He Will Save His People From Their Sins — Who’s “They?”

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Title: He Will Save His People From Their Sins – Who’s “They”

 

Text: Matthew 1:20-21

 

Time: December 8th, 2013

 

 

 

We’re here considering the different aspects of the biblical Christmas account. We’re trying to make any observations that we can about Christ’s birth and the events surrounding it. And that isn’t easy because we are so familiar with the story that we’re tempted to think we know all there is to know about it. I mentioned this before, but if you’ve been a Christian for a while you begin to hear the same or similar messages around Christmas each year. They sound the same because of the four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, only two contain information about Christ’s birth. Only Matthew and Luke describe the Christmas story. Mark and John, for whatever reasons, don’t talk about it. They don’t contradict it, they don’t deny it, they just don’t describe it. That leaves us with only two places in the Bible to learn anything about Christmas. So we go over and over these two accounts for something we might have missed, something that might give us a deeper understanding of the birth of Christ. Today, I’d like to focus on a verse, and a phrase within a verse, and try to understand what it means. It’s Matthew 1:20-21, where the angel of the Lord speaks to Joseph and says, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” We all recognize this as the announcement to Joseph from God that it’s all right to marry Mary, because she will give birth to the Messiah, the Savior and Lord. All this we are familiar with because we’ve read it many times in the Bible, we’ve heard sermon taught on it, we’ve even seen it depicted on television and in movies. So far so good. But do we ever stop and consider what the angel means when he says, “Because he will save his people from their sins?” For many, many years I never paid attention to that small little phrase because, honestly, I thought I knew what it was saying. I just assumed that what the angel was saying to Joseph was something like this – “Because he, that is the Christ child, the Messiah Jesus, will save his people the Jews from their sins.” And because I just assumed that was the meaning I never considered anything more. But one day I was reading along and it suddenly struck me that as it turned out Jesus didn’t in fact save very many of his people the Jews from their sins, simply because most of his people, the Jews, rejected him as Savior and Messiah. Some Jews did accept him as Lord and Savior, and to these he did save from their sins. But the vast majority of Jews, then and now, are not saved from their sins because they don’t have any faith in Jesus for salvation. So I began to realize that it must mean something more than the Jewish people. And it does. It means something more. Let’s look at what it might mean this year, today, as we continue in the Christmas season 2013.

 

 

First, let’s consider the typical understanding that he’s talking about the Jews. Matthew 1:20-21, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” Now that the verse is referring to the Jewish people is the most natural way of reading it. Both Mary and Joseph were Jews, in fact, Joseph was from the line of David, the famous king of the Jews centuries before. The Messiah was the hope of Israel. Everything about the Messiah was centered on the salvation of the Jewish people; the Gentile, non-Jewish people didn’t pay much attention to Messiah expectations. It wasn’t in their thinking, or to put it more spiritually, it wasn’t in their theology. But the Jews took the coming of the Messiah seriously. In fact, there had been a number of would-be Messiahs come and go. They were able to gather large numbers of followers because there was a strong belief in the coming of a deliverer to save Israel. So it would be most tempting to see this verse as essentially describing the salvation of Jews by Jesus the Messiah. But the problem with this way of interpreting the verse is exactly what I mentioned before – Jesus, in fact, didn’t end up saving very many Jews from their sins, simply because most Jews refused to trust him for salvation. They weren’t looking primarily for a spiritual Savior anyway, they were hoping for a nationalistic political Savior to free them from the rule of Rome. So if this verse is talking mostly about Jesus saving the Jews, then it got it all wrong. There has to be another explanation. Of course, we could take the angle that the verse is really talking about his people the Jews but that the Jews themselves prevented the plan. Yes, that’s true that Jesus and the disciples took the gospel first to the Jews, and even the early Christians did the same, but their mission to the Jews had only limited success. And because of this limited success in reaching the Jewish people with the message of salvation, it would be inaccurate to simply state, “The Messiah will save his people the Jews from their sins.” More to the point, we could say that he saved some of the Jews from their sins, or a few Jews from the sins. But to say, he saved the Jews from their sins would be incorrect. The best we could say is that he intended to save the Jews from their sins, and later, following in the footsteps of Christ, the Apostle Paul intended to save his fellow Jews from their sins through preaching the gospel to them, but like Jesus, he had only limited success. Most rejected the gospel of salvation. Most weren’t saved. So the verse must mean something else.

 

 

