Jesus said (of himself), “If the Son sets you free, you are free indeed.”
Paul said, “It is for freedom that Christ has set you free.”
In his insanely gripping and subversive read Ethnic America: A History, Thomas Sowell describes the tragic social and economic conditions of (emancipated) slaves immediately after the Civil War. He writes:
“In the immediate aftermath of the war, the newly freed [blacks] were so inexperienced and vulnerable that some whites even continued to hold them as slaves, by keeping the Emancipation Proclamation secret from them.”
When I first read this, I was on an airplane, and in response I (unintentionally) made an audible noise of disgust, which (I’m sure) was more than a little awkward for the people around me.
Imagine that: keeping from your slaves the news of their liberation.
Here’s a slave-owner who knows he’s been defeated, and yet will do anything to keep up the lie, to pretend to have an authority that he no longer has (and never truly had), an authority over every single part of a slave’s life.
Central to Scripture’s story is emancipation. Israel’s greatest story–her defining moment–is, of course, the Exodus, a story of liberation from bondage. Her calendar was based upon it. The Passover meal celebrated it. Again and again Moses, when giving Israel the law, implores the people:
“Remember that you were slaves in Egypt, and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm” (see, e.g., Deuteronomy 5.15; 6.21; 15.15; 16.12; 24.18; 24.22).
All four gospels, the Apostle Paul, and Revelation identify Christ’s death with the story of the Exodus: Jesus is the Passover Lamb, who brings liberation from a cruel master.
Famously, soon after Israel’s departure from plague-ravaged Egypt, her former masters regretted their decision, refusing to admit defeat:
“When the king of Egypt was told that the [Israelite] people had fled, Pharaoh and his officials changed their minds about them and said, ‘What have we done by letting the Israelites go, so that they are no longer our slaves?’ So he had his chariot made ready and took his army with him.”
And so an utterly defeated and illegitimate former slave-owner set out to (re)claim an authority over what was never his to begin with. He certainly wasn’t going to tell her she was free.
She could only learn that from the Word of God, from Moses, Yahweh’s mouthpiece:
“The Egyptians you see today you will never see again.”
One of the central symbols of ancient Egyptian authority was the serpent (check out the golden mask of the famous boy pharaoh known as King Tutankamun, and you’ll find a certain reptile protruding from just above the forehead). Scripture speaks of another Serpent who claims an authority over humanity, an authority that was never his to begin with, often seducing various social, political, economic (and, yes, religious) power structures to spread propaganda that would prevent any News of Emancipation from ever reaching his slaves.
We will hear this from only one place: the Word of God.
Christian, understand: your ignorance of Scripture is anything but accidental. It is the result of the elaborate and calculated schemes of a sadistic serpentine slave owner who doesn’t want you to even begin to begin to know how unbelievably free you are.
You’re not going to cooperate with that, are you? Who wants to be controlled by lies?
Guilt. Shame. Regret. Fear. Bitterness. Envy. Desire. Revenge. Slander. Manipulation. Exhaustion. Despair. Racism. Gossip. Defilement. Control. Betrayal. Greed. Rage. Recklessness. Hypocrisy. Lust. Popularity. Sexism. Cynicism. Ingratitude. Pride. Selfishness. Loneliness. Procrastination.
Do you want these to rule over you?
With words of admonition and enticement Jesus says to all who have believed him: “If you hold to my teaching, you are truly my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
Consider Isaac Watt’s own description of God’s Word. Could these words one day be your own?
Laden with guilt and full of fears,
I fly to Thee, my Lord,
And not a glimpse of hope appears,
But in Thy written Word
The volumes of my Father’s grace
Does all my griefs assuage.
Here I behold my Savior’s face
In every page.
This [i.e., Scripture] is the field where, hidden, lies
The pearl of price unknown.
That merchant is divinely wise
Who makes the pearl his own.
Here consecrated water flows
To quench my thirst of sin.
Here the fair tree of knowledge grows,
No danger dwells within.
This [i.e., Scripture] is the judge that ends the strife,
Where wit and reason fail,
My guide to everlasting life
Through all this gloomy vale.
Oh may Thy counsels, mighty God,
My roving feet command,
Nor I forsake the happy road
That leads to Thy right hand.