Sermon July 18, 2004 : Free indeed (John 8:36)
- Presenter: Sam Acevedo
- Length: 39:12
- Date: July 18, 2004
- Location: Congregation Lion of Judah, Boston MA
This is one of the verses that goes by so fast that you blink and you miss it: If the son sets you free you’ll be free indeed. This is the word of the Lord.
Oh God I thank you, I thank you Father for an amazing exposure to your spirit. I thank you for your word which is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and I thank you for needy hearts, including mine. Lord God thank you, we bless you and we welcome you through your word in Jesus’ name. Amen.
We’re going to talk a little bit about freedom, which is essentially one of defining topics in this verse. Since this ministry is in English today why don’t we really do this in English and why don’t we look at a couple of versions of this in English. It’s so quick and to the point.
What does the Lord mean by this? One of the neatest ways of trying to figure out what God is trying to say through this word is look at different versions of the Bible, and since there are gazillion different versions of the Bible in English, let’s look at a couple of these.
The one that I just read is the New International Version, the NIV, so if the sun sets you free, you’ll be free indeed.
In Eugene Peterson’s version the message reads like this: So if the son sets you free, you are free through and through. What do we mean by that?
The Contemporary English Version reads: If the son gives you freedom, you’re free! That’s one of my favorites.
I think the verse, one of my favorite translations that I think the translation that comes closest to describing the meaning of this verse is actually the Reina Valera, which is the Spanish King James version. That translates: “Así que, si el Hijo os libertare seréis verdaderamente libres”. It translates loosely: If the son should set you free, then you’re truly free, then you’re really free: “… serás verdaderamente libre”. You’re going to be honest to goodness, genuine free.
What do we mean by that? What do we mean by freedom? Sam, as he was going through the worship and inviting into the presence of the Lord, made an interesting comparison, that there’re some kids in DYS who are in lock up. You know, you ask them, are you free? I can’t go to Mc Donalds, can I? I can’t go to the mall today, can I? Would you call me free. But there they are in the afternoon and they’ve got their hands up, and they’re worshiping with all their hearts, and for some reason we feel limited, in a sense ok, we’ll call that free.
For today I’d like us to think of the fact that the word freedom has both spiritual and political implications. Speaking of politics, Boston is going to be one political town in the next couple of weeks, particularly next week with the Democratic National Convention in town. If you can get a cheap ticket to the Dominican Republic, that’s the week to do it. We’re going to be closing down traffic on 95, it’s going to be harsh to try to drive in the church, that is the week to be away.
I want a pause for a moment and explore this. In public, especially a church like Lion of Juda that touches so many lives and in so many different ways and that is so exposed, I’ll look up right now and I see just a beautiful cross action of the Kingdom of God and the church that in many ways it has been able to say: “Welcome, welcome to worship, welcome to the Kingdom of God”. And here we are, African Americans, Anglos, Latinos, pseudo Latinos like me, all of us here worshiping the Lord together. So a church this exposed sooner or later, and this is happening this week, so this is probably one the reasons why we’re getting this word.
Don’t come up to us and say Lion of Juda, are you democrats or are you republicans? Are you conservatives or are you liberals? It reminds me a little bit of that passage in Joshua, chapter 5 where Joshua confronts this angel, a twelve-foot angel with a drawn sword and my brother goes up to this angel and says: Are you with us or with our enemies? And the angel fortunately didn’t lop off his head and said: neither. Ok? That’s his answer: neither. I’m the commander of the army of the Lord, that’s your answer. And Lion of Juda’s answer is neither. Neither. You heard it here.
