The Bible is the story of redemption and it’s filled with redemption stories. For example, the Moabites were not allowed to dwell among God’s people because of their refusal to help the wandering Israelites (Deut. 23). Then Ruth the Moabite shows up. She enters the story and challenges the prejudice against the Moabite people and everything changes.
Joseph was a man alienated by his brothers and ultimately betrayed, only to experience the resurrection power of God when the Lord redeemed him from the pit and elevated him to a position of leadership. From his prominent status, Joseph redeemed his family, those that betrayed him, from famine and starvation. The story of Jonah describes pagan sailors on a boat who end up praying to the God of heaven and earth. The Ninevites were enemies of Israel, yet redeemed by their faith in the words of a most improbable messenger. Esther, an unlikely Jewish girl in exile from Jerusalem, living among pagans, was elevated to Queen and used to redeem her people.
The people of Uz are considered evil (Jer. 25). Then the story of Job is told and he was described as being the “most blameless man on earth.” In the Old Testament no foreigners or eunuchs were allowed to enter the assembly of the Lord (Deut. 23). Then the Book of Acts records the story of the African eunuch being welcomed into the fellowship of the church (Acts 8). God’s people loathed Samaritans, but then Jesus tells a story about a “Good Samaritan” that challenged everyone listening to change their mind.
Throughout scripture the story may begin with prejudice, discrimination, and animosity, but when the Spirit of God moves, people have to either change or reject God’s redemptive purpose. Redemption stories include being open to people from all walks of life, welcoming people, accepting them wherever they may be, and trusting God to bring them to a new place. The mission of the church mandates that we go and make disciples of all people. Once people meet Jesus, God incarnate, he doesn’t leave them as he found them.
Luke 15 is one of my favorite passages to preach from. The story never fails to leave congregations in tears. Luke 15:1-2 states, “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.’” These two sentences describe Jesus being with sinners and religious folks at the same time. What an audience.
Think about that scene for a minute. Jesus is spending time with people of ill repute. Tax collectors, who were infamous for swindling people and extortion. People called “sinners,” meaning people with foul mouths, who had made mistakes, slept in the wrong beds, made a habit of lying, and lived immoral lives. These were people whose lives went against everything that the religious leaders of the day stood for… people who were very far from God.
They were gathering around Jesus, listening to him, taking in everything he had to say. They were captivated by this man who, while compromising nothing, welcomed them, spent time with them, and talked with them about a God who loved them, and wanted to be in relationship with them. They didn’t realize it, but they were interacting with God in the flesh, who wanted to bring forgiveness and a new beginning. The story of redemption was playing out right before their eyes.
While that interplay was happening, the religious leaders gathered together in their holy huddle and said, “Can you believe this guy?” “What is he thinking?” “Doesn’t he realize they’re the enemy?” Jesus obviously overheard them. The scripture says that he turned to them and was upset that they didn’t get what he was about. Upset that they didn’t see the heart of the Father. Upset that they had hardened their hearts toward the very people God sent him to save.
Jesus was so troubled, that he told not one, not two, but three straight stories about something that was lost and then found. The moral of these three stories is simple: God is completely consumed with finding what is lost. The heart of the Father is always in absolute, ongoing, permanent, search mode. Jesus makes it absolutely clear in the story of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son that there is nothing more critical than seeking what is lost in order to find it… Nothing.
Redemption is more than an ancient biblical concept.
Max was a business executive with a wife, kids, six-figure salary, and a house in the suburbs. During the 2008 economic meltdown he lost everything: his job, house, wife, and family. He found himself living on the streets and eventually ended up at a rescue mission. It was there that he was introduced to Jesus. Now Max is back on his feet, but his life is very different than it was before. Max is a living example of God’s redemption.
Paul and Cindy were living on the streets of a major U.S. city. Cindy is legally blind and Paul has a myriad of medical problems. Through the missional outreach of a local church they found a place to belong and was introduced to a new way of life. The church adopted them, they discovered a relationship with Jesus, and now they’re living a new life in their own home. Paul and Cindy are examples of God’s redemption.
Redemption matters more than anything. It’s the reason God sent Jesus into the world. So, tell your redemption story. Live out the redemption of God before a watching world. Let the narrative of God’s saving grace ring loud and clear in your life, because at the end of the day, it’s what matters most.
“For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” (Luke 19:10)
(Sources: Bixby Knolls Christian Church; Rick Lee James; Doug Hopkins)