Sunday, July 11, 2010

Free Indeed

We're a week past the 4th of July weekend so I'm a little late to be celebrating the Independence of our country. Then again, it's never to late to be thankful for the freedom that we have in this great nation. Since the blog just went up today, I'm going to post this late or not. I'd like to start with a brief account by Washington Irving regarding "The Declaration of Independence".

While danger was gathering round New York, and its inhabitants were in mute suspense and fearful anticipations, the General Congress at Philadelphia was discussing, with closed doors, what John Adams pronounced, "The greatest question ever debated in America, and as great as ever was or will be debated among men." The result was, a resolution passed unanimously on the 2nd of July - "that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States."
"The 2nd of July," adds the same patriot statesman, "will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to Almighty God. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forth forevermore."
The glorious event has, indeed, given rise to an annual jubilee - but not on the day designated by Adams. The FOURTH of July is the day of national rejoicing, for on that day the "Declaration of Independence," that solemn and sublime document, was adopted.
Tradition gives a dramatic effect to its announcement. It was known to be under discussion, but the closed doors of Congress excluded the populace. They awaited, in throngs, an appointed signal. In the steeple of the State House was a bell, imported twenty-three years previously from London by the Provincial Assembly of Pennsylvania. It bore the portentous text from Scripture: "Proclaim Liberty throughout all the land, unto all the inhabitants thereof." A joyous peal from that bell gave notice that the bill had been passed. It was the knell of British domination.
The text on the Liberty Bell is taken from

Leviticus 25:10-12 (NIV)
10 Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you; each one of you is to return to his family property and each to his own clan.
11 The fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you; do not sow and do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the untended vines.
12 For it is a jubilee and is to be holy for you; eat only what is taken directly from the fields.

1400 years before Christ, God gave the Israelites a beautiful symbol of the liberty and freedom that would come through the promised Messiah. The Israelites were commanded to set aside every 50th year as a year of liberty and freedom. In the year of jubilee all slaves were to be set free, anyone who had sold property to pay debts would receive their property back, the people would rest from their work, and even the land would be left to rest. Imagine a whole year of freedom from debt and work! Who here would like to take a year off work and have all your debts forgiven? It sounds pretty good doesn't it? Can you just imagine calling up MasterCard and saying, "Uh yeah, this is Chris Lee and I'm just letting you know I won't be paying my bills this year because it's jubilee. Okay…..great…….thank you. Have a good year!"

One of Israel's greatest prophets, Isaiah, also wrote about the year of jubilee and the coming Messiah. 700 years after Isaiah's prophecy, Jesus of Nazareth declared that he was the long awaited Messiah and that he had come to fulfill these Old Testament symbols:

Luke 4:16-21 (NIV)
16 [Jesus] went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read.
17 The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
18 "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."
20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him,
21 and he began by saying to them, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing."

Jesus set the prisoners free. Jesus came to bring true freedom to you and me. And today, I would like to spend some time thinking about the liberty and freedom that we have in Jesus Christ. The freedom we have in Christ isn't a freedom that only comes once every 50 years, but a freedom that is ours everyday for all eternity.

Like the Liberty Bell, Jesus proclaimed the knell of sin's domination. The passage I would like to focus on this morning is a little like the Declaration of Independence in that it is a bold proclamation of freedom. But what exactly did Jesus give us freedom from? Let's take a look at Jesus' words. If you have a Bible this morning please turn with me to the Gospel of John, chapter 8, beginning with verse 31.

John 8:31-36 (NIV)
31 To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.
32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."
33 They answered him, "We are Abraham's descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?"
34 Jesus replied, "I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.
35 Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever.
36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

So Jesus is talking with a group of his fellow Israelites. We're told that these Jewish people had "believed" in him. However, it becomes apparent from their words and Jesus' response to them, especially later in the chapter, that they weren't really true followers. I suspect that this was a group of people who had latched onto the latest hot thing. You see, the Jews had been looking for their Messiah for a long time. In Jesus' day it had become almost a national sport to play pin the tail on the Messiah. The Jews were looking for a leader that would help them throw off the rule of the Romans. People would speculate that this person or that person was the Messiah and would rally around them only to discover that they were just another failed revolutionary.

Jesus was, no doubt, seen by many to be just another in a long line of false Messiahs. Others had pinned there hopes on him being the one who would defeat the Romans and bring independence to Israel. They wanted to be free of Rome, but very few were looking for a Messiah that would bring a completely different kind of freedom. I suspect the Jews that Jesus was talking to had rallied around him as someone who might lead a political revolution.