Sooner or later when you stand with the army of the Lord, you’re going to disappoint somebody. When we’re taking a stand, when we’re taking an excruciatingly public stand to support the Biblical definition of marriage, we’re going to disappoint our liberal friends, and when we take a stand in favor of just immigration laws, so that good kids could go on to college and so that good hard-working men and women could earn a wage and live free of fear, we’re bound to maybe disappoint our conservative friends. We’re going to disappoint somebody. Then there’s going to be those folks who will tell us that we’re not out there enough, we’re not active enough, we’re not in the public discourse enough. Then there’ll be others, and this is what we’ll hear more often, is that we have no business speaking up or being out there, at all. They’ll quote you a twentieth century definition of the First Amendment and they’ll lecture on us on the separation of church and state. Separate church and state, separate church and state. It’s ingrained in my memory.
I think the apotheosis of that phrase: the separation of church and state, is probably best exemplified in what happened just last June in the Supreme Court, where unanimous Supreme Court declared that at least for now, the words, those four controversial words, one nation under God, remain in the Pledge of Allegiance, not just church and state but the idea of nation and God.
I want to propose to you today, are inseparable notions, if you want to talk about freedom and understand freedom in this country. Understand freedom in light of scripture and understand freedom in the light of the history of this nation. Yes, they’re separate, but they’re inseparable. They are interrelated, they feed on one of another, the idea of nation and God work together to provide you freedom and to allow us to be free indeed.
It’s a little bit like being married. Marina and I, we hit a milestone this week. We have been married three years, this July 14th. Isn’t it awesome? Ah,… and counting. In order to understand the relationship between a nation and its God, this idea of one nation under God, I like to think of that ring I gave Marina three years ago, so that I said: “Ok, dibbed. She’s off the market, hands off.” Ok? That ring has really two major components: it has a setting and it has jewel. That single diamond ring. In this metaphor imagine the nation as the setting and imagine God as the jewel. What’s the role of the nation? The nation provides us a democratic republic, unlike many other nations that a lot of us, a lot of my kindred, a lot of these Latino brothers and sisters that you see here, just came running from. This nation provides us the promise of freedom, the opportunity to be free, but it cannot guarantee freedom. It’s role is to provide the promise of freedom. The jewel is God. God is the only one who can deliver on that promise. He’s the only one who can guarantee our freedom. Only God can set you free.
This idea of the nation and its relationship to its God is primordial, as far as this country is concerned. It’s written in the birth certificate of this nation, the Declaration of Independence, written by Thomas Jefferson, signed by Benjamin Franklin and every luminary in the continental congress at that time. Jefferson appeals to the laws of nature and to nature’s God and he writes: We hold this truth to be self evident, in other words, this is obvious, we’re not even spend much time talking about this, as far as we’re concerned this is obvious,… that all men are created equal, and that they’re endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Isn’t that interesting?
It’s a primordial notion in this nation that what we were creating was a nation where people would be free to pursuit freedom. We are free to pursuit happiness. We are free to pursuit life in liberty. The interesting thing is that these men who signed this document, they walked out of that hall in Philadelphia and there was no way of knowing how this was going to turn out. It’s a little bit like Belize taking on the United States. It was ridiculous. Where does this come from?
A little bit of history, and something that you don’t hear a lot about in most history classes. This is pretty much the culmination of a one hundred year of Bible that was taking place in the United States starting in 1769, in a little town called Northampton, Massachusetts. An event so remarkable that is known by two words: the Great Awakening, where the word of God was preached on every corner, where people would hear the word of God and you thought this was weird, imagine preaching on the street corner and seeing your neighbors tremble and bark and roll around and people would receive Jesus and run. So this idea of the Creator inhabiting even the norms of our society, were pretty inbred by 1776. It was an idea that these men were prepared to die for, in fact they walked out of the hall in Philadelphia joking that who’s going to be the first one among us that they’re going to hang, not exactly my idea of humor, but that was the idea. This idea of building a nation where people are free to pursuit freedom was worth dying for.
87 years later Abraham Lincoln, standing beside 8000 fresh graves of the Confederate and Union’s dead at Gettysburg, because God takes our covenant seriously. If we’re going to say that all men are created equal you’ve got to make sure that you include all men, including the 7.6 million African Americans who were slaves. And in the middle of that time of judgment, Abraham Lincoln looks out at this audience and he says: “These people that we’ve buried, have given their last full measure of devotion and we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth”.
