On April 17, Holy Thursday, an International Justice Mission (IJM) leader in Pampanga, Philippines, got a call at 11:00 AM —An officer was on the phone, asking if IJM could help out with a rescue operation they wanted to do that night. They had uncovered information about a relatively new bar that was selling minors to customers for sexual exploitation.
IJM mobilized a team to help with the operation immediately. They made phone calls to various government partners to make sure there would be social workers and a shelter available for the survivors. IJM staff from Manila made the three-hour drive to Pampanga to assist.
The rescue team hit the bar just before midnight. Inside, the bar was full. Police worked quickly and identified suspects, placing nine in custody that same night. IJM staff helped explain what was happening to the young women, who were frightened and confused. Social workers explained that they were not in trouble, they were being rescued.
The 8 survivors shared their stories with police and IJM attorneys at a police station…the youngest girl was only 11. Social workers stayed close throughout the process, shielding the girls from news cameras that showed up and making sure they were as comfortable as possible as they waited. By Saturday, the girls went to a shelter for survivors of trafficking. They would wake up in freedom on Easter morning.
IJM will continue to support this case to ensure the traffickers are held accountable for their crimes against these young women and restrained from harming anyone else.
That is rescue! That is redemption! That is liberation!
Not only did they do the necessary work to create the conditions for rescue to take place, but they participated in the rescue and set up the opportunity for those who were rescued to continue to walk in healing and freedom.
That’s what I want to share about this afternoon. The next rhythm in our Gospel Rhythm series: Redemption. So far, we have learned about Creation and Fall. I left us hanging in the balance a bit a couple of weeks ago because I wanted us to feel the tension in which we currently live. The effects of sin continue to spread into every nook and cranny of our world. Into our own hearts and lives, and into the darkest corners of bars used for sexual exploitation on the other side of the world.
But as I reminded us a couple of weeks ago and as W.A. Chriswell is famously known for preaching about, there is a scarlet thread that runs through the earliest pages of the Bible. A thread that God intricately weaves through history to remake what had come unraveled in Genesis 3.
We know that scarlet thread as Redemption. But what exactly does redemption mean? As I was joking with my brother-in-law earlier this week, we think between the two of us we have been “saved” at least 25 to 50 times. Meaning that we came up to the altar, or raised our hand during a prayer with every head bowed and eye closed, or stood up while everyone else was sitting, or filled out a card in response to the question “If you were to die tonight, do you know where you would spend eternity?”, or in recent developments, we’ve texted a number at a large conference to let them know that we “prayed the sinners prayer”…even though we weren’t sure that’s what we were doing until after the fact :-)
Others have told us that unless we can remember the exact day and hour that we prayed that prayer we are not truly saved. And so we live with this constant, nagging question hanging over our heads: “Am I saved? And if so or if not, how do I know for sure?” And then all of our energy gets put into answering that question and somehow proving to God that we’re “good enough.” But isn’t that what God said about us in the beginning anyhow: “Good enough…in fact, very good!” But even in our good-enoughness, we weren’t good enough. We needed rescue. We needed restoration in our relationship with God, ourselves, others and the world.
And that’s where redemption enters the scene. N.T. Wright describes redemption in this way, “the action(s) whereby God rescues human beings, and (if we are being biblical) the whole cosmos, from the state of sin, decay, and death to which they have become subject.” When Adam and Eve headed East of Eden, they carried all of creation with them. In essence, all of history after Genesis 3 can be summed up as living in exile.
So, the pervasive effects of sin through guilt and corruption had to be dealt with in a pervasive manner. Redemption has to be all-encompassing too because it has to set right God’s original purposes for creation which had been disrupted through broken relationship with God, ourselves, others, and the world. That’s why we talk about salvation, redemption, rescue, liberation, atonement, justification, sanctification, healing, deliverance, restoration, protection, wholeness, adoption, sacrifice, forgiveness, victory, etc. I want us to look at several of these this afternoon as we attempt to fill in the meaning a bit.
Here’s our first clue about what redemption means: ATONEMENT
It is the Hebrew word “kapur” from which we get the understanding about “Yom Kippur” – Day of Atonement. It means “to smear, cover over, appease.” Atoning sacrifices and the Day of Atonement cleansed the people from sin (both intentional and unintentional) and set them in right relationship with God. The process for the Day of Atonement is described in detail in Leviticus 16 where the priest is to make atonement/appeasement for himself, the place of God’s presence, and all the people of Israel through sacrificing a bull and a goat. But then there’s something very interesting that takes place, Aaron the priest is to lay his hands on another goat, confessing over its head all the sins of God’s people, and then he releases it into the wilderness…a barren place…a place named after the demon Azazel. (Leviticus 16:21-22). And through these acts, God’s people are declared as “clean” (Lev 16:30), once a year, and then not even completely because you’ve still got this goat roaming around somewhere. Your sin is still out there. But someday, One would come who would go into the wilderness to face the power of those sins. He would leave the wilderness having not given into the alluring temptation of sin. The One who as high priest could find no other sacrifice, and so He climbed onto the altar to make full atonement for our sins. We heard it described in Isaiah 53 a few minutes ago.
