“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved. In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace…” Eph. 1:3-7
Paul writes these words to the Ephesians and assumes that this really is good news – in fact this is the theme that fills his letters. After becoming a Christian, this message is what he dedicated his life to spreading all over the Mediterranean world of the first century. But Paul is not just making a vague religious claim. He blesses the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ because He has blessed us with all spiritual blessings in Christ. Spiritual blessings are not blessings that are immaterial. Spiritual blessings are blessings bestowed by God’s Spirit. One of those spiritual blessings, often bestowed upon His people, is the blessing of Christian marriage.
But in order to understand what sets Christian marriage apart from the same institution that non-Christians, atheists, and Hindus can participate in, we need to unpack the rest of what Paul says here. After tracing the good pleasure of God’s will from before the foundation of the world, Paul arrives at the redemption we have through Christ’s blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace. And that’s what I want to explain today.
Redemption means release, and it usually indicates a release or pardon as a result of a payment. A similar word is ransom – a payment securing the release of a prisoner or captive. In this case, Paul explains both the captivity and the payment. The payment is blood, and the captivity is sin. We have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our sins, and all of this is provided by the riches of God’s grace.
In our modern world the idea of blood being a payment at first seems utterly archaic and primitive, if not barbaric. Likewise, the idea of sin seems foreign and strange.
So let’s begin with the idea of sin. What is sin? One dictionary gives these synonyms: trespass, violation, wrong, wickedness. It also notes that the English word is derived from a Latin verb meaning “to be guilty.” To sin is to incur guilt.
The Bible teaches that all people are created in the image of God, that is, there is an inherent value, dignity, and worth bestowed on all human beings that reflects the goodness, creativity, love, and intelligence of God. This gift of God’s image is also a calling. Bearing God’s image means we were made to display His glory. Sin is falling short of that glory. Romans says that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Instead of reflecting God’s goodness and creativity and love and intelligence, we have all chosen selfishness, pride, lies, lust, and spite in various ways. Who hasn’t hated someone at some point in their heart? Who hasn’t lusted or coveted, despising what others have – good health, material wealth, business success, a beautiful body, praise or fame? Who hasn’t lied? Who doesn’t have regrets, secrets, shame? Who doesn’t have guilt?
But what can be done about it? There are many offers: counseling, therapy, exercise, change your diet, get new friends, a new job, moving to a new community, positive thinking, but however hard you try, you cannot make sin go away. You cannot make guilt go away. There is no amount of good that you can do to make the evil you did disappear. This is one of the reasons why the Bible stands the test of time. It was written thousands of years ago, but it addresses the human condition with a rare honesty. It displays our depravity in all of its horror. Lies, betrayal, cruelty, violence, bloodshed – it’s all there.
However, many object to the solution that the Bible offers to this problem. Despite the objections millions have found that the Bible’s solution is real. It actually works. The Bible says that the wages of sin is death. The reason you cannot wash the guilty stain off your hands or your heart or get any peace is because the wages of sin is death. Even if we deny there is a God, guilt and shame still haunts every human heart.
The Bible says that every sinner must die for his or her sin or else a perfect substitute must be found to die in our place. Many people are desperately trying to find a substitute – sometimes they take their pain and guilt out on a punching bag, or maybe it comes out their treatment of enemies. But none of those substitutes are satisfying. None of them bring peace. The good news is that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, so that whosever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life (Jn. 3:16). What we cannot do, what good works cannot do, what therapy cannot do, what positive thinking cannot do, what drinking cannot do, what trying to release your anger cannot do, God did by sending His Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and God condemned our sin in His flesh.
Christianity is not a religion of trying to be good. Christianity is not a religion of do-gooding. Fundamentally, Christianity proclaims that people are not good, even though we pretend that we are. Christianity proclaims that only God is good, and only one man was ever perfectly good. That man was Jesus Christ of Nazareth. He is the eternal Son of God, and He was born of the virgin, Mary. He lived a perfect life. He never sinned. He never cheated. He never did anyone any wrong. He never incurred any guilt of His own. He was hated and despised, proving yet again that we are members of a sinful race of people. His goodness highlighted our envy, His humility displayed our pride, His love put our enmity in high relief.
