Wonder: The Mystery of Redemption

Dr. Jon Morrissette - 12/9/2018

I saw this figure. In the US, we’ll spend an est. 1 Trillion on gifts this Christmas. Isn’t that crazy? People have drastically different philosophies of gift giving. Some people have the philosophy of “go big or go home.” The more you spend the more value it conveys to the person you love. I always ask Lara what she wants for Christmas and in my mind, I’m thinking, “Diamonds” (That’s how much I love her) But in her mind, she’s always thinking “Charming Charlie.” So, then I’m like, “Well, get me a Menards gift card… because I’m going to be gluing that stuff back together all year long.”

We had a guy on staff years ago who had an interesting philosophy. His family had accumulated so much stuff through the years, they decided to only get each other perishable gifts like fruit baskets, chocolate, or cookies. I don’t know what’s worse—accumulating more stuff or putting on a few pounds? Some want to give something that will last forever, that can be passed along, for generations.

Maybe for you it’s all about creativity, uniqueness, and thoughtfulness. A while back I carved a Lion and Lamb for Lara’s dad (not for Christmas, but for Easter) and he was struck by how much time it must have taken. I’d spent most of time trying to get that Lion’s face just right. Nobody wants a cross-eyed Lion! I was curious whether he’d put my carving in his office, or in his basement! Ha ha.

One couple told me, “We are not into gifts, we just buy whatever we want throughout the year.” My biggest problem is that whenever I come up with something, I’m so excited to see Lara’s reaction (or whoever) and I can’t keep it a secret!

What do you suppose is God’s philosophy of gift-giving? How thoughtful? How unique? How imperishable? How secretive? How valuable, or personally costly, or pricey is God willing to go? 1 Peter 1:18-19 says, “For you know that you were redeemed from your empty way of life inherited from your fathers, not with perishable things like silver or gold, but w/precious blood of Christ, like that of an unblemished and spotless lamb.”

God’s gift kind of checks all the boxes don’t you agree? How much more thoughtful… unique…imperishable…or precious… or wonderous a gift can be given than the Father’s One and Only Son? Not even a Trillion dollars in gifts compares. The gift God offers us is “redemption.” The idea of redemption is that a price had to be paid for our recovery (for our salvation, our deliverance, our freedom, our eternal well-being.) And only God could pay this price, and the only thing valuable enough to pay the cost is the precious blood of Jesus Christ.

It’s evident in the Christmas story that whether were talking about Zechariah/Elizabeth, Mary/Joseph, the Wisemen, the Shepherds, the Jewish leaders, Simeon/Anna—people were waiting on God’s intervention in time, space, history. Look how Anna responds in Luke 2:38 upon meeting Jesus: “… she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.”

The reality is that people had been waiting for redemption for generations. In Psalm 130:7, the Psalmist says, “Israel, put your hope in the Lord. For there is faithful love with the Lord, and with him is redemption in abundance.” Let’s unpack this idea of redemption for a few moments. What is the wonder of redemption God’s offers?

First, God Offers Redemption in the face of Trouble.

Who among us hasn’t faced trouble in life? In the Christmas story there is all sorts of trouble. Zechariah and Elizabeth were in old age, when an angel appears to Zechariah and Elizabeth becomes pregnant w/John the Baptist. They were supposed to be enjoying their sunset years, but now they were going to be parents! How about Joseph and Mary, engaged to be married, but then suddenly she becomes pregnant, and it’s not Joseph’s baby, it’s the Holy Spirit’s! How hard might that have been to explain? Or how about Mary and Joseph having to flee to Egypt, because they’re being hunted by Herod? Where would they stay? Where would they get money to survive?

There’s trouble in every paragraph of the Christmas story. There’s trouble on every page of the Bible. In fact, I bet there’s been a measure of trouble in just about every chapter of your life too. What trouble are you facing this Christmas?

Listen to Psalm 107:1-9 says, “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his faithful love endures forever. Let the redeemed of the Lord proclaim that he has redeemed them from the power of the foe and has gathered them from the lands—from the east and the west, from the north and the south. Some wandered in the desolate wilderness, finding no way to a city where they could live. They were hungry and thirsty; their spirits failed within them. Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble; he rescued them from their distress. He led them by the right path to go to a city where they could live. Let them give thanks to the Lord for his faithful love and his wondrous works for all humanity. For he has satisfied the thirsty and filled the hungry with good things.”

Trouble is part of life. But here is testimony of God’s people… it’s that when you cry out to God, he meets you in that trouble. Isaiah 43:1-3, “Now this is what the Lord says—the one who created you, Jacob, and the one who formed you, Israel— “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; you are mine. I will be with you when you pass through the waters, and when you pass through the rivers, they will not overwhelm you. You will not be scorched when you walk through the fire, and the flame will not burn you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, and your Savior.” Say that phrase. “I will be with you. I am the Lord your God. The Holy One of Israel. Your Savior.” God is with you in your trouble. He’ll lead you by the right path. He’ll satisfy your hunger/thirst and fill you with good things.

Second, God Offers Redemption in the Face of Sin.

What did the angel tell Joseph in Matthew 1:21? “Mary will give birth to a son, and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” There are several ways in which we need to be saved from sin. First, we need to be saved from “an attitude of sin.” First and foremost, sin is in an attitude of the heart. An attitude of lawlessness, of rebellion, of hostility, of stubbornness, of pride. The wonder of redemption, the wonder of forgiveness, is that God was sending His Son into the world to tear down some pretty thick walls.

