Freedom. Free. Liberty. Prison. Prisoner. Slaves. This month we felt led to research every reference in the Bible to these important words. Our challenge is to condense our findings! Our main conclusion: Freedom is a gift from a loving God. If we have it on the inside, we can endure great hardships on the outside. Freedom emanates from the Ruach HaKodesh, the Spirit of the Lord: “… where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” (2 Cor. 3:17). This Spirit indwells each child of God, and according to Romans 8:21, imbues us with “glorious liberty.”
Throughout the Tanach (Old Covenant), a Messiah is prophesied who would come with a message of freedom and liberty: “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon Me, because the LORD has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound…” (Is. 61:1). The Messiah Yeshua identified Himself with this mission in Luke 4:18. He came to set people free!
Land of the Free
We’re still singing about freedom, at least before most sporting events. The “Star-Spangled Banner,” the National Anthem of the U.S.A., proclaims that we are the “land of the free and the home of the brave.” May God grant us repentance so that this might be true once more!
Few people today sing the final stanza of Francis Scott Key’s beloved song, in which God is given the glory for the victory at Fort McHenry in Baltimore in 1812, as well as the credit for a free United States of America:
“Oh! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved home and the war’s desolation!
Blest with victory and peace, may the heav’n rescued land
Praise the power that hath made and preserved us a nation.
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: ‘In God is our trust.’
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!”
We all know the tune. Let’s sing these verses together. May our flag (the “Star-Spangled Banner”) always remind us to “Praise the Power” (God) that made and preserved us a nation.
We often find ourselves in Pennsylvania on July 4th, since the annual conference of the Messianic Jewish Alliance of America is held in Grantham, PA, located 100 miles from Philadelphia. We did some research this year on the “Liberty Bell” and found out things we never knew.
On July 8, 1776, the Liberty Bell rang out from the tower of Independence Hall in Philadelphia, calling citizens to hear the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence. The bell was actually ordered in 1751 to commemorate the 50-year anniversary of William Penn’s 1701 Charter of Privileges—Pennsylvania’s original Constitution—which spoke of the rights and freedoms valued by people all over the world. Given the golden anniversary of the Charter, Leviticus 25:10 was chosen as the verse to be engraved on the Liberty Bell: “…proclaim liberty throughout all the land to all its inhabitants…” This verse refers, in context, to Israel’s Jubilee (every 50 years).
When the British occupied Philadelphia in October 1777, the Liberty Bell had already been hidden in the floorboards of the Zion Reformed Church in Allentown, PA, lest it be melted down and used for cannons. (LIBERTY MUST BE GUARDED, OR IT WILL BE MELTED DOWN!) From 1790 until 1800, when Philadelphia was our nation’s capital, the Liberty Bell was rung on every 4th of July and other important occasions, i.e. to call voters to hand in their ballots.
What about the Declaration of Independence that was adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776? It has been called our nation’s most cherished symbol of liberty. Most of us memorized at least part of this Declaration during our elementary school days: “We hold these truths to be self- evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness…That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…”
Note where the “unalienable Rights” come from: the Creator! When the Source of the Rights is denied, the door is opened for the Rights themselves to be denied. The Government is to represent the collective voice of the people, not the arbitrary pronouncements of a select elite, whether Supreme Court or Federal Judges, or a President. SELAH.
While the Declaration of Independence is a secular document, it gets its authority from God. God is referred to four times, in three capacities: Legislator, Creator, and Supreme Judge. Our nation has godly roots. Pluck out the roots, and the soil of our freedom erodes. Pray (2 Chron. 7:14).
What Makes us Truly Free?
The most important freedom is freedom on the inside, which only God can give. The Book of Romans clearly establishes our need for freedom: We were all slaves to sin. The “law of sin and death” held us captive (Romans 8:2). Yeshua said, “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free… whoever commits sin is a slave of sin… if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed” (John 8:32, 34, 36). Yeshua said in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” Yeshua, the Truth, sets people free. He is the Living Word of God that has the power to transform lives, and make them “new creations.”
As we abide in God’s Word, and let it become flesh in us, we are set free from the bondage that once held us captive. James expresses this nicely, “But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty [the Word] and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does” (James 1:25). Abiding in Messiah, allowing His Word to change us and how we live our lives, results in true freedom!
