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Does the world need a Saviour?

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I suspect a lot of people would find this question quite amusing. For instance, the very notion of sin as an offence against a personal and righteous God now appears to have mysteriously vanished. Overreliance on technology and corporate greed are what really plague us; who needs a Saviour when you have a social activist? G. K. Chesterton once observed that confession without absolution was really what people were looking for; who needs a Saviour when you have Dr. Phil?

The need for a Saviour

“Are you the Messiah we’ve been expecting?” John the Baptist knew the world needed a Saviour (Matthew 11:3). Those who have journeyed through the Gospel of Matthew up to this point know why he is asking. His question is as unavoidable as a freight train barrelling toward you.

Matthew introduces Jesus as the one who would save his people from their sins (1:21). In Matthew 3, John the Baptist calls on his contemporaries to repent. In the following chapter, Jesus faces off with the devil himself: the ultimate expression of opposition to God and chaos in the world. In 4:16, Jesus refers to those who are living “in the land of the shadow of death” (NIV). In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus highlights the myriad issues that plague the human race. He speaks of oppression and suffering, hatred and murder, the violation of social and sexual boundaries, revenge, intractable conflicts, of poverty and hypocrisy, of illness that devastates the body, the soul, and the mind, of chaos demonic and human.

Does the world need a Saviour? You bet!

What do we actually need to be saved from? Political oppression? An economic system? Global warming? Overpopulation?

Had the New Testament writers heard these answers, they would have suffocated from uncontrollable laughter. They knew only too well that the number one problem from which all others derive is the fundamental wrongness in the deepest part of the human soul. They needed no higher authority than Jesus himself to say so: “For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery…” (Matthew 15:19–20). The critical issue is sin, and only Christ can do something about that (Matthew 16:21).

John the Baptist knew he was but one step in the process that would bring about humanity’s salvation. He was not the final switch that would trigger the explosive unfolding of God’s plan of redemption and release a burst that would reach back in time, set the present ablaze, and radiate into eternity. Jesus was the one in whom humanity would be renewed, and the one in whom the very fabric of the universe would be regenerated (Romans 8:18–21). But John the Baptist hadn’t quite figured it out yet.

Good news for the poor

In Matthew 11:4–5, Jesus provides the evidence that he is indeed the ultimate step in the plan of redemption: the blind see, the disabled walk, incurable diseases vanish, the deaf hear, and the dead are raised. So much joy! Then comes the ultimate sign: the Good News is preached to the poor!

Now, brace yourself – this has nothing to do with an increase in the minimum wage or rent controls. While the gospel has social implications, let’s not confuse the heat produced by the nuclear reactor with the nuclear reactor. Matthew is referring to the poor in spirit, those who recognize their spiritual poverty, the hopelessness of their condition, and their need for a Saviour (Matthew 5:3).

Does the world need a Saviour? Only a fool would dare say otherwise. But when I take a hard look at myself and discover the truth of what Jesus says about the churning well of chaos that drives my soul, the realization that I need a Saviour dawns on me.

Every single one of us is compromised by sin and in need of forgiveness. But forgiveness is costly. When we sin against people and God, the offence becomes infinite and so does the cost of forgiveness.

If it were left up to us, there would be no hope. We are doomed by our nature, our thoughts, and our actions.

But God did not leave it up to us. God himself in the person of Jesus Christ gave his life for us and paid our debt. He satisfied the demands of justice and ultimate reality. He did everything to ensure we could all live forever in his presence. But there is one thing he cannot do. He cannot administer the cure without our permission. For, you see, God is love. The awful truth is that he will never take us against our will.

Pierre Gilbert is associate professor of Bible and theology at Canadian Mennonite University and Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary. He is the author of Demons, Lies & Shadows (2008).

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright 1996, 2004.


Matthew 11:2–11

John the Baptist, who was in prison, heard about all the things the Messiah was doing. So he sent his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the Messiah we’ve been expecting, or should we keep looking for someone else?”

Jesus told them, “Go back to John and tell him what you have heard and seen – the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor. And tell him, ‘God blesses those who do not turn away because of me.’”

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