Redemption: Fight the urge to fit in (part 4)
Revolutions Need a Victim
In July of this year, I was sad that one of my favourite podcasts came to a conclusion.
The Revolutions podcast was hosted and produced by American historian and author Mike Duncan. With the podcast, Duncan told the stories of significant political revolutions throughout modern history, beginning with the English revolution, the American and French revolutions, then concluding with the Russian revolution.
Listeners learned much fascinating history through the seasons of the podcast. And there were many lessons to be learned as well. One that stood out for me was that revolutions always need a victim: In England, Charles I was executed (1649); in France, the Reign of Terror executed over 16,000 people; in Russia, the family of Tsar Nicholas II was unceremoniously executed on the side of a country road.
The move from one political ideology to another can be so dramatic and violent, a death seems to be a necessary salve.
I can’t help but think the same reaction occurs in our modern Western liberal democracies.
This week saw the uncovering of former Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s self-appointment to five ministerial portfolios without the knowledge of the sitting ministers. His defence was that the situation created by the COVID-19 pandemic required extraordinary measures. His detractors in the now ruling Labor Party claim this was dangerous for the country.
The heart of the matter is Morrison’s need for control and to micro-manage, signs of a dysfunctional leadership style. Yet, the outbursts of Labor politicians, including by current Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, seem to me reminiscent of the victimisation caused by revolutions.
To validate the current Labor government, it is not enough to win more seats by election, the Labor Party must portray the destructiveness of the Liberal Party and completely humiliate the former Prime Minister as publicly as possible.
Does the transition from one government to another really require a human sacrifice?
Therefore, brothers and sisters, in view of the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your true worship. Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God. (Romans 12:1–2)
In the Bible was are encouraged to understand the world and perceive the human condition differently.
I want to encourage you to fight the urge to fit in.
This sermon series is going to describe for you what is essential to believe, so that you can be a friend of Jesus.
With this sermon series, we are exploring what is essential to believe for Christian faith. We began by considering a pillar of faith, what we believe about Jesus. Since then, we have considered what is essential about God and then Humanity.
Redemption Definition Explained
In presenting the topic of Humanity, I identified how humans are created in the image and likeness of God, that we are under the curse of sin and, as a result, are in need of redemption.
I defined redemption as the release of people, animals, or property from bondage through the payment of a price. This is an ancient concept.
A more modern analogy of redemption is found in a story of a costly rescue organised by Queen Victoria:
For four years Emperor Theodore III of Ethiopia had held a group of fifty-three European captives (thirty adults and twenty-three children), including some missionaries and a British consul. By letter Queen Victoria pleaded in vain with Theodore to release the captives, who were held in a remote nine-thousand-foot-high bastion deep in the interior.
Finally, the queen ordered a full-scale military expedition from India to march into Ethiopia, not to conquer the country and make it a British colony, but simply to rescue a tiny band of civilians.
The invasion force included thirty-two thousand men, heavy artillery, and forty-four elephants to carry the guns. Provisions included fifty thousand tons of beef and pork and thirty thousand gallons of rum. Engineers built landing piers, water treatment plants, a railroad, and a telegraph line to the interior, plus many bridges. All of this was necessary to fight one decisive battle, after which the prisoners were released. Then everyone packed up and went home. The British expended millions of pounds to rescue a handful of captives.
Queen Victoria tried to redeem the captives through diplomatic means, yet was forced to expend great capital in a military intervention for their redemption.
Another story from the exploits of Lewis and Clark, the North American explorers, tell a different side of redemption:
Lewis and Clark’s famous expedition to the Pacific Northwest in 1804 almost came to an untimely and deadly end. Half starved and almost frozen, the men staggered out of Idaho’s snowy Bitterroot Mountains into the camp of the Nez Perce Indians.
A chief named Twisted Hair had to decide what to do with the weak but wealthy strangers suddenly in their midst. According to the tribe’s oral tradition, some of the Nez Perce proposed killing the white men and confiscating their boxes of manufactured goods and weapons. The expedition’s rifles and ammunition would have instantly made the Nez Perce the region’s richest and most powerful tribe.
But an Indian woman came to the aid of the white men. As a young girl, she had been captured by an enemy tribe on the plains, who in turn sold her to another tribe. Eventually she was befriended and treated kindly by white people in Canada before escaping and making her way back to her own people. They called her Watkuweis, “Returned from a Faraway Country,” and for years she told them stories about the fair-skinned people who lived toward the rising sun. She was aged and dying by the time the explorers arrived.
When she learned about plans to destroy the expedition, this woman intervened. “These are the people who helped me,” she said. “Do them no hurt.”
A little kindness can have amazing and unexpected results.
As far as the Indian women was concerned, the price of the explorer’s lives had already been paid by the kindness shown to her by others.
In both of these stories, we can see how sometimes people get themselves into situations where the value of their own lives is weighed against their freedom. Whether a person is imprisoned fairly or unfairly, whether they are forced to carry a heavy load, whether the pressures and stresses of work, family, or other commitments of life become overwhelming, sometimes a person needs help getting out from under.
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23)
When humans are conceived, they are born into a fallen world and then come under the curse of sin by their own choices. We each feel this curse, even if we cannot articulate it fully.
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)
Human persons are incapable of effecting their own redemption from the curse of sin. If we could, then we would have, and the evidence of our attempts is seen in the uncertainty, chaos, and violence all around us every day. We need to be saved from the human condition.
But thanks be to God, he has paid the price for our redemption in Christ Jesus.
What Is Essential About Redemption?
