Nine years ago I stopped for fuel in Dexter, Missouri. Joe stepped out to the pump. When he saw my California plates, we fell into conversation over gasoline prices. He said, “All of my life I've never been more than 70 miles from home.” With food, television, and shelter, 65 year-old Joe was good to go.
Suppose he were surrounded by 200 mile walls on every side. Would he even know there was a wall?
Long ago men were rounded up and shipped from one continent to another on ships. Some were sent as slave labor to Botany Bay and other penal colonies. In the 1700s as many as a fourth of immigrants to America were Irish and Scots prisoners shipped to Maryland and Virginia by the British. Then there is the infamous Atlantic slave trade. Ships were filled with captives from Africa packed tightly into shelves. You can get more bodies on a ship if you stack people in shelves. Many died enroute to their captive destination.
More anciently you have the galleys. These small ships were propelled by rowers. Convicts and prisoners were chained into the boats to row. The Ottoman navy used Christian priosoners as rowers.
In all these cases, the prisoners knew they were prisoners. But consider people being transported to destruction unaware of their bondage.
In the Garden of Eden, Satan sought to exploit human curiosity for his own ends. Man was warned. But God had given free choice, and would not withdraw it. Satan prodded God's first two humans to disobey, and they did. And so Satan led them into captivity to the law of sin and death. He claimed to be interested in expanding human knowledge but he didn't tell the truth about the consequences if man chose sin. He concealed his purpose. Adam and Eve disobeyed. Adam and Eve got locked-out of the garden. Immortality was on the other side of the gate. By choice they made themselves slaves to death (Hebrews 2:14, 15).
Time passes. A few thousand years later the Hebrews are made slaves in Egypt and exploited for forced-labor. God sends Moses. But soon the delivered slaves hate Moses more than they hate the Egyptians.
Next, the time of Judges. God provides guidance but His people mostly ignore Him choosing to do what they wish. Many times they are exploited by surrounding nations, but He delivers them.
Then comes the Monarchy. God warns them. Having a human king will mean certain exploitation (1 Samuel 8). They are warned that becoming like all the nations will be no help to them. But they do anyway, and it isn’t.
In Babylon, Hebrews again provide forced labor. Jerusalem plundered, the cream of Hebrew youth are brought captive to the court of Babylon. Daniel and his three friends spend their lives there. Later generations are given opportunity to return from captivity, but only a tiny remnant even consider returning.
When Jesus announced His mission to deliver the captives and the blind, they could see their bondage to Rome, but they were mostly in denial even about that.
So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in Him, 'If you abide in My word, you are truly My disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.' They answered Him, 'We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, "You will become free'?" Jesus answered them, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because My word finds no place in you' (John 8:31-37).
Jesus is the Son; He brings freedom. These Jews are claiming to be free, to never have been in bondage. But many will embrace the calculation of the High Priest: it is expedient for one man to die instead of their nation; that, unless Jesus is murdered, the Romans would destroy what remained of the Jewish nation. They were already far from free, but they didn't want to think about it. So, a surprising truth: sometimes both prisoner and prison-master see advantage in refusing to admit bondage in operation. It can seem more satisfying to be in bondage than to be free.
So in the West where are we today? Canada is ready to pass a law (C-16) that will require you to address gay, lesbian, and transgender people using the pronoun of the transgendered person's choice. On February 1, 2017 at UC Berkely a month ago protestors rioted with fire and explosives preventing an individual from speaking on campus. In America the government runs a vast surveillance network sucking in everyone's phone conversations, email, and internet searches. Credit card records are used to glean the titles of books you buy on Amazon. Then there are those who seek renewed conflict with nuclear-armed Russia, and those who want our kids to fight in wars they have no real stake in, risking death in lands whose names they cannot pronounce. Bankers get bailed-out and wealth is transferred to investors in enterprises marked "too big to fail." The ground is moving under our feet, but most have no clue what it coming.
