Steve McQueen’s film Twelve Years a Slave is based on the memoirs of Solomon Northup, born free in New York state but kidnapped in Washington DC in 1841, sold into slavery and kept in bondage for twelve years in Louisiana. He describes at length the horrors of slavery on the cotton and sugar plantations.
Eventually, in 1853, he was rescued from slavery and reunited with his family. He wrote, ‘They embraced me, and with tears flowing down their cheeks, hung upon my neck. But I draw a veil over a scene that can better be imagined than described... I have been restored to happiness and liberty.’
Slavery, in any form, is a horrific evil. Freedom is a wonderful blessing.
Moses is the liberator of God’s people in the Old Testament. He foreshadows Jesus – the supreme liberator. As Moses set God’s people free from slavery, so Jesus sets you free from slavery to sin.
‘Freedom’ is probably the best contemporary word to define what the Bible means by ‘salvation’. The whole Bible could be summed up as the ‘history of salvation’. It is the story of God’s desire and purpose to free his people. You are set free.
Enjoy the freedom that comes through faithPsalm 20:1-9
Are you in a time of trouble, distress or difficulty? David was in such a time, most likely connected to an impending battle. He called out to God for help. The first line of the psalm is a request for God to ‘answer you when you are in distress’ (v.1a) and the final line of the psalm is a request for God to ‘answer us when we call’ (v.9b). God answers prayer.
When you have ‘days of distress’, call out to God in prayer, asking him to bring salvation and freedom in the midst of struggle (vv.6–8). It is not a matter of foolhardy optimism, but rather one of realistic faith.
David recognises God’s ‘saving power’ – his power to bring freedom (v.6c). He says, ‘Now I know that the Lord saves his anointed’ (v.6a). He speaks of six things that you can ask for yourself, your family, your friends and your community:
‘May the Lord... protect you’ (v.1). ‘Put you out of harm’s reach’ (v.1b, MSG)
‘May he send you help from the sanctuary’ (v.2a)
‘May he... grant you support from Zion’ (v.2b)
‘May he remember... and accept’ (v.3)
‘May he give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed’ (v.4)
‘When you win, we plan to raise the roof... May all your wishes come true!’ (v.5, MSG).
Success, victory and freedom do not come from trusting in ‘chariots’ and ‘horses’ (v.7a). Rather, they come through faith – we ‘trust in the name of the Lord our God’ (v.7b).
Lord, thank you that you set me free. I put my trust in your name. Today I bring to you my plans and lay before you the desires of my heart...
Marvel at how your freedom was achievedMatthew 26:69-27:10
Jesus is the supreme liberator. Salvation history reaches its climax in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We see here a glimpse of how much that cost Jesus: he is denied by one of his closest friends (26:69–75); he is betrayed by one of his disciples (27:1–10); he is handed over to the Roman authorities (v.2) and condemned (v.3a). Yet, Matthew sees that all this was to fulfil God’s plan (v.9).
Jesus was taken captive in order that you might go free. He was bound (v.2) to set you free from the things that bind you. Jesus came to set you free from your sin, guilt, shame, addictions and fears.
Have you ever really messed up in your Christian life? Have you ever felt a failure and that you have badly let the Lord down? Have you ever ‘wept bitterly’ (26:75) as a result? I certainly have.
Two of Jesus’ closest friends let him down badly. Sadly, we will all let Jesus down at points in our lives. These two examples help us learn how we should respond to such failures and disappointments.
There are many similarities between Judas and Peter. Both were disciples of Jesus. Both were told they would let him down (vv.24–25,34). Both fulfilled Old Testament prophecies through their actions (26:31; 27:9). Both deeply regret their actions (27:5; 26:75).
Yet there are also crucial differences between the two men. Peter responded to failure in the right way. Judas did not. As St Paul writes, ‘Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death’ (2 Corinthians 7:10).
Judas is an example of ‘worldly sorrow’. He went to the religious leaders and confessed his sin, but they just weighed him down with more guilt (Matthew 27.4). He was seized with remorse but sadly he was not able to throw himself on God’s mercy and receive his forgiveness.
On the other hand, Peter is an example of ‘godly sorrow’.
Peter must have been so frightened to deny and disown Jesus three times. Perhaps, understandably, he feared being crucified with Jesus or perhaps he had doubts before this about whether Jesus really was who he claimed to be. But the cock crowing must have removed all his doubts. It left him feeling distraught: ‘He went outside and wept bitterly’ (26:75).
There is no more terrible feeling than the knowledge that we have let Jesus down. Thankfully, this is not the end of the story for Peter (see John 21). ‘Godly sorrow’ brought ‘repentance’, and his relationship with Jesus was restored. He was freed from his guilt and shame, and went on to become a great, holy, powerful and anointed leader of Jesus’ church.
You do not need to go around weighed down by guilt or shame about past sins and mistakes. Those whom Jesus sets free are free indeed (John 8:36). However much you have messed up and failed, it is never too late. Respond as Peter did and you can have a great future ahead of you in the service of Jesus.
Lord, thank you that you were bound in order to liberate me from my sins. When I fail, help me always to turn back to you in ‘godly sorrow… that leads to salvation and leaves no regret’.
Use your freedom to worship GodExodus 9:1-10:29
In the service of God we find perfect freedom. You were created to worship and serve God. This is your purpose.
Pope Benedict XVI (when he was still Cardinal Ratzinger) wrote, ‘The only goal of the Exodus is shown to be worship… The land is given to the people to be a place for worship of the true God… the freedom to give right worship to God, appears, in the encounter with Pharaoh, to be the sole purpose of the Exodus, indeed, its very essence.’
Once again, in the history of the people of Israel, we see God’s salvation plan foreshadowed. We see his plan to free his people from slavery through Moses. Time and again God says words along these lines to Moses: ‘Go to Pharaoh and say to him, “This is what the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, says: ‘Let my people go, so that they may worship me”’ (9:1).
He gives Pharaoh so many opportunities. Again and again Moses speaks the words of God to him: ‘Let my people go, so that they may worship me’ (9:13; 10:3,7). ‘Release my people so that they can worship me’ (MSG).
The world may understand your ‘good works’ but does not see the importance of your worship. Pharaoh accuses them of being lazy and sees worship as an alternative to work (5:17–18). But worship is your supreme purpose and work – in fact, the Hebrew word for ‘worship’ in this passage (‘avad’), can be translated as both worship and work.
God loves you. He does not want anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). The only way we will perish is if, like Pharaoh, we harden our hearts and ignore all the warning signs that God puts in the way. Pride was at the root of Pharaoh’s sin. The more he refused, the harder it became to change his mind without losing face.
Be prepared to admit to making mistakes rather than going on in the wrong direction regardless. No matter how long you have travelled in the wrong direction, you can always turn around.
God’s desire is for his people to be set free to worship him throughout the whole of life. He wants to set you free from guilt, shame, sin, addiction and fear. He wants to set you free to love, serve and worship him.
Lord, thank you that you said, ‘if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed’ (John 8:36). May I use my freedom to worship and serve you.
‘Those officials of Pharaoh who feared the word of the Lord hurried to bring their slaves and their livestock inside.’
People can be very hard-hearted and no matter how many signs are shown to them, they still won’t believe. But even in the most unlikely places, there are people who do respond to God. You can’t write off a whole nation.
Verse of the Day
‘May he give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed’ (Psalm 20:4).
Solomon Northup, Twelve Years a Slave, (London: Sampson Low, Son & Company, 1853)
Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.
Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.