An Improbable Rescue from Ultimate Danger

ScreenShot187A Pattern of Prayer, part 10: A Pattern of Redemption
April 17, 2016  – Revelation 22

I have often told you stories from World War II as a way of illustrating some of the life and death principles we find in the Bible. I have told you stories about the Raid on Cabanatuan in the Philippines, The Battle of Midway, the taking of Pegasus Bridge, the invasion of Okinawa, the aftermath of Pearl Harbor, the making of the atomic bomb, and most recently, the Siege of Leningrad.

Today, I’m going to change wars.

Just about 44 years ago, Lieutenant Colonel Gene Hambleton had an uncommonly difficult week. A specialist in electronic warfare, Hambleton had served in various capacities in WWII, the Korean War, and the Cold War. On April 2, 1972, on his 63rd mission of the Vietnam war, Hambleton was a aboard Bat 21, an EB-66C aircraft which was trying to jam North Vietnamese radar.

Hambleton’s call sign was “Bat 21 Bravo” — he was the mission navigator.

There were five other crewmen on the plane when it was stuck by a North Vietnamese surface-to-air missile, but only Hambleton was able to eject.


He parachuted into the fog, and landed in the midst of the 1972 Easter Offensive, as more than 30,000 North Vietnamese troops were flooding into the South from North Vietnam. The fog was a good break. The soldiers were not.

Hambleton was less than a football field away from the enemy soldiers, but the Forward Air Controller saw where he landed, and fixed his position in the midst of the North Vietnamese army. As a practical matter, his best chance at rescue was if the Search and Rescue team could come for him quickly.

Unfortunately, thousands of enemy soldiers and dozens of tanks surrounded him, and no SAR chopper could get close.

Unfortunately, though he had a radio, all communications could be monitored by the enemy and the Americans had no code which had not been broken.

Even more unfortunately, Hambleton had been wounded by the missile attack and his ejection.

When the first rescue helicopters were shot down, search and rescue was suspended for the night. Cold and wet and over fifty years old, surrounded by thousands of enemy troops, it seemed unlikely that Hambleton would make it through the night.

But he did survive, and at dawn SAR forces again attempted to rescue Hambleton. The helicopters and aircraft were barely able to escape the fierce antiaircraft fire. Additional attempts to rescue the downed airman failed on the 4th, the 5th, and the 6th. Hambleton hid in his hole for seven nights.

The air rescue seemed impossible, so a ground rescue was planned. For it to work, Hambleton would have to move carefully away from his hiding place to the river, a couple of miles away. I say carefully, because the enemy was all around. He had to avoid the soldiers and the villages.

Knowing that Hambleton was an avid golfer (and a navigator), the rescuers guided him through an improptu code: “You’re going to play 18 holes. The round starts on No. 1 at Tuscon National.”

That wouldn’t mean anything to me, but Gene Hambleton, who had played hundreds of rounds of golf and remembered every hole, knew that the first hole at Tuscon National was 408 yards to the southeast.

That meant the rescue team wanted him to move 400 yards to the southeast. They gave him a whole course and through the night he “played” his 18holes, finally arriving at the river and hiding again.

By April 11, day 10 of his ordeal, Hambleton was weak from injury and lack of food.

Let’s pray.

* * *

Turn to the last book of the Bible, if you haven’t already.

The book of Revelation is not a history, or a gospel, or a letter, it is an apocalypse, apparently a record of many visions which Apostle John had while in exile on the small island of Patmos.

If we were studying the entire book, we would need more detail, but for now, it is enough to understand that Revelation 1:1-8 is an introduction, similar in some ways to any of the epistles. From 1:9 through the end of chapter 3 we have an account of John’s vision of Jesus and Jesus’ letters to the seven churches. From 4:1-22:5, the bulk of the book, we have the descriptions of John’s apocalyptic visions. The last verses 22:6-21, form a conclusion to the book.

By the time we have gotten to the end of the book we have learned the great lesson of Revelation, which is that God wins. In the end, evil will be defeated, evildoers will be justly punished and God will triumph.

When we get to the passage that Catherine read, we have seen the holy City, with the throne of God and the Lamb, and

223 No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. 4They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.

So in the end everything will be put right.

And that is good, John, really, it is very encouraging, but . . . and I don’t want you to take this the wrong way, but . . . .