Jesus dashed these hopes when he said, ""If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples." I think Jesus was telling them that it wasn't enough to just say they were his followers. They would show that they were truly his followers when they actually listened to what he said and followed his teaching. I'm sure this crowd that had such high hopes of using Jesus for their own ends would have heard this as a rebuke. Jesus wasn't teaching revolution and war, he was teaching love for God and love for their fellow man. What kind of revolution would be built on love?

I think there is a lesson here for us as well. Many people over the years have called themselves Christians. In fact, people who claimed the name Christian have been involved in some of the worst atrocities in history like the crusades, the inquisition, the Bosnian massacres, and other outrages. Anyone can claim the name of Christ, but the world will only know if we are really his disciples if we follow his teachings. We have a responsibility to represent Jesus to the world. Are you showing Jesus' love to the world in your daily life and your daily interactions? What does the way you live tell others about Christ? Can the world see that you truly are one of Jesus disciples?

Well first Jesus insulted this group of people by suggesting that they might not truly be his disciples, then added fuel to the fire by saying, "Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."

Now this might seem like an innocuous statement, but it was really a statement with more explosive power than a M80. When Jesus said, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. *Then* you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." He was claiming to be the source of truth; in fact, he was claiming to be Truth itself and the one who would set them free. The Jews knew well that God is the only ultimate source of truth and for a man to claim this was blasphemy, that is, unless this man was God Himself. So not only is Jesus saying something that most of the people around him consider to be blasphemous, but he is also implying that these people are enslaved.

Despite the fact, that the Jews of this time were living under the iron fist of Rome, despite the fact that they had lived under the domination of foreign powers during many points in their history, they refused to admit that they were enslaved and found the mere suggestion offensive. This seems contradictory since they knew they needed a Messiah to fight the Romans, but still refused to admit how deeply enslaved they were. The explanation for this dichotomy can be found in the Israelites national pride. The Israelites knew they were God's favored nation, heirs to the promises made to their ancestor Abraham. As such, they felt smug and superior to all around them. Rather than showing the light of God to the surrounding nations, they treated everyone who wasn't Jewish with contempt. Their identity was completely defined by their national pride, their ethnicity, and their heritage. As far as they were concerned, it didn't matter who had political power, they as Israelites were still superior to any gentile. So they replied angrily, "We are Abraham's descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?"

This response sounds as if these people were in deep denial, but I wonder how often we are guilty of the same kind of blind national pride. Don't misunderstand me; I believe we live in the greatest nation on earth. I am blessed beyond measure to have been born in the United States of America. I thank God that I am an American. Tomorrow I will celebrate with my fellow countrymen and I will again thank God for this great nation. But because we live in such a blessed nation, we as Americans are at risk of feeling smug and superior to those who aren't American. I know because, quite honestly, I have sometimes felt that way. Instead of seeing our primary identity as who we are in Christ we are sometimes endanger of completely defining ourselves by our nationality. We are in danger of thinking that our freedom comes from our nationality rather than acknowledging that true freedom ultimately comes from God. So perhaps there is a lesson here in this story. While we should thank God for the blessing that we have in this country, we should always remember that our ultimate citizenship is in the Kingdom of Christ. The blessings we are given should be used to help others who are in bondage come into the freedom of the Kingdom.

If Jesus' last remark was a firecracker, his reply is a full bore Zambelli fireworks extravaganza.

34 Jesus replied, "I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.
35 Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever.
36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

Jesus tells these people straight out that they are slaves, whether they want to admit it or not, because they are sinners. He points out that a slave isn't really a part of the family. When we are dead in our sins, we're in slavery. As slaves to sin we're separate from God's family. But amazingly, the King of the entire universe has provided a way of adoption. When we accept Jesus Christ as our savior, our sin is forgiven, washed away, and we receive adoption into the family of God. We become adopted sons and daughters of God through Jesus Christ the Son. As members of the family we are truly free.

The first part of Jesus' statement probably sounded radical enough by itself, but the real gun powder was in the final line, "If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed." In calling Himself "The Son" Jesus is reaffirming his claim to being the Son of God. Now in Jewish culture this meant something very specific, something different then it would mean in our culture. In Jewish culture, people were often identified by their father's name. For instance, I would be "Chris, son of Lynn Ray". To be someone's son was to be equal with that person. The son would do what the father did. If the father was a carpenter, the son was a carpenter. If the father was a banker, the son was a banker. If the father was royalty, the son was royalty. The son received all the rights, privileges, power, and possessions that the father had. So in Jewish culture to call yourself the Son of God was to say that you were equal to God, did the things that only God could do, and had all the rights, privileges, power, and possessions of God. Jesus, as God the Son, was claiming to be equal with God the Father and therefore God Himself.

