One day early on in Jesus' public ministry, Jesus went into the synagogue as was his custom. On this particular day the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
"The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."
(from the Gospel of Luke, emphasis added)
Jesus went on to tell the men sitting there that day that it was He who would fulfill this prophecy of Isaiah. Over the next three years, Jesus did indeed do these things. Most folks think upon first look that Jesus meant the "financially poor," the "legal prisoners," the "physically blind," and the "politically oppressed." However, a closer look at Isaiah's prophecy and Jesus' ministry will reveal a much deeper meaning to the words "poor," "prisoners," "blind," and "oppressed."
While Jesus did indeed have compassion for the financially poor, his ministry was primarily to the poor in Spirit who had no hope. He was sent to set free those who were imprisoned by sin and Satan. He was on a mission to open the eyes of those who were blinded by the Jewish religious system that placed a higher value on rules than relationship. Finally, Jesus was passionate about releasing us from the oppression of sin.
As we grow in our relationship with Jesus , we must become more and more free. If we are not experiencing more freedom, then we are stunted in our growth and are missing out on the abundant life Jesus promised to bring us.
I remember as a kid forming my list of "Do's and Don't's" as a Christian. My preacher, youth ministers, and Sunday school teachers were quick to help. "We don't ever go anywhere that Christians shouldn't go--even for good purposes--because if someone sees us, we may make them 'stumble.'" "We don't watch certain TV shows or movies or listen to certain kinds of music because Christians need to stay pure." "We don't drink alcohol because that is a bad witness."
All of these things were done, of course, with the best intentions. The problem, though, is that they negate the freedom Jesus came to give us. They make us slaves to the sin we are trying to avoid. Sure, you can be a slave to sin by doing the sin, but you can also be a slave by focusing on NOT doing it, too. This is the problem of the Pharisees and their legalism. As we grow in Christ, our list on "don'ts" must fade away into the freedom of Christ. Let us not focus on what we shouldn't do, but what we get to do in Him.
Guilt is a powerful motivator. Ashamedly, it is a tool I used for many, many years as a preacher. It is handy to get people to do something that you want them to do. The sad part of this is that the Scripture clearly teachers that followers of Jesus should not walk in guilt. "There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus," Paul reminds us in the letter to the Romans.
Walk in freedom. Do not let well-meaning people guilt you into doing something you don 't want to do. Don't let guilt rob you of the joy of life. As one brother says, "Don't should on yourself. Furthermore, don't let others should on you." This means that we don't need to let people tell us (i.e. guilt us) by telling us what we should do as opposed to what we are doing. It is for freedom that Jesus has set us free. He is the audience of One that we live to please.
Your brother in the Way,