The world is a pretty disastrous place right now, and there are wars and famines, and disease and poverty, and terrorism and climate change, and earthquakes and floods and . . . .

And my friends are getting sick and dying, and some of them are having a hard time with their memories, and I know people who can’t find jobs no matter what, and I see a lot of anxiety about the future, and I know of marriages which are on the rocks and people who agonize over their sexuality, and people who are unhappily single (along with the ones who are unhappily married), and people who worry about their children and grandchildren, and there are people who can’t get off drugs, and people going to prison, and I know a lot of people who can’t sleep at night . . . .

And to be perfectly honest, I’m not feeling so well myself.

And so I’m wondering, . . . when?

I know that in the end everything will be put right , but when?

When is the rescue coming?

And that, it seems to me is the question which is being answered in the last part of the last chapter of the last book of the Bible.

Verse 6:

6And he said to me, These words are trustworthy and true. And the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, has sent his angel to show his servants what must soon take place.

7And behold, “I am coming soon.”

Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.

Who says this? It is the angel who has been showing John this, but he is not the one who is coming:

8I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things.
And when I heard and saw them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who showed them to me, 9but he said to me, You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers the prophets, and with those who keep the words of this book.
“Worship God.”

Words to live by — John’s job (and yours and mine) is to worship God alone.

And the angel says:

10And he said to me, Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near. 11Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy.

And then the angel quotes Jesus again:

12Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay everyone for what he has done. 13I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.

This is Jesus, coming soon as Judge to repay:

14Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates. 15Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.

And we need to know this,

16I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.

And now John speaks again:

17The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.

The Spirit on the earth and the Bride (John’s image for the Church) say “Come,” calling Jesus, but Jesus is coming as Judge and so the Spirit and the Bride and John himself implore those outside to please come in:

And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.

This message is incredibly important, and must not be tampered with:

18I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, 19and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.

And John summarizes the message:

20He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.”

Who is it that testifies?

It is Jesus Messiah, the Amen, the Faithful Witness, the First Born from the Dead, Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End, Son of Man and Son of God, Holy and True, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the Lamb who is Worthy, Lord of Lords, King of Kings, the Word of God, Root and Descendant of David, the Bright Morning Star, and . . .
it is to that one John prays the last prayer in the Bible:

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!

The “Amen” is on the front of this prayer, because that’s the foundation.
Amen, amayn — it was transliterated from the Semitic languages such as Hebrew and Aramaic into Greek and Latin and English, so that it is more or less the same word in many languages. It affirms the truth of a statement or the speaker’s full assent.

We say “Amen” at the end of prayers, because we are affirming our agreement with the one who prays. Jesus says “Surely I am coming soon,” and the first word of John’s prayer is an enthusiastic “let it be so!”

The second word is “Come,” as John asks Jesus to complete his perfect plan, to do what he has sovereignly decided will promote his purposes.

The rescue will require the coming of Christ in judgment and deliverance, as we have learned in the chapters which have come before. There is no final redemption without the return of Jesus.

The third and fourth words are “Lord Jesus.” That’s who John is praying to. The Lord Jesus is the Beginning and the End — the Creator and the Judge.
John prays that Jesus — the Lord — will do what he has planned and promised and come to the rescue.

And now the last verse of the last chapter of the last book:

21The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all.

Amen.

When Jesus comes the final redemption will be accomplished by his grace.

* * *

Over the last ten weeks, what have we heard about prayer?

First, that all believers are invited to come to God in prayer. You do not have to be smart enough, spiritual enough, perfect enough, or important enough to meet some standard. You do have to come in humility, recognizing who you are coming to, because as we have seen repeatedly prayer is addressed to the Lord God, the maker of heaven and earth. When in Revelation 22we see John praying to “Lord Jesus,” it is not surprising, because we have seen quite clearly in the previous part of Revelation that Jesus is God.

I have a friend who has been quite ill, like Debbie and like Glen, and many people have prayed for his physical healing, and his cancer is in remission. When someone tells me they have been praying for him, I make sure to tell him they are praying for him. He said “well, whether it is prayer or ‘good vibes,’ it is the same thing.” I said, “No, the people who are praying think there is no significance in it at all unless God is hearing their prayers.”

