The Presbyterian Pulpit
A sermon by the Rev. Dr. David E. Leininger

SALVATION

Delivered 4/14/96
Text: I Pet. 1:3-9 (Ps. 118:14-24)
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"...the salvation of your souls."

That IS what we are here about, isn't it? People come to churches, synagogues, temples and mosques because, in some sense this issue may be said to be the ultimate concern of all religion. Salvation. In a very real sense, our Bible is a book of salvation from beginning to end. Some simplify it by saying,

"Jesus and I, bye and bye,
in the sky, when I die."
A minister was preaching and during the course of his sermon asked, "Who wants to go to heaven?" Everyone held up their hands except one young boy. "Son, don't you want to go to heaven when you die?" "Yes sir, when I die, but I thought you was gettin' up a load to go now."(1)

That is probably the attitude of most of us. Most Christians DO figure that when we die we go to heaven to be with the Lord, even if we are not ready to make the trip tomorrow. That is salvation. After all, from earliest Sunday School we learned that JESUS SAVES and what we are saved FROM is Hell and FOR is heaven. "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved" (Acts 16:31). We are SAVED by grace through our faith in Jesus. "Are you saved?" is still the question of the TV preachers and tent-meeting evangelists. Salvation. Heaven. It is our destiny... something Christians can count on as surely as the sun in the morning and the moon at night. "Jesus and I, bye and bye, in the sky, when I die." A little self-centered, perhaps, but... Case closed!

Not exactly. By leaving our understanding at that, we miss something wonderful: salvation is not simply a delightful destiny, it is a present reality, and knowing that can make all the difference in the way we face the living of our lives.

Look at the word itself - SALVATION. It comes to us from a Latin root, salus, which has nothing to do with life after death; it means HEALTH or WHOLENESS. It is very similar in meaning to the Hebrew wordshalom which folks over-simplify in translation as PEACE because it too carries the idea of WHOLENESS.

If, as we said a moment ago, the ultimate concern of our Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, is salvation, then a quick trip through scripture should offer even more light. Start with the story of creation. In the beginning everything was good. But Adam and Eve sinned - they ate the forbidden fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. They decided to think for themselves - no God was needed to separate right from wrong, order from chaos, provide wholeness...salvation. But they were mistaken. This was the way Israelite mothers and fathers explained to their children why so much was wrong with the world. Human arrogance upset God's good order, and the Ghengis Khans and Hitlers and Saddam Husseins of history have offered stark and tragic testimony to that ever since.

But the ancient Hebrews believed more. They knew that God would not leave the world in disarray, nor would God leave the chosen people to fend for themselves. When the Psalmist declares, "The Lord is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation" (Ps. 118:14), the affirmation is that God delivers the people from all sorts of disasters - slavery in Egypt, wars with the Canaanites, bondage in Babylon. Indeed, one of the great heroes of ancient Israel, the one who led the people into the promised land, was named Yeshua - Joshua - the Hebrew word for salvation. There is little or no concern with life after death in the Old Testament. Salvation is here-and-now...protection from enemies, a restoration of order, wholeness.

By the time we get to the New Testament, we find another powerful personality named "Salvation"...Yeshua, which Greek turns intoIesous...Jesus. Do you remember the announcement of his coming? The angel told Joseph, "You shall call his name Jesus, for he shall SAVE his people from their sins" (Matt. 1:21). In fact, there were all sorts of little boys being born around the time of Christ whose Jewish Moms and Dads named them Jesus in the hope that their son would be the promised Messiah, the Deliverer, the salvation of Israel from the bondage of Rome...the one who would restore God's good order. Here and now. "In the sky, when I die" was still no issue.

As Jesus began his ministry, something new became apparent. The salvation he was offering was much more than political deliverance for the chosen people. He said himself that he had come "to preach good news to the poor...proclaim release to the captives...[restore] sight to the blind..." (Luke 4:18), "to seek and to save the lost" (Luke 19:10). To the woman he healed of a hemorrhage, the blind man who could now see, the leper who had been cleansed, he said, "Your faith has SAVED you." Salvation was not a promise of pie-in-the-sky, bye-and-bye, but a restoration of order in the HERE AND NOW.

By the time we come to the end of the Bible, the book of Revelation, we find more clearly than anywhere else that salvation...restoring order...does indeed go beyond this life. In its complicated but beautifully poetic way, Revelation affirms to the early church, people who were in danger for their very lives because of their commitment to Christ, that God will deliver, will SAVE, will make creation good again: no more hunger, no more thirst, no more tears, no more death. Wholeness. Salvation.

The Christian message is that God's plan IS salvation. As the Gospel writer has it, "For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be SAVED" (John 3:17). Salvation is something much more than a promise of "Jesus and I, bye and bye, in the sky." It is nothing less than making a sick creation healthy and whole again. Even here and now.

Really? Wait a minute. We still live a chaotic and disordered existence - we still have hunger and thirst, there are still Unabombers, little girls go down in plane crashes, young mothers get cancer, people get caught in the living hell of war. We still have tears. There is still death. What should we think?

There is an old Rabbinic tale that may help here.(2) One day, outside the Garden of Eden, Eve met her old friend the serpent. "Good morning," said the serpent, "Nice skirt you've got on. How are you doing?"

