Sermon for Wednesday of Invocabit
Text: Exodus 6:2-9; Ephesians 1:3-14
13 February 2008
The New Testament writers used many different words to describe what God was doing on behalf of men in His Son’s death on the cross. Words like redemption, covenant, propitiation, reconciliation, and justification are common place in the New Testament. You’ve heard these words, but do you know what they mean? It is my hope that by unpacking the meaning of these cross-words, your understanding and appreciation of Christ’s death will be deepened.
Let us then turn our attention to the first in this list of words: redemption. We are accustomed to using this word when we go shopping. We “redeem” the coupons and get a discount on our groceries or whatever we are buying. In this case, the coupon is given in place of money and actually acts as a monetary equivalent. In the Scriptures, however, this term is most often used in connection with setting slaves free from bondage. It is a term indicating payment—not payment for services rendered, but payment for the purpose of being set free. For example, in the reading from Exodus tonight, God uses the verbal form of the word “redemption” to describe what he was doing for Israel, who was in bondage to Pharaoh and the Egyptians.
The Lord says: “Moreover, I have heard the groaning of the people of Israel whom the Egyptians hold as slaves, and I have remembered my covenant. Say therefore to the people of Israel, ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment.” To “redeem” the people of Israel meant to set them free from bondage. As far as payment goes, God certainly did not pay the Egyptians to let them go, but the payment came in the form of God’s own self-sacrifice. This was a costly endeavor. The price was the enormous effort that God put forth in order to accomplish this deliverance of His people.
In a similar vein, when a country like the United States acts on behalf of another country to set people at liberty, this freedom comes at great cost to the United States. There is a payment involved, but not a payment to another government. It is the payment of sacrifice, both bodily and financial. So also, when God delivered His people from bondage to Egypt, He did so by exercising His great power. He did it with “outstretched arm and great acts of judgment.” It cost God something in the sense that He put forth a great effort to do this for His people, in order to keep the covenant He had made with them.
This deliverance of Israel from bondage provided the pattern for describing the later deliverance from Babylon as redemption. For example, the Psalmist calls the people of Israel the “redeemed” in Psalm 107, “whom he [the Lord] has redeemed from trouble” (Ps. 107:2). And in Isaiah 43:1, the Lord says through the Prophet: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” Notice here the sense of ownership that is expressed in these words? Speaking of the deliverance of Israel from Babylon, the Lord says through the prophet Jeremiah: “For the Lord has ransomed Jacob and has redeemed him from hands too strong for him.” In the Old Testament the Lord is the Redeemer and His people are the “Redeemed.” They were bought, ransomed, called out of bondage and slavery and brought into the service of the Lord.
And the Prophets, who often spoke of the future in terms of the past, used the same language to describe the future redemption that God would bring for all his people. It is no mere coincidence, then, when New Testament writers like St. Paul employ this term “redemption” to describe the work of Jesus on the cross. Even Jesus Himself says that He came “not to be served, but to serve and to give his life a ransom for many.” Do these words not also show that Jesus’ self-offering on the cross was “in place of” those whose lives were forfeit before God on account of sin? Surely they do. A “life for a life,” right? That is the meaning conveyed when Jesus calls himself a “ransom” for many. His life is the price for our lives. And God Himself makes the payment.
The same concept is carried over into the Epistles of St. Paul. Tonight you heard in the reading from Ephesians how St. Paul describes the deliverance that God has provided for us in Jesus. He says that in Christ, “we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses…” (Eph. 1:7). Paul means, of course, that we who were once captives to sin, and in bondage to the devil, have been redeemed, that is, set free by the ransom price of Christ’s blood. No doubt there are some who would say like the Pharisees: “What do you mean ‘we were in bondage’? We have never been in bondage to anyone.” That is how many people view their condition before God. They do not see that they are enslaved to sin. They do not see that they are in bondage to the spiritual forces of darkness. And thus they see no need for Christ’s redemption. But Christ says to us all: “If the Son sets you free, you are free indeed!”
In his letter to the Galatians, Paul speaks about this freedom that we have in Christ on account of His gracious action on our behalf. “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” The language Paul uses here was also very common in ancient Greek documents in which the master of a slave would pay money into the temple treasury of some god, selling him to that god. Thus, the man would no longer be the slave of the master but he would belong to the god instead. And this transaction would include a monetary payment. Listen, for example, to this inscription on a wall at Delphi, dated 200-199 BC: “Date. Apollo the Pythian, bought from Sosibius of Amphissa, for freedom, a female slave, whose name is Nicaea, by race a Roman, with a price of three minae of silver and a half-mina. Former seller according to the law; Eumnastus of Amphissa. The price he hath received. The purchase, however, Nicaea hath committed unto Apollo, for freedom.”
So also then were we who once were held captive by our master, the devil, purchased by God with the costly price of His Son’s life. We are thus no longer slaves to the devil, or to sin, but slaves to God. He is our heavenly master. We belong to him, having been called out of bondage by His grace and placed into his service. Since we have been purchased, or “redeemed” by God out of slavery, just as Israel had been so long ago, we have a special relationship to God. And this also, by the way, determines our conduct and behavior. This is our new life in Christ, the life of service to our heavenly Master, Christ. But unlike the yoke of slavery to sin, which we bore in condemnation, the yoke of Christ is easy, and His burden light.
This is the meaning behind the word “redemption”: that Christ made payment by his blood to his Father in our place, in order to redeem us, to set us free from our slavery and bondage to sin. That is what God was doing for us on the cross—paying the ransom price for our sins, giving a “life for a life,” standing in our place as “sin for us.” God be praised for his grace in redeeming our souls from the pit of hell, and bringing them into his ownership. Amen.