Sunday, July 5, 2020

CELEBRATING OUR DAY OF DEPENDENCE



In the world, independence is everything. At any given moment, I would say that there are at least a half a dozen countries or peoples somewhere in the world in a struggle for their independence.


These people feel as if they are under the oppression of another nation or people who do not have their best interests in mind. They feel as if they and their resources are being used for the benefit of those that rule over them. They seek to be free from this control so that they can make their own decisions.


Even here in the United States, we at least see this sentiment. I believe that there is an underlying and perpetual movement in the state of Texas to secede from the Union and make themselves an independent nation. We even see this on the local level, but in a slightly different way. Some years ago, there was a somewhat significant movement by many people here in the northern part of Wisconsin and those of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to break away from our respective states and form a 51st state in the United States. It was to be called the state of Superior. 

The End of the Pursuit for Independence

Although relatively few may be actually serious in these examples with our states, there is at least a measure of legitimacy to most movements for independence in our world. Had I been alive and living in America during the time of our own struggle for Independence from King George of England some 250 years ago, I imagine that I would have been a supporter of it. And it is true that we in the Northwoods we sometimes are obliged to live under certain laws that are of no value to us, but only benefit the larger population areas of the southern part of the state.

But you see, this thirst for independence can never be completely quenched. Had the movement to form a state of Superior been successful several years ago, by now it may have been that the people of the U.P. would be feeling somewhat oppressed by us in the new southern part of the state—those of us from Northern Wisconsin. We know that the “yoopers”[1] do have a culture and an economy that is distinct from here in Wisconsin in some ways, and sooner or later those distinctions would start to cause difficulties.

However, it would not even stop there, since the final drive of the thirst for independence ultimately becomes personal. The truth is, we do not want anyone telling us what to do. Not our parents, not our teachers, not our bosses, not the government—no one.

Our own experience with the Covid-19 virus also illustrates this. While virtually every medical expert is telling us that in areas of high risk of infection, doing things like wearing face masks and keeping a “social distance” of six feet can significantly reduce the spread of the disease, people nevertheless pack themselves unprotected into bars or march down the street to protest for some cause.

Their reply to the medical experts, the governors and local leaders who urge them to be more careful:

“Freedom!” Often their response is nothing more than that single word.

Even at the cost of putting others in danger of their health and even life, many are not willing to give up their own choices to participate in activities that are totally discretionary, and only for their own pleasure.

The end of the matter is that actually, we do not even want God to tell us what to do. 

Independence in the Garden of Eden and at Babel

You can see that all this talk of independence is more confusing than what often appears on the surface. While the drive for independence is important in our present world and in many present political circumstances, if carried to the extreme, it can also have detrimental consequences. In fact, this quest for independence was first awakened within us by the very first enticement by Satan in the Garden of Eden.

Satan said to Eve, “You will be like God” (Genesis 3:5). The essence of Satan’s temptation was that Adam and Eve would not need God to tell them what to do, since they could act according to their own wisdom. They would be independent from God.

This was also the failure at Babel. The purpose of their tower was not for an observatory. It was not an overt altar to a false god, as is sometimes taught. The statement of the people concerning it was to “make a name for [them]selves, so that [they] would not be scattered abroad, over the face of the earth” (Genesis 11:4).

This resolve for the people to remain concentrated in one area and not to be scattered was their decision—not God’s. Quite to the contrary, God had given men the commission to “fill the earth.” He wanted men and women to spread out over the face of the globe to the places that he had created for them. The people at Babel instead wanted to make their own name great. They wanted to make their own choices apart from God. They wanted independence from God.  

Independence for Ancient Israel

Similar stories continue through the pages of the Bible—stories of people and nations who did not like the idea of living under the direction of God. The early Israelites did not like the arrangement that God had made for them by sending them prophets to speak his word. They instead wanted to have a king—one of their own so that they could govern themselves.

This was not what God had wanted for them at that time. God viewed himself as the one who was the sovereign over his people, but now they had turned him away. God told Samuel the prophet, “They have rejected me from being king over them” (1 Samuel 8:7).

