Father God, thanks for a chance to study together as your church. As we study today I pray that we would acknowledge our debt to you through our sin and failures, and that we would acknowledge also the payment that has been paid by Jesus. And that as a result of his life and death and burial and resurrection, that we would come to a deeper and more profound understanding of how exactly forgiveness of sin and relationship with you is accomplished, that it would compel our hearts to accept not only our sin, but your solution for sin, that being Jesus. And so to make this happy, Holy Spirit, we invite you to lead our time, to guide us, to help us to learn these great truths of Scripture, and to do so in a way that would bring you glory and would bring us joy. And so we give our time and our lives and our church and our city to you in Jesus’ good name. Amen.
Well, as we get into it, if you’re new let me catch you up to speed. This whole series has been seeking to answer the question, “What did Jesus Christ do on the cross? What did he accomplish?” And the reason why Jesus is the center of our teaching is because he is the most important person – most significant and well-known person – who has ever lived in the history of the world. No one is bigger than Jesus. All of human history revolves around Jesus. We have BC, which is “before Christ,” and AD, which is “Anno Domini,” the year of our Lord. That when Jesus came, literally the whole calendar changed and everything rotates or swings, as it were, like a hinge on Jesus. He is the biggest event and person in the history of the world. Time magazine called him Man of the Millennium. More songs have been sung to, more paintings painted of, more books written about Jesus than anyone who has ever lived in the history of the world.
Jesus is such a big deal that he is the only figure that appears in every major world religion. Because he is such an enormous figure, every religion has to one way or another deal with him and address him. And also today billions of people across the earth gather together in churches because it’s the day of Jesus’ resurrection, to worship Jesus as God and to celebrate him, and we have taken for ourselves the name “Christian.” Initially it was a derogatory term that people who didn’t like Jesus or Christians said, “Oh, you’re just a Christian,” which means, “You think you’re a little Jesus.” And the Christians decided, “Yeah, that’s cool. We’re trying to be a little bit like Jesus. We’ll take that as a good thing,” and so we called ourselves Christians. And so for a few thousand years billions of people have been gathering together on days like this to worship Jesus, to sing to Jesus, to honor Jesus, and to try and be like Jesus.
Now, perhaps what is most shocking is that the symbol of our faith is a cross. Christians wear it around their neck. Early Christians at communion made the sign of the cross. Some of you probably have crosses in your home, crosses that are jewelry. Maybe even as a little kid you started drawing pictures of the cross. And it is the great symbol of our faith, which is shocking because that is an instrument of public execution. It’s be like today if we all had guillotines around our neck, or electric chairs, and we hung them up in our own and we sang songs about them. And we told our children to paint paintings of them. “You know, Johnny, paint me a nice gallows. Paint me a nice electric chair.” You know, it’s shocking that that would be the symbol of our faith. Jesus fed a lot of people, healed a lot of people, said a lot of nice things – we have other options, but this is the symbol that has stuck.
And the question is, well, why? Why the most horrifying, shameful, bloody, painful mode of public execution and disgrace? Why would that be chosen as the symbol of Christian faith?
To answer that question we’ve been asking the question, “What did Jesus do on the cross?” And today we’ll answer it with one of the answers – and there are many – and that is the doctrine of ransom. So to set this up, to help make this, I hope, a little sensible to you, let’s start over in the world of your finances and then we’ll move over into the world of your spirituality and your soul. And I’ll start by asking this question – you don’t need to tell us – but how far in debt are you? And I’m assuming this service is fairly impressive. (Laughter) How far in debt are you? And some of you say, “I don’t know.” That’s because you’re so scared you haven’t added it up, right? Like, that’s how bad it is.
And many of you are young – now that I’m getting old I can say that – and the average 21 year old has $3,000.00 debt on four different credit cards. 23 percent of all 21 year olds have between $3,000.00 and $7,000.00 debt on credit cards. And ten percent have $7,000.00 or more in credit card debt. Now, when is the first time that you got your first credit card? It was probably college, wasn’t it? You show up, the first piece of – you say, “I got my own mailbox! Yes, I got my – and a credit card application is my first piece of mail.” And you didn’t read the fine print, even though you’re smart enough to go to college, which is an interesting fact. (Laughter) You didn’t read the fine print which says that it’s 478 percent interest, right? And if you miss a payment or are late, they triple it every minute. And so you buy a six pack of beer and a pizza and it costs you $15,000.00. (Laughter) You’re going, “Wow! Dad, help!” And this is college. The first thing they get you is a credit card application.
And who is the most likely person, statistically, to be in credit card debt? A single young woman, getting her hair and nails done, buying lots of clothes, trying to attract a man with a job to pay off the credit card – that’s the game. (Laughter) Right? That’s the game, right? The ladies aren’t laughing. They’re like, “That’s our secret! Don’t tell. That’s why we’re at Mars Hill. We’re looking for dudes with job.” I know. Welcome. We love you.
Now the result is that a lot of us are pretty deep in debt. The average American household has $19,000.00 of non-mortgage related debt, about half of which is on credit cards. There are four active credits cards in circulation for every man, woman, and child in the country. There is a lot of debt going around. The average American is not great with their money. They’re in huge debt. And for some of you this is a great distress. It kind of freaks you out because every month you get in the mail all of your bills, and you get all of your debts, and you realize that it’s getting worse – which is why you get more credit cards, to keep shifting debits and to keep shifting obligations. And I don’t know about you, but debt really freaks me out. It, like, stresses me out like little else does.
See, I grew up in a poor working-class home. I was born in Grand Forks, North Dakota. My dad was a construction worker, a union drywaller. There was no work there, so my family moved out to Spokane because we had relatives there. And my dad continued to hang drywall, but we were working-class poor. Times got really tight, really lean. I was the oldest of five kids, and it was hard times. And my dad, though, was very committed to no debt. You do not go into debt. You sell anything. You starve to death. You walk around naked. But you don’t get into debt. That was my dad, Joe – Joe’s plan. That was his plan and that was drilled into us.
