Redeeming the Rescuer

At this time Moses was born; he was beautiful in God’s sight. And he was brought up for three months in his father’s house, and when he was exposed, Pharaoh’s daughter adopted him and brought him up as her own son.

Acts 7:20-21

Have you ever known someone whose life was saved by a heroic act? If so, perhaps you’ve noticed that when we think of rescue, it is usually from death. But have you considered that God rescues us through death?

Stephen was on trial for his life. Because the stakes were so high, he preached a sermon for the Sanhedrin using heroic examples from the history of redemption. Beginning with Abraham and Joseph, Stephen expounded just how often God’s agents were resisted and rejected by those they were sent to rescue. Sometimes even redeemers must be redeemed.

Moses was royally redeemed. Moses was born under a death sentence (Exodus 1:22-2:4). When he was only three months old, his mother chose a very unusual vehicle of escape—a coffin. The word Moses used for “basket” (tebah) in Exodus 2 is the same word he used for “ark” in Genesis 6. Aside from their propensity for floatation, there seems to be little similarity between Noah’s ark and Moses’ basket. However, the word tebah may also be translated “coffin” or “sarcophagus” and as we explore those concepts, the meaning of tebah becomes clearer. For Egyptians, the sarcophagus was not the final resting place of one’s body, but rather a vehicle for safe passage into the Land of the Two Fields. This fact explains why so many sarcophagi were loaded with treasures to accompany the Pharaohs to the afterlife. A sarcophagus was an outward manifestation of a person’s faith. By faith, Noah built an ark which carried him safely through God’s judgment and death to a new life. Similarly, Moses’ basket carried him securely through Pharaoh’s judgment and death sentence to a new life in Pharaoh’s own house! In both cases, God did not simply rescue them from death, but through it.

Moses was a redeemed rescuer. God “bought back” Moses from death and in so doing, previewed what He would do for the people of Israel. In the same way that Moses was under Pharaoh’s death sentence, so also were the Hebrews under God’s death sentence in the Passover along with all the Egyptians. But by the blood of a lamb, God redeemed or “bought back” His people. In a very real sense, they were rescued through death, not simply from death.

Like Moses, Stephen was “mighty in words and deeds” (Acts 6:8, 7:22). He pointed to Moses so he could preach Jesus. And they hated him for it.

Don’t you hate having to be rescued?

Robert J. Thomas was a hated rescuer. In 1865, the Welsh missionary to China developed a burning passion for bringing the Gospel to the unreached people of Korea. In China, he boarded the USS Sherman and set sail for Pyongyang. As the ship made its way up the Taedong River, it was attacked by military forces under the command of the provincial governor and set on fire. As the sailors swam to shore, they were killed by soldiers waiting on the beach. Robert jumped from the burning vessel with nothing in his arms but Bibles. He struggled against his attackers, water, and burning fragments of the ship to make it to safely to shore with a single Bible. Because he spoke no Korean and was completely exhausted, Robert crawled out of the water to the nearest soldier he could find, rose to his knees and without a word held out his Bible as if pleading for his life. Without mercy, the soldier clubbed Robert to death on the spot. Haunted by Robert’s peaceful countenance, the soldier was curious about the Bible, so he took it home and used its pages to wallpaper his house. Neighbors and family came over just to read the words of the curious book and God used their curiosity to save them and plant a church. One of the soldiers’ nephews even became a pastor. Today nearly 40% of South Koreans are Christian. God redeemed them through the death of a missionary with a Bible.

God saves all His children through the death of His son.

Have you passed through death into life? Have you been rescued?

Posted in Post Tenebras | Leave a comment

Rescuing the Rescuer

And the patriarchs, jealous of Joseph, sold him into Egypt; but God was with him and rescued him out of all his afflictions and gave him favor and wisdom before Pharaoh, king of Egypt, who made him ruler over Egypt and over all his household.

Acts 7:9-10

One of my early jobs was working as an emergency road service dispatcher for the American Automobile Association (AAA). Every day, people in need of rescue would call me and it was my responsibility to provide club members with the assistance they required. However, sometimes due to inclement weather, road conditions were so hazardous that authorities would not allow even the mighty AAA to travel the highways. On those occasions, it was my regrettable duty to inform stranded callers that we were not able to send assistance or else the rescuers would also need to be rescued.

Providence sometimes sends rescuers out onto dangerous highways requiring the rescue of God himself.

