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  • Writer's picturePaul Cottington

The Ultimate Lifesaving Legend


“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life."

1 Timothy 1:15-16

‘It’s the most wonderful time of the year!’ – That is what Andy Williams sung. We call it ‘Christmas’. Our culture embraces it in ways that are generally far removed from what happened in Bethlehem around two thousand years ago. Mr Williams mentions these in his lyrics – ‘There'll be parties for hosting; Marshmallows for toasting…’ – really good things, but not really anything to do with Jesus. But he also sings about something more hopeful – ‘tales of the glories of Christmases long, long ago.’

Let’s go there this morning, to that first Christmas, long, long ago. The apostle Paul helps us with six words which concisely tell us what happened – ‘Christ Jesus came into the world.’ But how do we get there in our minds? It is a journey to a far off place, in a far off time. Well, I want us to use a stepping stone. Like a faulty Sat-Nav, we are travelling to Bethlehem via Cromer. Not Cromer today, but Cromer around 100 years ago.

I have been on holiday to Cromer, more than once. I love it. It is a seaside town in Norfolk and has a lot to offer, for those taking a break from the normal routine of life. It has a museum. In fact, it has more than one museum, but I want to take you to one particular building. It celebrates the life of Cromer’s most famous son, born in Cromer on 6 February 1876. In that museum, there is information about a time only slightly removed from ours; possibly only one, two or three generations back. We are transported to the 1930’s, when holidays were no longer just a luxury enjoyed by a privileged few, and around 15 million people would have gone away annually to the British coast.

One source of information says this – ‘Cromer's beachfront was a picture-postcard scene.’ It describes waves breaking, children netting shrimps, striped deckchairs on golden sand. ‘The air was rich with the smell of fish and chips and the famous fresh Cromer crab.’ And then we are told this – ‘If they were lucky, tourists may have seen the pride of Cromer on display, the H F Bailey lifeboat. She was built of English oak, mahogany and teak and painted in a patriotic red, white and blue. Standing proudly next to the lifeboat would have been a man in a flat cap, a large dog at his side. Locals and visitors would stop to talk to him. He was Henry Blogg, lifesaving legend.’

Henry George Blogg was, and still is, the most decorated lifeboat person in RNLI history. Henry served for 53 years. During that time he carried out 387 rescues and helped to save 873 lives. Nearly a thousand people owed their continued existence to Henry and his crewmates. No wonder he is referred to as a ‘lifesaving legend’!

But, in the details provided at Cromer’s museum, there was something else that struck me. A statement about Henry’s life’s mission, which I don’t think is quite true. I also believe that by considering this today, it may be helpful in understanding another mission. Not that of Henry, born in Cromer, but the mission of Jesus, born in Bethlehem.

This detail is repeated in an article that the RNLI magazine published in 2015. It goes like this – ‘Henry was brought up by his mother Ellen and stepfather John Davies, a second coxswain and fisherman. Henry was a bright child, but left school at 11 to work on the family crab boat. He spent the rest of his time on Cromer’s beach, supervising the bathing machines and selling bathing dresses and towels for a penny a piece. He mastered the skills of seamanship, learning how to use an oar and handle a sail. He understood the dark side to Cromer's scenic coastline: the unpredictably powerful tides, winds, currents and rock-hard sands that have claimed thousands of lives. Once he turned 18, he joined the lifeboat crew.’ Then we are told this – ‘The sea was in his blood.’

The sea was in his blood. It certainly appears so. We understand what this means. But is it literally true? I think not. Henry’s background, and the circumstances of his upbringing, massively influenced the course of his life. But it could have been different. Norfolk borders Lincolnshire. If Henry had been born 50 miles to the (almost) North West, in Lincolnshire, he probably would have spent his lifetime growing cabbages. Given Henry’s dedication to a cause, and his resilience, and longevity, he probably would have grown a lot of cabbages; a lot of very good cabbages. I reckon that Henry would have won awards for his vegetables. The life that he lived could have taken an alternate trajectory. But this is not so, with Jesus.

