The year 2020 has raised many issues of trust. Can we trust the government? What’s their strategy? Haven’t they flip-flopped numerous times? And scientists? Have they really been objective in presenting data about coronavirus?
We know MPs, scientists, and other advisers have broken lockdown rules themselves. We are also aware of the rise of fake news across social media.
In former days many would be naturally cynical of estate agents or second-hand car salesmen. But now that cynicism and distrust has extended to politicians, journalists, police officers, and even medical professionals.
In the Bible, Jesus himself accused the religious leaders of his day of hypocrisy and selfish ambition.
We may personally know people who do not follow government rules concerning Covid-19, or perhaps we fear neighbours who are ready to contact the police about our own actions during lockdown.
Coronavirus aside, there are bosses who don’t trust their employees and employees who don’t trust their bosses. Can we trust the partner we live with to be faithful? Can we trust our teenage children to be honest and sensible?
Perhaps, at heart, you do not trust yourself and are painfully aware of your own failings and unreliability.
Who among us knows what 2021 will bring? Prosperity or bankruptcy? Love or disappointment and heartbreak? Health or sickness? Life is unpredictable and precarious.
As we review the year that’s passed and contemplate the year to come, don’t we long, amid so much uncertainty, for something sure – something we can rely on?
In the apostle Paul’s first letter to his young co-worker Timothy, he speaks of something we can depend on: ‘Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance, Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst.’
Here is something of which we can be sure and confident. Paul is not just saying that what the Bible tells us about Jesus is historically accurate. He is also saying that what the Bible tells us about Jesus can provide us with security and hope.
‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners…’ In these words we have not only the Christmas message but the Christian message in a nutshell.
This verse tells us who Christianity is about: Christ Jesus. Christianity centres on a person. It is not primarily a philosophy or moral code, but a Person. ‘Christ’ means ‘anointed one’: a chosen king coming to rescue his people. ‘Jesus’ means ‘the Lord saves’.
Jesus Christ is a real man and yet also God. Note those words, ‘Christ Jesus came into the world.’ That’s not a normal way to describe the lifework of even a very important person.
You can’t come somewhere unless you’ve been somewhere else before. What Paul assumes here is the pre-existence of the person who became the man Christ Jesus. Bethlehem was not his beginning. Jesus Christ was and remains the eternal Son of God.
Let’s reflect on what he did: he ‘came into the world’. He left the bliss of heaven and came to earth. The Son of God became a real man. He came into the world. He did not jet in and jet out like a curious tourist. He really entered into and experienced our world. He came to where we are.
Christ Jesus entered into this world of sin and suffering. He knew hardship, temptation, opposition, and pain. He experienced sadness, distress, and ultimately death. The baby boy born in Bethlehem would, as a man, suffer outside Jerusalem the agonising death of the cross.
And what the gospels make clear is that Jesus didn’t try to escape this. He clearly saw it coming. He predicted what would happen in detail. But he did not flee or resist. Instead of evading this he embraced this as his role and destiny.
Finally, our verse tells us why: ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.’ Jesus was on a rescue mission. He did not come into the world principally to put his arm round us or educate us. He came to save us.
Joseph was told by the angel, ‘You are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins’ (Matthew 1:21).
As an adult, Jesus rubbed shoulders with all sorts of people, but most notably the outcasts of society. He was willing to meet such people, share meals with them, and talk to them about God. ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but those who are ill,’ he said. ‘I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance’ (Luke 5:31-32).
The night before he died, at the Last Supper, Jesus told his disciples, ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins’ (Matthew 26:28).
The Bible says Jesus died as a sacrifice to save us from the guilt and the power of sin. He came to secure forgiveness and reconciliation with God. He came to change people from the inside out through the power of the Holy Spirit, to liberate them from slavery to addictions and empty pursuits. He came to free them from the fear of death – whether that be cancer or coronavirus – and give eternal life and hope.
‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.’ The term is unqualified – sinners of all description: children, teenagers, adults, and the elderly. Every kind of sinner: those who are living lives of open shame as well as those who maintain a respectable façade. Christ Jesus came to save these sinners too.
What is the Christian faith about? Christ Jesus. What did he do? He came into the world. And why? To save sinners.
Paul then adds, ‘of whom I am the worst.’ Paul, who wrote these words, was once what we’d call a religious fanatic, prepared to use violence and persecution. But Jesus saved him. And if Jesus could save him, he can save anybody. If Jesus could save him, he can save me or you.
So what are we to do? ‘Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance, Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.’
We’re to give our full agreement – that it happened, that it matters, that Jesus deserves our trust and obedience, loyalty, and love, our worship, our whole life. Have you done that? Won’t you do that now?
Mark Richards is Pastor of Newtown Baptist Church, Chesham.