Like the Hebrew slaves who had been suffering under the hand of Pharaoh for 400 years. Like the countless millions of conquered people who were forced into servitude under the Roman Empire. Like the multitudes of Africans who were crammed into ships for a voyage to hopelessness in lands they never wanted to see. Like present-day slaves who are forced to serve in rebel armies around the world or perform back-breaking work for endless hours each day in their captor’s fields. Like tens of thousands of young teenage girls and boys who are being used up as sex slaves by traffickers who look at them as nothing more than commodities to be used for profit. There are multiplied millions of souls suffering under slavery on this very morning around the globe. It is estimated that there are between 27-30 million people who are slaves in our world today. Slavery kills. It kills the will. It kills the spirit.
On December 6, 1865, the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified with these words, “Neither slavery, nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” Almost 160 years later, slavery is alive and well in the United States and around the world. Let me share just a couple of their stories with you. The first story comes from the website humanwrong.org, a website of World Vision.
My name is Stephen and I am 16 years old. I am from Koro, a small village in northern Uganda. I grew up in a small village with my parents, my younger brother, and my two younger sisters. We didn’t have much, but my father worked hard to give us what we needed, tending other people’s fields as a farmer. Although we were poor, my family was happy. Then, one terrible night, everything changed. Men with guns broke into our house and abducted my brother and me. My father and mother could do nothing to stop them. I can still hear my mother’s cries as she watched us cruelly forced from our home. The men were members of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a monstrous rebel army. That night, they made us walk nearly 10 miles, carrying very heavy loads. It was just the first of many hard nights to follow. We were forced through an initiation ceremony in which we were nearly beaten to death with the flat side of machetes. Then the men poured hot oil on our heads to “anoint” us. They handed guns to my brother and me and said that we were now rebels too—we had to fight. We were forced to join them on their nightly raids, attacking one helpless village after another. I quickly learned to pretend I wanted to be a soldier so they wouldn’t kill me. We lived in the bush and were often hungry. The rebels beat us often—anytime we did something wrong, anytime we got tired. I was sad and frightened all the time but I tried to hide it. I didn’t want to die, but I wasn’t sure how long I could live this way either… One night we were preparing to raid a village not far from my own when a Ugandan army unit ambushed us. As quickly as it had started, the nightmare was over. After six months of living in terror, my brother and I were free. The army sent us to the World Vision Rehabilitation Center, which was started to help children like us recover from our experiences. The caring people at the center gave us a place to sleep, food, and supplies. Best of all, they gave me back a hope I thought I had lost for good.
When I read Stephen’s story this past week it broke my heart. Just sixteen years old when he was forced to commit the unthinkable. Stephen has seen things and done things that none of us would wish on our worst enemy. His childhood has been marred. He has been scarred.
Brittany’s story is just as horrifying. Brittany didn’t grow up in Uganda, she’s an American girl. One day a man approached Brittany at a mall in her hometown, asked if she was looking for a job, and gave her a business card for a local restaurant he owned. When Brittany called the number on the card, the man confirmed that he was looking for waitresses to start working immediately. Brittany needed the job and asked for the restaurant’s address, but the man told her he would pick her up at the mall where they first met. Instead of going to the restaurant, the man drove her to a nearby hotel and told her that she was going to be a prostitute instead of a waitress. At gunpoint, Brittany was forced to drink bottles of vodka and take blue pills that made her dizzy and disoriented. Brittany wanted to find help, but she was locked in the hotel room without access to a phone. She became a worker in the sex trade, a nightmare she never thought possible. Just like Stephen, Brittany has been scarred, her childhood marred by perverted adults who saw her as nothing more than a commodity to make them money.
You may be wondering what all of this has to do with the Scripture we have been studying in Ephesians 1? That’s a great question and I have an answer for you. We, you and me, we are Stephen and Brittany. You may think that is a ridiculous statement. You’ve probably never been kidnapped and forced to be a soldier-slave in a war. You’ve probably never been forced to work in the sex trade and have no intentions of ever doing so. That does not mean that you and I do not share something in common with Stephen and Brittany. We are slaves. The Bible makes it very clear that, apart from Jesus, our Redeemer, we are slaves of sin. Let me read you just a few verses.
