161030 John 8:31-36

Last Updated on Sunday, 30 October 2016 Written by Pastor Pagels

Text: John 8:31-36
Theme: The Truth Will Set You Free

What do Lafayette College and Johns Hopkins University and The California Institute of Technology have in common (besides the fact that they are all schools)? All three institutions of higher learning share the same motto, Veritas vos liberabit. If your Latin is a little rusty, le me provide a translation for you. Actually it's already up on the screen because it is also the sermon theme for today: The Truth Will Set You Free.

It's not a surprise that this motto is a popular choice among educational institutions. Students go to school to learn and grow, to gain knowledge, to get answers, to ultimately discover the truth. Unfortunately, for many people in our world truth is relative and those who seek the freedom it offers fail to consult the quote's original source.

These well-known words first came from the lips of Jesus, and his disciple John recorded them in his gospel for future generations, for people who would need to know the truth, for sinful people like you and me. In his conversation with a group of fellow Jews, Jesus made it clear that truth is not in the eye of the beholder, and seeking truth is much more than an academic exercise. The liberating truth our Savior offers is biblical...spiritual...eternal.

As we gather today to celebrate the 499th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation, we give thanks to God for preserving his truth among us and for the personal assurance it gives...


"To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus 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'" (31-32). Those words don't sound overly condemning or controversial, do they? Jesus was simply reminding his followers that people of faith will put their faith into practice. But at least some of the people present didn't appreciate what he said. And instead of focusing on the two times Jesus mentioned the word, "truth," they fixated on and were apparently very upset with his final four words, "will set you free."

"They answered him, 'We are Abraham's descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free'" (33)? How dare you, Jesus! We are God's chosen people. We have Jewish blood coursing through our veins. We resent the implication that we are in any kind of spiritual bondage, and we certainly don't need you or anyone else to set us free!

Like a dentist who presses his sharp instrument into a sore tooth during an exam, Jesus' words struck a nerve. But unlike the dentist, Jesus didn't pull back at the first sign of discomfort. Instead Jesus probed even deeper. He replied: "I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin" (34).

Everyone who sins is a slave to sin. It doesn't matter if you can trace your lineage directly back to Abraham and Sarah. It doesn't matter if your grandfather helped build this church with his bare hands. It doesn't matter if you come to church every Sunday and volunteer two or more days during the week. It doesn't matter how hard you try to be a good person, a good spouse, a good parent, a good student, a good Christian. There are no exceptions. There are no loopholes. Everyone who sins is a slave to sin.

Martin Luther grasped the full meaning of those words. Luther felt the full weight of those words. He tried to make himself acceptable to God. He dedicated his entire life to serving God. He literally and figuratively beat himself up to get in God's good graces, but nothing worked. Nothing Luther did was able to provide him with the peace he so desperately desired.

You and I may not go to the same extremes as Luther did, but how often do we put ourselves through the same futile exercise? After we screw up/mess up/sin we promise ourselves (and God) that next time we will do better, that in the future we will try harder, but the truth is that our best will never be good enough. We try to convince ourselves that doing more good than bad will tip the scales in our favor, but no matter how much good we do the guilt doesn't go away. In an attempt to make ourselves feel better we compare ourselves with people who appear to be worse than us, but the conscience doesn't lie. And our conscience doesn't allow us to believe the lie that we are good enough, especially when we compare ourselves to God.

Applying man-made solutions to the problem of sin is about as effective as being bound by chains that are an inch thick and trying to cut through them with a piece of dental floss. It doesn't work. It will never work. The harsh reality, the cold, hard truth is that everyone who sins is a slave to sin.

But when we keep reading in the Bible we discover a parallel truth. When Luther opened up his Bible to Romans 3 (the second lesson for today) he discovered the liberating truth that the righteousness God demands is the righteousness God gives...by grace...through faith: "A righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known...all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace...a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law" (Romans 3:21, 23, 24, 28).

