Tuesday, November 01, 2011

John 8.31-36; Festival of the Reformation; October 31, 2011;

So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, 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 practices 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)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Every text comes with a context.  I've told you many times that you can't just take a text plop it out on the table and say what it means.  You have to read it in its context.  Today's text is a great example.  When you look at the part we have here it looks quite simple.  Jesus is encouraging believers to remain in his Word.  It's true.  That's exactly what he's doing.  But the text is so much more complicated than that.  What we don't read before and after this text is Jesus' conflict with these believers.  In fact, just prior to this the same crowd (of believers) tries to kill him but he escapes because, John says, it was not yet his time.  And following this text he tells these believers that they are doing the works of their father, the devil.  They are plotting to kill him.  It just seems a bit out of sorts.  Why would believers do these things?  But I think this conflict is pushing toward the very point of what the Evangelist is saying.  Jesus is talking about being set free from sin, and not being slaves to it.  And this struggle against sin isn't easy.  In fact, it is the most difficult struggle in which a believer will ever engage.   

It happens for these Jews, who believe in Jesus.  They are here listening to Jesus, and believing in him.  They have been hanging around and they like Jesus and they have begun to believe in what he does and says.  They are starting to think that he is who he says he is.  But Jesus won't leave it at that.  He pushes their buttons.  It's like he's saying,  "Listen to what I'm saying.  It is the truth.  Cling to my words and set aside the things that conflict with the truth I tell you.  Then you will be set free. "  These believers do just what you and I do.  We hear Jesus' words and we push them aside and say they don't apply to us.  They answered Jesus, "We've never been slaves to anyone.  We are perfectly free already.  We don't need this."  They are proving Jesus' exact point.  They want to be easy believers.  They want to be disciples and keep their previous assumptions.  They want to work and live just like the rest of the world and still hold on to Jesus.  "We are the seed of Abraham!"  They are not talking about their blood line.  They are talking about their place before God.  We are free because we are who we are.  We don't need to saved because we are God's people already.   If we put it in terms of Jesus' words (Mark 2:17), "We are not sick, so we don't need a doctor.  We are not slaves, we don't need to be liberated."  They push back hard against Jesus and what he says.  It's an echo of what they are going to do.  They are going to kill Jesus.  They want to believe but they want to believe on their own terms.  

Now that sounds like us.  Jesus is ok for Sunday morning, but I'm not going to take what he says out there.  After all what he says makes me look foolish, out there.  He says God created the world in six days.  If I agree with that, out there, my friends will laugh at me because, out there, science says that it took millions of years.  He says homosexuality is an abomination.  If I agree with that, out there, I'll be called a bigot and homophobe.  He says sex is for marriage.  If I agree with that, out there, I'll never get married, because out there, they say you have to have sex to see if you're compatible, then you get married.  He says women can't be pastors... he says the table of his supper is closed to those who don't believe the same things...  And on and on the list goes of the things that we hold in reserve, and still want to believe in Jesus.

And there's more.  It's not just morality.  It's economics.  Out there, self-fulfillment comes with stuff.  The marketplace teases us with the latest bit of technology that claims it will make us smarter, better and more popular.  And we buy in, literally.  The new car, the new computer, the latest gadget have more meaning to me and you than Jesus warning, Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind.  We want to be believers because we think that if we believe, if we trust in God, he'll make us healthy, wealthy and wise.  We believe in Jesus because we believe that God's greatest desire is to make us happy.  We want to believe just in case cancer strikes and we need a miracle.  God is like our great concierge.  We believe in him and he gets us what we want.  Jesus says Love your neighbor as yourself.  We love ourselves over our neighbor.  Our belief in God is just the means to loving ourselves.  Out there, after all, you have to take care of yourself because no one else will. 

And even with all this we think that we are free.  Jesus pushes our buttons. 
“If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
It's easy to believe, until belief lays its demands on us.  Being a disciple doesn't mean a life of ease.  It means to hold what Jesus says is the truth through cross and suffering.  And make no mistake, if you hold to what Jesus says, you will have cross and suffering.

But let's be very clear.  I'm not saying that doing any of these things will save you.  I'm saying that we place these things, the things out there, the way they think out there in the place of Christ.  We think that doing or saying those things, and following those people, out there, will make us free.  Free from trouble and pain and persecution and worry.  Free to be ourselves.  But in reality, the truth is (as Jesus says), these things enslave us.  These things are sin.  And anyone who sins is a slave to sin.  And not only that but the doing of sin actively enslaves.  Human beings are slaves to moral failure.  All of it is an active rebellion against the God who created us, in favor of the god of ourselves.   That which we think would set us free doesn't The Scottish preacher, George McDonald said,
A man is in bondage to whatever he cannot part with that is less than himself.
Martin Luther says it like this:
For anything that is not God’s Son will not make me free.
 Luther, M. (1999). Vol. 23: Luther's works, vol. 23 : Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 6-8 (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther's Works (Jn 8:38). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.
That is exactly what Jesus is telling the Jews in this text.  He is the way to freedom.  Jesus is the way, the truth and the life.  No one comes to freedom (to the Father, into a relationship with God) except through him.  Jesus offers the only way to be free people.  Know the truth, that is know Jesus, and the truth will set you free.

What does the freedom that Jesus gives look like.   Well, it starts with the freedom from the punishment that we deserve.  Sin, rebellion from God, selfishness and self worship, deserves punishment.  Like the murderer waiting on death row for the guards to carry him to the hangman.  The death sentence hangs over us.  We are guilty.  We deserve to die.  But Jesus Christ brings freedom:
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” (Romans 8:1–4, ESV)
To be in Christ is to be free.  Jesus hangs on the cross as punishment for your sin, for my sin.  Again Luther makes this very personal.  He says the most important words in the bible are "for you."  Jesus does this for you.  He dies for you.  He dies for your sin.  You have no punishment due.  The Chaplin has come to the prison cell and let the murderer go, he has received a pardon, he is free.  You are forgiven in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  You receive the pardon you are free.

This freedom also means, not only are we free from sin and its punishment, but we are free NOT to sin.
“If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
The problem with sin is its effects.  The spiritual effects of sin are our broken relationship with God that deserves hell.  Jesus mends that.  The worldly effects of sin are the things we see it do to us every day.  It damages our relationships.  It muddles our thinking.  It breaks our hearts.  It separates people.  It hurts the helpless.  Those damages will continue until our Savior returns and sets all things right.  But free people, people in Christ, have opportunities that slaves to sin do not have.   They are free to serve.  St. Paul says in his letter to the Galatians:
For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1, ESV)
 and a bit later in the same letter:
For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”” (Galatians 5:13–14, ESV)
We have freedom to serve.  Just as Jesus served us and gave us what we need, the forgiveness of our sins that means freedom from punishment, we are free to serve the people around us and give them what they need.  Instead of being selfish we are free to be unselfish.  When our neighbor is suffering we are free to comfort him.  When our neighbor is hit with the effects of sin we are free to tell him the Good News about the One who sets us all free from slavery to sin.  When our relationships are breaking we are free to do what is necessary to restore them.  When the world professes lies, we are free to proclaim the truth.

This is the Reformation. 
that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting [our] trespasses against [us], and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:19–21, ESV)

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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