This sermon is offered by the CRCNA as part of our Reading Sermons series.
Scripture: John 8:31-47
Sermon prepared by Rev. Gerrit J. Bomhof, Drayton, Ont.
Leroy was 16 years old and got a summer job as a landscape helper. He saved up enough money and bought a pick-up truck, but with insurance, payments, repairs, gas — all his earnings went to that vehicle. In August he told his parents that he was quitting school. His parents pleaded with him, “Son, please think about what you are doing, your whole future may be at stake. You have a good mind and by at least finishing high school, many more opportunities will be at your disposal!” He listened, but finally said, “This is a free country, and I have the freedom to do what I want!”. Was he really free, or had he become a slave to that vehicle?
Jill was 16 and was experiencing some troubles at home. She got involved on the internet and met this seemingly neat guy in a chat room. She left home, moved in with this guy in Toronto and was provided with drugs that made her feel so good. He turned out to be a pimp and soon she was selling her body on the busy street corners of Canada’s largest city. Parents and friends pleaded for her to come back home so they could all make a new start. But, she too shot back, “look, this is a free country — I can do what I want”. Was she really free or had she become a slave to a pimp and to drugs?
Barry was a 40 year old guy — married for 17 years, 3 kids. He found a secretary in the office who really understood him. She was young, vivacious and seemed to be so interested in his jokes, ideas, and activities. You probably know the rest of the story — he left his wife to move in with the new love of his life. Among many others, the pastor and the district elder tried to talk some sense into him. His response was, “Look, I am free to do what I want”. Was he really free or had he become a slave to lust, to being pampered? Was he exercising his freedom or his bondage?
Chuck was a farmer — expanding his quota, his herd, his land possessions. His contribution to church and charity were poor. He was visited by one of the deacons of the church and encouraged to give and contribute as he had been blessed. He was offended and told his visitor to take a hike with these words, “Look I am free to give what and when I want. It is my choice!” Was he free, or was he really a slave to his possessions?
This morning (evening) we want to focus on “freedom”, one of the most precious of our possessions. In Ottawa there is a war museum. As one tours the exhibits, one cannot but be moved by how many people have given their freedom, limbs, their eyes, even their very lives, so that we as following generations might enjoy ours.
But, do we know what real freedom is? Could it be that we have traded one form of slavery for another, all the while thinking we have been freed? Remember, in the scripture passage we look at this morning (evening), it is not the soldier who secures ultimate freedom, or the Canadian constitution or the Bill of Rights — “it is the truth which will set us free”!! Has the Son set you free? Is this a freedom you celebrate?
In this passage we discover that probably Satan’s most effective tool is to make people think they are free, when in fact they are bound, they are slaves. This should really cause us to sit up and take notice for we live in a society that idolizes our “freedom to choose”. But, could it be that we are choosing to be children of Satan and not even know it?
Who is Jesus addressing here? Clearly, it is to “Jews who believed in him”. That sounds great; after all, not that many Jews were finding him to be the answer to their yearning. Yet, as we go through this passage we find Jesus calling them children of the lie, children of the devil; and in the end they got so angry with him that they picked up stones to stone him. (vs.59) This should scare us somewhat. It is easy to focus on the unbelievers, the heathen. They would be the ones to get angry with Jesus, they would be the ones who would want nothing to do with him. But here are believers, that is, those who are impressed with him, really like his miracles, yet, who are ready to stone him. Why? Because Jesus accused them of being slaves.
Once again we see that Jesus did not come into the world to impress people, to have them simply say, “I like your style, I like you” or even to have people choose for him as if they had the ability on their own to make this choice — he came to set people free from the clutches of Satan!!
I am assuming that many of us are believers, but, could we ever get so angry with Jesus that we would pick up stones? “Get out of here!”
