Helping you grow closer to God
Download the Chip Ingram App
The Great Rescue Resources on sale now.
About this series
The Great Rescue
A successful rescue brings everyone involved great joy and maybe even new life! Of all the rescue plans ever pulled off, God's great rescue is the greatest of all because in human terms it was absolutely impossible. Not like, really steep odds, His rescue provided perfectly divine intervention when there were no odds at all. Join Chip as he lays out God's Great Rescue - His amazing plan, the most unlikely people, and a most unlikely Savior. This Christmas series will bring you great hope and encouragement.More from this series
I’d like you to mentally get in gear with me. And there is a plane traveling from New York City to Paris, and I want you to mentally think of someone who’s very close to you that’s on this plane. It can be your boyfriend, your girlfriend. It can be your husband, your wife. It can be one of your kids. It can be your mom. It can be your dad. It could be your best friend.
Because when you get the news on this, you will be deeply engaged. Somewhere between New York and Paris, terrorists on that plane took over the plane. They have now redirected that plane and that plane has landed.
Terrorists now have one hundred sixty-one hostages, of which your mom, your dad, your wife, your husband, or one of your kids is there. The U.S. military has a special ops team immediately working in the area, deciding what they’re going to do, knowing that with the demands and the beheadings that have occurred that they will do a special operation.
Now, here’s my question. What kind of a group do you want to help rescue one of these hostages that you love very deeply? What kind of qualifications do they need to have? What do you want to know about a special operation, whether it’s Green Beret or Delta Force, or the SEALS, or the Army Rangers?
What do they need to have to be successful in this? Well, I did a little research and listened to...this is from our Federal Government, Armed Services. “Those who make up the U.S. Special Forces are a special breed of warrior. It’s their job to push beyond limits, they’re mentally tougher, physically stronger, and one hundred percent committed to serving our country and protecting its freedoms. It’s a job for the best of the best. This elite team of heroes goes where others won’t because they aren’t trained, and they cannot do what others do.”
It goes on to say, “The requirements to make it into the special operations are some of the most demanding in the military. It calls for training that is physically and mentally harder, and more strenuous than any other in any career. To make it you have to have the will, the strength, and the endurance. In this special one, seven hundred and thirty days of training. Every recruit thinks that they’re up to the challenge, but very few are. Most of them fail.”
And then there’s a criteria. You need to be between twenty and thirty years old. You need to be a citizen. You need a level of education. On one course you have to have a hundred and ten score on your Armed Services operational course, a hundred score, security clearance, airborne training, physical fitness and twenty/twenty vision. If you know anything about any special operations, they are the elite of the elite of the elite. And I don’t know about you, but if they have my wife, my daughter, my son, my best friend, that’s the kind of people I want – don’t you? To do this rescue operation.
Now, a rescue is – what? It’s to save someone from a dangerous or distressing situation, to keep them from being lost or abandoned, or to retrieve them. We want to retrieve these hostages alive. And so what I can tell you is this group they’re going to come up with a plan, the right people we’re going to send in, they’re going to have innovative methods, they’re going to look at the situation and what they need to do and it might be different from anything they’ve ever done, their timing is going to have to be not impeccable, but perfect, and they’re going to have to execute flawlessly.
Now, I want you to think of an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-wise God who has created all that there is, and it’s not there’s a few people. There’s a whole planet full of humanity that is held hostage. Hostage by evil, hostage by sin, hostage by death, hostage by an evil impostor, and God is going to rescue them, and so He has a special ops team.
But as I’ve studied His special ops team, it’s really different than ours. We want the best of the best, the most highly trained, the most intelligent, the strongest. And so what I want to do with you is I want to take you on a little journey, and I want to walk you from chronologically the first mention we get of God’s rescue operation, right up to the birth of Jesus, which is the birth of the launching of his rescue operation.
