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Salvation for All?

Sermon passage: (Isaiah 56:1-8) Spoken on: December 18, 2011
More sermons from this speaker 更多该讲员的讲道: Pastor Wilson Tan
For more of this sermon series 更多关于此讲道系列: Isaiah

Tags: Christmas, Isaiah, 以赛亚书, 圣诞节

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About Pastor Wilson Tan: Pastor Tan served as a youth executive at the Presbyterian Synod, and as a pastor in Jubilee Church. He continues to serve in church as a cell leader in zone ministry.

Sermon on Isaiah 56:1-8

Introduction
Last week, Pastor Siow Hwee began with a joke about “Jesus saves” and because “Jesus saves” and “Satan does not”, “Jesus’ work” was restored after the blackout. Last week’s sermon focused on the nature of time and salvation, the so-called “when” of salvation. Salvation that is timeless, salvation that is time and time again and salvation that is timely. Today, we will continue to understand another perspective of salvation, the question of “who” did Jesus save? “Who was salvation for?” “Who can be saved?”

Key Question: “Who was salvation for?”
This is somewhat the focus of the passage in Isaiah 56:1-8. The text begins with a declaration to “"Keep justice, and do righteousness, for soon my salvation will come, and my deliverance be revealed.” It does not tell us specifically that this salvation and deliverance were only for the Jews alone. But as we look at the context of the passage, it does seem to suggest strongly that this salvation-deliverance is also opened to non-Jews, like the eunuchs and foreigners.

“Everyone who keeps the Sabbath… and holds fast to the covenant” What does this mean?
• Sabbath: Total devotion to God alone
• Covenant: God as our King, and we are His people

The mention of eunuchs in today’s passage is special because eunuchs are known to bear total devotion to those whom they serve, usually kings and royalty authorities. And in the text today, these eunuchs would be commended by God as they give their total devotion to God alone. This is the essence of keeping the Sabbath. Keeping the Sabbath is about a total devotion in the worship of our Lord God. To keep the Sabbath is more than just not lifting your fingers to work, or to rest, but it is about enjoying the presence of God and recognizing God as King. This is why we worship God on Sabbath.

The concept of the covenant is not new to eunuchs and foreigners. A covenant is an agreement between two parties. In this case, it is between God and his people. We are familiar with God making many renewed covenants with Israel, but time and time again, we read of their failures to keep their covenants. But here in Isaiah 56, we read that this covenant is also open to the eunuchs and the foreigners. This open-covenant agreement can be found in three verses:

• “the son of man who holds it (refers to the covenant) fast” (v. 2)
• “To the eunuchs who…hold fast my covenant” (v. 4)
• “And the foreigners… [and] everyone who… holds fast to my covenant” (v. 6)

Through the prophet Isaiah, the Lord spoke to the eunuchs and foreigners, who kept the Sabbaths and held fast to God’s covenant. God tells them that He will not cut them off. Eunuchs will no longer say, “Behold, I am a dry-tree” because he is incapable of sexual acts due to castration, and therefore, unable to have any children or an heir to his name. But yet, God says that He will “give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.” (v. 5)

This privilege is also extended to foreigners, “who join themselves to the LORD, to minister to him, to love the name of the LORD, and to be his servants.” They are known as proselytes, converts to Judaism who were not born an ethnic Jew. Even though the eunuchs and the foreigners were non-Jews, God bestowed grace upon them. Even though the eunuchs and foreigners were considered outcasts by the Israelites, they remained very much in God’s plan of salvation of the world. An early convert to Christianity who was an Ethiopian eunuch official recorded in Acts 8:27-37.

Salvation is for All
• All? Everyone? Universal Salvation or Universality of Salvation?
We understand that God opens the door to eunuchs and foreigners and by implication; this means that God has opened the door of salvation to the world, to all the nations of the world, above and beyond the nation of Israel. The biblical perspective of salvation is that “salvation is for all.” But such a general statement like this is open to much controversy. Does all mean “everyone,” every single person who was born into this world, regardless of their beliefs? What some people would consider as “universal salvation,” that no matter what happens, everyone ends up in heaven, because of Jesus. Such an understanding of salvation is unsupported in the Bible. Let’s look closely at these three verses from Isa. 56 instead. Note the subjective clauses in these three statements.

