Word of the Week: Emancipation

Today is a holiday in Washington, D. C. Public schools and local government offices are closed. It’s Emancipation Day.

Since 2005 it’s been a public holiday to mark the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia. On April 16, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Compensated Emancipation Act, granting freedom to 3,100 enslaved persons in D. C. . The act passed nine months before Lincoln’s famous Emancipation Proclamation liberating slaves in the South.

Since the 16th fell on Sunday, it will be celebrated today with a parade, a free concert and fireworks.

As I reflected on the long and arduous struggle to end slavery in our country and the role in the Great Emancipator, I thought of another emancipation that was even greater. While the word emancipation is not used in the Bible the concept is taught.

Jesus proclaimed, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.” When the Jews objected to Jesus’ statement saying, “We’ve never been in bondage to any man.” Jesus responded “Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin. And a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever. Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed. (John 8:32-36)

Jesus, the Great Spiritual Emancipator, came to offer freedom to the oppressed. His mission and ministry demonstrated this in dramatic fashion.

Jesus emancipated a man born blind (Jn 9).

Jesus emancipated Jairus’ daughter from the clutches of death (Lk 8:42-54).

Jesus emancipated a shamed woman caught in the act of adultery (Jn 8:3-12).

Jesus emancipated lepers from an onerous and disguising disease (Lk 17:11-17).

Jesus emancipated a demon possessed boy from his physical and emotional torture (Lk. 8:27-42).

But the Great Emancipator’s greatest work was reserved for His blood atoning death on the cross and his triumphant victory over the tomb. Through it He emancipated us from the slavery of sin and the bondage of Satan. And released us from the fear of death (Heb. 2:14-15; Eph. 1;7; 1 Cor 15:1-4).

The Bible speaks of this emancipation in Romans 6:16-18.

“Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness? But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.”

There are at least two paradoxes in this passage.  First, spiritual emancipation does not give us the license to live any way we want.  We now have a new Master.  Jesus Christ. Because He’s released us from the devil’s enslavement, we’re indebted to Him.  We serve him.  We’re still slaves.  But in a good way.  Slaves of righteous living.

Secondly, it’s interesting that some first century slaves obeyed the gospel. Yet, while in physical slavery, were freed spiritually. In Christ all are one–Jew and Gentile, male and female, bond servant and freedman (Gal. 3:26-29).

Thus it is possible in this life to suffer some physical, emotional or financial “enslavement” and yet enjoy divine emancipation through the power of the gospel.

Not all social inequities will be resolved in this life. Not all diseases will be healed. Not all ruptured relationships will be restored. Not all problems will be solved. But we all can receive emancipation from the guilt of sin and the enslavement it creates.

Divine emancipation cleanses the conscience. Purifies the heart. Eases the mind. Calms the spirit. And enriches our lives through the eternal hope of the gospel.

For the Christian, every day is “emancipation day.” Thanks be to God for Jesus Christ “The Great Emancipator.”

–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman

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