I’ve heard O Come O Come Emmanuel more times than I could possibly count in my lifetime. But at a concert a few nights ago I heard it for the first time: “O Come O Come Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel.” For some reason it clicked: Israel was a captive in need of ransoming. How were those words just now piercing my heart?
For days now, I’ve been replaying that lyric in my mind and thinking through the history: Long before Israel had been promised a Savior- before Israel even existed- the promise of a Savior was given to our first parents in the Garden of Eden: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15).
Scripture tells us that before the foundation of the world, God chose the way of redemption for mankind (1 Peter 1:20, Ephesians 1:4-14). This way was through the life, death, and resurrection of His only begotten Son whom He would send into the world through the creation of a nation, Israel.
Beginning with a covenant with Abraham, the plan began to unfold. The seed of Abraham would grow into a great nation through whom the Messiah would come.
As generations upon generations unfolded, more became known about the coming Messiah. He would open the eyes of the blind and set the captives free. And yet, the captives included Israel. Though Israel was to be a light to the Gentiles and was the one through whom the Messiah would come, she had lost her way; for time and time again, she willingly whored after false gods and idols. She, like the rest of the Gentile world, was in need of rescue from her captivity to sin.
At the time of Jesus’ arrival, many in Israel believed the Messiah would come to rescue them from the tyranny of Roman occupation. They recognized the need for a savior from an oppressive government but failed to see that their greatest captor was sin. Truly, their deepest need was spiritual- not governmental, financial, or physical.
Yet, Christ himself told them why he had come: “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10) and “Even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). He had come to ransom sinners, to buy back those he loved.
And so, obedient to the Father’s plan, Christ gave his life in exchange for a lost lot of rebels- sinners and idolaters of every kind. Taking the punishment for sin upon himself, he purchased his bride’s freedom from captivity. As the Apostle Peter wrote, “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” (1 Peter 1:18-19).
Amazingly, this redemption is also for us. For like Israel, apart from a Savior we are captive to our sin, a people in need of ransoming.
And ransom us he did! The Light born through Israel came into this world so that the world might be saved through him, first for the Jew then for the Gentile (John 3:17, Romans 1:16). Those who trust in Christ alone are counted as Abraham’s seed and are heirs according to the promise (Galatians 3:29). Grafted into the family of God, they are adopted children, fully ransomed sons and daughters. In Christ, this is what we are!
Our great Savior has truly ransomed us- not with a canceled debt, but with a debt paid in full with his own blood. He has purchased our freedom and crushed the head of the serpent. This Christmas, as we again hear O Come O Come Emmanuel, may we rejoice in him, the King of kings, the only One who sets the captives, free.