We need to overcome the "chains" that bind us from spiritual growth and overcoming. This message was given on the First Day of Unleavened Bread.
Chains That Bind Presented by Dan Dowd
I’d like to begin today by asking a simple question: If you were held prisoner, would you try to escape? It’s a simple question but the answer is not as simple as the question might seem. We’re here today on this First Day of Unleavened Bread and two nights ago those of us who are baptized gathered to partake of the Passover. We followed the example Jesus Christ gave us in the New Testament with the symbols of the foot washing, the bread and the wine and we rehearsed those items that evening. Those symbols represent Christ living in us. They represent a willingness to practice Godly love and service to each other and they represent a desire to take on the character and the love of God.
Last night then, we gathered in homes and restaurants with fellow members to remember and rehearse the beginning of God’s plan of salvation in these Holy Days, what He has in store for us and for all mankind in the future. These days of Unleavened Bread picture coming out of sin and they show us how pervasive that sin can be. The world around us is a world held captive by sin; a captivity that’s made all the more sad because the world doesn’t even know that they’re captive. I’m a fan of the movie, a big fan of the movie called “The Great Escape.” Some of you may remember that movie.
The movie is based on a true story of a prisoner of war camp that was called Stalag Luft III, which is in English “Base Camp Air III” because it was designated for those airmen they had captured. When the Germans set up this camp in Poland, Stalag Luft III was designed and built to house prisoners who had escaped other prisoner of war camps. These were the troublemakers and they built this camp specifically and meant it to be escape-proof. Many of the precautions used to build Stalag Luft III were these things: The area that they chose was extremely sandy soil and this was done on purpose so that it would make tunneling impossible. Sand doesn’t hold up well when you start to dig under it. The sandy subsoil was also yellow, whereas the topsoil was more of a grey color and it would stand out if you tried to scatter it on top, making it easy to spot.
The Germans also went so far as to place seismic microphones in the ground to listen for any noise from digging. The barracks that were built to house these prisoners were raised off the ground so the guards could look under them and see if they were attempting to do any tunneling. The camp was also in a very remote location, making it easy to spot prisoners if they did escape before they made their way to the nearest town. Eventually though, prisoners did dig because one of the rules, if you will, of war is that if you’re captured it’s your duty to try to escape. They dug a number of tunnels; one was abandoned, one was discovered, the third one they managed to finish but it was finished short of the woods they wanted to be in. Seventy six men escaped and very shortly thereafter seventy three were recaptured. The German high command was so angry at these men because it did take a lot of manpower to round them back up that Hitler himself gave the order to execute them all.
One of his generals prevailed and talked him into the number fifty. So fifty of those that were captured were shot, they were cremated, their ashes taken back to Stalag Luft III and scattered on the prison grounds as an example for the other prisoners. The movie played fast and loose with the facts as most Hollywood movies do but nonetheless I still enjoy the movie because we are on our own “great escape.” I asked the question earlier in my introduction: If you were held prisoner, would you try to escape? Allow me to transition here to another analogy: Many of you have been to a circus and seen adult elephants. Perhaps you’ve seen where they keep them and they’re chained when they’re not being used. They’re chained to a peg that’s in the ground. The interesting thing is that most adult elephants could easily put that peg out of the ground but they don’t. Have you ever thought or considered why they don’t? Elephants are very powerful creatures; they’re the largest land animal currently on the face of the earth; they can weigh as much as eight tons, which is phenomenal to consider.
They can reach a standing height of thirteen feet, their trunks are actually specialized noses and they have thousands of muscles in them that they use to smell, they use in breathing and drinking and grabbing things and this trunk is agile enough, with all these muscles, that they can pull out a single blade of grass off the ground but strong enough that they can tear trees apart if they want to get to certain tender shoots. The African elephant can consume 300 pounds of food daily. Elephants also have remarkable intelligence. This serves them well especially in times of drought. They can remember where the deep water holes are, they can remember the migration paths; they can actually even recognize other individual elephants. They remember. They can also communicate great distances through subsonic rumbles. Scientists have discovered that they can feel this through their feet on the ground. So how is it that a creature that is so big, so powerful and so intelligent can so easily be restrained by a simple chain and post? Most elephants that are used in entertainment venues like a circus are raised and trained from a very young age. When they’re young they can’t pull the stake out of the ground no matter how hard they try.
