The Son's Life; Our Freedom
Grace, mercy and peace be unto you from God, our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. Our text is the Holy Gospel from John 8.
In the film Braveheart, Mel Gibson portrays William Wallace, a knight and leader of the Scots in the First War of Scottish Independence in the late 13th and early 14th centuries. Many of you will recall his rousing speech made on horseback before the demoralized Scottish troops. He encourages them to persist in their fight for independence from England, and the message he wants the Scots to send to the Brits is, "they may take our lives, but they'll never take our freedom!!!"
The sentiment Wallace and his fellow Scots were expressing was that they would rather suffer death rather than live in bondage to a political authority which they considered to be tyrannical. They were willing to die in order to achieve political and civil liberties. While we should be thankful for such liberties in this life, their importance pale in comparison with the liberty that Jesus is talking about in our Gospel reading when He says, "If you abide in My Word, then you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." Political and civil liberties are all temporary and easily changed or overthrown; they guarantee certain freedoms while we are living in this world, but at death they are all taken away.
On the other hand, the freedom that Jesus speaks of in our Gospel reading is not temporary but eternal liberty from sin, death, and hell. We can see the everlasting nature of this freedom when Jesus says, "Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed." So the liberty Jesus is talking about delivering to His disciples is true freedom from sin; He wants to liberate us from slavery to sin and have us dwell freely in God the Father's house forever.
But when Jesus says, "Everyone who sins is a slave to sin," it could lead you to conclude that you aren't a disciple of Jesus, couldn't it? Each day, do you sin in thought, word, and deed? Well, then you're a slave to sin, and therefore it seems that you aren't free. We have been in bondage to this enemy since we were conceived in the womb. So even if we live in a "free country" and enjoy all sorts of freedoms, that is irrelevant as we stand before God's judgment throne, where we are clearly slaves of sin, captive to its power and subject to its consequences. And as St. Paul says, "The wages of sin is death." We are all on the way to the grave because of our sin, so we are not only slaves to sin but also slaves to the fear of death, which looms large before us, even as we try to shove it to the back of our minds. But the death of our bodies is just chicken feed compared to the prospect of eternal death, and the true wages of sin, what our sins really deserve, is not just the death of our bodies but eternal punishment under God's wrath in hell.
Slaves to sin deserve all that, but the Good News is that Jesus doesn't want to leave you in your sins and under condemnation. Even before Jesus was born, the angel Gabriel told Joseph that the Son of Mary would grow up and "save His people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21), that is, He would liberate them from bondage to sin. In our Gospel reading the reason Jesus first shows us that we are slaves to sin is so that we realize that we can in no way set ourselves free and that we need a Redeemer. But then He comes to us with liberating Gospel when He says, "The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed." In the ancient world, a slave was the property of the master of the house, not a free and permanent member of the household. Instead he could be sold to someone else, he could be dismissed from his post, or perhaps he could buy his freedom and go out to establish his own household. But in any case, the slave doesn't remain in the master's house forever. On the other hand, the son of the father is a permanent member of the family.
But notice that Jesus uses the word "forever." That is infinitely longer than "permanent." My sons Samuel and Silas are permanently my sons as long as they live, but someday both they and I will be dead and our households will be no more. Yet Jesus says in our text that the Son remains forever, eternally. He is not just talking about any old Son, but about Himself, the only-begotten Son of God the Father. And Jesus is not just talking about any old household, but He is talking about the Kingdom of God, the eternal home of God in heaven. And Jesus is delivering to us the Good News that we slaves to sin can be set free from eternal death if the Son sets us free and makes us permanent children in God's household.
It is noble that men are willing to sacrifice their lives to achieve or preserve temporary earthly liberties for their neighbors, but consider how much more wonderful it is that Jesus would lay down His life to set us free from the guilt of our sin and in exchange give us His righteousness and everlasting life. The Son's sacrifice of His life is our freedom from death. Jesus willingly said to His Father, "Give Me death for the sins of those slaves so that I can give them liberty!" And this is the great truth that the Lutheran Reformation rediscovered: that we shouldn't consider Jesus a terrifying judge who wants to enslave us to fear and condemn us to hell, but instead a loving Savior who wants to rescue us from bondage to sin, death, and fear.
