Bondage and Freedom

Just thinking about the Exodus: Jubilee.

We are all in bondage. Jesus had this conversion with the Pharisees in John 8. In the Pharisees their bondage was displayed in nationalism, harshness, failure to help the suffering, violence. We are in bondage to our cultures, religions, what others think of us, our societies, how we might be treated, to money, to our desires, our sense of personal security.  This is actually Satan’s realm, as the god of this world. This is where he controls the events of the world. And the nature of the bondage means we can’t point to someone else, and say look they are in bondage, because we are also, maybe in a different way. This bondage comes back to a self-bondage, to our own choices. And like the Pharisees, we don’t see our own bondage. Fear and unbelief through the Fall make bondage form part of our unconscious life style. We make peace with it. God wants to gently unmask this in ourselves and bring us into his liberty: childlike trust that brings change.

We speak about freedom, meaning faith, meaning that because Jesus died for us we are free at first from punishment. Then we may be also free from what we in the religious sense call sin: personal moral sin. But beyond this what is the dynamic or radical freedom God brings into our lives? What does it mean to be or to live free?

It’s a daunting question because it shifts everything that we once held as certain. Look what freedom did to Jesus. Those around him who were in bondage couldn’t stand his freedom. It was far too critical, to enlightening, challenging, and exposing. Because Jesus was free from the world, and couldn’t be put in one of our camps, the world killed him. God is radically free. He isn’t on the side of a team or a cause, but of our freedom. So for Jesus, freedom meant the loss of life. He actually said this several times. “He that saves his life shall lose it, but he that loses his life shall find it.” Freedom becomes the opposite of what we try to accomplish so we can say with the world “We have goods, we have arrived, we can do what we like, we are now free.” Freedom means loss. This is outlined in everything Jesus taught in the Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount. This is dynamically opposed to our world cultures and media and to Satan. But it’s not loss for loss sake. It’s about our call to something greater, to life, liberty and the kingdom of God. It’s letting go, to lay a hold of. But it’s scary.

We see all this in the Exodus. God wanted the people to be free, free from Pharaoh and his system of efficiency and control, the economic cycle of making bricks for the growth of the empire. Growth and results: over relationships and people. But God wanted the people to be free on the inside: to not take on Pharaoh’s character in themselves: the character that came in the Garden of Eden, when people began to accuse and oppress others to get what they wanted. He wants us free from using people, or allowing others to suffer and not caring, becoming numb, because we fear of our own security. This bondage is how Satan rules the world. But this radical freedom meant trust. They had to trust God, like Adam and Eve were called to trust God; that he would lead them safely across the Red Sea and then provide for them in the wilderness. But they fell too, just like Adam and Eve. Satan entered their hearts. They couldn’t trust, which meant they couldn’t be free. They began to long for the bondage of Egypt. This is a religion of self, of bondage of Satan: paganism. So they got the Law, as children of bondage.

But God set out to redeem us from our captivity to this enemy. When Satan entered their hearts, God didn’t say that’s it, I’m finished with this lot. He went as far as to give himself, to lay down his own life in Christ, to get Satan out of our hearts. He was committed to that extend: the opposite of Pharaoh, God come in the flesh is the true shepherd/ruler of the world. What a cost he paid to love us. This is freedom. This love is surely something for us not to neglect, but to emulate, in how we treat others who sin against us. Isn’t this also the way of life Jesus calls us to all through his teaching? Forgiving and serving our enemy: “Father, forgive them, they do not know what they doing” (they don’t see their bondage). This is freedom. This freedom from Satan’s trained response is how the world is wrested back from Satan’s control. This new way of living in the world is the Promised Land Jesus spoke of. From Pharaoh’s land to the Promised Land. Like someone said, “The resurrection completes the message of the cross, in which Jesus comes back, not for revenge, but for reconciliation.” This is how the free live, die and rise again, by following God, caring for enemy. This is the abundant life. Though it comes with taking up our own cross, it leads to freedom from Satan, from Pharaoh. It leads to embracing people, like God embraces us in Christ, rather than embracing self. Without taking up our cross we can’t enter that life and freedom.

