The Feast of the Reformation, 25 October 2015
John 8:31-36
Luther Memorial Chapel and University Student Center—Shorewood, WI
The Rev. Jason D. Lane


GRACE, MERCY, AND PEACE FROM GOD OUR HEAVENLY FATHER, AND FROM OUR LORD AND SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST. The text is the Gospel lesson from John 8:31-36.


31] JESUS, THEREFORE, CONTINUED TO SPEAK WITH THOSE JEWS WHO HAD BELIEVED IN HIM: “IF YOU REMAIN IN MY WORD, YOU ARE TRULY MY DISCIPLES, [32] AND YOU WILL KNOW THE TRUTH AND THE TRUTH WILL SET YOU FREE.” [33] THEY SAID TO HIM: “WE’RE THE SEED OF ABRAHAM AND WE’VE NEVER BEEN ENSLAVED TO ANYBODY. HOW IS IT YOU SAY ‘WE’LL BE SET FREE?’” [34] JESUS ANSWERED THEM, “I TELL YOU TRULY: ANYBODY WHO COMMITS SIN IS A SLAVE TO SIN. [35] AND THE SLAVE DOES NOT REMAIN IN THE HOUSE FOREVER, BUT THE SON REMAINS FOREVER. [36] THEREFORE, IF THE SON SETS YOU FREE, YOU WILL ACTUALLY BE FREE.


There’s a tragic verse here that’s meant to sting. No, more than that, it’s meant to make us weep and to split our hearts wide open. It’s meant for us to pity the hard-hearted and to make us knock hard on our own heart, to see just how hard we’ve become. The phrase is subtle, and if we’re not paying attention we’ll pass right by it without a thought: verse 31 it says, JESUS CONTINUED TO SPEAK WITH THOSE JEWS WHO HAD BELIEVED IN HIM… They were the Jews who heard the Word of Christ and THEY HAD BELIEVED. They were the early followers of Jesus in His ministry. They were the church.

The Feast of the Reformation, 25 October 2015
John 8:31-36
Luther Memorial Chapel and University Student Center—Shorewood, WI
The Rev. Jason D. Lane


GRACE, MERCY, AND PEACE FROM GOD OUR HEAVENLY FATHER, AND FROM OUR LORD AND SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST. The text is the Gospel lesson from John 8:31-36.


31] JESUS, THEREFORE, CONTINUED TO SPEAK WITH THOSE JEWS WHO HAD BELIEVED IN HIM: “IF YOU REMAIN IN MY WORD, YOU ARE TRULY MY DISCIPLES, [32] AND YOU WILL KNOW THE TRUTH AND THE TRUTH WILL SET YOU FREE.” [33] THEY SAID TO HIM: “WE’RE THE SEED OF ABRAHAM AND WE’VE NEVER BEEN ENSLAVED TO ANYBODY. HOW IS IT YOU SAY ‘WE’LL BE SET FREE?’” [34] JESUS ANSWERED THEM, “I TELL YOU TRULY: ANYBODY WHO COMMITS SIN IS A SLAVE TO SIN. [35] AND THE SLAVE DOES NOT REMAIN IN THE HOUSE FOREVER, BUT THE SON REMAINS FOREVER. [36] THEREFORE, IF THE SON SETS YOU FREE, YOU WILL ACTUALLY BE FREE.


There’s a tragic verse here that’s meant to sting. No, more than that, it’s meant to make us weep and to split our hearts wide open. It’s meant for us to pity the hard-hearted and to make us knock hard on our own heart, to see just how hard we’ve become. The phrase is subtle, and if we’re not paying attention we’ll pass right by it without a thought: verse 31 it says, JESUS CONTINUED TO SPEAK WITH THOSE JEWS WHO HAD BELIEVED IN HIM… They were the Jews who heard the Word of Christ and THEY HAD BELIEVED. They were the early followers of Jesus in His ministry. They were the church.

And the church throughout the world and throughout time has been dealing with bouts of hard hearts. They were crystalized in their own piety to God and satisfied with their prominent place near Christ. Why did those Jews come? Why do people come now? Maybe they followed Him because they saw the miracles and they wanted a Bread King. Maybe they thought Jesus could get them what they wanted, whatever that is—cash, clout, or comfortable living. I don’t know why everyone comes to Jesus. I don’t know everyone’s heart. But the text says, “THEY HAD BELIEVED.” They had faith, however small and however weak. But we see here what happens to their faith. They were the soil on the rock, that caught the seed; they heard the word and they sprung up quickly, but then their tiny roots hit an offensive rock, a stone for stumbling, who said,  “IF YOU REMAIN IN MY WORD, YOU ARE TRULY MY DISCIPLES, [32] AND YOU WILL KNOW THE TRUTH AND THE TRUTH WILL SET YOU FREE.”


