Pastor Joel Leyrer - Reformation - Sunday, October 30, 2022

Text: John 8:31-36

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Dear Friends in Christ, Today it is our privilege to gratefully acknowledge an individual we’ve never met personally, but who, nevertheless, has had a profound impact on our lives. In fact, we could say without overstatement that if he had not appeared on the historical scene our lives today would be much different. We can even go a step farther: So important is this individual to us and our church body that we gladly bear his name as his followers…

The person I’m talking about – well known to all of us here today and duly noted in our opening dialogue – is, of course: Jesus Christ.

While we are grateful to the God of history for raising up men like Martin Luther and other church reformers at times when their courage and insight was needed, today is not about them. It’s about their Lord and ours, and how for them and us

THE GOSPEL MESSAGE OF JESUS CHRIST = TRUTH AND FREEDOM

Listen again to the words of our Gospel lesson: “To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Notice the progression of thought here. Jesus equates true discipleship with following his teaching. He equates his teaching with truth. He equates knowing the truth with freedom. We’ll spend the rest of our time this morning contemplating and rejoicing in the twin blessings of truth and freedom.

Roughly two thousand years ago in response to an official interrogation, Jesus declared to the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, that “Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” It was then Pontius Pilate asked his famously cynical question: “What is truth?”

He certainly wasn’t the first – or last – person to ask this. Philosophers and thinkers routinely mulled it over for hundreds of years before Pontius Pilate arrived on the scene.

And still do. Each age takes its own approach. Today’s version is rather elastic. We hear things like “that’s your truth, but not mine,” or “truth is relative.” Many who nobly claim to be truth-seekers are actually truth twisters, bending and shaping “truth” into whatever form they want it to be to suit their own purposes or agenda.

In contrast, a Christian philosopher of the last century (Francis Schaeffer) is known for coining the phrase “true truth.” By that he meant truth is based not just on feelings or emotions, but on reality. And there is nothing more real than he who walked among us twenty centuries ago: Jesus Christ.

This is how he answered Pilate’s question (John 14): “I am the way and the TRUTH and the life. No one comes to the Father except though me…” Three chapters later, Jesus gives us additional information on the subject. As a part of what we refer to as his High Priestly prayer, he prays for his followers and asks our Heavenly Father to “sanctify them by the truth; YOUR WORD is truth.”

Put it all together and this is our conclusion: Jesus Christ is the TRUTH. All of God’s Word is the TRUTH. And what both Jesus Christ and the entire Bible is all about is the TRUTH of the Gospel message.

This is truth – Romans 3:21-25: 21 But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood.

This is truth: Through faith in Jesus Christ’s perfect life and cruel death as our substitute and his glorious resurrection that substantiated his claim to be our Savior, we are forgiven all our sins. We are redeemed from hell. We who are by nature habitual sinners become saints in the eyes of God. And we now enjoy a right relationship with God.

This is truth: Heaven is ours. For the believer there is no doubt, no question, no uncertainty as to where we will spend our eternity. Without a hint of arrogance, pride, or self-righteousness, we can say that we are going to heaven when we die. The reason we can say this is because our eternal salvation does not depend on what we do for God, but entirely on what God has done for us in Jesus Christ.

Yes, when it comes to salvation, Jesus Christ is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. And what follows this knowledge of the truth is… FREEDOM.

Because of Jesus Christ we have been freed first of all from our sins. Let us make no mistake about it, freedom from (or forgiveness of) sin is mankind’s greatest need. Putting it personally, it is our greatest need.

The world disagrees. The world’s typical approach to sin (unless it is egregious like mass murders) is to deny it, redefine it, or justify it. But the fact of the matter is, sin against a holy God is serious business. The Bible tells us just how serious: sin damns.

Which means, practically speaking, without forgiveness, nothing else in our lives really matters; but with forgiveness, everything else in our lives becomes secondary. And, thanks be to God, we have full and free forgiveness of our sins. This makes a tremendous difference in our lives. How can it not?

