Rescue the Perishing

I think we are often uncomfortable in the way we speak about witnessing Christ to others and our roles as “soul-winners”. It is biblical and true, of course, to think of ourselves primarily as “ambassadors for Christ” (Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 2 Cor. 5:20 ESV) And so, we could be content to view ourselves as representatives with an interest in speaking the cause of Christ but with a (perhaps) dispassionate view of the person we are reaching out to…

Fanny Crosby, the great gospel hymn-writer of the 19th century had no qualms about calling us to “rescue the perishing”. In one of her most moving hymns, she calls for us to passionately, even desperately, seek and save the lost.

Rescue the perishing, care for the dying,

Snatch them in pity from sin and the grave;

Weep o’er the erring one, lift up the fallen,

Tell them of Jesus, the mighty to save.


Down in the human heart, crushed by the tempter,

Feelings lie buried that grace can restore;

Touched by a loving heart, wakened by kindness,

Chords that are broken will vibrate once more.

(repeat chorus)

Rescue the perishing, duty demands it;

Strength for thy labor the Lord will provide;

Back to the narrow way patiently win them;

Tell the poor wand’rer a Savior has died.

(repeat chorus)


Rescue the perishing, care for the dying;

Jesus is merciful, Jesus will save.

Jesus, Messiah

2 Cor. 5:21 says this: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (ESV)

When we sing the song “Jesus, Messiah”, we sing an abbreviated version of that verse: “He became sin, who knew no sin, that we might become His righteousness.” Now, I love the song. It contains several other direct Scripture references. For instance, the very next line of the song (“He humbled Himself, and carried the cross…”) is a direct reference to Philippians 2:8. In many songs that contain direct Scripture reference, though, words can be left out for the sake of lyrical flow. Such is the case here.

Notice how the original verse begins with 3 dumbfounding words: “for our sake…”  Pause for a moment and let that sink in.

For our sake, He (God the Father) made Him (Jesus the Son) to be sin. “God regarded and treated “our” sin (the sin of all who would believe in Christ) as if our sin belonged not to us but to Christ himself.” (ESV study Bible note) Thus begins a direct, concise statement of the doctrine of substitutionary atonement. Christ died for us, having received in Himself the punishment for sins that He never committed. Again, the ESV study Bible says it well: Christ took our sin upon himself and, as our substitute, thereby bore the wrath of God (the punishment that we deserve) in our place (“for our sake”).

Where else in Scripture do we see this kind of description of Christ’s work on our behalf? Well, look first to Isaiah 53. Several verses, quoted below, make similar statements of this staggering, humbling truth. (Note that the word for “sin” is translated in several different ways, highlighted in bold italics.)

As a devotional thought, before reading each of these verses, say “for our sake, in our place.”

“surely he has born our griefs” (Isa. 53:4); “He was crushed for our iniquities” (Isa. 53:5); “the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isa. 53:6); “he shall bear their iniquities” (Isa. 53:11); “he bore the sin of many” (Isa. 53:12).

So then, Christ, as a substitute for us (“for our sake”) has paid the penalty for our sins. A few verses earlier, Paul says this: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV) Our newness of life was purchased through a death: the death of a sinless, perfect Savior. As we rejoice in our position as new creations in Christ, let us never lose the impact, the sobering impact of the cost paid for our new life. “For our sake…”

Look at the last part of the verse: “in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Can you see how staggering the implications are? Our sin was put upon Him, imputed to Him. (Quick dictionary moment. Impute: to credit by transferal (a virtue or the benefit of a good work) to the account of someone else.) Our sin was “credited by transferal” (and was by no means a virtue or benefit) to Christ upon the cross. Likewise, His righteousness was “credited by transferal” (the greatest benefit in human history) to us. We enjoy a reconciled relationship to God (2 Cor. 5:18) because of God’s plan and Christ’s willingness to suffer punishment in our place and because God then credited us with Christ’s perfect righteousness.

So much beauty and horror present in the same verse, and yet it is the soberingly glorious truth of the gospel that we celebrate when we sing, “He became sin, who knew no sin, that we might become His righteousness.” Jesus, Messiah indeed.