"Life After Rescue"#87-39
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on May 24, 2020
By Rev. Dr. Michael Zeigler, Lutheran Hour Speaker
Copyright 2020 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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Text: Exodus 20
The submarine doors slam shut. The klaxon horn sounds, and the skipper gives the order, "Dive Dive! Dive!" Diesel engines firing, propellers whirling, they descend into the depths, safe from enemy attack. That was submarine life aboard the USS Finback stationed in the South Pacific Ocean during World War II. It was their tenth patrol, and so most of the crew was accustomed to this way of life, but for the five airmen that they had just rescued this way of life would take some getting used to.
The submarine had been assigned to lifeguard duty. That meant that they patrolled the waters behind enemy lines to rescue any airmen who had been shot down and survive the crash into the sea. And they had just pulled five of them out of the ocean, rescued them from certain death. But the rescue wasn't the end of the story for those five airmen.
The submarine still had a whole another month of patrol duty left, and they couldn't just take them to safety. The only option was for those airmen to become a part of the crew. The rescued would join the rescuer on the mission, the rescued join the rescuer on his mission. This is what is happening at Mount Sinai as recorded in the book of Exodus 20. Those commands that we normally call the Ten Commandments, they are in fact post-rescue, wartime-operating instructions. They are the commands that the captain has given to the crew to keep them safe during this time of war.
It is a time of war. It was for ancient Israel and it is for you and it is for me. Now, I'm not talking about a war against other people. I'm not even talking about the war of plagues against the people of Egypt, and I'm not talking about the war against the Japanese Imperial Navy that sent the USS Finback out on rescue patrol. I'm talking about a different war. We're talking about the war that is behind every war: the war that began in the Garden of Eden, between God and that deceptive serpent, that fallen angel: the devil. This is the battle between God and His crew of angels and archangels, His cherubim, and seraphim—squared off against the devil and his demon minions in open rebellion against their Creator. I'm talking about that war.
Now, I get it, you might not believe that there is such a war. Even if you're a Christian, talk of spiritual warfare might sound farfetched to you, and I understand; it weirds me out, too. And sometimes I don't know what to make of it. But we should at least recognize that if we want to understand the Bible, this is how the Bible explains things. This is how the Bible explains what's going on in the world. Spiritual warfare is at the heart of the plot line of the Bible. It's what animates the whole story of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, including Exodus 20, and these post-rescue, wartime-operating instructions that we commonly call the Ten Commandments.
And this is where that rescue submarine from World War II can actually help us understand the Bible. See, they had a mission. Their mission was to rescue helpless people, save them from certain death, and they actually rescued five of them, and they brought them safely onboard the submarine. And once they had been rescued, those five airmen came under the command of the captain. Now this point is crucial; notice the order: they were rescued first, and then they were given instructions.
They didn't have to follow instructions in order to get rescued. No, because they were rescued they were given instructions to follow, and this is how it is with the people of Israel. Now sometimes people read the Bible and they take it out of context, and they get this flipped around. You'll hear people say things like, "See, Israel had to follow God's instructions so that they would be worthy of being rescued so that He would love them." But it actually goes the other way. If you follow the story of the Bible, He rescued them first.
While we were still sinners, God saved us; Christ died for us. You and I are like those five airmen in the ocean, as good as dead, lost at sea behind enemy lines, and there's no amount of instruction following. There's no amount of command keeping. There's no effort of our own that we could make to save ourselves. Only the Savior can save us. Only the Rescuer can rescue us.
God gives you instructions not so that you can prove yourself of being worthy of rescue. He rescued you because He cares for you. And because He cares for you and rescued you, He also gives you instructions. Listen to how it goes in Exodus 20.
And God spoke all these words saying, "I am who I am, the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. There are not to be any other gods for you besides Me. You are not to make an idol or form of anything in the heavens above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You are not to bow down to them, and you are not to serve them because I am who I am, a jealous God, visiting the guilt of the fathers upon the sons to the third and fourth generation of those who hate Me and break My commandments, but showing steadfast love to a thousand generations of those who love Me and keep My commandments.
You are not to take the Name of the Lord your God in vain because the Lord will not hold guiltless anyone who takes His Name, anyone who carries His Name as though it were an empty thing. You are to remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy. Six days you will serve and do your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath, a rest day to the Lord. On it you are not to do any work, neither your son nor your daughter, neither your male servant nor your female servant, neither your cattle nor the sojourner who is in your gates. Because in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. Then He rested on the seventh day and for this reason, the Lord blessed the Sabbath and set it apart as holy.
You are to honor your father and your mother so that your days will be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. You are not to murder. You are not to commit adultery. You are not to steal. You are not to give a lying testimony against your neighbor. You are not to crave for yourself, your neighbor's house. You are not to crave for yourself your neighbor's wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that belongs to your neighbor."
