31 So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 33 They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?”
34 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave[b] to sin. 35 The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.
Dear Friends in Christ,
• Oliver hungry to go on the tractor with dad
• Hungry to be set free
There are at least two kinds of slavery – that which is inflicted by others, and that which is self inflicted.
Some time ago, I read an excerpt from a book written by Jacob Timmerman, “Prisoner Without A Name, Cell Without A Number.” He was a Jewish journalist who was imprisoned in Argentina in the 1970’s for daring to criticize his government. He writes, “The cell is narrow. The floor of the cell is permanently wet. Somewhere there is a leak. The mattress is also wet. I have a blanket, and to keep it from getting wet, too, I wear it on my shoulders constantly. If I lie down with the blanket on top of me, I get soaked from the mattress. I frequently urinate on myself. And then I must get special permission to have my clothes washed. I wait in the cell, naked, until they are brought back. It takes several days, they say, because it is raining.”
Worse than that, he writes about his interrogation, “A man’s hands are shackled behind him, his eyes blindfolded. No one says a word. Blows are showered upon him. Then, stripped, doused with water, and tied down, hands and legs outstretched, he is subjected to electric shocks. The amount of electricity is regulated. Sometimes it merely hurts, sometimes it burns and destroys. It is impossible to shout, you howl. Someone sticks his hand into your mouth and prevents you from choking. And then it starts again. And then questions. And insults. And it starts again. It feels as though your flesh is ripping away.” Oh how hungry he had to be and how his desire to be set free had to be his consuming passion in every hour of every day.
A second kind of imprisonment is self inflicted. The kingdom of God is like a married man with children who develops a habit of drinking too much, which leads to a gambling problem, which leads to spending money he really doesn’t have, which leads to serious conflict with his wife and children, which leads to more drinking and more gambling and more wasteful spending, which eventually leads to separation and court hearings and divorce and custody battles and ruined holidays and dashed dreams and more drinking and oh how hungry he is for another start. It is this second kind of slavery we want to focus on this Reformation Sunday – a Sunday where we celebrate what it means to be saved by the grace of God alone through faith in Jesus Christ.
May I suggest that there are only two kinds of redeemed sinners here today – those of us who are pretty satisfied where we are in our journey of faith and those of us hungry for a new start. In the case of Martin Luther, he knew there was something wrong with the idea that you could in some way earn the favor of a righteous God. He knew that no matter how hard he tried, he could not merit the forgiveness of sins. He was hungry for assurance that he was right with God. Or to say it another way- to be set free from the slavery of sin and to live and serve with a clear conscience and joyful spirit. Two truths we want to consider this morning about what it means to get a new start.
The first lesson we want to learn is that fresh starts begin with a renewed understanding of the nature of (slavery). The Jewish religious leaders took great pride in being the offspring of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and were aghast at the idea that they were slaves to anyone. To which Jesus replied with an irrefutable argument, “Amen, amen, I say to you, everyone who does sin is the slave of sin.” Peter said it this way in his second Epistle, “For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved.” Paul wrote in Romans 6, “Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience , which leads to righteousness.”
Even pagans voice what Jesus says about slavery. A teacher named Senaca declared that no bondage is harder than that of the passions. Plato wrote that liberty is the name of virtue, and bondage the name of vice. To this very day, there are all kinds of Lutheran Christians who take pride in the fact that they were baptized in the Lutheran Church, instructed and confirmed in the Lutheran Church, married in the Lutheran Church, and planning on getting buried out of the Lutheran Church. All of that is fine and wonderful unless we are not realizing in each one of our days that as often as we sin in our thoughts and in our words and in our deeds and in our habits, that often we are slaves to sin and to the devil himself.
For anyone here today who isn’t feeling a particular need for a new start in life or to receive our Lord’s Supper, Luther has three words of advice – 1) put your hand in your bosom and see if you still have flesh, 2) look around and see if you are still in the world, and 3) remember that the devil and his demons are all around you tempting and causing trouble.
