Sermon on John 8:31-36
Rejoice in Your Freedom!
1. To know the truth
2. To hold the truth
3. To share the truth
Text: John 8:31-36
“What is truth?” Pilate asked Jesus. Before him stood a murderous band of Jews howling for the death of their archenemy Jesus. It was quite the predicament. It appeared to Pilate that this Jesus fellow had done nothing wrong. Then again, Pontius Pilate and the Romans weren’t exactly friends with the Jews. It was not long before this that Pilate had massacred a group of Jews. If he let Jesus go, the Jews would not have been happy. Pilate wanted some answers. He wanted the truth.
He hasn’t been the only in history that has pursued the “truth.” Do a Google search for quotes about truth and you will find yourself reading material to last you weeks. Everyone seems to be looking for truth. Many write about and discuss truth. But no one seems to find it. Some might just say, “There is no such thing as truth.”
Five hundred years ago, spiritual truth was not questioned much. Whatever the church said was what the truth was. The Bible was written in Latin and Europeans no longer spoke that language. Only monks and priests knew Latin. Thus, whatever they said about the Bible must be the truth. Besides, if you did happen to speak up and speak out against the church, you would probably be burned at the stake.
Martin Luther was one who conformed to the accepted truth of the time. As a lawyer-turned-monk, Luther was very serious about his own sinfulness. He understood the demands of the Lord. He knew that God says, “Be holy, because I, the Lord your God, am holy.” He also knew that the Bible says, “The wages of sin is death.” This terrified Martin Luther. If God is holy, and therefore expects us to be holy, and if the cost of sinning and not being holy is death and hell, then he was in big trouble!
Luther felt like a slave to his sinfulness. He tried starving himself. He even tried beating himself. But no matter how hard he tried, no matter what he did, he couldn’t get rid of his sinfulness. He was trapped. He was doomed. He was a slave to sin and he was bound for hell.
God’s demands aren’t any different for us. They haven’t changed throughout the ages. The Lord also tells us to be holy just like he is holy. He expects and demands nothing but perfection from us. At the same time, God still declares that, “The wages of sin is death.” The cost and price for sinning hasn’t changed throughout time either. Death and hell still await those who sin.
Maybe you know Luther’s feeling of slavery. No matter how hard you try, no matter what you do, you can’t seem to get rid of your sinfulness. You wish you didn’t lose your temper and get so angry, but you just always do. You wish your language were better, but for some reason those words always seem to come out. You wish you had stronger faith so that you never doubted or worried, but you can’t seem to help yourself. You make New Year’s resolutions. You make promises. You try with all your might. But you keep on sinning. You are covered with the filth of your sinfulness. You are trapped. You are doomed. You are a slave to sin and bound for death and hell. We can understand Martin Luther’s fear and terror!
Jesus addressed these fears about slavery to sin in the Gospel for today. In much the same way as the church at the time of Martin Luther was falsely teaching the Word of God, so also were the Pharisees at Jesus’ time. In Martin Luther’s time the church was teaching that a person could get to heaven by doing good works or good deeds for the Lord. In other words, they taught that people could earn their way to heaven. The Pharisees essentially taught the same thing. They taught the Israelites that they could get to heaven by following the laws of Moses.
More than that, these Jews thought they were guaranteed to be a part of the family of God because they were part of Abraham’s family. What’s this talk of being slaves? They were Israelites! In verse 33 they answered Jesus, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone.” But Jesus crushed their hopes in verse 34: “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family.” They thought they were shoe-ins for heaven because of their lineage and because of all the good things they had done. What they failed to realize was that they had also sinned. And when you sin, you are a slave to sin and have no place in the family of God.
They were in desperate need of freedom. They were in desperate need of the truth. So Jesus gave it to them in verse 35, “Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” The only way they could be freed was through the Son of God.
This a truth that Martin Luther finally discovered. He read passages like Ephesians 2: “It is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” Or Romans 6: “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Or 2 Corinthians 5: “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them.” Suddenly the truth became clear to Martin Luther. He didn’t have to earn heaven. He didn’t have to pay for his own sins. Jesus died to pay for all sins. The gift of God’s gracious love is forgiveness and eternal life in heaven. Martin Luther Rejoiced in His Freedom, that he knew the truth.
