HAVE YOU EVER found yourself in trouble and in desperate need of rescue? It happened to me once when I was at the beach. I had ventured out a tad too far and was surprised to find that I couldn’t feel the ocean floor beneath my feet. At first, my situation seemed under control. I began calmly propelling myself toward the shore, convinced that in next to no time I would touch down on the sandy base where I had been standing moments earlier. I soon realised, however, that I wasn’t making any headway. With increasing alarm, I intensified my efforts—but my struggle was proving futile; I was getting nowhere. Worse, I was becoming tired; my arms were dead weights and my breathing was laboured. I was in difficulty and I knew it. I started to panic.
Thankfully, help was close at hand; all I had to do was ask. I called out to a long-limbed mate who was in the water nearby. He realised the seriousness of my predicament and immediately came to my aid. ‘Here,’ he said with reassuring confidence, ‘hold on to me and I’ll take you closer to the shore.’ I could see that he was able and willing to get me out of trouble, so I put my trust in him and did what he said. In not much more than a minute, I was standing comfortably on the solid seabed, breathing steadily in and out and taking notice of the gentle sea breeze. Phew! I had been saved.
The difference a saviour makes
If you have ever been helped out of a place of critical need, you know the value of a saviour. When all hope seems lost, the very person who can rescue you turns up and is happy to help, no payment required. Hooray! Someone has come to save me! I’m going to be okay! Perhaps you cried tears of relief as the tension of your situation released its grip on you? Sighs. Smiles. Laughter. Declarations of gratitude. Fresh optimism about the future. A new appreciation of life as a gift. Thank you so much! You’ve saved my life! You’re a godsend!
That’s the difference a saviour makes. When you are trapped, oppressed or in difficulty, he rescues you from harm and carries you to a place of safety. When you are broken and wounded, she nurses you back to wholeness. When you are lost and in the dark, he shows you the way home. When you are empty and hungry, she feeds and nourishes you. When you are crushed and in despair, he gives you meaning and hope. When you are rejected and out in the cold, she invites you in to a place of warmth and belonging. When you are fallen and in disgrace, he advocates for you and restores you to a place of dignity.
A more disturbing danger
Most of us need to be saved from adverse circumstances at least once in our lifetime. Yet it isn’t only our circumstances that can turn against us. The day may come (if it hasn’t already) when you or I face a more personal, unsettling, menacing kind of threat.
Imagine: Someone in your circle is trying to bring about your ruin. Toxic rumours are being spread about you. Traps are being set for you. Accusations are being hurled at you. Your words are being twisted. Your work is being undermined. Your friends are being turned against you.
How are you going to survive? Your enemy is as ruthless as a shark coming in for the kill. Whatever else you do, there is one thing you must do.
You must pray.
Chapter 1: David
THREE THOUSAND YEARS ago, there lived a king by the name of David who knew what it was to be hunted. He spent the better part of fifteen years running from his jealous predecessor—a crazed despot named Saul who ached to see him dead. On many occasions, David had to hide or flee to avoid being slain. At times, he felt overwhelmed, like he was drowning. He could easily have given up hope—if not for the fact that he had a mighty Saviour to put his hope in. When the wolves were snarling at David’s door, when the tongues of his accusers were wagging, when the cords of death were entangling him, who did he turn to? He turned to God.
Take a look at these snippets from David’s many prayers for salvation. Read them aloud, as if you are appealing to God himself. Put some ‘oomph’ into it.
LORD, how many are my foes! How many rise up against me! Many are saying of me, ‘God will not deliver him.’ … Arise, LORD! Deliver me, my God! Strike all my enemies on the jaw; break the teeth of the wicked. … Save and deliver me from all who pursue me, or they will tear me apart like a lion and rip me to pieces with no one to rescue me. … LORD, see how my enemies persecute me! Have mercy and lift me up from the gates of death. … Awake, and rise to my defence! Contend for me, my God and Lord. … Break the teeth in their mouths, O God; LORD, tear out the fangs of those lions! … LORD, save me!