Those are post-rescue, wartime-operating instructions. Those are instructions that God gave to people that He had already rescued. Now maybe you have this question. If God's already committed to them, if He's already rescued them, then why the threats? Why does God threaten the people saying that He's going to punish the children to the third and fourth generation of those who break the commandments? Why does He threaten the people who take His Name in vain? Just because the commandments are not a condition doesn't mean they're a joke. Just because the commandments are not a condition for being rescued doesn't mean that they're inconsequential. Keeping the commandments will never make you worthy of being rescued, but keeping the commandments is serious business. It's serious business because there are consequences, serious consequences for not keeping them. And the consequences are serious not because we have to try to prove ourselves as worthy of God's love; the consequences are serious because we are in a war. We are still in enemy waters.
When those airmen were pulled aboard that submarine, the USS Finback, they spent the next month with the crew on rescue patrol, and they came under enemy attack at least once. The submarine hatches slam shut. The klaxon horn sounds, and the captain gives the order, "Dive! Dive! Dive!" And in that situation the captain gives post-rescue, wartime-operating instructions to those newly rescued airmen. He said things like, "Thou shalt not speak above a whisper on the bridge. Thou shalt not slam a hatch in the latrine nor drop a wrench in the engine room nor clang thy pot in the mess nor play thy Andrews Sisters record in the radio room."
Now, if you're in the position of those airmen, those commands might seem severe, because they don't understand the purpose. But once the depth charges started exploding, they would see. A submerged submarine under attack only has one defense: silence. The ship on the surface can't see the submarine, but they can hear it and sound travels remarkably well underwater. The slightest sound can reveal the submarine's position. They can detect it and destroy it. And so the captain gives those airmen commands not so that they can prove themselves as being worthy of rescue. They're already rescued. The captain gives commands to protect them, to keep them from destroying themselves.
And the same is true for everyone who trusts in the God of Israel, the Father of Jesus. I was like those airmen. I was stranded at sea, adrift, as good as dead. But God had a rescue plan. He sent His Son, Jesus, the Captain of the guard, to crush the head of the enemy for me. And Jesus sustained a mortal wound in battle, and He died on the cross for me, for you. But God raised Him from the dead so that He could continue His rescue mission, so He could send out His patrols in the power of His Spirit. And one of those patrols, they found me, they pulled me out of the water. They spoke the word of life to me. They shared Jesus with me, and I am saved. And someone is speaking the word of life to you now. Someone is sharing Jesus with you, and you believe, and you're saved. And now your Captain gives you post-rescue, wartime-operating instructions, to protect you because He loves you. He is jealous for you, and He is determined to protect what He loves most: you and your neighbor.
He wants to protect your neighbor's life and marriage, your neighbor's property and reputation. And He wants to protect you, because the enemy will attack. We are still at war. The enemy has been mortally wounded, but he is still fighting. And he will come to destroy you; he will drop his depth charges on you to try to sink your faith and get you to turn back and find your identity and security and meaning in those things—those things that will disappoint you, those idols that will destroy you. And so the captain gives you commands to protect you, to keep you from destroying yourself.
And this is where the story of the Bible is different than the story of the USS Finback. See, things went reasonably well for the Finback after the rescue. All the airmen were humbly grateful, and they followed the captain's orders, and a month later they were delivered safely to dry land. But that's not how it goes in the Bible. You've read the story. You know that the rescued people—they do not stay grateful, and they are not very good at following instructions. And the enemy hits them with a depth charge, and the ship is sunk, and the people are lost.
And maybe you can relate. See, the story of the Old Testament is a tragedy in this way, and maybe you can relate. Maybe you're like me, and you've been saved for years, but you can't seem to keep yourself saved. You can't seem to keep those instructions that you try so hard to obey. You keep falling back into the same sins. You keep failing and your ship is sunk. And this is where the news of the Bible gets really good. It's there in the midst of tragedy and sin and death that the news of the Bible is so good. But will you believe it? Will you believe that God meant what He said? Will you believe that God will rescue you even though you haven't earned it? Will you believe? Will you trust that God still loves you even though you can't see any reason why He should?
Will you believe that God loves you just because that is who He is. God rescued Israel again and again and again, even when they had broken the covenant, even when they were dead, even when they couldn't see any reason for Him to love them. He stuck with them through tragedy, through the war. And this is the God that you have. In Jesus you have a God who will stick with you. In Jesus you have a God who has destroyed your worst sins—past, present, and future. In Jesus you have a God who has destroyed even your death. And He will rescue you, and He will rescue you, and He will rescue you some more. And He will instruct you because He loves you. And after this war, He's got plans for you, and you will see it when Jesus comes. You will see what He has in store for you.
