My country tis of thee
Sweet land of liberty, Of thee I sing
Land where my fathers died
Land of the pilgrim’s pride
From every mountain side
Let freedom ring!
All the verses of this song are proclaiming the wonder of America, except the last verse. The last verse is a prayer – it is rarely sung.
Our fathers’ God to Thee,
Author of liberty, to Thee we sing
Long may our land be bright
With freedom’s holy light
Protect us by Thy might
Great God, our King!
It is on this idea of the author of liberty that I want to focus as the Fourth of July holiday weekend comes to a close. In this celebration of freedom, its critical to acknowledge that freedom comes not from government, but from God. The Declaration of Independence states,
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness….”
The founding fathers in this document acknowledged that liberty originates with God
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” – Luke 4:18-19
He is reading Isaiah 61:1-2. For the Jewish rabbis and the traditional school of thought, this passage had strong political overtones. They believed it referred to a political Messiah, a person whom most leaders believed would bring Roman oppression to an end and give the nation of Israel sovereignty once again. Political power and military might would characterize him. They would be the most important things in his arrival on the scene. Jesus claimed here that he is the Messiah, but he is a different sort of King than the people were seeking. Through his reign, the hearts and minds of people would be set free, and only then could they understand the true nature of freedom. So Jesus Christ really is the Author of liberty. As a person surrenders his life to him and follows him, he experiences his liberty. It’s manifest in at least three ways.
First of all, through Jesus, the author of liberty, there is freedom from poverty. Jesus said, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.” His words here bring to mind financial matters and the year of Jubilee. According to the law, every 50th year in Israel was to be a Year of Jubilee, in which all debts were forgiven and all property returned to its original owner as assigned when the Promised Land was occupied. The year of Jubilee was marked by an elimination of poverty. The point here on this holiday weekend is that it is God through Christ who provides the prosperity that so many Americans enjoy.
God is the one who delivers from poverty, not the government.
For nearly the past 100 years now, the people of this country have increasingly looked to the government as the liberator from poverty and the provider of greater prosperity. That trend shows no signs of changing. It isn’t a partisan practice – both major political parties have the same mindset. Despite billions upon billions of federal dollars being spent to combat poverty over the last few decades, poverty isn’t decreasing. A recent report from the National Bureau of Economic Research states that over the past 45 years the standard of living has increased for the majority of people, yet the poverty level remains the same. Could the reason progress is being made is that Americans are looking in the wrong direction?
Listen to a description of the generosity prompted by God’s Spirit in Acts 2:42-47,
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
Rome wasn’t involved, the Jewish authorities weren’t involved, but God was getting it done as the people followed Jesus and were led by his Spirit. Through Jesus, the author of liberty, we find freedom from poverty. Following him as individuals, and as a people, is the solution.
Then through Jesus, the Author of liberty, we are freed from captivity. The Year of Jubilee was mentioned earlier. Another part of that 50 year festival is that all fellow Jews who had been taken into slavery were freed. They were released from the slave market and allowed to live a life of liberty. Today in this country there isn’t the widespread problem of human slavery that existed 150 years ago, but there are other forms of slavery. There are people who are held captive to alcohol, to drugs, to sexual immorality, to food, to sex, to a host of other things and lifestyles. Again, there is a growing tendency to look to the government for answers in these areas, to solve the problems that exist.
In the 1920’s the nation passed the 18th amendment to the Constitution to make alcoholic beverages illegal, seeking to reduce alcohol abuse, but it didn’t work. Instead organized crime increased, and captivity to vices became even greater.
Freedom from captivity is gained not by Washington legislation, but by Divine proclamation.
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…” What could never be accomplished by legislation God has accomplished by his incarnation in Jesus. Through the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus, there is liberty from captivity. I came across a story this past week about a grandfather and grandson that illustrates the idea very well.
Papaw walked into the family room and found his little grandson, Jeffy, standing up in his playpen, crying. He looked pitiful, standing there in just his little baseball T-shirt and diaper. His face was red and tear-stained from crying. When Jeffy saw his Papaw, his face lit up in a way that touched the old man’s heart. He immediately reached up his chubby little hands with the words, “Out Papaw, out!” What Papaw could resist such a plea? Not this one! He walked over to the playpen and reached down to lift his little buddy out of captivity and distress. Just then, however, Law and Order stepped into the room. Jeffy’s mother walked out of the kitchen with a dishtowel in her hand and spoke sternly. “No, Jeffy! You are being punished. You have to stay in the pen! You just leave him right there.” Oh, great! Now what’s a Papaw to do? His grandson’s tears and reaching little hands tugged at his heart – but he also couldn’t violate the mother’s discipline.
He couldn’t stand staying in the same room with the boy, reading his newspaper and pretending to be oblivious to his plight. He also couldn’t turn around and walk out the door without feeling like a betrayer to his little pal. What could he do? Love found a way. Since Papaw couldn’t take Jeffy out of the playpen, he climbed in with him. He said, “If you’re in the playpen, Buddy, I’m in the playpen. What’s your sentence? How long are you in for?” And finding a big, goofy Pawpaw suddenly filling his little prison cell, the little boy had a new outlook and his captivity was transformed. Soon, they both were free as Papaw lifted him out of the playpen and guided him gently and lovingly to much better things.
Jesus said, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind. ‘ God meets you in the midst of your captivity, whatever it may be, transforming your situation, changing your perspective, and setting you free.
Then through Jesus, the Author of liberty, we are freed from oppression.
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because …he has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
In preparing for this message I read through the Declaration of Independence. Actually I did so on the Fourth of July. The representatives of the colonies were signing that document because they were oppressed by a very heavy-handed British government. Through that event and the events that followed, God in his sovereignty allowed the United States of America to come into existence. We give thanks for the birth of our country on this weekend.
Unfortunately, the natural tendency of any people is to desire that their government grow and seek to provide them with what only God can truly give. 1 Samuel 8 provides the classic example. The people of Israel had a small, minimal government, unlike all the nations around them. They had a prophet in Samuel, and they had judges. What they desired however, was a king to do for them what the kings of other countries were doing for their people. God warned them of the coming hardship if they received what they were seeking, but they persisted. So God allowed them to have their way, and Samuel shortly anointed Saul as their first king.
The point here is that the people turned from God to government, and sought the things from government that only God could truly provide. The result was oppression. What was true for the people of ancient Israel has also been true of many Christians in America today. The nation is increasingly turning from God to government, looking to government to provide the things that only God can truly give. As a result, the government grows bigger and bigger, the country goes deeper and deeper into debt, and the burden upon this generation and future American generations grows greater and greater.
On this Independence Day weekend, one of the best things to do is to refocus upon God, and to clarify the role that he should have in a Christian’s life. With that refocusing dependence on God grows, and greater liberty and freedom result.
Will you look to God and give thanks for the land in which you live? Will you express gratitude to him for all that he has given you in this country today? Then, will you commit yourself to continuing to look beyond this gift to the Giver, and to depending and relying upon him for all that you need? Will you experience the liberty that God offers you through Christ? Jesus is indeed the author of all liberty.