It is 10 years since a British couple on a sailing trip were kidnapped and held hostage by Somali pirates for 388 days.
Paul and Rachel Chandler were eventually released after the payment of a large ransom – largely raised by relatives who refused to tell them how much they spent so the Chandler’s couldn’t pay them back.
Whoever is responsible, that is some generosity! And it is also a simple and clear illustration of what a ransom is: it is something paid in order to free people who are in held in bondage of some kind.
When Jesus speaks of giving his life as “a ransom for many” his hearers would have thought firstly of slave auctions. The author Mark Meynell asks us to imagine someone buying slaves – in order to set them free. This is the effect of Jesus’ death for us: it liberates us. But from what, and how? Here are three vital truths that spring from Jesus’ teaching about the cross as a ransom:
The fact that we are trapped is no accident; it’s not even unjust. We are tangled up in a web of our own making, like a spider ensnared by its own handiwork. As the Bible puts it elsewhere, we have all at one time or another enjoyed “gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts,” (Ephesians 2:3).
And it’s much more serious than we thought. Here’s why: the dividend that sin pays is spiritual death (Romans 6:23). If we carry on with a sinful trajectory, then, like a satellite spinning helplessly out of orbit, we will drift out into the cold, dark void of eternal death. Or, to use another picture of Jesus, we are “lost” – like a lost sheep, a lost coin.
2. We are loved. God doesn’t wave his hands weakly and say, “Oh well, I forgive you, never mind.” That would be to deny justice – and there is justice at the heart of the universe. Should Daesh or Hitler not be accountable for their actions? Of course they should – and so should we, whatever our offences against God and others may be. But which of us has kept the greatest command to love God totally, or has loved our neighbours as we do ourselves?
So Jesus steps up. He says, “I will give my life as a ransom for you.” He takes the consequences of our sin upon himself; dying in our place, he takes the punishment we deserve. Justice is done; the debt is paid, but for the prisoners, the gaol door is burst open and they are free to go. We may not fully comprehend it, and there is far more to be said that can be written here, but we can at least grasp it is an act of extraordinary self-sacrificial love. We are loved – and more so than we ever knew.
Writer Nancy Guthrie says: “This is what the redeeming love of God looks like – buying you back from the slave market… When you were not even looking for Him, He chose you and determined to make you His own.”
3. We are invited. We see now the truth of CS Lewis’ statement: “Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.” The cross is something that cannot leave us neutral. Jesus’ invitation is to “repent” – turn around, have a change of heart and mind – “and believe the good news” – forgiveness and God’s kingdom is open to all who will be humble enough to receive it.
A few verses after Jesus speaks of his death as a ransom, a physically blind man, Bartimaeus, models a response for us with his simple, honest words to Christ, “Have mercy on me!” (v47, 48). How foolish the person who refuses to welcome their rescuer. The alternative is so much better. And so we emerge – blinking, dazzled and thankful, into the sunlight. As the hymn already quoted concludes: “My chains fell off, my heart was free – I rose, went forth, and followed thee.”