Redemption

Preaching and Worship Resources about Redemption

In classic Christian theology, redemption is broadly the same thing as salvation. Thus theologians speak of "the history of redemption," or of the creation/fall/redemption sequence. Redemption is restoration of a fallen creation, including human beings, to health, harmony, and righteousness. It is the establishment of shalom (Old Testament) or the coming of the kingdom of God in its fullness (New Testament). More narrowly conceived, redemption is rescue from oppression, often by purchase. In the ultimate example, Jesus Christ redeemed his people from their bondage to sin by paying for them with his life. (See the "Salvation" topical study, where redemption is one of nine ways of describing salvation.)

In Scripture

"Say therefore to the Israelites, `I am the Lord, and I will free you from the burdens of the Egyptians and deliver you from slavery to them. I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment" (Ex. 6:6)

"It was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath that he swore to your ancestors, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt" (Deut. 7:8).

"Who is like your people, like Israel? Is there another nation on earth whose God went to redeem it as a people, and to make a name for himself, doing great and awesome things for them, by driving out before his people nations and their gods?" (2 Sam. 7:23).

"O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever. Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, those he redeemed from trouble" (Ps. 107:1 - 2).

"Now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine" (Is. 43:1).

"I have swept away your transgressions like a cloud, and your sins like mist; return to me, for I have redeemed you" (Is. 44:22).

"Hear the word of the Lord, O nations, and declare it in the coastlands far away; say, `He who scattered Israel will gather him, and will keep him as a shepherd a flock.' For the Lord has ransomed Jacob, and has redeemed him from hands too strong for him" (Jer. 31:10 - 11).

"The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many" (Matt. 20:28).

"They are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed" (Rom. 3:24 - 25).

"You were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body" (1 Cor. 6:20).

"In [Jesus Christ] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace" (Eph. 1:7).

"He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins" (Col. 1:13 - 14).

"For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself a ransom for all" (1 Tim. 2:5 - 6).

"He entered once for all into the Holy Place, not with the blood of goats and calves, but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption" (Heb. 9:12).

"They sing a new song: `You [the Lamb] are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slaughtered and by your blood you ransomed for God saints from every tribe and language and people and nation'" (Rev. 5:9).

Points to Ponder

Desiring redemption, desiring God: When the writers of psalms want redemption, they usually want it with a passion. They crave God's cleansing pardon, as Psalm 51 shows us: "Have mercy on me, O God" (Ps. 51:1). Psalmists want spiritual health, and they want it urgently: "Create in me a clean heart, O God. . . . Restore to me the joy of your salvation" (Ps. 51:10, 12). In fact, they want God himself: "O God, you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land" (Ps. 63:1).

Beyond personal salvation: When the scriptural people of God seek redemption, they want personal salvation, and they express their desire in what sounds like a cry of the heart. But to them redemption goes far beyond personal salvation. When biblical people want God to redeem, what they want is freedom and righteousness throughout the land. They want God to unseat Pharaoh or Caesar. They want God to drive the Midianites back across the border. They're exodus people, after all. They're Passover people. They have a history of being squeezed by Egypt, Babylon, or Rome. In their eyes, God's redemption means justice is coming, liberation is coming, the King of all the earth is coming!

Kingdom of God as final redemption: Contemporary Christians have learned this biblical language and this hope. They too want a clean heart and a right spirit toward God. They too want justice to "roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream" (Amos 5:24). But following the habit of Jesus, especially in his model prayer and in his parables, perhaps contemporary Christians most often speak of their longing for the kingdom of God. It's the kingdom of God that is the treasure in the field or the pearl of great price (Matt. 13:44 - 45), and we can understand why. The coming of the kingdom of God represents a final state of cosmic redemption in which God and God's creatures dwell together in harmony, righteousness, and delight. In fact, "the coming of the kingdom of God" is just the New Testament way of spelling shalom.

But now a question: Do contemporary Christians bring the same passion to their hope of redemption as people in the Bible did?

Much depends on which Christians we're talking about. Most respectable Christians do have the biblical habit of praying for the kingdom to come, but when their lives are good their prayers for the kingdom sometimes fade. People whisper their prayers for the kingdom, so that God can't quite hear them. "Your kingdom come," Christians pray — and hope it won't. "Your kingdom come," they say, "but not right away." (Justo L. Gonz√°lez, ¬°Alabadle! [Nashville: Abingdon, 1996], 18.) When our earthly kingdoms have had a good year, we don't necessarily long for the kingdom of God to break in. We like our own setup just fine.

