Once in a while the attention of the whole world is focussed on an act of salvation. That is what has been happening in these days when, in Thailand, 12 boys on a soccer team and their coach are being rescued from a deep dark place in the middle of a cave system. The story is captivating because of the severity of the dilemma. The 13 are stranded two-and-a-half miles inside the mountain where they were for more than a week before being found. The way out is flooded. Monsoon rains threaten to overwhelm the caves. The passageways are extremely tight in places. The rescue involves long swims through water clouded with mud, an extremely difficult task even for highly trained technical divers. Many thought their situation was hopeless.
We are captivated by this kind of unfolding drama because there is nothing better than a story of rescue. And because we all know we ourselves need to be rescued in one way or another.
Two months ago I had to be rescued after falling nine feet off a ladder onto the concrete floor of my garage at home. My pelvis was fractured, my arm broken. I could not move. So I called for help. Then I screamed for help. Then my wife heard me inside the house, made the emergency call, and soon an ambulance was at our house. I was rescued.
The Bible is a story of rescue. God created the world as a good place, then it became corrupted and dangerous. But God did not leave the world broken. He saved those who were faithful to him. He freed the Hebrews from the wicked imprisonment of Pharaoh in the Exodus. David talks over and over in the Psalms about how God saves. So do the prophets. And then we come to Jesus, whose name in Hebrew, Yeshua, literally means salvation.
The biblical word salvation means rescue. It means someone bigger and better, stronger and wiser, does for us what we cannot do for ourselves. The necessity of salvation takes nothing away from human dignity. Rather, it gives us back our own lives. Whether we realize we need rescue or not, we still need rescue. It just makes sense for us to admit it, and to live in such a way that we respond to the rescue.
The Thai boys and their coach were not able to save themselves. They needed to be rescued. I could not move after I fell on my garage concrete floor. I needed to be rescued. And in our spiritual lives, we are not able to save ourselves from our sin, or from evil, or from the fear of death. We need to be rescued.
Jesus came to save us. And he did it by laying his life on the line. By giving up his life. The New Testament describes God’s decisive saving act as redemption, reconciliation, adoption, justification, and more.
“Redemption,” from the world of the marketplace, says that through the sacrificial death of Christ we have been bought out of our slavery to sin. Like slaves who are purchased in order to be set free, God supplied the price and received the price. This is true freedom, but a freedom that comes from being owned by God: “you are not your own. You were bought at a price. Therefore, honor God with your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
“Reconciliation” comes from the world of relationships. The shattering effects of sin in the world led to estrangement. We are separated from each other, and separated from God. But in Christ, and in his sacrifice, God provides a bridge. By faith we are on God’s side, and God calls us his friends.
“Adoption,” from the realm of the family, means that we become, through the sacrifice of Christ, true children of God.
“Justification” is from the world of law courts. To be justified means to be made right with God. It is what happened to Abraham when he believed God’s astounding promise. Justification by grace through faith is a foundation of certainty. As Paul put it: “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies? Who is he who condemns?” (Romans 8:31-34).
So there is a multitude of ways the New Testament makes clear that we need rescue, and the rescue is real.
We rejoice with every young boy rescued from the flooded caves in Thailand. And we rejoice that God has done what we cannot do for ourselves by rescuing us through Christ.