Text: John 8:31-36
Date: Reformation Day (Observed) + 10/28/18
It is Reformation Day, again. The color is a festive red used either for a celebration of a saint or of an important church festival. Today we might say it is both. So what are we celebrating or commemorating on Reformation Day? Most if not all of us would point to the reforming work of Martin Luther more than 500 years ago. We sing with gusto his famous hymn, “A Mighty Fortress.” And I suppose we wouldn’t even have such a thing as “Reformation Day” had it not been due to that historic theological revolution of the 1500s. But that’s not because of this historic theologian named Luther. It is rather because of the awakening of faith that he experienced inspired by God’s Word; specifically this one, “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe” (Rom 3:21-22).
This was and is no mere religious opinion of man but the very Word of God; God’s self-revelation through the Apostle Paul as His inspired Word. Therefore it was and is worth serious and deep study, meditation and understanding. But that understanding comes only as God Himself the Holy Spirit works through that word to reveal the truth. So today we hear again Jesus’ words, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32). God revealed the truth to Luther that the righteousness of God was not only God’s wrath against sin but is now in Jesus His gift of the freedom of salvation through the forgiveness of sins won by that all availing blood of Christ shed upon the cross as the supreme sacrifice by which He takes away the sin of the world and restores life, righteousness and salvation to all who believe.
As the most fundamental teaching of the Gospel, and because we still feebly struggle against sin and death, this is not a mere matter of knowledge of certain facts. It is more dynamic than that. Reformation is another word for daily repentance and faith, that living relationship with God through His living Word in us.
This is shown in the Reformation Gospel by the ignorance displayed by “the Jews who had believed in Jesus” to whom He addressed these words. The truth will set you free said Jesus. The question is free from what? That’s the next question. To what are we enslaved that causes all the unhappiness, fear, contention, fighting and warfare among and between us and God?
They answered him, “we are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone.” Oh, really? How did they so conveniently forget what God had them recall and celebrate once a year, every year in the Passover? The story of their enslavement to Pharaoh and God’s call through Moses to “Let my people go” is a matter of their very identity as God’s people. Or shall we mention the time when they were enslaved in the Babylonian Captivity? Maybe they entertained the thought that those events were just a matter of bygone history that didn’t really affect them anymore, personally, today. Same for us. What happened to the unity and patriotism, for instance, that instantly bound us together after the terrorist attack of 9-11? Thumb through the history books telling of the atrocities and victories of past World Wars. No, it wasn’t just past historical events that enslave. It is that characteristic of the fallen, sinful human condition that is at the root of every evil. It is that condition that still lives in each of us. “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.” It is being set free from sin that is the fundamental issue of reformation, of repentance and faith.
That’s what Jesus came to do as He said so beautifully to His hometown folks,
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19)
Therefore St. Paul writes to the Galatians and to us and to the world, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Gal 5:1). We need to hear that because as long as we live in this world we are in danger of just that, letting go of the Word of the Gospel and “submitting again to a yoke of slavery,” the slavery of sin.
Nowhere is this gospel of the freedom and deliverance from sin described as purely and plainly in that document called the Augsburg Confession. You can ever read it as if you are making an evangelism call on someone. For this freedom starts with God. It must start with God. For we cannot free ourselves. It must start with the full, Biblical revelation of the one, triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Then it must describe, as Jesus does here today, the subject of sin. It was the task of the Son of God to come down from heaven, take on our human flesh and blood, and by His perfect life and atoning sacrifice pay the price of our sin for us. The result is the justification of the sinner through faith in Christ. This happens in every generation through the ministry of teaching the Gospel and administering the sacraments “as through instruments, the Holy Spirit is given, who works faith; where and when it pleases God, in them that hear the Gospel, to wit, that God, not for our own merits, but for Christ’s sake, justifies those who believe that they are received into grace for Christ’s sake.”
So no one can honestly say it is because we are offspring of Abraham or Luther that we can deny our enslavement to sin, that enslavement that can only be relieved and overcome by faith in the powerful salvation in Jesus. So it’s good that we celebrate and commemorate Reformation Day again, and again this year. For it is nothing but that fundamental reality of the first of Luther’s 95 Theses, namely, that “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent,’ he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” This is True Freedom.