Facing Calvary Ocho : Ransomed or Redeemed

Lenten Reflections Anno Domini Nostri Iesu Christi 2012

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For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. Mark 10:45

The word redeemed has become favored in church vernacular as we talk of our salvation. It speaks of the marketplace, a milieu of which we are familiar. Use and time have softened the edges and made it safe like the carpenter does with hard corner of a table apron. We are a redeemed people, a part of a transaction on which many of us fail to reflect these days. Redemption gives us a sense of payment changing hands, but from what and from whom we have little recollection.

It is also what we do with grocery-store discount coupons.

Ransom, on the other hand, conjures up images of zip-ties, blindfolds, panel vans and grimy, artificially darkened rooms. Sweat and fear permeate the air and the transaction forms the balance between life and death. Since that fateful day in the Garden, humanity has been held in the grips of this tableau, this shadowy existence of bondage. We feel free but our soul groans each time we bump into the boundaries of our prison, our hands unable to break free and find a way out. Trapped.

The sin that holds us in bondage is not of our making, but it is our reality. Like captives who begin to identify with their captors, we rationalize and find the sin not so difficult to abide. Many times, we like it, mistaking it for true freedom. We are tempted to try to make our own deal for release, to try to barter with our captor only to discover the price, life itself. Blood must pay the price.

Blood did pay the price.

Ransom is an ugly word but it is our reality, brothers and sisters. We were bound and headed to death until the only One who could pay the ransom did so. The price cannot be measured in dollars and cents like other transactions. The price was life for life. He give His so that you might have yours. Don’t cheapen it. Live it.

Grace and peace to you.

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Psalm 107–Do Tell

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Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story – those he redeemed from the hand of the foe, those he gathered from the lands, from east and west, from north and south. (Ps 107:2-3)

The culture that we have developed within the Church puts an emphasis on the shiny, clean you. Reborn, redeemed? Give effusive thanks for that, Christian!

Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind for he satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things. (vv8-9)

The psalmist reminds us, however, of the value of recounting the journey prior to redemption. Others benefit directly and indirectly from the journey, from seeing the hills and valleys overcome. They gain a deeper perspective on redemption when they see sin beaten, sin removed, sin forgiven and washed clean. The psalmist tells of the wandering, the failure, the enslavement, the loss and greed—all forgotten by Yahweh in an instant when His people focused their devotion on Him.

Let the one who is wise heed these things and ponder the loving deeds of the Lord. (v43)

Grace and peace to you.

image Lewis & Clark College

Lent Spent with the Psalms Day Nine

imageAs we considered yesterday, our perspective is more limited than we can even imagine. Not only is our vision limited, but our concept of time is constrained by our imagination as well. Forever for us ends upon our own expiration. We can’t see it any other way. The psalmist, in Psalm 13, cries out to God in this pinched voice:

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?

How long will you hide your face from me?

How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart?

How long will my enemy triumph over me? (vv 1-2)

The Cross that we are approaching day by day holds the answer to these plaintive questions. God had planned for the Cross before time, knowing that creatures with will posed a risk in their love and devotion. How long has God loved us? Forever. How long has he planned to redeem us? Forever. How long will he continue to love his creations? Forever.

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The Multi-Faceted View of Atonement

We have looked at three of the major views that Christians have adopted to understand atonement, Christus Victor, Healing, and Penal Substitution. At one time or another during the history of the Church, each of these theories has held the majority position among theologians. The Penal Substitution view is the dominant view now, among the American churches at least.image It’s important to recognize the historical shifts in acceptance of the various theories and to question why one would lose favor to another in the minds of Christian thinkers and teachers. Does the Bible change over time? Has the Holy Ghost made contradictory revelations at different moments in time that initiated the shift? What about all of the other atonement views that are subsumed within the larger categories?

Is it possible that the atonement brought about by the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ is much too expansive to be understood under the banner of a single, narrow category?

Atonement is Too Large for a Single Theory

Theologians who stand apart from the dominant views of atonement will answer this question by saying yes, there is no model or metaphor that is sufficient to explain the significance of of His sacrifice. The crucifixion and its result are tightly woven into God’s eternal purpose and as spirit-opened eyes continue to pore over the scriptures in the hours remaining until the end of this time, we may never run out of the countless ways of understanding its meaning for our salvation. It should not be alarming to find a number of images that lend themselves to understanding this momentous act. As centuries of eyes search out the truths of God’s word, each with a slightly different perspective on the greatest human need, it is inevitable that a number of categories would arise.

