Imagine an ordinary day in your life. You come home and you’re just hanging out on the couch watching TV. Nothing dramatic is happening. You’re not anxious about anything. Everything seems fine.
Suddenly, your front door bursts open. You hear yelling and the sound of police radios. It’s a team of EMT workers breaking into your home. They see you sitting on the couch. They toss your Pringles and beer aside and throw you to the ground. One of them starts pounding on your chest, giving you CPR and like Jack Bauer screams, “Stay with me! Stay with me!” He gives up and starts mouth to mouth resuscitation, even though you fight back, trying to explain there’s nothing wrong with you. Eventually he grabs a defibrillator, yells “Clear!” and begins delivering electric shocks to your chest.
But they insist you are. You are in great danger, they tell you, and on the verge of death. Which seems odd because after all, those TV series about women who didn’t know they were pregnant are bad enough, but being almost dead seems like something you would know about yourself. Most of us assume we would be aware if we were in mortal danger. We all would know if we needed a rescuer, right?
Sometimes, Jesus strikes me as that unwelcome EMT worker who bursts into our seemingly safe lives and shouts, “I’m here to rescue you!” To which we respond, “From what? I didn’t even know I needed rescuing.”
As he entered the city of Jerusalem, during the last week of his life, Jesus was met by a crowd of admirers. They threw their cloaks on the ground and waved palm branches at him. They shouted, “Hosanna!” which literally means, “Save us!” The whole scene was reminiscent of the ancient Jewish texts of Isaiah and Zechariah. In fact, the author of the Gospel of Matthew even draws attention to that fact. Those texts spoke of a King that God would send one day, a Messiah, an Anointed One, a healer, a rescuer. Whether one views Jesus’ entry into the city as a prophecy fulfilled, an enacted parable or Matthew’s literary observation, the message is clear, Jesus is that King. Jesus is the one who comes in God’s name and is coming to our rescue.
Do we really need to be rescued? For some people the answer is absolutely, “Yes!” Usually when EMT’s break down the door of a home, it’s because someone’s life is really in danger. Someone is really dying.
Likewise, some of us are really dying and we know it. We have an emergency. For some us, if we dialed 911 and they asked, What’s your emergency?” we would respond, “Where do I begin?” It may be a struggle with our physical health, but many of us are dying emotionally or spiritually. We are dying from depression or anxiety. We are slowly being killed by addictions, past abuse or hurts. We see all the warning signs. We know we’re in crisis. We’re ready to make a 911 call to Jesus and say, “Save me!”
Others of us, think we don’t need saving. Life is good. We’re on the couch, watching TV, enjoying Pringles and beer. We may not be having the heart attack, but we’re sure on the path to one, whether we admit it or not.
We are on a path of self-destruction or destruction of others and can’t face up to it. We ‘re doing things in our lives that we know are wrong but we rationalize them away. We have bought into the materialistic dream of consumerism and our pursuit of that dream is destroying our family. We look around the world and although we know there’s pain and suffering, a combination of selfishness and cynicism destroys our belief that things can ever change. We may even get philosophical on occasion, and ponder whether there is any deeper meaning to life. Is there anything more than this? The dark void that we encounter in those moments frightens us. Yet we won’t admit we need to be saved.
Has anyone, a relative, a co-worker, or even a stranger, ever approached you and asked, “Are you saved?” What does that mean? Usually the questioner has in mind a particular theology about Jesus. It goes something like this. Man is sinful and deserves punishment from God. Man cannot ever be good enough to avoid that punishment. Instead, Jesus took our place and received God’s punishment instead of us, which in turn satisfies God’s wrath. If you believe that, you go heaven instead of hell. While there is truth in that description, it doesn’t begin to encompass all that we mean when we call Jesus our Rescuer, or our Savior.
When someone asks you if you’re saved, they may even have a little pamphlet on hand to give you. That pamphlet will probably have an illustration in it depicting how this whole thing works. I know those pamphlets well since I spent some of my teen years passing them out in public places. In these situations, the idea of being saved often gets reduced to merely agreeing with that diagram. Agreeing with the diagram is called “having faith”. If you say you agree with the diagram, and say a little prayer to God telling him you agree with the diagram, you’re saved.
Don’t get me wrong. Aspects of this diagram changed my life. It’s not that I don’t believe what’s in the diagram. I believe our sin separates us from God and that Christ restores us to a right relationship with God. What I do question is whether simply agreeing with the diagram saves us. What I really question is whether spending an inordinate amount of time condemning those we think have the wrong version of the diagram saves anyone. Yet so much of Christianity is just that - asking people to agree with the diagram, and judging those who do not.
Just say you really are having a heart attack. The EMT’s come into your house and explain what’s wrong with your heart. They can even show you a little diagram of your heart depicting the problem. As much as you agree with that diagram, it’s not going to save you. You can give your intellectual assent to the idea of your arteries being clogged, but unless your heart actually changes, you’re going to die.
Jesus is our Savior and Jesus saves from much more than we realize and in ways much deeper than we comprehend. Our hearts go off in the wrong direction in life. They tend to go off in some deadly directions. Our obsession with ego and self causes suffering and pain, not just within us, but also in our relationship with others. It even creates destruction on a systematic scale through war, oppression, poverty, and hunger. All of these things cause God to suffer and caused Jesus to suffer.
When we turn our wayward hearts toward Jesus, God transforms them through the Holy Spirit and gives us life. That life is not just about where we go after we die, it’s about how we grow as we live. How we grow in Christ’s love and how God perfects us to be more like him. It is in that process that Jesus saves us, that Jesus rescues us.
You don’t have to understand how it works anymore than you have to understand how a defibrillator works to be saved by an EMT worker. Our words, diagrams and atonement theories can only point us to the reality of our Savior. They can never be our Savior. The act of faith is not in agreeing that a particular description of how Jesus does that is the right one. The act of faith is trusting that Jesus can do it.
In the end, all of our theologies, all of passionate preaching, even all of our diagrams, aren’t worth anything if this isn’t real. If this doesn’t really work, then all this talk about Jesus the Rescuer is just idle chatter.
Yet many of us have experienced first-hand, being rescued by Jesus. Our stories may be different. The words we use to describe it or the theological models we describe may be different, but the common thread is always Jesus.
There may be people you know in your life, perhaps even in your church who need to hear, not your theory of how Jesus saves, but a story of how Jesus saved you. They want to know, not how it works, but why it works for you. Take time to make this week truly holy by telling that story to someone who needs to hear it. I am the first to point out to people who say they "only believe the Bible", that the words “accept Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior” never appear in it. True, Christianity is too often reduced to just a personal or private matter, while ignoring the concept of community. Nevertheless, our response to Jesus must always be personal.
We began this series by asking “Who Is Jesus?” We encountered a few answers to that question, and there are still many more we could explore. To all those answers we might respond, “So what?” Jesus was a Revolutionary. So what? Jesus was a Raconteur. So what? Jesus was a Reflection. So what? What does it matter? What good do those things do us?
Ultimately, the only answer that matters is the one that gives all the others their meaning. It is the answer that comes not just from history, theology or doctrines, but from the only thing we can truly know which is our own personal experience.
Who is Jesus?
Jesus is our Savior.