If we had time this morning to study a little more of this chapter we would see that Jesus presses His claim of deity so strongly that the whole conversation ends with the Jews attempting to stone him to death for claiming to be God. Like the people listening to Jesus at that time, we too have a choice to make. Jesus stood before them and claimed to be the source of all truth. He claimed to be God and offered them adoption into his family. He offered them freedom from sin. We can choose to be offended by these claims to deity. We can choose to be offended by being called sinners and deny that we are slaves. Or we can accept Jesus for who he says he is and receive the forgiveness, adoption, and freedom he offers.

I would like to spend the last bit of our time together today talking about the freedom we have in Christ. If you have not yet accepted Christ, this freedom is offered to you as a free gift. Today can be your Independence Day. If you've already accepted Christ, this is an opportunity to pull out the firecrackers and joyfully celebrate the freedom we live in every day in Christ.

First, Jesus has already freed us from the penalty of sin at the cross. If you have accepted Jesus as your savior you are completely justified before God. Through Christ's perfect sacrifice, the penalty of sin, death, has been paid in full.

Romans 8:1-2 (NIV)
1 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,
2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.

Jesus is currently freeing us from the power of sin in our lives.

1 Peter 2:16 (NIV)
16 Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God.

God has made us free to serve him. God's work of sanctification in our life means we no longer need to be in bondage to the sin that once enslaved us and sentenced us to death. The apostle Paul wrote the following to the Christians in Corinth.

1 Corinthians 6:9-11 (NIV)
9 Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders
10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.
11 And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

The greatest part of this whole passage is the line, "and that is what some of you *WERE*". Some of you WERE! In other words, no matter what kind of sin you struggle with, you are no longer defined by that sin or that behavior. You have a new identity. You are defined by who you are in Christ. You might struggle with sexual temptation, or integrity. You might struggle with substance abuse or other addictions or you might struggle with gossip or with honest business practices. Whatever you struggle with, you are no longer defined or enslaved by that behavior. Jesus has already set you free of the penalty of sin, now he is changing you to set you free of the power of sin. This is an ongoing work in our lives, but we can be sure that Jesus will continue to transform us into the person he plans for us to be.

Philippians 1:6 (NIV)
6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

One day, Jesus will free us from even the presence of sin. In Revelation 21, John describes the new heaven and the new earth that we will experience when Jesus comes again. John writes,

Revelation 21:1-5a (NIV)
1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.
2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.
3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.
4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away."
5 He who was seated on the throne said, "I am making everything new!"

I am so thankful for the freedom I have in Jesus. I'm thankful that I've already been freed from the penalty of sin. I'm thankful that Jesus is currently freeing me from the power of sin in my life. I'm excited when I think of the day that Jesus will free us from even the presence of sin. After many years in slavery, I'm so happy to finally be free! I'm so happy to finally know Jesus as the lord of my life. With the apostle Paul I can finally say,

2 Corinthians 3:17 (NIV)
17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

If you have never experienced that kind of freedom, I urge you to make TODAY your Independence Day. You can be truly free today from the penalty of sin, the power of sin, and someday, the presence of sin.

"If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed!"


  1. It surely is by God's grace and sovereignty that our nation enjoys any liberty at all. Apart from Christ we all would be enslaved, physically and spiritually, under despots and sin right now. There is no shortage of tyrants and warlords in this world. Only God, not our fierce independent nature, limits evil and evil men.
    Many believers equate patriotism with faith in God. Yet can anyone envision God standing during the playing of our national anthem?
    I once read that the kings of the Hapsburg dynasty quelled any sentiments of nationalism in order to maintain complete fealty to the king. While I am a patriot I, see my countrymen using their freedom only to follow their sin nature under the "father of all lies" who comes to "steal, kill and destroy". Our fierce independent nature is too easily steered toward doing whatever "seems good" to us at the moment with no regard for God. Then nationalism simply becomes tribalism on a larger scale. Who is King of all the tribes and nations of the earth? Our fealty must be first and foremost to Him.
    I realize I am only rephrasing what you already said Chris. Yet it is so important it bears repeating.

  2. Good comments Vince. We are not citizens of this world, but of a heavenly kingdom. Knowing and understanding that really changes how we think about a multitude of things.