A Rescue Operation!March 30, 2017
For the Son of Man is come to seek and to save what had been lost.
— Luke 19:10
Denise and I had decided to relocate from the small Latvian city of Jelgava to the very heart of the capital city, Riga, which was closer to our ministry offices. After searching a long time for a residence large enough to suit our family, we found an old apartment in a building constructed in 1898 that would meet our needs. This apartment was located in a once-elegant building in Riga’s most prestigious neighborhood — that is, a building that was elegant before the Bolshevik Revolution.
In the earlier Soviet years, apartments like this one were confiscated and converted into communal flats. In the case of our apartment, this once majestic space had been divided into eight tiny apartments for eight families that shared one kitchen and one toilet! The people who lived there over a period of nearly 55 years had no respect whatsoever for this architectural treasure. Their total lack of care was most obvious in the bathroom. As men used the bathroom over the years, they had missed the toilet so many thousands of times that the acidic effect of the urine had literally burned a hole through the heavy flooring big enough to see straight through it into the apartment below! It was shameful to see what had happened to this once-luxurious apartment where an elite class of people had formerly lived.
As I walked through that horribly deteriorated apartment, I was stunned by the hints of old beauty that somehow still remained. I could see that under years of botched paint jobs, each room was adorned with massive moldings that went all the way around the ceilings. Several of the rooms contained lavish fireplaces so spectacular that they should have been on display in a museum — but the condition of these fireplaces left me aghast. This once-grandiose residence now only boasted of collapsed ceilings, crumbling plaster, and mold that had spread over large sections of the walls. To top it off, hooligans had painted derogatory words and nasty phrases all over the walls throughout the apartment.
Because the apartment was so trashed, it was available for an unbelievably low price. Actually, no one else wanted it! But we knew this was our apartment, so we purchased it and went to work restoring it. Although dirt, grime, filth, and trash were heaped in huge piles in every room, we knew that this place was restorable if we would be willing to do what was necessary to bring it back to its former glory.
So many times when I looked at the work involved of restoring that dwelling place, I thought of how that apartment was like a human life. It often made me reflect on the words of John 10:10, where Jesus told us that Satan always attempts to take what is good and ruin it. But whatever Satan has tried to spoil, Jesus has the power to reverse!
As the restoration process took place in our apartment in Riga, we began to peel 55 years of Soviet wallpaper from the walls. One layer at a time, we peeled back decades of history — until finally we came to a discovery that took us completely off guard. When all the Soviet wallpaper was removed, we came upon nearly perfectly preserved Yiddish newspapers that were plastered over every inch of those walls. The papers had been used to level the surface before the next layer of exquisite wallpaper could be hung. When I saw those Yiddish papers, I understood that the original owners of the apartment had been Jewish — and the reason no original owners had ever been located is that they’d been exterminated in the Holocaust. Such history was emerging in that place!
The molding in one room was so intricate that it required one man four months to clean it, and because the details were so sophisticated and multifaceted, dental instruments had to be used to scrape away the ugly paint that had covered it. But finally, after almost one year of nonstop work, that dilapidated apartment was amazingly restored to its original glory. The process was long and painful, but the results were breathtaking, and Denise and I were thrilled that we had invested the time and energy to undertake this effort.
It was almost impossible to believe that this formerly neglected, run-down, decrepit, decayed apartment had become our lovely home — a home we would live in for years before we finally moved to Moscow. But because we were willing to accept the challenge of the task and pains- takingly undertake the process of restoring this property, we were rewarded with something very glorious and magnificent that eventually emerged from a ravaged, wasted, and devastated state.
When I sat surrounded by the restored version of this habitation, I often wondered, “How could something so beautiful have become so devastated?” We so quickly adjusted to the restored version that we often “forgot” how horrible it had been just a short time earlier. When people came to visit us, they often commented that it was like a historic treasure — but they had no idea of the hard work, time, effort, and prayer required to transform it and bring it to its new splendor. They only saw the results.
