John 8: 31-36
“I neither can nor will recant anything, for to act against my conscience is wrong and dangerous. Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise. God help me. Amen.”—Martin Luther, April 18th in the year of our Lord, 1521. Diet of Worms.
As good Lutherans, we know these words well. I am not able to repeat these words with the same deep emotion and quivering jowls as actor Niall MacGinnis in the great two-hour long version of the 1953 black and white version of Martin Luther as he stood before the Diet. But quivering jowls or not, Luther knew what his words meant. It meant that he would be burned at the stake for heresy and why he pleaded, “God help me.” Luther had every reason to be quivering, in fear. But he was so convinced of God’s Word as the absolute Truth, that Luther was ready to die an agonizing death by fire.
Unlike John Hus before him and two young monks during his lifetime, by the grace of God, Luther was spared the horror and agony of the burning stake. Others did not even after the time of Luther. While we pin the beginning of the Reformation of the nailing of the 95 theses back to 1517, the entire life of Luther would be consumed with zeal for the truth of God’s holy Word.
This Reformation celebration, even after 506 years later, that truth has never changed even though Luther had been and still is charged with the accusation of false doctrine. But that truth goes back much further: to the Law and the Prophets and the Apostles with Christ Jesus being the Chief cornerstone. This morning we consider that truth in the context of the debate between Jesus and the Jews as we take comfort amid our trials:
THE TRUTH WILL SET YOU FREE.
Remain in the Word of Christ.
The truth will set you free.
REMAIN IN THE WORD OF CHRIST.
Jesus is speaking to the Jews who believed in Him, at least for a time. He tells them something eternally profound and different from what they had been told by the Jewish leaders. The Jewish leaders (and as we found out in chapter 7 many of the people) were calling Jesus a false teacher. But now, Jesus places His word up against the word of the Jewish leaders: “If you continue in My Word.” The “word” of the Pharisees and Church leaders dripped with the demands of the Law: “Keep the Law of Moses and you will have eternal life. Here, we have extracted 613 laws based on the Old Testament for you to keep.”
This was no different than the “word” espoused by the Church at the time of Luther. But they had a special word for it: “Indulgences.” A nice sounding word, “Indulgences.” All you had to do was drop a coin into the box and spring a soul free from purgatory. All you had to do was pay for the indulgence document and you were set free. Your struggles are gone.
We all have struggles. That struggle may be different for you than for another. It may be an illness; it may be a recurring sin or pet sin that hurts your conscience; it may be an evil conscience that won’t let you go of a past sin. Against all of this, your Savior has given you His Word. Jesus Himself is that Word. It is everything Christ has done for your salvation from the beginning. It is the Word of forgiveness in and through the gift of repentance.
The Greek word for “remain” or “continue” means to take the Word of God as your very own with no strings attached. It means to possess it as a gift from God. It means to let it be your comfort in the midst of your struggles with the Old Adam and this enticing world. As Paul reminds the Colossians, “Let Christ’s Word live richly among you.” With the Word of Christ, your Savior wants you armed for the spiritual battles of this life and for the day when your life on this earth ends. Dear fellow struggler against your sin, remain in the Word of consolation.
THE TRUTH WILL SET YOU FREE.
So, why would your Savior want you to stay in His Word?
- Is it to make you more intelligent?
- Is it to make you a better person?
- Is it to leave this world a better place than we found it?
- Is it so that you may know exactly which of the 613 Laws of God place you in the greatest possible light?
None of the above! This is the other part of our text. Your Savior wants you to stay in His word for three interconnected reasons: “If you remain in My Word, you are really My disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
Frist of all, Jesus wants you there in His Word so that you are and remain His disciple. A disciple listens to his teacher and Master. He wants you to listen when He speaks His Word of absolution through the pastor. He speaks to you, not in dreams or visions, but in His Word through the spoken and written Word; He speaks to you through His ordained pastors and humble teachers.
Secondly, as a disciple, your Savior wants you to know the Truth. In his table talks, Luther mentions studying the Book of Romans 1:17: “The just (or righteous) shall live by faith.” For years, this idea of God’s righteousness plagued Luther’s conscience because he believed that God demanded from every man a life of righteousness based on that person’s goodness.
In what Luther called his “Tower discovery” he came to know the truth of that verse and with it all of the glorious and comforting Gospel. The righteousness Luther came to know was not his righteousness, not a righteousness demanded of him, but the righteousness given to him by faith in Christ crucified and risen. At that discovery, Luther felt that heaven itself had been opened to him.
This is the truth your Lord wants you to know and believe. Each week when the sermon text is read, every pastor in our Synod says, “These are Thy Words, heavenly Father; sanctify us in Thy Word, Thy word is truth.” Through His Word, your Lord wants you to know the real, eternal truth, the truth that Jesus forgives your sin through His Holy life and innocent death; the truth the you are saved, not by your righteousness, but by the righteousness of Christ which was given to each of you in your Holy Baptism. The truth by which you can defy all the devils and stand before God on the Day of Judgment unafraid and unashamed. Armed with the truth given by our Lord, we can mock Satan with Luther in the great hymn of the Reformation:
The Devil’s rage we can endure
For Lo! His doom is sure,
A Word shall overthrow him.
Finally, your Savior wants you to continue in His Word because he wants to set you free. Many courtrooms in our nation have these words of our Savior listed somewhere in their courthouse. While it is true the truth will set a person free in many cases, that same truth may well place them in prison for the rest of their lives. That is not the truth Jesus speaks of.
The Truth that sets you free is Jesus: “I am the Way the Truth and the Life.” That truth is not abstract; that truth is not what you and I make it. It is the Truth that God made and determined from eternity. That truth is the cross and resurrection of Jesus. That Truth nailed all of your sins to the cross. That Truth calls you to repentance so that you will live forever with Christ. That Truth frees you.
But freedom from what? We hear much about freedom today. But often it is freedom from want of something attached to this earth. Roosevelt identified freedom from want as the right to an adequate standard of living, meeting minimum standards for food, clothing, and housing.
When Jesus says He wants you free, He wants you to be free of the burden of sin in which your evil conscience holds you captive. He wants you to be free from the demands of the law and the hell that waits at the end of that endeavor. If this were not the Truth, He would not say to you in your struggle against your sin, “Come unto Me all you who labor and are heavy laden, I will give you rest.” But Jesus does say that and more: “Whoever comes unto Me, I will in no wise cast out.”
Dear soul, you who struggle with sin as did Martin Luther, Come to the Table of your blessed Savior once again and taste the freedom Jesus grants you through His body and blood. Here at this table, heaven is opened and the face of God is smiling on you.
This is what the Reformation is all about. It is not about Luther. It is not about being Germans. It is about the freedom Christ has won for you. And as St. Paul says to the Galatians: “Christ has freed us so that we will be free.” Christ is the truth that sets you free from the Law. Go in peace. Amen.
SOLI DEO GLORIA