Harry Houdini was the greatest escape artist who ever lived. In the early 1900’s he gained quite a reputation as a man no one could imprison. And Harry loved it.
In 1904 He went to one city and presented himself to the Constable and asked him to lock him up. He was marched off to the cell and stripped of his clothes, which were placed in an different cell. At Houdini’s request, all the cells in the corridor were also locked as was the iron gate at the foot of the steps.
Five minutes later Houdini joined them in the corridor. In that time, he had gotten out of the cell, opened another cell to retrieve his clothing, unfastened all of the remaining cells in the corridor and burst through the locked iron gate.
Houdini performed similar escapes throughout the country. In Washington, D.C., he escaped from Murderers’ Row where he proceeded to open the doors of eight other cells and shuffle the prisoners around, so that each was found in a different cell. In Boston City Prison, Houdini managed to escape the handcuffs and his cell as well as scale the prison wall and reach a phone half a mile away, where he phoned the prison Superintendent, all in 20 minutes.
How did Harry do it? Well let me tell you his secret. He had a key. And he cleverly hid the key – sometimes in his shaggy hair, sometimes he would gum it to the bottom of the seat, one time, after being stripped and cuffed and put into the prison, his wife gave him a big long kiss – long enough for the key to move from her mouth to his.
You know I love to watch a good magic show but in a way finding out the secrets kind of ruins the fun. I mean, if you have a key, are you really jailed? Are you really imprisoned if you are able to be freed at any moment?
We are in week three now of a series where we are studying God as he longs for us to see him. One famous theologian once said that how you view God is the most important thing about you. How you view God will shape how you live your life.
So this series we are examining ways that God has revealed himself to us – the ways he wants us to see him. And so last week Jim talked about God being our shepherd. God longs for us to see him as present, active, guiding and directing our life. And so the big idea last week was, If God is our shepherd, we lack nothing. The Lord is my shepherd, as opposed to “I am my shepherd, and I’m in big trouble!”
Two weeks ago we saw that God longs for us to see him as our father. Jesus tells us that it is God’s preferred manner in which we address him. When Jesus taught his followers how to pray he started by saying – pray like this – Our Father – the one in the heavens – the one as near to us as the air we breathe, hallowed be thy name. And the big idea was, If God is our Father, we dread nothing.
Today we are going to see that God longs for us to see him as our Savior. As our deliverer. There’s a great verse in the first chapter of the book of Revelation. It is Jesus who is speaking to John and He says, 18 I am the living one. I died, but look—I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and the grave.
Jesus holds the keys! He holds all the keys. And if He holds the keys, and you belong to Him, then there is nothing that can hold you captive. Nothing! And he holds the keys that can unlock any of us in this room from whatever it is that is tying us up. There is freedom in Jesus. Because Jesus is a savior. If God is our savior then we are held captive by nothing.
God is a Savior. And he has been that way from the very beginning of his interaction with humankind.
Way back in the third chapter of the book of Exodus (Which is the second book in the bible) we come across the famous scene of Moses and the burning bush. Moses is out with some sheep and he comes across a bush that is burning but not burning up and as Moses approaches the bush he hears the voice of God begin to speak to him.
Let’s read the first words that God speaks to Moses after the initial introduction. Exodus 3:7 Then the Lord told him, “I have certainly seen the oppression of my people in Egypt. I have heard their cries of distress because of their harsh slave drivers. Yes, I am aware of their suffering. 8 So I have come down to rescue them from the power of the Egyptians and lead them out of Egypt…
So from the very beginning we see God describing himself in terms of being a Savior. The Rescuer of the Israelites. And if you were to go to a website like Biblegateway.com and type in the word rescue you will find that it appears 18 times in this book and almost every one of them is something to the effect of “The Lord rescued us form the hands of the Egyptians.”
So it’s not surprising then that when Jesus is born some 1400 years or so after Moses, that angels show up in a field and tell shepherds, hey – we bring you good news – The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! Luke 2:11
And it’s also no surprise then that when Jesus launches his public ministry at age 30, he stands up in front of a congregation in a synagogue and says,
18“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, 19 and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.”
Luke 4 NLT
Okay, so exactly what does it mean that Jesus has come to release the captives? Well, let’s let Jesus answer in his own words what he means…
John 8:31 Jesus said to the people who believed in him, “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. 32 And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
33 “But we are descendants of Abraham,” they said. “We have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean, ‘You will be set free’?”
34 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave of sin. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free.
Jesus has come to set us free from the shackles of sin. And according to Galatians 3:22 The Scriptures declare that we are all prisoners of sin, so we receive God’s promise of freedom only by believing in Jesus Christ.
All of us were born by default with shackles on our soul. Shackled to sin. And over time that sin has ruined our soul pretty thoroughly. So Jesus the savior has come to free us from sin.
How? What was Jesus’ plan to jail break us all?
