The Plan of Salvation
You walk into a Catholic Church on a Sunday morning. It is a giant gothic building that enraptures all of your senses. There are large beautiful paintings throughout the sanctuary. Incense is burning and the smell brings you into a new world. What makes this world wide family of people move? Who is this God they worship? Why are they here day after day worshipping Him? What would compel someone to be Catholic?
Christians are people who have entered into an eternal story, and made that story their own. This story is recorded in the Bible, Sacred Scripture, and this story can become your own story as well. We are going to follow the story of the Bible here, and invite you to read along with us. It is not the fastest way to tell the story, but we want you to have the whole story. Like every story, this story has a beginning. It begins with God.
The First Family: The Trinity
Our God is one God. This is the first truth about the Christian faith. God is one essence in three persons. If that sounds like a mouth full, that's okay, because it is a mouth full. It took the Church centuries of meditation, prayer, and reflection to come up with a precise language to describe God's nature. And yet who God is in His essence remains a mystery to us. We know that there is only one God, and that God has revealed himself to us in three persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Each person is distinct and separate from each of the other person. We cannot say that each person is only a part of one divine being. That would be a heresy called "modalism" - that the persons of the Trinity are only parts of one God. They are in fact, each a whole distinct person. Yet, we do not believe in three Gods. The three persons are but one God.
When we talk about the three divine persons and their relationship to each other, theologians use the word "immanent Trinity". The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are within themselves a family. They existed before time, and will exist forever. They are without beginning and without end. This is why Jesus, in the Apocalypse of John, refers to himself as the "Alpha and the Omega". Jesus and the Holy Spirit existed with the Father in the creation of the world and of man. The next part of the story teaches us about this.
Adam and Eve: Our First Parents
"God is love" proclaims the apostle. And the love God has was so great that He created the universe and man in that love. The physics of how the universe was created is a question for scientists, but the fact remains, that it is the work of God. When God created the heavens and the earth He created man and woman. Adam and Eve. From this man and woman all of us come from. Everyone on earth is your brother and your sister, because all human lineage traces back to Adam and Eve. Our first parents lived with God in paradise.
Man is the Crown of Creation
God created Adam and Eve as holy individuals. When God created them, He made them "good". There was no sin in Adam and Eve, nothing unclean. They walked with God in the garden, and were not ashamed. Every man and woman on earth has a special dignity and certain rights because they are made in the image and likeness of God. We must treat people with the dignity which their creator has given them.
Man is Free to Choose God or Not God
God specifically made man with free will. No one is forced to love or worship God. No one is forced to choose God and His will for us. We are all free to choose not God if we want to. Adam and Eve were tempted in the Garden of Eden by Satan who appears in the story as a serpant. A fitting image, for Satan is the father of lies. Satan was once an angel of light, but at one time choose against God and fell from grace. Many other angels followed in Satans path, and that lead to their corruption. God, in his infinite plan choose not to immediately destroy Satan, but does not compel Satan to do his evil works.
Satan tempted Adam and Eve and they, instead of listening to God, choose against God.
The First Temptation
This first temptation as recorded in the Bible pits Adam and Eve against God. They were to put their full trust in God, who is all good, and God in turn would always care for them, and they would always have everything they needed. Had Adam and Eve not sinned they never would have been thrown out of paradise. Satan however told them that if they would only go directly against God, they would be doing something that was healthy for them, and gain instant knowledge of good and evil. Knowledge that they did not need.
How often in our own society we choose what is instantly gratifying and does not last, rather than what is good for us, and good that does last.
The First Sin
Adam and Eve did listen to Satan and choose to sin. Their sin was not just a personal sin, but caused a rupture between Adam and Eve and all of their children. Man entered the world of sin. They were to be cast out of
This death problem is serious. Your soul depends on a solution - a salvation. This is why Catholics talk about salvation. God did not leave Adam and Eve completely hopeless. The proto-evangelum is the first proclamation of salvation. It is a foreshadowing of what God intends to do. God is perfect, and is all knowing and all powerful. God was well aware that we would sin, and that God would have to provide a salvation to this sin problem.
God had a plan. He would restore the broken family bonds with mankind by entering with them into a covenant. The whole Old Testament is so important to our own salvation history because it records a succession of covenants leading into one final new covenant in the New Testament. We will next explore these old covenants and why they are important to us today.
Family Covenant: Noah
The first covenant that God establishes after the sin of Adam and Eve is with Noah. He was the only righteous man out of all the men on earth. The rest continued to turn away from God and do evil actions. God establishes a covenant with Noah and spares him and his family from the great flood that wiped out mankind.