And I can still remember as a little boy, one of the saddest days of my life – I was about three or four – my dad sold his truck. It was a 1950-something short-box step-side Chevy pickup truck like half the dudes in this room want. And my dad had this old truck and it was our dude truck. I would hang out with my dad in this truck because my dad would wear a white t-shirt, jeans, and he always rolled up a pack of cigarettes in his white t-shirt. He was like the Fonz (Laughter) – and he actually played guitar and slicked his hair back. My dad was – he was the Fonz. And so he’d wear a white t-shirt and he would wear blue jeans. And then he’d wear construction worker boots and a big belt. And he had a tool bucket and a lunchbox and a thermos filled with coffee and a hard hat and a jean jacket, and he’d go to work to swing his hammer.
Well, I wanted to be just like my dad, so from the age of about two or three all I would wear is construction worker boots and blue jeans and a white shirt – but I didn’t have cigarettes rolled up in the sleeve like my dad. But one time I actually faked it and I put a pack of baseball cards in there so that it would look like I had a pack of cigarettes, when I was like four. (Laughter) And I had my own little construction worker hat, and my own little lunchbox. And I had my own little thermos filled with hot chocolate instead of coffee. And I’d climb into the truck with my dad and we would dude out. And we would listen to Jim Croce and go to the dump, and we would go to the job site. And I would get scrap wood and I’d nail things together and drink hot cocoa and fart and belch and be just like my old man. (Laughter) That was my dream day, was hanging out with my dad in my truck.
Well, we hit this one point in the winter where we got really lean because my dad was out of work and he couldn’t afford to pay the rent or buy the groceries. So my dad decided to sell his truck, which just – and he did. I can still remember the day he sold the truck. And I stood there, and I watched him give the keys to this guy, and I watched the guy take our truck. And I had the equivalent of a four year old nervous breakdown. I absolutely lost my mind. And I said, “Dad’s that’s our truck. We work in that truck. We go to the dump in that truck. We sing to Jim Croce in that truck. We” – life has come to an end, and that’s what I thought. And my dad looked at me, and my dad – I remember him telling me, “Mark, I don’t have the money to pay the rent or buy the groceries, and we’re not gonna go into debt.” See, that was my dad – so committed to living debt-free that he would sell his vehicle and walk to work rather than owe anyone money.
So I grew up with this strong no-debt ethic. Made it through high school, no debt – paid cash for my first car, the whole thing. Got into college, no debt – lived really cheap, lived in one of those houses where there’s 57 guys in two bedrooms and they each pay $25.00 a month and nobody ever takes a shower because that costs money. It was one of those kind of dude places. I actually had a guy in there, lived in a cot. He was an army guy – lived in a cot in a closet. (Laughter) He paid – seriously, he paid half rent. I mean, this is how bad this place was. And so I kept it real cheap.
And then between my junior and senior year of college I got married, and then I got debt when I got married. My wife had taken out a school loan thinking that it was deferred until after graduation. Apparently it wasn’t and she’d been in default for a few years. And so I’m married a couple weeks. I’m all happy, and now we are flat broke. We are so – I mean, we’re in college. There’s broke, and then there’s college broke. (Laughter) And we were college broke – married college broke. We rented our first place. It was $250.00 a month. And we heated it with wood – and it was little. I now – my wife has a Suburban, and the first apartment was about as big as the current Suburban. It was about that big. And it was really small. We’d heat it with wood because we couldn’t afford the electric baseboard heat. We ate really bad – Top Ramen and junk food. And we did have a washer or dryer so we’d go to the Laundromat and play games while we did the laundry. And every Friday night was the big date night. We’d go out to the second run movie theater and watch the 99 cent movie. And that was the big, “Woo-hoo!” $1.98 – we’re going crazy and just free – we’re just big spenders having a good old time. So it didn’t matter what was playing, that’s all we could afford. That’s what we’d watch.
Well, then I’m thinking, “Okay, we’re gonna make it. We’re flat broke but we’re on budget.” And then I get this bill saying, “Your wife took out a $7,000.00 loan, defaulted, now you owe us $8,000.00 or $9,000.00. You married her and we’re gonna start taking your wages. You’re in default and we’re gonna ruin your credit.” And I just – I just freaked out. I told my wife, I said, “Man, this is like an Old Testament dowry. I just got hit with the bill. This is crazy.” (Laughter) And all of a sudden I had debt, and it freaked me out.
So now I had to get extra work and work full time while going through school to pay minimal payments on this debt. We graduated, house-sat for a while, took jobs, finally paid off all that college loans. Started the church, first three years of the church didn’t get a salary, made my money from the outside, worked here for free. We’re really, really broke. My wife gets sick. She has some health complications and we don’t have medical. The car breaks down. She gets pregnant. Debts add up. Next thing you know I got credit card debt, and now I’m stressed out – freaked out.
Finally we paid that off. Thankfully today we’re not in debt. We’re clear. 13 years after marriage, we’re finally above zero. And I know some of you – everyday you wake up, “Jesus, can I please get to zero? Can I get up to broke? If I could get up to broke, I would just be so happy. If I could look at my debt and look at my income and look at my bank and it just said zero, yea, zero! Zero’s so nice. It’s better than negative a lot.” And so some of you come here today – and when I talk about finances you don’t want to talk about it, because you say, “Man, I’m in debt!” You know, and some of you do the accounting where you take your debit card, go to the ATM, put it in, and if says you have money you spend it. That’s your accounting, right? That’s not accounting. That’s – that’s crazy. (Laughter) And this is how a lot of us live. We live beyond our means. 40 percent of all American households spend more every year than they make, okay?
And now how much debt are you in? Credit cards, car payment, condo payment, school loans – how big is the debt? How much does it freak you out? How much does it worry you? How much does it control your life? How much does it overwhelm you sometimes?
Now, we do that in the physical world, but let me shift now over to the spirit world and say that we also have a spiritual debt that we owe to God that is far greater, and more cumbersome, and eternal, and altogether worse and should be more frightening than our financial debt. But because we don’t get a payment every week from God – each month we don’t get a statement saying, “That was 27 sins. You owe me big now.” Because we don’t get that scary statement every month, we tend to focus on the financial and ignore the spiritual debt.
And I’m not saying that the financial debt is unimportant, but I’m saying tonight let’s shift over to the more important debt, that being the spiritual debt. Let me explain this to you. The Bible explains sin in many ways, but one of the ways it explains it is a debt that we owe to God. It means this: God made us, put us on the earth to live a life and do some things. And when we don’t, we fail, we sin, we’re in debt because we owe God.
