“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19, ESV)
Jesus famously announced this about himself to his home church at the start of his ministry. But what does it mean that Jesus came “to proclaim liberty to the captives” and “to set at liberty those who are oppressed”?
As far as I know, the Bible and the history books don’t say anything about Jesus raiding any prison camps. I know of no slaves that Jesus set free, in a physical sense. So what kind of abolitionist was Jesus?
In a sermon to a group of Jews in modern day Turkey, the Apostle Paul said:
“Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through [Jesus] forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses.” (Acts 13:38-39, ESV)
Paul’s words help us to see that this liberation is in regards to sin, specifically the punishment for sin. Sin is a violation of God’s law. Lawbreakers are punished for their crimes. Therefore, we as sinners deserve to be punished by God and suffer under his wrath. This is our bondage. This is our prison.
This reality was incurable by the law of Moses. After God rescued his people from their slavery in Egypt he gave them the Ten Commandments and told them to obey him. But they couldn’t. Through the law of Moses our plight only becomes more plain. The commandments are a diagnostic, not a cure. Through them we only sink further into our dungeons and feel our chains being tightened more and more.
But when Jesus showed up, everything changed. As Paul wrote to a different group of people in Turkey:
“[Jesus] redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us (because it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree‘)” (Galatians 3:13, NET)
Jesus redeemed us. He set us free. How? By taking our place. He took the punishment we deserved on the cross so that now we can be totally forgiven. We can walk away scot-free.
Martin Luther summed this up better than anyone is his Commentary on Galatians:
“Paul is speaking of a far better liberty, the liberty ‘wherewith Christ hath made us free,’ not from material bonds, not from the Babylonian captivity, not from the tyranny of the Turks, but from the eternal wrath of God.
Where is this liberty?
In the conscience.
Our conscience is free and quiet because it no longer has to fear the wrath of God. This is real liberty, compared with which every other kind of liberty is not worth mentioning. Who can adequately express the boon that comes to a person when he has the heart-assurance that God will nevermore be angry with him, but will forever be merciful to him for Christ’s sake? This is indeed a marvelous liberty, to have the sovereign God for our Friend and Father who will defend, maintain, and save us in this life and in the life to come.
As an outgrowth of this liberty, we are at the same time free from the Law, sin, death, the power of the devil, hell, etc. Since the wrath of God has been assuaged by Christ no Law, sin, or death may now accuse and condemn us. These foes of ours will continue to frighten us, but not too much. The worth of our Christian liberty cannot be exaggerated.”
We cannot exaggerate the freedom we have in Christ.
Jesus is our great, great liberator.