Tribe Covenant: Abraham
God next established a covenant with Abraham. Out of Abrahams twelve sons came the 12 tribes of
The sacrifice Abraham is willing to make is a typology: Abraham and Isaac are a type of God the Father and God the Son as we will see later. Abraham shows us that God requires a sacrifice for sin, but that God himself will ultimately provide the sacrifice, God requires only faith and trust from us.
Many Tribes: Moses
God next makes a covenant with Moses. After the Israelites are enslaved in
Moses is given the 10 commandments to give to the Israelites and God establishes a sacrificial covenant with the people, so they can make reparation for their sins. This covenant is based on the law, and not on grace. It is up to the Israelite people to keep the covenant through the works of the law. God establishes the paschal sacrifice in which the Israelites must put to death an unblemished lamb and eat it on the Passover night. That night the angel of death passed over Egypt and every house in which the paschal sacrifice was not celebrated the angel destroyed the first born son in that house. The Egyptians cried out that night and Pharaoh released the Israelites to go and worship their God.
The Israelites fled the Egyptians and crossed the Red Sea after God separated the Sea so they could walk across on dry land. God then destroyed the Egyptian army that was coming after them.
Salvation is Coming
Bible Reading: Deuteronomy 30:1-6
Unfortunately the Israelites were not able to keep the precepts of the law. In fact, they were not even able to keep the 10 commandments. As soon as they could they began making themselves false gods and worshipping the gods of their neighbors. They made gods out of gold and worshipped them. Today Catholics have statues, crucifixes and other holy images, but these images are not worshipped as if they were God. Instead Catholics use them to bring our hearts and minds to heaven and to God.
These verses in Deuteronomy are telling: The Israelites will fail in this new covenant, they will face the curses of the law, they will be exiled, and they will be cut to the heart when the Savior comes to free them from the bondage of sin and death.
Kingdom Covenant: David
Bible Reading: 2 Samuel 7
The Davidic covenant is the last covenant to be established before the Savior came. This covenant is so special because it is kingdom based. Throughout the book of Matthew we know that the covenant which the Savior will establish is also a kingdom covenant. The kingdom of David is filled with typological illustrations to how the kingdom in the new covenant will work and function. As David rules as king, he has a second in command who literally holds the "keys to the kingdom." Who else do we know who has these keys? Peter is given them in the New Testament by Jesus Christ to signify the type of leadership role he would have.
Bible Reading: Jeremiah 52:28-30
Finally the exile is here for the Israelites. They have broken the laws, broken the covenant they established with God over and over again, and find themselves exiled to Babylon. The temple is destroyed. They are sorely in need of salvation.
Bible Reading: Jeremiah 31; Ezekiel 34-47; Isaiah 55:3
The prophets were people who lived in the Old Testament and served as a witness to the truth for God. Sometimes their prophecies would be about events that were about to happen or would happen in the future. Sometimes they announced judgment on the people for events that had already taken place. The passages here are some of the most famous prophetic passages in the Old Testament.
After the Israelites experienced partial restoration (the temple was rebuilt, some of them returned to their land), they quitely waited for the coming of the savior that had been promised to them when God cast them out of Eden (Genesis 3:15). They were looking for an earthly conqueror. Someone with bow and staff who would lead them to earthly victory over their enemies.
The course of human history was about to change forever. The savior did not come as they expected him too.
The announcement of the Saviors coming was an honor given to John the Baptist. He preached the repentance of sins and prepared the way for Jesus Christ to come. John the Baptist is the last prophet of the old covenant, and the first messenger of the New Covenant.
Bible Reading: Luke 1:26-38
The angel Gabrielle appeared to Mary and announced to her that she would have a son even though she never had marital relations with her husband. Mary was betrothed to the man Joseph. Betrothal is a unique and beautiful practice that has fallen out of use but it entails a contract that the Jews would have at the time of betrothal considered Mary and Joseph to be husband and wife, though at this time they still would have not had children. They would indeed never consummate their marriage because of the unique role of Mary as the Mother of God. In her womb she carried "The Word" (John 1:1-4). This does make her the origin of God, but simply the woman who carried God incarnate in her womb. We will go into more detail about this amazing moment in salvation history.
One Silent Night
Bible Reading: Luke 2:1-21
This babe whom Mary carried in her womb was born one evening. With his birth not only salvation history, but world history itself was about to be written. Christianity is not simply "that thing over there", as if it has no impact on society but is simply a "fad" that some people are into and others are not. The babe who was so humbly born and laid in a manger would quickly garner the attention of governors, kings, and world powers.
