“So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you abide 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 offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. ” (John 8:31–36, ESV)
(Outline from sermon by The Rev. William M. Cwirla )
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Chirst.
Today is Reformation Sunday. How many of you can tell me what Reformation Sunday is all about? Martin Luther (not King!). The Reformation of the church. Birthday of the Lutheran Church. The 95 thesis. Rediscovery of the Gospel. Indulgences.
There is a saying that goes “The Church is always being reformed.” And it’s true the church is always changing. It’s really God’s Word that continually changes it. When we hear it, it has an effect on us. It kills and makes alive. It shows us our sin, and we repent. It shows us our Savior and we rejoice. It is both painful and joyful at the same time. The Holy Spirit is always at work in the church, it calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies, the whole Christian church on earth. That’s reformation! That’s also what today’s service (and every service here is all about).
Today our text talks about reformation. It talks about remaining in the Word of Jesus. “If you remain in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” (my translation)
What does Jesus mean when he says, “If you remain in my word”? The word “remain” in Greek (the language that the book of John was written in) is often also translated “abide” or “live” or to be “united.” So what Jesus is talking about is living in, or being united with The Word of God. Jesus himself is the Word of God. “The Word made flesh and dwelt among us,” says John. Jesus, the Word incarnate, was conceived and born, our Savior. He lived a human life, and was nailed to the cross to redeem the whole world from sin. He was raised from the dead to make us right with God again. To abide in the Word means to rest in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and to believe that what Jesus did he did for you, so that he might call you his very own child.
That’s what he did at your baptism. To abide in Jesus and his word is to live in your baptism. He called you his own, when water was poured on your head and you were given Jesus very name. You became a member of the body of Christ. You were washed with water and the Word. That is to be immersed in the Word of God and in his name. You are covered with the righteousness (that is the perfection) of Jesus, instead of your sin. To abide in Jesus is to abide in and remember your baptism.
“Faith comes by hearing.” St. Paul says. To abide in Jesus and his Word is to hear the word of God and cling to it in faith, and obey it. Whenever we gather together to hear God’s word read and explained we are living in, and abiding in the Word of Jesus. That’s one of the things that we really gained from the Reformation, started by Martin Luther. He knew that if people heard and understood the Word of God, the Spirit of God would work in their hearts. Luther said that the church was God’s “mouth-house.” It’s the place where God speaks and instructs his people. That is the place where the Gospel is preached and heard.
To abide in the Word of God is also to receive the gifts that he gives. His body and blood given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. “Take and eat, this is my body… Take and drink this is my blood.” Jesus said. And with those words he gives us his very body and blood to eat and drink. Those words speak to our greatest need, “given and shed for you for the forgiveness of all your sins.” To abide in Jesus is to live in him and receive from him the nourishment we need. We abide in Jesus when we take and eat, and take and drink.
But we can reject God’s word instead of living in it (abiding in it). God forces his word on no one. People regularly reject the things of God. Bibles remain closed on shelves gathering dust. We forget our baptism and forget God’s promises given to us through baptism. We live as if it means nothing to be a baptized child of God… and many times our lives are totally indistinguishable from the lives of those who don’t claim any faith at all. The Lord’s Supper can be avoided or taken lightly, or even taken for granted. And sometimes we even just go through the motions without remembering what Jesus is really giving us there. When we reject and ignore the things of Jesus, we ignore his word. To reject the word of Jesus is to reject Jesus himself.
When we abide in the Word of Jesus we are given a very wonderful promise: “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” God promises for us freedom when we abide in the Word of God. But, our lives are ruled not by freedom but by slavery. Jesus words remind us of the slavery that we live under. “Whoever commits sin is a slave to sin.” From the smallest little white lie to our evil inward desires they all deserve God’s wrath and punishment. Try just for a day to go without sinning, you’ll soon realize how much of a slave to sin you are. Sin abides in us, every breath, every thought, is utterly covered with it. We are indeed slaves to it.
Jesus Christ came to free us. He took the very nature of a slave, was born a human being, so that the slaves might go free. He purchased and won us from slavery by his life, death and resurrection. He offers that freedom to you here today, just like he does every time he offers his word to be heard, water to be poured, and his body and blood to be eat and drunk. You are free! Jesus says, and he seals the promise in his very own blood. “And if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”
When we abide in the Word of Jesus we are truly free. We are free from guilt and punishment. “There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” The law that accused us is the very same law that nailed Jesus to the cross. Our guilt was placed on him there. God looks at us and instead of seeing our sin he sees Jesus. He looked at Jesus on the cross and punished him for our sin there. Our guilt and our punishment died with Jesus and doesn’t have to be a part of our lives anymore.
When we abide in the Word of Jesus we are free from the slavery of sin. It is true that we still struggle with sin every day and we will continue to struggle with it every day until we die or Jesus comes again. Our old sinful nature still clings to us and prevents us from being truly as free as Jesus makes us. But he hasn’t left us alone to struggle by ourselves. We no longer live under the lordship of sin; it isn’t the driving force in our lives any longer. We live under the lordship of the cross of Jesus. When sin wants to clap its chains on us we hold our hands up to the cross and the bonds are broken. The sins that plague us don’t have to control us anymore.
We are really free to be the children of God. We can pray to God as “Our Father who art in heaven.” “With these words God tenderly invites us to believe that He is our true Father and we are His true children, so that with all boldness and confidence we may ask Him as dear children ask their dear Father.” To abide in Jesus’ Word is to be the children of God, to have a relationship with God again. Sin no longer blocks that relationship. We can freely approach God and ask him for whatever we need.
Freedom in Christ also is freedom from fear. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39 NIV)
Though devils all the world should fill,
All eager to devour us,
We tremble not, we fear no ill,
They shall not overpower us.
This world’s prince may still
Scowl fierce as he will,
He can harm us none,
He’s judged; the deed is done
One little word can fell him. (LSB 656)
That “little word” is Jesus Christ. He is the one who lived and died, was crucified and raised again for you. Abide in His word and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free. Amen.
The peace of God, that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.