1. Considering Redemption

PART ONE: Introducing the Theme

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 1. Considering Redemption

Ex 15:13 In your unfailing love you will lead the people you have redeemed. In your strength you will guide them to your holy dwelling.

Approaches: There are times when I come to the end of a series of studies and wonder where I should go next. How does God want to feed me or challenge me next? And then there are other times – and this is one of them – when as I pray early in the morning I find the Lord filling my mind with a completely new train of thinking that challenges and stirs and demands to be written down.

Significance: For the last week or so, while I have been writing another series, I have found the Lord challenging my thinking into an area that I have never been before, and I have found it mind blowing. So it is time to start writing it. These will not be short meditations because the content is too important and too significant to be dealt with casually. If you want quick and easy and effortless daily readings, this will not be for you. However, if you will journey with me along the path I believe we will travel, I think I can promise you that you will be blessed and maybe even your whole outlook on yourself and others transformed. Yes, that is where I believe this is going.

Old Testament basics: Let’s take this word ‘redeem’ which has been imposing itself on me. My Bible dictionary says: “1. To buy back. 2. To get back, recover, by paying a fee. 3. To pay off a debt.”  In our verse above, Moses and Miriam sing this song of triumph after the Exodus and they look at what God has done, delivering them from slavery and they speak of themselves as “the people you have redeemed”.  Perhaps they take their language from the language the Lord used earlier: “‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment.” (Ex 6:6)

New Testament Parallel: Today, in respect of our own salvation, the New testament speaks of, “Jesus Christ who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” (Titus 2:13,14) Also, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law …..  He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus.” (Gal 3:13,14) It is the same sort of picture in the New Testament in respect of our salvation as in the Old Testament in respect of the deliverance of Israel from Egypt. The two sets of verses above speak of us being delivered FROM something (the old godless life of wrongdoing) and delivering us TO something (all the blessings that now flow through the work of the Cross – justification, adoption, glorification etc.)

Questions: So where are we going here? Well let me ask a simple question. How extensive is the redeeming work of Christ? Who will it cover? Does it cover a murderer? Does it cover an adulterer? Does it cover a denier? If you say no to these, you are running contrary to what the Bible tells us about the ‘heroes of faith’ who we will consider in this series as a preliminary to looking at how we live our church lives.  Oh yes, that is where this is going. How do you feel about Christians who have killed, Christians who have committed adultery, Christians who have denied Christ, Christians who have been caught with their hands in the till, Christians who have been found to be frauds?

No Jumping to Conclusions: Be careful here. I hope we are going to look into this in sufficient depth that we will avoid the two extremes of judgmentalism that writes off people and the opposite that simply shrugs and says, “It doesn’t matter, we’re all human.” God has given us case study after case study in the Bible and what we will see is a God who is both a Judge who declares guilt and a Redeemer who pays for our punishment. This means that on one hand we cannot be casual about sin – and we need to call it for what it is – and on the other we cannot withhold grace from the sinner. The thing about redemption is that God looks to deliver the person under the sentence of death and restore and elevate them to a position of sonship. It can be a painful process but a wonderful one.

Basic Truths: In case you might think I am going soft on you, let’s remind ourselves of some New Testament teaching from the apostle John. First, “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 Jn 2:1,2). Next, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 Jn 1:9) These two sets of verses lay out three very important truths for the Christian:

Sin is an exception: “so that you will not sin”. The apostle doesn’t expect the believer to sin. The standard is to aim for perfection (Mt 5:48 –“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect”, perfect meaning complete in Christ.)

Yet we can fail: But if anybody does sin.” It is a possibility. These are hopefully just one-off failures, one-off sins, things where, to use my phrase, ‘we trip over our feet and it goes pear-shaped’.

Confession is the way back: “If we confess our sins.” Acknowledgement of sin, of a failure, of our guilt, is a pre-requisite to restoration. Often, we struggle with this because we are not in a secure place and we fear the people around us will condemn is. We will deal with this as we go along. That must change.