Bible Reading: John 1:14-17
This babe, Jesus Christ, is unique in world history because it is at this moment that the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity, God Himself, takes on flesh and enters the world for its salvation. Man could not save himself by following the precepts of the law in the old covenants. What makes a covenant so important in the Old Testament is that it changes the family tree of those who are involved in the covenant. Salvation was a family affair among the Israelites, and remains a family affair for Christians. With the incarnation of Jesus Christ man will soon have the opportunity to enter into a new and better covenant.
Remember that sin remains a serious problem. Everyone has inherited original sin from our first parents Adam and Eve. God, who is perfectly holy, cannot allow us, who are not perfectly holy, to enter into eternal communion with Him when we have sin. We suffer from a separated relationship with God. In order to take care of the sin problem requires a sacrifice. All of the sacrifices of the old covenants could not take care of the sin problem because it did not renew their hearts.
The Life and Ministry of a Carpenter
Bible Reading: Read The Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ According to St. John if you are able.
The Bible does not record much about the life of Jesus after his birth and before his public ministry. Jesus spent 3 years ministering to his people, performing miracles, and fulfilling prophecy about the coming of the Savior. The Jews believed that they had a Savior in Jesus, but they believed he would be a worldly savior. Someone who would conquer their political enemies. This is part of the reason why so many people appeared and welcomed Jesus when he entered Jerusalem on a donkey. They laid Palm leaves underneath the donkey's feet. Even though it is easy for us to miss it, the Jewish people did not miss at all what Jesus was doing. The prophecy was that the Savior would enter into the city on a donkey. Jesus is the Savior.
The Paschal Mystery
Bible Reading: John 6; Matthew 26:26-29
After Jesus enters on a donkey we enter the climax of what is quite literally "The Greatest Story Ever Told". What culminates now will not only overcome the problem of sin, but bring us in an entirely new age in human history. The impact was so massive we no longer say "BC" but "AD" when recording time.
Bible Reading: John 17-19
"Oh happy fault, O necessary sin of Adam, which gained for us so great a Redeemer!" The Catholic Church follows a liturgical year. It begins with advent, or the preparation of the birth of Jesus, and follows his whole life and ministry. The climax of the Church year is called the "Triduum" and comes at the end of Holy Week. Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday. The preceding Psalm Sunday Jesus is welcomed into Jerusalem on a donkey with Psalm branches under his feet. Yet, by Friday he is crucified and dies. The Church waits silently on Holy Saturday - where in mass is not celebrated anywhere around the world - the only day of the year this happens. "Oh happy fault" is a line from the liturgy for Holy Saturday. It shows us that because of Adam's sin, Jesus had to be crucified on the cross. He had to die because of our sin. He was lead as an innocent lamb to the slaughter because of us.
Take time to meditate on the cross, what Jesus did in dying for you.
"It is accomplished." (John 19:30) This word is not addressed to a listener. Yet it is a word proceeding forth to everyone. A word for the Father, for the Son, for the Holy Spirit, a word for all the Lord's tormentors, a word for his Church. In this word the Son sums up his whole existence including his existential full stop, his inability to go any further, his death. He shows the world the ultimate meaning of his path, his mission: to accomplish all things. And in truth the mission is accomplished. - Addrienne Von Speyr, The Cross, p 51.
Salvation has Come
Bible Reading: John 20-21
Bible Reading: Hebrews 4:14-13
Let us look at where we have come from: God created the heavens and the earth and made man in his image and likeness. Man, in his own free choice, feel into sin and lost his relationship with God. Through the sin of the first man all of us inherit "original sin". As we have this sin nature we will go to hell (a state of eternal separation from God after death) if God does not provide a way to save us.
God reveals himself gradually and in stages throughout the Old Testament, establishing covenants with his chosen people. Deuteronomy 30:1-6 tells us why these old covenants ultimately fail - because man is the mediator of the covenant. It is not possible for man to save himself by the precepts of the law.
God sends his only Son, the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity to become incarnate in the Blessed Virgin Mary. Jesus Christ, after 3 years of earthly ministry, suffers the Paschal Mystery in which he is crucified, dies, and is buried. Since Jesus has made a perfect sacrifice, since he is God, and has completed what is written about the Savior in the Old Testament, He is raised from death on the third day. This is the ultimate victory of the problem of sin and death because God himself is the mediator of this new and better covenant. Salvation has come!
