Five Bible translators were slain in the Middle East this week for interpreting God’s word into languages others could understand. The first four served with Wycliffe Bible Translators, the same organization with which my family served in Australia when I was a teenager. They were killed in an attack on their office in a country that has remained unnamed because of the dangerous nature of their work.
Two were shot. The remaining two were beaten to death while physically shielding a coworker with their bodies. He survived – as did the files to translate scripture into eight languages currently lacking their own Bible.
While news accounts have not identified the translators slain in this attack, the fifth translator who died this week was Jewish. Raised in humble circumstances, he apprenticed in his father’s carpentry shop until becoming an itinerant preacher around age 30. He spoke and read Hebrew, the original language of the Bible.
Among friends and family, he also spoke Aramaic, the common language. But all who went to the temple to hear the scriptures on Saturdays would have understood the ancient words read from the great scrolls. The true difficulty was comprehending their meaning, which laid out the history of human suffering and how we might be made right with God.
Temporary rituals and sacrifices, like those celebrated on Passover, were not enough. They pointed out our need for forgiveness, but only a perfect sacrifice could permanently remove the deep disgrace and failure of our sin, which separates us from God.
Rather than translating scripture through words, the fifth victim translated it through his life. Through his everyday actions – healing the sick, befriending outcasts, feeding the hungry – he demonstrated how to love others and please God. He taught us how to pray. And how to receive forgiveness. Most importantly, he revealed God’s tremendous love by physically shielding us – with his own body – from wrath and judgment.
Like the four others slain this week, this man willingly sacrificed his life. Only, rather than dying to save one man or one group of people, he died to save everyone. As a result, all who seek forgiveness can be reconciled with God, not only here and now, but for all eternity. He died today – Good Friday –nearly two millennia ago.
As ancient scripture foretold, “He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed,” Isaiah 53:3-5.
Three days after dying on a Roman cross, he rose from the dead.
His name is Jesus, the Messiah.
This Easter, as believers celebrate Christ’s victory over sin and death, let us remember the ongoing sacrifices of those currently risking their lives to share the good news of God’s love with others. Let us remember their families and coworkers. And let us ask what we are willing to sacrifice to proclaim the gift of God’s amazing grace.