Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Though you’ve probably not heard of Austrian immigrant Leo Hirshfield, I’m sure you’re familiar with what he invented in 1896—an oblong, individually wrapped, bite-size piece of chewy chocolate candy, which Leo named after his five-year-old daughter nicknamed Tootsie. That invention, of course, is the Tootsie Roll, which Hirshfield sold in his New York City candy store for a penny a piece. Now in 2015, 64 million pieces are being made daily by Tootsie Roll Industries.
It was 36 years after the Tootsie Roll was invented that Lukas Weisgram added a flavored hard candy shell to a piece of Tootsie Roll and named it the Tootsie Pop. That the shell conceals the chewy center gives rise to a well-known question: How many licks does it take to get to the center? Tests indicate it takes from 600 to 800, but if you’re like me, you bite through the shell to get right to the good stuff in the center.
Though sad, it’s interesting that the Tootsie Pop’s construction can serve as a metaphor for those who, instead of getting to the true center of biblical truth, remain fixated on peripheral issues that tend to conceal (even negate) the “good stuff” found at the center. Some authors and preachers “major in the minors”—virtually ignoring the true center of Scripture and Christian faith, offering instead novel (one might say fanciful) ways to find what they wrongly suppose to be the center.
One author counted the total verses in the Bible (31,174 in one English translation) in order to locate the middle verse (Psalm 118:8 by his calculation). The same author felt confirmed in his approach by noting that Psalm 117 is the shortest chapter in the Bible (2 verses) and Psalm 119 is the longest (176 verses). Though such calculations may be interesting, they certainly are not the way to find the Bible’s true center.
Others have used even more fanciful (one might say superstitious) ways of identifying the Bible’s true center. A popular approach in our day is a method referred to as “Bible code,” which searches out secret messages supposedly hidden in the text of the Bible. Individual letters, which are lifted out of the text at equal intervals, are put together to reveal the hidden message. But this approach is utter nonsense. By using the same approach you can find messages hidden in any book of sufficient length. There is no valid reason to think that the central meaning, purpose and message of the Bible can be discovered by counting words or by deciphering hidden messages. Such fanciful and superstitious approaches have been debunked time and again.
The true center of the Bible is not a verse at its middle or a message hidden away in its text, but a person—Jesus Christ. Not only is he the Bible’s true center, he is the center of the universe—all that was created was created by him, for him and through him. Jesus is not just the center of the Christian faith—he is the center of all things and Christianity came into being and was named after him. Jesus inaugurated a new way of living for humanity—he lives in us and we live in him by the personal activity of the Holy Spirit.
According to Jesus, the primary reason for the Bible is to bear witness to him. The Bible is God’s story of redemption and salvation—Jesus. The story of grace—Jesus. The story of the way, the truth and the resurrection—Jesus. The story of eternal life—Jesus.
Out of his personal knowledge, Jesus reveals to us the Father and the Spirit. He reconciles us and brings us into the very presence of the Father and the Spirit. He is the reason for the Bible and its author, focus, theme and main character. Jesus is the true center.
The Gospel of John tells us that Jesus is the Word—the ultimate word of God for us and to us. God’s definitive form of speech is the inscription of God’s word to us in the person of Jesus. This is the truth with which John begins his Gospel:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:1, 14).
Consequently, Jesus (the Word) alone can give us authoritative knowledge of the whole Triune God:
No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known (John 1:18).
The writers of the Bible (the written word of God) tell us that the ultimate, final, definitive living Word of God is none other than the Word of God made flesh, Jesus Christ. Jesus is the living Bible, the incarnation and inscription of the very nature and truth of God. Yes, Jesus is the true center.
Staying centered on him,
PS: October is pastor appreciation month, and though I’m deeply grateful for our pastors every month of the year, I want to take this opportunity to express my special thanks to each of them, and also to their spouses who serve with them. As a fellowship, we are greatly blessed to have faithful, humble servant-leaders to care for our part of the body of Christ. Pastors, please take care of yourselves too (and those who love them, please help them do so)—for a brief message highlighting that need, click here.