By Pastor Dean Haferman
To the Jews who had believed Him, Jesus said, “If you hold to My teaching, you are truly My disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
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?”
Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”
Grace be unto you and peace, from God our Father, and our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.
A park ranger by the name of Jim Elliott was once caught in a blizzard high in the Rocky Mountains. As a result of the storm he became lost. It was only by the grace of God that he eventually saw a cabin, and crawling to the door with his last ounce of strength, he found it unlocked and crawled in. But being dazed and near exhaustion as he was, he didn’t light a fire or take off his wet clothing.
Instead he laid on the floor sinking into oblivion. And there he would have stayed and died, – but for his St. Bernard dog that came into the cabin after him. He saw his master lying on the floor, and came to arouse Jim from his near comatose state. The ranger later said that it was the dog that had saved his life, – the dog that had licked his face until he awoke and started a fire in the fireplace, and made him realize how desperate his situation was. Jim said, when interviewed: “When you’re freezing to death, you actually feel warm all over, and don’t want to wake up, because it feels so good.”
It occurs to me today that there are some people who are in a similar spiritual state of mind as well. They don’t realize the state of sin they are in. Everything seems so good. They don’t want to wake up. They don’t see their need for Christ. They feel they are really handling their salvation pretty well by themselves.
But as Paul says, all boasting is excluded on the basis that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God and can be justified only by God’s free gift of grace in Christ Jesus.” It is only through faith in Christ Jesus that we can be set free from sin, death and the power of the devil. But many are still numb and oblivious to this truth.
Today is Reformation Sunday. It is the day we as Lutherans remember the beginning of the Re-formation of the Christian Church as its central Gospel message was re-discovered by Martin Luther.
Luther’s personal quest and spiritual journey had led him to try all the many religious attempts recommended by his church leaders and spiritual advisors. None of them worked. All of the self-punishment actions failed, – of denial of food, comfort, warmth, sleep, flogging, and endless hours in the confessional. All was under the law.
And then his mentor decided to send him to teach at the newly formed university at Wittenberg. There he had to get into the Bible in depth, to study it for himself in preparing to teach it to his students. And it was in the Scriptures alone that he found his answers, – in Jesus and His sacrifice on the Cross. There he found the difference in knowing about God, – and in Knowing God Personally.
THERE IS A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN KNOWING ABOUT GOD – AND KNOWING GOD PERSONALLY. This is the truth we need to see this Reformation Sunday.
This is what Martin Luther discovered for himself personally.
In our Gospel lesson for today, there is a parallel between v. 31 and v. 37, where both are concerned about a relationship with “My Word”. A difference is implied between relating to Jesus’ Word, – as a slave — something one is forced to do, – – – like the Jewish response to keeping the letter of the Law, – – –
– – – or as a child — as a loving response to the love received through Jesus and His Word.
John 8:31-32: Then Jesus said to those Jews which believed on Him, “If ye continue in My Word, then you are My disciples indeed; – and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”
“The Truth” is defined as -“what is firm or sure, and thus reliable”, e.g., a “true” friend = one who is reliable, genuine, trustworthy.”
I remember the words “the truth shall make you free.” They were chiseled in stone above the entrance to a building at the Univ. of California in Berkeley. I had some classes there, and recall a philosophy professor once referred to them as the truth he was teaching. Somehow in his logic, – by taking his class, – we would all become free.
– – – – I don’t think so.
Jesus was not only speaking of the truth He was teaching, but that His truth would be the source of our freedom from sin and death. And He is that Truth!
It is from His sacrifice on the Cross for our sins that we are in fact truly set free, – and liberated from ourselves and our sinful nature. Recall Jesus’ own words: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father but by Me.” (14:6)
“My Word” as Jesus uses it here refers to His own words and teachings, – His statements He has spoken, as well as being a direct revelation of Himself as God to man.
It refers also to the logic and reasoning behind what Jesus taught and preached.
Part of Jesus’ logic in the following verses is that one’s “father” is known by one’s actions. (vv. 39-47) Those who claim to have Abraham or the one true God as Father, need to act in ways similar to Abraham or God. When they don’t, their words are a lie.
It is also in John’ Gospel, where Jesus indicates that “the world will know that we are His disciples (children of God) by the way we love one another.” (13:35)
In contrast, the Jewish logic in our text centers on the biological connection between Abraham and themselves (v. 33) and their orthodox confession in one God. One’s actions may be as slaves, – or as free children.
This is the only place in John where the word group “free, to free, and to be free,” is used. It can also refer to the word “Liberty”, which we have used so much in our nation’s history. The word implies that one is no longer dominated by something or someone — one is not a slave.
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What dominates the unfree, – those without liberty? In typical fashion, the Jews misunderstand what Jesus is talking about. They understand it only in the political realm: “We have never been in bondage to anyone,” they respond. They don’t need to be set free.
