On this day in 1815, Napoleon Bonaparte escaped from Elba, an island off the northwestern coast of Italy. Exiled there in May 1814, the French emperor was permitted to retain a personal guard of some 1000 men and granted sovereignty of the island as British ships patrolled the waters. Napoleon actually governed well in his nine months on Elba, carrying out a series of economic and social reforms.
On the night he escaped, Napoleon and his downsized army hired a frigate to take them to the mainland of France. A regiment was sent to intercept them, but the soldiers decided to join the exiled emperor and march to Paris. There, the reigning monarch fled and Napoleon ruled once more until he lost the Battle of Waterloo in June 1815. Surrendering to a British admiral, Napoleon was exiled again, this time to the remote South Atlantic island of St. Helena, where he died in 1821.
Have you ever felt exiled, like you’re on a lonely island with no chance of escape? Maybe you’re behind bars of shame and sorrow, the result of a mistake you made in the past. Perhaps you’re chained to a destructive habit in the present. Many people try to escape by their own means, but find themselves right where they started. Is there a way out from our emotional Elbas? Can we manage a Great Escape?
Yes — but not by ourselves.
One day in the synagogue of Nazareth, Jesus was invited to read the scriptures. Quoting the prophet Isaiah, He claimed the role of Messiah when He said He came to set the captive free. Here “captive” literally means to be taken by the point of a spear. Have you been there? Ever feel like you have been captured as a prisoner of war and the guards have thrown away the key? After a while, we settle down in our dungeons and set up house. We move a couch into our cells and hang pictures on the walls, convinced we will never walk out. We settle for captivity.
I never thought I’d be set free from unforgiveness. My dad was an angry man, unpredictable when he ignited. He might slap me in the face, whip me with his belt, or scream insults, even in front of my friends. I carried the baggage he put on my back into adulthood. One morning, at a powerful prayer meeting, I confessed it all. Several men led me to release my hatred and forgive my father. I have never felt so free in my life; I practically floated home! My dad and I reconciled on that day. Three hours later, he was dead of a heart attack.
I was able to forgive because God had already forgiven me. On a cross planted on a windswept hill 2000 years ago, Christ set us free from everything that binds us. You may be thinking, “Really? I don’t feel free. I can’t shake this anger problem. I feel shackled to regret. I’m a captive to my credit card, pornography, gossip, ________<insert your own struggles here>.
On January 1, 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation took effect, freeing all slaves under Confederate control. However, it wasn’t until June 19, 1865 when Union troops arrived in Galveston to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation. The slaves of Texas were legally and technically liberated in 1863 but languished in chains for 2 ½ years, not knowing they were free.
You may not feel like you’re free, but God has already pronounced you free through Christ. Claim it – claim Him, the One who came to set the captive free. Stay free by allowing God to continually apply His Declaration of Independence to your soul. Do this by pondering His Word, communing with Him in prayer, receiving Communion, denying self by serving others, increasing your faith through the Body of Christ, the Church. These practices are means of grace through which we personally receive the liberating power of God, the author of authentic spiritual freedom.
We are taking the first step of our Lenten journey today. Traditionally, it’s a time to give up something such as meat, chocolate, or social media. But this season is much more than denial of one thing, only to go right back to it after Easter. Lent is a “springtime for the soul,” a time when we air out our dusty inner closets and invite the Holy Spirit to clear the clutter from our hearts. It is the season of the Great Escape from darkness into light, selfishness to selflessness, bondage into freedom. All we need to do is walk through the prison door that the Crucified Hand has opened, and continue to walk with Him as He leads us deeper into the glorious realm of spiritual liberty.