“Freedom” is a word we hear coming from all corners of our society and around the world. It has been the cry of the human heart for as long as history has been recorded. Most often the word, “Freedom,” causes us to think about people’s desire for freedom from injustice and oppressive governments. People are yearning for, many are praying for freedom in lands like Syria, Iran, China, Burma, and many other places around the world where people are suffering under the heavy hand of oppressive governments.
Connie and I went to see the movie “Selma” a few weeks ago. It was such a powerful movie reminding all of us in the audience of the work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and others in seeking the right to vote for African Americans in the ‘60s. As a result of the marches from Selma to Montgomery, President Johnson signed The Voting Rights Acts on August 6, 1965 giving African Americans the right to vote.
After I watched the movie I got to thinking about another event that took place 100 years prior to President Johnson’s signing of the Voting Rights Act. On January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, liberating slaves in those states which had succeeded from the Union. Frederick Douglass, who had escaped slavery on September 3, 1838, declared that January 1, 1863 was “the most memorable day in American annals.” Even though Frederick knew it was a great day, he also knew that there would be struggles ahead. He said,
The slave will yet remain in some sense a slave, long after the chains are taken from his limbs, and the master will yet retain much of the pride, the arrogance, imperiousness and conscious superiority, and love of power acquired by his former relation as master. Time, necessity, education, will be required to bring all classes into harmonious and natural relations. (Frederick Douglass)
It was Frederick Douglass’ hope that “time, necessity, and education” would bring us all together. As great of a leader as Frederick Douglass was, none of the three ingredients he named will bring us together, but I know what can.
There’s another understanding of freedom that is foremost in many people’s minds today and it is the freedom that was sought by the young man we know as the Prodigal Son. Jesus told the parable in Luke 15:11-32. We won’t read the whole story, but let’s read the opening lines of the story, verses 11-13.
11 Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them. 13 “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. (Luke 15:11-13 NIV)
He didn’t want to live under his father’s roof, under his father’s authority, following his father’s rules; he wanted to be free to call the shots for his own life. His father had to know what would happen, but sometimes lessons “heard” are not as valuable as lessons “lived” so the father gave him his inheritance, hugged his son, and said, “Be careful son. I love you.” The son was free! Free to do what he wanted to do. Free to go where he wanted to go. Free to make every decision he wanted to make without someone telling him what he should do or pointing out the potential pitfalls of decisions not thought through. Well, I have to ask the question I’ve asked many a person who has told me their story of living life the way they wanted to live it and ended up broken and hopeless sitting in my office—“How did that work out for you?” And the Prodigal Son, if he were here this morning, would answer like many others, “It didn’t.”
There is only one path to true freedom and it isn’t freedom from political power or freedom to do whatever we want. The only path to true freedom is total surrender to Jesus Christ. Let’s take a look at our Scripture for this morning found in John 8:30-47.
30 Even as he spoke, many believed in him. 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, “Very truly I tell you, 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. 37 I know that you are Abraham’s descendants. Yet you are looking for a way to kill me, because you have no room for my word. 38 I am telling you what I have seen in the Father’s presence, and you are doing what you have heard from your father. ” 39 “Abraham is our father,” they answered. “If you were Abraham’s children,” said Jesus, “then you would do what Abraham did. 40 As it is, you are looking for a way to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. Abraham did not do such things. 41 You are doing the works of your own father.” “We are not illegitimate children,” they protested. “The only Father we have is God himself.” 42 Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I have come here from God. I have not come on my own; God sent me. 43 Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. 44 You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. 45 Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe me! 46 Can any of you prove me guilty of sin? If I am telling the truth, why don’t you believe me? 47 Whoever belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.” (John 8:30-47 NIV)
We spent all of our time last week taking a look at verses 30-31. It is verse 32 that set off the firestorm of back and forth between Jesus and the crowd. Jesus said, “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
When Jesus was on trial before Pilate, in John 18, He was being questioned by the Roman governor about who He was and what He was doing. Jesus said, “Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” (John 18:37 NIV) In the very next verse Pilate asked the question that is still being asked by countless people today, “What is truth?” (John 18:38a NIV) “Pilate,” says Ravi Zacharias, “walked away from the greatest authority on the greatest question and committed the greatest crime at that time.” Pilate’s problem is still with us today as most people in our time believe that “truth” is subjective, it is defined by each individual. They believe that there is no such thing as transcendent truth, truth that is true regardless of time, place, or culture. You have your “truth” and I have my “truth.” Your truth and my truth may stand in absolute contradiction to one another and yet both are equally true. Do you understand just how absurd that is? That’s like me asking “What’s 10+10?” Someone says, “20,” another says, “15,” and someone else says, “50!” Are all of them true? If you say, “Yes!” then you need to go back to school. Yet, this is the predominant mindset among people today when it comes to “truth.”
