October 25, 2009

John 8:31-36 (Reformation Sunday—Series B)

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

October 25, 2009

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Our text for this morning is the Gospel Reading from John 8:

Therefore Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in Him, “If you should remain in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  They answered him, “We are Abraham’s seed, and we have been enslaved to no one ever.  How can you say, “We will become free.”  Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, that everyone who practices sin is a slave of sin.  A slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever.  Therefore if the son should set you free, you actually will be free.

“Bring in the next bunch for my inspection!” shouted the overlord.  A group of people was led into the large, dark, and damp room.  The odor of sulfur, the scent of rotten eggs, permeated the air.  The people were brought in with shackles and chains of iron fastened around their necks, wrists, legs, and ankles.  Their demonic guards escorted these people—infants and the elderly, children and young adults, teenagers and middle agers—into this dank stone room to stand before their masters.

This might be the beginning of a great Hollywood horror film, ready to be released in time for Halloween.  But it’s not fiction.  It’s not a made-up story of movie fantasy.  It’s a horrible, terrible, sickening reality of human existence.  People are held as slaves in the strong chains of sin and death by a threefold task master who holds us captive: the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh.

“Just look at them,” sneered the devil.  “All helpless and hopeless, cowering like scarred little dogs under the bed.”

The world laughed, “Oh such fools!  Such fools!  How easy it is to entice them into my traps.  How easy it is to get them to do the things I want them to do—steal, lie, murder, covet, and hate.  They are powerless against me.”

“I so much enjoy tempting them to lust after those things that cannot satisfy them and that soon perish,” snickered the flesh.  “Losing what they think is so valuable and precious is just as good as watching them loose their life into death forever.”

“Yes!” shouted the devil.  “Yes, sweet and powerful death keeps people in fear.  Fear is our ally.  Fear helps us to control them and keep them in the bonds of their sin and wickedness before a God who loathes sin and hates everything to do with their evil.”

The flesh suddenly remarked with a smile on his face, “Ah, yes.  Sinners in the hands of an angry God!  Sinners condemned to death!  Our slaves, our captives, such a wonderful victory we have!

“They are all subject to corruption,” boomed the world.  “All of God’s precious creation is in decay, especially these people who we control with the power of sin and the fear of death.”

The devil roared, “Bring in the next group.  Let’s see more of our slaves!”

Satan is an oppressive slave driver, forcing us further from God.  The world draws us deeper into slavery, enticing us with its fleeting and perishable goods and feelings.  Our sinful flesh wars against us, tempting us for the things that only give pleasure here and now.  All three hold us captive with our sinfulness.  And all three lead us to death.  They control us using the intense fear that God is against us and that only death awaits us in the prison house of hell so we had better do as these evil masters require.  We are their slaves.  We have no choice.  Each body and soul—a prisoner of sin and death.

Doesn’t sound like a whole lot of freedom to me.  What about to you?  Bondage is not freedom.  Slavery to devil, world, and flesh is not liberty.  You cannot do what you want—you can only do, think, say, and desire what the masters would have you do, think, say, and desire, all of which is evil; all of which is sinful; all of which leads to death.  That is not freedom.  Martin Luther, who began the Reformation of the Church with the nailing of the 95 Theses on the castle church door in Wittenberg on October 31, 1517 commented in 1525 in his The Bondage of the Will, “To give the name of freedom to something that has no freedom is to apply to it a term that is empty of meaning.  Away with such freaks of language!”  Therefore, people are not by nature, in and of themselves, free from the bondage to sin and death.  They are held captive by the devil, the world, and the flesh.

What people need is a great emancipator.  What you and I need is someone to purchase our freedom!  Do you want to spend eternity with these horrible task masters?  Do you want to remain in the power of sin and death; in bondage to destruction?  Of course not!  We want freedom from sin!  We need freedom from death!  We don’t want to be slaves belonging to the devil, the world, and our flesh!

What we want, only God can make possible.  There is going to be no prison break which happens on account of our ingenuity.  There’s going to be no slave uprising to win freedom because we slaves are too powerless to win against our taskmasters, to overcome the chains of sin and death.  No, if there is going to be freedom it is going to come from God or from no one.

Listen to Jesus Christ, God’s Son in our text, “Truly, truly I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave of sin.  A slave does not remain in the house forever; the Son remains forever.  Therefore, if the Son should set you free, you will actually be free.”  God’s Son, the Son, has set us free.  We have Jesus’ very words of promise that if God’s Son should do this great thing for us, the result is going to be real, true, actual freedom—Freedom from the devil, the world, our sinful flesh; freedom from the chains of sin and the power of death!

