But if we walk in the light, just as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanses us from all sin. 1 John 1:7


Reformation Sunday – John 8:31-36

O God, our Lord, Your Holy Word was long a hidden treasure
Til to its place it was, by grace, restored in fullest measure.
For this today our thanks we say, and gladly glorify You.
Your mercy show and grace bestow, on all who still deny You.

This opening verse from the hymn that we sang a few minutes ago – dating from the sixteenth century – reminds us of what the main theme and thrust of Reformation Sunday should be.

Reformation Sunday is not a day for Lutherans to congratulate themselves that they are right and that everyone else is wrong. It is not a day to glory is the greatness of Martin Luther or of any other hero of our church.

It is a day, rather, to offer humble thanks to God for his saving Word, and for the proclamation of his Word – in its truth and purity – within his church.

Today’s Gospel from St. John speaks to this as well, which is why this text is appointed for our instruction today. Here Jesus, the Son of God, is speaking to a group of people described as “Jews who had believed him.”

But in the case of at least some of these people, we do have to wonder what “believing” Jesus had meant for them. They resisted the Lord’s statement that, without him and his saving message, they would remain in spiritual slavery. And it got worse.

By the time we get to the end of Jesus’ increasingly tense dialogue with them – several verses beyond the portion of it that is quoted in today’s reading – Jesus is telling them that their father is not God, but the devil. And they are calling Jesus a demon-possessed Samaritan.

It would seem, then, that for some if not most of the people to whom Jesus is speaking, their having “believed” him did not mean that they had believed his Word. In their supposed “belief,” they were, instead, apparently projecting onto him certain preconceived, erroneous expectations of what they thought the Messiah was supposed to be like.

Jesus, they imagined, had come to vindicate them, and to destroy their political enemies. The Messiah they were expecting would – they thought – reward them for their faithfulness in obeying the law of God, and punish evil-doers.

But they didn’t get these ideas from anything that Jesus had actually said. They hadn’t listened to him very carefully.

And so, their supposed “belief” in him was really a belief in themselves – a belief in their own presumptions, illusions, and self-deceptions – and not a belief in the real Messiah who was actually there to save them from their slavery to sin.

As heirs of the Reformation, we’d probably like to think of ourselves as people who do listen to Jesus, and whose faith in him is in fact based on his Word, and shaped by his Word. Hopefully, among us, that’s more true than not true.

But I would venture to say that it is not as true as it should be. How often do we find ourselves feeling a little bit uncomfortable, as we listen to some of the things that Jesus has to say to us?

Perhaps we have created – in our minds – a “safe” Jesus who does not threaten the status quo in our lives, and who does not demand very much from us. And then, when we are forced to listen to what the real Jesus wants us to know about himself – and about our relationship with him – we hesitate to accept that genuine Word from him, because it doesn’t match up with what we have come to expect.

On this Reformation Sunday, and on every Sunday, how do you evaluate and process the Word of Jesus, when that Word comes to you in statements like these?:

“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”

“He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.”

“No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”

The content of your “belief” in Jesus is not something that you get to make up, in whole or in part. You are not permitted to imagine what you think Jesus should be like, and then to put your faith in that imaginary Jesus.

For example, Jesus is not an indulgent and non-judgmental resource for your own self-defined spirituality, even if that’s what you would like him to be. Jesus does not sit back, wait for you to come up with your own moral code, and then dutifully bless whatever that turns out to be, even if that’s what you would like him to do.

Perhaps you wouldn’t call the real Jesus – with his real demands, and with his reals claims on you – a demon-possessed Samaritan.

But if you are not willing to accept as true and binding on your life, everything that he says; if you have, in your mind, put distance between yourself and his Word; or if you have constructed an artificial Jesus who is anything other than the Jesus who makes himself known in his Word in all of its parts – then that means that there is a part of you that is willing to treat him as if he were a demon-possessed Samaritan.

Jesus says: “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”

Notice, too, that Jesus says that genuine discipleship comes in our abiding in his Word. We are not simply to visit his Word, and to listen to him, only from time to time – say, on Sunday mornings for an hour or two – while our hearts actually live elsewhere, devoted to other priorities.

Jesus does not invite us to be an occasional guest in his Word. He invites us to live there: to abide there permanently, all the time; in everything that we think, say, and do.