Early on in the ministry of Jesus, John the Baptist pointed to Him and said, "Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" Jesus came to the Jordan River to fulfill all righteousness, to accomplish the righteousness of God that liberates sinners from their guilt. At the Jordan Jesus was baptized with a baptism intended for sinners, yet He Himself had no sins to confess or be forgiven of; by taking that Baptism for us sinners He was loading the guilt of the sins of the world upon Himself, taking the bondage off of us and putting it upon Himself. By taking our sins He places Himself into slavery to the punishment of sins, death. Yet He Himself was perfectly innocent so that He could be the blameless and spotless Lamb of God, dying in the place of sinners so that we can be set free from the guilt of our sins. On the cross Jesus pays to His Father the ransom price of His holy, precious blood and innocent sufferings and death in order to redeem us out of slavery to sin, death, and hell.
And Christ's resurrection on the third day is proof that the Father was pleased with the Son's sacrifice for sins. The grave could not hold Jesus down, but He broke the bonds of death and burst forth from the tomb, never to be captive to the weight of sin or death ever again. Then Jesus gave to His Church the proclamation of the Gospel as the means for the Holy Spirit to create saving faith in the hearts of sinners. He gave Holy Baptism as the concrete place where sinners receive liberty from slavery to sin and adoption as free sons in God's eternal household. There at the font your guilt was washed away by the blood of the Lamb of God. You were united with Christ's death for sin and His resurrection, and as St. Paul says, if we have been united with Christ in a death like His, we will surely also be united with His resurrection on the Last Day. In Holy Baptism, you are set at liberty from the guilt of your sins and are given a new life to live as free sons of God in his Kingdom.
But the sad and frustrating reality that the baptized soon realize is that even as we have begun the new life in Christ, we still fall into sin. We are tempted and attacked by the devil, who baits and lures us into sin and misbelief. So baptized believers are not only saints made holy by the blood of Jesus, but as long as we live here in this world, we are also "Slaves to sin" according to our Old Adam, even though God has made us free sons by Christ's death and by our Baptism into Him. Of course, God doesn't want us to be slaves to sin. He knows how harmful sin is toward us, which is why He has warned us against every manner of sin and admonishes us to flee from sin. Sin is never good for us. We must not ever think that it is good to make peace with our captor; a sure way of running away from God's home and renouncing the birthright He has given us in Baptism is to willfully enslave ourselves again to sin and to refuse to repent.
But God is merciful. He knows how weak our sinful flesh is, how much the enslaving power of sin tempts and prods us. He knows that the battle between our old sinful flesh and the liberated new spirit in us will go on until the day we die. So He has not left us powerless or defenseless, but gives us the strength for the reformation and renewal of our lives. God still sends His Son, the Valiant One, Jesus Christ to be with us always, to defend us from our enemies with His almighty power and to strengthen us by feeding us with His true body and blood. And He has given us the Holy Spirit in Baptism not only to comfort us with the assurance of everlasting life, but also to daily and richly forgive our sins, and to give us the power of sanctification, to slay our sinful flesh and beat down the Old Evil Foe. As St. Paul says, "Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom" (2 Corinthians 3:17).
When God looks at you, His baptized child, He doesn't see someone who is dead in and enslaved to sin but someone who has been made alive to Him in Christ Jesus. You are a free son of the Father, and He loves you. Now He wants you to enjoy the freedom from sin that Christ has won for you and consider yourself dead to sin. Dead to sin; that's a peculiar expression. What does it mean to be dead to sin? Consider this analogy: you have power to control a living horse with bit, bridle, reins, and maybe even spurs, but when that horse dies, you have no power over it anymore-spur it all you want, and it's not going anywhere. Similarly, sin has power to control and compel us as long as we are alive to it, but if we are dead to sin, then it can't. So the Lord says that because of your Baptism into Christ, you may consider yourself dead to sin, no longer under its power and sway. When sin pokes and prods you, then you should consider yourself dead to it, not moved by it. And then instead of falling back into slavery to sin, you have been set free from selfishness so that you may live selfless lives of service toward God and neighbor. You are free from the condemnation of God's Law so that you can gladly and willingly live the way God wants you to, according to His good and holy commandments, living a life full of good works for others.
Of course, you know how hard this struggle is, and how often you fail, so Christ graciously invites you back here each week to receive His liberating forgiveness in Holy Absolution and Holy Communion. And then finally, when your last hour comes, your heavenly Father will graciously take you from this sinful vale of tears to Himself in heaven. And there, your death to sin will be complete, as St. Paul says, "One who has died has been set free from sin." This is one of the reasons believers in Christ don't fear death and can go to death cheerfully: because we will be completely liberated from sin and enjoy eternal sonship. But an even more desirable way of getting to heaven would be if Christ would return to judge the living and the dead, for that would hasten us on to the complete, unfettered liberty as God's free children, enjoying perfect happiness in His house forever. Even so, Lord Jesus, come quickly! Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.