End Times 1: Reformation

Preached: November 4, 2007

John 8:31-36

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who pours out the Holy Spirit on us through his Word and Sacraments. That word today is John 8.

Then Jesus said to Jews who believed in him, “If you remain in my word, you are truly my disciples. You will know the truth, and the truth will free you.”
They replied to him, “We are Abraham's seed and have never been enslaved to anyone! How can you say, ‘You will become free’?”
Jesus replied to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you that everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave does not stay in the house forever; a son stays forever. So if the Son frees you, you will indeed be free.”

This is the Word of our Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints of God:

My two younger children tend to get these two men mixed up:

Of course, it's not the pictures that confuse them, but the names. Martin Luther King Jr. and simply Martin Luther. It's especially confusing in January when the hear a lot of talk about Martin Luther King Jr. at school. They associate with that name, since we go to St. John's Lutheran Church.

Now we could call both men freedom fighters. But they fought for very different kinds of freedom. Martin Luther King Jr. fought for the kind of freedom we call civil rights. In the 1950's and 60's, he wanted to make sure that African-Americans had the same rights in public that white Americans had. He wanted to free them from segregation and second-class citizenship.

Martin Luther, on the other hand, was concerned about slavery -- not physical slavery to human masters, like Israel in Egypt or the slaves in the South before the Civil War. He was concerned about a far worse slavery. For you see, physical slavery, even the worst kind filled with abuse and beatings, physical slavery ends at death, but not the slavery that troubled Martin Luther. Rather than freeing a person from this slavery, death brought a whole new level of pain and torture, namely hell.

A. Free from slavery to sin

1) Who has been chained by slavery to sin?

What was this slavery that troubled Martin Luther? It was the same slavery that Jesus talks about in the text. Slavery to sin. And this slavery isn't confined to Martin Luther or to a certain race of people. This slavery chained us all. “I tell you the truth,” Jesus said, “everyone who sins is a slave to sin” (John 8:34 NIV). And who sins? Remember what the Second Lesson said, “Therefore, no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather through the law we become conscious of sin . . . There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:20, 22, 23 NIV). Every one of us sins. This slavery chained us all.

2. What cannot free us from this slavery?

Now one of our greatest sins is to think that our sin isn't all that bad, at least not now anymore. That's why some in the crowd so strongly objected to Jesus saying that he would set them free. “We are Abraham's descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?” (John 8:33 NIV).

They knew that Jesus was talking about spiritual freedom. Abraham's descendants had often lost political freedom. They had been slaves in Egypt. At various times while they lived in Canaan one nation or another oppressed them. They had been carried into exile by the Babylonians. And even then in Jesus' day, they were under the domination of the Roman Empire. But as descendants of Abraham, they claimed spiritual freedom as their own.

Didn't they have the commandments from God himself given through Moses at Mt. Sinai? Didn't they have the temple as the one place of worship for the Lord God? Didn't they have the priesthood and the sacrifices as God had prescribed them? And hadn't they meticulously kept the traditions handed down to them? So they were spiritually free, so they thought. How could Jesus claim to set them free?

That's when Jesus points out the truth: “Everyone who sins is a slave to sin” (John 8:34 NIV). And as we said before, that means you and me. Don't rely on your Lutheran heritage, like some high-school trophy sitting on shelf gathering dust. That doesn't make you free. Don't rely on the fact that you got confirmed or have a Bible at home. That doesn't make you free. Don't figure that since your a member in this church you have your own ticket to freedom. And don't think that since you're not as bad as some of the people out there that you're free from sin. For if you think you have set yourself free, then you cannot, you cannot have the freedom Jesus brings.

3. What must we confess about our own power and ability?

Rather like Martin Luther stand convicted that you cannot free yourself. Martin Luther tried what a thousand years of church tradition had evolved as a way to free yourself. He became a monk and then a priest. He prayed hard, studied hard, worked hard, even afflicting his own body. Yet the harder he worked, the more he hated God for demanding so much. The harder he worked, the more the thought of death and standing before an angry judge terrified him. The harder he worked, the more he felt the chains of sin biting into his soul, holding him fast in slavery, just like a choke chain bites deeper the harder a dog pulls against it. “Fast bound in Satan's chains I lay; Death brooded darkly o'er me. Sin was my torment night and day; In sin my mother bore me. Yet deep and deeper still I fell; Life had become a living hell, So firmly sin possessed me.”

That, too, is your confession and mine. Examine your heart against God's Ten Commandments. Have you always loved him more that you've loved your friends, your children, and your pleasures? Have you always placed his Word and command first? Have you always trusted in him, refusing to worry or complain? Has love for others filled you so much that there is no trace of selfishness, conceit, lust, bitterness, or envy in you? No, you and I are sinners who cannot free ourselves. The record of our own thoughts, feelings, words, and actions testify against us. Why add to that record by robbing God and claiming some credit for freeing ourselves?

