Sermon for the Festival of the Reformation based on John 8:31-36
Dear heirs of the Reformation: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
Jesus says, “The truth will set you free.” The truth may, however, cause you troubles in this life.
Martin Luther’s proclamation of the truth got him excommunicated by the pope and declared an outlaw by the Emperor. As we heard in Bible class last week, the reformer John Hus’s teaching of the truth got him burned at the stake by the pope. The pope murdered him simply because he believed and confessed the truth.
Today, five hundred years after the Reformation, opposition to the truth and consequences for standing up for the truth still exist. Christian business owners are being put out of business by the government just because they stand up for the truth. Just this month, the Lutheran pastor in Churchbridge was viciously attacked and bullied out of town by the very people God called him to serve, simply because he taught the truth and the people didn’t want to hear it.
The truth setting you free does not mean that there are no consequences in this life for believing and confessing the truth. The wicked world does not want to hear the truth. The devil is the father of lies and hates the truth. Thus, the world and the devil continually attack the truth and those who believe it. They will do everything they can to quiet the truth, to pervert the truth, to throw out those who would speak the truth. Yet, the truth will set you free.
We need to hear God’s Law first, before we understand what it means to be set free. Without the Law, we would respond like the Jews did to Jesus, “We have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” We see no need for freedom if we think we are already free. We see no need for freedom if we do not realize that we are slaves. Thus, to show us that we are slaves who need to be freed, Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.”
Do you commit sin? Then you are a slave to sin. Do you think, say, and do things that God has commanded you not to think, say, or do? Then you are a slave to sin. Everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. God’s Law stops every mouth and holds us all accountable to God.
We do need to be set free. We cannot free ourselves. We cannot rescue ourselves from our sins because they are more powerful than we are. Because of our sinful nature, we are unable to choose the good and avoid the evil. We need to be saved. We need to be freed from slavery to sin. We need someone else to be held accountable for what we have done so that we do not die eternally.
The truth will set you free. Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) Jesus is the truth that sets you free.
“If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed,” because Jesus is the one who is more powerful than sin and death. He is the one who is more powerful than the old evil foe. Jesus is the one who has defeated sin, death, and the devil, and He holds the field victorious.
Jesus is the one who chose the good and avoided the evil. He is the one who was held accountable for the sins that we have committed and was punished for them in our place. Jesus frees us from the punishment our sins deserve. He frees us from slavery to sin. He saves us from the devil and from hell. This is the truth that sets us free.
Martin Luther understood this freedom, so he held to this truth and was willing to face whatever the pope would do to him. Thus, he wrote, “And take they our life, goods, fame, child, and wife, let these all be gone, they yet have nothing won; the Kingdom ours remaineth.” (TLH 262 st. 4)
Luther knew the truth and the truth had set him free, so he was willing to suffer the loss of everything in this life rather than lose that freedom. He clung to the truth and shared it with others even at the risk of losing his life. He knew that he was freed from eternal damnation, justified by God’s grace as a gift through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.
We don’t believe this because Luther taught it. We don’t believe it simply because we grew up in the Lutheran church. We believe it because God Himself teaches it in holy Scripture. We believe it because God tells it to us in His Word, the only source of truth.
Jesus says, “If you abide in my Word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” He starts out by telling us to abide in His Word, because His Word is truth. The second we follow anything other than God’s Word, we are straying into error.
That is the error into which the Roman church has fallen. They stopped following the Bible and started following man. They still follow what the pope says even when he disagrees with Scripture. They claim that the pope is infallible and cannot err when he makes statements of doctrine. When his statements disagree with the Bible, the pope is still held as being correct by the Roman church.
Abide in God’s Word, not the word of man. Abide in God’s Word, not your own words. It is so tempting to follow our own thoughts, feelings, and desires. It is so tempting to follow what we think is fair, just, and reasonable. It is so easy to follow the world. They do whatever they want. They think that they have freedom, but they are really slaves of sin. Abide in God’s Word so you will know the truth that sets you free.
Abide in God’s Word. Read it. Study it. Attend a church where it is taught in its truth and purity. Attend Bible class where it is explained and expounded for your benefit. In the Bible is where we learn about God and His will for us. We can learn it from no place else.
Only in the Bible do we hear the Son has set us free, so we are free indeed. Only in the Bible do we learn the truth that sets us free. Only in the Bible do we have God’s truth given to us, so that we don’t speculate, we don’t wonder, we don’t guess, but we know the truth that sets us free.
Christ Jesus our Lord has set us free to be sons of God who remain in the house forever. A slave does not remain in the house forever. The son remains forever. The Son of God has freed us from slavery to sin and has given us faith so that we know the truth. He saved us, and He keeps us saved so that regardless of the opposition of the world, the devil, and our sinful flesh, we will remain in Him to eternal life. Thus, we can sing with Luther, “And take they our life, goods, fame, child, and wife, let these all be gone, they yet have nothing won; the Kingdom ours remaineth.” Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.