My view was very different. Almost every day of living in and looking at that apartment made me think of Luke 19:10. That verse says, “For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.” That word “lost” always grabs my attention. It’s the Greek word appololos, derived from the word appolumi, and it conveys the idea of something ruined, wasted, trashed, devastated, or destroyed. By the way, it’s also the same word used for the Destroyer — one of the New Testament names to describe Satan’s demented nature.
The words “to seek” are a translation of the Greek word zeteo, which depicts a search so intense that it could be likened to an investigation for something. It tells us that Jesus has put forth and is putting forth His best efforts to actively seek to save and restore whatever Satan has tried to steal, kill, or destroy. What does “save” mean in this case? It is translated from the Greek word sodzo, which mainly implies rescue, such as a rescue from a raging sea, rescue from an illness, rescue from immediate danger, and so forth. Inherent in this type of “rescue” is one’s return to safety and soundness.
Just as our 1898 apartment was rescued from destruction and returned to a normal state, Jesus wants to rescue and return us to a state of normalcy, safety, and recovery. This isn’t just a salvage operation I’m talking about — it’s a full-scale rescue that results in a redemptive and fully restorative operation.
Someone might say, “Yes, but even if Jesus works mightily in my life, some things will probably never be like they were before this destruction occurred.” I, too, know very well what it is to suffer loss on different levels. I know that who you and I are today is not who we used to be. Yet who we are is not a second-rate, dumbed-down version of something that used to be better! We may be different than we used to be, but memories of the past are not always realistic. Those memories are usually tainted to look better than they really were. In Christ, we are filled with the potential of the Holy Spirit inside us, and the truth is that you and I are not a weaker, substandard version of what we were before. We’re stronger, better, and improved because of what Jesus has done to rescue us and to redeem and restore our hearts and lives to a state of wholeness in Him!
For example, I never saw the original apartment we lived in that was built in 1898 — and, indeed, the original version may have been more beautiful than the version that became our home after Denise and I restored it. But if I compare what we restored to what we first found when we began looking at it as a place to live, it’s absolutely amazing that a horrible place with a “urine hole” that went right through the floor could once again be beautiful and whole. To accomplish that task required faith, imagination, hard work, and a lot of prayer. It didn’t happen overnight. It was a daily effort. But with all that combined effort, faith, prayer, and the help of others, the results were breathtaking! I’m sure that if the original owners in 1898 had seen what we restored from such a decrepit, fallen state — even if it was different from the original version — they wouldn’t have thought it was a second-rate version. It may have been different, but what came out of that restoration process was still a home of great beauty and value, as was the home that had been exquisitely created in the beginning.
Likewise, Jesus is earnestly seeking to perform a rescue operation in every area of your life where Satan has attempted to bring devastation and ruin. It doesn’t matter how the destruction occurred — whether it was due to your own neglect, to the actions of others, to circumstances, or to an attack of Satan himself — Jesus is still pursuing you for your rescue, your safety, and your recovery! And if you will participate with Jesus’ active hunt for you and your good, it will speed up the restoration process in your life. This doesn’t apply just to you. Jesus is seeking to rescue those around you who desperately need rescuing. Don’t give up on them, because rescue operations are Jesus’ specialty!
It took hard work, imagination, and a lot of committed time to restore that old apartment in Riga, and it would never have happened if we had just “hoped” it would get better. Denise and I were the initiators of that renovation process — just as Jesus was the One who initiated His recovery operation in our lives. But our ongoing participation was also required. And if we will participate with Jesus in what He is trying to restore in our lives, it is simply a fact that the process will be speeded up as He restores us to the wholeness He originally intended for our lives.
And keep this in mind regarding your own personal renovation process: Although things really may be a little different than they were originally, it doesn’t mean they are “less than” they used to be — they may, in fact, actually be better! Let that process continue as you yield to the Holy Spirit’s work in you to will and to do His good pleasure (see Philippians 2:13).