Sunday, July 3, 2011

Unalienable Rights

Texts:  Psalm 21; Galatians 3:26-4:7

WE HOLD THESE TRUTHS TO BE self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

    We all recognize those stirring words.  They begin the second paragraph of our American Declaration of Independence, adopted by Congress 235 years ago tomorrow, on July 4th, 1776.  These words still resonate in us today, because our basic human rights are important to us.  They define our identity as free human beings.  We understand-- or I hope we do-- that these rights are not given to us by the government of our country; rather, they are the gift or endowment of our Creator God.  Our human rights under God are unalienable-- that is, they cannot be sold or given away, even by the one who possesses them.  The human rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are given to all people everywhere, and as the Declaration goes on to say, "to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."

    Our nation was founded especially to affirm and defend these rights, and as American citizens we have to be ready to do whatever we can and must to defend them, whether the danger comes from a foreign enemy or from forces of oppression within our shores.

    But essential and important as these human rights are, as much as they are given to us by Almighty God, they pertain only to the kingdom of this world.  They belong to the order of Creation, to this present age which is passing away.  We enjoy these rights only as long as our mortal bodies stay alive.  When the children of earth die, they have no life, no liberty, they can pursue no happiness.

    But there is another kingdom with greater and better rights, a kingdom of Heaven whose citizens never die and whose dominion will never pass away.  There is a household of God, whose children enjoy their rights forever, a family from which no member ever has to depart.  And we who bear the name of our Lord Jesus Christ are citizens of that everlasting kingdom and enjoy its rights, even while we are citizens of the United States of America or of any other country under the sun. 

    Our reading from St. Paul's letter to the Galatians speaks of our rights as citizens of God's kingdom and members of His household.  We began with verse 26 of chapter 3, where it says, "You all are sons of God through faith in Jesus Christ."  We gain our rights as humans by being born of our mothers into this world; we become sons and daughters of God by the new birth that comes through trust in Jesus Christ and His atoning death for our sins. 

    Our first right in Christ is our becoming a son of God.  As it says in the Gospel according to St. John,  chapter 1, verse 12, "To all who received him"-- that is, Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh-- "to those who believed in his name, he"-- that is, God-- "gave the right to become children of God." In the kingdom of God we are more than subjects, more than servants, even more than citizens-- God has given us the right to be called His children!  And as John says in his First Letter, that is what we are!

    Our baptism was our rite of citizenship and adoption, for as Paul says in Galatians 3:27, "all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ" Again, it doesn't matter what country we were born in, it doesn't matter what race or sex we are: in Christ, God gave us the right to become His sons.  And so, as it is written, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise."  Not just sons, but heirs, heirs according to the promise to Abraham!

    God promised Abraham he would inherit, many blessings, among which was the promise that all nations should be blessed through him, through the miraculous offspring God would give him.  Jesus Christ is the ultimate fulfilment of that promise; as Paul says in Galatians 3:14, "He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit."

    In verses 4:1-3, Paul illustrates how formerly we were like  underage children or slaves in the eyes of God, under the control of the Law and of the basic principles of this world, without rights and without privileges in God's household.  If we had time, we would examine more carefully what those verses mean.  But this morning I'd like to skip straight to verses 4-6, where it says, 

    But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.

    "The full rights of sons."  Now that Jesus Christ has come, we have been freed, redeemed, declared independent of the law.  Jesus the Son of God and Son of Mary perfectly kept the Law in our behalf.  He fulfilled all its righteous requirements and now, in Him, we have received the full rights of sons. 

    But I ask you, what are our full rights as full-grown, inheritance-worthy sons of God?  We can't answer that question without first asking, "What are the full rights of the Son of God?"  For it is only in and through and because of Jesus Christ that we are children of God at all.  Only in Him do we enjoy and exercise our unalienable rights in the kingdom of Heaven.

    Psalm 21 goes a long way towards answering that question.  It petitions the Lord in behalf of an unidentified Israelite king, probably King David.  It might seem strange for us to deal with a royal psalm on the weekend when we celebrate our independence from all human kings.  But our forefathers knew that although no one man or woman was worthy to rule over a free people, God, the Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer of the universe is still and always will be this earth's true Sovereign and Lord. 

    As we read through Psalm 21, we see that no human king could ever come up to this standard, claim all these rights, or inherit all these blessings.  Christ and His apostles all testify that David wrote as a prophet, and looked forward to the promised eternal King, great David's greater Son. In Jesus and only in Jesus, the Son of David, Son of Mary and Son of God, is this psalm fulfilled. 

    What are the rights of our Messiah and King?  Verse 1 begins:

    O LORD, the king rejoices in your strength.
               How great is his joy in the victories you give!

    Jesus has the right to victory.  Victory over sin, death, and the devil, victory over every evil force that stands opposed to God and to God's chosen people.  This right is unalienable: Jesus who died once can never die again; death has no more mastery over Him, and one day will once and for all put death under His feet.

