Freedom Is Never Free

July 4, 1999 / Isaiah 61:1-3

Ask the church to stand for the reading of the Word of God and to join in a prayer adapted from one written by Peter Marshall.

The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,
because the LORD has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the LORDís favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion ó
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the LORD
for the display of his splendor (Isa. 61:1-3).

Our Father, bring to the remembrance of Your people Your ancient and time honored promise: "If my people, who are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land."

We ó this company of Your people assembled ó would begin now to meet the conditions that will enable You to fulfill Your promise. . . .

We therefore confess to You that:
Wrong ideas and sinful living have cut us off from You.
We have been greedy. . . .
In our self-sufficiency we have not sought Your help.
We have held conferences and ignored You completely. . . .
We have bickered in factory and business [and family], and sought to solve our differences only through self-interest.

Lord God of Hosts, forgive us! O God, by Your guidance and Your power may our beloved land once again [acknowledge You and become] a nation contrite in heart, confessing her sins; a nation keenly sensitive to all the unresolved injustice and wrong still in our midst.

Hear this our prayer and grant that we may confidently expect to see it answered in our time, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

* * * * * * * *

On July 4 our nation celebrates an event that took place well over 200 years ago ó the birth of a nation committed to freedom for all its citizens. The idea was noble. The commitment entailed more than anyone present at the time realized. We have lived much of the time since that national birth in the self-contradiction of disenfranchising some while affirming respect for all. And we still have a way to go.

The Great Seal of the United States is on the reverse side of a one-dollar bill. And it is the less-familiar back side of the seal that is particularly important to me this morning. It is a mini-course in American history for anyone who looks closely. It carries language and symbolism that capture an idealistic vision of what the United States of America is meant to be about as a nation of people who cherish freedom.

The scene is of an emerging pyramid set on a barren desert. Look closely and you will see Roman numerals on the pyramidís base ó MDCCLXXVI or 1776. The imagery says that, on the wasteland of human history, a foundation was laid in 1776 for building something new, noble, and magnificent. That "something" was, of course, the democratic experiment of a new nation. The banner at the base of the scene describes that experiment with the Latin words novus ordo seclorum, the motto on the U.S. Great Seal that means "a new order of the ages."

Finally, notice that there is an eye looking down from above. Near that eye are more Latin words, annuit coeptis. They mean "He (God) has favored our undertakings" or "He has smiled on our beginnings." America was not founded as a religious enterprise for the sake of churches. The "establishment of religion" (i.e., government support of religion by public revenue or the creation of a state church) had been problematic in Europe and was not to be part of the new nationís experiment with democracy.

Yet it is undeniable that our nationís founding fathers were keenly confident that God had blessed them and their efforts at nation-building. They certainly did not mean to exclude faith from the arena of public life. Yes, they believed we were a nation "under God" and generally held that our fortunes as a nation would be tied directly to our pursuit of or lack of uprightness before him.

How grateful I am for the freedom I have as an American. For all our foibles, my travels in many other countries of the world have convinced me of just how fortunate I am to hold citizenship in this great country. God truly has blessed America. No, the United States of America is not the kingdom of God. Yet it is my country. I take great pride in my citizenship here. And I know how many people from all parts of our globe would like to have so great a gift.

The Price of Freedom

Yet freedom is never free! So valuable and prized a commodity must be paid for by someone. And the price of human freedom is most often paid not with land, cash, or bartered items but with blood. From the Revolutionary War to World War II to Vietnam to various assignments being fulfilled by American citizens in uniform today, men and woman have been called to put their lives at risk for the sake of their fellow citizens in this country.

My fatherís best friend in his early manhood was Neal Ratliff. They were high school and college chums. They dated together in my fatherís roadster. And they made verbal and implicit promises to each other about their loyalty to each other as grown men ó and to one anotherís families.

My mom and dad had their first two sons before Neal and his wife, China, had their first. In fact, it appeared they might not have children. And what joy there was when word came to my dad that his best friend was to be a father. Only shortly after that did word also come that Neal had been drafted to serve in the United States Army. He told his pregnant wife farewell and committed her safekeeping to his best friend and his wife. Off he went to fight in World War II ó and was killed in France.

