The Truth Sets You Free

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]

The Truth Will Set You Free

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.

Freedom

Sermon for Reformation Day 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.

“So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in Him, ‘If you abide in my Word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’ They answered Him, ‘We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, “You will become free”?’”

Never enslaved to anyone? That simply isn’t true. The offspring of Abraham were enslaved in Egypt by Pharaoh. Pharaoh oppressed them and set taskmasters over them to afflict them with heavy burdens. The Egyptians ruthlessly made the offspring of Abraham to work as slaves and made their lives bitter with hard service. Pharaoh even commanded that every son born to the offspring of Abraham be murdered by throwing them into the Nile (see Ex. 1-5). The offspring of Abraham had been enslaved to the Egyptians.

The offspring of Abraham were also enslaved by the Assyrians. Tiglath-pileser, king of Assyria, overran Israelite cities and carried the people captive to Assyria (II Kings 15:29). Shalmaneser V and Sargon II continued the assault and the capital city of Samaria was captured and the offspring of Abraham were enslaved in Assyria (see II Kings 17:3-6).

The offspring of Abraham were later also enslaved to the Babylonians. King Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem and took it. All the treasures of the king’s house were taken and the vessels in the Lord’s house were smashed and the Lord’s house was burned to the ground along with the king’s house and every other great house. The offspring of Abraham were taken into exile in Babylon while the poorest were left to work the land for the King of Babylon. The offspring of Abraham had been enslaved to the Babylonians (see II Kings 25).

Finally, even at the time that the Jews said to Jesus that they had never been enslaved to anyone, they were not a free people. The Romans had invaded and taken over the land of the offspring of Abraham. Their land was converted into a Roman province and they were forced to pay taxes to Caesar, the Roman emperor, and to follow Roman laws as Roman soldiers marched their streets. The offspring of Abraham were not free. They were enslaved to the Romans even as they told Jesus that they have never been enslaved to anyone.

But is this the slavery to which Jesus was referring? Was Jesus promising freedom from the Roman occupation by abiding in His Word of truth? No, not at all.

Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.” This is the slavery Jesus is talking about – slavery to sin. This is the condition of sinful man from conception whether it is realized or not. As surely as these Jews were blind to their slavery to other kingdoms past and present, so they were blind to their slavery to sin.

We also can be blind to our sin. We can argue that we do our best. We look around and see everyone else’s sin and we figure we’re doing better than them. But the Law doesn’t say “Do your best.” The Law says “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” (Mt. 22:37, 39) Have you or have you not? Have you always put God first in everything? You’ve never doubted God or His will? You’ve never desired something that you don’t have? You’ve never spoken about someone behind their back? You’ve never neglected to help someone in need? You’ve never neglecting hearing and reading God’s Word?

In our Epistle we heard, “Now we know that whatever the Law says it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world held accountable to God.” (Rom. 3:19) God’s Law shuts our mouths and our claims of doing our best. The Law shuts our mouths from our excuses, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Rom. 3:23) The Law shuts our mouths because we’re guilty. Whoever commits sin is a slave to sin so we’ve got nothing to say. Our excuses fall short. Pointing fingers doesn’t help. Our claims of having done our best are rubbish.

We cannot save ourselves from the slavery of sin any more than the offspring of Abraham could save themselves from their slavery. The Israelites never got themselves out of slavery; they were helpless at the hands of their oppressors. So also, we cannot get ourselves out of slavery to sin; we are helpless at the hands of sin, death, and the devil. They are more powerful than we are.

But 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.” What truth is that? The truth that “if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” The truth that if the Son of God sets you free from the slavery of sin, you will be free indeed.

Jesus, the Son of God, has set you free by doing what you cannot do. He fulfilled the entire Law of God with all its legal demands. He left no Law undone. He did what you were supposed to do but could not. Then He died on the cross, taking the punishment of all your sins on Himself. He took your chains and shackles of sin onto Himself. He suffered the punishment of hell for you and in your place. He conquered your enemies of sin, death, and the devil and He set you free.

Your freedom is not your doing. It is a gift. In the words of our Epistle, “We are justified by His grace as a gift.” You are declared righteous and pleasing to God not on account of anything you have done or left undone, but on account of what Jesus has done for you. We are justified by faith apart from the works of the Law.

