4th Lenten Service                                                                          
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Luke 4:18-19 Sermon                                                                                                  
March 6, 2013

(Note:  This sermon was preached at St. John Lutheran Church in Seward as part of a combined effort for the midweek Lenten services.  No video of the service is available.)


TEXT (vs. 18-19):  “18 The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.”  

            “He comes the prisoners to release, in Satan’s bondage held; the gates of brass before him burst, the iron fetters yield.”

            These words probably seem familiar to you, because they are words of a hymn verse.  It’s an Advent hymn that we sing in the weeks before Christmas entitled, “Hark The Glad Sound, The Saviour Comes,” which is hymn 349 in your hymnals, just in case you want to have a look at it.

            These words are intended to point to Jesus as the Christ, the one who would fulfill the Old Testament prophecy recorded by Isaiah.  Jesus would be the one to give liberty to those who are captive, those who are prisoners of Satan, who ultimately are those who are yearning for freedom. 

            The picture we automatically get in our minds when we think of captivity is the idea of a prison or jail cell.  It’s a cage with iron bars where people are held against their will.  They are at the mercy of those who are holding them, which in our earthly term of reference is the government.  People who are in jail are there because they are paying their debt to society for some sort of wrong they have done.

            To make this a bit more real for you, allow me to give you some numbers.  The United States has more people incarcerated than any other country in the world.  Approximately one out of every hundred people is behind bars.  In terms of numbers, it would be like plucking 70 people from Seward and putting them in jail.  If you add to that the people who are under some supervision, like probation or parole, the number jumps to one out of every thirty-one people.  And that’s not even counting the almost 100,000 people who are in the juvenile system.

            I don’t think any of us have trouble understanding what it means for someone to be in jail.  If somebody commits a crime, they are caught and arrested, and they are put in jail.  It’s a pretty simple formula.

            This is something however that I still have trouble fully understanding myself.  I don’t know what prison life is like, and I don’t understand the prisoner mentality.  So to help me better understand all of this, I decided to telephone one of my friends, Bill Hance, who is a prison chaplain.  This has been Bill’s ministry for many years, and he has encountered the full gamut of those who are imprisoned, from the white collar criminal who is there only a matter of months, to those who are there for life, and even those who are on death row, who are now awaiting lethal injection since the electric chair has been retired.

            I believe that people in prison have a far different perception of captivity than somebody who has never experienced prison life.  A prisoner who is serving a prescribed sentence yearns for the day when they can be set free, and they will literally be counting every day, hour, and second until that time happens.  Time is the thing that will set them free to live back in society again.

            But then there are those who are lifers, or those on death row.  For them, there is no more freedom in society.  They will die in a penal institution.  They are being held captive for the rest of their natural life.  What do they have to look forward to?

            What they have come to realize is that true freedom has nothing to do with what side of the prison bars they are on.  True freedom comes from Jesus Christ, and the price he paid to obtain that freedom for us.  And from what Chaplain Bill told me, the state can have them in the most restrictive captivity available, and yet they can be truly free.  They not only know but fully appreciate what freedom in Christ actually gives them.

            We might not be incarcerated by the government, but sin holds us prisoner too.  The confession in one of the traditional orders of Lutheran Liturgy says, “We confess that we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves.”  That’s the whole thing in a nutshell.  We recognize our helplessness on our own.  Nothing we can say or do can release us from the bondage of sin and Satan.  We can’t “do our time” like a person in prison, because time will not release us.  We can’t buy or bargain ourselves out of bondage either, and there is no appeal process.   And God forbid that we should die in bondage; because if that happens, our fate has been sealed, and we would belong to Satan and be bound to him forever.  And what a gloomy prospect that is!

            Jesus came to give freedom to all of humanity.  He came to free us from Satan’s chains so we could be bound to him forever in the freedom of the Gospel.  This is a beautiful prospect and a fabulous message; unfortunately it was lost on many in his day.

            Listen to the dialogue he has with the Pharisees in John chapter 8, verses 31-38:  31 So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 33 They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?”  34 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. 35 The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. 37 I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you. 38 I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.”  And continuing on in verses 43-44:  43 Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. 44 You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”

            The Pharisees just don’t get it, do they?  Their freedom is standing right there in front of them; but they are so bound up with Satan that they can’t see it.  And that is exactly what happens with people today.

            There is a rather troubling illustration I’ve used in the past that I am going to share with you today that shows how our freedom was won, and how people react to it.

            Imagine that you are the proud parent of a baby boy, your only child.  Not too far from you is a penitentiary, full of people who are your enemies, and people who are the worst of the worst of society.  These people are basically rotten to the core, and deserve to be where they are.  They need to be behind bars.

            One day, a judge comes up to you and wants to make a deal with you.  He sees your new born son and how proud you are of him.  Then he says, “If you give me your son, I’ll let all of the prisoners go free.  I’ll unlock every door, and they can all be free just to walk right on out.”  What parent would ever want to enter into a deal like that?

            But then it gets worse.  You are also informed that when you turn your son over, that he will be tortured, beaten, and eventually killed.  This is what it would take to get freedom for all of those prisoners.  Now what would you do?

            But it happens.  You turn over your son, and suddenly all of the cell doors are wide open, and the people start to filter out.  You stand at the door of the prison, expecting there to be a celebration because of this new-found freedom.  And as you stand there, many do come out and express gratitude to you for what you have done.  But others come out and shout words of hatred toward you.  And then there are others who are still sitting in their cells, refusing to believe that the doors are open and they are free to go.  And then there are still others who refuse to see the open door in front of them, and are searching for another way out of their jail cell.  This whole thing just doesn’t make a lot of sense now, does it?

            But that’s exactly what happened.  God sent Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son into the world as a tiny baby born in abject poverty.  God sent Jesus knowing full well that he would be unfairly tried, mocked, beaten, tortured, and eventually put to death.  Isaiah chapter 53, verse 5 gives us the prophecy:  “But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.”  That pretty much describes the process, doesn’t it?

            Because Jesus himself was the ransom price paid for the sins of the world, the cell doors are open and the shackles are loose.  Jesus paid the price required for our sins, and has secured our freedom.

            How does the world react?  As Christians, we respond to God with a thankful heart because we are the recipients of his grace.  But others aren’t so grateful, and abuse their freedom.  Then there are the atheists that are still sitting in their cell with the door wide open, refusing to be set free.  And finally there are those who practice heathen religions that ignore the wide open door Jesus has provided for them, and instead search for another way out of their jail cell.  It really makes a person wonder how people can be that ignorant.

            Jesus says in John 8, “If you continue in my word, then you are my disciples indeed; and you will know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.”   We are sinners in need of forgiveness.  Our sins have put us in Satan’s prison.  But Jesus came to set us free.  He paid the price for our sins and proclaimed that we are no more captives, but free people. 

            When we continue in God’s Word, we will always know the truth.  The Holy Spirit working through God’s Word brings us to know Jesus our Saviour, and what he has done for us.  Through faith in him alone, we are set free.  There is no other way out, and nothing else that will free us from Satan’s captivity.  And as we contemplate the cross of Christ this Lenten season, we can see it as the bridge that will take us to heaven, where we will inhabit the mansion prepared for us for all eternity.