This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief. — 1 TIMOTHY 1:15
For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. — HEBREWS 9:26; CF. 1 JOHN 1:9; 3:5
In Christ’s first coming, He implemented a rescue plan conceived in the mind of God before the foundation of the world. He did not come to promote holiday cheer, boost end-of-year sales, or serve as the central figure in a nativity scene. He came to save sinners.
To save sinners, Christ had to put away what makes people sinners— namely, sin. At the dawn of man’s history, sin, like an unwelcome virus, infected mankind easily enough. But how could it be exterminated? God was already answering this question through the Old Testament sacrificial system. One of the main themes in the epistle to the Hebrews is the repetitious labors of Old Testament priests: “And they truly were many priests, because they were not suffered to continue by reason of death” (Heb. 7:23). Morning and evening, priests placed burnt offerings for sin on an altar, the fire of which was never to go out (2 Chron. 13:11; Lev. 6:12).
Nonetheless, sins were not fully extinguished through this system (Heb. 10:4). Old Testament sacrifices were merely a shadow, or copy, of what was to come (Heb. 9:23); thus, the priesthood of Aaron could have sacrificed burnt offerings for a million years without putting away a single sin. The writer of Hebrews says the seed of Adam needed a better priesthood to put away sins—a priesthood “after the order of Melchisedec” (Heb. 7:17; cf. Ps. 110:4). Likewise, a better sacrifice offered in a better tabernacle was necessary. When a truly perfect sacrifice was offered in the tabernacle of heaven, sin would finally be put away. Hebrews 9:24–26 says,
For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us: nor yet that he should offer himself often, as the high priest entereth into the holy place every year with blood of others; for then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.
Christ put away the sins of many first by carrying them to the cross, and then to the grave (Heb. 9:28). The sins of God’s people were crucified and buried in Christ (Rom. 6:4–5). So fully has Christ purged the believer’s sins that Hebrews 9:28 adds, “Unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.” How staggering is the thought that we can eagerly anticipate the return of the Savior who was wounded for our transgressions!
A man began working for a builder. The first morning, the boss gave clear instructions on how to cut some boards and then left to pick up some materials. After about an hour, the new employee realized that he had cut all of the boards a few inches short. From that point on, he dreaded his boss’s return. Like the new employee, sinners don’t meet the requirements; Romans 3:23 tells us that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” Believers can thank God, though, that they do not have to anticipate the return of Christ with dread as the new employee did! Redeemed sinners can be so confident that Christ has put away their sin that they can look forward to His return as a day of salvation.
The Scottish divine Samuel Rutherford was on his deathbed when he was summoned to court for refusing to conform to the new forms of worship decreed by the king. Sensing that his death was near, Rutherford said, “I will soon stand before a greater judge, and this one is my friend!”
A minister once sat by the bed of a dying man in a nursing home. As they talked, the man began to recall some of his past sins. He started to weep and then blurted out, “I’m such a terrible, hell-worthy sinner!”
The minister said, “That’s wonderful!” Sensing the man’s confusion, the minister explained: “You are a terrible, hell-worthy sinner. But it is wonderful that you know it, for Christ came to earth for people exactly like you.”
Paul doesn’t say that he is merely a terrible sinner; he says he is the worst. He isn’t exaggerating, for he has been guilty of blaspheming Christ, persecuting the church, and injuring innocent people. Those were heinous sins indeed. Yet Paul refuses to focus on the greatness of others’ sin to minimize his own. He sees his own sins in the light of God’s holy law and perfect character. He also realizes that had he been the only sinner in the world, Christ would still have had to shed every drop of His precious blood to save him.
Great sinners need a great Savior. That is exactly what Christ is, for He is “able also to save them to the uttermost” (Heb. 7:25)! That is life-changing news for the “chief of sinners.” If Christ can save Paul, who was a blasphemer, a persecutor, and injurer of innocents, He can also save you, no matter how hell-worthy you may be. Ask Jesus Christ for the grace of repentance and faith that you may put all your trust in Him (cf. Acts 5:31).
Why Christ Came: 31 Meditations on the Incarnation
By Joel R. Beeke and William Boekestein