Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Cure for Broken People in a Broken World Part 2

  • Joseph can hardly muster up the strength to do it. His frail little body packs up all of his belongings. He’ll be living with grandma now that mom and dad are gone. His pain is obvious…he’s all alone now and he knows it.
  • Her face exudes confidence, happiness, and togetherness. Yet, underneath Molly is raging with insecurity, doubt, hopelessness, and pain. Each careless word lances her like a sharp knife. Soon it won’t be words that cut her; it will come from her own hands.
  • Timothy has dreams of doing great things in service to God. He can hardly contain his passion for Jesus. That is, on the good days. But here he is again with his heart ripped out by his pornography addiction. When will he ever find freedom? Is he even suited now to serve God? Has he blown all of his dreams of serving God?
  • The elbow to her back and the loud snoring would have been a blessing now. What once seemed like the smallest bed imaginable now seems to Mildred infinitely large. She’s a widow now and every night her empty bed confirms that.
  • Now that he has turned thirteen John needs his dad now more than ever. Yet, his dad is always gone. John’s life reflects that emptiness. His insecurities exposed at school, his grades suffer from staying up all hours of the night waiting on dad, and his relationships are either painfully distant or unhealthily smothering. John can’t decide if he’d rather have dad stay away or risk the consequences of the crippling affects of alcohol abuse.
  • Shailinne, though only eight years old, now has to take care of his younger siblings because mom and dad have been orphaned to AIDS. No health care, no source of income, nothing. They feel the pain of poverty and hunger every day. His little ribs are already exposed and he doesn’t have the fluid in his body to produce tears. But he’s crying. He’s crying for redemption.

And in some way or another we are like everyone in those stories. Whether we bear the emotional scars of broken relationships or physical scars we too are longing for redemption. Love turns sour. Sometimes it comes from our own poor choices. We gave ourselves to someone that we thought would love us and last forever…now we are alone…we’ve made the choice we’ve given away something special but now what?

And we aren’t really much different than the people in the Bible times. Their stories might have been a little different but they faced the same problems that we do. Death has been present since the fall of mankind. Broken relationships have always been around. The pain of being rejected by a community of people has always been a reality. The consequences of our own personal sin and suffering the consequence of others sins against us is nothing new under the sun. War, famine, poverty….if we are facing it today they faced it then.

As we said last week we are broken people in a broken world and it has been that way since the fall of mankind. And there is one thing that is true alongside of this central truth—we long for redemption. We want it fixed. Even if we have tried to numb the pain of living in a broken world it catches up with us. You cannot hide from brokenness all of your life. Your fallenness will eventually catch up with you and you will more than likely feel the pain of living in a broken world. And at that moment you will long for redemption. You will long for rescue.

That’s really what redemption is…rescue. And we will learn in our text tonight that this is precisely what God does. God is in the process of restoring all things to their proper position. God is redeeming broken people and a broken world. Last week we looked at the Father’s electing love and how it solves our greatest problems. God is in the process of restoring that which is broken. Tonight we will continue that theme. Last week we looked at the past work of God...we looked at God the Father setting the plan of redemption into motion. Tonight we feel it. Tonight we look at the redemption that we have experienced and look towards the redemption that we will one day experience.

Remember that this text is Paul worshipping. Blessed be the God and Father…that is our call to worship. Well, why is God blessed? Because He has blessed us. Well how has he blessed us? And that is what verses 4-14 answer. Look at what God has done.

Read Ephesians 1:3-14

Before we really get into looking at this text I want us to try to put ourselves in a position to really understand and even feel what God is saying to us through the apostle Paul. What would it feel like to long for and desperately need redemption? Redemption, of course, meaning to “buy back or secure the release of someone from slavery or from captivity by the payment of a ransom.”

