Read This Page in My Language
Sermon: John 8:31-36
End Time 1 – November 3, 2019 – Rev. Steven J. Radunzel
Mark Twain once said, “Common sense is very uncommon.” He was right, and it seems as if we’re living in a time when just plain old common sense is missing from our society. Too often we find ourselves thinking or saying, “That just doesn’t make any sense. Whatever happened to common sense?”
I listened to a radio program this week on this matter of common sense. The host stated that people who no longer seem to make use of common sense just don’t deal with the truth, they don’t deal with reality. Their feelings, their desires, their politics, their own agendas become more valid to them than the truth. For them there is no such thing as truth, certainly no absolute truth.
That’s not what Jesus believed. He believed in the truth. He taught that there was absolute divine truth. There are truths about God and his relationship with us that have endured from creation and never change. In our text Jesus says that truth will set us free.
Today we’re going to ask a question that another well-known man in history asked:
WHAT IS TRUTH?
When Jesus preached and taught in Jerusalem he of course was speaking primarily to Jews. Jesus often faced a lot of opposition especially from Jewish religious leaders. But on this occasion John, the gospel writer, tells us that Jesus was speaking to Jews who had believed him. They were among the people who recognized that Jesus had something important to say, that he preached with the authority of God.
So Jesus tried to encourage them even more. He said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” That verse is packed with significance. Jesus really makes three extraordinary claims in it. First of all he says that in order to be one of his disciples or students a person has to believe what he teaches. And that makes a lot of sense. Any rabbi or teacher would say the same thing to his students, but Jesus’ words imply that his words and teaching are superior to what anyone else might teach.
And that leads to Jesus’ next claim: “Then you will know that truth.” Jesus was not talking about mathematical truths or scientific truths or generally accepted truths. He was talking about God’s truth, what we call absolute truth, truth that has always been, has always endured, and will last forever. We would say that the Bible is absolute truth, that what God reveals to us in his word is absolute truth. In the Nicene Creed today we will confess to believe what we consider absolute truths that never change.
And Jesus’ third claim in this verse is, “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” But free from what? Jesus will explain what he means that the truth will set you free in the next verses. He’s talking about being held captive by sin and God’s judgment, but the truth of God’s word sets a person free from the guilt of sin and God’s eternal judgment.
How do you think people in America would respond to these words of Jesus? Certainly there would be many faithful Christians, like us, who would say, “Absolutely. We believe what Jesus says. We believe that the truth of the gospel sets us free from the guilt of sin and judgment.” But there would be plenty others who would say, “Why would I want to be a disciple of Jesus? Why would I want to be a follower of anyone? Why would I submit to what someone else teaches? I’ll believe what I want to believe.”
Then there would be those who would skeptically say, “Truth? What makes you think you have the truth? What makes you think that what you call truth is the only truth or absolute truth? There is nothing in life that’s really always true and dependable. As a matter of fact, ‘What is truth?’”
Do you remember that well-known man in history who asked that question, what is truth? It was Pontius Pilate. Jesus was on trial before him. He told Pilate that he had come into the world to testify to the truth. And then Jesus made this amazing claim in front of godless Pilate: “Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” When Pilate heard those words he scoffed and sarcastically asked, “What is truth?” What he was really saying was, “Don’t be ridiculous. There is no truth. There’s no such thing as eternal truth or anything eternally dependable.”
And how would most Americans respond to Jesus’ claim, “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free”? There are actually a lot of people who like to quote those words. We even hear politicians once in a while using Jesus’ words for their own political agendas as if to say, “If you follow me and my plans for our nation, then you will really be following dependable truth, and it will set you free.” Promises like that sound good and make people feel good, but seldom have any real meaning, and seldom do politicians deliver on such human promises.
Sadly there were some among Jesus’ listeners, maybe some who had at first believed in him, who were quick to pick up on Jesus’ words that his truth would set them free. They took exception to what Jesus said. They didn’t like what he said, and they let Jesus know: “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?”
