"The Final Thralldom"

14 March 1999 Sermon

Text: Luke 4:18-19, 43-45 and Deut. 32:1-18

To enthrall is "to hold spellbound, to captivate. . . to enslave." A "thrall" is 1a.) "A person, such as a slave, or serf who is held in bondage. 1b.) a person who is intellectually, or morally enslaved. 2. Servitude; bondage." (The American Heritage Dictionary, Houghton Mifflin, 1985, pp.456 and 1265) Thralldom is the condition of many people; it is not something limited to fairy tales, or to medieval stories about knights, ladies and evil dragons. All around us we find people enthralled to sin, dysfunction, despair and self-destruction—all manner of Satanic strongholds.

Now Jesus came to Nazareth specifically to destroy Satanic strongholds and to make war on the kingdom of darkness. His weapons were many: teaching, preaching, healings, miracles and deliverances. The same weapons all too often lie dormant in the armory of the church! Let us stress from the outset that Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil, not persons. He came to save the lost. What he came against were the intellectual, spiritual and moral delusions which forge the chains that hold those who are deceived, or lost, in captivity. He is the spell-breaker, if we might borrow a term from fantasy literature, and the charm he speaks to break the spell is truth. It is the gospel of God. Likewise we break Satanic strongholds today by speaking truth to those held captive by those strongholds. And then, as now, Satan is powerless to resist, or repel the gospel, the word of truth spoken in love—for it is love of Christ that lends credibility to the speaker, and to the message.

Also we should note that he closed in on Nazareth much as he would later close in on Jerusalem itself. Beginning in the countryside, he developed a reputation and momentum and then, in the power of the spirit, he came to the synagogue. He did not come as a casual Sabbath visitor, looking for distraction, or indifferent to the things of God, he came to destroy the works of the devil, storming the synagogue for the Satanic stronghold that it was! What? Yes, then as now, the place of religious assembly can be a place filled with persons co-opted by Satan—and some of those in leadership are most prone to religious delusion. They may succumb to various deceptions: the deception of works, or the deception of ability, subtle forms of spiritual pride ceremonialism and religious self-reliance. This may put a new light on church conflict for some of us—we are sometimes more troubled by the unspiritual condition of those present, than we are by the lostness of the world! The synagogue leaders, priest or levite, could open the book, the scrolls of the Law, but neither they nor the lay readers could understand what they read—they could attain the height of human intellect and still not arrive at the truth.

Jesus arrives. He opens the book to their understanding. He proclaims as history what, up until that very moment, was only prophesy. The passage he read proclaims his own mission, and the mission of those who are called by his name! First, he announces his qualification: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me." Without that, we do not dare attempt anything in the spiritual realm. That is what the disciples waited for in Jerusalem after the Lord’s ascension! Power from on high, the Holy Spirit. Second, he proclaims the authority of his anointing, his Messiahship. Then, there follows his job description. It is threefold: to be a prophet and evangelist, to perform healings, and to redeem the lost. In this job description we read in high light, the divine diagnosis of our human need. We are all too familiar with sociological analyses of our need, but here is a spiritual diagnosis, from scripture, that penetrates to the heart of the real problem: our enthrallment to Satan’s domain as a race.

Having completed the reading, Jesus sat down, as was their custom, and taught on the Scripture lesson he had just completed. According to Matt. 26:55, this was Jesus’ daily practice in the temple and elsewhere. What Isaiah prophesied, Jesus declared as history. "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing." (v.21) You can almost hear the demonic wail of despair, a long agonizing "Nooo!" from the bowels of hell as the terrible reality of their imminent doom burst upon them. Jesus enacted the kingdom that very hour in his preaching of liberty, in the gift of sight and healing, and in deliverance. The same reality dawns each and every time we go on the offensive! Jesus went on to preach, probably a long sermon as he was known to do, drawing out all the witness of scripture to himself and his mission. The audience response was positive at first, they being "amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips."

Then came unbelief, the dismissive: "Is this not Joseph’s son?" In that brief question they denied the incarnation, the truth of his proclamation, the divine moment. They called his mission into question and set themselves, by their own doubt, outside the pale of grace. "He came unto his own and they received him not." Jesus understood. He recognized their craven desire for a miracle worker instead of the real Messiah. The people, like the demonic hosts around them, were enthralled by the kingdom of darkness. They were works of Satan by choice, by conscious will, even where they were not yet possessed demonically! Because they have rejected him, Jesus proceeds to tell them of their rejection by God. . . salvation will come to the Gentiles before the Jews. This was not a welcome message; it cut them to the quick. . .they respond with swift, and murderous fury. "They got up, drove him out of town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him down the cliff. . .but he walked right through the crowd and went on his way." (vv.29-30)

