Ephesians 1:7, 8
Many of you will remember August 2010 when 33 miners became trapped more than 700 meters underground in a mine in San Jose, Chile? For over two months they were trapped while those on the surface worked at trying to free them. First they had to bore a hole down to the mine and then they began to extract the men one by one in a small capsule. On October 13, Luis Urzua, who was the shift foreman, was the last man freed.
A news article I read said that “President Sebastian Pinera bear-hugged the foreman upon his release, inviting him to stand beside him to join the hundreds of others at the scene to sing the national anthem.
Praising the foreman “a very good leader of the group”, Pinera said, “We’re going to thank everybody from the bottom of our heart”. Urzua responded with thanks to everybody who has participated in the rescue. “I am very proud of what you have done,” he said to the president.
As the capsule started lifting up, great joy was seen from everybody’s face and tens of hundreds of rescuers on the surface could not help singing spontaneously: “Let’s go, miners! Let’s go, miners! Tonight we are going to rescue you.”
This event tells us several things. It tells us that being trapped is a terrible thing. It reminds us of the fear, bondage and restrictions that accompany being trapped. It also tells us that when you are trapped you long for freedom and the best news is: “There is a way of release.” We also note that when release happens, there is great rejoicing!
If you have ever been trapped, you understand these things. In fact, all of us should understand them because the story of being trapped and being released is our story! Listen to how it is described in Ephesians 1:7, 8.
There are many ways in which we can be trapped. Many years ago a fellow I knew had a problem with alcohol. I was invited to be part of his recovery as he went through the AA program and I came to realize just what a terrible entrapment alcoholism can be.
There was a lady I knew who was a wife, a mother and had a responsible job but then she began to dabble with games of chance. Before long she was trapped in a gambling addiction and I saw how difficult it was for her to admit that she needed help and to break free.
A good friend of ours does seminars to help people with various sexual addictions. His expertise comes from his own terrible struggle with addiction to pornography.
These are some of the ways in which people can be trapped. We usually try to hide these addictions but ignore the many other ways in which we are trapped. Some are trapped in cycles of deception. Some are trapped in habits of self centeredness. I recently heard about a very insidious entrapment called “retail therapy.” It involves being trapped in the thinking that if we can just go purchase something new we will feel better.
Ultimately all of these traps are just manifestations of what really puts all of us in bondage and that is sin. Being trapped in sin is a terrible thing. We know that we do wrong things and we can’t seem to stop doing them. We know that we are guilty for the things we have done wrong. We also know that there must be punishment for our sin.
If we know what that means, if we agree with the assessment that we are trapped in sin, then the message of Ephesians 1:7, 8 is good news! The verse begins by saying, “we have.” Marcus Barth suggests that “we possess” is a better translation. He says, “’We possess’ is stronger than the trite ‘we have.’” What we possess is redemption.
What does redemption mean? Ruth was a foreigner. She left her home country and came to live in the land of Israel together with her mother-in-law Naomi. When she came into the country, she had nothing. She was a widow, a foreigner in a land that was not always kind to foreigners and she had no means of supporting herself. What hope was there for her? A relative of her mother-in-law by the name of Boaz redeemed her by marrying her and buying back the land which belonged to her husband’s family. The language used is the language of redemption because he redeemed her from widowhood, from being a foreigner and from poverty. It means that she was set free from what trapped her.
That is what it means that God has given us redemption. Wood says, “Redemption has to do with the emancipation either of slaves or of prisoners.” We have been set free from the bondage of sin, from the guilt of sin and from the punishment which is upon sin. Titus 2:14 reminds us, "He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds." Barth says, “’Freedom’ is the clear purpose and result of redemption.”
The image of redemption from sin was familiar in the Old Testament. It was demonstrated to the people of Israel on the Day of Atonement. On this day two animals were brought to the temple. One of them was sacrificed for the sins of the people. The other was released. This picture was an image for the people of the two sides of redemption. On the one side is the release from bondage. On the other is the price to be paid to secure the redemption. That price was blood. Hebrews 9:22 says, "Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.”
We have been given freedom from sin and the price that was paid in order for us to have this freedom was none other than the blood of Jesus. Our text says that “we have redemption through His blood.”
