The salvation of God in the Incarnation
With this final article in my series on the beauty of Jesus in the Incarnation, I want to focus on the salvation of God in the Incarnation. More than presenting you with dry theological facts or systematic theology, I am hoping to connect you with the epic narrative that God has been writing since the dawn of time. God’s story of salvation, redemption, and restoration is the human story, and He invites us to listen, watch, and participate as He unfolds it before us.
Scholars have written extensively on how Jesus has saved us from the power of sin through His birth, life, death, and resurrection. The glory of having our sins washed away by the blood that speaks better than that of Abel cannot be overemphasized. The helpless Child Mary held in her arms that cold winter night would bleed and die the death of a criminal before her eyes in just a few short decades, piercing her own soul (Luke 2:35). But the blood that flowed out of Jesus’ marred frame would be the ultimate and final cleansing agent for the sins of Israel and all mankind if they chose to acknowledge Him as Messiah and worship Him as Lord.
An angel appeared to Joseph in a dream before Jesus was born, saying:
“And she [Mary] will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins.”
(Matthew 1:21 NKJV)
Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and his descendants were the people whom God had chosen and ordained to teach all of the nations about the LORD. Their continued sin, disobedience, and rebellion kept them from truly knowing their King and Maker and mediating that knowledge to the nations. But the Author of the story was not dismayed or discouraged. Because of God’s mercy and faithfulness to His covenants with the fathers, He provided a better covenant, better promises, and a superior sacrifice to enable Jacob’s descendants to walk out their calling and come into fellowship with their God. Though only a small remnant of Jews today acknowledge Jesus as their Messiah and worship Him as the LORD, the apostle Paul describes the coming day of the entire nation’s acceptance into the family of God as being like “life from the dead” (Romans 11:15)!
As I alluded to in my previous post on the mercy of God in the Incarnation, the full idea of biblical salvation involves so much more than saving men from their sins. Sin was sufficiently dealt with when God substituted His Son’s death for ours. Sin kept us from right relationship with God, but through repentance and the shed blood of Jesus we now have been reconciled to God. The story of restoration does not end with a “blessed”, forgiven human race in Heaven worshipping with a harp on a cloud for eternity, nor does it end with Jesus reigning on a throne in Heaven. We’ve lost focus on the big picture of redemption and tend to view salvation and the Incarnation very myopically.
For the Jew in Jesus’ day, the word “salvation” did not evoke thoughts primarily of a “spiritual” deliverance as that word does for the typical Western believer today. From the days of Neubchadnezzar and Babylon, Israel has been under the oppression of wicked rulers and empires. The prophets had long promised a political deliverer from David’s lineage that would overthrow the oppressive kingdoms and regimes and set Israel in its promised place as chief among the nations.
Around the first century, Jewish expectation of a political deliverer, their Messiah, had swelled and was ripe. Zacharias’ prophecy at the birth of John the Baptist gives us some insight into what the soon coming Messiah would accomplish:
“And has raised up a horn of salvation for us In the house of His servant David, as He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets, who have been since the world began, that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us, to give knowledge of salvation to His people by the remission of their sins, through the tender mercy of our God, with which the Dayspring from on high has visited us; to give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
(Luke 1:69-71, 77-79 NKJV)
The prophets, psalms, and apostles spoke often of the political deliverance and kingdom of the Messiah:
“For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder... Of the increase of His government and peace There will be no end, Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, To order it and establish it with judgment and justice…”
(Isaiah 9:6-7 NKJV)
“Give the king Your judgments, O God, And Your righteousness to the king’s Son. He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, And from the River to the ends of the earth. Yes, all kings shall fall down before Him; All nations shall serve Him.”
(Psalms 72:1, 8, 11 NKJV)
“Then the seventh angel sounded: And there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ [Messiah], and He shall reign forever and ever!””
(Revelation 11:15 NKJV)
This messianic hope has not been redefined as a “spiritual” promise for a “spiritual Israel”, nor has God somehow dramatically changed the story so that these (and many, many other) passages somehow find their fulfillment in the first coming of Jesus. The hope of mankind is that the Babe born in lowliness would rule all of the nations as King from Jerusalem (Zechariah 8:3; Psalms 2:4; Zechariah 2:10-12; Isaiah 16:5). Jesus, the LORD, will be the only One exalted in that day as His power, meekness, mercy, and covenantal love is exhibited for all of the nations to see and savor.
