Ephesians 1:7 “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.”
In these great words the apostle introduces us to the very heart of the message of the Bible. If you have ever read the Old Testament you will have been struck with the importance it places upon the whole sacrificial system. If you have read the New Testament then you will have noticed that in the four gospels a third of the narrative deals with the last week in the life of Christ leading up to his death upon the cross. Or if you have read the letters of Paul and Peter and the others then you will have seen how it is the death of Jesus Christ that takes a prominent place in what they wrote, with hardly a reference to other incidents in his life. The entire word of God underlines the redemptive character of Christianity. It is a religion that addresses itself to people who have this consciousness that they are lost men and women. They don’t expect to deliver themselves but they cast themselves on the atonement of Christ alone. So let us approach these great words by considering their almost passing reference to our sins.
1. ALL MEN AND WOMEN ARE RUINED BY SIN.
For the first time in this letter the apostle introduces us to the concept of the sins of men and women and their need of forgiveness. What a tiny word is the word ‘sin’; is it because it is so small that it is unknown to our political parties, or the National Health Service, or to the schools and universities of the British Isles, or the media, or the major publishing houses? I wouldn’t think it’s because sin is a three letter word that it’s ignored. I would think that it is because they have rejected biblical Christianity that they have dispensed with sin. That is an enormous commitment to ignorance and to all the ensuing perplexities, because God has created us to be sin-conscious. You can as well dismiss the conscience as dismiss sin. Sin explains the human predicament. What am I talking about? “What is sin? Sin is want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God” (Westminster Shorter Catechism, question 14).
The Creator of the world has given laws to his creatures, and he has even written the things of this law on all men’s hearts. The law of God is summarised simply in the ten commandments: thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image: thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain. Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. Honour thy father and thy mother. Thou shalt not kill. Thou shalt not commit adultery. Thou shalt not steal. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour. Thou shalt not covet. If we were to summarise what those ten commands were saying it would be this, that we must love God alone, and with all our heart and soul and mind and strength, and that we are to love our neighbours as ourselves. If we went a step further to flood these commands with the light of the insight of Jesus Christ then we’d also see that the law of God don’t evaluate our deeds alone or even our words but also our thoughts and feelings. They are saying that it is possible to commit murder with our tongues, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”; that we can commit adultery in our hearts; that we break the tenth commandment (which forbids coveting) by our dissatisfaction and greed and itching desire for that which is someone else’s. Sin is an evil inward disposition as well as an outward action.
So there is a lot of sin about and there is something desperately wrong with the human race. I could seize on one of a hundred incidents reported in the newspapers on any day last week from different continents and societies. Each one illustrates the horrible pain and destruction of ordinary men, women and children. But you know of such wickednesses. They are only too familiar to you. On it goes year after year, all across the world, with no change. Aren’t I speaking the truth? But more desperately, all of us know sin from our own experience. Sometimes we suffer from our sins; sometimes we make others suffer from it.
It has been like this since a certain event took place. It began when our first parents fell. So life was not always as bad as you see it today. The first human beings were created good, in fact they were made in the image of God. When the Lord looked at them it was like your looking at your own reflection in the morning. He looked at two powerful rulers, loving companions and joyfully obedient children of God. But they fell into sin. They stumbled and down they went, and like a chain of dominoes all of us who come after them have been toppled by their fall. We stand and fall together. You know that parents pass on certain traits to their children. Your eye, skin and hair colour, for instance, comes from your parents. Even some diseases can be inherited. The tendency to do wrong instead of right is just like that. It is past down the generations. We are born with that bias for what’s bad, and every day we see, read about, or suffer the symptoms of our human disease. We break God’s wise and loving law, lying, stealing, murdering, divorcing, ridiculing, lusting, self-pitying, retaliating, disdaining, shouting and swearing. The race is ruined and we are the ones who have wrecked it, not the holy God. Look around you! Look back through the last century. We now see humanity crumbling, sagging, rotting and ruined. It is beyond our capacity to change it. Our sins have done that.
