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Pastor John Partridge

Quest #2 - Announce Freedom (Part 3)

“Quest #2 – Announce Freedom”

Five Quests of the Christian Life  (Part 3)

February 07, 2010*

 

 

Luke 4:14-21                         2 Timothy 2:24-26                                            Romans 7:22-24

 

On September 5, 1975 Lynnette “Squeaky” Fromme attempted to assassinate President Gerald Ford, she was convicted and was imprisoned until August 14, 2009.  She remains on parole.

On September 22, 1975 Sara Jane Moore also attempted to assassinate President Gerald Ford.  She was convicted and was imprisoned until December 31, 2007.  She remains on parole.

On March 30, 1981 John Hinkley, Jr. shot President Ronald Reagan.  He was brought to trial but found to be incompetent by reason of insanity.  He remains in a psychiatric institution.

During the U.S. invasion of Panama, dictator Manuel Noriega was arrested returned to the United States and brought to trial.  He was convicted, has served his sentence but remains in prison awaiting the results of an extradition trial to determine whether he should next face prison in France or in Panama.

In April 19, 1995, Terry Nichols conspired with Timothy McVeigh to blow up the Federal Building in Oklahoma City.  He was convicted and is in prison serving 161 consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole.

Prior to September 11, 2001 Zacarias Moussaoui was a coconspirator with the terrorists on board the hijacked airliners.  He has been convicted and is serving a life sentence in prison without the possibility of parole.

For the last few weeks we have been looking at Luke 4:14-21, where we hear Jesus reading the scriptures in the synagogue as he begins his ministry and as he returns to his hometown of Nazareth…

14Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. 15He taught in their synagogues, and everyone praised him. 

 16He 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. 17The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
 18"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,
    19to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

 20Then 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, 21and he began by saying to them, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing."

This morning we examine the second in our “Five Quests of the Christian life, to “proclaim freedom for the prisoners” and we have to ask the question, does Jesus mean that we are to seek the release of dangerous criminals?  The answer is no… and yes.  Our world has an abundance of prisoners and our nation leads the world in this regard.  The United States has the highest rate of incarceration of any nation in the world.  In 2008, in the United States alone, there were 7.3 million persons in prison, on probation, or on parole.  This number is second only to China but because of their larger population, China’s rate of incarceration is 18 times lower than ours.

 

Clearly there is no shortage of prisoners to whom we can proclaim freedom, but what exactly did Jesus mean?  We can be comforted in knowing that proclaiming freedom does not mean releasing dangerous men and women out onto the streets.  While Jesus preached freedom, he was also a strong advocate of justice and so all those who are incarcerated serving sentences that were imposed justly are meant to stay there.  On the other hand, Christians should be among the leading advocates of overturning sentences that found to be unjust.  Christians should also stand up for those who are imprisoned because of their beliefs and not because of criminal wrongdoing. 

 

With that in mind we can find many references to prison and captivity in scripture.  In the psalms we hear that (Psalm 68:5-6 )

 

5 A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows,
       is God in his holy dwelling.

 6 God sets the lonely in families,
       he leads forth the prisoners with singing;
       but the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land.

 

We also hear prayers that God would hear the groaning prayers of the prisoner and would rescue those who had been condemned to die (Psalm 79:10) and praise when he did so. (Psalm 102:20)

These we can likely assume are the people of Israel who had been captured in some battle or war with another country, but in Psalm 107 we find something a little different.  Here we find prisoners “in darkness and the deepest gloom, prisoners suffering in iron chains, 11 for they had rebelled against the words of God and despised the counsel of the Most High.”  But after they had been imprisoned and subjected to forced labor “they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress.”

Others… “became fools through their rebellious ways and suffered affliction because of their iniquities.   18 They loathed all food and drew near the gates of death. 19 Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress.

These passages tell us that some of the people were allowed to be imprisoned because they had turned their backs on God.  Likewise we see in 1 Chronicles 9:1 that “the people of Judah were taken captive to Babylon because of their unfaithfulness.”

This was indeed the understanding of the people of Israel regarding many of the passages of scripture that have to do with imprisonment.  In 2 Chronicles 6, Kind Solomon prays at the dedication of God’s Temple in Jerusalem and speaks about future generations of the nation of Israel saying…

36 "When they sin against you—for there is no one who does not sin—and you become angry with them and give them over to the enemy, who takes them captive to a land far away or near; 37 and if they have a change of heart in the land where they are held captive, and repent and plead with you in the land of their captivity and say, 'We have sinned, we have done wrong and acted wickedly'; 38 and if they turn back to you with all their heart and soul in the land of their captivity where they were taken, and pray toward the land you gave their fathers, toward the city you have chosen and toward the temple I have built for your Name; 39 then from heaven, your dwelling place, hear their prayer and their pleas, and uphold their cause. And forgive your people, who have sinned against you.

