A sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Lent
March 18, 2023
The Rev. Mark Nabors, Vicar
Readings: John 9
Something is wrong and must be put right. We can’t do it. Only God can do it, and God does it through the cross. Throughout Lent, we have been focusing on this question of how God accomplishes this on the cross. On the first Sunday in Lent, we said we are justified, made righteous through the righteousness of Christ. The cross opens up an avenue of grace for our justification, which we are granted at our baptisms into Christ’s death. Then we saw the cross as recapitulation: God in Christ writing a new story from a new tree, the cross, becoming the new Adam, so that we can share in the new humanity. Last week, we said Christ substituted himself for us, taking the just penalty for our sins so we can be free. Today we see the cross as ransom and redemption: Christ goes behind enemy lines, pays the price for our souls, and redeems us into a new relationship.
Ransom and redemption are popular themes in our culture. How many movies have we seen that center on hostage negotiation? This is rooted in real life. We have read the stories in the paper, seen them on the news. But it’s not just prisoner swaps and hostage negotiations, it’s also buyouts. The news from the banking sector this week shows us that we need someone to step in and pay the price when things collapse, to secure futures when the bottom falls out.
And yet for as popular as these themes are, we like our redemption, our ransom, to be free. We don’t like to pay the price. We don’t like the cost involved. We want the SWAT team to storm the building before the gold is transferred. We want to get out of the negotiation without having lost anything of value. We have a different outlook, of course, if we step into the scenes ourselves. If we’re the ones being held, if we’re the ones in danger, if we’re the negotiating chips. We have a different view, indeed, because we see what is at stake: our lives.
Beyond our culture, though, we need to understand what ransom and redemption mean in the Bible. “I know my redeemer lives,” says Job. “And he shall stand on the last day upon the earth.” In the Old Testament, redeemer had a particular meaning. The redeemer was the relative who stepped in when things got out of hand, the kinsman you would call to pay the ransom, the one whose number you had memorized in case you ever found yourself in a jail cell with one phone call. Your redeemer was the one who had your back, who would guarantee your safe return, who would even put their body and their own safety on the line in order to save you.
We say those words from Job in the burial service. It’s one of the passages of Scripture I sing as we bring the body into the church. While the Old Testament presents us with this idea of a redeemer and ransom-payer, the New Testament gives us our definitive and final redeemer and ransom-payer: Jesus Christ who redeems us from the clutches of the enemy, who pays the ransom by his blood from the cross, all before we even know what’s going on.
Our gospel reading was John chapter 9. A man born blind is healed by Jesus on the Sabbath. But he’s blind; the only thing he knows is that the man called Jesus spread mud on his eyes and told him to wash. He is berated by the religious authorities. They go into an extended interrogation, even bringing in the man’s parents. It almost feels like one of those hostage situations. There are conspiracy theories afoot, claiming this isn’t really the blind man. Finally, when everything reaches a fever-pitch, they throw him out of the synagogue. Abandoned, Jesus visits him again. “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” Jesus asks. The man replies, “who is he, sir? Tell me so that I may believe in him.” Jesus says, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” The man sees Jesus, his healer, for the fullness of who he is, and he worships Jesus. Worship is only appropriate for God, so this man, blind for so long, is the only one who sees that Jesus is divine.
Our ransom and redemption work like that. Paul says that while we still were sinners, Christ died for us, the ungodly. When we were blind and didn’t know what was happening, before we could even believe in the Son of Man, before we knew who he was, before any of our works, before everything, Christ came to ransom us, to redeem us, to heal our blindness and pull us into his light. Christ came to liberate us from the enemy, but such redemption comes at a cost: the life of the Son of God, the blood of the Son of Man. There is a debt, a cost, a price to be paid, and only God can pay it. So God does pay it, in love, without a second thought, by dying on the cross.
That says a lot about God. It says a lot about God’s nature, which is love all the way through. It says a lot about what it means to sing, “Jesus loves me.” The cross is what love looks like. But this also says a lot about us. It says a lot about you and me and every person who ever walked the earth. It says: We are worth it to God. Our lives are worth redeeming to God. The ransom is not too much to be paid for God, even though it costs everything. Your life, your soul, and your relationship with God are worth the cross. And if you were the only person to ever live, your life alone would be worth it just the same. One person’s soul, in need of redemption, in need of ransom, would take God in Christ to death on the cross.
Sometimes we can feel like that formerly blind man, cast out, rejected, alone, afraid. We can feel abandoned. But then Jesus comes by. The cross comes into view. I hope it reminds us of our worth in the eyes of the Almighty. My friend: God so loved the world, God so loves you right now, that God gave, without a second thought, his only Son, so that when we believe in him, we can have everlasting life. The ransom paid, the redemption won: our life with God is the reward. Our relationship with God is what it’s all for. So that leaves us, like the man in the gospel, with just one question: Do you believe in the Son of Man?
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