Listen to “2018-10-28 150th Anniversary Service” on Spreaker.
Text: John 8:31-36
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.” The Word that He speaks of as His Word is the Good News of His perfect life, sacrificial death, and rising from the grave. This Good News is the capital-T truth, and there is none beside it. Jesus promises to those who, by the Holy Spirit, receive His Word in faith and so abide in it, freedom; freedom from sin, from death, and from all the power of the devil. Those who abide in Jesus’ Word abide in the truth and are truly free.
This is the Good News that has been preached and taught from this altar and pulpit for the last 150 years. For 150 years, God the Father has welcomed children into His family through the washing of Holy Baptism. For 150 years, children and adults have been taught the saving Word of Christ and so set free from sin and its condemnation. For 150 years, the Lord has blessed and kept His precious flock from the assaults of the devil, keeping true His promise that the gates of hell will never prevail. And, by His same saving Word, He continues to set even us – in the here and now – free from our sins, so that we might live with Him here in time and there in eternity. By Christ’s saving Word, we are free, indeed.
The occasion of our Gospel text today is, as the Holy Spirit caused St. John to write, that Jesus was speaking, “to the Jews who had believed in Him.” By this point in the Gospel, Jesus had been preaching for nearly three years and was nearing the end of His public ministry. It was Jesus’ custom to go into the synagogues on the sabbath and teach there to, in His Words, recover, “the lost sheep of Israel.” Jesus was not successful in His own hometown; but in other places He was, and many Jews did believe in Him. We learn from the Parable of the Sower that not all the seed that is scattered endures to the harvest. In fact, 3/4 is devoured by the birds, the sun, or thorns. Therefore, Jesus encouraged those who had believed in Him to abide in His Word, for in His Word they know the truth and are set free.
Those who heard Jesus say this missed the point. They responded, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone.” Now, think for a second, do they speak the truth? Of course not. They must’ve forgotten about the 430 years in Egypt and the various periods of slavery during the time of the judges, and also their present occupation by the Romans. They missed the point because Jesus wasn’t talking about political freedom or earthly freedom, but a spiritual freedom – a freedom from sin, from death, and from the power of the devil. Jesus said, “Everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever.” Jesus came to bring eternal freedom to light through the Gospel.
Everyone who sins is a slave to sin, Jesus said. When we sin, we do so because it already has hold on our heart, and there’s nothing we can do to free ourselves from it. We were born in sin and we will die in it, left unchecked. Therefore, Jesus came to break the cycle and bring freedom from slavery. Though He Himself was not subject to the Law, He placed Himself beneath its demands and kept them. Though He kept the Law to perfection, He willingly submitted Himself to the condemnation of the Law and, by His death, bore the wrath of God against our sin. By His resurrection from the dead, He defeated death and the devil and brought eternal life back to us.
He gives this freedom to us by His grace, as a gift through faith. This is what we celebrate every Reformation Sunday. And, the way in which the forgiveness of sins which He won gets to us is through His Word – preached, read, taught, sung, and the Visible Word of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Jesus promised, “If you abide in My Word, you are truly My disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Free, from sin, death, and the devil.
For the last 150 years here at St. John’s, and 80+ at Grace, the Lord has been at work setting His people free from sin, from death, and from the power of the devil. Hundreds, if not thousands, have crossed the threshold and entered into the house of the Lord to hear His Gospel preached – to hear that their sins are forgiven and their place in heaven secure in Christ. Hundreds of children and adults of have been baptized here, confirmed here, married here; and we have given thanks from this altar for the many who have preceded us in the faith, who are now with Christ and await the Resurrection. In His grace, the Lord has caused His Word to be openly preached, taught, and believed in Fairbank and Jesup for a combined total of well over 200 years.
The Lord’s promise to set free from sin and death those who abide in His Word is not just a promise given in the past. It is not only true for those who heard it initially or to those who have come and gone as faithful members in the past; it is true now. The Lord has promised to be present wherever His Word is taught in its truth and purity and the Sacraments administered according to His institution. He has promised to be – and is – with us, now. Through the Word of Christ, the Holy Spirit creates and sustains saving faith within our hearts. By the Supper and through Holy Absolution, the forgiveness which Christ won for us is given us anew each week. Through these things we are free. We are free, indeed.
Let us, therefore, live as those who have been set free. We were all conceived and born in iniquity. We were enslaved to trespasses and sin. Christ, out of love and mercy – by His grace – has set us free by faith in His death and resurrection. The salvation He won, He gives us through His Word. When we abide in His Word, we know the truth and are set free. For 150 years the Lord has dwelt among and set free from sin His people here at St. John’s through His Word. He abides among us now, and we in Him, through that same Word. Let us, therefore be free, indeed, in our words and actions. Let us be free in bearing witness to the community around us of the life that we have in Christ. And, let us be free in love, knowing that in Christ, God first loved us. In the words of St. Paul, “Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”