He will save

Joseph, son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because what has been conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:20, 21)

In times of tragedy, we are often prone to ask, Why did this happen?”

My husband left me. Why did this happen?”

My child is running with the wrong crowd. Now, she’s gotten herself into serious trouble. Why did this happen?”

Riots are breaking out in major cities all over the country. Why is this happening?”

In efforts to argue against the existence of God, people will sometimes ask, If God exists, why do bad things happen?”

Politicians and policy-makers would have us to believe we can fix all of humanity’s problems if only we pass a few new laws or launch the right public service campaign. Meanwhile, the rest of us are led to think that all we need are different politicians and policy-makers to make the world right again. Self-help books promote the idea that we can eliminate most of our problems with just a few tweaks to our behavior, if not our mindset alone. The truth is, however, we are failing to address the real problem.

The real problem is sin.

Before I go any further, let me define what I mean by sin. We need to disregard the popular notion that sin is merely a light or occasional offense. We need to disregard the notion that people are born good, mostly good, or even morally neutral. These ideas are altogether unbiblical. They are, in fact, heresies.

David confessed, Indeed, I was guilty when I was born; I was sinful when my mother conceived me (Ps 51:5). We do not stumble into sin only after we are born. We are conceived sinful. We are guilty from birth because our very nature is one of depravity. We are naturally hostile to God, refusing to submit to God’s law (Ro 8:7). We are dead in trespasses and sins (Eph 2:1). Apart from the intervening grace of God, we stubbornly suppress the truth in unrighteousness (Ro 1:18).

To be clear, we are never a little guilty. Misdemeanor offenses do not exist in God’s law. The wages of sin, no matter how trivial any sin may seem to us, is death (Ro 6:23). Any infraction carries the death penalty. Every offender will pay the penalty of eternal destruction away from the Lord’s presence (2Th 1:9).

Fair enough,” someone says. I guess I’ll have to try a little harder.” No, you won’t. Even if you did— Even if your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never get into the kingdom of heaven by your own virtue (Mt 5:20). Have you already forgotten? You were guilty when you were born (Ps 51:5). There is no one righteous, not even one (Ro 3:10).

So, what hope do we have? We have only one hope, and his name is Jesus, because he and he alone will save his people from their sins (Mt 1:21).

Notice how emphatic the angel of the Lord is as he speaks to Joseph here (Mt 1:20). He does not say, Jesus may save his people.” No, Jesus will save his people (Mt 1:21). It is certain. And from what will he save them? Their sins. He saves us from that fallen, hell-bent, God-hating, God-opposing, unrighteous, depraved condition in which every last member of Adam’s family was conceived.

Before we leave this text, we have one more vital question to answer. Who are his people? (Mt 1:21). We know from Scripture that it can’t be everyone. Furthermore, it can’t be most people. Jesus taught, How narrow is the gate and difficult the road that leads to life, and few find it (Mt 7:14).

I won’t answer this question as thoroughly as it deserves. Instead, I’ll give you just one example from the Bible of someone who falls into this category of God’s people. Here is what Jesus said about him:

The tax collector, standing far off, would not even raise his eyes to heaven but kept striking his chest and saying, God, have mercy on me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this one went down to his house justified rather than the self-righteous Pharisee, because everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:13, 14)

In short, this man knew he was sinful. He knew he deserved eternal punishment. Ashamed of himself, he couldn’t even raise his eyes to heaven as he prayed (Lk 18:13). Most importantly, he desperately looked to God and God alone for salvation. Under the weight of his depravity, he threw himself at the mercy of God. He understood that God was his only hope.

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