"It's kind of you to ask," Eve said. "Actually, not so well."

"Ah, yes," said the serpent, "after-effects of the fruit. It does taste rather sour, doesn't it?"

"But how can I get back inside the garden?" Eve asked.

"Good question," said the serpent. "For me it's easy, of course: I just burrow under the hedge. But I'll give you a hint. Go back the way you came."

The point? Adam and Eve do not go back because they do not THINK they can. They THINK themselves into all sorts of problems. After-effects of the fruit, the Rabbi says.

Perhaps WE ought not to think so much. I do not mean to say that we should approach issues as important as our relationship to the Lord as if they do not matter. Rather, I would recommend that we simply take God's word at face value: "...rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving (present tense) the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls." Here and now.

Yes, there is MUCH still wrong around us. We see it. We feel it. We are upset by it. But perhaps we can take a lesson from the prisoners in the POW camp at the end of World War II. The emaciated inmates, though weak from starvation, dehydration, and disease, one morning broke into shouts of joy and laughter. It seems that one of the prisoners had a primitive radio hidden away and that morning heard the news that the war was over. Even though they were still in prison and their circumstances today were no different from yesterday, they could now endure the suffering because they KNEW the victory had been won. (3)

Do you know that old Southern gospel song, "Turn Your Radio On?"

Turn your radio on, and listen to the music in the air,
Turn your radio on and glory share.
Turn your lights down low and listen to the Master's radio;
Get in touch with God,
Turn your radio on.(4)
In a sense, we are like those prisoners, incarcerated in a world of injustice, unfairness, misery, and death. But then we gather round this rickety receiver called Sunday worship - we tune in - and, voilá, we hear the news that is so good it can change night into day. Jesus saves.

Moments such as this tempt me to offer up some slick shibboleth like "Let Go and Let God." Normally, I do not care for bumper sticker theologians because the oversimplifications they offer can be dangerous. But the message of I Peter is just about that simple: do not worry about your salvation - by God's great mercy, that has been handled in the death and resurrection of Jesus; we are SAFE with an inheritance that is "imperishable, undefiled, and unfading." Yes, you may encounter times of difficulty - you can spend time asking "Why me?" or "What did I do to deserve this?" or even "Where is God in the midst of this mess?" OR, you can use those times to deepen your faith, refine it as gold going through the fire. Regardless of those circumstances though, remember you are ultimately SAFE.

During the first part of the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, no safety devices were used, and 23 men fell to their deaths. For the last part of the project though, a large net which cost $100,000 was employed. At least 10 men fell into it and were saved. But an interesting sidelight is the fact that 25% more work was accomplished when the men were assured of their safety.(5)

That holds for Christian workers as well. You and I can accomplish more in making this world the kind of place God would have it if we KNOW that, no matter what happens, we are SAFE. That can give us the courage and confidence we need to face any of the slings and arrows that life might throw our way. That is good news...news that ought to be shared.

I suspect that most of us, at one time or another, has been in a worship service, Sunday School class, or mid-week meeting and heard some speaker encourage us to support foreign missions. An attempt may have been made to spur us on by telling us how many people die in India or China or some other field each day "without Christ." I have come to be concerned about that approach. I am concerned that our focus would be on people dying without Christ when what SHOULD motivate us is the thought of those millions LIVING without him. We have genuinely GOOD NEWS to bring them, good news of a salvation that changes our lives, not only in the far reaches of eternity, but in the here and now. I Peter calls it our "living hope."

Years ago, the evangelist Sam Jones used to have what he called "Quittin' Meetings" during his revivals. He gave folks the opportunity to confess their sins and repent. People said they would quit swearing, drinking, smoking, gossiping. He asked one woman what she planned to quit and she replied, "I ain't been doin' nothin' and I'm sure gonna quit that."(6) Yes, we have this wonderful assurance of our salvation, and we DO need to do quit "doin' nothin'" when it comes to sharing the good news.

Are there friends whose lives are broken and need repair? Then bring them here to meet Jesus, the Savior, the one who can heal and make whole again. Are there neighbors whose comfortable world has fallen apart in the death of a loved one or a marriage or a career? Then bring them here to meet Jesus, the Savior, the one who can heal and make whole again. Are there those whose lives are out of focus because they have concentrated too long on hurtful things? Then bring them here to meet Jesus, the Savior, the one who can heal and make whole again.

True, our world still has so much wrong. We worry and wonder. We think - "After-effects of the fruit." But the glorious message of the gospel is that salvation is a fact - "Jesus and I, bye and bye, in the sky, when I die," yes, but Jesus and I...and you and you and you and you, here and now, as well. God has begun to restore order to Eden in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the SAVIOR. And all who put their trust in him are SAFE. Now we can get to work letting the world know.

Amen!


1. Clyde Murdock, A Treasury of Humor, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing, 1967), p. 45

2. Stephen Mitchell in Congregation: Contemporary Writers Read the Jewish Bible, David Rosenberg, Ed., (New York, Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1987), p. 391

3. Erwin Lutzer, How to Have a Whole Heart in a Broken World, (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1987)

4. Brumley, Stamps-Baxter Music (BMI)

5. Paul Lee Tan,Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations, (Rockville, MD: Assurance Publishers, 1979), pp. 1192

6. ibid., p. 1230-1231

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