As soon as it was insinuated that they were not free, they got angry. “We are children of Abraham” they claimed. “Our status is one of being free.” They might have been slaves in body, but never in soul. This has proven to be very true in history. Yes, they were at this very time enslaved to the Romans, and yet, as many a ruler would attest, it was well nigh impossible to get these people to succumb to the Roman way of life. In Egypt too they were slaves, yet their souls and spirits could not be harnessed. Thus many prisoners in the gulags of Siberia or in the concentration camps of Germany testify to a fundamental freedom even when incarcerated. Thus the Jews claim, as children of Abraham they are free.
Yet, Jesus looks at them — they are not really free! They are, for example slaves to the law. Their many Sabbath regulations made that day a burden, rather than a celebration. Jesus alluded to the difficult burden and the heavy yoke that the leaders placed on the people.
They are slaves to sin. This is what they, and we, need to realize. They think that they can choose for Jesus, or that they can choose that which is right and good and moral. But they, as we, are slaves to sin and until we have been set free our choices will always be in the realm of bondage. A person sitting in jail may make the choice to eat at McDonalds, but to exercise that choice they need to be set free.
We owe it to ourselves, at least if we are interested in real freedom, to ask ourselves of every choice we make, whether it is exercised by one who is free or one who is still enslaved to sin. Maybe a good gauge would be our “anger meter”. How angry do we get when someone confronts us about our habits, our practices, our speech, our ideas, or our plans. Remember, here are people who “believed in Jesus”, but were not aware that they were really Satan’s children because they refused to be set free by Jesus. They, like many others, believed that they did not really need to be changed, transformed - they thought that on their own they could make good and right decisions.
In that way they were not only slaves to the law and to sin, they were enslaved to themselves. It is precisely here, just like Leroy, Jill, Barry and Chuck that we get angry when anyone, including Jesus tells us that we are not free. Countless more examples could be cited. A couple, because of lifestyle desires, chooses not to have children — are they free or slave to pleasures and things? You can well imagine the angry glare you would get for even raising the question. You then begin to understand the anger of the Jews.
Someone is always critical, nothing is good enough. Are they free, or a slave to an abusive past, or to their ego. Again, you subject yourself to the person’s wrath by daring to ask the question.
Yet, we must honestly take to heart what Jesus says, “Everyone who sins, and keeps on sinning, is a slave to sin.” Please, take that to heart. But, also believe this: the Son has come to set you and me free!!
As the people of Israel had been set free “from the land of slavery” and were able to enter the promised land, that land “flowing with milk and honey”, so we have been set free through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. And as the people of Israel were never to forget but always to remember by recounting the stories to their children, so we too are not to forget. As we celebrate communion, as we pray, as we reflect, we are reminded that we have been set free in Jesus Christ.
Yet, that does not solve all our problems. One person says I am free and another says that I am a slave. Is it just perspective? Do we simply agree to disagree? But, what is at stake? — Whether you are a child of God or of the Devil!!
There is something which can determine whether it is genuine freedom or another form of slavery. That is “the truth”. As our text says, “it is the truth which sets us free.” But, what is truth?
Truth usually means something that is not a lie. But here it is deeper than that. It refers to Jesus who says in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth and the life”. In our scripture passage, vs. 36, Jesus and “the truth” are rendered one and the same: “if the Son sets you free, you shall be free indeed.”
Truth in John refers also to genuineness, trustworthiness. Maybe some of you can think of a real good tractor (or car) — “that was a true tractor” — reliable, trustworthy. Every other tractor, even though it came with modern bells and whistles, has had all sorts of problems, they didn’t start, leaks broke out, they left us in a lurch at the most inopportune times.
Every tractor or piece of machinery you have is compared to that one real, true, genuine tractor. So too with Jesus, and only with him. Anything else may give the illusion of freedom, it may even come with bells and whistles, but it does not compare to the real thing — it is a lie — it captures us.
The truth is able to distinguish between righteous anger and defensiveness or a temper. Let the truth of Jesus penetrate an angry response. Has it arisen because of an injustice, or because of an offense to the Lord’s commands? Or has it appeared because “I have a short fuse which seems to run in my family?” Is it because I am not getting my way? Is it because I have learned that I can intimidate others — often those closest to me — by my outbursts. Let the truth set you free!