It was worth dying for, this idea of a nation where people are free to pursuit freedom, and people continued to die. They died in Saratoga, they died at Camden Yards, they died in Antietam, they died at Gettysburg, they died in the Arden, they died at Hiroshima, they died in Normandy and they’re dying today in places called Fallujah and Baghdad and Basra, because there’s a nation that stands out on this planet where people are free to pursuit freedom, but the one thing this nation can’t do is it cannot guarantee the you’ll be free.
You see the difference? You’re free to pursuit freedom in this nation. Are you free? Yes, you are free to pursuit freedom. But that doesn’t mean that you’re going to obtain freedom. You’re free to pursuit it, which means you’re just as free to fail as you are to succeed. You’re just as free to end your days in despair and loneliness, as you are to end your days in the warmth of your home surrounded by your friends and family. You’re just as free to be haunted by your nightmares, as you are to live your dreams in this country. People are free to live well in this country, and people are free to live broken lives. You’re free to pursuit freedom in this country. But no nation, no law, no political platform, no party, no program, the most benign government that this country can concoct, no one can guarantee you freedom. No nation, no law can guarantee that you’ll be free.
You ever wonder why would our Creator endow us with the longing for freedom? Imagine. That word endow, that means to be programmed. Our Creator endowed us with this pursuit of freedom. He programmed us, He predisposed us with the desire for freedom, this longing, this lust for freedom, and that that freedom should prove so illusive. I believe what the word of God is telling us is that the Lord endowed us with this longing for freedom in order to become our freedom. He gave us this longing, sort of the same way that you would endow somebody with a homing device, tic, tic, tic… This longing, this lust, this desire to be free, and you could end up following that homing device in all sorts of places until you come to, the closer you get to home, the sharper those beeps will be. And you’ll say: Wow, I’m finally home, I’m finally free. Well, the Lord programmed you with a freedom homing device and you’re never going to be at rest until you are free.
That can have some sad consequences. I love that image of the Apostle Paul standing in Athens, in Acts, Chapter 17. Athens. Athens is the birthplace of democracy. Athens is where it all got started. Athens gave us Euripides and Sofocles, gave us Socrates, it gave us Plato. You know that all of those guys lived at the same time. They all shopped together at the local bread & circus, literally, they called it the Agora. They were all contemporaries.
By the time Paul is there, the glory had long departed Athens, the glory days of Athens were over, by this time Athens was just another empty state, its plunder, its glory eluded by the Roman government and there was so much promise to democracy and it had been reduced basically to a dictatorship. History passed the wrong judgment on Athens because, after the fall of Athens no country would attempt a democratic government for another 1700 years, no government would try to do this again until those men assembled in Philadelphia in 1776. Because they figured democracy is a failure.
Well, Paul was standing there, in the Aeropagus which was essentially like the House of Representatives where the president gives the state to the union address, and Paul is telling them: “You know, you guys got it wrong. The problem isn’t democracy, the problem is that you have a beautiful setting but you have forgotten the jewel. You’ve got one but you’re missing the other”. He stands there and he says: “I’ve noticed that you folks have a lot of idols, you worship just about everything, you worship just about everyone, there’s a god for every longing.