We have committed sin against God and in order to free us from that sin, God gave His only Son Jesus. He provided the sacrifice. When Abraham was asked to sacrifice Isaac, he went up the mountain and when Isaac asked, “Where is the sacrifice?” Abraham answered, “God will provide.” Well when God wanted to deal with sin, a sacrifice was required. Once again God provided the sacrifice and the sacrifice He provided was His own Son. Unlike Abraham who did not have to sacrifice his son, God did sacrifice His Son.
When Jesus came to earth, He came with the express purpose of dying on the cross. He frequently announced to His disciples, “The Son of Man has come to give his life.” When it came right down to it, it was very difficult for Jesus to yield up His life and in the garden of Gethsemane he agonized, but in the end He agreed to die for us. He yielded His life to an unjust trial and to the evils of violent men in order to allow His blood to be shed. All of this was the price which was paid so that we could be set free from the trap of sin.
We have redemption, or we could say freedom because of the shed blood of Jesus. What do you think of Jesus? Is the knowledge of His great sacrifice imprinted on your heart so that you are thankful that you have been set free? Do you love Jesus?
There are different words in the Bible for sin. One of them has the meaning of “a sinful condition.” In that word, the emphasis is that there is something within us which is so twisted that we prefer sin. We are guilty for sin in this sense and Jesus came to forgive the sin nature within us.
That is not, however, the word used for sin in verse 7 when it says, “we have forgiveness of our trespasses.” The word for sin used here has the sense of “deviating from the right path.” It has a nuance of being deliberate about our sinful acts. Not only do we have a sin nature, but we have acted on that sin nature in acts that are wrong and break the good of what God intended when He created us. It seems to me that there is much more blame attached to sin that is a deliberate step off the right path. I heard a story this week of someone who deliberately cheated a friend. How do you forgive someone who has wronged you on purpose? Yet that is what we have done. We have deliberately done wrong and sinned against God. We knew the right way to go and we chose not to go that way. When we recognize that that is what we have done, we are filled with guilt. Guilt is a terrible feeling. It makes us feel dirty and accountable for what we have done wrong. It includes the fear of punishment and of recognizing that if we are punished, that punishment is justified.
A friend of mine, who passed away several years ago, had caused an accident while drunk and someone died in the accident. The guilt of that was a terrible burden to him. All of us feel a similar sense of guilt because of what we have done wrong. Many years ago, I had a dream that I had killed someone. The feelings which overwhelmed me were terrible. I remember to this day how awful it felt to know that I had done this and would have to live with it and pay for it. I was so glad when I woke up and found it had only been a dream.
Yet that feeling of release can be ours because of God’s forgiveness. God didn’t wake us up and allow us to realize that our wrongdoing was all a dream. God has given us forgiveness. God does not sweep our sin under the rug and say it’s no big deal. God acknowledges that we have done every terrible thing that we have done, but does not hold us accountable for our sin. That is forgiveness! What cleanness! What freedom!
The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament says that forgiveness means, “to send off,” and has the various senses of “to release,” “to pardon.” The Bible contains this great news from God over and over again. Psalm 103:12 says, "as far as the east is from the west, so far he removes our transgressions from us." 1 John 1:9 says, "If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness."
Is it ever great to know that all that God has against us has been cleaned up! We know that we do not deserve any of this. In fact, it is very difficult for us to accept that it has been cleaned up. How often do we continue to beat ourselves up because of things that we have done wrong? We hear the words of forgiveness, but we don’t quite believe them and so even though God has said that our sins are cast into the depth of the sea, we refuse to forgive ourselves.
God’s goodness in forgiving us is so amazing! It is all grace. It is undeserved and yet complete. It is so complete that God says “I don’t remember your sins.” It is His choice to say that our sin is gone. All of this is grace. His grace is truly amazing! In fact the text attributes redemption and forgiveness to the amazing grace of God when it says that it was done “according to the riches of His grace.” Isn’t that a wonderful phrase? God’s grace is rich; it is generously given to us so that even though we do not deserve it, God has declared us forgiven and free.
