One of the things I really look forward to when I come home from a trip is breathing in the warm familiar aroma of home. Dotted throughout the house I have these little aroma plug-ins filled with something called “kitchen spice,” and it just smells so good! So, when we came home from a family trip over the Christmas holiday one year, I threw open the door and took a big, deep breath. Wonderful! We hauled all our stuff in, and then it was time to take the food out of our cooler and pack it back into the refrigerator.
All innocent and unaware, I opened our refrigerator door, and it was as though a black vaporous cloud of stench wafted out! While we had been gone some citrus fruit had gone rogue, and now the hunt began to find them.
What do you do with rotten food?
It cannot be eaten. It cannot be cooked with. It cannot be used for anything at all because it is utterly spoiled. Rotten food not only has to be thrown out, it has to be taken out of the house entirely and disposed of in a lidded bin.
Something of that sense is found in Chapter 34’s oracle.
That’s a Wrap
When something is ready to go, we wrap it up. We put our coats on, or we place our purchased items in a bag, the butcher wraps the meat, the grocer wraps the vegetables, the dry cleaner drapes the newly cleaned cloths in cellophane, and every holiday we carefully wrap gifts in festive paper.
Isaiah had been giving a long series of sermons on woes directed at those who make their own plans and ignore both God’s plan and God’s direction. Now, the prophet was going to wrap up these twenty chapters between 13 and 33 with two summary chapters.
Chapters 13 through 23
Isaiah listed his oracles against the nations. Whether they realized it or not, God is sovereign over every nation of the world, and the Lord holds them – all of us – to account with God’s words and ways.
Chapters 24 through 27
Isaiah tied all of his oracles together by proclaiming God’s sovereignty over the entire cosmos, announcing God’s day of final judgment, and affirming the final victory the Lord would accomplish on behalf of God’s people, as well as God’s self.
Chapters 28 through 33
Isaiah returned to the woes faced by those who attempt to live free of God’s sovereignty. It is no use putting one’s hope in anything else or anyone else than the Lord, Isaiah explained. Only God has enough power to accomplish all things, and only God has the righteousness, goodness and love to do the right thing every time.
Now, in his wrap-up, the prophet strove to show there are only two destinies that lie in front of all people everywhere, in every era of time, in every culture and religion of the world. Both destinies will come about at a time still future to us, called the Day of the Lord, the Day of God’s Recompense.
Day of God’s Recompense
The recompense of God is judgment to those who oppose the Lord while at the same time it is salvation to those who have been ransomed by the Lord: either reckoning or redemption.
Redemption was a technical term used in the ancient near east in the world of commerce. It was used specifically in connection with the buying and selling of slaves. A person being sold as a slave could be purchased to own, or could be redeemed for the express purpose of being set free. The price of redemption was called a ransom. Redemption, then, means to
- Recover ownership by a specified sum.
- Free from captivity with the price of a ransom.
- Convert into something of value.
One of the Gospel’s nearly two dozen salvation motifs has to do with all humankind being captives of sin, enslaved to sin with no hope of escape without someone who is able to redeem us from our captivity.
Nature of Sin
We find this out listening in on a discourse between Jesus and a group of Jewish scribes and religious authorities.
Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” They answered him, “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, ‘You will be made free’?”
Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.
The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever.
So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.John 8:31-36 (NRSV)
Redemption comes by the action of God the Son, Who alone is able to change those enslaved to sin to sons in the Father’s household.
Years later, Jesus’s brother James explained the essential nature of sin’s captivity.
One is tempted by one’s own desire, being lured and enticed by it; then, when desire has conceived, it engenders sin, and sin, when it is fully grown, gives birth to death.James 1:14-15 (NRSV)
For those captive to sin, the grim prognosis is death.
And, according to another first century teacher Paul of Tarsus, there are none who have managed to find their own way out. There is, in fact, no way to exit this enslavement apart from being redeemed by someone who is already free.
In order to purchase an enslaved person, something of value had to be exchanged, whether the coin of the realm or some other product that could be used as cash. One of Jesus’s closest disciples, Peter, said that Jesus alone was able to present those riches, the price for our lives. What Jesus offered in exchange for all humankind is worth incalculably more than any treasure earth could provide.
You know that you were ransomed from the futile conduct inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish.1 Peter 1:18-19 (NRSV)
The Lord is infinitely wealthy, of course. All the resources of earth are available to God. But only something divine, something imperishable could permanently redeem people from perishing in sin, corruption, and death. Yet how could the exchange be made between what is holy, infinite, and eternal and what is profane and perishable?
To fully restore not just humanity, but earth itself and actually the universe all around us, infinite God entered into our three-dimensional world, so that God the Son’s life could become the ransom for our lives.
Freedom From, Freedom For
Messiah Jesus’s redemptive work enables a believer to live free from the power and consequences of sin. But this redemption has also made all those who receive it by faith able to live free for a purpose and call of service. This other side of redemption is one not often emphasized, but is nonetheless at the very heart of our salvation.
Consider the teaching of the apostles:
- “Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God … you are not your own. For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.” (Paul)
- “As servants of God, live as free people, yet do not use your freedom as a pretext for evil.” (Peter)
- “Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James, to those who are called, who are beloved in God the Father and kept safe for Jesus Christ.” (Jude)
- “And from the throne came a voice saying, ‘Praise our God, you his servants and all who fear him, small and great.”’ (John)
Because Jesus redeemed you and me with the ransom of His own life, we now live eternally as His, receiving the life and Spirit of God into our own beings, and living into this new life.