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Ransomed from Futile Ways

Series: Elect Exiles

Sermon by David Strain on Sep 8, 2019

1 Peter 1:17-21

Well now do keep your Bibles in hand and this time turn to the New Testament and to the first letter of the apostle Peter. On Sunday mornings, if you’ve been with us over the last month or so, we’ve been slowly working our way through 1 Peter. You’ll find chapter 1 on page 1014 of the church Bibles. Let me encourage you please to follow with us and keep your Bibles open as we consider God’s Word. 

Peter begins chapter 1, verses 3 through 12, with one long run-on sentence in which he is rehearsing for us our great privileges, the great blessings that we enjoy in the Gospel. And then in verse 13, the section we began to consider last week and we’re continuing to consider this week, Peter wants us to think about the “therefores,” the “so what” that follows in consequence of the great blessings that have come to us through the Lord Jesus Christ. His focus in 13 through 17 as we saw last time is on the promotion of a holy life. 

And to help promote a holy life, he invites us to look in three directions. In verse 13, he said, “I want you to look forward.” So often our trouble is that our horizon line is right in front of our noses. We’re looking to next Tuesday or two weeks from now or a year from now. That’s as far as we can see. Peter is saying, “I want you to fix the horizon of your hope on the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ at the end of the age. I want that to be where your hope rests - in the sure and certain hope of the return of Jesus - so that no matter what happens next Tuesday or a year from now or two years from now, your hope is unshakable because it rests in Him and not in your circumstances. So look forward.” Then he says, verse 14, “I want you to look backward. I want you to evaluate correctly the old life so that when the sinful passions of your former ignorance rear their ugly head in your hearts, you know what they really are. They’re not your friends offering you freedom; they are the enemies of your soul and they will destroy you if you let them.” So look forward, look back, then finally he says in verses 15 through 17, “I want you to look up, to see the One sitting on the throne who is the Holy One that you might become like Him and be holy too. He is your Father who loves you and He is your Judge who judges impartially everyone according to deeds. I want you to see Him as the Holy One that you might tremble before Him in reverent fear throughout the time of your exile.” That was last week.

This week, it’s almost as though Peter anticipates one of the ways we might distort those exhortations, especially when he talks to us about fear. He knows that we are prone to read into that all sorts of wrong inferences and draw all sorts of wrong conclusions. He does not want to shatter your settled assurance in the sovereign grace of God in the Gospel by talking about godly fear. And so he very quickly in verses 18 through 21 takes us back to the cross. And he wants us to understand that godly fear that is the heart, is the soul of growing godliness and holiness, is not the opposite of sure, settled, comfortable confidence in the atoning work of Jesus. Instead, he wants us to understand that looking at the cross, at the ransom paid by the precious blood of Jesus, that’s where godly fear finds its source. That’s its natural environment and its ordinary place to thrive. Godly fear is not the opposite of a clinging to the cross, but the cross, living in the shadow of Calvary as it were, living close to what Jesus has done for sinners produces godly fear. 

Here’s how that works. You look at the cross as a Christian, and what do you see? What do you know is happening at the cross? You see there God our Father who is the just Judge pouring out judgment on sin - my sin, your sin. But not on you, not on me, but on His Son. You see how seriously God takes our sin, how much He hates it - that He is willing to pour out His judgment on Christ. That’s how seriously He takes it. And so we fear. We tremble to play fast and loose with our remaining corruption. What else do you see if you look at the cross? You see the love of God, don’t you? You see how much the Judge is also your Father and who loves you so profoundly that He would pour out the judgment you deserve on His Son that you might be delivered. And so you fear, you tremble at the thought of betraying such love, of trampling underfoot casually with selfishness and sin such love. You see, godly fear thrives in the light of the Gospel. The Gospel is not the opposite, but the source of godly fear. Peter is not saying for a moment that if you’re a Christian you should be afraid that God would someday reject you. No, “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ.” It is impossible that you could ever be rejected. But he does want you to tremble in reverent fear before the Holy One who is both Father and Judge to you in Christ, to hate your sin and anything that would betray His affection and love for you. 

And so, Peter, in verses 18 through 21, our passage for this morning, is turning the diamond of the ransom, of the redemption, of the price paid for sinners at the cross by Jesus Christ so that we can see it, that godly fear may grow and flourish in our hearts and we may live for His praise and honor. We’re going to notice four things about the ransom that has been provided for sinners like me and you by the Lord Jesus Christ. First, we’re going to think about in verse 18 what we’ve been ransomed from; what we’ve been ransomed from. Then in verses 18 and 19, what we’ve been ransomed with. Then in 19 through 20, who we’ve been ransomed by. And finally verse 21, what we’ve been ransomed for. What we’ve been ransomed from, what we’ve been ransomed with, who we’ve been ransomed by, and what we’ve been ransomed for. That’s where we’re going. Before we consider the passage together and work through that outline, let’s pause and cry to God to help us understand and embrace His holy Word. Let us pray.

