More Precious Than Gold, Part Two

In the first installment of this series, based on I Peter 1:3-9, Peter says that our faith in Jesus is more precious than gold. In part two, based on I Peter 1:17-19, Peter says that gold is inadequate as a means of ransoming us:

“You were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, [19] but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. (ESV)

In the ancient world, ransom was a word closely related to the slave industry. Vast public, private and Biblical documentation confirms the practice of slavery. Slavery was accepted and regulated like other types of economic activity. Three chapters of the Old Testament, Exodus 21, Leviticus 25 and Deuteronomy 15, are devoted to rules pertaining to slavery.

People became slaves through war, kidnapping, the sale of minors, self-sale and insolvency. Because high interest rates were charged by creditors, it was common for people to default on their loans and ancient laws recognized the right of creditors to force defaulting debtors into compulsory service.

People sometimes criticize the Bible because it accepts slavery. While the Bible condemns slavery through kidnapping and other forms of violence, it does permit and give rules for slavery in cases of insolvency. (Fortunately defaulting on debts is no longer grounds for forcing someone into slavery. Otherwise slavery would still be pretty common.) It is very likely that many of the people to whom Peter is writing had first-hand knowledge of slavery. (Slavery notes from Interpreter’s Bible Dictionary, 1962, volume 4, pp. 383ff)

But being a slave was not necessarily a permanent thing. It was possible for slaves to be ransomed, that is, for a price to be paid for them to be set free. In order to do this though, the one who ransomed the slave had to have silver or gold. These were the only things precious enough to ransom a person from slavery.

But ransoming a slave was not easy. The slave owner had no desire to lose his slave and so offered no help. Slaves were not paid so they had no way of acquiring silver or gold. So if a slave was to be ransomed, someone else had to come up with the money. But who would do that?

If you ransom slaves they are free. You pay the money to free them but you don’t own them, they are free. Many people were willing to pay money for slaves if it meant that they then owned them. But few people would be willing to pay money to free a slave.

The only people who would be interested in redeeming a slave would be family members. If one member of a family was free they could work and earn enough money eventually to free a family member who was a slave.

That is how it is with us. We are slaves to sin and no one really cares to free us. The devil certainly doesn’t. Our friends and family members may want to but no matter how much they want to they can’t free us from slavery to sin.

That is where God comes in. God frees us from the slavery of sin through the precious blood of his own Son, Jesus Christ. Martin Luther puts it this way in the Small Catechism: “Jesus…has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, but with his holy, precious blood and with his innocent suffering and death.”

Jesus’ blood is precious because it is sufficient to ransom us completely. No other ransom, whether it is silver or gold, or even our own blood, is sufficient to pay for our ransom. Imagine bringing silver and gold to the devil expecting that he will accept money to let us go free from his control. He would laugh in our faces.

But when the devil is confronted with the precious blood of Jesus, that he willingly shed for us on the cross, he has no choice but to set us free.

And God ransoms us, not so that we can be his slaves, but so that we can be his family members. Paul writes in Galatians 4:4-7:

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, [5] to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. [6] And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” [7] So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. (ESV)

Peter calls life without the ransom of Christ’s blood “the futile ways inherited from your forefathers.” (v. 17) Simply put, life apart from Christ is futile. But life that is set free through the blood of Christ gives us the full rights of God’s beloved children.

Once a slave had been freed there was the chance that they could end up in slavery again. Freed slaves usually needed help staying free. For us it is not a choice. Without God’s help we would definitely fall back into the slavery of sin. But since our freedom was purchased with the precious blood of God’s Son, there is no way God is going to let us fall back into slavery.

God has ransomed us from slavery to sin by the precious blood of his Son, not so that we can be his slaves, not so that we can fall right back into slavery to sin, but so that we can be his children.

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