Operation Freedom Samuel Stone Recently, I had a chance to watch Walt Disney’s 2017 version of the Beauty and the Beast, staring Emma Watson and Dan Stevens. How many of you have seen it? You would have already seen it if you have children at home. Since my children have already grown up, and even my youngest is 18 this week, I have little reason to watch fairy tales. However, among all Disney classic fairy tales, Beauty and the Beast is my favorite because it is more than just a fairy tale, but an allegory of human reality. The world we live in today is like the world of the Beast seeking redemption from the enslavement of sin, caused by ego, arrogance, and lovelessness. The Beauty is, on the other hand, an embodiment of Jesus Christ whose love redeems the Beast and his world of suffering. Have you ever wondered why there are so many redemption stories around the world throughout history? Have you ever wondered, maybe the artists all over the world have been trying to paint the picture, or tell the story, of human reality? We came to this world with a loud cry, we struggle to live a good life, but we know there’s something better than this “provincial life” as Belle, the Beauty, sang in one of her initial songs. And most of us leave this world after much suffering. Out of curiosity, I researched the origin of this fairy tale. The version we have is based on the 18th century French author, Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont. Then, some researchers at universities in Durham and Lisbon discovered that this story goes back 4,000 years in history. Can you imagine, since 4,000 years ago, some artists have been trying to tell the story of redemption like those of the Old Testament prophecies? If you look at the Beauty and the Beast from Christian prophetic perspective, you won’t watch that movie, or read the story, ever the same again. In today’s scripture lesson, Jesus quoted an ancient prophecy and used it to announce his identity and mission. This prophesy is similar to the Beauty and the Beast. It talks about the condition of humanity, just like the world of the Beast, and the redemption Jesus is bringing. Of course, there are some differences. For example, Belle did not come to the Beast with the intention to redeem him, but she was entrapped by the Beast. Jesus however knew who he was, what he was doing, and why he was doing it. The prophecy says, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19) Do you see the contrast? “Release” and “captives;” “sight” and “blind;” “free” and “oppressed”? Just like the contrasting words of “Beauty” and “Beast”? The contrast draws our attention and raise our consciousness. That’s Jesus mission—to bring contrast to the world of suffering with his freedom. Today, this same mission is given to us because before Jesus left the world, he gave us the Great Commission, asking us to teach everyone what he has taught us. So, let us look at the mission of Jesus Christ so that we can fulfill his mission. There are three key elements that makes this mission a success. 1. Be filled with God’s Spirit The entire mission of Jesus Christ starts with the filling of the Holy Spirit. He did not start his mission without the Holy Spirit, and he did not ask us to fulfill this mission without the Holy Spirit. Before he left, he told the disciples to wait until the Holy Spirit is poured out on them. So how can we be filled with the Holy Spirit? The first time, I learned about being filled with the Holy Spirit is from Bill Bright, the founder of the Campus Crusades for Christ. His method is easy, “Just believe.” He told us about a couple who flew from Sidney, Australia, to Florida to visit Bill Bright. Bill asked them why they came all the way to here. The couple said that they came to spend some time with him to learn how to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Bill said, “It’s easy. All you have to do is just believe.” The couple said, “That’s it? Are you sure? We flew all the way here just for this?” Bill said, “Yes.” Bill often told this parable when he taught about the Holy Spirit. There was a couple in Texas, living in poverty and depending on food stamps to live by. They were also in debt. They lived on a big piece of land passed down from their parents. You know all Texas lands are big, and yet in those days, it wasn’t worth much. So, even though they wanted to sell their land to pay off some debt, nobody wanted to buy it. One day, officers from the Department of Energy knocked on their door and asked them to lease the land to the Department of Energy because they discovered from the satellite images that there was plenty of oil under the ground of their land. Overnight, they became rich. Bill said, Christians are like this couple, they don’t know how rich a resource they are sitting on. The Holy Spirit is like a reservoir of precious energy given for every believer, but we never tap into it. Bill Bright also taught people the spiritual breathing, since the word “spirit” in both Greek and Hebrew means “breath,” and therefore, Holy Spirit means Holy Breath. So, the spiritual breathing that I teach you, I originally learned from Bill Bright. You know he is a Presbyterian Elder, and a very effective one. Nobody has reached as many people as he did in the 20th century, not even Billy Graham. So, believe and breathe. That’s how you are filled with the Holy Spirit. The second element that makes this mission a success is ... 2. Share the Good News to the Ready We are empowered to share the good news to the ready. Just as Jesus was anointed by the Holy Spirit, he also passed on this anointing to his followers … to do what? To proclaim the good news to the poor. I call the poor the ready. In Isaiah’s time, it literally means the poor, but the stories of the exiles and exodus have become an allegory for those in Jesus time and for us as spiritual poverty rather than literal poverty. The poor are the ready receivers of the good news. Notice, it’s a proclamation, not an action. Proclamation is about telling the good news of redemption, not just trying to end the poverty. Jesus said the poor will always be with us. Which means without redemption, poverty will always be part of this fallen world. That doesn’t mean that we don’t do anything to help the poor, but it means we must have the eternal solution in mind while solving the temporal problems. The poor are those who are seeking redemption. Using the Beauty and the Beast story, the people in the castle are those who are seeking redemption. Many of those who are in Belle’s village appear to be free but at the end they turned into beasts by charging to the castle to destroy the Beast. In other words, those in the castle were ready, but those outside were not ready because they were full of themselves. The Bible does not tell us to proselytize those who are not ready. Doing so will create manmade Christians, or fake Christians that will never bear fruit. If you read all four Gospels, you will find that the Good News is for those who are ready to listen. So, you don’t have to be overburdened with evangelism thinking that you have to twist people’s arms to make them believe. It’s God’s job to get them ready, and your job is to deliver the message to those who are ready. Don’t worry, there are many ready people for you to get busy with. Jesus didn’t ask you to reap the unripe harvest, but the ripe, and its plenty. So proclaim the good news to the ready. 3. Focus on Freedom The next sentence can be summarized in the word “freedom.” It says, “He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” The year of the Lord’s favor is known as jubilee. In short, it’s about the year when all slaves are given freedom and all debts are forgiven. Again, it means time for freedom. Freedom is our ultimate goal. At one point the Beast was about to propose to the Beauty saying, “It’s foolish, I supposed, for a creature like me to hope that one day he might earn your affection.” Belle replied, “I don’t know.” That gave the Beast hope, so he asked, “Really? You think you could happy here?” Belle thought for a moment and responded, “Can anyone be happy if they are not free?” This statement is a double edge sword. On the surface, Belle seems to be talking about her own freedom, but it also implies the Beast’s freedom. He found his freedom when he set Belle free. He let her go back to her father. Freedom is the theme of the entire Bible. It’s repeated over and over again in the Gospels. Jesus said, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32). God wants us to be happy, but God knows happiness is impossible without freedom. That’s why redemption is about liberation. Jesus’ mission is the Operation Freedom. Freedom from the bondage of sin. Freedom from the bondage of suffering. Freedom from the bondage of blindness or ignorance. Freedom from the bondage of purposelessness or meaninglessness. Freedom to set others free—that means freedom to forgive and let go. When you forgive others, you also set yourself free. So, this is our mission. Jesus came to set us free and commissioned us to set others free. We are in the mission of Operation Freedom. To do so, we must be filled with the Holy Spirit because that’s our source of power. We must share the good news to the ready because we are to bring in only the ripe and plentiful harvest. We are to focus on freedom because the good news is about the freedom and only in freedom, we have happiness. It’s an Operation Freedom after all. Until we meet again, keep cultivating a fruitful life. Amen!