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Reformation Day – John 8:31-36

by pastorjuhl ~ October 28th, 2010

I am indebted to Rev. Randy Asburry for some of his thoughts. Soli Deo Gloria!

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

“Freedom isn’t free” say the bumper stickers of those who appreciate the sacrifice our military makes to keep our country safe. You can apply the saying to the leading lights of the Conservative Reformation. Blessed Martin Luther, Martin Chemnitz, Johann Gerhard, and a host of other men made tremendous sacrifices, even risking their lives, to remain steadfast in God’s Word rather than fall back into the slavery of human philosophy and speculation. These men took seriously Jesus’ words in John chapter eight: If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.

Our Lord makes it clear. Either you are free because the Son of God sets you free or you are bound in the chains of slavery to keeping every jot and tittle of the Law of God. You can’t have it both ways. You rejoice in Gospel freedom or lament in impossible servitude. Trying to find a third way only leads back to the path of slavery.

That’s what those responding to our Lord do not understand. We are Abraham’s descendants, and have never been in bondage to anyone. How can you say, “You will be made free”? Substitute nearly anything else for “Abraham” and see where the so-called third way gets you. “We are Danish”. “We are German”. “We are a pillar of this congregation”. “We run the show around here”. “We were here long before you were, pastor, and we’ll be here after you’re long gone”. The so-called third way wants to rejoice in freedom, but is not at all freedom. Biology and genealogy have nothing to do with our place in God’s family. Consider these words from the prologue of Saint John’s Gospel: as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

The so-called third way, the way of boasting in freedom that comes not from God but from yourself, is a death march back to the bottomless pit of servitude to the Law. At least you know where your bread is buttered when you revel in being sinful and unclean by nature. Jesus says whoever commits sin is a slave of sin. Touch your breast. Is your heart beating? Remember that out of the heart pour evil things like murder and envy. Look around you. You are still in the world and the world is very evil. If you are still in the flesh and in the world, then the devil is still hounding after you. Satan wants to sift you like wheat.

If you’re comfortable being a slave and find freedom in Christ too much of a burden, then consider these words from Saints Paul, Peter, and John. Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness? While [false prophets] promise them liberty, they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by whom a person is overcome, by him also he is brought into bondage. He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil.

The apostles took sin seriously. They knew sin led people to do the strangest things to defend themselves and their comfortable lifestyle that might be called “freedom”. Martin Luther personally saw the other direction sin leads. Sin also leads to despair. Luther tried everything he knew to free himself from slavery to sin: penance through hair shirts and self-flagellation, performing the Mass just so, praying to saints, even a pilgrimage to Rome. None of these things brought him comfort. The trip to Rome just about made him an atheist when he saw salvation for sale nearly everywhere…except in churches.

The image of Luther reading a Bible chained to a stand in the Augustinian monastery is high irony. The Word of God is not bound, but the passage says nothing about chains! Luther, as it were, rediscovered the Gospel from that chained Bible in, of all places, the words of the prophet Habakkuk: the just shall live by his faith. Note well the prophet says nothing about the just living by sin or by slavery to sin or any other boasts outside the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ. The just lives by faith, faith in the promise of our heavenly Father Who sends His only-begotten Son as the perfect sacrifice for sin.

The author of the epistle to the Hebrews says it this way: Moses indeed was faithful in all His house as a servant, for a testimony of those things which would be spoken afterward, but Christ as a Son over His own house, whose house we are if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm to the end. Moses in all his glory could only point forward to One Who is our sure defense from sin and eternal death. Make the Law your savior, and you die for all eternity. Live by faith in the gracious death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and you live for all eternity.

The author to the Hebrews again says: Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. For indeed He does not give aid to angels, but He does give aid to the seed of Abraham. Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted.

Jesus partook of flesh and blood. He died the death you deserve to die. Dying in your place, He sets you free from the lake of fire. Believing that Jesus is the perfect atoning sacrifice for sin makes His words in today’s Gospel sweet comfort: a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever. The Son of God abides forever because He is the Word of the Father made flesh for you. Because He dies and rises for you, the Father makes you an heir of His gift. You are also a son of the Father. By faith in Jesus Christ, you are no longer a slave. You are a son. You live in the house of the Lord forever, just as Psalm 23 says: Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

Being declared a son of the Father, an heir of the Kingdom of God, is the heart and soul of the Conservative Reformation. It is also the heart and soul not only of the Christian faith, but also of Holy Scripture. God blesses you and me with a wonderful heritage in the means of grace: the preaching of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments. Why would you want to go back to the fleshpots of the Law when you are a son of the Father by His amazing grace? We conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law. No wonder we can’t help but sing: “A Mighty Fortress is our God/ A trusty shield and weapon./ He helps us free from every need/ That hath us now o’ertaken.”

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

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