Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Hosanna


Mark 11 describes an impressive scene, as crowds of people gathered around Jesus for His entrance into Jerusalem. In arranging this event, Jesus was officially announcing to the people who He was. In many cases, Jesus had tried to hide His true nature and mission--this is what some call 'The Great Messianic Secret.' However, by entering Jerusalem in this way, the secret was ended forever. Jesus was declaring Himself the Messiah. Though Jesus came in a humble, prosaic way, riding on a donkey, He was claiming kingship and more than kingship. The people understood this--at least, in one sense. They cried out "Hosanna; Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord: Blessed be the kingdom of our father David, that cometh in the name of the Lord: Hosanna in the highest." (Mark 11:9-10) Saying that Jesus 'came in the name of the Lord' was recognizing that He was, if nothing else, sent by God and did His works by God. To speak of the kingdom of David was, most likely, a way of stating that they believed this to be the promised descendent of David--the one who was to establish his kingdom forever. But the most interesting thing they said was: "Hosanna!"

Hosanna is the Greek form of a Hebrew phrase which means, roughly, "Save now!" It was a cry that people would raise to a king if they were in need of his help. By crying this to Jesus, the people were publicly acknowledging His kingship. Perhaps because of its use in some of the Psalms--most notably Psalm 118--it had come to associated with the Messiah, so it is possible this was also a way of saying that the people knew Jesus was the Messiah.

But while they may have known that, we see that they did not understand what or who the Messiah really was, or what He had come to do. But there is a note of irony in their cry, for Jesus had come to do precisely what they asked. The angel told Joseph to give the child the name Jesus which means, literally, The Salvation of Jehovah, because "He shall save His people from their sins." (Matthew 1:21) Jesus explained His own ministry simply enough: "The Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost." (Luke 19:1) That is what Jesus came to do. The Kingdom He came to establish was not a political kingdom, but a kingdom of salvation. That is why came into Jerusalem on that Sunday and that was what He accomplished the next Sunday. That is why His entrance is called the Triumphal Entry even though there was seemingly nothing triumphal about it. He had come to accomplish something which had been "in the works" since before the beginning of time. To put it shortly, He came to save us from sin. But sin is not a simple thing--it has many sides and aspects. And Jesus did not come to save us from one part of sin, but from all of sin.

I.
Jesus came to save us from the defilement of sin. Sin is often pictures in Scripture as a sort of defilement. Isaiah says our sinful hypocrisy is like filthy rags. Throughout the book of the law, God emphasized to the Jews the importance of physical cleanliness and this was, in part, to give them a picture of moral cleanliness.

There are two forms to this defilement of sin from which Jesus came to save us. First there was legal defilement. Since all have sinned, all stand defiled in the eyes of the law. Guilt was brought on us by sin. When a person is brought into court and tried for a crime and the verdict comes against them, from that point they are considered guilty. A punishment of some kind will probably follow, but even if they were let free, they would still be seen as guilty in the eyes of the law. They have become defiled. For the rest of their life, that guilt hangs over them. We sometimes confuse guilt with a certain feeling (which is technically the perception of guilt, a perception which may or may not be accurate in any given case), but guilt is a fact. Guilt is a recognition that wrong has been done. Guilt, when it exists, cannot be ignored without denying reality. As long as we had sinned, there was no way to simply sweep that under the carpet.

But legal defilement included more than just guilt. Alienation was brought on us by sin. By sinning, the human race had officially separated itself from God. We had offered out Declaration of Independence from His law. And while God did not leave us alone after that, we could not stand in the same relation after that. We had placed ourselves on the outside of the law, and that made us outlaws.

But though there was a legal aspect to sin, sin is not merely a legal fiction or even merely a legal reality. Sin is a personal problem. And so there was also personal defilement. Humanity lost its protection of holiness. When man first was created, He was created with a holy nature, for He was created in the image of God. This holiness was a positive quality of man's soul before he fell. Holiness and sin cannot exist at the same time. So, as long as man was holy, he did not have to fear sin. Holiness gave man the power to conquer over sin. But when man sinned, he lost this. The original protection of holiness was destroyed.

This led the way for the next for further personal defilement. When man sinned, it brought an actual pollution into his soul. Solomon wrote of sin: "Can a man take fire in his bosom, and his clothes not be burned?" (Proverbs 6:27) The answer, of course, is no--no one can sin without facing the consequence. You cannot play in the dirt without getting dirty. You cannot sin without becoming sinful.

