Monday, March 19, 2012

To Whom was the Ransom Paid

This past Sunday I preached on redemption.  Redemption is a word all about freedom.  It's closely tied to the word ransom.  So as I studied scripture and read about redemption, I also studied and read about ransom.

A question kept nagging at me: if Christ gave himself as a "ransom" for many (which he says so himself in Matthew 20:28) then who was the recipient of the payment?  The Bible doesn't come right out and say who is paid the ransom.  Here are four options for who received payment:

1. Satan - to say this would mean that God owed Satan.  God never has and never will owe Satan (or anyone else) anything.  I do like the idea of Satan being tricked and walking away empty handed if indeed there was some sort of transaction between God and Satan, however, I do not subscribe to the Ransom Theory of the Atonement.

2. God - This makes the most sense if we are going to take a ransom being paid literally.  Still, it doesn't make sense to me that God would owe God.  The wrath of God upon sin and evil can still be satisfied without God being paid a fact, it was God in Christ who did just that.  The problem is that a ransom assumes that someone was captured, again, it doesn't make sense that God would capture himself, then pay himself to set humanity free.

3. Humanity - While humanity definitely benefits from Jesus' loving sacrifice on the cross God doesn't owe us anything.

4. None of the Above - The ransom was not literally paid to anyone. It is a metaphor used to describe the significance and dramatic effect of Jesus' death.  I do not think this substracts or deters in any way from the need, power and absolute miracle of Jesus' death.

The fourth option is what I subscribe too, even though I don't think option 2 is out of the question if understood correctly. 

The quintessential story for the writers of the New Testament was the Exodus. In the Exodus the Egyptians are the enemy and they walk away empty handed. They aren't paid anything for the freedom of the Israelites.  This I believe is the single most informative understanding of what redemption and ransom is all about.  The story of the Exodus is the story of being set free from slavery.

Christ has set us free from the bondage of sin, evil and death.  The New Testament writers were more concerned with the truth of what Christ has done for us than answering a question like "who was the ransom paid too."  Therefore, I think they used the word "ransom" to mean saved, redeemed and set free more than to signify someone being paid something.

I would love to hear what others think.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Restoring Shalom

Seeing this, reminded me of this

God is in the business of restoring shalom (the Hebrew word for peace/wholeness)...of restoring wholeness, goodness, fullness and peace back to humanity and back to creation. 

The story of the Bible is a story of: goodnews - badnews - goodnews again.

Another way to word it is that it's the story of: Shalom - Lost Shalom - Restored(ing) Shalom.

Paul wrote that in Christ God is reconciling all of creation back to him (Colossians 1:20).  Paul also wrote that we are given the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18). 

What that tells me is that we are to partner with God in being all about reconciliation...of being all about restoring shalom.

Brandy's blog (1st link above) sparked the question for me: what is my personal shalom restoration project? 

Yes I'm a pastor and I believe our church is doing some things to help restore shalom, but I'm asking the question on a personal level, not on a professional level.

It's a question we should all be asking.

Monday, March 5, 2012

When Inspiration Doesn't Just Happen

Sometimes I look up a passage of scripture to preach on and God just brings the inspiration right away.  He lays ideas for stories and illustrations in my lap.  He reveals ways to bring the message home.  The inspiration just happens without a lot of effort on my part.
Other times, I look up a passage from scripture I've chosen to preach on and there's nothing.  I read it.  I write it.  I read it again.  And it just stares at me and I wonder what the heck I'm going to do with it for the sermon. 

It's in these moments that the inspiration doesn't just "happen."  And it's in these moments I tend to get distracted.  I'll check Facebook or e-mail or make phone calls or practice guitar or read something else or Blog (yes, I'm doing that very thing now because I'm not sure what to do with a text of scripture). 
I know what I "should" do.  I "should" dig into the text even more.  I "should" take some time to pray.  I "should" break out some commentaries and see if inspiration will come through something I read.  I "should" put in some effort, instead of just expecting inspiration to happen without hard work.

What I often discover, is that if I put in the hard work of really diggging into the text and seeking God and working with ideas, inspiration does eventually come.  It's an awesome feeling when it does come and it is so much more rewarding when it happens through hard work instead of just apart from it.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Christian Perfection

Christian perfection is a doctrine unique to the United Methodist Church (it's not the only denomination that subscribes to a form of the doctrine but it is the biggest one).

A friend and former Gordon-Conwell classmate of mine, James-Michael Smith, has written his first mini-book about it.  His book Cleansed and Abiding is available for the Kindle or to read on any computer with an app.  It's only $3.99 to buy or free to borrow if you are an Amazon Prime Member!

To read about it on his blog, go here:

To download it from Amazon, go here:

If you don't have a Kindle and you still want to check it out, you can download a Kindle App reader here.

I hope my readers will support his work.  He is a self proclaimed Bible nerd and lives up to his name with solid Biblical intepretation and insight.