The Bible has an extensive vocabulary to describe sin. It calls it ‘iniquity’ and that means unfairness or injustice. Sin is grabbing the one lamb that belonged to a poor man and killing it. You do it because he was weak and you are tough. It is unfair – iniquitous. Sin is called a ‘trespass’. God’s holiness or God’s law is pictured as a piece of land; when we stop across its borders we trespass. We go beyond the limits as King David infamously did. Sometimes sin is described as missing the target, to stumbling and falling, or getting all dirty, or loving to do things in darkness and avoiding the light, or leaving the right path and getting lost. What the Bible writers are telling us with this rich language is that sin is everywhere. It is like a gas leak in a house that can’t be plugged and the smell of the gas gets into the bathroom and the attic and cellar and onto your clothes, and everyone is nervy. We commit wrong acts, but we also fail to do right acts. Sins are sins of commission, but they are also sins of omission. We look the other way. We sin for this reason – because we are sinners. Sin is inside us all and when it floods our hearts then there’s an overflow. Sin is the sewer, while sins are all the gunk and junk that burst out of it and fill a life.
All who sin are condemned by the law and are under the curse of the law. You are a sinner, but more, you are a cursed sinner. You are under the curse of the law of God. Look at our civilisation today. Isn’t it a cursed civilisation? Why does the law of God pronounce a curse on lawbreakers? Let me give you some reasons gathered by John MacArthur:
First, the law requires behaviour contrary to human nature. Do you know what the law asks you to do? Precisely what you can’t do. It demands us to do what we hate. It demands us to do what we loathe. It calls on us to function opposite to all our longings, passions, desires, and lusts. It asks us to go against our natural inclinations. We can’t do it.
Second, the law requires behaviour impossible to human nature. It requires behaviour not only against our will, but even if we could will it, we couldn’t do it. Sinners cannot do holy deeds. We don’t have the ability or the desire. We are a cursed people.
Third, the law requires perfect performance of every part. The Judaizers were wrong. God wasn’t satisfied with just “a good shot.” The law is a severe creditor that demands perfect compliance. It demands nothing less than absolute perfection. It asks what is unwanted, what is impossible, and asks us to do it perfectly, so perfectly that Jesus could say, “Be ye perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48, KJV).
Fourth, the law refuses to accept good intentions as any consolation. Even if there were some good desires, even if there were some good deeds, even if there was some effort toward morality, if there were some effort to please whatever god in which one believes, intention counts for absolutely nothing. ‘Nice try’ means nothing. There’s no consolation bracket in the law. Trying doesn’t count.
Fifth, the law accepts no payback plan. You can’t offer the law some payback scheme by which you somehow pay off the debt you have accumulated. You can’t go to God and say, “I’ve been racking up sin for a long time and what I’d like to do is work it off. I’d like to give you a little down payment of righteousness and a few good deeds every week and maybe we can get that baby paid down.” No, the debt is never discounted and it’s never repayable. In fact, if, hypothetically, you were to break the law once in the beginning of your life and do righteous deeds for the rest of it, all the accumulated righteous deeds of your entire life would never pay back the debt incurred by that other violation. If you were to live righteously your entire life and violate the law once before your death, your accumulated righteousnesses wouldn’t satisfy God. There’s no accumulated merit plan and there’s no payback scheme.
Sixth, the law is an unrelenting taskmaster. It never eases up. It never lightens the load. It never relaxes the requirements. It never says to the sinner, “Take a day off, today, your sin won’t count. It’s a freebie.” Never! Twenty-four hours a day, every single moment of our lives the inexorable law is working. No days off. It is stringent, unbending, unrelenting, and we never get any relief from its imposition.
Seventh, the law shatters happiness. The law hits our lives not like a hammer hitting an anvil but like steel rods on a clay pot, or like a hammer on a thin pane of glass. It disintegrates life. Sinners live in shame, guilt, restlessness, sorrow, fear, pain, futility, frustration, dissatisfaction, doubt, and hopelessness. The law just can’t provide relief. The law shatters happiness. Just when you think you’ve got it, you lose it.
Eighth, the law requires the severest penalty: hell with no parole. Do you realise that God is so offended by our sin that an eternity in hell doesn’t pay back God?
