Words are powerful. They are not as powerful by themselves, although there are some that stand alone better than others. Used in conjunction and harmony with others maximizes their ability, making them most effective. I think there might be a lesson in this picture. They work together to communicate, often times telling a story. Believe it or not, it is “story” that most dramatically and effectively shapes humanity. It is story that compels us to anger and drowns us in tears. It is story that sparks ambition and can incite terror. It is story that inspires awe or alleviates tension. Where would we be without story?
The Scriptures tell us a story, and use a lot of words to do so. People love the words, sometimes more than the story itself. When we fall in love with the words instead of the story, we have lost the essence and weight of the story. Every word has meaning, and we can analyze these words, but sometimes we need to focus on story instead of the words used for the telling.
In Christianity today, I believe we have suffered from being more in love with the words than the story. Salvation is an English word which has its definition and origin in the Greek language. The idea or expression of salvation however, did not start there. There are words that go back even further that communicate the same thing.
When I read about salvation (particularly in the Scriptures), I understand the implications the word “salvation” holds in its relationship with the doctrine of soteriology and its importance in Christian theology. I am not demeaning this, it is important. But when a word gets shackled with definition and harnessed to a doctrine, it can lose the sword it once wielded in its own part of the story. Abstract definition, data proposition or ten word acronym outlines are not what move people, it is story. For what other reason has the entertainment industry sailed to the heights it has?
Salvation is an action. It was not first a doctrine. Our understanding of “salvation” as we know it (doctrinally speaking), has been shaped by observation of its overall use. Salvation means something, meant something and is trying to tell us something. When Christians view salvation, they often do so with the lenses of this doctrinal definition. Remove those glasses for a moment and look at the word. It means to be “saved from something”. This word does not define what something/someone is being “saved from”; it is just a word showing action. Where does it capture its fullness? Today salvation is predominantly viewed as a present spiritual phenomenon to be either “taken” or “left”, i.e. I have or have not been “saved” by asking Jesus into my heart.1 Recent tradition suggests that once I have (have not) done this, I am (am not) “saved” from hell. This is another subject entirely, but is that really what is being communicated when we observe and speak of “salvation”? Is that the definition of the word as it is told in the story? I am not saying that we are not “saved” from our sins,2 for even Joseph was specifically instructed to name this special son that would be born “salvation”, the act of saving.3 There is a whole story in that picture alone, but again, this is not where the story starts. What did salvation mean before Jesus walked this earth? Did it have as much meaning, or was it possibly a prototype being laid as a foundation for what it would mean?
We cannot start reading any book in the middle and expect to be immersed in the narrative, or watch any movie and appreciate the plot entering after the first act is complete. The foundations are laid at the outset of any good story.
Who would contest that Jesus is God’s Passover lamb? There are too many obvious allusions with which the artisans of the gospel narratives use to paint that image on the canvas of our minds. Can we have a full appreciation for what is being spoken without knowing that to which they make comparison? Is there any purpose in telling the story with Jesus as the “Passover lamb” (who’s blood saves), without doing so in the picture of what salvation meant then? Would we not expect that a word used in such a powerful story and in such a significant way not carry the weight and context of the story with it?
Especially significant is a story like the Exodus from Egypt. This captivating story has resonated profoundly with the people of Israel, possibly more so than any other story through the ages because it is who they are. Where do you think their pictures of “redemption”, “salvation”, “freedom” and “marriage” emerged? Of course they came out of the Passover. It is the same that shaped what we read in the NT. The story is continuing on with the same people, the children of Israel. How can we divorce that from its earlier narrative?
The Messiah was given for the sins of his people, and subsequently for the rest of mankind.4 Because we are “atoned” for, we are made clean. This picture also comes out of the Exodus story. After the great deliverance from Egypt and “finishing off” at the Red Sea, what does Moses mean by this song, “Yah is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation. This is my God: I will glorify him; my father's God: I will exalt him”?5 Was God not his salvation in Egypt? Moses portrays salvation as a present reality, not a spiritual phenomenon. I understand that everything is spiritual in nature, but God literally saved the people from the army of Pharaoh. He literally spared all the firstborn from the angel of destruction. He protected them from the deadly plagues (or bowls) of wrath poured out on the Egyptians. This was real, literal, and tangible salvation at work. They were actually, physically “saved” from certain death and captivity. This had real meaning that could be seen and felt.
