(First posted in June of 2011)
January, 1945. U.S. troops battle for the liberation of the Philippines. As they make their labored advance, the occupying Japanese army burns alive 150 American prisoners of war at a camp on the island of Palawan. Fearing a similar atrocity, Lieutenant General Walter Krueger assigns Lieutenant Colonel Henry Mucci and his Sixth Ranger Battalion the mission of rescuing the allied prisoners held at Cabanatuan.
On January 30, Mucci moved. 127 Army Rangers under the direct command of Captain Robert Prince, supported by 200 Filipino guerrillas, led a daring raid upon the compound at Cabanatuan. In a stunning tactical victory, Prince’s unit killed 523 Japanese troops—losing only four men in the process—and freed 511 frail, starving and disease-ridden prisoners of war. At 8:15 pm, Captain Prince shot a flare into the night sky signaling that the improbable mission of liberation was complete.
Yet as that victorious flare lit up the night sky, the task was long from finished. You do not free 511 infirm prisoners behind enemy lines and say, “Gentlemen, it’s been a pleasure; good luck to you all,” and walk away. Through the remainder of that night, the soldiers who liberated their comrades escorted them to safety through many dangers, toils and snares. The mission was not complete the moment the prisoners were freed. It was complete when they were delivered safely home.
It is this kind of complete deliverance the Bible promises the followers of Jesus Christ. By His death in the sinner’s place, and by His triumphant resurrection from the dead, Jesus stormed the gates of hell, liberating those who turn from their sin to trust in His rescue. This cosmic victory over sin and death accomplished the most glorious liberation in history.
Having stormed Satan’s compound in a most improbable cosmic raid (crucifixion followed by resurrection), Jesus did not abandon His people at that point. He did not say: “All right, soldier, you’re on your own from here.” When Christ rescues a prisoner from the bondage and penalty of sin, when He liberates you as you place your faith in His death and resurrection, you can rest in the confidence that He will guide you and protect you all the way home. You will indeed pass through many dangers, toils, and snares, but His presence will go with you until you rest safely in his presence (Rev. 21:1-4).
The saving grace of God includes the confident hope that: “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (ESV, Rom. 8:31). It embraces the promise of Jesus:
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. (John 10:27-28).
In other words, the Savior who has the power to rescue, is the same God who will walk with you all the way to glory. While there will be harrowing temptations to think otherwise, once you have been rescued He “ ‘will never leave you nor forsake you’ ” (Heb. 13:5). He will guide you home until you stand complete in His presence, forever free (Rom. 8:30).
Two responses are in order. For those who know they have been liberated from spiritual bondage by Christ, we must actively trust in His promises. We are the recipients of a complete liberation and should live like it. We did not rescue ourselves (Titus 3:4-7) and we do not depend upon ourselves to arrive safely home (Phil. 1:6). Rather, we must wholly trust in the complete deliverance provided by our all-sufficient Savior, never wavering in our confidence or eternal hope (Heb. 10:19-23). This means we need to filter every life experience through the realization that the one who delivered us from the compound of spiritual bondage will take us all the way home. Where such confidence genuinely resonates in our soul, it radically orients our daily response to the vicissitudes of life.
Second, for those who have no such experience of Christ’s deliverance, it is important to understand that deliverance is utterly essential. Born in a state of alienation from God, we are naturally held by Satan in bondage to sin and utterly helpless to liberate ourselves (Rom. 3:10-12, Eph. 2:1-10, 2 Tim. 2:25-26). That’s the bad news, but it’s the overwhelming reality we must come to terms with. The good news is that Jesus stormed the compound—dying in the place of sinners to pay the penalty of their sin and to liberate those who trust his redeeming deliverance from bondage to sin and its necessary punishment (Rom. 4:4-8, 1 Pet. 2:24-25). Like the prisoners liberated from Cabanatuan, this rescue is not something we have the capacity to either plan or effect. It is a liberation that comes wholly from outside of us—a great raid that ultimately frees believers from everything that is killing us.
If you have the clarity of mind and spirit to concede that you are incarcerated in this camp, leave it now. The enemy has been defeated. The chains securing the compound gates have been blasted off. And standing on the other side of that open gate, the Deliverer beckons with nail-pierced hands, ready to receive you as His own and prepared to take you all the way home.
Dan Miller has served as the Senior Pastor of Eden Baptist Church since 1989. He graduated from Pillsbury Baptist Bible College in 1984 and his graduate degrees include the MA in history from Minnesota State University, MDiv and ThM from Central Baptist Theological Seminary and DMin from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Dan is married to Beth and the Lord has blessed them with four children: Ethan, Levi, Reed and Whitney.