“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace” Ephesians 1:7
Redemption is a difficult word. What does it mean for us as Christians? It is a word that used in such widely differing contexts. In financial markets, it might relate to to when an investment matures, or when we are shopping we might have vouchers that have to be redeemed by a particular date. Redemption is about an exchange, about giving something in return for something.
Redemption is at the heart of the teaching of our church. If we look at the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion, we read in Article 28, “Of the Lord’s Supper. The Supper of the Lord is not only a sign of the love that Christians ought to have among themselves one to another, but rather it is a Sacrament of our Redemption by Christ’s death” and, we read, in Article 31, “Of the one Oblation of Christ finished upon the Cross. The Offering of Christ once made is that perfect redemption, propitiation, and satisfaction, for all the sins of the whole world”.
Redemption is at the centre of church doctrine and appears regularly in our prayers. Do you remember the General Thanksgiving? It includes the words, “We bless thee for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life; but above all for thine inestimable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ”. The bidding prayer used at the beginning of Christmas carol services speaks of “the glorious Redemption brought us by this Holy Child”.
If redemption is in our teaching and in our prayers, what is it about? What does “redemption” mean? What does it mean when we say we have been “redeemed”?
The New Testament word is ἀπολύτρωσις—apolutrosis, it means a release brought about by the payment of a ransom. Redemption has a long history in the Bible, appearing sometimes in odd circumstances.
Exodus Chapter 21 Verses 28-32, we encounter rules concerning what should be done if a bull gores someone to death. It may mean the bull and the owner are put to death, or it may mean that a payment must be made. Verse 30 says, “If a ransom is imposed on the owner, then the owner shall pay whatever is imposed for the redemption of the victim’s life”.
In the book of Leviticus, redemption is concerned with freeing someone from slavery. The law speaks of how people who have sold themselves into slavery to foreigners may be freed. Chapter 25 Verse 48 says, “after they have sold themselves they shall have the right of redemption; one of their brothers may redeem them”.
Redemption may apply to people, it may apply to property. In Jeremiah Chapter 32 Verse 7, we read of the prophet redeeming a field. His cousin Hanamel comes to him and says, “Buy my field that is at Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, for the right of possession and redemption is yours; buy it for yourself.”
Redemption may also apply to people as property. In the book of Ruth, we read the conversation between Boaz and Ruth’s next-of-kin. In Chapter 4 Verses 5-6, Boaz says, “’The day you acquire the field from the hand of Naomi, you are also acquiring Ruth the Moabite, the widow of the dead man, to maintain the dead man’s name on his inheritance.’ At this, the next-of-kin said, ‘I cannot redeem it for myself without damaging my own inheritance. Take my right of redemption yourself, for I cannot redeem it.’”
Redemption in the Old Testament is about someone paying the price to free something or someone. When we turn to the New Testament, we see redemption as something that can apply to a whole people. Writing of Anna, the woman in the Temple when the infant Jesus is brought there, Saint Luke says in Chapter 2 Verse 38, “At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem”.
Jesus himself speaks of the redemption that awaits those who are faithful in Saint Luke Chapter 21 Verse 28, “Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near”.
Redemption is something which lies ahead of us. Saint Paul sees not just our souls, but our whole material selves as being redeemed from death. In the Letter to the Romans Chapter 8 Verse 23, he writes, “we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies”. In the Letter to the Ephesians, he sees redemption as something that awaits us, speaking in Chapter 1 Verse 14 of “the pledge of our inheritance towards redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory”. Paul warns his readers in Chapter 4 Verse 30, “do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption”.
Saint Paul sees redemption as something in the future, something that awaits the faithful, but also something that is with us here and now. He stresses the present reality of redemption in Romans Chapter 3 Verse 24, saying, “they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus”. Again, in Ephesians Chapter 1 Verse 7, he says, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace”, and, in Colossians Chapter 1 Verse 14, he speaks of Jesus, “in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins”.
The Letter to the Hebrews sets out what it was that Jesus did to achieve our redemption. In Chapter 9 Verse 12, it says, “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”. The price Jesus pays to redeem us is his own life; our freedom from fear of death comes to us at great cost.
Redemption is not much mentioned in our own time because we do not have a sense of our own unworthiness. We accept the universalism of the world around us which says that everyone gets to heaven, regardless of what they have done or what they have believed. The Bible offers no such option; heaven is reached through faith in Jesus and in what he has done for us. In words from, “There is a green hill far away”, Mrs Cecil Frances Alexander explains what redemption means in very simple terms:
“There was no other good enough
to pay the price of sin;
he only could unlock the gate
of heaven and let us in”.
If we really want to appreciate what redemption means for us, we should try to put ourselves in the place of Barabbas. Do you remember Barabbas? He is the rebel who has been sentenced to death for his part in a rising. On Good Friday morning, he is in a dungeon awaiting execution when he hears the crowds shout, “Away with this fellow! Release Barabbas for us!” Can you imagine how he felt? Can you imagine what thoughts went through his mind as the door is opened and he is released from his chains? Can you imagine his emotion as he is told that he is free, that he can go? Can you imagine the change that would have come over him?
Barabbas is representative of all of us. He is freed because Jesus is punished. The message of redemption, the message at the very heart of the Gospel is that we are a wretched and sinful people deserving God’s judgment, but we are set free. We are given a chance of a new life because Jesus has taken our place. Like Barabbas, we can walk out, with no charge against us; free to live a new and fuller life. How do we respond?
Each time we celebrate the Holy Communion, each time we break the bread and share the cup, we are reminded that God gave his “Son Jesus Christ to suffer death upon the Cross for our redemption”.
He dies that we might live. In words from the hymn, “To God be the glory”,
“Oh, perfect redemption, the purchase of blood,
to every believer the promise of God;
the vilest offender who truly believes,
that moment from Jesus a pardon receives”.