Born To Save The Chief Sinner

December 14, 1997 / No. 2867

I would take the occasion of this holiday season to ask you this question: Why did Jesus come to earth?

If each one of us, from the oldest to the youngest, were to conduct a survey on the question, Why did Jesus come to earth? we would find appalling ignorance, gross misconceptions, and deliberate perversions on that question. Some would say that it has something to do with peace and good-will on earth, to teach us to forget hostilities and to renew our hopes for mankind. Others would say that it has something to do with the betterment of man. God is telling us how much worth man has and wants to give us an example. Still others would try to evoke in us some feeling of pity, of humbleness, of recognition of how good we have it compared to the child who lay His head in the manger.

Do you know the Bible’s answer to the question, Why did the eternal Son of God come to this world two thousand years ago, born of a virgin, in a cattle shed, placed where animals lick up their hay? Do you, by the grace of God which overwhelms you, know that it has to do with the sin and guilt and wrath and punishment of you? I am not asking whether the orthodox, biblical answer is in your head. One can still perish everlastingly knowing the true answer to the question. But do you know it by means of a personal confession, out of faith and love which is in Jesus Christ?

Do you answer that question the way Paul did in I Timothy 1:15? “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.” In that chapter Paul was contemplating the grace of God shown to him. He could not get over it! He says that it still amazes him that he is found in the position of a gospel minister. In the light of what I was, he says in that chapter, a persecutor, blasphemer, injurious to God’s people, beside myself in hatred to Christ, proud before God; I am amazed that I obtained mercy, that the grace of God was there to forgive me and to turn me in faith and love to Jesus Christ. He goes on to say that God’s purpose in doing all of this for him was to show in Paul an example of God’s longsuffering and grace, the same grace which leads all of God’s children to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.

In other words, Paul has been contemplating his own experience as an amazing display of the grace of God to the blindest and proudest sinner Paul knew. Right in the middle of it he makes this declaration: “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.” Paul says, I know that that is the reason that the Son of God came into the world. I know that, not simply because I read and heard that answer, but I know it in myself. He came to save me, the chief sinner.

Now, I do not want to try to put Christ into Christmas. I do not wish simply to instill in you, or draw out of you, some human sentiment of good will and pity for Him. Nor do I want to attempt to beat the Scrooge that is left in your bosom and put into you the spirit of Christmas. No, I will stand on the testimony of the Word of God and direct your attention to a saying that is utterly reliable and which is confirmed in the experience of every Christian and child of God: Christ Jesus came into the world to save the chief sinner.

Paul says that this is a faithful saying, worthy of all acceptation. You might be aware that the apostle Paul used that construction a number of times in his pastoral epistles (to Titus and to Timothy). I will not now look them up with you; I would rather point out to you that the apostle Paul is saying that the statement he is to make is both reliable and to be accepted. The word “faithful” means “reliable,” that is, this is a reliable saying. Something reliable is dependable. You can count on it. It does not let you down. It will not be shown to be false in the future. This statement, then, stands amid all the ages. It stands amid all the storms and trials seeking to wash this statement away. It is utterly reliable. It is reliable because God, who cannot lie, is the author of it. It is reliable because it is confirmed and verified in the experience of every child of God. This is a faithful, reliable saying: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.

And it is worthy of all acceptation, says the apostle. It deserves and requires complete acceptance on the part of the people of God. Unbelief, be still! Satan, shut your mouth. Philosophy and ideas of man which would attempt to classify the Bible and this verse into religious folklore, be silent! Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. That is utterly reliable and must be accepted as true.

Let us look at each part for a moment.

Christ Jesus came into the world. We are directed, first of all, to who He was. Christ is our Lord’s title. Jesus is our Lord’s personal name. It is like President Clinton: “President” refers to his office as chief executive of the United States; “Clinton” is his personal name. Our Lord is Jesus Christ.Christ is our Lord’s title, and bound up in that word is all that the Bible teaches us of the promised Messiah, or the one who is anointed, ordained, and sent by God to be our prophet, priest, and king. As the Christ, Jesus stands as our prophet to reveal the truth of God: In Him was light and no darkness at all. As the Christ, He stands as our priest who would offer up Himself in the one, perfect, all-sufficient sacrifice which would banish our sins. And as Christ He is the king who sits on the throne of David administering the sure mercies of God.

