Monday, May 17, 2010

Redeemed! 1 Peter 1:18-19

Audio is available here (click to stream, right-click to download) and on our podcast on iTunes.

On March 15, 1781 not too far from here, one of the bloodiest battles of America’s war for independence took place. We know it as the Battle of Guilford Courthouse. Though the British troops would claim victory in the battle, the substantial losses they sustained here led to their ultimate defeat just a few months later in Yorktown. The battle was fought with such intensity and bravery that the British commanding General Cornwallis said, “I never saw such fighting since God made me. The Americans fought like demons.” The Americans were fighting for independence, and for at least one American soldier, that independence was something more than a national ideal. Sometime before this battle, William Kitchen had deserted the Colonial Army and rather than facing charges for desertion, he made use of a provision that allowed him to enlist a substitute to fight in his place. Kitchen purchased a slave by the name of Ned, who had taken on the surname of his master, Griffin, and enlisted him as his replacement. Kitchen promised Ned Griffin that if he would fight in his place, he would grant him his freedom at the end of his duty. But, when the war ended and Ned returned to Kitchen, he violated his promise and instead of granting Ned his freedom, he sold him to another slave-owner. In April of 1874, Ned Griffin petitioned the North Carolina General Assembly for his freedom on the basis of the promise he had received. The Assembly intervened and declared that Ned Griffin “shall forever hereafter be in every respect declared to be a freeman: and he shall be, and he is hereby enfranchised and forever delivered and discharged from the yoke of slavery.”

We don’t know much else about Ned Griffin except the few details that are preserved in State documents. Were it not for these few references, his heroic fight for freedom would be lost to history altogether. As it is, we do not know how he came to be a slave: was he brought to America as a slave, or was he born into slavery? We may never know. Regardless, we know that his life as a slave must have been filled with hard labor, difficult conditions, empty promises, and disappointments. And had someone else not intervened to set him free, Ned Griffin would have died in that bondage.

While we would never want to crudely compare our life circumstances to the hardships experienced by Ned Griffin, his physical circumstances depict the spiritual circumstances of all of humanity. We are born into the slavery of sin, and it is a life filled with hard and futile labor, difficult conditions, empty promises and much disappointment. And were it not for the gracious act of another who intervened on our behalf, we would die and perish in that bondage to sin.

The language that Peter uses in these two verses finds many parallels with the descriptions of slavery in the ancient world. In those days, a slave could be set free by the payment of a ransom, or price for redemption. And Peter says to us that we have been set free, ransomed, REDEEMED, thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ who paid the price for us. And in these verses and the surrounding context, Peter answers three questions concerning the aspects of our redemption. 1) We have been redeemed, but from what? 2) We have been redeemed, but by what? And 3) We have been redeemed, but for what? Or as I prefer to say, We have been redeemed, but so what? It is to these questions that we turn our attention now.

I. We have been redeemed, but from what? We have been redeemed from our former way of life. (v18)

It is a law of physics that objects in motion tend to stay in motion until they are acted upon by an outside force. We call this the law of inertia. You prove this law to be true every time you are riding a car and come to a sudden stop. Both you and the car are both moving forward at 60 miles per hour, and suddenly the car comes to a stop, but your body is still moving forward at 60 miles per hour. Your seatbelt and your own energy are the outside forces that stop your forward progress (hopefully) and prevent you from going through the windshield. This is not only true in the world of physics; it is also true spiritually. We are born in motion, moving away from God in sin. And we are going to keep moving in that direction of spiritual rebellion until we are acted upon by the outside force of God’s saving work. For those who are in Christ, God has brought that forward progress to a halt through His divine work of conviction, regeneration, justification, and sanctification and put us on a path that is moving toward Him in faith and obedience. He has redeemed us from our former way of life.

Peter says that you have been redeemed from a way of life that you inherited from your forefathers. The Greek word he uses here is a relatively common one in the ancient literature though it only occurs here in the New Testament. The Greek-speaking world used this term to refer to traditions conveyed from one generation to another. Typically, this is regarded as a positive influence in society. Jews and Gentiles alike venerated their traditions as the basis of a stable society. Indeed, in much of the world today, entire cultures are built on the values of inherited traditions. In many societies, the ancestors are worshiped as deities because of the high value placed on tradition. Disregard for heritage and tradition in those cultures merits the highest shame. In America, we do not go so far as to declare our ancestors deities, but there is a strong sense of doing what we think bygone generations would have us do. We have ways of thinking, ways of speaking, ways of acting, that we attribute to our heritage. Even in churches, things are done for no other reason than the tired reasoning that it is the way we have always done it.

