"I have read the Bible. It is a difficult book to understand."
The speaker was a well-dressed professional woman, the head of the education ministry for a metropolitan area in eastern Ukraine. Just a couple of years after the break-up of the Soviet Union, she was discussing with a small group of visiting Americans how to introduce the Bible to students in the recently independent nation. Many modern readers of the Bible -- believers and non-believers alike -- would identify with her difficulty.
All too often, readers and students of the Bible are intimidated by complex interpretations, theological arguments, archaic terms, and differing translations. However, it is possible to grasp the great and enduring themes of the Bible by concentrating on small, more common words and their specific meaning in the Scriptures.
Case in point: "Jesus saves." This simple phrase -- only ten letters -- still appears on hand- stenciled signs along highways in the heartland of America. Too simplistic? Oh, no! It embodies the heart of the New Testament, with many ties to the Old Testament as well. Each word is a bombshell.
Jesus. The name, which means "deliverer," was given on the instructions of an angel: "You are to name Him Jesus because He will save His people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21). Further study in the New Testament shows that Jesus was unique in human history because He had the physical appearance and presence of a human being but the character and person of God (Phil. 2:5-8). This was essential for Him to fulfill His role of deliverer. Only as a human being could He experience death and rejection, but only as God could He experience infinite suffering and bear infinite punishment for mankind.
Saves. This is an active verb meaning to rescue or deliver from danger or death. Beyond teaching, beyond setting the ultimate example, beyond confronting evil and injustice, saving the lost is the primary task in the life of Jesus: "For the Son of man is come to seek and to save the lost" (Luke 19:10). The saving is spiritual because the danger is spiritual. It is the danger of being separated from God forever by the sin of which all stand guilty and condemned. Jesus saves from the penalty of sin, from the power of sin, and eventually from the presence of sin (in heaven).
The Apostle Paul, who wrote more than a dozen books of the New Testament, is known among scholars of the Bible for long, complex sentences. Fortunately, he was also able to answer one of the great questions a person can ask -- How can I be saved? -- with the power of small words: "Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved" (Acts 16:31).
Believe. This is no mere intellectual agreement or emotional experience. A person may believe in Jesus based on fact, on feeling, or on faith. Accepting that Jesus was a historical figure is not adequate; neither is being moved by sentiment or emotion to an all-too-often temporary response. The believing that meets biblical standards is closely related to faith and trust. It abandons all hope except Jesus for spiritual life and relationship with God.
The story is told about a high-wire performer many years ago who stretched a cable across a deep canyon. To the amazement of a large crowd, he easily made the crossing. He asked how many in the crowd believed he could cross pushing a wheelbarrow and received a loud expression of confidence from the crowd. After crossing with the wheelbarrow to the delight of all, he asked how many believed he could cross with his assistant riding in the wheelbarrow. Again, the crowd was enthusiastic. Then he asked for a volunteer to serve as his assistant. There was silence. True, biblical believing in Jesus is much like getting into the wheelbarrow.
One of the most familiar verses of the Bible (perhaps best known by its reference) is John 3:16. Its radical impact for every person only requires a real understanding of small words: "For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life."
* Note: All Scripture quotations are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible.
Jimmy Knight draws on 27 years as an itinerant evangelist and now works to present and explain the message of Jesus one word at a time in "The Gospel in 99 Words."
"The Gospel in 99 Words"
Key Words That Unlock the Good News Paperback
by Evangelist Jimmy Knight
Paperback: 138 pages
Published: September 24, 2013
Prices - $11 - $21