The bright light of God’s holy Word, that set’s sinners free, poured down on them, and rather than given them life, it scorched them. THEY SAID TO HIM: “WE’RE THE SEED OF ABRAHAM AND WE’VE NEVER BEEN ENSLAVED TO ANYBODY. HOW IS IT YOU SAY ‘WE’LL BE SET FREE?’”


It’s the word of the Gospel that made them stumble, because the Gospel implies they needed it desperately. That’s the way it often goes with the Gospel. Some who feel too sinful, too unworthy to receive it. “No,” they say, “I’m too awful. Sin has me at my core. Even my good works are FILTHY RAGS.” They can’t imagine God could take them, not like this. That was Luther, beating himself and starving himself, because God couldn’t just cleanse him of sin, could He? But there are few in our day who take sin that seriously. Few that listen to God’s voice in the Law, and crumble in terror of the sin and God’s holiness.


Usually people are lot more like these proud followers of Christ, too worthy, too hard-hearted to believe they need Him. They were too righteous in themselves to receive a righteousness apart from themselves, apart from their works, apart from their own will, or apart from their own flesh. It’s not that being set free isn’t a good thing, it’s just that they didn’t need it. If they were enslaved, that would be a wonderfully thing, of course, but as it is, they said “WE’RE THE SEED OF ABRAHAM, AND WE’VE NEVER BEEN ENSLAVED TO ANYBODY.” Who were they kidding? You might be thinking of Egypt or Babylon. And you’d be right.


But Jesus says, v. 34, “I TELL YOU TRULY: ANYBODY WHO COMMITS SIN IS A SLAVE TO SIN. And ever since Adam fell, this whole world has been filled with people enslaved to sin, because, as we just heard in the epistle, ALL HAVE SINNED AND FALLEN SHORT OF THE GLORY OF GOD. It’s not just that we sin; the real problem is that we keep on doing it. It’s an addiction, and addiction is slavery, because no matter how hard you try you can’t stop, even as you hurt those close to you and you use the One who loves you most. It’s being enslaved.


And when you’re born with the addiction the way we are, it only takes a sip, a drag, a pill, a shot, just one more sin...and its got us in its grips. But like a lot of addicts, people try to fool you and fool themselves into thinking they’ve got things under control—even as our arteries harden up like the Jews in our text.

 

But you see they weren’t denying that they were sinners, it’s just that they refused to admit they had an addiction. People will tell you now: “Nobody’s perfect.” Or “Hey, we all make mistakes.” But that’s just another way of saying sin isn’t really a problem. And it’s what people who work with addictions call denial. It’s a hardening that’s infected the church from Adam down to the present day.


The addict who thinks he can dabble in drugs is only fooling himself. And the sinner who thinks he can dabble in sin—gossiping, stealing, sleeping around, laziness, whatever—he’s only fooling himself.  Christ says, ANYBODY WHO COMMITS SIN IS A SLAVE TO SIN, AND THE SLAVE WILL NOT REMAIN IN THE HOUSE FOREVER. Whoever keeps on sinning WILL BE CAST OUT INTO EVERLASTING FIRE. He means that Judgment Day is coming, and either we are in bondage and treated as slaves, or else we’re in Christ and welcomed as sons.

 

The warning is the start of reform. He warns us, because He loves us and HE DOESN’T WANT ANYONE TO PERISH in their sins. The first order of a Reformation is that sinners see their sins and see that just one sin is enough for addicts like us to become enslaved. It’s sobering: ANYBODY WHO COMMITS A SIN IS A SLAVE TO SIN.

 

That revealing Law strips the facade that we’ve put on to cover the sickness within; the Holy Spirit cracks the hard shell. Everyone of us wants to get the addiction under control. Every Christian wants to look and act normal for once, and do something without this war inside us. I say, “THE GOOD THAT I WANT TO DO, I DON’T DO; BUT THE THING I HATE, THAT I DO.”

 

So fine, first things first: let’s stop pretending that sin doesn’t make us slaves. We can’t go on pretending that we can manage it alone, as if there’s something we can do to control the addiction.  There’s no 10 step, 12 step, or 100 step program. The only hope we’ve got to get out of this enslavement alive is the intervention of Jesus Christ.