Let’s say that we find ourselves in a prison camp. Only months ago an invading army came in and took many of us. You know that many of your friends and family are in here somewhere but the guards make certain to separate anyone with any sort of attachment. Even though there are hundreds of people around--you consider yourself alone. The barbed wire fences scream out to you the message of your entrapment. The stench of death consumes the place. You awake each morning to that haunting smell of death. As you see the sunset you wonder if it will be your last. Every morning the guards line up everyone in your shack, and with a randomness you’ve yet to comprehend they select a few poor souls to be today’s gas chamber victims. Even if you survive the day’s lottery you are met with a day of grueling labor and the inevitable lashes across your back. The food, if you could call it that, is disgusting and minimal. The water is dirty and the sun is hot. There is nothing joyous about your stay here.

What would you be feeling in that prison camp? At first you would be deeply longing for someone to come to your rescue. You would still have hope. Perhaps in the beginning you could be comforted by the prospect of a hot bath or a cool glass of water. A loving embrace, a peaceful morning, fresh slices of bacon, would accompany the sunrise. Such hope would only last so long. With each day dream that is interrupted by the cold reality of slavery your hope would dwindle. With each new day your thoughts would turn bleaker. “Nobody is coming. My day is coming…I too will be in the gas chamber before long.” You would probably find yourself hoping that you’d be the gas chamber victim. All motivation for life would be gone.

But what would happen if you heard that a decisive battle had been won by your countries army? The tyrants had been overthrown. It would only be a matter of time before rescue was coming. The days of the gas chamber would soon be fading away. Rescue is coming. You can smell bacon and eggs again. With each new day your hope would actually rise instead of dwindle. Victory had been won, redemption is coming.

Redemption. It’s a word that has almost fallen out of our vocabulary yet it is a word—or rather a truth—that we all long for and need to experience. Apart from Christ our only experience is the hopelessness of the first scenario. But with Christ we find ourselves living in the second story. Tonight we will look at the redemption that God has provided and the ultimate redemption that God will provide.

Our present experience of redemption

Redemption, again, means to “buy back or secure the release of someone from slavery or from captivity by the payment of a ransom.” When you think of the word ransom you think of that which has been paid to the bad guy that has kidnapped us. In our story if you think of ransom you probably assume that it would have been paid to those that were holding us in the gas chamber. So, what are we to make of Jesus’ words in Matthew 20:28, “…the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many”?

If Jesus gives his life as a ransom then who is the ransom paid to? In our text in Ephesians 1:7 if we have “redemption in him” then what or who are we redeemed from? One popular answer is Satan. And it’s easy to jump to that conclusion. As RC Sproul has stated, “Because the New Testament speaks of fallen man being in bondage to sin, and because Satan is the enemy of God and the tempter, it is easy to jump to the conclusion that Satan held us in bondage and demanded a ransom from God.”

But that cannot be the whole picture. As Sproul continues, “Think of it for a moment. If Christ paid a ransom to Satan to deliver us from Satan’s clutches, who is the victor? The kidnapper usually does not want permanent possession of his victim; rather, he wants the ransom he can get in exchange for his hostage’s release. If he can get the ransom, he wins. So if the ransom was paid to Satan, the Devil laughed all the way to the bank...”

What then are we redeemed from? If we look at the whole of Scripture we see a theme emerge. In the Old Testament redemption was normally spoken of as God rescuing us from the danger that this world presents. It presents man has helpless under the bondage of a broken world. Occasionally it spoke of redeeming us from the sinful mess that we have caused and it pointed to forgiveness, mercy, and a restored relationship with God. That theme was transferred to the New Testament but here more often than not redemption speaks of redemption from sin and its consequences. Part of those consequences is being “under the wrath of God”. It is God that is the offended party and God is the one that the ransom must be paid to.

Hebrews 9:15 speaks of a death that “redeems from the transgressions”. Galatians 3:13 says, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law”. In the middle of one of the greatest passages of Scripture in Romans 3:21-26 we see this theme of redemption. And in this context it is definitely God that is the offended party. And even here in our text in Ephesians we read, “In him we have redemption, through his blood [that’s the payment], the forgiveness of sins”. Redemption is synonymous with pardon. We are redeemed from the damning consequences of sin. We have the same problems that we saw last week: our judicial standing before God, our relational standing before God, and our inability to fix it.