One of the best definitions of “truth” that I’ve found comes from R.C. Sproul when he wrote, “Truth is defined as that which corresponds to reality as defined by God, because God’s perception of reality is never distorted. It’s a perfect perception of reality.” (R.C. Sproul) Our understanding of reality is flawed, but God’s understanding of reality is perfect, without flaw. We don’t have all of the information, we draw conclusions that we would swear are right, but how many times have we been proven wrong? God is Sovereign, He is Omniscient, He has all the information, and His conclusions have never been anything short of absolutely, perfectly true.
God desires to make His truth known to you and me. He reveals His truth to you and me and oftentimes it comes to expose those aspects of our life that are destroying us. One of the greatest examples of this is from our Scripture from today. Remember, Jesus said, “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Those in the crowd said,
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, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. (John 8:33-34 NIV)
Before we can ever be free we must first know the truth about God and ourselves. The Jews bristled at the thought that Jesus was inferring that they weren’t free. “We’ve never been slaves of anyone.” Nothing could have been further from the truth. In Exodus 2 they were slaves of Egypt. In the book of Judges, God raised up a deliverer seven times to free them from the hands of the Canaanites. The people of the Northern Kingdom of Israel were carted off by the Assyrians in 721 B.C. The people of the Southern Kingdom of Judah were taken captive in 587 B.C. and served the Babylonians for 70 years. This is a short list of the political powers the Jews had served under during their history. Even while they made the outlandish statement to Jesus they were under the authority of the Romans. James Montgomery Boice writes,
Even as they were talking to Jesus, these men carried coins in their pockets that bore the image of Roman emperors and thereby testified to Rome’s dominion. Yet they said, ‘We have always been free.’ (Boice, James Montgomery. The Gospel of John. Vol. 2. pg. 645.)
Jesus’ accusers were wrong, but He didn’t take the time to point out the powers that had ruled over them because He wasn’t talking about freedom from oppressive governments; He was talking about a far greater, a far more deadly power, the power of sin.
There is an important principle set forth here that we must take the time to recognize or we can fall victim to the same misguided confidence that we see in the Jews of Jesus’ day. The Jews of Jesus’ day found great security in being descendants of Abraham. In John 8:39 they said, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus dealt with this misguided confidence head-on in Matthew 3:9-10 when He said,
9 And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 10 The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. (Matthew 3:9-10 NIV)
The Jews found great comfort in being Abraham’s descendants and their having the Law. The heritage of their past and their day-to-day focus on keeping the Law gave them confidence that they were living lives that were pleasing to God. The truth is that they weren’t keeping the Law. They played mind games to make themselves look better than they really were when it came to keeping the Law. The Law is impossible to keep unless you make parts of it more important than others. Jesus pointed this out in Matthew 23 when He blasted the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law as hypocrites. He said,
23 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices– mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law– justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. (Matthew 23:23 NIV)
It really didn’t matter what Jesus said, their minds were made up. They were convinced that with Abraham in their family tree and their righteous works of keeping the Law their ticket to heaven was in hand! They were like the people of the church in Laodicea who believed one thing about themselves even though they were as wrong as wrong could be. Turn with me to Revelation 3:14-17 and let me show you what I’m talking about. Let’s read together.
14 “To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. 15 I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm– neither hot nor cold– I am about to spit you out of my mouth. 17 You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. (Revelation 3:14-17 NIV)
The Jews said, “We are Abraham’s descendants.” The good church going folks in Laodicea said, “I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.” Did you notice something about both of these groups? Both were very religious. One Jewish, the other Gentile, but both groups considered themselves God’s people. Jesus’ assessment of both groups was that they were as lost as lost could be. They were no more God’s people than the most hardened atheist on the planet. These two groups also highlight for us two of the greatest barriers to being open to receiving the Truth of God.
The Barrier of Religion
The first and greatest barrier to receiving the truth is religion. Religion is the human attempt to please God through good works and morality. We hear people talk about their pseudo security in religion all the time. If you were to ask ten people, “Do you think you will go to heaven when you die?” Most of those who respond will say, “I hope so.” If you probe further, “Why do you think you’ll go to heaven?” They will tell you, “I try to be a good person.” The Bible makes it very clear that our best work won’t work if we want to be made right with God. Isaiah 64:6 tells us,
6 All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. (Isaiah 64:6 NIV)
The Barrier of Wealth
Wealth opens many doors in our society, but it’s not the key to heaven’s gate. Wealth gives many a false sense of security because money, and the power that comes with it, creates the mirage of security and provides many avenues of escape from the cares of life. Let me describe for you what I mean. Let’s say someone we love suddenly has health problems. If we have enough money we can get them in front of the best doctors that money can buy. If we get in trouble with the law and we have deep pockets, then our money can provide for us the best legal counsel in the land. Our money can also, momentarily, help us deal with our dissatisfaction in life. If Mark Zuckerberg is bored with life, dissatisfied with himself, then he can take a trip, buy another house, pick up a new company for a cool $1,000,000,000.00, or leave work early and get a new set of wheels on his way home. You say, “Well, I could never do that.” No, me either, but we can use what we have to distract ourselves rather than recognize that God is trying to show us something about our lives.
