We continue our Lenten series on Fleming Rutledge’s outstanding book, The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ (2015).
In this post we begin Chapter 7, ‘Ransom and Redemption’
Together these concepts see the cross as that which redeems (brings freedom) by the paying of a ransom (the payment of some sort of price).
Some want only to talk of redemption – deliverance from that which imprisons. They tend to be less comfortable talking of the cross involving payment of a price. Rutledge in this chapter wants to hold these concepts together and comes at redemption through the lens of ransom.
“The Son of Man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45)
19 Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honour God with your bodies. (1 Cor. 6:19-20)
23 You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of human beings. (1 Cor. 7:23).
Redemption is a deeply biblical theme that runs throughout the Bible and is a broader category than ransom. God is a God of deliverance and salvation who sets his people free.
Ransom zones in on the cost of deliverance.
So Rutledge returns to the ‘gravity of sin’ here.
“The human predicament is so dire that it cannot be remedied in any ordinary way. If we fail to see this, then we have ‘not yet considered the weight of sin.’ Redemption (buying back), therefore, is not cheap. In the death of Jesus we see God himself suffering the consequences of Sin. That is the “price”. When Christian teaching falls short of this proclamation, the work of Christ on the cross is diminished to vanishing point, becoming nothing more than an exemplary death to admire, to venerate, perhaps even to emulate, but certainly not an event to shake the foundations of this world order.” (287)
Rutledge acknowledges that conservative-evangelical communication of the atonement is ‘more deeply heartfelt and preachable’ that more liberal interpretations. It speaks personally and directly to the deep self-giving love of God in Christ. Take 1 Peter 1:18-19 which she describes as ‘an evangelistic text if ever there was one’. (288)
18 For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.
So Rutledge comments
Jesus himself is the price of our redemption. The church needs to hear the apostolic truth that the death of Jesus was an offering of incomparable value … deliverance at cost. (288)
It is this combination of ‘deliverance at cost’ that Rutledge argues for in study of redemption and ransom from OT to NT.
No preacher or Bible teacher needs to be skittish about believing and proclaiming that “there was no other good enough to pay the price of sin”, as long as the theme of deliverance from another sphere of power is also kept in view. (294)
So what does a ransom do? How are Christians set free?
- We are captives, powerless to free ourselves
- A rescue mission is launched
- A ransom is some kind of exchange. Usually, this is some amount of money somehow equivalent to the value of the life being redeemed.
- But with Christ’s ransom ‘for us’ it is a vastly unequal exchange: the Son of Man (one person) for many.
In Jesus ‘a power strong enough to deliver the entire human race has appeared, as the Epistle to the Hebrews repeatedly says, once for all. This is surely at the very heart of the gospel. (294)
In the next post we follow Rutledge’s discussion of ransom and redemption and particularly the question of ‘Who is Paying Who? – Trinitarian Considerations’