But God knew this would happen, and He knew that Jesus would be killed. And it was for the reason that He came into the world. Jesus surrendered willingly to evil politicians, wicked religious leaders, and in a sham trial, they conspired and convicted Jesus of crimes He didn’t commit. They sentenced Him to death, and they carried out that execution in one of the most humiliating and excruciatingly painful methods know to man: crucifixion. After beating and whipping Him and spitting on Him and mocking Him, they hammered a crown of thorns onto His head, and forced him to carry His own cross out of town and up to a hillside called Golgotha. There, soldiers nailed Jesus naked to a cross of wood with two other criminals. Where he slowly died from loss of blood and breath.
But the Bible teaches that Jesus died for the sins of the world. He came as the Lamb of God to take away the sins of the world. He came as the perfect substitute to stand in my place and to stand in your place. He who knew no sin became sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. Jesus was struck so that we might go free. He is the ransom payment so that our sins might be forgiven. Occasionally a good man will lay his life down for his friends, but while we were still enemies, Christ died for us.
The story doesn’t end there. Jesus died, was taken down from the cross and laid in a tomb. Soldiers were sent to secure the tomb, and an enormous stone was rolled over the entrance. But early in the morning on the first day of the week, the third day since He was killed, Jesus rose from the dead. He came back to life because He had fully satisfied the payment due for our sin. His blood was shed and there was nothing left to pay. The justice of God was fully satisfied, and because Jesus is the Son of God, having paid for every last sin of God’s people, death could not hold Him any long. Jesus rose, and an angel rolled back the stone, the soldiers fled, and Jesus began giving new life to the world. He was met by Mary Magdelene first, a sinful woman, who had been tormented by demons. He met His disciples and showed them His hands and His feet. He was seen by hundreds after His resurrection. He ate them them, He touched them, and proved that He was really alive and that their sins were really forgiven. It is from this historic event, the death and resurrection of Jesus, that every spiritual blessing flows. And all who place their trust in Him have access to this eternal life. No wonder Paul was so excited.
Robert, the death and resurrection of Jesus changed everything, including marriage. It’s true that you are entering the same state that other non-Christians can enter, but the death and resurrection of Jesus makes everything new. It has made you new, and therefore, as you become a husband today, it must make you into a new kind of husband. You are still called to lead your wife, to love your wife, to protect your wife, to provide for your wife, but you are called to do all of that under the blessing of Jesus Christ. You are not called to do any of it in your own strength or according to your own wisdom. You are to do it all by receiving blessing from the death and resurrection of Jesus and then sharing that blessing through your leadership and love with your wife. What that fundamentally means is that what you give your wife must be something you have received from Jesus. The Bible says that we love because God loved us first. Robert, if Christ loved you when you were still in your sins, if He was patient and kind to you in your hard-heartedness, if He is still at work you today, how much more must you endeavor to love your wife, honor her as a lady bought with a great price by the precious blood of Jesus and show her great kindness, joy, and patience.
Karen, the death and resurrection of Jesus has changed you as well. You are also becoming a wife like many other women on this planet, but you are becoming a Christian wife today. And that means that you are becoming a new kind of wife, a wife shaped and driven by the death and resurrection of Jesus. You are called by God to respect your husband, to submit to his leadership, to help in his calling, and to adorn his home with the fruitfulness of the gospel. But the only way you will be able to do that well is by keeping your eyes fixed on Jesus. For the joy that was set before Him, He endured the cross and shame and has now sat down at the right hand of God the Father. If Jesus so loved you like that, you are called to love Robert like that. You are called to serve him patiently, respectfully, honoring him as a man, as your lord, as to Christ.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.