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“Savior; A Desperate Need”

Psalm 31and others
Bob DeGray
December 12, 2004

Key Sentence

It’s time for the desperate to receive a Savior.


I. A Desperate Person (Psalm 31:1-4, 14-16, Psalm 51:14, Isaiah 59:1-2)
II. A Desperate People (Psalm 80:1-7, Isaiah 45:8, Jeremiah 23:5-6)
III. A Desperate Planet (Isaiah 45:20-22, Isaiah 49:5-6)


        Have you ever noticed how many Christmas stories are about a desperate need that is met? And not just fictional stories. Prison Fellowship’s Angel Tree program, in which we participate, has hundreds of stories of how Angel Tree has been God’s tool to meet needs. They recently published a book about it called Six Million Angels.

        Early one Sunday morning, just before Christmas, the pastor of a small church in Oregon was putting the final touches on his sermon when he heard a muffled knock on his study door. Puzzled, he opened the door to find three small, disheveled children: a five-year-old boy with his three-year-old brother and two-year-old sister. "Mister, can we see the church that brought us those Christmas presents?" the five-year-old asked shyly. Instantly the pastor realized who his guests were, children from one of the families visited by church members with Angel Tree gifts. Their father was behind bars; their mother was involved in drugs and prostitution.

        "Of course you can see the church. Come on in." And the pastor led his guests around the small sanctuary. The children thanked him and waved good-bye. About 15 minutes later, he heard another knock. "What time does church start?" asked the five-year-old boy. "In an hour." "We'll be back." Once again the children waved good-bye and trudged off. Fifteen minutes later, the three stood at the door again. "Is it okay for a person to come to church if his socks don't match?" asked the oldest boy. "Of course!" said the pastor. The child looked up again. "Is it okay to come if you don't have any socks at all?" "Sure," said the pastor. "Why do you ask?" "Well," said the little boy, "my socks don't match, and my brother here doesn't have any socks at all." "You can come just as you are," smiled the pastor, and sweeping the two-year-old up, he ushered the children into the sanctuary.

        A couple sitting nearby kindly shepherded them through the unfamiliar service. But they were puzzled by a small paper bag the oldest boy was clutching. "We didn't know how long the service would last," he explained, "so we brought our lunch." Inside the bag was a single hot dog, which the children planned to share among the three of them. I don't need to tell you that these youngsters were quickly taken up by several loving arms and became a permanent part of that small congregation. Their father may be in prison and their mother may be on drugs—but for these children, since that Christmas, there is now another world…a world bright with God's love.

        Many Angel Tree churches plan ahead to take each at-home parent or household an extra Christmas treat or present. But in one case, along with requests for her children, one Angel Tree mother asked for a can opener. Taken aback by the request, a Texas volunteer bought and delivered the best electric can opener she could find.

        When the volunteer explained that the wrapped gifts included a can opener, the grateful mother acknowledged that her old opener had broken, and the only ones in the store were too expensive--two dollars. Embarrassed to realize that even a hand crank opener was a luxury to this woman, the volunteer asked if an electric opener was suitable. At that news the mother covered her face and began to laugh--or was it cry? Such a gift was more than she had ever hoped for. With her arthritis, using a manual opener made her hands ache for more than an hour.

        Angel Tree stories are often about a need - physical, emotional, or spiritual - that is met at Christmas. But the Christmas story itself is that kind of story. Our neon word for this week is ‘yasha’ or ‘yeshuah’ which means savior or salvation. And as I looked earlier this week at the hundreds of uses of this word in Scripture, I struggled to see how to relate them to the Savior God sent at Christmas. Then, while running Tuesday, I prayed my standard prayer “What do you want to say to your people through these Scriptures?” And I seemed to sense God’s answer: that desperate people need a Savior. I went back and looked at the Scriptures again, and that’s the common denominator. In almost every use of this word, there is a sense of desperate need that longs for rescue, deliverance, salvation. So this morning we’re going to look at this word in the Old Testament and see that it is the cry of individuals, a desperate person, of the nation, a desperate people, and of the whole desperate planet. And we’ll see that in Jesus these desperate cries are answered. That’s what we celebrate at Christmas: the time when the desperate receive a Savior. If you’re desperate today in any of the ways people are desperate, Christmas is a reminder that God has already sent a Savior to meet your need.

