Freedom to the Prisoners
When Jesus proclaimed freedom to the prisoners liberty to the captives, he started with the Jews who were held in spiritual captivity by the merciless dominion of their Sanhedrin of scribes, Pharisees and Sadducees. These so-called leaders had added over 600 rules to the Law of Moses, rules that invaded every area of their lives, subjecting them to the feckless control of these fleshly minded leaders. Jesus was deeply saddened by the deplorable state of what was once a great liberating religion:
“Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”
– Matthew 9:35-36
The Jews had been stripped of their dignity, pillaged of their resources, and thrown back into ‘their pen’ with no spiritual guidance or even mercy for the weight of their burdens. But Jesus’ compassion caused him to physically heal all who came to him and, along with it, he offered spiritual healing when he said:
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
– Matthew 11:28-30
The spiritual healing was made manifest by freeing the people of their heavy religious burdens. The things Jesus required of them were minimal and easy. Simply have faith in his message (1) that God is our Father, (2) that all men are our brothers, and (3) that there awaits a grand eternal future as spirit-adopted sons of God in heaven.
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will.”
– Ephesians 1:3-5
All other matters of godly devotion and salvation are wrapped up in those three ideas. If we recognize God as our Father, we will do our best to be like Him. (Matthew 5:48) If we recognize all men as our brothers, we will treat them as we want to be treated. (Luke 6:31) And if we are seeking the heavenly adoption, we will conduct ourselves as temporary residents on earth who need not fear (nor cause) any calamity. (Matthew 10:28)
By the way he led his life, Jesus demonstrated the simplicity of his message of liberty. When he found himself in situations where he was expected to submit to burdensome religious and doctrinal requirements, he wisely refrained, and reiterated the simplicity of godly devotion. For example:
“The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.) So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?” He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: “‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’ You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.”
– Mark 7:1-8
“On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all. When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God. Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue leader said to the people, “There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.” The Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie your ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?” When he said this, all his opponents were humiliated, but the people were delighted with all the wonderful things he was doing.”
– Luke 13:10-17
In each instance, simple godly devotion trumped their meticulous and ridiculous rules! The people were encouraged by his simple message of liberty, but the religious leaders did not comprehend how truly simple the message was. They thought they could trick him into speaking against the Law of Moses which, in their minds, would surely cause the people to reject him. So on one occasion, after answering one of their trick questions:
“One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
– Matthew 22:35-40
By way of this response, Jesus explained that those who accepted his message are only required to keep those two simple commandments, and if we are successful in doing so, we will have fulfilled all other moral and divine laws. This was true liberty to the Jews, and this liberty was to spread to ‘the ends of the earth’ (Acts 1:8) for all who sought, and seek, freedom from the burdensome rules and requirements of theocracies who set themselves up as intercessors and masters over the faith of others.
The liberty Jesus gave results in true religious freedom – not only freedom from burdensome rules, but freedom of thought, freedom of expression, freedom of worship. Jesus’ plain and open teachings will appeal to even the non-believer if he but opens his mind and heart to the possibility that there is a personality greater than man who has a plan and a purpose for his life.
To those captive to burdensome religious customs, traditions, rituals and rules, Jesus has set you free. You can decide from this time forward that you will ‘obey God rather than men.’ (Acts 5:29) As free sons, you can rest from your labors of toiling and begging for man’s approval; from sacrificing all your time and resources for the glorification of institutions and men; from subjecting the ‘secret person of the heart’ to the scrutiny of overlords so that you can enjoy the simple pleasures of life and the joy of a freely conducted ministry. Jesus expressly and explicitly gave you that freedom when he said:
“But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah.”
– Matthew 23:8-10
We are admonished to ‘show proper respect to everyone’ (1 Peter 2:17), but no Pope or Priest is our ‘father,’ no Rabbi is our ‘teacher’ and no Pastor is our ‘leader.’ They are all brothers in Christ on equal footing with each of us who are as obligated to respect you as you are to respect them. (Galatians 3:26-28) If mutual honor and respect is not given, you are free to exit their ‘slave huts’ and enter the spiritual brotherhood of the free sons of the Kingdom who will gladly serve alongside you as fellow workers in Christ. (Romans 16:3) This is your Jubilee!