Since this is Reformation Sunday, let me give you an illustration of the transforming effect of the Gospel message. Those of us acquainted with the story of Martin Luther know there was a time when, by his own admission, he actually hated God. He saw God only as the Judge of sins, not the Forgiver.

As a result, Luther was always trying to please God and earn his favor by doing things – even to the point of physically harming himself so God would know just how serious he was about satisfying him. Luther’s daily quest was to figure out what he could do to make God love him more. Those were his darkest days.

However, when he finally came to understand that God had freely and fully forgiven him all his sins by punishing Jesus Christ in his place, his outlook on God and life changed dramatically. You may remember his statement that it was as if the gates of Paradise were opened up to him. In the message of sins forgiven, Luther found peace. He experienced joy. He became acquainted with contentment.

To restate it: The forgiveness of sin, which translates into freedom from hell, is mankind’s greatest need. And it is a need which has been met in Jesus Christ.

Jesus provides us other freedoms as well. Such as… Freedom from worry and fear of the future.

We know we shouldn’t, but let us acknowledge and confess that we do. Depending upon different times and different circumstances, we worry.

We worry about big picture things, like the direction of our country and the things that are happening in the world. We worry about personal things, like our health and our loved ones. Or about our children and grandchildren and pray they will be able to stand firm on the solid foundation of God’s Word in a society that is in a constant state of erosion and an accelerated state of decay when it comes to Christian morals and values.

Related to that, we struggle. Sometimes we struggle with why God allows certain things to happen to us or our loved ones. We struggle with squaring personal difficulties with God’s promise to never leave us or forsake us. We struggle with what sometimes appears to be unanswered prayers.

In our weaker moments when we become preoccupied by the things in our life we would never choose for ourselves, we may even struggle with our own faith. And in those weak moments, Satan sees an opportunity and is always ready to fan the flames of doubt, often using as his fuel the single word, why?

Understanding the Gospel sets us free from all those things. God in his Word tells us we are not home yet; that in this world we will experience trouble and heartache; that his providence doesn’t mean we will be spared from all the unpleasantries that come as the result of living in a sinful world.

Rather, the Gospel tells us that it is precisely because we live in a sinful world that Jesus came. The Gospel is the truth through which we can filter all things. It points us to the cross and reminds us of the depth of Christ’s love for us. It reminds us that now we live by faith, not by sight, but that the time will come when we live by both faith and sight in heaven.

But until then, we take comfort in passages like Psalm 31:15, where King David writes: “My times are in your hands.” He is expressing the assurance all of us have that God is the One who is in control.

In another place in Scripture we are told that “all things work together for the good of them that love God” and that “nothing shall separate us from the love of Christ.”

What all this means to us is that we need not fear the future, because God will take care of us then just as he has in the past. Or in the words of the old campfire song: He’s got the whole world in his hands – even when it may not always feel that way.

And we should mention that the Gospel doesn’t just give us freedom from certain things that may trouble us, it also gives us the freedom to find a new joy and purpose in life.

It fills us with a desire to serve, rather than be served. It fills us with a desire to draw closer to our gracious God through the means he has given us to do so – the Word and sacraments. It fills us with the desire to put away those habits that are not God pleasing in order to center our lives around our Lord.

It’s like the story told of a talented sculptor who, after years of trying to fill the hole in his soul with all kinds of other things, finally, by the grace of God, came to know of his salvation through his Savior. Filled with a joy he had never known before, he translated his appreciation into a piece of marble and made a statue of Jesus.

Shortly after that, he was asked, for a handsome price, to make a statue of Venus, the pagan goddess of love. He refused. The reason he gave was simple and straightforward: “I have looked upon Christ.” He was no longer interested in being a party to anything that might not glorify his Lord.

Such is the effect the Gospel has on all who look upon it. And, by God’s grace, that is us.

Because, thanks be to Jesus, we know the truth, and the truth has set us free. Amen.