If you read the Gospels closely, you’ll notice something strange for short books that are supposedly biographies of a famous religious leader’s life. Namely, they each spend a disproportional amount of time on the events surrounding Jesus’ death as compared to the space given to the rest of His life. Two of the authors, Mark and John, tell us nothing at all about His birth.
I remember explaining this during one of the first midweek “church” services at The Dream Center. I could tell that some of the attendees, particularly the ones who weren’t steeped in religious culture, felt ripped off- like the Gospels writers had kept something from them.
“What? They don’t talk about His childhood?” someone asked.
(They often interrupted sermons to ask questions.)
“No. Nothing other than the time He wandered from His mom and dad and was later found- three days later- teaching in the Temple.”
Someone wanted to know if He had bad parents, how they let young Jesus disappear for three days before they noticed.
It’s a legit concern, right?
Anyway, that episode happened during the Feast of Passover, which is completely relevant to our conversation here. And, since everyone was amazed at the twelve year old Jesus’ understanding, you wonder how He may have been connecting the verses we're about to discuss. We’ll get to that later.
When we tell people’s stories, we always talk about where they came from and what things were like when they were young.
The authors of the first four books of the New Testament shake it up, though. They each rush through the first 30 years of Jesus’ time on earth, tell us a series of stories pulled from His 3-year public ministry, and then land at His death. Each of the authors- Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John- then write in great detail about the Cross and the events surrounding it. It’s as if they’re alerting us to the fact that there is far more happening in that death than we might have imagined.
“The Passion” is the name commonly given the crucifixion and that final 24-hour period of Jesus’ life. One read through any of the Gospels and it makes sense that these books have often been called “passion narratives with extended introductions.”
The writers skip most of the material that common biographers routinely share with us…
…and then the authors slow down dramatically when they get to the Last Supper.
Indeed, The Passion occupies a great percentage of their writing space.
Yet, it’s highly appropriate they rush and then settle there. You see, as one teacher explains, “that relatively short space of time is the most significant period ever to have occurred in the history of the world.” In fact, the 24-hour period surrounding the Cross is our basis for living a life of freedom.
Peter writes that we are redeemed by the blood of Jesus (1 Peter 1:18-19). If redemption was a small thing, the writers could cover it quickly. The details of Jesus’ blood require a great deal of ink and white space, though, precisely because redemption is far more grandiose than what you might have imagined.
So what is redemption?
Before discussing "how big" and how all-encompassing the work of redemption is, it makes sense to first outline what the word even means.
Redemption is a common “Bible word,” a term we read a lot and even mention a great deal, but it’s one of those words we don’t really understand.
The word was in common use in the ancient world. Specifically, the word redemption “was used in slave markets to refer to the price paid either to purchase a person, or to purchase that person’s release.”
Outside of the church today, we see the word used in pawn shops. When someone comes to “free” their property which has been held; they pay the redemption price and their property is loosed to them.
(You’re probably beginning to make theological connections even now.)
In seminary I learned about “the law of first mention,” a precept that tells us to really comprehend something in the Biblical narrative, we need to dig deep into the first time we see the word or concept introduced. To understand the redeeming work of Jesus and to comprehend everything achieved by His blood, we need to travel way back through the Old Testament to the book Exodus. The story of Israel's freedom provides incredible insight into the life Jesus offers each of us.
The first time we see the word redemption used is in Exodus 6:6- when the Lord mentions that He will redeem His people.
Make note of that. To understand redemption we travel back to the beginning of the second book of the Bible. Whereas modern theologians often quote the “Roman Road” and look at Paul’s teaching, Paul and the other New Testament authors take us back farther- even centuries before the life of Christ. They dive into Exodus.
There, in the original redemption story, God commands Moses to tell the all of Israel, “I will deliver you from slavery… I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment” (6:6 ESV, emphasis added).
God refers to redemption in the future tense. It’s not yet happened.
