Redemption is a biblical word that means “a purchase” or “a ransom.” It’s something we experience in every day life and should understand readily enough. But do we recognise it, and its significance in the story of redemption? At the beginning of Lent, and as we anticipate the the events of Easter, the weekend of April 17th this year, we look at the significance of redemption.
My wife recently asked me an interesting question. She said, ‘When did you get so old?’ The question arose from the fact that I was excited to be watching an episode of Dickinson’s Real Deal. Have you seen it? It is a programme that is so bad it is good.
David Dickinson is an antiques dealer who goes up and down the country inviting people to bring in their various artefacts to sell, and you get all kinds of weird and wonderful people turning up – it’s a bit like church!
On the programme a member of the public will bring along something in their possession that they want to sell. The dealer will offer a price they believe it is worth, and the seller must decide whether to accept the offer or go to auction with the hope of making more money. (I know – exciting, isn’t it?).
Now why am I telling you about Dickinson’s Real Deal? Because as I was watching it, it made me think of the biblical doctrine of Redemption.
Redemption: Because You’re Worth It
In writing to the Church at Rome Paul spells out in the desperate plight in which the world finds itself.
“None is righteous, no, not one ;no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one. Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive. The venom of asps is under their lips. Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
He continues: ‘for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’ (v23)
Paul is saying that people are in trouble. But after delivering the bad news Paul offers hope. In chapter 4 Paul reminds them how Old Testament worthies like Abraham were reconciled to God. It was through faith. As Abraham trusted God it was counted to him as righteousness.
But Paul isn’t just giving them a history lesson. He goes on…
‘But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.’ (4:23-25)
So, what is Paul saying here?
He is saying that, just as Abraham put faith in God and because of this he was declared righteous, so all those who put faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, will also be declared righteous before God.
Why? Because Jesus was delivered up (nailed to a cross) for our sin and was raised to life for our justification (that is we are made right before a holy God).
‘But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.’
Now if this doesn’t make us want to dance for joy – its either because we are English and we don’t do such things, or because we have heard it all before and now just take it for granted. If it is the latter, then – shame on us. You see we were bought (redeemed) at great cost.
The Real Deal
What people bring in to sell in Dickinson’s Real Deal is always chipped, broken, marked, damaged in some way, and so the dealer (the redeemer – the one who seeks to buy it) will only pay so much for it. In the eyes of the dealer – because of the damage – it is only worth a certain value and no more.
Friends, we are all chipped, broken, marked and damaged in some way aren’t we? Though we may be broken, marked, damaged or screwed up – yet we are still valuable to God.
You may have seen the illustration where you show someone a twenty-pound note and ask them how much it is worth. After they answer, you screw up the bank note and stamp all over it, then you repeat the question. How much is it worth now? Of course, the answer is it is worth the same. It’s dishevelled and battered appearance has not diminished its value.
At no time does Jesus look at us and say we are not worth the price He paid for us. He is our redeemer. He says, though you are broken, screwed up and stamped upon, I will pay for the you the top price, the ultimate price – I will give my life for you. I will shed my blood for you. That is how much we are worth.
We have been bought at great cost – we have been redeemed.
Now, I am going to spend a little more time unpacking this theme of redemption and then we are going to consider three ways people seek to be redeemed apart from Jesus.
Redeemed: A Special Purchase
Redemption, let’s remember, is a biblical word that means “a purchase” or “a ransom.” Historically, redemption was used in reference to the purchase of a slave’s freedom. A slave was “redeemed” when the price was paid for his freedom.
The issue of slavery is a hot topic now, isn’t it? In recent times, statues of former slave traders have been toppled and there has been a call for people to acknowledge and apologise for historic slavery. Slavery sounds wrong to our modern ears – but it was not the case in the first century.
In the time when the early church was birthed, there were three types of people in society; slaves, former slaves, and those born free. When Paul wrote to the church at Rome, most of Rome would have been made up of those born into slavery.
