Redeemed By Christ
Where do you look to see the greatness of God most clearly displayed? For some it’s a spectacular sunset or an ocean view. For some it’s in the power of a great storm, or in the vastness of the universe. “The heavens declare the glory of God” says the Psalmist. “… and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1). Truer words were never spoken. The magnificence of the natural world bears testimony to the greatness of the one who “has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand and marked off the heavens with a span, enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure and weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance …” (Isaiah 40:12). I preached a sermon about that from Psalm 148 this summer. But the greatness of God is seen MOST CLEARLY not in the span of the universe, the gargantuan size of each of billions upon billions of stars, the vastness of the ocean or the in the spectacular colors of a mountain sunset. The greatness of God is most clearly displayed in Jesus Christ. And the glory of the gospel is only made evident in Jesus Christ. That’s why Jesus’ question to his disciples in Matthew 16 is so important: “Who do you say that I am?” The question is doubly crucial in our day, because no one is as popular in the U.S. as Jesus—and not every Jesus is the real Jesus.
There’s the Republican Jesus—who is against tax increases and activist judges, for family values and owning firearms.
There’s Democrat Jesus—who is against Wall Street and Wal-Mart, for reducing our carbon footprint and printing money.
There’s Therapist Jesus—who helps us cope with life’s problems, heals our past, tells us how valuable we are and not to be so hard on ourselves.
There’s Starbucks Jesus—who drinks fair trade coffee, loves spiritual conversations, drives a hybrid, and goes to film festivals.
There’s Open-minded Jesus—who loves everyone all the time no matter what (except for people who are not as open-minded as you).
There’s Touchdown Jesus—who helps athletes fun faster and jump higher than non-Christians and determines the outcomes of Super Bowls.
There’s Martyr Jesus—a good man who died a cruel death so we can feel sorry for him.
There’s Gentle Jesus—who was meek and mild, with high cheek bones, flowing hair, and walks around barefoot, wearing a sash (while looking very German).
There’s Hippie Jesus—who teaches everyone to give peace a chance, imagines a world without religion, and helps us remember that “all you need is love.”
There’s Yuppie Jesus—who encourages us to reach our full potential, reach for the stars, and buy a boat.
There’s Spirituality Jesus—who hates religion, churches, pastors, priests, and doctrine, and would rather have people out in nature, finding “the god within” while listening to ambiguously spiritual music.
There’s Platitude Jesus—good for Christmas specials, greeting cards, and bad sermons, inspiring people to believe in themselves.
There’s Guru Jesus—a wise, inspirational teacher who believes in you and helps you find your center.
There’s Boyfriend Jesus—who wraps his arms around us as we sing about his intoxicating love in our secret place.
There’s Good Example Jesus—who shows you how to help people, change the planet, and become a better you.
And then there’s Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God.[i] And he is the one about whom St. Paul speaks the incredible words of our text today. Reading this today makes it difficult to capture the rapture that has taken over Paul’s mind and heart as he dictates these words. Remember, in the original Greek, Vv. 3-14 makes one long, 202 word sentence. The punctuation and paragraphs have been added by translators to make it possible for us to wrap our minds around these words of doxology, spontaneous praise, pouring out of Paul’s heart, mind, and mouth. The greatness of God is seen most clearly in the cross of Jesus Christ and the redemption God brought about for each one of us through Christ. The greatness of God is seen most clearly in the truth that you are redeemed by Christ. Turn in your Bibles to Ephesians 1:7-12.
In him we have “redemption.” What does that mean? Redeemed. Redemption isn’t a word we use very much today outside of the church, unless we’re talking about redeeming a coupon. You know, you give the cashier the coupon and they give you a certain amount off the purchase price. But in the culture in which Paul used this word, it has a much deeper meaning that that. It was a word used in the marketplace, and it signified someone purchasing or buying back what would otherwise be lost, taken prisoner, or destroyed. It was often used when family members would gather together enough to pay off someone’s debt so that they weren’t taken into indentured servanthood, made a slave until you payed off the amount owed. Redemption meant release from bondage through the payment of your debt. That’s how Paul’s readers understood the word. That’s how Paul used it. In the Old Testament story of Ruth, Boaz redeemed the land that belonged to her deceased husband and with it the right to marry Ruth. Throughout the Old Testament, people sold into slavery because of poverty could be redeemed, or bought back, by a relative. The word was used to describe God’s redeeming of Israel from the Egyptians and for saving people in their distress. In the 1st Century the word was rarely used, but when it was used, it meant the purchase of a slave’s freedom. A price was payed, usually the slave’s debt, to release the slave from bondage.
