The God who brings Salvation
Imagine what it would have been like for Simeon and Anna, praying and waiting each day around the Temple for the Lord to appear again:
Forty days after Jesus’ birth, Joseph and Mary take him to the Temple in Jerusalem to be blessed and dedicated in accordance with the Law of Moses (Lev. 12:8). While there they encounter two prophets who have been patiently waiting for Israel’s redemption. The first prophet is Simeon, who under the inspiration of the Spirit claims that this child is God’s salvation for all peoples (“a light for revelation to the Gentiles and glory for Israel”). Simeon’s phraseology is crafted around prophesies from Isaiah which foretell a future day when God’s salvation will extend from Israel and reach even the Gentile people (Isa. 45:52:10; 60:3) through a messianic figure known as “the Servant” (Isa. 42:6; 49:6). After hearing from Simeon, a prophetess named Anna approaches them. Luke tells us that she was an elderly widow who had been praying day and night for years, awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem. She begins praising and worshipping God, for the birth of this child signified the salvation of the people.
Among the gospel writers, Luke is unique in his emphasis on salvation. The verb “to save” occurs 17 times in Luke alone (13 times in Acts) as compared to 15 in Matthew, 14 in Mark, and 6 for John. The nouns “savior” and “salvation” are not actually found in Matthew or Mark, but they occur 8 times in Luke (and 9 in Acts). Based from these rather simple comparisons, it seems that Luke is keenly interested in showing that Jesus is the bringer of God’s salvation to the world.
But what does it mean to be “saved”?
For Luke, salvation entails the preservation of life (Luke 6:9), deliverance from demons (Luke 8:36), healing from various diseases (Luke 8:48; 17:19; 18:42), and being raised from death (8:50). In this manner, Luke is not too unlike Matthew and Mark. However, in Luke 7:50, no miraculous healing occurs, but instead the sinful woman who anoints Jesus is “saved” by being forgiven of her sins. Likewise, Luke’s version of the parable of the sower describes Satan as stealing Jesus’s message from the hearts of hearers so that they cannot “believe and be saved” (Luke 8:12; neither Matthew nor Mark use this phraseology in their telling of the parable). This more “spiritual” sense of being saved fits with the later preaching of the Apostles in Acts (cf. Acts 2:21; 4:12; 7:56; 13:47). More so, it fits the broader accounts surrounding God’s activity with Jesus’ birth. Mary celebrates God “my savior” (Luke 1:47), Zechariah sings about God’s salvation (Luke 1:71), the angel calls Jesus “savior” (2:11).
Putting all of this together, we might say that Jesus’s power to heal infirmities and deliver people from demonic oppression is a physical sign of the spiritual salvation He is bringing to the world. His mission is to “seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10) and restore people to a proper relationship with God their creator. This salvation is ultimately accomplished through His death and resurrection, which not only provide the basis by which the sins of humanity can be forgiven but also open the way for them to receive the Spirit. In short, through union with Christ by faith through the Spirit, both Jews and Gentiles are brought into a properly ordered relationship with God. And fellowship with God through Jesus is, for Luke, where true life and joy is found (cf. Luke 10:42; 24:52).
So, friends, this Christmas, where is your joy found? Is it in the salvation wrought for you through Jesus Christ, the friend of sinners? Too often the busyness of Christmas distracts us from what the season is really about. If this is you, I encourage you to take time this Christmas to reflect and meditate on these wonderful truths! Given the chaotic and tragic year 2020 has been for all of us, how can we afford another “busy/distracted” Christmas season?
Instead, I want to encourage you to slow down. Pause. Take long, deep breaths. Open your bible. Read the opening chapters of Luke, for a whole new world awaits you.