1066) Redeemed

The document states (top half):
“Know all men by these presents that I Harry Richardson (free man of color) do by this instrument of writing manumit and forever set free from servitude to me and my heirs or assigns my son & servant, Isaac Richardson of mulatto complecsion, aged about thirty nine years, 6 ft 1.5 inches in height with boots on, scar on his under lip from fighting in a fight.  Purchased by me from Wesley Lair of Harrison County Ky

Witness my hand this 15th day of Oct. 1860
attn: R. J. Brown


     What does it mean to say that Jesus died on the cross for our sins?  This is at the center of our faith, but many people are not able to describe what this means.  Part of the problem is that there is no single answer.  Rather, the answer is so deep and complex and rich in meaning, that the Bible must explain it by giving not one, but several explanations, illustrations, and descriptions, each shedding light on one or another aspect of this great and wonderful gift of God.

     One of the images is that by his death on the cross Jesus redeemed us.  Galatians 3:13 says, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written, ‘cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.’  Jesus redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might also come to us, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.”  Titus 2:13-14a  says, “We wait for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness.”  And Romans 3:23-24 says, “Our righteousness comes from God through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe, for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace that came through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”

     Thus, Jesus is our Redeemer, but what is that?  The word ‘redeem’ is often used in church, but not very often in daily conversation.  One might say they did something good to redeem themselves, but that is not what is meant by the Bible’s use of the word.  The original meaning of the word came from the practice of slavery.  Slavery was a part of life in the ancient world, and slaves were bought and sold like we buy and sell cars.  And once in a great while, a slave would be bought, paid for, and then, graciously set free.  That was called redeeming that person, and the one who did it was his redeemer.  Someone in bondage would be set free by the power and good will of the one who paid the price for his freedom.

     One of the first times the word redeem appears in the Bible is in Exodus 6:6.  God is telling the Hebrews about his intention to free them from their bondage in slavery to the Pharaoh.  God said, “I am the Lord, and I will bring you up out of the yoke of the Egyptians.  I will free you from being slaves to them and I will redeem you with mighty acts of judgment.”  God is God, and is not about to pay anyone for anything, but by His mighty acts He would redeem them and set them free.  Therefore, in the rest of the Old Testament the Jews often referred to God as their Redeemer.  The words redeem or redeemer or redemption appear in the Bible over 200 times.  What began with a reference to the freeing of the slaves in Egypt, soon became a reference to all of the many ways God frees and cares for his people.

     In the New Testament, the name Redeemer was applied to the person and work of Jesus.  When a slave was redeemed there was a payment made, so we might wonder in the case of Jesus’ death on the cross, to whom was the payment made.  This question can be asked of another similar New Testament word describing the meaning of Jesus’ death on the cross.  In Mark 10:45 Jesus said of himself, “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  When we hear the word ransom, we usually think of kidnapping and a demand for money.  This is not exactly the same, but is similar to the redeeming of a slave.  In both, there is money demanded and money paid by someone to buy back the freedom of another person.

     So again, in the work of Christ on the cross we can ask:  who paid what to whom?  It was Jesus, of course, who paid the price, but to whom was it paid?  To the devil?  To God?  To us?  Well, no, no, and no.  To compare the work of Jesus to the work of a redeemer in the slave trade, or to one who pays a ransom to a kidnapper is not a complete picture of the truth.  These are but images, and no single image can give a thorough and precise picture of something so deep and mysterious.  The many different images in the Bible are given in an attempt to illustrate in human words and with human examples something in the heart of God that is beyond our ability to completely understand.

     Instead of asking to whom was the debt paid, it is more Biblical to ask, “What did it cost the one who paid it?”  The Bible’s answer to that question is the whole story of Jesus’ arrest, trial, scourging, crucifixion, and death.  That was the price paid for our freedom– freedom not from the chains of slavery, but from our greater bondage to sin and death.  It certainly was a great price to pay for Jesus to leave heaven and come to this earth to endure all of that for us, especially when one considers how ungrateful we so often are.  

     The Bible’s greatest verse on Christ as our Redeemer comes not from the New Testament, but from the Old.  Christ had not yet come to earth, but the writer of this ancient book anticipates his coming and his victory over death (Job 19:25-27):

I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth.  And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes– I, and not another.  How my heart yearns within me!

     Everyone in the ancient world understood what a great thing it was to have a Redeemer.  It was the hope of every slave if they even dared to hope for it, for it was so very rare that one would be redeemed.  For someone to pay the price and set you free from your lifelong bondage was an unexpected and tremendous favor and blessing, never to be forgotten, and never to be taken for granted.  On the cross, Jesus became our Redeemer, freeing us from a bondage even worse than a life of slavery, winning for us our freedom from an eternity of being lost and without hope.  


Alice King, a freed slave girl, redeemed and adopted by a Mrs. King from Lima, New York (approx. 1861)


Psalm 49:7-9…15  —  No one can redeem the life of another or give to God a ransom for them—the ransom for a life is costly, no payment is ever enough—so that they should live on forever and not see decay…  But God will redeem me from the realm of the dead; he will surely take me to himself.

Galatians 5:1  —  It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.  Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

I know that my Redeemer lives!
What joy this blest assurance gives!
He lives, he lives, who once was dead;
he lives, my ever-living Head!

–Samuel Medley  (1738-1799)