It sounds a lot like the United States, you have an appetite? There’s going to be someone who can satisfy that appetite, legitimately or illegitimately in this country. It’s a broad marketplace. And he said: “I noticed an altar to an unknown God and I’m here to share with you who that God is”. He says: the God who made the world and everything in it, the Creator is the Lord of Heaven and Earth and does not live in temples made by hands. He says: He himself gave all men in life and breath and everything else, from one man he made every nation that they should inhabit the whole earth. You see, you didn’t just come on this planet, you’re not an accident. I don’t know everyone’s mom here, I know some people’s mom, I don’t know all of your moms, I’ve met some of your moms, but some moms you haven’t met, some dads you haven’t met and that’s ok, because all of us are guaranteed to have at least one dad and that dad created you. He had you made to his specific specifications and he planted you in this century, on this planet, at this time. He determined the times set for you and the exact place where you should live. That’s how detailed God was when he created you. He set you apart and He molded you just like a jeweler at the exact place in history where you needed to be. Now why did he go through all that trouble? Why did He bother to go that far with your life? God did this so that men would seek Him, and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him for He’s not far from each one of us, for in Him we live and move and have our being. He did it, we were created so that we could find our freedom in Him.
Saint Augustine, before he became saint Augustine, tried it all. Before he wrote the Book of Confessions, cocaine was not around back then or brother Augustine probably would have, I don’t know what he would’ve done, but there was beer back there. He tried some of that, and there were women and he tried some of those, and at the end of his journey he falls at the feet of Jesus exhausted and he prays this prayer, and begins his confessions, he says: “Thou has made us for thyself and our hearts are restless until we find our rest in thee.” You have been made, someone created you, and you were made for a specific purpose, you were made so that God would have you for Himself and that’s where you’re going to find your rest. We’ve been made so that we could come to Lion of Juda on some afternoon in July, so that we could hear some preacher say, Jesus says: I can set you free, I can set you free, I could be your freedom.
Now how does he do that? How does Jesus set us free? Free from what? What is it that He does? Jesus sets us free by allowing us to become the people that God has created us to be. He sets us free to become the people God has created us to be. How does he do that? First of all, you have to realize that this isn’t about religion. It was great greeting many of you and we’re from churches all over town and from no churches at all, that this is as much an experiment for you in church as it is for us preaching and worshiping in English, and that’s ok. The first thing I want to tell you is that this isn’t about following a set of religious dictates.
In fact a couple of verses before Jesus says if the son sets you free you’ll be free indeed. Back in verse 31 He addresses this crowd and He says: … to the Jews who have believed Him, in other words this comments are going to people who say: “Oh, I believe in God, I believe in God, I go to church. I’ve been good”. To say that you believe in God is a little bit like saying you believe in John Carry or you believe in …., you never met the man, or if you have I’d like to speak to you after the service. You’ve never met him, you haven’t had him over for dinner, you have no intimacy with him. What the Lord is saying here is, it goes beyond just believing Jesus. The Apostle James writes letter in his Letter to the church, he says: You know, you say that you believe in one god. Terrific, fine, congratulations! Even the demons believe in God and tremble. You’re not accomplishing anything by saying I believe in God.
What sets you free is a decision to become a disciple, an apprentice, a student, a follower of Jesus. He says to the Jews who have believed in him, he says: If you hold to my teaching, you’re really my disciples, then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free. Now there are going to be a lot of people who actually will decline the invitation just hearing that. Free from what? Free. I’m not a slave and that exactly what they said. “I’m no slave”. We’re Abraham’s descendents and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free? Sam, free from what? I’m no slave. And here’s a revelation: I tell you the truth, Jesus replied, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now follow me.
His intention is that you live your potential. He knows your potential because He created you. He knows what you cold become, because He molded you. He knows who you are, because He programmed you, and He says you are a slave to patterns of life, to patterns of thinking, to habits of behavior that are inhibiting you from coming into relationship with your Creator who He made you to fall into relationship with, and it erodes your potential for becoming the person God has created you to become. It’s a disease and only Jesus can set you free.
The Apostle Paul writes later the same guy who spoke to the Athenians in Acts, Chapter 17, says: “… you are slaves to the one whom you obey, whether you’re slaves to sin which leads to death, or to obedience which leads to righteousness, but thank thee to God, he writes, that you’ve been set free from sin and it becomes slaves to righteousness, because you wholeheartedly obey the form of teaching with which you were entrusted.