(As I recall Jewish history, however, there was that lengthy time of bondage in Egypt, and 70 years in Captivity in Babylon.) – – – I think that many Americans would have a similar reply to the need to be set free: – – – “We are already free!”
On the other hand, Jesus seems to imply that we are dominated in some way by sin, – – but is it just sin that has us in its grip?
In our Epistle lesson in Romans 3:19-28 we read:
“Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in His sight by observing the law; – rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.
But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, – and are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in His blood….  For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.”
As Martin Luther put it, – we are justified according to the Scriptures Alone, – by Grace Alone, – through Faith Alone, – in Christ Alone.
And it is only by the power of the Holy Spirit that Jesus’ Victory becomes our Victory, and we can enjoy the Liberty and Freedom the Cross makes possible.
In Romans 8:1 St. Paul did not say to you, “Think how it would be if there were no condemnation”; à he has said, “There is therefore now no condemnation!” He had made an unconditional statement and promise, not a conditional one — a flat assertion, not a conditional one.
He has not said, “God has done this and that and the other thing, and if, by dint of imagination, you can manage to put them all together, you may be able to experience a little solace in the prison of your days.” No, He has simply said, “You are free. Your works are no longer required. The salt mine has been closed.”
It is essential that you see this clearly. The Apostle is saying that you, and Paul, and I have been sprung, – released from sin. Right now; not next week, or at the end of the world. And unconditionally, with no probation officer to report to.
But that means that we have finally come face to face with the one question that has been lurking all along: What would you do with freedom if you had it? Only now it is posed to you not in the subjunctive but in the indicative tense: “You ARE free! What do you plan to do with your freedom?”
The story is told of a man who lived in England several hundred years ago. He was accused of crimes he did not commit.
All through his trial, he stayed totally calm, – not at all worried about the outcome. The reason for his peaceful attitude was that before the trial he had previously pleaded his case to the King of England, who gave him a full pardon should he be found guilty by the court. So the man sat calmly in court with the king’s written pardon in his pocket.
Our situation is similar, but with one big difference — we are actually guilty! The Bible says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) But we have pleaded our case before the King of kings, – and because of His great love and sacrifice on our behalf, He has mercifully declared us “not guilty,” – justified (just-as-I’d-never-sinned) before Him.
“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.” (Romans 5:1-2)
As we live out our days on this earth, we have “a pardon in our pocket,” so to speak. Because of what our Lord Jesus Christ did on the cross, we have peace with God, forgiveness of sins, and assurance of eternal life with Him.
But it is even better than that. The man in England only had a pardon from the king in his pocket. In our case, miracle of miracles, the King has decided to come and live with us and in us!
“Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)
This wonderful King has decided to dwell in us and live His life through us, as we yield to His control. What incredible mercy! That is why Paul wrote, “I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God, – – this is your spiritual act of worship.” (Romans 12:1)
Jesus makes us truly FREE. Liberated. And at peace and in harmony with Him.
It is His Covenant of Grace by which we enjoy our Liberty, – and know Jesus personally.
In the OT lesson, Jeremiah 31:31-34, God says through His prophet:
“The time is coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new Covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord.
“This is the Covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,” declares theLord. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God, and they will be My people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the Lord. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”
I have this vision of God’s finger writing His Law, – and His Covenant with me, – on the tablets of my heart; -this sense of God endowing my every molecule with a trace of Himself. God’s Covenant of Grace is written on my blood cells, on every neuron, on each shaft of hair. God’s intimacy on each breath. God’s knowing of me and His knowing of each one of us and our knowing of Him in an intimacy so profound it is beyond the “knowing” of a parent of the small body of their child. It is an infinity of communion. It is knowing God personally.
When I begin to rhapsodize like this, I feel I am on the edge of “knowing” something that will forever alter my perception of who I am. God has done this before with me. Here in this passage of Jeremiah is a hint of what is to come.
In this promise to us is the feast of transformation, the power and potential of being re-formed, – transfigured. Here, under the veil of God’s Covenant language, is the shadow of the sacrifice of the Cross and the Resurrection. This is how much He loves me – before I call, before I think I need Him – – – long before, – He has planned for it. Reformation Sunday is not just a day to remember Martin Luther’s historical event 489 years ago.
It is a Re-formation for us here today. God is reforming His relationship with each of us. He is making Himself available to us in a personal and intimate way, by in-dwelling or living within us by the power of His Holy Spirit.
The loving heavenly Father carves His Word and His promises in my very flesh, – brands me as His own, – and dares me to look at Him, – and to love Him. In a personal and intimate fellowship with Him. For all time. For now, in my sisters and brothers. For later. For always. Blessed be God forever! PTL!
Copyright 2008, Dean Haferman. Used by permission.