Consequences: Now it would be foolish to pretend that there are no consequences to our acts of failure (Sin!) and part of our journey ahead must be to face those consequences and consider how grace may abound. However, let’s keep in mind throughout (and the scriptures will help us see this) that God’s intention is always to help us come to a place of restoration. When we look into the Bible with ‘redemption focused eyes’, we will see people who didn’t get there, and we’ll see why they didn’t, but we’ll also see some surprising cases where people who seriously blew it and got it very badly wrong, still ended up in God’s good books – and that is really encouraging for each of us as we live out each day with the Lord. Oh yes, it is all there, so will you be prepared to join me in this mind-blowing experience and be prepared to have your mind changed (not by heresy but simply by what the Bible shows us) and your outlook transformed?

Application for further thought and prayer: Lord, I may have question marks over my life but today I rest secure in the knowledge that you are working for good in it, and whenever I see failure, I will rejoice that you want to take me to a new level of restoration as you work to redeem my life on a daily basis. Thank you so much.

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12. Blood of Christ

Meditations in 1 Peter : 12 :  The Blood of Christ

1 Pet  1:18,19   For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.

These verses are packed full of truths but some of the language is not that used in modern common usage. Moreover it covers a subject that receives the scorn and ire of modern atheists. We need to examine it carefully, therefore.

First it is all about redemption or about redeeming things. This is the language of the pawnbroker which only a small percentage of the population tends to know about. When you pawn something you give it to the pawnbroker for safe keeping who in return loans you money. When you pay back the money plus interest he gives you your article back and you are said to have redeemed it. Thus it is paying to get back something. In the Old Testament it was also used to refer to something being paid instead of another penalty. Coming out of Egypt Israel were told, Redeem every firstborn among your sons.” (Ex 13:13) i.e. give a lamb to act as a sign of their lives having being spared in the Passover. Within the Law we find in respect of a careless owner of a bull known to be dangerous that has killed someone, “the owner also must be put to death. However, if payment is demanded of him, he may redeem his life by paying whatever is demanded.” (Ex 21:29,30) i.e. the family of the person killed may spare the bull owner’s life by taking money instead from him.

The picture that Peter paints for us is of them having been redeemed or purchased from “the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers.” i.e. they were slaves to the Law and to the traditions of their forefathers which did little to help them and had not resulted in a good relationship with God. No, this isn’t the traditional picture of redeeming something using silver or gold or money. No, this is something very different, because we are talking about our lives being redeemed from Sin, from Satan and from hell. We deserved to be left to our own devices in our sin, a prey to Satan and bound for hell, but God didn’t leave us in that state.

No this redemption, even if we don’t really understand our own sin and our own need to be saved, stands out as something completely different and its very difference should speak to us about our need. Peter speaks about “the precious blood of Christ” and it is this sort of language that raises the ire of the atheist who sees it as bloodthirsty and primitive! Well, Paul did say that, “the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing.” (1 Cor 1:18) and that this was “a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.” (1 Cor 1:23). Of course it seems foolish to the natural mind yet, as a pastor, I have found nothing else that actually satisfies the person who is racked by their own guilt. Psychologists and therapists seem helpless but when they are told that Christ died for their sins, that and that alone brings gratefulness and peace!

References to Christ’s ‘blood’ come again and again in the New Testament: “In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” (Lk 22:20) and “Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.” (Acts 20:28) and “God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood.” (Rom 3:25) and “Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!” (Rom 5:9) and “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins.” (Eph 1:7) and “now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.” (Eph 2:13) and “For God was pleased to…reconcile to himself all things…, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” (Col 1:19,20)

If that language is too familiar to you, substitute the word ‘life’ or ‘life poured out’ for blood in each of those verses so we have, “This cup is the new covenant in my life and so on. It is all about Christ giving his life for ours. Think on it, wonder about it and give thanks for that wonder that God’s love should be shown to us in such a manner.

39. Atonement

Meditations in Romans : 39:  Atonement

Rom 3:25 God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood.