(Notice, too, that judgment is also about to happen. But, the judgment is not happening to God’s people— it’s going somewhere else. These people are getting redeemed! Somehow, in the Church today, we often think the people God intends to redeem are also, prior to their redemption, the objects of His wrath. That’s not how this story read, though.)
This is the word He declared for Moses to communicate to the people: “You will be free!” That’s what God meant by redemption: freedom.
Or, to say it another way, “You’re destined for redemption, not for wrath!”
Notably, this is exactly what Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica: “God has not destined us for wrath, but for redemption” (1 Thessalonians 5:9, emphasis mine).
To repeat, the first time we see the word appear is when God is telling His people, “I will redeem- free- you from slavery!” He says that redemption is a future thing He will do.
The second time we see the word redeem used in the Bible is in Exodus 15:13. Miriam (Moses’ big sister) celebrates after the Children of Israel walk through the Red Sea.
She sings, “These are the people whom You have redeemed.”
Whereas Moses heard about redemption as a future action, Miriam refers to it as something that’s just occurred. Notice it:
Looking back at this event, hundreds of years later David later prayed in gratitude (2 Samuel 7:23ESV, , 1 Chronicles 17:21 ESV, emphasis mine)—
Who is like your people Israel, the one nation on earth whom God went to redeem to be His people, making Himself a name and doing great and awesome things by driving out before your people, home you redeemed for yourself from Egypt…?
Clearly, the word points to the Exodus- to God’s deliverance of His people from slavery.
Now, let’s shift to the New Testament.
When Jesus is born, we are told that He is the Redeemer. That is, He is the One who brings freedom from slavery:
People in Jesus’ day would have understood these statements to be political declarations. They lived in a land that had been promised to them, the very land their forefathers were given by God after they were freed from slavery in Egypt.
But they weren’t free. Rome occupied their territory, war-lording them as subjects of Caesar. They were literally second-class citizens in a land that should have been their own. Knowing that they wanted physical, governmental freedom in their day helps us read some the statements in the New Testament through a unique lenses:
Redemption was a word that linked Jesus to freedom- to a freedom from the yoke of bondage…
Looking back at the life of Christ, Paul reminds the leaders of the Church at Ephesus that Jesus redeemed the church by His blood (Acts 20:22). In other words, because of what He achieved, something is now different. History has changed. Our destiny has been altered. We've been transformed.
Revelation 5:9-10 contains the lyrics a song being offered to Jesus, stating one of the key reasons He is worthy of worship. The saints all sing in one accord: “You were slain, and You have redeemed us to God by your blood.”
Redemption means “freedom.” And it means freedom now in this life, not later after you die. In other words, redemption is a current reality, not a future hope.
Very few of us, at first glance, identify ourselves with the slavery. Though Exodus may seem like a difficult story for us to relate to, we use “slave language” all of the time. Almost daily, we communicate that we’re constrained- held back- by something.
We say things like:
When we attempt to overcome these barriers- and we do, we strive to overcome these obstacles- we often insert “false redeemers” into the equation.
Look back at that list. I want you to notice something. Something important.
Here it is: the truth is that none of these things are sin issues. However, although these things aren’t “bad” in and of themselves, none of them are redeemers.
They can’t bring freedom.
Though they may facilitate a temporary sense of relief, by themselves they're the equivalent of emotional band-aids. You can acquire any combination of these things- even all of them- and still lose your soul (see Luke 9:25). In fact, many of us do. We amass all the things we think will make life feel worthwhile, yet we still sense a need for something more…
One of Jesus’ disciples, Peter, looked back at Jesus’ death and wrote, “you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of [Jesus] Christ, as a lamb without blemish and spot” (1 Peter 1:18-19). Notice, even though your redemption effects life in this world, it wasn’t purchased by anything you can acquire in this world.
Since we've been redeemed (freed), let’s discover each of the following:
Most often, people answer with something like this: “Sin. Jesus redeems us from sin.”