This covenant is ruled by faith and by grace. No man can be saved in this or any covenant by his own works, but must surrender himself totally to the grace of God through his Son Jesus Christ.
How does this new covenant work in which all men are welcomed into the family of God, to a restored and full relationship with the Father in Heaven? We will discuss this in full at the end of this presentation - the section called "Your Story". Before we get to your own story of God's never ending love, we must first get to our own century. The story of salvation does not end with Jesus' resurrection.
Bible Reading: Acts 1-2:13
After Jesus is raised from the dead he appears to many people and spends a significant amount of time with the apostles, preparing them for their ministry after he is raised again to heaven. At one time, to truly help us understand the significance of the Eucharist, the "source and summit of the faith", Jesus celebrates it with them and disappears physically from them at the consecration. (Luke 24:28-35)
When Jesus ascends into heaven he sends the "promised one" - the Third Person of the Most Holy Trinity, the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit looks after the new Church and guides them into all truth. The Holy Spirit protects the Church from error and heresy. The promise has remained true for 2000 years and counting - the gates of hell shall not prevail against the Church.
Bible Reading: Acts 2:37-47
After Jesus ascends into heaven and the Holy Spirit comes the rest of the book of Acts records the earliest history of the Catholic Church. The apostles spread out and taught the good news as they fulfilled their roles in the new kingdom of God. Thousands are baptized - and it is at this point they are born again and adopted as sons of daughters into this new world wide family of Christians. In baptism original sin and all actual sin is destroyed by the grace of God, not by the works of men. That is why we call baptism a sacrament - it is a sign which was instituted by Christ to convey grace to us. Everyone who is baptized becomes a member of the family of God.
Christian history does not end with the close of the biblical period. There are several "ages" of the Church which are typically broken down as the biblical age, the early church age (to about 800 AD), age of medieval theology (to about 1300 AD), and age of reform (to about 1700 AD). We hardly have time to study the history of the Church here, but it is very important to learn about Christian history. The battles for doctrine that were fought, the works that have been written, the acts of mercy that have been done.
The Second Coming
Bible Reading: 2 Peter 3; Matthew 25; James 2:24
At the end of time Jesus will be coming back. No one knows the time or circumstances in which Jesus is coming again, but he will judge the heavens and the earth. His judgment is based on our faithfulness. Our good fruits, like Abraham, show our faithfulness. Even though we may initially become children of God, we must remain faithful and persevere to the end. We cannot save ourselves, but we can determine whether we will allow God to forgive our sins and to have a relationship with God.
Back to the Garden
Bible Reading: Revelation 21-22
At the beginning of the Bible (and the beginning of time) we started with God and a garden. At the end of the Bible (and the end of time) we end with God and a garden. All of us will experience the last general judgment. For those of us who have our names written in the book of life, for the elect, we will spend eternity in heaven with God. This is why the story matters - it is a question of where you will spend eternity. And the choice is YOURS. No one else's.
Bible Reading: Galatians 1:6-10, 2:20; Ephesians 2
So here we are. We have seen an overview of the history of salvation, and now you have to make a decision about all of this. It is for each of us to choose either for God or against God. God is always listening, pray to Him for help, pray that He will open your heart. If you recognize that Jesus is the Son of God and the only way to salvation, its time to join the family of God and enter into the New Covenant.
Baptism is the sacrament of salvation. It is where we die and rise with Christ. The fullest sign of the sacrament of baptism is by full immersion, we literally go down into the water and die and rise with Christ. We become a new creation and the Holy Spirit dwells in us.
"Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ." - 1 Peter 3:21
The Church has practiced something called "The Rite of Christian Initiation" for nearly 2,000 years for everyone who wanted to give their lives to Christ and join the Church. It used to be a three year process culminating in the reception of the sacraments (Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist). Today it usually takes about 1 year. It includes periods of inquiry, instruction, and spiritual growth.
Have you been baptized but have been away from God? The story of the Prodigal Son is your story. If you have been baptized and have grown up in a non-Catholic community then you will also enter into the RCIA process with the non-baptized. If you were Catholic but fell away, you simply need to talk to your pastor and likely you will only need to make a good confession.
Confession is where we meet with God and confess and repent of our sins. Catholic confession works with a minister called a priest. The priest has been given authority by Jesus to "bind and loose sins". This does not mean that the priest can arbitrarily withhold absolution. The priest is there to listen to your confession, and if it is genuine (if you show repentance and the desire to be reconciled with God), he offers absolution - the declaration that God has indeed forgiven your sins and that you are bonded once again with the Church, the Bride of Christ.
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