“Redeemed: From What? With What? Now What?” (Sermon on 1 Peter 1:17-25, by Pr. Charles Henrickson)
“Redeemed: From What? With What? Now What?” (1 Peter 1:17-25)
To introduce the sermon today I’d like us all now to open our hymnals to page 322, to the Small Catechism, the part on the Creed. And under the Second Article, on pages 322 and 323, you will see Luther’s Explanation of the Second Article, starting with “What does this mean?” Let’s read that now together:
“I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true.”
Now I’m here to tell you today that Luther did not make this stuff up out of thin air. No, he got these ideas from the Bible, the Word of God. And more specifically, from a couple of verses in our Epistle reading for today, from 1 Peter chapter 1. Looking at 1 Peter 1:18-19, where it reads: “knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ,” and so on.
Now at first the connection between this passage from 1 Peter and Luther’s explanation of the Creed may not be as obvious as it could be. That’s because of a little difference in translation. The English Standard Version, in its translation here, uses the word “ransomed,” whereas the Catechism says “redeemed.” But really, both are saying the same thing. “Ransomed” in 1 Peter could just as well have been translated “redeemed,” and in most versions, it is translated that way: “you were redeemed from the futile ways,” etc.
So now it becomes a little clearer that Luther was indeed thinking of 1 Peter 1 when he wrote his explanation to the Second Article. Both Peter and Luther key in on the concept of redemption. Both of them say what we’ve been redeemed from. Both say what we’ve been redeemed with. And both say what this means for our lives now that we are redeemed. Thus our theme for this morning: “Redeemed: From What? With What? Now What?”
I guess, though, we should first explain the idea behind this word “redeem.” In the ancient world, the word “redeem” was used to refer to setting someone free from a state of bondage or captivity, a bondage from which the person could not free himself, and this freedom was obtained by means of a payment, a price being paid. For example, a slave or a prisoner could be redeemed, released from their slavery or imprisonment, if a certain price was paid, by someone else, for that slave or prisoner’s release. That would be a “redemption.” So the basic idea of “redeem,” then, is “release by means of payment.”
And that, friends–the Greek word for “redeem”–that is the word that the New Testament writers use in many places, including here in our verse from 1 Peter, to describe what Christ has done for us. He has redeemed us. Jesus has set us free from a state of bondage, a bondage from which we could not free ourselves, and he has done this by means of paying a price for our freedom. Yes, Jesus Christ “is my Lord, who has redeemed me . . . purchased and won me,” as Luther says.
And so with that understanding of what it means to be “redeemed,” now we can ask our three questions: From what? With what? Now what?
From what have we been redeemed? Peter puts it like this: “you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers.” Futile ways, inherited from our fathers. That’s describing what we call original sin, that sinful nature we all are born with, inherited from our first father Adam and passed down from one generation to another. Sin causes our lives to be filled with futility. Because we human creatures have rejected God and his word for our lives, that’s the result. Things don’t work right. We come up empty. Starting with Adam and Eve and the fall into sin, futility marks the human condition. Women have pain in childbearing. Conflict and blame disrupt human relationships. The earth itself doesn’t work right. Men must labor and sweat in order to get fruit from the ground, until the day we return to the ground, “for dust you are, and to dust you shall return.” In other words, death. All of that is mass futility, epic fail, on the part of us sons of Adam and daughters of Eve. “From the futile ways inherited from your forefathers.” Or as Luther puts it: “from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil.” That is the bondage, the captivity, in which we find ourselves, according to our sinful nature. That is what we need to be redeemed from.
Which raises our second question: With what? With what can we be redeemed, if at all? What price needs to be paid to secure our release? Is there anything we can come up with to get ourselves out of this mess? Answer: No, nothing. All our works, all our striving, cannot offset our debt of sin. You cannot buy off God, fool God, or sneak by God into heaven. You have been redeemed, but as Peter says, “not with perishable things such as silver or gold.” And Luther quotes him: “not with gold or silver.” You see, there is a price that needed to be paid, but you could not pay it. Someone else had to come along and pay it for you.
That’s what Christ has done for you, my fellow redeemed. Yes, Jesus of Nazareth, the man sent by God–indeed, the very Son of God, come down from heaven–he has paid the price for you. Peter says that you were redeemed “with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.” And Luther echoes Peter in talking about how Christ has redeemed us, “with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death.”
It took the holy, precious blood of Christ, shed on the cross, to redeem humanity from our futile ways, from all sins, death, and the power of the devil. Jesus paid this price for you–yes, for you!–when he willingly went to the cross on your behalf. He is the very Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Price paid. Forgiveness obtained. Freedom secured. You have been, and now are, redeemed, set free, by means of the blood of Christ.
People have trouble grasping this. They can’t wrap their heads around it. Think of those Emmaus disciples. They were expecting something else from Jesus. They were looking for a Messiah to deliver Israel from the hands of the Romans and restore the glory and splendor of their nation. And so the crucifixion of Jesus on Good Friday dashed their hopes. As they say, “But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.” There’s that word again, “redeem.” But Jesus, and God, had a bigger redemption in mind than just the political and economic fortunes of one nation. No, Jesus did indeed redeem Israel, and the people of all nations, from a greater menace and oppression. He has redeemed us from eternal death and condemnation. And Jesus did this, strangely enough, by his own death on the cross. That’s what it took. And that’s what he has done.
And the outcome is victory. The outcome is life, eternal life, now and lasting forever. Easter life, as sure and secure as Christ’s own resurrection on Easter Day. This is his gift to you, my friends. You have life in his name, life indestructible and imperishable. You have been born again, born to a new life, by the power of the living and abiding word of God. Your hope and your future are safe in Christ. You have been redeemed with his holy precious blood, and therefore you will be raised to live forever with him.
And that in turn raises our third question: Now what? Now that we have been redeemed, what does this mean for our lives in the present tense? Peter here mentions two things. First he says: “If you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear through the time of your exile.” “Conduct yourselves with fear”: This does not mean that we cower and tremble 24/7, fearing that that great big old Meanie in the Sky is about to zap us and strike us down. No, that would be a fear apart from faith. And we have been given the gift of faith to know God as our gracious Father. So we don’t cower. But we do still fear God in the sense that we take his word and his commandments seriously. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” the Bible says. So we hear God’s Law in its full sternness. And we hear the Gospel in its full sweetness.
Now what? What does our being redeemed mean for our daily lives? The other thing Peter says is this: “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again.” “Love one another”: That’s the other aspect of our life now as God’s redeemed people. We love one another. We care for one another. We seek forgiveness and harmony with our brothers and sisters in God’s family. We help one another out. It’s in our nature, our new nature, as the children of God. Faith toward God, fervent love toward one another–that’s the “now what” of our life as the redeemed of the Lord, our new life, our now life.
So to sum it all up: From what have we been redeemed? From our futile ways, from sin, death, and the power of the devil. With what? Not with gold or silver, but with the precious blood of Christ. Now what? Now we trust in God, we take his word seriously, and we love one another with the love we have first received from him. What does all this mean? It means, beloved, that you have been, you now are, and you will be redeemed.