This is the glorious truth we celebrate on this Reformation Sunday. We are not saved because of anything we do for God. You and I have hope for this life and hope for eternal life because of what God in his grace has done for us. It was grace that led God the Father to sacrifice his one and only Son for our sins. It was pure grace that led God's Son to sacrifice his perfect life in our place. And three days later Jesus rose from the dead to declare victory over death, to assure us that his victory is our victory. Because God's Son has set us free, we are free indeed! Free from sin, and free to serve.

When Luther discovered (or re-discovered) the truth of the gospel, he didn't take a well-deserved vacation. When Luther finally found the elusive peace he had been searching for, he didn't pack up all his theological books and go home. No, he prayed and worked even harder because he wanted other people to have the same peace. He wanted the whole world to be exposed to the truth. He wanted every man, woman and child to personally experience God's amazing grace.

Isn't that our prayer too? Isn't that what we are asking for in the Lord's Prayer when we pray, "Your kingdom come?" And isn't that the driving force behind our Forward campaign? With our child care and preschool and elementary school we want to reach out to people in our little corner of God's kingdom, but we also need to keep in mind that our reach goes far beyond that.

I don't know the exact number, but I want you to think about all the children who have been baptized into God's family at this font. Think about how many of those young Christians grew in their faith through daily contact with God's Word at St. Matthew's Lutheran School. Think about the foundation that was laid in these critically important, formative years. Think about the Christ-centered education that equipped hundreds of young disciples of Jesus to be salt and light in the world. And think about the impact they are making as they let their lights shine every day.

If this army of witnesses isn't enough, a number of St. Matthew's members (twelve of them are pictured on the poster in the back of church) are studying to be pastors and teachers at Martin Luther College. Add to them the sons and daughters of the congregation who are already working in the harvest field, former students with names like Redfield and Schmidt and Krahn and Wendt and Ziel who are serving God and God's people in the public ministry.

Today we will hear from three young Christians, Matthew Rothe, Emilee Koltz and Jordan Bence, three St. Matthew's graduates and current members (yes, Matt Rothe is still a member) who are in or on the path to serving in the public ministry. Listen to their stories. Listen for some common themes. Let's watch the video...

Last week's video focused on a family that is new to St. Matthew's (the Mason family) and how they have benefited from St. Matthew's financial aid. At the end of his sermon Pastor Schmidt expressed his appreciation for this great blessing, and he followed it up with an expression that he connected to our capital campaign theme. He encouraged the rest of us to "Pay It Forward," to give generously to this campaign so that we can reach our goal of reaching more people with the gospel.

I like that phrase, and I would like to use it again today, but from a slightly different angle. "Paying it forward" isn't limited to raising funds for a capital campaign. There is also a huge investment in human capital, in preparing and equipping the next generation of preachers and teachers and church leaders.

Which third grader will be the next Matt Rothe, called to start a brand new mission? Which fifth grader will be the next Emilee Koltz, who will mentor and encourage young Christian women to serve their Savior? Which St. Matthew's graduate will be the next Jordan Bence, who can't wait to get his seminary diploma so that he can get to work proclaiming the Word?

I don't know which current students will become our future pastors and teachers, but I can't wait to find out. As much as it is a privilege to serve them, I look forward to the day when I will serve with them. I am eager see where God has planted them to proclaim his saving truth and hear their stories about how God is working through them to set captive sinners free.

To make that happen we need you. We need every member of St. Matthew's to embrace our mission, to see the urgency, to make your Forward gift your top priority, to not just say "We can do this," but "We can't not do this." And so I urge you to pray boldly, to give generously, to join hearts and hands and help us move Forward. Amen.

Our Mission Statement:

Compelled by the love of Christ, St. Matthew’s Evangelical Lutheran Church and School seek to reach out to our families, community and world, using Law and Gospel to make disciples, growing and nurturing them in their Christian faith and life.


Worship Schedule

8:00 A.M. & 10:30 A.M.

9:15 A.M. Bible Study for All Ages

Monday at 7:00 P.M.

Television Broadcast
Thursday at Noon & 7:00 P.M.
Sunday at 10:00 A.M.
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St. Matthew's Lutheran Church
818 West Wisconsin Avenue
Oconomowoc, WI 53066




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