God’s Son Has Made Us Free

In spite of our criticisms, most Americans are thankful for the freedoms, which we enjoy in our country. If we are not, we ought to take a trip to some part of the world where the people live in captivity. I received a new appreciation for my freedom Ð which we can easily take for granted Ð one time while visiting East Germany when the wall still stood.

But after thanking God for our American freedom, we wonder if we are really free. Our Lord takes us a bit further when he talks about another freedom that is even greater than our political freedom. Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

He received a strong reaction from the Jews when he confronted them with the thought that they were not free. “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?”

Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if a Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”

Our Lord’s audience was a group of Jewish people who were interested in what Jesus was talking about until he spoke about spiritual freedom. They were tremendously proud to be the children of Abraham. But Jesus wanted them to know that we can be politically free and yet spiritually enslaved. Spiritual freedom is our greater freedom. And as long as you are not in him, you do not have that freedom.

As he told these Jewish people that story, I am sure many left him. And so it is that Jesus says, “If you will hold to this teaching,” not just hear it but hold to this teaching, “you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free. The real truth is in verses 34 and 35: “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if a Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” The real slavery is when our lives are caught by the sinfulness that controls us in so many ways.

This has been true of generations ever since. When Jesus just talks about some of these things on the surface, we can probably go along with it. But when he talks about sin having a hold of us, capturing and controlling us, it is too much and too personal. So once again he says to the people that unless sin is conquered, they are slaves no matter where they live.

Martin Luther understood better than anyone that when your soul is captured, you have no freedom. He went into the monastery because he thought Satan could not get behind those thick walls; he could perhaps overcome his sinfulness and obtain a righteousness he had made himself. I can appear before God righteous and then he will accept me. But Luther soon found out that such things did not work in the monastery either. As a result, he lived a tortuous life.

However, Luther remained a monk, received his doctor’s degree in theology, and became professor of Bible at the University of Wittenberg. While preparing his lectures on the book of Romans, God spoke to him with these mighty words: “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: ÔThe righteous will live by faith'” (Romans 1:17).

Suddenly his whole life was changed as these words revealed that we have become God’s children by grace through faith in Christ. Now the chains were broken and he was a free man.

In Romans 3 Luther read, “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscience of sin. But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”

This freedom gave Luther the strength to remain faithful to God’s revelation, and consequently he defied both the Emperor and the Pope. Luther stood at the Diet of Worms and said, “Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason Ð I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other Ð my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.”

And that is the message for us today, as well. When are we free? Only when Jesus Christ has set us free are we truly free, for unless our sins are forgiven, we are the slaves to sin. Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching (abide in my word), . . . then you will be free.”

Bishop J. C. Ryle has written a wonderful paragraph on this matter of abiding in the word. “To make a beginning in religious life is comparatively easy. But when the newness has passed and is gone, when the world and the devil begin to pull at us, then we discover the deep wisdom of our Lord’s teachings. It is not just beginning, but continuing a religious profession that is the test of true grace.”

This is the message of the Reformation. Knowing the heart and sinfulness of human beings, I present a question to you today: Do we need an ongoing reformation in the church?

Is the church today perhaps something like it was in the sixteenth century with all the corruptions that have come in, all the adjustments that have been made to fit into the lifestyle of the day? If it is, we need a reformation so everything contrary to the Word of God can be swept up, and we can start again. If there is any other teaching than the only way to heaven is through faith in Jesus Christ, then it has to go. Anything that cheapens grace has to go.

Is it time for an ongoing reformation? We thank God for the reformation and the heritage it has given us. We also thank God for the blessings that have been given to us as a American people. But more than that on this Reformation Sunday, we thank him that in Christ Jesus we may experience what real freedom is all about.

Servants

St. John, one of Jesus’ disciples, died in Ephesus around 100 AD. Like many old people, John enjoyed sitting back in a chair and recalling some of his experiences as a disciple of Jesus Christ. Today, I would like to draw a verbal picture of John visiting with two of his students, Polycarp and Ignatius, and telling them about his life with Jesus.

