As he was saying these things, many believed in him. 31 So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you remain in my word, you are really my disciples. 32 You will also know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 33 “We are Abraham’s descendants,” they answered, “and we have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say, ‘You will be set free’?” 34 Jesus answered, “Amen, Amen, I tell you: Everyone who keeps committing sin is a slave to sin. 35 But a slave does not remain in the family forever. A son does remain forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you really will be free. (EHV)
Dear Friends in Christ,
Today we celebrate the 505th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation. 505 years ago tomorrow, Luther nailed his famous 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. He had to know he was opening a very large can of worms. But he was angry—angry about John Tetzel selling pieces of paper promising indulgence for every sin. People could live any way they wanted. If only they paid the right price. “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs.” The pope wanted the money to expand and rebuild St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The church had been corrupt for centuries, but now that corruption had reached a new low.
In many ways the church is just as corrupt today. Protestant Preachers and the Pope alike all want to be popular. They want to be liked by mayors and governors and presidents and Hollywood. Most of all, they want to be liked by everyone in town. So they imply that just about everyone is going to heaven. Many tell people it doesn’t matter how you live or what you do. Leaders in Washington claim “I’m a good Catholic” while pushing abortion, sex-change surgery and sexual deviancy, and condemning God’s own clear words in Scripture as bigoted and immoral. And so people indulge themselves in the most grotesque sins with the modern version of indulgences.
In Luther’s day the people didn’t know what the Bible said, and the churchly authorities didn’t care. Most people today don’t really know what the Bible says either and many theologians don’t care, since they don’t believe the Bible is inspired and inerrant anyway. The Reformation hymn is true once again: “Dark times have us o’ertaken.”
And yet we celebrate today! We celebrate because even if we are small in number—we Christians who still believe the Gospel and the Scriptures—nevertheless, we have peace in our own souls. We have the real forgiveness of sins through Jesus. We know the only real way to heaven. We have Jesus’ own promise to come back and take us to be with Him and we have His promise to remain our refuge and strength.
How do we celebrate? By living in faith, by storing up and treasuring the Word of Jesus deep down in our souls, by remembering and believing that we are saved by His grace alone. We celebrate the Reformation by holding onto the truth and passing it on to the next generation and the whole world. As Jesus says in our text, “If you remain in my word, you are really my disciples. You will also know the truth, and The Truth Will Set You Free.”
Remain in the Truth
As [Jesus] was saying these things, many believed in him. Why? Because Jesus’ Words are true and have power. The Holy Spirit works through them. When Jesus preached and taught, people could hear the difference between what He said and the powerless untruths they were used to hearing from the false teachers of Israel.
Jesus’ powerful Word has made believers out of us too. By God’s grace, we have come to know the real thing—the Gospel that promises us forgiveness and salvation as a free gift, earned for us by Jesus. The Holy Spirit has brought us to faith through the Word. He cleansed us through the powerful “washing with water through the word” of baptism. We have a restored relationship with God. We can pray to Him and know that He hears us. We know that He works everything in our lives together for our good because we are His very own dear children. We don’t have to wrestle with our consciences. We don’t have to try to earn God’s favor with our deeds. We don’t have to wonder what will happen when we die—and all that’s been given us through faith alone!
Faith alone… but, of course, faith never remains alone. As James wrote: “Faith without works is dead.” There are so many injunctions in Scripture to those who believe. “Fight the good fight of the faith.” “Put on the whole armor of God.” “Stand your ground” “Don’t let anyone rob you of your faith.” “Contend for the faith.” “Grow in grace” “Grow in faith” “Grow in knowledge” Every one of those commands echoes what Jesus says in our text, “If you remain in my word, you are really my disciples.”
The Festival of the Reformation has an alternate name: “The Festival of the Word.” It was the Word of God that brought about the Reformation. It was in the Word of God that Luther discovered the peace that his soul had been aching and searching for. It was the preaching of the powerful Word that spread the Reformation through half the world. And it is the Word of God that gives us the courage to face even death.
It’s no wonder Jesus admonishes us to remain in His Word and hold on to His teaching by believing what God says with all your heart and doing what Jesus says. He has bought you with the price of His own blood. You owe Him everything. He’s your Master now. He wants you growing in your knowledge of His Word, reading it, hearing it, learning it, studying it and memorizing it. And that means not letting anyone change it or take it away from you.
