Yesterday I visited Community Christian Church in Lincolnshire, IL–my church home for the past two years. I enjoyed catching up with friends and sharing in worship. While the entire experience lifted my spirits and nourished my soul, I was particularly drawn in to the sermon Nelson Irving delivered.
Nelson boldly offered the phrase “Jesus saves” to us as something to welcome and embrace. Sure, that phrase is easily associated with “pulpit pounding preachers” yelling hell, fire, and brimstone. It can leave more “sophisticated” or “modern-minded” Christians embarrased. But Nelson powerfully reclaimed that phrase by offering us the simple message that Jesus is a figure of healing in a fragmented, fear-ridden world.
The word “saves” shares a common root with another English word, “salvation.” Both words come from the Latin salvus, meaning healing. In an important way, Jesus heals. He takes what was, is, and might still be broken in the world, and touches it with God’s grace and mercy. He puts life back together for us. Importantly, Jesus did not just heal in 1st century Palestine many years ago; Jesus heals still. The phrase is in the present tense: “Jesus saves.”
The question which accompanies such a claim, however, is: from what does Jesus save us? Again, Nelson powerfully reclaimed the ancient Christian insight that we are a tattered, worn people: not complete; lacking wholeness; riddled with guilt, suffering, and waywardness. Life is heavy with dysfunction, disapppointment, and despair. What is our purpose? Where can we find meaning? Can something–or, someone–bring our life together in all its many pieces and grant us direction? Jesus. Jesus saves.
For Nelson, Jesus saves because Jesus is “God’s character in human form.” Jesus reveals to us who God is, the kind of love God has for us, and the continuing presence of God with us to make us whole. When we accept that love, presence, and promised wholeness, we find, as Nelson so beautifully summed it up, “we are ourselves at last; we are each other’s at last; and, finally, more than these, we are God’s at last.”
“Jesus saves” means that God has given each of us the promise that despite all we face, all we experience , all that pulls us apart and tears us down; we can still be the people God created us to be. Through this simple truth, we can enter into ourselves anew, full of God’s love for us in Jesus Christ. If we do, we shall find that we were never alone, never purposeless, never unloved. Jesus saves.
Luke 23: 32 – 43
Two others also, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. [[Then Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.’]] And they cast lots to divide his clothing. And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, ‘He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!’ The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, and saying, ‘If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!’ There was also an inscription over him,* ‘This is the King of the Jews.’
One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, ‘Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!’ But the other rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.’ Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ He replied, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’