Can you hear, or rather, can you feel the anguish spilling out of David’s soul? He is fearing imminent death, teetering on the edge of the abyss, grappling to know God as his saving Helper in the midst of trouble. He is throwing himself down before the LORD of Mercy and pouring out his unsanitised innards as if his life depends on it. No vanity. Nothing covered up. Nothing held back. And why not? He isn’t a religious professional putting on a well-mannered performance; he is a little child who desperately needs his Father to hear his cry and spring into life-saving action. LORD, save me!
David wasn’t asking for a theoretical salvation or for pie in the sky when he died. His need was NOW and his enemies were real; life was in the balance. His prayers, though, weren’t simply an outlet for his desperation. He had faith—faith founded on God’s proven record as a Saviour. God had saved Noah and his family from a worldwide flood. He had saved Lot and his family from a deluge of burning sulphur. He had saved Jacob from the wrath of his brother Esau.1 He had saved many lives from famine through Joseph. He had saved the ancient Israelites from slavery in Egypt. He had saved Rahab and her family from destruction in Jericho. He had saved generations of Israelites from foreign raiders in Canaan.2 He had saved David’s great-grandmother Ruth from poverty and alienation. And he had saved Hannah—the mother of the man who would anoint David as king—from the disgrace of childlessness.
(It was a pattern that would continue for centuries to come. While saving David from Saul and his evil dynasty, God would work through David to save Israel from the Philistines and numerous other enemies—the Geshurites, Girzites and Amalekites, the Moabites, various armies in the Negev, the forces of Zobah, and the Arameans. After David’s time, God would save his people from the Egyptians, the Cushites, the Arameans no less than four times, a combined force of Moabites/Ammonites/Meunites, the Moabites a second time, and the Assyrians. Yet God’s salvation wouldn’t just play out on a national scale. He would also save individuals who were commonly thought to be nobodies: a prostitute whose baby was about to be killed,3 a woman and her son who had virtually nothing to eat, a widow who was on the brink of losing her two sons to a merciless creditor.)
For David, the evidence was clear: saving helpless victims from adversity and from adversaries was God’s core business. It was a truth that the LORD himself would one day thunder from the pulpit of heaven:
‘TURN TO ME AND BE SAVED, ALL YOU ENDS OF THE EARTH, FOR I AM GOD, AND THERE IS NO OTHER.’
David’s safe Refuge
Yet, to David, God wasn’t just a Saviour in the classic sense—a fearless warrior who rescues defenceless souls from evil. God was his Saviour in a more personal way—a way that found expression in his prayers:
LORD my God, I take refuge in you … The LORD is my rock, my fortress … my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield … my stronghold. … You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance. … Be my fortress against those who are attacking me. … You have been my refuge, a strong tower against the foe. I long to dwell in your tent forever and take refuge in the shelter of your wings.
David wasn’t being shielded from his enemies in a physical way; his fugitive lifestyle was a constant reminder of his human vulnerability. But as he drew near to God, he recognised that he was being shielded in a more profound way. He wasn’t alone; he would never be alone. He was hidden in the secure Sanctuary of God’s presence, which surrounded him and filled him. By voicing to God the eternal truths that were welling up from God’s Spirit within him—‘In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, LORD, make me dwell in safety’—David was choosing to make his home in God rather than in his trouble. He knew God to be the ultimate reality, his permanent Safe Haven. Nothing else was as real; nothing his enemies could throw at him would separate him from the One who was a Shield around him. ‘In God I trust and am not afraid. What can man do to me?’
The deadliest enemy of all
David knew his enemies weren’t gnashing their teeth at him by accident; they were attacking him because of his righteousness. ‘The wicked bend their bows,’ he noted; ‘they set their arrows against the strings to shoot from the shadows at the upright in heart.’ What David may not have known is that behind all his enemies was the one evil overlord—a dazzling but malevolent spirit referred to in Scripture as ‘the devil,’ or ‘Satan’ (a name that means ‘adversary’). Satan is indeed our adversary: he is a murderer and a liar who ‘prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.’ All the enemies of God’s people are in the service of this one evil antagonist. He and they have the same objective: to bring down the righteous so as to malign the name of God and destroy his kingdom.
