“Free to… Obey?

April 07, 2013
John 20:19-31 Acts 5:27-32 Revelation 1:4-8

The United States is known around the world as a “free” country. We make a big deal about freedom, our founding fathers fought for freedom, and we say that our men and women in uniform all over the world are fighting for freedom. We are free, aren’t we? But free to do what? Being free doesn’t mean that we can do anything we want. If everyone in a country does whatever they want, we call that anarchy, which is an absence of authority, and absence of order and an absence of any binding principles to hold the people together. Anarchy is literally, every man, and woman, for themselves. In the United States, being free means being able to choose for ourselves what we want to do, where we want to live, what we want to study in school, and many other things. Our system of government was intended to provide just enough order so as to prevent chaos, and just enough protection so that the choices of others do not take away the choices that I should have, so that the freedom of others does not take away my freedom. Beyond that, our goal is to do well or poorly based on our own efforts and to be responsible for our own actions. We are free, or at least largely free, but the price of that freedom is in the acceptance of a system of law that is intended to prevent chaos and disorder. We are free… as long as we abide by our system of law. We are free… as long as we obey. It seems odd when we present these two ideas, freedom and obedience, together. We often think of freedom as being separate from, if not opposite to, obedience, but that isn’t always the case. In today’s scriptures we look at these two ideas, freedom and obedience from a biblical perspective and we try to understand just how they fit together. We begin in John 20:19-31. Here we find nothing at all about freedom or obedience, but we do find, on this Sunday after Easter, the groundwork for understanding what life is all about.

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
24 25

Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”


But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”


Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
30 31

Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. It wasn’t long at all after the resurrection that Jesus meets with his Disciples, not once but twice. Jesus shares with the Holy Spirit, the breath of God (spirit, wind, and breath are all the same word in Greek and Hebrew), and Jesus declares that because they have seen Jesus and believed, they are blessed. Even more, however, Jesus declares that those of us who came afterwards, who believe and have not seen, are also blessed. John says that his whole purpose in writing this Gospel story is so that others might believe that Jesus is the Son of God, the redeemer and rescuer of all humanity. John’s purpose in writing was so that we might believe, so that we might find life. Later, at the end of his life, John wrote these words in Revelation 1:4-8…


To the seven churches in the province of Asia: Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne, 5 and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, 6 and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.

“Look, he is coming with the clouds,” and “every eye will see him, even those who pierced him”; and all peoples on earth “will mourn because of him.” So shall it be! Amen.

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.”


John says that Jesus is the firstborn from the dead, the first of humanity to be resurrected into his new, eternal body, as well as the ruler of the kings of the earth, the ruler of rulers, and the king of all kings. John reminds us that Jesus, the most powerful human being who ever lived, both God and man, has set us free through his death and resurrection. Jesus lived, so that we might find life. Jesus died and rose again so that we might be set free from sin and death, so that we might live again, in new unbreakable, un-sick-able, eternal bodies. But what about that obedience stuff? Remember all the trouble that Jesus had with the Pharisees? The Pharisees were all about rules and Jesus was all about life. The Pharisees wanted everyone to obey the rules but Jesus wanted everyone to understand that our obedience needed to grow out of our love for God. In Acts 5:27-32, we realize that the Disciples had finally understood what Jesus was trying to tell them…

The apostles were brought in and made to appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest. 28 “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,” he said. “Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.”

Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than human beings! 30 The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead—whom you killed by hanging him on a cross. 31 God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins. 32 We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.” The Disciples had been arrested and brought before the religious court, known as the Sanhedrin, the ruling council of the Temple, and these religious leaders had demanded that they should stop telling everyone about Jesus. But the Disciples didn’t stop and they got brought before the Sanhedrin again… and when they are reprimanded for their persistence in preaching the Good News of Jesus Christ, the apostles say, “We must obey God rather than human beings!” The Disciples knew who Jesus was and they knew that, as witnesses, they had an obligation to tell the truth about Jesus even if that meant disobeying the leaders of the Temple and breaking the rules. They knew that obedience was important, but of far greater importance was to whom they would be obedient. They could choose to be obedient to the church leaders because of their demands or out of fear of their threats. They could choose to be obedient to their Roman overlords in fear of violence and death. Instead, they chose to be obedient to God and to Jesus because they were motivated by love, respect, thankfulness and a commitment to the truth. I have often said, and it’s worth repeating, that Jesus Christ is, and always has been, more concerned about your heart condition than anything else. All that we do, all that we say, everything that we are, should be motivated by our hearts and not by some strict adherence to the rules. Are we called to obedience? Yes, we are. But we obey, not out of fear, but out of love. When I was in college, or shortly after I had graduated, my brother, Dean, and I drove from Akron, Ohio to East McKeesport, PA, just outside of Pittsburgh. We got up early, and drove three hours to our grandparent’s house, so that we could paint grandma’s garage. I was already an adult and had been out of 3

my parent’s house for several years and Dean is ten years older than I am. Obviously, we were both old enough to choose to do whatever we wanted to do, but when Mom told us that grandma needed someone to paint her garage, we spent a day, driving to Pittsburg, painting a garage, and driving home. We were obedient… for all the right reasons. We were not obedient because Mom told us to do so. We were not obedient because we were afraid that something would happen to us or because of some threat that someone had made. We were not obedient because we were blindly following some tradition or “the rules” of our family. We were obedient because of our love and respect for our grandmother, and because of our thankfulness and appreciation for all that she had done for us. That, I think, is the way that we should think about obedience in the context of church, religion, and Jesus Christ. We do not obey because of the threat of hell or death. In fact, Jesus came to earth to give us life and he died and rose again to gain our freedom from sin and hell and death. Any obedience that we give to God should be given because of our love and respect for him, and because of our thankfulness and appreciation for what he has done for us. Under our system of government we are free, but the price of that freedom is in the acceptance of a system of law that is intended to prevent chaos and disorder. We are free… as long as we abide by our system of law. It is a regulated freedom, a limited freedom. We are free… as long as we obey. Our obedience to God and to Jesus Christ is different. We are free… to do whatever we desire. We have been given life. We have been set free from sin, and death and hell. We are free to choose obedience or defiance. This is a different kind of freedom, an un-limited freedom. And it is only because of that unlimited freedom that we are, indeed… …free to… obey.


You have been reading a message presented at Trinity United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page. Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Trinity of Perry heights in Massillon, Ohio. Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you. Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Trinity United Methodist Church, 3757 Lincoln Way E., Massillon, Ohio 44646. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership. You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at subscribe@trinityperryheights.org. If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online). These messages can also be found online at http://www.scribd.com/Pastor John Partridge. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

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