Once I went to a Christian bookstore near my house to buy books, but for some reason on this occasion I was attracted by the display of religious trinkets that is always a feature of such establishments. They had crosses on sale that were made from the wood of olive trees from Bethlehem! So I impulsively decided to buy one.
As I approached the cash register, I had a mischievous thought. I asked the shopkeeper if it was true that Jesus had indeed paid the full price on the cross. It was as if a little light turned on inside him. “Oh yes!” he proclaimed emphatically, “Jesus paid the full price on the cross!” Then he prodigiously quoted several Bible verses while the rest of the staff and the customers gathered around. He concluded by saying, “Hallelujah, AMEN!” and stood there, beaming.
“Well then,” I said, turning the cross over in my hands, “It’s a shame He didn’t come here, because it’s only four dollars and sixteen cents with tax!”
The store erupted in gales of laughter! It really broke the ice, and it took me a while to extract myself from the ensuing fellowship so I could go home.
This reading from the Psalms made me think of this incident:
Why should I be afraid in evil days,
when the wickedness of those at my heels surrounds me,
The wickedness of those who put their trust in their goods,
and boast of their great riches?
We can never ransom ourselves,
or deliver to God the price of our life;
For the ransom of our life is so great,
that we should never have enough to pay it,
In order to live for ever and ever,
and never see the grave.
Jesus said that all the scriptures spoke of Him, and today we see He is right. Truly, as the psalmist proclaims, we cannot save ourselves any more than a drowning man can climb the waves of the sea as a staircase and walk to safety. I know, I was a drowning man once. We are tiny creatures in this vast and ancient universe. We often cannot tell right from wrong, or good from evil. We are easily confused, and we have a bent toward making wrong decisions. We are distracted by our lusts and passions, often sacrificing long-term good for short-term pleasure. It is certainly the height of folly to suppose that any of us could figure out, within the short span of our lives, the path to glory or climb it. Even if we could do that, we are not worthy of that glory.
It is obvious that we cannot save ourselves, we need someone to save us.
Notice that in this passage, “ransom ourselves” and “deliver the price are life” are two ways of saying the same thing. This is called “parallelism,” and is a feature of Hebrew poetry.
In a normal ransom situation, X has the money and Y has the person. They swap. Then X has the person and Y has the money. In this psalm, the captive and the ransom are the same thing. We can’t pay the ransom, because we can’t give someone something they already have. This is not about an actual ransom; it’s about an impossibility.
But God will ransom my life;
he will snatch me from the grasp of death.
How can God bail us out of the prison of the Law? The same way that any prisoner is freed from any prison: through the satisfaction of the law’s demands. God did that by sending His only begotten Son, the first-born, unblemished One, an infinitely perfect sacrifice on our behalf. (See Hebrews 9:1-28)
Now another thought based on this psalm. Cynicism is all the rage these days. Most people believe we are living in evil days, and they believe the days will get “eviler” before they get better. Can anyone think of a good reason to fear the future? Has not God provided for us in the past? Perhaps not in the manner to which we would like to become accustomed, but were we not purified and empowered by adversity before? Has God changed?
Most Christians today live in nations where a person with a water faucet in his house is considered wealthy, yet look at how we greedily demand even more of God. I have read that there was a gate in the city wall of Jerusalem called the Eye of the Needle. I don’t know if that’s true, but it does make for an interesting thought: In order for camels to pass through it, they have to be completely unloaded and then they had to pass through on their knees. Anyone who is reading this is wealthy by any reasonable global standard. Will God make us pass through the Eye of the Needle? Are we so enamored of our physical possessions, our financial prosperity, and our bodily comfort that we must enter the city of God through the Eye of the Needle, where we must cast off all our riches and enter on our knees?
If this means that hard times are coming, it is time to see these things in proper perspective so that you will be prepared.