Ninth, the law only demands, it doesn’t help. The law never comes alongside and says, “I know this is tough, let me help you.” The law never helps. It offers no strength, no power, no method, no plan, no assistance of any kind at all, ever.
Tenth, the law offers no salvation. No deliverance. No restoration.
Eleventh, the law never listens to anybody’s repentance. It couldn’t care less. It doesn’t matter how much you weep and groan and moan. It doesn’t care about your sorrow. It doesn’t care about your grief. It has no concern for your remorse. It isn’t interested in your penitence. It doesn’t care at all about your desires to make amends and change. The law is utterly, totally indifferent to all repentance.
Twelfth, the law offers no forgiveness, no grace, and no mercy.
Thirteenth, the law offers no hope at all. The law can never say there’ll be a better day. There’s no brighter tomorrow coming. There’s no happy future out there. (John MacArthur’s essay entitled “Redeemed From the Curse of the Law”, in “Reclaiming the Gospel and Reforming Churches,” The Southern Baptist Founders Conference 1982-2002, ” Founders Press, P.O. Box 150931 Cape Coral, FL 33915, 2003. pp. 103-105).
If you are saying, “But I do my best,” then you are under the law. If you protest that you live a decent life, then you are under the law. If you plead your sincerity, or anything you do, then you are under the law and you are a cursed man or a cursed woman. God never gave his law to save us, but to show us the way and convict us when we did wrong, and thus convince us of our need of the Saviour.
“The law was never meant to give
New strength to man’s lost race;
We cannot act before we live,
And life proceeds from grace.
But grace and truth by Christ are given,
To him must Moses bow;
Grace fits the new-born soul for heaven,
And truth informs us how.” (Joseph Hart 1712-1773).
You are taking the problem of sin lightly and I am urging you not to do that. If you do that then you will take redemption lightly, you will take forgiveness of sins lightly, you will take Jesus Christ lightly. If I lose a pound coin in three inches of water in a bowl in the sink it is not difficult to pick it back up, but if I drop it from a boat in the harbour then there is a real problem. Most people would say that it wasn’t worth picking up. It would be too great an enterprise. How far back do your sins go? To the womb. How deep into your heart do they go? They permeate the whole of your life and every action. You have never done a wholly sinless act. That is the problem – as deep as the ocean. So I say to you that if you have a weak doctrine of man’s sin you will soon be slighting the doctrine of redemption; if you have a realistic view of the enormous gravity and power of sin and guilt, by that very fact, you will be compelled to have a very serious view of the Bible’s teaching of redemption.
So many ideas of the cross are faulty because people have stopped taking sin seriously. This was marvellously expressed by the eleventh century Archbishop of Canterbury called Anselm. He wrote a book with this crucial question as its title, “Why Has God Made Man?” People were arguing with him about this incredible Christian claim that in Jesus Christ dwelt all the fulness of the godhead bodily, that Jesus Christ was God and also true man in one person? “Incredible,” people were saying. “A good man, the greatest man, a wonderful teacher, yes, all of that, but the incarnation of God? No, no. Why make such a claim?” Anselm said to them, “You have not yet considered the fearful gravity of sin.” They are in just six words in the Latin in which Anselm wrote them. Six sticks of dynamite that blow up humanism and all pretensions to live our lives without a Saviour, without a covering for our nakedness, without a name to plead that God himself loves, without a Mediator with God. Those words of Anselm are like the metal ball on the crane that demolishes a building. There is the great city of man, and hear the cry of the proud builders, “Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?” (Dan. 4:30). Then God’s great iron ball swings and down crashes the city of man, and its builder is lying naked in the dew eating grass, his finger nails like talons, his reason gone. “You have not yet considered the fearful gravity of sin.”
