bits from bob....

What's In a Word?

by Robert J. Young
©, 2002, Robert J. Young
[permission is given to reprint with credit noted]

"After the reading from the law and from the prophets, the synagogue rulers sent to them saying, "Brothers, if there is among you a word of encouragement, speak up." (Acts 13:15)

When Paul and his companions came to the synagogue in Antioch of Pisidia, they were given the opportunity speak with this condition: "If you have a word of encouragement...."

In our society and culture, words are cheap. Words are mere "spokenness." Actions are said to speak louder than words. I am not debating the truth of falsehood of that axiom, only illustrating that we separate words and works. We place greater value on actions. Words may not be dependable. Our yes is not always yes, our no is not always no. Therefore, we believe the truth of a person's character is in actions. Therefore we ascribe greater value to works than to words.

No so with God. The Bible does not separate God's works from his words. He works by his words. He speaks, and creation occurs. The Hebrew dabar can mean either word or deed or both. Likewise the Greek rhema. There is a sense in which Luke's use of logos in Acts reflects this same fact. Mark's gospel describes Jesus as one who comes mighty in works and words (cf. esp. ch. 1-4). God's words are one with his deeds because (1) God is consistent (faithful), (2) because God's words accomplish his purposes, and (3) God's words foreshadow (declare in advance, Rom. 4) his purposes. Therefore God can call things that are not as though they are. When God speaks, his speaking is an action.

Because this is true, the words of Jesus carry weight, and have new meaning. The Sermon on the Mount is more than a sermon, it is an orientation (reorientation) to God's eternal purposes. The red letter editions of Scripture are on to something--these words do matter, for they are in some sense more than words. When I was a lad, I spent some classes and sermons identifying the pages in my Bible which were entirely red, although I am sure I did not understand totally the significance then. In this article, I call attention to some pages that are virtually all black print with just a little red. These are always the words of Jesus--seven statements, seven "words," seven truths. Here is a reflection of God, reality, life, and divine purpose.

1. A Word of Forgiveness.
Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing (Luke 23:34).
It is the nature of God to forgive. It is the faithfulness of God to facilitate forgiveness when humans cannot find it. God's consistency is not that he only speaks forgiveness, but that he makes it possible, consistent with his grace, mercy, love, and justice. Human orientation seeks vengeance, kingdom orientation seeks forgiveness. On the cross, Jesus speaks a word of forgiveness.

2. A Word of Hope. Surely I say to you, you will be with me in paradise today (Luke 23:43). Jesus' death between two thieves was a fulfillment of prophecy. When one of the thieves honors Jesus' kingdom promises, Jesus speaks a word of hope. Human power is hopeless in view of eternity, only divine power empowers hope.

3. A Caring Word. When Jesus asks John to provide for Jesus' mother (John 19:25-27), he evidences the kingdom nature of caring for others more than for self. Kingdom orientation is selfless. Jesus' words of care for others provide a model for our words.

4. A Word of Suffering. Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?, that is, My God, My God, why have you forsaken me? (Matt. 27:46). The suffering of Jesus on the cross was not only physical, but was emotional and spiritual. Jesus on the cross bearing the sins of the world know what it means to be separated from the holy Father who turns away. May we learn the destructive nature of sin and the awesome terribleness of eternal separation from God.

5. A Human Word. I thirst (John 19:28). Jesus was human as he was suspended on the cross. He was a human being experiencing our pain and emotion, understanding our weaknesses and needs. On the cross, Jesus speaks as a human being, and I know he understands me.

6. A Word of Fulfillment. It is finished (John 19:30). This is the cry of victory. This is the declaration that the debt is paid in full. This is the word that appears in modern Greece at the bottom of invoices when the invoice is paid. Jesus did that which God sent him to do. He completed his work. This word is one with his work. His fulfillment is our ability to fulfill God's purposes in our lives.

7. A Word of Assurance. Father, I commend my Spirit into your hands (Luke 23:46). We can assuredly know what we cannot see. Jesus is the first fruits. This is the foreshadowing of resurrection power. Jesus' word of assurance is also our assurance.

There you have it. God's nature, reflected in seven "words." A commitment to forgiveness that ends in hope. A compassion that is willing to suffer for others, a compassion that understands what it means to be human. A knowledge that fulfilling God's purposes bring assurance. These are not only words, this are the action of God in the person of Jesus. This is the message of Calvary. Calvary is a word from God. Calvary is the work of God. Calvary is God's consistent commitment to our salvation.

The cross is forgiveness, hope, compassion, suffering, identification with humanity, the fulfillment of God's purposes, eternal assurance. May we be people of the cross.

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Last updated February 5, 2002.