Born to Save
By David Feddes
Joseph was upset. He was engaged to be married, but it was all falling apart. His fiancé was pregnant, and Joseph knew he was not the father. How could his beloved Mary betray him by getting pregnant with another man after she had promised herself to Joseph? It was a terrible blow, and Joseph decided he must call off the wedding and end the relationship. Still, Joseph had too much character to be cruel, so he planned to break up quietly, without disgracing Mary in public.
Joseph made his plans, but before he could carry them out, “an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘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’” (Matthew 1:20). Could it be? Could Mary be a virgin and yet be pregnant? Could the baby really be from the Holy Spirit? Yes, Joseph was convinced. He believed the angel’s message of where Mary’s baby really came from.
But why had this miracle baby come into Mary’s womb? Who was this baby? The angel answered that question as well. He said to Joseph, “[Mary] will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). The name Jesus was not just a name that sounded cute to Joseph and Mary. The name Jesus means “the Lord saves.” Jesus was born to save.
Savoring Each Word
When the angel said, “He will save his people from their sins,” he stated in one sentence why the baby Jesus came into the world. No sentence in the whole Bible explains the meaning of Christmas more clearly. We need that statement to sink in, savoring each word and taking it to heart.
“HE will save his people from their sins.” He, and he alone can save. None of us can save ourselves. Jesus must do it for us. The name Jesus doesn’t mean, “You can save yourself.” The name Jesus doesn’t mean, “There are many saviors.” The name Jesus means, “The Lord saves.” “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). That’s what it means to say, “HE will save his people from their sins.”
Highlighting the next word–“He WILL save his people from their sins.” It’s absolutely certain. The angel didn’t say “he might save” or “he will try to save.” The angel said he WILL save. Jesus’ coming wasn’t a matter of fond wishes or hopes that something good might happen; Jesus was born with a mission that was sure to be accomplished. God’s power would make sure of it.
The next word is supremely important: “He will SAVE.” Jesus wasn’t born just so that people could think about cute babies at Christmastime; he was born to save. Jesus wasn’t born just to teach good things and make people feel better; he was born to save. Jesus wasn’t born just to give a bit of help and provide the extra boost we might need to improve ourselves; he was born to save. Jesus came into the world to rescue from something terrible and to give something wonderful. He will SAVE.
Whom will he save? He will save HIS PEOPLE. That’s the next thing that must sink in. Jesus will not save each and every person on earth; he will save his people. Salvation is not an automatic thing for everybody. Jesus will save you only if you are among his chosen people who belong to him and look to him in faith. You must believe in the Lord Jesus in order to receive salvation. Jesus told some people who rejected him, “You do not believe because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me” (John 10:26-27). Jesus was not born to save those who stubbornly remain in rebellion and unbelief. He was born to save HIS PEOPLE.
And what was he born to save them from? FROM THEIR SINS! He didn’t come just to save us from enemies who attack us, though he will indeed save us from Satan and from all God’s enemies. He didn’t just come to save us from problems and poverty and sickness and trouble, though he will do that too. But the first and most basic thing, the heart of salvation, is that Jesus saves his people FROM THEIR SINS. Our greatest need is not to be saved from Satan or human oppressors or other problems. What you and I need most is to be saved from our own sins.
When the angel told Joseph that Mary was still a virgin and was pregnant with a miracle child, it was amazing good news. And the news got even better when the angel told Joseph, “He will save his people from their sins.”
The Sinless Son
When Jesus was born to save, he was not born by the usual human process of reproduction. Jesus was born of a virgin. His mother Mary became pregnant through a miracle of the Holy Spirit. Some people think this was impossible. They say the only reason people in earlier times believed in the virgin birth of Jesus was that they lived in a less scientific, more gullible time. But Joseph didn’t need to be a biology professor to know where babies come from. He figured that if Mary was pregnant, she must have been unfaithful to him. Joseph believed the miracle only after an angel gave him a message straight from God. Joseph didn’t believe the virgin birth because he was gullible. He believed the virgin birth because it happened!
The angel who spoke to Joseph didn’t offer many details about how a child began growing in Mary’s womb. The angel’s explanation was short and simple: “What is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 1:20). That’s all we know of how the miraculous conception of Jesus took place, and that’s all we need to know–the Holy Spirit made it happen. The Holy Spirit somehow formed a tiny embryo in the womb of the blessed virgin. Without any earthly father, a baby began to grow. We don’t know how the Spirit did it, but he did it. Nothing is impossible for the Spirit of Almighty God.
