If I asked you what the salvation Jesus offers is, how would you answer?
Seems like a critical question if this salvation is what our faith is after.
For many, perhaps not you, the answer is "Jesus' salvation is forgiveness from our sins." And while it is true that Jesus' perfect life, death and resurrection gives us forgiveness from our sins I don't think that is what Jesus' salvation is. What if forgiveness is part of the means to getting salvation and not the ends?
As I was reading the Christmas story Christmas morning I paid attention to Zechariah's prophesy in Luke chapter 1. Zechariah's son John the Baptist had just been born and the proud dad was filled with the Holy Spirit as he spoke these words"
"Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel,
because He has come and has redeemed His people.
He has raised up a horn of salvation for us
in the house of His servant David
(as He said through His holy prophets of long ago),
salvation from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us
to show mercy to our fathers
and to remember His holy covenant,
the oath He swore to our father Abraham:
to rescue us from the hand of our enemies,
and to enable us to serve Him without fear
in holiness and righteousness before Him all our days.
And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High;
for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for Him,
to give His people the knowledge of salvation
through the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God,
by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven
to shine on those living in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace." Luke 1:68-79 (bold added for emphasis)
Zechariah makes it so clear in his prophecy that Jesus is coming to forgive sins but that is the incredible means of giving His people more.
Zechariah says first that Jesus came to deliver us from our enemies. Sin and death are the chief enemies of mankind and Jesus won victory over them for us. We have been rescued from the hand of our enemies and one day we will see the full consummation of that.
Zechariah next says that Jesus came "to enable us to serve Him (God) without fear in holiness and righteousness before Him all our days." He then goes on to prophesy that his son John would prepare the way for Jesus to "give His people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins."
The word "through" in the passage above is very important. Let's put it like this. I would not say that I'm giving my wife a trip to Europe through a trip to Europe. I might however say I'm giving my wife a trip to Europe through a plane ticket. The ticket and the plane ride are indeed a gift but it is not THE gift (anyone who has ridden a plane for an extended period of time knows this); the trip and experience in Europe is the real gift.
So it is with God's forgiveness. God's salvation is so much more than forgiveness. The Bible is ripe with promises about what this gift is, but let's look at what Zechariah says it is. He says that we are saved FROM our enemies and TO His presence, specifically "to enable us to serve Him without fear in holiness and righteousness before Him all our days."
Forgiveness is the means for Zechariah; serving God in His direct presence without fear is the grand goal. To be able to be in God's direct presence without being consumed and without even the fear of being consumed: this is the salvation Zechariah is excited about. As a priest Zechariah had gone into the Holy of Holies and come out mute, so I'm sure this salvation was particularly thrilling.
The psalmist put it this way:
"Better is one day in your courts
than a thousand elsewhere;
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
than dwell in the tents of the wicked." Psalm 84:10
For Zechariah forgiveness was the mean to entering God's direct presence without fear. And salvation is this and more. Salvation is also adoption as sons and daughters. Zechariah looked with eager expectation to the day when he could receive forgiveness from sins in order to serve God in His presence, and we get that. But we also receive salvation so that God can come face to face with us and be a good doting father to us.
Forgiveness is great, but it is not the summation of salvation. Thank God! If all God offered was forgiveness it would still be the best news ever. If all He gave was peace with Him we would still gladly pursue it. But thank God that Jesus' salvation begins with forgiveness and doesn't end there. Thank God for what Jesus did for you beginning at Christmas and continuing to His resurrection, today.