This truth is what the Reformation was all about. It was about returning to the truth of God’s Word that we are not saved by our own works or merits, but by the work and merit of Jesus.

The Reformation was about correcting the lie that we must do our part in salvation; the lie that we are justified through our works not by grace as a gift. The Reformation was about making the truth of God’s Word known once again. It was a return to Jesus’ words, “If you abide in my Word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Jesus says, “You will know the truth.” You will have certainty concerning the truth. You can say it with conviction. It is not an opinion or a feeling. It’s not wishing or thinking. This flies in the face of what the world says about the truth, that there is no way to know what is really true and we can all hold to different so-called “truths” even when they contradict each other. But Jesus says, “You will know the truth.” You will have certainty concerning the truth. You know the truth with confidence because God says it in His own Word; you know the truth because God tells you and He cannot lie. That truth is: if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. You are justified by His grace as a gift. You are justified by faith apart from the works of the Law.

The offspring of Abraham were never able to free themselves from slavery. They were helpless at the hands of the Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, and Romans. God rescued them from slavery in Egypt through the waters of the Red Sea and He has rescued us from the slavery to sin though the waters of Holy Baptism. God rescued the offspring of Abraham from slavery in Babylon by sending Cyrus, king of Persia, to defeat the Babylonians (Is. 44-45; Ez. 1) and God has rescued us from slavery to sin by sending Jesus, His only Son, to defeat our enemies of sin, death, and the devil.

That is the truth of God’s Word. Blindness to your sin does not set you free. Jesus’ death in your place sets you free. Claiming that you’ve never been enslaved to anyone does not set you free. Claiming the merits of Jesus sets you free. Jesus, the Son of God has set you free. Because the Son has set you free, you are free indeed. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Breaker of Chains

Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost based on Luke 8:26-39

Dear believers whose chains have been broken: Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

The devil’s chains and shackles are far stronger than any physical chains and shackles. We can see this in the demon-possessed man breaking the physical bonds of chains and shackles even while under guard, and escaping from prison to once again wander in the desert naked, living among the tombs, roaming among the dead. Chains and fetters cannot restrain one who is under the influence of the devil. Barred windows and doors will do nothing to control the devil, his works, or his ways.

Without God, man is imprisoned by the chains of the devil. There is no neutral ground or fence sitting. There is imprisonment or there is freedom. There is slavery to sin or there is freedom in Christ.

Outward appearance doesn’t always tell you very much. Yes, in some cases, one who is enslaved to Satan might be running around naked in graveyards. However, one who is enslaved to Satan may also appear perfectly sane and put together. He could be running a successful business, teaching in a university, or even running for president of the United States. Whatever works an unbeliever does, even if they outwardly appear good, they are actually sin. The Bible says that anything done without faith is sin (Rom. 14:23) and that without faith it is impossible to please God (Heb. 11:6). Without faith, man is the enemy of God, and a slave of the devil (Rom. 5:10, 6:2; Col.1:21).

When it comes to being released from the shackles of sin and the chains of hell, the helps of this world are useless. They can no more keep sin under control than the chains with which the demonic was chained kept him under control. Chains and fetters cannot restrain one who is under the influence of the devil. The world has no solutions to help or release mankind from the devil, or the effects of sin.

This is helpful for us to keep in mind when we seek release from the shackles and burdens of this life that weigh us down. We are not under the rule of the devil since we have been baptized into Christ and are thus under His lordship (Rom. 6:2), but we still suffer the effects of sin and feel the heavy burden of sin and its consequences in various ways, and the world cannot help us.

The world’s attempts to deal with anxiety, depression, and worrying amount to drugs which only numb the effects. The world’s attempts to deal with illnesses and diseases are the same. As a solution to character traits you don’t like about yourself such as laziness, cowardliness, or impatience, the world points you to pop psychology or counselling for the solution. Suffering from obsessions, addictions, or a short temper? The world tells you to just read the latest self-help book and pick yourself up by your own bootstraps.

