The Gospel changes lives. The fact that Jesus came, died on a cross, and rose again is more than a fairy tale, more than a nice story to tell kids at bedtime, more than simply some well-written material for Easter plays. The Gospel is everything.
The Gospel is God’s answer to every problem in our hearts and our world. Every weakness, fear, disease, cruelty, depravity, confusion, and sickness finds its answer in the Gospel. Paul called it “the power of God to salvation” in Romans 1:16.
Back here, I started a discussion of some of the ways the Bible describes what the Gospel does in our lives, beginning with the concept of adoption. If you haven’t read it, go back and take a look. It’s good stuff. 🙂
Now let’s go on to the next one.
Luke records Zechariah, John the Baptist’s father, speaking of the ministry of Jesus in Luke 1:68. He proclaims, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people!”
To understand this concept of redemption, you’ve got to go into Zechariah’s world as a 1st century Jew raised on the Law and the Prophets.
The concept of redemption shows up repeatedly in the Old Testament. Over and over again, God is said to have redeemed people. He redeemed Israel from bondage in Egypt. He redeemed her from exile in Babylon. He redeemed people from death, from oppression, from violence. And in the same way, Zechariah is saying, He is coming in Jesus to redeem us from sin.
Now dig a little deeper and things get even cooler. In Leviticus 27:13, it says that if someone dedicates an item to God, consecrating it, and they later realize they want it back, they can have it, but they have to redeem it by paying what it’s worth and addding 1/5th to it, making the item theirs again, to do with as they please. God redeemed us through the cross. Though we gave ouselves up to the service of sin and darkness, God paid to redeem us through the blood of Jesus. He bought us back so we could be His again.
Alright, that’s sweet, but let’s keep going further, where things start to get really cool. In the Old Testament, each family was given land. This land was their inheritance from God, passed down through the generations, a special gift to them alone that was meant to bless them and serve as a reminder of the covenant God had made with them.
Losing this special gift from God would be a huge disgrace, not to mention the fact that survival in an agrarian society would be next to impossible without your land. So God provided a way so that, if someone was forced to sell their land due to financial hardship, when they got back on their feet, either they or a family member could come along and redeem it, buying it back and restoring it to its rightful owner. We were that abandoned plot of land, and Jesus redeemed us through His blood. He bought us back from the enemy and gave us to our rightful owner, God. We were His to begin with, and though we had sold ourselves to another, He paid to make us His again.
So what if things went really badly, so bad that you had to sell yourself into slavery to pay off your debts? Then a family member had the obligation to redeem you if they could, to pay the price for your freedom, so you wouldn’t have to be a slave any longer. Though you had ruined your life, wasted all your money, and sold yourself into slavery just to survive, a loving family member could pay for your release, and you would be free, redeemed. Jesus did this on the cross. He paid for our release from slavery, though we had willfully sold ourselves into it by our own bad choices and hatred of God.
And then there’s the concept of the kinsman redeemer. Read the book of Ruth to get a good visual of this. If a woman found herself a widow, without a husband, a home, or sons to take care of her, then the nearest of kin had the obligation to redeem her, to take her as his wife, raise up children for her dead husband, provide for her, love her, and be the husband that she used to have. It’s a weird idea to our modern minds, where women can date, find a husband on-line, get any job they want, get college degrees, and fly space shuttles, but in ancient Israel, a woman without a husband didn’t have a whole lot of options waiting for her. She had no way of finding a new husband, and if she remained single, my guess is she’d have to either find some friends or relatives to mooch off of or resort to begging, slavery, or prostitution to survive. The kinsman redeemer was there to spare her from that life and to make sure she could have as normal a life as possible.
Redemption. It’s the idea of restoring something back to the way it should have been all along, before things went bad, whatever the costs may be. Jesus redeemed us. Though the cost was astronomical, He bought us out of slavery, He paid for us to be His again, He became our kinsman redeemer who gave us everything so we didn’t have to be at the mercy of fate and enemies much bigger and stronger than us.
This is the power of the Gospel, that when we were worthless and lost, without family, land, or even our own freedom, Jesus came and redeemed us with His blood. We were like the Prodigal Son, we had wasted all our money, sold ourselves into slavery, and we deserved the hard life and judgment of sin we were under, yet God, through Jesus, redeemed us. He paid to make us His again. He redeemed us from our slavery and set us free.
You could probably do a whole series of blog posts about making the sign of the cross. But since I’m no expert, I offer you just this one tongue-in-cheek, completely irreverent post about something I saw recently that made me want to laugh and cry at the same.
In case you’re not aware, many people in traditional liturgical churches (Eastern Orthodoxy included) attribute supernatural power to the act of making the sign of the cross with your fingers moving swiftly across your abdomen. Some say it wards off evil spirits, others that it brings blessing and good luck, still others that it earns God’s forgiveness or that it helps purify your heart as you meditate on Jesus with your whole being (but especially your fingers I guess).
I need to say all this carefully, because I don’t mean any disrespect toward Orthodoxy or any other liturgical church, and, really, I want to win people to Jesus, not necessarily away from the Orthodox Church. I’ll bring ’em to Jesus, and He can decide if they’ll leave Orthodoxy or bring revival to the system that has become corrupted. And, yes, it has been corrupted. The hypocrisy, greed, corruption, heresy, and immorality in the Orthodox Church can’t be what Jesus had in mind when He said, “I will build My church and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.”
But I’m not here to pick a fight with Orthodoxy. Not yet anyway. 😉
People everywhere in Bucharest make the sign of the cross. It’s always the approved Eastern version (forehead, belly, right shoulder, left shoulder), because apparently the evil spirits here aren’t as afraid of the Western cross, so you gotta stick with what they know. You can check out a really nice guide to doing it yourself here, in case you want a little more instruction before trying it out yourself.
You’ll see people on the trams making the sign of the cross, people walking down the street, people in the parks, everywhere! At first, it stood out a lot, but now we’ve mostly grown used to it. It’s still funny when suddenly a whole bus full of people stops what they’re doing and they all start making the sign of the cross simultaneously. Jessie and I look up and start looking for a church building or cemetery whenever we’re caught in the middle of a vigorous synchronized crossing procedure.
Recently, while we were on the tram (light inner-city rail), I was watching a woman talking on the phone out of the corner of my eye. The conversation was getting really heated and she was almost yelling into the phone. Suddenly, we must have passed a church building because everyone started doing the sign of the cross. Without skipping a beat, the angry phone-caller told the person on the other end of the line, “Hold on,” methodically proceeded to cross herself a few times, cell phone in hand, then got back on the line yelling, as if nothing had happened.
I wanted to laugh at the comedy of it all and cry because her concept of Jesus wasn’t even big enough to bring peace to her phone conversation.
One of these days, I want to start doing the sign of the cross randomly, in front of a grocery store or something, just to see if I can get everyone else doing it along with me without thinking.
I love Romanians. I don’t always understand them, sometimes their cultural habits make me laugh, but I sure do love ’em and want ’em to know Jesus.