Choose    [ PDF Version ]     [ RTF Version ]     [ EBook Version ]    for saving the document.

Jesus Frees Us from the Slavery of Sin

General Audience — July 27, 1988

—    Salvation through Christ's passion and death

"The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the Gospel" (Mk 1:15). These words recorded by Mark at the beginning of his Gospel summarize and stamp on the memory what we have been explaining in the current series of Christological reflections on Jesus Christ's messianic mission. According to these words, Jesus of Nazareth is the one who announced the "approach of the kingdom of God" in human history. The kingdom of God has entered definitively and irrevocably into human history through Jesus, and this kingdom moves through the fullness of time to its eschatological fulfillment in the eternity of God himself.

Jesus Christ transmitted the kingdom of God to the apostles. On them he based the building of his Church which, after his departure, must continue his mission: "As the Father has sent me, so I send you.... Receive the Holy Spirit" (Jn 20:21, 22).

In this context one must consider what is essential for Jesus' messianic mission. The Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed expresses it as follows: "For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven." The essential thing in Christ's entire mission is the work of salvation, which is indicated by his very name "Jesus" (Ye-shûa—God saves). That name was given together with the announcement of the birth of the Son of God, when the angel said to Joseph, "She [Mary] will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins" (Mt 1:21). Heard by Joseph in a dream, these words repeat what Mary had heard at the annunciation: "You shall call him Jesus" (Lk 1:31). Soon after, the angels announced to the shepherds at Bethlehem the coming into the world of the Messiah (Christ) as Savior: "To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord" (Lk 2:11). "He will save his people from their sins" (Mt 1:21).

"To save" means "to free from evil." Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world, since he came to free the human person from that fundamental evil which has invaded man's inner being throughout the whole course of history, after the first breach of the covenant with the Creator. The evil of sin is precisely this fundamental evil which comes between humanity and the realization of the kingdom of God. Jesus of Nazareth came as Savior. From the very beginning of his mission he announced the "approach of the kingdom of God." He not only announced the kingdom of God, but he eliminated the essential obstacle to its realization, which is sin. Sin is rooted in humanity according to the law of original heredity, and which is an incentive in man to the commission of personal sins (fomes peccati). Jesus Christ is the Savior in this fundamental sense of the word. He gets to the root of the evil that is in man. That root consists in turning one's back on God, by accepting the dominion of the "father of lies" (cf. Jn 8:44) who as the "prince of darkness" (cf. Col 1:13) has become through sin (and ever continues to become so from the beginning) the "prince of this world" (Jn 12:13; 14:30; 16:11).

1.  Salvation through Christ's passion and death

The most immediate significance of the work of salvation, already revealed with the birth of Jesus, was expressed by John the Baptist at the Jordan. When indicating Jesus of Nazareth as the one who "was to come," John said, "Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world" (Jn 1:29). These words clearly refer to Isaiah's image of the suffering servant of the Lord. The prophet spoke of him as "a lamb" that is led to the slaughter, and in silence, like a "dumb sheep" (Is 53:7), he accepts death, by means of which "he shall make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities" (Is 53:11). Thus the definition, "lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world," rooted in the Old Testament, indicates that the work of salvation, that is, liberation from sins, will be carried out at the cost of Christ's passion and death. The Savior is at the same time the Redeemer of man. His work of salvation is at the price of the salvific sacrifice of himself.

All this, still prior to the events of the Pasch of Jerusalem, is expressed step by step in the preaching of Jesus of Nazareth, as we read in the Gospels: "The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost" (Lk 19:10). "The Son of Man...did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mk 10:45; Mt 20:28). Here one easily sees the reference to Isaiah's image of the servant of Yahweh. If the Son of Man, in his whole way of acting, showed himself as the "friend of tax collectors and sinners" (Mt 11:19), he thereby emphasized the fundamental characteristic of his saving mission. "God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him" (Jn 3:17).

These words of John's Gospel, the last to be written, reflect all that appeared in the unfolding of Jesus' mission which was eventually confirmed in his passion, death and resurrection. In the prism of this definitive event, the paschal mystery, the New Testament authors acutely see the truth of Christ who accomplished man's liberation from the principal evil, sin, by means of the redemption. He who had come to "save his people" (cf. Mt 1:21), "the man Christ Jesus...gave himself as a ransom for all" (1 Tim 2:5-6). "When the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son...to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons" (cf. Gal 4:4-5). "In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses" (Eph 1:7).

This testimony of Paul is completed by the Letter to the Hebrews: "Christ...entered once for all into the holy place taking his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption..."; "through the eternal Spirit he offered himself without blemish to God" (Heb 9:11, 12, 14).

Peter's letters are as unambiguous as those of Paul: "You know that you were ransomed...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 Pet 1:18-19). "He 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 Pet 2:24-25).

The ransom for all; the infinite price of the blood of the Lamb; the eternal redemption: this succession of concepts in the writings of the New Testament reveals to us at its very roots the truth about Jesus (God saves). As Christ (Messiah, Anointed), he frees humanity from the evil of sin, rooted by heredity in humanity and ever being committed anew. Christ is the liberator: he who frees before God. The work of redemption is also the justification accomplished by the Son of Man, as "mediator between God and men" (1 Tim 2:5) by the sacrifice of himself, on behalf of all humanity.

The New Testament witness is particularly strong. It contains not only a clear image of the revealed truth on "redemptive liberation," but it goes back to its ultimate source in God himself, whose name is Love.

Hear what John says: "In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins" (1 Jn 4:10), since "the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin" (1 Jn 1:7). "He is the expiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world" (1 Jn 2:2). "He appeared to take away sins, and in him there is no sin" (1 Jn 3:5). Here we see the most complete revelation of the love with which God loved humanity. This revelation is fulfilled in Christ and through him. "By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us..." (1 Jn 3:16).

In all this we find a surprising consistency, a profound logic of the revelation which unites the two Testaments—from Isaiah to the preaching of John at the Jordan. It comes to us through the Gospels and the testimony of the apostolic letters. The Apostle Paul expresses in his own way the same things contained in John's letters. After observing that "one will hardly die for a righteous man," he declared: "God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us" (Rom 5:7-8).

Therefore the redemption is the gift of love on the part of God in Christ. The Apostle is aware that his "life in the flesh" is the life "by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me" (Gal 2:20). In the same way the author of the Book of Revelation sees the ranks of the future Jerusalem as those who have come out of the "great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb" (Rev 7:14).

The blood of the Lamb: from this gift of the love of God in Christ, completely gratuitous, the work of salvation takes its beginning, that is, the liberation from the evil of sin. In that liberation the kingdom of God has definitively "come nearer"; it has found a new basis, and has begun its realization in human history.

Thus the Incarnation of the Son of God has its fruit in the redemption. On the night of Bethlehem, the Savior of the world was born (Lk 2:11).