I still remember the look of sadness that would come across my fatherís face as he talked about Neal Ratliff. We would visit "Aunt China" and her son, who was a few years older than me. My dad and mom kept their word to help look after them. I know some of the things they did for them ó and suspect there were far more that neither I nor my brothers ever suspected. Neal Ratliff wasnít just my fatherís friend. He had died for this country. He had paid part of freedomís purchase price with his blood on foreign soil.

Freedom is not free! Somebody pays for it with blood. For you and me to live in the light of freedom, someone else has had to go into the darkness of combat and death. If you are a veteran yourself and were fortunate to survive your engagement with the enemy, you know better than the rest of us the price of freedom. You lost some of your friends. The bullets that just missed you killed them. And you sometimes feel guilty that it was you who survived, donít you? Why was it that they died ó and you lived?

I confess to the same feeling about Jesus. I stand today in spiritual freedom, but freedom is never free! Somebody paid for it with his blood. I live in the light of truth. My sins are forgiven. And I possess the sure hope of eternal life because he went into the darkness of combat and death. Yes, Iíve had to fight some personal battles with the devil. Some of my friends have been lost in their battles. But I know that spiritual victory rests solely on the merits of Christís blood shed for me ó and not on my strength beyond that of my friends. And I sometimes feel particularly humble and contrite in the realization that he had to die in order for me to live.

Jesus: Blood Shed on Foreign Soil

As Jesus was beginning his public ministry on Earth, he was baptized by John, tempted by Satan in the wilderness, and then returned to his boyhood hometown of Nazareth. There he went to the synagogue "as was his custom" and was selected to be the reader of a section from the prophets. He chose to read from the section of Isaiah with which I began this sermon:

The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

"The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lordís favor."

Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing" (Luke 4:17-21).

Jesus came with a freedom-mission to fulfill. But it was not ó to the chagrin and disappointment of many of his fellow-Israelites ó a mission to set people free from Roman domination. It was a mission of liberation to individuals ó freedom from poverty, enslavement, blindness, oppression, and Satan. It was a search-and-rescue mission that cost him his life to execute. He had to shed his blood on foreign soil, as the Son of God came from the highest heaven to a world blighted with sin and under the reign of the Prince of Darkness. And he volunteered for the duty.


S. D. Gordon, a Boston preacher, used a beat-up rusty bird cage one Sunday to illustrate his sermon. First, he explained how he had come by the cage. When he first saw it, it contained several miserable small birds, and was carried by a boy of about ten. Curious, he asked the boy what he was going to do with the birds he had trapped. "I'm going to play with them, have some fun with them," the boy said. "But after that?" the preacher persisted. "Oh, I have some cats at home, and they like birds," replied the boy.

Compassion tugged at the preacher's heart, and he asked the boy what he would take for the birds. Surprised, the boy blurted, "Mister, you don't want to buy these birds. They're ugly, just field birds. They don't even sing or nothiní." Nevertheless, Gordon persisted and soon struck a bargain with the boy for the birds and the cage. Out of the boyís sight, he released them.

After explaining about the bird cage, Gordon then told another story. This time it was about how Satan boasted that he had baited a trap and caught a world full of people. "What are you going to do with them?" Jesus asked him. "I'm going to play with them, tease them, make them marry and divorce, fight and kill each other. I'll teach them to throw bombs at each other," Satan replied.

"And when you get tired of playing with them?" Jesus asked. "Then I'll destroy them," Satan answered. "They're no good anyway."

Jesus then asked Satan what he would take for them ó so he could set them free. "You can't be serious," the devil responded. "They would just spit on you. They'd hit you and hammer nails into you. They're no good."

"How much?" the Lord asked him again. "All your tears and all your blood. That's the price!" Satan said gleefully. Freedom, you see, is never free.

Jesus paid the price. Then he took the cage. And he has opened the door for you. Why would you stay in Satanís cage when you can be free? "Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God" (1 Pet. 2:16).


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