I. A Desperate Person (Psalm 31:1-4, 14-16, Psalm 51:14, Isaiah 59:1-2)

        In the Old Testament ‘yesha’ is often used of the cry of an individual, a desperate person for a deliverer or rescue. Let’s look first at Psalm 31:1-4, In you, O Lord, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame; deliver me in your righteousness. 2Turn your ear to me, come quickly to my rescue; be my rock of refuge, a strong fortress to save me. 3Since you are my rock and my fortress, for the sake of your name lead and guide me. 4Free me from the trap that is set for me, for you are my refuge.

The Hebrew word we’re studying is used two ways: rescue from something, say danger or enemies, and also rescue to something, to safety or provision. Here David sees that God is his refuge, offering deliverance, rescue, salvation. God is a rock and a fortress, images of physical safety, provision and comfort. But the fun thing about David’s use of these words is that the refuge and fortress aren’t just passive receivers of the desperate person: they are active rescuers. David pleads with his refuge ‘come quickly to my rescue’ The safe place doesn’t just sit over on the horizon, but comes up and embraces the believer to ‘lead and guide’ him. It all reminds me of the ancient phalanx or legion, in which an army formed a walking wall of soldiers, who could easily defend themselves or others, but who could also go out to where someone was in distress to surround and defend and rescue them.

        And David is in distress. He goes on to say things like ‘my eye is wasted away from grief,’ ‘my life is spent with sorrow and my years with sighing,’ ‘my strength has failed because of my iniquity,’ ‘they took counsel together against me, they schemed to take away my life.’ David cries out in his great need, and then he says, verses 14 to 16: 14But I trust in you, O Lord; I say, "You are my God." 15My times are in your hands; deliver me from my enemies and from those who pursue me. 16Let your face shine on your servant; save me in your unfailing love. David’s cry for deliverance rests on trust: he puts faith and hope in three things: the fact that God is God, that he is a personal God - make your face shine on me - and a God of unfailing love. We too can cry out to be saved from distress, because we trust in a sovereign, loving God who is personally involved in our lives.

        This individualistic use of save, rescue, deliver, is pervasive in the Old Testament. God is seen and known as a personal God who hears, cares and rescues from distress, danger, and poverty to safety, comfort and provision. So if you are desperate spiritually, desperately beset by temptation, desperately lonely, crushed by financial burdens, distressed by difficult relationships or family circumstances, struck down by disease or accident, the Scriptures teach you without hesitation to cry to God to rescue. You know you won’t always receive physical rescue, but the testimony of your brothers and sisters here and around the word is that, spiritually, God always provides himself as the refuge for our distress.

        But there is one special kind of desperation I want to touch on briefly. I mentioned in passing that in this Psalm David cries out for rescue from his own iniquities or sins. This isn’t the only place he does that. In his confession Psalm, after he had sinned with Bathsheba, he says Save me from bloodguilt, O God, the God who saves me, and my tongue will sing of your righteousness. Psalm 51:14 ‘Save me from bloodguilt’, – that is, from sin worthy of death. David recognizes the seriousness of his sin, but has confidence in God as ‘the God who saves me’ even from that.

        That’s remarkable, since sin is the one thing Scripture says hinders God’s rescue. Isaiah 59:1-2 Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear. 2But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear. Sin so separates individuals from God that he won’t even hear the cry of the sinner for salvation. Sin is a doubly desperate need, and even the God who saves must go to great lengths to save sinners.
        Which brings us to Christmas. When Joseph found that Mary was pregnant he considered divorcing her. But God intervened: Matthew 1:20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins."

        Name him Jesus; name him with our neon word, Yeshua, because he is the Savior, the gift of God who will ‘save his people from their sins.’ This is a salvation even God only accomplished one time, in one way, once and for all by sending his Son to sacrifice himself in payment for the sinner’s sin, for the sins of individual desperate people like you and me. At Christmas God give his own son as Savior, to rescue and deliver from the greatest of needs. At Christmas desperate people receive a Savior.