Let us now turn to our statement on what is essential about redemption:
We believe the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ provide the only redemption from sin and that Christ died for all people; reconciliation and new life connected to God are possible only through his death and resurrection.
This statement tells us four things about redemption.
The Cross and Resurrection Are Both Necessary
The first thing this statement tells us is that the cross AND resurrection are necessary.
When Christians talk about our redemption, we easily talk about the death of Christ on the cross as being a necessary sacrifice.
For this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. (Matthew 26:28)
It is hard to appreciate how the death of one person can satisfy all sin, for every person everywhere, for all time. Yet it can when that sacrifice is not destroyed.
But this man, after offering one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God. (Hebrews 10:12)
Jesus took upon himself the weight of our enslavement, of our imprisonment, of the curse of our sin which leads to death AND overcame. Both the cross and resurrection are necessary for our redemption.
Christ Died For All People
The next thing this statement tells us is that Christ died for all people.
And he died for all so that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for the one who died for them and was raised. (2 Corinthians 5:15)
The cross and resurrection are sufficient for the redemption of everyone, yet not effective for everyone unless they accept the sacrifice be applied to them by faith —a point we will come back to in a couple of weeks.
The Cross and Resurrection Effect Reconciliation
Next we are reminded the cross and resurrection effect reconciliation. There are two sides to redemption: we are saved from AND saved to.
But now in Christ Jesus, you who were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
He did this so that he might reconcile both to God in one body through the cross by which he put the hostility to death. (Ephesians 2:13, 16)
The cross and resurrection restore our fellowship with our Creator. As a result, we have peace with God (Rom 5:1), access to God (Rom 5:2), we are adopted into God’s family (Rom 8:15-16), and that peace extends throughout the universe (Col 1:20).
The Cross and Resurrection Effect New Life
Finally, this statement describes how the cross and resurrection effect new life.
And you were dead in your trespasses and sins.
But God, who is rich in mercy, because of his great love that he had for us, made us alive with Christ even though we were dead in trespasses. You are saved by grace! He also raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavens in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:1, 4–6)
All of this is made possible through the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus, our redemption. We are saved from the curse of sin and death, and saved to new life in Christ. Two sides. Both the cross and resurrection are necessary.
There is one more modern example of redemption I would like you to consider.
Bali Bomber to Be Released
Umar Patek was jailed for 20 years over his role in the 2002 Bali bombings in Indonesia.
Patek was convicted for premeditated murder.
He was spared the death penalty because he cooperated with investigators and and apologised to the victims' families, eventually being sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Typically, with incremental reductions and good behaviour, prisoners can get parole after serving about two thirds of their sentence.
Patek has been given a further five-month reduction to his sentence as part of Indonesia's Independence Day celebrations. He could therefore now be released this month, if granted parole.
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said the decision would add to the "distress and trauma" of victims' loved ones coming up to the 20th anniversary of the attack that killed 202 people, 88 of them Australians.
If the convicted bomber has paid his debt to society, as determined by the criminal justice system of Indonesia, then is this not enough for society to forgive him?
Reconciliation and Forgiveness
Christian tradition has a well developed commitment to conflict resolution based on the instructions of Jesus found in the gospels (Mt 18:15-20).
Yet this process places the emphasis on the victim to restore his victimiser, to forgive even if forgiveness has not been requested. This is good and healthy for the victim, but what must a victimiser do to gain forgiveness?
Maimonides was a Jewish philosopher and rabbi in the 12th century. He took the wisdom and insights found across the Jewish scriptures and organised them.
One of his innovations was to create “Laws of Repentance”, which include five steps for repentance.
- Confession (own what you did)
- Start to Change
- Amends (meet the victim’s needs)
- Apologise (only after 1-3 can one understand why an apology is necessary)
- Make Different Choices
If a victimiser commits to these steps, then, and maybe then, he will find forgiveness from a victim and reconciliation will be possible.
As sinners who have been forgiven, we recognise our redemption has come at a price. And whether we are victims or victimisers, there is pain in seeking conflict resolution and pain in seeking forgiveness. There is a price to be paid to follow the Way of Love.
Yet, after the forgiveness has been sought and offered, there is joy, peace, love; there is reconciliation.
May Jesus’ cross and resurrection keep us mindful of the price he paid for our redemption, so that we may, with his help, do all we can to redeem others. May we be changed in our thinking about forgiveness. May we too can actually enjoy the new life Jesus offers, reconciled to God and to those around us.
Let us pray:
Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, look upon us and have mercy upon us. By your agony and bloody sweat; by your cross and passion; by your precious death and burial; by your glorious resurrection and ascension; and by the coming of the Holy Ghost, save those whom you have redeemed, O Savior of the world, who are with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.
Unless otherwise noted, all scripture quotations are taken from The Christian Standard Bible (Nashville, TN, USA: Holman Bible Publishers, 2017).
Jim Reapsome, “Costly Rescue, Current Thoughts and Trends, May-1999; as quoted in Craig Brian Larson and Phyllis Ten Elshof, 1001 Illustrations That Connect (Grand Rapids, MI, USA: Zondervan Publishing House, 2008), pg 180–181.
Marshall Shelley, “Repaying Kindness” (Wheaton, IL, USA); as quoted in ibid, pg 184.
Adapted from Marvin R. Vincent, “Lamb of God, Have Mercy on Us”, The Minister’s Handbook (New York, NY, USA: Anson D. F. Randolph & Company, 1882), pg 116; as quoted in Elliot Ritzema, ed., 400 Prayers for Preachers (Bellingham, WA, USA: Lexham Press, 2012).