The Greatest Rescue in Human History

Have you ever been in a bad place? I suspect all of us have at one time or another. In 2002 my son, Richard, and I were once mock-charged point-blank by a very angry lioness in the pitch dark near our camp site at Mana Pools, on the banks of the great Zambezi River. Armed only with one small flashlight and a Zambezi larger each, Richard and I reacted instinctively, hurling our beer bottles at this terrifying apparition no more than 2 metres distant. I’ll never be heard to say that it was a waste of good beer. We didn’t know in that moment that she would not press home her charge. Indeed, eight years later, a tourist was killed not far from that very place by lions while taking an open air shower, his family helpless to save him. Bad things happen and life in human form is for all of us transitory.

Imagine this scenario: It’s probably a long story but here’s the abridged version. You are minding your business at home one day when criminals break in. They take you hostage and hold you to ransom. Days later, the police seem powerless to help but a good friend happens on a clue and finds the place where  you are being held prisoner.  Knowing that the kidnappers will never let you go alive because you could identify them, your friend decides to take matters in his own hands. Unarmed, he swings into action to save you, knowing that he himself has not the slightest hope of surviving the ordeal. Indeed, he realises that these villains will not only kill him, but that they will do so only after torturing him in their frustration and anger. But your friend is banking on the fact that his intervention will distract the criminals sufficiently to allow you to escape. It works. You get away and return home free. Your friend dies an agonisingly slow death.

Now here’s a question: how would you respond to this incredible selfless act of pure love? Would you be relieved for a day or two and then, once the trauma recedes, just go on with life as usual? Or would you want to tell the whole world of your amazing story of survival and your friend’s steadfast courage in the face of certain death?

You’ve doubtless picked up where this is going. The bible tells us in John 3:16, “for God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Jesus suffered one of the most painful, degrading deaths ever devised by humans. As Matthew 20:27-29 tells us “just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

How many Christians remember daily, or even regularly, that we have a friend who once upon a time laid down His life for us? Or do we drift along, perhaps cogitating upon this every now and again after a sermon which touches on the subject? Is it because, unlike the scenario above, the drama and horror of the event of Jesus’ crucifixion seems so distant in time and place?

The apostle Paul wrote to the people of Thessalonica saying, “We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers. We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labour prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.  For we know, brothers and sisters loved by God, that he has chosen you,” 1 Thessalonians 1:2-4 (NIV).

Without a doubt, it is a stunning tribute to the believers in Thessalonica who had suffered enormous persecution to follow our Lord. Thessalonica was a large city filled with corruption and idol worship. Yet, these new believers were not only holding on, but were living out their faith in the midst of persecution. Throughout the centuries, Christianity has thrived and grown under persecution.

How many of us who live in South Africa with the glorious freedom to follow Christ without hindrance have grown complacent? Do we shy away from Jesus’ commission to share His gospel?  Do we say that evangelising is the function of the priests and ministers alone? And in particular, do we remember Christ’s redeeming gift to us all on the Cross sporadically . . .  or perhaps . . . only at Easter? Would Paul write to us as he did to the people of Thessalonica?

The gut shaking moment of terror when my son and I faced a lioness in the dark of an African night has long since worn off but we will never forget that moment of salvation, of redemption from my folly in leading my beloved son away from the security of our campsite. And so too all of us must live each moment of our lives in the light of eternity, remembering that Jesus, the great lion of Judah, has at a terrible cost to himself redeemed us from eternal death.  It is time to shake off complacency! It is time to shout Jesus’ name from the rooftops, to raise our voices in grateful thanks to our merciful and loving God for coming to set us free.

People, despite their wealth, do not endure;
they are like the beasts that perish.

This is the fate of those who trust in themselves,
and of their followers, who approve their sayings.
They are like sheep and are destined to die;
death will be their shepherd
 (but the upright will prevail over them in the morning).
Their forms will decay in the grave,
far from their princely mansions.
But God will redeem me from the realm of the dead;
he will surely take me to himself.

Psalm 49:12-15