Their trunk is not fully developed; they’re not mature that way, also they don’t have the strength of an adult elephant. In fact, if they try to pull too hard against the chain or rope many times what they’ll do is make a sore or even cut their skin if they persist long enough and create a sensitive wound. As you can imagine, over time these young elephants learn to not struggle and they give up trying to pull the stake out of the ground. That memory kicks in and they remember that they couldn’t and so they never try again. So they get to be as large as eight tons and they still think that little chain can hold them. They come to believe that they can’t pull it out no matter how strong they’ve become in the meantime. In their mind, they’re still very small elephants restrained by and unable to overcome the chain. The title of my sermon today is Chains That Bind. While we face trials, we’ll face persecution, we’ll face temptation in the course of our Christian walk, all too often the chains that hold us are simple ropes that could easily pull free if we’re not stuck in an old way of thinking.
Today we’re going to look at overcoming sin by reconsidering what we think holds us back. Before we go any further, let’s stop to consider that simple statement and rephrase it as a couple questions. What holds you back? What holds me back? We are to consider sin in our life this week especially as we heard even in the opening prayer; the examination we go through. So what sin holds you back? Is it too much of what would normally be a good thing to the point of addiction? Virtually anything we have in life can become an addiction. Is it an outlook that we develop over years that in reality is hurting us? You know, that elephant’s reality was the chain holds them, but that outlook developed over time and they never let go of it. Is it voices that hold us back? Voices from our past telling us what we can’t do or what we should be doing? For instance: I can’t start my own business. Why not? I could never play an instrument. I could never speak before a group. I was never good at ___________ (fill in the blank). Maybe some of those things echo in your mind. What about our spiritual calling? What holds us back in our spiritual calling? Why would God call me? I’m a nobody with nothing to offer. I wish I could memorize Bible verses like so-and-so.
I don’t have the time to serve or any number of other things that we could say. What holds you back? Here’s the dirty little secret about these chains that we allow to hold us back: Only we can allow a constraint to be absolute. Only we can allow that. That chain holding the elephants … those trainers don’t stand there on a daily basis reminding them that the chain is holding them. The elephants got to the point where they accepted it. That constraint became an absolute. In their mind that was never going to change so they act as though it doesn’t. When we speak in absolutes, we’re refusing to consider that we are choosing to keep those chains firmly in place even when it’s a simple little rope that could be easily pulled up. Some of these chains we have are understandable. When you’re told all your life that you’re fat or stupid or dumb or many things we hear people say, over time you might start to believe it. That’s what they’re saying. When we’re embarrassed, especially in public, our human nature seeks to not ever have that happen again. We don’t like to be embarrassed in front of others, do we? We seek to protect ourselves.
Fears are there to protect us – if you fall from that height you’ll be severely hurt. But we can allow fears to control us – I’m scared of drowning so I’m never going to learn to swim. Let’s look at some scriptures to consider what I’m talking about. Luke chapter 11. We can allow actions by others, or what I call “group think” to dictate what we should or shouldn’t be doing. Luke 11:46 Luke 11:46And he said, Woe to you also, you lawyers! for you lade men with burdens grievous to be borne, and you yourselves touch not the burdens with one of your fingers.
American King James Version×– (Christ here says) Woe to you also … He’s talking to the lawyers, the teachers who’ve come to him once again challenging him and he says: Luke 11:46 Luke 11:46And he said, Woe to you also, you lawyers! for you lade men with burdens grievous to be borne, and you yourselves touch not the burdens with one of your fingers.