Whatever these worldly solutions offer, they at best try to mask symptoms. They put Band-Aids on mortal gunshot wounds. They tell you to fix yourself with your own abilities, like telling a patient to perform an operation on himself. These worldly solutions do not and cannot deal with the fundamental, underlying problem – our sin.

Trying to deal with sin or the effects of sin by earthly means will never be successful. Just as medicine cannot undo or prevent death, so imprisonment doesn’t forgive the sins of the criminal, so counselling doesn’t prevent you from being lazy or addicted or impatient, and so medicine doesn’t prevent depression but merely alters the chemicals in your brain while you’re on the medication to decrease the symptoms. Seeking physical solutions to spiritual problems can never be successful. The things of this world cannot break the bonds of sin, nor keep them under control.

Only Jesus can break the bonds of sin that bind us. Chains and shackles could not bind the demon-possessed man, but Jesus’ Word broke the fetters of the devil and the chains of hell. Jesus’ Word set the man free.

So Jesus’ Word sets us free from our chains and shackles of sin. His Word doesn’t set us free to return to the bondage of sin but sets us free from those bonds. Jesus’ Word doesn’t set us free to be like a pig that returns to the mire or a dog that returns to its vomit as Saint Peter writes (2 Peter 2:22), but His Word sets us free from following the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh. Jesus’ Word declares us forgiven saints free from sin.

“Nothing is so powerfully effective against the devil, the world, the flesh, and all evil thoughts as to occupy one’s self with God’s Word, to speak about it and meditate upon it, in the way that Psalm 1 calls those blessed who “mediate on God’s Law day and night.” Without doubt, you will offer up no more powerful incense or savour against the devil than to occupy yourself with God’s commandments and words and to speak, sing or think about them. Indeed… [this] drives away the devil and puts him to flight.” (LC Preface)

When you are tempted, turn to the Word of God for strength in temptation. When you are anxious, depressed, or worried, read God’s Word for comfort. When you are feeling lazy, cowardly, or impatient, pick up the Bible which feeds you, strengthens you, guides you, and leads you in God’s will for you and your life.

It should be your first thought to read Scripture when you are under attack by the devil, the world, and your flesh. There is good reason it is called the sword of the Spirit (Eph. 6:17). Leaving God’s Word on the shelf when struggles and temptations come is like a soldier who leaves his sword in the barracks when the enemy comes. If such a soldier is not killed, it is a miracle.

We daily need God’s Word just as we need daily bread. Leaving God’s Word on the shelf in the face of the daily and incessant attacks and ambushes of the devil is like leaving food and water at home and heading out on a hike across the desert. If such a hiker is not killed, it is a miracle.

Those who follow their sinful desires may think that they have freedom – freedom to do whatever they want. What they do not realize is that they are in fact slaves to the devil, the world, and their own sinful nature. What they do not realize is that their so-called freedom is nothing more than roaming naked among the dead.

Those who are in Christ are truly free. It may be a daily struggle to do what God commands, but Saint John can say that His commands are not burdensome because we are born of God and have overcome the world by faith (I John 5:3-4). God’s commands are not burdensome because we are free from the slavery of sin. God’s commands are not burdensome because they have been fulfilled by Jesus on our behalf.

Burdensome commandments are those that you must keep to earn yourself eternal life. If our salvation depended on us keeping God’s Law, it would be beyond burdensome. However, Jesus carried the burden of God’s Law for us and fulfilled it for us, thus making our yoke easy and our burden light (cf. Matt. 11:29-30).

We have been freed from the shackles of sin and the chains of death by Jesus’ death in our place, thus we have the promise of eternal life. We are continuously given the forgiveness of our sins in the body and blood of Jesus and we are continuously strengthened through the Word of God in our fight against sin and temptation. Jesus has rescued us from the kingdom of the devil. He has shattered the bars of death and broken our chains of sin.

Jesus voluntarily took on Himself the chains and shackles of our sins and suffered and died for our sins. But He didn’t remain dead. Jesus rose from the dead, thus breaking the bonds of sin – our bonds of sin. Jesus rose from the dead, thus breaking the bonds of death – our bonds of death.

Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, we have true freedom. Freedom from slavery to sin. Freedom from the devil. Freedom from hell. Because of Jesus, we have freedom to live forever with Him in His kingdom which has no end. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.