This happens by sins of commission and omissions. Sins of commission are a little more obvious – raping, killing, stealing, lying, having sex outside of marriage, fornicating, you know, gossiping. These are more obvious sins of commission, where you do something that you weren’t supposed to do. But then the more subtle ones are the sins of omission, where you were supposed to do something and you just didn’t do it. This is where somebody was having a bad day and you didn’t call them, or pray for them, or help them. This is where a friend of yours is really down on their luck and financially you don’t help them out. This is where you meet the single mom and she’s low on groceries and you don’t bring any groceries over. This is where a friend of yours is really depressed and you don’t take the time to love them and to help them because they’re in a hard place. This is where we get selfish with our time and our energy and our words and our money, and we don’t love our neighbor like we’re supposed to.
And most of us tend to be very, very cognizant and aware of all the sins that people have committed against us and the debt that they owed us. But we tend to suppress the truth that we are also not just victims, but we’re people who do bad and evil. And we harm other people. And we make their lives more difficult and complicated. And we are people who also have a debt to God. And every time that we do what is wrong or fail to do what is right in our thoughts, in our words, and with our deeds we have failed and we now owe a debt to God. And our debt is enormous. My debt is enormous.
I was thinking about it this week. I set up a daddy date with everybody in my family. I asked each of the people in my family, my wife and my kids, “What do you want for your daddy day this week?” My two year old wanted to go see Dora the Explorer at the Paramount Theater, so that’s what I did. My boys wanted to go for a long bike ride. My oldest daughter wanted to go for a walk in the woods with her daddy to see all the fall colors, and then go to her favorite coffee shop and drink tea and eat cookies and visit and spend some time together. And my wife wanted to go out to dinner, so that’s what I did. And I started thinking about it. My sins of commission are obvious. My sins of omission are subtle, but they’re many. I started thinking, “How many things did God want me to do with my family that I haven’t done because I was being selfish?”
One of the times that I was sitting down for dinner and not listening to my kids because I was thinking about something else. One of the times that I was supposed to be praying for somebody or helping somebody and I was busy dinking around on my computer or surfing the Internet when I was supposed to be doing something better with my time. One of the times that I was supposed to read a book or the Bible, and I didn’t. One of the times that I felt compelled to pray for somebody but I didn’t call them to pray for them. I just moved on with my life and I got busy with something else. I started thinking of all the money that I’ve spent that wasn’t spend in the right way and was a waste of money or a bad investment or just something that could’ve really help somebody but didn’t because I didn’t use it right.
I started thinking about my life, thinking, “Man, my sins of omission are many and my debt to God is huge. It’s enormous, my debt to God.” And see, Jesus speaks of sin in that way. He prays in his great prayer in Matthew 6:12, “Our Father, who art in heaven,” then he goes on to say, “Forgive us our debts.” Jesus is praying that our debt to God would be forgiven, that all that we have failed to do and all that we’ve done that we shouldn’t have done is this massive, massive weight of debt. And Jesus prays that we would have that debt forgiven.
Now the question is how in the world can we have this great debt to God forgiven. Well, the Bible says it takes three things. It takes a mediator to come in between us and God and to work out a resolution. It takes a Redeemer, someone to pay the penalty or pay the price. And it takes a Ransom, and that is the sum that is paid or the debt that is paid. So it takes a mediator, a Redeemer, and a Ransom.
Fortunately these are all Jesus. These are all aspects of Jesus’ ministry for us and his demonstrated love for us. So I need you to first accept the fact that we all have this great debt to God and that Jesus is the one who can answer his own prayer to get our debts forgiven.
So we’ll start first with the concept of a mediator. And the concept of a mediator is one where the mediator is a middle man who comes between us and God, the person who brokers the deal in the middle. See, we’ve got God in heaven. We’ve got us on earth. And we have ripped God off and we’re short. And now we owe God. And because of that we need a mediator between the two of us to work the deal out, to come to some sort of resolution and reconciliation.
And perhaps a picture will help you in this, this great concept of a mediator. Job is a guy in the Old Testament who, in Job 9:32-33, really gets this concept of a mediator and he gives us an illustration that’s helpful. He says this, “He” – speaking of God – “is not a man like me that I might answer him, that we might confront each other in court. If only there were someone to arbitrate” – that’s what a mediator does, arbitrates – “between us to lay his hands” – good illustration – “upon both of us.”
So Job says this. “I’ve sinned.” And Job is a righteous man, the Bible says. He’s not sinless, but he’s one of the most obedient, holy men in all of history. He says, “I know I got sin and there’s a difference between me and God. And I know that there’s trouble in my relationship with God. And I’m not sure what God’s doing. I’m not sure what God wants. And I – here’s the problem, though. I can’t subpoena God, bring him into court, sit him before a judge, and make him to swear the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth so help you you. I can’t do that, right? He won’t show up for the subpoena and he’s not gonna answer my questions.” Job says, “I just don’t understand and I wish there were somebody to inform my understanding, and to put a hand on God and to put a hand on me, and to tell God what I’m thinking and to tell me what God’s thinking so we could work out our differences.”
Because Job was a guy who was righteous, decent guy who loved God, but his whole life was really painful and hard. And Satan went before God and said, “God, Job only loves you because you bless him. If you stop blessing him, I’ll bet you he’ll stop loving you.” And God said, “I disagree. Go ahead and destroy his life, and you’ll see he still loves me.” And so Satan just destroys Job’s life: kills his kids, Satan takes all of his money, ruins his business, actually harms him physically. He’s got open sores on his body. He’s a guy who’s hurting in great pain.
The only thing that remains in his life are his “friends” – quote/unquote – and his wife, and that’s not blessing at all. His friends are like Bible college students. They’re terrible people. You know, they’re just terrible people. They want to argue with him. They argue for 30-some chapters, right? This is like, you get hit by a car and all your kids die, and your limbs fall off, and you’re in the hospital. And the guys show up from your Bible study and want to argue systematic theology. Nobody baked a cookie. Nobody signed a card. Nobody said a prayer. You’re like, “Thanks a lot, guys. Good to see you.”