Today is the word salvation reduced only to being “saved” from separation from God? Ultimately we are “saved” from separation from God, but that is not what we get from the word “salvation”. Is there not any resemblance to the story of Passover, a lamb slain so that humanity will be spared, or “saved” from annihilation? In the Passover when did salvation take place? Was Israel saved before they crossed the Red Sea or after the “action” had happened? Were they delivered from the hand of the “angel of destruction” when they painted the door posts, or when the angel saw the blood and did not enter, thus sparing all who were secure in the protection offered by the hand of God? Perhaps it is a matter of perspective.
Before they crossed the Red Sea Moses had told the people, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will work for you today.” God knew He was going to deliver the people. It was never a matter of if He could. Moses told the people not to fear but rather watch their God “save” them through the power of His might. In this act of the story, it was done at the hand of Moses, God’s deliverer. It was God’s salvation, but seen through Moses’ action and obedience. No one needed to ask Moses to come into their heart, but rather be a participant of what God was doing through him to bring about salvation.
The same goes for the lamb. The protection, the security being offered was in the blood. By marking their doorposts, it was an acceptance of God’s protection against something greater than they could protect themselves against. When they acted in faith and obedience in harmony with the plan which God had laid out through His redeemer (Moses this time), they were “marked” for salvation and became participants. They were physically “saved” or spared at the moment the angel “passed” by, but they were protected when they said yes and acted in obedience to God’s plan. Because God had been the initiator and the plan was His own, participation resulted in being delivered or “saved” from what would have otherwise been “death”.
The same goes for today, we can say yes to God’s plan and as a result be participants in the saving that will happen when “son of man” appears. God still has a plan, and He also has a redeemer carrying out that plan. We can take the mark of God in our foreheads, paint ourselves with the blood of the lamb offered on our behalf, or we can take another mark offered by an opposing kingdom. As the writer of Hebrews said, “so also the Messiah, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for Him.”6 Paul even spoke of the “hope of salvation”,7 and he did so in the context of a future “Day” known very well in the pages of God’s words to the prophets of Israel. God has continued the business of saving throughout the ages. He has done so in many different ways, and at the hands of many mediatorial prototypes.
Some may say that I have not really said anything or that I am being pedantic. Others may have already considered these nuances; I don’t claim to have an earth shattering revelation or a perspective of originality, I am merely finding the pictures refreshing apart from predefined terminology and wish to share them. I am seeing Gods plan anew and with more clarity as He has and continues to reveal it. For me, trust is a natural byproduct of this and I believe He will fulfill the promise He has made (as He has always done). I have accepted by faith that the one He anointed for the task (the one like Moses8) did what was needed, and will appear again to finish what was started so long ago.
Like it is told about the people of Israel, “When Israel saw the great power which the LORD had used against the Egyptians, the people feared the LORD, and they believed in the LORD and in His servant Moses.”9, so Jesus prayed, “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.”10I can see the story is still being written and that all of us have a part to play. I also realize that I have sat on the sidelines for far too long just observing. I want to be an active participant in what God has been doing for so long, and partner with Him to tell His story of good news to so many who desperately need to hear it.11
1 This is because the theme of salvation is culminated by the ultimate redemptive act of Messiah.
2 Matt 1:21, “He will save His people from their sins." This is exactly what the prophet Isaiah was told (Isa 49:5) the messiah would “bring Jacob [his people] back to him [Yahweh, the LORD], to have Isra'el gathered to him”. This was also exactly Jesus own admission himself, John 4:22 “salvation comes from the Jews [his people]” and (Matt 15:24) "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel [his people]."
3 Jesus’ Hebrew name “Yeshua” means salvation. Joshua (a literal savior) is the same name, also meaning salvation.
4 A great Light to the gentiles, Isaiah 9:2, 42:6, 49:6, 60:3, Matt 4:16, Luke 2:32, John 1:4-10, Acts 13:47, Acts 26:23
5 Exodus 15:2
6 Heb 9:28
7 1 Thes 5:8
8 Deut 18
9 This includes Christians
10 John 17:3
11 Ex. 14:31
10 John 17:3
11 Ex. 14:31
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