O Lord, may now the words of my mouth and the meditation of all our hearts be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord our Rock and our Redeemer. For Jesus’ sake, amen.

1 Peter chapter 1 at the seventeenth verse. This is the Word of God:

“And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one's deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.”

Amen, and we praise God that He has spoken in His holy Word.

What We Have Been Ransomed From 

I am familiar with a variety of greetings in the English language, suitable for most social occasions. Like most of you in the room, I suspect, you can get by saying “Hello” and “How are you?” and maybe a few other European languages as well. I feel comfortable with that sort of social exchange. I know what I’m doing until - at least I thought I did - until I moved to the American South. You all say things by way of greeting that I just don’t know what to do with! Let me give you some examples. “What’s the good word?” What’s the good word? What does that even mean? Is this a test? What am I supposed - ? “What’s the good word?” Um....”Please?” I don’t know! What is the good word? Is there a wrong answer? The worst one for me is, “What do you know?” “Hi David! What do you know?” Or I even heard a far more terrifying one, “What do you know good?” That’s like a combination of the two! Do you want a complete list? I’m groping in the grab bag of all these years of accumulated knowledge for something to say, you know, and I’ve got nothing! You’re waiting for some, you know, you want to know something good I suppose, and I sort of hang my head and say, “Not much,” and I feel ashamed! And you’ve now established you’re the alpha and I’m totally lame! That’s what this is really about! “What do you know?”

So I now have a new answer to that question - 1 Peter 1:18. Try this one on next time someone says, “What do you know?” “I know that I have been ransomed from the futile ways of my forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver and gold, but with the precious blood of Christ.” See how the conversation flows after that! Actually, all joking aside, it’s a great answer to the question, isn’t it, at least from Peter’s point of view. “What do you know?” This one fact, this one fact changes everything. “I know that I have been ransomed.” It changes everything. The word for “ransom” - you might know this - it’s the same word often translated “redeemed.” The picture is of a slave market in the ancient world; the brutal trade in human flesh. And a slave can be freed by the payment of the price of their manumission. The ransom price; the redemption price. And Peter is saying this is the most important discovery you can ever make; the most vital piece of knowledge you can ever gain - that you have been redeemed, ransomed.

Ransomed from Futile Ways 

A Christian, Peter really is saying, is someone who was a slave and they have been set free because the ransom price has been paid. Is that true of you today? Could you say that? “I know that I have been ransomed.” Well Peter, first of all we need to know from what we have been ransomed. Right? What is the character of this slavery that this ransom delivers us from? Verse 18, “knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways of your forefathers.” Peter’s talking about their former paganism and he tells us two things about their former paganism, before they became believers. First he says it was futile. It was a futile way, an empty way. There wasn’t any possibility of salvation for them in their paganism. No spiritual reality; no hope. It does matter what you believe. Not all religions are equal. Not all paths lead to God. Neither is their salvation in any other, “for there is no other name under heaven given among men by whom we must be saved, but the name of Jesus.” He said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but by Me.” Every other way is a dead end. It’s a dead end. Only Jesus is the way and the truth and the life. First it’s a futile way. 

Ransomed from Inherited Ways 

Secondly, he says it’s an inherited way. They got it from their forefathers. It’s their heritage. It was in the culture and they simply soaked it up as they grew. Isn’t that often the way for so many of us in our culture still? Apart from the ministry of the Word of God bringing life and renovation to our hearts, we simply soak up the prevailing spirituality of the culture and so, like the world around us, we “exchange the truth of God for a lie and worship and serve the creature rather than the Creator who is blessed forever.” Peter is saying, “You know, no matter the variety of spirituality or religion available to you on the market place out there, they all will tell you, ‘We offer you freedom! We offer you spiritual freedom, liberation!’” But Peter is saying, “They’re lying because they will produce only bondage for you, slavery.” But there is a ransom available, he insists. Our redemption has been provided for everyone who seeks it, to set the captives free. So what are we ransomed from, Peter? We’re ransomed from the futile ways inherited from our forefathers. 

What We Have Been Ransomed With

So then what are we ransomed with? By what means is this ransom effected? Verse 18 again, “You were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.” In the slave markets, people bought and sold other people. It’s monstrous to think of it. They bought and sold other people with silver and gold. Silver and gold is still precious treasure. People adorn their idols with it. People devoted their lives to the pursuit of it. People sold other people and purchased other people by means of it. Silver and gold. Most precious thing we have. That’s what silver and gold is a symbol of here - all that’s precious in terms of earthly wealth and treasure. Peter says when it comes to the great issue of eternity, however, there is no treasure you possess, there is no treasure you can possess that can secure your manumission from spiritual bondage. Your slavery cannot be broken by any treasure, any price you could hope to pay.

