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WHAT GOD DOES FOR YOU

Ephesians 1:7-10
13th July 2003

In the last four days of this week, July 9-12th 2003 we have seen the alleged kidnapping of Sydney restaurateur Philip Chau. Police said the 55-year-old was snatched at knifepoint after leaving his Sydney restaurant BBQ King on Wednesday, and was not released until after payment of a $600,000 ransom Friday night. Six people were arrested at a home unit in Hurstville, after an extensive surveillance involving more than 100 police.

Mr Chau was leaving his restaurant around 2am Wednesday when he was forced into a vehicle by a group armed with large knives and driven to an apartment in Hurstville, where he was bound and blindfolded. The kidnappers used Mr Chau's mobile phone to contact his son and demand a $600,000 ransom, warning that the restaurateur would be killed if police were informed.

Mr Chau's family contacted his business partner, Sydney City Councillor Robert Ho, who then alerted police and arranged for the delivery of the ransom to be delayed by 24 hours. Mr Ho - watched at all times by surveillance police - was ordered to travel to various locations around inner-city Haymarket before leaving $600,000 in a Club's toilet. Here are the classic ingredients: imprisonment and bondage, demand and ransom, redemption and release, the price paid and consequent freedom. All of these details from yesterday's newspapers are the words used to describe what God does for us, in paying the price to release us from the bondage of sin. It is the whole of humanity who have been bound in the bondage of sin, but we have been redeemed, released and set free by Jesus Christ, whose death and blood were the ransom price.

Last week we learned that God choses us to be His, then adopts us into His family. That brings with it a new sense of freedom. About us are people in all kinds of bondage. Sometimes it is political bondage. Sometimes legal bondage. Sometimes a bondage of economic circumstances or social class. But always there is a bondage to sin. Many who have fought for freedom or whose loved ones gave their lives for freedom. But freedom from sin eludes many. I receive letters from prisoners regularly who have discovered freedom even within the prison walls, who have discovered the words "stone walls do not a prison make or iron bars a cage."

On the other hand, I know some young, single mothers who are caught in a bondage of poverty, trying to bring up their children in circumstances that they feel they will never escape. I know people who are trapped financially in a bondage they will never escape. Many want to be free. People feel trapped in prisons of their own making: alcohol, drug addiction, gambling. I am reminded of Alexander Solzhenitsyn who in prison in Siberia discovered inner freedom through his faith in God. The Russians could not conquer his spirit. One guard called him in to his office and indicated that unless he obeyed his demands he would never see freedom again. Solzhenitsyn replied, "You have power over people so long as you only take some of their possessions from them, but once you have stripped everything from a man you no longer have any power over him, he is free again." Real freedom is to be able to determine your future. Real freedom is the capacity to do what you want to do and not be squeezed into a mould by other forces. That is what Paul is talking about in this Letter to the Ephesians.

Jesus had said, "You will know truth, and the truth will make you free." Here is truth that enables people to be free. "Let us praise God for His glorious grace, for the free gift He gave us in His dear Son! For by the death of Christ we are set free, that is, our sins are forgiven. How great is the grace of God which He gave to us in such large measure!" v6-7

1. BY THE DEATH OF CHRIST.

By the death of Christ we have been set free. This word is sometimes translated as "redeemed". Our redemption enables us to have freedom, enables us to have forgiveness. We have freedom, we have forgiveness and we have redemption. That word "redemption" means that He shed His blood for us. That was the ransom price. In Scripture "the blood of Jesus Christ" means He died in our place. His death meant our life. As a result His blood enabled all sorts of things to happen. "We are justified in His blood." Romans 5:9 "We have redemption through His blood." Colossians 1:14 Hebrews 9:22 tells us the background to how the death of Jesus is necessary, for sin could not be forgiven "without the shedding of blood." John 1 John 1:7 tells us "We have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin." Peter1 Peter 1:19 tells us: "We have been redeemed, not with corruptible things such as silver and gold, but with the precious blood of Jesus Christ." We have been forgiven. We have been set free by the death of Jesus. All human bondage comes about because of what the Bible calls sin. Sin is being apart from God. Sin is not reaching up to the standard God wants us to be. Many people live in that kind of bondage. And it is only by the death of Jesus Christ that we are set free.

2. WE ARE SET FREE!

People know they are not what they ought to be. They know they have not reached what they could reach. They know they have let everybody down: themselves, their parents, the community, and God. They are bound by fear, guilt and remorse. Many people live bound like that. Rousseau said that "Man was born free but everywhere he is in chains." Karl Marx said, "Workers have nothing to lose except their chains." Paul knows that and he stresses our need to be free. For we are not right with ourselves, with other people or with God. Yet God puts people right through their faith in Jesus Christ.

