Still Remaining - Reformation Sunday
Rev. Charles Westby, Pastor
John 8:31-36
October 25, 2020

Today we observe the festival of the Reformation. The actual date of this festival in the church year is October 31. That was the day in 1517 when Martin Luther sent the 95 theses to his Archbishop and also nailed them to the door of the castle church in Wittenberg, Germany, 503 years ago. Someone might say that that was a long time ago. What does that have to do with us today? It involves us today because of Jesus saying this in the Gospel reading appointed for the festival of the Reformation: “If you abide or remain in My word, you are truly My disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8:31).

So we are still remaining in Christ’s word, even after all these years. Still remaining in the central base of the Reformation, the central base of being Christian. We are still remaining in Christ’s word, because as we remain in Christ’s word, we truly belong to Him.

This is Reformation. And since these words of Christ are just as true and real for us today, as they were for Luther and those with him in 1517, Reformation is just is true and real for us today as it was for him and them. Of course, the specific historical and cultural conditions are different. But the issues of sin, and loveless-ness, and arrogance of human beings, on the one hand, and God’s word of Law and Gospel, calling us to repentance and faith in Christ, on the other, remain.

So we celebrate the Reformation. And we rejoice in this heritage that has come to be recognized under the name “Lutheran,” where that name is defined by Christ’s saying, “If you remain in my word,  you are truly my disciples.”

Our heritage and the freedom we profess and live in is what God says and does; what God regards as true, good, and right. Our heritage and freedom is that Jesus Christ, God’s Son incarnate, is the One by whom God speaks and acts in this world, by which we come to know God and the redemption He has prepared in Christ. It is as Jesus said earlier in John 8: “The things I have heard from [My Father,] these things I speak in the world” (John 8:26). And so Christ says: “If you remain in my word, you are my disciples; if the Son sets you free, you are really free.”

Our heritage, the heritage of all Christians, is that this Son, in human flesh, our flesh, has obeyed God’s law. But more than that, He has offered Himself as atoning sacrifice through death on a cross, to make satisfaction for sin. And He made this satisfaction, so that God’s just wrath is satisfied in Him. All sin has been atoned for by the eternal Son in human flesh; all sin, yours, mine, and the sin of all people.

But then God did not leave His Son in the grave; He did not let the evil deeds of the devil and wicked human beings have the last word; He did not let sin, and His judgment against it, and death, have the last word: but He raised His Son from the dead.

He died for us and now He lives. This is our heritage and battle cry, the eternal Gospel which we proclaim along with the angel (Rev. 14:6). The Son has accomplished redemption. This is the hope of our lives. It is the promise of existence free from the sin and death that has corrupted our existence to the very depths, to the core.

This heritage never grows old. Our society, which is defined so much by the marketplace of goods and material things, always wants something new. But then it starves for the sure thing that has always been and yet never grows old. Our culture cries in anguish: “Oh, if only there were such a thing, a thing that always has been, and is sure and trustworthy, but never grows old.”

There is such a thing and it is the word of Christ and the reality that it conveys: if Christ sets you free, you are really free. This is something old, ancient. It is as old as the human race; indeed, it is as old as the fact that Christ as the One who would speak the words of the Father in our world, Christ as the One who would redeem sinful and fallen mankind from sin and death, this Christ was appointed by God to speak and be such a Christ from before the foundation of the world.

Yes, this saying of Christ “if you abide in my word” has an ancient pedigree. And it has never failed through all of human time. And it will never fail in the coming time, for it endures into all eternity. This Gospel of Christ is ancient. Yet, it brings and teaches us the redemption we need today as desperately as any human being has needed it. So it is new every day. In its everlasting-ness it is new and real and fresh. In its everlasting-ness; it never changes. Yet, it is always new and always reforming us. It is always bringing the forgiveness and promise of life and the power of love that we need.

It is not the word, the way, the truth, and the purpose of God in Christ that needs reforming, as the modern world would have it. It is we humans that need reforming, for we are always wandering off and away in the paths of corruption and unbelief. And so the ancient word of Christ always calls us back, and when it does, it is like something new. It is unwavering in its ancient-ness. It is new always in its power to reform us and give us life and eternal hope and promise in God’s grace in Christ.

And so we still remain. We remain in Christ’s word, in the eternal Gospel.

But what does Jesus refer to when He uses that word “word”? It points to this: Christ is talking about His doctrine or teaching, the teaching of the truth of Law and Gospel; the teaching about God as Father, Son and Spirit; the teaching about the redemption Christ won that is the answer to the Law; the teaching of our justification before God, and the Spirit renewing us from within.  

And Jesus is talking about this teaching being conveyed to us in actual words and deeds. Words and deeds that Christ spoke and did, that Christ speaks and does. Words and deeds of Christ’s doing and speaking that have been written for us by the Apostles by the Spirit so we could hear them and know them, and then receive the teaching and know, just as the Apostles and early church knew. This “word” of Christ is His teaching, and it is conveyed to us in actual deeds and words that Christ did and spoke and that have now been written by the Spirit through the Apostles in the Scriptures.

Here is our heritage, our legacy, that will never die. We still remain in Christ’s word, all of Scripture, with the eternal Gospel at the center, the eternal Gospel of who the Son is—His Name is Jesus—and of how the Son accomplished our redemption and now speaks to us forgiveness and life in the ministry of the Gospel, assuming we regard ourselves as really needing this forgiveness and life. And remaining in Christ’s word, we are free; free from condemnation and eternal death.

Yet, when Jesus spoke of being free in Christ’s word to the sons of the people of Israel, they said: “Hold on a second Jesus. What do you mean we shall become free. We are the seed, the offspring, the children of Abraham. We have never been enslaved to anyone. How can you say we shall become free?” (John 8:33)

Would we say something similar? We are Americans. We have God-given political rights. We have never been occupied by any foreign army. We have the freedom to choose: choose our occupations, choose whom we will marry; choose whom to vote for; and some would say, free to choose our morality. We are free. How can it be that Jesus talks about a slavery and then a real freedom that only He can give?

Now the things I have just identified are good things, as far as they go, except maybe for choosing one’s own morality. But Jesus identifies a bigger problem: “Whoever sins is a slave of sin.” Society and law may say, it is okay to do such and such, because you are free to define this for yourself. Yet, Jesus is honest with us: whoever sins is a slave to sin. And with sin, comes death.

We need freedom from this slavery. It is freedom that only Jesus brings, because only He, as the Son, has died and has risen to accomplish our redemption. This freedom comes in the form of forgiveness and promise of life. Forgiveness that stems from Christ nailed to the cross to make atoning sacrifice. Life that comes from Christ risen from the dead. God’s judgment is set aside and now God delights in you as you take refuge in Christ and as God leads you in His ways.

This is everlasting freedom, the kind that Christ works, and it comes to us in His word.

In this word we still remain. And still remaining in this word we will also remain in the house where our true freedom lives and never dies; the house of our Lord Jesus Christ. To Him be glory, honor, and praise, now and forever. Amen.     


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