Who is Israel and what is salvation?

Sermon in a nutshell: Jesus came to save us (Matthew 2:1-12)

Who did come to greet the baby Jesus?

They were foreigners. The three wise men were not Jewish people. They studied cosmology and found out that a Messiah had been born. They brought three gift to the baby who would be a king (gold), but also both a priest (frankincense) and a sacrifice (myrrh) for all humanity.  Jesus was never meant to be the king of one nation or people!

What was the response of the Jewish people and why?

When Jesus was born, people still lived with the idea of nationalism and tribalism. That was the reason why king Herod tried to kill the baby Jesus. He wanted to eliminate the potential threat to his throne.

Herod and the rabbis did not understand the prophet: “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’” The main reason for their misunderstanding was their narrow understanding of the word, “Israel.” For them, Israelis were the biological descendants of Abraham.

Then who is “Israel”?

First, listen to John the Baptist. “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.  The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Matthew 3:8-9) According to John, all those who produce the fruits of their repentance are the true “Israel,” the children of Abraham.

Secondly, listen to Jesus. “Who are my mother and my brothers? Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers/sisters! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother” (Mark 3:33-35). According to Jesus, whoever does God’s will be the true “Israel,” brothers and sisters of Jesus.

Thirdly, listen to Paul. “A person is not a Jew who is one only outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a person’s praise is not from other people, but from God” (Romans 2:28-29). According to Paul, people who had a circumcision of the heart are the true “Israel” who received the Holy Spirit.

Even though we are not Jewish people, when we repent our sins, bear fruits of our repentance, do God’s will in our daily lives, and are guided by the Holy Spirit after we have had a circumcision of the heart, we are the true Israel, and Jesus was born to be the King of that nation! In other words, Jesus was not born to be a ruler of the world but to create a new family in God to make all people his brothers and sisters.

That is the salvation.

Many people want to know whether they are saved or not. If our actions and behaviors follow the commandments of the Holy Spirit daily, we are truly saved. If we are still faltering, we are saved but still are growing to maturity. Jesus transformed our status from sinners into children of God and the Holy Spirit guides us to grow more every day. This is a process like any other growth. May God bless us all this year and help us to grow more! We want to open our hearts more to strangers. We want to open our purses more to share more with neighbors. We want to open our doors more widely to those who are not like us. In that way, we will continuously follow Jesus who came to be the king of all nations!

  1. What is one group of people to whom you still need to open your heart?
  2. What is one more fruit that you need to bear as a sign of your repentance?

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