Coming from a safe suburb did little to prepare me for my adventures in Chicago when I arrived at 18. I witnessed my share of jumpers, derelicts and police busts. I recall the stares as the only white boy walking through Cabrini Green or walking through Newberry Square. But the most eye opening experience I had was my second year of college when I was assigned to preach at the Cook County Jail. An aged black preacher, his back contorted and fingers gnarled from arthritis, took me under his wing, introducing me to the men gathered in the day room as their preacher for the morning. Most of the men politely listened and smiled. Im sure they could sense my anxiety. Inexperienced and poorly studied, I tried to relate the Gospel to their desperate situation.
But of all the sights and smells I recall from that old wing of Cook County Jail, there is a sound which still rings in my ears. In the block adjacent to where I tried to preach, there was a special unit, reserved for men who could never enter the regular jail population. They were considered the worst of the worst; they were called animals by the other prisoners. The guards were less flattering. I recall their constant screaming, incoherent jabbering, the bedlam. Their presence in Cook County was well known, not for their jailhouse antics, but because of what landed them in there in the first place. Their recent arrest in Chicago and impending federal trial was all over the papers back in 1979 as it is once again today. These men were members of the armed forces of national liberation, the FALN, a terrorist group seeking independence for Puerto Rico.
This past Friday 11 of the 14 members of FALN, some of whom were partof the anarchy of that jail, were released from Federal Prison as President Clinton granted them clemency. When you heard of this or read about it in the papers, perhaps you became enraged by their liberation. Their criminal activity is not debated; their guilt is not questioned. For that reason many are concerned their freedom will mean increased violence once again. Releasing guilty people, liberating reprehensible terrorists, is a questionable practice.
If that bothers you, even in the slightest way, our passage this morning may also cause some discomfort. In Ephesians 1 Paul begins this letter by describing the great extent to which our Father sought us as His own. In the last two weeks we saw the marks of the Fathers affection in His choice of us, in His pre-encircling us in His love to be adopted as His sons. The extent of the Father affection in our passage continues further here as we examine the work of the Son. The Father determines our salvation and the Son accomplishes it through His death.
Paul continues with this great litany of the Fathers work for us in Christ. The next mark of the Fathers affection is seen in verse 7: "in him we have redemption."
The word "redemption" has been etched in stained glass; it is a church term with little relevance to everyday life. Its meaning has been lost, except for coupon clippers and those who want to collect the 5 cent deposit on soda cans. Perhaps you recall the Seinfeld episode where Kramer and Newman load up the postal truck and make their way to Michigan to become rich. But the word "redemption" is a rich word which points to our liberation, our release.
The Father grants us release because of His love
The meaning of redemption
The idea of redemption finds its origin in ancient warfare. Captives were made slaves and put to work. Some of those captured were of importance and highly valued in their homeland. In such cases the captives could be set free if their home country could raise the funds to buy back their release. During Pauls day, slaves comprised 1/3 of the population. Each city engaged in the practice of buying and selling them as property. If a slave performed well, he could buy his freedom or have another secure it for him if the right amount was paid to the owner.
There are three words in the New Testament which help us understand redemption.
The first word is agoradzoo which comes from the noun "agora" or marketplace. This word means to buy from the marketplace, focusing on the payment made to purchase the freedom of another.
This word is used in Revelation 5:9 where the 24 elders at the throne of God say:
"You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth."
Like slaves purchased from the auction block, those in Christ have been purchased at a great price and are now set apart for a new purpose.
The next word adds the prefix "ex," or "out of" to the idea of buying another in the marketplace. They are purchased in the market to be taken out of the market.
Galatians 4:4-5 paints this picture when we are told that we are taken from the slave market of sin and placed in the home as sons. The word "redeemed" means to be bought out of, to be set free. We are removed from the curse of the law, never to return again.
The word used in Ephesians 1:7 goes one step further. Apolutrosis means to be released from, to be set free. This word was used to refer to the paying of a ransom in order to release a person from bondage or captivity, especially that of slavery.
These three words help paint a picture of one for whom a price is paid to make them free and then are released from the captivity of slavery. When the slave was bought in the market, if their service did not please the new master, he could be returned. Today slave trade is still active in places like the Sudan where Muslims kidnap Sudanese Christians, selling them as servants and prostitutes, in India and Thailand as well this practice continues.
Some organizations, such as the International Justice Mission and Christian Solidarity International have collected money in the states used to purchase these slaves. American school children likewise have raised money to purchase slaves. While their freedom is obtained, the activity has created an increased demand, so that those slaves who are released face recapture so that the Americans will come again to buy them out of slavery later. It is a practice with good intentions but unsatisfactory results.
How different it is in Christ. When he secures our release, freedom is absolute and certain. The ransom is paid, the removal is completed and the release is forever. We are released from the guilt and punishment of sin. In John 8:34-36 says "I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed."
