Rescue stories have a certain fascination. If that were not so, Reader’s Digest would have to radically alter the balance of its monthly offerings!
Such stories contain what journalists call ‘the human interest factor’ – that crucial ingredient that brings a story out of the realm of fiction into the world of personal reality.
We cannot read an account of someone else’s rescue without thinking – however slightly – ‘That could have been me!’
Perhaps the greatest interest, however, lies in the lengths to which people will go to rescue a fellow human being.
Rescuers often have to follow difficult routes to save those who are hurt or lost. They may have to follow a treacherous mountain path to find an injured climber; or negotiate dark, flooded passages or mineshafts, to reach those trapped underground.
Then again, the parents of a missing teenager may spend months in remote regions trying to trace their lost child.
Whatever the circumstances, those who go on search-and-rescue missions win our deepest admiration for their determination and endurance.
The greatest rescue
The greatest rescue mission of all time is found, perhaps surprisingly, in the pages of the Bible. Far from being religious fiction, the Bible is a record of what really happened in human history.
It relates, particularly, how God intervened in our world to rescue people who are lost and perishing in the worst sense of those words.
The story begins by telling us how the world began and what it was like at the beginning of time. It was no cosmic accident that brought into being this complex and beautiful universe, as some otherwise intelligent people seem to think.
The universe – and especially our own humanity – was created by a complex and beautiful God. He made a world that was truly perfect, having every potential to be an eternal paradise for those to whom he entrusted it.
Whether you are familiar with the Bible or not, it is very hard to read its opening chapters without some sense of awe at the way things were – and a deep-seated longing that things might somehow be like that again.
But things went horribly wrong in that perfect world. The third chapter of the Bible explains what happened, and how all the trouble mankind has since experienced can be traced back to that moment in time.
We learn there how Adam – the first man – chose to go his own way in life, not God’s. He had been forewarned that such a choice would mean death, but he ignored the warning.
But the rest of the Bible tells us what God did to put things right – and set the stage for paradise to be regained.
A unique event
Much of what follows in the Bible seems hard to understand – at least on the surface. It tells of God’s dealings with the people of Israel in pre-Christian times. It is full of prophecies, imagery and ritual. What does it all mean?
The New Testament provides the key. As with so many of life’s dramas, things eventually became clear. Something happened that made sense of all that had gone before.
That ‘something’ was the birth of Jesus Christ. This unique event lies, not just at the heart of the Bible, but of history itself. It marked the day that God came into our world in the person of his own Son.
This was the greatest rescue mission the world has ever seen. In simple terms, Jesus came into the world explicitly ‘to save his people from their sins’ (Matthew 1:21).
Hard to understand
There are many details in the life of Christ that seem totally redundant when it comes to saving his people. We feel like saying, ‘Why did he do that?’
We can, perhaps, see the point of Bethlehem being his chosen birthplace (Micah 5.2-5). It was King David’s ancestral home, and it was revealed beforehand that the Messiah must be born into the line of David.
But why was Jesus so quickly whisked away to Egypt (Matthew 2:13)? Clearly, he had to be snatched from the murderous clutches of Herod the Great, who was happy to slaughter every male child in Bethlehem to safeguard his throne.
But there was more to it than that. Matthew quotes the prophet Hosea and tells us that God was fulfilling his promise when he brought Jesus back from abroad: ‘Out of Egypt I called my son’ (Matthew 2:15).
Far from being a massive detour on the road to rescue his people, or a case of Jesus’ mission being blown off course, this was all part of the plan.
Egypt was the place where the Israelites had spent centuries as slaves and had been reduced to the worst life imaginable. But God intervened, lovingly and miraculously, to rescue them under the leadership of Moses.
He sent Moses to Egypt to identify with the needs and sorrows of ‘his son’ Israel; then to emancipate them from a life of ruin. And finally he lead them to a brand new world in Canaan – the promised land.
The New Testament explains the significance of all this ancient history. In doing so it provides graphic pictures of how Jesus Christ rescues his people from the terrifying power of sin.
Egypt is picture number one. Based on the captivity of Israel in that land, it symbolises the way human beings are enslaved by sin – both by its power and consequences.
Sin is like a foreign power that dominates our lives as individuals and as a race. We cannot find deliverance on our own. Our slavery to sin is seen in the wickedness that fills the daily news, but also in the subtle, subversive evil that fills our lives from day to day.
The good news about Jesus’ trip to Egypt is that he did not stay there! As Moses before him triumphed over his adversaries and departed from Egypt, so Christ has conquered his enemies – sin and death – and has led his followers to freedom from their bondage.
Rescue for every nation
Nazareth is another symbol. Why was Jesus’ next port of call a little backwater called Nazareth? Again, it was fulfilment of a prophecy – one made 800 years before Christ came: ‘Beyond the Jordan, in Galilee of the Gentiles, the people who sat in darkness saw a great light’ (Isaiah 9:1-2).
Galilee had a significant number of non-Jewish (Gentile) inhabitants as well as true Israelis. The good news of God’s rescue mission is not just for a single nation, but also for every nation of the world.
Footsteps of a fallen race
On and on we go, following the footsteps of Jesus. What is he doing? He is simply retracing the route taken by a race that has rebelled against its Maker.
As someone on a rescue mission retraces the steps of a person who is lost – that he might find that person and bring him safely home – so it is with Christ. He follows in the footsteps of a fallen race.
Nor does he merely reach us where we presently are, in a ruined world. He goes where our wayward steps will ultimately lead – to the horrors of judgement and hell.
As he suffered on the cross, Jesus descended into the bleakness of hell in order to rescue those who, through their own foolish rebellion, deserve to be there!
You can be found
Many climbers think they know better than the rangers and guides responsible for a mountain range. They choose to climb with inadequate gear; they follow paths that seem more appealing than the ones mapped out; they ignore warnings that spell out the hidden dangers all around.
When such people end up stranded and in danger, no one is obliged to go after them. But mountain rescue teams frequently do just that.
The same is true on an infinitely greater scale for those who disregard God. He is under no obligation to come and rescue us. Yet that is exactly what he has done.
He has sent his own Son Jesus on the greatest rescue mission ever mounted. And through the gospel he broadcasts his offer of salvation to all who will listen. He promises that ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved’ (Romans 10:13).
If you know you are lost, you must also know you can be found – that is what Jesus came to do!