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Text: Tit.1:4 "Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Saviour."
The name Saviour is one that is treasured by Christians – in one of my hymn books at home the word Saviour appears over 350 times. In the little Supplement of recent more contemporary songs that we put together the word Saviour appears 15 times although the book itself contains just 40 songs. I don’t think any of us would baulk at singing the words of this short chorus:
He did not come to judge the world,
He did not come to blame;
He did not only come to seek,
It was to save He came.
And when we call Him Saviour,
And when we call Him Saviour,
And when we call Him Saviour,
Then we call Him by His name.
Well this evening we’re going to look at what the Bible has to say to us about Jesus as the Saviour. In the New Testament we are left in no doubt that he came to save and to secure salvation for all those who will turn from their sin and look to him for pardon and forgiveness.
A Working Definition
What is a Saviour?
As we look into this special name that is attributed to our Lord Jesus Christ it is important for us to know what the Bible means when it talks about saviours, saving and salvation. This small word group relates to danger and specifically to deliverance from that danger. If all is well and there is no danger then we do not need a Saviour for there is nothing from which we need to be saved. But that tells only a part of the story: Bible salvation involves not just a saving from a difficult or dangerous situation but also a saving for something good and secure.
In the OT the dangers and difficulties most in view are those of a physical nature. Salvation comes to end the distress caused by famine, plague, oppression or the presence of military enemies. These dangers are met in a variety of ways.
When we move into the NT the emphasis is placed more firmly upon dangers of a spiritual nature: sin, alienation from God, hell. The scale of the problem countered in the NT leaves no room for a variety of responses – there is only one way of dealing with this and only one Saviour who can and does deal with it.
But we’re getting a little ahead of ourselves. We need to begin by thinking a little about what the OT has to tell us about saviours and salvation for this will then provide us with the context and the backdrop against which to appreciate what the NT has to teach us about Jesus the Saviour.
Saviours in the OT
The first thing we need to be aware of is the fact that the OT speaks of multiple saviours. The word saviour (or deliverer) is the name that is given to certain important men who were enabled to secure significant benefits for their people. The judges were just such "saviours":
Jud.2:16 "Then the LORD raised up judges, who saved them out of the hand of those who plundered them."
Centuries later Nehemiah looked back and reflected on just how the LORD had dealt with his people at that time:
Neh.9:27 "And in the time of their suffering they cried out to you and you heard them from heaven, and according to your great mercies you gave them saviours who saved them from the hand of their enemies."
These "judges" or "saviours" were only able to achieve what they did because they had been both sent by the LORD and equipped by him. They were not independent saviours as they could only function in an intermediate manner. The "salvation" or "deliverance" that they secured while real and genuine never proved to be total or durable.
Some years after the period of the Judges King David became the first person in the OT to describe the LORD as being his saviour:
This idea was repeated in the Psalms before being picked by the prophets and in particular the prophet Isaiah:
Is.43:3, 11 "For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour... I, I am the LORD, and besides me there is no saviour."
Nor was Isaiah alone in this for Hosea insisted on just the same truth:
Hos.13:4 "But I am the LORD your God from the land of Egypt; you know no God but me, and besides me there is no saviour."
We find this emphasis upon the LORD alone as the One who can bring salvation illustrated in another important manner – in the name Joshua for example because Joshua means "Jehovah is salvation". Two important characters carried this name in the OT.
The first was Joshua, the successor of Moses. In leading his people Joshua acted as a great and mighty conqueror as Israel entered and took possession of the Promised Land in the face of severe opposition at the hands of the existing inhabitants.
The second was a High Priest at the time of the return of the Jewish exiles in Babylon. Zechariah saw this man in a vision and wrote about this Joshua and did so in a correspondingly remarkable way. He portrayed Joshua wearing a crown. Now the high priesthood and the kingship were two separate and distinct offices in the OT but they were combined in Zechariah’s vision pointing to something greater yet to come.
