REDEMPTION – Woodhill Prison

In the Christian faith, the words commonly used to describe Jesus Christ, and his soul-saving actions, are Redeemer and Redemption.
 
Redemption is an ongoing activity of God; ongoing, in that it is continually offered, regardless of whether or not it is accepted…
 
...and ongoing also, in that, once received, it is not an end in itself; but the beginning of a process of good change that, eventually, leads to the desired fulfilment of the Christian life.
 
Redemption is offered, not only on the grand scale, to the whole world; but also on the small, personal scale; to you and to me.
 
As St. Paul wrote: ‘Here is a trustworthy saying, worthy of complete acceptance; Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners’ (1. Timothy 1: 1 5)
 
Redemption cannot exist in a vacuum; and cannot work on its own.
 
People have to recognize, accept and actively respond to it, in the midst of the
‘ups’, ‘downs’ and bumpy patches of daily life; with all its hopes and fears; successes and disappointments.
 
Because redemption cannot work on its own; but comes to fulfilment through our active co-operation, and participation; we need to know something of how it works.
 
For New Testament Jews, religion was not so much a system of knowledge about God, but more a series of statements and testimonies about their actual experiences of God, which they expressed in fairly simple terms and images.
 
They used every-day language, to express their understanding of the present, and their hopes of the future. Jesus Christ did the same thing, through the picture-language of parables.
 
For example, taking the domestic image of bread-making, he said: ‘The Kingdom of Heaven grows from the inside outwards, just as a piece of dough does, when yeast has been added to it’.
 
Had pawnbrokers' shops existed in Bible times, Jesus may well have used picture-language about them, to illustrate his teachings., and demonstrate how redemption works.
 
The ordinary, dictionary concept of redemption relates to someone buying back, something that had once belonged to him; but which, for whatever reason, had passed out of his possession.
 
The special, Christian concept of redemption, is of God buying back needy mankind; from sin and spiritual death; at the cost of Christ's life; and thus restoring mankind to his possession.
 
Think of an old-fashioned pawnshop; crammed with unredeemed goods. Once, each of the items belonged somewhere else; maybe in a family home; and to someone else; maybe to the grandfather.
 
Then things changed. Each item, through whatever caused the change, is no longer where it belonged, and once was.
 
It is somewhere that it was never intended to be; and there it will stay, until the original owner, or someone sent by him, comes to redeem the item, and put it back where it belongs.
 
It is something like that, with people. Mankind was created to belong to someone, to God, and to be somewhere, in close relationship with the Lord.
 
But things went wrong - and changed. We don't really know what happened in the long, long ago, but we call it ‘The fall of mankind’, or, sometimes, ‘Original sin’.
 
Now each person; affected by the change brought about by that ‘Fall’, or ‘Original sin’, is no longer where he or she should be, in good relationship with the Lord ...
 
... but is in a place where they don't belong. There they will remain, until the owner, God; or someone sent by him, Christ; comes to redeem the pledge, and to put each soul back where it belongs, in good relationship with its Lord.
 
The image is not perfect, but it points to something of mankinds’ situation, which exists in at least six stages of a life.
 
Firstly, life without a redeemer; and, therefore, without spiritual hope. Secondly, a developing understanding of the need of a redeemer; and the beginning of hope.
 
Thirdly, belief in the promise of a redeemer. Fourthly, the gift of faith; that enables us to await the fulfilment of the promise.
 
Fifthly, the Redeemer entering the particular situations and needs of our individual lives. Lastly, the Redeemer accepted; to our blessing, or rejected; to our loss.
The old-fashioned pawnshop had hundreds of items crammed on its shelves; waiting for the owners to come back, and claim them. Imagine a cheap fob-watch, with a chain; like this one ...
 
... (produce the watch) ... more than a little tarnished and dirty. The watch is in a place; the pawnbroker's shop; and in a condition; tarnished and dirty ...
 
…where it can do nothing about removing itself, or cleaning itself; and the pawnbroker has no intention of doing either thing.
 
Then along comes the original owner, to claim the watch; and to redeem it, through making the required payment. It doesn't matter that the watch is tarnished and dirty ...
 
... he knows that it is his; and he wants it back in his possession. So, he makes the payment; redeems the pledge; re-establishes ownership; and takes the watch home with him.
 
There he begins to clean and restore it, to a good condition. After such a long time of neglect, it may take a while to do so.
 
Even when it is clean and shiny once more, the watch still retains the tendency to get tarnished and dirty; so the owner of it; through continual care; keeps it clean.
 
Again; it is something like that with 'fallen' mankind. Through creation and preservation; mankind belongs to God in the sense of possession…
 
... but, because of the ‘Fall’, mankind no longer belongs to God, in terms of relationship; not until there has been a turning-back to the Lord.
 
As the Bible says: sin has caused a barrier, which sets man apart from God. It has to be removed; and we can't do that for ourselves.
 
The pawnshop represents a ‘Fallen world’, and the hundreds of packages on the shelves, represent the vast numbers of people, who are out of relationship with God.
 
Just as the packages in the shop cannot redeem themselves, so with men and women. No matter how hard we try, we cannot redeem ourselves. At this point, the watch and chain may be particularly useful.
 
The watch and chain became tarnished and dirty; but it was in its grubby and unlovely state, that the owner recognized it as being his; and went to claim, and redeem, it.
 
It was only later, that the owner began the process of cleaning the watch, and restoring it to its proper state. Many otherwise sensible Christian people have, somehow ...
 
... come to the idea that they must first clean up their lives, before there is any question of God recognizing them; let alone claiming them as his own, and redeeming them.
 
So, they try to make themselves acceptable, through what they believe to be 'good works', set within ‘good’ lives’. Happily, the Lord doesn't undertake redemption in that way.
 
Just as the owner of the watch redeemed it as it was; dirt and all; so God redeems people, sins and all.
 
Only then does he begin a 'cleaning' process in a life; bringing out the best that is already there; and promoting new and spiritual growth.
 
The owner of the watch knew that, although it remained redeemed, and in his keeping; it retained the tendency to get tarnished again, so, through continual care; he kept it clean.
 
Many Christians forget that forgiveness, continually offered, is part of the process of redemption; and persuade themselves that, once they have been redeemed; their lives must never get tarnished again.
 
Therefore, when they do fall into sin once more, they are likely to develop a strong sense of failure, which takes effectiveness and joy out of their lives.
 
All too often; instead of turning to Christ for forgiveness, and a new beginning; they turn back to trying to redeem themselves, through 'good works', set within ‘good lives’; which is simply not possible.
 
Those who have learned better; know that it is God alone who can make us spiritually clean and acceptable, and keep us so, in the love of Christ ...
 
... because 'good works' are never more than an expression of our love and thankfulness towards God, and cannot bring redemption about.
 
We also know that those redeemed in Christ, still have the tendency to fall into sin, and get 'tarnished’ again; and that the only way forward is to claim, and hold fast to, Gods continuing love, acceptance and forgiveness in Christ.
 
There are numbers of people in Woodhill, quite willing to receive the powerful message we have to share; people who have read Bible, and other Christian books ...
... and who have prayed a lot; but who have not yet found quite what they are looking for. Perhaps what they most need, is personal encouragement from a Christian who understands at least something of what it is all about; perhaps from you, or from me.
 
We can do no greater thing than help others to discover Christ for themselves; so that they, too, can say; along with us.
 
'God so loved the world, that gave his only Son (in redeeming love) so that whoever believes in him, should not perish, but have eternal life…
 
for God so loved me’.
 
Amen.