As a matter of his defense against the charge of blasphemy, Stephen gave the Sanhedrin a history lesson. Using Old Testament patriarchs as examples, Steven argued that God’s rescuing grace extends outside Israel, even “to the end of the earth”. When he was an idol-worshipping pagan in Mesopotamia, Abraham was rescued by God’s call. But what about Joseph, son of Jacob?

Joseph was resented. Stephen reported that the patriarchs were “jealous” of Joseph. However, some versions (New King James) use the word “envious” instead of “jealous”. What is the difference in jealousy and envy? Jealousy is when we covet what someone else has. Envy is when we desire that a person loses something they have which we covet. Envy says, “If I can’t have it, neither will she.” Envy can be violent and, at times, borders closely on hate and even murder. Jacob loved Joseph and treasured him as his first-born by Rachel, but his brothers so despised him for it, they considered killing him (Genesis 37:3-4, 18-20). They didn’t simply want what Joseph had, they didn’t want Joseph to have it either. Their envy gave way to betrayal and violence. But Providence overrules our resentments.

Joseph was resisted. Having barely ruled out murder, Israel’s patriarchs banished Joseph by selling him into Egyptian slavery (Acts 7:9). Once again, Stephen asked a historically-driven theological question, “Despite the envy of our nation’s fathers, did God’s blessings reach beyond our land to Joseph in Egypt?” His reading of their history exposes a shameful truth: Israel was founded on men who resisted God, and sometimes violently so. Stephen’s stinging implication is that the political leaders of Israel in his time are guilty of the same sin and unbelief as the patriarchs—hatefully resisting God. But Providence is stronger than our resistance.

Joseph was rescued. Reversals in scripture are often introduced with the simple expression “but God.” In Joseph’s case, the patriarchs were envious and sold him as a slave “but God rescued him…and gave him favor…before Pharaoh.” After more than twenty years in Egypt, Joseph explained to his brothers, “God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God. He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt.” (Genesis 45:7-8). Joseph was God’s rescued rescuer. Providence rescues and raises the one we reject.

Jesus was resented. He was envied by everyone from Satan to the Sanhedrin (Matthew 4:1-11, Mark 14:53-65, John 18:28-40). Every political and religious leader of his day hated Christ for his divine authority. Throughout history, the power hungry have often attempted in vain to denude the Lord Jesus of his divinity. Lest we should think times have changed, Jesus is still resented.

Jesus was resisted. He was betrayed and sold by a friend into the hands of sinful men (Matthew 26:14-16). How many of Jesus’ “friends” have traded on his name for wealth and power by preaching false gospels which violently resist God’s kingdom? Lest we should think times are changing, Jesus is still resisted.

Jesus was rescued. “But God” reversals seem to define the Gospel. Jesus was betrayed into the hands of wicked men, crucified, died, and buried, “but God raised him from the dead” (Acts 2:22-24) and “seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come (Ephesians 1:19-21).” Jesus Christ was God’s Rescued Rescuer, and He still is!

Stephen, the outsider, the Greek-speaking Jew, read the history of Joseph into the story of Jesus for the Sanhedrin. His application can be boiled down to a simple Gospel principle: God’s grace is more abundant and powerful in the world than man’s sin. The cross represents the greatest tragedy in man’s dealings with God but at the same time the greatest triumph of God’s dealings with men. Jesus was rejected by man but accepted by God. What man meant for evil, God meant for good (Genesis 50:20)! By grace, God rescues those on the outside, even when road conditions are hazardous.

Grace is found in strange places. The film Christmas Vacation has become a holiday classic and one of my favorite popular commentaries on grace. In the middle of the film, the entire extended family of Clark Griswold descends on his home to celebrate Christmas. As dinner is served, Clark asks his comically hard-of-hearing, eighty-year-old Aunt Bethany to “say grace”. When she fails to understand, another relative loudly shouts “Grace” to which the aged aunt replies, “Grace, she died thirty years ago.”

When Jesus commands—and when sinners ask—us to “say grace”, do we respond “Grace, she died thirty years ago?” The Sanhedrin did.

Grace rescues what sin destroys and it’s a good thing too because, with so much destruction in the world, we need a lot of rescuing. By the grace of the cross, He is rescuing His rescuers.

