We come now to this crucial part of the Creed, the amazing belief that God the Eternal Son of God the Eternal Father “for us and for our SALVATION came down from heaven”. It’s a statement of historic fact. That Jesus, through whom all existence and creation ever came into being, in marvellous love and wonder, actually took the very nature of our human flesh. That he walked this earth and lived amongst us around 2,000 years ago for some thirty three years. It was the fulfilment of a gracious divine plan, made from the beginning and foundation of the world to meet a fundamental and vital need of each and every one of us; in fact of the whole human race. (See 1 Peter 1:18-21). That without God, without his instructions for worthwhile and purposeful lives, without the aid and grace to live such a life; and that without his first aid when we get it wrong, as sadly we frequently do, we are lost! That’s putting it bluntly!
As I said in an earlier article we have to look with utter realism at the tragedy of human sin, evil and wrong doing; the terrible things that we humans actually bring about through selfishness, greed, lust, hatred and so on. It is a fallen world, distorted, damaged, badly hurt; but it can be rectified, can truly be the Kingdom of God, through the power of the everlasting Gospel and Good News of Jesus Christ. (Note :Mark 16:19-20 AV)
There has of course always been untold generous love lived and shown in countless human lives. There have always been, and still are many true saints across (and yes outside too) all the World Faiths. But there is another black or dark side to our humanity! The absolute freedom and free will that we all need and must have, if we are to love truly, to love each other, and to mature and grow in such love, can be so easily abused, misused, even almost destroyed. We need Salvation, and this Creed takes up the whole work of our Salvation through Christ.
We must now explore the meaning of that great word. First its meaning in the Old Testament, and then how it is developed and extended in the New. Briefly how the early and later Church came to understand and teach it, and the role such belief played in her Sacraments and Worship.
The basic root meaning of the Hebrew word Yashah, translated salvation in the O.T. is to give space, i.e. the exact opposite of being confined and shut in. It lends itself readily to the notion of being liberated and set free. Interestingly the same root word is found in the names Joshua, Hosea, and Isaiah, and of course the very name Jesus, specially chosen to denote his role as Saviour (Matthew 1: 21). Hence, for the Hebrew people of old salvation generally means deliverance from a specific national or personal danger or catastrophe, or from a real visible enemy (Psalms 17:1-3; 18:3; 22:21). Often it is used in the context of battle (as e.g. in the book of Judges) with a special plea for and emphasis on victory. Psalm 20 strongly suggests this. In the era after the Jewish Babylonian exile c. 500 BC the word is used more as a plea for the reconstruction of Jerusalem and Judea, and for bringing home the dispersed peoples after years of deportation and captivity. (Psalms 69:35 & 106:47).
When the crowds greeted Jesus entering Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday shouting “Hosanna to the Son of David”, they were using another Hebrew term for salvation. (Matthew 21:9). Their plea was just as for centuries before, but now it was a cry for freedom from an oppressive Roman rule and power; for national and political victory. But the Salvation that Christ would offer would not be like that; in fact something much wider and deeper, bringing a new kind and degree of human freedom and liberation, with fresh wide space for a brand new life and Gospel living; with full forgiveness and inner healing too, and the assurance of unending glorious life with Christ in heaven.
The New Testament develops this new Salvation-in-Christ, meeting and covering all aspects of human need; our personal interior feelings and relationships, our longings and hopes; and the deepest questions about life and purpose. In a clear brief statement it claims that “he will save his people from their sins” (See Matthew 1:21). But, and I want to stress this strongly, it is not just salvation from…. (Whatever the terrible consequences might be) but salvation for….. I repeat again, it’s about a new kind of lasting victory and freedom. The triumph of a forgiven and transformed new life, lived by faith in Christ within the Church and community of Faith, empowered and enriched by his saving grace alone. It’s a liberated life sustained by God’s holy Word; by worship and prayer also; and specially by Sacrament and fellowship.
The New Testament moves beyond a rescue operation necessary as it is, to an abundant new life! This is the life our Father God had always planned and prepared for us; for every single one of us and forever. Nothing less! Yet it was very costly to bring about, and that we have to look at when we think about the Crucifixion and the Atonement made for us, themes of inexhaustible meaning and relevance.
Please read some or all of these passages: Colossians 1:12-20; Ephesians 1:3-10; 1 Peter 1:3-5 & 19-20; Hebrews 12:22-24; and Matthew 5:3-10 which is about new life Gospel living.
Over the centuries Churches and individual Christians have often stressed the negative things that we are saved from, to the detriment of taking hold of the great positive gifts and benefits. Fear alone rather than generous Love has often been the driving motivation; at times enforced by political power and expediency.
The danger is that no one is ever truly saved by undue stress on human failure, on condemnation, or fear of separation from God forever. (Certainly not nowadays!) It does not make for a balanced mature loving Christian fellowship, and it can easily damage a person’s mental health and equilibrium. The New Testament is overwhelmingly positive, and though the gravity of human sin and wrong doing should never be underestimated, it is the sheer immensity and wideness of the divine Love and Mercy that matters most, and should be our primary emphasis. All that I have tried to explain so far is dramatically set forth in the Church’s Liturgies, and especially in the Eucharist and Communion.
In this great Sacrament our salvation is made truly real for us, is strengthened and renewed, and is a foretaste of its glorious fullness in heaven.
There’s a wideness in God’s mercy, like the wideness of the sea;
There’s a kindness in his justice, which is more than liberty
For the love of God is broader than the scope of human mind,
And the heart of the Eternal is most wonderfully kind.
Loving Saviour, Lord and God, thank you for all that you have done for us and given for our eternal Salvation. Help us to show in our lives the fruits of that great redemption until we see your face in glory. Amen.