Single Views and the Bible

The New Testament authors generated a number of images in the Gospels and Epistles in order to help readers comprehend the monumental shift in God-Human relationship brought about by crucifixion of Jesus. If the primary rule of hermeneutics is applied—context,context, context—the modern reader places the writing in first century and recognizes the societal influences that are inherent in the texts. Five areas of public life dominate: the court of law (justification), the world of commerce (redemption), personal relationships (reconciliation), worship (sacrifice), and the battleground (triumph over evil).

This plethora of imagery could be differentiated by the loci of the individual authors, their use of language and metaphor and missiological interest. A more effective tool for seeing the wide span of atonement images is to survey the corpus of a single author to see if there is variety or consistency. With his dominant contributions, Paul and his works provides such a platform. The Apostle employs two main themes in discussing the significance of the atonement, the ‘giving up’ of Jesus for human salvation (cf. Rom 8:32, Gal 1:4) and ‘Christ died for our sins’ (cf. 1 Cor 15:3, 1 Thes 5:10). These themes emphasize the saving nature of Jesus’ death but they do so without linking it explicitly to a single methodological theory. With this point established, Paul then utilizes a variety of imagery applicable to particular concerns of his epistle audiences. Reading Paul exposes us to language about substitution, representation, sacrifice, justification, forgiveness, reconciliation, victory over the powers, and redemption.

Conclusion

Rather than being confined within a single theory, the atonement is better viewed as encompassing the fullness of God’s design for the world. The image which finds favor with a theologian will more often than not be a product of his definition of the greatest human need. If people are seen as in bondage to sin, they need liberation. If humanity is spiritually blind, the desperate need is for illumination. If lost, they need to be found. Taking a kaleidoscopic view of atonement provides the freedom necessary to locate all of these needs within a view of the crucifixion.

Psalm 22 ~ Why Have You Forsaken Me? Part 2

As we read into the middle section of this psalm (vv 12 – 21) we find a poetic device at work to emphasize the only source of hope for the psalmist, salvation by the Lord. Notice how the dangers bracket the redeemer:

Bulls, Lions, Dogs

Hope in the Redeemer

Dogs, Lions, Bulls

Nearly all of us can identify with the despair of the psalmist as our troubles surround us on all sides, threatening to engulf us. The vicious nature of one’s enemies is on full display; the lions roar their deafening cry while tearing at the flesh, the horns of the bulls glisten red in the light as they snort and bring their enormous bulk closer and closer and, all the while, the snarling dogs snap and dodge, circling around their prey. Their teeth pierce the hands and feet of the besieged as he grows weaker and weaker.

I can count all my bones; people stare and gloat over me. They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing. (vv 17-18)

There is always hope, even if it is not restored in this life. We are children of the Lord and despite our current danger, we will rest in the safety of his hand knowing that our circumstances serve the greater purpose of God.

But you, O Lord, be not far off; O my Strength, come quickly to help me.

Deliver my life from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dogs.

Rescue me from the mouth of the lions; save me from the horns of the wild oxen. (vv 19 – 21)

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Thanksgiving Five

It is part and parcel of our nature to find ourselves wallowing in the problems we face and the struggles that confront us. Just as Jesus promised, we have more than enough trouble to go around in this world. And yet, we are to be people of thanks for we have received the greatest gift possible, life. We have been restored from our exile in darkness and given the ability to walk in the glorious light. We have been restored into kingdom of the King who matters. Our thanks should mirror God’s people who were once also restored from exile:

When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, the priests in their vestments and with trumpets, and the Levites (the sons of Asaph) with cymbals, took their places to praise the Lord, as prescribed by David king of Israel. With praise and thanksgiving they sang to the Lord:

“He is good; his love to Israel endures forever.”

And all the people gave a great shout of praise to the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy. No one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping, because the people made so much noise. And the sound was heard far away. (Ezra 3:10-13) 

Give thanks today for your struggles. Give thanks today for your restoration and return from the darkness. Give thanks for your family and friends, your wealth or poverty, your sickness or health. Give thanks that God has everything under his control…and that you don’t have to. Give thanks for your trust in that idea.

Be blessed. Happy Thanksgiving.