Our redemption means we are forgiven verse 7
What is it we are released from? The chains which bind us as slaves are powerful. We are bound by our own sin and for there to be release, those sins must be removed.
Sin is a bondage of the will and of the mind. Shakespeare got it right in King Richard III when the hero of the play says, "My conscience hath a thousand tongues, and every tongue brings in a several tale. And every tale condemns me for a villain." (V,iii,180) We all need release.The removal of our offensiveness before God is what Paul calls here: "forgiveness." Redemption is not complete without pardon, without the removal of sin. Forgiveness here means to let go, to send away or dismiss. God remits our sins, refuses to hold them against us. Isaiah paints a wonderful picture of this in 44:22: "I have swept away your offenses like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist. Return to me, for I have redeemed you." What does God forgive? The simple word "sins" here is the word "trespass" which literally means to fall to the side, to stumble or deviate from the path. Ever watch a person walking down the street get the tip of his shoe caught in a crack resulting in that little dance. It is as though they say, "Im not a clutz, I just skipping along." But we all know the problem - they slipped. Our slips may be noticed by others or not; we may try to cover them up with excuses. But the only way to get our missteps, our stumblings removed is by having God sweep them from us, by redeeming us as His own. We all find ourselves with our tragic, hurtful blunderings in which we think we are doing something that will fulfill us, but it ends up wrong, devastating, deadening, and we wind up bitter and disillusioned. But those stumblings are forgiven by Christs shed blood, by His purchase of us to be used by Him. A number of years ago Albert Speer was interviewed on "Good Morning, America." Speer was the Hitler confidant whose technological genius kept the Nazi factories running throughout WWII. He was the only one of the 23 war criminals tried at Nuremburg to admit his guilt, and he had served 20 years in a Spandau prison. The interviewer referred to a passage in one of Speers earlier writings: "You have said the guilt can never be forgiven or shouldnt be. Do you still feel that way?" A look of pathos spread across Speers face as he responded, "I served a sentence of 20 years, and I could say, "Im a free man, my conscience has been cleared by serving the whole time as punishment. But I cant get rid of it. This new book is part of my atoning, of clearing my conscience." The interviewer pressed the point: "You really dont thing youll be able to clear it totally?" Speer shook his head. "I dont think it will be possible." (Ephesians, Hughes, p 33) We are all bound by the chains of our own guilt. Like the criminal in cuffs and leg irons, dressed in prison issue jumpsuit, still hides his face from the glare of the cameras, so we, when we refuse to believe the Gospel, try to hide from God, from each other, from ourselves. And so we become reclusive, trying to be self-sufficient, not wanting to be dependent upon anyone else. We become secretive, suspicious, independent, private, and thus also lonely and hurt, resentful, bitter and despairing. The solution is provided in the One the Father loves. If man's greatest need in life was pleasure, then God would have sent an entertainer. If man's greatest need would have been money, then He would have sent a financial consultant. If man's greatest need would have been for information, He would have sent an educator. But God in His infinite wisdom knew that man's greatest need was forgiveness - and so He sent a Savior.
The wealth of redemption verse 8
God gave according to His riches
It is no secret that Bill Gates is considered the wealthiest man in America with over $15 billion at his disposal. In years past Gates was criticized for his lack of philanthropic giving. So, to amend his ways, he has begun donating to various causes. Now there are two ways for Mr. Gates to give. He can give "out of" his riches, in which case, he can toss a check here and there for a couple thousand or even a million dollars. While to us, that would be a wonderful gift, it would have little impact on his checkbook. But if he would give "in accordance with his riches" he would give in direct proportion to his wealth. This is what God has done. In the end of verse 7, Paul says God gave according to His riches. What He has given us, the forgiveness weve received, the grace He has offered us is all in keeping with how wealthy He is.
God lavished His grace on us. When you lavish something upon someone you heap it on more and more with repeated portions, again and again. This is an overflowing giving, with leftovers to spare. Paul is not talking here about the time he was forgiven, when he first believed.
Redemption looks not just to an event in the past, but the ongoing work of God; it is always a present occurrence. I find that many Christians think that the time their sins were forgiven was when they were converted, when, for the first time, they laid hold of the grace and the forgiveness that is in Jesus Christ. Most of us tend to think that when God wiped out the past, and gave us a clean slate, that from now on it is up to us to keep it clean. He gave us a new start once. Now we are to struggle to keep things straight. But that paints God as a miser, tight fisted with grace. That is not true.
God gave out of His wisdom and insight
Gods gracious forgiveness flows from His own wisdom and understanding. This wisdom and understanding connects the forgiveness weve received and looks forward to the next verse describing how God revealed to us the mystery of our salvation.
Wisdom emphasizes the understanding of spiritual things. God in His infinite wisdom knew what to reveal to us and when we should understand those truths.
