“They are your servants and your people, whom you have redeemed by your great power and by your strong hand” (Nehemiah 1:10).
THE PEOPLE OF JERUSALEM OF WHOM NEHEMIAH SPOKE HAD BEEN DELIVERED FROM THEIR CAPTIVITY IN BABYLON. But this deliverance, as great as it was, foreshadowed a much greater deliverance: the redemption of the human race from slavery to sin.
To “redeem” is to rescue someone from a plight in which they are helpless to deliver themselves. In Nehemiah’s day, the Jewish exiles who had returned to Jerusalem had been able to do so only because God made it possible. So Nehemiah could pray to God, “They are your servants and your people, whom you have redeemed.”
When it comes to the matter of our sins against God, none of us can deliver ourselves from the consequences of those sins. No amount of moral effort would ever be enough to restore the innocence we had before we sinned. Our efforts are good as far as they go, but a whole lifetime of self-improvement would not be enough. Our sins have alienated us from our Creator, and that alienation is a wide gulf we are simply not able to bridge by our own diligence.
But just as it was by God’s “great power” and “strong hand” that the Jews were delivered from Babylon, the same strength is sufficient to bring us out from the captivity of sin and death. Indeed, the power required to deal with sin is greater than what was needed to release the Jews from Babylon. In both cases, however, it is God’s power. He is our Deliverer just as much as He is our Creator.
So heaven will not be for those who have earned it by their own success in being good people; it will be for those who have been rescued by the Great Redeemer. Will we accept this rescue or reject it? Answering that question is the most crucial challenge we will ever face in our passage through this world. But we need not make it harder than it is. Jesus waits eagerly to welcome us to His forgiveness. He is not looking for perfect people. He is looking for sinful people humble enough to see how much they need His forgiveness.
“If I had the wisdom of Solomon, the patience of John, the meekness of Moses, the strength of Samson, the obedience of Abraham, the compassion of Joseph, the tears of Jeremiah, the poetic skill of David, the prophetic voice of Elijah, the courage of Daniel, the greatness of John the Baptist, the endurance and love of Paul, I would still need redemption through Christ’s blood, the forgiveness of sin” (R. L. Wheeler).