1 Timothy 2:6
He gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone. This is the message God gave to the world at just the right time.
He gave his life to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us his very own people, totally committed to doing good deeds.
His life for ours. To free us from sin and to free us to himself. His people. Free indeed.
At the end of this sermon we are going to celebrate Communion. Communion is the reminder of the price that was paid by Jesus our Savior to free us from the shackles of sin. So the cracker is a symbol of the body of Jesus that was broken for us. And the juice is a symbol of the blood of Jesus that was shed for the forgiveness of our sins.
And it’s open to whoever would like to participate. And if you’d like to pass that’s okay too – there’s no expectation, only an invitation. And the band will play a song and you can come anytime you’d like, but I’d encourage you to take a moment to reflect upon your image of God. Is your image of God big enough to include the picture of a God who would give up his life for yours. How does that reality compare to how you might have been thinking about Him? When you think of God do you think of him as the kind of God who would search for you and die for you?
But the overwhelming theme of scripture is that God is a rescuer of human beings. And that he has come to earth to rescue us from our sins. The Bible is a rescue story. It’s a story of a prince who has come to rescue his bride from an evil dragon. God is a savior. We are held captive by nothing.
Now let’s take a closer look at what it means that Jesus has freed us from sin.
We learn, for one, in Romans 3:24 Yet God freely and graciously declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins.
I received a phone call this week from a woman I do not know. She was calling because she was concerned. She felt this terrible guilt for sin and she was concerned that her sin would keep her from being able to get into heaven. She was distraught. I have placed my faith in Jesus but I continue to sin and I’m afraid he will not want me there.
See – your image of God – it’s important. And her image was that God was barely able to stand her and she was greatly concerned that the penalty of her sin was waiting for her when she died.
See sin, if left chained to us, will drag us away from God for eternity. But Jesus holds the keys! And he came to unshackle us from that heavy burden of our sins.
Jesus paid the price to free us from our sin so that now – all who will place their faith in Jesus, have their sins completely removed. They are irretrievable. And now the new word that comes to us is that there is now 8 So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. 2 And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death
Oh how I wish I could convince you to believe God – to take Him at his word. There is no NO condemnation for those who belong to Jesus. Let me ask you – What more must Jesus do to convince you that you are free? You are free!
See, once we grasp this, we are freed even from the fear of death.
Hebrews 2:14 Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death. 15 Only in this way could he set free all who have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying.
You have nothing to fear. You are already living eternal life. And the day will come when it will look different than it looks now – but rest assured you will be in the good hands of a loving father, shepherd, savior.
But, of course, Jesus didn’t die just to free us from the penalty of sin. He died to free us from the right now power of sin that works within us.
The Apostle Paul, the writer of the letter to the church meeting in Rome, asks a profoundly relative question in the seventh chapter. Romans 7:24 Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death?
On the night before Jesus was arrested, Jesus took aside one of his closest friends, Peter, and tried to prepare Peter for what was about to happen. And he tells Peter, listen, tonight I am going to be arrested and everyone is going to desert me – and Peter – even you will deny you even know me three times before dawn.
Peter, of course, says, No way! Not me! I’d die first! But sure enough, Jesus is arrested and Peter is trying to blend into the crowd watching to see what will happen when a little girl says, Hey – I recognize you – you are one of his disciples! And what des Peter do? He’s on autopilot – he says – I swear I’ve never met that man.
Now here’s the deal – Peter didn’t sit down and say, how now shall I respond to this situation. He wasn’t weighing out Jesus’ words. He naturally and automatically denied Jesus. Why? Did Jesus make him do it? Did Jesus put some kind of spell on peter? Of course not.
Jesus knew more about Peter than Peter knew. He knew that sin had so worked it’s way into Peter so deeply that Peter sinned on autopilot.
Is there any sin in your life that might be one of these sins that you just seem to automatically revert to? Do you have any pet sins that you just can’t seem to shake. When we name them pet sins, they sure seem to minimize the impact. Almost seems cute.
What if you keep rattlesnakes for pets? What if your pet sin is killing you on the inside? What if it’s killing your marriage or your family or your relationship with your kids? What if your pet sin is killing your joy and wrecking havoc deep inside of you?
Are there ‘pet’ sins in your life that have eaten your will power for breakfast and you have simply come to the conclusion you can never change?
You know what’s interesting about pet sins? It doesn’t take long before we swap spots with them. They become our master. We are the pets. Our deeply hidden sins that are inside of us begin to control us – we are the ones on their leash.
So you know what happens here? This is what happens. We can understand mentally and theologically that Jesus paid the price to free us from our sins. We get that. We believe it.
But practically, sometimes that deep captivating sin grows deep roots inside of us and it causes us a real dilemma. Because we come to church and we celebrate communion that Jesus paid it all – and we celebrate that our sins are gone. But deep inside – in our thoughts, we feel dominated by sin still, and we think – I will never shake this Romans 7 type life. I will never shake it.
