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Ransoms and Theories
By David B. Smith

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iBelieve: Jesus Died for Me | PDF Version | Study Guide: The Life, Death, and Resurrection of Christ

When you pay a ransom, bad guys get the money. The FBI wires up an agent, who takes the briefcase with $100,000 to an abandoned warehouse and leaves the money under a potted plant. Later on, wicked men with guns snatch the loot . . . and maybe release their hostage.

Okay. But when Jesus Christ died on the cross and paid the ransom price so that we could be saved from our sins — who got paid? Did God do business with Lucifer, dickering over how much of a bank withdrawal our redemption would cost Him? You may remember that in the first Narnia book and film — which many religious people see as a parable of the Cross — Aslan goes into secret negotiations with the White Witch and offers himself as the sacrifice, the ransom.

The greatest truth in the Christian faith is that we have a Redeemer! This is the crowning glory of the Church: the belief that Jesus’ death on the cross has provided us with an escape from our lost condition and crafted for us a most expensive atonement.

But how? If Christ’s death was a ransom — and Matthew 20:28 explicitly uses that very metaphor — who was the payment delivered to? Why is the shedding of blood portrayed as a necessary cleansing and redeeming force? How does it make sense for a holy and kind person to die for all the evil and malevolent wretches in the world? (Including me.)

I’ve always been thankful for two unshakable realities. First, the Bible is crystal-clear that Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross was an unparalleled success! It worked. Our salvation is secure because of Calvary (Romans 3:24, 25). The second is that it works even if we don’t fully grasp it. Its triumph is guaranteed even if metaphors and sermon illustrations fall short.

In the ill-fated Everest season of 1996, a climber named Beck Weathers was stranded near the summit. After miraculously coming out of a coma, he staggered to the tents at Camp Four, his life hanging by a thread. Both hands were frost-bitten; he was unlikely to survive more than another day or two so high in the death zone. Fortunately, a Nepalese air force pilot named Madan Khatri Chhetri was able to guide a B2 Squirrel helicopter clear up to 20,000 feet and ferry the wounded climber to a Kathmandu hospital.

As the chopper carefully set down on the red-dye X marked in the snow, I suppose Weathers could have protested: “Hold on! I don’t get how this thing flies! What are all these knobs and buttons for?” I doubt if he said any such thing; he was simply grateful to be rescued. And the same is true for us. C. S. Lewis observes about the theories — ransom, “moral influence theory,” etc.: “Neither this theory nor any other is Christianity. The central Christian belief is that Christ’s death has somehow put us right with God and given us a fresh start. Theories as to how it did this are another matter. A good many different theories have been held as to how it works; what all Christians are agreed on is that it does work.”

The broad picture painted for us in the Word of God is this: God has an immense love for the human race (John 3:16); at the same time, His indignation and grief about our fall into self-destructive rebellion is very real. To compromise and overlook the toxicity of sin is to surrender to it, to lose His entire creation. Rebellion carries its own weighty price tag: sorrow and death. So God offers His own Son as a paying of that price, a ransom. Jesus is a willing vicarious Substitute; He bears the “penalty” of the world’s sum total of sins. This doesn’t “persuade” God to relent and offer forgiveness; after all, Jesus is the Father’s own gift. The Godhead is united in wanting us to come back Home. But Jesus’ willing sacrifice of His own life puts forgiveness on a moral basis; it shows God as fair, compassionate, and realistic. Rebellions have to carry a penalty, and God and Jesus work together to take the penalty onto themselves. As a result, we experience at-one-ment. The rift is healed and we find reconciliation with our doggedly pursuing heavenly Father . . . as well as a new birth.

With these realities in His own heart, Jesus once told a parable (Matthew 22) about people invited to a great wedding feast. The invitation (Calvary) was free, and all guests were even given a complimentary gown for the festive event. The provided wedding robe is a representation of Jesus’ own perfect life and character. It covers our sins and mistakes and shortcomings and guarantees that we meet our welcoming Father with perfect confidence.

The bottom line is that Calvary offers us a clear path home. Once we’re safely there — hey, ask all the questions you want.

David B. Smith writes from southern California. (9 or 28)  His page is davidsmithbooks.com. Biblebay Copyright © 2014. Click here for content usage information.