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October 28th 2012 by Joel Schultz

Today is Reformation Sunday and we celebrate the truth of God's Word - that we are saved by God's grace through faith in Jesus alone. This is a truth that sets us free from the slavery to sin and death. Read or listen to find out more...

Reformation Sunday – John 8:31-36 – “Freedom” – October 28, 2012

Braveheart, one of the greatest movies ever, is a story about William Wallace, a 13th-century Scottish warrior who led the Scots in the First War of Scottish Independence against King Edward I of England. At the end of the movie, as he is being slowly tortured and executed by the English, William Wallace cries out, “Freedom!”

Freedom is an important concept for people. Choose a people group throughout history and at one time they were at the worst slaves and at the least ruled by others. In our own nation there have been cries for freedom. Whether you think of the American patriot Patrick Henry saying, “Give me liberty or give me death!”, or Abraham Lincoln giving his famous emancipation proclamation ending slavery, or Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, freedom is something all people crave.

A quest for freedom is what drove Martin Luther to diligently study God’s Word. But the freedom that Luther was seeking was far greater than political, racial, or economic freedom. Because of sin and God’s anger toward sin, Luther, for years, had known only bondage, captivity, and a personal prison. He felt obligated to spend entire weeks without food, without speaking, without seeing the light of day. He felt obligated to beat himself and spend hours in confession – all aimed at appeasing God’s wrath.

But then slowly Luther began to discover the truth of God’s Word and the truth of God’s love and forgiveness for sinful people. The truth of the Scriptures uncovered by Luther is that by faith in Christ, before God we are free, saved by God’s grace alone, for the sake of Christ alone, through faith alone. And this is the true freedom. In Jesus, we are free from the guilt of our sin, free from the power of death to destroy us, and free to live for Jesus and for others.

In our text today, Jesus speaks of this same freedom: “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (8:31-32). But the Jewish leaders saw no need for freedom. They arrogantly asserted: “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone” (v. 33). Aside from the fact that they had been slaves in Egypt, Babylon, had been ruled by the Greeks, and were now currently ruled by the Romans, Jesus explained why their claim of never having been slaves was untrue. This matter of freedom was not about being direct descendants of Abraham or defying all earthly captors ruling over them. It was and is about the universal truth that everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Only those who are set free from sin are truly free.

We see the same kind of delusional prisoners today – the alcoholic who won’t admit to his drinking problem; the woman who refuses to talk about her three-month affair; the businessman who adamantly rejects help to stop his addiction to work, work, work.

What about you and me? What sin threatens your freedom? What sin threatens to lock you into habits you cannot beat, and bind you into a bondage you cannot break? Jesus hammers home a hard reality when He says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin” (v 34). And the problem is that “the slave does not remain in the house forever” (v. 35). That is what sin does – it separates us from God and excludes us from His house – from His family.

See, the devil wants to lock us up and throw away the key. If it is the truth that liberates and frees, then it is the liar, Satan, who captures and kills. Martin Luther knew this liar well. He writes in his hymn: “The old evil foe now means deadly woe. Deep guile and great might are his dread arms in fight; on earth is not his equal.”

On the other hand, John’s Gospel is full of hope and joy as it celebrates this destiny-altering news: Jesus Christ is the world’s only liberating truth. He is the One who breaks sins prison and destroys the old evil foe.

Listen to what John says of the Father’s only Son and our only Savior. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (1:14). Listen to what Jesus says: “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life” (14:6).

Jesus delivers the Truth that sets people free! (1) To Nicodemus, caged in the hopeless laws of Judaism, He says, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (3:17). (2) To the woman at Jacob’s well, bound to one broken relationship after another, He says, “The water I give ...will become ...a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (4:14). (3) To the man born in the prison of blindness He says, “Go, wash in the Pool of Siloam” (9:7). (4) To Mary and Martha, locked in grief over the death of their brother Lazarus, He says, “I am the Resurrection and the Life” (11:25).

Our freedom march began in earnest when Jesus was bound and taken to Annas, the high priest. He was slapped, spit upon, and sent to Caiaphas. Then, blindfolded, He was struck in the face with fists and beaten by guards. The next morning He was taken to Pilate, who passed Him off to Herod. Herod dressed Him in a purple robe. Back before Pilate, He was crowned with thorns, stripped naked, and scourged, just short of death. Struck and spit upon again, He carried His cross to Golgotha.

Finally, He was stretched out on two pieces of wood, and three iron spikes were hammered into His flesh. His friends had run away. His possessions had been gambled away. His strength was ebbing away. Even His Father had turned away. All He had left was one word, “Tetelestia” – “It is finished” (19:30).

But with this word our bondage was broken, the sacrifice completed, death defeated, paradise restored. “It is finished!” A cry of defeat? By no means! Had it not been for the nails, a triumphant fist would have lifted toward the sky. This was the Savior’s cry of victory!

And this is the honest-to-goodness truth. The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ means that we are liberated from the liar and that our prison doors are wide open. Luther experienced this truth and wrote: “When I understood it, and the light of the Gospel came into my soul, the gates of paradise opened, and I walked through.”

This same liberating power sets us free from the condemnation of our sin, from the pain of our past, from worry about our future. No one can take this freedom from us, no law can stop it, and no power on earth or in hell can destroy it. Again Luther writes in his hymn: “And take they our life, goods, fame, child, and wife, though these all be gone, our victory has been won; the kingdom ours remaineth!”

The message rediscovered by Luther and celebrated on this Reformation Sunday is loud and clear – “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed!” Free in every way – full, final, forever!


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