The Cross and the Slave Market

For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God. 1 Peter 1:18-21

Imagine for a moment: you live under someone else’s control, bought and sold like a piece of property; you have no rights, and very little hope for the future. You’re a slave. For many of Peter’s readers – as for millions around the world today – imagination wouldn’t be required. Slavery would be all too real. And Peter’s language of being ‘redeemed’ would resonate powerfully: short of an owner granting release, freedom would come about only through the payment of a ransom price. Redemption always comes at a cost. In using this imagery to unpack the significance of Jesus’ death, Peter weaves together several strands from the biblical story, echoing especially Israel’s release from slavery in Egypt. The image of the ‘lamb without blemish or defect’ brings to mind the Passover, recalling God’s great act of deliverance. In the case of Peter’s readers, redemption involves a liberation from bondage to an ‘empty way of life’. But such freedom comes with a price – nothing less than ‘the precious blood of Christ’. Notably, God has not stood back and orchestrated deliverance from a distance. He has himself stepped into the situation, and at great personal cost. As Jesus put it, ‘the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many’ (Mark 10:45). Nothing less than his life was required. Nothing less than his life was given. As Peter does elsewhere in this letter, he extends the blessing of God’s redemption to the scattered Christian communities, made up of Gentiles as well as Jews. Although they find themselves on the margins of society, they are brought into the very centre of God’s plan for all things, set in motion ‘before the creation of the world’, in which God has acted on their behalf – ‘for your sake’, Peter tells them, and for ours. Moreover, this act of redemption doesn’t extract us from everyday life. Instead, it’s the ground for Peter’s exhortation ‘to live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear’ (1:17). Christ’s redemptive work is not merely an inspiration for living our lives this way, but the very basis for doing so. Our release from an empty and enslaving way of existence brings with it not the freedom to do as we please, but the freedom to enter service to God – a new Lord, with a new way of living. Antony Billington

Published by Intentional Faith

Devoted to a Faith that Thinks

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