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Today we give thanks for the Lutheran Reformation. We give thanks for the pure doctrine of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, who alone sets us free from sin, death, and the power of the devil.

In our Gospel this morning, our Lord preaches some beautiful words, words which should be a cause of rejoicing. “If you abide in my word,” He says, “you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth with set you free.”

But rather than rejoicing in those words, many Jews who had once believed in Him were sadly beginning to fall away. They pridefully answered Jesus, “We’re offspring of Abraham, and we have never been enslaved to anyone.”

In other words, “Jesus, what are you talking about, we’ve got Abraham on our side, and we’re not slaves—we’ve never been enslaved to anyone!” It’s really a remarkable statement when you think about it. You don’t have be a Bible scholar to recall that the Jewish people had been slaves in Egypt and under the Philistines. They had been slaves under the Babylonians, the Persians, and the Syrians. In fact, at the very moment they declared they’d never been in bondage to anyone, a Roman garrison was looking down from the castle into the very temple courts where they spoke.

The statement that they’d never been enslaved simply wasn’t true. So how self-deceptive they were about their situation, and who they were.

The Jews went on, “So Jesus, how is it that You say we will be free?” Basically, we’re free already. We’re all good. We don’t need all this, they thought!

But then Jesus shows them the stakes: “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.” And then He adds the good news, “The slave doesn’t remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”

Sadly their reaction wasn’t “Wow this is wonderful! Tell us more about what it means to be free by trusting in Your word.” Instead, as they heard more about the power of sin and the devil’s stranglehold on their lives, they became more enraged. But what set them off the most was ultimately the Gospel itself. They were too good for that, too proud, too righteous in themselves for that. By the time our Lord finished his sermon to them, they grinded their teeth in anger and picked up stones to stone Him.  

How can we make sense of all this? Well, I think there’s a lot of wisdom in hearing this particular Gospel today, on Reformation Day. Because those Reformation truths—grace alone, faith, and Christ alone—really all hinge on what we say first about sin, or more importantly, what Christ says about sin. Is sin simply some defect or moral failing? Or is it something deeper and more severe?

Jesus put it this way in our Gospel this morning: “Everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.” Plain and simple. We said it just a few weeks ago at Alexander’s baptism. We’re all under the bondage of sin, death, and the devil until Christ claims us as His own.

But folks just don’t want to believe that. The Jews didn’t like it, that’s why they became so enraged in our Gospel today. The Roman Catholics and the Pope sure didn’t like it either, that’s why there was a bounty on Luther’s head. And the Old Adam in each and every one of us sure doesn’t like it either. And why not? No one wants to believe he is a slave. That he is completely helpless. Who wants to admit that he is in bondage to sin? It damages our pride. It’s humiliating. Better to deny what ought to be obvious, so just like those stubborn Jews, we cry out, “Come on Jesus, we’ve never been enslaved to anybody.” But the more we boast of our so-called personal freedom, the more our chains rattle.

Martin Luther had a simple way of putting it. He said that if you start with the presupposition of freedom, you’ll only end in bondage. But if you set off with the understanding that you are in bondage to sin, well then, that can only lead to freedom.

Remember the parable our Lord tells about a strong man, fully armed, guarding his palace and keeping all his goods safe? Well, that strong man is the devil. His palace, his kingdom, his goods, well, that’s you. You are his plunder.  

But then Jesus goes on, “But when one stronger than he attacks him [Jesus is talking about Himself here] and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides the spoil.” That’s about you, folks. Rescued and freed by Christ, the stronger man.

You see, Satan, as the prince of this world, never lets go of what he considers his own unless he is overpowered by one stronger than himelf, and it’s surely not you doing the overpowering! That can only be Christ.  

Any close reading of the Scriptures really brings this all home. No human being can bring himself to God. Regarding salvation, there is no free will to save oneself. Salvation alone belongs to God.  

This is why we baptize little babies! This is why we don’t pressure folks to do altar calls and make a decision for Jesus! Instead, Jesus just gets His hands on us, by Baptism, and by His Word, and Spirit, and works for us and in us.

Start with freedom, you’ll only wind up in bondage. But start with bondage, then you’re dealing with the biblical reality. And when you begin with the biblical definition of sin, and the bound will, then one can begin to see just how incredible the Gospel is and just how glorious the freedom is that we have in Christ!

So don’t be like those Jews and every Adamic man since, claiming that you’ve never been enslaved to anyone. Don’t live in self-deception, thinking that your problem with sin is manageable and under control. Because it’s not! The Scriptures say, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. But if we confess our sins, God, who is faithful and just, will forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

So out with it. Say the truth. Confess your sins. Say, I have lived as if God did not matter and as if I mattered most. I’ve hurt those God has called me to love. I have harbored anger and resentment. I’ve given in to temptation and invited demons into my life. I’m enslaved by sin and I cannot free myself. Lord, help me!

Reformation Day is all about such repentance. The first of Luther’s 95 theses summarizes them all. When our Lord and master Jesus Christ said “Repent,” He willed that the entire life of believers be one of repentance. And repentance is simply being pointed back to Christ.  

And He is eager to save, eager to free you from the chains that bind. Your heavenly Father sent His Son to the prison-house of this world to pay our ransom price and to bail out poor backsliding sinners. His arms were stretched out and nailed to a cross for sins He didn’t commit. He saw you in bondage to sin, and so He allowed Himself to be treated worse than a slave, burdened with your shame, groaning and dying on the cross, to free you from Satan’s tyranny, enslavement to sin, and to credit you with His own glory.

Folks, you can’t break free or earn your entrance to the kingdom of heaven. But it is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Grace alone, faith alone, Scripture alone. That’s the Gospel preached by Jesus, taught by Paul, and plucked out of the scrap heap by Luther.

Everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin, but all who believe that their sins have been laid on Jesus and atoned for are no longer slaves but free sons of a merciful God! Folks, there’s nothing like the freedom we have in Christ. No money can buy it, no status can obtain it, no works can earn it, and nothing can match it!

So live in this freedom. Walk in your Baptism, living not for yourself for but for your neighbor. Taste this wonderful freedom from the chalice of Christ’s love, which has been shed and poured out for you. Be filled with godly desires, godly ways, and godly ways of thinking. For Christ has given you new life, freedom, and a happy and joyful future. In the name of Jesus. Amen.

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