But why did the Spirit form this baby through a direct miracle? Why couldn’t Jesus have been conceived the way other babies are conceived? Because this baby would save his people from their sins. To save others from sin, Jesus had to be sinless himself, and that couldn’t happen if he inherited a sinful nature from his parents.
Sin isn’t just something we do; it’s deeply ingrained in who we are. What King David once wrote of himself is true of everybody: “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5). This doesn’t mean that sex and conception are sinful, but it does mean that parents are sinful, and that sinful parents produce sinful children. Babies conceived by sinful parents are born sinful, with evil tendencies just waiting to come out and show themselves.
In order to save us, Jesus had to be one of us, but he also had to be different. He had to have a human nature but not a sinful nature. If he had been conceived through the union of two sinful parents, he would have inherited a sinful nature from them. So Jesus had to be formed in a completely different way.
Another reason Jesus had to be conceived through a miracle was that he was God taking on a human nature. That was so unique and stupendous that it couldn’t happen through ordinary human reproduction. When the Holy Spirit formed the baby Jesus in Mary’s womb, the Spirit didn’t just form a perfectly sinless human baby. He did something even more amazing. He made a baby who was perfectly human and perfectly divine. The Holy Spirit somehow took the being of God the Son, the second divine Person of the Holy Trinity, who existed with the Father and the Spirit before the creation of the world and from all eternity, and he united that eternal Son of God with the cells, organs, and personality of a developing unborn infant. He joined eternal deity to fragile humanity to produce someone who is both God and man. The Bible says, “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet [Isaiah 700 years earlier]: ‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’—which means, ‘God with us’ (Matthew 1:23). Jesus wasn’t conceived and born as just another baby; he was conceived and born as God with us.
The virgin birth of Jesus is a basic truth of the Christian faith, and it’s essential to Jesus’ mission of saving people. Unless Jesus is sinless, he cannot save. Unless Jesus is God with us, he cannot save. Jesus’ sinless human nature and his glorious divine nature both require virgin birth.
Some people deny the virgin birth. Even some church leaders deny the virgin birth. To pick one grievous example, Methodist bishop Joseph Sprague says that Jesus’ “conception and birth [occurred] through the natural processes of procreation.” Sprague speaks of “the myth of the virgin birth” and says, “A theological myth … is not false presentation, but a valid and quite persuasive literary device.” This false teacher is so accustomed to making up myths that he says a myth isn’t really false just because it’s not true!
Somehow I don’t think Joseph would have taken Mary as his wife if the angel had told him, “The virgin birth is a ‘literary device.’ Your fiancé is pregnant ‘through the natural processes of procreation.’” Joseph didn’t marry a literary device; he married a virgin. Mary’s baby was more than just a human baby; he was also the Son of God.
When people deny the virgin birth, they usually end up denying other basic truths about Jesus and his salvation. Bishop Sprague denies that Jesus has always been the divine Son of God. Sprague says that Jesus was not born divine but that his divinity was a quality he got later. The bishop says Jesus “is not the only way to salvation.” He says that after Jesus died, his body did not return to life but that Jesus’ resurrection is “a metaphorical symbolic expression of truth”–another case of the bishop saying that even though something isn’t true, it’s not false either. What doubletalk!
A pastor in a communist country was persecuted for proclaiming Christ. When he heard that some seminary professors in free countries were saying that the resurrection of Jesus was a nice metaphor and a helpful literary device, the pastor responded that he would never put his life on the line for a metaphor. He would suffer and die only for truth. He kept trusting and preaching the real Lord Jesus who really was born of a virgin and really did rise from the dead.
Bishop Sprague is a deceiver and a disgrace to the church that pays his salary, but in his own wicked way, he shows how closely the whole Christian gospel is tied to the virgin birth of Jesus. Jesus’ identity as God with us, his mission as the only Savior, his atoning death as the only payment for sin, and his resurrection victory over death can’t be separated from his virgin conception and birth. Those who reject the virgin birth reject much else, but those who accept the virgin birth can rejoice in the other marvels that are connected to it. The sinless Son of God was born of a virgin to save his people from their sins.
Saved From Original Sin
Jesus was born to save. Let’s get specific about this and look at some aspects of sin from which Jesus saves. Before we talk about the problems with what we do, let’s first talk about the problem of what we are. Let’s talk about original sin, the sinful nature we’re born with as a legacy going all the way back to our first parents, Adam and Eve.
Original sin is plainly taught in the Bible and in our own experience. Babies don’t need to be taught how to be self-centered. Toddlers don’t need lessons on how to scream “Mine!” Children have an amazing ability to fight and throw tantrums without any training at all. Do I sound like I despise children? Well, I love children very much and have a large family, and I know that little ones have lots of charm and are precious creations of God. Even so, original sin is too obvious to deny. Original sin isn’t just something I see in my children or in others. It’s in me and always has been. I need to be saved from original sin, and so do you.