No one has ever understood why Isaac Watts wrote of, “the wondrous cross,” who did not have a true knowledge of sin; without that knowledge doxology is shallow word worship. An American preacher called Robert Schuller always avoids the language of sin, because, he says, people who switch on to his radio and TV programmes will be switched off if he talks like that. So he tries to accommodate himself to the taste of the hearers, but what I am trying to do is to accommodate you my hearers to a taste for the Bible and God’s analysis of your condition. It seems to me that what men like Dr Schuller are doing can be compared to a doctor who has diagnosed a cancer, but he says to the patient, “It’s only a little pimple.” I am asking you what do you see around you? What do you read in the papers? What about your own heart? You might say, “I’m not like that,” but in your pocket are the nails that fastened Christ to the cross. The root of sin is there in your life, and the fruit of sin is seen in your behaviour, your pride and hard hearts. If you were put in the same circumstances as the criminals of whom you read of in the paper (who seem worse than those dogs who eat their own vomit), then you would be behaving just like them. You would, and if you dare to protest that you are fundamentally a good man, then “You have not yet considered the fearful gravity of sin.” So Paul introduces us to sin, but then you see the context in which he does so? It is in reference to forgiveness and redemption through Jesus Christ. Hear his words: “In him [Christ] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins” (v.7).
2. ALL MEN AND WOMEN MAY BE REDEEMED BY THE BLOOD OF JESUS CHRIST.
“In [Christ] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins” (v.7). While the Bible emphasises unapologetically the sinfulness of man it also insists that it was through the coming of Christ into the world, and the sacrifice which he made by himself on Golgotha that redemption has been accomplished. “We have redemption;” those are his exact words. Not “let’s go for it.” Redemption is not something we strive for ourselves. It has all been achieved by God the Son. That is why he came into the world. That is why the Father sent him, and spared him not. It is that magnificent grace that Paul is speaking of here when he talks of the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding in Christ and which has been given to pathetic sinners like us. “We have redemption,” says the apostle. Here again is the great apostolic ‘we’ as he stands in solidarity with the entire Ephesian congregation. “This is my hope as much as any one of you,” he is saying. “Because Christ shed his blood for us, we have the forgiveness of sins.”
I can be no better servant of yours today, nor a better servant of this Word – nor a better servant of the Lord of the Word – than to read to you some verses from the Bible that insist on this. I want you just to sit quietly and listen to them, and let the attesting truths of the Scripture (in the familiar language of the King James Version) makes their own impact on your understanding of the death of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Surely He hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon Him: and with His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray: we have turned every one to His own way; and the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth: He is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so He openeth not His mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare His generation? for He was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was He stricken . . . . Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him; He hath put Him to grief: when thou shalt make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hand. He shall see the travail of His soul, and shall be satisfied: by His knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for He shall bear their iniquities. Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and He shall divide the spoil with the strong: because He has poured out His soul unto death: and He was numbered with the transgressors; and He bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors. (Isaiah 53:4-8,10-12). Listen!
In that day there shall be a fountain opened in the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and for uncleanness. (Zechariah 13:1). Listen!
For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. (Matthew 26:28; Luke 22:30). Listen!
And [Jesus] said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behooved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem (Luke 24:46-47) Listen!
The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world (John 1:29). Listen![We are] Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God: To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus (Romans 3:24-26). Listen! [He] was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification (Romans 4:25). Listen!
For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:3). Listen!
Grace be to you, and peace, from God the Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father (Galatians 1:3-4). Listen!
Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree (Galatians 3:13). Listen!
But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; and that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby: And came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh. For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father (Ephesians 2:13-18). Listen!
In [Him] we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins . . . For it pleased the Father that in him should all fullness dwell; And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by Him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven. And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath He reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy and unblamable and unreprovable in His sight. (Colossians 1:14, 19-22). Listen!
For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus: Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time (I Timothy 2:5-6). Listen![He] gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. (Titus 2:14). Listen!
. . . by the grace of God [Jesus] should taste death for every man . . . Wherefore in all things it behooved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people (Hebrews 2:9, 17). Listen!
Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us. For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh: How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance . . . . Nor yet that he should offer himself often, as the high priest entereth into the holy place every year with blood of others; For then he must often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. (Hebrews 9:12-15, 25-26). Listen![We have come] to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel (Hebrews 12:24). Listen!
Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate . . . . Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do his will. (Hebrews 13:12, 20-21). Listen!
Forasmuch that ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot: Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you (1 Peter 1:18-20). Listen![Jesus Himself] bare our sins in his own body on t he tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed (1 Peter 2:24). Listen!
