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SERMON: We Are 'Free Indeed' Because 'A Mighty Fortress Is Our God' (John 8:31-36)

Today, we observed Reformation Day in our churches.


Prior to the Lutheran Church there was no denominational church in western Christendom. There was simply the Medieval Church, sometimes called the Church Catholic. You were either a member of the Church Catholic or, you were a pagan. There were only two options. 
An Augustinian Monk named Martin Luther began to see from Scripture that the teachings of the Medieval Church were not in line with Scripture. Over the course of time the first church to be formed in the West was the Lutheran Church. 
Many cite the founding of the Lutheran Church in 1517 when Luther nailed his 95 thesis to the church door in Wittenberg. Others cite the writing of the Small Catechism in 1529. Perhaps the most fundamental formation of the Lutheran Church occurred on June 25, 1530 when Lutheran Princes, that is laymen, presented their theological writing called the Augsburg Confession to representatives of the Holy Roman Empire and the Papacy. 
The second church formed in the West was the Roman Catholic Church. The Roman Church embraced in total the theology of the Medieval Church. The Roman Church was defined and formed with the completion of the Articles of Trent in 1563. The Articles of Trent were written specifically to refute Lutheranism. 
Lutheran Princes, that is laypeople, told representatives of the Emperor and the Pope what they believed, taught and confessed. They relied on the promise from Psalm 119:46, “I will speak of your statutes before kings and will not be put to shame.” We just confessed these words in our Introit. 
Emperor Charles V and his brother Ferdinand, the King of Austria, met with the Lutheran Princes. They forbade Lutheran preaching in the city of Augsburg during the meeting. Emperor Charles the V commanded the Lutherans to attend the Corpus Christi festival the next day where the body of Christ in the host is paraded throughout the city. Corpus Christi is Latin and it means, Body of Christ. This is the name of a city in Texas. However, Jesus told us to take and eat, take and drink for the forgiveness of one’s sins. Jesus did not say, “parade about the town with the bread—the body of Christ—held aloft on a poll. 
When the Lutherans heard this demand from Emperor Charles V a layman George Margrave of Brandenburg spoke, saying, “Before I let anyone take from me the Word of God and ask me to deny my God, I will kneel and let them strike off my head.” Subsequently ALL the Lutheran Princes in attendance knelt before the Emperor and stretched out their necks. 
*- Pastor Karl Weber


This is the history behind the Reformation Day sermons heard in our churches around the world this morning and it helps to set the stage for our journey together in pursuit of the truth.

An acquaintance, Rev. Jared C. Tucher from Trinity Lutheran Church in Gillette, Wyoming, has been such an unexpected blessing to me over the last several months as his occasional emails and tweets, expressing concern for one of the Lord's sheep, always seem to come at precisely the right time, or just when I need them the most.

Last night, this faithful minister of God's Word and Sacraments took time out of his busy day (and just hours before he would be expected to fulfill his calling and deliver a sermon to his own congregation) to send me an email to, get this, apologize for not being able to share more of his recent sermons online so that people like me could be fed by them.

To express his regrets, he attached a copy of his sermon that he gave earlier this morning some 1700+ miles away on the other side of the country!

Imagine that. That is the heart of a true under-shepherd -- a called and ordained pastor to be exact -- and I'm eternally grateful that there are people like him out there who care about people like me and my family who are stuck in the spiritual wasteland that is the LCMS-Eastern District.

So, here's Rev. Tucher's sermon titled "Free Indeed" that he preached from the pulpit earlier today.