If you and I live righteously—if we love God and neighbour and hold fast to our testimony about Jesus—then we, like David, are sure to be hunted. Sometimes, Satan will attack us through human agents: people who love the darkness and hate the light. When they see our light shining, they will try very hard to snuff it out so that it cannot expose their evil deeds. At other times, Satan will attack us directly by tempting us in our areas of personal weakness. If he can incite us to do wrong or distract us from doing right, he will have a basis for accusing us before God. His goal is to prove you and me guilty of sin, so cutting us off from our Life Source4 and rendering us ineffective. Satan is our great nemesis, the enemy from which we most desperately need God to rescue and protect us.
But our salvation from Satan’s grasp is no simple matter: there is something amiss with our humanity that makes us open to his evil promptings. In biblical language, our ‘flesh’ (not just our body but our soul too) is corrupted. Our hearts and minds are the asylum of selfish desires, conceited attitudes, self-righteous opinions and murderous sentiments; our mouths can be fountains of deceit, spite and vulgarity; our hands and feet pursue our own interests at the expense of our neighbour—and all with presumed impunity. In our natural selves, we are sinners. Sin lives in us, and sin comes out of us—out of each of us. The result is a universal culture of sin that the Bible calls ‘the world.’ It encompasses the whole of creation, pervading even the atmosphere we breathe. We inhale the putrid air of the world deeply into our lungs and then breathe it out for others to breathe in. Satan—‘the ruler of the kingdom of the air’—doesn’t have to work very hard to have his way with us. Whenever we allow him or his worldly empire to dig their spurs into our side, the sin that was crouching at our door jumps up and has us for lunch.
Do you and I require the life-giving action of a mighty Saviour in our lives? Do we need to be saved and safeguarded from the sins of our flesh, from the ungodly influence of the world, and from the evil schemes of the devil and his cohorts?
DO WE EVER!
Chapter 2: Son of David
GOD’S PERSISTENT SAVING of the Israelites from their enemies in times of old was, we now know, just a hint of the salvation—indeed, the Saviour—that he intended for all humanity (including you and me). Here’s the Good News: Our Saviour has come! God’s saving presence and activity is no relic of the past. In more recent times, he has come to live among us and has acted personally to save us from evil. Even better, he has provided a way for us to be eternally reunited with himself, the Wellspring of Life. We have been set free from Satan’s evil clutches forever.
When God saved the Israelites from cruel Egyptian slavery, he was giving them a sneak peak at what he would do for the whole human race. Just prior to setting them free, he told them to slaughter an unblemished lamb as a sacrifice for their sins and daub its blood on the doorframes of their houses. Then he went through the land, killing every firstborn Egyptian male—his righteous judgement for their sins—but passing over every household protected by the lamb’s blood (the basis of the Jewish Passover festival, still celebrated today). Soon, the Israelites were marching out of the idolatrous land where they had been enslaved for four hundred years. No more hard labour under the slavedriver’s whip. They had been saved.
The lamb of the Passover was an advance picture of David’s most famous descendant—the ultimate godsend, Jesus Christ. At the command of God his Father, Jesus came willingly to earth and paved the way for all of us to be saved from our enslavement to sin. First he taught us about God’s kingdom and lived a sinless life; then he went to the cross as an unblemished sacrificial offering for the world’s transgressions—‘our Passover lamb.’ He took God’s lethal judgement for our sins upon himself so that it would ‘pass over’ us. When he committed his spirit into the hands of his Father,5 he paid the whole penalty for our salvation, leaving nothing for us to pay. He had killed off our corrupted flesh, overcome the world, condemned our chief enemy, Satan, and reconciled all believers across nations and ages back to God.
Not a bad day’s work, wouldn’t you say?
But Jesus’ work wasn’t finished yet. Two days later, he rose from the grave to embrace everlasting life; and around forty days after that, he ascended into the sanctuary of heaven. In both of these events, he represented you and me to God. His resurrection to eternal life was a guarantee of our future resurrection to eternal life, and his entry into heaven was a sign that all who believe in him are with him now in the intimate and holy presence of the Father.6 On an appointed day, Jesus will come back in glory to a renewed earth, where he will inaugurate his heavenly kingdom and live among us forever. ‘Come,’ he will say to us, ‘you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.’