In Acts chapter 3, you remember, Peter and John were going up to the temple to pray and there on the steps of the temple they met a lame beggar who is asking help from them, material aide. And Peter said to him, “Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.” What was it that changed this man’s life? It wasn’t silver or gold, but it was the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth that transformed him. Or in Acts chapter 8 when Simon Magus who had joined the church and been baptized saw that the Holy Spirit was conferred on the church through the ministry of Peter, Simon attempted to purchase the gift for himself with money. Peter replied, “May your silver perish with you, for you attempted to buy the gift of God with money.” Money may well make the world go round, but it can do nothing for your soul except destroy it forever. Money may well make the world go round, but it can do nothing for your soul except destroy it forever if it is not handled with great care.

That’s no how we usually think, operationally, day by day. We may know better intellectually, but isn’t it easy to begin to live for the accumulation of wealth? To imagine that if I just had enough then I’d really be free? We can do it in a religious way - “God will accept me because I gave generously.” We can do it in a secular way - “If I finally arrive at the kind of affluence for which I’m so desperately working, then I’ll be free.” But whether it’s the secular or religious version, the great temptation of our prosperous and affluent age is to live as if silver and gold could in fact secure our redemption. Isn’t that our temptation? To live as if the key thing - yes, yes, yes, Jesus and all that - but the key thing is to have enough to really be free. 

Our problem there is that we are underestimating two things. We are underestimating our own great worth in the sight of God and we’re underestimating our dreadful depravity and the guilt of our sin. We’re underestimating our own great worth in the sight of God. We think we can get by means of what Peter calls “perishable things” the freedom for which our hearts long, not understanding that we were made in the image of God and only an infinitely precious ransom-priced can afford to purchase back so precious a thing as our own souls. And we tend to underestimate the depth of our guilt and our sin. We tend to think of ourselves as basically good guys. Our problem is mainly cosmetic. “I just need cleaning up a bit. So if I need Jesus at all, you know it’s just a cosmetic, superficial makeover. That’s all I want.” Not realizing that our sin has offended the infinite righteousness of the holy Father who is the just Judge and there is nothing we can offer, there is no amount of money we can accumulate or give away for that matter, that can deal with our sin problem.

But we were ransomed “not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but rather with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.” The lambs used in the Old Testament sacrificial system, probably particularly in Peter’s mind here the Passover lamb, they were offered without blemish. Their blood was shed in a symbolic act of atonement speaking of the One who was yet to come whose perfect sacrifice of Himself would secure redemption for sinners. That’s why, you remember, when Jesus came to him to be baptized on the banks of the Jordan, the apostle John broke out in wonder and said, essentially, “At last! At last after centuries of bloody sacrifice, none of which could really deal with the heart of the issue, which is the issue of the heart, none of which could make us clean, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world has come - the Lord Jesus Christ.” Only Jesus, only Jesus can rescue you from the penalty of sin and the bondage of the world’s empty ways. 

“Thy work alone, O Christ, can ease this weight of sin. Thy blood alone, O Lamb of God, can give me peace within. Thy love to me, O God, not mine O Lord to Thee, can rid me of this dark unrest and set my spirit free.” That’s Peter’s message. Listen to me. Your church attendance won’t do it. Your tears and prayers and songs won’t do it. Your pursuit of wealth and affluence won’t do it. There’s no gift you can give, no penance you can make, no sacrifice you can perform, no form of words you can repeat that will bring you freedom. Only the blood of Jesus Christ can do that - like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. His blood is the ransom price. The cross is your only hope. Look nowhere else. Ransomed from the futile ways inherited from our forefathers. Ransomed not with perishable things, silver and gold, but with the precious blood of Christ.

Who We Have Been Ransomed By

Thirdly, who were we ransomed by? Who did the ransoming, Peter? Two parts of that answer; we’ve got to see them both. The first part is hinted at in verse 18 in the passive voice. “You were ransomed.” You didn’t ransom yourself. This was done for you by another. Peter’s talking about God the Father. God the Father provided the ransom price. Now think about that. It’s amazing. Verse 17, the Father is the Judge. The wonder of the Gospel is that the Judge is the one who makes payment for our offenses Himself. The Judge is the one who has provided the ransom that you may go free. It’s glorious. Listen, there are so many common distortions of the Gospel out there. One of them, one of the most common is thinking that God the Father is essentially angry with you but Jesus loves you and He, by His obedience and blood, wrests from the unwilling clasp of the Father some modicum of forgiveness and pardon for you. What an ugly distortion of the Gospel. 

