Really Free – Sermon – Rev. Alex Moir – 25 July 2021

WELCOME

Good morning First Baptist. We welcome you to worship this morning. Be sure to remember your brothers and sisters in Christ throughout the week as you pray for them, and as the Holy Spirit brings their faces to your mind. Be sure to also connect with them in the ways that are possible. And if you have any questions or would like to talk to someone, please don’t hesitate to contact the church through the church telephone and leave a message. (519-733-4144)

Call to Worship

“God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power and he went around doing good … because God was with him.” 

— Acts 10:38

Prayer

As we hear these words, summing up our Lord’s ministry on this earth, we gather in worship this day to testify to His goodness in our own lives.  Accept our praise, gracious Father, for the One who gave His live that we might live.  It is in His strong name we pray … amen.  

Song

Today's Message: Really Free

Scripture Reading: John 8:44-36

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.

If you recall in our last episode, things were looking very positive as Jesus was attempting to expand His earthly ministry … so much so that even some folks from the Jewish perspective were beginning to endorse Him (see v. 31).  He then went on to explain the secret to “really” being His disciples, that of “holding to His teaching” or “continuing or abiding in His word” which meant more than just understanding all the truth of Jesus’ words.  It meant holding to the “Word” Himself.  It seems things were proceeding in an encouraging direction … until Jesus shared those words that have echoed through history:

“Then you will know the truth,
and the truth will set you free.”

— (John 8:32

Sounds good to us, I’m sure you would agree.  We have heard those words many times and not only in a church setting.  If you have memorized any scripture this verse might be one of those in your “mental collection.”  But the Jewish folks, who were within earshot of this statement by our Lord, took great offense at it.  Being part of a very proud race and possessing one of the great world faiths, they objected to the implication that they might be “slave to anyone” (v. 33).  But in spite of their somewhat prickly response the painful fact remained that, in spite of their nationalism, the hated Romans still occupied most of the world including the former kingdom of Judah.  Though it was a painful reality to admit, their liberty as a nation was extremely limited.

Indeed, though freedom is a concept most of us would embrace as being part and parcel of the essence of humanity, the application of the idea is harder to broker than we might think.  The strict meaning of the word used in v. 32 (“and the truth will set you free …”) is “to be at one’s own disposal”, a hard state to assure at the best of times.  True individual freedom has provided a bit of a roadblock to the successful vaccination of an entire world that still battles the Corona virus.  We were all hopeful in the spring of 2011 as several nations in the Arab world experienced a grass roots demand for increased freedoms … only to be followed, in fairly short order, by violent reaction from the autocratic leadership in many of those countries.  Further, I remember the exasperated expression of a young child in a store years ago, reacting to a parent’s effort at discipline … “you are not the leader of me!”  Even when we reach our adult years, most of us ruefully admit that many decisions in life cannot be made without regard for the restrictions of life.  True freedom is impossible to ensure.

However, it might provide some relief to suggest that Jesus is not referring to political or individual freedom as we might understand it.  He takes a very “one size fits all approach” in His statement in v. 34, “everyone who sins is a slave to sin.”  The real slavery in life has little to do with voting in democratic elections, freedom of movement or consumer choice.  The enslavement that affects all of us has to do with the sin which we cannot help but commit.  We recall the words of the apostle Paul, recorded for us in the epistle to the Romans.  The angst from his situation is palpable …

“I do not understand my own actions.
For I do not do what I want,
but I do the very thing I hate.”

— Romans 7:15

Reinhold Niebuhr, arguably the greatest American theologian, addressed this common human issue in his book The Nature and Destiny of Man …

“Man is ignorant and involved in the limitations of a finite mind;
but he pretends that he is not limited.”

That, in essence, was the “pitch” that the serpent made to Eve, recorded in Genesis chapter 3.  He encouraged her to embrace the concept of a life lived without God’s guidance … and the results were tragic.  In our own context, we are as Niebuhr stated … limited but pretending we are not.  We desperately need the presence of the divine “consultant”, the One who made us and shapes all of life.

Jesus completely disregards the defensive response by his Jewish hearers and responds with even more emphasis:

“So if the Son sets you free,
you will be free indeed.”

