First the Kingdom part 31, “Freedom”
Today’s topic has long been a favorite of mine. I grew up in the sixties, when many young people were seeking freedom from the constraints of society. The civil rights movement, and the Vietnam war was largely in the news and pressing on our minds. The pressure to get a job and find a career also was one more thing to infringe upon a young persons sense of freedom. All of this gave birth to the hippy movement with its search for freedom of thought and action, expressed powerfully in the music of that time.
While all of this appealed to me back then, it was not long until I realized the search for freedom can become a trap and form of bondage in itself. It was at this point that I cried out to God and finally found the freedom that I really and truly needed the most.
The thread of this topic goes all the way back to the beginning. Adam and Eve in the garden knew freedom as it had not been known since before the fall. And yet, they had one restriction placed upon them. That one restriction must have weighed on their minds and distracted them from what they already could so easily and freely enjoy at the hand of their Creator.
Think of it! They had the very priviledge of walking and talking with God in the cool of the day! And yet they were not truly free internally. They wanted their independance from their Creator, to decide for themselves what was good or evil, right or wrong. This led to the loss of their external freedom in a sense as they were thrust out of Paradise.
The pursuit of freedom to fulfill our own fleshly desires has always brought us to bondage in the end. Yet God in His great love for His creation has always had a plan. He chose Noah to preserve the human race from the judgment of the great flood. He chose Abraham to begin a great family of faithful believers through whom He would teach the world of His ways.
When they found themselves under the oppression of Egypt, they cried out unto the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He raised up Moses to deliver them, and through mighty signs, wonders and miracles freed them from slavery. Yet, even as he was leading them out of Egypt it was discovered that much of Egypt was still in them!
After 40 years a new generation would take on the task of conquering the Land of Promise. Jehovah had intended for this nation to become a kingdom of priests, but the majority rejected this priviledge, which was accepted by the tribe of Levi. He also wanted to be their King, but they wanted an earthly king instead. The true freedom of living fully in the Kingdom of Heaven would be a long way off.
By the time of the New Testament, they had been conquered and occupied by Babylon, Greece and finally Rome. But many continued to cling to the promises from God through His prophets, that a glorious time would come, where all nations would look to them to be taught the wonderful ways of their God. In Nebukanezzers dream, it was revealed to Daniel that the power of all previous kingdoms would be destroyed by their Messiah, depicted as a Great Rock descending from the Mountain of God!
From this they envisioned a great military leader who would crush the power of their oppressors, not a humble Lamb who would offer His Life for their sins. When the angel told Joseph of Christ’s birth, he said, “You shall call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins.”
Then Jesus began His public ministry. Instead of raising an army, He urgently called for the people to repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand. This was the very same Kingdom that Daniel referred too when He said, “In the days of these kings, the God of Heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed!”
However, His description of this Kingdom was not like what most had pictured in their minds. In His primary claim of fulfilling the scriptures, He read from Isaiah 61:1-2.
Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. 15 He taught in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.
He 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. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
“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,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
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, and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” NIV
In Leviticus 25 we are told that every 50th year was to be a time of restoration and freedom, known as the year of Jubilee. The inscription on our Liberty Bell in Philadelphia is a reference to this year as written in Leviticus 25:10:
“proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof”
We don’t know how many times in the history of Israel this year was observed, but by the time of Christ it must have been long overdue! In any case, the people in His home town were outraged by His claiming to be the Messiah and that He would be the one to declare the year of jubilee!
He would continue to describe a Kingdom that was not like any other kingdom. Its rulers would be servants, rather than lords. It would be a realm where compassion and love ruled. It was one that you could not even tell when and from where it was coming. It would be a domain where God would change stony hearts into warm and tender hearts. He would write His laws into their hearts and minds, and all would know Him!
He did not just come to save His people from Rome, but to save them from their sins. The freedom that He came to bring was true freedom for them to live as God had planned for them from the beginning. In fact, the root word for His Name in Hebrew actually means, “to be open and free.”
God cares for the whole person, spirit, soul and body. He also cares about our physical circumstances, but the freedom He brings starts inside of us. We are truly changed from the inside out. This becomes evident as our circumstances often change because of changes in our behavior. The law of love that is written on our hearts and minds guides us in our decisions, and the Holy Spirit empowers us to follow through with those decisions!
To the Jews who had believed him, 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.” NIV
So hearing, receiving, understanding and following the truth is critical to obtaining and maintaining freedom. Is it possible to be a Christian and have your sins forgiven, but still not live the full, abundant life and in the fulness of the freedom that Christ has brought us? It would seem so. As believers our justification is finished, but our sanctification is on going.
While it is crucial for us to believe Jesus when He said that the time for the kingdom had come, it is equally important to believe Him when He said there is more to come! We are being changed from glory to glory!
Paul wrote in his letter to the Ephesians of this battle we are waging against evil. He also wrote this in his letter to the Galatians:
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1 NIV)
While people at that time were trying to bring them under the law of circumcision, I would suggest that a great number of things are attempting to enslave us today!
He continues, Galatians 5:13-26:
You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.
So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.
The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other. NIV
The Thread of Freedom runs through the entire bible, beginning in Genesis
The great struggle against slavery is depicted in Exodus, with Moses leading his people to freedom
The freedom won by Moses was difficult to maintain, as the people were often unfaithful to God
Jesus came to win the final victory over the source of bondage — sin!
In the New Covenant we are free by the grace of God working from the inside out.
We are called to stand in His freedom by living and walking in the Spirit of God, bearing His fruits!
So hear we are, living, growing and learning of Him, being encouraged by these words of Paul:
Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God — this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will. NIV
This is Kingdom life, this is true freedom!
And yet, there is one more point on standing fast in the Freedom that Christ has won for us: I personally have found that my freedom is related to the freedom of others. One of the best proofs we are truly living and walking in the Spirit is found in our concern for the freedom of others.
True freedom is experienced as we share the love of God with others!