John 8:31–36 // Romans 3:19–28 // Rev. 14:6–7
Reformation Day Observed
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our sermon text for today is John 8, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” Our text thus far.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Today, it is the truth that sets you free. And we’re not just taking about finally being confirmed after months of pandemic and planning.
It is the truth that sets you free. What is truth? What is the kind of truth that Christ talks about? How can the truth set you free? What does it mean to be free indeed?
Not too far away from here there’s a family that’s gathered around their mom. She’s in her last days, and it feels too soon. Even if she’s in her 70’s, even if she’s had a long fight, even if she says she’s ready, it feels too soon for her grandkids. What does it mean that the truth will set her free?
There’s a man, only 28 years old, no reason to think that anything is wrong except that, at a routine doctor visit, they pull him aside and tell him he has cancer. He has weeks to live. There might be an experimental procedure, but he has to get his house in order. He’s confronted with something he’d really rather not think about. What does it mean that the truth will set him free?
Jesus doesn’t use a lot of words to speak in our Gospel text for today, but he says a lot. He speaks the truth about ourselves, and he speaks the truth about our God.
First, the truth about ourselves. If you went to a doctor, you would want the truth. You don’t want them to sugarcoat any conditions you might have. You don’t want them to lie and tell you your arm isn’t broken. You want the truth.
The Bible gives us the spiritual truth about ourselves. None of our good works can save us. Salvation doesn’t come to good people because they do what is right. No, the point of doing the right thing—what Paul calls the works of the law—has never ever been that they justify. Following the Ten Commandments from One to Ten was and is never about how to earn heaven.
The truth about ourselves is that we are in need of amazing grace. The truth about ourselves is that we regularly get it wrong, miss the mark, mar smudge and twist God’s word. The truth about ourselves is that we can’t often handle the truth and often don’t understand the truth about ourselves.
I remember Becky Cardarelle in eighth grade. I remember not wanting to square dance with her because she had a mole on her arm, and it took me a decade and a half to realize that that wasn’t very nice. It took me a long time to realize my sin and failure. It took me a long time to figure out my fault. It took me, in this small and silly little case, a long time to figure out the truth about myself.
Second, we remember the truth about our God. He knows all of this already. Have you ever wondered that? God knows who you are even more than you know. He knows more about what you are like than you can know. He knows more about your sin, your faults, your failings, than you will ever know.
Do you remember Becky Cardarelle in eighth grade? Know this, that as long as it took me to realize my sin and failure, my God knew it first. As deep as I have seen my mistake go, as silly and nonsensical as it was, God knows it deeper.
But the truth is that God knows, and here’s the further truth. God knows and he loves you in a way that ends in perfection. He knows and his grace doesn’t ignore your sin; it goes even deeper than your sin. He knows and he forgives every portion. He knows and he does more than we can ever imagine in order to do all that is needful to bring to you amazing grace, unfailing love, to take our place, to bear our cross.
Dear confirmands, you are going to be speaking words, taking oaths today that few teenagers could understand the full import of. You are swearing upon your own honor to uphold the faith that you have been taught, throughout a whole life full of everything that you haven’t gone through yet.
You are saying before God and this congregation that you look to God’s word for guidance in your life.
You are taking an oath to come regularly to this Lord’s Supper and to be faithful in listening to your pastor and remembering the truth of God’s word.
You are pledging to be faithful to this particular way of life for the rest of your life.
You are pledging to hold fast to your faith even when it means your own death.
These are words that matter. You are taking up your Christian faith as adults in the faith. There are only a few days in your life when your words matter like they do today.
I remember another day in my life like that. It was I love you. Those are the words that I said to my wife, May 27, 2012, eight years and four months (minus two days). And it was good to say them that day. But they couldn’t possibly mean then what they mean now. After eight years of caring and loving, of crying and laughing, of three boys, of three trips to the NICU after they were born, of all the ups and the downs, those words mean far more now than they did then, because we’ve said them often and well.
And I tell you that to tell you this. The truth of the words you say today will mean more very time you journey back to this sanctuary, every week that you hear of God’s forgiveness in this particular chapter of your life, every time you hear again what God has spent in order to purchase and win you not with gold or silver but with his holy and precious blood, with his innocent sufferings and death.
To say it the way that Jesus says it in our Gospel reading, if you abide in me, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.
The kingdom of heaven is like a family gathered around their grandma to hear her last words, and her last words are they she gets to go home. They say the truth of the Gospel at the funeral, they say it every week, and every time they take the Lord’s Supper, they hear the dismissal blessing to be what it is, In Christ’s body and Blood, we live in the truth, and we depart in peace.
The kingdom of heaven is like a young man diagnosed with a terminal cancer. His days on earth are numbered. But as he continues through life, the words of Jesus ring in his ears, The Truth will set you free. And as his restrictions increase, still he knows the truth will set him free. As he is tied down by more and more machines, even as he prays for a cure, he knows, the truth sets him free.
Amen and Amen.
Worship Sermons & Letters