Judge William L. Dawson presides over a municipal courtroom in East Cleveland. He made national news this weekend when he took a group of young men out into the neighborhood to shovel the sidewalks of the elderly. The reason Good Morning America ran the story is because the young men Judge Dawson worked with were convicts he had sentenced to jail and to community service. When asked why he had handed down the sentence he said, “my only real goal is to help the community.” Judge Dawson’s mission statement is on his webpage. He writes, “So the mission and call of the East Cleveland Court is to use our judicial reach to be active ‘Cycle Breakers’ in the community.” What is a cycle breaker? According to the judge: “If you help or inspire people to better their lives, you are a Cycle Breaker. It doesn’t matter how much you do or how long you’ve been doing it. It doesn’t matter if today is your first day or if you’ve been helping change lives for twenty years. There is no test to pass, no license to earn, no membership to buy. You just do your part to help and inspire people to Break Cycles.” I don’t know if Judge Dawson has a personal relationship with Jesus or whether his life is motivated by God’s Spirit, but his effort to redeem convicts sure sounds likes God’s effort to redeem souls.
The word “redemption” is not used very often anymore unless it is the Easter season. The world often defines the word in conjunction with using a coupon or travel voucher. Yet redemption was central to the life and ministry of Jesus. Christ’s mission statement can be found in Matthew 20:28. Jesus said, “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” The reason Judge Dawson’s story interested me is that he didn’t just pass down community service as a judgment on those young convicts. The judge showed up on Saturday, his own free time, took up a shovel and cleared those walkways alongside the young men he had sentenced. Judge Dawson grew up on those same streets, apparently ran into the same obstacles and temptations as the convicts, and chose to step out of trouble into a position of influence. He hopes to change the direction these young men have chosen, so that the cycle of crime, punishment and failure can be broken. God stepped into our world to be a “cycle breaker” as well.
Paul was talking about his own life, probably remembering the many times he had torn Christians away from their homes, their families and sometimes their right to life, when he wrote his letter to Timothy. He told his young student, “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners — of whom I am the worst” (1 Timothy 1:15). Satan used Paul to destroy a lot of lives before Jesus used him to lead countless billions to salvation. Paul’s life was redeemed on the Road to Damascus (Acts 9) and his inspired teaching is still leading others to faith in Christ today. Paul knew what it meant to be redeemed and the redemption of the unsaved became the sacrificial goal of his life.
I don’t think about my own redemption often enough. Truthfully, when I became a Christian my old life didn’t look that much different than my redeemed life. I was raised in a Christian home and was taught to value the teaching of God’s word. It is a good spiritual exercise to be reminded that my life would probably look very different if I had not been redeemed, and my eternal life certainly looks different. Why should we take some time to focus on our redemption?
I like Oswald Chamber’s answer to that question. He said, “Redemption means that Jesus Christ can put into any man the disposition that ruled his own life.” Consider what your life might look like if you had not been redeemed. Then spend the days to come, gratefully ruled by the disposition of Christ.