Text: John 8:31-36
Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Freedom! Is a message we can all rally around. One we can all support. At the end of the movie Braveheart, the Scottish hero William Wallace, as he’s being executed by the English, cries out, “Freedom!” The American patriot Patrick Henry says, “Give me liberty or give me death!” Liberty is freedom. Our American constitution enshrines certain inalienable rights such as freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and freedom of religion, among others. As well as freedom from certain things. There are those kept hostage in the Middle East right now who have lost all of these freedoms. We fervently pray that their freedoms would be restored.
But far greater than political freedom, is the freedom Christ gives. In Galatians, Paul writes, “For freedom Christ has set us free.” This is the very message of the Scriptures uncovered by the Reformation. Through faith in Christ, before God we are free, saved by God’s grace alone, for the sake of Christ alone, through faith alone. This is true freedom. In Jesus, we are free from the guilt of our sin and free from the power of death to destroy us. And we’re free to live out the two greatest commandments to love the Lord our God with all our heart and soul and mind, and to love our neighbors as ourselves.
But how do we daily live in this freedom as Christians? How do we avoid falling back into slavery? How will our faith in Christ’s promise be sustained?
These are all questions Jesus addresses in today’s Gospel from John 8. Jesus allows us to listen to his extended conversation with the Jewish leaders and people. And as a result of Jesus’ Word, many believed in Him. It’s the message of the Reformation. It’s the message Luther fought to have heard by his 16th Century audience. And by us.
IN THE WORD, JESUS GIVES REAL FREEDOM.
“If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples.” Abide means remain, sit down in, rely on, live in my teaching. You see, the Word of God is what works faith in a person. Paul says that “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” But faith not only originates in the Word; the Word of God is also what keeps faith alive. Faith always comes from the outside in. So, for faith to stay alive (not just strong or growing, but to stay alive), we must abide in the Word of God and the Word of God abide in us.
The longer a person who has been brought to faith in Jesus stays away from the Word, the weaker faith becomes. Eventually, if faith is not nourished again by the Word, it will die. The Word of God is the food of faith, the air faith breathes, and the fuel faith burns. Without the Word constantly nourishing and sustaining faith, our faith is going to die.
There is no other way. “Man shall not live by bread alone,” Jesus said, “but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Isaiah reminds us, “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” The Church is sustained and given life and freedom through the Word and through the Word alone. We know this. That’s why the Lutheran Church is the Church of the Bible. “Sola Scriptura. Scripture alone!” It’s one of our foundational Reformation reminders. So, how many of you regularly read your Bible? I have to admit, not as much as I should either. If our sustenance comes through the Word, we should regularly be immersed in that Word.
The devil certainly knows that “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword.” That’s why he works so hard to keep people from the Word. That’s why he tries so hard to keep pastors from doing their best to bring the Word. That’s why he works so hard to divide people from their pastors. Whatever it takes, the devil is constantly trying to get us away from the Word of God, because he knows that’s where the freedom is. Without the Word of God, we are still slaves to sin. Which is why Jesus says, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples.”
In his writing about this passage, Luther says: “The true disciples remain . . . [in] the Word of God, saying: ‘I am helpless. May God help me. It all rests in His hands.’ He promised and said: ‘Just cling to the Word, and I will uphold you. When you find yourself in any extremity or distress, you will learn to continue in God’s Word. This will liberate you and make you a true disciple.’” . . . Truth does not consist merely in hearing Christ . . . but also in believing in your heart and in experiencing with your heart that Christ wants to set you free.”
“You will know the truth,” Jesus said, “and the truth will set you free.” But the Jews respond, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” Never enslaved to anyone? Right then and there, they were slaves to the Roman Empire. And that wasn’t even the full story. Because they didn’t see their need for the Word of God, they were slaves of sin, a slavery far worse.
Before we look down on them with too much judgement, have you ever heard it said, “I don’t have to come to Bible class; I learned it all years ago in confirmation”? This is one of the devil’s favorite tricks: to convince us we really don’t need to know all that much about the Word of God. Or maybe the claim is that “I was born a Lutheran, confirmed a Lutheran, married in the Lutheran Church, and I’ll be buried a Lutheran.” A valid question to ask would be, “Don’t you think God might still have something to teach you? Or generous gifts to give if you were to regularly abide in His Word and in His house?”
Dear friends in Christ, when we think we learned all we need to know years ago and have no more need to study the Word, as though God has nothing more to teach us—we’re actually despising the Word of God. When we hear a preacher and, like an audience at a movie, judge the sermon on how well it entertains us, instead of hungering and thirsting for a deeper understanding of the Word of God, we are despising that Word.
Here Jesus exposes our real problem. “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever.” “Everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.” That speaks to all of us. No one is left out. If you’ve sinned, you’re a slave. Sin is your master.
Can you free yourself? Of course not. Have you ever known anyone who stopped sinning? Anyone who claims he’s stopped sinning is already full of the sin of pride and self-worship and, ironically, is still a slave to sin.
That’s why Jesus invites us to confess our slavery to sin, so that his Word can bring his freedom. And with confession, Jesus also rouses in us a hunger for the Word. For in the Word, we come to know the truth, and knowing the truth in the Word is what sets us free. “The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”
Free from sin, free from fear, free from death. Free from slavery! Brothers and sisters, the Word was written down in the Scriptures, not to give us a list of dos and don’ts. The Scriptures are given to unfold for us the precious gifts God gives in Jesus, the Son of God in human flesh, crucified and raised from the dead for us. The Bible is all about Jesus and what the Father gives in him. It is his book, his words. His Spirit inspired it from the first words of Genesis to the last amen of Revelation. This book preaches into our hearts the truth that is Jesus, and it is this truth that kindles faith and keeps it alive.
And the truth that is Jesus is the truth heard from a cross, the true Word of forgiveness and of freedom. Jesus speaks it on every page. He alone can speak it, for he alone has carried the sin of the world—even the sin of not listening to him and not wanting to hear what he has to say. He has carried it all. It’s all forgiven.
To know that truth, then, is to be set free from slavery: freed from our disregard of the Word, freed to listen, to love, to treasure, and to keep the Word.
Peter says, “You have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; for ‘All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.’ And this word is the good news that was preached to you.” The Word is the truth that sets you free! And that Word lasts forever. That Word makes you last forever.
This is why we celebrate today/ This is why we have a special Reformation service. Not just to remember something that happened over five hundred years ago, but so that God’s Word can do what it does in our lives and hearts now. So that we are reformed by the Word. So that our churches are pulled back into the Word of God. And so that we hear again the Son say to us today—Go in peace, you are free! Free to live in Christ and for others. Free from sin and the power of death to destroy us. Free from the condemnation of the Law. Free to live joyfully as sons and daughters of God. Free to live in the house forever.
Freedom in Christ is the promise you’ve been given. It’s the life you’re blessed to live. Paul says in Galatians, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” So, abide, truly abide (remain, sit down in, rely on, live in) the Word of Jesus. Only his Word brings freedom and life. For Christ has broken all the powers that enslave us. “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.