And let’s look at what I like to call the unlikely people. I want you to be thinking about, Wow, I wonder if I could qualify. What is it about these people that I have in common with them? Why would God choose them? How does God really work because it’s quite a bit different than us?
So chronologically if you go through Scripture, what you find is, the first people that you would discover would be, there’s a group called Magi. And these Magi were not just astrologers the way we think. They were very influential group of wise men. They’re referred to in Daniel 2. They’re referred to in Jeremiah 39. These were the counselors to Kings. These were people that were involved in what’s going to happen in the future and they started watching the stars and these phenomena at least two years before the birth. They probably made at least a three-hundred-mile trek,
I began to ask myself, Now this is a special operation of God’s holy people, the Jews, and the first people who recognize that the king of the Jews is going to be born, the Savior of the world, is a group of Gentile people staring at the stars that had hundreds of years of history, of giving counsel to kings, and who referred to as magicians and sometimes even sorcerers. Is this really the group you want to start this plan with? I mean, really? Doesn’t it seem a little unlikely these pagan, Gentile stargazers are going to be the ones who are the first to mention chronologically of this great rescue plan?
Well, we move from the Magi to Zechariah. Matthew chapter 1. Zechariah is a priest.
We know he’s not yet fifty because you have to automatically retire at fifty from the priesthood. Twice a year he would go and serve in the Temple. They would cast lots because once a year someone would go in to burn incense in the holy place – and incense was a picture of prayers going up to heaven.
We know that Zechariah is married to Elizabeth, who is barren. And in that day to be barren is to be - assumed to be cursed of God. They’ve been begging God, begging God, praying for a son, but the biological window has closed. She can’t have kids now. And he’s chosen by lot just happenstance – and you can only do this once in your lifetime if you’re chosen. So Zachariah goes into the holy place, he burns the incense. And while he’s there, an angel appears. Whoa!
And as this angel appears, he begins to tell Zechariah that, You’re going to have a son. He’s going to prepare the way for the Savior of the world. And he begins to lay out all these things.
This man has studied the Bible his whole life. This man has prayed to God, “Give me a son.” And the angel comes and lets him know, “This is what’s happening.” And what’s his response? Unbelief. So because of his unbelief, the Lord causes him to be dumb. He can’t speak. So he comes out. “What happened? What happened?
He’s just freaked out. So he can’t speak and we find that he can’t say a word until the baby is born. And they’ve been waiting all their life. It’s a miracle. Everyone’s just freaked out that Elizabeth is having a baby first of all, and then we’re going to name him Zechariah because, I mean, your family line. And that’s really important stuff.
And Elizabeth says, “No, his name’s going to be John.” And they take him to the father and say, “Now, wait a second. You don’t buy that.” And he writes, “His name is John.” And the moment he says that he can speak – and you can read it – and he prophesies, and he begins to talk Old Testament passage after passage, reaching out of Isaiah. “And there’s a forerunner who’s going to prepare the way for the Savior of the world.” And God is going to push down the proud and exalt the humble, and He’s going to make a way because He cares for everyone. Kind of unlikely. A cursed couple that can’t have kids and a priest that doesn’t have much faith.
The next person in the story chronologically is Mary. She’s a peasant teenage girl, probably fifteen to seventeen years old. She’s devout. She really knows God. Unusual for a woman, she’s had some theological training because when we hear her pray later, she’ll quote parts of at least seven or eight Old Testament passages.
But this is a girl we know she’s a peasant or she’s really poor because when she goes to the Temple and dedicates Jesus, there are two offerings. And there’s an offering that’s normal and there’s an offering for really poor people. And she and Joseph have to give the offering that really poor people give.
So here’s the special ops team. This is “We’re going to rescue all of humanity. So we start with a bunch of stargazers, then we move to an unbelieving priest with a barren wife, who everyone thinks is cursed by God, and now we go to a teenage girl. Unlikely? And the angel says to her, “Oh, favored one of the Lord.” What?
