Who Is Jesus? Pt 3- Redeemer Jesus

Posted: April 28, 2013 in Uncategorized, Who Is Jesus?
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This message wraps up the Who Is Jesus series that’s been based in Matthew’s gospel. In the last message in the series we talked about Radical Jesus; about how he proclaimed Jubilee, declared the arrival of God’s Kingdom, and occupied the Temple to demonstrate his authority over it. If you could distill those three events down to their core essence and summarize that essence in one word, that word would be freedom. Jesus proclaimed freedom from debt, from slavery, from poverty, from political oppression, and from religious corruption.

But all the proclamations and demonstrations didn’t make it real. You can proclaim a thing until the cows come home, but something has got to bring that proclamation into reality. There’s usually an event of some kind, or a series of events, that brings a proclamation to life. For example; in 1776 the Second Continental Congress adopted that famous document known as the Declaration of Independence. Yet, the beauty and power of its words notwithstanding, the independence that was declared was made a reality only by the Revolutionary War…the point being that proclamations are made real by actions or events.

In order for the proclamation of freedom that Jesus made to have any force, something had to happen to bring it into reality. That’s what we’re going to be talking about today; how Jesus was not only radical enough to proclaim freedom, but that he was committed enough to do something about it. Today we’re talking about Redeemer Jesus, and our Scripture text is found in Matthew 20:25-28.

First Century Freedom

Since Jesus kick-started his public ministry by proclaiming Jubilee…by declaring freedom…it’s probably a good idea to start this message by making sure we have a basic understanding of what the concept of “freedom” would have meant in Jesus’ time.

It’s important to point out that the peoples of the ancient world would have had no concept of freedom in the American sense. The freedoms we have guaranteed by the 1st Amendment to the US Constitution (freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of assembly) wouldn’t have even entered their thinking. In ancient times you worshipped the national gods. You spoke carefully to those above you, as you wished to those below you, and were very careful about expressing any opinions contrary to those of the authorities. There was no press, and you could assemble with whom you wanted with the understanding that the government could bust up any meeting at any time with a squad of soldiers. The people of Jesus’ time simply wouldn’t have had any concept of constitutionally guaranteed freedoms.

And they most certainly wouldn’t have thought of freedom in the sense of individual liberties. Ideas such as freedom of expression, freedom of conscience, and that most precious and paramount of all individual liberties, the freedom to do what I want, where I want, when I want, with whom I want, would have been utterly foreign to them.

Freedom to ancient peoples was a very different thing.

First; in a world where life was cheap and slavery was a common condition for untold millions, ‘freedom’ in its most basic sense meant that you weren’t a slave. You could earn for yourself, build for yourself, marry for yourself, and generally live for yourself. In a world where options for most people were very limited, you were at least able to choose among those limited options for yourself. You were free.

Second; in a world of empire that had torn down national leaders, transformed entire kingdoms into provinces of empire, and absorbed countless ethnic and linguistic groups, “freedom” meant you were part of an independent kingdom, and that you were ruled by your own king. Whatever his weaknesses, whatever his predilections, whatever his evils, he was your king. He spoke your language, he practiced your customs, and he worshipped your God or gods. He was a product of your culture. So, if you were ruled in your own land by your own king, you were free.

Third; in a world where most common people lived by the whim of the mighty, the ultimate personal meaning of ‘freedom’ was to possess the rare and precious prize of citizenship. Citizenship in those times was a very different thing than it is now; being born in a place didn’t make you a citizen. Living in a place for years didn’t either. In the Roman world, citizenship required a Roman father. Or it could be granted by very high officials…usually at a price. As a citizen you could vote in certain assemblies, become a civil servant, or serve in the military. You may be exempted from certain taxes. And you could travel as you pleased within the Empire, confident of the protection of the Empire. If you were a citizen, you were free.


So…what if you were a slave, what if you were in bondage to a foreign king, and what if you weren’t a citizen? What then? Well, you were generally stuck. Most slaves in the Empire didn’t live to see their 30th birthday. If you were ruled by a foreign power, you kept your head down and tried to get by as best you could without attracting undue attention to yourself. If you weren’t a citizen, you pretty much did the same and hoped that some of the mighty and powerful would be compassionate. You basically had to take life as you found it, and there was little hope and even less opportunity to actually change your station and condition.

But then, as now, there was one thing that had the remarkable ability to fix a lot of problems. It could make free men out of slaves, overthrow foreign rulers, and transform strangers into citizens. What was this wonderful thing? Money! Then, as now, plenty of money thrown in the right direction could accomplish a lot. A slave’s freedom could be purchased. Armies could be raised to overthrow the foreign king. A freedman could become a citizen if enough money was placed in the right hands. But it took a lot…either of money or something of equivalent value…to bring this kind of freedom.