34 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. (John 8:34 NIV)
14 We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. 15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. (Romans 7:14-15 NIV)
3 So also, when we were children, we were in slavery under the basic principles of the world. 4 But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, 5 to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. (Galatians 4:3-5 NIV)
19 They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity–for a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him. (2 Peter 2:19 NIV)
This is another one of those topics that you will only hear spoken of in God’s Word. There is nobody in society who would characterize you and me as slaves. We live in the most free nation on the planet and yet God’s Word is not tied to geographical boundaries, ethnicity, class, or culture. God’s Word and God’s Truth transcend all of these classifications that we people have created. God’s Truth is “true” whether you are an American, Israeli, Chilean, Chinese, Haitian, Mexican, or Australian. It is applicable to the poorest of the poor and the richest of the rich. The real question is, “Will you accept God’s Truth or will you reject it?”
I’ve shared this story of slavery with you this morning for a very specific reason. As we are studying Ephesians 1 we are learning some of the most valuable, practical, and applicable lessons for all of life. The last time we were together we learned that God has “chosen us.” We are not purposeless people—we are God’s people. He has chosen us, He has set His love upon us, and He has done this for a reason. God desires for us to be “holy and blameless.” We also learned that God has adopted us as His very own. What a beautiful picture! To think that the God of glory, the Holy and Righteous God would choose me, that He would adopt me into His family, now that is more than I can comprehend. Paul says in Ephesians 2:13.
13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. (Ephesians 2:13 NIV)
Paul is not the only one in the Bible who makes such a claim. Peter wrote to the people of his day and echoed the same thoughts. He writes,
10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2:10 NIV)
So we have learned that we are chosen by God and that we have been adopted by God. If there is anyone here this morning who feels worthless, if there is anyone here who has been wondering if you have any purpose in life, you need wonder no more, you need look no further than to find your identity in Jesus.
Today, we will continue to take a look at Ephesians 1 and examine the specifics of the statement that Paul makes when he writes,
3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. (Ephesians 1:3 NIV)
I shared with you last week that I’ve found, in Ephesians 1:3-14, at least seven specific spiritual blessings that God has lavished upon those who are in Christ Jesus. They are:
- God has chosen us. (vs 4)
- God has adopted us as His very own. (vs 5)
- God has redeemed us from slavery to sin. (vs 7)
- God has forgiven us of our sins. (vs 7)
- God has made known to us the revelation of His purpose in history. (vss 9-10)
- God has sealed us with the Holy Spirit. (13)
- God has guaranteed our inheritance by His Spirit. (vs 14)
Once again, I want to point out to you that in each of these blessings it is God who has acted on our behalf. This is an amazing discovery for those of us who have believed or been taught that the only way for us to get to God is through good works. The truth of the matter is that none of us has, can, or ever will be able to get to God by our own effort. If God does nothing on our behalf then we are forever slaves to sin and there is no way possible for someone who is a slave to sin to ever “work” their way to God.
Let’s move to the third blessing which God has accomplished on our behalf. We read in verses 7-8 that “we have,” present tense, “redemption through his blood.” Read these verses with me.
7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8 that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. (Ephesians 1:7-8 NIV)
The word, “redemption,” is a powerful word, a word that we really need to understand thoroughly. The Greek word that Paul uses, which is translated, “redemption,” is the word, “???????????” (apolutrosis) and it means, “a releasing affected by payment of ransom, redemption, or deliverance.” The way that Paul uses the word is rooted in Paul’s understanding of the Hebrew Bible. The Hebrew word, “??????” (ga’al) means, “to redeem, act as kinsman-redeemer, or to redeem by payment.” Let me show you how the word is used. In Leviticus 25:25 we read,
25 “‘If one of your countrymen becomes poor and sells some of his property, his nearest relative is to come and redeem what his countryman has sold. (Leviticus 25:25 NIV)
In Psalm 72:13-14, the same Hebrew word is translated, “rescue,” and this is precisely what God has done in times past and what He continues to do to this very day. Listen to this powerful statement.