But if freedom could not come to Martin Luther from his own works or from following church rules, how could he be freed? How could you or I be freed? Jesus gives the answer, “If you abide in My Word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free . . . If the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed” (John 8:31, 32, 36 NKJV).

B. Free through the word of truth from Jesus

1) How do you learn the truth that frees you from slavery to sin?

“The truth shall set you free” (John 8:31 NIV). There is your answer. But take note! Jesus is specific about what this truth is. Some universities, for example Johns Hopkins University, use the Latin translation of these words as their motto. Truth in that context means what people can learn and discover through research, study and life experiences.

But truth, as Jesus' uses that word, truth that sets us free from the worst slavery of all, truth is what Jesus' teaches, namely his Word. “If you abide in My Word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth” (John 8:31, 32 NKJV). In John 17 as Jesus prayers to the Father, he says, “Your word is truth” (John 17:17 NIV).

The truth that sets us free from slavery to sin cannot be discovered by human searching and studying and living. It's revealed only in the Scriptures, the Bible, the Word of God. It brings you freedom only as long as you continue, remain, abide in that Word. No matter what our forefather taught, no matter what we believed back in Sunday school and Catechism class, no matter what the pastor and the other members confess in our congregation, you are free only if you, yourself, are staying in the word of God.

2) How do we stay in the Word?

How do we stay in the Word? Well, what does it mean to stay with someone at their house? It means you live with them. You eat together. You talk with them. You interact on a daily basis. So also to stay in the Word means to listen to that word and talk to God about it, to have that word alive in your heart, to inwardly digest what it says, to live it out in your daily interactions, to be at home in the Word. Martin Luther expressed it this way in his explanation to the 3rd Commandment: “We should fear and love God that we do not despise preaching and his Word, but regard it as holy and gladly hear and learn it” (Luther's Small Catechism: A Contemporary Translation, ©Northwestern Publishing House, Milwaukee, WI, 1979).

Martin Luther knew how important God's Word of truth is. That's why he translated the Bible into the language of the people. That's why he himself kept studying that word no matter how learned others thought he was. That's why he preached and taught throughout his life. That's why he wrote the Catechism as a summary of the truths that God's Word teaches, so that every family could learn it in their own homes. Stay in the Word as a true disciple so that you do not lose your freedom.

So we've seen what sets us free from slavery to sin. The truth. We've seen where to find the truth. God's Word, the Bible. We've seen what to do with the truth of God's Word. Stay and remain in it. But what is this truth that sets us free, this truth that God's Word reveals, this truth that we want to remain in? What is it?

3) What is the truth that God's Word reveals to set you free?

Consider Jesus last words in the text, “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:31-36 NIV). The truth that sets you free is the truth that points you to the Son, Jesus Christ, our God and Savior.

And what do you see as the truth opens your eyes and the light of Jesus shines in? We see that Jesus is God the Son who came from the Father to rescue us, to deliver us, to set us free from slavery to sin. Jesus had been telling the crowd this. That's why some believed in him. He had told them, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am he, you will indeed die in your sins” (John 8:23, 24 NIV, footnote). He came from above, from the Father, for he is God the Son who the Father sent to set us free from death and slavery to sin.

Jesus pointed the crowd to his coming death on the cross as he told them, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he” (John 8:28 NIV, footnote). Jesus is that “sacrifice of atonement” as the Apostle Paul teaches in the 2nd Lesson (Romans 3:25 NIV). Only his holy blood, the blood of God, could redeem and ransom us. Only his bloody sacrifice and death could turn God's anger away from us and make us at one with God by the forgiveness purchased with Jesus' precious blood. That's the truth the sets you free.

For just as surely as the crucified Jesus came back to life, so surely has our God freely justified you. For Jesus' resurrection declares that God has counted Jesus' righteousness, his perfectly right life, on your record. Therefore, God the just judge gives the verdict that you have been acquitted based on the record of Jesus' righteousness. This is the righteousness that comes from God. This is the righteousness that is apart from the law and all that we do. This is the righteousness of Jesus Christ that the truth reveals through God's Word to set you free.

Jesus has broken your chains. Jesus has set you free. Sin can no longer condemn you who believe. This is the truth the Holy Spirit led Martin Luther to see in Scripture and to believe and teach it. Listen again to what the Apostle Paul wrote, “But now a righteousness from God apart from law has been made know . . . This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that Came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood” (Romans 3:21-25 NIV).

That's the truth that set Martin Luther free -- set him from slavery to sin, free from the terror of death. That's the truth that sets you free. Cherish it. Remain in it. Shout out: “Free at last! Free at last! Thank Jesus Christ, I'm free at last!”

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313