Rev. Charles Lehmann + Reformation 2007 + John 8:31-36
In the Name of Jesus. Amen.
I bet the Sunday School kids are really wondering about these Jews in the Gospel lesson. They started learning about Abraham’s descendents in September. This month they’ve heard about Pharaoh’s murder of the Israelite children and the 450 years of slavery. Today they are learning about the plagues that God sent to judge Pharaoh and save His people. And next week will be the Passover.
So today, when our Sunday school kids listen to the Gospel lesson, they hear the Jews speak very strange words, “We are Abraham’s descendents and have never been slaves to anyone.” What? What is this nonsense? Have these Jews never heard the Old Testament? Have they never eaten the Passover? But forget that ancient history! Have they not seen the Roman cohorts marching up and down the streets of Jerusalem with images of Tiberius Caesar adorning their standards?
Surely the Jews have been slaves in Egypt. They are now under foreign occupation in their own land. When these Jews who believe in Jesus say that they’ve never been slaves to anyone, they are speaking out of pride. The problem is that though they’ve heard Jesus’ sermon and believed it, they’re not willing to live in the freedom that Christ has given them. There will be no freedom for these believing Jews until they acknowledge their sin, their slavery.
Lutherans, of course, love this passage. We look at the bulletin, see that it’s Reformation day, and then we hear this passage read. We think, “Man… I’m sure glad that I’m not like those Jews. I’m glad that I’m not focused on my works. I know the truth. I’m free!” We sometimes like to think of the Reformation as God’s triumph over those evil bad Roman Catholics. We know who we are in the story… we’re the free ones. We know the truth, that we are saved by faith apart from works. We know the truth, that Christ came into the world to save sinners. We know our works can’t get us anything. We know the Gospel, and we know it’s for us.
So on Reformation day it’s really easy to go a bit further… Too bad for those Catholics. Too bad they don’t know what we know. They still think they need to earn salvation. They still think that they have something good to offer God. They’re like the “Jews who believed in Him” in this passage.
But Jesus says, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples. You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” and later “everyone who does sin is a slave of sin.” Ouch. That hurts. You sin. I sin. We are all, as Jesus puts it, “doers of sin.” That hits us right between the eyes. When we hear that, we can’t shrug off the Law of this passage and think it applies only to the Roman Catholics.
Things were definitely bad in the church in Luther’s day. The church had moved away from the biblical teaching of faith alone. They had brought works into the equation, and let’s face it… if you are being saved by your works, then Christ isn’t saving you. Luther called the church to repentance, but instead of repenting and rejoicing in the Gospel by which God saves us, Rome excommunicated Luther in 1521.
But Rome’s excommunication of Luther was not the church’s excommunication of Luther. The church has no authority to kick out a pastor for calling them to true repentance and preaching the freedom of the Gospel.
The true church did not excommunicate Luther. The true church, the universal church, the catholic church heard, repented, and rejoiced in the freedom that Christ had given them. You are in the catholic church. The catholic faith is that one which receives all the gifts that Christ offers. The catholic faith is the one that rejoices in the Gospel. Rome, in their rejection of the Gospel that Luther preached, left the catholic faith in its purity behind. Roman Catholic Christians are Christians because they believe the Gospel, even though that’s not what their church is telling them.
But what about us? How is the Reformation going at Peace With Christ? We’ve heard the Lord’s word. Yet, just like Rome, and just like the believing Jews in our text, we do sin and we are slaves to sin. Yet, we say, “We are sons of Luther and have never been slaves to anyone.”
But we were slaves. We were born slaves. Our very flesh came into the world in bondage to sin, death, and decay. We languished in our very own Egypt, and suffered under the severe blows of our taskmaster, the holy Law of God. And just as Israel longed for the whips of their taskmasters after they’d been taken into the desert, so do our bodies long for the sin that clings to our very inward parts.
Sin is what our bodies know, want, and desire. Even our most pious and holy desires are tainted with the lust that endures in our members. We fight moment by moment against the sin the dwells in us, but we fail. We fall again and again into the bondage of decay.
But we like it there. It’s what we know. It’s what we’re used to. The universe has certain rules, and even when those rules seem to be causing us pain and misery, we like them, because at we’re used to them. We know how to cope. Years ago researchers shocked a rat in a cage, and when they opened the door, the rat stayed inside. The cage was a place of pain and misery, but it was pain and misery the rat knew.
The Law says to the rat, “Your lot is pain. Your lot is agony. You will live a life of suffering and then you will die. There’s no escape. There’s nothing you can do to change it.” And so we are always in danger of becoming like the rat. We are always in danger of going from “you can’t save yourself” to “you can’t be saved.” The freedom the Gospel is an unknown strange freedom. We can’t imagine what it is like, so we stay in the cage, the door swinging on its hinges.
There’s only one thing for it. The cage has to be broken. The cage has to be destroyed. Somebody has to come into the cage and take all the electric shocks into His body and hand over joy, peace, and the forgiveness of sins to the rats He finds there.
That’s Jesus. If He sets you free, you will be free indeed. This life of pain and misery will still have some pain and some misery, but you’ll be out of the cage anyway. You’ll see that out in the world, the one Jesus created and bound Himself to in the womb of his mother… in that world, Jesus has got lots of gifts to be giving you. There’s your family, your work, your house and home, all that you have. There’s your church. There’s the Gospel. There’s Jesus hanging dead on a cross, having been punished for all your sin, all of that ugliness that keeps you in the cage.
It’s gone. It’s paid for. You’re free from it. The shocks can come, but they can’t hurt you. The Son abides in His Father’s house forever, and he’s prepared a place there for you.
Freedom isn’t really scary. There’s nothing in the Gospel to be afraid of. When Jesus says you will know the truth, He means you’ll know Him. When He says the truth will set you free, He means He will set you free. And He’s done it. He’s entered the rat cage. He’s waded through all the filth, all the muck, all the mess that we’ve filled with. He’s covered Himself in the disgusting, the evil, the smelly things of the world. He’s robbed them of their power to oppress you.
There’s nothing the world can through at you that it’s not already thrown at Jesus. He’s painted an eternal bullseye on his holy brow, hands, feed, and side. As He marched up the mountain to Golgotha, Jesus looked Satan in the face and said, “Bring it on. You can’t accuse me of my sins. I have none. But I’ll take the sins of everybody else, of all who’ve been born and died, of Pilate, of the centurions nailing me to this cross, and of billions that will be born later. I’ll take them all. Give me your worst. Kill me. I can take it. I want to take it. I want to do for them.”
And so he did. Satan couldn’t pass up the chance. He couldn’t allow the opportunity to murder God pass by. And so he accused. He laid at Jesus feet all of your sins and all of mine. He charged Him with them, and then put Him to death. And that’s it folks. It’s all over. He’s suffered the penalty for your sin, and you who trust by faith what He has done for you on the cross are free.
You’ve done the crime and He’s done the time. You’re free. You got off. He’s decided to give you everything and more. By His Holy Spirit He’s created faith in your heart. He will feed you with the preaching of His Word. He will place His very Body and Blood into your mouth.
That’s freedom. That’s Jesus for you. That’s the Son making you free. And that’s abiding in the house forever. You’ve heard His Word and you abide in it. You abide in Him, the Word incarnate. You know the truth, and it has set you free.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.