It’s wonderful news, then, that on Christmas a baby was born without original sin and that this baby came to save his people from the sin nature we were born with. Although we are born of Adam into a sinful race, we can be born of God. The Bible says, “To those who received him, he gave the right be called children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God” (John 1:12-13). Just as Jesus did not enter Mary’s womb by natural means but by supernatural means, so Christ does not enter our hearts by natural means but by a supernatural rebirth. The new birth, which the Bible also calls regeneration or being born again, creates new life in you. This life of God’s Holy Spirit saves you from the death and decay of the old sin nature, which all people (except Jesus) have inherited from parents. That’s a vital part of what the angel meant when he said of baby Jesus, “He will save his people from their sins.”
“Wilt Thou Forgive?”
Jesus also saves believers from the guilt and the grip of particular sins we commit. Poet and preacher John Donne, famous for such lines as “No man is an island,” wrote one of his greatest poems out of a deep desire for forgiveness. In Donne’s “Hymn to God the Father,” he wrote of how he had begun in original sin, which was truly his own even though it was passed on from his parents before him. Would God forgive that sinful nature? And even if God forgave that, what about the sinful deeds Donne deplored but kept doing? Would God forgive besetting sins? And even if God forgave those, what about the sins that led other people to sin? Would God forgive sins that corrupted others? And even if God forgave those, what about sins that stopped recently but were wallowed in for twenty years and more? Would God forgive long-time sins? And even if God forgave those, what about the sinful fear that when life ends, God will turn his face away? Would God forgive such doubts? The list goes on and on. Is there ever an end, a way for God to complete the work of forgiving and take care of everything once and for all? Here’s what John Donne says in “Hymn to God the Father”:
Wilt Thou forgive that sin where I begun,
Which was my sin, though it were done before?
Wilt Thou forgive that sin through which I run,
And do run still, though still I do deplore?
When Thou hast done, Thou hast not done;
For I have more.
Wilt Thou forgive that sin which I have won
Others to sin, and made my sins their door?
Wilt Thou forgive that sin which I did shun
A year or two, but wallow’d in a score?
When Thou hast done, Thou hast not done;
For I have more.
I have a sin of fear, that when I’ve spun
My last thread, I shall perish on the shore;
But swear by Thyself that at my death Thy Son
Shall shine as He shines now and heretofore:
And having done that, Thou hast done;
I fear no more.
Yes, in the shining of God’s Son, Jesus, God gives his love, forgiveness, and acceptance.
Do you feel trapped by who you are and by the sinful tendencies you were born with? Jesus was born to save from original sin. Do you feel frustrated by bad things you hate but can’t seem to stop doing? Jesus was born to save from besetting, chronic sins. Do you feel horrible about other lives you’ve corrupted or crushed? Jesus was born to save from sins which have been contagious and deadly. Are you haunted by sins that you recently stopped doing but that were so serious or were committed for so many years that the guilt won’t go away? Jesus was born to save from those things too. Are you weighed down by sinful doubts about God’s grace? Jesus was born to save his people from sins of doubt and unbelief.
It may sound impossible that Jesus would save from so much sin. But is it any more impossible than a virgin getting pregnant? Is it any more impossible than God becoming one of us? As the angel Gabriel told Mary, “Nothing is impossible with God” (Luke 1:37). The virgin birth of the Son of God is such a huge miracle that just about anything else is possible as well. So believe in Jesus. Trust him to save you from you sins. Ask him to take away your guilt, to spare you from punishment, and to set you free from sin’s power.
The baby Jesus grew up and was perfectly sinless all his life. He took on himself the sins of the world and died a horrible death in order to pay the penalty we deserve. Jesus rose from the dead and opened the way to eternal life. Jesus was born to save, he lived to save, he died to save, he rose again to save, he reigns to save, he sends his Holy Spirit to save his people and make them his own, and he is coming again to bring his salvation to completion. Believe in him, and be saved.
Saved For What?
As we celebrate that Jesus was born to save us from sin, let’s also celebrate what he came to save us for: Jesus was born to save us for fellowship with God, for becoming holy like God, and for reigning with God over the creation. Jesus was born to save so that we might be born again to reign with him. The Lord went from the throne of the universe to the womb of a woman so that people who started in the wombs of their mothers could be exalted to thrones. God became like us that we might become like God. So as we rejoice that the Son of God became like us, let’s seek to become like him: like him in wisdom, goodness, and love, first of all, and then like him in glory and authority as we reign with him.
By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.