The Price of Freedom
While it is usually reserved for kidnapping victims today, in ancient times it often applied to prisoners of war, or anyone who was unfortunate enough to fall into the wrong hands. Those holding the prisoner would request that a ransom be paid to free the captive, using their leverage to extort money from the victim’s family or government. If the captive didn’t have enough resources to pay ransom, they were usually sold into slavery or killed.
In the Old Testament times, the Israelites were required to pay something like a ransom for sins, in the form of an offering. “And he brought the bull for the sin offering. Then Aaron and his sons laid their hands on the head of the bull for the sin offering, and Moses killed it. Then he took the blood, and put some on the horns of the altar all around with his finger, and purified the altar. And he poured the blood at the base of the altar, and consecrated it, to make atonement for it.” (Leviticus 8:14-15, NIV)
The Only Way Out
I have wondered about sacrifices, the physical act of slaughtering a bull or a goat and burning it upon an altar. It was a messy, bloody business, certainly an uncivilized way to do church. And yet the Hebrew priests and people participated in all manner of animal sacrifices to atone for sin. Why? Because the justice system of the universe treated sin like a deadly disease (which it was), Sin always ends in death, and sacrifices reminded everyone of that grisly reality.
Very early on, in Genesis 2:17, God warned Adam about the forbidden tree: “in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” Guess what? Adam and Eve didn’t die that day, but they both experienced the certainty of sin’s penalty thereafter. So have all of their descendants. In essence, mankind was kidnapped by sin in the garden, and Satan demanded the appropriate ransom.
A Permanent Problem Required a Permanent Solution
In Romans 6:23, Paul reminds us that sin has a result: “for the wages of sin is death”. Leviticus 17:11 points out that Life of the flesh is in the blood. Sin is a life and death matter, and sacrifices provided a graphic reminder of sin’s penalty. Every time the Israelites killed an animal they were reminded that only death could satisfy the legal requirements for being disobedient. The ransom had to be paid.
There is no other way to deal with sin, and no way to get around it. Only by being sinless could someone avoid sin’s ultimate penalty, but no one could accomplish that, so God provided a temporary means for men to illustrate how that penalty would be paid until the permanent solution could occur. These temporary animal sacrifices helped prepare the way for the permanent necessary sacrifice that was to come. Sin required death for its participants, and the penalty was acknowledged through the sacrifices that were made.
But sin required a more permanent solution, one on the cosmic scale that death demanded. It was only by the willing substitution of the perfect man that sin’s debt for mankind could be paid. It’s important to remember that Jesus was a volunteer, not a victim. As he said in Mark 10:45, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
To bring that statement home, you should take it personally: Sin and death kidnapped you, with the worst of intentions, and demanded that you pay the full price for all that you have done. You and I were held for ransom by death and needed full payment in order to be free from its clutches. But the Bible has some AMAZING NEWS! If you have been captured or held hostage by sin, the ransom has been paid! Your freedom has been secured.
Think, today, as you draw each breath,
the wages for all your sin is death!
Whatever you think, and whatever you’ve planned
Is hostage, held by death’s demand.
You pled your case to the Righteous Judge,
But He said the Law just couldn’t budge,
So Jesus took your ransom cost
And satisfied it on His cross:
In spite of every mistake you’ve made,
When the Reaper swings his deadly blade,
In spite of the way you’ve disobeyed,
Great news! Your ransom has been paid!
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