The writers of the New Testament go farther, however. Jesus redeems us from sin- and so much more. In the same way that God didn’t redeem Israel from slavery to simply let them linger in the wilderness, Jesus doesn't just redeem us from our bondage, He redeems us to our destiny.
Let me introduce you to two words which will help you understand how big your salvation truly is. Let’s quickly evaluate a noun and a verb used throughout the Bible—
Paul uses soteria in Romans 1:16- “The Gospel is the power of God to soteria” (“to salvation,” in English).
He says that the Gospel- the good news of your freedom- is the power of salvation. When you hear the truth declared, something dynamic happens (the Greek word for “power” in that verse is dunamis, which actually means “dynamite”). If you’ve ever had an “ah-hah” moment when you read something, hear something, or encounter something of God’s grace, you know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s dynamite.
The Greek word for “saved” is sozo. Romans 10:19 tells us that when we confess our sins and we are sozo, that is, “saved.”
Sozo includes the work of forgiveness but it also encompasses more. Because the meaning of sozo is so comprehensive, when we see the word in the New Testament, we’re actually forced to evaluate the context to see how the word is used. Otherwise, we’ll “short change it.” You see, sozo means “an overhaul of the will, internal cleansing, health & healing, prosperity, restoration of dominion and authority, joy and purpose.” In other words, sozo- that act of being saved- is more far reaching, more complete, than forgiveness alone.
If you grab a Bible commentary and study the word sozo (saved), you begin to see just how broad redemption is. Consider just a few of the things that sozo refers to in the Bible…
First, sozo refers to physical healing. Mark summarizes Jesus’ ministry in the following way: “Wherever He entered, into the villages, cities, or the country, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged Him that they might just touch the hem of His garment. And as many as touched Him were made well” (Mark 6:56). The word “well” is actually the word sozo- the same word we use for saved.
This isn’t a one-time occurrence. The word sozo often refers to physical healing throughout the New Testament.
For instance, a woman with a continual menstrual flow reaches to touch Jesus’ garment as she pushes her way through a crowd to get near Him. She believes that she will be healed- if she touches at least the hem of His cloak. She aggressively pushes through a crowd and reaches for Him. Though He can’t see her, Jesus feels her touch. He declares that her faith has made her sozo, that is, “well” (see Luke 8:47-48).
James 5:14-15 instructs the elders of the church to pray for a fellow brother or sister who is physically ill. They’re promised the prayer of faith will sozo (translated in English as “heal”) them- causing both physical healing and the emotional burden of any sins they’re carrying. Again, this denotes both salvation and deliverance from suffering in the same word. Apparently, the Biblical authors did not make a distinction between spiritual healing and physical healing. It all fit together as part of what Jesus came to do.
Second, sozo refers to demonic deliverance. When Jesus encountered the famous demoniac referred to as “Legion,” in the area of the Gadarenes, He sent the demons into the herd of pigs that ran down the cliff into the lake and drowned. The people from the city ran to see the former mad man who used to break chains and cut himself among the tombs.
The Bible states that “they also who had seen it told them by what means he who had been demon-possessed was healed” (Luke 8:36). The word “healed” in this passage is sozo.
Third, sozo refers to physical safety. I know, this sounds strange, so let’s evaluate it in action.
In Matthew 8:25 the disciples find themselves in the middle of a raging storm. This is the famous episode where Jesus sleeps through the calamity.
They wake Him, exclaiming, “Sozo us!”
It English, it reads, “Save us!”
The disciples are not asking Jesus administer “last rites” to them and absolve them of any unforgiven sin. The system of Catholicism that invented this practice would not be around for another few hundred years. No, the disciples are begging Jesus to rescue them. They are, literally, scared to death.
Fourth, sozo refers to raising the dead. In Luke 8:40 we meet Jairus, the ruler of the local synagogue. He seeks Jesus’ assistance for healing, as his daughter becomes ill.
