The text for our meditation today is the gospel lesson appointed for this Festival of the Reformation: So Jesus said to the Jew who had believed in him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.”
Truth and freedom, now there are two of the most beautiful words ever spoken, two of the most wonderful blessing ever bestowed upon sin-fallen mankind by a loving God and yet, like a precious gem or a masterpiece work of art, both are very rare and seldom possessed by most people. It is indeed as the old saying that goes “truth is forever on the gallows and error forever on the throne”. It was true in Jesus day when the chief priests and teachers of the law, those who were to have been bearers of the truth and guardians of freedom instead sought to rub them out by pointing people to their own works or keeping of the law, telling them that that was the way to salvation. And then along came this troublemaker, this truth teller and freedom giver named Jesus.
The same was true in Luther’s day when after witnessing abuse after abuse by the leadership of the Roman Catholic Church, which pointed people to their own works instead of to the grace of God in Jesus Christ, Luther was compelled to nail his 95 theses to the Wittenburg church door, completely unaware that as he did so he was starting the Reformation, a stunning movement back to the truth. He was yet another bothersome truth-teller.
And the same could be said of us in our own day as we make our stand for the truth of God’s Holy Word, in a society, where for the most part, objective truth is denied. All truth is seen as being entirely subjective or merely a matter of one’s own opinion. I have my truth, you have your truth, the Roman Catholic Church has its truth, the Mormons have their truth, the Moslems have their truth and so on and so on. In fact, it seem that the only great error left in our politically correct world, the only unforgivable sin, is to have the audacity to point out that there is in fact only one truth and one God and only one way to be saved by that God.
I am reminded of the story of the two men who were watching a football game on television together and a political ad came on. After watching it one of the men exclaimed, “You know I really agree with that candidate. I am going to vote for him!” A little while later a political ad came on for the opposing candidate saying just the opposite and the same man said, “You know I like what she says, I am going to vote for her.” This prompted his friend to get up and say, “Now, wait just a minute. You can’t do that, you must decide which candidate best represents your views and then vote accordingly.” The first man was silent for a moment and then responded, “You know I agree with everything you just said, have you ever thought about running for office?”
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, just as we have only one vote in an election, so we have only one vote for eternity and it will be cast for either the truth or for a lie. The truth is this, that we all desperately need a savior, a savior who will rescue us from the slavery of sin as Jesus speaks of in our text. But the sad fact of the matter is that most people believe the same lie that many of the people listening to Jesus that day believed, which was that they were doing just fine on their own. Yes, most of the people listening to Jesus preach believed that they would be saved by their keeping of the Law of God and they were simply wrong. They were wrong because the Scriptures are very clear in pointing out that no one can be saved, by their keeping of the Law since no one can keep the Law of God as perfectly as he demands. No one could then and no one can today either just as we sing in the great reformation hymn: Salvation Unto Us Has Come. Please turn Hymn #555. Let me read verses 2 & 3:
What God did in His Law demand and none to Him could render
Caused wrath and woe on every hand for man, the vile offender
Our flesh has not those pure desires that the spirit of the law requires
and lost is our condition.
It was a false, misleading dream that God His law had given
That sinners could themselves redeem and by their works gain heaven
The law is but a mirror bright to bring the in-bred sin to light
that lurks within our nature
There is the first part of the truth. The law cannot save us. It was designed primarily to show us our sin and how far we are from the moral perfection demanded by God. Now for the second part of the truth in verses 6&9:
Since Christ has full atonement made and brought to us salvation,
Each Christian therefore may be glad and build on this foundation.
Your grace alone dear Lord I plead, your death is now my life indeed,
for you have paid my ransom.
Faith clings to Jesus cross alone and rests in him unceasing;
And by it fruits true faith is known, with love and hope increasing.
For faith alone can justify; works serve our neighbor and supply
the proof that faith is living.
There is the second half of the truth, the Gospel, the good news that we are set free from our bondage to sin by faith in Jesus Christ the Son of the living Go; faith given to us all as a gracious gift by God through the working of God the H.S. through the Word and Sacraments. It is this same Spirit that empowers us to then do good work and to live God-pleasing lives.
What a beautiful sung sermon. It is this Gospel truth that our beloved Dr. Martin Luther discovered as he searched the Scriptures seeking the truth, the truth that would comfort his terror filled heart. Before he found it, he knew God only as a wrathful, vengeful God, a God of the Law, a God who demanded perfection, a God whom he could never reach. But then, by the grace of Almighty God, Luther re-discovered the Gospel. He found a God of mercy and salvation, a God who gave up his very own Son so that he might be justified or declared righteous by faith in him. And once Luther found that truth he never let it go. In the face of excommunication, in the face of persecution, under threat of death, he clung to the truth as a drowning man would cling to a life preserver, because that was it was to him, his very life.
Luther clung to this truth, because he had found the freedom that the Lord promised in the Gospel. He would be a slave to sin and fear no longer. My dear friends, that same truth and freedom is ours as well, it was given to us in our Baptism when our sins were washed away and the devil was kicked out and the Holy Spirit entered in. This truth and freedom is also nourished in us whenever we come to the sacrament of the Altar and receive Christ’s body and blood with the bread and wine. And it is received anew each time we read God’s Word and are convinced that it is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ that we are justified, we are made right with God or as Jesus says in our text: “If the Son sets you free, you are free indeed.”
As I was thinking about this I couldn’t help but recall a story I read a number of years ago about a young man who responded to an ad for an opening at a telegraph office as a telegraph operator, to get the job the ad said, the applicant had to know Morse code. Well, the young man entered the large, noisy office. In the background a telegraph clacked away. A sign on the receptionist’s counter instructed job applicants to fill out a form and wait until they were summoned to enter the inner office. The young man completed his form and sat down to wait with seven other applicants who had arrived earlier. After a few minutes, the young man stood up, opened the door to the inner office and walked right in. Naturally the other applicants perked up, wondering what was going on. Why had this young man been so bold? They had heard no summons. They took more than a little satisfaction, assuming that he would be reprimanded for his presumption and disqualified for the job. Imagine their surprise, when the manager came out a few minutes later and said: “Gentlemen, thank you very much for coming, but the job has been filled by this young man.” The other applicants began to grumble and one of them spoke up: “Wait a minute. This guy was the last one to come in, and we never even got a chance to be interviewed. Yet, he got the job. That’s not fair.” To which the manager replied: “All the time you’ve been sitting here, the telegraph has been ticking out the following message in Morse code – ‘If you understand this message, then come right in. The job is yours.’ None of you heard it or understood it. This young man did, so the job is his.”
Whether or not that story is true, I don’t know. But this much is true – every day God’s Word ticks out the message of salvation in Jesus Christ, loud and clear. And all those how hear it and receive it in faith are set free. And if you want know what to do with your freedom, how about this: go tell, go tell others the truth of your living, loving Savior who died and rose again for you and for all people, and that everyone who believes in Him, is freed from the power of sin and death forever. For as Luther discovered, there is after all no better way to live, or die than in He who is “the Way, the Truth and the Life.” To him be all glory honor power and might, now and forever. Amen.