And they do this day after day after day. “Well, hypothetically God only punishes sinners. You’re being punished. You’re a sinner. What’d you do, Job?” It’s like, “Oh, my gosh. I don’t want to have any doctrinal debates, my kids just died. Can’t you just pray for me and sit with me and be nice to me and not theologize everything?” Sometimes we don’t need to theologize everything, we just need to hug somebody and give them cookies and pray for them and love them. And his friends didn’t do that.
And the only other person he had was his wife. What a gem she was. (Laughter) If you’ve read the story, she kept saying, “Curse God, die, and go to hell.” “Well, thanks, honey. I appreciate that, you know? That’s a great idea.”
And so Job says, “God, I don’t get it. I don’t know what you know. I don’t understand. I don’t understand why life is so hard.” What Job says is, “I wish I had a mediator, an arbitrator, somebody to put a hand on me, hand on God, work out the difference, reconcile relationship, bring about some sort of resolution.” What Job wanted was Jesus – that’s what he wanted. He wanted Jesus to come down and to mediate between he and God.
You know, and we’ll deal with this in a moment. There is only one mediator between us and God. But on the human level, we do use mediator relationships throughout the course of our life. I’ve been involved in a couple of them. One was legal. There are times when a case doesn’t go to trial because the judge appoints an independent third-party mediator to meet with the two conflicting sides to impartially hear their needs and then to work for some sort of mediated, reasonable solution and resolution. This happened with my mom, Debbie. She had a work-related injury with her hand and it was causing her pain and discomfort so she went in for surgery. And when she woke up her foot was in the air and had been operated on, right? And even if you didn’t go to med school, you go, “Well, that doesn’t sound right.” (Laughter) And it’s not right. Because what had happened was they opened her hand and they said, “You know, you have a problem with your tendon. So during the surgery we decided to cut your foot open and take a tendon out and put it in your hand. Oh, and sorry, we forgot to ask.” Well, the result is now that my mom has continual pain in her foot that is far worse than the pain she ever had in her hand. And it affects her walk, which affects her knee, which affects her hip, which now is causing all kinds of other complications, physical therapy, rehabilitation – all kinds of issues.
My dad and mom meet with the doctor and say, “You didn’t ask to take out a tendon, out of the foot.” And even my dad was out in the waiting room and said, “Well, I have power of attorney. You could’ve asked. We didn’t give you permission to take a part out of her foot and put it in her hand. Now this is gonna cost us physical therapy, and this is gonna take time, and this is gonna alter her quality of life.” My parents are not litigious. They had never been involved in a lawsuit. But they got an attorney and they filed for malpractice. They said, “You gotta pay for at least her rehabilitation and her therapy.
And so I ended up being called in with my parents, and what happened was they, with their attorney and I, were sitting in one room, and the doctor with his attorney was sitting in another room, and they brought in a mediator – an independent third party, to use Job’s language, to put hands on both and to work for some reasonable solution, some resolution. And ultimately it came to pass that they admitted guilt and fault and there was a penalty and all of that.
We do this a lot. We also do this in counseling. If you and a friend or a parent or a spouse have a strained, hard relationship and things aren’t good, and you talk about it but you can’t figure it out. It doesn’t get any better. You bring somebody in the middle. You get a counselor. You get a pastor, somebody like that. And they sit down as an independent third party to try and hear both sides objectively, reasonably hear it out, and work toward resolution.
That’s what we need between us and God. Now some of you may say, “Why has God got a problem with us?” Well, we don’t have a problem with God because he doesn’t owe us anything. But God has a problem with us because we’ve ripped him off. So God’s really the offended party in this. He’s the victim. And now it’s strained and damaged and broken our relationship with God. But God still wants a relationship, so the question is then who can be this mediator to come between us and God, to use Job’s language, to put a hand on both of us and to bring about resolution in the middle?
Well, to do this, this mediator would need to represent both sides accurately and fairly, which means in one sense the mediator would need to be like us and be a human being, but in another sense would need to be unlike us and would need to be God. The question is, “Where are you gonna get a God-man to be a mediator?” Ah, you know where I’m going. I’m always going to Jesus.
Now, this is how it works. God – the eternal God decides that he will come down, take on human flesh, humbly become a person – Jesus Christ. And that by being both God and a person, God can be the perfect mediator between God and people. He can work out both ends, fairly represent both sides.
This is what Scripture says. I’ll read it to you. Hebrews 9:15: “Christ is the mediator of a new covenant.” When you hear the word covenant, think relationship. God loves you. God wants a relationship with you. And for that to happen, there needs to be a mediator to deal with the life of offense that you and I have lived, and to work out a resolution between us and God. That’s Jesus. He’s the mediator of this new covenant, this new relationship.
It says in Hebrews 12:24, “You have come to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant” – same thing. And perhaps one of the most tightly-packed and significant verses on this is by the Apostle Paul in 1 Timothy 2:5-6. And he says that “there is one God and one mediator between man and God” – human beings and God – “the man” – emphasizing his humanity – “Christ Jesus.” Christ being his title, God, Jesus being his name as a person. There is one mediator between people and God, and that’s Jesus Christ the God-man. That’s exactly what God’s saying.
So let me unpack that for you. First thing he says is there’s one God. Well, I know today – and let me unpack this for you – a lot of people will tell you, “Well, there’s a lot of gods, a lot of religions, a lot of perspectives of God, a lot of names for God, and they’re all right.” And the Bible says, “No, there’s one God. There’s one God. And there’s one way to have a relationship with God because there’s only one mediator between us and God, and that’s God who became a man, Jesus Christ.” No one has ever become God, and God has never become any other person. This is our only mediator.
What that means is this: if you want to have a relationship with God, you need Jesus to be your mediator, to be your mediator. And again, it is not that in saying that I’m trying to be mean-spirited or reject other beliefs, but simply trying to believe what Jesus said. Jesus said, “I am the way” – singular and exclusive – “the truth” – singular and exclusive – “the life” – singular and exclusive. “No one gets to the Father but by me.” What Jesus says is this, “I’m your only hope and I’m your only mediator. And if you want a relationship with God the Father, you need to come through me, God the Son – God who became a Man.” That’s what God the Son means.
And so Jesus says that. Now, I know some of you would say, “Well, that’s offensive.” Well, I know. That’s why they killed Jesus. Jesus died a bloody death on a cross because he said, “It’s me, and you really need to deal with me.”
