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By James Kurtz / May 22
Preached at the Tenth International Fellowship worship service.
We are in the season that the church refers to as Lent. It is a time to reflect on the death of Jesus Christ and what it means for us. Our passage this morning does just that.
Peter has been speaking of the way that Christians should conduct themselves – namely, to live holy, obedient lives. The next verses present the motivation for such living. It is not to earn salvation, but to be a response to the salvation that was earned by Jesus Christ.
18 knowing that you were ransomed…
Another word for ransomed is redeemed. Very often the context in both Scripture and the ancient world in general was redemption from slavery. If you were captured by an enemy and made a hostage or sold into slavery, your family could redeem you by paying a ransom fee. Or you might be a slave who was able to come up with the money agreed upon by your master, and you offered your own ransom payment.
The great illustration of redemption in the OT is the story of Hosea and his wife Gomer. After bearing three sons, Gomer ran away and apparently ended up in slavery. God eventually instructs Hosea to reclaim his wife. He reported the following: “So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and a homer and a lethech of barley” (Hosea 3:2). Hosea redeemed Gomer; he paid the ransom price to release her from whoever owned her, that they might again live as husband and wife.
Now that leads us to a question: Who is it, or what is it, that owns us? What does the Bible say we are slaves to? The answer is simple – sin. Romans 6 speaks of our state outside of salvation as been in slavery to sin.
How is it that we are enslaved to sin? We are enslaved to the acts of sin. Jesus said, “Everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin” (John 8:34). Psychologically, you might say we are obsessive-compulsive sinners. We sin every which way we can and as often as we can. Our best works are accompanied by sinful thoughts and actions. Sin is a disease with us that infects every cell of our bodies.
We are enslaved to the consequence of sin – death. The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). From the moment we are born we are drawn to our doom and we cannot escape it. Death awaits us all, however long we may live in the body, however good we may act, and whatever care we take of our bodies, our minds, and our spirits.
We are enslaved to the three rulers or agents of sin. Satan reigns over us; our own flesh corrupts us; and the world unceasingly lures us away from God.
The result is that even the good law of God becomes a burden that we cannot bear. It even becomes our condemnation, exposing our sin. “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20).
Here is the bottom line:
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind (Ephesians 2:1-3).
This a rather dismal state to be in. No wonder Peter referred to it as “the futile ways inherited from your forefathers.” Whatever nice traditions and morals the fathers may have passed down to their children, the result was futility because of sin. You can hear the echo of the Teacher in Ecclesiastes, “Meaningless, meaningless, all is meaningless.”
But Peter is reminding his readers that they are no longer in that state. They have been redeemed from it so that sin no longer has a claim to them. This is an important point. Let’s go back to Hosea and Gomer. How did Hosea reclaim his wife? Perhaps he could have argued for his rights. The point of the matter is that he had lost his rights, or at least they were contestable. Perhaps he could have forcibly taken her from her owner; perhaps steal her back. In such a case, Gomer might be free, but only as an escaped slave. Legally, she would still be bound to her latest owner.
Hosea’s redemption completely freed her from her slavery. Her former owners could make no claim on her. Her status had changed. She might still bear the effects of her slavery – perhaps branded or otherwise scarred or even engaging in her sinful practices – nevertheless, her state of slavery was ended.
So it is with us. We have been redeemed from slavery to sin so that sin no longer has ownership of us. We may still commit sin, still suffer from consequences of sin, but our status in sin has changed.
Thus, though we may sin, we are no longer its slaves, serving its purpose in all that we do. Here is what I mean. Take the good, even religious man who yet does not acknowledge Christ; he is not born again or redeemed. He is, by human standards, moral, compassionate, even sacrificial in his dealings with others. The Scriptures could still open his heart and reveal hidden sinful thoughts, if not outright sinful behavior. Even so, the point is for whose purpose is his life being devoted? If his life leads people to believe that the God of Jesus Christ is not real or not needed or is even bad, then he is nothing more than a slave to sin. He has served his master well, the only master he can serve.
Indeed, he is not free to serve the only other master – God. But the man redeemed is now in the position where he may serve God. The good that he does may glorify God, and he is able to do more good than before because the Spirit of God dwells in him. Furthermore, even his sin may be directed to serve God’s glory, because of the grace that it manifests.
See the change? In the unredeemed man, sin controls even the good to serve its purpose; in the redeemed man the Holy Spirit controls even the sin to serve God’s purpose. What matters is who retains ownership.
The Payment – the Precious Blood of Christ
We have been talking about the meaning of redemption and what the concept teaches about us, viz., that we are hopeless sinners. Peter’s primary purpose in bringing up the subject is to remind his readers of the great cost at which their redemption was procured.
18 knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.
Look carefully at the contrast Peter is making to highlight the cost of redemption. He does not say “it was not with a small amount of silver or gold”; rather, he refers to what are the most precious of metals as “perishable.” They are in their essence – not their quantity – inferior to the precious blood of Christ. Christ’s blood is not worth a lot more than these metals; it is not comparatively more valuable. It is altogether of a higher value.
We understand this. If I asked one of you mothers to put a dollar figure on your vacuum cleaner, you would be happy to oblige. If I asked you to put a dollar figure on your wedding ring, you might balk. If I offered a million dollars, you might budge; if I offered a hundred million, you would toss it to me. If I asked you to put a dollar figure on your child, you would…well, I’d rather not think about how you would respond. I know it wouldn’t be pleasant. It is appalling to put a price on a person’s head; it is especially appalling when that person is your precious child.
Blood, the giving of life, is a great price to pay, but Peter reminds his people that the blood by which they were redeemed was none other than the precious blood of Jesus Christ.
