Sermon for Reformation Day based on John 8:31-36
Dear sons of God: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
Truth, even in the church, seems to be in short supply. There are thousands of different denominations in the world, all of which teach what they say is truth. There are dozens of churches with the name Lutheran, which teach conflicting doctrine, but all claim they are teaching the truth. Within our own confession, Lutheran Church-Canada, we have conflicting doctrines being taught in various places, and everyone claims to be teaching the truth.
It is easy to become indifferent about doctrine. It is easy to stop caring about what is true and what is not. It’s easy to give up and say, “Hey, there’s only one God, we’re all worshiping Him, so don’t worry about the details.” It’s easy to throw the hands up and say, “At least my children are going to some church.” It is easy to be frustrated and say, “If pastors who are supposed to know this stuff can’t agree, what point is there for me to even concern myself with it?”
Jesus answers this question by saying, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Concern yourself with and care about the truth, because the truth will set you free.
Free from what? Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.” You are a slave to as many masters as you have vices. You cannot set yourself free from sin. You cannot set yourself free from sin because sin is stronger than you are. You cannot simply choose the good and avoid the evil. You do not have free will. It sounds good, but it’s not true. Your flesh is corrupted by sin and has every sinful inclination. How do you know this? Because that’s what God’s Word teaches. We heard in our epistle lesson that God’s Law finds all of us guilty so that every mouth is stopped, and we are all held accountable to God.
Only the truth will set you free. What truth is that? The truth that if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. Only if the Son sets you free from sin, will you be free. Only if the Son sets you free from death and from the power of the devil, will you be free.
The Son has set you free from sin. He fulfilled your obligations under the Law that you are unable to do, and He did them. He fulfilled the Law for you in thought, word, and deed. He took your sin onto Himself and took your guilt, your shame, your punishment. He has thus set you free from sin.
The Son has set you free from death. He suffered and died for you, so that you will not die eternally, but will live eternally. His cross meant suffering and death for Him, but eternal life for you. He has thus set you free from death.
The Son has set you free from the power of the devil. When He ascended into heaven, He threw Satan down so that he cannot stand before God’s throne to accuse you of your sin day and night (Rev. 12:7-12). His mouth has been stopped. Hebrews two tells us that through His death, the Son has destroyed the one who has power over death, that is the devil, and delivered all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery (2:14-15). Thus, you are not a slave, but a son. The slave does not remain in the house forever, the son remains forever. Thus, you will remain forever with God as a son, and the Son, Jesus Christ, has set you free from the power of the devil.
This is the truth that sets you free. This is the truth that incited the Reformation; the truth which Luther taught and for which he was willing to die by the hand of the pope.
But we don’t believe this because Luther taught this. We don’t believe it because we were raised in the Lutheran church or because we went through adult confirmation. We believe it because God teaches this. We believe it because it is what God’s Word says. Thus, it is not an opinion or a feeling. It’s not wishing or thinking. We can say we know the truth.
This flies in the face of what the world says about truth, that there is no way to know what is true and that we can all hold our own so-called “truths” even when they contradict each other. But there are no maybes. There is no uncertainty. That’s what Jesus said. “If you abide in my word, you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth.”
It doesn’t matter how many denominations teach how many different doctrines. It doesn’t matter what the world says or what we ourselves think or feel. We are called to abide in God’s Word so that we will know the truth. What God’s Word says is what matters.
Our life as Christians is abiding in God’s Word. It’s not about patting ourselves on the back since we don’t follow the pope. It’s not about seeing how we are better than other denominations or other Lutherans. It’s not even about looking at other congregations in our denomination and seeing where they are wrong, or at other people in our pews. Our life as Christians is about abiding in God’s Word and asking where have I wandered from the truth? Where have I followed the world in my thinking? Where have my feelings and emotions been hurt by God’s Word, so that I have hardened myself to hear it? Where have I lifted up my reason to deny what God says in His Word?
See, we need reformation. We need correction. We need repentance.
You have not been abiding in God’s Word as you should have, so you have wandered. You have lived as if God’s Word did not matter and as if you mattered most. Your Lord’s name you have not honoured as you should; your worship and prayers have faltered. You have not let God’s love have its way with you, so your love for others has failed. There are those you have hurt, and those whom you have failed to help. Your thoughts and desires have been soiled with sin (LSB Individual Confession and Absolution).
This is why Jesus, the Son of God, took on your flesh. He didn’t come to earth thinking that He was coming to people that needed a just little bit of help to do better. He came, knowing the greatness of your sin to rescue you from it. He came to save you from the slavery of sin that He knew had you in its grasp. He came with forgiveness and healing because He loves you, His creation. He shed His blood for you to save you from your sin. He came to set you free from sin, death, and the power of the devil.
He came to make you a son of the Father, adopted through Baptism. He keeps you a son of the Father through His Word in which He admonishes you to abide. He strengthens you as a son through His very body and blood through which He forgives you all your sin and nourishes you to your promised inheritance of everlasting life.
Abide in Jesus’ Word. Abide. Dwell in it. Live in it. Meditate on it day and night. If you abide in Jesus’ Word, you are truly His disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.
[A note to readers: We will se using the One-Year Lectionary starting in Advent]