American King James Version×– Woe to you lawyers! for you load men with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers. They were real good about saying what the law expected in their minds but they wouldn’t do anything to help anybody. Christ did this on a number of occasions, he would observe, he would watch what people did. So instead of helping, these lawyers would take solace in the fact, if you will, that these people had to live up to a certain expectation and if we’re not careful we can be willing to put burdens on others that even they can’t carry.
If we’re not careful, we can accept burdens that others think we should carry. The bottom line is that we need to compare it to what God’s expectations are. Let’s go next to Matthew 23. There’s a similar thought here Christ is relaying. Jesus here speaking to the multitude and to his disciples: Matthew 23:2 Matthew 23:2Saying The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat:
American King James Version×– The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat: God has given them the authority to be the ones in charge, if you will. Matthew 23:3 Matthew 23:3All therefore whatever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not you after their works: for they say, and do not.
American King James Version×– Therefore whatever they tell you observe, that observe … Now this doesn’t mean just anything because you can have organizations that say that because I’m in charge, you do it this way. No, it’s with the caveat that it has to be under God’s instruction. So whatever they teach you to do according to my Law, he says, do that. Matthew 23:3 Matthew 23:3All therefore whatever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not you after their works: for they say, and do not.
American King James Version×(cont’d) – but do not do according to their works: for they say, and do not do. And even going back to Luke 11 they say and don’t help; they don’t assist. Matthew 23:4 Matthew 23:4For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.
American King James Version×– For they bind heavy burdens hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. Continuing in this chapter a little later on in verse 23, Matthew 23:23 Matthew 23:23Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought you to have done, and not to leave the other undone.
American King James Version×. This whole chapter is an indictment against them. There are a number of “woes” in here, challenges if you will.
Matthew 23:23 Matthew 23:23Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought you to have done, and not to leave the other undone.
American King James Version×– Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, you’re hypocrites! for you pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin … Some of the smallest herb seeds possible. Can you imagine a pile you could put in your hand and you’re sitting there counting out, literally, a tenth of this herb seed. Not to say that it shouldn’t be done because even as he says here: Matthew 23:23 Matthew 23:23Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought you to have done, and not to leave the other undone.
American King James Version×(cont’d) – you have omitted the weightier matters of the law, justice, mercy, and faith: Isn’t it easier just to weigh it, just divide out a tithe and maybe a little bit more just to be sure you didn’t miss? We must always temper our thoughts, our actions, what we hear from others, and even our own perceptions to the contemplation of God’s Law. What is God’s expectation? Is it lawful to work on the Sabbath? Some of you grew up in a time period where you didn’t do anything, you basically sat all day until you had to go to church on Sabbath. Right?
Some of you remember that time period. That’s not to say then that you go to the opposite ditch and there are all kinds of things that are permissible. It has to be the right balance. Can you do good on the Sabbath day? Christ did. Heal people? Serve others? Let’s go next to Second Corinthians 9. We have to be careful as well of our own perceptions in these things. Humanly we are very good at deceiving ourselves. I think I told this story before; I’ll tell it again. My family, for a long time when I was young, would go down to the Miami River near us in southwestern Ohio. My family, along with some extended family, loved to do waterskiing on the river. But the Miami River is a very dirty river, muddy. You can’t see much in that river. Every time we headed down there I said I’m going to run and jump in the river and go swimming and I did it exactly this many times: Zero! The intent was there but I lost heart once I got there. I could deceive myself that I was going to do it and I never did.
2 Corinthians 9, verse 7. We read this in a different context a little while ago but I want to read it again. 2 Corinthians 9:7 2 Corinthians 9:7Every man according as he purposes in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loves a cheerful giver.
