The Greatest Rescue Story Ever Told

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
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FOR A FEW MINUTES AFTER HE WAS SUCKED UNDER the life raft, Ryan struggled against the breaking swells, trying to make it back to the orange shelter. But it was pointless. He was too far away, and already exhausted. He lay back horizontally in the water, letting his head rest against the inflatable pillow at the neck of his survival suit. His heart was pounding.

Ryan tried to concentrate on how his suit supported him in the water and how best to avoid being pummeled by the swells. He did his best to position himself with his back to the breaking waves. He looked up at the moon, skipping in and out of view in the black sky. In the distance, he could hear someone yelling: “I can’t swim, I can’t swim. I don’t know what to do!”

Ryan tried to talk himself into calming down.

Every time he rose up on a crest, he could see lights spread out behind him in the water. It seemed like he was farther downwind than anyone else.

Gazing back toward the ship, Ryan could see at least half a dozen tiny, solitary beacons flickering among the waves. There was just enough moonlight to make out the outline of the Alaska Ranger bulging from the ocean. The ship was dark, just a shadow, really. Ryan watched as her bow turned slowly up, finally pointing straight toward the sky. The wheelhouse was at the waterline when, eerily, the lights inside flickered on for a moment.

There’s still some power, Ryan thought. Maybe she’ll right herself. But then, in a matter of seconds, the ship plunged straight down, swallowed whole by the dark sea....

In this excerpt from Deadliest Sea: The Untold Story Behind the Greatest Rescue in Coast Guard History by Kalee Thompson, we feel the dire situation of Ryan. His ship is sunk. He is floating in the deep dark churning waves of the ocean. He is lost. His only hope is for someone to rescue him.

This is the same feeling that we should have when we think about the state of the human race. Our ship is sunk; we need rescue.

We banter around the term “salvation” so much that we forget that “salvation” actually means “rescue” – that God has been at work rescuing his beloved creation (especially the pinnacle of his creation, human beings) from captivity. This is the wonderful good news of Redemption. John Stott, in The Authentic Jesus, wrote, “Christianity is, in its very essence, a rescue religion.”

The prototype of God’s rescuing his people in found in Exodus. They had fallen prey to an oppressor who ruthlessly made them slaves working with mortar and bricks in the field (Exodus 1:14). God heard them cry for rescue from their slavery (Exodus 2:23-25), and used Moses to lead them out of Egypt, across the Red Sea, and (eventually under Joshua) into the Promised Land. Moses sang, "I will sing to the LORD, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea. The LORD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him" (Exodus 15:1–2).

Kevin Vanhoozer, in The Drama of Doctrine, writes, “The deliverance from Egypt is ‘theatrical’ in both its scale and its details and especially in its typological pointing beyond itself to the yet greater liberation to be accomplished in Christ.”

Reflect on these verses about how the world is in bondage to sin and darkness and in need of rescue:

"The Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin." (Galatians 3:22)
"The Lord Jesus Christ gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age." (Galatians 1:3-4)
"He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins." (Colossians 1:13-14)

It is no coincidence that Jesus died and resurrected during the Passover celebration. Passover is the Jewish celebration of God’s rescue of his people from Egypt. In the Exodus, God rescued his people so that they could fulfill their calling to be the means by which God would bring blessing to the world. In Jesus, God rescues his people so that we can participate with him in his redemption of the world.

The amazing thing about our lives after we've been rescued is not that we get to rest on the dry land with a warm towel around us and simply say, "Whew! Thank God he rescued me!"

The amazing thing is that we get to hop on board the rescue helicopter and participate with God in the rescue of others and of God's entire created order. The creation itself is awaiting its liberation from bondage (Romans 8:20-22). Our vocations in this world are meant to be our participation in God's rescue effort of every aspect of God's created world. How can your work be an instrument of rescue?

We have been rescued in order to get on board in the rescue work! While in the dark waves of the churning sea of an evil rebellious world, the light of God’s rescue helicopter can be seen high up in the air, speeding its way to the rescue. The helicopter in the greatest rescue story ever told is shaped like a cross. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

Ryan felt like he’d been in the ocean for days. But it was still dark; it couldn’t have been more than a few hours. Then he saw a light way off on the horizon. A ship! he thought. The Alaska Warrior, maybe. He knew how long it took between when you spotted another ship in the distance and when you actually passed it side to side. He figured the boat was more than an hour away. But the light was growing closer quickly. No more than thirty seconds after seeing it, Ryan heard the rotors.

The chopper seemed to home in right on him. It approached like a missile, and stopped short just above him, maybe one hundred feet into the sky. A giant spotlight shone down. Ryan waved his arms. For a few seconds the orange machine hovered above him. Then it turned and flew away.

He kept his eyes on the helicopter as it made a giant lap over the ocean. Then thankfully, miraculously, it circled back and settled over him. The door swung open.

He was going to be saved.

"Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen." (Galatians 1:3-5)


Image by UK Ministry of Defence. Used with permission. Sourced via Flickr.

Post by Bob Robinson, Faith Editor for The High Calling and the Executive Director of The Center to Reintegrate Faith, Life, and Vocations. Follow Reintegrate's tweets at @re_integrate and Bob's personal twitter at @Bob_Robinson_re .