On what would come to be known as “Freedom’s Eve,” on January 1, 1863, enslaved and free African Americans gathered in churches and private homes all across the country awaiting news that U.S. President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation had legally taken effect. At the stroke of midnight all enslaved people in Confederate States were declared free. However, not everyone in Confederate territory would be free immediately.
Even though the Emancipation Proclamation was made effective in 1863, it could not be implemented in areas still under Confederate control. As a result, in the westernmost Confederate state of Texas, enslaved people would not be free until a full two-and-a-half years later! Freedom finally came to them on June 19, 1865 (aka “Juneteenth”), when Union troops arrived in Galveston Bay, Texas and announced that the more than 250,000 enslaved black people in the state, were free by Lincoln’s prior executive decree.
Unsurprisingly, reactions to being freed from slavery weren’t always positive from those who weren’t slaves; however the most surprising—shocking responses, really—came from those who were enslaved, themselves.
You Want to Be Free? I’m Shocked!
“During the early months of emancipation, whites were again and again taken aback by the behavior of the slaves they thought they knew. Over and over again came the lament, as one Virginian phrased it: “Those we loved best, and who loved us best—as we thought—were the first to leave us.” Or hear the bewilderment of a Tennessee woman: “They left without even a good-bye.” On the subject of slave loyalty . . . former slaves and white masters were in unusual agreement: the best treated were the first to leave because they were the ones who felt most sharply the denials imposed by slavery. Many slaves, of course, did not leave their masters, sometimes because they genuinely felt they were needed by their ruined former owners, or just because they had no other place to go.”
Still the vast majority of others remained slaves–even after being given their total freedom–simply because slavery was all they had ever known.
If You Could Choose Freedom
Happy Juneteenth. It was President Lincoln’s executive decree that freed slaves, and we praise God in that it was the unseen hand of love and justice at work behind the scenes. Praise God for Jesus, because this is how He works! And, above all, through His perfect life, sacrificial death, and miraculous resurrection, He purchased freedom, for all of humanity, from the slavery of sin and death!
The Apostle Paul, writing to the Christians living in Rome, uses the jarring, but all-too-familiar context of slavery. Paul spelled out not only the power of sin, but more importantly the fact that power in a Jesus-follower’s life is finally broken. Paul makes an even more shocking assessment of our reality as human beings:
“Sin is no longer your master, for you no longer live under the requirements of the law. Instead, you live under the freedom of God’s grace. Well then, since God’s grace has set us free from the law, does that mean we can go on sinning? Of course not! Don’t you realize that you become the slave of whatever you choose to obey? You can be a slave to sin, which leads to death, or you can choose to obey God, which leads to righteous living. Thank God! Once you were slaves of sin, but now you wholeheartedly obey this teaching we have given you. Now you are free from your slavery to sin, and you have become slaves to righteous living. Because of the weakness of your human nature, I am using the illustration of slavery to help you understand all this. Previously, you let yourselves be slaves to impurity and lawlessness, which led ever deeper into sin. Now you must give yourselves to be slaves to righteous living so that you will become holy. When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the obligation to do right. And what was the result? You are now ashamed of the things you used to do, things that end in eternal doom. But now you are free from the power of sin and have become slaves of God. Now you do those things that lead to holiness and result in eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord” (6:14-22, NLT).
So let me ask you: when faced with the prospect of your total freedom from sin and death, what is your response? Is it a happy spiritual Juneteenth for you? If you are a Christian, you’ve been set free from sin’s slavish power. Not a “half-way, two-and-a-half year” kind of freedom, but a total, right now, kind of freedom! Which will you choose?
Will you choose to remain living in the slavery of sin and death, just because it’s the only life you’ve ever known—even though real freedom, total freedom from sin and death is available to you? You can make a different choice.
You can make a true Juneteenth choice!
Does Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection represent for you true freedom from slavery—or are those just nice words?
I hope you choose to have a happy Juneteenth. Because if you totally and thoroughly accept all that Jesus lived, died—and lived again to give you, every day, for you, can be Juneteenth!