Setting Prisoners Free
We had the unusual experience of receiving words from God before we became believers in Yeshua. The very first word was from Isaiah 42:6-8, “I, the LORD, have called You in righteousness, and will hold Your hand; I will keep You and give You as a covenant to the people, as a light to the Gentiles, to open blind eyes, to bring out prisoners from the prison, those who sit in darkness from the prison house. I am the LORD, that is My name; and My glory I will not give to another…” At that time, in 1973, we had no idea that one day we would have a weekly television program, seen all over the world, since we did not even own a TV set! We also had no idea that our program would be seen in prisons throughout the U.S., and that we would have a substantial ministry to prisoners. We do! Over the years, spearheaded by Sheryl, our office manager, Jewish Jewels maintains contact with hundreds of men and women who are incarcerated. We have helped establish Messianic fellowships in prisons, and often supply Messianic materials to these groups as the Lord (and you) enable us. Some of the most touching letters that we receive come from prisoners. Space permits just a sampling:
“I watch your TV program every Monday on the Church Channel. I must say you are the reason why I came back to Adonai. When I was out on the streets I was using crack cocaine and having wild sex. I had lost my way and went astray. I returned to the Father in 2013, and watching your programs helped me come back. I am blessed to know that the Father is not done with me.” M.R., Illinois
“There are many followers of Yeshua and worshippers of Yehovah here in prison, yet we are accepted by none. Watching your show and reading your newsletters is refreshing to our souls knowing there is actually a congregation that accepts us—as “reborn Jews.” K.K., California
“The works you do are like the sound of the Shofar to my heart. For He has called me along with you to be among His Bride. Yes, it is time for the Bride to make herself ready, and His Spirit and Word is the Attendant purifying us and purging out any darkness that prevents the Morning Star from rising up in us.” C.T., Colorado
“My life was dramatically changed because of Jewish Jewels. I thank G-d for that. More and more, through study and understanding, I am able to have a closer, more disciplined walk with God.” Shalom B’shem Yeshua, W.C., Arizona
“Throughout the years of my imprisonment your Jewish Jewels monthly newsletters have been a light to me, during some of the darkest times of my confinement, and I genuinely thank all of you for visiting me in prison.” S.H., Pennsylvania
These men and women in prison have more freedom than many on the outside because the Son has set them free! (See Psalm 146:7.) We count it a privilege to share the Word of God with them.
Yeshua: in Prison
Yeshua said to His talmidim, “I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.” The righteous answered Him, saying, “…When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?” “And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me'” (Matt. 25:36, 39-40).
Thank you, Jewish Jewels family, for helping us visit Yeshua in prison! The Messiah, was, in fact, in prison Himself, as prophesied 700 years before His birth: “He was taken from prison and from judgment, and who will declare His generation? For He was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgressions of My people He was striken” (Isaiah 53:8).
Paul: the Prisoner
The Apostle Paul, Rabbi Saul, before his encounter with Yeshua on the road to Damascus, threw many believers into prison: “As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison” (Acts 8:3). Once He met the Messiah, he was destined to suffer imprisonment for his faith throughout his lifetime. But even when he was not in prison, Paul called himself a “prisoner.” “Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner.” (2 Tim. 1:8) “Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus…” (Philemon 1:1)
One of Paul’s statements is Neil’s life verse. As he celebrated his 78th birthday last month, he affirmed his desire to accomplish this goal: “I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called” (Eph 4:1).
Liberty vs. License
While it is absolutely true that the Messiah has set us free, and we are no longer slaves to sin, we are not free to abuse our liberty in Yeshua—”…as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God” (1 Peter 2:16). “For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” (Gal. 5:13).
Love is the plumbline. “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify” (1 Cor. 10:23). We have been freed from sin to build up, to love, to encourage, to serve God and our fellow man.
Freedom from Self
Our Heavenly Father’s fondest desire for each of His children is that we would attain freedom from the tyranny of “self,” and escape from the imprisonment of our fallen flesh. Our salvation is both an event and a process. The struggle between flesh and spirit is the ongoing process.
We highly recommend a book by John of the Cross (1542-1591) who was Jewish by birth, and suffered prison and unbelievable torture in his lifetime for teaching about a personal, passionate relationship with God. You Set My Spirit Free is a 40-Day devotional focused on death to self, and freedom in the Spirit. A huge blessing, albeit very convicting! John shows the way to let the light of God’s love guide us in letting go of our fearful grip of the world, and moving out of our self- centeredness in all of its deceptive forms. Deep stuff! John spent his lifetime teaching others how to walk in the love and presence of God. Pursuing love is a key (Song 3:2; 1 Cor. 14:1). “Love is the call; and love is the transforming power.” “Our aim is always to become so free in spirit that it no longer matters whether or not we have the earthly things we crave.”
Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we can put to death the old way of living that binds us to our sinful, selfish inner man (Rom. 6-8). It is “self” that strives to have others love and esteem us as we think we should be loved. It is “self” that tries to shape everything and everyone to its own will. It is “self” which nurtures what John calls three of the deadliest sins: anger, envy, and unwillingness to obey the Lord.
But God! When we come to the end of our strength in dealing with our own flesh, He rescues us with His strength. He shows us His unconditional love, and lets us know that we can do all things through the Messiah who strengthens us (Phil 4:13)! The truth has—and will—make us free!
Standing in His liberty (Gal 5:1) and thanking Yeshua for the free gift of our salvation which cost Him everything!
Neil and Jamie