    The right to victory is ours as sons of God in Jesus Christ.  On the cross He defeated death for us, and we, too, rejoice in the strength of God demonstrated for us.

    Verse 2 says,

    You have granted him the desire of his heart
               and have not withheld the request of his lips.

    Jesus has the right to the desires of His heart, and the granting of the request of His lips.  In the letter to the Hebrews we see that His earnest desire was that through His obedience many sons might be brought to the glory of God, so that He might be the firstborn of many brothers.

    And Jesus has granted us the right to have our prayers and petitions heard at the throne of God, as we pray them in His name and according to His will.

    In verse 3 it is written,

    You welcomed him with rich blessings
               and placed a crown of pure gold on his head.

    Jesus had the right to be welcomed into the very presence of God when He ascended into heaven, and even now He has the right to wear the crown as the Lord before whom every knee will bow and to whom every tongue will confess His sovereign worth.

    In Him we will have the right to wear crowns as rulers under Him, crowns that we will cast down before Him as we bow down in worship and love.  

    Verse 4 states,

    He asked you for life, and you gave it to him—
           length of days, for ever and ever.

    By His perfect life and sacrificial death, our Lord Jesus has the right to eternal life, length of days, for ever and ever.  He rose triumphant from the tomb on the third day, gloried, transformed, immortal.

    And now He endows us who believe in Him with His own everlasting life, so that our mortal bodies will be transformed to be like His immortal body.  In Christ we have inherited the right to the life of God that can never, never die.

    Verse 5 says,

    Through the victories you gave, his glory is great;
                  you have bestowed on him splendor and majesty.

    Jesus has indeed won the victory through the might of God the Father, and now He has the right to glory, splendor, and majesty.  This is not the transitory glory of this world; the splendor of Christ will last into all eternity.

    And so in Him we, too, will inherit glory, honor, and immortality, as Paul writes in his letter to the Romans, for we share in the inheritance of Jesus, the firstborn Son of God.

    Verse 6 affirms,

        Surely you have granted him eternal blessings
               and made him glad with the joy of your presence.

    Jesus as God's firstborn Son has the right to eternal blessing.  His store of riches is gladness in the presence of God.

    We in our sin deserved only the curse of God.  To stand in His presence with our wickedness on us would mean not joy, but misery and condemnation.  But through faith in Him Jesus has shared with us His right to take eternal pleasure in the presence of God Most High.  He has invited us even now to participate with Him in the blessings of that kingdom, where eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor mind conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him.
    Verse 7 assures us,

    For the king trusts in the LORD;
                   through the unfailing love of the Most High
           he will not be shaken.

    Jesus our King has the right to trust utterly in the love of God Most High.  He has the right and assurance that His trust in His Father will never be shaken. 

    And so in Him we have the right to trust God to save us totally and completely.  Jesus has promised that He will never leave us or forsake us.  Our adoption as sons in His name will never be undone, or repudiated.  God's love to us is unfailing.  In ourselves we have no right to it, but in Christ our right to God's love is everlasting and unshakeable. 

    In verses 8 through 12 we see that Jesus our King has the right to triumph and vengeance upon His enemies.  His enemies are sin, death, and the rebellious angels, but they also include the wicked among mankind as well.  The cowardly and those who are soft on sin will say that it's mean and intolerant to want to see God's human enemies destroyed.  After all, isn't He the God of love?  But what else is God to do with those who ally themselves to the end with the devil and his demons?  What else can be the fate of those men and women who keep on plotting evil against the Lord and His anointed?  At the time of Christ's appearing in glory He will have the right to make them like a fiery furnace, with the wrath of the Lord swallowing them up.

    Until that time we hope and pray that all sinners will come to enjoy the rights of the sons of God that we inherit now in Jesus Christ our Lord.  But in the day of His appearing we will have the right to see God's vengeance on our foes, and we will know that His judgement is righteous and just.

    These are only a few of the rights we enjoy as sons of God and heirs through faith in Christ Jesus.  These rights are unalienable.  No one can take them away from us, because they are His rights first and no one can take the rights of Jesus Christ from Him. 

    Yes, but what if we fall away from Jesus Christ?  Brothers and sisters, does the Bible not teach that the rights of Christ are unalienable?  Do you not know that one of the foremost of His rights is His right to you?  He has bought you with His blood, He has claimed you through faith (which is the gift of God and not your doing at all), and no one and nothing can snatch you out of His hand or alienate Him from you-- not even you yourself.

    Brothers and sister, as we celebrate our unalienable rights in this free land, remember that we possess rights that are  greater and even more unalienable in a land that is greater and freer still.  We are citizens and children of that land even now, even we are free to exercise our rights as its sons, through our Sovereign and only King, Jesus Christ: to whom be all glory, honor, and power in God the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit, now and forever.  Amen.

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