31 To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
33 They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?”
34 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. 35 Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.John 8:31-36
On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Thesis to the church door in Wittenberg, Germany. The 95 Thesis was a reaction to the selling of indulgences among other things by the Roman Catholic Church. Indulgences were sold as a means by which to get out of a nonbiblical place called purgatory and thereby enter heaven sooner, in other words they were used to pay for sin with actual money. This action by Luther and the work of others sparked the Reformation bringing the gospel back into clear focus. Over the last few weeks, the Kingdom Kids have been making Luther Roses during their craft time. Luther used this rose to summarize what God’s Word tells us about the forgiveness of sins through Jesus. In the gospel reading today from John 8, you and I are reminded to remain in the true word of Jesus, and you will be free.
The Word of God must be the source for our hope for forgiveness. Martin Luther was very aware of his sins and need for forgiveness. His sins troubled him constantly and he despaired that God would ever spare him from judgment. Then, he was guided by a mentor to look into God’s Word more closely, which allowed Luther to see that forgiveness comes from God alone and not by human efforts. Luther used the symbol of a rose to summarize what God’s Word said about forgiveness. There are many aspects to Luther’s rose meant to teach us, but today I will highlight the five petals of the white rose. Each of the petals highlights an aspect of our forgiveness. First, we are saved by faith alone, by scripture alone, through Christ alone, by grace alone and to God’s glory alone. These five phrases show how only God is responsible for saving us from sin and making us his own. These then are a fine summary of what Jesus said in our reading from John 8, 31 To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.” The Greek word translated as teaching comes from the Greek word “λόγῳ,” and could also be translated as ‘word.’ Jesus said that holding to or remaining in his Word means you will be free from sin.
After he spoke these words, it became apparent that there was something standing in the way of freedom for those Jews who had believed in Jesus. There were Jews who believed Jesus was the promised Savior, but they did not like it when he used the term freedom to describe what he came to give them. 33 They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?” The Jews failed to see that Jesus was the Savior from sin. They were convinced that Jesus had come to rule the physical nation of Israel, but like Jesus said to Pontius Pilate later in John 18, 36 Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world.” The Jews who believed in Jesus here had only in mind an earthy rule for Jesus. They were offended that Jesus said that they were slaves as if Israel had never been enslaved by anyone, but it was true that Israel had been in slavery. Considering the physical kingdoms of this world, the Israelites had been slaves in Egypt, then of the Assyrians and Babylonians. Finally, Israel was under Roman rule at the time of Christ. More than that though, they were slaves to sin, as 34 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.” This slavery to sin was what the Jews could not deny and had no hope of freeing themselves from. It was also what they were blind to because they identified themselves as children of Abraham by physical descent rather than by faith, thinking that was all they needed to get into heaven.
If we find our identity in anything, but Christ, we are slaves to sin. In Galatians 3:6, we read, “So also Abraham ‘believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.’” The Jews who focused only on their physical descent from Abraham were just members of an earthly kingdom, which rose and fell out of power like any other kingdom, and spiritually were not righteous or good in God’s eyes leaving them condemned to eternity in hell. However, those Jews who believed in the promise of the Savior were true descendants of Abraham not just physically, but spiritually because they believed. Our reading from Romans 3 made it clear that with faith, we are free from slavery to sin and acceptable in God’s eyes by the unchanging, perfect, unlimited righteousness of Jesus, not our own. 20 “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin. 21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.” You must find your identity in Christ, otherwise you are just part of something earthly doomed to slavery and death, and not God’s kingdom of life. The only way to be part of God’s kingdom and have an identity in Christ is by faith in the righteousness God gives to you.
