So often, we think of the Old Testament as dead words. Especially the Pentateuch (the first 5 books of the Old Testament), with its laws and codes and genealogies. I remember trying to read parts of Leviticus or Numbers for the first time. I remember being baffled and bored and thinking that those books must not be very important. I had no intent of reading them…. ever.
As Christians we often believe that the Old Testament doesn’t matter so much. We have our New Testament with Jesus and our God of grace and love so we don’t need those texts about wrath and covenant and ancient ideas that don’t make much sense. We are prone to think that our New Testament isn’t very congruent with those prophets of the past and we like to state that Jesus changed everything so those older texts don’t matter.
But what if the Old Testament is our story? Is God’s story? And what if Jesus is the story, too? Hold on to that thought, and we’ll get back around to it.
As you know, the Bible is big. There’s a whole lot of words in there. And, honestly, we have the opportunity to use those words however we want. Some use scripture to comfort, some use it to condemn, some look for practical living advice, or political ideas. Some people take parts of the Bible to form intricate philosophies, create arguments or to inspire entire communities of people. We usually look for moral guidance, spiritual uplift and sometimes even intellectual challenge. No matter your stance on a certain issue, no matter your argument, you can find some sort of supportive evidence in the Bible. You want support for slavery? You can find that in the bible. You want support that slavery is wrong? That’s in there too. Want to claim that women shouldn’t preach? You could find evidence for that. Want proof that women should preach? You can find that too. The Bible is THAT big, that diverse.
We have the capability of taking individual books, chapters and verses and injecting any meaning that we choose. We have that option, and unfortunately, it’s how that majority of us view and use the Bible. But what if that’s not the purpose of the Bible at all? What if it’s not just about facts and pretty language and a definitive view of God and life? What if it’s not just about answers? What if we looked at the Bible as it was written? In its entirety, as a comprehensive story, an overall narrative? I like how one Biblical scholar, Eugene Peterson, says “The Bible is basically and overall a narrative — an immense, sprawling, capacious narrative.”
We’ve learned, through our schooling and our society, that stories are for children and campfires. We don’t view stories as legitimate. We’ve been taught to soak our brains with information so that we can gain the most knowledge and accomplish the most tasks. We want concrete answers. We want the simplest, easiest route to achieve our goals. We just want the information that will help us succeed and prosper.
But this doesn’t make much sense for us, this way of functioning. Because we don’t live out our lives through information. We, all of us in some way or another, live out our lives in relationship. And stories, stories invite us in. They invite us into the relationship. They invite us to be a part of it. This is why the Bible was written. Not just for facts or doctrine or inspiration, but as an invitation for us to live into this story, to become a part of God’s master narrative of love and grace and liberation.
If we only use the Bible for fragments of insight or to point fingers at those who have different beliefs, we lose sight of this huge, expansive, all-encompassing story of God. We must view the whole narrative. Not only to learn about God but to learn how to live into God’s story, God’s kingdom, God’s dream. The Bible is an invitation to live into God’s reality with every ounce of our being.
Today, I want us to examine one recurring theme in God’s story: the narrative of freedom. From the very beginning of Genesis, to the very end of Revelation, we can witness God’s ultimate promise of liberation.
So, if the entire Bible speaks of us being free, What exactly does that mean? Keep that question in your mind. What does it mean to be free?
Our scripture today is from Exodus 20, verses one and two. It says: Then God spoke all these words: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
The rest of this chapter of Exodus lists the 10 commandments, and people don’t pay too much attention to these first couple of sentences. But they are so important! I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
Now to set a little background for us, the Hebrew people, the descendants of Abraham, the people who God chose to set an example for the world, were enslaved in Egypt for hundreds of years. In a captivating, triumphant story, God pulls them out of Egypt, away from oppression, out of slavery. God liberates them.
The entire Old Testament feeds out of this story, this narrative of God’s promise of awesome freedom. A people of faith were formed around this idea that God delivers. The Exodus story was powerful and meaningful in the time it was written. It made a lot of sense in that ancient context. It’s a bit more tricky for us to connect with slavery in Egypt. That doesn’t really resonate with me. But, luckily for us, God’s story didn’t and doesn’t stop there.