Now some of you will say, “Well, what about other religions and other philosophies? Aren’t there other ways to be reconciled to God, other ways of being in a mediatorial relationship with God? What about guys like Gandhi, who’s a faithful Hindu? Or Mohammed, the founder of Islam? Or Buddha, after whom Buddhism is named? What about other religions and perspectives and philosophies? There’s a lot of opinions on how we deal with sin and pay our debt to God.”
Let me say this. Jesus Christ says about him three things as mediator that make him distinct from, superior to all other religious leaders, founders, and teachers. The first thing he says is, “I am God.” Now remember, to have a good mediator he has to fairly represent both sides, which means he has to be God. Now, no founder of any major world religion ever made the claim to be God. In fact, Buddha didn’t – Buddhism doesn’t really have a concept of God when you really drill down on it. It’s more a philosophical system. Mahatma Gandhi, perhaps the greatest Hindu who’s ever lived, said he wasn’t God. And Mohammed, the founder of Islam, says, “I’m not God.” If you look at the major religions, their founders never say, “I’m God.” In fact, they say just the opposite, “I’m not God.”
Jesus says, “I’m God.” Now because of that, throughout the course of his life people kept trying to kill him for the sin of blasphemy saying, “You, a mere man, say you’re God.” And he kept saying it, and eventually they did kill him for it. So Jesus is making this very sincere claim to be God, able to mediate between us and God because he’s God who came down to be with us as a person.
Second thing Jesus says: “I came down from heaven.” Now, occasionally someone will tell you that I had a near-death experience and I got to peek into heaven for a minute. Or sometimes a religious leader like Mohammed, the founder of Islam, will tell you, “On one occasion, I got a glimpse into heaven and I got a peek.” But again, no major religious leader or world religion founder has ever said that they came down from heaven. “I’m eternal God, heaven is my home, and I’m here on a vacation.” They never say that they came down from heaven. But Jesus says repeatedly, emphatically, “I have come down from heaven.” See, that’s what we need the mediator to do. We can’t go up to heaven, but God can come down to us to be a mediator.
And lastly Jesus said that he forgave sin. He looked at people and said, “Your sins are forgiven. Go sin no more.” And people were just amazed and outraged and shocked and horrified. And they were saying rightly, “When we sin, we sin against God. How in the world can you forgive sin? You’re not God!” Jesus said, “I am God, and I came down from heaven to forgive sin. So I forgive sin.” Now, some people believed him and they loved him, and some people disbelieved him and they despised him. And Jesus says, “I am God, come down from heaven to forgive sin.” That’s the mediator. God became a man on the earth to take away sin, thereby reconciling us to God and working out a resolution for a relationship with God, getting the sin out of the way that has separated us from God.
And so it’s all Jesus. This is why we love Jesus. This is why at Mars Hill we’re big on Jesus. We’re not really big on morality. We’re not really big on politics. We’re not really big on religion. We’re not really big on philosophy. But we’re really big on Jesus because he says about himself things that no one else has ever said, and he demonstrates it with his life, death, burial, resurrection. He evidences it to be true.
My first point is that we have a debt to God. My second point is that we need a mediator who is both God and man, able to put his hands on both of us and reconcile the difference. That’s Jesus, the way, the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father but by him. So that’s our concept of mediator.
The second thing we need is a redeemer, and that’s somebody who pays the tab. And don’t you love it when somebody pays your tab? How many of you really like it when somebody picks up the tab? Just so you know, that’s a Christian thing to do. If you go out to dinner with your friends, pick up the tab. When they say, “Why?” say, “I’m a Christian. That’s Christian. We pick up the tab.” I don’t know where we got “Dutch.” You know, guy and gal go out, “We’re going Dutch.” We’re going non-Christian, that’s what you’re saying, (Laughter) because Christian is pick up the tab, right?
And redeemer literally means the one who pays the tab, the one who picks up the bill, the one who pays the debt. And don’t you love the people who pay the tab, pick up the debt? See, that’s why when we see a guy like Bono going around the world telling nations, “You need to forgive the debt of the nation who can’t pay.” We say, “That’s cool.” Because if somebody can’t pay their debt and somebody else pays it or forgives it, that’s a good thing. That’s a Christian idea. It’s called mercy and grace and love and compassion. It’s a good thing.
Now with us, our debt to God is so big and infinite we can’t pay it, so we need a redeemer to pay it. We need a redeemer to pay it. You know, it’s interesting, too, even some of the best television is built around the concept of a redeemer. I was watching Extreme Home Makeover with my kids. They get some family who’s in debt, doesn’t have cars that run, roof leaks, can’t afford anything, in debt. They come in and say, “We paid off your mortgage. We built you a new house – all new appliances, all new car. You’re debt free. You get a new life.” We all cry. I’m crying. My kids are crying. “That’s beautiful!” Well, that’s a Christian idea, that somebody picks up the tab and helps somebody who can’t help themselves. That’s a Christian idea. The whole concept of the redeemer is the one who picks up the tab, pays the bill, pays the price. We love that. I love that.
The Bible says repeatedly, however, that God is our redeemer, that he’s the one who picks up our tab. And this is different than other religions that will tell you that you need to go to Purgatory, that you need to suffer, that you need to go to hell, that you need to reincarnate and pay God back. All of that is you paying God back. Christianity is that God pays, God picks up the tab.
It says in Job 19:25, “I know that my Redeemer” – the one who pays the bill – “lives and that in the end he will stand on the earth.” Job kept it together because he knew that Jesus was coming and one day would stand on the earth and would pick up his tab and pay his debt for his life of sin. So how could Job endure it? Job was waiting for Jesus, that’s what he was doing.
It goes on to say in Psalm 78:35, “They remembered that God was their Rock, that God Most High was their Redeemer.” And in Jeremiah 50:34: “Yet their Redeemer is strong; the Lord is his name.” We have a mediator. His name is Jesus, the God-man. We have a redeemer, one who pays our bill, our debt. That’s Jesus. Jesus does this through his life without sin. We’re gonna deal with this more next week, and next week I’m gonna push you to understand the life of Jesus. And I promise that I will profoundly trouble most of you with my perspective on Jesus – probably some things you’ve never heard or thought, which doesn’t mean I’m a heretic. I’ll have verses. (Laughter) But we’ll deal with that next week.