They were indeed physical descendants of Abraham, but that’s where their truth really ended. They were descendants of Abraham, a remnant of the people of Israel, God’s chosen people, from whom the Savior of the world would be born. But the Savior, the Descendant of Abraham, stood right in front of them now and they didn’t see him or believe him.
They failed to see that the privilege of being descendants of Abraham was not that they shared a blood line with him but that they shared the faith of Abraham. Abraham believed all the promises of God, and God considered him righteous, credited him with righteousness. Too many of Jesus’ fellow Jews didn’t really believe the promises of God like Abraham believed and didn’t have the forgiveness of sins.
Worse yet, they didn’t even think they needed the forgiveness of sins. They had a very different version of the truth. “We . . . have never been slaves of anyone!” they said. They were so deluded that they didn’t consider first of all that they were slaves of the Romans who ruled over them. But far worse than the rule of the Romans was their slavery to sin. They thought, “We’re descendants of Abraham. We’re God’s chosen people. We don’t need forgiveness. We don’t need to be set free from anything.”
Jesus tried to correct them with the absolute truth, God’s truth: “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”
Jesus was telling them in plain words, “Everyone is a sinner. You are all sinners, even you descendants of Abraham. You are no more free from your sin than a slave is free. A slave will never be considered a part of the family or inherit anything from that family. But if you’re a son or a daughter in that family, you will inherit the father’s wealth. I can set you free from your sin and make you sons and daughters of my heavenly Father and members of his household. That’s freedom, real freedom, eternal freedom.”
Do you need that kind of freedom? Do you need to be set free? We all do. We are all sinners. We all need Jesus to set us free from sin and guilt. And he has done that. That’s why he came to the world, not only to testify to the truth as he told Pontius Pilate, but to fulfill the truth, to die on a cross to atone for the sins of the world. And now he has risen and lives victoriously forever. All who believe in him, believe his truth, are set free from the guilt of sin and eternal death.
Believe that truth. Believe that absolute truth of the Bible. Don’t be like Pontius Pilate and ask, “What is truth?” It’s interesting, and a little ironic, that today in the Nicene Creed we will confess the absolute truth that Jesus “was crucified under Pontius Pilate.” On other Sundays in the Apostles’ Creed we confess the absolute truth that Jesus “suffered under Pontius Pilate.” This godless man who scoffed at any kind of truth now for nearly 2000 years has his own name in the creeds that confess the absolute truth of Jesus Christ and the Christian faith.
How privileged we are today to know the truth that Jesus was crucified under Pontius Pilate, he did suffer under Pontius Pilate. He suffered and was crucified to pay for our sins. That’s the truth. That’s absolute truth. That’s the truth that sets us free.
Today we’re observing the Reformation. The Reformation had everything to do with the truth, absolute truth, the truth of God, the truth that sets us free. In the early 1500’s a man named Martin Luther didn’t feel very free. He was a slave to sin. He was a slave to a church that taught him he needed to aspire to and reach a certain level of goodness and righteousness before he could be forgiven and be a child of God. Luther tried to be righteous and good. If anyone ever tried to be righteous and good it was Martin Luther. He was a failure in that effort. He always ended up being a slave to sin.
Then God in his grace and mercy led him to his words written by the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans, our Second Lesson for today: “No one will be declared righteous in [God’s] sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin. But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, . . . This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.”
We can’t become righteous in God’s sight by keeping his commandments. Those commandments only make us look sinful. But God sent his Son Jesus who lived a holy life as our Substitute and died an innocent death on the cross as our Substitute. God has forgiven our sins. God has graciously credited Jesus’ righteousness to us. We receive that forgiveness, righteousness, and eternal salvation simply though faith, by believing in Jesus. Like Abraham, we believe God and he credits us with righteousness.
What is truth? That’s the truth, the truth that sets us free. Amen.