Some of us don’t like talk about ‘the blood’ or ‘the Cross’ but, fortunately or unfortunately, they are at the heart of the Gospel. In fact there are words in our verses above that bring great revelation to what the Gospel is all about – if we hadn’t caught Paul’s flow in the previous verses we’ve been considering in a number of mediations: we are lost, helpless and hopeless and we need God’s help. In the previous verse Paul has just spoken of the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” We don’t often use the word ‘redemption’ in modern life, unless we have been unfortunate enough to use the services of a pawnbroker. If we have then we put an article into pawn in exchange for a loan which will need paying back with interest at some time in the future. In the getting it back by a payment, we thus ‘redeem’ the article. So when Paul uses that phrase he is referring to the fact that Jesus’ death mean that our lives could be bought by his blood and reclaimed from the death cell (life on earth) where we awaited our eternal punishment for our sins.

There is in all of us, this deep down knowledge that wrongs deserve punishing, which is why we spend so much time trying to justify ourselves and make out why such punishment shouldn’t apply to us!  Yet our innate sense of justice declares that wrongs should be punished. In fact when we hear of the existence of a holy God, we fear even more (and make more efforts to deny Him).

Then Paul speaks of ‘atonement’ which, in its simplest form means ‘making up for’. But what can make up for the myriads of failures that we have in life? What can make up so that we do not have to bear the punishment due to us? His answer is ‘the blood’ of Jesus, which is simply shorthand for meaning his death on the Cross at Calvary, taking our place, taking our punishment. His death was a sacrifice, in the same pattern as the sacrifices brought into the Temple in Old Testament times. Hence Jesus is referred to as the Lamb of God (Jn 1:29,36,  Rev 5:6,8,12). It is the picture of an animal dying in the place of the sinner, taking upon it their sin and guilt and death penalty.

It is perhaps only when we think on these things do we realise the awfulness of Sin. Much of the time we downplay Sin in our lives and think little of it, but the truth is that in God’s eyes, it is so important and provides such a division between Him and us that He was willing to pay the ultimate price of being separated from His very own Son: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son” (Jn 3:16). Surely if there had been any other way possible God would have taken it? Surely if there any other way possible, Jesus would have taken it. Yet, there throughout the history of the world was this enormous mountain of sin, the sins of every human being throughout history, with justice crying out to be done. If justice cannot be seen to be done, then God can never speak to and correct a single human being, for all that is left is their utter judgment and so why bother to restrain sin? Why not let it just run and get worse and worse until we destroy ourselves?

But God is not a defeatist; He knew from the moment He planned to give us free will that we would first exercise it to reject Him. He knew from the outset that sin after sin would mount up and if nothing was done, it would cause the ultimate destruction of humanity. But, as we said, God is not a defeatist. He planned to call mankind back to Himself. Throughout the Old Testament He is there seeking to forge relationships with individuals and with the nation of Israel, so that they may be a light to the rest of the world, drawing the eyes of the world to God. But how could He do that with all the sins of the world still being there and being there as a barrier between us and God, as much for us as for Him?

We feel guilt-ridden and incapable of changing. He sees us constantly doing our own thing and ignoring Him. How was there a way to break into this cycle? It was to provide a means for this guilt to be dealt with, for somehow justice to be satisfied and the price paid for each and every sin that we feel bad about and the millions we don’t.  The only way, and we really can’t take it in even though we seek to explain it, was for the eternal Son of God to take it for us, for him to step into our place and take the punishment – and that was what was happening on the Cross.

How does it happen for us individually? It happens, as we saw in a previous meditation, when we respond to this news in faith. It is faith in his blood, faith in Jesus’ death on the Cross on our behalf, which opens the door to God’s heart and which brings salvation. It is an act of faith to say we believe God when He has said that this is the way to be saved, by simply believing that Jesus has done it for us.

As we act in faith and declare our belief by coming to God to receive the forgiveness that Jesus has earned for us, it enables Him in return to declare us forgiven and declare us adopted, so that He is then able to put His own Holy Spirit within us, so that a new experience can be ours for the rest of our years on this earth and into eternity. This new experience of life means we can live free from guilt, and free to have a relationship with God, whereby He guides and leads us. All of this is the outworking of the atoning work of Christ on the Cross when it is received by us. How wonderful!

44. Live out Life

Meditations in Job : 44.  Living out our time

Job 17:1 My spirit is broken, my days are cut short, the grave awaits me.

The good thing about meditations is that you can go further than just looking at the meaning of what the writer was putting before us; we can consider the implications and how they work out in our lives. That really is what we ought to be doing all the time with Scripture. If we just look at facts it remains sterile writing. If we allow the Lord to apply it to our lives, it becomes dynamic, transforming power.

