Born to Set Thy People Free
41/99 25/12/99 Scripture: Romans 4:1-11
CHRISTMAS carols tell why Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Charles Wesley, for example, wrote:
"Born that man no more may die.
Born to raise the sons of earth.
Born to give them second birth.
Born to set Thy people free.
Born a child and yet a King.
Born to reign in us forever."
Those latter three will be the titles of my Advent sermons. These were the reasons for the season. Jesus, firstly was; born to set Thy people free.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the 18th century French political philosopher, whose writings determined the French Revolution, wrote "Man was born to be free, but everywhere he is in chains." Bishop Leslie Newbigin reminds us: "The human rights which the eighteenth century philosophers espoused were mainly rights of the rising bourgeoisie. Freedom meant primarily freedom to hold property, to trade and to travel. It was not freedom for workers to organise trade unions, for blacks to vote, for aboriginal peoples to retain their lands, or for women to have equal rights with men. Late in the twentieth century we are still struggling with this unfinished agenda." The United States, emphasises it is "the land of the free and the home of the brave". But is it? Even the national capital, Washington, has thousands living in poverty and homelessness. They sleep over the underground steam vents in the Christmas snow, trying to be warm in boxes and plastic bags - dirty, ill kempt, hungry, cold.
The "land of the free and the home of the brave" has a hollow ring to these pieces of humanity's flotsam and jetsam washed up against the marble steps of the great buildings of the national capital. I shed tears at the memorial to Abraham Lincoln, whose vision of a free America for all still dominates the American dream. I thought of when Martin Luther King Jr addressed a quarter of a million Americans who marched against poverty, from the steps of the memorial with one of the most powerful speeches heard in our lifetime: "I have a dream."
He concluded: "Let freedom ring. ...until that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of that old Negro spiritual, `Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!'" Today, that dream has still not been fulfilled. So many still live in bondage. Racial bondage. Economic bondage. Social bondage. Spiritual bondage. Everywhere people, born to be free, are in chains. That includes our Sydney.
Recently, talk back radio ran hot with the stories of two homeless men. One who lived in a cave at Mrs Macquarie's Chair for 12 years who was bashed to death. The other homeless man lived in a bus-shelter in Bellevue Hill. The Woollahra Council cannot move him so they plan to demolish the bus-shelter and build a new one that will not be amenable to homeless people sleeping in it. There is little freedom from homelessness and poverty for these men.
Wesley Mission staff members distribute toys and food parcels among mothers and children. Each baby and child has HIV\Aids. Many are terminal, and most need medicated formula for each meal, at a cost their mothers cannot afford. Wesley Mission is helping them have a good Christmas and a New Year that offers them hope. They are imprisoned in a terminal illness and few people seem to care. They only wish they could be free from this disease that threatens life. Yet some who can give up life-threatening diseases do not. They prefer prison to freedom. Every drug addict thinks of giving up the drug. They know there is no future except death. They will make the decision later but just now they need another fix. Bound like slaves thinking they are free while in prison! Every alcoholic knows. After another drink they will consider giving it up.
There was a time when they could give it up if only they would, but now they would give it up if only they could! Every sinner is deluded into thinking that they will get away with their sin. They believe their sin is having no effect upon them and at any time they can cease. Bound like slaves thinking they are free while in a prison of their own making. You think they would do anything to be set free.
Many Australians have forebears who came to this land as convicts. T
hey wanted freedom more than anything. Many Australians today despair at unemployment, lack of financial resources, bondage to alcohol and drugs, limited by ill-health, frailty and age, locked into violent marriages, wishing for freedom. Liberty is their cry! One of the meanings of Christmas is that Jesus Christ came to set us free. So we might sing: "Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!" The Apostle Paul reminded his readers that we who are in Christ are set free from the bondage of the law of sin and death. We now live according to the Spirit of God. (Romans 8:1) "Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." The basis for this wonderful assurance is the phrase "those who are in Christ Jesus." In Adam, we were condemned. In Christ, there is no condemnation!
