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? -- John 8:33
Tuesday, May 12, 2015
The Iron Yoke
Jesus was telling the crowd who He was and why He was in the world. The verse immediately preceding this is oft-quoted: … [Y]ou will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. Like many of us today, Jesus’ auditors were offended by His assertion.
Back in the book of Jeremiah, the Lord instructed His prophet, Thus the LORD said to me: Make yourself straps and yoke-bars, and put them on your neck (Jeremiah 27:2). This was to be a visual sign to Judah and the surrounding nations that the Lord had given them over to serve Babylon and Nebuchadnezzar. Through Jeremiah, the Lord warned of the dire consequences of rebellion against His appointed authority.
Humans sometimes have a problem being honest with themselves about their current state. We will imagine that we are better and smarter and stronger and perhaps more righteous that we really are. It is only when we are tested or we run into some barrier or limit that we can’t overcome that we take a more thorough and honest inventory – as the twelve-steppers might say – of our situation.
I believe the main reason that liberty and individual freedom, republican governments and more independence have dominated history for the last few hundred years is because of the rise and spread of Christianity and the spiritual liberty it brings. Kingdoms, empires, and governments in general prior to the Cross were more oppressive and restrictive in many ways and the institution of slavery was more widespread because this reflected humanity’s state of spiritual bondage.
The people of the nations that God chastened through His agency of Nebuchadnezzar were conquered and enslaved by sin. Nebuchadnezzar made the invisible visible. If we are going to be spiritual slaves to sin, we might as well be physical slaves. Physical freedom and what today is thought of as liberty – license – are meaningless and destructive apart from being free in Christ.
If we are imprisoned and shackled by addictions and habits and iniquity, we are slaves, whatever the nature of our society, culture, or government. An oppressive government or the rise of despots is more a consequence than a cause.
Back in Jeremiah’s time, there were some true prophets, like Jeremiah, and a whole bunch of false prophets in Judah and in the other nations as well. They were telling people that they did not need to worry about Nebuchadnezzar, that he was going to fade away and things would get back to normal. One of those false prophets, Hananiah confronted Jeremiah with the wooden yoke he had made: Then the prophet Hananiah took the yoke-bars from the neck of Jeremiah the prophet and broke them (Jeremiah 28:10). Hananiah then declared that God was going to break the yoke of Nebuchadnezzar “from the neck of all the nations within two years”.
I am sure it was quite a dramatic episode. If it happened today, it would be a celebrated soundbite on “The Daily Show” or a viral video on Youtube. The click-bait sites would have a headline saying, “Watch Hananiah Destroy Doomer ‘Prophet’ Jeremiah in 30 Seconds”.
Sometimes the people who are telling us what we want to hear are not the people to whom we should listen. Sometimes the people who are saying hard and harsh things are saying those things for our own good. Whether you are in a twelve-step program trying to break an addiction or you are trying to lose weight, become more fit, improve your health, your life, your finances, or your spiritual condition, the first step is always the same. We have to be honest about where we are.
A few years back I was forty-some pounds heavier than I am now, and I ain’t exactly anorexic today. I was never going to lose any of that weight until I admitted my pants hadn’t shrunk. I am never going to break out of the bondage of sin until I admit I am a hopeless sinner in need of Christ and the Blood of the Cross. There are the coaches and the gurus and the TED talkers who will come along and tell us we are all right. We just need to see ourselves as perfect. They break the toy wooden yoke that the Lord has been using to tell us we have a problem, but they don’t solve the problem.
After his interaction with the false prophet, Jeremiah went on his way. The Lord stopped him: Go, tell Hananiah, Thus says the LORD: You have broken wooden bars, but you have made in their place bars of iron. For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: I have put upon the neck of all these nations an iron yoke to serve Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and they shall serve him, for I have given to him even the beasts of the field (Jeremiah 28:13-14).
The real oppression remains. Nothing has been changed by the drama because people continue to refuse to recognize, accept and acknowledge their true state.
I believe the world and our culture, in particular, are in this current state of chaos and confusion and decline because we have, as a whole, turned from God, turned from Christ and allowed ourselves to be ensnared and enslaved. The rise of tyranny, the burgeoning of statism and collectivism, the ascendency of militant atheism and Islam and scientism are symptoms and visible manifestations of our spiritual subjugation.
If our children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren are ever to know anything of the liberties and truths upon which the United States was founded, we are going to have to face the barrenness, the brokenness, and the vanity of our lives. We cannot fix this with votes or politics or guns or wars. We need the Truth to set us free.