The life of Jesus was pre-ordained. Paul tells us. Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. This idea is reinforced by the Bible; many times and in various ways (as per Hebrews 1:1). Throughout the Old Testament books, we are given the gradually developing promise of the coming of this man. Right at the end of that period, almost immediately before his birth, in that final set of glorious promises, we are given this truth again. In the account of Matthew 1, which Tim turned our attention to, a few weeks ago, we have the account of ‘an angel of the Lord’ who ‘appeared’ to man named ‘Joseph’. He was engaged to be married to a ‘virgin’; so someone who hadn’t yet experienced sexual intercourse. This was a lady called ‘Mary’. Joseph is given an instruction, by the Lord’s angel messenger. Mary is going to ‘give birth to a son’. ‘You are to give him the name Jesus’.

Matthew records his account in the Greek language of his day. We translate the name Jesus from that language. In the Hebrew, it is ‘Joshua’, or ‘Yah-shuah’. It means Yah saves, or Yahweh (the God of Israel) saves. Through Jesus, God saves. And God saves sinners. This is what Joseph is told, ‘you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.’

Jesus had a mission. The mission that Jesus was on didn’t come about after he was born, influenced by his place of birth, and altered by the circumstances of his life. No. His mission was already worked out, in the counsels of heaven’s court, in eternity past. It was a mission to save; a mission to rescue people.

What type of people? What type of people did Jesus come to rescue? Well, the apostle Paul is a great example. Paul even calls himself just that; ‘an example’ for those others who would yet be rescued by Jesus. Or, in the language of 1 Timothy 16, ‘an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.’ Because Jesus came to save ‘the worst’. Paul calls himself ‘the worst of sinners.’ In fact, elsewhere in the Bible, in Ephesians 3:8, Paul goes even further. He gives us an exercise to do. Paul says, in effect, round up all of God’s people, every true believer in Jesus Christ and assess them all. After you have graded them, look at the one that you consider to be the lowest, least worthy of the bunch. Then imagine someone who has less value than that. Now you have found me, says Paul. ‘I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people.’ Why does he describe himself in this way? It was because of his ‘former way of life’ (Ephesians 4:22).

Previously, Paul hated Christians. There was a reason for this. Christians were going around Paul’s locality, with a message. It was a message about rescue. They were telling people that Jesus had come into this world to rescue people from the consequence of sin, which is separation from God, for ever. Jesus can save you from that they said. But Paul didn’t need this message. He was ok, thank you very much. Although Paul understood that he was living in fallen world, and that he was surrounded by sin and general failure in society, it was his perspective on himself that was wrong. Paul considered himself to be a very moral man (see Philippians 3). He believed that his principles kept him afloat. But this was so unsafe. Paul’s sense of moral safety and security was based on something totally flimsy. It was a bit like me when I was a child.

I loved the seaside. I could swim, but I wasn’t a good swimmer. Then I discovered the lilo. It was awesome. I could now propel myself further from the shore because this cheap, inflatable device kept me afloat. When my arms grew tired, I could just rest for a while. I could turn back for the shore whenever I decided. I felt so safe. Until the day that I discovered a puncture, a few hundred metres from the Sussex coastline, and realised my error of judgement. Man, was I scared?

This is what happened to the apostle Paul. Acts 9 details his conversion; when Paul finally met with Jesus and understood his real need of rescue. The AV has a really interesting phrase in Acts 9:5. It comes from a Greek proverb. ‘It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.’ It is a metaphor, that is derived from animal husbandry; farming. The Lord was using a prod to get Paul to move in his thinking. I think we have licence to adapt this to the setting of our metaphor today. Paul’s sense of his own good character was like a rubber ring. It kept him afloat in the sea of life. But, a day came when Paul’s buoyancy aid was ‘pricked’. It was punctured. Paul released he was drowning. His confidence had been in something flimsy and now its lack of substance was obvious.

Before, Paul felt that he was doing good, in trying to curtail the activities of Christians with their, supposedly, false message. Now, he understood clearly. It was him who was false. His life was a sham. He realised that what he had thought of as ‘extremely zealous’ behaviour (Galatians 1:14) was actually ‘murderous’ (Acts 9:1) hatred, towards God’s truth, and towards his people. In our chapter today (v.13) he tells us that he suddenly realised, ‘I was… a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man’. Paul cried out for rescue. But what hope could there be for someone who had hated God in this way? None… surely?

