A Sermon by Pastor R. D. Johnson
Preached at the Ann Arbor, MI Free Methodist Church
Scripture Text: Luke 4:17-21 July 5, 2009 Sermon #0164
Yesterday was Independence Day. The day America declared that we did not need England, that we could govern ourselves. The day that started a war that would not be won by the strongest military but by the strongest will.
But did we really become independent? I believe the answer is no. We just depended on one another rather than a country across the ocean. We became one out of many ‘E Pluribus Unum’. If fact it was our strong dependence on one another that enabled us to overcome a much larger and stronger military. The truth is that man was not created to be independent. That is why families, villages, cities, nations and societies form, because it is not good that man should be alone.
What they were really fighting for in the revolution was not independence, but freedom. They fought because something cries out in all men to be free. Free from slavery, free from oppression, free from abuse and persecution. Though some don’t acknowledge it, we were created to be free, free but dependent. Many who fought in the revolution understood the freedom they were fighting for, however many today do not. We have lived too long in the most powerful country in the world to understand what freedom really is.
We don’t seek freedom as our founding fathers did because our country with its great military protects us from oppression. We don’t seek the freedom they did because no other country in the world is able to persecute us. We don’t have freedom in this country because we think we already have it. People don’t look for something they believe they already have.
2 Corinthians 3:17 says, “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (2 Corinthians 3:17)
Some would say America is a Christian nation, or at least founded on Christian principals. So the Spirit of the Lord is here and we have freedom. But whatever we like to claim, that verse is not describing the ‘freedom’ we now have in the United States. It speaks of true freedom.
Most of us celebrate the 4th of July by praising the people who fought to free us from the oppression of England rather than the God who enabled those men to overcome greater odds than they were capable of. And so many Americans are still in bondage. However, those who do have freedom, the Bible says, are being transformed into the likeness of Christ.
What is Freedom?
In March 2001, a little Jewish girl was killed in Hebron on the West Bank while she sat in her stroller. On a wall near where she died, there is a poem in her memory. According to the Chicago Tribune: It is an elegy to her pinchable cheeks, her sweet smile, her kerchiefed cuteness--and to the urgent need of revenge.
"We will take revenge; we will scream for revenge in body and spirit and await the coming of the Messiah," the poem says. (Chicago Tribune (4-04-01))
That is how people thought of the Messiah in Jesus' day, too. And why they were unprepared for a Messiah who preached repentance and faith, who paid little attention to the Romans, who said he would win freedom by dying for sins.
Those who feel the need to scream out for revenge do not live in true freedom, they live in anger and hate, they live in fear. Sadly, in this great country, many proved their lack of freedom after September 11, 2001. When the nation was injured and the sentiment from many was “We will take revenge; we will scream for revenge in the body and spirit until our military pays them back.”
So what is freedom?
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." (Luke 4:17-21)
Jesus was reading from Isaiah 61:1-2. But he stopped before the end of the last sentence. Isaiah actually reads, “to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn,”.
Jesus came to proclaim the Lord’s favor and left off the part about His vengeance. Freedom then is not whether or not you are defended, or avenged for the wrongs done to you. It is when you are released from the penalty for the wrongs you have done to others and to God.
When Jesus said this, the Jews were in bondage to Rome. They were oppressed and that didn’t change until years after Jesus left. So He was clearly NOT speaking of life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness when He said, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
How To Be Free
According to the Bible:
For it is God's will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men. Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God. (1 Peter 2:15-16)
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. (Galatians 5:13)
Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak. (1 Corinthians 8:9)
People do not drift toward holiness. Apart from grace-driven effort, people do not gravitate toward godliness, prayer, obedience to Scripture, faith, and delight in the Lord.
We drift toward compromise and call it tolerance;
We drift toward disobedience and call it freedom;
We drift toward superstition and call it faith.
We cherish the indiscipline of lost self-control and call it relaxation;
We slouch toward prayerlessness and delude ourselves into thinking we have escaped legalism;
We slide toward godlessness and convince ourselves we have been liberated.
(D. A. Carson, quoted in "Reflections," Christianity Today (7-31-00))
This is what the LORD says: "Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength and whose heart turns away from the LORD. He will be like a bush in the wastelands; he will not see prosperity when it comes. He will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives. "But blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him. He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit." (Jeremiah 17:5-8)
French writer Alexis de Tocqueville, after visiting America in 1831, said, "I sought for the greatness of the United States in her commodious harbors, her ample rivers, her fertile fields, and boundless forests--and it was not there. I sought for it in her rich mines, her vast world commerce, her public school system, and in her institutions of higher learning--and it was not there. I looked for it in her democratic Congress and her matchless Constitution--and it was not there. Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits flame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because America is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great!"
This land is great, and those who serve in our military should be honored for sacrificing to provide our security. But freedom only comes from Christ. And the security our military provides is only good if our churches use it to take the gospel everywhere we possibly can.
Take the Gospel Everywhere!
Sharing your faith in five easy steps, the HANDy Gospel.
Thumb – Hitchhiking (Free Ride): Heaven is a free gift, not earned by work or deserved on merit. Simply God’s favor to take me where I can’t get on my own.
Index – Pointer (to pass the blame): I am a sinner and can not save myself. No amount of good work can remove the bad from my life and I must be held accountable for it.
Middle – Highest finger: God is just and must punish my sin, and loving enough that He wants all people to be saved. He solved my problem so that if I will accept His solution, I can be saved from punishment I justly deserve.
Ring – Wedding (The saved are the bride of Christ): Jesus is the infinite God-Man who died to pay for my sin and rose from the dead to purchase a place for me in heaven.
Pinky – Smallest finger: Faith is the little requirement to be saved. Not intellectual ascent or temporary faith, but trusting Jesus with my whole life, that His sacrifice was completely sufficient to clear my debt from sin and to give me eternal life.
This is an easy way to remember how you can walk someone you know through the good news to understand what God has done to save them too.
This independence day, let’s remember to use our freedom to serve others with this love. Tell everyone you know how to live and be truly free.
As we move into our time of remembering the Lord’s sacrifice through communion, watch this tribute video to Twila Paris’ “What Did He Die For”
COMMUNION – All taking elements together
Blessed [are you if you] trust in the LORD, [have] confidence in him. [You] will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.