Note how he merges the redemption of the marketplace (making a purchase) with the redemption of the sacrificial system. Christ is “a lamb without blemish or spot.” Our ransom payment was made with a sacrifice of a life, not just any life, but the life of the Son of God.
Note further, Christ is “a lamb without blemish or spot.” What does this mean? In the OT sacrificial system, one who had sinned would offer up a lamb as a substitutionary sacrifice. Leviticus 1:3-5 describes the process:
If his offering is a burnt offering from the herd, he shall offer a male without blemish. He shall bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting, that he may be accepted before the Lord. 4 He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him. 5 Then he shall kill the bull before the Lord, and Aaron's sons the priests shall bring the blood and throw the blood against the sides of the altar that is at the entrance of the tent of meeting.
Note the elements. The offerer must use a male (it could be a bull or lamb or goat) without defect. Christ is a “lamb without blemish or spot.” He is to lay his hand on the sacrificial animal’s head. What is he doing? He is transferring to the animal his sins, or another way of speaking, he is making the animal his substitute. His sin requires punishment, and if serious enough, requires death. By becoming the offerer’s substitute and receiving his sins, the animal becomes the substitutionary sacrifice.
The principle is that for atonement to take place – i.e. for reconciliation to take place between God and man – the shedding of blood must occur. “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22). Money is not good enough. The offender may double his tithe; he may promise to be more regular in worship attendance or to be a better person; he may display sincere sorrow; nevertheless, the just wrath that is on him cannot be appeased until the blood sacrifice is made.
Understand the lesson being taught: sin, all sin, is a real offense against righteousness or justice. God’s wrath is always a just wrath. This is hard for us to grasp, because we have only ourselves to go by. There is always a measure of sin in our anger, and even if our anger is just, we ourselves are not. To condemn another is only another instance in which we expose why we ought to be condemned. Righteousness or justice, is a standard outside of us that we are measured against. God, in his very nature, is righteous and just. He never acts outside of it.
So to speak of us being at enmity with God is to speak of us as being wicked. To say that we need to be reconciled to God is to say that we stand condemned and need to have our just sentence revoked. And it cannot be revoked justly without the sentence paid. And the sentence cannot be paid except by blood, i.e. someone receiving the just condemnation.
That is what the sacrifices signified. Someone has to take the punishment. Did the transfer of the offender’s sins onto the animals work? No! In truth, nothing was transferred. Instead, the sacrifices pointed to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the one true lamb who could take away the sins of the world.
For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. 2 Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? 3 But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. 4 For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.
11 And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. 14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified (Hebrews 10:1-4, 11-14).
This is precious blood – precious because it is the blood of the Son of God, and precious because it works. It truly brings forgiveness and cleansing from sin.
And remember, it is real blood. God the Son became man; his flesh was real flesh, his blood real blood. A real sacrifice was made. This is not the myth of the corn-king who dies and rises each year to signify the harvest seasons. The man writing this letter followed the Messiah at least up to his trial. He was in the city when Christ was condemned and crucified. He knew where Jesus was buried, and he wept not only over his Lord’s death, but his own denial of him.
And remember, Peter tells his readers, it was all for you.
20 He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you.
In the great councils of the Trinity before the world was ever made, it was determined that God the Son would sacrifice himself for the sins of the world, that God the Father would give his Only Son for his enemies, that God the Holy Spirit would lead the Son to his death. Was this revealed to our first parents? Vaguely. Was it made known to Abraham? Sort of. What about Moses or David or Elijah? Only as shadows. It was not until the generation of Peter and his readers that mankind was so blessed as to receive the revelation of Jesus Christ.
Conclusion – Call Me Gomer
What are we to make of this redemption? If we are to make anything of it, we have to confess that without Christ we are slaves to sin. “Call me Ishmael,” is the famous opening sentence of Moby Dick. If writing our own autobiographies, we could open with the line, “Call me Gomer.”
We are the sinners, the ones who have sold ourselves into slavery. We can dress ourselves up; we can pretend to be rulers; but in truth we are nothing but sin’s slaves. The beast of sin is in us and controls us. That’s what Simon in The Lord of the Flies discovered. The boys, marooned on an island think there is a beast on the island. Simon, in his sickness, is one day confronted by the beast in his mind when he comes upon a pig’s head planted on a stick. The pig speaks to him:
What are you doing out here all alone? Aren’t you afraid of me?
There isn’t anyone to help you. Only me. And I’m the Beast.
Simon’s mouth labored, brought forth audible words. Pig’s head on a stick.
Fancy thinking the Beast was something you could hunt and kill! said the head. For a moment or two the forest and all the other dimly appreciated places echoed with the parody of laughter. You knew, didn’t you? I’m part of you! Close, close, close! I’m the reason why it’s no go! Why things are what they are!
And if we are honest with ourselves, we will admit this is true – the beast is within us. He is not out there. He is not in bad education or bad chemical imbalances; he is not in bad political or economic systems. He is in us, and unless we personally are redeemed, we will never know freedom from sin and its guilt. We can wash our hands as much as we want with New Age religion that tells us we are divine, or with the world psychology that we just need better self-esteem, but we will find with Lady Macbeth that our stains will not wash away.
But the good news is that redemption has been paid. The blood that is necessary has been shed, and it is no less than the precious blood of Jesus Christ. The only one who could satisfy the ransom demand has made the payment. The only blood pure enough and powerful enough to cleanse away sin has been shed.
The God who bears the just wrath against us, bears also the mercy satisfaction – redemption by the blood of the Lamb.