You face threats to keep you from remaining in God’s Word which reveals the righteousness from God all the time. Your sinful nature, the fallen world and the devil all work to drive you away from Christ because they are God’s enemies. They all want you to remain focused on anything but God’s Word and trust in Jesus as your Savior. They all want to enslave you as Jesus said. Today, you face enslavement or the pull to identify yourself with something other than Christ from all kinds of places. You may feel the pull from what you see someone wearing on Instagram, or the runway. You may feel the pull from seeing your friends or colleagues home filled with all the latest and greatest toys, amenities and technologies. You may feel the pull from the mommy’s group or blog you follow. You may feel the pull from your family to accept them for who they are or you may feel pulled to something harmful as an escape from reality or to get some attention because your broken, divorced, abusive family is not what you want to identify with. These are all examples of things that can pull you away from Christ, just like the Jews were pulled away from him by their trust in their physical ancestry from Abraham. Now, it’s not like it was a bad thing that the Jews were descended from Abraham, in fact it was a wonderful thing, but they had allowed it to become a sinful thing because it kept them from faith in Jesus. In the same way, there are things that are not inherently sinful keeping us from remaining in God’s Word, and certainly, there are things that are also bad that keep us from Christ. Anything then, good or bad when they consume, replace, take hold of us and pick us up out of time in God’s Word so that we do not remain in God’s Word, then those things become horrible, destructive, vile and deadly, eternally deadly things to us.
In love, God gave you the only way to keep from being enslaved to the world. 31 To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” There are many truths confessed by many people these days. Even the phrase “the truth will set you free,” has become a popular saying, but the only way the truth will set you free is if it is the right truth. You are able to keep yourself free from sin, the world and the devil using the things of this world to keep you from Christ by remaining in Jesus’ Word. Remaining in the Bible is the one place to find real, genuine and absolute truth. The truth is that we were slaves to sin, which separated us from God as Jesus said, 35 “Now a slave has no permanent place in the family.” Sin separated us from the family of God, from his kingdom. Jesus went on to give the only way to be a member of God’s kingdom, “but a son belongs to it forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” Jesus called you to be a member of his family, a member of God’s kingdom through his sacrifice on the cross and by faith.
Martin Luther took great comfort in the words of Psalm 46 when confronted by his sin as can you and I. The opening verse read, Psalm 46:1-3 “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.” The picture in the Psalm is of the world falling apart. The world itself is being ripped apart, but God is there. He is the place to remain in while all things fall apart. You must remain in God’s Word as Jesus said. There you are free from the world. Remaining in God’s Word means you can claim your identity in the unchanging, Almighty God. When the world tempts you to remain focused on fashion, finances, family, food, football, physical activity, put those blessings of God in their proper place by faith. Remain in God’s Word so that you can put your confidence in what God told the prophet Jeremiah, Jeremiah 31:34: “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” God alone can forgive, which means God alone can make you righteous, good and free from sin. Freedom from sin means freedom from eternal punishment in hell, it means eternal life in heaven and it means being able to live each day in this world with peace that cannot be taken from you.
The world cannot tell you to be something other than what Christ has declared you to be. What this means is that the broken, sinful people of this world and the devil who prowls around cannot say you are not love, free and forgiven by God in a way that means anything before the judgment throne of God. God has declared you free, and though others may lie to you and try to turn you from God, do not listen to them. Instead, remain in God’s Word. And, also when others try to keep you from remaining in the Word. Tell them about Jesus and what he has done for them. Tell someone about Jesus with excitement like someone who had tickets to the World Series. Tell someone the need to come and see this World Series, the battle fought between Jesus and sin, death and the devil to save the world. Tell them that they need to come and hear Jesus freed them, tell them he washes them clean from their sins through baptism. Tell them 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.
Luther fought with the Word of God against teachings that turned people from trust in Jesus. On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Thesis to the church door in Wittenberg, Germany in the hope that the gospel would once again be preached to all people. Luther and others sparked the Reformation and brought the gospel back into clear focus. We fight the same battle as Luther and many others. It is true that each generation must fight to remain in the Word of God, so that they do not get lost in the world or even lost thinking that just because they are on a church’s roster that they are saved. It is by faith alone, by scripture alone, through Christ alone, by grace alone and to God’s glory alone that you were freed from the slavery of sin and made a child of the Kingdom of God. Brothers and sisters in the one true faith, remain in the true word of Jesus and you will be free! Amen.