The story of Israel and Jesus’ messianic kingdom is only the major subplot of the greater story of redemption and restoration. The full story of biblical “salvation” is not only internal (saved from sin and its power), external (saved from the enemy of physical death by the resurrection), and political (Israel delivered from her enemies with the LORD as their King, who would ultimately rule all of the nations from Jerusalem), but it is also cosmological (the heavens and the earth delivered from its bondage to decay and corruption and cleansed from all unrighteousness).
Even as we’re coming to a more complete definition of salvation, we still run the risk of viewing it in a vacuum. We must not just ask what we will be saved from, but why will we be saved? More importantly, who is saving us and what motivates Him to do so? We must ask these questions, because the answers to them tell us about a Person.
To briefly answer those questions, we must look at the beginning of the story. At the dawn of time when the stars were young, God dwelt with man on the earth in unhindered fellowship. Everything that He had created he called “very good”. Adam was placed in a garden sanctuary to minister to God and to enjoy communion and companionship with Him. This is not a fairy tale or just a good story to tell in Sunday school class. It’s our history.
But the fellowship that God and man enjoyed was severed because of man’s disobedience. According to Jewish tradition, that dreadful day in the garden sent Adam and Eve into deep mourning for 7 days. Would God be gracious and restore that which was lost? Indeed, there was hope. In Genesis 3:15, God spoke of a “seed” or descendant of Eve who would restore the fellowship between God and man that was lost at the fall. God did not abandon man and the rest of His creation but had a perfect plan to fix it and restore it to its original glory.
This quote by Asher Intrater, a prominent messianic Jew, brings the clarity and puts the whole story into the light:
The Bible is not only consistent from beginning to end, it has a perfect symmetry. The last 3 chapters of Revelation mirror the first 3 of Genesis. At the beginning of Genesis we find the creation, the planting of the Garden of Eden, the marriage of Adam and Eve, and the victory of the serpent. At the end of Revelation, we find the new creation, the restoration of the Garden of Eden, the marriage of Yeshua and His bride, and the defeat of the serpent. In Genesis 3 man sins. In Revelation 20 (3rd from the end), sin comes to its final judgment. [Revelation 20 explains that the serpent of Genesis 3 was actually Satan.] No engineer, architect or contractor in his right mind would ever lay the first brick or dig the first shovel until every last screw, wire and detail of the building were already planned out in the written blueprint. Before God ever said, ‘Let there be light’, He already had planned the ending of the book of Revelation.”
- Asher Intrater, “Revive Israel Update”, July 5, 2009
Part of the reason for all of the confusion about the end of God’s epic story is because we’ve lost our sense of original destiny and purpose. The salvation promised to us is a restoration of the original glory that existed before the fall. The apostle Peter said that the prophets have spoken of this restoration from the very beginning:
“Repent… that [God] may send Jesus Christ [the Messiah, the promised “seed” of Genesis 3:15], who was preached to you before, whom heaven must receive until the times of restoration of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began.”
(Acts 3:20-21 NKJV)
This restoration was to happen through the Christ (the Messiah), whom Jesus had shown Himself to be. On the road to Emmaus, Jesus brought two disciples through a guided tour of all of the scriptures concerning Himself.
“Then He said to them, “These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me.” And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures.”
(Luke 24:44-45 NKJV)
More than a renewed cosmos, the good news of salvation and redemption is all about restored dwelling with a Person. Through the Incarnation, we now know that One as we see Him in the face of Jesus of Nazareth. We were created with one purpose: to enjoy making much of Him forever. We exist for His glory. This is why salvation was promised, this is why God took on flesh in the person of Jesus, this is why He will return to set up a kingdom and reign from Jerusalem. God set up every detail of the narrative with this end-goal in mind.
Do we see Jesus and eternal fellowship with Him as the end-goal of every single hope and dream we have?
Studying theology and Jesus’ life is absolutely necessary and helpful, but will only be fruitful when the Holy Spirit makes Him real to us. We must, through diligent prayer and study, ask Him to help us overcome the familiarity we have with the story of Jesus’ birth and life. What was breathtaking to the saints of old has become a common, quickly dismissed scene that covers a few lawns for a couple of weeks in December. My prayer is that this series of posts has caused you to behold Christ in His humanity in a fresh way, and that it has inflamed your heart with love for Him and His story.
In riches or poverty, in sickness or health, in abundance or in lack, may the Lord bless you abundantly with revelation of Jesus this Christmas. For He is more than just “the reason for the season” – He is the goal of all of our hopes and dreams.
We miss You, Jesus. Come back.