He Shall Save His People
IF THE LORD IS WILLING
IN HIS sermon on the mount, Jesus spoke of the kingdom and the
blessings for those who heard and heeded His words. But it is evident, not only in looking
back at the failure of Israel but at our own experience of weakness and sin as well, that
no one can achieve the perfection described in Matthew 5:17-48 apart from Gods
deliverance from sin. The words of Matthew 5-7 only make the promise of Matthew 1:21 more
clearly necessary. There must be One Who saves from sin.
Otherwise, when the
kingdom arrives, all Israel must be cast into Gehenna (Matt.5:22,27-30); they all must
collect the wages of hypocrisy (6:3-5); everyone of them will be brought to destruction
(7:13,14); the Lord must declare to them all: I never knew you! Depart from Me,
workers of lawlessness! (7:23). Jesus required that they be doing the will of His
Father Who is in the heavens (7:21). Yet for this to happen they must be established under
the covenant of Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36. And for that to happen there must be a work of
the Saviour that saves from sin.
DESCENDING FROM THE MOUNTAIN
who listened to the Lords message were astonished at His teaching
(7:28), and when He descended from the mountain vast throngs follow Him
(Matt.8:1). Yet to begin with, we read of only one individual out of the vast throngs who
comes to Jesus as the Saviour. This is a man afflicted with leprosy, who worships the
Lord, saying Lord, if Thou shouldst be willing, Thou canst cleanse me! (8:2).
The leper is a
picture of the sinner, and cleansing from leprosy is a picture of cleansing from sin. This
is very promising in light of the message of Matthew 5-7. If He was willing Jesus could
cleanse all the sinners of Israel from their sins. The very fact that He was willing to
cleanse the leper from leprosy, and that He did so, tells us of His willingness to save
His people from their sins and that He will do so.
Nevertheless, it was
not the time for this cleansing. Jesus sent the cleansed leper to the priest as a
sign that He is the One Who can cleanse the leprosy of the sinful nation. [The priesthood]
should have known that the One Who can do this is the long-desired Messiah. There is no
intimation that they heeded this testimony, so that here we have, in a parable, the same
truth with which John begins his evangel: His own people do not accept Him (John 1:11).
Indeed, this is more striking. For the priests had before them continually the lesson of
the suffering sacrifice. If no other class in the nation could understand His rejection
and sorrow and death, they should have recognized that this is the One Who was to be led
as a lamb to the slaughter. But, in that deeper wisdom of God, they were also the ones who
were ordained to be the slayers of the great Sacrifice. 1
Indeed we may well
say that the priests ought to have known that Jesus was the Promised One Who would save
His people from their sins. The testimony of the cured leper was clear. But they were
blinded to what was right before their eyes, so that they might offer up the Lamb of God
Who thus would take away the sin of the world (John 1:29).
What shall we say,
however, concerning the results of this blindness as they affect this particular priest
who received this marvelous testimony? And what of the priesthood as a whole, which became
the instrument for the giving up of the Lamb of God? If anyone is destined to hear the
Lords words, Depart from Me, workers of lawlessness! surely they must be
NO ONE IN ISRAEL
is not that the priestly unbelief should escape judgment. But we must not make the words
of condemnation and rejection spoken by the Saviour mean something that makes it
impossible for Him to save such sinners as these. The priest was a sinner as well as the
leper. They both needed cleansing from sin. And so did everyone in Israel and in the
This great need even
beyond the circle of His people Israel is shown by the next occurrence in our Lords
ministry as recorded by Matthew. A centurion, that is, a Roman military officer, came to
Jesus in Capernaum, and pleaded that the Lord would cure his boy who was prostrate with
paralysis and dreadful torments (Matt.8:5-8). There is much for our learning here, but
first of all, let us note that which was so marvelous to Jesus, that this Roman centurion
displayed more faith in Him than His people Israel were displaying. Verily, I am
saying to you, With no one in Israel so much faith did I find (Matt.8:10).
There was no one
in Israel who had faith like this centurions. And yet, Jesus was the One Who was
to save His people from their sins!
The leper was
cleansed, and the boy was cured, but the priest showed no indication of comprehending the
lepers testimony, and countless Israelites, as sons of the kingdom would
be cast out into outer darkness with lamentation and gnashing of teeth when the kingdom
arrived (Matt.8:11,12). These are our Lords words, and they will be fulfilled.