He sits with a copy of Mark’s Gospel in his hand and points to a portion of the book which listed the names of the Twelve (Mark 3:17). John proudly points out his name as a part of that group called to be the disciples of Christ. He tells the two students about his life before Jesus became a part of it. John and his brother James had assisted their father in his fishing business. It was around this time that John the Baptist was preaching in the wilderness and they went faithfully to hear what the great preacher had to say about Jesus, who was in their midst. They learned he would be recruiting a small number of disciples and mighty things would happen, for Jesus was the Lamb of God who had been sent to take away the sins of the world.

Then one day, while at work, Jesus passed by their place of business and called James and John to be his disciples. He would make them “fishers of men.” John says to his students, “We left everything and followed Jesus.” And now Mark had listed them as part of the Twelve. What an honor!

Then Mark records three times when John, together with his brother James, and Peter were selected by the Lord to go with Him while the rest were left behind.

The first was an opportunity to observe Jesus’ power over death, recorded in Mark 5:22-43. Jairus, the head of the synagogue, received word that his daughter had died. He went to Jesus and asked Him to come to their house and raise her from the dead. Jesus agreed and when they got to the home, many people had gathered, as was the custom, to comfort the mourners. Before going into the bedroom, Jesus asked Peter, James and John to go with Him to the bedside where the girl lay dead, and it was there John first saw Jesus’ power over death. The girl was brought back to life. That was an experience that John would never forget, and many years later he shared it with his students.

The second time that John and his brother James, along with Peter, were summoned to go with Jesus was to a high mountain, where he was transfigured before them. Elijah and Moses were there talking to Jesus and a voice was heard saying, “This is my beloved Son, listen to Him.” John learned that day that Jesus was part of the Godhead and he never forgot it. Jesus was far more than a great teacher and religious leader (Mark 9:2-8).

The third time was not a pleasant experience. They were in the Garden of Gethsemane. Judas was about to betray Jesus with a kiss. Then came the call from Jesus to the three asking that they come with Him into the inner garden. Though they slept while their Lord suffered, they heard Him pray, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will but as you will” (Matthew 26:36-39).

This experience opened John’s eyes to better understand the suffering Christ went through to offer salvation to the world. So much was gained through these special experiences with the Lord.

Then a few hours later, John stood at the foot of the cross and Christ looked down on him and his mother Mary and said, “Dear Mother, here is your Son. Son, here is your mother.” John wrote in his Gospel, “From that time on, this disciple took her into his house” (John 19:26-27).

But then John says to his students, “Lest you think that I was without spiritual weaknesses, let me give you a look into my sinful heart.”

“One day when James and I were alone with Jesus,” John continues, “we asked Him this question: ÔLord, when you come in your Kingdom, will you let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in glory?'” (Mark 10:37).

Jesus’ answer was direct, and not only showed them how it was not for Him to grant this request, nor was that His decision to make. Rather He gave them a lesson on greatness in the Kingdom of God when He said, “Whoever wants to be first must be slave to all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:44-45).

This lesson on greatness and servanthood never left John’s mind. And in this text today, John teaches us the same lesson that Christ first taught him. Let’s just take three thoughts from this great text.

First, you will not know what the Gospel is all about until the Holy Spirit has opened your eyes to see Christ. The chorus that our children sing is a prayer we all need to pray daily: “Open mine eyes, O Lord, open my eyes. Into my darkened heart let Thy light rise. Show me myself, O Lord, show me Yourself, O Lord. Show me Your truth, O Lord. Open my eyes.”

John had learned the lessons of the Christian faith but it was not until Pentecost that the Holy Spirit made these teachings dynamic truths with which they lived and died. Only then do we know what it means to say, “Jesus is my Savior. He died for my sins.” Only then will these divine truths begin to speak to our lives.

Second, we cannot have Christ without a cross. The Kingdom of God turns the world’s

idea of power and glory upside down and inside out. There is no CEO in the Kingdom of God. The agenda is not how to refrain from being offensive to the culture in which we live. The agenda is how to tell the story of Christ, for without Him we are helpless. This is a message the humanist cannot stand to hear, and sooner or later our lives will sense the world’s displeasure with us. This is the suffering we will experience in sundry ways.

Third, a daily walk with Jesus will give you an ongoing personality change. John, who was called son of thunder, changed so much in three years that Jesus wanted him to take care of His mother. He was the disciple Jesus loved dearly and wanted His mother to have that love around her. We will also learn that true greatness comes only when our lives are given to serving Him.