All the corruption that came into the church before the Reformation, and all the false teachings that have come in since may have been caused by clergy, but none of that would have been possible if lay people had stood their ground on the Scriptures, if they had known the Scriptures and refused to give false teachers a hearing. Jesus says—not to His apostles, but to “those who had believed in Him”—to lay folks—If you remain in my word, you are really my disciples. 32 You will also know the truth….
What a blessing to know the truth, God’s unchanging truth! Without it, there is chaos. When people don’t have God’s own truth, they carve themselves idols out of tree trunks or shape them from clay. When people don’t have God’s truth they run after cults and sects, or they turn woke causes into their religion. People buy every kind of self-help book that promises to fix their messed-up lives. Without God and His truth, people lie on the couch in Psychologists’ offices seeking elusive words of peace to calm their troubled souls, or they spend a fortune on face-lifts and fun times in a vain hope to forget that we’re all going to die and face our Maker.
You Will Be Free
What a blessing it is to know the Truth with a capital “T.” It truly sets us free, just as Jesus said it would! “If you remain in my word, you are really my disciples. 32 You will also know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
Free from what? For one, Free from an empty post-modern, nihilistic, meaningless life. If you watch modern European movies, you get a real glimpse of the total emptiness of a continent that gave up their God. One British movie I saw was about a teenage girl whose mother had died. She had a strained relationship with her father, and she was desperately seeking love. She started sleeping around, first with another teenager, then with an older man. When her father found out what she was up to he decided to have a talk with her. He didn’t once express love for her. He didn’t once tell her what she was doing was sin. What he did object to, was that his reputation in the small British town was going to be soiled. “I am a freemason!” he told her. You’re going to make me look bad. I’ve tried to make myself look good and you’re ruining it all. He was a slave to his own pride. While his unloved daughter was a slave to sin, the loveless father was enslaved by trying to earn his way into heaven by good works as a Mason, just like the Pharisees.
Jesus has set us free from all that. “If you remain in my word, you are really my disciples. 32 You will also know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Good or bad, rich or poor, Jew or Gentile, the only way to heaven is through faith in Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins with His own blood.
And by freeing us from our sins, He has also freed us from the fear of death. Last month we had a Christian funeral service in our church. Next month we will have another. Two Christians went home to be with their Lord in heaven—both sinners, but both forgiven through faith in Jesus. While we mourn, still we know where these two people are because they were freed. “If you remain in my word, you are really my disciples. 32 You will also know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Through faith we are freed from wondering about what happens when we die. We’re freed from worrying whether we’ll ever see our fellow believers again. We know Jesus will also raise up our bodies on the last day. And so, even while we are sad, we disciples of Jesus are able to drive home after a funeral with absolute conviction and confidence. What a blessing of the Reformation, to belong to a church that clearly proclaims the Gospel and can offer real comfort in death. When we lie on our own deathbeds, we don’t have to worry whether or not we will be able to stand before the Judge of the living and the dead. We know that we are clothed with Christ’s righteousness. When we rise from our graves and Jesus gathers all the dead from the east and the west and the north and the south and assembles them before His throne, we won’t be trembling in horror and fear like those who didn’t know Him here in life. We know the truth and the truth has set us free from the fear of the judgment.
And each day of our lives here on this earth, we are free from the need to worry. Because we know the truth, because we know Jesus as our personal Savior, because we know that God knows us, watches over us and loves us, we also know He will let absolutely nothing happen to us that doesn’t serve for our good. He promises to turn everything into a blessing. What a freeing truth!
Finally, we have been freed to live our lives for Jesus. Years ago, Schlitz beer had a slogan: “You only go around once in life, so grab for all the gusto you can get.” We Christians don’t think like that because we know that this life is only the entrance ramp of life eternal. We don’t have to try to get rich here in life, as though there were nothing more. We know that Jesus will reward us with riches and pleasures beyond measure in our real and lasting home. And so we are free to be generous here in life. We are free to live for God and to serve our neighbors, even if it means going off to war to risk death to defend them as so many of our veterans have done. “If you remain in my word, you are really my disciples. 32 You will also know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
For five hundred and five years now, Christians have had the Gospel restored and proclaimed to their comfort and edification. How long will the pure Gospel last in a corrupt generation? Jesus wondered aloud, “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” It’s been wisely said that the truth—the Gospel—is always only one generation from being lost. How are we going to be sure it’s not our generation that drops the ball? By making God’s Word priority number one. Study it. Know it. Believe it. Share it with your family and your neighbors, and with everyone you can, so that they too will be know the truth and be free in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Pastor Timothy Buelow
Our Saviour Lutheran Church
Lake Havasu City, Arizona