This concept of purchasing freedom had a particular label; it was called ransom.  Ransom was the money or item of value that was given in exchange for freedom. The very word in the languages of the Bible referred to loosening bonds and severing cords, of bringing freedom by offering something of greater value. But like the old saying goes, freedom wasn’t free. The society had a vested interest in everything staying as it was. There was tremendous economic, political, and social value in keeping slaves as slaves, in keeping nations in bondage, and in limiting citizenship to a select few. In order to overcome that vested interest, you could expect the ransom to be high.

So…when Jesus declared ‘freedom’ in Luke chapter four, he had to be ready to take the necessary action to make that declaration reality. He had to be willing to pay the necessary ransom to purchase that freedom.

Jesus Redeemer

We already know that Jesus, radical though he was, wasn’t interested in revolution. He made it clear that his interest was in bringing transformation to the heart. You see, if you transform enough hearts, you can change an entire society…and never unsheathe a sword. So understand that Jesus’ first and greatest priority was altering the state of the inner man, knowing that a change of heart would work its way into a change of life.

The great slavery that Jesus was primarily concerned about was slavery to sin. The foreign pretender that Jesus wanted to overthrow was the devil. And the citizenship Jesus wanted to all to have was in his New Kingdom. You see, if sin and evil are dealt with in the heart, if the New Kingdom is established in the heart, then the effects of that inner transformation will begin to be made known practically. Slaves would be freed, bondages ended, and all could have status…if the heart could only be changed.

Obviously such a transformation would be costly…very costly. That kind of freedom would require an incredible ransom. The question is; what was Jesus going to offer to bring these freedoms? What would he do to free people from slavery to sin, overthrow the devil, and transform strangers into citizens of that New Kingdom?

He would offer himself. He would sacrifice himself. That’s called “substitutionary atonement” in the language of theology, and it’s pretty hard for us to wrap our heads around. How could one person offering himself bring that kind of redemption? But to the ancients it was a commonly understood principle; they understood that a sacrifice was a stand-in for them. “Vicarious sacrifice” was recognized by the entire ancient world as an accepted way of dealing with many significant issues…including spiritual ones. And for most ancient societies, the more valuable and significant the sacrifice, the greater it’s power and effect.

So imagine there’s a man who’s lived his entire life without sin. He’s done nothing but good for people everywhere he’s gone. He’s truly a holy man in the best sense of the term. And he’s powerful! He can heal blindness, paralysis, lameness, hemorrhaging, leprosy, tormented minds, and even raise the dead. He can cast out devils, feed lots of hungry people with little food, walk on water, and calm storms with a word. He loves children, is kind to women, and merciful to sinners. He brings hope to the oppressed, the common people love him, and he loves them right back. Many are calling him the Chosen One, the Messiah, and there are even whispers of divinity.

Now imagine that such a man said that he was willing to offer himself as ransom, to willingly surrender himself to bring freedom to others…how much, do you suppose, someone like that would be worth? According to Jesus, such a man could be given in exchange for the whole world. “For God so loved the world,” Jesus said, “that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

That’s what makes Jesus the Redeemer; he gave himself to free us from slavery to sin and bondage to Satan, and to give us a place in his New Kingdom. He ransomed us.


The story is told of a boy who built a model sailboat. He carefully assembled the little wooden hull, placing small stones inside for ballast. He attached the mast, and made the sail, then tarred the boat and painted it.

After he finished it, he took it to the lake to try it out. Sure enough, a wisp of breeze filled the little sail and it sent the boat rippling along the waves. But the breeze gusted, and before the boy knew it, the boat had sailed out of his reach. As he watched it float away, he hoped that maybe the breeze would shift and return the boat to him. Instead, he watched it sail farther and farther until it was gone.

Sometime later the boy saw his boat in the window of a nice second hand shop. He went in and said to the shop owner, “That’s my boat!” He then walked over to the window, picked the boat up and started to leave with it. The owner said, “Wait a minute, kid. That’s my boat! I bought it from someone.” The boy said, “No, it’s my boat. I made it. See?” And he showed the shopkeeper the little scratches and marks where he had hammered and filed.

But the owner said, “I’m sorry, kid, but if you want it, you have to buy it.” The boy didn’t have any money, but he hustled around and did enough odd jobs to earn it. Finally, one day he went in and bought the little boat. As he left the store holding the boat tightly and closely, someone overheard him say, “You’re my boat. You’re twice my boat. First you’re my boat ’cause I made you, and second you’re my boat ’cause I bought you!”

That’s a great illustration of redemption. You see, Jesus as Creator made you…and then on the cross as redeemer he bought you so that you might be free.

  1. ed arbeau says:

    Another great message, Dennis; kind of wish I could have been there to hear you preach it.

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