Truly no man can ransom another, or give to God the price of his life, for the ransom of their life is costly and can never suffice, that he should live on forever and never see the pit. (Psa 49:7-9)
Psalm 49 holds great Christological significance for us as we prepare our hearts for resurrection Sunday. Verses 7-9 should shatter any hope that it is possible for us to accomplish our own salvation or to preserve ourselves from death.
The Bible is clear: All people die. When the Lord warned Adam regarding the forbidden fruit in Genesis 2:17, “in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die,” He spoke of a spiritual death that would culminate in physical death. The death that Adam brought into the world spread to all men because all sinned (Rom 5:12).
The Bible is equally clear that all people face judgment. Because of sin, “it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment” (Heb 9:27). We will all stand before the judgement seat of God (Rom 14:10). The penalty for sin is death and all men deserve this punishment (Rom 3:10-18;6:23).
Some may think that it must be a simple matter to rectify this situation. “After all, everything is for sale. You just have to find the right price, make a deal with God. Surely, God can be bought, right? If not with money, then surely with good works?” Of course, the Bible does not allow for such bargains, as we’ve already seen in Psa 49:7-9. Yet many, many people are banking on making a deal with God.
Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York City, handed every preacher in America a gift-wrapped sermon illustration this week when he said, “I am telling you if there is a God, when I get to heaven I’m not stopping to be interviewed. I am heading straight in. I have earned my place in heaven. It’s not even close.” Though Bloomberg is one of the wealthiest people in the country, he was not referring to the ability to buy his way into heaven with money. He made the above statement regarding his work to eradicate smoking, guns, and obesity. That is, in his estimation he has done enough good works to earn his way into heaven.
Most of the noise about his comments this week was not over the bad theology, but that he had the nerve to think he had done enough good works. That should tell us that Bloomberg is not alone in the belief that a person can earn heaven.
But the psalmist indicates that this is impossible. No man can ransom another. No man can give to God the price of his life. No ransom can ever suffice, whether in the form of money or good works. There is not enough money in the world nor enough good works imaginable to purchase our freedom from the penalty of sin.
Why is that? Because of the infinite holiness of God every sin that we commit is infinitely offensive to Him. Our finite good works can never pay off an infinite sin debt. For that reason, no person has the power to ransom his own life or the life of another.
We might expect the rest of the psalm to be one of complete hopelessness, but it is not. V15 reads, But God will redeem my life from the power of Sheol, for He will take me. We couldn’t redeem or ransom ourselves, but God could. He sent His eternal Son to the earth to live as a man. Perfectly. Without sin. By living a righteous life He qualified Himself to serve as a spotless sacrifice for our sin. He was crucified by sinful men, taking upon Himself the sin of the world. Three days later He was raised from the dead, proving that His payment was sufficient to buy our freedom from death and sin.
But what about v7 - "truly no man can ransom another"? So how could Christ ransom us? He was a man, but He was also God. And being God, He was infinitely righteous. And that infinite righteousness was sufficient to pay our infinite sin debt. Certainly, a normal, sinful man could never ransom himself or another. But a sinless, infinitely righteous God-man could. And did. The sin debt is paid for all who repent of their sin and trust in Christ for salvation.
This Sunday we will celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. May our minds be focused on its significance as we approach Sunday. What we could never do for ourselves God did for us in Christ.
But God will redeem my life from the power of Sheol… (Psalm 49:15)