American King James Version×– Let each one of you as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly give, or of necessity: for God loves a cheerful giver. But it’s the first part I want to focus on: “Let each one as he purposes in his heart…” What we committed to here, those of us who are baptized as I mentioned, went through that rehearsal again at Passover, a reminder of what our vow was before God when we went through that baptism however many years ago it was. What did we purpose in our hearts? We can deceive ourselves along the way, can’t we? Justify all kinds of actions or thoughts or behavior, but we have to be careful of that. Proverbs 23 It can be well-intentioned at times and not even necessarily wrong, but the thing is that oftentimes we can become comfortable and persist in the behavior and action without thinking and we get it to a place where it is wrong, or can be.
Proverbs 23:7 Proverbs 23:7For as he thinks in his heart, so is he: Eat and drink, said he to you; but his heart is not with you.
American King James Version×– For as a man thinks in his heart, so is he: See, that elephant, no matter how large it grew to be, in his heart, in his mind, he’s still that little elephant tethered by that chain. So his actions, his purposes are dictated by that memory – as he thinks in his heart. Part of what we go through in rehearsing these days, these Holy Days that God gives us every year – part of what we’re supposed to do is to remember what it is that we are to be thinking in our hearts so when it comes time to say or to do we have something already there. We have a wonderful story to consider in Mark 10, if you’ll turn there with me next. Jesus Christ was traveling one day and I find it interesting the way this is laid out here. Mark is an interesting book in general. I refer to Mark as the ADHD writer. Mark was always: Immediately we did this; immediately we went there.” Mark was on the move and his book is the shortest. He got right to the point; there’s not a lot of playing around.
Even in this chapter, Mark 10 and verse 17 is says: Mark 10:17 Mark 10:17And when he was gone forth into the way, there came one running, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?
American King James Version×– As he was going out on the road (Christ was traveling), one came running (he was hurrying to catch up with Christ), and knelt before him, and asked him, Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life? Now this was a fantastic question. He’s got the right question in his mind: What do I need to do so I will be in God’s Kingdom? Vs 18 – And Christ answered him, Why do you call me good? No one’s good but one, that is, God. Vs 19 – You know the commandments … He could tell, in whatever form or fashion that was, that this young man had grown up believing these things. He said, “You know them.” Then he summarizes them here: Vs 19 (cont’d) – Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not bear false witness, do not defraud, honor your father and your mother. So then in verse 20 the young man answered and said to Christ: Vs 20 – Teacher, I’ve done and kept these things since I was a young boy (I’ve done them all my life).
Maybe he was waiting, maybe he said it in such a way that he was wanting Christ to say something back like, “Well that’s good then you’re there, you’re done,” or whatever it was he was looking for, but verse 21: Vs 21 – Christ then looked at him with a very loving expression (it says), and he says to him, One thing you lack (this is the other shoe that’s going to drop), whatever you have go and sell and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; come, take up the cross and follow me. You need to get the right priority. Vs 22 – The young man was sad at his words and he went away sorrowful for he had great possessions. That’s not what he wanted to hear. His personal actions wanted perhaps a little of both, maybe I don’t have to give away everything, could I still do this and maybe casually follow you? I don’t know what was going through his mind but he allowed those riches to be a chain. I can’t follow you; I’m still connected to those things; I’m not willing to give them up.
He had the right foundation, Christ said, “You kept the commandments; you know what the expectation is; you understand God’s Law.” But in spite of that, he was stuck. While we’re here in Mark, let’s go back to chapter 9 and look at another example. In Mark 9, verse 43, Christ goes through a series of declarations here, warnings against offenses. In verse 43 he positions it in such a way to make it very personal. He’s talking to us individually. Mark 9:43 Mark 9:43And if your hand offend you, cut it off: it is better for you to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched:
American King James Version×– If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off; If you can’t change that, then he says: Mark 9:43 Mark 9:43And if your hand offend you, cut it off: it is better for you to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched:
American King James Version×(cont’d) – It’s better for you to enter into life (that is, into the Kingdom) maimed, rather than having two hands and to go to hell (that is, to be burned up and die forever). Can you imagine that? Would we be willing to do that? My grandfather trapped and hunted a lot in his younger life, as many did especially during that time period. You had to pay attention to your trap lines because if you didn’t get back out there often enough and there was an animal stuck in the trap they’re going to do what they need to do to get out of that situation and many times they’ll simply chew off whatever appendage is in the trap.
