Thursday, March 24, 2016

Sermon: Cross Purposes - Freedom (1 Peter 1: 13-23)

A few years ago, the Parkham branch of the WI in England were due to have a speaker on the theme of pirates. So, the ladies decided that, to mark the theme, they would all come in fancy dress as pirates. Eye patches, Wooden legs, toy swords, one lady even had a parrot on her shoulder (but it was actually a fluffy chick). It looked like a rehearsal for the musical Pirates of Penzance.

But then the speaker, Colin Darch, started his talk, telling the experience of the time when he had been held hostage by Somali pirates. He had been delivering a tug to Singapore when it was boarded by nine armed Somali pirates, demanding £1.6million of a ransom. After a long period of negotiations, the pirates accepted £437,000 and let them go. The ransom was paid, and they were released - given freedom.

This week we’ve been thinking about Cross Purposes, asking what the cross achieved. And we’ve found that there isn’t just one purpose of the cross - there are many. It’s as if the cross is like a diamond; as you look at it from different angles, the light shines and sparkles in new ways. So far we’ve seen how the cross brings us reconciliation with God, being brought near into relationship with him; and then how, as we’re drawn near to God, we’re also drawn nearer to each other in peace. Last night we looked at the cosmic consequence of the cross, bringing victory against the rulers and powers, Satan and his forces of evil. Tonight, we turn our attention to freedom. And even though it’s difficult, I’m going to try to resist shouting ‘freedom’ in the Mel Gibson as Braveheart Scottish accent!

For a few moments this evening, we’re going to look at the freedom the cross brings. But to do that, we need to ask - what are we free from? How was the freedom achieved? And what are we free for?

So first of all, what are we free from? You might know that the American Declaration of Independence claims that every person has three unalienable rights - life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Back whenever we used to play with friends at school, and someone did something, you might have heard them say ‘It’s a free country, I can do what I like...’ We like to think that we’re free, but the Bible teaches that all of us, by nature and choice, are actually slaves. While we may not realise it, we are held in slavery, captured.

Do you remember in John 8, where Jesus says ‘If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’ They take the hump and say that they are free, never been enslaved. But what does Jesus say? ‘Everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.’ (Jn 8:34).

You see, we think that we’re in control, that we do what we want. Temptation comes along, an opportunity to do a little teeny weeny tiny sin, no one would know - a wee white lie. We can handle it. We’re in control. But then lies build upon lies; or the wee sin we think we can control becomes bigger, and comes to control us - devising ways to do it more often; falling to more and more. Are you still in control? Could you stop any time?

Like the addict, we are addicted to sin; bowing down to it; held by it; enslaved by it. Like the fly spotting a nice flower and landing on it, only to be caught up by the Venus Fly Trap. We’re caught. Slaves to sin.

But the good news is that Jesus came for us. As we heard in Mark’s gospel, ‘The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’ (Mk 10:45). As we heard at the start, the ransom is the payment made for release of captives or hostages. Colin Darch got away with a small payment of £437,000. Seemingly the current rate could be as much as £3million.

Now that’s a huge sum of money to pay to release someone. Just think of trying to raise that amount of money to give someone you love their freedom. It would be almost impossible.

And yet, that’s like a pittance, just small change, compared to the biggest ransom payment ever. As Peter writes: ‘For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.’ (1 Pet 1:18-19).

One of the Psalms says that God owns the cattle on a thousand hills; money would be no object to him; but all the tea in China, and all the money in the world wouldn’t be enough to pay the ransom for you to receive freedom from the slavery of sin. As the children’s song goes: ‘I’m special because God has loved me, for he gave the best thing that he had to save me.’ And what was that? ‘His own Son, Jesus crucified to take the blame for all the bad things I have done.’

Peter describes Jesus as the lamb without blemish or defect. He’s describing Jesus in the terms used of the Passover Lamb, the Lamb that died to ransom and redeem the children of Israel when they were slaves in Egypt. We find the details in Exodus - a lamb per household, kill it, and paint the blood on the doorposts and lintel of your house. Roast the lamb, and eat it, ready to move.

Death was coming to every home in Egypt that night. God had said that the angel of death would sweep through the land, killing every firstborn. And it happened. The next morning, every Egyptian home was in mourning, their firstborn lying dead. But in every Israelite home, the firstborn lived. How? Why?

The Passover Lamb, the lamb without blemish had died in place of the firstborn son. The lamb had given its life in place of the firstborn son. The firstborn was ransomed, redeemed, by the lamb dying in his place. Can you imagine being the firstborn son in that house that night. Would you be nervous, knowing that death would sweep through? Imagine eating the lamb, knowing it had died instead of you. How many times would you ask your dad - did you paint the blood on the doorpost? Will I be safe? Are you sure it’s there?

It’s no accident that Jesus and his disciples were sharing in the Passover meal this very night. The disciples knew how the Passover meal worked; they kept it every year. But this night was different. As we’ll hear and see shortly, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and said ‘This is my body, given for you.’ He took the cup of wine and said ‘This is my blood, of the new covenant.’

Jesus is the Passover Lamb, the ransom paid in his blood - his life poured out for us. Have you taken refuge under the blood of Christ? Have you applied that blood to your soul? Have you heard the clink of chains being cut, the voice telling you that you’re free to go?

You’re free from slavery to sin. The freedom was won by the ransom being paid; you have been redeemed, bought back, as you trust in Christ. But what are you free for?

I wonder if you ever heard these words when you were growing up: If you’re under my roof, you’re under my rules. My house, my rules. Peter tells us that we have been brought into God’s family, that we call on God as our Father. In his house, here’s how it goes: ‘As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all your do; for it is written, ‘be holy, because I am holy.’

As Paul says elsewhere, don’t use your freedom as an excuse to go back to sin. You’ve been set free, so don’t go back again to serve sin. Our Father calls us to holiness, because he is holy. We’re called to live out the family likeness, to become more like our Father. You’re free to follow, free to serve.

Once a dad gave his son a gift on his birthday. It was a do-it-yourself little boat. The young boy spent many hours building it into a beautiful little sailboat, crafting it down to the finest detail. He then took it to a nearby river to sail it. He played with it each day after school. One day, when he put it in the water to play, an unexpected wind moved it away from him very quickly. Though he chased it along the bank, he couldn't keep up with it. The strong wind and current carried the boat far away. The heartbroken boy knew how hard he would have to work to build another sailboat.
Farther down the river, a man found the little boat, took it to town, and sold it to a shopkeeper. Few days later, as the boy was walking through town, he noticed a boat in a store window. When he went near, it looked exactly like his lost boat. Entering the store, looking at it closely, he told the owner that the boat belonged to him. It had his own little marks on it, but he couldn't prove to the shopkeeper that the boat was his. The man told him the only way he could get the boat was to buy it. The boy wanted it back so badly that he did exactly that. As he took the boat from the hand of the shopkeeper, he looked at it and said,
"Little boat, now you're twice mine! Once I made you and now I bought you."

‘Praise, my soul, the King of heaven, to his feet thy tribute bring - ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven, who like me his praise should sing?’ In Christ, by his cross, we are free - free from the slavery of sin. Free to be holy, like our holy Father. Freed by the blood of Christ, ‘who loved me, and gave himself for me.’

This sermon was preached at the Cross Purposes Holy Week series in Brookeborough Methodist Church on Maundy Thursday 24th March 2016.

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