testimony about what God has done. Even in Jesus’ day, people raised questions about salvation.
Let’s look at some excerpts from Chapter 9 of the Gospel of John. One day, Jesus and his disciples were walking along, and Jesus encountered a man blind from birth. The man was left to sit on the roadside and beg for money to sustain his own life. Jesus “spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. 7 ‘Go,’ he [Jesus] told him, ‘wash in the Pool of Siloam’ (this word means ‘Sent’). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing” (John 9:6-7). This is another illustration of salvation. The man who was blind a birth, no hope of change, no hope of a full future, living a life constrained along the side of the road is now free to see all things and move about safely. This healing came about by grace and mercy from Jesus.
Now the man returned to his home. “8 His neighbors and those who had formerly seen him begging asked, ‘Isn’t this the same man who used to sit and beg?’ 9 Some claimed that he was. Others said, ‘No, he only looks like him.’ But he [the formerly blind man] himself insisted, ‘I am the man’” (John 9:8-9). We see here that the neighbors of the man who was once blind were unwilling to accept the man’s testimony that he was healed. The man’s neighbors could only see the man defined by his past. But salvation means our past is behind us. We are no longer constrained by our past. Now some people will not accept that truth about salvation and will try to drag people back to their former ways. They will say, “I remember you when…don’t tell me now you have changed because you have God. I am not buy it.” This is essentially what the man’s neighbors were saying. This cannot possibly be the man who was blind; this is only someone who looks like him. But the man persisted saying, “I am that man.” The man gave his testimony of the work God did through Jesus.
The neighbors then brought this man to the religious authorities for them to question the man. The man repeated his story of being blind and now able to see because of what Jesus did for him. “18 They [the religious leaders] still did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they sent for the man’s parents. 19 ‘Is this your son?’ they asked. ‘Is this the one you say was born blind? How is it that now he can see?’
20 ‘We know he is our son,’ the parents answered, ‘and we know he was born blind. 21 But how he can see now, or who opened his eyes, we don’t know. Ask him. He is of age; he will speak for himself.’ 22 His parents said this [Ask him] because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders, who already had decided that anyone who acknowledged that Jesus was the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue” (John 9:18-22). The religious leaders refused to acknowledge Jesus was the source of salvation and that Jesus was working in the lives of one person, here a “nobody” who deserved no special grace from God.
This scene teaches us that Jesus does not work through nations or people groups or race or any other sort of political affiliation or identity that people may chooses to assign to others. Jesus works through a person; one at a time and offers salvation.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus described the act of salvation using another illustration. Jesus said, “3 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again” (John 3:3). Jesus illustrated salvation as a second birth, a spiritual birth. Everyone here experienced a natural birth, that is we were born into this world. Our life was derived from our parents. Our birth did not come about by our own will or through our own provision. In a similar manner, our spiritual birth will not come about through our own will or through our own provision. Our spiritual birth will come about through the action of God through Jesus. In that second birth, the source of our life is Christ living within us. In this way, Christians do not believe they God will love them because they are good, but that God will make us good because He loves us. This is salvation. We are no longer trapped in a hole. Jesus said, “You must be born again” (John 3:7b).
Salvation is our avenue to joy, peace, praise, and faith. Salvation is our path to an ongoing relationship with Jesus. Salvation is forgiveness, mercy, and grace given to us simply because we asked for it. Salvation is God’s to give and ours to receive. Be willing to ask and receive and embrace salvation. Amen and Amen.