Peter’s point here is that it does not matter if you came to Christ from a Jewish or Gentile background; both cultures were futile. It does not matter if you come from American culture, Chinese culture, or African cultures, our traditional systems are futile. The word means vain, meaningless, or empty. We don’t feel like our family traditions are meaningless do we? We find a rich sense of identity in this heritage and take pride in it. So in what way is it empty and meaningless? It is empty in the most important way possible! Peter is saying to us here that our cultural heritage is meaningless when it comes to making us right with God. In addition to our family traditions and our national history and our cultural heritage, we have all inherited from our forefathers going back to Adam a nature of sinfulness that separates us from God. What can your family tradition do to make you right with Him? How can your patriotic zeal remove your sin? How can the values of our culture make us holy? Following these things blindly may in fact only add to our guilt before God.

In the Old Testament, this idea of futility was applied to the worship of idols. The New International Version renders Jonah 2:8 this way: “Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs.” Isaiah 44:9 says, “Those who fashion a graven image are all of them futile, and their precious things are of no profit.” And those who blindly and uncritically march along to the drumbeat of their family traditions, their national and cultural customs, their religious heritage, have elevated those things to the place of a worthless idol. This happens when we read something in the Bible and say, “Well, I don’t believe that, or I don’t think it applies to me, because my people have always thought this, or said this, or done this.” It happens when we justify our sin by offering up some cultural or inherited inclination as an excuse. And every time that happens, we elevate our meaningless traditions over the revealed truth of God and have become idolaters. Stand before God in judgment and offer that! He says, “What about your sin?” And you say, “Lord, I am an American, and this is our value system.” Or say, “Lord, this is how my people have been since my great-grandfather’s day.” Or say, “Lord, this is how the postmodern generation, or the builder generation, or my people group, looks at things.” Do you see how ridiculous that seems? How can those things remedy the disease of sin that infects us all?

And we must be warned, lest we think, “Oh this does not apply to me. I am from a church-going family. I have been a Christian since the day I was born! This is what my people do … my people are Christians and my people are church-people.” Friend, please receive this in love, but we must understand that no one is born a Christian. Everyone is born a sinner. Christianity cannot be inherited through DNA. This is why Jesus said that we must be BORN AGAIN. Our natural birth is not sufficient, there must be a new birth, a spiritual birth. Even church-going may be a strong family tradition, a highly esteemed cultural value and a part of the fabric of our society; but if there is no personal faith and trust in Jesus Christ, dare I say it, even church-involvement can be an idol that we trust to save us, and it will not.

Jesus Christ is our only hope of redemption. And Peter says here that He has redeemed us from or out of the futile way of life we inherited from our forefathers. No longer do we simply belong to our family tree. No longer do we belong to the tribe, or the culture, or the society, or the nation to which we were born. We have been redeemed from those things. They will not save us. They cannot rescue us from our slavery to sin. We must be redeemed, and Christ is our Redeemer. I have recently had to rethink how I talk about multiculturalism in the church. I think that Peter is saying to us here that church is not multicultural. We do not come into the family of God, bringing all of our own cultural tendencies and preferences with us. Those things are futile. Every human culture is fundamentally flawed and built on rebellion against God. The church should always be multiethnic – made up of men and women and children from every background imaginable, but it is monocultural. Christ is our culture. And this culture is not native to any of us. The Holy Spirit is calling us out through these words, bidding us to leave behind our earthly ties and enter into a new family, a new nation, and a new culture. The former things we inherited from our forefathers are meaningless and have no real spiritual value. They offer us no eternal hope. Christ is our only hope. He has redeemed us out of our individual backgrounds and brought us into the culture of Himself.

II. We have been redeemed, but by what? We have been redeemed by the blood of Jesus. (v18-19)

The very word redemption implies the payment of a price. It means “to purchase release by the payment of a ransom.” Perhaps you have seen some Hollywood thriller in which someone is kidnapped and held for ransom. There is a note pieced together with letters from various magazines and newspapers that says “This person will be set free if you pay the price.” I heard of a little boy once who so desperately wanted a bicycle for Christmas that he took the figure of Mary from his family’s nativity set, and left a pieced together note that said, “Jesus, if you ever want to see your mother again, you better bring me that bicycle.” Here’s the thing, as we have already said, we are enslaved to sin. We are sinners both by nature and by choice and our only hope is that someone will come and redeem us, pay a ransom for us, to set us free. But who can do that? We can’t redeem ourselves, and if every human being is under the same bondage, then we cannot look to another person to redeem us. They have their own slavery to deal with. The fact is that if God doesn’t redeem us, then we have no hope. But He has, in the person of Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ paid the ransom for our redemption from the slavery to sin into which we were born and have chosen to remain. At what cost? Do you remember when Jesus said in Mark 8:36-37, “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? For what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” He seems to be implying here that the value of your soul is greater than the whole world. Can you put a price tag on it? One hundred dollars? One thousand dollars? One million dollars? Often times people with a guilty conscience will given generously to a charitable or religious organization as if their generosity might somehow assuage the guilt that plagues them. They are like Simon the Magician in Acts 8. When he saw the power of God at work through the Apostles, he offered them money, saying, “Give this authority to me as well, so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” But do you remember what Peter said to him? He said, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money!” Silver … perish … with you. The unredeemed soul and the silver will both perish. Notice the similarity here with what Peter says in verse 18: you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold.