If you look at the entire story of the Bible it weaves a beautiful picture of redemption. It is helpful to view this in light of two kingdoms: the kingdom of God and the kingdom of the rebellious world. The kingdom of God refers to his rule where he is in dominion. This kingdom is being established and some day will be fully established. He is the King and there will be no usurpers of His throne. He has created everything and it is all His by virtue of that. He is the King and there is no other.

But there is another kingdom that is attempting to gain control of the world. That is the kingdom of rebellion--the kingdom of darkness. This kingdom is under the wrath of God. This is the losing side. It’s not as if this kingdom is on equal footing. It’s not to be thought of as a war between the United States and China, where either side stands a chance of winning and we must await the outcome. This is the kingdom of rebellious sinners (yes, that includes Satan the prince of this kingdom). This is the kingdom that everyone apart from Christ lives in. Some day this kingdom will be brought to justice. Some day this kingdom will be expelled from experiencing any of the goodness of God and will experience only His wrath.

The biblical picture is that all of humanity--through sin--has sold themselves into the kingdom of rebellion; thus, putting us on the wrong side. We have broken God’s Law and because of this the curse of the Law stands against us. Sin leads to death. We stand as enemies to the rightful King. We are rebels. That is what sin is. Sin is an attempt to take God off the throne and put ourselves in His rightful place. No rebellious sinner can enter into the King’s holy kingdom. Now, humanity does rightfully belong to the Kingdom of God, but we have rebelled and have joined ranks with the kingdom of rebellion.

The penalty for rebellion must be paid. God is a just Judge and a good King. He cannot and will not allow traitors to go unpunished. He must bring justice. This is, in a sense, what the curse of the Law is a reference to in Galatians 3:13. The Law demands absolute compliance. To break one thing in God’s Law is to break every bit of it. And we have all broken not only one portion of it but a good portion of it. Therefore, we stand deeply guilty before Him. And the effect of this is death and separation from the goodness of God. Therefore, if we are to be brought back into his glorious kingdom something must happen.

That “something that must happen” is redemption. Redemption is Jesus snatching us out of the kingdom of rebellion--which stands under the wrath of God--and putting us back into his kingdom. I take my cues on this from Colossians 1:13-14. “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins”. Jesus redeems us. He has bought us back and secured our release slavery and captivity by the payment of a ransom. How? What did Jesus do to buy us back and secure our release?

It says in our text that this redemption happens through his blood. This means that in order for us to be made right with God it cost Jesus his life. He took the punishment that our rebellion deserved. He drank the full cup of God’s wrath. He became a curse for us. He took every bit of the punishment for our rebellion.

“In him we have redemption, through his blood, the forgiveness of sins.” What a rich text. From this text we learn that redemption is found only in Christ. We learn that it is exclusive, only “we” have redemption--only those that have been rescued from Christ are no longer under the wrath of God. We learn from this text that this redemption is actual; it is something that we actually “have”--we possess it. It has already taken place. It is no mere fiction but truth. You will never have to be bought back again. You have been bought with a price. You belong to God. Period. You are his treasured possession. We learn from this text that our redemption was costly—it cost Jesus his life. We learn from this text that we not only receive redemption but also pardon. You are no longer guilty and no longer a part of that kingdom.

And then as we move on to the next verse we see how deep and wide this redemption and pardon is. It is according to the riches of his grace. If I give you everything I have and own it would get you by for a little while. But it would eventually run out. If you got everything that a rich man has it would maybe sustain you for all of life. But to get everything that God has—according to the riches of His grace—that will sustain you for an eternity. Oh, how complete our redemption and forgiveness is. You cannot out sin God’s pardon. It is completed. His grace is far greater than your sin.

The redemption has already taken place—the rescue is coming. We may not yet fully experience this redemption but it has taken place and it is a sure thing. The curse of God is lifted from us. Our sins are forgiven. We no longer belong to the kingdom of rebellion and darkness. We belong to the kingdom of God. The King is our Father. And our Father is the King. No matter your present experience our lives are stamped with this beautiful word: Redeemed, Redeemed, Redeemed!

