We may wonder about how other people in our lives and in society in general evaluate us. A more important question, though, especially because of our sinfulness, is what value we have for God. Our text tells us that we are so valued in God’s sight that the Son of God gave his life to restore us to fellowship with God. This was, in fact, God’s plan “before the foundation of the world.”
What are you worth? That’s quite a personal question, and you may or may not have wondered or worried about it. I’m guessing, though, that most people have asked themselves that at one time or another: “How much difference do I make in the grand scheme of things?” There are a few who are sure they’re the most valuable person in the world, but most of us have more modest views of ourselves. For all of us, our reading today from First Peter suggests an answer to that question of human value.
What are you worth? Well, the chemicals that make up your body have some value. A few years ago, an estimate of the market value of all the chemical elements in an adult male human body was about $160.1 (That includes the costs for all the necessary chemical processing.) A lot more money could be gotten by selling your vital organs on the black market. (Such sales are illegal in the United States and most of the world.) That could bring in a fair bit of money, but at the cost of your life.
But of course, when you wonder what you’re worth, you have in mind much more than just the value of the physical stuff you’re made of. Your life is far more than that, more even than whatever assets you own and the money you might be earning. What is the living, breathing, thinking, believing, loving you worth?
Considering some speculative scenarios might help you think about that question: If you had some life-threatening condition, how much money would be spent on a rare and expensive drug or a complicated series of operations to keep you alive? If you were kidnapped by terrorists, how large a ransom would anyone be willing to pay to free you?
You’re probably thinking that those things aren’t likely to happen, and in the ordinary course of events in this world you’d be right. But in the larger scheme of things, matters are different. In an important way they already have happened.
You and I and all of us have been infected with the deadly disease of sin and are threatened with spiritual death. We have all been led astray by the seductive temptations of evil, have wandered away from God and can’t find our way back on our own. That has been the human condition pretty much from the beginning of our species. It’s what the Bible’s story of Adam and Eve and the serpent, which is really the story of all of us, is about. So, the question about your worth takes on a more profound form; what are you worth to God? What does God think it’s worth to bring you back into fellowship with himself?
Our text from First Peter provides an answer to that question. “You were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver and gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish.” That reference to “futile ways of your ancestors” wasn’t a personal criticism of the converts’ forebears but simply a recognition that they, like us, were members of a humanity that had long been estranged from God. The point is that to win you back to fellowship with himself, God was willing to send his own Son into a world of sinners, and that Son of God willingly carried out his mission, suffering and dying on a cross.
First Peter is a letter written for new converts to the Christian faith back in the first century, but “you” in that passage isn’t limited to them. Christ died and rose again for all people of the world, past, present and future, because God wants “everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”2
And yet, if you had been the only person who wandered away, Christ would have done the same for you. Remember that story he told about the shepherd who leaves 99 sheep safely at home and goes out into the wilderness to find and bring home the one sheep that had gotten lost.3 That tells you something about your value in God’s sight.
Why has God done this? The letter goes on to tell us. It was so that we might “trust in God, who raised [Christ] from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are set on God.” Trusting in God and having our hope in him means that we are restored to our proper relationship with God. It is our proper relationship with God. Like the sheep that was lost, we’ve been brought back home. It was to bring us home to God that Christ was given for us.
Jesus “was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification,” Paul wrote. “If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”4 That well sums up the gospel message of salvation.
But we’re curious people and may wonder, “How does that work? How do the death and resurrection of Christ save us?” Well, the language of being “ransomed” in our text suggests a payment to free a person who had been held captive. The reference a bit later to Christ as “a lamb without defect or blemish” refers to the animal sacrifices that people of the first century were familiar with.
Those can be helpful images, and preachers often use them to get across the significance of the passion of Christ. In fact, that’s what I’m doing here with the ransom idea. But problems arise if we try to make them or any other image into a detailed theory about what Christ had to do to reconcile us to God. Christ did not save us by satisfying some legal conditions or the requirements of a religious ritual. He saved us by dying at the hands of sinners like us who were threatened by the way he proclaimed and lived out God’s forgiveness and acceptance of sinners, and then rising from the dead to show that, despite human sin, God still forgives and accepts us.
There is another kind of concern beyond feelings that people may have about their individual value. In a universe as vast as the one we now know about, with multitudes of planetary systems in just our one galaxy among billions of galaxies, why would we think that the humans on our little planet would even matter to God? One of the psalmists, considering the moon and stars in the night sky, asked God, “What are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?”5
The answer is that vast as the universe is, the God we’re speaking of is its Creator. It is the Creator who has given humans their place of honor, as well as responsibility, on earth.
And in creating a world with intelligent creatures who would grow, ask questions, explore and try different things, God knew that humanity would “[wander] off to find where demons dwell.”6 Sin did not come upon God unawares, and the cross of Christ is not God’s Plan B. It is part of Plan A — “He was destined before the foundation of the world,” our text says.
And you are a valued part of God’s Plan A.
1 “What is your body worth?” DataGenetics, www.datagenetics.com/blog/april12011/ .
2 1 Timothy 2:4.
3 Luke 15:4-7.
4 Romans 4:25 and 10:9.
5 Psalm 8:4.
6 John C. Ylvisaker, “Borning Cry,” #732, v.1, in Evangelical Lutheran Worship (Augsburg Fortress, 2006).