The question is, how can a slave be set free? They couldn’t just run away. However, though perhaps free of their masters, legally they would still have been slaves. Under Roman law, a slave had to meet one of three conditions to receive his freedom.
- He was free if he repaid the money his master paid for him. (Strangely – slaves did not possess any money.)
- He was free if his master voluntarily decided to set him free. But slave owners rarely released their slaves unless they were old and too weak to work any more.
- A slave was free to go if someone else bought him his freedom by paying the owner. This was known as “the act of redeeming”.
Now we need to be aware that we too are born into slavery. We were slaves to sin until Christ came and died for us in an act of redemption.
‘It was for freedom that Christ has set us free’ (Galatians 5:1)
Everyone needs to be set free – everyone needs to be redeemed, but many believe they can find redemption without Christ. Let us consider three ways that unregenerate man seeks to be redeemed and reconciled to God.
Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. (Romans 10:1-4)
I recently had the real pleasure of interviewing a former Mormon Missionary. He had been an incredibly zealous young man. He was fanatical about keeping all the laws and ordinances of the Mormon gospel, but his testimony was that he still felt empty. He was religious, but not redeemed. Religion is man’s attempt at being free. Religion is slavishly practised in a vain attempt to seek redemption from God. And religion will convince a person that Jesus is not enough.
The religious man is like the runaway slave. Religion seeks to put a barrier between a man and his sin, but it cannot remove it from him. As the runaway slave can never be truly free – so the religious man is never truly free.
As the runaway slave will constantly be looking over his shoulder – so the religious man fears that God will catch Him in his wrongdoing. It’s only a matter of time before sin will catch up to him.
If religious practice cannot redeem us, what about righteous acts?
‘Will you go to heaven when you die?’ It’s a question I have asked people in the open air ministry. There usually response is ‘yes’, or ‘I hope so’. If you ask them why God should let them into heaven they will say ‘because I’m a good person.’
False religion always teaches that redemption is dependent upon behaviour. False religion teaches anyone can go to heaven if they are good. But Jesus didn’t come to save the good.
‘I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.’ (Luke 5:32)
Being good is like the slave who desires to buy his own freedom. He can only hope that his efforts are an acceptable payment, because he doesn’t have the money to redeem himself. In the same way, the price of redemption is so high, that our attempts at righteousness will never be good enough.
‘We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away’ (Isaiah 64:6)
If religion and righteous acts can’t redeem us, what about reckless love?
‘But God is love, so He will just forgive me – right?’ It bothers me when I hear Christians who, claiming to share the gospel, say to the unregenerate things like: ‘You are awesome dude’; ‘God loves you and has a great plan for your life’. No mention of sin and repentance. No mention of the need to surrender your life to God or the need to pick up your cross and follow Jesus. No just – God loves you – so you are in.
Believing the gospel to be no more than saying ‘God loves you’ creates false converts and allows anyone to come in whatever they believe, whatever their lifestyle – this is not the gospel. This is reckless love. To truly love someone is to tell them the truth.
Jesus paid the ransom – the price for our redemption – NOT so we can live how we want – but so we can live as we should.
‘As obedient children do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy for I am holy’. (1 Peter 1:14-16)
‘For you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.’ (1 Corinthians 6:20)
Friends – people cannot be redeemed by religious practice or by so called righteous acts. People cannot be redeemed by believing that they can live as they please and, because God is Love, He will just forgive.
Only in Jesus Can we be Redeemed
‘For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.’ (John 3:16-18– NIV)
In the ancient world slaves were a very expensive property. For a slave to be set free a substantial price needed to be paid to the slave’s owner, an act of redemption. Sometimes the price paid was a lot more than the slave was worth.
Likewise, freedom from sin also requires a considerable price. The price was the death of the sinless Son of God on our behalf. He did what we cannot do. As slaves to sin we cannot free ourselves, so it was that Jesus suffered and died in our stead – carrying out the act of redemption.
Jesus paid it all, all to him I owe
Sin had left a crimson stain
He washed it white as snow
Hallelujah – what a Saviour!