And so we stop fighting it.
We try to manage it to a degree where it can be contained, where hopefully it will not make a public appearance.
And we come to church but deep inside we feel like hypocrites in hiding.
You know what we become? I heard this a few weeks ago – a speaker I was listening to said we become the Wizard of Oz. We try to project an impressive image. But we hide the real person and hope no one ever pulls the curtain away.
Oh, what a miserable person I am, indeed! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death?
Is this the best that Jesus can do for us?
Did Jesus’ death on the cross only promise freedom someday when we die? Or is there a way that those deep-rooted sins can be put to death?
Thankfully – There is an answer to the question Paul asks. He doesn’t say, the end. There’s another chapter that immediately follows these words.
Romans 8 So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. 2 And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death.
Who will free me? God our Savior! We need not be held captive by anything. Good news! God didn’t just save us and then maroon us on this kind of earth helpless until we die.
So what is the answer? How is it done?
It’s not going to be easy. It’s going to take work and dedication. And it starts with a vision of imagining your life lived apart from that sinful part of you that wants to run your life.
You have to begin with a vision of living without that thing that is entangling your soul. You have to be able to say – I can live without it. I can imagine being the kind of person who loves rather than lusts. Who serves rather than takes. Who lifts up rather than tears down. Who uses words to bless rather than curse.
You have to first imagine and envision that you would really be better off without it.
See many people can envision it but they don’t ever move on to intending to do something about it. Maybe you can envision being able to run a 10k race. I see myself – I’m running like the wind! I’m crossing the finish line – I did it!
That’s one thing. But do I intend to run a 10k? Nope. Many people – they know they struggle with a sin that is choking them half to death. But – do you intend to put that sin to death?
See that’s what is called for. That’s what the Bible says we’re going to have to do to be free. Colossians 3:5 5 So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. We’ve got some killing to do.
Well, wait a minute. It’s my pet sin. Don’t put fluffy to death. Fluffy is killing you. Fluffy wants to kill you. It’s kill or continue being killed time.
Let’s be honest – there are some sins that inside, we kind of like to keep around. We find them useful. My lusting kind of feels good. I’m quite the ladies man according to the lust of my eyes. My anger is kind of useful. It helps me get my way. People fear me when I freak out on them.
You are better off without those things, you know. The real you is better off without them.
So – the question is- do you intend to be free from the sin that is enslaving you? If I could produce a pill that you could swallow right now that would guarantee you would never be angry again, would you take it? Well, I don’t know. How would I get my way?
Unfortunately, like alcoholics, some people don’t come to the place where they are ready to actually put those sins to death until it has cost them severely. And they hit the bottom. And have hurt and injured people all around them.
But if you are ready to put those things inside of you to death, then there are some things you can do to begin the process of becoming free.
And it will take work. But there are some time tested means out there that can begin the transformation process of your soul.
For instance – Jim mentioned one great 101 type of thing that will have a positive effect on you if you do it. He suggested waking up each morning and spending some time meditating and working through Psalm 23 in your head. Before you get up – Lord, thank you tha tyou are my shepherd. I lack nothing today. You lead me – yes. Lead me Lord. Restore my soul…
I’m not being legalistic here. Please don’t interpret this as legalistic. It’s not legalism. I’m not telling you to do this or else God will be displeased.
I’m saying that Jesus has paid for your freedom for you for the here and now. But it’s going to take some work on your part too. Jesus died for your sins but he will not memorize Psalm 23 for you. You’ve got to own that.
Now, let me add one more thing to consider for you. If this message is ringing something inside of you and you want to learn more about this – we are going to be doing a Tuesday night class at the Journey Church office – and we are going to show a DVD – about 90 minute DVD’s and about 30 minute conversations around tables – and we will listen to a teacher named Dallas Willard. He taught Philosophy at USC. He pastored churches. He wrote books. And this DVD session is an expansion of his book Renovation of the Heart.
Jim and I have both been very influenced by this book. And beginning the first Tuesday in February and going about 8 weeks in a row. I will tell you that it’s going to make your brain hurt a bit – he’s very smart – and he isn’t the world’s most captivating speaker. But he presents some very good thoughts.
It was Dallas who used the illustration of the Wizard of Oz that struck me. So maybe it’s one of those things where you can carve out a two hour time period for six Tuesday nights in beginning February 2nd. And we don’t know if ten people will want to come or fifty. But either way we will go with it.
It’s not too late in 2016 to make a resolution. To say this is the year I will believe that Jesus is my Savior. Not only of my past sins. Not only of my future destiny. But he is the savior of me right now, and this is the year I say good-bye to those sins that desire to hold me captive. I say goodbye to those feelings that are holding me hostage. I say goodbye to a mindset that wants to convince me to be my own shepherd.
Run at the issue’s of the heart. May you be free indeed!