Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
John 8:31-36 Sermon
October 30, 2011
TLH 473 "The Church's One Foundation"
WOV 716 "Word Of God Come Down To Earth"
------ "Thy Strong Word Didst Cleave The Darkness"
TLH 525 "Lord Of Our Life & God Of Our Salvation"
------ "A Mighty Fortress" and "God's Word Is Our Great Heritage"
WHERE'S THE GOSPEL?
TEXT (vs. 31-32): 31So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, "If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."
It hasn't been that long ago that I was reading the "Ask Amy" advice column in the paper--you know, one of those columnists that replaced "Dear Abby" or "Ann Landers." Anyway, as I remember it, this mother was writing in about disciplining her high school age son. Evidently, his grades had been slipping. And so, as a form of punishment, she and her husband revoked his off-campus lunch privileges. He couldn't leave the school grounds to go to out to lunch for a while.
Then one day as she was doing the laundry, she pulled a Burger King receipt out of her son's pocket. She looked at the time and date, and saw that he had gone there during his lunch period, several days after her and her husband had revoked his privileges.
So, they drove to the school one day, and saw that his car was gone from his assigned parking space. They pulled their car into the space and waited for him to come back. And when he did, they caught him red-handed.
The reason the mother wrote to Amy was to ask: "That was nine months ago. His grades have improved, and he has been very well behaved. Do you think he's learned his lesson?"
And as I recall, Amy replied something to this effect: "Based upon what you've told me, I think your enforcement of the rules have been very effective. If he hasn't learned his lesson by now, he probably never will. I think he's had enough of this."
The reason that I've shared this with you this morning, is because it is one of those indicators as to how our world works. When somebody does something wrong, then those who enforce the rules will respond with some sort of punishment. This is done to remind them that there are consequences, and that they should think twice before doing whatever wrong they did again. It also is a warning device, to let other people know that if they do the same thing, then they are subject to the same punishment.
Dr. B. F. Skinner developed a whole system of psychology based upon this idea. It's called "Behaviorism." It's a whole system of positive and negative reinforcement based upon a person's actions. You reward for what is good, and you punish for what is bad. It's as simple as that.
This is what we see played out in the world all the time. A kid in school learns very quickly that if you study and do the work you're assigned, then you will get good grades. And if you slack off, then you'll get bad grades.
Or when you get into the work place, if you do a good job, then you'll get raises and bonuses. And if you don't, then you can get demoted or even fired.
It's this way in the home too. Kids get into trouble all the time for acting up. And parents are continually coming up with various incentives for their children to excel and to do better.
Out in the cold, cruel world, we have statutes and laws to do this very same thing. You break the law, then you can expect to be punished. And if you go a lot of good things, then you can get some great press and public recognition.
That's the way the world works, and it is something that we have grown very accustomed to. In fact, when we goof up, we can almost hear what the boss or the teacher or mom and dad will say. It's that much a part of our lives, and it's something we have come to expect.
The problem is, that we will take this same type of logic and thinking, and we apply it to God. However when we do this, then we are putting God into the same category as we do for so many other people in our lives. And that's not the way things go at all.
Today the subject at hand is the Reformation. The text I just read from John's Gospel is straightforward and simple. Jesus is talking about being set free, specifically from the curse of the law. Unfortunately for Dr. Martin Luther, the whole concept that these words declare wasn’t quite so simple for him. Then something happened. Something clicked. Lights came on and bells rang. Luther discovered that the words and concepts that had previously confused him were the simple, beautiful, wonderful words of the Gospel. That was the Gospel promised to God's children, who were to live by faith, and not according to the works of the law. The Holy Spirit enlightened Luther’s soul, and brought those words home for him.
As we begin to explore the impact of our text today, it would do us well to look at a little of the history surrounding Luther, and how he came to reckon with it.
The year was 1511. Luther was a university professor of the Augustinian order, and had just been transferred from the University of Erfurt to the University of Wittenberg. It was there that Luther met a man by the name of Johann von Staupitz, whose influence would change Luther’s life.
Luther had been extremely disquieted over several issues. For one thing, he was concerned over his many sins. Luther felt that in order for them to be forgiven, he had to enumerate each one; and so he tried to do just that—one time, he was at it for over six hours! He was plagued with the picture of Christ as an avenger and a demanding judge. He felt Jesus was standing there like an angry parent with his arms folded and a stern look on his face saying something like, "Okay young man. I want you to think about what you have done! I want you to think about your punishment!" So Luther went to Staupitz with the words, “Ich fehrstehe es nicht!,” which means “I don’t understand it!”
Staupitz, then the chairman of the Bible at the University, had a thought that might help the troubled Luther. He came to Luther one day, and suggested that he should begin studying for his doctorate, undertake preaching duties, and assume the chairmanship of the Bible at the University. The proposal seemed almost absurd if not reckless. Luther vehemently objected to this. But Staupitz felt that if Luther was in the position of comforting souls, well then maybe some of the comfort would rub off on himself.
Luther had, up until this time followed the natural courses of theology, and the Bible had not been the staple of his theological education. Luther had not been directed into the very source book of his religion!
So Luther accepted the position, with Staupitz retiring shortly thereafter. Luther set himself to learn and expound the Holy Scriptures to the best of his ability. In August of 1513, Luther began his Bible lectures on the book of Psalms. It was here that Luther began to see a God that he never knew before. Luther began to see the God that not only was vengeful, but also loving. Luther began to see Christ as pictured in the Old Testament. It's because of this that Luther was particularly enamored with the Old Testament and how it all pointed ahead to Christ.
