According to family records, my great, great grandfather was a prisoner of war during the Civil War. William Brown, born the Fourth of July, 1839, to Robert and Sarah Brown, in Darke County, Ohio, grew up to manhood on the farm and when the Civil War broke out he enlisted in the Union Army in 1861 with the 40th Ohio Volunteers Infantry, Co. E. He fought through the entire war, was with Sherman’s army to the sea, was captured by the Confederates at Kennesaw Mountain, Georgia. The captive soldier spent ten months and eight days in Andersonville, GA prison. He was discharged in Washington City in 1865.
Curious about prison life where William was held, I note that conditions were “deplorable.” According to History Channel sources,
From February 1864 until the end of the American Civil War (1861-65) in April 1865, Andersonville, Georgia, served as the site of a notorious Confederate military prison. The prison at Andersonville, officially called Camp Sumter, was the South’s largest prison for captured Union soldiers and known for its unhealthy conditions and high death rate. In all, approximately 13,000 Union prisoners perished at Andersonville, and following the war its commander, Captain Henry Wirz (1823-65), was tried, convicted and executed for war Crimes.
The prisoners in that place suffered horrendously. The article goes on to report,
Enclosing some 16 acres of land, the prison was supposed to include wooden barracks but the inflated price of lumber delayed construction, and the Yankee soldiers imprisoned there lived under open skies, protected only by makeshift shanties called shebangs, constructed from scraps of wood and blankets. A creek flowed through the compound and provided water for the Union soldiers; however, this became a cesspool of disease and human waste.
I can only thank the good Lord that my great, great grandfather survived his captivity as well as the entire Civil War. One can only imagine the gruesome tragedies and losses he witnessed all throughout that period—fear, tears, suffering, and death. Years later, William’s own General William Tecumseh Sherman would utter the famous phrase, “War is hell.” I’m sure that having both served in the infantry and as a POW, William Brown would have agreed.
I’m also sure there must have been great joy and rejoicing when the war ended and William, as well as all the surviving prisoners, were set free. Just to be able to return home to loved ones must have been the greatest feeling one could ever experience. I don’t doubt that each one who left that terrible prison appreciated freedom more than they ever did before the War broke out.
Now, if only we as Christians could, that much more, appreciate how Jesus Christ our Lord has set us free from our captivity of sin! Our Lord proclaimed that his mission included telling “the captives they are free”:
(18) The Lord has put his Spirit in me,
because he appointed me to tell the Good News to the poor.
He has sent me to tell the captives they are free
and to tell the blind that they can see again. </span
(19) God sent me to free those who have been treated unfairly
and to announce the time when the Lord will show his kindness. (Luke 4:18,19 New Century Version, NCV)
Jesus quoted these prophetic words in the synagogue to his hometown congregation of Nazareth early in his ministry. He went on to say to his people, “While you heard these words just now, they were coming true!”
The words he read were from Isaiah 60:1-2:
(1) The Lord God has put his Spirit in me,
because the Lord has appointed me to tell the good news to the poor.
He has sent me to comfort those whose hearts are broken,
to tell the captives they are free,
and to tell the prisoners they are released.
(2) He has sent me to announce the time when the Lord will show his kindness
and the time when our God will punish evil people.
He has sent me to comfort all those who are sad…. (NCV)
The part where Jesus said, “God sent me to free those who have been treated unfairly,” is from Isa. 58:6, (NCV).
When you read about the life and ministry of Jesus, you find how he fulfilled these very words. His teachings and miracles and sacrifice were all about the Good News of setting set us free from the chains of sin. Because we are born into sin, we are entangled in the misery it produces much like it does to POW’s: sorrow, suffering, and death. But it goes beyond the physical damage to the emotion and mental components of our nature. Our minds are too frail to withstand the pressures of guilt that result from sin and so we need a way out of our captivity. In Romans 7:18-24, the Apostle Paul opined,
(18) For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. (19) For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. (20) Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. 21 I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. (22) For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. (23) But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. (24) O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? (New King James Version, NKJV)
Here’s where Jesus comes in. In fact, the apostle answers his own question in the next verse: (25) I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin. (see also Isa. 64:6; Rom. 3:10-18)
We can all confess our wretchedness due to sin. At the same time, we can confess our faith in Jesus Christ who sets us free from our captivity. Galatians 5:1 says, “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.” Paul is speaking of slavery to a law, like the one that pertained to the Mosaic law of circumcision. The apostle argued that if a person is going to obey one law, he must do exactly as all the law says. But due to sin, this is impossible for no one is able to do just that. No matter how hard we try to be good, we’re always going to do something wrong.
The only way we are saved is through the grace or favor of God (Ephesians 2:8) who has given his one and only Son to die for our sins. In Romans 5:6-8, Paul wrote,
(6) For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. (7) For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. (8) But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (New American Standard Bible, NASB)
Using a play on words, the apostle employs a little irony to make a point about our freedom in Christ. He says that true freedom from sin is being enslaved to God through Christ. He wrote,
(20) For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. (21) Therefore what benefit were you then deriving from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the outcome of those things is death. (22) But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life. (23) For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom. 6:20-23, NASB)
We are no longer free to do what sin dictates to us because it only makes us all the more captive to our fleshly desires. Rather, by being bound to Jesus we are free, however, not to sin. Rather, in Christ, we are free to enjoy the love, peace, and joy that only he can give in this life, and in the age to come, eternal life including all the blessings that go with it in God’s glorious Kingdom. This is the Good News that Jesus demonstrated and taught in his ministry.
You will note that in Luke 4, where Jesus is speaking in the synagogue, he does not quote the remainder of Isaiah’s prophecy in chapter 61. In fact, he stops abruptly at Isaiah 64:3 which prophesied his Messianic role as King when he returns. While saying in verses one and two what his earthly ministry included, he left out what his new earthly ministry will achieve in that Kingdom age. It is in the remainder of the verses in the chapter that He will come to rescue and save the same people, the Jews, who rejected him in the first place. He will help the sorrowing people of Jerusalem; heal them with the oil of gladness; and they will be honored above all nations unlike this present age as they are so despised by many nations today. (Isa. 61:3 ff.) Truly, the world will be set free when God removes the curse of sin and death once his Son has established his kingdom over all the earth (Daniel 7:14; Rom. 8:2; 5:15-19; 1 Cor. 15:22, 45; Rev. 22:3).
Just having this hope sets us free from the hopelessness of this sinful world. As we keep our eyes on that wonderful Day of his coming, we can live with courage, faith, and assurance even as we face the difficulties of this life. We can rest in the hope that one day, there WILL be peace, and war will be no more (Isa. 2:4; 9:6; Micah 4:3). Give God the glory for the freedom that only Christ the Lord gives!
Here’s a message in song by Matt Gilman titled, “Every Captive Free”: http://youtu.be/h30PmhKpuEA
Good News to YOU!