The truth will set you free.
Today is the 495th anniversary of the Reformation Sunday since Martin Luther posted his 95 theses, an attack (on various ecclesiastical abuses), on the door of the Wittenberg Cathedral, Oct. 31, 1517.
Actually, the purpose of Luther’s posting ‘95 theses’ did not have any intention for leaving or separation from the Roman Catholic Church. He just wanted to suggest disputing whether or not it was right that Roman Catholic Church was selling ‘indulgences’ to fundraise for the construction of St. Peter’s Basilica according to the Edict of Pop Leo 10 (Leo X). Thus, ‘95 theses’ was called Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of ‘Indulgences.’
It did not happen by chance. Luther had taught Psalm in college since 1513. He became in shock and realized something when reading Psalm 22. “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” It is the last word that Jesus shouted out on the cross. Luther had felt guilty in and a limit that he could not reach to God with his efforts. Through the scripture, he realized that Jesus Christ was forsaken the most miserably. Jesus Christ was the righteous judge and also the accused man standing in the dock. Luther realized that the righteous God was God of love who was forsaken inside Jesus Christ for and by Himself. From this, Lutheran Theology was born in that God’s righteousness is mysteriously connected to the love of the cross through the agony of Jesus.
Luther was a truthful monk, but he could not help but feel guilty before God. So, he felt hatred toward, complained to, and was angry at the righteous God who punishes sinners. Romans 1:17 says, ‘For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: "The righteous will live by faith.”’ Studying Romans, he realized, through the word of God, what God’s righteousness was. Then he found that we could be saved by our belief that the righteousness of God makes us righteous, not by our efforts or sacrifice.
While Roman Catholic Church was selling ‘indulgences,’ it advertised that the buyer’s soul imprisoned in purgatory would be free when he or she heard the clink of coins dropping. Because a man cannot become righteous by doing good things, practicing good deeds or doing any righteous action, and because he knew that a man can be righteous only through God’s righteousness and a man’s faith, Luther never accepted that ‘indulgences’ would forgive a man’s sin and make him/her live righteously. So, he had automatically entered into the Reformation way.
Because it is the 495th anniversary of the Reformation Sunday, we would like to think over the Reformation’s meaning, contemplating today’s word. I wish you enjoy freedom in Jesus Christ, the real truth, as Luther found freedom in the truth, too.
John 8:30 says “Even as he spoke, many put their faith in him.” People believed what was said in verse 29: “The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him."” They believed the relationship between Jesus and God. (They believed that God had sent Jesus to the world and what Jesus was doing were things that made God happy and that those two are one together.)
But who believed this? It is answered in verse 31: “To the Jews who had believed him…”
It is indeed a great thing… The expression of the Jews listening to Jesus and believing in him is uncommon in the Gospels. That is because many of the Jews from the Bible are shown to reject Jesus and hate him. But those people believed in Jesus. They believed in the relationship between Jesus and God. This is surprising.
However, although they have been said to believe, their faith was not truly intact. You can tell in verse 43-45: “Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father's desire… Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe me!”
The author of John also tried to reveal their imperfect faith by using other form of the word “believe.” Usually, in order to say “to believe (something),” one says the words “pistou” and “ace.” However, in today’s verse, only the word “pistou” is used and this is an indication of dative case that marks the indirect object of a verb. The word “believe” in verse 31 is thus differentiated from the word used in other verses.
In other words, the Jews thought they believed, but Jesus saw that they didn’t truly believe. That is why Jesus is saying “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
The Jews who heard him asked back, "We are Abraham's descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?"
Jews had a great deal of pride of being descendants of Abraham. So they thought they knew enough truth. They said they had never been slaves of anyone, but this wasn’t really true. If you look at the history of Israel, the people were enslaved for 400 years in Egypt and were also taken as prisoners by Babylonians. Also at that time they were under the domination of Rome. So when they said they had never been slaves of anyone, this wasn’t correct. There was another reason for saying this.
While under control, the Jews never gave up their beliefs. In Egypt, they served God and when captured by Babylonians, they kept their faith. If you look at Daniel and his three friends, it is easy to tell this, The Jews risked their lives and never sacrificed to idols. They did not bow down to idols even if they were entering the furnace. Daniel prayed to God three times a day even though he knew he would be going into a lion’s den if he served God. The Jews built synagogues wherever they went and worshipped God. That was why they had pride of keeping their faith as descendants of Abraham. But Jesus said “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” The Jews thought they already knew the truth. So they were hurt when they heard Jesus say this.
Simplified, today’s scripture is about those who say that they believe in Jesus but who do not actually walk the walk. They are the words given to you and I who confess our faiths but are unable to enjoy the freedom given to us by the words.
Thus, we need to take a close look at verses 31 and 32, “To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.’”