 

In these Old Testament cases, the people are in real prisons because they have disobeyed God and in many ways, the prison populations of the United States and other countries are filled with people who have sinned against God and against men and who are paying the penalty for the things that they have done. Justice may demand that these men and women pay a certain price to society but God’s justice also leaves open the path for forgiveness and restoration through his son Jesus Christ. 

 

God sent Jesus to proclaim freedom to the prisoners and as the Body of Christ we have inherited this mission as well.  Our mission is not to break down prison walls and release prisoners, but to break down the walls of sin and injustice so that those who are incarcerated may know of God’s forgiveness and grace.  Our mission is to announce to these prisoners the freedom that they can have through faith in Jesus Christ.

 

Sadly, as many prisoners as there are incarcerated in the United States and around the world, the number of people who are behind walls and bars and locked doors are a tiny fraction of the people who are truly in prison.  In Paul’s letter to the church in Rome (Romans 7:22-24) he says, 22For in my inner being I delight in God's law; 23but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. 24What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?”

 

Paul says that he is a prisoner of sin and that is the sort of imprisonment that is common to all of humanity.  To Paul’s way of thinking we are all prisoners regardless of whether we inside or outside the penitentiary’s walls and we all need to hear the good news of Jesus Christ.  In his letter to the Galatians (Galatians 3:21-23), Paul also asks, “21Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law. 22But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe.

 23Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed.

Here, Paul reminds us that before the coming of Jesus Christ, the law of God held God’s people prisoner.  In Paul’s mind he sees the impossibility of perfect obedience to the law and also the Pharisees who were so bound by their attempts to be perfectly obedient that they stopped seeing God’s will for his people and his compassion for the lost.  For Paul, both extremes are prisons from which God’s children must be set free.

 

Finally, Paul provides two cautions to prevent us from falling that also reveal still more prisons where we are to proclaim the Good News.  In his letter to the Colossians (Colossians 2:7-9), Paul warns,

8See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.

And in 2 Timothy 2 we hear…

24And the Lord's servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. 25Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, 26and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.

Paul warns the church that not all philosophy and all tradition is good that some but can, instead, deceive people from following the truth.  Likewise he cautions Timothy that God’s own servants can prevent others from escaping their prisons of falsehood and deception if we are not careful to avoid being argumentative.  When we tell others about the grace and forgiveness of Jesus Christ we must teach in a manner that is both kind and gentle.

 

It is for all these reasons that in our introduction two weeks ago, I said that Jesus’ call to proclaim freedom was a call not only to preach in the prisons with bars and walls, but also to those who are imprisoned by addictions, abuse, neglect, false religions, guilt, shame, mental illnesses, physical handicaps, health problems and many others.

 

In Hebrews 13:3-4, the apostle Paul said, 3Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.”

 

The person who answers Jesus’ call to this mission, the quest to announce freedom to the prisoners, must be a person who can love others for who God created them to be.  On this quest you must see people, whether they are in a prison with bars or not, as they could be and not necessarily as they now appear.  On this quest you will need compassion, patience and in many cases some study time as you learn how the bars of specific types of bondage can be broken.  Persons on this quest must love others enough to help them through their unbelief to a place where they can accept the free gift of Jesus’ rescue, they must love others and nurture them and walk beside them as they break their chains of bondage and learn the paths of freedom.  For many, the journey to freedom isn’t easy and you will need to be a friend to them so that they can endure and find the path to forgiveness and restoration.

 

This week Christ asks you to listen for his voice and also to listen with your heart.  Can you hear Jesus calling you to follow him in his quest to proclaim freedom to the prisoners?  Has Christ created within you a love that can love those who are imprisoned by bricks and mortar as well as those who are imprisoned by sin, addictions, abuse, neglect, false teachings, false religions, guilt, shame, mental illnesses , and other chains?

 

Which quest will you choose?

 

Can you, Announce Freedom?

 



*You have been reading a message presented at Johnsville Grace and Steam Corners United Methodist Churches on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor of the Johnsville Parish.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Johnsville Grace UMC or Steam Corners UMC at P.O. Box 205, Shauck, Ohio 43349.  These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at .  If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook  (search for Pastor John Online).  These messages can also be found online at http://www.scribd.com/Pastor John Partridge and audio podcasts at http://www.sermoncloud.com/ (type the church name in the search box)

All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

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