Jesus pays our debt and he’s our redeemer through his sinless life, his substitutionary death—dying for my sin, paying my debt—and his bodily resurrection. That’s the essence of the Christian faith, that Jesus Christ is our redeemer. He’s the one who picks up the tab. He’s the one who pays my debt to God. That’s what Scripture teaches, that Jesus Christ is my redeemer.
And it’s interesting, because even in our culture we have concepts of the redeemer. I heard one on Kube 93 FM radio this week. They had a redeemer contest. Now, they didn’t call it that, but that’s what they meant. And the redeemer contest was this: if you call in and we choose you, we will pay off all your credit card debt, up to $10,000.00 – which for some of you go, “That’s not a redeemer, that’s my interest.” (Laughter) I know. I know. But the concept was, “We’ll pay your debt,” and so it’s this concept that still kicks around.
Now the question is who does Jesus pay? You think that would be simple. This has led to, again, massive debate throughout the course of church history. And I’m kind of a dink, so just, you know, excuse me while I got on this small rabbit trail and tell you what has been postulated insofar as who is paid by Jesus.
The church father Origen who lived from 185, I think, to 254 – he said that Jesus paid off Satan, all right? That Jesus paid Satan so that we could be saved. Gregory the Great – I don’t know why he got that name. I don’t think he’s that great, but he lived from 540 to 604. He built on Origen’s teaching, saying that Jesus paid off Satan through deception and trickery, that like a worm on a hook Jesus looked like a normal man, but he was really God, and that when Satan bit he didn’t see the hook and God reeled him in. And so through deception and trickery, Jesus paid off Satan, all right?
Now, some of you were raised in or have gone to one of those shake and bake, charismaniac sort of televangelist-type churches. You may have heard that on the cross Satan and Jesus – Satan and the demons, rather, beat up Jesus. Then Jesus went to hell and Satan and demons beat him up for three days. And then Jesus paid off Satan and he purchased us, and then he rose with our victory. I told my wife that this morning over breakfast. She said, “That doesn’t sound right, Jesus paying off Satan.” I said, “Good.” She’s so cute when she’s theologically correct. (Laughter) I said, “You’re right, baby.”
And her position agrees with a guy named Anselm who came along 1033 to 1109. He said, “No, no, no. Jesus didn’t work through deception, trickery, and cowardice, and Jesus didn’t pay off Satan.” And you think about it, it’s true. Satan doesn’t own people and things. Satan steals things and people that belong to God. Well, just because he steals things doesn’t mean that Jesus has to buy us back or buy our stuff back.
In the same way – I know, let’s say somebody went into your apartment, dorm, car, frat – stole your stuff. And they put it in your car and they stole your car. And they drove away with all your stuff in your vehicle. And then let’s say the cops found them, arrested them, called you, said, “Please come identify your car and your stuff.” You get there, you say, “This is my car and this is my stuff. It was all stolen.” You would be very upset if the police officer said, “Well, I totaled it all up. That’ll be $23,000.00.” You’d be, “That’s my stuff! I bought it! I’m not buying it again! He stole it!” “Well, he’s got it. You gotta pay him.” “I’m not paying him jack!” Right? He stole it.
That’s what happened. God made people, and everything and everyone belongs to God. Satan steals, and just because we’re in his possession doesn’t mean Jesus needs to come and write a check with his life and buy us back. It means that we’re rightfully God’s possession and he just takes us back, and Satan doesn’t get paid. He doesn’t get paid for that. You don’t get paid for stealing something that doesn’t belong to you.
So the question then becomes, “Well, who did Jesus pay?” And it’s amazing how these little questions end up in massive theological debates. And the answer is the Bible never says. It just doesn’t say. But I would infer – if you want to pick a team this would be the team I would compel you toward – that since God made us and all things, and everyone and everything belongs to God, and that when we sin we sin against God, and our spiritual debt is accrued to God, that if anything or anyone is paid, it is God who is paid because our debt is to him. I don’t have a debt to Satan. I have a debt to God.
And so God not only acknowledges my debt, he also pays it. And in a very limited sense, this is like you have millions of dollars of debt to a credit card company, and the president calls and says, “You know, I just feel like paying for your debt. I’m gonna send a personal check. And I know that you have ripped off my company, and you have charged thing you never intend to pay back, and you’re in way over your head. But I was reading the Bible and I’ll pay for it.” You would say, “Thank you, Jesus. I need to get more credit cards.” (Laughter) But it would be great if the person that you owed and had ripped off actually was the one who paid your debt. Boy, that’s really loving and gracious, and that’s the concept of the redeemer in the Bible. We’ve ripped off God. We owe God. But God pays our debt by becoming Jesus, living, and dying, and rising.
And that leads me to my next point, which is the concept of ransom. We need a mediator between us and God, a redeemer to pick up our tab, and a ransom, which is the price that is paid for our relationship with God to be restored. The ransom is the price.
Now, the problem is no human being can ever pay God back and pay their ransom. That’s a problem. That’s what it says in Psalm 49:7-8. “No man can redeem” – there’s our word – “the life of another or give to God a ransom” – there’s our other word – “for him. The ransom for a life is costly. No payment is ever enough.”
And you think about it. I was thinking about it this week. I’ve already got – I just turned 35 last month. I’ve got 35 years of sin, and I’ve done a lot of sin. I’m not a great, perfect, moral guy. I used to think I was, and now I have kids and I see them acting like me, and it’s obvious that I have deep-seated issues. (Laughter) And so I know I’m a sinner and I got a big debt I owe to God. I got a big pile of sin – thought, word, deed, commission, omission. And hypothetically, if beginning today I decided, “I’ll never sin again” – that’s not gonna happen, but hypothetically, even if I did or could. “I’ll never have a bad thought, bad word, bad deed. I’ll do everything I’m supposed to do and I won’t do anything I’m not supposed to do.” Now, it’s logically impossible and I won’t do that, but even if I did from this point forward, I still have 35 years of debt, which means by living a good life from this point forward, I’m not paying off my debt, I’m just not accruing any additional debt. You get that? It’s like you’re $10 million in the hole and for the rest of your life you life by your budget. But you still haven’t paid off your debt. You haven’t added to your debt, but you haven’t paid it off.