Consider Titus 2:11-14, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, instructing us to deny godlessness and worldly lusts and to live in a sensible, righteous, and godly way in the present age, while we wait for the blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. [Jesus] gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to cleanse for himself a people for his own possession, eager to do good works.”

That right there is part of the wonder of redemption. God’s ability to flip a person’s heart from a place of animosity to zeal. That’s a change of an inward, heart attitude... an attitude of sin. Maybe this Christmas your greatest prayer is that God would flip your heart or flip the heart of someone you love. If you really love a person, there isn’t any price you would pay to flip their heart. This is why Jesus came!

We need to be saved from the “guilt of sin.” So much damage has been done to our relationship with God, from our side, we cannot fix it ourselves. For there to be a solution, God must intervene. A ransom, a just penalty, must be paid. Something must occur that enables God to remain true and just in his own holy character, while also providing some basis of justification for those who love him that we not die but live.

That solution is the precious blood of Jesus. Ephesians 1:7 says, “In Jesus we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace.” Romans 3:22-24, “There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” Isaiah 44:21-22, “Remember these things, O Jacob, and Israel, for you are my servant; I formed you; you are my servant; O Israel, you will not be forgotten by me. I have blotted out your transgressions like a cloud and your sins like mist; return to me, for I have redeemed you.” Psalm 34:22, “The Lord redeems the life of his servants; none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.”

What does it mean to you this Christmas that God so love the world that anyone who believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life? That God did not send his son to condemn the world (as we deserve) but to save the world through him. Oh the wonder of it all!

Third, God Offers Redemption in the Face of Groaning.

Every week, our leaders pray through the connection cards, one by one. I’ve got to confess, sometimes it’s hard to distinguish between praying and groaning. When I read all the prayer cards, I just groan inwardly. People losing homes, farms and businesses this past week. People looking for new homes, or decent job. Brave soldiers deployed in danger and hot zones around the world. People trying to stay on the right path, struggle with pressure, chemical addiction, sexual temptation, peer pressure. Young people being stabbed, or otherwise having their life cut short because of overdose. The profound lack of love we encounter everywhere. Once resilient loved ones undergoing hip/knee replacements. People sick with the flu. People struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts. Complications from surgery. Heart failure. Terminal cancer. Dementia.
Groaning. Wasn’t it great last week when we talked about the wonder of Jesus being the light of the world? Matthew 4:16, “The people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” What is it that we most groan for? Is it not for a glimmer of hope, a glimmer of light? Paul says the thing we most groan for is the redemption of our bodies!

I really resonate with what Paul writes in Romans 8:18-25, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us. For the creation eagerly waits with anticipation for God’s sons to be revealed. For creation was subjected to futility—not willingly, but because of him who subjected it—in the hope that the creation itself will also be set free from the bondage to decay into the glorious freedom of God’s children. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together with labor pains until now. Not only that, but we ourselves who have the Spirit as the firstfruits—we also groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. Now in this hope we were saved, but hope that is seen is not hope, because who hopes for what he sees? Now if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with patience.”

Job. Remember Job? Suffering job. After all he suffered, he never wavered from hope. In Job 19:25-26 he says, “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God.” The gift of God redeems us from trouble… from the inner power and outer fallout of sin… the gift of God redeems our bodies from groaning, death itself. Oh, the wonder of it all, redemption!

Let’s relate this to Communion:
When it comes to gifts at Christmas, we all have one overarching goal: We want to create a sense of wonder, awe! Is there anything more thrilling than seeing someone’s face light up over a gift? The very last thing we want to see is someone with a snarled face, who doesn’t show much of any enthusiasm, and just kind of sets our gift to the side. Nothing kills joy quicker than ingratitude!

When I started ministry, my dad gave me a desktop pen with a clock. It sat on my desk for decades collecting dust. I didn’t pay much attention to it at all. But earlier this year, I became truly awestruck by his gift. He’d selected a piece of burled maple as the pen’s base, and carefully routered the edges. He patiently turned a tiny piece of deer antler for the pen’s band. The pen’s design/finish was flawless. Having turned about 150 pens and counting, I immediately recognized his craftsmanship, which is far superior to anything I’ve done. Under the base, I noticed his distinctive handwriting. (Whenever I see his handwriting nowadays I get weepy inside.) He compulsively documented everything he made. It was obvious he wanted me to appreciate his gift—and “now” I do—but I didn’t at first. You see, I didn’t recognize his gift for what it was… I didn’t recognize how precious it was… how much time, thought, love he’d put into it. I didn’t know!

As sad as it makes me feel to think how I didn’t recognize the value of that gift… it makes me infinitely more sad to think that maybe this Christmas so many people may not recognize the precious value of our Heavenly Father’s gift. Will you recognize God’s gift before it’s too late? Will we show gratitude for this redemption? Will you strike joy in the Father’s face, by believing in Jesus, confessing his name, acknowledging him as Lord of your life? Or will you set God’s gift aside, to gather dust?

1 Peter 1:18-19, “For you know [you do know right?] that you were redeemed from your empty way of life inherited from your fathers, not with perishable things like silver or gold, but w/precious blood of Christ, like that of an unblemished and spotless lamb.”