I mean, can you imagine being a fifteen, sixteen-year-old girl and an angel shows up in your bedroom? You’re favored of God. You’re going to have a baby. “There’s a problem here. I’ve never been with a guy.” Oh, no, no. The Holy Spirit will come upon you. And this humble, peasant girl says, “Be it unto me according to your word.”
Can you imagine being fifteen, sixteen, seventeen years old and telling your closest friends, “An angel came to my bedroom.” “Sure. Hey, got you Mary. Ha-ha!” Right? And God says, Here’s a sign. You know your cousin Elizabeth? The barren one? Yeah. She’s six months pregnant. And the text says she hurried off into the villages. And the moment she walks in the door, what do we know? The baby leaps within Elizabeth’s womb and she’s filled with the Holy Spirit and she begins to declare, “This is the mother of our Lord.” And she begins to quote Old Testament passages about the Messiah.
In fact, Elizabeth, in her prayer says, “Blessed are you who believes what the Lord has said about you.”
The next person is Joseph. He’s a young, devout man. He’s a blue-collar worker, not a lot of education. He’s a righteous man because when he hears that Mary is pregnant, he decides to divorce her quietly. In the Jewish betrothal period, you would be betrothed and you’d be committed and you weren’t married, but the only way to get out of a betrothal was you had to have a divorce.
And so he was going to put her away quietly because he was a righteous man. And before he can do that, he gets the angel in a dream. And in his dream this angel reassures him, Joseph, I just want you to know, this fifteen to seventeen-year-old teenager that you’re going to marry, who is pregnant, has never been with a man. You believe me, right? And so I want you to go ahead and marry her, but I want you to abstain from any sexual relationships with her because what I want you to know is that God is visiting the planet. Okay. We got a pleasant girl, blue-collar worker, a poor young man.
And then it says, “A census is going to be taken. There hadn’t been one in ages. And so sovereignly out of the blue, Quirinius says, from Syria, “Let’s have a census.” Then he says, “All the inhabitants of the world.” No exceptions. And then, next is the town where it all happens, Bethlehem.
It’s a no name little dinky town, seven miles outside of Jerusalem and about the only claim to fame is that that was where David was brought up. And they go back to
Bethlehem. And as they go there, what we learn is there’s no room. So God uses a Roman governor who decides to have a census. So, are you starting to see this unlikely arrangement? This isn’t like a special ops of the most holy, the greatest, the smartest, the best, the elite followers of God. This is like a collage of unlikely people.
And so they go to Bethlehem. And when they go to Bethlehem, you know the story, then there’s the manger. Luke, chapter 2. The King of the universe is going to be born in a manger.” And I almost hate to say this because I hate to mess up your stories. The thing about three wise men, number one, there weren’t necessarily three, and they weren’t necessarily wise men. Sorry. In fact, in one text it says, “And all of Jerusalem,” they probably had quite the caravan that came in. These are, these are uppity guys, okay?
Second, it says, when there’s no room in the inn? But the word for inn is actually the guest room of a house. In that day, there weren’t hotels, so you would go to your relatives. So they went to their relatives and the way the houses were is there was an upstairs guest room, there was a family room here, and there was an open area where they would cook. And then right inside there would be a manger to protect your animals. And so really there wasn’t room in the guest house. And so this baby is born in a manger with animals. Think of how unlikely the King of the universe coming and being born in a manger.
Well, then the next group that we find is the shepherds. Luke chapter 2, verse 8. You need to understand, shepherds are like the lowest on the socioeconomic scale of the day.
In fact, it’s not just the lowest class of people, but if you get the night shift, you are the lowest class of the lowest. Right?
And so God chooses the lowest class people, and of the lowest class people, those who get the night shift. And angels fill the sky. And they go and they worship Jesus, and they become the first evangelists. If you read the text carefully, they went and shared the wonder of what the angels had said.