This was when Saul was made king over Israel. Even though this story is based in history and is political in nature, it is also a personal one—at least, that is how I want you to think of it. Think of it in an allegorical sense, for what happened to the nation Israel about three thousand years ago is in some ways analogous to what happens to us today when we decide that we want to rule our own lives instead of letting God rule them.

Israel wanted a king. They saw that the other nations around them had kings, and they wished to be like them. If the nations could rule themselves, why could not they?

Up until that time, the Israelites received their directions through the prophets of God. A prophet of God in those days was more than someone who sometimes told them about future events. That was actually one of their minor roles.

The main occupation of a prophet was simply to tell the people what God was saying to them. Samuel was the prophet of the Lord at that time, giving to them the word of God. And now the nation of Israel was saying that they did not want the word of God. They wanted to rule themselves. Saul became their king. 

A King Like the Other Nations

For a time, Saul seemed as if he would be a good king. Things went well. He was a very humble man when we was first chosen to be their sovereign. When Samuel told him that he was to become king, his response was, “Am I not a Benjamite, of the smallest of the tribes of Israel, and my family the least of all the families of the tribe of Benjamin? Why then do you speak to me in this way? (1 Samuel 9:21 NAS)

However, Saul quickly began to change. He began to let his position fill him with pride so that he felt independent of needing to consult God about his actions. At one particular point, Samuel told him, “You have acted foolishly; you have not kept the commandment of the Lord your God…the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever, but now your kingdom will not endure.” (1 Samuel 13:13-14a NAS)

What happened to Saul is similar to all who decide that their own way can take precedence over God’s way. It begins all fine and we accept things gratefully and humbly. But soon we find ourselves using our judgment in ways that demonstrates that we have been removed from God’s input in our lives. We become proud in our independence from God.

After the words of Samuel above, the prophet continues speaking to Saul: “The Lord has sought out for Himself a man after his own heart, and the Lord will appoint him as ruler over His people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you.” (1 Samuel 13:14 NAS) 

The Eternal Kingdom

That man who is described as being one with a heart like God was David. Neither was this man perfect, as we well know, but he was one who stayed sensitive to the fact that he was under the authority of God. When he did something that was outside of God’s way, he repented.

The line of earthly kings who would rule in Israel passed from Saul to David. This is perhaps significant in itself, but the most important part about this is that the eternal king, Jesus Christ, arose from the lineage of David, instead of that of Saul.

The Apostle Paul combined two separate Old Testament verses[2] and used them to quote the words of God, saying: “I have found David…a man after my heart who will do all my will. Of this man’s offspring God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, as he promised” (Acts 13:22-23 ESV).

From this event, the human aspect of the Kingdom of God became possible. When Jesus, the creator of all that there is, came to live with us as a human, he introduced to us the Kingdom of God. He also made it possible for us, as humans, to become part of that kingdom. The Kingdom of God is unlike any kingdom or government that we see on earth; unlike any government that is ruled by men and women. The Kingdom of God is ruled by God. 

King Jesus

During the trial of Jesus, Pilate tried to confirm if Jesus actually considered himself a king. To this, Jesus responded, “You say that I am a king. For this reason I was born and have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to My voice” (John 18:37 BSB).

In the mystery of the incarnation, God was made to be man in order to redeem us. I will not go into all of the details at this point of why this was necessary, and there is much about it that no one understands, but this is the reality as given to us by God.

It is because of Jesus, coming from the line of David and at the same time being the eternal Lord and King, that we are able to say that the kingdom of David will endure forever. It is not that David himself will reign as king forever, but the One who came from his line. It is Jesus Christ who is the ultimate fulfillment of this prophecy of an eternal king.

