Sermon 2/18/2015 Ash Wednesday

John 8:31-36 To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 33 They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?” 34 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.35 Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

 

Anyone who sins is a slave to sin
1. We are slaves to sin
2. The Son sets us free
3. Remain in his Word

 

“You will not surely die.” It’s been thousands of years since the devil spoke those words in Eden. But ever since, Satan’s language has remained the same: lie, lie, lie. Sometimes he shouts it. Sometimes he whispers it. Sometimes
he speaks with such a natural, monotone voice that we don’t even suspect anything shady. But he still speaks. Listen. “You’re your own boss . . . you can have it all . . . you’re worthless . . . no one loves you . . . that’s unforgiveable . . . that was a cultural thing, not God’s will.” We live in a world where the devil’s dialect is spoken all around us. That is why it’s so important for us to listen to the voice of the One who is the Truth. God willing, over the next six weeks, we’ll walk with our Savior in his Word. As we do, we’ll see him suffer. We’ll see him die. We’ll see him rise again. But we’ll also hear him speak. As we listen, we’ll hear him repeatedly assure, “I tell you the truth.”

Now, the truth is not what we always want to hear. We don’t want to hear that those jeans look a little too tight. We don’t want to hear that the girl or guy we’re dating isn’t the best influence on us. We don’t want to hear that we made
a mistake at work. Too often, “truth” is more about how we want something to be rather than what it really is. (Joel Heckendorf) Jesus told a truth that the people of his day didn’t want to hear: If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

The only truth that these Jews wanted to hear is that they were children of Abraham. They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone.” Well, yes they had. Maybe not in their lifetime. Maybe not actually owned by someone. But Judea hadn’t been really free in centuries. Their self-righteousness blinded them even to that historical fact. They would not accept Jesus’ claim that they needed freedom because they had all they needed. They had their spiritual pedigree and that was enough.

Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Slaves to sin. That’s who they were. That’s who we are. Born with sin we are born to sin. Sin emerges in our day-to-day behavior with little difficulty. Angry words, jealousy, greed, gossip and the desire for revenge pop up frequently. Often they trap us and make life miserable. But, it’s worse than that. Jesus reminds us that by nature we can do nothing but sin. We can’t escape the cycle of sin, cover-up, excuse and denial.

Everyone who sins is a slave to sin. No one knows that better than Satan but that doesn’t stop him from trying to convince people otherwise. He wants us to believe that sin is liberating. He wants us to dismiss God’s guidelines about sex and marriage as being too restrictive. He wants us to use freedom of speech as an excuse to say whatever hurtful thing we want. He wants us to think sin is no big deal.

Are you a sinner? I doubt that anyone here would disagree. Are you a slave to sin? Again, no disagreement? Does your sin warrant eternal punishment in hell? Now, we might begin to protest a little. “Sure, I sin but I’m not a bad as some others. I sin, but it’s just little stuff. I don’t hurt anybody.” Do you hear the voice behind those excuses? It’s the lies of the Liar. Sin is a big deal. Your sin is a big deal. Your sin separates you from God and keeps you out of his family.

Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. One of the worst things about being a slave in the old South was the constant threat of being sold. Sometimes slaves were sold as a way of punishment. Even a well-behaved slave could be sold, if the master needed money. Imagine the anxiety of having a home that you couldn’t be sure of. They lived in constant fear of upsetting the master, of trying to win his favor, but never able to be sure about the future.

Many people think that their relationship with God is the same way. Their relationship with God is shaky at best and they live in fear that they don’t measure up. Not only are they slaves to sin, they are slaves to fear.

How do we escape slavery? How do we get to be part of the family? So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. You’ve heard the saying, “It’s not what you know, but whom you know.” My fellow slaves, the key to freedom is knowing the one who holds the key to the prison. The Son has been the Son from eternity. He always has been the Son and he always will be the Son and he is the only one who can set you free.

Engraved in granite on the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. is the phrase, “Freedom is not free.” That’s true of the freedoms we enjoy in this country. We have those freedoms because of the blood, sweat and tears of many brave men and women who fought for their country. That’s also true when it comes to our freedom from sin. We have that freedom because the Son gave up his place in the family to get down and dirty with our jail-keeper. He gave
up his freedom as God to submit to God’s laws and man’s laws. He took on himself our weakness, our pain, our sin. “He who had no sin became sin for us.” (2 Corinthians 5:21) Then he put sin to death on the cross. The slave master is dead. We are free. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

It’s like a child in foster care. One child who had bounced from one foster home to another for years was finally adopted by a family. When asked what being adopted meant to him, he said, “It means they can’t get rid of me when I do something wrong.” Did you hear that? He was no longer someone outside the family who could be discarded at any time. He was now part of the family and that meant belonging no matter what.

That’s freedom. Not freedom to sin. We’re not saying that. But free to go to our heavenly Father with our fears, our doubts, our sins, our failures and know that he loves us. Because we are sinners, you and I. Sin still enslaves our sinful nature. We don’t like it, but it’s still there. But even as I carry around all this sin, I don’t have to wonder if I’ve done enough to make up for it. It’s already gone, nailed to the cross. I can live in the love and security of my heavenly Father no matter what comes into my life. That’s freedom. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

How do we get to know this Son who can set us free? To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Fans pack stadiums the world over. Some watch football. Others watch soccer. Still others come to hear the music and watch the spectacle. Without fans, the teams and entertainers would not exist. Fans pay the bills.

Sometimes we may think that being a Christian is like being a fan. We come to church, listen, sing and learn – and then we pay the bills when the collection plate passes us. But is that what a disciple of Jesus is? A fan, perhaps even a devoted fan?

What’s the difference between a fan and a disciple? Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching.” Hold to it. Remain in it. Stay put in it. Then you know Jesus, the Son. Then you know freedom. Did you notice that in verse 32 Jesus said that the truth will set you free and in verse 36 he said the Son will set you free? Which is it? It’s both. It’s the same. Jesus is the truth. The truth is found only in Jesus. Truth and freedom come only from knowing Jesus.

Let’s not be like those Jews who relied on their pedigree as children of Abraham. Life long member of St. Paul? Lutheran all your life? Went to a Christian school? So what. Do you think that pedigree makes you free? It’s knowing the truth, knowing Jesus by faith, that sets us free. We need to become disciples of his truth so that we can know the truth that sets us free.

Satan’s lies are all around us. Do you hear them? “Coexist,” he says. “Don’t judge,” he snickers. “That might be truth for you, but everybody has their own truth,” he lies. He wants us to think that truth is relative. He wants us to spend as little time in God’s Word as possible. Unfortunately, his lies may have at times become part of our vocabulary, too. We need to know Jesus’ truth so that we can combat Satan’s lies. Recognize his lies by knowing the truth. The truth will set you free. The truth will keep you free.