For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit (I Peter 3:18). Listen!
The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin (1 John 1:7). Listen!
Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood . . . (Revelation 1:5). Listen!
And they sang a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation (Revelation 5:9). Listen!
That is the witness of the word of God to the death of Christ. How powerful is such a testimony to the truth of God all by itself. I mean, all comment seems redundant because it is so lucid. Once a minister was spotted on a station getting on a train, and a man in spiritual need recognised him and hurried up to him and said, “I am a lost sinner. Could you direct me to Christ?” The train was leaving that minute, and so the minister leaned out of the window of the train and said to him urgently, “Go home and read Isaiah chapter 53.” We have just read those words together, and the man did that and he believed upon the Lamb of God. A student went to Cambridge University; his name was Charles Simeon and he had no understanding of the message of Christianity. He became interested and troubled about the message of the Bible and for three months read the Bible and other books. Then he came across this phrase in a book he was reading: “The Jews knew what they were doing when they transferred their sin to the head of another.” In a flash it came to him: “I can transfer all my guilt to another. I won’t bear it on my soul a moment longer.” The next day he felt some hope that God had been merciful to him and on the following day that hope grew. It got stronger and stronger as the days went by and on the Sunday he woke to the assurance, “Jesus Christ is risen today! Hallelujah!” From that hour he knew peace with God.
Through the dying sacrifice made by spotless eternal and infinite Son of God the guilt of creation has been dealt with in the sight of its holy Creator. The Lamb of God has stood in the place of God’s righteous wrath against sin and he has propitiated it. He has taken the condemnation in our place. In Egypt Pharaoh attempted to kill the sons of the Israelites but he failed. God, however, does not fail. The eventual ultimate judgment must fall on Egypt; every firstborn male is to die. But the children of Israel are sinners too, as much as the children of Egypt. The difference is that God provides protection to all who obey him. “Take an unblemished lamb, and kill it, and smear its blood on the door frame. Every household hidden behind that blood will be spared. I will pass over you” (Ex. 12:13), God says. Thus it was. A blameless lamb had died that the firstborn in that house might live. When Jesus celebrates the Passover with his disciples – you remember he dies while the Passover lambs were slain on that first Good Friday – the Lord is saying, “This is the new covenant in my blood which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” The blood is the substituting death of Christ. He dies so that I do not die the death of judgment and condemnation. His death instead of mine. He lovingly lays down his life that I might not die. God accepts the life and death of his Son as a full atonement for my sins.
An illustration of substitutionary death comes from the recent bestseller “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin” by Louis de Bernieres. Captain Corelli, and his great friend Carlo and their fellow Italian soldiers are to be executed by the Nazis, Italy having joined the Allies to fight against Germany near the end of the war.
“The carnage had none of the ritual formality of such occasions that film and paintings might suggest. The victims were not lined up against the wall. They were not blindfolded, faced away, or faced forward. Many of them were left on their knees, praying, weeping or pleading . . . Some stood smoking, casually as at a party, and Carlo stood to attention next to Corelli, glad to die at last, and resolved with all his heart to die a soldier’s death
“After the shooting began, the prisoners, wheeling and dancing in the horizontal rain, were crying out. They fell to their knees, their hands flailing, their nostrils haunted by the stench of cordite, searing cloth and oil, their mouths filling with the dry and dusty tang of blood. Some stood up again, holding out their arms like Christ, baring their chests in the hope of a quicker death, a shorter route through pain. What no one had seen . . . was that at the order to fire, Carlo had stepped smartly sideways like a soldier forming ranks. Antonio Corelli, in a haze of nostalgia and forgetfulness, had found in front of him the titanic bulk of Carlo Guercio, had found his wrists gripped painfully in those mighty fists, had found himself unable to move . . . Carlo stood unbroken as one bullet after another burrowed like white-hot parasitic knives into the muscle of his chest . . . [Eventually Carlo] flung himself over backwards. Corelli lay beneath him, paralysed by his weight, drenched utterly in his blood, stupefied by an act of love so incomprehensible and ineffable, so filled with divine madness.” (Louis de Berneres, “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin”, Minerva, 1995, pp. 324-325). What an act of love, so unbelievable, so incomprehensible and ineffable. Now multiply by eternity! So it was with Jesus’ love, not for a friend but while we were yet sinners. In his love for particular people who at one time were his enemies he laid down his life for them.