Redemption restores our original purpose – to live in God’s presence. [God]
Redemption also means RANSOM. Jesus describes His purpose in coming into the world in this way, “For the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve and give His life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:24-28). The Greek word used here for ransom, “lutron,” means “the exact price of release.” I love that imagery. Jesus came to pay the exact price for our release…our rescue…our freedom from evil oppression in exile. Jesus cancels the debt, which is one way of describing sin , and sets us free from bondage to the power of sin and death. Like the girls rescued in the Philippines, the precise work was done to guarantee that we would be set free. And not only that we would be set free, but also that we could continue to walk in healing and freedom – that’s liberation!
Redemption sets us free to be who God always intended us to be as his image-bearing stewards [Self]
[I paused here to do a “Servants and Stewards interview with Jeff Lathrop about how his work in finance helps people get free from indebtedness and allows them to walk into their vocational purpose – below are the questions that I used]
1.Tell us about the work you do and why that work is so important to you.
2. Where do you see God’s character most reflected in what you do?
3. Where do you most experience fallenness/brokenness through your work?
4. How do you participate in God’s redemptive work through your work?
5. In what other ways are you serving through your life and vocation?
6. How can we pray for you and others in a similar line of work?
Which leads to the next description of Redemption as Reconciliation. Jesus uses this language in the sermon on the mount and in Matthew 18 when describing how we should reestablish an interrupted or broken relationship. That’s the definition of “reconciliation” (Gk. “katallagay”) – mending something that is torn or broken. In fact, Jesus places such a high emphasis on reconciliation that he highlights it as a gauge for whether or not our desire to have our debts paid by God is genuine. In Matthew 5 during the sermon on the mount, Jesus says something shocking. That a person should leave his gift at the altar and go and be reconciled with a brother or sister before seeking to be reconciled with God. We’re not talking about a quick stop off at the Temple on your way into work here. We’re talking about an 80 mile trip, not by minivan, but by foot or animal. That’s how serious Jesus takes the command to pursue forgiveness and reconciliation. 2 Corinthians 5:19 says this “that is, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.” Through the redemption of Jesus, the broken relationship between us and God has been reestablished. And, the broken relationships between us and others can be repaired too! The verses go on to describe that we are now ambassadors of reconciliation making the plea to others: “Be reconciled to God!”
Redemption makes restoration of broken relationships possible between us and God, and us and others. [Others]
Finally, Redemption is Jubilee, which happens to be one of my favorite words. You can’t say it without at least a little bit of a smile on your face. The practice of Jubilee is described in Leviticus 25 as a cancelling of all debts and a setting free of all captives. It is the 50th year in which all things are restored. In Luke 4, Jesus describes God’s Kingdom coming through Him as Jubilee. Everything taken from God’s people through sin and death would now be restored. Here’s how Jesus describes it: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” In the person of Jesus, God has enacted Jubilee to set all things back in right order. Romans 8:18-23 describes this beautifully.
Jesus’ sacrifice cancels the debt of sin once and for all. Jesus sets us completely free from the power of sin…which is death. Jesus brings us back into right relationship with God and each other. And Jesus makes all things new through the Holy Spirit who remains active in building for God’s Kingdom through our lives. Again, N.T. Wright says, “Redemption doesn’t mean scrapping what’s there and starting again from a clean slate, but rather liberating what has come to be enslaved.”
Redemption encompasses the scope of God’s creation. [world]
In the end, all of these words describe Jesus’ victory, which is perhaps the best way to describe Redemption. Jesus wins! He is the King of the Kingdom that He came to build and reclaim.
Through his life, death, resurrection, ascension and coming again, Jesus has defeated the powers that enslave, indebt, oppress, abuse, break relationships, distort our view of self, cause us to mistreat God’s creation, and ultimately, feed the desire within us to be independent from God.
All these benefits are yours in Jesus Christ. All this is yours in the gift of redemption…and then some.
So how do we appropriate these realities in our lives?
The message of Scripture is disquietingly simple. God offers all this, and all we have to do is put our faith, our confident trust in Him. Which I think looks like living as though these things are actually true. It means choosing God’s way and truth even when I’d rather go the easy route. It means accepting the truth that God really loves each one of us that much, and that He’s vested in our full redemption…not just our souls.