Would we be willing to give up our hand if it meant being reassured or assured that we’d be in the Kingdom? Verse 45, he drives it home a little more: Vs 45 – If your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed rather than to have two feet and be cast into hell. Then in case we’re not paying attention, he says it again in verse 47. Vs 47 – If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the Kingdom of God with one eye rather than having two eyes and be cast into hell fire. To me that’s almost shocking to consider because it shows a level of commitment that I don’t know that we have as a body, even individually. Christ is saying it’s better to be free of sin and maimed than to be whole and be burned in the lake of fire. It’s just as simple as that, and it’s hard at the same time. He’s saying to us to take a look at that chain you think holds you back. It’s time to start living the spiritual life you should be living.
Let’s go next to Romans chapter 6. This sin that we’re picturing this week especially is put into a context here that’s worth considering. In Romans 6, verse 16, Paul is talking about being slaves. The culture of Rome was the culture of slaves. They operated on slave power, if you will. They would not have had the wealth they did if they had not had the slaves they had. He draws an analogy here: Romans 6:16 Romans 6:16Know you not, that to whom you yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants you are to whom you obey; whether of sin to death, or of obedience to righteousness?
American King James Version×– Do you not know that to whom you present yourself slaves to obey, you are that one’s slave. Now, in the context, slaves had no rights, they were property. The owner could do pretty much whatever they wanted with this slave, even to the point of killing them. There were no laws against mistreatment or OSHA regulations as to safety when they were doing whatever job you were having them do, or wage minimum requirements, or anything of this nature. So consequently they were held in very low esteem. It was easy to look at them and not consider them as anything worthwhile. But Paul is saying here, When you look at them you think you’re better than them; but you stop to consider whom you serve.
As he says here, “to whom you present yourselves to as slaves to obey, you are that one’s slave.” Look at the culture around us. Most people are slaves to their jobs, not because they love them, but because they need them to pay off the mortgage that they overbought, or the toys that fill their garages, or any number of other things. Or they’re slaves to other things in life: The addictions I mentioned, or other lifestyles, or whatever it happens to be. Romans 6:16 Romans 6:16Know you not, that to whom you yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants you are to whom you obey; whether of sin to death, or of obedience to righteousness?
American King James Version×(cont’d) – whether it is of sin leading to death (this matter of servitude), or of obedience leading to righteousness. Those are our two choices. We’re either slaves to the right things or we’re slaves to the wrong things. That may not seem like much of a choice but they lead in completely opposite directions. Vs 17 – But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin… and that’s where every one of us stand before baptism; that’s a big part of what we’re to go through in considering, counting the cost, analyzing our relationship before God – we’re slaves to sin. We’re in opposition to everything God stands for. But he says: Vs 17 (cont’d) – yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. We all began to think differently, didn’t we? We looked at that chain and we thought, “Why am I still tethered to this?” Vs 18 – Having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. Became bound, if you will, to something far better. What is the point of these Days of Unleavened Bread? The point is to show us, through the example of leavening, the simple ingredient, how pervasive and sneaky sin can be. Maybe we’ll get a good laugh on the last day, we can share stories of the thing we missed; the piece of food your kid horded in the back of a dresser somewhere.
Like the pastor I heard one year, was sitting on the Holy Day and went to cross his leg and his pants have cuffs in it on the bottom, he went to straighten out the cuff and he’s pulling all these crumbs out because most pastors eat standing up at church. All these crumbs were falling down and he never checked that. Whatever it happens to be – the crackers you thought were unleavened that aren’t. The point is to show us how pervasive it is; how persistent it is. It’s interesting to go and look at this before the Days of Unleavened Bread. You have to be careful because there are some items that will be switched back and forth through the year. Sometimes the crackers have leavening in it, sometimes it doesn’t. You can’t tell by just looking at it, you have to read the ingredients. With leavening a symbol of that sin in our life, we are then to be reminded every day this week when we eat that unleavened bread that we’re to change how we act and how we think. The reason we don’t change more quickly is that oftentimes we’re not willing or we’re not diligent enough to take the path that requires difficult action.