Paul piles one more wonderful image to the abundance of grace when he says that it was “lavished on us.” TDNT says, “…this word means ‘to be present overabundantly or to excess…’” God’s grace is excessive. Many years ago James Nikkel was preaching on this passage in our church in The Pas. I will never forget the image that he used to describe the word “lavished” and I would like to adapt it. When we were in Manitou we had a Thanksgiving banquet every year. One of the favorite things at that banquet was desert and one of the favorite deserts was chocolate pie. Some people actually chose their seating to make sure that they were near a chocolate pie. Now you can have chocolate pie just plain or you can have it with a dollop of whipped cream on top. I like chocolate pie and I like whipped cream. James Nikkel suggested that when we think of the word lavished, we should think of a chocolate pie, not by itself, not merely with a dollop of whipped cream, but with whipped cream covering the whole pie, pilled high and running over the edges. So much whipped cream that you can hardly find the pie. That is the kind of a picture that should be in our mind when we think of God’s grace in forgiving us. He has covered us with forgiveness in a generous and over-abundant way. That is how much we are forgiven. That is the magnanimous way in which God has said to every sinner who comes to Him, “you are forgiven!”
Last week we came across the concept that sometimes a certain word or phrase in Scripture can be attached to what precedes it or what follows it. There we noted that the word “in love” could indicate that God had chosen us to be holy and blameless in love or it could indicate that it was “in love” that God has adopted us as his children.
The same thing happens in this passage again. Sometimes grammar does not make it perfectly clear what is intended and when you translate a passage, the problem is compounded. In this case, the phrase “with all wisdom and insight” could be attached to the wonder of God’s forgiveness or it could demonstrate that it is with “wisdom and insight” that God has made His will known to us. In our pew Bibles it says, “With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will.” NIV emphasizes the former when it says, “in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.”
Once again, it makes sense to take it with both phrases. Taking it then with the fact that God has forgiven us according to His grace, “with all wisdom and understanding” tells us a wonderful truth. Some might want to suggest that forgiveness makes no sense. How can God forgive? Doesn’t it encourage sin if he just forgives it? How will the guilty party be held accountable if they are forgiven? It is to such questions that this phrase answers. It tells us that the wisdom of God has covered all such objections. He has done the impossible and the unexpected of forgiving us and has covered all his bases. Forgiveness is not free and does not overlook the offense. Jesus paid the price and accepted the punishment. Yet at the same time forgiveness is an expression of the fundamental nature of God as one who loves us deeply. In other words, God’s plan makes perfect sense. Paul puts it like this in Romans 3:26, "it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus." God’s wisdom is evident in forgiveness because He expresses His love and forgives sin and yet at the same time does so justly through the sacrifice of Jesus.
The wisdom of God is also seen in that it was the only way that such a difficult thing could happen. When Jesus was about to go to the cross, He asked the Father if there was any other possible way to accomplish forgiveness for sin. In agreeing to go to the cross, He made it clear that there was no other way and in lavish graciousness He was willing to pay this price for us which has left us forgiven.
Now, of course, not everyone has God’s forgiveness. Although it is available to everyone on earth, it is given only to those who receive it. It is available for all, but we need to accept it. If you are here today and feel that you are trapped in sin and if you acknowledge that you are a sinner and that you are guilty and if you feel that guilt, the good news of God in these words from the Bible are that you can be set free and you can be forgiven. All you need to do is approach Jesus in prayer and tell him that you know you are a sinner and accept the forgiveness He has offered. If you do that today, I would encourage you to talk to someone here today and let them know that you are now free in Christ.
People took pictures of the last miner when he was released from the mine after two months of being trapped. What joy is evident on his face! In fact, you can see the joy on everyone’s face.
Great joy is also present in heaven and we read about the celebration which takes place in Revelation 5:9, "They sing a new song: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slaughtered and by your blood you ransomed for God saints from every tribe and language and people and nation;"
Is that the joy that is in us when we realize that we are released from the bondage of sin and forgiven for the guilt of sin?
There is one thing I have not yet spoken of and I must also mention. The first two words in this section of Scripture are “In Him.” Last week we noticed that it is in Jesus that we are chosen and have become God’s children. It is really important to remember that it is also in Jesus that we have forgiveness. Jesus has freed us. Jesus has released us from our sin. It is about Jesus.
As we contemplate what He has done, the question we must ask is, “Do you love Jesus?” When the reality of our freedom from guilt and sin really gets through not only to our mind, but to our heart, how can we help but be so deeply in love with Jesus that our conversation, our confidence, our hope, our work, our life will be impacted by that love.