October 28, 2018

Rev. Mark F. Bartels



Old Testament Lesson; Jeremiah 31:31-34

Epistle Lesson; Romans 3:19-24                             

Sermon Text; John 8:31-36


The text we will look at this morning is taken from John, chapter eight, verses thirty one through thirty six.  These are our Savior's words.


So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed Him, “If you remain in my word, you are really my disciples.  You will also know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 

“We are Abraham's descendants,” they answered, “and we have never been slaves of anyone.  How can you say, 'You will be set free'?” 

Jesus answered, “Amen, Amen, I tell you:  Everyone who keeps committing sin is a slave to sin.  But a slave does not remain in the family forever.  A son does remain forever.  So if the Son sets you free, you really will be free.”


These are your words, Heavenly Father.  Lead us in the way of truth.  Your Word is truth.



Today we are celebrating the 501st Anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation.  We mark October 31st, 1517 as the beginning of what is known as The Lutheran Reformation.  What was The Lutheran Reformation all about?  Technically, I am going to say it was all about one word.  It was about the word 'conscience'. 

In the summer of 1505, there was a young man by the name of Martin Luther, who was 22 years old.  It was nighttime.  He was going through a thunderstorm, outside, when all of a sudden he was struck to the ground by lightening.  He was terrified.  His conscience was terrified.  He thought, “What if I were to die tonight, and stand before God?  What is going to happen to me?” 

So, he pleaded to St. Anne to save his life.  “If you save me, I will become a monk.”  He wanted to get his conscience right with God. 

Well, he lived, and he did become a monk.  For about ten years he tried really, really hard to get his conscience right with God.  He had been taught, ever since he was a little boy, “You want your conscience to be right with God.  God is a Judge who is watching you.  He is watching every move you make, every thought you have.  If you can get your actions right with God, then you can have a clean conscience.” 

So, he tried very hard.  He tried to do all of the right things.  He even tried to punish himself, if he thought he had done something wrong.  He would whip himself, and he would try to deprive himself of food, by fasting.  He thought that would maybe make him spiritually closer to God.  But, no matter how hard he tried, he still felt like he had this guilty conscience.  He could not do everything to ultimately please God.

He dove into the Bible, and started studying The Bible.  All of a sudden, he discovered in Scripture something that set him free from a guilty conscience.  He discovered the simple truth of The Bible.

We are saved by grace alone. 

This is just a free gift from God.  We don't earn it, and we don't deserve it. 

By faith alone. 

Simply by trusting something.  What is that? 

In Christ alone. 

Jesus died for our sins, and lived a perfect life in our place.  Whoever believes that, will be saved.  That set his conscience free. 

Then, he started to notice his dear, Christian friends in Germany.  He started to worry about their consciences.  He knew they had been taught what he had been taught - you have to earn God's favor, before you can have a good conscience. 
He also knew they had been taught this false teaching that there is a place called Purgatory.  “When Christians die, they go to this place called Purgatory.  If you have not done enough good works, you suffer for thousands of years in Purgatory.  Finally, when you have suffered enough, then you go to Heaven.”

Luther thought, “That is not scriptural, and that must really bother people's consciences.”

Then, they were being told, “Your loved ones, who are in Purgatory, your mom and dad who have died, have gone to Purgatory, and are suffering, they are crying out to you, saying, 'Can you free us from Purgatory, somehow?'” 

They were being taught, “You know what?  You just buy this thing called An Indulgence, which is a piece of paper.  Your loved one can get out of Purgatory, once you buy it.” 

That was the teaching that was going on.  Luther thought that is not the way to try to calm people's consciences.  And so, he nailed theses, ninety five statements, on a church door in Wittenberg, Germany, because he wanted to have a debate.  He wanted to ask, “Is that the way you can have a good conscience with God, by buying some indulgences?” 

The church tried to silence Martin Luther.  Fortunately, for us they weren't able to silence him. 

Finally, I don't know if you are aware of this, but he actually got the debate he wanted.  It happened a year and a half later.  It is a famous debate known as The Leipzig Debate. 

Now, just a little bit of information about debates in Germany, at that time.  Debates in Germany, between two, really famous, powerful people was like going to The Super Bowl in our day.  They didn't have football games back then.  They didn't have baseball.  You couldn't go to The World Series.  You couldn't go to The Super Bowl.  They didn't have reality TV.  They didn't have big, presidential debates that could get millions of viewers.  But, boy, if you wanted to have something that really, really captured the attention of the German people, you held a debate that was between two big, big names, where there was a lot at stake.  If Luther lost this debate, he could even lose his life. 

