Thoughts of a Country Preacher

The Monday morning ruminations of a pastor.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

An Apology, A Thanks, And A Really Quick Post

The Apology –

First off, let me apologize for my absence. Blogging has taken a back seat for a variety of reasons for the past several weeks. Inclement weather has been an annoyance; we’ve had three funerals, and everything that goes along with them. Several that has come to Christ, and all that goes along with that. My Father in Law started his cancer treatment, which has been a constant strain upon my wife. Eldon seems to have become the epicenter for a flu outbreak – which has kept me running back and forth to hospitals, a new baby, and oh – let’s not forget Easter. We all know that Easter isn’t a busy time of the year in the church. Add to that trying to keep up with my son’s new words, new activities, and new daredevil stunts, I hope you have a better understanding as to why blogging has taken such a back seat. I realize that these are all excuses, and I’m sorry about that too. But first and foremost I want to extend to you, my readers, my most sincere apology for my unexplained absence here.

A Thanks –

Despite my absence, this site has not lacked activity. There have been many of you who have checked in on me, more than few have done so daily, and I thank you for that. At the turn of the year, I was under the impression that both of my readers had somehow stumbled on this site by accident and stuck around for a chuckle. My time away has proven this wrong. To my surprise I have more than just a few regulars – and they are actually interested in what goes on here. For that I am eternally humbled by that – and grateful. Thank you for showing such interest. My readers really are the best part of this blog.

A Really Quick Post –

While things are slowing down, there is still much to do, so my post will not be too overly involved. Last Sunday, in preparation of Easter, we started specifically focusing our attention on the person and work of Jesus Christ. Last Sunday we looked at his purpose in Mark 10, where we are told that Jesus came to give his life as a ransom for many. In preparation for this message, I came across one of Piper’s sermons where he explored what is meant when Jesus said that he was to be a "ransom for many." This excerpt, reproduced from the Desiring God website, had a tremendous impact upon me, and I hope that it impacts you as well as you focus on Christ.

Jesus Came "to Give His Life as a Ransom for Many"

But now let's take the specific act of Jesus' service that he mentions in Mark 10:45. "The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many." Jesus came to "give his life as a ransom for many." This is what Christmas is about. He came. He did not come to be served. He came to give his life a ransom for many. Let's think about this act of service.

It Was Intentional

First of all, let it sink in that this act of giving his life as a ransom was intentional. It says he came to do it. Christ did not come to earth for other reasons and then get caught up in a plot that resulted in his death. He came to die. Hebrews 2:14 puts it plainly:
Since then the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil.
Jesus came to die.
Look back in this very context to Mark 10:33–34. Jesus is on the road going up to Jerusalem. There is fear and amazement in the air, because everyone suspects something tremendous is going to happen. Jesus tells them what he is walking into, willingly:
Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered to the chief priests and the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death, and will deliver Him to the Gentiles. 34 And they will mock Him and spit upon Him, and scourge Him, and kill Him, and three days later He will rise again.
So Jesus is knowingly walking into the jaws of suffering and death. Verse 45 says why: He came to give his life a ransom for many. Don't miss this. Jesus is choosing to suffer. He is choosing to die. He is participating intentionally in his own execution.

His Death Is a "Ransom"

Now why is his death called a ransom? "The Son of Man came to give his life a ransom for many." Ransom is a good translation. The Greek word here (lutron) meant just that—a payment to release someone from some kind of bondage: prisoners of war, slavery, debt. So the implication is that Jesus sees his death as a ransom to release many from bondage. He is paying what they cannot pay so that they may go free. He is substituting himself for them. And at the cost of his life, they get freedom.
So this ransom is describing a substitution. Jesus in the place of the many. Sometimes people say that the word "for" doesn't have to mean substitution. "Ransom for many," they say, may only mean, "for the benefit of many," not, "in the place of many." But listen to this compelling word from Leon Morris:
Even if . . . we take the substitutionary meaning out of the preposition ["for" = anti], we have not taken it out of the passage, for the situation [in view] is one in which the many are condemned, their lives are forfeit. If Jesus gives His life "a ransom for many" and thereby they are released from their condemnation, then a substitutionary transaction has taken place, understand the individual words as we will. (Leon Morris, The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross [Grand Rapids; Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1955], p. 36)
That seems exactly right to me. But what is the bondage or slavery that the many are in that they need to be ransomed from?

What Are "the Many" Ransomed From?

Jesus describes us in John 8:34 as enslaved to sin: "Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin." He did not see us as occasionally sinning, but as under the power of sin. We are slaves of sin and we need to be ransomed from its power.
But that's not the worst of it. Jesus taught that the penalty for sin is eternal punishment. In Matthew 25:46 he says, "These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life." Sin brings the wrath of God. It brings judgment. If we don't find rescue from the guilt of our sin, we will be punished, Jesus says, forever, because sin is an infinite offense against an infinitely holy God. So the slavery and the bondage that we need ransoming from is the slavery of sin and eternal punishment.

How Do We Know We Need Ransoming?

That is what Jesus comes to do: ransom many from the guilt and power of sin and the penalty of eternal punishment. That is our condition. How do we know this is so?
First, our conscience tells us that we are sinners. We know that we have fallen short of our own standards, and therefore how much more must we have fallen short of God's. But what about the penalty of that? It is amazing how we excuse ourselves here. Some say, "I am not worse than others." Some say, "My sins are only small, compared to the sins of others." Some say, "God would not condemn me, because he is loving." Some say, "Eternal punishment would be unjust."
But what are all these? They are opinions of men. How can you know how God will respond to your sin when you die? The answer is written by God in your heart (Romans 1:32); and written plainly in his Word. Therefore, do not let your own mind make up an answer to this. Way too much hangs on it. Search the Word of God. Seek for his answer and he will show you. I believe the answer is plain in Scripture: our condition of sin will bring judgment and wrath on us after we die if we do not find a rescue. "The wages of sin is death," said the apostle Paul, "but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 6:23). There are two destinies: eternal life, and eternal death. Eternal death is what we need to be saved from because of our sin.

How Does Jesus Ransom Us?

So what then is the way Jesus rescues us? Jesus says, "The Son of Man came . . . to give his life as a ransom for many." He gives his life for the many. That is, he dies for many. The ransom price is his life. This is why the Bible says again and again that Christ died to save us. "While we were yet sinners Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). We were "justified by his blood" (Romans 5:9). "We were reconciled to God by the death of his Son" (Romans 5:10). "He bore our sins in his body on the cross" (1 Peter 2:24). "Christ died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust" (1 Peter 3:18).
The heart of the Christian message is that Christ came to give his life a ransom for many. That is, to die for many. That is: to save many from their sin and from its guilt and power and penalty in eternal punishment.

Are You in "the Many"?

Now the last question is: who are the many? Are you in the many? Were you ransomed when Christ died? Are you still under the guilt and power of sin when you might be free? Are you moving toward eternal life or eternal punishment? Who are the many that were ransomed by the Son of Man when he gave his life?
Turn with me to John 15:13. Here Jesus answers the question about whom he ransomed. He says, "Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends." He says that he will lay down his life for his friends. He will ransom his friends. So here is the question for us this Christmas: Are you a friend of Jesus? If you are, you were ransomed. If you aren't, you can become one this morning. What does it mean to be a friend of Jesus?
The next verse explains (John 15:14): "You are My friends, if you do what I command you." This is not how you become a friend. This is the way you act when you are a friend. This is not the way you become his friend. It is the evidence that you are ransomed. The ransom is what frees you and empowers you to do what Jesus commands you to do. First you know yourself ransomed, then you enjoy the freedom and power and fruit of the ransom.


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