Summary: A sermon preached at an area Reformation Sunday worship service on 10/25/2009 at Elk Horn Lutheran Church, Elk Horn, Iowa. It uses Jesus’ words of the text as Jesus’ "reformation words" for the people of his day, Martin Luther’s day, and today.
Historically, Lutherans have taken the last Sunday in October and set it aside as “Reformation Sunday”, where we give thanks to God for the life and work of Martin Luther and other reformers of the church in the 1500’s who brought back to light the truth of the Gospel. It’s a day where it’s very tempting to just look at a past event, and leave it at that. And honestly, that is one of the things we are doing here today. The theme of this service that Pastor Menter chose is a very fitting one for the occasion: “God’s Word is Our Great Heritage”, and indeed, as Lutheran Christians, who have lived by the Reformation principle of “Sola Scriptura” or “Scripture Alone”, God’s Word is a part of our heritage. This year, considering some things that have been happening within the Lutheran Church in the United States, it seemed to me at least that with today being Reformation Sunday, it seems rather fitting that we’re gathered here for this special service as Lutheran Christians under the theme of “God’s Word is Our Great Heritage.”
Our Gospel lesson for this service gives us a wonderful opportunity to gather around our Lord’s Word, and listen to what I have called Jesus’ “Reformation Words”. As we do so, we are going to see how these are Reformation words for the people of Jesus’ day, for the people of Martin Luther’s day, and for you and me, the people of God in the Lutheran Church in our day. So, let’s listen to what our Lord has to say to us on this Reformation Sunday through His Word.
I. Jesus First Speaks “Reformation Words”
In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus is speaking to some Jews who had believed in him. He’s telling them what it truly means to be one of His disciples when He says: “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples.” That means, stay in it. Don’t stray from it. But this doesn’t just mean abide in what Jesus says. In the beginning of John’s Gospel, we learn that: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God .” (John 1:1-2) That Word is Jesus; thus Jesus is the very Word of God, come in human flesh. So that means that the Word that these Jews have been hearing for centuries, in the Law and the Prophets, what we call the Old Testament today, is literally standing right in front of them! Thus, Jesus is essentially telling them to “abide in Him, abide in what He says and does. When you do that, you will know the truth that you cannot on your own win your forgiveness and salvation by your own works or efforts, but that I am going to the cross to do it for you, and that truth will set you free from sin, death and the power of the devil!” You would think that this would be great news to these would be disciples, people who have been waiting for the long promised Messiah, and have heard of Him through His Word.
But, these Jews start to throw in their own objections. You see, they have their own idea of who their Savior will be, and it’s not in alignment with His Word. They’re looking for a political leader who will bring them out of the Roman Empire. Their response to Jesus’ words show this very well when they say: “We are Abraham’s descendents, and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?” This objection has problems from the start, and show us the real disbelief these Jews really had for Jesus and His Word. First, they say: “We have never been slaves of anyone.” That’s a false statement. Apparently, they had forgotten about their ancestors being enslaved in Egypt, and that it was God who delivered them out of that slavery. Not only that, but these Jews who are saying to Jesus “we’ve never been slaves to anyone” are forgetting the fact that while they are not formally enslaved, they are living under the rule of the foreign Roman Empire, so in a way, they are enslaved by a foreign occupation in their land.
Let’s also look at the phrase of “we’re Abraham’s descendants.” That’s another problem altogether, and is actually the bigger problem here. Instead of putting their faith and trust in God, and His promise to the Jewish people for a Savior from sin, they are looking for someone else. They’re looking at their lineage, their Jewish heritage, to be their “get out of hell free” card with God. Essentially, they’re saying “But Jesus, we’re Abraham’s spiritual descendants. That means we’re saved! You can’t say we’re wrong in the eyes of God because we’re Jews! That’s what matters with God!” The problem with that was they were looking for a Messiah to solve their earthly problems, and give them a pat of the back for what they were doing, believing that their Jewishness was going to save them, so the only Messiah they were looking for was a political one, who would deliver them from earthly enemies and make them great in the eyes of the world. They were forgetting that the Savior was promised to save from sin, death, and the power of the devil, not foreign armies and things of the world. Jesus was telling them that their slavery isn’t a slavery to foreign governments or worldly slave masters like the Egyptians were to their ancestors, it was a slavery to sin itself; sin which sought to keep them enslaved and dead forever. But, to those who would listen to Jesus’ words, Jesus was saying that He was the true Savior, the only Savior from sin, death, and the power of the devil, and when He sets us free, we will be free indeed, free to be forgiven children of God for the sake what Christ had done for us on the cross.