He is Christ Jesus. The word “Jesus” is His personal name and means “Jehovah saves.” He is the salvation come from Jehovah. Who came into this world? Just another child? Just a babe in the manger who would grow up simply to find his role in life and try to bring peace and happiness for men? No! The long-awaited Messiah came into the world. The Christ. Jesus. The salvation of almighty God. You see, the moment you stop and think over the Scriptures about who was in Mary’s arms, you are knee-deep in Christian theology. You hear God speaking from the manger. You hear the testimony already in the manger that God is holy and righteous and now has sent His Son to whom He has entrusted the entire work of redeeming our souls and bringing us to God.

Christ Jesus came into the world. Now that statement has no meaning apart from the truth that He existed in another realm before He came into the world. We use those words very loosely. We say, “So-and-so came into the world at 10 minutes after 12.” But the Scriptures mean that this was a glorious person. God the Son, who existed as the only begotten Son of God eternally, came into the world. He did not begin to be when He came into the world. He did not begin to be the Son of God when He was born of the virgin. No, He came into the world-meaning that God the Son, who is eternally God’s Son, now took on Himself true humanity. He came into our flesh. And that He came into the world is more than saying simply that He came to terra-firma, to earth, He stood on this globe. But the word “world” here carries the idea of the spiritual sense. He came into the realm where sin is reality. Not simply that He came to earth, but to earth as it is cursed under sin, where evil is everywhere present, where all is in darkness, where there is death and wickedness.

This is amazing! God’s Son, Christ Jesus, came into the realm of sin and woe and suffering and death and evil. Why? To save sinners.

Do not think for a moment of His coming into the world apart from sin, says Paul, and apart from the people He came to save from their sin. He came to save sinners. And He wants these things drawn inseparably together: His coming and the fact that He came to save people who are of themselves sinners.

The word “sinner” in the Bible means to “miss the mark.” Sin is, first of all, at its heart, the deliberate and willful and intentional missing of the mark that God sets and a turning to aim ourselves at the very opposite. Involved is the willful spurning, the thumbing in the nose of God, a vain pride which says that I will do as I please and not even God will tell me otherwise. Now, understand this: sinners are those who are out-of-line with God. A sinner is not, first of all, someone who is out-of-line with others. We are that too, of course, of ourselves. We destroy others in our sin. We destroy their character. We take another person’s virtue. We hate, we lie, we envy. But that is not the essence of sin. That is the by-product of sin.

Sin declares that the almighty God has made us for Himself to know and to love Him, and sin is to be something less than that, to do the opposite of that. You may outwardly say with the apostle Paul that, as touching the law of God, I am blameless toward my fellow man. I have not stolen, I have not killed. I have not tarnished anyone’s virtue. Yet, you are a vile and wicked sinner in this: not God but yourself is your aim. Christ Jesus came to save such sinners.

Have you ever drained that precious Word of all of its wonderful sweetness? Christ came to save sinners-those who could not, those who did not want to, save themselves. The word “salvation” means to be rescued from sin and slavery and punishment and guilt. It means to reach down and wipe away the guilty stain of all that I have done and all that I have been in evil, to break the chains which are tying me to sin and which I would foolishly serve, and to shield me from the punishment which I deserve. More, to be saved means to be brought into righteousness and freedom and life eternal. It is to declare to me that not only am I pardoned, but I am now clothed in the sight of God with a righteousness which God judges in every part perfect. It means that I am freed from sin’s tyranny and given faith and love in Jesus Christ. It means that I am an heir of life which shall never fade away, and I have fellowship with God. And the love of God is mine as the rays of the sunlight. He came to lift us out of the realm of evil, the love of evil, the punishment we deserve for evil, into the realm of forgiveness, the love of God, and to be made an heir of heavenly life.

That is why He came. If you take that away, you have no gospel left. Why would the Son of God come to this earth? What would ever cause Him to do that? I assure you it was no light reason. This was the reason: in order to save sinners. We read in Isaiah 53 that it pleased the Father to bruise Him; He hath put Him to grief.

You mock the Son of God by coming to the manger with sentimental tears about an unwanted babe, and saying, “Oh, but it wouldn’t be so today. What we need simply is to have more peace and human love on earth.” That is to mock Jesus Christ. He came to save sinners.

