The Meaning of Salvation in Five Stories
Editor’s note: This sermon illustrates the use of storytelling as described by Dr. Bjoraker. Rabbi Klayman was originally addressing both spiritual seekers and Yeshua-followers looking for a way to present salvation to others.
Destruction of the Temple: Story Number One
A story in the Babylonian Talmud and in another rabbinical source seeks to explain why the Second Temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE was destroyed. Now the story is midrashic, meaning it is literary and can accommodate more than one understanding. It also means that it may not even be true, but the principle that flows from it is one that is worthy. The story goes like this:
A wealthy man had an enemy named Bar Kamtza and a friend named Kamtza. The wealthy man was planning a banquet and gave his guest list to a messenger to deliver an invitation personally to each of the invited guests. In the invitation list was Kamtza, the wealthy man’s friend, but instead the messenger mistakenly invited Bar Kamtza, the wealthy man’s enemy. When Bar Kamtza showed up, the wealthy man demanded that he leave. Bar Kamtza sought to reason with him so that he would not be humiliated; he even offered to pay for the whole banquet if he could stay. The host refused and had him thrown out. No one at the banquet took up for Bar Kamtza or sought to dissuade the rich host from the brutal treatment.
Bar Kamtza sought revenge for the humiliation. He knew that the Jewish priests in the temple offered up sacrifices daily for Rome, which the Roman government paid for. He went to the Roman governor and told him that the Jews in Jerusalem were not really sacrificing the animals that the Roman government provided for their daily sacrifice, but instead they were using them as food. The governor refused to believe it.
Bar Kamtza then accompanied the governor to Jerusalem, where the governor brought the sacrifices himself. But secretly during the night Bar Kamtza caused a blemish to be cut in the upper lip of the sacrifices; some say the white of the eye. This made the sacrifice unkosher. The priests refused to offer the sacrifice because it was unkosher due to the blemish. The governor asked why the priest was not sacrificing the animals. The priest just said he would do it tomorrow, whereupon the governor came to believe that what Bar Kamtza told him was true; the governor told the emperor and the emperor laid siege to Jerusalem and ultimately destroyed the Temple.
The sages saw this destruction as punishment for prominent sages at the banquet not intervening to stop the humiliating treatment of Bar Kamtza. The moral is that the Temple was destroyed for hatred without a cause, that is, the mistreatment of one Jew by another. It violated “Love your neighbor,” which is a prominent command in Scripture. It demonstrated how one little mistreatment affecting so few can set off a chain reaction and negatively impact a whole nation. Instead of salvation we got destruction, all because a messenger invited the wrong person and it ballooned into a big balagan.
Hence, we can talk about salvation, but to really understand it we need to first focus on the opposite of salvation, which is destruction; the opposite of deliverance, which is enslavement; the opposite of extending a hand to someone, which is pushing someone off the cliff.
The Bar Kamtza story tells us that behavior matters. How you react matters. The Jewish people lost their temple, their land, and their sovereignty because of the way that the host treated a brother, a landsman, Bar Kamtza. Remember that the next time you even think of being inhospitable. We must find a better way to get along with people, and particularly with our brother Yeshua. Forty years after his death the Temple was destroyed and the Rabbis concluded that the Temple was destroyed for the sin of “hatred without a cause.” Perhaps they were correct (John 15:25). It is time to make peace with Yeshua, because he holds the key to a walk in the pleasant ways of God. He is Salvation. That is his name, Yeshua, which means Salvation, for he shall save his people from their sins.
Passover: Story Number Two
Now let’s look at the opposite story of destruction, which is a story of deliverance and salvation that God continuously brings to our memory. We were slaves in Egypt. We were oppressed; we were humiliated, we had a slave mentality, and we were foreigners estranged from our land, suffering at the hands of others and we cried out. We followed a man, the right man, Moses, whom God called as the Deliverer. This is the story that we are to tell to our children and we have done it and passed it down for 3500 years. It is a story that speaks to every person, Jew and Gentile, as a testimony of God’s might and power and love and empathy. It inspired the president of the United States to free the slaves. It inspired the civil rights movement and Martin Luther King, who sang the hymnal and shouted free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty we are free at last. It moved people like Harriet Beecher Stowe and Frederick Douglass and Abraham Joshua Heschel, Julian Bond and John Lewis, to peaceful protest and constructive action.
Salvation deals with the here and now. That would be enough. Weeping lasts for a season but joy comes in the morning (Ps 30:5). It is the love story of the ages that God clothed himself in the robes of humanity and appeared to Moses at the burning bush that was not consumed and called him to action, to a better and more glorious existence. This “first coming” preceded the great event to come—the physical deliverance of the Jewish people from the sting of Egyptian slavery, which, in turn, foreshadowed the coming of God’s son, Yeshua, who offers salvation and imparts everlasting life and joy. It means we are alive today and not enslaved, but free to do God’s will. Unshackled if you will. This is what salvation means—deliverance from the mental, physical and spiritual oppression that accompanies a life without the Holy Spirit that indwells those who trust in him. Salvation means a new beginning where we can be happy doing the things that God wants us to do. It means a new set of taste buds. “Old things pass away; behold all things become new” (2 Cor 5:17). And in the Passover story one man called to obedience by God made a difference. He was the conduit, the facilitator, for the salvation of a whole nation that would be God’s chosen, who would present the Word of God to the world and produce the Messiah Yeshua. Faith and trust in the Lord produce salvation. In fact, we have a story about the whole world being spared as a result of one man’s faith.