Posted in Post Tenebras | Leave a comment

Remembering the Rescuer

[Abraham] went out from the land of the Chaldeans and lived in Haran. And after his father died, God removed him from there into this land in which you are now living. Yet he gave him no inheritance in it, not even a foot’s length, but promised to give it to him as a possession and to his offspring after him, though he had no child.

Acts 7:4-5

Have you ever needed rescuing? A few years ago, Utah Search and Rescue was dispatched to aid the passengers of a capsized boat. The would-be rescuers arrived to find a husband and wife calmly floating with little more than their bright orange life vests showing above the water line. With night quickly approaching and the danger of hypothermia increasing, assistance was first offered to the woman, but her husband sharply objected, “Don’t touch her!” “Sir, it’s ok—we’re Utah Search and Rescue,” they replied. “Don’t touch her!” the man insisted indignantly. Thinking he was in shock, the rescuers asked, “Why not?” “I can’t afford to pay you,” he pitifully revealed. Soberly and directly, the search and rescue captain spoke up, “But sir, night is coming—you won’t survive the night.”

What is it in us that hates our need of rescue? Forget rescue, we don’t even like to be helped. Ask a struggling stranger, “May I help you with that?” and they’ll inevitably respond, “No, I’ve got it!” even when they don’t. We are empowered, do-it-yourself, self-servers. Truthfully, we really don’t want to believe we need anyone’s help and rebuff anyone offering. Perhaps you’ve heard the quote, “those who don’t study history are doomed to repeat it. Those who do study history are doomed to stand by helplessly while everyone else repeats it.” The history of God’s people is that we reject our rescuers.

Have you rejected God’s search and rescue?

Stephen was a reminder. He was falsely accused of blasphemy against Moses and the Temple. The Sanhedrin had forgotten how God had rescued them in the past, so Stephen gave them a history lesson, because forgetting is rejection.

God gave faith. Stephen began with the faith: “The glory of God appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia,” (Acts 7:2). God had revealed Himself gloriously to the pagan Abram living in Ur of the Chaldeans and He “removed him from there” and brought him to Canaan. How did God move Abram? By giving him a gift—the gift of faith. God gave Abraham faith to believe His word and follow Him where He was leading.

Why do you follow your leaders? Do you follow because of duty or faith? If you ever find yourself obeying only because you’re outranked, it isn’t faith.

Soldiers have faith. Before D-Day, all of the non-commissioned officers in Easy Company of the 101st Airborne (Band of Brothers), had a meeting with their colonel. At the meeting, they refused to follow their captain into battle. Because it was a time of war, they knew the penalty for mutiny could be a firing squad. However, believing their captain was so unfit for duty that he would get many of their soldiers killed, they preferred their own deaths at the hands of friends to the deaths of friends at the hands of enemies. Courageously, they acted in obedience to their faith and history has accounted them righteous.

God gave a future. Stephen used the story of the patriarch to remind the Sanhedrin—and us—that our faith is not based on sites, shrines, or statues, but is spiritually rooted. Abram was a sojourner and when he had no land, no children, and no house, God gave him a promise (Genesis 15) that the kingdom would come through him. To seal His promise, God gave Abraham the covenant of circumcision (Genesis 17). God’s kingdom promise was cut into Abraham’s flesh so he would never forget that when he had nothing, he had God’s promise. God’s promise was cut into Abraham’s children so that when they received everything promised, they would remember the God who “cut the promise” in the first place. Stephen was cutting into the hard hearts of God’s people because, having received the future promise of God’s Messiah, they rejected Him. They missed His future because they forgot their past.

Has God ever cut you so you would not forget?

God cuts His will into our flesh. My brother Troy was concerned he may miss God’s leading in his life. One morning before work, he prayed a simple prayer asking God to direct his paths and if he was going the wrong way, he asked Him to decisively and obviously close the door. A few hours later, Troy was badly injured in a construction accident. After he recovered, he recounted the day’s events to me. He said, “When I was on the table waiting for the surgeon, I remembered the prayer I prayed earlier that morning. And then God cut my leg.” Almost twenty years later, Troy still has the scar, but neither he nor his entire family has forgotten the “accident”.

When God rescues us, it leaves a mark. However, as New Covenant believers, ultimately, we do not look to ourselves, but to Christ Jesus whose scars tell our story. By faith, in communion, whenever we eat the bread and drink from the cup, we do it in remembrance of our Rescuer.

Posted in Post Tenebras | Leave a comment