The Apostle Paul put it this way: “David, after he served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep, and was laid among his fathers, and underwent decay (to put it graphically). But He, whom God raised from the dead (speaking of Jesus) did not undergo decay. Therefore, let it be known to you brethren, that through Him forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you.” (Acts 13:36-38 NAS) 

Our Personal Independence

This is where this history becomes relevant to us. This is where it becomes personal. This is where our natural drive for independence, if we allow it to remain unchecked, reaches a level that can become detrimental to our souls.

For each one of us, there is a natural appeal to Satan’s words in the Garden of Eden. “You shall become like God.” We all want to be our own authority. None of us like someone else telling us what we should do. We want to run our own lives. We want to become like God in this respect.

But God is telling us that should we choose that path, it will lead us to eventual ruin. Like King Saul, for a time we may not notice a great deal of difference in our lives. Gradually however, we will find that our own quest for personal independence will lead us further and further into destruction.

If we allow it to, we will seek our independence even from God. 

Happy Dependence Day

Yesterday we celebrated our independence as a nation and our freedom.

Today I would like to celebrate our dependence, and our true freedom in Jesus Christ.

At one time, when Jesus was speaking to some people of Israel, he told them that once they came to know the truth of who he was, they would be free.

“You shall know the truth, and the truth will set you free,” Jesus told them.

The Jews took offense at these words. “We are Abraham’s offspring and have never been enslaved to anyone,” they answered him. “How is it that you say, ‘You shall become free’?”

These people were depending upon their heritage for their understanding of what it meant to live in freedom. Conveniently forgetting the four hundred years that the Israelites were enslaved in Egypt, plus numerous other times when their people had been slaves, they pridefully looked upon themselves as if they had never known bondage. Never mind the fact that they were at that moment under Roman occupation in their own land. How was it that Jesus could be so brash to say to them, “You shall become free?”

But slavery to other nations was not even the point of what Jesus was making. Even if they indeed had never been enslaved as a people, they would not know true freedom without Jesus Christ. They would be enslaved to sin. 

Slavery in America

We may not appeal to our ethnic heritage for our claim of knowing what it is to live in freedom, as did the Jewish people of Jesus’ day. We instead celebrate our national heritage. “We are Americans,” we say. “We have never been enslaved by anyone.” At least we say this if we are white Americans. Our own history tells us that other ethnic groups have indeed actually experienced slavery.

But even that is not the heart of the matter. The message of Jesus to every one of us is the same as it was to these Jews, our personal ethnic group does not matter. “Everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin…If therefore the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed” (John 8:34,36 NAS). 

Happy Dependence Day!

That freedom can only come by acknowledging our dependence upon Jesus Christ. That is why today, instead of celebrating our independence, I would like to celebrate our dependence. Without Christ, we are all held in bondage. It is only with Christ in us can those bonds be broken and can we walk in freedom. 

Our celebration will not involve fireworks. We are not going to organize a parade and throw candy. Our celebration involves a special meal. It is the Lord’s meal. It is the meal that has been ordained by Jesus Christ that we do in remembrance of him. We call this meal by various names in our churches: Holy Communion, The Eucharist, The Lord’s Supper…there are others.

We may draw some meaning to this meal and understand some of its significance, but there actually is no man, no denomination, no creed who is able to say that they understand completely the deep meanings of the Lord’s table. We are simply commanded to do it in remembrance of the life and work of Jesus Christ.

That is why we invite all who know Jesus as their life are invited to join in this celebration. For those of you, our guests who believe in Jesus as your only means of salvation, we welcome you to join in with us. Who goes to a family meal and is not invited to eat? This meal is for all the family of God, redeemed by the blood of Jesus.

It is a holy celebration, sanctified by God, so we are not to do this lightly and without thought. The Apostle Paul tells us that should we partake of the Lord’s Supper in a lighthearted and unthinking manner, the consequences can be quite severe indeed.

He says, “Let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself, if he does not judge the body rightly” (1 Corinthians 11:28-29 NAS).

Because of this I urge you, as did Paul, to examine yourselves, and let us celebrate our dependence on Him.




[1] A common moniker for the people from the Northern Peninsula of Michigan
[2] 1 Samuel 13:14; Psalm 89:20

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