No, the truth is, the cross was the Father’s idea. It was the Father’s love for you that sent Christ on His errand. It was the Father’s love for you that sent Jesus to obey and bleed and die. It was the Father who offered the ransom price. And then, it was the Son who paid the debt. The Son. The ransom is the gift of the Father but the burden of the payment fell upon the Son. Look how Peter describes him in our passage. Because of the glory of His person as the God-Man, His blood, verse 19, is “infinitely precious.” In verse 20 we’re told He was “foreknown before the foundation of the world.” That’s the same language, do you remember, back in verse 2 of this chapter that Peter uses to describe every Christian. You are foreknown. And when we looked at it, we said “foreknown” there really means foreloved. You are foreloved. But before you were foreloved, thought of as precious children of God in the electing purposes of the Father, the Son was foreloved. And you are foreloved in the beloved Son. Verse 20 says this Son, this beloved Son of the Father, was “made manifest in the last times for the sake of you.” He came, He was sent forth, He was revealed. He came as the ransom all the way to the cross. 

And look at that last clause there in verse 20. “For the sake of you.” It’s so precious. Don’t miss it. Why was it done? Why the cross? Why the obedience and blood of the Son Himself? Why? “For your sake.” There is an offer there if you have ears to hear it, made to you this morning by God Himself. There’s an offer. Jesus is for you, he’s saying. He’s for you. He obeyed and bled and died for you; for your sake the ransom was paid. He is for you. Ransomed from futile ways not with silver or gold but with the precious blood of Christ. Ransomed by the Father in the gift of the Son. Foreloved He was. Manifested in the world as the ransom for sinners for your sake. Held out to you to take Him freely by faith and be set free by the grace of God in the work of Jesus Christ. 

What We Have Been Ransomed For

And ransomed for, verse 21 - what are we ransomed for? “He was manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through Him are believers in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.” What is the outcome of the sufferings and death of Jesus Christ, the ransom price? What comes in the wake of the ransom? What is the provision made? Now that Christ is ascended into glory and sits at the right hand of the Father, what gift does He bestow upon those whom He has ransomed? Peter says not just that you believe in Christ - notice the language. You believe “through Him.” You believe in Him through Him. The faith that gets ahold of Jesus and receives His redeeming grace for yourself is itself the gift of redeeming grace so that salvation from beginning to end is the blessing that flows from the cross, springs from the fountain of Christ’s redeeming work so that every part of your salvation - the faith that believes first and the cross on which you believe - all of it is the gift of God, “not of works lest anyone should boast.”

So let me ask you this question as we conclude, as we wrap this up. Have you been ransomed? Are you among the ransomed? Has the blood of Jesus Christ set you free from sin and death? Have you secured pardon in the wounds of Jesus? God the Father has made a gift of Him to you. He’s for you, He says, for your sake. Take Him! Simply by faith, merely trust Him. Acknowledge your sin and need today, right now, without delay, and acknowledge Him as the only Rescuer who meets your needs. Flee to Christ. He’s for you. Take Him.

And suppose you have been ransomed. You can say, “Yes, I know that I have been ransomed from the futile ways inherited from my forefathers, not with silver and gold but with the precious blood of Christ” - so what, then? “If you live near the cross,” Peter is saying, “I want you to stay within the line of sight of the cross. I want you to understand the glory of the cross. That’s why I’ve been turning the diamond of Christ’s work. I want you to see it and dwell upon it, because it’s in the rich soil at the foot of the cross that the fruit of the fear of the Lord will grow in your life. Holiness grows, but it only grows here in the shadow of Calvary.” If you want to live a life of growing obedience, trembling before the Father in reverent awe, full of the joy and peace that comes with communion with Christ, Peter is saying, “Get yourself back to Calvary, whether you are a believer or not, Calvary answers to the need of your heart. Jesus Christ crucified alone answers to the need of your heart. Get back to the cross and take hold of Jesus Christ, who is for your sake.” 

Let’s pray together.

Our Father, we bow before You and we cry to You now, please grant that the imperishable seed of the Word may give the gift of new birth to dead sinners, that is the good Word that has been preached even here this morning. And for those whom You have caused to come to life by the Word of the Gospel, please help us to live close to the cross, within sight of Calvary, to constantly return back to the ransom paid, to dwell much on what has been done for us in the gift of the Father in the work of Jesus Christ, that there we may tremble in reverent fear longing for nothing so much as to honor You, dreading nothing so much as dishonoring Your love and Your holy grace. So hear our cries. Draw near to us and send us please from this place resolved, resolved to take hold of Jesus and to live in the shadow of Calvary. For we ask it in Jesus’ name, amen.

© 2019 First Presbyterian Church.

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