God is better than we think. He proves this time and time again. Every time we put a limit on His mercy and grace, He reveals another facet of His character that is at first offensive, then consoling, then transformative.
I had this experience made clear to me last week when I was prepping for yesterday’s sermon. I was reading through Isaiah 61, taking it slow and trying to process what it was that God was speaking to us. Then I came upon this part of verse 1,
“He sent me… to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners…”
I’m indebted to Bill Johnson of Redding, CA for giving me the germ of this insight – that captives and prisoners are two different kinds of people.
Captives are people suffering because of someone else’s sin. Captives are people who were sinned against – attacked, overpowered, enslaved. They are people who were taken captive.
Captives wear many different faces in our culture. They are the molested and abused, the raped, forgotten and mistreated. The aborted, the neglected, the abandoned, the alien and the orphan. It only makes sense that a God of mercy, grace, goodness and justice would act to make these wrong things right, to heal their hurts and set them free.
Prisoners are a different ball game. Prisoners are those paying the price for their own sins. Humanity loves to punish, God does not. Humanity loves to see sinners beaten down, God loves to see prisoners set free.
Anyone who embraces current suffering for past mistakes is a prisoner. A woman wracked with health-destroying guilt over a past abortion is a prisoner. A man who accepts his chronic pain as a just reward for his lifetime obesity is a prisoner. Anyone, for any reason, who never asks God to heal them because they believe their suffering is deserved is a prisoner. And Jesus came to set them free.
We often want prisoners to earn their release. We want the fat man to lose weight before his hip stops hurting. We want the abuser to have his self-worth totally destroyed before we even think of releasing him. We want our prisoners to suffer… and then some.
I understand that response – it is a natural human response. But, as Christians, we are no longer allowed to think about things naturally, for we have the mind of Christ. We have to think about things from God’s perspective.
In the Law, God said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” This was to limit carnal man’s desire for vengeance above and beyond the hurt that was caused.
More compelling, in Isaiah 55 God says,
Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the Lord, and He will have mercy on him, and to our God, for He will freely pardon. ‘ For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are my ways your ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘As the Heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts [higher] than your thoughts.’
I love that the famous passage “My thoughts are higher than your thoughts” is in the context of forgiveness and mercy. An evil man can turn and be completely forgiven – that is totally Divine, not a human response at all. And it is possible because of the sacrifice of Jesus.
Isaiah 61 goes on to say that this is the year of the Lord’s favor, another way of saying “Jubilee.” The year of Jubilee was the year of canceling debts, restoring inheritance and livelihood. It was a year that offered hope for the next generation, a Divine course correction for the entire nation.
It didn’t matter why you were in debt when Jubilee came around, all was forgiven. It didn’t matter if calamity had overtaken you or if you had been a terrible manager and spent yourself into debt you could not pay. When the shofar sounded you got a new lease on life, a chance to do things better.
Jesus is our Jubliee – our forgiveness of debt, our reclaimed inheritance, our new lease on life. Whatever you were before you came to Jesus – captive or prisoner – you have the assurance that it has all been paid for. You no longer need to punish yourself nor look to punish others. God will restore your fortunes, heal your hurts and offer you a life far more glorious than punishment or revenge.
It is time to let the Lamb receive the reward of his suffering. It is time to turn over our ashes and receive his beauty bestowed on us. It is time to let go of our mourning and enter into his joy. It is time to reject depression and despair and embrace the hope he offers to us.
Continued punishment only cheapens Jesus’s sacrifice. Please trust me, what he suffered was more than enough. It is time to trust and believe in what God has accomplished for us. It is time to forgive and receive forgiveness. It is time to submit ourselves in humble reverence to a God who is so much bigger and so much better than we could ever possibly imagine.