Freedom Is Not Based on Circumstances by Rick Shurtz

Last Sunday, we began a new series at Gateway Church in Austin called: “Free.” Rich Shurtz shared at the McNeil campus, and I spoke at the South Campus. Here are some of the thoughts we shared:

“Over the next four Sundays, we’re going to do a deep dive into this idea of freedom. What does it mean that Christ set us free? What are the implications for my daily life? How can I live freely and take full advantage of the freedom that has been given to me?

Our deep dive into Freedom begins with Jehoshaphat, a 9th century BC King of Judah. What does he know about the demands of my life today? Quite a bit, as it turns out…

Jehoshaphat is a powerful character.

Sort-of, because he’s both powerful and weak, which is why he’s so intriguing.

Jehoshaphat was a powerful man. He was king in a time when his word was law. He said it, and it happened. He was man of position, a man of authority. He reported to no one. In such a position, he would also have resources. He would have all the money he could want. He would have camels and horses, the finest clothes, and the best foods. He would have honor and respect. That’s a great deal of freedom.

But then something happens. An aide comes to Jehoshaphat and reports that an enemy is coming against them. 2 Chronicles gives the detail:

‘A great multitude is coming against you from Edom, from beyond the sea…’  2 Chronicles 20:2

Three Kingdoms—Moabites, Ammonites, and Meunites—had united against Judah. Jehoshaphat and his people were surrounded by an enemy prepared to kill them. Jehoshaphat was powerful, but Jehoshaphat was also weak and vulnerable. His freedom could only go so far. It could go as far as his neighbors would let it go.

I have to wonder if that at all feels familiar. From a certain vantage point you feel strong, you feel capable, you feel gifted, you feel in control. From another vantage point you feel weak, you feel stretched, you feel in over your head, you feel surrounded.

To be free, to be liberated, don’t you have to be able to do whatever you want to do?  And if you are going to do whatever you want to do, whenever you want to do it, don’t you need the authority, the power, the resources?

Think of it this way… Walk up on the street to any citizen of Judah, and ask them this question…

‘Are you a free people?’

‘Yes, we are a free people, we are ruled by one of our own.  We are subject to nobody.’


‘We are surrounded.  We are outnumbered.  We are way in over our heads.’

Scripture records Jehoshaphat’s response to the report of being surrounded. 2 Chronicles 20:3, 12: ‘Then Jehoshaphat was afraid and set his face to seek the Lord, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah.’ “O our God… we are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us.  We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.”

We are powerless. And we don’t know what to do. What sort of impact will this have on his people? ‘You don’t know what to do?  But you’re our leader?!  You’re supposed to have all the answers!’

Directly after this prayer we read this”

‘…all Judah stood before the Lord, with their little ones, their wives, and their children.’  2 Chronicles 20:13

They just stood there. The King pours out his heart to their God, and what do the people do? Collectively, in solidarity, they stand quietly before their God. ‘We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.’


Reminds me of a statement from God to the nation of Israel at another juncture: ‘In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength.’ (Isaiah 30:15)

There they were, collectively vulnerable, but collectively waiting on their God. It was in this moment that God spoke through one of their people:

‘And the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jahaziel the son of Zechariah…And he said, “Listen, all Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem and King Jehoshaphat: Thus says the Lord to you, ‘Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed at this great horde, for the battle is not yours but God’s.  Tomorrow go down against them…You will not need to fight in this battle.  Stand firm, hold your position, and see the salvation of Jerusalem.’  2 Chronicles 20:14-17

The next day, Jehoshaphat gathers together his warriors.  No doubt, they’re wondering what he’s going to do.  What’s he going to do with what that Jahaziel guy said the day before?  It was this powerful moment, but how do they apply it?  What do they do now?

‘And they rose early in the morning and went out into the wilderness of Tekoa.  And when they went out, Jehoshaphat stood and said, ‘Hear me, Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem!  Trust in the Lord your God, and you will be established; trust his prophets, and you will succeed.’  And when he had taken counsel with the people, he appointed those who were to sing to the Lord and praise him in holy attire, as they went before the army, and say, ‘Give thanks to the Lord, for his steadfast love endures forever.’  2 Chronicles 20:20-21

This is pretty amazing. Who does he put at the front end of the march? His biggest, baddest warriors? His chariots? No…he puts the choir. They all get in a line, and they march out into battle singing. Give thanks to the Lord, for his steadfast love endures forever. This is either the boldest act of faith they had ever seen or naïve spirituality run amuck.

2 Chronicles 20:22-23: ‘And when they began to sing and praise, the Lord set an ambush against the men of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir, who had come against Judah, so that they were routed.  For the men of Ammon and Moab rose against the inhabitants of Mount Seir, devoting them to destruction, and when they had made an end of the inhabitants of Seir, they all helped to destroy one another.

I can’t fully explain this verse or this story. God did something in the unseen world that resulted in the multiple armies coming against Judah turning against each other and destroying themselves. Judah worships and watches as their enemies melt before them.

‘People of Judah, are you free or are you surrounded?

‘We are free in the midst of being surrounded.’

Circumstances don’t set me free.

Circumstances don’t set us free, because we all know how unreliable circumstances truly are.  We can be swinging in a hammock, on an island, with one of those fancy drinks in our hand and an umbrella coming out the top, and all it takes is a phone call about something for the world to come crashing around us. We can save all our lives, but retirement will only give degrees of freedom. The stock market will eventually crash, or inflation will ruin the value of the dollars we’ve been able to save, or we’ll get sick, or something will happen. There’s always something that can and will oppress.

Circumstances do not and cannot set us free.

Ask the people of Judah: ‘We didn’t look very free, because you were looking at the wrong thing.  It’s all a matter of where we focus our eyes. Stare at the armies, and we are surrounded.  Stare at our God, and we are free.’

Christ was a freedom fighter.  He came to set us free. He made his purpose clear:

  • John 8:32
: ‘You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’
  • John 14:6: ‘I am the way and the truth.’
  • Galatians 5:1: ‘It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.’

Freedom is not based on our circumstances. Freedom is based on the object of our hope.

The armies surround you, Jehoshaphat.  What will you do? ‘We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.’  2 Chronicles 20:12

In that weak but powerful moment Jehoshaphat and his people are free.

This is available to us. This is what we have in Christ. It is for freedom that Christ set us free.

What’s surrounding you today? As these things surround you, where have you fixed your eyes?”

To watch or listen to Rick’s message at the McNeil campus, go to


Showing 3 comments
  • Michael Cordich

    Eric, I was wondering from what are we being freed? These sermon notes, nor Ricks’s online message never seem to explain this. Can you elaborate?

    • Rick Shurtz

      Michael –

      Great question! I should have been more explicit. Here’s a metaphor that I hope brings clarity…

      What would I be free from if I walked down a dark ally with a friend who was 10x tougher than I am (not hard to imagine), carried a gun, and who knew how to defend both himself and me? My fear and anxiety might not go away completely, but I’d be free from a great deal of it.

      Take that concept, and multiply it by an infinite God present in our lives. What am I free from when God promises to be present with me and to empower me to live? How will I deal with my temptation toward self-destructive habits, or my temptation toward fear and anxiety? I am free from everything that invades my life when I’m left to my own limited strength and perspective. I’m free from sin through his forgiveness, and free from habitual sin by his power. I’m free to rest, free to play, free to be the person God created me to be, because he created me to be in relationship with him.

      I hope that helps!

      Rick Shurtz

  • Eric Bryant

    you can watch the entire message at

    The message included this passage quoted by Jesus:
    “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
    He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
    and recovery of sight for the blind,
    to set the oppressed free,
    to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

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