The True Narrative About Freedom (John 8:31-36)
Reformation Sunday (October 31, 2021)
Happy Reformation Day! Yes, I said Reformation Day and not Halloween! October 31st, has a much older and more distinguished pedigree than all the hoopla and silly hijinks of our contemporary Halloween. For centuries in the Christian world this date has been observed as All Hallows Eve, a special day of worship and preparation for the Festival of All Saints Day, November 1.
It’s truly unfortunate, however, that this day has been hijacked by another narrative; that is, another story of the events and significance of this day. The true story of Martin Luther posting his 95 Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, receives little to no mention any longer in most of our society. It has been supplanted with the narrative of spooks and goblins, witches and spells, as well as tricks and treating. At the same time, most secular school textbooks present the Reformation of the 16th century as a political revolution rather than its real import as a theological battle over the truth of Holy Scripture. But this meta-narrative serves only to enslave minds and souls to falsehood and death. The only narrative that truly frees, saves and brings life, to imprisoned, vanquished and dead souls on is the Truth infleshed in the person of Jesus Christ.
Speaking of false and damaging narratives, the public square of our country is awash is false versions of reality. Fake News is more than an accusation leveled at the mainstream media by former president Donald Trump. Fake news; that is, proven false narratives about everything from the origin of the Covid 19 pandemic, to our military’s pullout of Afghanistan to the chaos on our southern border, are purposely being reported over and over again by the mainstream media, social media venues like Twitter and FaceBook, and even national government press releases alike. And, what is their rationale for this? Is it ignorance of the truth? Or is it a desire to control and enslave you and me to their ideology?
Replacing the truth with a narrative one selfishly would rather have be true is as old as our human species. Adam’s version of the fall into sin was that Eve was to blame. Eve pointed the finger of responsibility at the serpent. Cain hid the truth of his murder behind the false narrative that he was not his brother’s keeper.
The harsh truth is we see this same wicked desire to replace the absolute truth with our own “truth;” that is, the narrative we would like everyone else to accept, front and center everywhere in our lives. Whether it be our face saving version of events of an accident we were involved in, or our explanation of why we said what we said that offended someone else, or our rationale as to why we did what we did that ended up hurting someone else. We all become masters at using smoke and mirrors even before God to try to hide, cover up, or deny the truth of our true intentions, words or actions. Sadly, there are no treats in our Halloween house of horrors, only tricks!
If only we would level with everyone and speak the truth… give them the straight scoop on what really went down…honestly acknowledge our true feelings. It would certainly save others and ourselves allot of grief. After all, living in lies is living in a prison of our own making. Eventually the truth always comes out anyway! If we would just be truthful from the beginning, we wouldn’t have to weary ourselves dodging the tough questions and trouble our spirits with such anguish. And, yes, we would even discover that such truthfulness and integrity would actually garner genuine respect from our friends and foes alike. Truth truly liberates!
How our society could benefit from such an awakening to the truth. The lies, the deceit, the political agendas on all sides are destroying our morals, our children, the family unit, our trust in and care for each other, our unity as a people, as well as our very lives in this world!
Forthrightly speaking the truth and freeing people from the prison imposed upon us by the soul killing narrative of the ancient serpent is exactly what the Reformation of the 16th century was all about. It was a real battle for the truth that frees men’s’ souls. God raised up churchmen and even princes, men of integrity, faith and courage to wield the Sword of the Spirit; that is, the Word of Christ, in a holy effort to purge the church of falsehood… a church on the verge of apostasy from her wicked and soul-damning doctrines invented by devils and wicked men.
It doesn’t get any more serious and important for the eternal welfare of souls than the Reformation! Its godly legacy is honored among us, not simply by observing a Reformation Sunday, but by our own passion to put forward the true narrative: The Gospel of the Holy Scriptures… the Truth of God in Jesus Christ.
After all, we are engaged in a battle for the truth of the Gospel today just as much as Martin Luther was in the 16th century. One front on which this battle for truth is being fought goes right to the heart of our very existence. Have we been created by God in His own image, and thus have great value, or are we simply the products of chance and genetic mutations that occurred over millions of years, making us of no greater value then some slug in our gardens?
Then there is the outright assault on our very nature as male and female as well as our relationship to one another. False narratives being pushed by politicians, professors, members of the media, as well as ordinary citizens alike are that gender is not binary, male and female only, but that is whatever you want it to be … that homosexuality is just as valid as is heterosexuality … that so called same sex marriage is real, God approved, marriage… and even that your skin color and/or race determines your worth or value to society. The truth is these perversions are threatening the very estate of marriage and the family as God instituted them as well as the unity, safety and cohesiveness of our whole society.
Such narratives are an all-out assault on the Gospel, too. After all, God has always revealed His nature and being as male not female or an “other” so called genders. The Son of God took on male human flesh not female human flesh. He lived His human life and died on earth as a man not as a woman. Our understanding of God’s relationship with us is bound up into a right understanding of the marriage union of one flesh. God is always portrayed as the husband and the church, believers in Christ Jesus, as the wife.
On another front in the battle for the truth is the plethora of false religions… the rise of pluralism… and the insistence that all roads lead to heaven. All of these falsehoods seek to kill the truth that Jesus alone is the Way to eternal life.
I’m not sure, though, there ever was a time in the history of this world, that there was no need for reformation; a fight to save the truth. This is because the enemies of truth have never laid down their weapons and surrendered. They have, since the beginning of time, sought to destroy the truth, especially the truth of Jesus Christ, and replace it with a false narrative that leads only to eternal death. They will continue their murderous attacks on what God has said and chain us all to hell until the very end. The Reformation battle continues.
