Summary: We often change the way we use words over time. One such word is freedom. Today we see what it means to really be free. Sermon originally presented on Independence Day.
Our language is constantly changing, words take on new meanings, while a word may mean one thing to this person over here, it might mean something completely different. Sometimes that word takes on different connotation because of something that has happened in our lives. Irene Hannon wrote a novel titled, “Against All Odds.” In this story, the main characters have very different ideas for the concept of love. Both are FBI agents. Coop believes that love is restrictive, that it makes life difficult while Monica believes that love brings freedom, it’s liberating because you can just be yourself. We’ve made similar changes in our word usage over the years of American history.
On July 4, 1776- 56 men gathered to sign a declaration for freedom. In it, they wrote, “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. Today, freedom seems to be viewed under a totally different light. Much of life is now controlled by government regulations while claiming to protect individual desires. This freedom is actually quite enslaving.
The events in today’s text reveal a lot about real freedom. I believe that if we return to the freedom of Scripture, we would both please God and honor our American forefathers. Read Acts 5:17-42.
The first thing we learn here is that real freedom isn’t determined by circumstances. Look back to chapter 4. We often focus on Peter and John when we look at these events, but it appears all 12 apostles were arrested. However, the cell couldn’t hold them, they were freed by an angel and went right back to the temple court, proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ. So many things are happening today that leave us feeling like we’re stuck in a prison as well. What we have to determine is how we’ll respond. Are we going to sit in the cell with a “poor me” mentality or are we going to start looking for the next opportunity to change the world. When Paul was in chains, they had to keep changing the guard because he was converting the soldiers. I’d love to have that kind of reputation, minus the chains if possible.
The second thing we see here is that real freedom isn’t controlled by the government. The apostles are once again brought before the Sanhedrin, who are clearly upset with them now. They’ve preached Jesus, broke out of prison, and preached Jesus some more. Despite all their warnings, it seems the gospel message was spreading throughout Jerusalem.
So how do the apostles respond? Peter (always the outspoken one) stands up to respond. We must obey God over man. You are the ones who killed Jesus, yet God raised Him back to life and exalted Jesus to be Prince and Savior. We are His witnesses, saw these events take place, and we must tell the world!
At this point, Gamaliel addresses the Sanhedrin. Gamaliel is a well-respected teacher, known to have taught Paul as a young Pharisee even. He points out what has happened with similar “uprisings.” Both Theudas and Judas were men who had raised up a loyal following in rebellion against the Romans. In both cases, they were killed and their followers scattered. His conclusion? If this is of God, there is nothing to be done to stop it, but if it’s of man it will die out on its own. At his suggestion, they decided to flog and release the apostles.
A bit of a side note here, but I think this lesson from Gamaliel is important to heed. We’ve got to learn to choose our battles, to know when it’s worth entering the fray and when we need to simply ignore the attack and move forward. In recent years, a movie was released called, “The Last Temptation of Christ.” It depicts Jesus on the cross dreaming of what life could have been like had He been able to live on. This included marriage and children with Mary Magdalene. Several of the Christian media outlets cried out about this movie, calling for a boycott. The movie really wasn’t done very well and would have been a complete flop had it not been for this outcry. People got curious about what had the Christians up in arms and went to see the movie to find out what they were talking about. Had they simply chosen to leave Hollywood’s ignorance alone, it would have died on its own. But let’s continue to the ultimate truth about freedom.
Real freedom is found in a relationship with Jesus Christ. It’s funny to think that the apostles actually rejoiced over what had happened to them. They were happy to have spent time in jail and they were glad to have received a flogging. Now, I look at that and think, “What a terrible, horrible, awful 24 hours of my life!” These guys rejoiced over it. Why? Because they endured those things because they were serving Jesus, their Lord and Savior. They knew what they had been doing was right and nothing could be done to stop them. The same is true for us- nothing this side of heaven can separate us from the love of God. Not the circumstances we may find ourselves and not the government with their attempts to institute a law that goes against God. This, my friends, is a freedom worth celebrating.