The reason why we are unable to truly believe in Jesus is because we are not holding on to his teachings. To hold on here is to keep it in our hearts and live by it. It’s not like the landscape that passes by when we are in a car. Instead it’s as though we have gotten out and stood firm, keeping our ground. This is how we are to hold the teachings close to us.
The people living in the Middle Ages were unable to read the bible and thus, had to completely rely on what the priests had taught them. The reason for Luther’s reformation was because what he had read in Psalms and Romans. And the reason for the reformation’s success was because the bible was translated into vernacular and people who read it realized that true faith can only happen when we hold the teachings dearly.
Not only in terms of reading the words, but living, existing, and breathing the words. Abraham, father of faith, left his homeland and his family for Palestine in following God’s words. He changed his life completely. But why did God tell Abraham to leave his homeland? Because it was near impossible for Abraham to lead life as God’s citizen while remaining where he was.
Beloved church members, this is what it means to breathe in the words. We must leave our past behind, we must throw out the authoritative teachings of the past that solely emphasized the laws and traditions. I hope that all of us today will take that step into the words that brings us closer to living in the words.
The second reason why the Jews of the time were unable to have true faith was because they were unable to become true disciples.
A few weeks ago, Pastor Kim from the Winnipeg church came to give us a sermon. In it he told us that when we look at Christians today, there seems to be a lot of fans of God but no disciples. They yell, scream and dance for God, just as fans do for their favourite singers, but they don’t lead the lives of true Christians.
The Rodem Tree section today has a section of Luther’s essay on the freedom of Christians. In it says, “A Christian man is the freest lord of all, and subject to none; a Christian man is the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to everyone.” I think that this is how a true Christian would look – both free from everything and yet serving all.
The essay goes on to say, “Although these statements appear contradictory, yet, when they are found to agree together, they will be highly serviceable to my purpose. They are both the statements of Paul himself, who says: “Though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all” (Cor 9:19), and “Owe no man anything, but to love one another” (Rom 13:8). Now love is by its own nature dutiful and obedient to the beloved object. Thus even Christ, though Lord of all things, was yet made of a woman; made under the law, at once free and a servant; at once in the form of God and in the form of a servant.”
A true disciple is not a screaming fan, but someone who lives like Jesus. He was free from all and yet served all, we too, must and this is the life of a disciple, the life of faith.
However, the Jews in the scripture are not leading such lives. Verse 37 says, “I know you are Abraham’s descendants. Yet you are ready to kill me, because you have no room for my word.”
When was the Dark Age of Christianity? The Middle Ages. Despite the fact that Christianity was the most powerful authority at the time, it was the darkest time. Why? Because the disciples were not following the footsteps of Jesus. Because even though they confessed their faith, they only cared about their gains. And it showed that a church without true disciples had no future but to fail.
Verse 31 is followed by “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” The natural progression flows like this. The reason why people are unable to become true believers is because they don’t know the truth, and since they don’t know the truth, they are unable to enjoy the freedom that result from it, thereby unable to live the lives of disciples.
People do not know the truth. Just as I said in the Friday service, everyone feel limited and powerless in front of the mirror of the commandments. And yet the Pharisees and the Catholic leaders of the time believed that they were righteous. They believed that through the rituals and the traditions of Christianity, they too, become righteous leading to the selling of indulgences in the Middle Ages.
However, people are unable to become righteous by their own efforts. They were lying to themselves for believing in such principles. Thus, Luther tried to explain that it was only by grace and by faith that one is able to even come close to such states and even in today’s scripture says, ‘Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin”’ (8:34). Even if you are a Jew, even if you are a direct descent of Abraham, even if you stick to the commandments rigorously, we are all slaves of sin and we cannot become righteous.
Thus, we must know the truth. However, what is the truth? John explains it in chapter 14 verse 6, ‘Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”’
What does this mean? It means that the truth of Jesus Christ. Thus, we must get to know him, believe in him and learn the truth that comes from him, believe in it and hold on the teachings. This is the only path of freedom.
The latter part of Luther’s essay says,” It can do all things, has all things, and is in want of nothing; is lord over sin, death, and hell, and at the same time is the obedient and useful servant of all. But alas! it is at this day unknown throughout the world; it is neither preached nor sought after, so that we are quite ignorant about our own name, why we are and are called Christians. We are certainly called so from Christ, who is not absent, but dwells among us, provided, that is, that we believe in Him, and are reciprocally and mutually one the Christ of the other, doing to our neighbour as Christ does to us.”
The reason we can be called Christians is because “We are certainly called so from Christ… [who] dwells among us.” Beloved church members, dwell among the words of Jesus Christ. Become a true disciple. Learn the truth and become free in it. Be free from all and yet serve all. This is the only and the true path of faith.
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