At one time or another, most people in the Western world have heard the phrase "Jesus saves." What does this phrase really mean? Who is Jesus? Why do we need to be saved? How does Jesus save? From what? Is this just some kind of church marketing scheme to get us to give them our money? Or does it have something to do with American politics? Unfortunately, the phrase "Jesus saves" has undergone some cultural hijacking which has obscured its meaning. The truth is, the words "Jesus saves" might be the most important words you ever hear.
Jesus lived about 2,000 years ago in Israel. He was a Jew, and lived and worked among Jews. He was an unremarkable man from an unremarkable family. When He was about thirty years old, He stood up in the local temple and quoted a passage from a Jewish prophet called Isaiah. He said:
"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor" (Luke 4:18).
This prophecy was known by everyone in Jesus' audience as a prophecy about the Messiah—Israel's future king who would set them free and make their nation great. Jesus shocked them all by saying, after He had quoted the passage, "Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing" (Luke 4:21; see verses 16–30 for the full account). This began a conflict between Jesus (who claimed to be Messiah) and the Jews (who eventually betrayed Him to the Romans and had Him executed by crucifixion).
The Jewish Pharisees (the religious leaders of that day) hated Jesus, mainly because He told them that their understanding of God was all wrong. They expected the Messiah to be a ruler, a king who would help them defeat the Romans. But Jesus was interested in saving people for eternity. They expected a Messiah who was like themselves: passing out rules, but unwilling to help others (Luke 11:46); glorifying their own morality while treating others with contempt (Luke 18:9–14). But Jesus was interested in forgiveness, healing the sick, and lifting up those who were failing (Mark 2:5; John 3:16–18; Mark 2:17).
Jesus claimed to be the Messiah, and He claimed to be God (John 1:1–3; John 8:58). He backed up that claim by rising from the dead after three days in the tomb, and appearing to a crowd of witnesses and disciples (Luke 24:1–12; 36–49), many of whom would later face a violent death rather than deny that Jesus had risen from the dead.
So, why does this matter to us, today?
Religion today is not much different than it was back in Jesus' time. There are a lot of rules to follow in order to appease a deity. When faced with religion, people usually either a) delude themselves into thinking they can follow all the rules, do the right thing, etc. and then judge anyone who cannot do the same, or b) turn away from religion because they realize they are not able to follow the rules. The words "Jesus saves" speak to this problem. Jesus was the Creator God and displayed all of the same character traits as God Himself (Hebrews 1:3). He came to forgive the sins of men; He came because "it is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick" and He came "not to call the righteous, but sinners" (Mark 2:17 NIV). What this means is that if you need salvation, Jesus saves.
The fact remains, however, that every person needs Him whether they will admit it or not. We are all prone to mistakes, to addictions, to choosing the wrong path. We are all sinners (Romans 3:23) who have fallen short of God's standard (Romans 6:23). We are all less than perfect. And we all feel the moral burden. That is why religion exists—it exists to give us the illusion of control, and to assuage the nagging feeling that we are not measuring up to what God wants. "If we just follow these few rules," we think, "God will be pleased and accept me." But it is not possible to do everything that God requires, because we are human and perfection is not possible for us.
Does this mean God is cruel? That He has set us up for failure? Not at all—Jesus saves! God sent Jesus for this very purpose—to put all the punishment for sin on Him, so that we would not have to bear it (Isaiah 53:5). Now that this free gift is available to us, the only way we can damn ourselves is if we actively choose NOT to take it! Jesus saves anyone and everyone who wants to be saved, but many of us say "no thanks" and cling stubbornly to religion, or to the delusion that we can somehow save ourselves, or that we don't need saving, or even that God doesn't exist. Denying His existence is just another way of avoiding the big issue: Jesus saves, and we need to be saved.
Take the advice of the writer of Hebrews, who said: "Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts" (Hebrews 3:15).
If you believe that Jesus is who He says He is—that He is God who came to earth as a human man, lived a sinless life, died the death we deserve to pay the penalty for our sin in our place, rose from the dead, and offers the gift of forgiveness to you—you can accept His great gift today. A good way to start is to pray something like the following to God. [It is important to remember that this is just a sample prayer. Salvation does not come from reciting specific words. It is a gift of God's grace that we receive through faith in Him. A prayer like this is a way to express your heart to God, tell Him you believe Him, and ask Him to save you.] "Dear God, I know that I am a sinner and I can never measure up to your standards on my own. I know that my sins deserve death. But I also know that you have graciously sent your Son, Jesus Christ, to live a perfect life and die in my place. I believe in Him. I believe He rose again and that He offers me the gift of salvation. I want to turn away from my sins and accept salvation in Jesus. Thank you for saving me, Jesus!"
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