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October 27, 2019

Sermon John 8:31-32 . . .“Jesus said, ‘The truth will set you free’”

“Jesus said, ‘The truth will set you free’”

John 8:31-32

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.

They say that history can change in an instant.  One wrong turn, one off-the-cuff remark, or even a single shot can forever alter the course of the world and the people in it.  Often, history is done on purpose.  Sometimes, it’s changed completely by accident.

Take Teddy Roosevelt, for example.  Apparently, he loved to make really long speeches.  And in 1912, while he was making another run for the presidency, he wrote a fifty-page speech he planned to deliver to a patient, enthusiastic crowd.  And on his way there, he randomly decided to fold up the speech and tuck it into his coat pocket, a small decision that was about to save his life.

For just a few moments later, a Bavarian-born barkeeper named John Flammang Shrank drew out a gun, took aim, and fired at his chest.  However, that fifty-page speech folded in half pretty much stopped the bullet.  And being the “bull moose” that he was, Roosevelt still got up on stage and delivered his speech.

Or think of the Titanic--one of the greatest naval tragedies in history.  Now the reasons it sank are many.  But apparently, a man named David Blair had been given the job of second officer, but was replaced at the last minute with another man who had more experience.  But when Blair left, he accidentally kept the keys to his locker in his pocket.  And in that locker were binoculars intended to be used by the crew’s nest lookout.  With no binoculars, it meant the crew had to watch for icebergs using only their eyes.  

Later, at the inquiry, when asked, “Suppose you had glasses, could you have seen this black object at a greater distance?” an officer replied, “We could have seen it a bit sooner.”  “How much sooner?”  He said, “Enough to get out of the way.”

And one more--you know the storming of Normandy on D-Day was perhaps the single most important event in World War II.  But it all could have gone a completely different way.

For just a few days before that day in June 1944, German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, the “Desert Fox,” decided on a whim to surprise his wife with a vacation for her birthday.  And that vacation caused him to leave his post as commander of defense at Normandy right before the Allies attacked.  And today we wonder--had the most skilled German military tactician been there that day, would things have turned out differently?

Even the smallest things--a word or a single shot--can change the course of history.

So it was on that day in October of 1517.

Let me give you a little history.  Luther’s story began in November of 1483 in a small, two-story house in Eisleben, Germany.  And just as soon as he was born, on the very next day, his father, Hans, took him to St. Peter’s church to be baptized.  And since that day happened to be the Festival of St. Martin, he called him, Martin Luther.

Now his father, Hans, was a hard-working man and a well-respected member of his community.  And he was proud of his young, intellectually gifted son.  And with such gifts and promise, he knew he would do well in life.  Nothing was too far out of reach for him.

But in the back of his mind, there was always one thought that bothered young Martin—was he good enough to earn his salvation?  When the day of judgment came, could he stand before God’s throne?  Nothing he did ever seemed good enough.

And one day, as he was returning to school, rain fell in torrents, and lightning and thunder knocked him to the ground.  And he was so afraid for his life, he cried out to heaven and said, “St. Ann, help me and I will become a monk.”  And to his friends’ surprise and his father’s disgust, Luther became a monk.

But life in the monastery gave him none of the hope and comfort he so desperately longed for.  He tried to be good.  He fasted and prayed.  He went without sleep and endured long, cold nights without even a blanket.  And to cleanse himself of his sin, he beat himself with a whip.  Years later, he said, “If anyone could have earned heaven by the life of a monk, it was I.”

But the more he tried to please God, the more he realized he could never be good enough.  No matter how many sacrifices he made, prayers he prayed or sins he confessed, he knew he was what he had always been—a poor, miserable sinner.

But one day, in 1515, when his father confessor, Johann Staupitz, sent him to Wittenberg to teach the Bible, something happened that would forever change his life, for it was there that he read the words of Romans chapter 1.

This is what it said:  “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes:  first, for the Jew; then, for the Gentile.  For in the gospel, a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that comes by faith from first to last, just as it is written:  ‘The just shall live by faith.’”

And as he read those words and understood what they meant, that’s when it hit him.  Righteousness isn’t something I do.  Righteousness is what God does through His Son Jesus.  Salvation is a gift accomplished by His death on the cross.

And that’s why this 33 year-old professor of theology made his way through the city streets, drew out a document from the folds of his monk’s robe and nailed it to the Castle Church door.