It goes like this: Jesus makes you an invitation and says: “You’re in the land of the free, but there’s no guarantee that you’ll ever be free. There’s no guarantee that you’ll ever satisfy your desire. There’s no guarantee that you’ll ever become the person that you want to become, unless you do it through Me”. Well, Jesus, how do I do that? Follow me. Follow me.
Read this book and as you read this book you’re going to find things about yourself and about your life that you’re not proud of and you’re also going to find out things that the Lord promises you that you can become. All I know is that it works! Only Jesus can make you free for real. Free indeed. Free as a matter of fact. How do I know? Well, I’m an eye witness, He did it for me, ok. He set me free. But if that’s not enough, it’s something that at Lion of Juda we see and I pray that we never, ever, ever, ever Lion of Juda in the house we never, get so used to this that we take it for granted: to see people transformed right before our eyes, to see people changed. How do I know that Jesus sets people free? Because people have walked into this house the way you walked in today, people in pursuit of freedom, people in pursuit of that potential and they find Jesus in their change.
I’ve seen single mothers who saw freedom in the illusive love of some guy, as in the case of the Samaritan woman, a series of guys, and they show up here, broken, abandoned, like some Barby doll on the bottom of some toy chest, forgotten, the little girl in them crushed, the woman in them scarred and they show up with their kids and their tears and they find Jesus here. And I have seen Jesus set them free. They’re going to college, their kids are going to college, they’ve become productive members of society, they are leaders here, they work with pastoral authority. They’re free for real, they’re free indeed. I’ve seen corporate Vice presidents, CEO’s, directors of major organizations here in Boston, show up here, people who have sought their freedom by building crystal palaces inhabited by their…, house in the suburbs, or their car or the applause of their friends, and once they discover how lonely they are, how barren their life is, how empty their life is, they come here, after seeking freedom in those other places, they find Jesus and Jesus sets them free. Their life has meaning, they’re going somewhere, there’s joy. Maybe it’s the first time in their lives that they’ve laughed and actually meant it. They’ll to serve a plate of food to a homeless guy and it as if they were sitting at the head of a board meeting. I’ve seen addicts come in here, alcoholics, who after decades of pumping toxins in their bodies, their bodies are literally desiccated and their minds are warped because they sought freedom by escaping. And they’ve come here and they find Jesus and Jesus sets them free, completely, totally indeed. If the sun should set you free, you’ll be free for real, you’ll be free indeed.
Lion of Juda if it has a model, if it has a purpose, if it has a mission, it’s this. We are in the business of human freedom obtained through the influence of Jesus, ministered through the spirit of God. That’s why we’re in this corner, that’s why we exist. I love this country, it’s a great place to pursuit freedom, but this country cannot do for me what Jesus did for me. Only Jesus can do that.
I’m going to ask you to do something. I’m going to ask you to bow your head and close your eyes. You were created to pursuit freedom and that’s ok. And God sees everywhere you’ve gone, everything you did, everyone you’ve called, everyone who’s touched you, everyone you’ve touched, everything that you’ve experienced in order to be free. And you’ve had one dead end after another, one broken dream after another, one broken promise after another and today Jesus makes you a promise and He says: I am the only one, the only one who can set you free and be sure that you’re free for real. If you want to experience that freedom I’m going to invite you to raise your hand and we’ll pray for you. I see that hand, God bless you. Praise the Lord.
Master, I declare in your holy name that you’re God that breaks chains and I declare in your holy name that you’re the one who holds the charter for our lives and I pray in the name of Jesus, that those souls who have raised their hands, that you provide them with freedom. Lord from this moment on don’t ever be the same, from this moment, dear Lord God they walk out from hear, I declare for your life that you’re never the same, I declare for your life that the Holy Spirit will inhabit you. I declare for your life that the chains of sin by faith are broken. Master, do that. Glorify yourself. Thank you, Jesus, for setting us free, for your sacrifice and …. We appreciate and long for you, Jesus.