I know that, says Paul. I can affirm that this is absolutely true. Why? Because I am the chief of those sinners, says Paul. I know it. I am absolutely staggered by the mercy and the grace of God in giving His Son. I know He came to save sinners because I am the chief sinner. Literally, we read, “of whom foremost am I, even I.” Out of the depth of my own experience, an experience worked in me by the Holy Spirit’s grace, I know that this statement is true, says Paul. How do I know that Christ came to save sinners? Because He has saved me, the chief sinner, the foremost sinner. And if He has saved me, the chief of sinners, then He has set a pattern, an example of what He will do for all those sinners God gives to Him-all those whom God causes to come to Jesus in a humble confession of their sin.

Let me illustrate. Your child comes running to you with the newspaper and says, “Look at this, Dad. It says that there was a terrible accident on Interstate 53 and 290. There was a pile-up of ten cars and four trucks. People were hurt! Look at the pictures. See the firemen and the paramedics who are rescuing people. And the article tells that one man was pinned by the steering wheel of his car under that tanker truck. And the flames were ready to ignite when the paramedics literally pulled him out and saved him. Read it, Dad. Look at the pictures. See!”

And the father says, “I know, son. I don’t need to read that. I know. I was there. I was that man.”

Do you understand? Paul says, I know, I can confirm that Christ Jesus came to save the most desperate, perverse, and proud sinners. He saved me, for I am the chief of such sinners. The confirming testimony of the statement “Christ came into the world to save sinners” is worked by the Holy Spirit in a personal knowledge of our own sinful and wretched condition. That is not false modesty. That is not simply being polite. But Paul was given to see himself, and he could not conceive of anyone worse. He remembers all that he had done and all that he was: persecutor of the church. He was beside himself. He wanted to get his hands around the neck of Christ’s wife, the church, and strangle her. He consented to the death of families, Christian fathers, mothers, and children. He blasphemed the name of Jesus Christ.

But, beloved, Paul does not say, of whom I was chief, but of whom I am chief. Paul is saying it is not just that my actions in my unconverted days were worse than everybody else’s. Oh, they were horrible, and it grieves and cuts me now. But I see what I am. And that makes me the chief, in my judgment. For such a person as I Christ Jesus came to save.

Can you put this personal confirmation upon the faithful saying of Christ coming into the world to save sinners? Can you make this personal confirmation: of whom I am chief?

You see, this is not just theory, not just a story, not simply an idea that Christ Jesus, God’s Son, was born in a manger, come now to save those graciously given to Him of the Father. But it actually happened. Paul says, I am one of them. God has shown me my own sin. Do you, by the grace of God, say the same?

This is a reliable statement, worthy of all acceptance. It demands that we embrace it with trembling and thankful hearts. Let the voices of unbelief say what they want. Let them say there was no virgin, there was no Son of God in flesh, that all of this is folklore, that this is Palestinian literature. And let them babble about Santa and reindeer and Christmas spirit and talking animals. This statement stands: A wonder of wonders happened in the most inconceivable of settings. A virgin in a stable gave birth to the Son of God in our flesh and wrapped Him in torn pieces of rags. Why? Christ Jesus came to save sinners of whom I am chief.

Do you know why He came? Do you say, “Well, the Bible says that the grace of God gave His Son to save the church”? Yes, that is true. But do you know that it is true because grace has caused you to take the posture of a needy, undone, hell-deserving sinner who has not one plea of yourself-and, by grace through faith, you cast yourself only upon Jesus as your faithful Savior? Do you know what Paul says here because you see yourself as the chief sinner? Christ Jesus came only to save the chief sinners-not all sinners, the chief. Those who, by the Holy Spirit shining within them, see themselves in their desperate need and wretched state. He has not come for self-righteous sinners, sinners who think that they are at least a little better than that guy over there. But sinners who, by the Spirit, now know that they are undone and who assume but one position before God: God be merciful to me, the sinner.

For such He came. The wonder and the glory of the love of God. How abundant His grace. How beyond understanding His mercy. For this is a faithful saying, worthy of all acceptation: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.

Are those your words? Do you know why Jesus Christ was born in this world? If you do, then hear another faithful saying worthy of all acceptance: Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be white as wool (Is. 1).

Let us pray.

Thanks, Father, for the gift of Thy Son, Jesus Christ, who has saved His people from their sins and has saved the chief sinner. Amen.