But to make this
condemnation an everlasting punishment in hell, without hope, without relief, without any
possibility of Jesus becoming the Saviour and Shepherd of these who are His people (cf
Matt.2:6) is surely to mistake the mind of God. Unbelief is sin, and its wages must accord
with the serious nature of the sin. Nevertheless, it surely is impossible that Jesus will
never know in a saving way those whom He came to save, that He can never wipe away the
tears of those cast out into darkness away from the light of the kingdom, that all the
sons of the kingdom will never bow in the Name of the Saviour and acclaim that Jesus
Christ is Lord.
THE TEACHING OF HELL
traditional doctrine of hell is founded on more passages in Matthew than any other portion
of Gods Word. The King James Version renders the word Gehenna
hell seven times in Matthew (5:22,29,30; 10:28; 18:9; 23:15,33), and two times
it uses hell for hades (11:23; 16:18). From this it is concluded that
hell is a place of fire, where the whole body perishes, the soul and body destroyed, where
one is brought down in judgment, and where there are strong gates. (There is renewed
controversy today over the sense implied by the words perish and
destroy, some claiming from these terms that hell involves the annihilation of
the sinner and the majority still taking the terms figuratively as symbolic of
hopelessness. Very little attention seems to be given in this connection to the fact that
Jesus came to seek and to save the lost, i.e., those who are perishing.)
The whole subject of
an unending punishment is expanded by taking every warning of future judgment and loss in
our Lords ministry as further revelation concerning hell. Hence, as we have noted,
the fire of hell is determined by a further mistranslation to be unquenchable (Matt.3:12),
punishment in hell is supposed to be the wages of hypocrites (Matt.5:2-5),
hell is seen as the place of destruction at the end of broad and spacious way (Matt.7:13),
the destiny of workers of lawlessness who are expelled from our Lords presence
(7:23), and despite normal implications of the word fire hell is found to be a
place of outer darkness where those who are destroyed continue to lament and
gnash their teeth (8:12).
Many more such
details are added from later passages in Matthew, culminating in the use of the terrifying
words of Matthew 25:46 as rendered by the King James Version, and followed by most other
translations. From the Lords description of the future judgment of the nations, it
is claimed that hell is the place of everlasting punishment, making punishment
an end in itself, and finally securing the impossibility of Jesus ever fully taking His
place as Saviour.
HIS WILL AND OURS
willingness of Jesus to save sinners is not consciously questioned by believers, but in
effect many fail to appreciate its importance. Other issues intrude on almost every
consideration of our Lords will, such as: What about the human will? What if
the human being is not willing to be saved? What if the divine willingness to
save is limited and arbitrarily directed? Theological problems concerning election,
predestination, and free will keep cropping up. Few seem to see our Lords
willingness as such a decisive and determinative factor in salvation as the leper saw it.
Few are as clear about the certainty and authority for healing of a word from the Lord as
the centurion was. Lord, I am not competent that Thou mayest enter under my roof,
but only say the word and my boy will be healed! (Matt.8:8).
But the willingness
of the Lord to save is not held captive to conditions and situations outside of Gods
control. It is not a well-meaning but hopeless wishing for the best. The casting out of
the sons of the kingdom into outer darkness is not proof that Jesus can never be their
Saviour from sin, nor evidence that He has no willingness to save them from such sorrow.
They must weep and lament for a time, but this is only part of the process, and not at all
the goal, or the ultimate expression of the divine will. Darkness and sorrow serve and do
not oppose the operations of the One Who is willing to save.
The critical issue
here is the divine willingness to save, not ours to be saved. It is not of him who
is racing, but of God, the Merciful (Rom.9:16). His people will be willing in the
day of His power (Psa.110:3). May we become more and more like the leper who boldly
testified to the vital and effective place of the Lords will, and more and more like
the Roman centurion who was unswerving in conviction concerning the Lords authority
and power to heal. No matter how much human stubbornness and blindness, darkness and
lamentation come in between, the final resolution is the Lords Who is willing to
save, Who is Jesus the Saviour, Who shall save His people from their sins.
1. A. E. Knoch, CONCORDANT COMMENTARY, p.20.
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