As Holy Week approaches, consider again with me the idea of redemption: “freedom from bondage, which is secured by the payment of a price.”
The “price” referred to here is the required “ransom payment” needed to deliver from some sort of slavery or captivity. The early Christians after the apostolic era continued to use the language of redemption in their writings:
Some subjected themselves to bondage or other financial sacrifices in order to obtain the ransom price required to set another brother or sister free from slavery or hunger (1 Clement 55:2; 59:4; Shepherd of Hermas 38:10).
The early martyrs poetically described their temporary torture for the faith as a small ransom price that purchased an eternal reward (Martyrdom of Polycarp 2:3). They believed that at the time when humanity’s iniquity was at its fullest and that God had clearly revealed punishment and death as our due recompense, He neither hated nor rejected us, but rather parted with his own Son, who became the ransom price paid for us (Diognetus 9).
These early church leaders continued to believe in Christ’s redemptive work and to lead redemptive lives in the world and in the church. They found true freedom in Christ; they were free to live sacrificially for their brothers and sisters; and they sacrificed their own lives for the testimony of Jesus Christ, having their gaze fixed on a greater reward.
How to continue the redemptive
Reach down: Here’s a quote from 1 Clement 55:2, “We know that many among ourselves have delivered themselves to bondage, that they might ransom others. Many have sold themselves to slavery, and receiving the price paid for themselves have fed others.” The early Christians “reached down” in radical ways to “pull up” their brothers and sisters from dire circumstances of slavery and hunger.
In some cases, they literally took their place, seeing this as a proper practice of the work of Christ in the believing community. Consider how Jesus himself radically “reached down” to us to save us. Do you know brother or sister who is hungry? Can you go and help? Maybe you aren’t faced with situations as radical as the Christians Clement spoke of, but it’s good to find a place to start in order to develop a lifestyle that reaches down to give life. Be a life-giver by reaching down into someone else’s life.
Deposit suffering for glory: A martyr is someone who is killed for their faith, like Polycarp, who was a disciple of the apostle John. These early martyrs viewed their persecutions like deposits, the return on which they would experience later in heaven with God. It’s like what Paul said, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18).
What a perspective! When faced with persecution for their faith in Christ, they “bought” it and made a deposit in heaven. Have you been persecuted for your faith in Christ? Don’t be ashamed; don’t be afraid. Buy that hour of persecution, and make a deposit in glory.
Ascribe beauty to the Gospel: Diognetus’ ninth chapter ascribes beauty to the gospel of Christ, “Having thus planned everything already in His mind with His Son, He permitted us during the former time to be borne along by disorderly impulses as we desired, led astray by pleasures and lusts, not at all because He took delight in our sins, but because He bore with us, not because He approved of the past season of iniquity, but because He was creating the present season of righteousness. ... He hated us not, neither rejected us, nor bore us malice, but was long-suffering and patient, and in pity for us took upon Himself our sins, and Himself parted with His own Son as a ransom for us, the holy for the lawless, the guileless for the evil, the just for the unjust, the incorruptible for the corruptible, the immortal for the mortal. ... O the sweet exchange, O the inscrutable creation, O the unexpected benefits; that the iniquity of many should be concealed in One Righteous Man, and the righteousness of One should justify many that are iniquitous! Having then in the former time demonstrated the inability of our nature to obtain life, and having now revealed a Savior able to save even creatures which have no ability, He willed that for both reasons we should believe in His goodness and should regard Him as nurse, father, teacher, counselor, physician, mind, light, honor, glory, strength and life.”
Do the people who you’re close to know how beautiful the gospel is to you? Easter Sunday is approaching. There’s no better time to let them know.