• “Blessed is the man who does this” (v. 2)
• “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths” (v. 4)
• “And the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD” (v. 6)

These three verses show us clearly that the message of salvation and deliverance is open to all, but it does not mean that all will be saved. This universality of salvation is quite different from “universal salvation” as mentioned earlier. It means that “God intends for all to be saved, but not everyone will be saved because not everyone is joined to the Lord.”

Paul in his letter to Timothy offers the same understanding of God’s desire to save all.

1 Tim 2:3-6
3This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, 4who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 5For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.

About 1500 years later, John Calvin wrote an exposition from these same verses (1 Tim 2:3-5) and affirms Jesus’ gift of salvation to all,

“Jesus Christ is not only a Savior of few, but He offered Himself to all. As often as the gospel is preached to us, we ought to consider that God called us to Him: and if we attend to this call, it shall not be in vain, neither shall it be lost labor.” (John Calvin, The Salvation of All Men)

This call is the call to be followers of Jesus Christ. When we attend to this call, we will be in union with Jesus Christ. Salvation is for those who belong to Jesus. For those who held on to Jesus is like a swimmer who was drowning but was saved when he clings on to the floating buoy. It is clear that God desire or intends for all to be saved. But what exactly do we mean by salvation? Since the time of Reformation in the 16th century, Christians became increasingly concerned about soteriology or the nature and doctrine of salvation, i.e. What is Salvation? Who is saved? etc.

There are five basic theological beliefs of the Protestant Reformation, also known as the 5 solas. The Latin word “sola” means “alone” or “only” in English. From just a quick glance of the, the second, third and fourth solas relates to salvation. It does seem like the Reformers were indeed quite concerned with the understanding of salvation. This Christ-centred salvation soon became just a “personal salvation” in the 21st century.

1. Sola scriptura ("by Scripture alone")
2. Sola fide (“by faith alone”)
3. Sola gratia (“by grace alone”)
4. Solo Christo (“through Christ alone”)
5. Soli Deo gloria (“Glory to God alone”)

Scot McKnight’s The King Jesus Gospel: Salvation Culture vs. Gospel Culture
Scot McKnight in his new book, “King Jesus Gospel” explores the influence of the so-called “salvation culture” from the Reformation period to Evangelical Christianity today. He believes that this “salvation culture” has distorted the original meaning of salvation as found in the Gospel and as believed by the early Christians. Today’s “salvation culture” is a misrepresentation of the salvation message which Jesus and Paul preached about in the New Testament.

Scot McKnight believes that The New Testament is truly a continuation of the Gospel Story from the very beginning in the Old Testament. The New Testament, beginning with the four Gospel writers (Matthew, Mark, Luke John) and also in Paul’s letters promote a “gospel culture” rather than a “salvation culture” as seen prominently today. In this engaging and convincing book, he strongly encourages all Christians to re-read the Gospel story from the eyes of God in sending his Son, Jesus, who is the Gospel himself, to save the whole world, rather than just be concerned with “who will be saved?”

Salvation Culture vs. Gospel Culture
What is the difference between “salvation culture” and “gospel culture”, you may ask?
Salvation Culture is concerned about Personal Salvation Story, Plan of Salvation, Heaven and Hell, ego-centric salvation (“I”-focused), Making a Decision: Belief, “I am saved!” On the other hand, the Gospel Culture is about God’s Salvation of the World Story, Kingdom-values, “Jesus is King, Jesus is Lord,” Christo-centric (Jesus-focused), Becoming a Follower: Discipleship, “Jesus saves the world from sins”

Salvation Culture removes the focus of Jesus to oneself. It takes away the Grand Narrative of God’s Plan of Salvation from Israel to Jesus and subsequently to us. Jesus is my Savior, but not really My Lord and My King. Gospel becomes just a way for us to be saved from hell or eternal damnation. The mission and purpose of Jesus is to save you from hell. Is that it?

