Today, we look at the second word “salvation” which is the result of forgiveness that comes from God, through Jesus death on the cross. And I want to talk to you about three things that revolve around this second word, salvation. First, most people think that salvation is earned by becoming something. Second, what does the cross actually teach us about salvation? Third, where does this word salvation tell us God is actually at work in our lives?
This word salvation is derived from one of the most powerful moments not only in the Bible, but in human history. Two thieves were crucified next to Jesus, one mocks him, while the other in desperation cries out, “remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” To which Jesus responds in Luke 23:43, our sermon verse “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
St. Dismas: “Remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”
Jesus: “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Theologically speaking salvation is simply defined as being delivered from the power and penalty of sin, it is one’s entire being made right with God. Humanity intrinsically understands its need for salvation, but we approach it from the perspective of bridging the gap between who we are and who we want to be before God. Or, to put it another way: we make the effort to bridge the gap between the sinfulness of humanity and the holiness of God. This usually occurs, when, in some form or fashion, we get a glimpse of who we actually are broken in light of who we’d like to be.
And we try to bridge this gap, generally speaking, in one of three ways: The first is through moralism. Moralism consists of people leveraging their good works, their words and their will to try to bring themselves closer to God. Somehow God will see my good works and glorify me from heaven.
The second way (and this tends to be my route) is through intellectualism. If I simply read enough about the Bible and theology, my head is going to fill up with enough hot air that I will ascend to heaven. I love that scene in Portlandia, where the hipsters are sitting around the coffee shop, talking about the different articles they’ve read trying to one-up each other. That tends to be me. Have you read Luther? Read it. Have you read Calvin? Read it. Did you read the latest book by Rowan Williams? Didn’t like the end. I have this little C.V. of all the things I know about God and some how I will dazzle you and God with a new insight about him.
The third way we try to bridge the gap between who we are and who we want to be before God is through mysticism. We bridge the gap by feeling close to him, typically through an experience. We try to ascend to him through spiritual routines and feelings. This notion was actually made popular by the famous liberal theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher. He once said this is the level on which religion stands, feelings.
This is my first point: We try and earn our salvation, typically by these three means, and they are ultimately nothing more than façade. We use our deeds, our thoughts, and our spirituality to try and build a bridge to God. In other words, to get rid of who we are and become what we ought to be. But in actuality, we use these ways to hide who we actually are from God. Out of these three ways we make for ourselves little fig leaves to cover ourselves up, because heaven for bid God actually know who I really am.
The truth is, none of these paths will succeed in taking us from who we are to who we want to be before God. None of them can save us! Our best works are tinged with evil intentions. Our loftiest thoughts are nothing when compared with God’s wisdom. Our warmest feelings and affectionate moments toward God are quickly cooled by cares of the world.
What makes the moment between Jesus and the thief, St. Dismas as he is traditionally referred to, so profound is there is none of that, making the thief a picture of humanity at its very best. Yes you have heard me correctly. The guy has gotten away with nothing; he is a condemned thief. He is as he is before God not as he hoped to be. There are no good deeds or accomplishments; there is no book list or profound thought; there is no deep mystic experience. here is simply a man as he is, guilty, dying on a cross.
I love how Gerhard Forde puts it: At the cross God stormed the last bastion of the self, the last presumption that you were going to do something for him. This word salvation, when spoken from the cross, spoken to the thief, spoken to you, as you, tells us that salvation is God’s work.
This is my second point: Salvation is one way. It is God to you. God building the bridge to you for the sake of Christ Jesus. Because the only thing that will hold up over that wide gap, between humanity and God, is the matchless grace and mercy of God, found in our Lord Jesus Christ. God saves us, not because we are moral; not because we’re smart; not because we’re spiritual. But because he alone is good and he loves you and has forgiven you as you are by the shed blood of Jesus Christ. This not only illustrates the wideness of God’s mercy, it also articulates for us the profound and provocative reality that our truest cries to God come out of our maximal desperation.
Salvation is one way. It is God to you.
There is a trend to speak of God as everywhere, which is true, but when this phrase is unhinged from the Gospel it often perpetuates the pursuit of trying to become the person we hoped to be before God. God is everywhere, therefore, look busy!
Yet this word salvation in its context reminds us that God is found not just everywhere but somewhere very specific. God is found specifically at the end of your rope. Boy, the thief experienced that first hand and where this thief was found, we are also, in some form or fashion, at the end of our ropes. Maybe it is a career, a relationship, a physical ailment, and all of the positive thinking, optimistic appeals to glory, and strength cannot get us out of our problem.
But there is good news found in this word salvation when it is connected to the cross and it is my third point: This promise, “today you will be with me in paradise.” Salvation. When it is attached to the forgiveness of sin. It allows us to see God at work, not just everywhere, but specifically, in our crosses, at the end of our ropes. And there because of his cross know he is pleading for us, interceding for us, forgiving us, and ultimately saving us. Working all things for good for those who love Christ Jesus.
And the fruit of salvation in our lives is that it enables us, even if it is just for a second, to put down our façades, to drop our bridge building tool kits of moralism, intellectualism, mysticism, and trust in his Gospel promises alone. And that God has come to you; God has saved you so that you can be who you actually are: a human in need of forgiveness; a human in need of saving, and a Christian who by virtue of your baptism in Jesus Christ has completely and totally received it.
Let us pray: Today you will be with me in paradise. Look upon us, Lord God at the foot of your cross. See our true repentance and remorse! In our final hour give us also that consolation for your lips: “Today, you will be with me in paradise.”
Join Rev. Jacob Smith next Friday for the third of the Last Seven Words: Relationship.