Summary: Many people feel freedom comes in being free from anything and everything except themselves. Jesus helps us discover that true freedom is found in Him and His Word of Truth.
A park ranger by the name of John Elliott was once caught in a blizzard high in the Rocky Mountains. As a result of the storm he became lost. It was only by the grace of God that he eventually saw a cabin and crawling to the door with his last ounce of strength, he found it unlocked and crawled in. But being dazed and near exhaustion as he was, he didn’t light a fire or take off his wet clothing. Instead he laid on the floor sinking into oblivion. And there he would have stayed and died but for his St. Bernard dog that came into the cabin after him. He saw his master lying on the floor, and came to arouse John from his near comatose state. The ranger later said that it was the dog that had saved his life, the dog that had roused him awake and made him realize how desperate his situation was. For you see, "When you’re freezing to death, John said, “you actually feel warm all over, and don’t want to wake up because it feels too good."
It occurs to me tonight/today that there are some people who are in a similar spiritual state of mind as well. They don’t realize the state of sin they are in. Everything seems good. They don’t see their need for Christ. They feel they are really handling their salvation pretty well by themselves. But as Paul says, all boasting is excluded on the basis that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God and can be justified only by God’s free gift of grace in Christ Jesus. It is only through faith in Christ Jesus that we can be set free from sin, death and the power of the devil. But many are still numb to the truth.
Jesus runs into some of those today. The verse just prior to our text today tells us that “as Jesus was speaking, many put their faith in him.” But as Jesus continues to bring God’s word concerning Himself and God’s people, they begin to object. The faith of many within the crowd that day will only go so far and they begin to grow numb to the truth that Jesus reveals. They’re numb to their being slaves to sin. In fact they’re so numb to the idea of being slaves that they won’t even accept the reality of their being subject to the Roman Empire. Roman soldiers guarded every major city. A Roman Governor held the seat of power in their capital city of Jerusalem, yet they defiantly claim that “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?” But the idea of being bound to anything or anyone doesn’t fit with their self-elevating notions. Sin can’t touch them. They can’t be defiled. Their tie to Abraham is their guarantee, as much as an indulgence was during the days of Luther.
One the chief driving forces behind Luther’s reform of the church was the Vatican’s sale of indulgences to raise funds for the building of St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome. For a proper fee, German peasants could purchase a piece of paper guaranteeing complete protection against sin. They were numb to the truth that the wages of sin is not a contribution, but eternal death and that apart from faith in Christ they were still lost. There was a great need to return to the Word of God and Luther hailed it, even as His Savior had hailed it before. There was a great need for the proclamation of the truth, even as there still is today.
Indulgences are pretty much a thing of the past. And while the Jews may still pride themselves on their tie to Abraham, most of us as Christians know, as we heard last week in the Gospel, that our Lord Jesus is no respecter of particular men. “He’s not swayed by them because he pays no attention to who they are.” Nevertheless people are still numb to the truth of their humanity. Indulgence papers or not, there’s still a tendency to think that mankind is inherently good. There’s still an attempt on the part of many to refute that there’s anything wrong with us or anything we do.
I think the lead story for the Money section of the September 23rd issue of USA Today is a great example. The long piece chronicled some of the problems facing Japanese bankers. Bad debts for that country’s banks rose 29% in the last fiscal year to $350 billion, and that may be only a partial accounting. Some analysts think the real figure for bad loans is closer to $1 trillion. They are sitting on huge losses in the stock market. And the list of problems is long -- and disturbing. But most disturbing is the fact that most of this happened because of self deceit and denial. Quoting from the article now, “When the bad loans started piling up in the early ’90s, Japanese bankers stuck to an unspoken, unbreakable rule: Never admit that anything is going wrong."