As we commented in the previous meditation this is not, at first sight at least, one of the most enlightening parts of Scripture, but we must remember that all Scripture is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,” (2 Tim 3:16) so we need to see what it says and then see what it says TO US. Let’s just take the first nine verses of this fairly short chapter, and then the remaining ones in the next meditation.

How is Job feeling? My spirit is broken, my days are cut short, the grave awaits me.” (v.1).  That seems a continuation from what we saw at the end of the last chapter. He  feels down and with no future. The brief revelation that he had seems to be swamped under the anguish he still feels. Jesus warned about this sort of thing when he told the parable of the Sower and, specifically, about the seed that fell among thorns – the worries of life which stop the word (seed) growing. (Mt 13:22). But not only does he feel down, he also feels got at. There are those around him who mock him and that makes it all worse: “Surely mockers surround me; my eyes must dwell on their hostility.” (v.2)

But then he says something remarkable: “Give me, O God, the pledge you demand. Who else will put up security for me?” (v.3) This is the language of a pawnbroker – a pledge is security put up for goods that have been put into pawn, to redeem or recover them. Look, he says to God, you demand something of me, and I don’t know what it is (implied) and I can’t do it; you must do it, you must provide it. If you want me saved and changed, then you’re going to have to do it. What incredible revelation. This is EXACTLY what has happened. God has seen the plight of mankind, lost in sin, and knows that man cannot get himself out of it, and so has sent His Son to pay the price, so we may receive eternal life.

But next we see something else about his understanding. He is so sure of his position,  that he reaches a conclusion as he talks to the Lord: “You have closed their minds to understanding; therefore you will not let them triumph.” (v.4) i.e. these people around me are blind to my circumstances, to why I am really like this; this has got to be a work of God, and if it is a work of God He will look after me and won’t let their negative words triumph over me and bring me down! Excellent!

He thinks about this in generalities: “If a man denounces his friends for reward, the eyes of his children will fail.” (v.5) i.e. if you take money to denounce a friend, truth will be lost and your children will similarly soon be unable to see or discern truth. But maybe the ‘reward’ will just be the sense of superiority over the friend you have put down. That is just as bad and just as much you will be providing a bad example for your children who will follow in your footsteps. He is giving a subtle warning to his three ‘friends’ to beware being that bad example.

Then he reverts back to talking to himself: “God has made me a byword to everyone, a man in whose face people spit.” (v.6).  I am an outcast who is utterly rejected by people because of what I have become (implied). “My eyes have grown dim with grief; my whole frame is but a shadow.” (v.7)  i.e. this sense of mourning almost blinds me to everything else, and I feel but a shadow of the man I once was.  See what an upset this causes: “Upright men are appalled at this;” (v.8a).  These good men are appalled at what has happened to me and, even worse they see themselves as, “the innocent… aroused against the ungodly.” (v.8b).  They think they are innocent and that because of what has been happening to me, that I must be ungodly, but it’s all right, “Nevertheless, the righteous will hold to their ways, and those with clean hands will grow stronger.” (v.9)  Perhaps he implies that he knows he is righteous and will hold to that, and that, as he does,  he will grow stronger.

So let’s summarise what we’ve seen in these nine verses.  Initially he feels that his life is nearing an end and that he is mocked by those who see his plight.  He recognizes that if God is making demands of him, then it needs to be God who brings help to him.  He considers that God must have blinded the eyes of his friends but that, even though he feels terrible, he will determine to remain righteous anyway.

Now that’s quite a remarkable challenge.  He thinks he is nearing the end of his life, he’s in a bad state physically, and people are wrongly judging him, but he’s going to remain steadfast with God’s grace.  Wow!   So how about us?  How do we cope when we are physically down, whether or not we are old?  Do we want to give up?  Do we become careless in the way we hold to the truth?  Do we feel we want to give up being an example – salt and light – to others?  If we are elderly, there is this key question:  How will we live out whatever time we have left on this earth?  Let’s close with those really encouraging – and challenging words from Psa 92:12-15: The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the LORD, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green, proclaiming, “The LORD is upright; he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.” So, will you continue to receive the Lord’s resources so that your latter years will remain ‘fruitful’,  continuing to be a witness to those around you? May it be so!