God's kingdom has always sounded like good news for people whose lives are bad news. If you are a slave in a Pharaoh's kingdom, or in a Mississippi cotton kingdom, you want the kingdom of God, and you might even sing your longing in spiritual songs. If you live in an African village that has been decimated by the AIDS epidemic, you want the kingdom to come so much you can think of little else. If you are a Christian woman there who lacks the cultural clout to say no to men who don't care whether they kill you by having sex with you, then you want God's kingdom with every fiber of your being.

"Your kingdom come." Christians who pray in this way are not asking for the kingdom to come into existence. God's kingdom has been in existence forever. It was present at creation when God the king said, "Let us create," and then made the plant and animal kingdoms to fit inside his own. God's kingdom was present in paradise when our first parents turned against it. Since then people have regularly revolted against God's sovereignty or ignored it. That's why Jesus taught his disciples to pray for a miracle: that people would stop rebelling against God's will and stop ignoring it, and would start trying instead to conform their will to God's. In the Lord's Prayer, "Your kingdom come" means "Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven." For that to happen, hearts will have to be regenerated, and much more besides.

The prime Old Testament example of redemption is the exodus. God rescued God's people from slavery. This is the defining moment of Israel's history, and so it is in the background of many of the Old Testament references to redemption. God delivered Israel "with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment" (Ex. 6:6) The other big Old Testament redemption story is in Isaiah and Jeremiah: God's rescue of God's people from exile. God's reputation is built on redemption.

Prophetic longing for a new age: Meanwhile, the prophets long for a new age when God will shake God's people free from their enemies, just as God had done in Egypt (Isa. 2; 11; 32; 42; 60; 65). In the new age, God's people will respond with glad obedience, the rich helping the poor and the strong lifting the weak. As God's grace spreads across the land, the lame will begin to dance; the blind will gaze at a world they had never seen before; the deaf will hear the song of a lark. Covenant obligations and promises — broken and forgotten — will be fulfilled. In a word, the prophets long for God's shalom. Hearing the voice of God in their souls, they assure people that God's kingdom of peace is coming, and that a particular figure, weighty with centuries of longing and promise, will bring it near.

The Old Testament prophets speak of the Messiah. They speak of a particular person who will inaugurate the new age. Sometimes they speak of the one to come as if he would be a warrior king. As David had slain the Philistines, so the Messiah, the new David, will slay God's enemies (Isa. 63:1 - 6). Alternatively, the one to come will be a man of sorrows, slaughtered like an animal for the sins of others (Isa. 53).

Will the Messiah be human or divine? The Hebrew word for the expected one, Messiah, means "the anointed one." The Messiah would be the greatest of men, a twig growing out of the trunk of King David that would eventually dwarf David himself. Or else, as the prophets sometimes put it, the one to come would be a twig growing out of the Lord (Isa. 4:2). The Messiah would be called "Mighty God" or "God with us" (Isa. 7:14). He would be the Lord himself suddenly coming to his temple (Mal. 3:1). In other words, the Messiah might be human or he might be divine, but in either case he would save his people.

What few imagined is that the Messiah would be both human and divine. Nobody foresaw explicitly that the eternal Son of God would come in the flesh. By the time of Jesus's birth, most of his contemporaries were looking more for a man than for God, more for a political champion than for a suffering servant. They wanted somebody who could get Rome off their back and Caesar out of their hair. They were looking for a man who could become their king.

What they got was the King who had become a man — God incarnate, God with a thumbprint and, for all we know, seasonal hay fever. Working all their sources, the inspired writers of Scripture tell us that he is the Son of God, Son of Man, Lord, and Christ. He is Word and wisdom, the second Adam, the end of the law, the light of the world. He is high priest and apostle. Fulfilling prophetic promises, he is both King of kings and also the suffering servant who was obedient all the way to death on a cross. He is both the sacrificial lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world and also the good shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep.

Jesus's mission was to die: As these last examples show, Jesus's mission was to die. The shadow of the cross fell across his cradle. The only Son of God was born in Bethlehem in order to absorb the inevitable penalty of our sin. Thus, he came to be "the atoning sacrifice for our sins" (1 John 4:10) and "to give his life a ransom for many" (Mark10:45). He is the Redeemer — the one who pays the penalty for sin by allowing his blood to be shed for others. This is the hinge on which the gospel turns.


Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.