While speaking with Jesus (after being delayed by the woman with the flow of blood referenced above, who was also made sozo), messengers come and tell him that it is of no use- his girl died while he’s been speaking with Jesus. Jesus replies by telling Jairus not to be afraid, to continue believing as he had, and his girl will be made sozo (see Luke 8:50).
You know the end of the story. Jesus raises her to life!
Do you see the breadth, the expansiveness of your salvation?
This is just the tip of the iceberg, by the way…
One pastor writes, “Our redemption is total and it covers everything Jesus shed His blood for, which is every part of us and every one of us. The only way redemption can fall short is if we don’t know it and we don’t apply it.”
He adds, “salvation is not limited to the forgiveness of sins.”
Salvation is bigger than we typically think- it includes the restoration of all of life (see Acts 3:21). Indeed, “the Gospel is Good News. In fact, this Greek word translated Gospel literally means nearly-too-good-to-be-true news.” Jesus has been far more successful than you can possibly imagine!
Since Exodus is our picture of redemption, we should be able to read the story of Moses and Miriam and the people freed from Pharaoh’s death grip and trace identical parallels with Jesus as He faces- and finishes- His work at the Cross. That is, the results should be similar.
Chase this rabbit with me…
In Exodus, the people were all slaves, having no ability to make choices and decisions. They had no will that could be exercised. They were bound.
They were also, oddly enough, spiritually alone. “God” was a distant concept to them, a vague idea instead of a relational deity with whom they communed and conversed regularly.
It had been over 400 years since God had appeared to their father Abraham, telling him that his descendants would be slaves and then be freed (see Genesis 15:13). They even referred to the Lord as “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,” that is, the deity of their distant ancestors- not a God that was personal and involved in their lives (Exodus 3:6).
When they were freed, though, they came to know the Lord personally, though (see Exodus 20:2). He displayed His power over the Egyptians “gods” on their behalf (see Exodus 18:11). There is a definite relational shift. He is no longer just the God of their ancestors, but is “The Lord your God…”
(The personal possessive pronoun is monumental.)
God also miraculously restored their health- He healed all of them- to deliver them (Psalms 105:37). The Bible tells us that there wasn’t a feeble one among them. Everyone was instantly healthy and whole.
They fled Egypt full of provision and prosperity, too, evacuating the area of their captivity in a night. Though they had owned nothing, as they left the Egyptians became favorable towards the Children of Israel, literally sending them with their own treasures and valuables (see Exodus 12:36).
That evening, they became physically whole and financially free. They went from weak to well. They went from poverty to abundance. God can do more in a moment than we can struggle to do in a lifetime; His grace always out-performs our hustle.
They were given victory, too, over each place they walked. The Lord gave them dominion and authority, just as Adam and Eve originally had in the Garden of Eden (see Deuteronomy 11:24). No longer slaves, every place they stepped was theirs… theirs to steward, to manage, and to enhance.
They went forth with great joy and nearness to the Lord (see Psalm 126:1f.). Yes, there was struggle, but there was also immense joy.
Do you see the freedom they were given…? T
he soteria (salvation)?
How God sozo (saved) them?
In fact, forgiveness- the one thing we generally reduce our message of redemption to- isn’t even mentioned in the Exodus story.
Yes, their sins were forgiven. Ours are, too. But there’s so much more.
You’ll see that the sacrifice of Jesus has provided you with everything needed for all time and eternity- for what you will need in the distant future, as well as what you will need today. Jesus has redeemed you. He’s set you free.
Now is your time to walk towards your Promised Land.
But, before we do that, something has to happen. Yeah, we’ve got to talk about the little thing called judgment.
You know the drill: “The wages of sin is ___________.”
The Exodus didn’t happen until the Passover lamb died, and since we're talking about the blood of Jesus, the Lamb of God…
... we'll hit that in our next talk.
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