On this day, we as Lutherans naturally think about Martin Luther and the birthday of the Lutheran church. While these are valid things to celebrate on this day, if that is all we do, we will miss out. There is really a lot more to this day than Martin Luther and the birth of the Lutheran church.
It is a day for celebrating true freedom. In today's Gospel, 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." This is not political freedom or social freedom. It is the freedom that Christ gives. As the Apostle Paul wrote to the Galatians: [Galatians 5:1] "For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery." The message of the Scriptures uncovered by the Reformation is that by faith in Christ, before God we are free, saved by God the Father's grace for God the Son's sake through God the Holy Spirit's gift of faith. This is the true freedom. In Jesus, we are free from the guilt of our sin, free from the power of death to destroy us, and free to live for Jesus and for others.
This freedom is a gift from God. He creates it and sustains it in us. Today's Gospel is one of the many places in the Bible that tells us how He does this.
Jesus used the word abide in today's Gospel. It means remain, sit down in, rely on. Basically, if we do nothing, we abide. We just are.
You see, it is God who works faith in us and He does that through His Word. [Romans 10:17] Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. God not only creates faith in us through His word, but He also sustains that faith through the same Word. Faith always comes from the outside in. So, for faith to stay alive - not just strong or growing - but to stay alive, we must abide in the Word of God and the Word of God must abide in us.
The longer our faith in Jesus stays away from the Word, the weaker that faith becomes. Eventually, if faith is not nourished by the Word, it will die. The Word of God is the air faith breathes, and the fuel faith burns. Without the Word constantly nourishing and sustaining faith, our faith dies.
Jesus Himself quoted the Bible and said, [Matthew 4:4] "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God." The Holy Spirit spoke through the prophet Isaiah and said, [Isaiah 55:10-11] "For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. The Word of God is the fuel that keeps the church alive. That is why the Lutheran Church is the Church of the Bible.
So, how many of you regularly read your Bible?
I have to admit that I could read the Bible more myself.
Do you suppose the devil knows how powerful God's Word is - that [Hebrews 4:12] the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart? Of course, he knows that! That living Word of God is what Jesus Himself constantly used to defeat him. That's why the devil works so hard to keep people away from the Word. That's why he tries so hard to keep pastors from doing their best to bring the Word. That's why he works so hard to divide people from their pastors. Whatever it takes, the devil is constantly trying to get us away from the Word of God, because he knows that's where the freedom is. Without the Word of God, we are still slaves of sin.
So, what was the response of those people in today's Gospel who heard these words? "We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, 'You will become free'?" How could they say this? All they had to do was lift up their eyes and look out over the wall of the temple and see that Roman tower right next door to the temple grounds. On top of that Roman tower would be soldiers staring back at them - keeping an eye on everything that happened on the temple grounds - a constant reminder that if anything got out of hand, gentile Roman soldiers would quickly defile the temple and bring a peace that was enforced by the Roman sword. And that wasn't the half of it. Because they didn't see their need for the Word of God, they were in the worst kind of slavery - a slavery to sin.
Now, before we condemn those people in today's Gospel, have you ever heard anyone say something like, "I don't have to come to Bible class; I learned it all years ago in confirmation"? This is one of the devil's favorite tricks. He wants us to feel that we really don't need to know all that much of the Word of God. When we think we learned all we need to know years ago and have no more need to study the Word, as though God has nothing more to teach usówe are actually despising the Word of God.
When we hear a preacher and, like an audience at a movie, judge the sermon on how well it entertains us, instead of hungering and thirsting for a deeper understanding of the Word of God, we are despising that Word.
The devil also works at the opposite end of the spectrum. Sometimes we also hear people say, "The Bible is too hard to understand. Everything just goes over my head." This is another of the devil's favorite tricks. Here he schemes to make us feel that God's Word is only for great thinkers and scholars. He wants us to believe the lie that we are not smart enough to understand God's Word. The truth is that God's Word has something in it for everyone. It delights the young child and challenges the deepest theologian.
What is Jesus answer to the temple authorities and anyone else who thinks they don't need to study God's Word? Jesus answered them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever." Jesus words apply to all of us [Romans 3:23] for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. We are all slaves to sin.
What a comfort it is then to hear the words that end today's Gospel. The son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. The Son of God Himself is the truth that sets us free. He is the center of God's Word. The Scriptures are given to unfold for us the precious gifts God gives in Jesus, the Son of God in human flesh, crucified and raised from the dead for us. The Bible is all about Jesus and what the Father gives in him. It is his book, his words. His Spirit inspired it from the first words of Genesis to the last amen of Revelation. This book preaches into our hearts the truth that is Jesus, and it is this truth that kindles faith and keeps it alive.
And the truth that is Jesus is the truth heard from a cross, the true Word of forgiveness and of freedom. Jesus speaks it on every page. He alone can speak it, for he alone has carried the sin of the world - even the sin of not listening to him and not wanting to hear what he has to say. He has carried it all. It's all forgiven.
To know that truth, then, is to be set free from slavery: freed from our callous disregard of the Word, freed to listen, to love, to treasure, and to keep the Word.
This is why we have a special Reformation service. Not just to remember something that happened way back in the sixteenth century, but so that we can celebrate the freedom that Jesus the Son of God gives to us as God's Word tells us about His salvation.
We celebrate because, even though the devil constantly works to pull us away from God's Word, the Holy Spirit works to preserve that Word and will work through it to keep us in the one true faith in Jesus Christ.
We celebrate because the Holy Spirit will work within the Holy Christian Church to pull us back into the Word of God.
We celebrate so that we hear again the Son say to us today - "Go in peace, you are free!" We are free from sin and the power of death to destroy us - free from the condemnation of the Law - free to live joyfully as a child of God - free to live in God's heavenly house forever.
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." [Romans 10:17] Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. Freedom is ours as the Holy Spirit works through God's Word. Don't starve your soul. Abide in the Word of Jesus Christ. Only His Word brings freedom and life. Only through His Word does the Son set us free and if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed." Amen.
+ + +
Much of this sermon was taken from a sermon by Rev. Herbert C. Mueller Jr., entitled "Freedom!" Concordia Pulpit Resources Volume 18, Part 4, Series A; August 24-November 23, 2008
Please quote from my sermons freely. I expect people to copy my sermons or I wouldn't put them on a site like this. I only ask that you quote accurately if you attribute anything to me.
Should you decide to contact me, I would be very interested in knowing where you are. Please include the name of your city, state or province, and country when contacting me.
Send James T. Batchelor an email.