The quote Mr. Gitter read from C. S. Lewis, we don’t want to pay the price. That elephant, he remembers that wound, he remembers the pain, he remembers the discomfort, he doesn’t want to do that again, doesn’t want to try. So he stays tethered. We forget ourselves to test the chains that hold us to see if we’re now strong enough to overcome them. Because like a prisoner of war, our duty is to escape. I have a quote here and I couldn’t find the author but it fits in well with this sermon today and this is the quote: “It is easier to be a prisoner than to be free.” If you’ve ever met someone in prison, you’ve gone to visit someone in prison, you understand that thought. While it is not an easy life, it is in some ways an easy life. They tell you when to get up, they tell you when to shower, they tell you when to eat, they give you what to eat whether you want it or not, they tell you when to do all these things. I’m convinced that’s why the recidivism rate is so high, because they take away any personal responsibility, any decision making.
You want to know a secret to overcoming these chains that bind us? This very simple thing: Remember I said earlier that we can allow a constraint to become an absolute? The key to overcoming that way of thinking is to simply add the word “yet” to those declarative statements. Why would God call me? I’m a nobody with nothing to offer… yet. A much different statement isn’t it? I wish I could memorize Bible verses but I can’t… yet. I don’t have the time to serve… yet. What that word does is that it also changes our perspective by making those types of statements with the word “yet” then the next step is simple. We make a plan. If I’m not there yet, what do I need to do to get there? We forget this because as we grow up we learn things in stages. We don’t begin running when we’re children. We start crawling, then we move along the sides of things, holding on, then maybe mom and dad assist us, then we try it on our own, and we go through this learning process. We do it with everything in life. But at some point we get to a stage where we say, “Well, I can’t.” We give up; we walk away. Let’s go next to 1 Corinthians 13.
Paul had gone through in the previous chapters the discourse on spiritual gifts and the body and unity that should bring, not division. Here in chapter 13 he says that in light of all those gifts the greater thing is God’s love, in whatever it is that we have, that He has blessed us with. 1 Corinthians 13:11 1 Corinthians 13:11When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
American King James Version×– When I was a child, I spoke as a child… We have a different outlook when we’re children, a much simpler outlook. For my kids, it’s when I’m in the van I can sleep. We get in the van, down the road, look in the mirror, they’re out, they’re gone. I have to say though that if I wasn’t driving I’d be right there with them. The outlook is different when we’re young, right? We’re not thinking about responsibilities of life, earning money, taking care of responsibilities we have. 1 Corinthians 13:11 1 Corinthians 13:11When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
American King James Version×– When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. I see that as increasingly a problem in the culture around us because we have men that still think as children. They don’t have the values, they don’t have the drive, they don’t have whatever it is that’s necessary to provide for a family or in some cases even themselves. Put away childish things. You get to a point where you have to look at your life and say, “What do I want to make with my life?” It’s no different spiritually.
No one sitting here can make you get into the Kingdom. Ideally, sitting here everyone can help and support and encourage, but we have to do it ourselves, don’t we, with God’s help. There’s no one who’s going to drag us into the Kingdom. That young, rich ruler understood that and he went and asked Christ, “What do I need to do?” We need to put away childish things, we need to think differently, we need to take a look at that chain and say, “Do I really want that holding me back any longer?” Philippians 4. We also need to consider and remember that we need Christ’s help. Philippians 4:3 Philippians 4:3And I entreat you also, true yoke fellow, help those women which labored with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and with other my fellow laborers, whose names are in the book of life.
