Jesus tells us the purpose of his coming is to ‘proclaim freedom for the prisoners’ (Luke 4:18). He’s reading Isaiah 61 to his local synagogue, and he says this is what he is going to do.
Given our thirst for freedom, we need to know what Jesus has in mind.
Ideologies, and this world’s crusaders, say they know what will give us freedom but they all miss what is really needed. Jesus is clear: ‘whoever commits sin is a slave to it’ (John 8:31-36).
Here’s our problem. Freedom must be freedom to be what we really are. We’re made by God and if we’re fighting him, we’re already trapped—and can be seduced by many other so-called freedoms the world says will fix us.
Most of the social freedoms we enjoy have come from ordinary people fighting for them. But this freedom comes from above. It must be provided by God, and it comes with a cost. It’s called ‘redemption’ which means setting people free by paying a price.
Shortly before he dies, Jesus talks about what he is going to happen with Moses and Elijah. They discuss the ‘departure’ he will accomplish in Jerusalem (Luke 9:31). The word is actually ‘exodus’. Jesus, like Moses, is going to lead his people in a great victory and give freedom to his people (cf. Exodus 7:16). It will be freedom from sin. And it will be freedom to serve God.
This is what Jesus does when he dies on the cross. He describes what is going to happen as the hour belonging to his enemies, and when darkness reigns (Luke 22:53). He’s not fooled by how hard—or costly—freeing us from our sins is going to be.
Jesus overcomes our sin by becoming our sin (2 Corinthians 5:21). I don’t know how this happens, by I know it is an amazing work of love.
He personally engages what binds us. He bears sin’s futility, its pollution and shame. He owns our liability before God, and the judgement it deserves. And he dies.
But notice, Jesus has also said that Satan is coming. But Satan has nothing to hold him (John 14:30-31). Anything Satan throws at him can be overcome. If you like, Jesus dies as a free man. He’s there to do his Father’s will.
So, Jesus sets us free, by spilling his blood. He’s redeemed us. Here’s how the apostles talk about this.
First, we are forgiven (Eph. 1:7).
This becomes very practical when the gospel is first preached. The apostles announce forgiveness to Christ’s murderers (Acts 2:38). The relief of this is felt deeply and noticeably. These Jews are in big trouble with God, and in moment, they are entirely free of guilt. Their relief before God pours out in an overflowing of generosity to one another.
Guilt is awful! It binds us up in self-justification, self-promotion, self-excusing and busyness. But Christ loves us. Not just when he dies, but now. And he releases us from our sin by his blood (Rev. 1:5).
This means we are released from a life driven by the need to ‘be someone’, or to keep God off our back (Acts 13:39; Rom. 8:1-4; Gal. 4:3-5). A lot of what we do is not because it’s useful, or kind, but because it puts us in a good light, or simply, relieves our conscience. We’re still slaves—not free!
We really need to ask ourselves, often, ‘Is my life starting with guilt or forgiveness?’
Second, we are cleansed.
Think of Peter when Jesus starts to wash the feet of his disciples (John 13:2-10). One minute he doesn’t want his feet washed. Next he wants a complete bath! He’s trying to show he’s in charge, but he’s making a fool of himself.
And Jesus says, ‘You are clean!’ Later, he adds, ‘You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you’ (John 15:3).
Peter needs to find a new way of seeing himself. He is clean—because of Christ’s word. Later, Peter must also find a new way of seeing others (Acts 15:9).
Israel has been told to cleanse themselves from defilement—to ‘circumcise their hearts’ (Deut. 10:16). They won’t do this—not as a nation. So, God will do it for them (Deut. 30:6).
This is what happens when Christ dies (Col. 2:11-14). What is unclean in us is attributed to him, and, in his flesh, it’s cut off. Because we are joined to Christ by faith, we also are clean—and able to enjoy God.
Christ washes his whole church to make her pure—as a bride for himself (Eph. 5:26).
Third, we have a change of master.
When someone trusts in Christ, they are transferred to his kingdom. He’s in charge of the arena we now live in (Col. 1:13-14). This has some amazing consequences
What we used to be—our old humanity—is no longer in charge (Rom. 6:6-7). God has joined us to Christ’s death and resurrection, so our ‘body of sin’ is disabled. Being freed is actually being ‘justified’. Where the guilt of our sin is removed, its power is decisively broken. Notice, Paul at this point is not talking about how we are to behave but what we are to count on (Romans 6:11).
So, sin is no longer in charge (Rom. 6:15-23). We really want God’s good news, and part of this is that we want a new life—living for God. This is not our goal. It needs to be our starting point—all of the time.
If there is no cross where Jesus dies, freedom dies—in a restlessness of guilt, a quagmire of pollution, and a collision of rival powers. But freedom lives and thrives for God’s people because it has pleased him to unite us to his Son, in whom freedom is granted as a gift.
We are free to serve God, and to serve our neighbor. This is what we are created for. Everything is working properly.
Many people have died to preserve freedom for others—a freedom to live in their own chosen way. But Jesus has died to provide true human freedom. And it is free people who can move out into life creating freedom for others—in their families, communities and countries.