So this debate was set up between Martin Luther, who was a humble, little monk, who was challenging the teaching of the church, and this famous, famous debater named John Eck.

This debate was so publicized, and so controversial that for six months before it ever happened, there were huge discussions about, “What city is it going to be in?”  “Who are the judges going to be?”  “What is the venue that is going to take place in?”  

Finally, on July forth, 1519 the debate gegan.  There were armed guards in the city, for fear violence would break out.  Everybody knew, if Luther loses this debate, he could get killed.  It was like 'electricity in the air'. 

John Eck's whole plan (and it was a good plan), was to bring so much evidence against Luther, that Luther just could not stand up against it.  And, that is what John Eck did.  Among other things, John Eck wanted to show so much evidence that there is a place called Purgatory, and there are such things such as indulgences, and the Pope does have authority.  He wanted to put so much evidence on the table that Luther could not stand up against it. 

And so, to summarize partially what happened in this debate, John Eck first of all essentially said, “Let's look at all of the church councils that have happened down through the centuries.”  Now, a church council was when a bunch of theologians would get together, and they would study a topic.  Then, they would make declarations.  John Eck in essence said, “Look at all of these church councils, down through the centuries.”  And then, he would list one after the next, after the next, after the next that talked about Purgatory, talked about indulgences, and talked about the power, and authority of the Pope. 

And then he in essence said, “If that is not enough, (all of these church councils), we have statements of the Popes that go back for centuries.  Look at all of these statements of the Popes that talk about indulgences, Purgatory, and the power, and authority of the Pope.”  He laid that all out as evidence. 

Then he, in essence he said, “If that is not enough, there is also all of this evidence from all of these church fathers, that goes back centuries, these theologians who talked about Purgatory, indulgences, and the power and authority of the Pope.”

So he laid out all of this evidence from church councils, Popes, and church fathers who talked about Purgatory, indulgences, and the power and authority of the Pope.  Everybody must have thought, “How is Luther going to stand up against all of that evidence?” 

Then, in essence what Luther said probably caused a lot of people to gasp at the courage, and audacity of what he said.  Here, in essence,  is the basic message of his response. 

“All of the authorities you have laid out against me, here, fall into one of three realms.  It is either church councils, or it is Popes, or it is what church theologians/church fathers have said.  But, you have not given me any evidence from The Bible.  You have not given me any evidence from The Bible.” 

Now ponder this point,

“Church councils can make mistakes.  They can error.  Popes can make mistakes.   They can error.  Church fathers can make mistakes, and they can error.  And if they say things that can't be found in scripture, then they are not telling the truth.” 

And then Luther expressed this approach,

“I stand on scripture alone, as my only authority, when it comes to knowing what is true spiritually.” 

Then he dropped this bombshell, when he said,

“I believe a simple church goer, a layperson, armed with scripture is to be trusted more than all of the church councils, and the Popes, without scripture.”  

That is one of the great heritages of The Lutheran Reformation, is what we call Scripture Alone, or Sola Scriptura.  Scripture is the only authority we go to, when it comes to knowing what is true, spiritually.  In today's scripture reading, Jesus lays out that principal.  Jesus says,

“If you remain in my Word,

you are really my disciples.

You will also know the truth,

and the truth will set you free.”

There, Jesus tells us, “If you remain”, and that means to cling to, to hold to, to abide by, to stand steadfastly, to dig in to.  “If you remain in my Word...” 

Now, He is God, and His Word is The Bible.  “If you remain in my Word you will know...” (what?)  “You will know the truth...” 

There is that principal that scripture alone is the place we go to know the truth.  As in Luther's day, there were many so called 'authorities' who said things that The Bible did not agree with.  There are 'authorities' today that challenge the truth. 

For example, there are scientists today who would tell you, “You know, there is scientific evidence out there that the world came about by evolution, over billions, and billions of years.” 

But, you know what?  Scientists can make mistakes.  Scientists can err.  And, if what they say doesn't line up with Scripture, it is not true.  Jesus said,

“If you remain in my Word...

You will know the truth...”

There are, for example, people today in society, sociologists, and politicians who say things that do not agree with Scripture.  They say society has changed, so it is no longer wrong to live in a committed gay lifestyle, for example.  But, you know what?  Sociologists can make mistakes.  Politicians can err.  They can make mistakes.  If what they say does not line up with Scripture, then it is not true. 