It was then in the Autumn of 1515 that Luther began his lectures on the book of Romans. Luther was still greatly troubled and disquieted, as he writes the following:
“I greatly longed to understand Paul’s Epistle to the Romans and nothing stood in the way but that one expression, ‘The justice of God,’ because I took it to mean that justice whereby God is just, and deals justly in punishing the unjust. My situation was that, although an impeccable monk, I stood before God as a sinner, troubled in conscience, and I had no confidence that my merit would satisfy him. Therefore I did not love a just and angry God, but rather hated and murmured against him. Yet I clung to the dear Paul and had a great yarning to know what he meant. Night and day, I pondered until I saw the connection between the justice of God and the statement that ‘The just shall live by his faith.’ Then I grasped that the justice of God is that righteousness by which through grace and sheer mercy God justifies us through faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise. The whole of Scripture took on a new meaning, and whereas before the ‘Justice of God’ had filled me with hate, now it became to me inexpressibly sweet in greater love. This passage of Paul became to me a gate into heaven.”
Yes, what Dr. Luther had discovered were the clear words of Scripture, and the Holy Spirit working through them. Luther discovered the freedom and forgiveness of the Gospel, which completely erased the threat of the law that had him so terrified. And that went completely against the punishment system that the world knew.
This morning, I'd like to look at our Epistle lesson from Romans chapter 3, where we find the Christian faith explained in the most basic of terms. In verse 20 we read: “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.” There’s no escaping the law of God! It most certainly is there, staring us right in the face. And that law gives us no hope of freedom at all.
Performing works of God’s law will not make anybody righteous in the sight of God. This is the message Jesus was trying to get through to the Pharisees in our Gospel lesson for today. There is no way we can get in good with God by doing good deeds. But rather one of the main reasons for the existence of God’s law is to show sinful people that they have indeed broken this law of God.
Lawbreakers, every one of us! Luther was one of these sinful lawbreakers along with everybody else. And everybody deserves the penalty that such lawbreakers get—which is everlasting punishment. Doesn’t that law of God condemn each and every one of us all of the time? How difficult is it for us to look through the 10 Commandments and find the ones that we’ve broken just today, let alone in our entire lifetime? How could we stand before God and claim a righteousness according to that law, when we continually break commandment after commandment? Shouldn't we be punished again and again and even for eternity? God says we have to be righteous! We need to be righteous in order to come into his presence, and escape eternal punishment! How do we get such a righteousness?
Looking at our Epistle lesson again from Romans 3, verses 21-24 read: “But now, a righteousness from God, apart from the 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 fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”
That’s the righteousness we need, the one that’s apart from the law. That's the freedom Jesus is talking about in our Gospel lesson for today! That's what Jesus was trying to tell the Pharisees, who were so bound up in the law that they couldn't see the Gospel through the mess they created.
Even though the Pharisees didn't get it, that’s the concept that came up and whacked Luther on the side of his head like being hit with a shovel. Luther had been looking for a righteousness according to the law of God, rather than one that was apart from the law. He wasn't looking at Jesus and what Jesus had done for him.
Even though those words had been in front of Luther before, yet Luther still felt that he needed to be righteous according to the law in order to be saved; and when he transgressed, he needed to perform outward acts of payment for the wrong he had done. And if he dared overlook even one of those sins, then he would surely be condemned for it. We might be tempted to sit back and tell ourselves how ridiculous Luther’s tenaciousness for the law was, but that is the natural tendency of sinful man. And like I said at the beginning, this is the way that we are conditioned to think. That's the way the world works!
What about us? Don’t we tend to see Godly righteousness in terms of works of the law? Don’t we become so “law conscious” that we forget what righteousness really is? Sinners as we are, it makes us have a certain “love for the law.” We become so caught up in deeds of the law, both in ourselves and in others, that we forget the Gospel, and the only true righteousness, which is our faith in Christ Jesus.
God gives us this faith. This faith changed Luther’s life. It changes our lives as well. In our Epistle lesson for today, Paul writes: “There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” That puts all of humanity in the same boat, regardless of age. It shows all have broken God’s law. But then we read on in the same sentence, “…but are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” That's why Jesus wants us to keep in his Word, so we will know the truth that will set us free.
In our Gospel lesson for today, the Pharisees object to his reference to freedom. They claimed ancestry from Abraham, and that they have never been anybody's slaves. But they were slaves to the law. They had no clue as to what freedom Jesus would give them. As a member of God's family, there would be no slavery at all. We became members of this family through faith, which for most of us started at our Baptism.
Through what our Saviour did, his work of redemption is the key thing. This is true righteousness, and not the deeds and works of the law of God. And this is ours through nothing more than faith alone.
Luther was all caught up in this idea of a just God. And indeed, God is just. He needs to be in order to be perfect. However God does not see our misdeeds of the law because of that faith in Jesus Christ. The law no longer holds us prisoner. That's the Gospel that Luther knew and loved. That's what gave him eternal hope.
The only way for a sinner to be saved is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, who suffered, died, and rose again for us. It’s simple, short, and to the point, just like Jesus' promise of freedom in our Gospel lesson for today.
That was Dr. Luther’s own PERSONAL reformation. The pure Word of God served as the reforming force then, as it still does to this very day. We preach and teach this Word, both Law and Gospel, rightly dividing the Word of Truth.
The world will always be law oriented, with rewards and punishments based upon what we do. We'll experience it all the time. But we must never allow this to cloud our relationship with Jesus, a relationship based upon faith alone, and nothing more. This is the faith that will bring us to our eternal reward given to us by God's grace, and not our own merit. That's the Gospel; and that's the simple truth of God's holy Word that sets us free indeed.