But let’s consider what rescue really is. Let’s use Henry Blogg’s example to help us. He helped to rescue 873 souls from drowning. What type of characters do we think he saved? People who kept out of trouble? People who walked sure footed on dry land with confidence. No, he didn’t save any of them. All 873, were people who were all at sea; literally, in the most awful sense. They would have been people who had no hope of ever getting themselves out of the situation that they found themselves in. People who were desperate. People who were drowning. How must those people have felt went they glimpsed the H F Bailey lifeboat, and Henry Blogg leaning over the side of that vessel, his arm touching theirs?

That is the very definition of rescue. That is what Paul found. He cried unto the very God that he had despised all of his life. Jesus reached him. Jesus saved him.

There is a wonderful example of this type of rescue in the Old Testament’s lovely pictures. It is written by David, another of the Bible’s collection of failed human beings. David wrote Psalm 51, which is a lament over his deeply personal shortcomings. In it he appraises his own position; and mine, and yours. He says, ‘Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.’ It is as if David is crying out, ‘What hope is there for me? I haven’t become like this, Lord. I was born like this.’

But the Bible’s message brings hope where there would otherwise be none. Yes, I was born to sin, but Jesus was born to save.

David describes the Lord’s willingness to reach out and save in 2 Samuel. It’s so good, that this rescue poem is repeated, nearly word for word in Psalm 18. In 2 Samuel 22:5, David says, ‘The waves of death swirled about me; the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me.’ That does not sound good. Again, it is so similar to Paul, in the New Testament. In Romans 9:22 (NLT) he speaks about being ‘destined for destruction’. What happened to David? ‘The Lord delivered him’ (v.1). How? ‘He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters’ (v.17).

When Jesus saves, it isn’t a half-hearted effort. There is abundance in everything he does. Paul says, in v.14 of today’s chapter, ‘The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.’ Hebrews 7:25 tells us this, ‘he is able to save completely those who come to God through him.’ Does this ‘settle the matter’ for us? It should.

Actually, it was already settled, in the promise of what the coming of Jesus would bring, in words written 700 years before he was born in Bethlehem. Isaiah 1:18 says this, ‘‘Come now, let us settle the matter,’ says the Lord. ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.’’ The Old Testament contains the account of King Manasseh. His sins really were scarlet. Like King Herod, he was a deeply insecure man, in a position of cruel authority. In a vivid picture, 2 Kings 21:16 tells us that he, ‘shed so much innocent blood that he filled Jerusalem from end to end.’ But the Lord brought distress upon his life, and 2 Chronicles 33:12-13 tells us this, ‘In his distress he sought the favour of the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his ancestors. And when he prayed to him, the Lord was moved by his entreaty and listened to his plea.’ What an extra-ordinary thing. And what an extra-ordinary realisation is described. ‘Then Manasseh knew that the Lord is God.’

Do you want to know that the Lord is God; that he is your God? Then cry out to him. Will he pardon anyone? Again, Isaiah is pretty good at settling these matters. ‘Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts. Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will freely pardon’ (Isaiah 55:7).

How can this be? How can a God, who the Bible describes as holy and just (as Leviticus 11:14 & Deuteronomy 32 4), simply ‘freely pardon’ the ‘wicked.’ Is there no consequence to sin? There is a consequence to sin.

Earlier I said that I objected to taking literally the suggestion that Henry Blogg’s life’s work was ‘in his blood’. I think Henry’s mission was influenced by his life’s unfolding circumstances. But this is so different with Jesus. His mission was to save. ‘He came into the world to save sinners’, and his way of saving really was ‘in his blood’. Sin has to be accounted for. God’s account book must be balanced. And it has been, for those that believe in God’s Son and Saviour. Jesus was born for a mission. He was born to die. When he suffered and died on Calvary’s cross, he experienced the punishment for every piece of wickedness, found in every heart, of everyone, who would believe on him and be saved.

Romans 5:9-11 describes those characters that can come forward for rescue. It uses words like, ‘ungodly’ and ‘sinners’, and even ‘God’s enemies’ (v.6, 8 & 10). That section is titled ‘Peace and Hope’ in our NIV. In the NLT it is titled ‘Faith brings Joy’. Tim spoke about that to us only last week. That section concludes, in the NLT, with these words - ‘God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.’

What a rescue? So, how should we conclude our consideration, today, of those wonderful things found in 1 Timothy 1:15-16? Let’s come to the apostle Paul’s conclusion, which is found in the very next verse (v.17). ‘Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.’


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