13 He will take pity on the weak and the needy and save the needy from death. 14 He will rescue them from oppression and violence, for precious is their blood in his sight. (Psalm 72:13-14 NIV)
The most powerful illustration of God’s redemption in the Hebrew Bible is found in the book of Exodus as God redeemed the Hebrew slaves from Pharaoh. Before God ever freed them, He announced to Moses,
6 “Therefore, say to the Israelites: ‘I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. (Exodus 6:6 NIV)
What could the slaves in Egypt have done to secure their own freedom? What tactic could they have employed? What strategy could they have devised? Evidently there was no answer because they were slaves for 400 years until God, the Redeemer, stepped in and freed them by His own power and might.
The same can be said of any slave in any period in human history. Whether we are talking about Stephen who was made a soldier-slave or Brittany who was made a slave to the sex trade or whether we are talking about you and me—slaves to sin. There is no freedom apart from a Redeemer. This is why Paul says, “In him we have redemption through his blood.” (Ephesians 1:7 NIV)
We cannot “make” ourselves Christians. We cannot “get in” God’s good graces. We cannot “restore” ourselves to a right relationship with God by simply living what we would consider a “better” life. We cannot rid ourselves of sin. Our sin is intrinsic to our very nature; it is inherent in the fiber of our being.
I showed a video to some friends of mine. In the video, the speaker was interviewing people to try and determine where people get their idea of morals. He asked random people if they considered themselves “good” people. Every single person, to the person, said they were basically good people. He asked them, “Have you ever lied?” Every single person said, “Yes.” He said, “If you have lied, what does that make you?” Every single person said, “A liar.” He went on. “Have you ever stolen anything?” One or two people asked, “Ever?” He said, “Ever.” Every single person said, “Yes.” He asked, “What does that make you?” Every single person said, “A thief?” He went on and said, “Jesus said that if you have ever lusted after a woman (or man) that you are guilty of adultery. Have you ever lusted?” Every single person said, “Yes.” One man even said, “Fornication is fun!” He asked, “If you have lusted, what does that make you?” They answered, “An adulterer.” The man then summed up his conversation with each person by saying, “So you have stated that you are a liar, thief, and an adulterer, but you say that you are a good person?”
If I were to pose those same questions to all of us seated in this sanctuary this morning would we not have to give the same answer as all of the people who were interviewed in the video? Are we not all “liars?” Are we not all “thieves?” Is there anyone here this morning that has never “lusted” after another person? We are guilty of sin and this is why Isaiah said,
1 Surely the arm of the LORD is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear. 2 But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear. (Isaiah 59:1-2 NIV)
Our sin has separated us from God. Our iniquities have separated us from God and there is nothing that we can do about restoring ourselves to God because sin is as much a part of us as breathing. And yet, Paul says that “in him we have redemption through his blood.” This is so foreign to us who live in the United States. We know nothing about sacrifice, but the people of Paul’s day were well familiar with the sacrificial system of the Jews.
At the temple, the sins of the people were placed on a substitute as the High Priest laid his hands on the animals and transferred the guilt of the people to the animal that was being sacrificed. On the Day of Atonement, the blood of the animal was sprinkled on the mercy seat and God forgave the sins of the people. Through the years there was an untold number of animals who gave their lives, shed their blood, for the sins of God’s people. The writer of Hebrews says,
22 In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. (Hebrews 9:22 NIV)
The people didn’t come up with the sacrificial system, God did. He instructed His people how to deal with their sins. The purpose of the sacrifice was to demonstrate to the people the high cost of forgiveness. When they watched the innocent dying for the guilty it was to have a profound effect upon them.
