We need God’s forgiveness before all else

November 27, 2013

I know everyone’s going gaga over the new pope, and why not? But his unfashionable predecessor won me over last year with his excellent Christmas-themed book, Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives. Since I’m preaching on Matthew 1:18-25, I revisited Benedict’s words about this passage.

Benedict reflects on the angel’s words, “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus”—which means “YHWH is salvation”—”for he will save his people from their sins.” Given common Jewish expectations for the Messiah, Benedict said, the angel’s words must have seemed both “too little and too much.” Too much because only God can forgive sins (or is the angel implying that the Messiah is also God?) and too little because “there seems to be no thought of Israel’s concrete suffering or its true need for salvation.”[1]

Like a good evangelical Christian, Benedict argues that Jesus’ mission must place a priority on forgiveness of sins before anything else. He uses the story of the paralytic’s being lowered through the roof (Matthew 9:2-8 and parallels) to make the point. Surely many of the onlookers were disappointed when Jesus announced that the man’s sins were forgiven, while doing nothing to address what the crowd—not to mention the paralytic’s four friends—perceived to be his “real” need: physical healing.

To this, Benedict writes:

Man is a relational being. And if his first, fundamental relationship is disturbed—his relationship with God—then nothing else can be truly in order. This is where the priority lies in Jesus’ message and ministry: before all else, he wants to point man toward the essence of his malady, and to show him—if you are not healed there, then however many good things you may find, you are not truly healed.[2]

I watched Billy Graham’s farewell message on his 95th birthday a couple of weeks ago. Given the anticipation of the event—this will be his last message to the public, his son Franklin said, so be sure to listen up!—I wonder if any TV viewers were disappointed. After all the build-up, Graham didn’t say anything he hadn’t been saying for 70 years or so! Graham’s message was exactly the same as it has always been: man can be saved from his sins through faith in Jesus Christ. So place your faith in him right now and be saved.

Of course there’s more to the gospel, and more to being a Christian, than that. But you have to start there. That’s the most important thing.

My district superintendent, the Rev. Richard Winn, said in a homily to our church’s charge conference that we Methodists don’t talk much about “being saved” anymore, and how that’s a bad thing.

I agree. God forgive me for not being more faithful with that message in the past!

1. Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives (New York: Crown, 2012), 43.

2. Ibid., 44.

4 Responses to “We need God’s forgiveness before all else”

  1. Tom Harkins Says:

    Couldn’t agree more. The new Pope seems to be taking virtually the opposite stance, as I read the various reports.

  2. Clay Knick Says:

    Hey, I’m going to steal some of this, oh, no, I mean borrow, no use. 🙂 Good stuff, brother.


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