Steps to Freedom

I once saw a Garfield (i.e. the overweight cat) cartoon. He was passing a Pet Shop and saw all the animals in cages. Rushing inside Garfield opened all the cages and yelled ‘You’re free!’. But the animals were so used to their cages and afraid of the world ‘out there’ that they cowered in their cages. The cartoon ended with Garfield locking them all in again crying out ‘You’re captive!’. It’s an insightful cartoon.

Jesus came to bring Freedom. That’s not freedom from difficulty or trouble – Jesus reminds us “In this world you will have trouble” (Jn 16:33). But He goes on to say “But I have overcome the world”. No, His freedom is rest in him in the midst of trouble, joy in Him in the midst of sorrow, peace in Him in the midst of storms. And this freedom comes from seeing Him for all that He is, has done and has promised, so that we trust in Him and so find rest in Him.

The problem is that we can become so used to our fear, so accustomed to our worries, so comfortable in our hurts or concerns that moving into the rest that is ours in Jesus is something we shy away from, or maybe even avoid.

The problem is that we can become so used to our fear, so accustomed to our worries, so comfortable in our hurts or concerns that moving into the rest that is ours in Jesus is something we shy away from, or maybe even avoid. Or we’re so accustomed to the way we’ve always responded in difficulty that we can’t even begin to conceive of any other response, nor how to get there.

It’s comforting to realise that Jesus spent His time with the Disciples leading them to that rest, that trust in Him. This was, to put it simply, Discipleship – learning more about Jesus so that they came to trust more and more in Him. Finding freedom in Jesus isn’t the matter of a simple decision, but the outcome of being Disciples who are hungry to know more of and follow Him in His power.

Finding freedom in Jesus isn’t the matter of a simple decision, but the outcome of being Disciples who are hungry to know more of and follow Him in His power.

But, maybe you’ve been following Jesus for years and still don’t know the peace of resting in Him. Maybe fears, anxiety and worry dominate your life still. How do you start?

Will you turn with me to Matthew 14:22-33? It’s a well known passage – Jesus calming the storm. In Matthew 14 we learn that it came as Jesus was grieving the death of John the Baptist, and from John’s account (John 6) we see the context is Jesus teaching his disciples (Jn 6:6) – they were learning about what it means to find the same peace in difficulty that they saw in Jesus in his loss. And there are key things Jesus was teaching them we need to see:

1. Recognise that I cannot do it myself (v24-25)

The short trip across the lake by experienced sailors took 9 hours already, yet they were still struggling themselves. Bet they were still depending on themselves! Earlier Jesus had calmed the storm (Matt 8:26), and they knew He could, but their knowledge hadn’t impacted their actions. We need to recognise that the sin we’ve battled with, the emotions we struggle over, the hurts that continue to damage us are things we can’t deal with ourselves – but He is able!

We need to recognise that the sin we’ve battled with, the emotions we struggle over, the hurts that continue to damage us are things we can’t deal with ourselves – but He is able!

2. See all that Jesus is (v26-27)

Knowing God, His power, faithfulness, constant love, kindness, goodness, immutability, and all that together makes up the character of our God is vital. It’s about coming to realise that He is not merely an add-on, but He is all I need. Jesus walked over all that threatened them, utterly, totally ruling over all that had defeated them.

3. Turn from what holds me captive to Jesus (v28-31)

It’s gratifying that Peter still had to learn this. And Jesus doesn’t condemn him, but invites Peter to experience the freedom that comes from trust in Him, as well as the devastation of turning back to trust in himself. Knowing Freedom from captivity is about the ‘Renewal of the mind’ (Rom 12:2), as we step out in trust in Him. His Spirit works to conform our hearts, and trusting Him is learnt experientially. We have to step out on this path in order to step into His freedom. Our discipleship is about ongoing repentance in the power of His Spirit – turning from self to God.

Our discipleship is about ongoing repentance in the power of His Spirit – turning from self to God.

4. Let Jesus rule (v32)

The disciples weren’t written out of the story – Jesus didn’t chuck them out of the boat! But Jesus came into the boat and they let Him bring them safe to shore. He is the one who promises to walk with us in green pasture times and the dark valley times. It’s letting Him be the Shepherd, letting Him lead, and resting in His lead no matter what things look like which is lived out Discipleship.

5. Repeat! (That’s the story of the rest of Matthew’s gospel)

They hadn’t fully learnt to trust in Jesus. They tried to control things, tried to do things their way, forgot His power time and time again. But they were discovering what it meant to trust in Him and find freedom. They were being prepared for a lifetime of fearless, occasionally failing, walk with Jesus whatever the circumstances.

Jesus once asked a paralysed man ‘Do you want to be made well?’ (Jn 5;1-9). It was a discerning question. The man had a terrible life of dependency and inability – literally crippling. But he needed to step away from what had defined him for decades. He needed to trust Jesus, to step out by doing in Jesus’ power what seemed impossible – to get up and pick up his mat. In doing so he moved from captivity (and the mat that represented his captivity) and stepped into freedom, finding that, in Jesus, he was able to rule over what had ruled him his entire life.