Step #1 of the Christian’s 12 steps to sobriety is to admit that we are powerless over our addictions and dysfunctional behaviors and that our lives had become unmanageable. Step #4 is to make a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. Step # 5 is to admit to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs. Step #7 is to humbly ask God to remove our shortcomings. Step # 10 is to continue to take personal inventory and when we were wrong to promptly admit it. Hear the words of our theme song: Blessed are the poor in spirit who are torn apart. Blessed are the persecuted and the pure in heart; Blessed are the people hungry for another start, For theirs is the kingdom, the kingdom of God.
Our second lesson today is that fresh starts will have staying power to the extent that we (abide) in Christ and His Word. In John 8, Jesus is talking first of all to people who were just starting to believe in Jesus. They had seen Him do miracles, they had listened to his severe warnings about rejecting the Messiah, and they had permitted the beautiful words of Divine Grace sink into their minds and soak through their hearts. If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.
To abide Jesus and His Word is to regularly hear and hold onto and treasure the teachings of Holy Scripture. It is to let the Word of Christ dwell richly in your hearts and homes instead of to have a hit and miss approach to daily devotions and church attendance. To the extent that we remain in His Word, to that extent we will be set free from the sinful passions and harmful habits which will chase after us until our dying breath. In chapter 17, John records Jesus praying for His Father to sanctify His disciples with the truth, thy Word is truth. Jesus says that if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. The commentator William Lenski says it this way, “For by realizing we are set free; hence the more we realize, the more we are set free. The one action grows immediately out of the other. Any measure of inner penetration on the part of the truth produces a corresponding measure of freedom…To believe the word of Jesus ever so little means to realize the truth to that extent and to be set free correspondingly. Then of course, to remain in the Word of Jesus, to be fixed and firm in that Word, means a realization and an emancipation fixed and firm accordingly.
In closing, we note at least two kinds of freedom – that which is temporary and that which is permanent. Temporary freedom was experienced by that Jewish journalist in our opening story who eventually had his day in court. The charges were found to be without basis, and he was set free and in fact lived to write a book about his experiences. Assuming that he remained in the Jewish faith however, we may conclude that his freedom was just for a time here on earth and not into eternity. Unless he was baptized into the Name of the Triune God and called on the Name of Jesus as Lord and Savior – he will never taste the forgiveness of sins, and where there is no forgiveness there is no permanent freedom.
Permanent freedom is that which Jesus offered to those early believers and to believers in every generation, without exception. It is freedom earned for us by Christ at the cross, sealed in His resurrection, delivered to us in Holy Baptism, worked in our hearts in the preaching of His Word, and celebrated in Holy Communion. To be set free by Jesus Christ is to live free from the guilt of past failures and faults. It is to live free from the worries of what tomorrow may bring. To be set free by Jesus Christ is be still on a regular basis and to know that God is God. It is to give every day the best you have and as you lay your head down on the pillow to ask God to forgive what you have done wrong and bless whatever you may have done right and then to sleep in peace.
The kingdom of God is like a man who destroyed his first marriage with a habit of drinking too much, which led to a gambling problem, which led to a spending of money problem, which led to a crazy cycle of self inflicted slavery which seemed to have no end. But it did. You see one thing he kept on doing right was to use his ears to hear God’s Word. Through thick and thin, marriage and divorce, bad times and good, he kept on abiding in the Word of God. As time went on, his wife and children forgave him, as they had been forgiven. And the more he realized that his sins had been washed away and sent away and were never to be thrown in his face again – he found a way to live by the grace of God one day at a time. As often as he received his Lord’s Supper, that often he realized a new beginning. And although he really didn’t know how each chapter of life would end, he was certain that a mansion in heaven had been prepared for Him and that the best was yet to come. God help each of you to live free in knowing that your past has been forgiven and that the best is yet to come. In Jesus Name. Amen.