This legal and personal defilement was a definite, objective fact. There is no use saying God should just ignore the fact and declare that everything was all right. The one thing God cannot do is to ignore or contradict reality, for to do so would be to deny Himself. He could never pretend that dirty was clean or that black was white. What He could do is what He did--come to earth and die for us so that, in Him, we could become clean. In coming to saving us from sin, He saved us from the defilement of sin--both from the objective fact of legal guilt and from the equally objective fact of personal corruption.

II.
Jesus also came to save us from the defects of sin. The dictionary defines a defect as: "Want or absence of something necessary or useful towards perfection; fault; imperfection." Because of man's sin, humanity now has a want or absence of many things necessary and useful. Just as a piece of machinery that does not work properly is defective, so the whole human race is defective, for we do not work according to God's original plan for us.

There are several different kinds of defects. There are moral defects. Moral, of course, refers to that which has to do with good and evil or right and wrong. Because of sin, man has moral defects. We are now inclined to evil. No has to be taught to do wrong.  In all people there is something that drives people to commit sin. Paul explains why it is that no one can live a holy life apart from God's power: "What I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I... for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me." (Romans 7:15, 18-21) We have no power, in ourselves, to do good.

Paul describes us as "dead in trespasses and sins" before we become Christians. (Ephesians 2:1) A dead person is powerless to do anything. Man--as a sinner--is utterly unable to do anything to help himself. We can do nothing but cast ourselves on Jesus. Of course, because God is at work even in the hearts of sinners, it is possible for sinners to know and even to do good--sometimes to do acts of goodness which put even Christians to shame. But because this power comes from God and they are in a state of alienation from God, this can only be something transient and ultimately temporary. Mankind does not have the power to be good--to be good fully, completely, and finally--because of the moral defect given our race by sin. For there to be any salvation, these things would have to be changed. And that is what Jesus came to do--to save us from the moral defects of sin.

But the moral defects, though the most serious, were not the only defects that sin brought. There were also non-moral defects. These do not directly relate to right or wrong, and so are not sinful. But they were brought about by sin. And Christ came to save us from them also, though the full extent of salvation with these things will not come until we reach Heaven.

There are physical defects. Disease and infirmities came into the world because of man's sin. Because God is the source of all life and strength, if man had not separated himself from God, he would have had perfect and eternal life. But not only did sin destroy our physical perfection, but it also brought about emotional defects. Our emotions are closely related to our physical state, and so it is no wonder that when one fell, the other would also. Our emotions have also been damaged by sin. The sins we commit and as well as the wrongs done to us by others leave scars on our emotional being. These pains go deep down into the soul and cannot be easily removed. And, besides all this, sin also gave us intellectual defects. Adam was created with a perfect mind--not that he knew everything, but he did have perfect understand with what he did know. As God is the source of all reason and understanding and as man stood in a perfect relationship with God, this is not hard to understand. But when man sinned, he lost the perfection of his mind. And Jesus came to save us from all these defects, even though they are only secondary results of sin. We see some signs of this redemption even in this life--such as when a person receives healing through the prayers of the saints or by turning to a life or righteousness or when a person finds renewal of their emotions by turning to Jesus or when someone's mind is given new understanding of the world by reading the Bible. However, in all these, the final restoration will not take place until we have passed into the next life. God has prepared a place where all things will be made knew and everything damaged by sin will be eternally repaired.

But these non-moral defects were not the only result of sin that Jesus came to save us from. There were also social defects. God did create man to be an isolated creation, but a family. We were to live in relationship one with another. However, when sin entered into the world, those relationships were corrupted. Now, remnants of man's interdependent relationships remain, but they are twisted and often evil. In this world, more often than not the deepest pain is caused by those closest to us. When man made sin the center of his life rather than God, he undermined the foundation of all his other relationships. Now we have lost our reference point to relate to others, and so our relationships cause more problems than they solve. Oscar Wilde was a man who knew the power of sin firsthand and he wrote: "Yet each man kills the thing he loves/By each let this be heard,/Some do it with a bitter look,/Some with a flattering word,/The coward does it with a kiss,/The brave man with a sword!" It is only through Christ that we can regain our relationships with one another. It is no coincidence that when Paul addresses the question of husbands and wives in Ephesians 5 he relates it to Jesus. Only through Jesus can our relationships with one another be repaired; it is only by making God the center of our lives that everything else falls into place. The unconditional love which God kindles in our hearts that allows us to live in peace with one another. We can follow peace with all men only because we also follow holiness without which no man shall see the Lord.