Sometimes the Bible does speak of the Word of God being in us – in our hearts, and in our minds. That imagery is certainly true as far as it goes. But that imagery is not as strong and all-encompassing as is the imagery of our being in the Word of God.

If the Word of God is in you, then conceivably other things may also be in you, competing with it for your loyalty. But when you are said to be in the Word of God, that paints a picture of your being totally enveloped by his Word, and completely surrounded by it.

And that’s the picture that Jesus wants to paint in your mind and heart by his speaking in this way, in today’s Gospel.

The Word of Christ in Scripture does not tell us everything we need to know for our various earthly callings. We use our God-given reason and ingenuity to figure out a lot of things about life in this world – both individually, and collectively as a human civilization.

So, the Word of Christ does not tell us everything about everything. But it does tell us something about everything.

For all the human relationships in which we may find ourselves, and for all the tasks and duties for which we may find ourselves responsible, Jesus does speak to us concerning our inner character; concerning love and service to others; and concerning the necessity of a life lived without shame before a holy and perfect God.

God is angered by arrogance, malice, greed, selfishness, abusiveness, and contentiousness. He is pleased, however, by things like these, as Jesus elsewhere lists them:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit… Blessed are the meek… Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness… Blessed are the merciful… Blessed are the pure in heart… Blessed are the peacemakers…”

Jesus says: “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”

Abiding in the Word of Jesus does mean abiding in a continual acknowledgment of the rightness and fairness of all his demands upon us – in all aspects of life. It therefore also means abiding in a continual repentance of all our failures, and of all our halfheartedness and hypocrisy.

When Jesus says that if we abide in his Word, we will know the truth, that means, in part, that we will know, and admit, the painful truth of our sin – which we, in pride, would probably not admit, if God’s law, as Jesus preaches that law, didn’t rub our faces in it.

But that’s not the only truth that we will know, when we abide in the Word of Jesus. We will also know this truth, which Jesus speaks to you and to me:

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned…”

And also this, likewise from the lips of our Savior:

“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

This is that aspect of the Word of Jesus that shows us the truth of our justification before God, and of our acceptance by God. And this is a very real justification, and a very real acceptance.

God, in Christ, truly does count us as righteous. And that really does matter to a conscience that is deeply aware of its sin.

Jesus accomplished this for us by taking our sins upon himself, and carrying them to the cross. As St. Paul writes in today’s lesson from his Epistle to the Romans:

“For…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith…”

In today’s Gospel text, Jesus says: “if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.” In his death, in his resurrection, and in his pledge always to remain with his church, and always to intercede for it, the Son has made you free. And therefore you are free indeed.

In Jesus’ cross, you are set free from the weight of your guilt before God. It is lifted off of you by the atoning sacrifice of Christ, and is replaced by the joyous reconciliation that God’s forgiveness brings.

In Jesus’ victory over the grave, you are set free from your fear of death. That fear is replaced by the peaceful hope that the living Christ now instills in you.

And in Jesus’ ascension and glorification, you are set free from the devil’s lies and plots: through the enlightenment of Christ’s Spirit; and through the constant protection that you have from the one who is the Lord of heaven and earth, and your closest friend.

Jesus speaks of all these things in his Word. Jesus speaks all these things into us, by the supernatural power of his Word.

As we abide in his Word – by faith – we abide in all these blessings of redemption and restoration. These blessings are with us on Reformation Sunday and on every Sunday; and in every moment of every day.

As we abide in his Word, we know that these things are true – and will always be true – because the words of Jesus will never pass away, even if heaven and earth pass away.

And finally, as we abide in the Word of Jesus, throughout our pilgrimage in this world, we who have been admitted to the Lord’s altar abide most intimately, and most gratefully, in these particular words of our Redeemer:

“Take, eat; this is My body, which is given for you.” “Drink of it, all of you; this cup is the New Testament in My blood, which is shed for you and for many, for the remission of sins.”

On this side of eternity – as we fill out our remaining time on earth – the Lord’s Supper gives the Lord’s disciples a most vivid way of heeding this invitation, and of receiving what he therein promises: “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

And as we ponder our destiny in the world to come, we listen carefully to our Savior as he also declares: “Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”

Jesus says: “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”

Lord, You alone this work have done, by Your free grace and favor.
All who believe will grace receive, through Jesus Christ our Savior.
And tho’ the foe would overthrow Your Word with grim endeavor,
What plan he tries, it always dies; Your Word will stand forever. Amen.