You and I, because of Bible prophecy, know. A crisis is imminent. It will seem that God's favor is withdrawn from the nation. And when the people go googling their world to find the reason why, there will be a ready-prepared answer: God is angry with the nation because it is not repressing those who obey different laws (Esther 3:8; Daniel 6:5, 10, 13; Acts 16:20, 21). It will be thought that we who obey God's commandments are the cause of His wrath, because we are violating His will by not keeping Sunday. And, we won't be keeping Sunday; we'll be keeping God's Bible Sabbath. Then people won't be allowed to buy or sell unless they've thrown in with governmental powers under Satan's control. Those who receive the mark will have a license to continue to buy and sell. Then the fiction that "we're not enslaved" will be quite tempting. The cages will be full and the ship will be moving to final destruction.
A Disordered Nature
After Adam's choice to sin our race is in serious trouble. All have a disordered nature. All are born with weaknesses and tendencies to evil. All have a psychological distortion that turns our outwardness to inwardness. We incline to serve ourselves first.
This means that most people develop into persons who prefer, not freedom, but captivity. But people won't admit this, so we invent ways to claim we are free. We're drawn to goodness (Romans 2:4), but inclined to evil (Luke 11:13). We are spiritually bipolar. We try to serve multiple masters, but Jesus warned we are incapable of doing that (Exodus 20:3; Matthew 6:24).
Jesus came to deliver us from this bipolarity. Free choice has never been removed. This power God has given us; it is ours to exercise. Jesus strengthens us that we might choose deliverance. At the beginning of His ministry the scroll was read:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor (Luke 4;18, 19).
Jesus came to deliver a people who didn't want to admit they needed delivering. When we see how they reacted to Jesus’ announcement (Luke 4:28, 29), we recognize that they felt they were free enough, rich enough, respectably clothed, and had need of nothing. (see Revelation 3:17-21.) Laodiceanism has a long pedigree obviously no one wants to embrace.
Slinking Back or Going Forward?
This was their their story: they were doing fine. The deliverance offered by Messiah seemed unnecessary. They spent their main energies making life in the cage more livable. Jesus had come because the life men were living was unlivable. "The wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23).
Human organizations and institutions, and we are talking here about governments, corporations, and even churches, can become justifiers for dodging God's ways. Structure and sanctity lends a sheen of spiritual approvibility. Then we live in our own way, in our own prettified cages. Then we imagine that our course of action is somehow legitimate, that we can retain our vices and preferences and still get to heaven.
This collides with the fact that Jesus came to proclaim good news to the poor, liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty the oppressed, and to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor. He came to release the captives; not to make captivity more livable.
It is as if we all find ourself riding a ship of cages. The ship moves toward destruction. It is a death ship. But because of Jesus the cages stand unlocked. Our Father in heaven sacrificed His Son Jesus who paid the penalty of death. We were bought back. We can walk out of the cage.
We have an exit. We can read from the Bible, talk to God, we can discover the better world just beyond the lost local bubble. We can abandon all the B. C. stuff--the "before Christ"--stuff in our lives.
When we come to Jesus, old things pass away and all things become new (2 Corinthians 5:17). The gospel brings new life. It's not about living a life slightly better than the worldling but being lights in a dark, stinking world (Matthew 5:14-16). We're about doing whatever it takes, at whatever cost, to see our fellow travelers safe in the kingdom at last.
Jesus delivers us (big D). But are we willing to move to where He is taking us next? Or, are we satisfied in our cages--our unlocked cages? When Jesus announced what He was really about, they were ready to throw Him off the cliff. That's a price we pay to be deliverers (small D). Are we willing to be misunderstood? Are we willing to actually do something, to spend our lives saving others?
Take the truth out into the prison. Follow Jesus. Let's combine our energies with Christ and get these people off the ship of cages.
Bonners Ferry ID SDA 2010-10-01
Deer Park WA SDA 2017--03-04