One of those airmen, rescued by that submarine, got to see God's plans unfold for him in his life. He was rescued by the USS Finback on September 2, 1944. This man was a Christian, a follower of Jesus. He was only 20 years old at the time. He was the youngest pilot in the United States Navy. His biographer, Joe Hyams, wrote a book about him titled the Flight of the Avenger. This young man's name was lieutenant junior grade, George H. W. Bush, who 45 years later, would go on to be the 41st President of the United States.
Lieutenant Bush said that the best part of that month aboard the submarine was when he was assigned to the night watch. The sub would surface at night and float on the Pacific Ocean. And Bush remembers it was absolutely dark in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. The nights were so clear, and the stars so brilliant. It was a wonderful, energizing time, a time to talk to God. And later President Bush reflected on this moment. He said, "I had faced death, and God spared me. I had this deep and profound gratitude and sense of wonder. What did God have in store for me?"
God spared you. He has something in store for you, way better than being president. You are, and you always will be, a son of the living God, a daughter of the King. And He's got plans for you after this war. He's got plans for you. And one day you'll see it.
If you're willing, I invite you to pray with me. Lord, You are good and upright. You instruct sinners in the way. Make me to know Your ways. O Lord, teach me Your paths, lead me in Your truth, and teach me because You are the God of my salvation. For You I wait all the day long. Amen.
Note: The Lutheran Hour is produced for the ear and designed to be heard. If you are able, we encourage you to listen to the audio at lutheranhour.org. It includes emotion and emphasis not reflected in the transcript.
Reflections for May 24, 2020
Title: Life After Rescue
Mark Eischer: Bringing you the assurance of God's presence and the power of God's Word during days of uncertainty, you're listening to The Lutheran Hour. For free online resources, archived audio, our mobile app, and much more, visit our website: lutheranhour.org. Now back to our Speaker, Dr. Michael Zeigler.
Mike Zeigler: I have joining me back in the studio, Dr. Bob Kolb. He's been teaching in universities all around the world for over 40 years, teaching the Christian faith and specializing in the writings of Martin Luther, who was the most prominent figure in the Christian Reformation that happened about 500 years ago. And so today, we're talking about the Ten Commandments that God gave to Moses at Mount Sinai. Dr. Kolb, how did Martin Luther understand the Ten Commandments in relationship to the whole Christian life with God?
Robert Kolb: Luther put together a plan for Christian life that included the common sense of his time, the structure of life in home and occupation and community and in the congregation of God's people. And within that structure then, Christians see their responsibilities as callings. And the Ten Commandments are a summary of God's instruction for how to act in the midst of this structure, so He brings together, I like to say, virtue and vocation or calling and command. And the Ten Commandments then, describe the shape of human life as God has designed it.
Mike Zeigler: So in a book that you've written, and that I appreciate is The Christian Faith, you speak of the Ten Commandments as at least originally intended as a gentle boundary. And I think it goes with what you were saying about the structure, the structure of human life, it's a gentle boundary, but has become something that either crushes or accuses, or you describe it as a prison wall. What did you mean by that?
Robert Kolb: Part of Luther's understanding of what sin is, is expressed in his phrase, "We are turned in upon ourselves." And being turned in upon ourselves means that as Frank Sinatra has taught us to sing, "I want to do it my way."
Mike Zeigler: Okay.
Robert Kolb: And my way, because I'm searching—always searching for a substitute for the true God in my sinfulness—I need to find something that can give me a sense of who I am and that I'm safe in life and that life has worth and meaning. And so, I take the gifts of God, and I try to use them outside the gentle boundaries of God's design for my life. And when I run into those gentle boundaries, they are prison walls that don't let me get to my idol and let my idol function as a true substitute for the true God. And so, I feel because I've made God's blessings into substitutes for God, and that then lies outside those gentle boundaries. I just am feeling that I can't get to where I need to go, and life dissolves under that pressure.
Mike Zeigler: So the problem is not the gentle boundaries, but it's our heart, our orientation—
Robert Kolb: Yeah.
Mike Zeigler: —toward those boundaries.
Robert Kolb: And in our transformation of God's design into a prison.
Mike Zeigler: In the book of Exodus, Moses is a deliverer, so rescuing from slavery, rescuing from imprisonment, but he's also the law-giver. At least, through the Lord, he's the one who delivers the law to the people. So he does a both-and-together. How does this help us understand Jesus as doing both: delivering and restoring these right relationships?
Robert Kolb: Jesus is indeed the One who says, "Repent," the One who calls us to abandon our false gods and live without our idols, turn our idols back into blessings. But then, when I'm convinced that I am free to live as the kind of human being God wanted me to be, my mind is still affected by sin, and so I need some guidance. And so, I go to the instructions that Christ and the biblical writers give, the instructions that fellow Christians give as they help me struggle through certain ethical dilemmas that aren't maybe touched explicitly, at least in Scripture. And so, Christ then functions as this One who takes us from outside the boundaries of our humanity and restores us to living within those boundaries, and then showing us what that means and how that works.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"Christ is the World's Redeemer" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)