The truth of the matter is that all of the sacrifices that ever took place in the temple were a foretaste of an even greater sacrifice that would take place one day. A sacrifice that God had planned before the foundation of the world—the offering of His own Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. He was the Lamb without spot or blemish. Peter wrote,
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 forefathers, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. (1 Peter 1:18-19 NIV)
Ah, there is that word again…“redeemed.” What we could never accomplish on our own, God has done on our behalf. He has redeemed us. If you were to study all of the religions of the world you would find a commonality between them all. In each and every one, the goal, the aspiration of the worshiper, is to somehow better himself or herself so that they can be acceptable to God. The thing that sets Christianity apart from all of these is that the Bible makes it very clear that God has come to us, in Jesus, God has come to us. We could never get to God. We could never prove ourselves worthy of God’s approval. We are sinners and yet God has come to us. He has freed us from our slavery to sin through the sacrifice of His Son on Calvary’s Cross. Let me show you something more powerful than you can imagine before we go. If you will turn to Isaiah 53:6 with me. Before we read it you need to know that this Scripture was written more than 700 years before Jesus was ever born.
6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:6 NIV)
This prophecy from Isaiah paints a picture for you and me that is more vivid, more brilliant, than anything Rembrandt or Michelangelo has ever painted. This one verse so clearly shows us what we have done and what God has done on our behalf. Isaiah tells us that we have gone astray. We have turned to our own way. We have left the way of God. In our defense, we’ve chosen the path that seemed best for us. We didn’t necessarily do it to offend God or to say that God’s ways were undesirable to us; we have simply plotted our own course. Proverbs tells us, 25 There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death. (Proverbs 16:25 NIV)
That is the end result of the path we’ve chosen when we refuse to walk in God’s will for our lives. The path, no matter how “right” it might feel, no matter how “good” it may seem, and no matter how we are benefitting from it, our path is paved with sin and inevitably leads to death. “Sin” means “to miss the mark.” If we are not following Jesus then we are lost and missing the target of God’s purpose for our lives. This is what Isaiah is teaching us in Isaiah 53. We have gone astray, we have turned to our own way, and what does God do as a response to our actions? Take a look at the last phrase—“and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” The Hebrew word that is translated, “laid on him” is the word, “??????” (paga`) and it means “to encounter, to meet, to strike, or to lay upon.” One of the uses of the word would be to describe an army encountering and overcoming an enemy.
I want you to imagine with me just for a moment. What I want you to imagine is all of the sin you have ever committed in your life. The lies, the gossip, the judgmental prejudice, the sexual sin, the thievery, the drunkenness, the arrogance, the ingratitude, the greed, the gluttony, the insensitivity…can you feel it getting dark in here? Let’s not stop with these sins. What about the times that we have known what God wanted us to do and yet we refused to do it? What about the times that we have made promises to God and never kept them? What about the times we have bargained with God and we had no intention of keeping our end of the bargain? Our sin is our worst enemy, it is killing us, and yet we cling to our sin like a child clings to her security blanket.
What did God do in response to our going astray, in response to our turning to our own way? He has laid all of our sin, all of our iniquities, on His Son. God sent His Son to meet the enemy, our sin, that which is destroying us, and our enemy has been defeated by His blood. The Innocent has died for the guilty! We are free! Not free to do what we want, but free to be slaves of God. Paul wrote to the Romans and asked,
21 What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! 22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. (Romans 6:21-22 NIV)
Just think about the question Paul asked for a moment. What benefit are you reaping from living apart from God? Fun? Really? I know folks who described what they were doing as fun, but it ended in bondage and slavery to that which brought them so much fun. You get to do what you want? Really? Is doing what you want really bringing you the satisfaction and purpose that you desire? I don’t think so. You are building your own kingdom? It’s built on crumbling sand, my friend. I want to urge you this morning to turn to the One who can set you free from yourself. I want to urge you to turn to the One who can break the shackles of slavery to sin and chain you to the King of Glory. Won’t you invite Him into your heart today?
Britton Christian Church
July 31, 2022