Sermon #2: “Set Free to Serve”
Sermon #3: “Set Free to Transform the World”
Scripture: John 20:1-18
Many of you might have heard about Nevest Coleman (picture on the left). He’s been in the news this week on account of getting his old job back with the White Sox. What makes this a story is that he lost it 23 years ago when he went to prison for crimes he didn’t commit. In November, he was released from prison after DNA evidence cleared him of his rape and murder conviction. And last Monday he returned his old job as a groundkeeper at the stadium. Nevest Coleman was literally set free from his imprisonment.
A number of years ago I did something to my back which resulted in a dislocated disk. If you’ve never had a dislocated disk in our spine, I truly pray you never will. I’ve never been so immobilized in all my life. A sloth would have moved faster than me when I “crawled” out to the car to pay an emergency visit to my chiropractor. Fortunately, the adjustment worked well, and within a few days I was freed from my bodily imprisonment, and I could move again. You could say I had been “imprisoned” in my own body.
Imprisonment can take all sort of forms. Addiction is a huge incarcerator of human beings. Millions of us may not be locked behind bars, but we’re still bound by and caged by dependencies, whether they’re to substances or behaviors.
A seemingly increasing number of people, including members of own families, are imprisoned by the effects of Alzheimer’s Disease. After a while, they become locked out – locked out of knowing – knowing what and who they’ve always known.
Something that’s been getting more and more attention these days, and something the church really needs to actively work against, is the modern slave trade. Hundreds of thousands of girls and young women are imprisoned as sex slaves all over the world. And it’s nearly impossible to get out of it without the direct intervention of those on the outside. Abusive relationships. Dead-end jobs. Broken marriages. Unaddressed grief. And so on. The list is long. In our human brokenness, we’re imprisoned in ways that go beyond the state penitentiary. And most often, these imprisonments are can be worse than physical incarceration.
Is there anything that can be done about this unfortunate reality? The good news is that something’s already been done.
In regard to that first Easter morning, Christians like to say that the tomb couldn’t hold Jesus. It lacked the power to imprison him inside.
Do you realize that the stone that was rolled away from the tomb’s entrance wasn’t done so for Jesus’ sake? It’s not as though it needed to be removed in order for Jesus to be freed. It was rolled away for the sake of everyone else, so that they could have access to the tomb in order to see that it was empty.
I won’t go into the details at this point in time, but suffice it so say that Jesus was raised with his “resurrection body.” Paul talks about this in 1 Cor. 15, where he tells us that when Christ returns, Christians, both those deceased and those alive at that time, will be given their resurrection body. It’ll the physical body we’ll be given in order to inherit the fullness of eternal life. One of the characteristics of Jesus’ resurrection body is that it wasn’t subject to the laws of physics of the created world. For example, John tell us how he suddenly appeared in the midst of the disciples when they were locked behind closed doors in the days following his resurrection (John 20:19-23).
Luke talks about a time he made the acquaintance of a couple of disciples who were heading to Emmaus. They didn’t recognize him. Later that evening when they sat down to eat he blessed the meal and “their eyes were suddenly opened and the recognized him, but he disappeared from their sight” (Luke 24:31). He wasn’t subject to the laws of physics as we are. The point is, in his resurrected state, the stone wall couldn’t entomb Jesus. He was fully set free. He was set free to live again…and never again die.
Here’s the good news. Jesus’ resurrection to life accomplished the same thing for us. He was set free from his tomb so that we could be set free from all that imprisons us in this life. In Christ, addiction doesn’t have a hold on us. Illness doesn’t have the last word. Even those who experience the terrible effects of certain mental illnesses can know that in Jesus Christ a day is coming when that illness will be tossed aside forever. On account of the resurrection of Jesus and the indwelling of his Spirit within us we’re able to find the necessary ways to address abusive relationships, dead-end jobs, broken marriages, and unaddressed grief. It may not be easy, and it probably won’t happen quickly, but in Christ we’re Holy Spirit-empowered to not remain stuck and imprisoned in whatever it is that imprisons us.
If you’re open to Jesus being Lord of your life, the good news is that everything I’m talking about is yours. And it’s yours now. Your freedom from the shackles of this world are automatically a part of the deal. Again, it may take some time to figure out how to appropriate these real and true freedoms into your own circumstances, but mark my word, once Jesus is welcomed in, the freedom to fully live is yours.
Here’s what I hope you leave here today knowing–and remembering: Easter isn’t just a celebration and remembrance of Jesus’ resurrection. It’s also a day we celebrate our own resurrection. In fact, the imagery of baptism reinforces this truth, especially when a person is fully immersed under water. Going under water represent “dying” with Christ; coming up out of the water represents “being raised” with Christ.
At Easter we celebrate our own freedom from imprisonment. Our freedom to fully live as God intended us to live. To be sure, our freedom from imprisonment was only made possible by Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. But it didn’t end there. Wherever he lives and dwells, he brings freedom. And the freedom he grants is to live a life of deep joy, and purpose, and abundance. Thanks be to God.