 
John 8:31-36 (ESV) 31 So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 33 They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” 34 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. 35 The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

Free Indeed 
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Gospel, which was read earlier. To be a slave is not how anyone desires to live their life. It means that they belong to someone else. It  means that you are under someone else’s authority. You do not have your own say in things because your voice no longer matters, only the voice of the master counts. So how unfortunate for you that you are a slave. As Jesus addresses the Jews, He says something to them that shakes them to the very core of their being: He insinuates that they are slaves. To have someone, anyone, insinuate that you are a slave means that they are either ignorant of who you are or they don’t care who you are. Jesus was not ignorant of anything, since He is the all-knowing Son of God. The Jews can be set free from their slavery if they abide in His Word. However, instead of listening to what Jesus had to say, they immediately scoffed at Jesus, telling Him that they are offspring of Abraham and slaves of no one. For as right as the Jews were, they were also as equally wrong. Jesus did not mean they were slaves in a physical sense, but they were slaves in a spiritual sense. Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.” This is the slavery Jesus is referring to -- the slavery of sin. The freedom Jesus speaks of is the freedom from the crushing, killing effects of the brutal and insatiable taskmaster that is sin. But the Jews didn’t get it. These Jews, we’re told, even believed in Jesus, and they still didn’t get it. The bondage of the Law -- the bondage of works righteousness -- ingrained into them since conception, had effectively blinded them to the life-giving freedom of the Gospel in Christ. 
They honestly thought of themselves as “free” in terms of their faith, and yet they were still bound down and weighed down by the impossible demands of the Law. Just  think of how foolish this must’ve looked and sounded. Here they are proclaiming their freedom all the while being scared to death that they may have not honored and kept all of the 600+ rabbinic laws. Poor, poor, foolish  Jews -- to think they were free when in reality they were slaves! But before we pity the Jews too much, listen again to what Jesus says: “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.” Did you hear it, that one little word that Jesus said? That word was and is “everyone.” Every single person that has lived since Adam and Eve are slaves to sin. Despite all our efforts, there is nothing that we can do to change that fact. And so enters Jesus. He tells us what is necessary. “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Now I know what you’re thinking. “But pastor, I’m not a slave. I’m a free Christian. I have been set free in the blood of Christ." And you know, you’re right. You are a free Christian and you have been set free by the blood of Christ. We are slaves to sin, even as faithful Lutherans. We are slaves to sin. That’s the brutally honest truth. We can easily find the sin in others, but we don’t want to acknowledge the sin that we possess, the sin that we commit. Our Gospel is indeed a fitting text as we celebrate the Reformation. Martin Luther was keenly aware of his sinfulness. He was fully aware that there was nothing that he could do to atone for his sins, despite what the Church was telling him. The Pope in Rome insisted that the truth was whatever he said it was. He insisted that the Church of Rome was the final judge of truth, especially the truth of what God said and what God meant. In a way both Jesus and the Pope claim to have the word of truth. Which should it be: the Pope’s words or Jesus’ words? 
For Martin Luther, he wanted to be free: free from the false errors that were being taught by the Roman Catholic Church. He criticized what was unbiblical, but at the time, he had no intention of splitting the Church. His goal was to reform the Church, to correct the abuses and make straight what had gone crooked over the past few centuries. At least, that’s how it began. Luther looked at the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church and found flaws in them because they are teachings of man. He was a learned man with regards to the Scriptures and saw nothing in there about the practice of indulgences. Indulgences, as you may know, were the documents purchased from the Church that would take away the punishments for sin people thought they had to suffer after death in a place called purgatory. In the following years, Luther saw that the problems ran much deeper than just indulgences. The problems dealt with the liturgy, they dealt with leadership in the Church, and, even more central, they dealt with the certainty of salvation. They dealt essentially with these two questions: “Who rules the Church?” and “How can I find a gracious God?” That is, the questions were about God’s Word and God’s grace. Luther’s goal was to return authority in the Church to the Word of God. His goal was to return to the Word of God and find therein the grace of God. That was and still is the heart of the Reformation. It wasn’t about starting a new church. It was about going back to the Word of God. Only in the teachings of Christ will we know the truth and be set free. The freedom we receive from God’s Word is the freedom purchased by Jesus on the cross. It is freedom from sin, death, and the devil. It is freedom from eternal damnation. 
Jesus Christ has indeed set us free. If the Son frees us, we are indeed free; free from the compulsion and bondage of sin, free to serve God as He originally intended us to do and as Jesus did. Martin Luther, the great reformer, relied solely upon Jesus Christ and His teaching to free us, not the false teachings and practices of the Roman Catholic Church and of man. In looking at Scripture, He saw that outside practices, while they may be good, do not bring about salvation. Salvation has been won for us by Jesus Christ on the cross. Where did Luther get this? He got it from Scripture, namely Psalm 46, which  is the basis for his hymn, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble…God is within her, she will not fall…The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.” Salvation is found only in Jesus Christ. He knew from what Scripture taught that one could not find salvation in an indulgence. He knew from what Scripture taught that one could not find salvation by praying “Hail Mary’s” and “Our Father’s.” He knew from what Scripture taught that one could not find salvation by any external practice which we do ourselves. Salvation has been won for us by Jesus Christ on the cross. There and only there can we be forgiven. It was here that Luther found freedom at last: freedom from sin, death, and the devil. Salvation came by faith, not by what we did, but by the grace of God. By grace alone, by faith alone, and by Scripture alone are we free at last, free by what Jesus Christ has done. In the name of Jesus, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.