Jesus tells us in scripture many heart-breaking accounts of people who were spellbound, captive to their circumstances and imagination. I will only relate three brief incidents. Matthew 18: 21-35 relates the story of the unmerciful servant. The servant is forgiven an impossible debt out of the kindness of his master’s heart. The debt was real, and so was the release from indebtedness. But the servant is trapped in the thralldom of indebtedness—he cannot, it would appear, relate to his master, himself and others outside the bounds of what he owed, or of what was owed him. He was enslaved to his finances, to an indebtedness which had become an enslavement, a captivity, a thralldom. It was that thralldom that caused him, in part, to sin against another servant, again on the basis of indebtedness. How sad to be so inflexible, bound up and ruthless! And this man, because he would not be set free, sins and ends up in a severe place of judgment. John 4 contains an account of a woman trapped in the devastating thralldom of adultery. Her whole life is caught up in the sexual captivity of serial relationships with men to whom she is not married. She may have been captivated by the sexual power she exercised over these men; but because it was bondage and death to her, Jesus set about setting her free. Before we pass on, it is worth noting that this woman’s personal dilemma, her thralldom, is rooted in religious error as well as sexual sin. She receives her freedom and exchanges her former life for the calling of an evangelist—or so we may assume if her first actions are taken to be characteristic of her liberated self. She proclaims Jesus as prophet! If we continue in the gospel of John, we come to the man at the pool of Bethesda who is held captive by his paralysis. He is, as it were, spellbound to his mat. He cannot help himself, as is so often the case, with those enthralled. He looks for an angel to stir the waters and to break the spell, but his heart is full of disappointment and resentment towards others. Addicted to victimhood and incapacity, the man has remained spiritually and physically stuck for thirty-eight years. However, when he obeys Jesus’ command, which signals a wonderful and new direction for his life, he is set free. He found purpose and liberty in being a witness to Jesus as healer.

Once again we should stress that this man’s condition, like that of the debtor and the adulteress, is directly attributed by Jesus to sin. All three had hardened hearts, hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. Therefore, it fails to occur to any of them, on their own, that they should repent of sin and sin is the pathway through which they came into thralldom, bondage!. Each of them, no doubt, has a justification for their condition but, boiled down to its essence, their excuses are plainly matters of self-delusion and/or spiritual blindness. Yet worse, they have, by their impenitence, become subject to satanic delusion, living as if there is no judgment day, no accountability, no wages for sin. Living for themselves only, and not for God. However, the worst consequence of their thralldom is that they have become in their whole being works of Satan, deserving of final wrath and judgment.

The wonder is this: they, like ourselves, don’t get what they deserve. In each case, because Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil, because he came to shatter every chain and to abolish every bondage, they receive mercy. They don’t get what they deserve, they get redemption. Jesus came into ordinary lives of everyday people, people trapped in thralldoms of every kind imaginable, and took the spiritual offensive on their behalf. And he is willing to come again today, with power, setting the captives free in our lives, in our personal universe of friends, associates and family. Indeed destroying the works of the devil is the work he has bequeathed to us, his followers. We are supernaturally empowered bondage-breakers, we are spiritual liberators. . . co-workers with him in the deliverance of mankind from the final thralldom. Let’s look into that work of liberation in more detail.

Luke 4 details for us Jesus’ spirit filled life following his baptism. Don’t forget that you’ve been baptized, too You will recall that he was put to the test in the wilderness where he resisted the world, the flesh and the devil. Resistance is the primary work of every regenerate person. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we, too, are to resist everything that Satan would use to entice us away from God. . . for we know that the deadly purpose of our temptations is to enthrall us. Are we going to live enthralled, enslaved, or free? If the temptations are allowed to captivate us, to hold us spellbound, we shall become "thralls," little demonic drones or slaves in a spiritual captivity the proportions of which largely hidden from us—at least, in the beginning. Indeed, those who yield to temptation become so deceived that they believe themselves to be "free," and to be fully human that those upright religious folk, when, in fact, they are enslaved to their lusts, captive to their appetites and depraved. Only those who are free in Christ can see their situation for what it actually is—their eyes have been opened.

So, the first work of spiritual regeneration pursuant to our in-filling is resistance. The second work of the believer is signaled by our Lord’s life style of taking the spiritual offensive. It is to be led of the Spirit. . .lead into battle and victory! He returns to Galilee, just like you who return to your own places, your own Galilees, to destroy the works of Satan. What works? The thralldoms described above. The intellectual, spiritual and moral captivities into which people have fallen, whether knowingly, or not. In this Jesus is much like Moses who was sent to set God’s people free from their Egyptian captivity, a captivity which was psychological, political, moral, religious and spiritual all at once. Many persons, over the years, have expressed to me their amazement that the Hebrews, after seeing such mighty acts of God, miracles and deliverances, so quickly fell into unbelief and complaining. The behavior of the Hebrews, however, is quite consistent with that of persons who are enthralled. People who are enthralled are a piece of work. They didn’t become entrenched in sin suddenly, or overnight as the result of a single poor choice. . . to be sure, some may have catastrophic falls, but most eased into it gradually. Thralldom is a weed with a humongous root system; it can take over your whole garden! Enthralled people ignore their conscience, and other the warning signs sent by God and allow themselves to be seduced by degrees and inches until they finally have become a work of the devil, deeply into sin and miles into Satan’s kingdom seemingly inextricable, hopeless and beyond repair. And so it would be, if it were not for Jesus. . .and his redemptive love.

