Listen to: Sweet Honey on the Rock Freedom Melody (Oh Freedom, Come and Go with Me to that Land..)
“The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners” Isaiah 61:1
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free” Luke 4:18
This Saturday, July 4, we will celebrate Independence Day. On that day in 1776 our country adopted the Declaration of Independence and severed its ties from Great Britain. Most of us mark July 4th with family and friends at BBQs or picnics, community parades or fireworks. The next few days are a good time to pause and think on the many layers to freedom.
God has a special care for prisoners and the oppressed – for those who are not free. Jesus, in Matthew 25, lists visiting prisoners as one of the great deeds by which we come to know the Lord.
Whatever we may think of our prison system now, there was no such thing as “long-term prisoner rehabilitation” back then. Prisoners were mostly for captives of war or enemies of the king. Not surprisingly, prisons were miserable. Prisoners forced to do hard labor or were tortured. Rations were meager. People readily died of exposure or disease. By Jesus’ time people could be arrested for debt, political insurrection or religious practices. God’s love for the forgotten behind bars is expressed by the psalmist who exhorts that God hears “the groans of the prisoners,” and wants “to set free those who were doomed to die” (psalm 102:20).
The apostle Paul imprisoned many and in turn spent many years imprisoned for the sake of the gospel. It is from the experience of prison, as well as his Greek training, that Paul would proclaim himself a “prisoner of Christ Jesus”(Ephesians 1:1), and teaches us that “it is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1) We are freed in Christ. As the gospel proclaim, “If the son sets you free, then you are free indeed” (John 8:36). Don’t go back to old habits or old patterns of thinking.
On this 4th of July, let us remember in Christ we are set free, as much as we celebrate hard-won freedom. Think of all our freedoms. Meditate on your spiritual freedoms: freedom from hatred, from prejudice, from anger, from impatience, from jealousy, from greed. If you are not free, then ask for your freedom! Rejoice in the freedom to pray and to worship the God of your understanding.
Finally, Let us continue the ministry of Christ’s care and love for prisoners – whether they are prisoners behind bars, prisoners to sin, or an oppressed person crying out seeking freedom from tyranny. Let us treasure the many nuances of freedom. Let us keep freedom alive.
Prayer: God of Freedom: Set us truly free from all that binds us and holds us down. Give us the heart of Jesus for the prisoners and oppressed of the world. Amen.