The Lord Jesus said that there was no greater love amongst men than a man laying down his life for his friend, and there are examples of this through history. Your most precious gift is your life, and you might freely give that up so that your friend would live. There was a little girl Mair who desperately needed a blood transfusion of a particularly rare blood group. The doctor explained to her brother Gwion that she needed blood, and as he had recovered from the same disease her chances of survival would be improved by a transfusion of his blood. “Would you give your blood to Mair?” the doctor asked him. Gwion’s lip started to tremble, and then he nodded his head. “Yes, of course.” Soon the children were driven together to the hospital, Mair, pale and thin and Gwion, strong and fit. Neither spoke but when their eyes met Gwion smiled at her. Then the nurse cleansed the skin on his arm, inserted the needle and began to drain a pint of blood. Toward the end of the ordeal Gwion turned to the nurse and said to her quietly, “Nurse, when will I die?” Only then did they realise why there’d been that slight hesitation on his part. He thought he was being asked to be drained of all his blood for his sister, but still he had gone ahead with it. The Lord Jesus actually did give up his life voluntarily and lovingly out of love for us, he bled for Adam’s helpless race of sinners. What then are all the glittering prizes of all the world if the Son of God died for me?
“His dying crimson like a robe
Spreads o’er his body on the tree.
Then am I dead to all the world
And all the world is dead to me” (Isaac Watts)
This is what God says to you who believe in Jesus, that if you should die tonight, if you fall dead, you do not need to be afraid; you have the covering of the blood of Christ to protect you; you die as a redeemed person; you die as a son of God, with all your sins forgiven. You are going up to the door into your own loving Father’s house, and he is completely reconciled to you. There is nothing outstanding that he wants to talk to you about. Talking and rebuking and judging is over and done with. Now is the time for welcoming and rejoicing and feasting. Do you tremble when you go into your own home as to what the reception is going to be like? No you don’t. You know that those who love you are in that home and they are waiting for you. They are saying, “When will we hear the sound of his key in the door? I hope he comes soon.” But the welcome we get there is only a faint reflection of the love that awaits us in our heavenly home. I tell you it is going to be a hundred times warmer than the reception the prodigal son received. A hundred times more joy at your coming home. A hundred times more love. Yes, we are going to the Judgment seat, but the Lord who sits on that Seat is the Saviour who died to redeem us. There is no condemnation whatsoever. It is all gone. You have no need to be afraid.
If you live for many years and you think of death, which is sure to come, that need not make you afraid. Physical death may cause you to fear for it is foreign to our nature, but the power of the grave and the second death of condemnation in hell has been conquered by our Lord, and as he himself entered into glory, he will bring all his people to glory also. He has promised to do it.
For those of you who are not Christians, what about you? What shall I say to you? I would not be faithful to my office, or to my God, if I did not point out that as you are unredeemed you are still in the state of bondage. What sin tells you to do you do! It tells you to ignore the death of Christ and launch into eternity on your own flimsy merit. That is like trying to fly to heaven with a swan’s wings tied to your arms. You have retired perhaps; you have settled down in this world and life has a gentler pace. You don’t want to rock the boat now by listening to me. You dare not concede that your past life has been lived in defiance of God’s redemption. What you are is an elderly slave. You are not a man who freely loves God’s law and daily chooses his will. But only in God’s will is freedom to be found. Men and women hear me! When gospel days are done, when the sun goes down, and the grace of redemption will not be preached to you any more, then the chains of slavery, now so strangely reassuring, rather slack and very familiar, will begin to tighten. They will pull you down and down to a place where the word ‘redemption’ is not known. Aren’t you afraid of that? Well, be afraid, and come now in repentance and faith to the only Saviour of sinners, who alone has the price of your redemption. It was not silver and gold, but his own precious blood. Plead that! Make that your covering today. Give God no rest until you know that your sins were on Christ and his righteousness is on you.
2nd November 2003 GEOFF THOMAS