Sunday, August 24, 2008

Can Captives Be Set Free?

On a cool, but pleasant, August morning we gathered for worship with our pastor absent, on vacation. Chuck Vanderscheuren welcomed us this morning. Darlene was also out of town and Ed Newman filled in on piano. After opening announcements, the Trio led us in worship.

Joanne read today’s Scriptures:
Isaiah 51:1-6
Romans 12:1-8

After a time of giving praise for answered prayers, and hearing of other needs in our extended family, we turned our attention to hearing Leonard preach to us from the Scriptures.

Can Captives Be Set Free?

Leonard Armstrong opened by noting that the writings of Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel are often overlooked today, but their words are very important, and highly relevant to us in the 21st century. The focus of today’s message is a passage from Isaiah 49:22-26, culminating in the following words:

24 Can plunder be taken from warriors,
or captives rescued from the fierce?
25 But this is what the LORD says:
"Yes, captives will be taken from warriors,
and plunder retrieved from the fierce;
I will contend with those who contend with you,
and your children I will save.

By expanding on the context for these questions, Leonard unveiled their significance for us today.

In ancient times, the peoples of Israel existed as a relatively minor force in the midst of larger political powers. Palestine was a small strip of land that happened to fall along the trade routes between the Fertile Crescent where the Babylonian empire was situated was and Egypt.

At a certain point in Israel’s history, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon smashed the nation of Israel. The Temple was utterly destroyed, and the peoples were taken away as captives back to Babylon.

This style of destruction served a purpose. The state was dismantled, the economy quashed. By removing anyone who could be a potential leader, and by taking the skilled people away, the captured territories would be prevented from rising up in revolt and from creating resistance.

Hence, Isaiah’s words… "Can plunder be taken from warriors or captives rescued from the fierce?" The Babylonians had plundered Israel. And they were the fiercest peoples on earth. It was an apparently hopeless situation. The Babylonians had the best weapons, most powerful army. In addition to its mighty power it was considered the capital of science and learning.

According to Herodotus, often referred to as the father of history, the city of Babylon was an impregnable fortress city with walls 300 feet tall and eighty feet wide that chariots could ride atop of. To make matters even more challenging for attackers, the city was surrounded by a moat fed by the river Euphrates. There was no way even a well equipped army could rescue the captives from Babylon.

Yet, In Isaiah 44:24 -45:3 we read about a man whom God had anointed, chosen before birth, for this very purpose. Not a Jew, but in a very real sense a type of messiah, a Persian king named Cyrus achieved the impossible. Initially ruler of a small nation he gradually increased his power by conquering increasingly larger nation states. It came about that he set his sights on Babylon, the ultimate conquest.

As noted, this seemed an impossible task. Yet by manipulating the waterways, the army of Cyrus achieved a stunning victory, in part because the king and armies of Babylon were overly confident in their defenses, moat and walls.

Thus, at the end of II Chronicles 36 we read:

22 In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah, the LORD moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and to put it in writing:
23 "This is what Cyrus king of Persia says:
'The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. Anyone of his people among you—may the LORD his God be with him, and let him go up.'"

How does this all apply to us today? In Isaiah 49:5-7 we see a passage referencing the Messiah, formed in the womb to be the Redeemer for Israel. Cyrus was a type of the Messiah, but in Jesus we see the true Messiah who has come to set captives free as noted in this significant passage, Isaiah 61:1.

1 The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,
because the LORD has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners…

Today you may be a captive or know someone who is a captive. You may be a Christian but have been re-captured by chains that hold you back. Captive to unforgiveness. Captive to materialism. Captive to a wrong lifestyle. Captive to addictions. Or captive to a self-righteous attitude.

We were all slaves once. We were captives set free. Paul writes to the Galatians saying do not return to your captivity.

Isaiah asked, "Can plunder be taken from warriors, or captives rescued from the fierce?"

The answer is yes. The plunder can be taken. Yes, this is what the Lord says.

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