American King James Version×– (Paul says) And I urge you also, true companions… That’s an interesting statement. Philippians 4:3 Philippians 4:3And I entreat you also, true yoke fellow, help those women which labored with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and with other my fellow laborers, whose names are in the book of life.
American King James Version×(cont’d) – help those women which labored with me in the gospel, with Clement also… (and so forth and so on). I want to focus on that first part: “true companions” He’s speaking to an audience, but he’s speaking to them individually as well. That phrase, those words “true companions” in other translations (I’m reading this in the New King James) and the Old King James and the Authorized Versions and others they have “true yokefellows” which is an interesting phrase.
My cousin had horses and we had access to them growing up and when I was growing up I loved being around horses. They’re amazing creatures. Many people even to this day when they train horses they use a process that many call “breaking” a horse. I don’t agree with that approach but nevertheless it is used oftentimes. You break them in to their role, their responsibility, their task, what you want them to be used for. But you don’t yoke horses like you do oxen. Oxen are trained much differently. They’re trained by putting a young ox with an older ox because the younger ox learns to do the useful work from being yoked to the mature ox. He watches and he learns and the older ox directs and guides. As they follow along, they learn; they pull the load together, side by each as they say in New England; side by side. The process is gentle.
I’d like to go next to Matthew 11, verse 28. Christ used this analogy of a yoke. Matthew 11:28 Matthew 11:28Come to me, all you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
American King James Version×– Come to me, all you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Anyone here not heavy laden, dealing with the cares of life, our jobs, raising our families, the uncertain economy? Any number of things could fit into this, the trials that come, the unexpected expenses, whatever it happens to be, Christ says, “Come to me and I’ll give you rest.” V 29 – Take my yoke upon you… Christ is not this disconnected Savior. He’s not sitting by the right hand of God, not doing anything. He’s sharing this load with us. V 29 – Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart: and you will find rest for your souls. (I’ll help you along the way. Watch me; we’ll walk together and you can learn.) V 30 – For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. In that relationship, that mature ox is the one carrying most of the load, pulling most of the weight. Let’s go back to Philippians chapter 4. When we’re laboring and heavy burdened, Christ shares the yoke with us so that we can find rest. He doesn’t say, “I’ll take it away,” he says, “I’ll share it with you so you can learn.” So he does in a very gentle, patient way; he works with us. Philippians 4:13 Philippians 4:13I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me.
American King James Version×– (Paul makes this statement) I can do all things through Christ… I can do that.
If Christ is with me, I can see my way through this trial. If Christ is with me, I can see what I need to do, week after week, year after year. If he’s with me, I can watch what he’s doing, I can follow in his footsteps and I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. That’s an amazing thing to consider as we start off this Holy Day season. We can’t come out of sin by ourselves, as much as we want to try; as much as we might think that we can. That process started with Passover, the acknowledgement that we can’t do this on our own. Someone else had to pay the price for us. Isaiah 58, verse 6. Let’s turn there next. This is a somewhat famous section of scripture. In this chapter, God is talking to Israel about things that please Him. He spends a great deal of time talking about fasting and acceptable worship and we’re not going to go through the whole chapter. I want to highlight verse 6. Isaiah 58:6 Isaiah 58:6Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every yoke?
American King James Version×– Is this not the fast I have chosen? The Jewish people, even to this day, have a number of fasts for a number of different things. I’m not saying there’s something wrong with that, but what happened with the Jews especially was that their physical things, the applications they did outwardly… that became righteousness.
So they never considered anything internally. I could smile and shake your hand and say pleasant things to your face and in my mind I’m thinking how I want you to die. They did that with Christ and they saw no disconnect there which is just astounding to consider. So God is using their fast as an example, saying, “This is the fast that’s acceptable.” Isaiah 58:6 Isaiah 58:6Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every yoke?
