The angel Gabriel in Matthew’s Gospel tells the sleeping Joseph to name ‘his’ boy ‘Jesus’ for that boy will ‘save’ his people from their sin. This is as explicit as the nativity story gets. How Jesus will save his people Gabriel doesn’t mention.
How Jesus saves…how Jesus saves from Sin is a question the Gospels, the New Testament for that matter, never answers in a singular, definitive, clear, logical or rational way.
The reticence of the New Testament to explain the mechanics of salvation leaves us with questions. Questions with which the Church has wrestled for centuries under the heading ‘atonement theories’:
Does Jesus die for us?
As in, does Jesus die in our place?
As a substitute for you and me?
Or does Jesus die because of us?
As in, is death on a cross the inevitable conclusion to the way he lived his life?
Does Jesus die because our sinful lust for power, wealth and violence kills him?
As though our world has no other reaction to a life God desires than to eliminate it?
Does Jesus die in order to destroy Death and Sin?
As in, does Jesus let the powers of Sin and Death do their worst so that, in triumphing over them, he shatters their power forever?
Does Jesus die with us?
As in, does Jesus suffer death as the completion of his incarnation?
Is death the last experience left for God to be one of us, in the flesh?
Was it necessary for Jesus to die?
Or was his incarnation, his taking our nature and living it perfectly, redemptive in itself?
Did Jesus have to die on a cross?
If the conclusion to incarnation had been for Jesus to die as an old man of natural causes, would we still be saved?
And how does the history of and covenant with Israel fit into the salvation worked by Christ?
And how does Easter relate to Good Friday?
Such questions are possible, indeed they get asked all the time, because the New Testament never singles an answer to how Mary and Joseph’s son lives up to his name.