John 8:31-36 (Reformation Day—Observed)
“The Son Has Set You Free”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
October 30, 2016
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Gospel reading for Reformation, from John 8:
31Therefore, Jesus said to the Jews who were believing in Him, “If you remain in My word, you are truly my disciples 32and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 33They answered Him, “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How can you say, ‘You will become free?’” 34Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly I say to you, everyone who sins is a slave of sin. 35The slave does not remain in the house forever; the Son remains forever. 36Therefore, if the Son sets you free, you will be free in every sense of the word.
October 31, 1517. The young monk made his way through the streets of Wittenberg on All Saints’ Eve to the door of the Castle Church. He moved a couple of outdated announcements to make room for a document that he had written, “A Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences.” He nailed the document to the door which served as a bulletin board in the university town of Wittenberg. What was the Reverend Father Martin Luther, Master of Arts and Sacred Theology looking for in posting this? He wished that “out of love and zeal for the truth and the desire to bring it to light” that “the following theses . . . be publicly discussed at Wittenberg.” Luther sought an academic debate on the issue of indulgences, the buying and selling of the forgiveness of sins, and he had posted Ninety-Five Theses for that debate.
It is this event that is observed as the beginning of the Reformation. Tomorrow marks 499 years since this landmark event in the life of Christendom and the world. On All Saints’ Day, November 1, we begin year 500. For five centuries the heirs of the Reformation have been proclaiming the pure Word of God. For five centuries the truth has been preached that the whole world is free from sin and death by God’s grace alone, through the gift of faith alone, for the sake of Jesus Christ alone. So it is kind of a big deal that we kick-off a year-long celebration of the Reformation culminating 365 days from now with the big 5-0-0!
But let’s be clear. The Reformation isn’t about celebrating the Reformers—Luther, Melanchthon, Jonas, Bugenhagen, or Chemnitz. Are these men of God important? Oh yes! Do we give thanks for them and for their faith in Christ and their willingness to faithfully confess Sola Scriptura, Scripture Alone, as the only source of faith, teaching, and practice? Yes, indeed! Celebrating the Reformation, however, is truly about the Good News of Jesus Christ, true God and true Man, who suffered and died on a cross and rose again from the dead to give all people the forgiveness of sins and eternal life by grace through faith. Heading into its 500th year, the Reformation is still all about the truth of Jesus Christ who has set the world free from sin.
That’s what our Lord proclaimed to “the Jews who were believing in Him.” They were to remain in Christ’s Word, and by the power of that Word, they would be Jesus’ disciples who would believe in and confess the truth of Jesus’ death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins. This Gospel truth would set them free. But they balked. Jesus had to lay it out for them very plainly. He wasn’t referring to the Jews being under Roman rule. It didn’t really matter who was ruling because there is something that holds every person in bondage—sin. The “Jews who were believing in Him” needed to be set free from the very threat still hanging over their heads, in fact, the very threat Jesus mentioned just six verses before our reading, “Thus I told you that you will die in your sins. For unless you believe that I am he, you will die in your sins” (Jn. 8:24 NET).
The person who sins by failing to do the good things God commands in His Word and who sins by doing the evil which God forbids in His Word incurs all the penalties imposed by the Law. “The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). Whoever sins and serves sin in his or her life by living contrary to the Word of God also serves death and deserves hellfire as pay.
Here the accusing finger of the Law points directly at us. It declares each one of us to be sinful. Using words reminiscent of the prophet Nathan to David, “You are that man! You are that woman!” We are the people who are slaves to sin, who are under the curse of sin, and who merit the punishment of physical and eternal death. You and I also need to be set free from this horrible threat hanging over our heads: “You will die in your sin.” That means everlasting punishment, a total God-forsakenness in body and soul in hell.
There is no way that we can escape from this slavery to sin and death on our own. We are unable to change our situation by anything that we could do or not do. Even if we were descendants of Abraham it would not make a difference! “[We are] sin’s servant (John 8:34) and the devil’s captive.” Someone has to save us and set us free, otherwise, we are condemned. Now the only someone who can save us is God Himself. But why would He choose to save those who by nature are against Him, who disobey Him, and who do not possess true fear, love, and trust in Him? As Luther re-discovered, it’s not something in us that makes God do what He does. It is an attitude in God. It is His grace, His undeserved loving-kindness, and mercy. We are set free from sin and death by a gift of God. Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8-9 ESV).
