39 Years Ago

It was a Sunday afternoon after Christmas 1977. Our family was riding home from church, and I and my younger brother Warren were in the back seat. He had just turned four years old, and I was almost eight, but he was determined to keep up with me. Even though it was impossible for him to equalize the age gap, he was my constant companion for much of my childhood. Sibling arguments and occasional fights did not separate us for long. It would take a much greater turbulence — adolescence — before our social patterns began to truly diverge.

So on this particular Sunday we were hanging out in the back seat, just like normal, talking about whatever was on our minds. And at one point, Warren turned to me and exclaimed, “I got saved in Sunday School today.”

Now I knew a lot about things, being nearly eight, but what he said confused me. I knew about Jesus. I knew about Jesus being born of Mary in Bethlehem, and about the angels who proclaimed his birth. I knew he was the Son of God and the Savior of the world. I knew he had grown up and died on a cross for our sins, and that he had risen from the dead and gone back to heaven. But I knew nothing about getting saved.

So I asked him what he meant, and he simply repeated himself, as if I should already know about this strange teaching that had shown up in his Sunday School class. And when I pressed him for further details, asking questions in rapid succession, I became frustrated with his simple answers. Our voices rose as we started to argue, and then Mom and Dad piped up from the front seat and told us to be quiet. So we dropped our theological debate and moved on to something else. I thought nothing of it the rest of the day.

But when I lay down to sleep that night, his words began to run through my head, again and again, as if there was something important that I had missed. Getting saved. What did he mean? I’ll ask about it tomorrow, I thought, but I could not sleep. Getting saved. What did he mean? I should ask about it tomorrow. I’m not supposed to bother my parents after bedtime. Getting saved. What did he mean? I had to find out.

And so, with much trepidation, I got up out of bed, walked out of my room, and knocked on my parents’ bedroom door. Dad answered, and I opened the door, looked him in the face, and asked, “Dad, what does it mean to get saved?

And Dad, as if he had been expecting this all along, reached over to the dresser and picked up a little booklet. The booklet had a drawing of a kid on the front waving a newspaper, wearing a too-short shirt that showed his belly. The title of the booklet was Good News. Dad sat down with me and we started going through the booklet together, and at first there was nothing new. It was merely a review of all the stuff I already knew about Jesus, and that I was a sinner that disobeyed God (but I already knew that too).

Near the end of the booklet, it asked how I would respond to the good news about Jesus. Would I believe Jesus, admit my sin, and turn to him for forgiveness and eternal life? And in that moment, staring at the Good News booklet, I had an experience that was no less momentous than when the shepherds encountered the angels on that first Christmas night.

But the angel said to them, “Don’t be afraid, for look, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people: Today in the city of David a Savior was born for you, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11 CSB)

This was good news. I wasn’t supposed to ignore it. God was offering me forgiveness of my sins and eternal life through the gift of his Son. Would I believe what God said? Would I respond and receive God’s gift?

Yes.

That’s all it took. I did nothing, really. I simply told Jesus yes, and thanked him for saving me, and asked him to help me do what pleased him. From that point on, Jesus became real to me. And thirty-nine years later, Jesus is still real, I’m still thanking him, he’s still helping me, and I’m still overwhelmed by his good news.

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