Because of sin, nothing in this world is quite the way it is supposed to be. The world is nothing now but a ruin of what it once was, of what it could have been. A poem comments that the saddest words are: "It might have been" and that is, in one sense, the caption that must go under every picture in this world. But because Jesus came--because of His death and resurrection--we can cross out that caption and write: "It still may be." The defects of sin can--will--be removed and corrected.

III.
Finally, Jesus came to save us from the destiny of sin. Sin, like everything in life, has certain consequences. It is impossible separate sin from the things to which it leads--they are intrinsically linked together. God warned Adam and Eve that if they sinned "thou shalt surely die." (Genesis 2:17) Paul reiterates this thought when he says: "The wages of sin is death." (Romans 6:23) Death is the only possible result of sin, just as the only possible result of falling in the water is getting wet. Death, here, means both physical death and the eternal death which would have followed it had Jesus not come. Physical death came into the world only as a result of man's sin and will be removed when Jesus completes His new creation.

Death includes several aspects. First, death is separation. In death, there is the separation from man. This is perhaps the most painful aspect of death as we know it. To die is to be separated from this world. Death is the dividing veil which falls, in the end, between each person and all others. Without the hope that salvation gives us, this separation would be never ending. But the separation that sin brings is worse even than this. There is the separation from God. To have lost God, is to lose all. But to sin is to turn away from God. Therefore, the ultimately consequence of sin is to lose God and, in that, to lose everything. Death is separation from God, for God is life. Man was made for fellowship with God, but sin and death bring the termination of any hope of that fellowship. Olin Curtis, the great theologian of Methodism, wrote: 'Bodily death... takes this... sinner, wrenches him out of the protective physical scene, breaks him off from his race, flings him into absolute isolation, and compels him to inhabit his own selfish fragment of being. Death says to the sinner, "You would not obey God, you would not love your fellow men, you lived for self, you wanted only self -- THEN TAKE IT!"' (The Christian Faith, Chapter 20)

But death is not only separation; death is the result of wrath.  God's wrath is against all evil. Paul wrote: "The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness." (Romans 1:18)  Because God is perfectly holy, He cannot be glad to see anything that is not holy. Because God is good, He hates evil. It is impossible that God could look with pleasure or indifference on the presence of sin. Whenever we see some flagrant act of cruelty or injustice, an impulse of anger naturally rises against those who perpetrate it--this is but an echo of the wrath of God. But our eyes are so blurred that we can only see sin in its worst aspects. God, with perfect vision, sees sin in its root as well as its fruit, sees the essential evil in every act and occasion of sin--and His wrath is against it. If we were eternally evil, than God's wrath would be eternally against us.Sin clings to the soul of man until the two are eternally inseparable. As God hates sin then, in the end, He cannot help but hate sinners, once any hope of separating the two is past. The wrath of God, then, would be eternally settled both on the sin and the sinner.

And there is, moreover, a third aspect of the death--death is corruption. We refer to corruption with death as in the decay of the body in the tomb. But worse than this corruption is the decay of the soul. The end of sinners is referred to as destruction. Not that they cease to exist for, in the final analysis, nothing ever ceases to exist.  This is the death that never dies. Corruption is the antitheses of all God's plan. To be a lost soul is to be the complete opposite of God's intention for your soul. Everything that God meant for man to be is lost in that eternal corruption. Corruption is the final, irreparable end of evil. Every path of sin must, in the end, lead to this. It is the final conclusion of the story of sin.

This death--this separation, this wrath, this corruption--this is all man would have to look for if it were not for Jesus. But Jesus came to save from these things. He came to save us from sin. There is no more separation, for Christ comes to reconcile us to God and make us forever part of His family; there is no more wrath, for Christ comes to erase our sins so that they are no more; there is no more corruption, for Christ came to bring healing and restoration. He told Martha: "I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die." (John 11:25-26) In the final world Christ has promised, “there shall be no more death.” (Revelation 21:4)

Christ came to be a Savior; He came to save us from sin, from the defilement of sin, the defects of sin, and the destiny of sin. As we see the world now, the picture seems dark. On every hand we see clearly all the results of sin. But into this darkness has come a light, and like the trumpet of victory, the call of the gospel cuts through the noise of strife and suffering. Whatever our problem, we know that Jesus came to save us--for all problems (ultimately) are caused by sin and so all problems (ultimately) are met by Christ, who came to save us from sin. This is the triumphant call of Christmas, a call of salvation and deliverance.

Good Christian men, rejoice
With heart, and soul, and voice:
Now ye need not fear the grave:
Peace! Peace!
Jesus Christ was born to save!
Calls you one and calls you all,
To gain His everlasting hall:
Christ was born to save!
Christ was born to save!

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