These Jews and the church 500 years ago believed in Christ, but not because they saw their sin and desperately needed His righteousness alone, but because they thought He’d appreciate their effort. And then came an Augustinian friar who found out in God’s Word the truth about himself, and how enslaved he was to sin, and he couldn’t imagine God forgiving him. He prayed and he fasted and whipped himself to beat back the flesh, but it still wasn’t enough. Luther recalls, “I didn’t love God; I hated Him.” He hated a god who would bring forth humans, born in sin, demand that they do what they can’t do, and then damn them for not doing it. He was despairing of His own righteousness, which is good, but he couldn’t hear any promise of forgiveness. He said, “I know God forgives; He just doesn’t forgive me!” And we would have all been lost, either hard of hearing the Law or only hearing the Law, had not the gracious promises of God in Christ broken through.


But look, Beloved, God has caused His eternal Gospel to sound forth to the ends of the earth. And Christ who takes away the sin of the world is here now, with His Word that has the power TO SET YOU FREE, you personally. Whatever sins you’ve been in denial about, whatever sins you’ve been living with and hoping that nobody’s going to find out, whatever sins have got you trapped, Christ Jesus has come to intervene for you. 


He says, vv. 31, “IF YOU REMAIN IN MY WORD, YOU ARE TRULY MY DISCIPLES.” And that’s not a conditional statement. That’s an offer, because His Word alone, His Holy Gospel alone has the power to save you. IF YOU REMAIN IN MY WORD, He says, YOU ARE TRULY MY DISCIPLES. Why? Because we’re so dedicated? No. It’s because His Word is the rehab clinic, and it’s the only antidote to counteract the poison we’ve been fed.


IF YOU REMAIN IN MY WORD, YOU WILL KNOW THE TRUTH AND THE TRUTH WILL SET YOU FREE. And He’s not talking about some truth out there, or some sort of program you and I have got to do to get well. The Truth that’s going to set us free is Jesus Christ Himself. “I AM THE WAY out. I AM THE TRUTH that’s going to set you free with My own blood. I AM THE LIFE back from the dead to raise you up. I AM YOUR DELIVERER,” says the LORD.


Christ Jesus bore our sins on His body. God’s only Son, who knew no addiction, no sin, BECAME SIN FOR US. God the Father put our sins on Him. Why? So we can go on being slaves to the Law and sin? No. It’s so that we’d hear the Good News that the chains are broken, and that we’re free at last, THAT WE MIGHT no longer be slaves but SONS OF GOD. It’s why He baptizes sinners. He makes slaves of sin real SONS OF GOD.


But even though we’re called SONS OF GOD in Christ, we’ve still got this problem. He says: IF THE SON SETS YOU FREE, YOU WILL ACTUALLY BE FREE, and, yes, He is most certainly the TRUTH that WILL SET US FREE. But notice, that’s in the future tense. THE TRUTH WILL SET us FREE. THE SON WILL SET us FREE.


I know that HE’S REMOVED my SIN AS FAR AS THE EAST IS FROM THE WEST, but what about this sin that still clings? Every time we sin we’re back in slavery, and I’m an addict. Christ says: REMAIN IN MY WORD. But how often do I wander and how often do we neglect to hear Him as HE LONGS TO GATHER US where it’s safe?

 

Here’s we are now: as long as we live in this mortal body we’re still going to sin and we’re still going to feel the chains on us. But, you see, that’s why Christ says: THE SLAVE DOES NOT REMAIN FOREVER, because you’re Baptism is at work, and the GOOD WORK THAT God STARTED THERE, HE’LL BRING TO COMPLETION ON THE LAST DAY. He says: THE SLAVE DOES NOT REMAIN FOREVER, because through Holy Baptism, through Holy Absolution and through His Holy body and blood, Christ is putting that slave in us to death, with all its evil desires. THE SLAVE DOES NOT REMAIN FOREVER, BUT the SON DOES. Christ in us REMAINS FOREVER. And now that we’re His, the old nature’s days are numbered!


By God’s grace, the Reformation has already begun here. And from the start of this Reformation to the end, until Christ returns or we go to Him, it’s REMAIN IN MY WORD. It’s always been REMAIN IN MY WORD, because His WORD IS A LAMP TO our FEET AND A LIGHT TO our PATH. In it, we have Christ who is the Truth to set us free and who LEADS US IN PATHS OF RIGHTEOUSNESS. And until we see Him, we keep praying: “O Lord, SANCTIFY US IN THE TRUTH, YOUR WORD IS TRUTH.” Amen.

Luther Memorial Chapel & University Student Center | 3833 N Maryland Ave | Shorewood, WI  53211
(414) 332-5732 |lmcusc@lmcusc.org

Divine Service: Sundays - 9:00a Mondays - 7:00p Bible Study & Sunday School: Sundays - 10:45a