The Gospel Revisited
Maybe at this point, we should ask ourselves, what do we understand the gospel to be? It sounds like a simple question, but it is good that we take some time to rethink this simple question. “What is the Gospel?” It comes as no surprise that the four Gospel writers did not write four unique Gospel stories but One Gospel Story from four different perspectives. The Gospel is singular. It is Good News. It is one same message from the disciples, to the apostles, to the gospel writers, to the churches. What is the Gospel?

1 Cor. 15:1-5
1Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you— unless you believed in vain.
3For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.

The Gospel is described by the words in bold, that Christ died for our sins… he was buried… he was raised … he appeared. This is the Gospel, and if we also add in his birth, his ascension, his second coming, these six events of Christ’s life represent the Gospel in its entirety.

1) Christ’s Birth
2) Christ’s Death
3) Christ’s Burial
4) Christ’s Resurrection
5) Christ’s Ascension
6) Christ’s Second Coming

“[T]he gospel is defined by the apostles in 1 Corinthians 15 as the completion of the Story of Israel in the saving Story of Jesus; that the gospel is found in the Four Gospels; that the gospel was preached by Jesus…” In short, the gospel is about Jesus and the gospel is Jesus. The Gospel is much more than your personal salvation. The Gospel is Jesus Christ. It is about God’s redemptive story of the whole world. We are saved because we are part of this world which God intends to save from the very beginning. Jesus is our Mediator.

Mission of the Church: A Faith Community that shares the Gospel Story
Isn’t interesting when we consider that the Bible begins with a story of one man and one woman in a garden from Genesis, and ends with a multitude of people in a city paved with gold in Revelation? Isn’t it amazing when we consider that it is part of God’s plan to save the whole world? The Gospel is never meant for just you and I, but to be “preached to the ends of the world.”

Matt 24:14
“14And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”

This brings us to the mission of the church today. It is God’s business to share the good news with the world. The church needs to do the same. Mission and Evangelism is not just for missionaries and evangelists. Don’t even think that this job is solely the Pastor’s job. NO!!! It is everyone’s responsibilities to share this Gospel to all around us. The church is God’s house. Let’s be reminded from Prophet Isaiah that this house of the God must be a house of prayer for all people (Isa. 56:7). As a house of prayer, we need to pray for the world. We need to be in constant communication with God. We pray not just for our own well-beings, our exams, or our work, but for the sufferings of this world, for God’s kingdom to be established and God’s will to be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

In these few weeks, I have been reflecting a lot about our church and I am sure many of you would have too. If we truly understand this Gospel Story from the Bible, we will understand that all of us are part of the Grand Plan of God’s Salvation of the World. Each of us has a part to play in this Kingdom Building. But we often forget who is the King of this Kingdom. We say with our mouth that Jesus is our King, Jesus is our Lord, but these are empty words. We are concerned with our personal salvation and rarely about sharing the gospel with our friends. We have to start doing things differently if we truly hear the message of the salvation for what it is. Your faith cannot be just a personal faith between you and God. Our faith is a community of faith. Our church is a community of believers. We must start putting our faith into action.

Two words I leave with you: Sabbath and Covenant. Keep the Sabbath and hold fast to the Covenant. Keep your total devotion to God and at the same time put your faith into action by becoming the true people of God in honouring his covenant. If you need to forgive someone today, go to him or her today and forgive. If you need forgiveness, ask for it today. Go ahead and love someone today, especially the ones who are unlovable. The church is more than just worshipping God, listening to sermons, learning from Sunday Schools, it is also about giving and sharing. It is about giving of yourself for others, and sharing God’s love with everyone. For this Gospel culture to be actualised, it must start with each one of us. But we cannot do this alone, we need each other. We were created for one another.

Let us pray.