Second, let’s consider he’s talking about everybody, Jews and non-Jews. Matthew 1:20-21, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” Maybe the angel is talking about a more general population, not a specific group of people, like the Jews. In other words, maybe the angel is saying that Jesus the Messiah would save all people from their sins, both Jews and Gentiles. For example, in the Old Testament prophet Hosea, it says, “I will say to those called not my people, ‘You are my people,’ and they will say, ‘You are my God,’” Hosea 2:23. And in the New Testament, the Apostle Paul comments on the prophet Hosea by saying, “Even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles. As he says in Hosea, ‘I will call them my people who are not my people, and I will call her my loved one who is not my loved one,’” Romans 9:25. So there is a teaching throughout the Bible that all people are God’s people, not just narrowly the Jews, but also the non-Jews, or Gentiles. Could the angel be saying that Jesus the Messiah will come and save his people, both the Jews and Gentiles, or in other words, all peoples? Yes, this is true in the general sense, but it’s false in the specific sense. Or, what I mean is, while the non-Jewish people did respond to the gospel in the general sense, that doesn’t mean that all or even the majority of Gentiles were saved. The Jews responded in smaller numbers, and even in smaller percentages, than the Gentiles – that became apparent early on in the Christian church’s missionary outreach.  We already see in the New Testament that the Jews generally speaking were rejecting the gospel, while most of the converts as the years go by are non-Jewish. But even as more and more non-Jews trust and believe in the gospel, even as Gentiles were saved, that doesn’t mean that most were saved, only that more of them were saved than Jews. Still today, most Gentiles are not saved, just as the vast majority of Jews are not saved. So if the angel is saying that Jesus would save his people, all people, from their sins, then it hasn’t happened, nor has it ever happened, nor will it ever happen. Only a certain percentage of non-Jews have found salvation down through the years, and an even smaller percentage of Jews have found salvation as well. The majority of Jews and non-Jews have perished in their sins because of their unbelief. So the phrase must mean something even more profound than salvation to all people, or to a general reference to “God’s people” as all of humanity. So what does the phrase mean?

 

 

Third, let’s consider he’s talking about all who believe whether Jew or Gentile. Matthew 1:20-21, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” The angel isn’t talking about Jews or Gentiles; he’s talking about believers of any kind who trust Jesus for salvation. The new people of God are those who look to Christ as Savior and Lord no matter what backgrounds they come from, no matter who they are, or where their from. Who does Jesus the Messiah save? Those who repent of their sins and believe the good news of salvation. These are saved. That’s really the only way this verse can make any sense. “Because he will save his people from their sins.” Who are his people? Not the Jews, not even the Gentiles, but instead, anybody and everybody who turns to him in humble faith for salvation. This isn’t universalism, that is, it isn’t teaching that we’ll all be saved. A few years ago a prominent pastor of a large mega-church in Michigan was forced out of his church because he basically began to teach that all people would eventually be saved. That’s not what the Bible teaches. In fact, just the opposite. The Bible teaches that only those who trust God for salvation will be saved, or more specifically, only those who trust Jesus for salvation will be saved. If Jesus is from God, and is God in human flesh, then obviously his way of salvation is the only way of salvation. You aren’t saved by being a Jewish person, neither are you saved by being a member of the human race, even though in one sense, “we are all children of God” in the generic sense. No. Nobody is saved except through the cross of Christ. The angel’s message is true. Jesus will save his people from their sins, but the “his people” represent those who trust in him, look to his cross as the atoning sacrifice for their sins. It’s not a matter of being of the Jewish nation, nor of being a member of the human race. It’s a matter of being the new people of God that identify with Jesus Christ. Are the Jews still the chosen people? In the historical sense, yes; but in the spiritual sense, in the sense of salvation, no. The chosen people today are believers in Christ who are saved by his sacrificial death on the cross on their behalf. In fact, the New Testament even goes so far as to say that Christians are the real spiritual Israel, or believers in Christ are in actuality the real Jews, the spiritual chosen people. This is true.

 

 

So what starts out as a rather straightforward verse that seems to be pretty clear, turns into a really profound statement about who are the real chosen people today. Since the appearance of Jesus we who believe in him are the chosen people, the true Israel, the spiritual Jews. “Because he will save his people from their sins” means that Jesus will save his followers, those who trust him, those who are born again of his Spirit, those who are made righteous by his atoning sacrifice on the cross. So then who are the people who occupy present day Israel, the modern Jewish state? They are the historical and biological people of God, but they are not the spiritual people of God today. They could be, if they would be. Just as anybody from any ethnic background or culture can be part of the people of God today by faith in Jesus Christ. There is no person who is excluded from God’s people except those who exclude themselves. Unfortunately, most Jews do exclude themselves from God’s true spiritual community through their unbelief. The exciting thing though is that more and more Jews are becoming Christians today through the work of Jews For Jesus and similar organizations. I can’t verify this statistically but it might be that there are a greater percentage of historical, biological Jews who are becoming true spiritual Jews through conversion to Christianity than at any time since the 1st Century. While at the same time, the percentage of non-Jewish converts, which has always been relatively high compared to Jewish converts, is starting to go down numerically and percentage wise. But isn’t that what the Apostle Paul said would happen as we approach the end times? Romans 11:25, “I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved.” According to Bible prophecy, as we near the end of the end times, more and more Jews will convert to Christianity, and less and less non-Jews will convert to Christianity. For most of its two thousand year history Christianity has seen an essentially Gentile church grow and develop, but that may be changing as we near the end. The non-Jewish missionary enterprise, at least in the traditional western nations, is dwindling. Isn’t this a sign of fulfilled prophecy? It might be. I don’t know how close we are to the Second Coming of Christ, but if Jews keep converting to Christianity like they are in the past few decades, and if the non-Jewish nations continue to become resistant to the gospel, as we’ve been seeing also in the last few decades, then we might just be very close. Are you a spiritual Jew? Have you trusted Jesus for salvation? Are you a member of the people of God? There’s only one entrance requirement, faith. Do you have it? Are you in? Why not make sure this Christmas season.

 

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