Finally, it’s been eight days and Mary and Joseph are good and devout Jews. And so they’re going to obey the law. And on the eighth day, the law says that you need to
circumcise your child. And in Luke 2, verse 25, it’s the eighth day, and they go into the Temple.
Now, can you please try and get in your mind what it would be like? I don’t care how mature you are. Let’s just really exaggerate. Let’s say Joseph is twenty or twenty-one, and let’s just push the envelope beyond the scholars and say Mary is, like, eighteen. Can you imagine being a twenty, twenty-one-year-old, and maybe a seventeen or eighteen-year-old, you’ve had never been with a man and you have a baby, you’ve got these weird guys coming from far away, bowing down and worshipping your little baby.
These shepherds out of the blue are talking about angels singing in the sky and they worship and bow down, and then you take this baby and are going, “Man, what in the world? Okay.” What are we going to do with all this? And then, “We’ll, we’ll take the next step. Right? Let’s just obey.”
So we go into the Temple. And as they go into the Temple, can you imagine the fears and the uncertainties? I don’t know about you, but sometimes God speaks so clearly to me. This is it. I’m absolutely clear. Man, and I start going and I start going, start going. About four days later, or three weeks later or two months later, I have these overwhelming doubts. Did I really hear God? Does that happen to anyone else? And you know what God does? He graciously reaffirms it in ways and often through people.
So they’re in the Temple and there’s some old guy. Is there any room for really old people? This is a really old guy. He’s not famous. We only get his first name. All we know is he walks very closely to God. And the text says that he’s sensitive to the Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is revealed to him.
And on that certain day, the Holy Spirit prompted him to go to the Temple. And he goes to the Temple because God had made a promise to him. In his spirit, He had spoken to him and says, You are not going to die. You’re one of my choice people. You walk with Me. What really matter is you walk closely with Me. And you won’t die until you get to see the Savior of the world.
And that day he’s doing whatever a really, really old guy does, whose name is Simeon and the Holy Spirit goes, Temple. Go to the Temple. And he goes to Temple and he sees the child. He goes, “This is it.” And he picks up the child. And Mary and Joseph, “Who’s this old guy?” And he begins to prophesy over this child and pray. And he begins to declare, “He’s the Messiah, the Savior of the world,” and quoting all these Old Testament passages. And then he stops and he prays for Mary and Joseph, and they’re going, “Wow, maybe we’re not nuts.”
And while this is happening as it’s happening, there’s this like really – are you ready? For those of you who think that, My days are past. I’m not sure God can really use me. I’ve retired from service and ministry. I’ve done my part, well wait, this is Anna. Anna is eighty-four, and in that culture the average person only lived to about forty.
So it’d be like a hundred sixty now. She’s old, old, old, and she’s had a tough life. She got married. Only married seven years, her husband dies. She’s been a widow. But she had this heart for God, and so she fasted and prayed in the Temple for decades, God is speaking to her, supporting people. She wasn’t up front, she didn’t preach messages, she didn’t have money to give, she wasn’t famous, but she prayed, and she was a prayer warrior. And she was doing the battle behind the scenes. And as she did that, as Simeon is blessing this baby, she walks in and bam! Then she begins to get in on the act.
And I just want you to pause and think of the greatest rescue of all humanity starts with pagan, astrologer, wise men, sorcerers, studying the sky. A priest with a cursed wife who doesn’t believe God; a teenage girl who does believe God, who’s poor and your least likely person to save the world, with a husband who believes God. He’s not a Pharisee, he’s not educated. He just is devout and righteous. And then you have some shepherds.
They’re nobodies. They’re nobodies in the world’s eyes. They’re somebodies to God. And then God finances a project that we think it all has to happen at once. All of this happens and then the clock starts. The birth of the rescue starts and for thirty years everything has to get into place.
I would just venture to say that God’s special ops team is a little bit different than ours. Wouldn’t you? And here’s the lesson from Isaiah 55. “‘My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways,’ declares the LORD. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.’” I want you to think about that.