Within two weeks, those 95 theses were published throughout Germany.  In a month, they were published throughout Europe.  It was the beginning of the Lutheran Reformation.

So what did Paul mean when he wrote those words, “I am not ashamed of the gospel”?

Think about his past.  He had been imprisoned in Philippi, chased out of Thessalonica, smuggled out of Berea, thought a fool in Athens, ridiculed in Corinth, stoned and left for dead in Lystra.  And he, of all people, writes to the Romans, “I am not ashamed of the gospel”?

Besides, this is Rome!  It’s the heart of the empire, a city built on power.  It’s the home of philosophers and poets, emperor worship, and every conceivable god.  What can Paul, a mere man, offer them?

The power of God.  That’s what he wrote:  “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God.”

And what does the gospel do?  Nothing less than this--it saves sinners.

Science can’t save us.  Education can’t save us.  There’s nothing that fame, power or money can do.  But the gospel and the gospel alone can save sinners.  It’s the power of God for everyone who believes.

In his book, Finding Freedom through the Joy of Grace, Pastor Tim Jones said he never dreamed that taking a child to Disney World could be so difficult, or that such a trip could teach him so much about God’s grace.

Their middle daughter had been previously adopted by another family.  And though they likely had the best of intentions, they never quite welcomed her into their family of biological children.  So after a rough couple of years, they dissolved the adoption.  That’s when Tim welcomed her into his home.

For one reason or another, whenever her previous family vacationed at Disney World, they took their biological children with them, but left her home with a family friend.  Usually, at least in her eight-year-old mind, it was because she did something wrong.

So by the time he adopted her, she had seen many pictures of Disney World, and had heard about the rides and the characters and the parades.  But when it came to walk through the gates of the Magic Kingdom, she was the one left standing outside.  When he heard about her history, he made it a point to take her there the next chance he got.

He thought he had mastered the Disney World drill.  He knew from previous experiences that seeing characters in oversized mouse and duck costumes could scare almost anyone.  What he didn’t expect was the fact that the trip would turn his world upside down.

In the month leading up to the trip, she became an outright terror.  She hurt everyone in the family as deeply as she could.

Then just a couple of days before leaving, he pulled her onto his lap to talk about her behavior.  She said, “I know what you’re going to do.  You’re not going to take me to Disney World, are you?”  Though the thought hadn’t really crossed his mind, her behavior started to make sense.  She had wanted to go countless times before, but had failed every time.  So she chose to live in a way that put her as far away as possible from the most magical place on earth.

He didn’t want to admit it, but he was tempted to turn her fear to his advantage.  For a moment, he thought to say, “If you don’t start behaving better, you’re right, we won’t take you.”  But he didn’t say that.  Instead, he said, “Is this trip something we’re doing as a family?”

She nodded, brown eyes wide and rimmed with tears.

“And are you part of this family?”

She nodded again.

He said, “Then you’re going with us.  Sure, there may be some consequences to help you remember what’s right and what’s wrong, but you’re part of our family, and we’re not leaving you behind.”

Now he’d like to say her behavior got better after that moment, but it didn’t.  She was still a little terror at every hotel and rest stop along the way.

And when they finally arrived, it was a typical Disney day--overpriced tickets, overpriced meals, and lots of lines with just enough fun to consider maybe going again someday.

Then in their hotel room that evening, she became a very different little girl.  She was exhausted, but her month-long rebellion had finally come to an end.

When bedtime rolled around, he held her, prayed with her, then asked, “So how was your first day at Disney World?”

For a moment, she closed her eyes.  Then she said, “Daddy, I finally got to go to Disney World.  But it wasn’t because I was good; it’s because I’m yours.”

And that’s the message of grace.

Grace is a landowner who pays a full day’s wage to those who worked for only an hour.  It’s the wonder of a shepherd who leaves ninety-nine sheep just to rescue that one, little lamb.  It’s a father who gives his finest rings and robes to a son who’s thrown away his inheritance.  And it’s a King who calls you into His kingdom, not because you’re good, but because you belong to Him.  And no matter what you say or what you do, His love will never change.

No wonder Jesus said:  “If you abide in My word, you are truly My disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

 

We thank You, Father, for the gospel.  We thank You for Your rich, unfathomable, never-ending grace, for Jesus’ sake.  Amen

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