5. Redemption

Ephesians Meditations No.5

5. Redemption

Eph 1:7,8 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.

The trouble with Scripture is that it sometimes uses words with which we are not familiar today. Add to this the problem that many Christians would prefer to make no effort in studying the Bible and we have a situation where the wonderful truths of God remain a foreign language to many. For example the word ‘redemption’ or its associated word, ‘redeem’ are not words that are commonly used today. It is most known for its use in connection with a pawnbroker, where someone would take a possession to the pawnbroker and he would loan them a sum of money on the basis of it, while he held it. Within some specified time they would return to the pawnbroker and pay the money back together with a fee. That act of paying the money back to recover the article is referred to as ‘redeeming’ the article and the money paid is the ‘redemption money’.

Now when we apply this concept to sin and salvation we see something amazing. When God created the word, there was no division between Him and the man and woman He made. However when they turned away from Him (Gen 3) there became a division between them and Him caused by sin. In fact, as the New Testament writers show us, we left God’s kingdom and entered a dominion of darkness (Col 1:13), and this is ruled over by Satan (1 Jn 5:19). While we give ourselves over to sin and reject God, we are, in reality, in the hands of the ‘pawnbroker’ who doesn’t own us but has possession of us. While we choose the life of sin and reject God, we remain in His hands. In fact the Bible reveals that God uses Satan to discipline and even judge mankind. Justice demands that we be punished for our sins. Justice demands that someone pay for our sins, and while we reject God, we alone have to take the punishment.

But then one day someone entered the ‘pawnbroker’s shop’ and said, “I’ve paid the price for them.” Imagine the scene. So the pawnbroker (Satan) says to Jesus, “But they deserve punishment and the law demands that I have them to bring that on them.” But the redeemer (Jesus) replies, “But I have paid the price. I took the punishment due to them. Every sin has been paid for. Every punishment owing has paid for.” So the pawnbroker says, “So who does this apply to?” to which the redeemer replies, “Whoever believes me and asks for it.”

That is what redemption is all about. Jesus has redeemed us out of the power of Sin, out of the hands of Satan. Jesus has done it all. All we can do is believe it, ask for it, and receive it.

If you are still uncertain, look again at Paul’s words, In him we have redemption through his blood.” It is “in him”, in Jesus, our salvation (redemption) is found, and it is because he shed his blood and died on the Cross in our place, that we can have it. And the result of it is that we have, “the forgiveness of sins” because Jesus has paid for them by his death.

Paul describes what has happened, saying that it is “in accordance with the riches of God’s grace”. It is all because of God’s wonderful provision for us. That is what grace is; it is God’s wonderful provision for us. In this specific instance it describes all that God has done to bring about our redemption. The fact that it is grace means that it entirely free and not something earned by us or deserved by us. It is completely a free gift of God. In our earlier years, before we heard the Gospel, we had no idea that before the foundation of the world God had planned this, and we had no idea that two thousand years ago the trinity executed this plan and Jesus had died in our place. No, it was all done before we even heard about it. Our actions did nothing to add to it. All we could do is believe it, ask for it and receive it.

See the strength of the language that Paul uses: “that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.” Lavished means poured out without restraint, poured out in abundance. God didn’t hold back. The work of Jesus on the Cross was complete and achieved EVERYTHING that was necessary to redeem us. There is nothing left outstanding of the debt we owed justice because of our sins and our allegiance to Satan. No, everything has been dealt with. It came with God’s wisdom and God knows everything and how everything should work and does work. Wisdom is about knowing ‘how to’ and God knew exactly how to satisfy justice and take the sting out of Satan’s accusations. God understood everything there is to know about our plight and about justice and about how we could be redeemed. You cannot fault this plan; it is perfect. It totally and utterly deals with our sin and our plight so that when we cry, “I believe, please save me,” Satan has no grounds to hold on to us, and God releases His own Holy Spirit to us and we start to receive all the goodness that He has in store for us that He wants us to receive. How wonderful, how marvellous is my Saviour’s love for me!