II. A Desperate People (Psalm 80:1-7, Isaiah 45:8, Jeremiah 23:5-6)

        But there’s a second thread in the Old Testament use of this word. It’s not just used of the salvation of individuals, but of the rescue of whole nations, especially the nation of Israel, God’s chosen people. Psalm 80:1-7 Hear us, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock; you who sit enthroned between the cherubim, shine forth 2before Ephraim, Benjamin and Manasseh. Awaken your might; come and save us. 3Restore us, O God; make your face shine upon us, that we may be saved. 4O Lord God Almighty, how long will your anger smolder against the prayers of your people? 5You have fed them with the bread of tears; you have made them drink tears by the bowlful. 6You have made us a source of contention to our neighbors, and our enemies mock us. 7Restore us, O God Almighty; make your face shine upon us, that we may be saved.

        More than most, this Psalm exalts God as Israel’s God and savior. He’s the shepherd of Israel; he’s enthroned between the cherubim in Israel’s tabernacle; he’s the God of Israel’s tribes. So the people of Israel call on the God of Israel for the salvation of Israel: ‘Awaken your might; come and save us.’ And in Old Testament times, God often did just that, miraculously rescuing the nation from the hand of her enemies.

        But even for Israel such rescues were not the ultimate salvation she longed for or needed, the salvation cried out for in verse 3: ‘restore us, O God, make your face shine upon us, that we may be saved’. The words ‘restore us’ translate Hebrew ‘shuv’, a neon word, ‘turn’, ‘return’ or ‘repent’. Here the verb form is causative, meaning "to make someone do something". The cry of the Psalmist’s heart is ‘make us turn, Lord’ ‘cause us to return to you’, thus ‘restore us’. And ‘make your face shine upon us’. The light of God’s face is a sign of his presence. this is a cry for his presence, for ‘God with us.’ So restoration and his presence are the signs of salvation: being saved means that those far away due to sin are forgiven and brought near to God.

        But for the Psalmist, this hasn’t happened yet: ‘O Lord God Almighty, how long will your anger smolder against the prayers of your people? 5You have fed them with the bread of tears; you have made them drink tears by the bowlful.” All the times God had rescued Israel in the past meant little at that moment, because those salvations weren’t permanent. The desperate need was not just for physical rescue, but for more, for the eternal fulfillment of the covenant, the permanent turning of the hearts of the people to God and the eternal presence of God with the people.

        So it’s no surprise that this cry is often repeated. I was reading a Mitford Christmas book this week, and Father Tim quoted a prayer from Isaiah I couldn’t remember ever having heard: “Let the sky rain down justice and the earth bud forth a savior.” A little checking revealed this to be a slightly offbeat translation of Isaiah 45:8 "You heavens above, rain down righteousness; let the clouds shower it down. Let the earth open wide, let salvation spring up.” This is the heart cry of Israel throughout the Old Testament, that God would make this promised salvation known.

        And he will. One thread of promise we’ve seen says it’s through his servant, the Branch. Jeremiah 23:5-6 The days are coming," declares the Lord, "when I will raise up to David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land. 6In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. This is the name by which he will be called: The Lord Our Righteousness.

        This prophecy is full of neon words. Last week’s was the word servant. This righteous branch, the Davidic King, is also called by God ‘my servant’. Previously we looked at the word ‘righteous’ and rejoiced to recognize that the Lord is our righteousness - Jesus gives us righteousness. But these verses also show us that the Messiah brings salvation to Israel: in his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety.

        At the time of Jesus’s birth, the people of Israel were intensely aware of their desperate national need for a savior. Zechariah expresses it in his prophecy about his son, John. “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come and has redeemed his people. 69He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David 70(as he said through his holy prophets of long ago), 71salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.” Yet Zechariah also says of John “You, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, 77to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins.” God’s rescue of the nation is tied to his forgiveness of sin. Jesus, Israel’s messiah, came to bring forgiveness.

III. A Desperate Planet (Isaiah 45:20-22, Isaiah 49:5-6)

        So we’ve seen that Jesus comes for salvation to desperate individuals, every desperate person who no where else will find deliverance from slavery to sin. He also comes to fulfill God’s promises to the desperate nation of Israel, who longed for a political savior but needed a spiritual one. And it’s larger than that, isn’t it? Jesus also comes at Christmas as Savior of a lost world. Scriptures teaches that the whole world is astray, desperate for salvation. Listen to Isaiah 45:20-22 "Gather together and come; assemble, you fugitives from the nations. Ignorant are those who carry about idols of wood, who pray to gods that cannot save. 21Declare what is to be, present it– let them take counsel together. Who foretold this long ago, who declared it from the distant past? Was it not I, the Lord? And there is no God apart from me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none but me. 22"Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other.