This Gospel is at the very heart and center of the Reformation faith. The Word of God, Jesus Christ, took upon Himself our human flesh and dwelt among us as our Savior, full of grace and truth (John 1:14). God the Son became incarnate in order to set people free. And if the Son of God sets you free, you are free in every sense of the word—free from sin and free from the punishment of death!
Jesus alone purchased and won this freedom for you at great cost to Himself. All your sins and the sins of the whole world were placed on Christ as if they were His own. He suffered the God-forsakenness of hell on the cross. Nailed to a tree, the Son of God suffered for your sins and died your death. He shed His holy, precious blood so that your sins would be atoned for. God the Father declares you righteous, not guilty of sin. You are released from the punishment of death because Jesus suffered, died, and shed His blood being punished in your place. It as if the words spoken by the prophet Nathan to David are spoken to you, “The Lord has put away your sin. You shall not die” (2 Samuel 12:13). The Gospel announces to you, “Forgiveness is yours. Eternal life is yours. Go in peace; you are free.”
It is this precious Word of God in the Gospel of Jesus Christ that delivers to you the forgiveness of sins that the Son of God purchased and won for you. It is the forgiveness of Christ that gives you the freedom from sin and death. You receive this gift through faith in Jesus as your Savior when you believe that He has suffered and died for you. Luther put it this way when he preached on John 8, “[The gift of saving faith] is what liberates me from sin—not I myself, fasting, the life of a monk or nun, the Mass, pilgrimage, or the intercession of Mary or other saints; but it is solely Christ’s redemptive work. For no one else was born of Mary, died, was buried, rose from the dead, and ascended into heaven than this one Man, Christ. Outside of Him there is no one in heaven or on earth, not even any angel, who could help us. Therefore we must cling solely to this Man and acknowledge Him alone as our Savior.”
By grace through faith you have come know the truth of the Gospel found in the Word of Christ. You know and trust in Jesus Christ, clinging to Him alone as your Savior. Through the Gospel, you receive the forgiveness of sins in the Words of Absolution, through the preaching of His Word, and in the eating and drinking of Christ’s Body and Blood with the bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper. Through these Means of Grace, you have been set free from sin. You are forgiven!
This was and is the message of the Reformation: Jesus Christ has set us free from sin and death by purchasing the forgiveness of sins and eternal life for us through His sacrificial death and glorious resurrection. Through the work of the Reformers, people were again able to hear this Gospel Word of salvation in Christ which had been obscured and disregarded in many ways by the Medieval Church by the word of popes and councils. With the Reformation, the people of God could again know Christ alone as the Savior who set them free from their sins by His work on the cross. They were able to hear so clearly that they were saved, not because they bought an indulgence or did any kind of “good works” to earn their forgiveness and freedom from sin, but solely because the Son of God set them free.
As the heirs of the Reformation that we are as members of a congregation of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, we have the same message to share with our world. The Son of God, Jesus Christ, has set us free from sin and the punishment of eternal death. Salvation is found in no one else! We must remain faithful to the inspired, inerrant Word of God found in the Holy Scriptures no matter what the devil and the world throw at us. No matter how people try to twist and deny and pervert the Word, it remains God’s truth that Jesus is the only Savior from sin and death. It is the true Word that continues to deliver forgiveness and eternal life through the Gospel by grace through faith alone.
Jesus Christ is the Savior has set us free from sin and death. It is this truth of Christ that we, as Lutheran Christians, will continue to proclaim without watering it down, without changing it, and without disregarding it. By God’s grace, we will be faithful in this confession and faith even unto death, because the Reformation is still all about Jesus! Amen.
 Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 23: Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 6-8, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 23 (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999), 407.
 Paul Timothy McCain, ed., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), 521.
 Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 23: Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 6-8, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 23 (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999), 411.