Topic: Biblical Verse: John 8:31–8:36
Festival of the Reformation
St. John's Lutheran Church, Alexandria, VA
John 8:31-36 (Romans 3:19-28)
It happened a few weeks ago. Shortly after we brought our newborn daughter home from the hospital, we were making a supply run to the supermarket. And there, at the Safeway, I found them – or maybe, they found me. I wasn’t looking for it. I didn’t expect it. I didn’t even imagine that it was possible. But as we were walking through the bakery section, I glimpsed them out of the corner of my eye: cronuts! Safeway makes cronuts! This pastry is a croissant-doughnut hybrid, taking flaky, layered dough like a croissant’s and making into something altogether new. I read that the name “cronut” is being trademarked by the baker in New York City who not long ago put them into the public’s appetite – Safeway calls their pastries “dou-ssants” – but whatever they’re called, they’re delicious. People have been known to line up for hours in New York to get their hands on just a couple of these things. At Safeway, I could get a box of four – and they baked two varieties: glazed and cinnamon-sugar! Madness! So, I hastily grabbed a box of each to experience firsthand this previously unheard of combination of great things. As we’re coming up on Halloween here, many other combinations have piled up on store shelves. Reese’ peanut butter cups’ blend of peanut butter and chocolate – my wife’s favorite – or Kit Kat’s layering of chocolate and crispy wafers – candies that are the result of someone taking two different tastes and putting them together. Like the cronut, even though you might never have imagined that amazing combination, once you’ve tasted it it’s hard to imagine a world without it.
The religious leaders in Jerusalem had been listening to Jesus speak in the temple. Some of them even began to believe in him. Jesus told them that could be his disciples by listening to and living out what he was teaching them. Living a life that followed Jesus would set them free. But they had a hard time even imagining the truth that he was putting out there for them to consider. It challenged their understanding of the world. In their minds, they were free! Descendants of the great Abraham, who God made father of nations. Who is Jesus to say that they were slaves? What would have made them slaves? Jesus explains: “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.” Not even all the religious things that these leaders of the people did on a regular basis could set them free. They were slaves to sin, just like everyone else. But how could that be?
Ironically, sin promises freedom. At its core, sin is that separation from God that comes when you go off from Him. In doing so, though, you become a slave to sin. It reshapes the way that you view the world, so that you won’t even see that you’ve really lost your freedom. It’s so effective, you can’t even imagine that you’re actually a slave. You’re not living in the freedom that God wants you to have. Like the religious leaders who heard Jesus, you might think that you’re doing fine with God because of how you live: what you do, what you don’t do. You might have rules or guidelines for how to treat people well, believing that if you do more “good” than “bad,” things will work out OK. But that’s the lie that sin tells you. As we hear through St. Paul in Romans 3, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” And nothing that you can do will set you free from being a slave to sin. That’s true for all of us, newborn or elderly, you and me. Our sin blinds us to the truth of our slave state, until an even more unimaginable truth breaks in.
The religious leaders of Jesus day knew that separation from God was a problem. They set and followed rules that had been developed over generations, rules which they thought would keep them connected with God. God is holy, and He is just. That means that there must be consequences for sin; God doesn’t merely look the other way. God has to punish sin because He is holy and just, which is good. So He does. But God is also loving, and wants all people to be saved from their slavery to sin. That’s also good.. So He does that as well. Again in Romans, we heard that Jesus, God the Son, came to be the propitiation for sin, the satisfaction of justice that must come from a holy God. The Father laid on the Son all the pain and punishment that comes from your sin and my sin. Right before our Gospel text in verses 28-29, Jesus said “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me. And he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him.” Jesus was lifted up on the cross as the one who took your place and satisfied the demand of justice, in obedience to the Father and out of love for you. Think about that: on the cross, we see the unimaginable combination of God’s justice and His love. Because justice has been carried out on and through the Son, you can now be truly free.
You can’t do anything to earn God’s love. Even so, our Lord has come to you in His grace to give you that freedom which you don’t deserve. This is the truth that Jesus spoke to the religious leaders in the temple that day, the truth that we Lutheran Christians especially celebrate this weekend as we remember the Reformation. Jesus alone sets you free from slavery to sin, giving the gift of a new life that each and every one of us can have by faith. Jesus is the one who shows God’s unimaginable love for our broken world and us broken people. If you believe in Jesus and would follow him, trust in his power and willingness to restore your relationship with his Father and your Father; rely on Jesus Christ alone. Unlike sin, which would trick you into thinking you are free, Jesus wants to you know true freedom in him.
A life that abides – remains – in Christ and his word is not a life of coffee and cronuts. I could not have imagined cronuts before someone told me about them. Even though I was pretty familiar with both doughnuts and croissants, the cronut combination was pretty much completely outside of my realm. But after having heard word of this fantastic thing, I knew that I had to experience it at the earliest possible opportunity. It seemed to defy logic – and also most laws of nutrition – something too good to be true. Now, I’ve tried it and know that it is indeed delicious, everything that I’d hoped for. Here’s the thing, though: the cronut didn’t change my world. It’s not something that I would (or could) eat every day. Like candy, it’s entirely possible to consume too many cronuts in one sitting. In the end, the cronut is probably just a bunch of empty calories that no one really needs. The freedom that Jesus offers through the unimaginable combination of God’s justice and love on his cross, however, is something that every one of us needs.
For those who follow Jesus in faith, God works an unimaginable change to life. You no longer have to live as a slave to sin. You no longer have to choose to put yourself first. You no longer have to pretend that you can make things right with God. You are now free from all of that. By the power of God the Holy Spirit working in you, you are free to depend on Christ to make things right with God. You are free to put others ahead of yourself out of love for them. You are free to resist the power of sin and its false freedom. Even in the middle of suffering and the challenges of life, you are free to live, not a slave, but alive in Christ. God gives you Himself as your solid rock and fortress, keeping you in His care even in the greatest of storms. The freedom that you have through faith in Jesus changes your world. And for the world around us, that’s unimaginable!
Today, we celebrate the truth that Jesus is our Savior. It is God’s grace alone that sets us free and gives us life. In slavery to sin, were not looking for that truth. We could not have expected it. We could not have even imagined the combination of God’s love and justice that the Father sent His Son to be, but He did. And now it’s hard to imagine a world without him.