Noah: Story Number Three
Now in Noah’s story we see the deliverance of the whole world by faith. Noah and his family were safe from the oncoming deluge. Believing God and following him into the ark of safety was key. Noah was a man alone in his faith but it made all the difference for mankind.
Safety is a wonderful thing and salvation is all about safety. I was nine years old when I first played Little League baseball. I was short and skinny. The field looked really big and the pitcher was scary and the catcher was even scarier with his face mask. I was not a power hitter but I batted second in the lineup because I knew how to get on base by bunting, walking, singling, running it out when the catcher dropped the third strike, being hit by a pitch, whatever it took. And I could steal bases. For me the safest place on the field was on base and I longed to run hard and slide to be safe. The bases provided the security that I needed. For me it was the base. For Noah it was the boat. As believers today it is in Yeshua. Being in the safety zone is walking with Yeshua by your side, and it makes all the difference in our world.
David: Story Number Four
King David was a person like us with weaknesses and passions and here we have a story of his fall and his restoration. After David had sinned with Batsheva and put Uriah her husband out in battle to die, the prophet Nathan tells him a simple story (2 Sam 12:1). Two men lived in the same city; one was very rich and the other was very poor. The rich man had flocks and herds. The rich man did not just have a large flock and a large herd; he had many flocks and many herds. We would say this man was “filthy rich.” The poor man had but one lamb; this was his pet lamb. He purchased it and then raised it in his own home. The lamb spent much time in the man’s lap and in his arms being carried about. It lived inside the house, not outside, being hand fed with food from the table and even drinking from its master’s cup. The rich man had a guest drop in for a visit, and as the host he was obliged to provide him with a meal. The rich man decided upon lamb, and yet he was not willing to sacrifice even one lamb from all those he owned. Instead, he took the poor man’s lamb, slaughtered and served it to his guest, so as not to suffer any losses personally. He not only let (that is, forced) the poor man to pick up the tab for the meal, he deprived this man of his only lamb, and one that was like a member of the family. David was outraged at that rich man! He felt he should be put to death.
Nathan then said to David:
You are that man! Thus says the Lord God of Israel, “It is I who anointed you king over Israel and it is I who delivered you from the hand of Saul. I also gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your care, and I gave you the house of Israel and Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added to you many more things like these! Why have you despised the word of the Lord by doing evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the sons of Ammon. Now therefore, the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.”
Thus says the Lord, “Behold, I will raise up evil against you from your own household; I will even take your wives before your eyes and give them to your companion, and he will lie with your wives in broad daylight. Indeed you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel, and under the sun.” (2 Sam 12:7–11)
And David was sorely moved to repentance. And God forgave him and made him the progenitor of the Messiah Yeshua, and of the household of salvation.
We must see things as God sees them: David needed to see his condition through the eyes of an outsider, the eyes of God. Nathan presented it to him in terms he could see and react to. Who is this man? It is you David. It was the story of a slaughter of a sheep that brought David to repentance and to contriteness of heart that he demonstrates and gives us in the Psalms. It is the slaughter of the Lamb of God, Yeshua, whom we put to death through our disobedience toward God that will sober you up and bring to light that we are guilty of the blood of this innocent Lamb. This is real. Yes, David’s story was 3000 years ago but it is just as poignant for us today.
Salvation is not something so abstract that you cannot touch it, nor so far away that you cannot see it. Isaiah 59:1 says “Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear.” And salvation is not just a vertical God-thing where his arm is reaching down. It is a horizontal thing also where he partners with us to reach the lost, by extending a hand to our brother and sister, the stranger among us, the needy, the downtrodden, the underprivileged, the marginalized, to stand up for compassion and righteousness and to make a difference in people’s lives and in the world. Whatever talent God has given you, use it for him and save someone from dependence on himself or herself. Lift up Yeshua and he will lift up all people to him. That is salvation when a brother or a sister says an encouraging word, picks you up from the gutter and delivers you to the steps of shalom and tranquility in Messiah. God uses his people, their mouths, their hands, their feet, their finances, their wisdom, their gifts, to do his work on earth. And God is pursuing us to the ends of the earth.
God in Search of Man: Story Number Five
A little boy was in his house when he answered the phone. The caller on the other end said: “May I speak to your dad?” The boy said, “No, he’s busy now and cannot speak.” The man then inquired, “Is your mom available,” to which the boy responded, “No she’s busy too.” “Well is there anyone else in the home?” quipped the man. The boy said, “Yes. The police are here.” “Well,” the man said, “could I speak with a police officer?” The boy said, “No, they are all busy too.” The man, somewhat frustrated, said, “Is there anyone else there?” to which the boy responded, “Just the firefighters.” The man said, “Well, let me speak to one of the firefighters,” to which the boy said, “No, they are all busy too.” The man paused and inquired, “Can I ask you what are they doing that they are so busy that they cannot take the phone,” to which the boy responded, “They are busy looking for me!”
You can run but you cannot hide. God is pursuing you and he will find you wherever you are, in whatever condition you find yourself. He is pursuing you unto salvation. His arm is long enough to reach down and save you from hopelessness and despair. Stop, look, and listen, and you will see that he was there all along your path, in hot pursuit.
• Salvation is the opposite of destruction
• Salvation sets off a positive chain reaction
• Salvation requires an act of faith
• Salvation involves us partnering with God
• God is pursuing us to salvation
We do not know what life will hit us with next, but repentance and faith in the Son of David, the Messiah of Israel, can carry you a very long way out and beyond. Tomorrow may be too late. Today is the day of salvation.