Understanding is perhaps better translated as perception or prudence. This is the understanding and discernment that leads to right decisions and actions; it is insightful.
With all wisdom and prudence God unveiled His Sovereign plan of redemption. God has not made His grace towards us to abound in a random manner, but His grace has abounded according to His divine wisdom and insight.
The Father gives us revelation of His will
The mystery of Gods revelation - verse 9
With the coming of Christ we not only are redeemed; in the incarnation there is also revelation. When God sent Christ He revealed something very important as well. Paul calls it a mystery.
We have to be clear what Paul means by this term. We think of a mystery as something which is hard to work out. A novel by Grisham or Agatha Christy weaves a tale scattered throughout with clues. If we pay enough attention well figure out whodunit. A mystery is solved when we say Colonel Mustard in the library with the candlestick.
But the Greek term does not denote something difficult to work out; its something impossible to work out. It is something so mysterious that what it signifies is beyond our ability to work out - ever. In the New Testament, however, this profound truth, which we can never work out for ourselves, has now been made known by God. It has been revealed.
What is the mystery? What could never have been discovered by human reason before, but with Christs incarnation, His death, burial and resurrection is now revealed? This verse doesnt give us an answer. But Paul clarifies the issue later in 3:2-6.
To us the union of Jew and Gentile may not seem that profound, but for Pauls first century readers it was earth shattering. We sometimes take for granted that Gods people today comprise all His chosen people throughout time and of various cultures. It is only in retrospect that we can see how it was the magi in Matthew who worshipped the newborn king; it was the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4 who responded in faith. The work of Christ on the Cross brought an end to the ethnic divisions which we find in the Old Testament.
The perfect timing of Gods revelation - verse 10a
We saw this truth mentioned early in Galatians 4:4 "But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons." The right time had to come.Throughout the ages God used a variety of means to speak to His people. But as the author to the Hebrews says " in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, and through whom He made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of His being, sustaining all things by His powerful word. After He had provided purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven." (Hebrews 1:2-3) The times had to reach their fulfillment. The plan which the Father devised in eternity past, the plan which incorporated our election so that we would be holy, our predestination to be adopted as sons, the means by which Christ would redeem us from the curse of the law - that plan was to be accomplished in space and time. Knowing that Christ came when the times reached their fulfillment is a great encouragement that God works when the times are right. God and history are not in conflict. Certainly apart from Christ the whole world is a shapeless chaos and frightful confusion. History is not haphazard but intentional, pressing toward a goal. Time is created and maintained for the elect servants of God and filled by specific deeds of God.
The purpose of Gods revelation - verse 10bToward what end has he directed the whole universe, including our redemption? The goal is to bring all under the authority of Christ. He who redeems a people for Himself is sovereign over all creation. What is missing in the NIV is that just one word is used for "bring together under one head" "Head" or kephale can mean the headstone or cornerstone, the main point of an argument, or a summary. Everything meets there. But prefixed to this word is "ana" or again. Gods purpose is to bring together, unite, or sum up all things again. Everything was together in Jesus once, ceased to be united to Him through the Fall, but is to be reunited in Him again by redemption. The purpose of God which He has deemed to reveal and which was hidden for ages is His intention to reunite all things as one harmonious whole under Christ. This is Pauls theme.
We often miss this great, overarching truth. We think of our salvation in terms of individuals, of our personal redemption, forgetting that Gods plans are much bigger than ours.I began saying that if you have problems with the release of the FALN terrorists this past week you may have problems with this passage. Perhaps you can point to political implications with the deal; maybe its just general paranoia regarding the federal government. But deep down inside, we are often bothered by the seeming injustice of it all. It offends our innate sense of justice.
Criminals should pay for their crime. Freedom should be awarded to those who have earned it or at least have not forfeited it by their actions. My brief interaction 20 years ago with crazed terrorists was only confirmed by what I read I the papers.As I consider their freedom, their liberation, their release I am forced to face my own redemption.
For them, their imprisonment came with drug trafficking, bombs and mayhem. My imprisonment came because of the sin of my forefather, Adam, because of my own law breaking every day of my life.
For them, their freedom came with a signature on a piece of paper. My freedom came at a greater cost. My clemency came written in the blood of the sovereign Judges son. The offended died to set the offenders free. For that reason I can know that the Lords forgiveness is as complete as its procurement was costly.Im sure President Clinton would not have agreed to free these terrorist if the cost meant the suffering and death of Chelsea. I would never do that for a murderer. But our heavenly Father is so much richer in grace that He bought my worthless life with the precious life of His own Son. My release came at a great price for my crime was so great. My release means not only that I have no reason to fear Hell or Gods wrath; not only I am no longer under the burden of my guilt and shame, but that in Gods grace I am a part of Gods gracious bringing of all things under the authority of Christ.