The truth is able to distinguish between love and lust. Hopefully all of us would agree that pornography on the internet is an addiction and an example of slavery. But, what about our relationship to a fellow student, a person you have found in a “chat room”, a fellow office worker? The bible tells us, especially in places like I Corinthians 13 that love is a decision of the will more than it is an uncontrollable emotion. Do not be a slave in these matters, let the truth set you free.
The truth is able to distinguish between kindness and wanting something in return. Many of us like, some of us even need, that “pat on the back”, we want to be liked. Nothing wrong per se; yet let the truth of Christ analyze your deepest motivations. Let us seek to be kind because we have been set free by Jesus who has given us his Spirit and part of his fruit is kindness. Let the truth set you free.
The truth is able to distinguish between materialism and blessing. This is not always easy in our affluent western world. Let not only your accountant or Revenue Canada see your tax return, let Jesus, the Truth, analyze it also. Is my motivation my own comfort, pleasure and ease of life? Or is there genuine joy in seeing the Kingdom of God get a foothold in all the nations of the world, in politics, in education, in new church plants as the mission of God goes forth? Let the truth set you free!
The truth is able to distinguish between selfish pleasure and joy in the Lord. Few could argue that we live in a society that worships pleasure. Of course, God is the One who introduced us to the concept of “Rest”, and joy and pleasure. Yet, we must not be afraid to ask whether we live for the cottage, or for our retirement, or for the weekend; in other words, do we live simply for ourselves? Or do we derive a real joy in communal worship, in helping a neighbor across the street or in a country ravaged by a storm, in seeing the church thrive. Let the truth set you free!
In all these and many more ways we are able to distinguish between true freedom and false freedom. The stakes are great. In the choices we make we exhibit that we are either children of Jesus or of the evil one. That is what Jesus says and makes abundantly clear.
Therefore we need to “hold to my teaching”. We need to abide in the word.So often it happens that someone has been freed, only to fall back into another vice. Think of Russia, free of Communist rule, now the Russian mafia seems to control much of life. People have been freed of Communism, only to become slaves to gambling, pornography, material things — either way — the Devil has us!
But, let’s not only think of Communism. We could, for example become free from a slavery to cigarettes. Wonderful. Yet, if we have not been set free in Christ, we are not truly free! We cannot slacken off — we need to abide in the word. But it begins with the belief that, yes, only Jesus can truly set us free, all other “freedoms” are ultimately illusions!
Think of the rich man and Lazarus. (Luke 16: 19ff) The rich man could enjoy all the luxuries of life. In many ways his life could be considered the ideal. That is the one most of us would opt for. Lazarus on the other hand was a beggar, he was enslaved to his poverty; hopefully a few crumbs would be thrown his way. But, when we know the rest of the story; as we hear the “rich man” begging for a drop of water and “see” Lazarus in Abraham’s bosom — who is the one who is ultimately and totally free?
Each day again we must thank God for the freedom we have been given in Jesus, now we are able to serve him. But, now we need the truth to analyze that which we do. If the verdict comes down that we have become slaves to whatever — please, do not get angry, do not try to get rid of Jesus, rather pray, “Lord, forgive, it is so easy to fall back, help me to love your truth, for I know then I will be free indeed!”
Please use the Litany which is most often used in your worship.
Some appropriate songs would be:
Opening: Hymn #185, “I Will Extol You, O My God”
After “God’s Will for Our Lives”: #262, “My Faith Looks Up to Thee”
After scripture reading and/or sermon: #546, “Make Me a Captive, Lord”
#282, “Break Now the Bread of Life”
At Offering time: #573, “O Master, Let Me Walk With Thee”
Doxology: #568, “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling”
#569, “Praise the Lord with the Sound of Trumpets”
Scripture reading: John 8: 31-47
Text: vs. 32
Sermon: "The Truth Will Set You Free"