But oh the cost!  So great is the price of this real freedom from such evil masters!  So great is the price tag to be truly free from our sins and from the power of death itself!  You know the price.  Jesus gave up His life.  He died on the cross for you.  Jesus shed His holy, innocent blood for you.  The eternally valuable blood of Jesus Christ, the priceless perfection of His obedience in life and in death, the precious treasury of His merit on the cross was full payment to buy freedom for you and for the entire world.  The Son of God has set you free from your sins—you are forgiven.  The Son of God has rescued you and given you freedom from death—death has lost its sting; it cannot rule over you.  Because Jesus lives, you will live also.  You are no longer slaves of the devil, the world, and your flesh.  You are truly free with a new life.  You are free with a life that is centered in Christ Jesus, a life filled with the power of His Spirit so that you now abide in Jesus’ Word and believe the truth of His death and resurrection for the forgiveness of your sins.  By grace through faith, the truth of this Word, this Gospel, has made you free in Christ Jesus.

What does Paul say in Galatians 5:1?  “For freedom Christ has set us free!”  Freedom from slavery, liberty from the slave masters of the flesh, the world, and the devil, and liberation from sin and death’s power is what Christ’s work of salvation was all about!  Remember Luther’s Explanation of the Second Article of the Apostles’ Creed from your Confirmation days?  “I believe that Jesus Christ . . . has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death,”  We have been set free!  But for what purpose?  The Son has set us free indeed, but what comes next?  Luther continues, “. . . that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity.  This is most certainly true.”

It’s true that Jesus Christ has won our forgiveness and eternal life.  It is true that Jesus has rescued us from the power of Satan, sin, and death.  It is true that we have real freedom in Christ by grace through faith.  The “what’s next” is how we live under Christ’s freedom with the new lives He has given to us.

First, what we don’t do.  We do not use our freedom in Christ as an opportunity for sin to regain control.  There shall be none of this attitude, “Well, I’m forgiven.  I can do what I want and Jesus will take care of it later.”  That cheapens God’s grace.  To think that and to live out your life that way is simply placing the chains of sin and death back on your wrists, completely rejecting the forgiveness, new life, and freedom Jesus won for you on the cross.  No, Christians are called to freedom, not to return to live under the bondage of sin, but to serve one another through love. (Gal. 5:13)

You and I are called to a life in which we remain in God’s Word and to a life which lives out our faith and calling in Christ to be His disciples.  Living in Christ’s freedom is so much more than simply coming to worship, or Bible class, or Sunday School.  Living in the freedom of sins forgiven, we love and serve people as Christ loved and served us.  We give of ourselves to help our neighbor in his or her need.  We share our time.  We freely give of the Lord’s treasure which He has entrusted to us.  And above all, we share the Good News.  It’s the Gospel of Jesus Christ that is the power of God unto salvation.  People in your neighborhood, in your school, in your workplaces don’t all know Jesus Christ by faith.  They are still held prisoner by their sins.  They are still captive to the power of death.  They are slaves of the devil, the world, and their own flesh.  It is the Gospel that alone can set them free.  They need to know that Jesus is the Savior.  They need to be rescued as they receive faith in Jesus by the working of the Holy Spirit, using the Gospel message that you must proclaim.  It’s a must!  There is no freedom without Jesus Christ.  There is only slavery and death.  For freedom, Christ has set you free so that you can share His gift of freedom from sin and death with others.

This story was posted on our Synod’s website last Sunday.  So you can hear about someone just like you sharing the freedom of Jesus, I conclude with the words of Patricia Marks, a registered nurse from Cary, IL:

I am a registered nurse and I take care of patients with cancer.  A couple of years ago I started caring for a man with prostate cancer.  I’ll call him “Dan”.  Dan was a homosexual and had a partner.  I got to know both of them very well over the two years before he died.  Early on, I did not talk to him about Jesus. I  just worked on developing our friendship.  However, each time I took care of him, I told him that I was praying for him.  I never felt that I needed to address the issue of homosexuality.  In fact, I felt the Lord telling me that it was not important at this point.  I was able to see Dan shortly before he died, and the Holy Spirit urged me to talk to him about Jesus.  Dan came into my office crying.  He said that he knew he was dying.  I asked him what he believed spiritually.  He said that he never liked religion.  I told Dan that true Christianity is about a relationship with Jesus, our Savior.  I told him that all he needed to do was believe and ask Jesus to help him.  He nodded yes as he sobbed into my shoulder.  He died shortly after that.

The Lord affirmed that Dan had received Jesus as his Lord and Savior in an amazing way. About a month after Dan died, I was in the car driving home when I asked the Lord for a sign that I could be certain that Dan was in heaven.  I reminded the Lord that those who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved.  That moment, a woman was talking on a Christian radio station that she had witnessed to her dying uncle, telling him to just ask Jesus for help.  He did just that with his dying breath.  The woman then said, “And you know that those who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved.”  I was flooded with peace and I knew then that my friend is in heaven with his Savior.  God is so good!