And that’s where I’m at with God. I’m in debt. I’m in huge debt to God. And I can’t pay him back.
Now, some of you have tried, and for some of you this leads to great despair. You realize, “I can’t straighten out everything I’ve made crooked. I can’t fix everything I’ve broken. I can’t heal every relationship that I’ve hurt. I can’t take back every lie.” I mean, you can’t. I mean, I was thinking about it – the great regrets of my life. I didn’t tell the other services this, but the great regrets of my life. When I was younger, I was an angry hothead and I punched my old man in the mouth when I was a teenage guy. I can’t take that back. What’s done is done. I can’t go back and not punch him in the mouth. It’s too late. I had sex with my girlfriend before I got married and regret that I can’t go back and take that away. It’s done, you know? There was an employer I worked for and, no reason, but I stole some stuff from my employer when I was a teenager kid. I can’t just make that up. The company’s not even there. I don’t even know if they’re still in existence. I don’t know who the owner of the company was. I don’t even know how I could possibly pay it back.
I’ve got all this stuff in my life – things I’ve said, things I’ve done, things I’ve failed to do, even stupid little thing where I was just being a dumb person. You know, one of my great regrets: I had a little sister and she wanted to go for a ride on my bike. And we were little kids and this may seem silly, but I put her on the handlebars on the bike and I took her for a little ride. And I knew my parents told me never to do that. And a dog came out and she got scared, and she put her foot in the front spoke of the bike. And we both went over the bike and my sister’s face got chewed up in the asphalt and the dog came and bit her. And I had to carry my bloody, mangled sister and the bike back to the house. See, that was a sin. I disobeyed my parents and I hurt my sister. I can’t undo that. I’m haunted by that thought. She looked like my oldest daughter looks and so it just freaks me out all the time.
And I look back on my life and I realize, “I can’t undo all this – sex and lying and fighting and disrespecting my parents and misspending.” I mean, once the days are spent and the dollars are spent and the time is wasted and it’s all blown, you can’t undo that. It’s too late.
Now for some of you, you’ve tried and you come to a point of despair. Some of you are still trying, and we do silly little things like, “Well, if I go to church, or if I give canned goods at Thanksgiving to the food bank, or if I give Toys for Tots at Christmas, then it’ll make it up.” Well, it doesn’t. We’re supposed to do those things anyways. That doesn’t pay for the past, that only keeps us from accruing more problems in the future and in the present.
And so my debt to God – our debt to God – is enormous. And we can’t fix it or pay it back. We can’t undo it. It’s too late. So what we need is, not only a redeemer to pay the debt, we need the ransom to be paid because we ourselves can’t pay the debt. And this is exactly where the Bible teaches us so clearly about Jesus. In Mark 10:45, Jesus himself says this: “For the Son of Man did not come to be served” – now, I love that. A lot of you have service jobs. You’re baristas and you’re serving food and you’re working at a clothing store. You have some customer service job, which – you know, the whole thing starts off with “cuss,” which is what happens, right? (Laughter) Customer services means you serve them by letting them cuss at you. That’s how the job works.
And it says that Jesus Christ didn’t come to be served. Jesus isn’t like the person who comes to earth cussing out the barista, right? Yelling at the mechanic and demanding everybody to do what they want right now, right? Jesus isn’t like that. Jesus didn’t come to be served. Jesus came, he says, to serve. When was the last time somebody looked at you and said, “What can I do for you? How can I help you? How can I serve you? How can I make your life better?” without any strings attached? That’s Jesus. He’s a giver, not a taker.
He says, “The Son of Man” – that’s the title for himself, that God became a man – “the Son of Man did not come to this earth to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a” – what? “As a ransom.” Those of you that knew that from your Sunday school days – “as a ransom for many.” The price for my sin is the life, death, burial, resurrection of Jesus. Sometimes I think, “Mark’s a pretty good guy,” okay? And I know you would all disagree, but I’m delusional so occasionally this is what I think. “Mark’s a pretty good guy,” and then I think, “But what did it cost to pay for Mark’s sin?” Well, it took God becoming a man, living a sinless life in my place, and dying a brutal public execution by crucifixion. Mark must not be a great guy. Mark must have some real sin. And Mark’s debt to God must be very significant. And Mark must need a huge ransom that Mark could never pay. If it takes Jesus to pay off my debt, my debt is infinite because it required God.
And Jesus says, “I give you my life, Mark. I give you my life as a ransom. I’ll pay your debt.” I’ll be your mediator – work out the deal between you and God. I’ll be your redeemer – I’ll pay the tab. And I’ll be the ransom – I’ll give my life and my death and my shed blood and my suffering and my humiliation for your life of sin and rebellion of disobedience.” That’s why we love Jesus. That’s why we love Jesus. There’s nobody like Jesus. I don’t know about you. People tend not to give away big things, and when they do there’s usually strings attached and there’s something in it for them. With Jesus, selfless, humble – a giver, not a taker.
It says the same thing I told you in 1 Timothy 2:5-6. “There is one God and one mediator between men and God, the man Christ Jesus who gave himself as a” – what? Ransom, that’s what Scripture says. Ransom. Jesus gave himself. It’s not that Jesus lost and got beat up and got crucified because he was coward and couldn’t defend himself. He gave himself as a ransom. He loves us. He gave himself. That’s what he said. “No one takes my life from me. I lay it down, I pick it up. This is what I want to do because I want to love and save people and pay their debt.”
Same thing is said in Hebrews 9:15. “For this reason Christ is the mediator” – there’s our language of mediatorship – “of a new covenant” – a new way to a new relationship with God – “that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, that now he has died as a ransom” – there’s our other word – “to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.”
Jesus is our mediator. He is God who becomes a man, puts his hand on us both to answer the longing of Job. He is our redeemer. He picks up our tab. He pays our debt to God. And he is our ransom. He does this through giving his own life, his own death, his own resurrection as the payment for our sin.
And so interestingly enough, Jesus prayed, “Father forgive them,” and then as our mediator, redeemer, and ransom, Jesus answers his own prayer, providing the way that our debt of sin can be paid for. The result is, then, we can have a new covenant relationship with God through Jesus Christ alone. See, that’s why it’s all about Jesus. That’s why we’re so into Jesus. It’s amazing, isn’t it? He did all three jobs – didn’t leave any work for us to do to be saved. He did all the work.