Praise and thanksgiving
Jesus’ Hebrew name, yēshūa‘, means ‘the LORD is salvation.’ It is a name that he has lived up to: he has shown us that God himself is our salvation. Before Jesus came to be with us, we were immersed in sin and selfishness and fated for death—‘without hope and without God in the world.’ But then God reached down from heaven and saved us, not only from our sins but also from those who persecute us because of the righteousness that he gives us. If we trust in Jesus as our Saviour from everything unholy, God’s loving presence will always be our safe Refuge.
David didn’t know God’s salvation as we do, but he knew it well enough to pen words that we can pray as our own:
Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the one whose sin the LORD does not count against them. … I will exalt you, LORD, for you lifted me out of the depths and did not let my enemies gloat over me. LORD my God, I called to you for help, and you healed me. You, LORD, brought me up from the realm of the dead; you spared me from going down to the pit. … Praise be to the LORD, for he has heard my cry for mercy. The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me. My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise him. … I am under vows to you, my God; I will present my thank offerings to you. For you have delivered me from death and my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before God in the light of life.
Signed, sealed, delivered?
Jesus’ saving work on the cross is fully accomplished. The death he died, he died ‘once for all,’ and the life he now lives as our representative in heaven is not subject to death. If we rely on Jesus Christ as our Saviour from sin, the benefits of his atoning death are ours today, and we are destined to share eternally in his never-ending life. He has absorbed God’s judgement for our sins (past, present, future) as if they were his sins, so rescuing us from destruction. Our guilt has been paid for, our shame has been borne unto death, and our estrangement from God has been healed. In their place is Jesus himself, our eternal Saviour—the One who died and rose again to bring us back to God. Satan and his cronies have nothing to pin on us, even though we sin. If we keep hold of our faith in Jesus, our salvation is guaranteed.
Surely, then, there is no more saving work to be accomplished in our lives… right?
But that we shall explore another day. (Stay tuned for a future instalment: ‘Lord, Save Me!’)
- Given that Jacob specifically asked God to save him from his brother Esau after having taken his blessing from him by deception (Genesis 27:1-29), we are probably right to infer God’s involvement in Esau’s unexpectedly kind greeting.
- Whenever the Israelites worshipped the gods of the nations around them, God punished them by sending foreign raiders against them. Eventually, in the midst of their suffering, they would cry out to God for deliverance, and he would raise up a Spirit-empowered saviour (called a ‘judge’) to rescue them from their oppression (Judges 2:10-18). In all, God raised up twelve judges: Othniel (Judges 3:7-11), Ehud (Judges 3:12-30), Shamgar (Judges 3:31), Deborah (Judges 4-5), Gideon (Judges 6-7), Tola (Judges 10:1-2), Jair (Judges 10:3-5), Jephthah (Judges 10:6-12:7), Ibzan (Judges 12:8-10), Elon (Judges 12:11-12), Abdon (Judges 12:13-15), and Samson (Judges 13-16).
- On the surface, it was Solomon rather than God who saved the prostitute from losing her baby. Yet we must ascribe ultimate credit for this ruling to God, since he was the source of Solomon’s wisdom (1 Kings 3:12).
- Scripture portrays God as the one and only Life Source of all humanity. The apostle John writes, ‘In him [the Word = Jesus Christ = God] was life, and that life was the light of all mankind’ (John 1:4; see also John 1:1). This is supported by the image of God breathing into Adam’s nostrils the breath of life—an act that made Adam into a living being (Genesis 2:7).
- Just before Jesus died, he called out with a loud voice, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit’ (Luke 23:46). He was quoting from one of the many prayers of salvation penned by his forebear David:
In you, LORD, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame; deliver me in your righteousness. Turn your ear to me, come quickly to my rescue; be my rock of refuge, a strong fortress to save me. Since you are my rock and my fortress, for the sake of your name lead and guide me. Keep me free from the trap that is set for me, for you are my refuge. Into your hands I commit my spirit; deliver me, LORD, my faithful God. (Psalm 31:1-5)
- The apostle Paul saw Christ’s ascension as hugely significant for all believers. ‘God raised us up with Christ,’ he declared, ‘and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus’ (Ephesians 2:6). Another New Testament author remarked that ‘we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven’ (Hebrews 4:14). In the Old Testament, a high priest was always a human being who represented God’s people to God. Since our high priest is now in heaven, we can be certain that, in a profound but very real sense, we are in heaven too.