Let’s review the particulars: Jesus arrives in Nazareth. He opens the book of Isaiah to their understanding. He proclaims as history what, up until that very moment, was only prophesy. The passage he read proclaims his own mission, and the mission of those who are called by his name! First, he announces his qualification: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me." Without that, we do not dare attempt anything in the spiritual realm. That is what the disciples waited for in Jerusalem after the Lord’s ascension! Power from on high, the Holy Spirit. Second, he proclaims the authority of his anointing, his Messiahship. Then, there follows his job description. It is threefold: to be a prophet and evangelist, to perform healings, and to redeem the lost. In this job description we read in high light, the divine diagnosis of our human need.

So Jesus preaches the gospel to the poor, the marginal folk (prisoners, the persecuted, the starving, the unwanted, the lonely, isolated and broken-hearted), the rejects of the world—those held in contempt by their superiors, those who are arrogantly oblivious to their spiritual condition. The poor in spirit, those who are humble, meek and sorrowful for their enthrallment to sin, are the ones that he was sent to. Jesus prophesies to and evangelizes those God awakens to their actual need—their indebtedness, their sexual dysfunction, their incapacity. Well, what did he preach? He preached deliverance to captives. He saw God’s people in straits like unto those the Hebrews faced in Egypt. He saw the people as lost sheep, as broken persons and as exiles who, due to their bondage, have been excluded from the promised land of a love relationship to God. We are destitute when we are devoid of spiritual intimacy with God. Jesus spoke hope and release to those bound up in the final thralldoms of our human condition! He preached sight to the blind because he could see what they could not see. . . they were blind to their blindness, which, of course, is a far worse state than simple blindness. Indeed, there are things that, apart from the touch of God, no one can see. To such as acknowledged their need, he declared, "Receive your sight." If people couldn’t receive deliverance from captivity, or sight for their blindness as a metaphor for their condition of spiritual need, he spoke yet a third metaphor: he declared the acceptable year of the Lord. He announced spiritual amnesty. If you will lay down your rebellion, if you will relent of your defiance and sinful independence, you may come home without penalty if you act now! Of course, all these things captivity, blindness and amnesty, properly understood, expose the actual condition of man apart from his true purpose and calling.

Jesus heals. Jesus went about healing the broken-hearted. He performed emotional healings when he cured afflicted consciences, those troubled by guilt and shame and all manner of soul grief. He brought peace to troubled consciences by dealing with the heart’s root issues. He made the offer of forgiveness to those who sincerely desired to be put right with God. And, as hard as this may be to hear, he came against the thralldom of those who love to wallow in their wrestlings with sin. . . always wrestling, never winning. Enthralled with being a victim, they never risk being a victor and so avoid all the new responsibilities that come with health, wholeness and being forgiven, such persons are slaves, they are always on the spiritual defensive. What such people need most is to die, yes, to die to themselves as they were for the sake of what they are to become! They are in need of resurrection life and don’t even know it—they fight putting the old man in the tomb alongside dead guilt, dead sin, dead shame. Being so absorbed, so enthralled with their incapacity, broken-heartedness and flesh habits, they never venture forth in new life and go on the spiritual offensive. Going nowhere fast, their inaction frees Satan to trouble others with time he ought to be spending fighting their spiritual offensives, their intrusions into his kingdom! How Christians need to hear the necessity of keeping the pressure on that old buzzard! Because he is limited, we must spread him out to the Max, cause him to be over-extended so that, just like in capture the flag, whole prisons of his former subjects can be set free! Fatigue Satan with faithfulness, he only appears tireless. . . we are the ones with infinite resources. All the resources of heaven are ours for the asking. Destroy him with endless praise. By faith, speak hope into existence. Jesus releases people from dread and so heals them. We can do that, too! He demonstrates that we have nothing to fear from the Lord our God, from the Father, if we receive Him as He is in order to be restored to what we truly are.

Jesus is the great redeemer. When Cyrus, the Great, decreed the end of the Babylonian exile, he said to the Jews, "Whoever will, may go up." This is what Jesus proclaims in a multitude of ways: "Whoever will be healed, may be healed. . .whoever will be forgiven, may be forgiven. . .whoever will be set free, may be free indeed." Now it is the case, that some of you seated here today, may be hearing such a declaration for the first time. If you so hear it, it is for you, go up! We are debtors and prisoners to divine justice and it is grace, and grace alone, that can deliver us. Again, if you are hearing this for the first time, rejoice! And rejoicing, enter in!

By the power of the Holy Spirit which fills us, we are to be led of the Spirit into the exciting work of destroying Satanic strongholds, the works of the devil. We are to speak the truth in love and so preach the gospel. We are to be strong, brave and persistent! After getting right with God, after resisting temptation, we are to bruise the head of Satan by praying for the broken-hearted and for the sick that they might be healed. And we are to lead them all out of captivity under the banner of Jesus Christ, our Great Redeemer, who, through us, continues the work of redemption. Let us whole-heartedly follow Jesus. Then the thralldoms of many shall no longer be final, nor fatal and those who might have perished will instead receive eternal life!

Amen.