Set Onesimus Free

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Philemon 1:8-11

All of the Bible is a reversal of the unexpected. The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten. The jailer put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks. About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everybody’s chains came loose. The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!” He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved– you and your household.” Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his family were baptized.

Jesus said, Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. There are a lot of people who are more in slavery than was Onesimus. They live their lives in extreme stress! Slaves to the pressures of everyday life and work. They are captive to the anger that is deep within! Past hurts that have never been resolved. Silence that has never been explained or answered. A slave to the inability to forgive and forget. They are captive to a life of loneliness! Isolated from family and friends. Feeling no one’s love or concern. A slave to grief.

A short time after the Civil War, Robert E. Lee visited a Kentucky woman who took him to the remains of a grand old tree in front of her home. There she cried bitterly that its limbs and trunk had been destroyed by Federal artillery fire. She waited for Lee to condemn the North or at least sympathize with her loss. Lee paused, and then said, “Cut it down, my dear Madam, and forget it.”

There are times when we need to let go of and forget the past, and face our todays and tomorrows. Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.” On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

“Take away the stone,” he said. “But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”
Who is the slave here? There are many people who live in the fear of death.
There are a lot of people who live in a fear of what is to come in the after life. There are a lot of Christians who live with little faith that God will work in today’s world. Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” LADZAROS DYOORO EXO The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”

My question to you is, “Who is really set free that day?” Certainly Lazarus comes out of the grave. But Mary and Martha are set free that day!

I tell you the truth, Jesus said, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Different religious groups have understood this passage differently. The Catholics feel that this passage empowers the priest to forgive sin. Protestants have always generally viewed is as the power of the Church at prayer. To “bind” means to commit God in the act of grace in the life of the Church. But to “loose” means to accept forgiveness, in other words to be set free.

Corrie Ten Boom, who years after her concentration camp experiences in Germany, met face to face one of the most cruel and heartless German guards that she had ever encountered. Now he stood before her with hand out-stretched and said, “Will you forgive me?” She writes, “I stood there with coldness clutching at my heart, but I know that the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart. Then this warm reconciliation seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes. I forgive you, brother, I cried with my whole heart. For a long moment we grasped each others hands, the former guard, the former prisoner. I have never known the love of God so intensely as I did in that moment!” To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover the prisoner was you.

Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, I appeal to you on the basis of love. It is an invitation to set Onesimus free. In setting Onesimus free, he becomes free as well.

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