The Saviour for Great Sinners (1 Timothy 1:15)

Published on Sunday, 10 September 2017 12:41
Several of these trustworthy sayings are found in the Pastoral Epistles. They were probably short statements of faith that early Christians used as summaries. Perhaps Paul composed them or else he made use of them, and with this one he added a comment at the end.

Obviously, this saying is short and we might be tempted to say that it is also simple. Yet we would have to qualify such a comment and also say that while it is simple enough for a child or for a new Christian to understand, it also contains truths that volumes could be written about. I would like us to make our way through the verse and comment on the words that Paul uses.

His title
The title that Paul gives to Jesus is Christ, which is the transliterated form of the Greek word for Messiah. Right away we can see that Paul has crammed a great deal into the first word of his sentence. The Messiah is the main subject of the Old Testament and hundreds of predictions are made about him in its pages. We can summarise what it says about him by stating that some of the predictions indicate he would be sovereign over all others and some of the predictions inform us that he would suffer on behalf of others. Indeed, sometimes passages, such as Isaiah 53, will say both things.

His name
The name is Jesus and at one level it was probably a common name in Israel. It is our way of saying the Greek equivalent of Joshua. As with most people, this name was given to him at his birth. Yet he was not given this name because his mother liked it, or because her husband selected it. Both of them were told by an angel that God had chosen the name. Therefore, we can deduce from this detail that his name was significant. Indeed, they were told that the child would yet save his people from their sins. Probably, they had no full idea at the time what this meant. Maybe they thought he would be like Joshua and defeat all the enemies of his people. Perhaps they imagined that he would remove from the country all the wrong practices that were taking place. Eventually they would find out, but we don’t know what they grasped at the time of his birth. But we know, and therefore we are able to appreciate the further things that Paul will mention in this sentence.

The use of this word tells us two things about Jesus. One is that he existed before he appeared and the other is that he existed somewhere else than this world. Where did he come from? Elsewhere the Bible informs us that Jesus came from heaven. And it also tells us that he was not called Jesus when he lived in heaven. Instead, there he was called the Son of God. This means that in heaven he had a unique existence. He was not one of the angels who lived there. He was not a creature. Instead he was the eternal Creator, who with the Father and the Spirit, made all things and upheld all things. He was the recipient of worship of the angelic host, and indeed we are given an example of this in Isaiah 6.

This leads us to ask why he came. Did he come from heaven because he no longer wanted to live there? No, heaven was his home and during his time on earth he often referred to it in such a way. The reason why he came was because he was a willing participant in a divine plan. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit had decided on an amazing plan of recovery for humans who had rebelled against God. Each of the divine persons would have roles to perform in this plan, and the role that belonged to the Son was that he would come into the world and do something essential that was also extraordinary.

Following on from this, we can also ask how he came. We need to ask this question because one of the features that he continually possesses as God is that of omnipresence. If we are referring to places that he could be, we need to recognise that he was always everywhere. In that sense, he did not have to go anywhere because he was already everywhere. The way that he came involved an incredible addition to his divine person because he added a human nature to his person, which means that he became a man without ceasing to be God. Paul explains what happened in Philippians 2:6-9, when he explains how Jesus humbled himself by becoming a man, a servant. As others have put it, this was humiliation by addition, and not by subtraction.

Paul mentions that Jesus came into the world. The word he uses for world does not mean a physical place. It is the same word that is used for world in John 3:16 and includes within its meaning the badness of those who comprise it. Jesus came into the world that was in rebellion against God. Moreover, he did not merely visit the world, but came to live in it. The place that he came to live in was Nazareth, although he was born in Bethlehem. There he lived for about thirty years before moving to Capernaum as his home.

The amazing detail about his life was the fact that it was perfect, inwardly and outwardly. We find it difficult to imagine such a life because we know that we are not capable of it. When we think about his perfect life, we can discover several ways of thinking about it.

We can think of what it meant for the Father to observe this perfect life being lived on earth and the answer to that approach is revealed by the Father’s statement of approval that was given from heaven on the occasion of the baptism of Jesus. The voice from heaven said that Jesus was the beloved Son in whom the Father was well-pleased. Here we have the delighted verdict on the so-called thirty silent years.

Or we can think of what it means to have Jesus as our example. The fact that he was perfect does not mean he cannot be our example. We know that the best example in any circumstance is the person that knows how to do the task in the most suitable way. So we can look at Jesus as he interacted with his Father or with people and deduce from his methods what we should do. This is what the disciples did with regard to how he prayed and in response to their request to be taught to pray he gave to them what we call the Lord’s Prayer.

And we can think of his perfect life from the point of view of what we need in order to be saved. Salvation requires us to provide payment for our sins and a life of obedience acceptable to God. We can produce neither, but Jesus has provided both for those who trust in him. When we believe in him for the first time, his perfect life is reckoned to our account by the Father and this becomes our standing before the justice of God. We are accepted in him because of what he has done. So it is wonderful to see the implications of the fact that he came into the world.

Paul then mentions the task that Jesus came to perform, which was to save sinners. It is important to note that Paul does not say that Jesus came to make sinners salvable, which would mean that the choice was left up to them. Rather, Jesus came to secure the salvation of particular sinners. He was to do this by his suffering at Calvary and he knew that he was dying for a particular people. On the cross, towards the close of his period of suffering, he stated that he had achieved his goal when he cries, ‘It is finished.’

Jesus went to the cross as the substitute for his people and there he paid the penalty due to them for their sins. The penalty involved for him that he would bear the wrath of God against them for their sins. His sacrifice was one of love for them and for his Father, for the ones who should have borne the wrath themselves and for the One who punished him instead of them. In doing this he saved a number whom no one can count, each of whom will yet be with him in glory forever.

Paul then says that he was the worst of the sinners for whom Jesus died and he goes on to specify some of the sins he had committed. Does Paul mean that he was the worst sinner or that he felt he was the worst sinner? I suspect that he did feel it, and also we should recognise that this is a statement made under divine inspiration, which means that he was guided to say he was this by the Holy Spirit. Certainly, he was guilty of terrible sins.

Yet in making this claim, Paul was saying two other things. One of them was repentant, that he had realised those sins were against God, and that he deserved to be punished for them. At the same time, he was also saying that his sins had been borne by Jesus, and the only way Paul could know this was the case was by him trusting in Jesus by a living faith. So although he was a big sinner and although he was later a prominent servant of Christ, the fact is that he came to be saved in the same way that anyone else, which is repenting of sin and trusting in Jesus. In order for us to be able to make this statement our own, we have to follow the path that Paul took here and respond in the same way to the gospel.

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