American King James Version×(cont’d) – to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every yoke. God says He wants us to serve others; I want you to help; I want you to work together; I want you to have love one towards another so that this doesn’t continue to bind you. That chain doesn’t need to stay there. The Jews have some oral expressions called the Targum. They are spoken paraphrases, explanations or such of various scriptures and for this section here’s what they say: They translate it: to loose the bonds of writings of a depraved judgment.
If I can paraphrase: To undo wrong thinking. See, the elephant’s wrong, when it’s eight tons and thirteen feet tall. It can pull that out without so much as a second thought if it wanted to, but its thinking is stuck, that it’s still this little elephant, that if it tries it’s going to hurt and there’s no point. The Bible in basic English translates this verse this way: Is not this the Holy Day for which I have given orders to let loose those who have wrongfully made prisoners, to undo the bands of the yoke and to let the crushed go free and every yoke to be broken. It’s not God that places us in chains, it’s Satan, it’s our own thoughts, it’s the culture of the world around us. We know from Revelation chapters 2 and 3 that God tells His people, Christ tells his people to overcome. Don’t stay there! Come out of the world! We know that’s a tall challenge but hopefully you’ve read this past week John 16:33 John 16:33These things I have spoken to you, that in me you might have peace. In the world you shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.
American King James Version×where Christ says, “I overcame the world. Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” Just a few more verses here as we wrap up. Let’s go over to Isaiah chapter 66, the end of the book. Isaiah 66, verse 2. Isaiah 66:2 Isaiah 66:2For all those things has my hand made, and all those things have been, said the LORD: but to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembles at my word.
American King James Version×– For all those things my hand has made, and all those things that exist, says the Eternal, but on this one will I look… Here’s what God is looking for. Here’s why God has us go through these annual events of Passover, Days of Unleavened Bread and Pentecost and the rest of the Holy Days. Here’s why He asks us to come before Him weekly and to learn. Here’s why He tells us to do things like put away leavening for this week. Isaiah 66:2 Isaiah 66:2For all those things has my hand made, and all those things have been, said the LORD: but to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembles at my word.
American King James Version×(cont’d) – on this one will I look, to him who is poor and of a contrite spirit and who trembles at My word. Our natural, human inclination is to trust our own understanding.
We read that earlier, our way of thinking. We can delude ourselves and oftentimes to our own hurt. God says this is the one I’m looking for. Somebody who knows their limitations but who listens to Me. Lastly in Micah chapter 6. Micah 6, verse 6. This is not a New Testament thought although it’s quoted in the New Testament. Micah 6:6 Micah 6:6With which shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before the high God? shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old?
American King James Version×– With what shall I come before the Eternal and bow myself before the high God? (Is it the way I look? Is it the way I act? Is it the money I bring to an offering? Is it things of that nature?) Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings? (Do I bring a whole herd of animals and slaughter them and stand before them in the congregation so they know that I did this?) Do I bring calves a year old? V 7 – Will the Eternal be pleased with thousands of rams, ten thousands of rivers of oil? (Is it a matter of what I bring to the equation?) shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? One of the unfortunate legacies of Israel is that many of them said, “Yes.” V 8 – He has shown you, o man, what is good and what does the Eternal require of you, to do justice, to love mercy, to walk humbly with your God. There’s nothing in there about chains. There’s nothing in there about staying where you are.
There’s nothing in there about nothing will change. He says that what I want you to understand what justice is, to understand what mercy is, and I want you to have a humble heart. If we understand those things, then the chains won’t hold us. There will be no chains to hold us back because God has not called us to remain in chains to our sins. He sent His son to die so that we’re not chained to those things. He sent him to die so that He could give us a portion of the Holy Spirit so we begin to think like Him, not like we used to. The way we used to think is broken; that led us to a life of sin, it didn’t lead us to eternal life. He called us to remove those chains that bind us. Unlike the elephant trained to never test the chains, now is the time for us. These Holy Days that we’re in, this coming year that we’re upon, and even as we heard in the sermonette: Today! Now is the day. This is the week of Unleavened Bread and we should consider and give our foot to the path to overcome sin.