God’s favor cannot be purchased with money. Would we who are enslaved to sin think that we could buy our redemption with money? We don’t have enough. There isn’t enough money in the world. Money is insufficient for the transaction. In Isaiah 52:3, the prophet was looking ahead to Israel’s captivity in Babylon, and the Lord said, “You were sold for nothing and you will be redeemed without money.” So how will they be redeemed? How will we be redeemed from our sin? Just a few verses later the prophet said, “How lovely on the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who announces peace and brings good news of happiness, who announces salvation.” And then he begins to unfold the plan of redemption that involves a Servant who will come and accomplish it through His suffering. Just a short number of verses after he says, “you will be redeemed without money,” he says that this Servant will bear our griefs, He will carry our sorrows, He will be pierced for our transgressions, He will be crushed for our iniquities, He will be chastised for our well-being, He will be scourged for our healing. The Lord will cause the iniquity of us all to fall on Him. And He says in Isaiah 53:10, “the LORD was pleased to crush Him.”

The Bible says that the wages of sin is death. Death is the price that must be paid for sin. But our own death is not redemption; it is justice. It is what we deserve, and with death, eternal separation from God as a result of our rebellion against Him. Another human being cannot die for us, for he or she must deal with his or her own sin. But what if there was one who had no sin of his own to pay for? What if there was one whose life was infinitely and qualitatively greater than our own? That one could become our substitute in death, and his life, his blood could be poured out to redeem us from our bondage. And this is what Peter says: You have been redeemed with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ.

Precious. This is how God views the blood that was shed for us. It was not ordinary or commonplace. It was not the blood of bulls, and of goats, and of lambs that were slaughtered by the multitudes in the Old Testament system. That blood was a shadow of the reality that was to come: the PRECIOUS blood of Christ. He is the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world. When John was given a vision of heaven, he saw humanity standing before the throne of God. What a terrifying picture to behold! Sinful people before the throne of an infinitely holy God! But suddenly John’s attention was turned to a Lamb, a Lamb that had been slain, standing between the throne and the people. This is the eternal picture of Jesus Christ, who came to stand between us and God as He laid down His life on the cross and shed His precious blood to redeem us from sin.

Only a handful of times in the New Testament, God the Father spoke audibly from Heaven. Each time, He said the same thing. He said of Jesus Christ – “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well-pleased.” This one, the Son of God, God incarnate in human form, is the only one who could ever fully please God. He was beloved of His Father. He was precious to Him. And it was His precious blood which was shed for us and for our redemption. What will a man give in exchange for his soul? We cannot afford the price. But God has paid a precious price for us … He has given the precious blood of Jesus to redeem us from sin. God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him will not perish, but have everlasting life. We are redeemed by His precious blood.

III. We are redeemed, but for what?

In other words, “We are redeemed, now so what?” In the surrounding context of these verses, there are several implications spelled out for those who have been redeemed by this precious blood. God has not redeemed us only to leave us in our previous miserable state. He has redeemed us that we might be holy (vv15-16). He has removed our unholiness and given us the holiness of Jesus in a marvelous exchange – our sin for His righteousness. And He indwells us in the person of the Holy Spirit to produce this holiness in us. We are redeemed to be holy.

We are redeemed also to be His. We inherited a futile way of life from our forefathers, but we have been redeemed from that way of life and placed into a new family. We now address God as our Father (v17). He has adopted us at great personal cost. We now belong to Him. Our first and only allegiance belongs now to Him. As Paul will say in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, you are not your own, for you have been bought with a price. You now belong to God through Jesus Christ and His precious blood. You no longer belong to your ancestors, your tribe, your nation, your culture or yourself. You now belong to Him. Therefore, we live for His glory. We do not live for the expectations of others; we no longer live for the maintenance and preservation of our traditions; we no longer live for the honor of our earthly heritage. We live for God in Christ. This impacts the choices we make, the priorities we have, and the allegiances of our lives. It impacts our way of thinking, our way of speaking, and our way of acting. You are not your own. You belong to God who has purchased you for Himself at a great and precious cost. He has redeemed you with the precious blood of Christ. Why would you return to the chains that once bound you?

Someone here today may still be bound. You may find yourself feeling enslaved to the expectations of others, or the claims of your past, or to the competing dictates of any number of voices in your life. They may even be internal – the desires, the inclinations and tendencies of your life that demand their own satisfaction. If Christ has set you free, the Bible says you are free indeed. Those things no longer have any rightful claim on you. The chains have been removed, and you are redeemed. Fix your eyes on your Savior, your Redeemer, your Lord, and recommit yourself to live in the glorious freedom He has purchased for you with His precious blood.

And others are still bound because they have not personally transacted this redemption with God. The price has been paid for you in Christ. The offer stands today. Look to Him from the chains of your sin and claim that redemption as your own. Turn your life over to Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord and be set free forever.

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