Now, the result is – 1 Corinthians 6:20 says this: “You were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.” For those of you who are Christians, you were bought with a price. For those of you who would become Christians today, saying, “Yes, my sin is real. I can’t pay God back. I accept Jesus’ payment. I’ll be a Christian today. I’ll have Jesus pay my debt and be my friend.” You were bought with a price, that price being the life, death, burial, resurrection of Jesus. Now I, and all who are Christian, are bought with a price. We belong to God. We’re his possession. What that means is this body belongs to God. The food I drink, the alcohol I drink, the sex I have, the words I speak, the life I live – that belongs to God. That belongs to God. My whole life – the money I spend, the things I learn, the counsel I give belongs to God. My body belongs to God because it was bought with a price. My life belongs to God because it was bought with a price.
And for some of you will say, “Doesn’t this rob us of independence and joy and dignity and freedom?” No. In fact, it’s liberation. See, the truth is, we were made by God, and that as long as we are connected to God and obeying God and living as God intends, what we get is joy because we’re doing that for which we were made. And when we disobey we have no joy because we’re working contrary to the very purposes for which we were made.
So when we acknowledge that we belong to God and we live in obedience to God, the result is that we get joy and that God gets glory. And those two things are not in competition. When God gets glory, we get happy. We get happy when we obey God and we live life as we’re supposed to and we’re not racking up more and more and more spiritual debt. And that’s the new life that God gives.
Now, that doesn’t mean in our future you and I won’t sin. We will sin. I sin. You sin. We will sin. But when we do sin, are those sins covered, too? Yeah. That’s the beauty of it, isn’t it? Jesus paid all of our debt, past, present, and future. This doesn’t mean that we live in the future just sinning like crazy because it’s all paid for. It does mean that we live a new life and honor God because we now belong to him, and when we do fall short and fail and sin, that those are covered, too, that those debts are paid, and that nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus. And Jesus will forgive and take away that sin so we can continue in our friendship with God and our new life with God, the one that continues forever.
Now practically, let me bring it around to my first initial point. If I was telling you this in financial terms, you would all be far more excited. If coming in here today I gave you a 3 × 5 card, I said, “Write down your total debt,” and then I collected them all. And I said, “Today we’re doing something different. Usually we take your money, today we’re going to give it away.” Now, this isn’t going to happen, but hypothetically, if I did. (Laughter) And I said, “You all name for me your debt, and write down your name and your total debt.” And then I said, “Well, I’m not gonna preach today, but I will write checks.” And I would write your name and the dollar amount, and I’d call you forward and give you a check to pay off all your debt. Wouldn’t that be ducky? Wouldn’t that be great? Right? And you would get your check. You would all be so happy, right? Next week there would be a statue of me bigger than Lenin in front of the Taco del Mar down in Fremont. I would be a rock star. That’s what would happen. And next week Mars Hill would be 150,000 people, right? We would explode. It would be, “That church pays off your credit card debt.” And people would fly in from all the corners of the earth and say, “We want Jesus.” You know? (Laughter) And if I told you how to get all your financial debt canceled and paid, boy, you would love me. You’d cheer. This would be a rockin’ like Dokken kind of place tonight. It’d be a good deal, right?
Now, the truth is when you become a Christian they don’t automatically cancel your financial debt, right? You can’t say, “I got saved, dear Citibank. Jesus forgives debt, you should, too.” You know? (Laughter) They’ll send you a letter back saying, “We’re old covenant. You’re on your own.” You know? (Laughter) “You gotta pay us back.” So your financial debt isn’t automatically erased when you become a Christian, right? But your spiritual debt, which is bigger, more scary, lasts forever and could send you to hell – that one is forgiven in total, past, present, and future debt when you become a Christian.
So here’s what we’re gonna do tonight. We’re gonna get at least as happy and grateful for the canceling of the spiritual debt as we would the financial debt. And the reason maybe some of us don’t have such a sense of urgency or significance is because we don’t get the bill in the mail every month from God. “That was 147 sins this month, and I knew your thought life, and now you’re in big trouble.” You’re like, “Oh, this is – this is not good. I’m deep in the hole. And next month isn’t gonna get any better, and I got trouble.” You know, if we got that bill every month, boy, the death of Jesus would really – as a ransom that would mean a lot to us.
So let’s tonight – let’s be honest and let’s acknowledge our sin and our debt to God. And let’s acknowledge that we can’t pay God back. Let’s acknowledge that we need a mediator – that’s Jesus. We need a redeemer to pick up the tab – that’s Jesus. And we need a ransom – and that’s the death of Jesus on the cross, why we love him so much. And let’s give our sin and life to Jesus. Let’s partake of communion, remembering his body and blood, broken and shed to give us new life and to pay the price for our sin, to pay our ransom. Then let’s sing and celebrate and be glad. Let’s give our tithes and offerings and let’s give our lives and bodies and futures to Jesus. And let us – let us celebrate with gladness that, okay, perhaps our financial debt is still present, but our spiritual debt, which is really a more cumbersome, large, and pressing matter, is forgiven, paid in full in Jesus. And that’s great news, something to celebrate.
So I’ll go ahead and pray, and then you will have an opportunity to take communion, to pray and to sing, and to give your tithes and offerings.
Lord Jesus, I thank you so much that you are the fulfillment of the longing of Job – a mediator to put a hand on people and to put a hand on God, and to work out the relationship with reconciliation. And Jesus, I thank you that you prayed that our spiritual debts would be forgiven, and I thank you that, more than that, you actually answered your own prayer. We thank you for being our one mediator. We thank you for being our one redeemer. And we thank you that your life is the ransom for our life and sin. And Jesus, I confess that my sins are great and I – I can’t pay you back. Once the days are gone, once the sins are committed, once the money is blown, once the words are said, I can’t take them back. But I thank you that you have forgiven me and love me, and that through your death on the cross my past, present, and future sins have been forgiven, my debt has been canceled, and I have been freed. And I pray that for all my friends who are gathered here tonight. I pray that that burden of debt would be lifted and that that joy of new life would come. And we ask this in your good name. Amen.