Scripture alone is our authority.

There are people who can say, “Yeah, The Bible talks about Jesus walking on water, and raising the dead.  The Bible talks about Jonah being swallowed by a great fish.  But, those are just made up stories, because we don't see those kind of supernatural things happening.” 

What are they doing?  They are using human reason and saying, “If I have not seen it happen, then it can't be true.”

But, listen.  Human reason can err.  It can make mistakes.  If what it says does not agree with The Bible, then it is not true. 

The Bible is our only authority. 

It is our only authority, when it comes to measuring what is truth, spiritually. 

Jesus said,

“If you remain in my Word,

you are really my disciples.

You will also know the truth...”

And then He said,

“and the truth will set you free.” 

People who heard that were confused, because they caught the words “set you free”. 

And they asked, “What do you mean set free?  You are implying we are slaves.  We are not slaves.  We have never been slaves.  What do you mean we will be set free?” 

Are you a slave?  Are you a slave, because Jesus said, “If you listen to my Word, you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”? 

So, Jesus explained what He meant by being a slave.  He said,

“Everyone who keeps committing sin

is a slave to sin.” 

Are you a slave to sin?  I am going to tell you about myself.  If you are a slave to something, it means you are chained to it, and you can't get away from it.  You can't stop it.  Do you think I am a slave to sin?  I grew up in a pastor's home.  My dad was a great pastor.  He did a great job preaching, and teaching about sin, and the forgiveness of sins.  But, you know what?  All through my childhood, I couldn't stop sinning.  I could not stop. 

Now, I am a pastor.  I have been a pastor for over thirty years.  I get to dig into scripture.  I get to preach, and teach scripture.  I teach all about sin, and forgiveness.  But, you know what?  I can't stop sinning.  I can't stop.  I want to stop, but I still have thoughts I should not have.  I still get greedy.  I still get selfish.  I still lose my temper.  I can't stop.  Jesus said,

“Everyone who keeps committing sin

is a slave to sin.”

That's the truth.  It is so important to know that about ourselves, because Jesus said,

“If you remain in my Word,

you are really my disciples. 

You will also know the truth,

and the truth will set you free.”

Martin Luther said there are two critical teachings we learn from Scripture.  The first one is this.  I learn about what my spiritual capabilities are.  And, when Jesus tells me, “If you continue to sin, you are slave to sin”, I realize (and this is just a cold, hard truth) “I am trapped.  I can't free myself from my own sins.” 

Now, it is critical for me know that, because then the question is:  “How does my conscience ever, ever get ease?”

To which Jesus said this:  “How do you get set free?  If the Son sets you free, you will be free, indeed.” 

The only way I can be set free from my bondage to sin is if Jesus sets me free.  That is the teaching of scripture.

How does Jesus set us free from sin?  I want to think about all of the ways He does it.

-Number one, Jesus has set me free, and you too, from the guilt of sin.  When the Bible says, “All have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by His grace, through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus”, the word 'justify' means 'to declare not guilty'.

Because of what Jesus has done,

I am freed from the guilt of sin. 

Freed!  God declares me not guilty, set free. 

-If I am declared free from the guilt of sin, then what comes next?  I am freed from the punishment of sin.  The Bible says, “Therefore there is now no (what?) no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.”  If I have been set free from guilt, then I have been set free from the punishment of sin, and I cannot be condemned, because Jesus has paid for my sins.  I am free. 

Free from guilt. 

Free from punishment. 

-If I am free from guilt and free from punishment, then I am free from death.  Jesus said “Whoever believes in me will live even though he dies.  And whoever lives and believes in me will never die.”  Death can't hurt me.  Death can't hurt you.  When we die, we are going to go to Heaven to be with Jesus.  And some day, we will rise again from the dead.  We are free. 

The Son has set us free. 

Free from guilt. 

Free from punishment. 

Free from death. 

-And, if I am free from those things, then I am free from fear.  I am free from fear.  Take they our goods, fame, child, life.  Let these all be gone.  They have nothing won.  The Kingdom ours remaineth.

We are free. 

-If I am free from all of those things, then I am free from the dominion of sin.  I am a new creation in Christ.  By the power of Christ living in me, I actually don't have to sin, anymore.  I now can strive, and so can you, to try to live a God pleasing life.   And while we are not going to be perfect on this side of eternity, we are free. 

Free from the dominion of sin.

We base our faith on scripture alone.  In scripture alone we learn we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.  Jesus said, “If you remain in my Word... You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”