“Rescued from What?”
September 11, 2016
By John Partridge*
Scripture: Luke 15:1-10 1 Timothy 1:12-17 Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28
On October 14th, 1987 the attention of the entire nation, and much of the civilized world, became focused on one small backyard in Midland, Texas. An 18 month old girl, Jessica McClure Morales, was playing in the backyard when she fell into a well casing and became trapped in a pipe only 8 inches in diameter, but 22 feet below the ground’s surface. News organizations from around the world made “Baby Jessica” a household word as rescuers worked non-stop for the next 58 hours to return baby Jessica to her parents.
And most of us are old enough to remember the confusion surrounding the events of September 11th fifteen years ago today. As the day progressed, we weren’t sure at all who might need to be rescued, or what it might be that we all might need rescuing from. Both then and now, it evokes powerful emotions when we encounter those moments when the rescuers are in need of rescuing. But in times of terror, natural disasters, and even as we live a life of faith, we know that sometimes happens.
As we attend church, and as believers in Jesus Christ we often talk about rescue and salvation but we aren’t always clear about the things from which people should be rescued nor about what rescue really means.
During the rescue of Baby Jessica, no one doubted what it was that she was being rescued from. A baby 22 feet below ground that is stuck in a pipe is in big trouble and, without immediate help, will soon die from starvation, exposure, dehydration, or any number of other things. But the people with whom we work every day, or the children that go to school with our children, or the curious folks who occasionally wander in to churches, do not seem to be in any immediate danger. For many of them, and perhaps for some of you, our continued emphasis on “being saved” or “being rescued” seems more than a little curious and requires some explanation.
Hopefully, today’s message will provide some help.
We begin in Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28 where we hear God pronounce judgement against the people of Jerusalem for abandoning him and doing evil.
11 At that time this people and Jerusalem will be told, “A scorching wind from the barren heights in the desert blows toward my people, but not to winnow or cleanse; 12 a wind too strong for that comes from me. Now I pronounce my judgments against them.”
22 “My people are fools;
they do not know me.
They are senseless children;
they have no understanding.
They are skilled in doing evil;
they know not how to do good.”
23 I looked at the earth,
and it was formless and empty;
and at the heavens,
and their light was gone.
24 I looked at the mountains,
and they were quaking;
all the hills were swaying.
25 I looked, and there were no people;
every bird in the sky had flown away.
26 I looked, and the fruitful land was a desert;
all its towns lay in ruins
before the Lord, before his fierce anger.
27 This is what the Lord says:
“The whole land will be ruined,
though I will not destroy it completely.
28 Therefore the earth will mourn
and the heavens above grow dark,
because I have spoken and will not relent,
I have decided and will not turn back.”
God says that the future of Jerusalem is a future filled with drought, destruction, desolation, doom, and death.
This is not a glowing, fun-filled chapter of the Bible and, while it is specific to a particular people from a particular chapter in the distant past, it paints us a stark picture of what can be expected when we abandon God. Granted, there are a great many people who live out their entire lives without coming to faith in Jesus Christ and, from all outward appearances, seem to do just fine, even thrive, in doing so. But scripture reminds us that there is more to our existence than the life that we are currently experiencing. And while we aren’t exactly crystal clear about what it will be like, life, according to scripture, continues on past our earthly death. And so although the darkness, doom, and despair that Jeremiah describes may have been initially intended for the people of Jerusalem, we would be well served to take note of what eventually lies in store for people who abandon God.
And so the next question we ask is this: What does “rescue” look like?
And for that let’s continue by reading from Paul’s first letter to his friend Timothy (1 Timothy 1:12-17).
12 I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me trustworthy, appointing me to his service. 13 Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. 14 The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
15 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. 16 But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. 17 Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.
Paul says that even though he blasphemed God, persecuted Christians, and was a violent man, God showed him mercy because he had done all those things out of ignorance and unbelief. And so, being a man who had literally become an enemy of God, and yet found mercy, forgiveness, and grace, Paul summarizes our rescue (and his) this way: Jesus came into the world with the sole purpose of saving and rescuing the very people who had turned their backs on God even those people who had declared war on God and upon God’s people. Because of Jesus Christ, God showed mercy to Paul so that the world could see a display of God’s patience and know that everyone who chooses to believe in Jesus can still be saved from destruction, desolation, doom, and death and receive the gift of life eternal in God’s house.
And then in Luke 15:1-10, we have another example, but this time from the life of Jesus himself.
15:1 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
3 Then Jesus told them this parable: 4 “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 5 And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6 and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ 7 I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.
8 “Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? 9And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ 10 In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
Jesus is rebuked by the authorities and leaders of the church because he dared to show hospitality to the outcasts of their society. Tax collectors, prostitutes, the poor, and others, despite the fact that virtually all of them came from Jewish families and would have, in modern language, “identified” as Jewish, the church leaders labelled all of them as sinners. For the Pharisees, it was acceptable to meet with “those” people when you went about your daily business in the marketplace because society, government, or culture demanded it, but at home… that was different. Sharing a meal with people, actually showing them hospitality and compassion, that was something that good people only did with other good people. Jesus was disrupting the status quo and defying the desires of the church leaders, by showing love to people that the church had decided were no longer lovable.
And so, in answer to the complaints of the Pharisees, Jesus tells everyone three parables, two of which we heard today and the third is the parable of the prodigal son. In telling these parables, Jesus paints a picture of what it really means to be rescued and makes it excruciatingly clear that every one of the people in the room, sinners or not, have great value, and that God will stop at nothing to get them back. For Jesus, being lost can be thought of as a sheep that has wandered away from the flock, or a coin that fell out of a wallet, or a child that disowned their family. In that sense, “rescue” or “salvation” means being brought back in to the flock, returning to where you belong and to where you are valued, and being brought back into the family where you were, are, and always will be valued and loved regardless of what you have done in the past.
Baby Jessica had to be rescued from certain death so that she could be returned to her family where she was loved and valued.
As followers of Jesus Christ, when we talk about people who are in need of rescue or who “need to be saved” what we really mean is that these people, regardless of how healthy, happy and prosperous they might look, are separated from God and ultimately face a future of destruction, desolation, doom, and death.
But the followers of Jesus Christ cannot condemn people who are in need of rescue because Jesus’ single mission on earth was to save and rescue the people who had turned their backs on God even those people who had declared war on God and upon God’s people.
Real rescue means that the followers of Jesus must treat these “lost” people the way that Jesus did, with forgiveness, mercy, and respect. Real rescue means inviting the lost to rejoin God’s family. Real rescue means that the people who are rescued have the opportunity to experience God’s transformational compassion and love.
If we are to be the agents of real rescue, then we must be prepared to treat everyone as people who are truly loved and valued.
God will stop at nothing to get them back.
And we shouldn’t either.
Did you benefit from reading this?
Click here if you would like to subscribe to these messages.