So by the time the OT period closed Jewish thought focussed on Jehovah as the only true Saviour. Although the LORD had equipped some men to serve him in his work of delivering his people no-
The NT opens with the words "The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ..." and the name Jesus is simply the Greek equivalent of Joshua. Matthew doesn’t delay log before explaining its precise meaning:
Mt.1:21 "you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins."
In a similar manner Luke also introduces early in his gospel narrative an angelic declaration and identification:
Lk.2:11 "For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord."
The One who is born is the LORD and he is the Saviour – the rest of the NT will emphasise that he is also the only Saviour there is! There is no clash between the OT emphasis on the Lord as the only Saviour and the NT emphasis that Jesus is the only Saviour – for Jesus is the Lord Incarnate!
The gospels are full of descriptions of the saving ministry and work of the Lord Jesus:
He taught the crowds the truth he had received from his Father thus dispelling their ignorance
He healed the sick thus freeing them from their diseases
He cast out demons thus breaking the destructive grip Satan had on human lives
He forgave sin thus releasing men and women from their predicament and preparing the way for them to enjoy a relationship with God
He came as the light of the world to free men from the darkness of their godless lives
He died in the place of sinners so that they might no longer be hell-
His righteousness was made perfect through suffering and this righteousness would be made the spiritual clothing necessary for covering the unholy nakedness of his followers
Nor is this all: the OT emphasis that there is only One True Saviour is also upheld and clarified, as Jesus declared himself to be the "the way, the truth and the life". In case those words were not enough, he added the further explanation that "No one comes to the Father except through me." (Jn.14:6)
In the light of all this is perhaps a little surprising that the name Saviour is hardly ever explicitly applied to Jesus in the gospels! The rest of the NT has no such reservation.
Luke, for example, writing in the Acts of the Apostles, records the apostle Peter defying the religious authorities of the day with the following declarations:
Acts 4:12 "there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved."
Later still Luke makes it clear that Jesus functioning as this Saviour was no accident or mistake but a clear fulfilment of the plan and promises of God:
Acts 13:23 "God has brought to Israel a Saviour, Jesus, as he promised."
But it is the apostle Paul who is the most enthusiastic user of this particular name or title of the Lord Jesus. Writing to the Ephesians he describes Jesus as the Saviour of the church which is his body and writing to the Philippians he writes of Christians waiting for the return of their Saviour from heaven.
In fact the way in which he often uses it serves to confirm the divine honour that he attributes to the Lord Jesus as it is not always evident when he writes whether he is calling God the Saviour or Jesus! Given Jewish monotheistic concerns this is itself remarkable! And then he expresses himself in the strongest terms possible in his letter to Titus:
Tit.2:13 "waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ"
Nor is this something that is limited to Paul for the apostle Peter wrote in just the same way. He began his second letter as follows:
2Pet.1:1 "Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Saviour Jesus Christ"
And he would soon be reaffirming his convictions concerning Jesus’ exalted status in writing about "the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ." v.11.
Not to be left out the apostle John also refers to Jesus as the Saviour adding that he was sent by the Father in order that he might not merely be the Saviour of Israel but of the world!
1Jn. 4:14 "And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Saviour of the world."
Jesus is presented to us as the one and only Saviour and he is a divine Saviour at that! He is thus able to save us out of all our dire distress and awful problems. His salvation blessings come graciously and freely to us though at great cost to himself. He led us into victory defeating all his and all our enemies and he rules over us with a rule that is good, clean and pure. He has saved us from sin, death, destruction and hell itself and he has granted us a right standing with God, he has made us members of God’s family and opened the gates of heaven to us! He is currently in heaven where he represents us and intercedes for us. One day he will leave heaven for a second time to return to earth and this time not to be rejected, nor to suffer and die but to receive the honour and glory which are rightfully his and to take his people home with him.
There is nothing lacking in our Jesus – he is full and complete and worthy of our trust. He will never fail any who do make him their Lord. Well might we sing "Hallelujah, what a Saviour"!