Gospel Reading: John 8:31-42
31 Jesus then said to the Jews who had believed in him, "If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free." 33 They answered him, "We are descendants of Abraham, and have never been in bondage to any one. How is it that you say, `You will be made free'?" 34 Jesus answered them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, every one who commits sin is a slave to sin. 35 The slave does not continue in the house for ever; the son continues for ever. 36 So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed. 37 I know that you are descendants of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me, because my word finds no place in you. 38 I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father." 39 They answered him, "Abraham is our father." Jesus said to them, "If you were Abraham's children, you would do what Abraham did, 40 but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth which I heard from God; this is not what Abraham did. 41 You do what your father did." They said to him, "We were not born of fornication; we have one Father, even God." 42 Jesus said to them, "If God were your Father, you would love me, for I proceeded and came forth from God; I came not of my own accord, but he sent me.
Old Testament Reading: Daniel 3:14-20, 24-25,28
14 Nebuchadnez'zar said to them, "Is it true, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed'nego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the golden image which I have set up? 15 Now if you are ready when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, to fall down and worship the image which I have made, well and good; but if you do not worship, you shall immediately be cast in and who is the god that will deliver you out of my hands?" 16 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed'nego answered the king, "O Nebuchadnez'zar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. 17 If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace; and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. 18 But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image which you have set up." 19 Then Nebuchadnez'zar was full of fury, and the expression of his face was changed against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed'nego. He ordered the furnace heated seven times more than it was wont to be heated. 20 And he ordered certain mighty men of his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed'nego, and to cast them into the burning fiery furnace. 24 Then King Nebuchadnez'zar was astonished and rose up in haste. He said to his counselors, "Did we not cast three men bound into the fire?" They answered the king, "True, O king." 25 He answered, "But I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods." 28 Nebuchadnez'zar said, "Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed'nego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants, who trusted in him, and set at nought the king's command, and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God.
Meditation: What is the key mark of a disciple and follower of God? Scripture unhesitatingly tells us that a true disciple and follower is one who listens to God, who believes in him, and who obeys his word. Believing and obeying are two sides of the same coin. They are both related to listening, learning, imitating, and following. The word disciple literally means one who learns and who listens to the voice of the master. And the word for obedience literally means to listen under the one who has rightful authority to teach and command what is true, just, and good. Faith in God is fundamentally a relationship of trust and obedience. God is trustworthy because he is utterly reliable, faithful, just, and true. That is why we can believe and trust in God completely and wholeheartedly, without any reservation, hesitation, or compromise. We can only come to know who God truly is though the revelation of his word to us. That is why faith is first and foremost a gift freely given by God to everyone who is open and receptive to receive his word. Saint Augustine of Hippo (354-430 AD) said, "I believe, in order to understand – and I understand, the better to believe" (Sermon 43:7,9).
In the Old Testament Book of Daniel we see a remarkable example of faith being put to the test in the midst of trial and adversity. When Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed'nego, the three young companions of Daniel, were commanded by the king of Persia to bow down and submit to the pagan idols of his nation, they unhesitatingly said, "We will not serve your gods or worship the golden image which you have set up" (Daniel 3:18). They knew God's command, "Do not worship false idols"(Exodus 20:3-6; Deuteronomy 12:29-31). They decided it was far better to obey God and entrust their lives to him rather than give in to the threats of others. God gave them courage to take a bold stand for their faith. They willingly accepted the King's punishment as they were bound and thrown into a burning fiery furnace. Daniel tells us how God was very present to these three young men as they proclaimed their faith in him. God showed his presence to the three men and walked with them in the fiery furnace. As a remarkable sign of God's power to the pagan rulers of Persia, God kept the three men from harm and delivered them from death (Daniel 3:25,28). Do you trust in God to give you his help and strength when your faith is put to the test?
The scribes and Pharisees, who were the religious authorities of the Jews, questioned Jesus' authority to speak and act in God's name. They questioned Jesus' claim to forgive sins and to set people free from slavery to sin. They understood that only God had power to forgive sins and to release people from their burden of guilt and shame. They refused to accept that Jesus' authority was given to him by his Father in heaven. Jesus tells them that they think evil of him and desire to kill him because they follow a father who is opposed to the true heavenly Father who created man and woman in his own image and likeness (Genesis 1:26-27). Jesus explains that there are two different senses of fatherhood. The first is a physical identity through natural fatherhood. And the second and more significant identity is a self-chosen one that is the result of being personally formed in a moral way of thinking and living one's life that has been shaped through the example, words, and influence of a role model (or models) one has decided to follow and imitate. We do not grow or learn in a vacuum. We are shaped for better or for worse by those we choose to follow. Sin leads us away from God's truth and the help he gives us to follow him. Slavery to sin is ultimately rooted in the father of lies (John 8:44), whom Scripture calls the devil (Luke 4:1) and Satan (Luke 10:18), the ruler of this present world who is opposed to God (John 12:31; 2 Corinthians 4:4).
The freedom which Jesus offers his followers is freedom from the power of sin, Satan, and the worldly influence of those who oppose God and his ways. We are powerless to set ourselves free from bondage to Satan, sin, and death (Romans 3:23; 5:6). That is why the Lord Jesus took our sins upon himself and nailed them to the cross (1 Peter 2:24; Isaiah 53:5-6; Colossians 2:14). His death on the cross has won victory and pardon for us, and peace with God. Through Jesus' sacrifice we are not only forgiven and reconciled with God – we become the adopted sons and daughters of God (Romans 8:14-16). We can call God our Father because the Lord Jesus has reconciled us and redeemed us from slavery to sin and Satan.
A redeemed slave is not entirely free until all of his chains and weights have been broken and destroyed. The Lord Jesus alone has the power to release us from every chain and burden that would keep us in bondage to sinful habits and hurtful desires. Are there any chains – any sinful patterns, harmful attitudes, and addictive behavior – that you need to be released from? Allow the Lord Jesus to unbind you and bring you healing, pardon, and freedom to walk in his way of love and truth. The Lord Jesus sets us free from slavery to our own selfishness and sinful desires in order to set us free for a joy-filled life of love and service for his kingdom. Paul the Apostle reminds us that Christ has won freedom for each one of us – not to serve ourselves or do as we please – but rather to please the Lord and to serve our neighbors in love for their sake (Galatians 5:1,13). Do you accept and believe Christ's word of truth, love, and freedom for your life?
"Lord Jesus, write your words of love and truth upon my heart and make me a diligent student and a worthy disciple of your word."
Psalm 18: 25-27
25 With the loyal you show yourself loyal; with the blameless man you
show yourself blameless;
26 with the pure you show yourself pure; and with the crooked you show yourself perverse.
27 For you deliver a humble people; but the haughty eyes you bring down.