Everyone of us has sinned. We are far from God's will. But by God's grace we are put right with God through Jesus Christ. Do you realise your freedom? If someone says to you, "Are you a Christian?" and you say, "I hope so" or "I am trying to be so," that means that you do not understand what a Christian really is. For if you are in Christ you are a Christian. If you have invited Him into your heart, you have been set free. You have already forgiveness of sins. There is nothing you can do to earn it or to make yourself Christian. It is something He gives you out of His grace. That insight came upon St. Augustine. It came upon Luther. It came upon John Wesley. Do you remember how Charles Wesley spoke of his own life when he told us that

"Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
Fast bound in sin and nature's night.
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light:
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee"

Christ has made you right with God. You are set free.

3. OUR SINS ARE FORGIVEN

Do you notice what immediately follows? "For by the death of Christ we are set free, that is, our sins are forgiven." It not only says that we are free, but it says we are forgiven. We are free because we have been forgiven. Forgiveness enables freedom. Our natural condition is that either by hereditary or environment, or both, we have a certain terminal condition. That terminal condition is that we are out of sorts with ourselves, with other people and with God. We cannot do anything about it. We die because of it. "All have sinned… and the wages of that sin is death." Romans 5:8

The Iranian women twins, who were fused at the brain before birth, captured our sympathy this week. They have been bound to each other for 29 years by their own bone, skin and brain. To separate them might mean their deaths. But they would rather die than go on living bound to each other. For fifty hours some of the best surgeons in the world tried to separate them. But to no avail. They both died. They had made the choice - a chance at freedom with the likelihood of death was preferable from being bound even to your own flesh and blood. Paul means we have been born with a deformity within our system. We are not immune to the influence of sin. Each of us becomes diseased by sin that leads to death. Sin has separated us. We need a blood transfusion a blood that will cleanse us. We need a new life to come within us. In Isaiah 59:1-2 we read, "Do not think that the Lord is too weak to save you, and do not think the Lord is too deaf that He cannot hear you when you call to Him. It is because of your sins that He does not hear you. It is your sin that separates you from God, even when you try to worship Him."

The Jewish people knew they had to get through to God and be cleansed. They developed a sacrificial system. They would take an animal and would pray that their sins would go on to the animal, that its sacrifice at the altar and its blood given to God, was the sign that their sins had been paid for. Through the death of the animal they were cleansed and free from their sin. That is why when people saw Jesus and knew that He was God's Son they said, "Behold, the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world." That is why Jesus took bread and wine at the Last Supper said, "This cup is a new covenant in my blood which is shed for many for the remission of sin." Do you feel estranged from God? Hostile against anything God wants to do? Unacceptable? Unworthy? Rejected? The good news is that Christ has forgiven you. The stranger is now welcomed home. The rejected is now accepted.

4. HOW GREAT IS THE GRACE OF GOD.

What is it you want to do now? You want to say as did Martin Luther King: "Free at last. Free at last! Great God Almighty, we are free at last!" Our hearts burst out into praise: v7,8 "For by the death of Christ we are set free, our sins are forgiven. How great is the grace of God, which he gave to us in such large measure!" When St. Augustine lay dying, he had a man to paint on the wall his favourite text Psalm 32:1 KJV "Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered." He died happy. His sin was forgiven. A man in Parramatta Gaol wrote to me: "While facing committal a friend introduced me to the Lord. I was given a Bible and started reading it. I started to study the word and I have never looked back."

He told me how even behind the iron bars and stonewalls, his heart has been set free through the death of Jesus Christ. He wrote this poem:

"Most of my life I've been running around
and having a ball;
I used to live on whisky and goodtime
ladies of the night.
Then the devil took control and had me
dancing with them demons in my time.
I was rolling down hill heading for hell.
Until I met Jesus, my Lord and my Saviour.
He reached out His hand and lifted me up.
And wiped away all my tears, and He called me friend;
He looked deep inside me while everyone
else looked away.
He smiled at me when everyone else frowned.
He gave me love when no one else cared.
He touched my soul and He helped me stand
And start all over again."

Can you say you have been set free? Can you say, "I have been forgiven?" Can you say, "I have been washed, I have been cleansed through the blood of the Lamb"? Will you claim that freedom and start all over again. so that you can say "Free at last. Thank God Almighty, I'm free at last." You have been ransomed. You have been redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ who has set you free. You have been forgiven. You have been welcomed home by the Father. How great is the grace of God!

"Ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven,
Evermore His praises sing!
Alleluia! Praise the everlasting King!"
Wesley Mission, Sydney.