        One of today’s most common answers to Christianity is that there are many ways to God, that each person chooses his own way. On a website called ‘life positive’, Parveen Chopra & Swati Chopra assert that “There are as many ways to God-realization as there are seekers. We present some oft-traveled paths to God—Sufism, Shamanism, Kabbalah, Buddhism, Jainism, Zen, Tantra, and three yogic paths from Hinduism.” Notice they didn’t include Christianity or traditional Judiasm as paths to God, because from Old Testament times God has made it clear that he is God, that there is no other God and that salvation comes only from him. In these verses God speaks to those he calls ‘fugitives from other nations’ and says ‘your gods can’t save – they are idols of wood with no true power or prophecy. There is no God apart from me. Turn to me and be saved. We live on a desperate planet, filled with desperate individuals blindly following desperate lies that cannot save. And that’s as true across the street from your house as it is on the other side of the world. God says “turn to me and be saved, for I am God and there is no other.”

        And of course, he makes provision for that salvation. You’ve often heard me quote Isaiah 49:5-6 because it shows God’s heart for theworld: “And now the Lord says– he who formed me in the womb to be his servant to bring Jacob back to him and gather Israel to himself, for I am honored in the eyes of the Lord and my God has been my strength – 6he says: "It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth."

        These verses speak of last week’s servant, the one who would bear the punishment and suffer for the sins of his people. And not just Jewish people: he’s a light for the Gentiles, and brings salvation from sin to all the ends of the earth. This is what Christmas is all about: this is what Jesus is all about. His disciple John says, 1 John 4:14 “we have seen and testify that the Father sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.” He came to a desperate planet to save all it’s desperate peoples. Jesus puts it this way, Luke 19:10 “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” No one is more desperate than the one who is lost. If you’ve been lost you know the feeling of thrashing desperateness, looking for the right path. And Jesus is that path, the only way to God, the only way for the desperately lost to be saved.

        That’s the message of Christmas. When the angels appeared to the lowly shepherds of Israel it was to announce a Savior. Luke 2:10 “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.” Later Simeon declared this same baby to be that light for the Gentiles. Luke 2:29 “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. 30For my eyes have seen your salvation, 31which you have prepared in the sight of all people, 32a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”

        So the question is, are you a desperate person who is ready to receive this Savior? Are you desperate enough emotionally, are you desperate enough financially, are you lonely enough, desperate enough relationally, to embrace this Savior and the salvation he offers. Most of all can you see that this Savior is only way to be rescued from sin? ‘You shall call him Jesus for he will save his people from their sin’. His name is salvation and so is his mission. He offers you forgiveness freely, by grace, to be received by faith. And that salvation is what desperate hearts are crying for. It’s time for the desperate to receive God’s promised, sent Savior.

        Chuck Colson tells a story in Six Million Angels about an Angel Tree experience of his own. “We do this every year, and each family encounter is special to me. But there's one boy in particular I will never forget. It was ten years ago, December 1993. With packages wrapped, we headed out to the housing project where "our" family lived-a place we were warned not to visit without a police escort. We went anyway, but as we drove into the project I wondered if we'd made the right decision: We saw broken windows, trash everywhere, grim-faced gangs lounging in doorways.

        When we found the apartment, a boy about nine years old cautiously opened the door. "Merry Christmas," I said, holding out the presents. "These are from your daddy." The door swung wide open. The boy's mother was working late, and as we waited we saw that the apartment was as bleak as the courtyard outside: The furniture was torn, the stuffing falling out. A straggly Christmas tree leaned against the wall, bare of any presents. "What's your name?" I asked the boy. "Emmanuel," he replied. "Emmanuel! Do you know what your name means?" I opened my Bible and read from Matthew's account of the birth of Jesus: "And they shall call him Emmanuel - which means 'God with us.'" When the boy's mother came home, Emmanuel threw his arms around her, crying, "Mama, Mama, guess what my name means: God is with us!" At that moment, in that clear childish voice rising above the squalor of neglected hallways and crime-filled courtyards, I heard God's good news proclaimed afresh: that he indeed came to be present in these crime-ravaged households and with "the least of these" children.”

        He came to save the desperate. He came to save us.