We noticed in the first post in this series that the angel (messenger) brought good news for all people. Today we will explore the content of that news. We want to understand it because it will be beneficial to us, but it is all the more important that we understand it clear since we, too, are “messengers” of this good news.
In short, the content of the good news the angel brought is that “a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord” (Luke 2:11, NIV). Three of these words have special significance.
First is “Savior.” A savior is a deliverer. He delivers or rescues people from trouble or danger. There is indeed much trouble and danger in the world, and we are painfully aware of it. Personally, I am especially annoyed by the trouble and aggravation other people sometimes bring on me through their selfishness, rudeness, pride, manipulation, and hatred. I am also increasingly troubled by the illnesses, diseases, and even death that encroach upon us. All these things are results and consequences of the mess that humanity has made of the world.
What I am not always so aware of is my own personal contribution to the trouble and mess in the world. In my more humble moments, though, I realize that my own “few” pieces of “spiritual litter” contribute to the collective pile of “spiritual pollution” in the world just as much as everyone else’s. My own “occasional” and “minor” fits of selfishness, pride, jealousy, and insensitivity have contributed to this being a “crooked generation” (Acts 2:40). In other words, in my better moments, I realize that first and foremost I need to be saved from my own sins (cf. Matthew 1:21).
This includes being saved from the consequences of my sins in the future. Sin refers to the thoughts, feelings, attitudes, words and deeds that go against the ways of God. Scripture is clear that God disapproves of these things and that we are accountable to him because of them. Though we may be uncomfortable with the idea of a final judgment and though this has sometimes been over-emphasized, both the Bible in general and Jesus in particular speak about it clearly (Matthew 13:47-50; 22:1-14; 25:14-30, 31-46). I need to be saved from condemnation and the righteous wrath of God in the future judgment.
The good news is the angel brought is that there is a Savior who can deliver us from this. As the story unfolds, we learn that Jesus made atonement for our sins (Romans 3:25; Hebrews 2:17) by dying for us (Romans 5:8; 1 Corinthians 15:3). Because of this we can be forgiven for our sins and saved from God’s holy justice. Although final and full salvation still lies in the future (Hebrews 9:28; 1 Peter 1:5), Christ can replace our fear of judgment with a solid hope of eternal life with God in heaven (Colossians 1:5; Titus 1:2). This is magnificent news indeed and is the occasion of “great joy” (Luke 2:10).
We need to be careful, though, not to limit salvation merely to being forgiven and justified by God so that we get to go to heaven instead being condemned to hell. As important and wonderful as this aspect of salvation is, we need to recognize that both the danger we face and the salvation Christ offers are broader than that. Perhaps the clearest way to state this is to say that we need to be saved not only from the guilt, condemnation, and judgment of sin in the future but also from the power and effect of sin in our lives in the present.
God’s purpose in Christ is not the same as Police Courtesy Cards. These cards, commonly called “get out of jail free cards,” are issued to officers by the Police Benevolent Association, and the officers pass them on to their friends. They are essentially a request for leniency. When an officer pulls you over for a minor infraction, and you present them a courtesy card, the message is “go easy on this guy—he’s a friend of a cop.”
Notice that the purpose of the cards is not to make you a safer driver or more law-abiding citizen. In fact, if someone is well stocked with the courtesy cards, there’s a good chance they will become a worse driver because they assume there won’t be any consequences for how they drive. Do you think this is what God intended to do for us in Christ? Is he merely issuing us spiritual courtesy cards that we can use through prayer to avoid consequences whenever we fall short of his will? As Paul once put it, is God wanting us to continue in sin so that grace may increase (Romans 6:1-2)? Or is his purpose for us broader than this?
This illustration reminds us that we must not focus in on the part of salvation that seems most beneficial to us (forgiveness) to the neglect of its other key aspects. Biblically, having a savior includes forgiveness, justification, and hope, but also much more! A concordance search of “Savior” in the Scriptures shows that the Savior intends to bring us …
… not only forgiveness but also repentance—a new outlook, attitude and disposition (Acts 5:31)
… to a knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:3-4)
… training to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives, while we wait for our savior to appear again (Titus 2:11-14). It also includes being redeemed from all lawlessness and purified as a people who belong to him and are zealous to do good works.
… the washing or rebirth and renewal of the Holy Spirit so that we devote ourselves to good works (Titus 3:4-8). It also leads us to avoid foolish, unprofitable, and worthless quarrels and controversies that cause division (vv. 9-11).
… an escape from the defilements of the world (2 Peter 2:20; cf. Acts 2:40).
All these passages specifically refer to our “Savior” and then mention a broad range of things he brings to pass—repentance, knowing the truth, renouncing sin and living right, being eager to do good, being washed and renewed, avoiding quarrels and controversies, and escaping the defilements of the world. He does not merely save us from the guilt and punishment of sin but also from its destructive power in our lives. If we were to also trace the passages that use the verb “save” and the noun “salvation,” we would see even more aspects of the danger that threatens us and the deliverance God intends for us. In words of Paul in Romans 8:28-30, God’s purpose for us in Christ includes not only justifying us but also conforming us to the image of his Son. His purpose is not merely to save us from judgment but also for us to “grow up in your salvation” (1 Peter 2:1-3) and “work out your salvation” (Philippians 2:12-13).
Recognizing that salvation includes deliverance from the power and practice of sin does not mean we are earning or accomplishing it on our own. This comprehensive salvation is still based on and grows out of what God’s gracious work for us in Christ. The passages cited are not telling us that it is up to us to “finish up” our salvation. They are simply helping us understand that the good news of a Savior includes more than we often think. Our Savior wants to deliver us from the guilt of sin but also from its power in our lives. If we cooperate with God’s will and work in our lives, he will increasingly bring this to pass (2 Corinthians 3:17-18; 1 Thessalonians 5:23). Then, when he comes again, our transformation will be completed (1 John 3:1-3).
I’ll touch on the other two key words in the angel’s message more briefly. The angel said that our Savior is “the Messiah, the Lord” (Luke 2:11). Both “Messiah” (Hebrew) and “Christ” (Greek) mean “anointed one.” The reference is to pouring or smearing olive oil on someone’s head when they became king (1 Samuel 10:1; 15:1, 17). Both of these important words are telling us that God not only sent us a Savior but also a King.
The third word, “Lord,” likewise points to Jesus’ great authority. This word is used to refer to God (Matthew 11:25), to masters of slaves (Colossians 3:22), and to the emperor of the Roman empire (Acts 25:26). That last, royal usage goes hand in hand with the words Christ and Messiah.
Significantly, when Peter preached the good news for the first time, he announced the same thing the angel did in Luke 2—that Jesus is both “Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36). Not just anyone can bring a comprehensive salvation to people who have made such a terrible mess of things, been deceived and captured by a Tyrant, and are destroying themselves. Rather, it takes a powerful King to rescue them. That God has sent Someone to do this is fantastic news!
One more thing to notice about the content of the angel’s message is that the shepherds would find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a cow’s feeding trough (Luke 2:12). If you didn’t already know, you would probably be surprised that this is the way the King of the Universe made his entry into the world. I mention it because it is not the last time Jesus will surprise us.
So, what’s the right way to respond to good news such as this? Stay tuned.
For more on how Empowering Subjects is equipping people to tell the good news about the King, see here.