Our future experience of redemption:

“That’s all great and nice” you say, “but what about all of the pain I feel now”? What does redemption mean for the people we discussed in the beginning of the sermon? What does redemption mean for Joseph that lost his parents? What does redemption mean for Molly? What about Timothy that cannot seem to conquer his pornography addiction? What about Mildred and her lonely bed? John and his alcoholic father? What about Shialinne and all of the other hungry and starving kids in Africa? What does redemption mean for my pain?

Thankfully the gospel is not some pie-in-the-sky thing that does not touch our every day life. God is not required to even rescue us. To do so is such unbelievable grace that this is enough. This would be enough to cause us to dance with gratitude for all of eternity. But God is not satisfied with merely saving us. He also wants to restore us. God is in the process of fixing all things. He is going to make all things right.

Listen now to the last part of our text for this evening. Speaking of God’s grace that he “lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.”

What does all of that mean? Let’s take it slowly and try to rephrase what this text is saying…that’s usually a decent Bible study method. Paul is talking about God’s grace that redeems and pardon us and he has told us that this is according to the riches of his grace. Now, just in case we did not get the beauty of this he uses another rich word, lavishes. That means pours out in abundance. And he does this with all wisdom and insight. Either he is smart in doing this or he gives us wisdom and insight as well. And then Paul begins to drive this grace deeper. He has not only redeemed and pardoned us he has also told us a secret. “I’m restoring all things”. That redemption that you’ve experienced…it only gets better. You know the plan that I set forth ages ago in Christ, and you see how I came through on that one. He came at just the right time and at just the right place. Everything went as I planned it. And someday, and this is already set in motion, I am going to fully unite all things in Jesus. Things in heaven and things on earth. In other words God has told us His secret: I’m making everything new, I’m fixing everything, it will all be restored”.

This is the word of hope to enslaved prisoners. Yeah, we still live in the broken world. Yes, Mildred might still have her lonely bed. Yes, Molly might forever struggle with feelings of insecurity. Yes, Joseph’s world will be rocked and he has lost his parents. Yes, Timothy might struggle with lust and temptation towards pornography for the rest of his life. Yes, Shialinne and his siblings might die of starvation in a few months. Yes, we will still have death. Yes, we will still have famine. Yes, we will still have wars. We still have murder, abortion, emotional pain, mental trauma, physical hardships. Yes, we live in a broken world and we are broken people.

BUT. It’s not always going to be this way. God is restoring all things. How, you ask? What does it mean for God to “unite all things in him”? At its most basic form it means that all things will be brought into their proper order under Christ. Believers will humbly and joyously bow a knee to the sovereign King of kings that has brought them redemption. Unbelievers will fearfully, tearfully, and frightfully bow a new to the sovereign King of kings that is bringing them to justice.

What does that look like practically speaking? What does that look like for Molly and Mildred? Timothy, John, Joseph, Shialinne? What will it mean for all things to be united in Christ in their life? I’m really not sure. But I think we have a picture in Revelation 21:3-8:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
5 And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” 6 And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. 7 The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. 8 But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”

For Molly maybe the hope of new life will be enough to sustain her. The redemption that Christ brings is strong enough and powerful enough to conquer her insecurities and her problems with cutting. And some day the struggle will be over. Mildred will no longer feel the pain of loneliness. Perhaps that Christ has provided will conquer Timothy’s lust and addictions—or perhaps he will always struggle. But one thing is for certain—one day he will not. God is bringing those that are not in Christ to judgment and those that are in Christ he is bringing to healing.

How will it be for you on that day? Will you be “brought to justice” or will you enjoy the redemption and restoration in Christ? Has Christ already drank the cup of wrath in your place so that you do not have to? Redemption is only found in Christ: for Molly, Mildred, Joseph, Timothy, John, and Shialinne, and the same is true for you.

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