The Jubilee is possibly the most wonderful concept in the scripture. It links the whole Bible. It means freedom, to make slaves free. It’s God’s entire program through the gospel. It’s his renewal plan, not only for our lives, but for his world, the world we live in. God declared Jubilee when he brought his people out of Egypt. Henceforth they were to set others free. They were to “de-Pharaoh” their nation and all people they came into contact with. Though Israel couldn’t do this entirely, this was the centre spirit of God’s action and would eventually renew the entire life of mankind. “And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.” (Exodus 10:19) A seed had been sown. The deliverance of Israel from Egypt was to become the world’s deliverance for all nations. They were the new Adam, spreading God’s nature revealed in the Exodus, in this new creation people, to a world in chaos. Of course, this wasn’t to happen through Israel, due to their own fall. But instead of giving up, God brought forth a shoot from the nation who fulfilled their mission for us all. Israel’s destiny and call was fulfilled in the Messiah.

Of course its central theme in Exodus is related to debt. Israel was not to hold other people in debt, like Pharaoh did. They were to love people, and free them. This is God’s central character. This is of course related to economic debt, which today is one of the most debilitating forces in the world. It still makes slaves of countless millions of people in all nations. In rich nations it enslaves the whole society and restricts everybody’s choices and freedom. In poorer nations it enslaves millions of people who serve the global economic systems. This is decidedly not the will of God. Economically, Pharaoh is still very much in control. Israel never obeyed the Jubilee in freeing debts, and our modern world hasn’t yet either. A Jubilee today would radically change our world. The Jubilee is one of the greatest signs of the kingdom of God, and resisting it is one of the greatest signs of the world’s fallenness. We have enslaved ourselves in it through covetousness. The media tells us to emulate others, to reach out and have what they have, and for that we need debt. We are promised freedom, but the whole world is taken captive. The bank owns us, none of us has time for God’s will and program of liberating others, for our community, for ourselves, for one another.

One of the most wonderful things is that God uses Jubilee to describe his kingdom. When Israel was in bondage, this time in Babylon, Daniel described the coming of Christ as their Jubilee. His kingdom was to come to them in “70 x 7” years. This number was a depiction of the perfect Jubilee in the advent of Christ’s kingdom. This 490 year period from the captivity in Babylon was fulfilled in the coming and ministry of Jesus. He opened his ministry by declaring the Jubilee had arrived: “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, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19) And by this, Jesus means full Jubilee, not just a spiritual one. His kingdom has come to set us free in all parts of our lives, an inward renovation that casts out Pharaoh and Satan, which frees our societies, our poor and our whole land. In Hebrew culture exodus/gospel is holistic: all God’s creation is renewed. What a beautiful answer Jesus gives when his disciples ask how many times we should forgive others, “Seven times?” “No”, Jesus replies, “70 x 7.” He answers with Jubilee. There is no boundary to Jubilee. It is absolute. We receive full Jubilee from God and we freely spread full Jubilee to our whole world. That is our call, our character and our mission: our Adamic mission reflecting who God is in the world, fulfilled in the gospel.

We cannot read Paul without seeing this Exodus/Jubilee underlying all his narrative. We don’t read Paul in the Greek/Roman narrative of individualism, philosophy and law, but in the Hebrew narrative of the history of liberation and renewal of all creation. In Romans we come through the Red Sea of Baptism in chapter six, to the Law at Mount Sinai in chapter seven and onward to the Promised Land of the liberty of the sons of God in chapter eight. This Jubilee then sets the entire world and cosmos free. This is the Exodus program fulfilled in the gospel and church, in renewing all things. It is fulfilled by Jubilee, by God’s people being made free from the world and thereby bringing freedom to the world. So freedom won’t come to this world just by our preaching, but only by us actually being made free by what we preach.

Blessings.