I hope you found that as edifying as I did.

Like so many today, the Jews with a weak faith in Jesus balked when He said that true freedom comes through Him and His teaching.

Humans are self-centered from birth and in bondage to sin, unable to please God (Romans 8:8). Through Jesus' sacrificial death and resurrection, He provides liberation from sin, death, and the devil to all who believe and are baptized into His name.

The words "abide in My word" are key.  Speaking to those whose belief in Him was superficial, Jesus explained that discipleship meant accepting all of His teaching and remaining faithful to it.

In a Lutheran layman's terms, because "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God" and everything that such a reality entails from our conception to the cross of Chist, we can rejoice since we are "free indeed!" 
NOTE: As you know, I am a newly converted Confessional Lutheran who recently escaped American Evangelicalism. That being said, please contact me ASAP if you believe that any of my "old beliefs" seem to have crept their way into any of the material you see published here, and especially if any of the content is not consistent with our Confessions and Lutheran doctrine (in other words, if it's not consistent with God's Word, which our Confessions merely summarize and point us back to) so that I can correct those errors immediately and not lead any of His little ones astray (James 3:1). Finally, please be aware that you might also discover that some of the earlier pieces I wrote on this blog back in 2013 definitely fall into that category since I was a "Lutheran-In-Name-Only" at the time and was completely oblivious to the fact that a "Book of Concord" containing our Confessions even existed. In addition, there are some entries that are a little "out there" so-to-speak since the subject matter was also heavy influenced by common Evangelical concerns/criticisms that aren't that big a deal for us Lutherans. I know that now and I'm still learning. Anyway, I decided to leave those published posts up on this website and in cyberspace only because we now have this disclaimer and only to demonstrate the continuing work of Christ and the Holy Spirit in my life (Hebrews 12:2; Philippians 1:6). Finally, please know that any time we engage in commenting on and/or interpreting a specific portion of the holy Scriptures, it will always follow the verse-by-verse notes from my Lutheran Study Bible unless otherwise noted. Thank you for stopping by and thank you in advance for your time, help, and understanding. Grace and peace to you and yours!

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About JKR

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Thank you for visiting A Lutheran Layman! Please feel free to leave a comment or a question since we do not exercise censorship. We've seen a similar policy with other blogs and it's worth repeating: Please act as if you're a guest in my home, and we'll get along just fine. I think anyone would agree that the kind of back-and-forth that is characteristic of blogs/chat forums and social media is becoming tiresome for all of us. Still, we should confess, edify, and love (and contend and defend when needed). Bottom line? Search the Scriptures! Apply Acts 17:11 to anything and everything you find here and, if you do happen to disagree with something you find here (which is certainly ok), or think I'm "irresponsible" and "wrong" for writing it, then please refute my position by supporting yours with Scripture and/or the Confessions. I don't think that's an unreasonable request, especially for those who identify themselves as "Christians" here, right? Besides, Proverbs 27:17 tells us "Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another" and 2 Timothy 3:16 says, "all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness." If you have an opinion that's great, I welcome it, but try to support it using God's Word. I mean, if the goal here is to help us all arrive at the truth of God's Word (myself included), then it should be easy to follow through on this one simple request (I'm talking to all you "Anonymous" visitors out there). Grace and peace to you and yours!

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