We find enslaved people all through out the Bible. Sometimes though, their slavery isn’t quite as obvious. Perhaps we can relate with them a little more.
In the Old Testament we have King David, who was a slave to his own deceit and shame. He had an affair with a woman and then killed her husband. His shame gripped him tightly. In the New Testament the apostle Paul was a slave to his own hatred and pride. He eventually became one of the most well known followers of Jesus, but spent many years before that killing Christians. He was held captive by his fear. Over and over in the Bible we read stories of people who are bound, tied up by their own inadequacies and short-comings. Their stories are our stories. These narratives invite us in.
What enslaves you? I know for me, I am often bound by a desire to be appreciated, the need to be the best. I’m enslaved by jealousy, selfishness, daily stresses, failures, heart breaks. These things hold me captive. They keep me from fully living in to my potential, to God’s plan for me. I’m going to guess that I’m not alone in this. What enslaves you?
Now, if God delivers the Hebrew people, and King David, and Paul and promises to liberate us from that which holds us captive, what does that mean? What does it mean in my life? In your life?
Remember earlier when I said the Old Testament is God’s story and Jesus is also God’s story? Well, the God who liberated those Hebrew people, that same God showed up in human suit, with skin on. Pretty cool, right? Jesus didn’t change the overall narrative, Jesus was and is the narrative. We find our freedom in Christ. That was a big statement. We find our freedom in Christ. Now stick with me as I attempt to pull these things together.
In the Book of Luke, chapter 4: Jesus is speaking in a synagogue. And he reads a scroll written by the Old Testament prophet Isaiah. So Jesus reads Isaiah’s words:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
Jesus is pretty much saying, here I am! You know, me, God. I came to be with you. I became human, so that you can forever be connected to me. I put skin on, to bridge the gap between me and my creation. So that you can receive MY freedom. So the captives can be set free.
Jesus forever filled the divide between us and God. Between us and God’s promise of freedom.
Often, we think of freedom as individual autonomy, meaning we get to choose what we want, live how we want. We get the good stuff. We picture freedom as choice. But that’s not the freedom that God is talking about. That’s not the freedom we most deeply crave.
Through out scripture, God’s liberation is shown to us over and over again, and then this freedom shows up in human form. The grace and love that we are promised and that Jesus displays over and over again, this grace and love begin to remove the things which bind us, allowing us to become all that we were created to be. Restoring creation. Jesus shows us ,through patience, service and radical love, how to usher God’s freedom into all of creation.
Liberation means mended creation. To be free, is to have the ability to be made whole. To be mended. I’m going to say that again because I think it’s important. To be free, is to have the ability to be made whole. To be mended. And the more we are willing to live like Jesus, and to let this love and grace of God seep into our very core, the more free we can become.
God so desperately wanted to share this freedom, God became a human. God so badly wants us, right here, right now, to be a part of it. To live into God’s dream of what creation should be. We get to play a part in the master narrative. That blows my mind. Like, really God? You want me to be a part of this? Have you met me?
So, we’ve been given this freedom. Which is a pretty sweet gift. Now what do we do with it? What do we do with the ability to be made whole? The ability to help restore creation? What does that look like? For me? For you? What does liberation look like from day to day?
Our buddy Paul had some pretty great words on this in the book of Galatians, chapter five.
He says: For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self–indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Friends, we so often take our freedom for granted or we use it to enslave others. Others we don’t agree with, others who have less power or money than us, others who live different lifestyles than us. We create lots of “others.” We, and that means me too, we act life God’s freedom is just for us. That we, somehow, own it. We try to take control of it.
But Paul tells us something different. He binds together liberation and love. He points us to a messiah, who had complete freedom, complete wholeness and yet chose to become a slave to others. Jesus was a slave, not to his own short-comings and inadequacies, but through love, he became a salve to others. To every single person he met.
So, yes friends, we are liberated. We have the ability to be made whole. An ability to step inside of God’s humongous, ever-lasting narrative. So let us, in love, share our freedom with others. And not just the others who we deem acceptable. Let us be bonded to God, every single one of God’s beloved, and every ounce of God’s creation. God wants to write us in to this incredible story of freedom, life and restoration.