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Salvation: Why Jesus Came (Matthew 1:21)

By James Earl Massey
The textual story reminds us that Jesus was not just another child born into this world, and that His name was not a mere tag chosen at random or in haste. When Mary gave birth to the son God had caused her to conceive, she and Joseph named the child as they were directed. They called Him "Jesus," in keeping with the divinely inspired ministry He was sent to accomplish.

The name "Jesus" identified Him as Savior, and it readily helps us to know why He came among us: "call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins."

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The text holds two terms which are problematic for some people today: it speaks of being "saved" from "sins." This was not an abstract notion nor a strange concern to the people of Jesus' day, but there are those in our time who view "salvation" and "sin" as mere notions, and they speak about these themes in different ways, sometimes with unashamed blandness, unsympathetic tolerance, or even overt enmity.

I have come across that unsympathetic tolerance toward the notion of salvation and overt enmity toward sin in recent strongly-worded critiques against religious fiction. Some secularist critics have charged that fictional works are always ruined when the writer is religious; they argued that the writer's belief system always curtails the freedom of the characters, confining their choices, predetermining what should have been a free play of mind and life. Those critics of religious novelists had little, if any, respect for works influenced by a belief in God, transcendence, salvation, sin, or divine sanctions against human wrong-doing.

Even those who read casually in the general world of modern fiction will know that few novels offer a guide on how to live, that few novelists seek to inform us morally or tell us what to do when life goes wrong and when losses pile upon us due to failures on our part. Modern novels are mainly descriptive, and any hint of prescriptive writing is immediately regarded as religious propaganda.

Prescriptive works -- writings done to "make a point" -- are still being debunked, but even those writings created and published with no confessed point to make nevertheless end making one; and even the most imaginative and free-wheeling novels indirectly honor the notion of "salvation," because as escapist fiction they are planned to "save" the readers from something, "delivering" them from boredom, offering relief from pressures for a time, and granting "freedom" from the actual by means of an imaged slice of life through a guided imagination.

To be sure, some literary masters have written from religious perspectives, and they did so without shame or apology. Fyodor Dostoyevsky was one of them, and his classic Crime and Punishment is actually about sin and punishment: Raskolnikov's deed of murder was both a crime and a sin, and he reacted to it all by seeking needed expiation -- inner deliverance, salvation, if you please. He felt the weighted tragedy of his choices, the anguish of his spirit, the marginality of his being, and a real lostness in his soul. It is with all of this that the ministry of Jesus deals. Sin and salvation are not abstractions; they are realities.

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