Do you want to be free? Today, you’ll encounter a man who met Jesus under the most dire and desperate circumstances. Yet when Jesus entered his life, He changed everything. You can be free of every addiction, of ever sinful behavior; you can be free to live your life as God has created you to live; and we’re going to discover how today.
Near Michelangelo’s famous statue of David, four unfinished sculptures line the hallways. Calling them “The Captives,” Michelangelo had planned to use them as part of Pope Julian’s tomb. With protruding limbs and body parts, each piece appears to be a human figure trying to escape its marble enclosure.
On seeing the sculptures for the first time, author Theodore Roder wrote, “When I looked at those partial figures, they stirred up in me a deep longing to be completed-an ache to be set free from that which distorts and disguises, imprisons and inhibits my humanness, my wholeness. But as with those statues, I cannot liberate myself. For that I need the hand of another” (John H. Stevens, “His Liberating Touch,” Discipleship Journal July/August 1984).
“I cannot liberate myself.” What a rare admission! In our culture we praise the entrepreneur and the “self-made man.” But in the Bible, God’s people are qualified by their dependence on God, not their independence. We need a Savior, not a motivational speaker. Jesus sets us free in four ways that we cannot accomplish by ourselves.
I. Freedom from Bondage (vv. 11-12)
Beginning with the Old Testament story of the Exodus, the Bible describes how God set His people free from bondage and how He came to dwell among them in the tabernacle. Designed to reflect heavenly realities (Exodus 25:40; Hebrews 8:5), the tabernacle was a massive, two-room tent surrounded by a large courtyard. God’s awesome presence was believed to be accessed in the innermost room of the tent-the Holy of Holies, or simply, the Holy Place.
It was in the courtyard and the first room of the tabernacle that the high priest conducted the daily administration of sacrifices. No one was allowed to go past the dividing veil into the Holy Place, with the exception of the high priest who entered annually with a blood sacrifice in order to ceremonially atone for the sins of the nation (Hebrews 9:6-10). The tabernacle design and administration served to constantly remind God’s people that sin is a barrier to the presence of God.
In Hebrews 9:11-14, the writer explains how the blood of Jesus became the source of true freedom symbolized by the tabernacle. Through His personal sacrifice, Jesus secured an “eternal redemption” for His people (Heb. 9:12). A familiar concept to the first-century recipients of the text, redemption describes the process of a slave being set free through the payment of a price.
The worldview of Jesus and His followers assumed that all human beings were in bondage (Luke 4:18; Acts 10:38;
1 John 3:8). Envisioning a cosmic conflict for souls, the earliest Christians believed that the blood of Jesus set people free, transferring them from a condition of bondage under the devil’s rule into the kingdom of God (Colossians 1:13-14; Hebrews 2:14-15). Drawing on the Old Testament imagery, the writer of Hebrews describes Jesus redeeming human beings from bondage, paying the price by entering the Holy Place of God’s presence with His own blood-achieving eternally what the tabernacle system could only illustrate annually.
II. Freedom from Guilt (vv. 13-14)
As a child in daycare years ago, I once snuck out of the building during nap time in order to enjoy the playground. Feeling guilty for breaking the rules, I snuck back into the building and climbed back onto my cot. No one knew-except me. However, the bad feeling didn’t go away but intensified as my tender conscience began to awaken to the idea of right and wrong. A couple of weeks later, I told my mother what I had done.
The writer of Hebrews describes the limited effectiveness of animal sacrifices in purifying and qualifying a person to participate in the tabernacle worship. Yet the conscience was untouched, and feelings of guilt remained. Offering Himself to God the Father as the perfect and once-for-all sacrifice, Jesus accepted the responsibility and punishment for sins as if He had committed those sins.
No foundation for guilt remains! By remembering that every sin has been “purged” by Jesus (Hebrews 1:3), a person can be set free from guilt.
III. Freedom from Futility (v. 14)
Without Jesus, actual and imagined guilt can plague a soul, driving a person to extremes. The way we live flows from the way we respond to our conscience. Extreme religiosity is an attempt to please God and cleanse the conscience through good works. Extreme rejection is the abandonment or suppression of God through a life of selfish pursuits.
According to the writer of Hebrews, these lifestyles represent “dead works.” Neither approach to life clears the conscience, removes guilt or offers eternal life. The blood of Jesus sweeps away our inadequate efforts to make sense of life. Freedom from a life of futility comes when we abandon our efforts to do life without God.
IV. Freedom to Serve a Living God (v. 14)
Ceremonial cleansing was a prerequisite to serving God at the tabernacle. Releasing us from bondage and cleansing our lives of sin, guilt and empty ways of living, Jesus puts us in the best possible position to serve God. To serve a living God is to come under His active rule, authority and direction.
A living God speaks to His people. One morning recently I felt led to call up a friend and meet him for lunch. More than that, I was prompted to talk to him about something that God brought to mind during my prayer time. Not only did my visit encourage him, but it confirmed a direction he had been praying about in his own life.
In contrast to a life spent doing “dead works”-doing things that ultimately just don’t matter-Jesus sets us free to serve the “living God.”