When we pray, we are seeking God’s power on the basis of God’s love. God actually cared about Abraham’s servant and Abraham, and Isaac and Rachel and David and Bathsheba and Hezekiah, and the people of Jerusalem in David’s time, and Hezekiah’s time, in Daniel’s time and in the time of Jesus. He cares about you and me, out of his grace, not out of obligation.

But when we come to God in prayer, we are confronted with the reality of our sin and his holiness — to approach God in prayer is to reveal your own sin in the light of his holiness, and to accept that if there will be any commerce with God it will be because he makes it possible.

When my friend asks then “why are some healed and not others,” it is a good question, and it is hard to give a good answer to one who does not believe. The answer is tied up in our next conclusion about prayer: that if you are praying to God, you have to let him be God. He is not offering to grant you three wishes, he is inviting you into his plan of redemption. When Jesus prayed in Gethsemane and on Golgotha, he was praying for one thing, but humbly accepting that God seemed to have a plan that was different. I hope you saw that today, too. John does not make a suggestion about how the rescue is to be accomplished — he starts with “Amen,” “so be it,” effectively following Jesus in saying “not my will, but yours.”

Prayer seeks God’s purposes and God’s glory, not our own, but since we are part of his purposes, it is proper to pray for increased understanding, maturity, and boldness, as we saw in John 17, Acts 4, Ephesians 1 and Philippians 1. We pray that for ourselves and we pray that for others.

There are more things that we have seen, but I will finish with one more.

  • When Rebekah was revealed to the servant, the text says that the servant worshiped.
  • When David confessed his sin and asked for forgiveness, it was so he could again come in worship.
  • When Hezekiah prayed it was a recognition that the only place he could go for deliverance was God.
  • When Daniel came on behalf of the nation it was an act of worship towards Israel’s defender.
  • When Jesus taught the disciples to pray, it was with the opening “Our Father in Heaven, Holy be your name.”
  • When Jesus prayed for all believers, he prayed that through God’s work in them that all the world would believe.
  • When Jesus prayed in Gethsemense and on Golgotha, it was his submission which would lead to the worship of the disciples and others.
  • The believers in Acts could pray for boldness in the middle of persecution because they worshiped the ruler of all.
  • In Ephesians, Paul prays for spiritual wisdom and the revelation of the God whose power raised Jesus from the dead.
  • In Philippians, Paul prays in worship of the God who will perfect his work of grace in their hearts.
  • Finally, in today’s passage, John says “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.”

In accepting Jesus as Lord, we worship his Father.

If worship is recognizing God as God, then

prayer begins in worship (because of God’s power and holiness),

it continues in worship (because all deliverance is from God),

and

it ends in worship (because of God’s sovereign plan).

In prayer we recognize God as God, and that is true worship.

* * *

Lieutenant Colonel Gene Hambleton had successfully interpreted his golf course code instructions, but as he hid on the bank of the river, he was injured, he had lost 40pounds, and he was exhausted. He hid for three more days and nights waiting for rescue. He knew there was a plan, but he had not been rescued.

Finally SEAL Thomas Norris and a South Vietnamese commando named Nguyen Van Kiet came upriver in a sampan disguised as Vietnamese peasants. When they found Hambleton they hid him in the bottom of the boat and moved stealthily downriver. They were shot at by enemy soldiers on multiple occasions. Eventually, they were out of danger and transported to headquarters at Dong Ha.

One account tells us

When the three arrived at Dong Ha, a reporter commented to Norris, “It must have been tough out there. I bet you wouldn’t do that again.” Norris just stared him down . . . and replied, “An American was down in enemy territory. Of course I’d do it again.”

Amy P. Fabry, “The Rescue of BAT-21,” Defense Media Network (July 26, 2010) (www.defensemedianetwork.com/stories/the-rescue-of-bat-21).

April 2, 1972 had been the beginning of the most costly combat search and rescue operation of the Vietnam war.

Hundreds of men from the from the five U.S. armed forces participated in the rescue effort, eleven men would lose their lives, and two more would be captured.

In the end, Gene Hambleton would be saved.

“An Improbable Rescue from Ultimate Danger?”

Yes.

The greatest rescue?

Not close.

Jesus has rescued us — once his enemies — from a far greater danger, and at a far greater cost.

And so, we call on him to complete his rescue.

Let us pray:

Come, Lord Jesus . . . .

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