daily biblical sermons


THE CONTEMPORARY CRISIS OF SOTERIOLOGY (THEOLOGY OF SALVATION)
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, Th.D.
Homily of Thursday, Third Week of Easter, April 19, 2018
Acts 8:26-40, Psalm 65, John 6:44-51


Scripture quotations are from the Revised Standard Version unless otherwise noted.

 

"And the Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go up and join this chariot.' So Philip ran to him [the Ethiopian eunuch], and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and asked, ‘Do you understand what you are reading?' And he said, ‘How can I, unless some one guides me?' And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. Now the passage of the scripture which he was reading was this: ‘As a sheep led to the slaughter or a lamb before its shearer is dumb, so he opens not his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken up from the earth.' And the eunuch said to Philip, ‘About whom, pray, does the prophet say this, about himself or about some one else?' Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this scripture he told him the good news of Jesus" (Acts 8:29-35).


It seems clear that Jesus himself understood himself and his mission to the world as described in Isaiah 53, which is the very scripture text that the Ethiopian eunuch was reading in his chariot. This therefore presented Philip with a perfect text from which to preach the gospel of Jesus to this eunuch.


Philip asks the eunuch if he understands what he is reading. The eunuch answers that he needs someone to guide him, and so he invites Philip to get into his chariot with him. The eunuch wants to know who this Servant that Isaiah is speaking about is. So Philip tells him that this mysterious Servant, who "as a sheep is led to the slaughter" (Acts 8:32), is Jesus, the Messiah, who was crucified in Jerusalem and rose from the dead.


We do not know exactly what Philip told this eunuch other than that he evangelized him concerning Jesus, starting from the text of Isaiah 53. And what does this text of Isaiah say that would be useful to Philip in preaching the gospel to this eunuch? It says that the Servant of the Lord died for our sins, that our sins were put on him by the Lord so that he could suffer their penalty for them for us to free us from the necessity of suffering this penalty.


Starting from this text, Philip could tell the eunuch that Jesus suffered our penalty for our sins for us as our substitute and that this penalty is eternity in hell - "Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels" (Matthew 25:41).


This is really the heart of the gospel, of the good news that Jesus sent his disciples out to preach to the whole creation (Mark 16:15). Here is what Isaiah says about this mysterious future Suffering Servant who would one day come to save the world from its sins:


"He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all" (Isaiah 53:5-6).


"The Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all" (Isaiah 53:6). This Servant is the fulfillment of the Jewish sin offerings, which bore the sinner's sins and suffered the penalty for his sins for him to set the sinner free from both his sins and their penalty, for it had already been suffered for him by the lamb of sacrifice, which died vicariously, that is, for his sins. So because the lamb had been offered in the sinner's place, the sinner is forgiven for his sins.


Isaiah then says that one day there would be a human sin offering who would bear our sins and be tortured in punishment for them as a lamb of sacrifice in a sin offering so that we could come to peace with God and be reconciled with him by his suffering our penalty for our sins for us.


So one day this Servant of the Lord will come, and it will then be said of him: "He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed" (Isaiah 53:5). "The chastisement of our peace was upon him" (Isaiah 53:5 KJV).


There is surely no Old Testament or New Testament verse that more clearly describes and explains the meaning of Jesus' life, death, and mission to the world than this verse of Isaiah. And this verse seems to be the key biblical verse that expresses Jesus' own understanding of his mission to the world and of his death, which he spoke of as giving his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45) and as shedding his blood for the forgiveness of sins (Matthew 26:28).


Today some are speaking of a crisis in soteriology (the theology of salvation). They are saying that we can no longer understand how Jesus saves us, and so our message that we are to preach lacks conviction, reasonableness, and power.


This crisis for some has come about because they have rejected Jesus' own understanding of his life, mission, and saving death as based on Isaiah 53:5-6. For some reason, which I cannot grasp, these people feel that Isaiah 53:5-6 is an unworthy explanation of Jesus' death that is unacceptable to modern people. But then they are left with an abyss. They are searching desperately, even frantically, for something else to take its place, and what they offer is really inadequate and weak, and they themselves realize this, and so they are saying that we are in a serious crisis of soteriology (theology of salvation) today.


Yes, I would agree with them that those who reject Isaiah 53:5-6 as the basis of Christian soteriology (theology of salvation) are in a crisis, a very serious crisis indeed. Why? Because they have rejected Jesus' own soteriology and the soteriology of St. Paul and of the New Testament in general, and they are trying to come up with something else of their own making to replace it, which is, of course, impossible, and they themselves realize its inadequacy and admit that their rejection of Isaiah 53:5-6 has put them in a terrible crisis of being unable to understand how Jesus saves us, which is also a crisis of not knowing how to preach the gospel.


They have lost the basic gospel message, the apostolic kerygma, the good news of salvation that we are to preach to the world. Yes, this is a serious crisis indeed for these people.


But it didn't have to be this way. And there is a solution. It is to base ourselves and our understanding of Jesus' mission, life, and death on Jesus' own soteriology (theology of salvation), which is the normative soteriology of the New Testament itself.


If we accept the normative biblically revealed understanding of salvation, then the problem is solved, and we can clearly and powerfully preach the gospel message of salvation in Jesus Christ through his death and resurrection, as it is presented in the New Testament.


Then we can say with St. Paul, "I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures" (1 Corinthians 15:3). In accordance with what Scriptures? In accordance with Isaiah 53:5-6! Christ died for our sins as our human sin offering, the fulfillment of Isaiah 53:5-6. He was sent by God to bear our sins on the cross and suffer in just punishment for them as our substitute so that God might set us free from them and from their punishment, when we believe in Christ, confess our sins, promise to abandon them, and accept Jesus as our Savior.


We will then proclaim Jesus as "the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29). We will proclaim him as the human lamb of sacrifice for our sins, the fulfillment of Isaiah 53:5-6.


We will then proclaim that "He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world" (1 John 2:2 NKJV). We will say, "In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins" (1 John 4:10 NKJV).


We will say, "He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed" (1 Peter 2:24).


We will say "You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your fathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot" (1 Peter 1:18-19).


We will simply say about Jesus Christ, the Savior that God has sent us, "He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all" (Isaiah 53:5-6).

 

 

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