— John 8:36

If we can dig a little deeper into the meaning of the word rendered “indeed”, we will find much that is helpful.  It is a different word than we have found in the other three passages in this series of messages.  It comes from the Greek verb translated “to be” which refers to the basic essence of existence.  Free from the bottom of our being, seems to be what Jesus is suggesting here.  Perhaps it means to be free from some of our “urges” that seem to be the cause of much confusion and harm in our contemporary world.  Once again, we hear the words of our friend Paul who wisely suggests:

“Everything is permissible for me;
but not everything is beneficial.”

— 1 Corinthians 6:12

We may covet the opportunities to freely purchase, travel across the world, speak the blunt truth and behave however we like … but, in our most honest moments, we would all agree with Paul that some discretion in living is required.  Reckless freedom produces disastrous results … but freedom in the Son is real freedom.

The later verses in this passage provide us hints as to how our Lord empowers us to live a life of freedom.  Jesus correctly identifies the danger facing Him, when He suggests (v. 37) that they are ready to kill Him because there is “no room for my word” in their lives.  Life for the devout Hebrew was so full of ceremonial requirements that they had “no room” for anything new.  The same is true for us, as we live in a world glued to electronic devices, heads down, missing the sparkle in a child’s eyes or the beautiful clouds on a summer’s day … the nuanced moments from God’s creation.  Later on in this passage, Jesus claims that part of their problem is that they listen to the wrong sources (i.e. their “Father” in verse 38).  Our Lord claimed that what He was telling them was “what I have seen in the Father’s presence (v. 38).”  What He had heard and seen in the Father’s presence He was now telling them … and us.

I had a friend years ago who has now gone to be with the Lord and whose funeral I had the privilege to conduct.  Jack and I had shared in a small group for many years with five or six other men.  It met at 7am on Wednesday mornings to accommodate the work schedules of those around the table.  As I got to know Jack, I observed how his life had changed through the years, primarily due to the people to whom he listened.  My friend worked as a bank manager all his life and so it would have been understandable if he’d conducted his life according to these financial “voices” … but he found “room” in his life to listen to others.  There was the voice of his wife Florence, who suggested that they attend our little struggling church plant when they moved into our city, even though he admitted that they would normally have attended an established church, “out of habit” as he said.  There was the voice of his son who had served as an agricultural missionary with our Mennonite friends in South America and was working on a doctorate in world development.  I witnessed a couple of discussions that Jack and his son had in my presence, when Ian tried to convince his dad about the impact current lending policies had on farmers … both in South America and in Canada.  In spite of the honest disagreements between the two friendly “combatants” I could tell that the father was listening to the son.  Finally, as we sat in the pastor’s study one day, Jack related to me how blessed we were as a congregation that the Lord had “led” us to hire our current Administrative Assistant who was serving us so well.  It was clear that my friend was listening to the voice of the Spirit as he served our church so capably.

Reflect

The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament describes the word John uses in v. 32, “it will set free” as “liberation from the self-deception of autonomous existence.”
Perhaps that describes your “modus operandi” or how you conduct your life. It may be time to reconsider … and to connect your life to the Son who can make you “free indeed!”

Prayer

As we have heard this day from Your word, gracious Father, we are reminded of a different kind of freedom, far from the types that we hear discussed in the coffee shops and backyards or trumpeted in the halls of power in our world.  As You have opened our eyes to Your Son and His “life-giving”, we have learned what kind of freedom to pursue.  How thankful we are that You have brought to us a lasting peace that comes from Your Son.       

 At such a moment we realize the truth of the prophet Isaiah’s words, “Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labour on what does not satisfy.”  We confess, patient Father, that this describes us and the so many others in our world.  We thank You for the words and example of Jesus … and the presence of Your Spirit in our lives, to correct and guide us in new ways. 

At the end of our prayer this day, we bring before You the names of those we know, who need Your guidance and care in specific ways.  At this time, we give a moment of silence for each in this worship cluster, whether in person or via the live stream, to bring before You those who are especially troubled at this time …

We humbly ask that You hear our prayers … even when words are hard to come by.  In Jesus name we do so … amen.

Song

Benediction

“Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly father feeds them.  Are you not of more value than they?” 

— Matthew 6:26