Reformation, then, does not simply mean changing beliefs and ways of doing things. It does not mean hallowing Luther as a saint. Reformation is the ongoing struggle to preserve and, in some cases, gain back into the Church’s proclamation what the enemies have tried to obscure, destroy and replace with another so called truth. Reformation in the church is a devout vigilance to preserve and proclaim the narrative of the Truth, especially the truth of Christ Jesus, as God has given it to us through His Holy prophets and apostles and as is contained in the Holy Bible so that souls can truly be set free. Whenever the Truth of God’s Word is either surrendered or destroyed, people’s hearts and consciences are enslaved in such a way that they lose their very salvation. And this is just plain unacceptable!
Martin Luther and company found it necessary to take the fight for truth all the way to the upper echelons in the church and the state engaging the Pope, the Cardinals, the Bishops, and even the Emperor himself.
In our Gospel text from John, Jesus likewise boldly confronts the spiritual and societal leaders of His day with the truth to free those kept in the bondage of falsehood. However, He first engages, as He should, some of His own people with the truth, many of whom were beginning to become quite taken with Him. John says they were, literally, “entrusting themselves to Him.” He said to them, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."
Well, this did not fit with their preferred narrative of reality. His hearers immediately countered with indignation, “Who says we are bound in chains. As descendants of Abraham, we have never enslaved to anyone. How is it that you tell us we will become free?”
It became a matter of authority, didn’t it? These Jews had been schooled their whole lives by their rabbis and priests with the false narrative that they were heirs of eternal salvation simply because they were descendants of Abraham. Who then was Jesus to challenge their long-held beliefs?
Besides, the message of the teachers was much more appealing. Who wouldn’t prefer to think of himself as free? If he took Jesus’ word as the incontrovertible truth, then he would have to believe he had been living a lie and wasn’t free at all, and in fact, he was still enslaved. It is against our sin diseased nature to confess we have been living a delusion.
But in His discussion with them, Jesus made it clear that His Word has divine authority. He is more than a rabbi, He is “from God the Father.” In fact, He is the Son of God. Accordingly, He had no reason to lie. His Word is the truth. He said to them, “I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you. I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father (the devil)" (Jn 8:37,38).
The real truth is that simply being a blood relative of Abraham does not save anyone from the true spiritual imprisonment that claims us all. Jesus responded, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.”
The truth is that real bondage does not have anything to do with being under the tight grip of some slave master or even some dictator like the Roman Caesar or the deceiving ideologies of political correctness or critical race theory today. These are merely physical forms of bondage, which will never be permanent nor will bring eternal death. Believing false narratives, whether they be about ourselves, or about God or about how one is saved, is true bondage. It enslaves us, like the Father of lies, himself, to eternal death.
The truth is that even persons like you and me, living in our so called “free society,” can be in horrible bondage which lasts well beyond death and into eternity. I know it is not the narrative our society wants to accept but the truth is that everyone who sins, and that means every one of us, is by our very corrupted nature enslaved to sin, death, and the power of the devil.
Sin influences every decision we make… every action we take. It even spoils every good motive or desire we might have by combining it with an evil thought or desire.
No appeal to our ancestry, even one as high class as a descendant of Abraham, nor any appeal to our good works, noble character or good intensions, can free our soul from being controlled and dominated by our lusts, our wicked passions, the temptations of the devil. No amount of self-justification can free us from suffering under God’s righteous wrath for our sins. We are slaves to sin and its punishment with no earthly escape.
Even the apostle Paul laments of this enslavement. He says in his letter to the Christians at Corinth, “… I am of the flesh, sold under sin. I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate… it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing… I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”(I Cor. 7).
Who indeed truly delivers sinners from this awful bondage to death and hell? Paul goes on to rejoice, “Thanks be to God through our Lord Jesus Christ!” The truth is there is only one Emancipator… One Freer of Slaves. That One is none other than Jesus Christ Himself. As Jesus went on to share with these Jews, He is that Son in the house who remains forever. He has the power to set slaves free and if He, the Son of God, sets you free, you will be free indeed.
The true narrative of the salvation of sinners is to be realized in Jesus alone because He is the only human being to have kept God’s righteous decrees and will perfectly. Only He was appointed the substitute for us all under the Law of God.
Likewise, God appointed Him alone to be the atonement for your sin, my sin, and in fact, the sin of the whole world. God placed on Him alone the sin of the whole world in His baptism in the Jordan. There He was set before all as the sacrificial Lamb that would take away the sin of the world. Secondly, only Jesus is the Son of God, giving His shed blood alone the value and the ability to atone for everyone.
So, there you go! If the Son shall set you free you shall be free indeed! The Truth in Jesus Christ has set you truly free. In Him you are truly, totally and eternally free! You are not held captive by all the false narratives. No amount of government mandates, decrees and constraints or worldly false narratives can truly bind and imprison you. Because on account of Jesus Christ no one can argue that your sins have not been fully paid for when it is the very blood of the Son of God Himself that makes atonement for them! Not even the devil himself can accuse you any longer. No longer does the guilt over your sin need to weigh you down with despair or fill you with fear. As one who has been baptized into Christ, washed in His blood, sin has no dominion over you. You are free to own up to your sin, confess your guilt, turn from its wickedness and cling in faith to God’s promised forgiveness. Accordingly, ou can die in peace, knowing that as Jesus’ resurrection from the dead proved, sin’s consequence, death cannot hold you. You will be free to live in God’s house as His son, His daughter. The Truth has indeed set you free!
You are forever free to sing with Martin Luther and the Reformers of the 16th century: “Though hordes of devils fill the land All threatening to devour us… we tremble not, unmoved we stand; they cannot overpow’r us. Let this world’s tyrant rage; In battle we’ll engage. His might is doomed to fail; God’s judgment (His Truth) must prevail!” Amen!