Tuesday, October 27, 2020

The Truth that Truly Sets Free. . .

Sermon for Reformation Day (Observed) preached on Sunday, October 25, 2020, by the Rev. Daniel M. Ulrich.

    Jesus’ words are often heard as cliché.  “The truth will set you free” (Jn 8:32).  How often have you heard that?  These are common words spoken by parents to children; therapists to patients; teachers to students. We say it all the time, but what do we mean when we say it?  Usually we’re talking about the emotional relief that comes from not having to keep a lie going or a secret hidden anymore.  And this is true.  There is a sense of relief that comes from confessing a lie, from revealing a secret.  But this isn’t the freedom that Jesus talks about.  The freedom of the Truth is so much more than temporary emotional relief. 
    Today we live in a postmodern world that says individuals get to define their own personal truth.  The motto is “Your truth may be different from my truth and that’s okay...unless your truth says mine is wrong.”  But that’s not how truth works.  There can only be one true truth, and that’s the truth of God, the truth of Christ revealed in God’s Word. 
Jesus spoke this truth to some Jews saying, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (Jn 8:31-33).  The people who heard this were offended.  How could Jesus say that, implying they were slaves?  They were descendants of Abraham, a free man, and so were they.  They must’ve conveniently forgotten their Jewish history and enslavement to the Egyptians, or how they were currently under Roman rule.  They believed they’d always been free.  That was their truth, but it was false.
But Jesus wasn’t speaking of an earthly enslavement to a foreign power.  He was speaking of enslavement to sin.  “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin” (Jn 8:34).  The truth is, they were slaves to sin...and so are we.
We’re sinners, all of us, everyone in the world, each and every one of us sitting here today, we are sinners.  That’s the truth, whether we want to believe it or not.  But we know this is truth when we compare our works and words and thoughts and desires against God’s Law.  
This isn’t something that’s easy to do, at least, to do faithfully and right.  Yes, we will generally admit that we’re sinners.  Nobody is perfect.  But to sit down and actually measure our lives against the rule of God’s Law that’s hard because we need to understand the fullness and depth of God’s Law and Commandments.  
The 9th and 10th commandments aren’t just about desiring something you don’t have, but being thankful for what the Lord has given you.  The 8th commandment doesn’t just include gossip and lies about others, but how we interpret their thoughts and motives.  The 7th commandment doesn’t just forbid taking things that don’t belong to you, but also being lazy on the job.  The 6th commandment isn’t just about sleeping with someone who isn’t your spouse, but about how we view marriage and children and what we choose to look at and think about.  The 5th isn’t just about physically taking another person’s life, but not supporting their physical needs.  The 4th isn’t just about mom and dad, but about all authority God has placed over us.  The 3rd isn’t just about one specific day of the week devoted to God and worship, but how we worship our Lord all day every day.  The 2nd isn’t just about taking God’s name in vain but also about how we pray.  And the 1st isn’t just about bowing down to an idol, but what and who we trust in.  
Knowing this fullness reveals just how great of sinners we truly are, how deep our wretchedness goes.  There’s not one commandment we haven’t broken, not one we haven’t shred to pieces.  This is hard to admit, that we’re deplorable sinners deserving nothing but the full condemnation of God.  And yet, this truth is essential to know and believe, because without it, the truth of Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross for you is useless.  
     Jesus didn’t leave those Jews with only half of the truth.  “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” (Jn 8:36).  Yes, they were sinners.  Yes, you are a sinner.  But Christ Jesus, the Son of God, has come to set you free from your sin, to set you free from condemnation, death, and hell.
Jesus is the propitiation for your sin.  His blood is the payment for your sin.  Christ came for you.  The Father sent the Son for you.  Jesus was born to die, to die on the cross, so that you’d be forgiven, so that you’d be free from your sin and God’s judgment upon it.  The truth is the Son of God became your substitute. He took your place, so that you could be a child of God, so that you could be baptized in His name, and have life in His name.  And the most amazing thing about all of this is it’s free, it’s all by grace.
We didn’t earn the love of God, we can’t earn the love of God.  We didn’t earn Christ’s sacrificial death.  God didn’t look at us a say, “There’s a bunch of people who are perfect.  I think I’ll send my Son to die for them.”  No, God looked at us and saw sinner slaves in need of redemption.  And because of His never ending love for you, He gave His Son.  This is the truth that was proclaimed and enacted in your Baptism.  This is the truth that is proclaimed and enacted in the Words of Absolution.  This is the truth that is proclaimed and enacted in the Lord’s Supper.  And this is the truth that we hold onto by faith.
    We hold fast to this truth of God’s love and redemption in Christ.  We hold it dear.  We hold it tight and we boast in it, just as Luther and the other Reformers did. 
    We not only live in a world that believes truth is relativistic, we live in a world that boasts in the individual.  The world has stopped revolving around the sun and it now revolves around each and every one of us.  Nothing is more important than “me,” my wants, my opinions, my desires, my achievements.  It’s all about me.  But this worldview is false.  Far from leading to the life that we want, it leads to everlasting death.  There’s only one life giving truth, and that is Christ our Lord.
Today, there are 6 youth who will be confirmed in the faith.  For the past few years they’ve spent intentional time learning the truth of their Savior, the truth of God’s Word, and the truth of the everlasting life and freedom from sin and death that Christ gives to them in His Word and Sacraments.  In the years to come, that truth will be challenged, just as it’s challenged in all our lives.  It’s my prayer and encouragement to them, and to all of you, that you will hold tightly to the truth of our Lord, knowing by faith that He will fulfill all His promise to you: His promise of forgiveness and His promise of life...no matter what.  
Jesus’ words are more than a cliché.  They have substance.  The truth of Christ does set us free.  It sets us free from sin and death.  It sets us free from trying to earn salvation.  It sets us free to be children of God.  The truth of Christ is the only truth that does this.  Hold on to that truth of Christ.  Rejoice in that truth of Christ.  Boast in that truth of Christ, because that truth of Christ sets you free.  In Jesus’ name...Amen.  

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