We use all kinds of means to deal with the inevitable in life—we are going to die one day and that day is closer now than ever before. John MacArthur wrote,
In a world filled with trouble and turmoil, and with the inevitable reality of death and the afterlife, people long for security. They seek comfort, stability, a positive outlook for the future, a sense of purpose, and hope after death. Also, whether conscious of it or not, they yearn to ease the crushing burden that dominates life. (MacArthur, John. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: John 1-11. pg. 364.)
Jesus let the Jews of His day know that they were captives of sin and their only hope of freedom was to come to the truth. Freedom from sin wouldn’t come to the descendants of Abraham unless they came to the truth. Freedom from sin wouldn’t come to the wealthy patrons of the First Church of Laodicea unless they came to the truth. Freedom from sin will not come to any person sitting in this sanctuary unless you come to the truth. Freedom from sin will not come to any person in any corner of the planet unless they come to the truth.
Maybe this morning the Lord has used this lesson to convince you of the truth of what I’m saying. The Holy Spirit has convicted you that you need to come to the truth, but you have a question—“What is truth?” I’m so glad you asked! Truth is not a theorem or a principle. Truth is a Person and His name is Jesus. Jesus said,
6 …”I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6 NIV)
There is only path to freedom my friend. There is only One who can unlock the chains of sin that hold us captive and set us free to live in the freedom of walking with Jesus. Don’t get me wrong, our society will continue to tell you that there are other ways, other paths, other solutions to the deepest issues of the human heart, but each and every one of them will fail in the end. They may provide you with momentary relief, but they have no staying power. Some paths that we can choose may actually take us to a worse place than where we were before we began down that path. Jesus is speaking to us this morning with the same words He used to speak to the crowd in John 8 when He said, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36 NIV) There is no other way.
Let me close by sharing with you a scene from C.S. Lewis’ book, “The Silver Chair,” the fourth of seven books in his “The Chronicles of Narnia” series. When Jill Pole and Eustace Scrubb arrive in Narnia, Jill is dying of thirst, but the huge figure of Aslan the Lion is resting by the water. Let me begin in C.S. Lewis’ book where Aslan speaks to Jill.
‘If you are thirsty, you may drink.’ They were the first words she had heard since Scrubb had spoken to her on the edge of the cliff. For a second she stared here and there, wondering who had spoken. Then the voice said again, ‘If you are thirsty, come and drink,’ and of course she remembered what Scrubb had said about animals talking in that other world, and realized that it was the lion speaking. Anyway, she had seen its lips move this time, and the voice was not like a man’s. It was deeper, wilder, and stronger; a sort of heavy, golden voice. It did not make her any less frightened than she had been before, but it made her frightened in rather a different way. “Are you not thirsty?” said the Lion. “I am dying of thirst,” said Jill. “Then drink,” said the Lion. “May I — could I — would you mind going away while I do?” said Jill. The Lion answered this only by a look and a very low growl. And as Jill gazed at its motionless bulk, she realized that she might as well have asked the whole mountain to move aside for her convenience. The delicious rippling noise of the stream was driving her nearly frantic. “Will you promise not to — do anything to me, if I do come?” said Jill. “I make no promise,” said the Lion. Jill was so thirsty now that, without noticing it, she had come a step nearer. “Do you eat girls?” she said. “I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms,” said the Lion. It didn’t say this as if it were boasting, nor as if it were sorry, nor as if it were angry. It just said it. “I daren’t come and drink,” said Jill. “Then you will die of thirst,” said the Lion. “Oh dear!” said Jill, coming another step nearer. “I suppose I must go and look for another stream then.” “There is no other stream,” said the Lion.” (C.S. Lewis, The Silver Chair)
There is no other Stream to quench our thirst. There is no other Liberator to free us from the shackles of sin. There is no other. We can continue to try and to cling to our security blankets of religion, wealth, or any number of others things that we use to make us feel better about ourselves, that convinces us that we are on our way to being good enough, and that we use to quiet the storms raging in our souls. “There is no other stream,” says the Lion of the tribe of Judah. Won’t you invite Him into your heart this morning?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
February 1, 2015