Luther’s joy is our joy. Jesus said in verse 35, “A son belongs [to the family] forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” You may have done some terrible things in your life before. There may have been times you jammed your foot in your mouth so far you could hardly pull it out. There may be some things that you have done that you would never want to tell anyone. But know and believe the truth—You are free! Christ has carried your sin. Christ has died for your sin. Christ has removed your sin. You are a dearly loved child of God. Rejoice in your Freedom! You know the truth!
It’s one thing to know the truth. But it’s another thing to hold to the truth. Jesus said that himself. Look at verse 31, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Over time, God’s people had lost the truth. For centuries the church taught that people had to earn their way to heaven. And if they couldn’t earn their way to heaven in this life, then they went to this mystical (and made up) place called purgatory. Then in purgatory they would pay for their sins some more until finally they earned their way to heaven. Most repulsive of all, the church even schemed to create something called indulgences. If you bought one of these little pieces of paper, you could pay for (literally) some of your own sins or the sins of your family, whether alive or dead. The church had lost the truth.
But once Martin Luther discovered the truth, he wasn’t about to let go. Soon he became quite famous for his opposition to the church. So he was called to the Diet of Worms in 1521. This doesn’t mean he only ate night crawlers for a year. The Diet was a meeting in the German city of Worms. There all the leaders of the free world gathered, including Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. They piled all of Luther’s writings on a table and asked him two questions: 1) Are these your writings? and 2) If they are, will you recant them? They gave him the night to think about it.
Martin Luther knew his options. He could recant and turn back on the truth and be safe. Or, he could hold to the truth, be branded a heretic, and perhaps even be killed for his beliefs. Later, he wrote that as he pondered his decision that night, Psalm 46 was of great comfort to him. We sang that Psalm this morning, and we also sang the hymn which he wrote based on that Psalm, A Mighty Fortress is Our God. The next morning Luther stood before his accusers and said this: “Unless I shall be convinced by the testimonies of the Scriptures or by clear reason … I neither can nor will make any retraction, since it is neither safe nor honorable to act against conscience . . . Hier stehe ich. Ich kann nicht anders. Gott helfe mir. Amen.” (“Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen.”) Do what they may, Martin Luther was going to hold the truth of God’s Word.
This is why Reformation Day is so important to us today. Martin Luther, along with many others, refused to deny the truth. They would not back down from what Holy Scripture says—Salvation is ours by God’s grace alone through faith alone.
Thus the red banners fly today. Red, the color of fire and the Holy Spirit and martyrdom is the reminder that we too today will hold to the truth. They can make fun of us. They can laugh at us. They can falsely accuse us. They can try to rip prayer out of schools. They can try to take God out of society. They can take away our churches and our Bibles. They can even try to take our lives. But they cannot and they will not ever take away Jesus and heaven from us. Like Luther, Rejoice in Your Freedom to hold to the truth!
Once Martin Luther discovered the truth, he wasn’t about to keep it a secret. Very early on after he recognized many of the problems within the church, Luther nailed 95 theses to the church doors on October 31, 1517—493 years ago. He wanted everyone to know the truth. Later on, when he better understood Holy Scripture, he did one of the most important things in history. He translated the Bible from Hebrew and Greek, the original languages, into German. This is so significant because this was the first time in history that the Bible was in the language of the common people. At the same time, Johannes Guttenberg invented the printing press at this time. This means that God designed that not only was the Bible finally in the language of the common people, but the common people could finally have a Bible in their own homes. Through Martin Luther and other faithful believers, the truth about Jesus was being shared all over the world.
Today we carry that torch. The amazing news that Jesus has died for all people to forgive all sins so that all might freely go to heaven is not just a message for Sunday morning. It’s not just a message for inside these beautiful church walls. This is a message that we share. This is a message that we live and breath. We also want everyone to know the truth about our free and full Savior from sin. So tell your family. Tell your friends. Tell your coworkers. Tell your neighbors. Or if you aren’t exactly sure what to say, invite them to church. They’ll hear about their Savior from sin Jesus Christ at Christ the King Church! Rejoice in Your Freedom to share the truth!
It’s interesting to note that Martin Luther never wanted a church named after himself. He simply wanted to bring change to the church. He wanted the truth to be rediscovered and adhered to as the church was reformed. But as that became impossible, those who faithfully stood by his side started calling themselves Lutherans. Why bother? Why bother naming ourselves after a guy who’s been in the grave almost 500 years? Why not just call ourselves Christians?
We call ourselves Lutherans because we believe the same as he did, which is what Scripture teaches: We are saved by God’s grace alone, by faith alone, by Scripture alone. That is the truth. That is where we stand. God help us.
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