I’ve spent a lot of my life in educational pursuits. I have a bachelor’s and two master’s degrees, and my master’s degree in mental health counseling requires a significant amount of continuing education. Most of that education has been financed through student loans. When Becky and I met, I was working as a youth pastor making barely anything and struggling to make my student loan payments. But when I asked Becky to marry me, one of the first things she did was dip into her savings to pay off my student loans. She paid a debt on my behalf. Now, in the modern world people aren’t usually sold into slavery, but if you fall behind in your payments, bad things can still happen. So in the sense in which the ancient world understood the word, Becky redeemed me. And Paul applies that word to what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. Through the payment of a price, the blood of Christ, God has redeemed you. But redeemed you from what?
Continuing Paul’s redemption analogy, paying a price to free from bondage, the bondage is to death, which Biblically means more than just physical death. It means separation from God, both in this life and throughout eternity. That bondage comes because of the sin that lives in each one of us. Sin isn’t a word we use much anymore either, even in the church. We talk about brokenness. We talk about needing forgiveness. But we don’t talk about sin much anymore. But that word and the meaning behind it runs through the pages of Scripture as the cause of our separation from God and bondage to death, separation from God. We tend to think of sin, or maybe sins, as the individual things that we do that we know we shouldn’t, or the things that we don’t do that we know we should. And that’s certainly a proper way to think about it. But sin is actually deeper than that. Individual sins are a symptom of a much deeper problem in the human heart, and that problem is a desire to be a god unto ourselves. It is the disease of self. In the first chapters of Genesis, in describing humanity’s fall into sin and separation from God, we read that Satan tempted Eve (here’s the choice to love God or not that we talked about last week), by saying “God knows that when you eat of it (you’re your back on God and disobey) your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:4-5). “You will be like God.” That is sin at its core. And that desire, the desire to answer to no one, to chart our own destiny, to be the masters of our own fate, to answer to no one but ourselves, has been passed down from generation to generation throughout human history. To the point where Paul can say “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Rom. 3:23). It shows itself in the things we do that we shouldn’t, and the things that we don’t do that we should. And sin results in bondage to separation from God from which we must be redeemed. And we have been redeemed, for the price was paid by the blood of Christ. The death was died by Christ.
And that redemption includes forgiveness. Look again at V. 7. To forgive someone is to make a choice to no longer hold that which they have done to you or against you against them any longer. To forgive a debt, which ties in closely with the concept of redemption, is to choose to no longer hold someone’s debt against them. Redemption makes forgiveness possible, because the debt isn’t ignored, it has been paid. Have you ever paid for the meal for the car behind you at the pick-up window in a fast food drive through? I want to challenge you to do that the next time you’re at the window to pay for your order if there’s someone behind you and you can afford it. Just say, “I want to pay for the car behind me to. Put it on my card.” Then they get up to the window to pay their debt for the food and it’s already paid. What a beautiful picture of redemption, forgiveness … and grace. Look at Vv. 7-8. That’s the other word Paul uses here. God has redeemed us, forgiven us, Grace is another word we don’t use often today. If we do, we might mean someone who moves beautifully, with grace. But again, grace is so much deeper than that. But it is beautiful. It is undeserved favor. And that’s what redemption is. It is undeserved. We accrue a debt we cannot pay, so God in Christ pays a debt he does not owe for us. And Paul calls this lavish grace. God has brought the full resources of the kingdom of heaven to bear in our redemption. He saved us according to the riches of his grace, lavished upon us in all wisdom and insight. God brought all of his wisdom, and all of his insight, and all of his might and power, every bit of the inexhaustible resources of the kingdom of God, to bear in our redemption.