Remember the questions that Jesus left with John? “Can you drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with? This is what I can promise you. By grace there will one day be a crown, but in your walk on this earth you will know what it is to suffer for me, your Lord.”

Does a Word From God Still Get Our Attention?

Do you ever get tired of talking about a subject that has been worn out? I do.

Then how must the people feel sitting in the pew on Sunday morning listening to the preacher who is repeating biblical truths, but making no effort to point out how they affect our lives? I am sure some of my parishioners have had that experience. No wonder they ask, Will he ever quit?

Our text today was not my choice. It is the assigned text for this Sunday according to the lectionary. The lectionary is a group of chosen texts assigned for each Sunday in the church year. This helps the pastor to preach the whole counsel of God, not just some chosen favorite portions of scripture.

When I ready our text for today, I am tempted to set it aside and choose something that might be of more interest to the radio audience.

The topic is divorce. That subject begs the question, “Does anything more need to be said on the subject? We know what God says about the subject, but who is listening? Please do not turn away, because the subject of divorce touches the families of many. Listen once more to what God has to offer you.

First, a little summary of history on this thorny subject.

The Pharisees came and asked Jesus, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”

Jesus answered, “Haven’t you read that at the beginning the Creator Ômade them male and female.’ and said, ÔFor this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.”

This led to the question from the Pharisees, “Why then did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”

Jesus pointed out the reason for these divorces: their hearts were hard. Many wives were cast aside by their husbands and they had no place to go while the husbands were off finding another wife. This was not God’s intentional will, but to protect these forsaken wives a letter of divorce was granted to them so they would have some protection and get on with life.

Divorce is a relevant subject in our day and the cause for much heartache. Most families in the broad sense of the word have experienced the horrors of divorce. If you are not a divorcee, perhaps others in your family or circle of close friends have gone through these torturous days.

Others were planning to be married, but afraid it could happen to them. When visiting with some people about their cohabitation, they give the fear of divorce as their reason for living together. Consequently, they “move in together,” which gives them freedom to move out when they feel it best and be spared a lot of hurt.

Still others might be thinking, Strange that I turned on this program today. I have been giving divorce serious thought. Why continue with this marriage if our love has run out?

Listen! Listen! Listen!

Follow God in his Word. What is his first bit of counsel? “Be not mismated with unbelievers.” If a husband and wife are committed to the Lord Jesus Christ, he binds them together. They worship together, kneel at the communion table together, have a daily devotional time with each other, have basic values for life as the Bible teaches, and know how to deal with differences of opinion on subjects that would otherwise divide them.

They are not perfect people, but have learned how to forgive and receive forgiveness when difficulties come to their family.

If you ignored this counsel from the Lord and married an unbeliever and your marriage did not work out, you now know what it is to be a divorcee. But there is still hope. Many people are enjoying their second marriage. But be extra careful this time. First turn to the Lord for forgiveness of the past and guidance for the future.

Divorce is sin, but it is not the unpardonable sin. The first five years of my ministry, I dealt with divorce legalistically. Turning to the Bible, we learn that there are two reasons for divorce. The one is desertion Ð a refusal on the part of either the husband or wife to live with their spouse. The second is adultery. In such case, the innocent party is free to divorce and remarry.

The problem is why the guilty person deserted their spouse or committed adultery. Consequently, I did not officiate at the wedding of any person who had been divorced.

But then the American Lutheran Church suggested another approach to this problem of marrying divorced people. It was very simple. If the divorced person was repentant of their sin in the marriage, and if they trusted Christ as their Savior and asked for forgiveness, and if both the husband and the wife were committed Christians, God would forgive and the pastor could marry them.

I lived with this policy form the mid Ô50s to my retirement and appreciated the gospel emphasis. There were times that the newlyweds did not keep their promises after the wedding and the second marriage ended in divorce as well. However, this was the exception.

Mark MeKenna helped me on this subject when he wrote, “Jesus would be the first to recognize divorce as a fact of life that may have to be permitted under certain circumstances, but the last to condone it as god’s original purpose. Divorce is still a primary symptom of our hardened hearts. We continue to ask, ÔIs it legally permissible?’ when we should be asking, “is it God’s intention?'”.

God does not condone divorce. In Christ, however, he will forgive it.

Does this word from God still get our attention?