1. FREE FROM SIN AND DEATH
Paul continues "Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death." You are set free from the law of sin and death. You now have life in the Spirit. "The law of sin and death" (Romans 7:7-25) marks us before we become Christian. "The law of the Spirit of life" marks us since Jesus came in our hearts. The old Law of sin and death no longer has any jurisdiction over you: you are dead to the Law (7:4) and free from the Law. "The Spirit of life" is the distinguishing mark of the Christian. It means the defeat of the power of sin.
Paul says when the Holy Spirit comes into a person that person is liberated from bondage to evil and finds a new power within, a power that causes the defeat of sin and leads the liberated person into ways of goodness and love. Every believer who is "in Christ Jesus" is set free from the law of sin and death. In Holy Communion we taste symbolically of His body and blood which was shed to free us from sin, and to allow us the Spirit of life. At the Lord's Table we are reminded that we have been set free.
2. FREE BY CHRIST'S SIN OFFERING
The Law cannot condemn you - because you have been set free by Christ's death upon the cross. "For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering." How has Christ's death upon the Cross freed us? You are set free because Christ has already suffered in your place and borne that condemnation for you on the cross. Now you are free from it. Could the Law of God save you? It could only condemn you because you have sinned. But God sent His Son to save you and do what the Law could not do. Each believer can now say: "In my place condemned, He stood. Sealed my pardon with His blood. Hallelujah! What a Saviour!"
The "law of double jeopardy" means a man cannot be tried twice for the same crime. Since Jesus Christ paid the penalty for your sins, and since you are "in Christ", God will not condemn you. Jesus Christ took upon Himself your sins, bearing your penalty and condemnation, and gave Himself up as a sin offering thereby freeing you from the law of sin and death. You have been set free from the law of sin and death. Christ was our sin offering. We have been set free. "Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." So in Holy Communion we remember, that Jesus Christ bore in His flesh our sin, and by His blood cleansed us from all unrighteousness. Here we remember that we have been set free by His sin offering - the offering of His body and blood. We have been set free by His sin offering in our place.
3. FREE BY LIVING IN THE SPIRIT
The Law cannot control you - because you have been set free by living in the Spirit's power. "And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit." The believer now lives a righteous life, not in the power of the Law, but in the power of the Holy Spirit. The Law does not have the power to produce holiness, to help you live as you ought. It can only reveal and condemn sin within you. But the indwelling Holy Spirit enables you to walk in obedience to God's will. The Holy Spirit is God's presence with us, to guide us, teach us, uphold us in living a Christian life. The righteousness that God demands in His Law is fulfilled in you through the Spirit's power. In the Holy Spirit, you have life and liberty. All Christians are promised they have the Holy Spirit available to empower them.
There are some people who wear themselves out seeking to obey God in their own strength. They always fail to measure up to the righteousness that God demands. But the Spirit-filled Christian, experiences the sanctifying work of the Spirit within. (Phil 2:13) "For it is God who works in you, both to will and to act according to His good purpose." It is this fact that leads to the freedom we enjoy as Christians. In this Holy Communion we are spiritually nourished to live a life in the Spirit. We are not left to live the Christian life on our own and in our own strength. God knows how hard so many of us have tried in our own strength to live a good life, and we have failed.
We tried to live lives pleasing to God, but our own frailty ended with us becoming depressed and despairing. Unaided we can never please Almighty God. There is no way we could measure up to His Law's demands. God knows that and sent the Holy Spirit to dwell within us to enable us to live on a standard we could never attain left to ourselves. God has given us spiritual food at this Communion Table to strengthen us. This indwelling power is available to all who are "in Christ Jesus". It is not available to everyone, only those "who walk, not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit." The believer, who knows the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, has the power to live as God desires. It is only the Christian who sees written above his head: "There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." We have been set free, free at last. And we have been strengthened to live the Christian life in His power.
But many people today, live under the bondage of their sins and feel the pangs of guilt. They have no freedom of mind, soul or spirit. They have no indwelling power enabling them to cope. They are in bondage! What a difference coming in faith to Jesus Christ makes! For when you are in Christ, you are set free. "There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." You have been set free from sin and death. You have been set free by Christ's sin offering. You have been set free by living in the Spirit's power. Now has come the time when you join hands with those who are in Christ Jesus and sing: "Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"
Gordon Moyes 1999
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