In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“We are the seed of Abraham, and we have never yet been enslaved to anyone. How can you say, ‘You will become free’?” So the sons of Israel say to Jesus when He says to those who had believed in Him, “If you remain in My Word, then you are truly My disciples. Then you will know the Truth and the Truth will set you free.” We have never been enslaved to anyone. How can you say, “You will become free”? Which is false on its face. They may not have been in chains, but they were, at that moment, under the thumb of Rome. They may not have been in chains, but they had been in exile in Babylon. And of course, of course they had been enslaved! The children of Abraham had been in slavery in Egypt for over 400 years. But if what they say is true, if it is true that they had never been in slavery, then the Passover meal which they celebrated had become simply and empty ritual. What is the Passover meal? It’s the eating of the lamb whose blood was put on the door, so that the angel of death would pass over their houses. It’s the eating of a meal on their way out of slavery and to the Land of Promise. It’s the marking of the fact that God took the firstborn sons of Egypt so that the firstborn son of God, Israel, could go free. But if they were never enslaved, then they don’t need a deliverer from slavery, and they certainly don’t need a meal to mark their deliverance.
And what about you? Have you ever been enslaved to anyone? Our watchword in this coutry is always “freedom.” Freedom to be yourself, freedom to choose, freedom to worship. Freedom, freedom, freedom. We are the seed of America, and we have never been enslaved to anyone. How can you say, “You will become free”? Now, obviously Jesus is not talking about a slavery of chains; He’s not talking about a slavery of forced labor in Egypt. He’s talking about a slavery of sin. Everyone who is sinning is a slave to sin. And the slaves do not remain in the House of God forever. Only the Son remains forever. So if the Son sets you, a slave, free, then you are really free. If the Son speaks that word of deliverance, then it is only by remaining in that Word that we are free and truly His disciples. Who are these slaves who need to be set free by the Son? Is anyone exempt from that slavery? Not if Paul is telling the truth: all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. All have sinned, without exception and without remainder. All have sinned, and so all are slaves. There is no one righteous, not even one. And if we say we have no sin, the only ones we’re deceiving are ourselves. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. But if we confess our sins—that is, if we say what God says about our sin, that it is the symptom of the disease that cuts us off from Him and condemns us to eternal death—then we also confess that He is faithful and just; faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
But if it’s true that we have not been slaves to sin, then we do not need a Deliverer from sin, and we certainly don’t need a meal to mark our deliverance. In other words, if we are not sinners, we don’t need Jesus. If we were not enslaved to sin, then all of this would be simply an empty ritual.
Today we celebrate Reformation Day, a few days early, and there are some who say that things have changed since the time of the Reformation. In those days, they say, people were under an incredible burden and they felt the weight of their sin. They knew their sin and they were caught up in the anxious search for peace in the medieval system of forgiveness. So what the Gospel did was free them from that anxiety. The medieval system had made them very aware of sin so that the Reformation Gospel could come as a breath of fresh air. But, they say, that’s not how it is today. We do not feel our sin, we don’t feel the anxiety that Luther and others felt; we don’t see our need of a Savior like they did. Well, the difference in religious cultures may be true, but the Gospel of freedom from sin is only as irrelevant as Jesus’ words. It’s not the freedom of Luther that we proclaim to sinners, but the freedom of the Son of God. Whether people feel the burden of their sin or not, they are enslaved, because all who sin are enslaved to sin. If Jesus speaks the truth, then the Gospel of the freedom from that slavery still applies, no matter what system of slavery it is in which we live. The truth of the Gospel does not depend on how we feel or on what we experience; it depends only on the truth of who Jesus is.
So whether you feel it or not today, whether anyone feels it or not, we have been enslaved to sin. All have sinned, therefore all are slaves to sin. Slaves do what their master requires, and slaves to sin sin. But we have a deliverer. We have a Passover Lamb who has been sacrificed, whose blood marks this house, whose blood marks your head and heart with the sign of Christ crucified. You have come through the water on dry ground, while all your enemies have been drowned in the sea. And the angel of death passes over you and takes the only, beloved Son of God so that you can go free. The slavery of sin always pays out its final wages as death, but those wages have been paid completely to the Son of God. There is nothing more to be paid out to you. There is, now, no more condemnation for those who have been marked with the blood of the Passover Lamb. And now you are free: free from slavery to sin to be slaves to God. What is the difference between those two slaveries? All the difference in the world. Because the slavery to sin ends, always, in death. Its fruit is rotten and poisonous. But the slavery to God ends in righteousness and holiness. The slavery to God is the only real freedom there is, because it means the free gift of eternal life in Jesus Christ. It is freedom because it is freely given. It is freedom because it is life. It is freedom because it comes from the Son who is Freedom, who is Truth, who is Life.
If the Son sets you free, you will be really free. That Word, that you are free from sin and there is no more condemnation for you in Christ, is the Word in which we must remain. If we lose that Word, then we are still slaves. If we lose that Word, then we are no longer His disciples. If we lose that Word, then we will not be in the House forever. We must remain in that Word, confessing our sins, and confessing our Deliverer from sin; rejoicing in the freedom of the children of God and eating the Passover meal of the Lamb’s Body and Blood. Only then, by that Word, will we continue to be the Church of the Reformation for the sake of all who are still enslaved to sin. God grant it for Jesus’ sake, and keep us steadfast in His Word.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 10/25/14