Beloved, today Jesus comes to you and says, “I am the truth, and I have set you free. Stand firm! Do not let yourself take on again a yoke of slavery.”
Jesus is talking to the Jews who have believed in Him. No scribes or Pharisees here. Well, not anymore. These have seen the miracles, and they've read the Old Testament. They know God has promised the Messiah will give sight to the blind, make the lame leap, and give life to the dead. Jesus. He's the one. They've seen and heard the facts and they're convinced beyond a reasonable doubt.
But their faith is a philosopher's faith. It's not real. It's not saving. It's a “this and that has happened” faith. The Scriptures say the Messiah will do this and that. Jesus has done this and that. Therefore Jesus is the Messiah. And a philosopher's faith doesn't take you very far. A philosopher is satisfied with what they call “truth.” They've got the charts and diagrams. Everything's in its right intellectual place.
But despite what they think they know and understand, these philosophers, these believing Jews, have not received the gift of faith described in today's reading from Romans. There's no trust. There's no hope. Their heart isn't reaching out and grabbing Jesus, holding him close, and demanding He give to them all He promises to give. Jesus wants to be given. He wants to be received. He wants to be trusted. But Jesus has just said something the believing Jews can't tolerate.
“When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I AM, and that I do nothing of Myself; but as My Father taught Me, I speak these things.”
These Jews are trying to force Jesus into their heads, and the Jesus they want isn't the Jesus who's talking to them, the one they're going to crucify. The Jesus they want isn't I AM, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They've made up the kind of Jesus they want, and that Jesus is an idol.
Dr. Luther writes about this in his Large Catechism. “The confidence and faith of the heart alone make both God and an idol. If your faith and trust is right, then your god is also true. But if your trust is false and wrong then you do not have the true God. For these two belong together, faith and God.”
Luther is right. These believing Jews made up a false Jesus and placed their trust in him. And that left no room for the Jesus that is, was, and ever shall be. The real Jesus was stuck out in the cold. No room in their hearts for the Eternal Son.
Sinners are always trying to make room in their hearts for their works. They want to put their trust in what they create with their hands and minds. They want their own truth rather than the Truth made flesh. Jesus says it very clearly... “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” Truth isn't facts. Truth is Jesus.
Today we remember the Reformation, and one phrase that comes to mind is “second verse same as the first.” These believing Jews had the facts straight, but it was their own intellect they trusted in instead of Jesus. That's also what Luther saw going on in his day. And against this Dr. Luther cried, “No! This is nonsense! You can do nothing to save yourself.”
And so he wrote in our Confessions, “The first and chief article is this: Jesus Christ, our God and Lord, died for our sins and was raised for our justification. He alone is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, and God has laid upon Him the iniquities of us all!”
Luther says the first and chief article is Jesus, the Truth Incarnate. And what does Jesus say? “If you abide in My word, you are really My disciples. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.”
“Wait a minute!” say the Jews. “We're free already, and what's more, we've never been slaves to anybody!” Never been slaves? Surely they're joking! What about their bondage to Pharoah in Egypt? What about their bondage to Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon? Were those vacations? No. It was slavery. Real and tangible. But maybe the Jews had forgotten about that, so Jesus says, “You're slaves alright, but you're no children of Abraham.” They are slaves to sin.
They hope to gain God's favor by what they've figured out. And they feel alright so long as all the ducks keep in line. But ducks will be ducks, and that means that there's going to come a point that they'll quack and run around and rustle their feathers. And if that's where these believing Jews have put their trust, even a little gust of wind will blow all the feathers away.
There's no there there. There's no reality. There's nothing you can lay hands upon. There's nothing that's certain. There's no Jesus, and only sin remains when the Son has not set you free. If you hold onto your thoughts or your deeds, you're holding onto your sins too. Filthy rags, tampons... that's what Isaiah calls your righteous deeds.
You have lifted Jesus up. You have nailed him to the cross on which He died for your sins and the sins of the whole world. Let go your deeds. Let go the works of the law. They will not save you. Jesus has saved you. Jesus' deeds, not yours. Jesus' deeds have saved you. And they are not rags. No, they are perfect white garments. They wrap you in light, peace, and joy.
Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. And you truly are Abraham's children. You know the truth, and He has set you free. And when Jesus, the Truth, has set you free, you are free indeed!
The Son abides in the Father's house forever, and in your Baptism, you have been begotten of that same heavenly Father. You are no longer slaves in the Father's household. No, you are sons and daughters of the King.
And so Paul writes, “For freedom Christ has set you free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not be bound again with a yoke of slavery!”
You were slaves to sin, but you are no longer! You are now children, living in the house of the Eternal Father, receiving the good gifts that He lavishes upon His children.
The sin into which you now fall is not your master. It is not your overlord. True worship of God is faith struggling with despair. And faith, the pure good gift of God, holds onto Christ. And in Christ there is no room for despair. No room for the vain imaginings of your heart that would try to pull you away from Jesus.
Jesus went into death and destroyed it. He broke the chains of sin that bound you to the household of Satan. You are freedmen and women. But freeing you from your chains wasn't enough for Jesus. He broke your chains and presented you pure, holy, and blameless to His Father. And God the Father received you as His own child.
Satan wanted to keep you in prison, but God will have none of that. You are His, called by the Triune God's Name, living in His household, and fed by His heavenly food. Nourished and sustained by the body and blood of Jesus, you know the Truth, and the Risen One has set you free forever.
In the Name of Jesus, Amen.