Now, look at Vv. 9-10, because there’s something important that we have to understand here. There had been a mystery prior to Christ that had been revealed in Christ and was now coming into its fullness. Paul calls the mystery God’s plan for the fullness of time. The full plan of God was now being revealed and it is this: that all things in heaven and on earth are being united in Christ. One of the impacts of sin has been schism. Division. Separation. Separation between God and humanity and also separation within humanity. Apart from Christ we are separated from God and from each other. Wars between nations. Race wars. Class wars. Gender wars. Divorce. Arguments between neighbors. Division within families. The mystery revealed is that God is bringing all things together in Christ. In Christ, God has made a way for us to be reunited with him when we place our faith in Christ, seeking to be his disciples. But sin’s division has hit the church hard. There are over 30,000 recognized protestant denominations, not to mention all of the nondenominational churches that tend to reflect one or more traditions but all differ from one another. It has been said that Sunday morning is the most segregated time of the week.
Now, Paul unpacks this later in the letter and he hits it really hard. He hits it hard in his letters to the Colossians and Galatians too: “Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all” (Col. 3:11). “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave[a] nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). We tend to divide based on similarities and differences. And so there are Black churches and white churches. There are liberal churches and conservative churches. We are simply more comfortable with those who look, talk, and think like we do. But the message of Christ, who healed a gentiles and ate with gentiles and sent his disciples to make disciples of “all nations,” (literally all ethnic groups), and expanded by Paul, is that all will be brought together in Christ. But here’s the thing that we have to understand. Nothing less than Christ can unite us. Paul isn’t saying that people stop being male and female, as if somehow when you come to Christ you become androgynous. Or that Jews ceased being Jews and Gentiles ceased being Gentiles. He is saying that those things that we have that make us different from one another will not, cannot, must not divide those who are in Christ. Jesus said “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).
That isn’t an amazing thing if everyone is white, Anglo-Saxon, protestant, conservative, middle class, educated, etc. It is when black and white and red (to use the races most common in our town), when young and old, rich and poor, developmentally disabled and the typically developed come together and love one another and love and worship God together that suddenly the rest of the world, divided along all of those and many other lines, will look at us and say, “Something is different about you. What’s your secret.” To which the only answer will be, “It’s Jesus Christ.” It is by our love for one another with our differences, that all people will know that we are his disciples. How can we expect to be a witness for Christ when our idea of community is just as divided as the world’s? Oh, but we love diversity, so long as the other people act and think right. If they’d just stop doing and saying and thinking things I don’t like (and think and act like me), we’d all be fine. And there it is again. Oh, its subtle, but it’s there. “Me.” I am the standard of normalcy. My thoughts, my beliefs, my actions are the right ones. If they’d stop doing (whatever) and start doing (this), then I’d accept them. But that isn’t what Paul is talking about. He isn’t talking about differences suddenly disappearing. He’s talking about people able to form an authentic, loving community in spite of them. The church is the place where we can have passionate discussions about politics, gender issues, whatever, without people getting mad and storming out. These days, as soon as someone says something we disagree with, we storm out and find another church. It takes emotional maturity on the part of Jesus’ disciples to live this way. But that is the kind of wholeness that God is bringing us to in Christ.
You are redeemed by Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God. Not just another prophet. Not just another Rabbi. Not just another wonder-worker. He was the one they had been waiting for: the Son of David and Abraham’s chosen seed; the one to deliver us from captivity; the goal of the Mosaic law; Yahweh in the flesh; the one to establish God’s reign and rule; the one to heal the sick, give sight to the blind, freedom to the prisoners and proclaim Good News to the poor; the Lamb of God who came to take away the sins of the world. This Jesus was the Creator come to earth and the beginning of a New Creation. He embodied the covenant, fulfilled the commandments, and reversed the curse. This Jesus is the Christ that God spoke of to the Serpent; the Christ prefigured to Noah in the flood; the Christ promised to Abraham; the Christ prophesied through Balaam before the Moabites; the Christ guaranteed to Moses before he died; the Christ promised to David when he was king; the Christ revealed to Isaiah as a Suffering Servant; the Christ predicted through the Prophets and prepared for through John the Baptist. This Christ is not a reflection of the current mood or the projection of our own desires. He is our Lord and God. He is the Father’s Son, Savior of the world, and substitute for our sins—for we were redeemed by Christ.[ii] Let us pray.
[i] Kevin DeYoung, “Who Do You Say That I Am?” from his DeYoung, Restless, and Reformed blog (posted 6-10-09)
[ii] Kevin DeYoung, “Who Do You Say That I Am?” from his DeYoung, Restless, and Reformed blog (posted 6-10-09)