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.” (John 8:31-32)
Part 1–The Truth keeps you being a real disciple of Christ
There is a difference between what gets you into something and what keeps you into something. So what gets you into college is ACT scores and good grades. What keeps you in college is good study habits. What gets you into marriage is attraction and emotion and dreams. What keeps you in marriage is commitment. Jesus was speaking to sinners who had already been brought into his kingdom by faith, “To the Jews who had believed him.” So, next he talks about what would keep them in his kingdom. “If you hold to my teaching.”
Luther comments about this that there are two kinds of Christians. The first kind are ones that, when the going gets tough, they let go of this or that teaching of Jesus. The second kind are ones that, when the going gets tough, they hold on to Christ’s teachings. What kind of Christian are you?
Because here’s what happens to every single Christian—you go to church, life is going OK, and then..you get a pastor you don’t like…or someone during worship shoots you a dirty look because your baby is noisy…or it becomes inconvenient to make it to church on Sunday’s because you’re so busy…or your girlfriend wants you to move in with her or she might break up with you…or the Elders will not let your child get Confirmed, for one reason or another…or you want a divorce but there are no Scriptural grounds for it…or at work they have “rainbow day” and people find out your church teaches that homosexuality is wrong…or someone at school makes fun of you for going to church at all. Or….something.
It happens to each of us, more than once. When such things happen, when the going gets tough, what kind of Christian are you? Because being brought into Christ’s kingdom is one thing, but what keeps us part of his kingdom is: “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.”
The reason true disciples hold on to every teaching of the Bible even when it is tough to do so is because of what the truth does. It sets them free. “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Free from sin. Free from death. Free from hell. Free from the world’s lies. Free from a meaningless life. Free from anxiety. From depression. From worry. From our insecurities. From grudges. Free from unhappiness. If only, if only, if only, we could believe that so much we could feel it, would that not be great? Because we do believe it, we who are in Christ, don’t we. But if only we could believe it more! As Luther put it one time, “We have as much joy as we have faith.” And wouldn’t it be great to have lots of joy? Then we need lots of faith.
Which means that what we want is a miracle. We are asking for a miracle. For faith is always a miracle. A miracle Holy Spirit himself works in us, through our ears–as we keep hearing and learning the truths of the Scriptures. But only the truths. For the Holy Spirit does not work through false teachings. Which is why those who are truly Christ’s disciples, when the going gets tough, hold on to his teachings. So we can keep growing in faith and in those truths that set us free.
Our Lord gives us one other blessing to help us hold on to every one of his teachings. The children will help us learn this (children’s sermon—Greek for “hold on, also can be translated, “remain in”—like remaining in a sphere/circle of rope…“…the mutual conversation and consolation of the brethren.” (Smalcald Articles, Part 3, Article 4).
(hymn #280 v.4-6)
Part 2–You can’t outrun the Truth
There was a woman. There was a man. They both were about to learn that you cannot outrun the Truth.
She was zipping over to the church during her lunch break for a meeting with the pastor. A meeting she had been avoiding. Because she knew what the pastor was going to say about her divorce. That getting a divorce because “we don’t love each other anymore” was wrong, that marriage was a lifelong union, that you had to keep working on your marriage, blahblahblah. And sure enough, that’s what he said. Which irritated her. So she got up and left while he was in mid-sentence. She was a busy modern woman; she did not have time to put up with this nonsense.
There were three stoplights before she got back to work. By the time she zipped up to the first, she had calmed down. By the time she had zipped up to the second, she was thinking. My church is stuck in the past. Who in this modern age would expect anyone to stay in a loveless marriage? And then it happened. Other false beliefs slithered in. You see, false doctrines are like rats; you might see only one in your basement, but if you see one, then you know there’s more. So she thought to herself, my church is stuck in the past. In this scientific age, how can this church talk about evolution as if it were false? And what’s up with that pastor? This is 2017, we are busier than ever and that pastor acts like we should be in church every Sunday AND have devotions during the week—what modern person has time for that? By the time she got to the third stoplight, she was thinking, there’s more than one path to God. No need to stick around this church. When the stoplight turned green, she stomped on the gas. She never saw the Ram pickup truck trying to zip through on the yellow. All she saw was a flash. And then silence.
She looked up. The first thing she noticed about Jesus was his eyes. They were burning, like fire. “How dare you!” he boomed at her. “How dare you throw away any of my teachings, like they were a piece of yarn, like they were useless scraps of paper.” She knew immediately what he was talking about. “And if being ‘modern’ was so important, you should have stuck with me and my Word. I am the most modern person in the universe. And the Truth never goes out of date.”
“I wasn’t trying to throw out your teachings!” she protested. “We modern people just try find our own truth, truth that works for us.”
“Just like your father,” Jesus boomed back, disgusted. “During that first week when my Father and Spirit and I were creating the universe, he came up with his own ‘truth.’ Which is just another way of saying, ‘he wanted to be his own god.’ He thought being God was all about power rather than love. It was all about power for him. And for you, too, isn’t it. You will spend eternity in his place, not mine.’”
Suddenly she was falling; she felt heat on her back; it became warmer, then hotter, then blistering. She was tumbling into a darkness so awful, it could be felt. And even though there were millions of people in that darkness, she felt utterly, completely alone. In her blistering pain. And she would for all eternity.
That was when she learned that no matter how “modern” you are, you can’t outrun the Truth. No one can outrun the Truth. It always catches up to you.
The driver of the Ram pickup truck was rushed to hospital. He was a junior in college. Football player. Could run the 40 in 4.4, deadlift 450 pounds. Scouts knew his name. Everyone knew his name. There was no doubt that he would play pro ball. The only question was for whom, and for how much. He was rushed into surgery. Came out OK. But for some reason the doctors never could explain, his legs never healed properly. His football days were over.
The rest of his life was not so good. Lots of bad choices by a man who never really got over his loss of football. And when it got real bad, he would try to run away from life, and God, by self-medicating.
But when it got bad enough, he would always end up calling the pastor. Usually at 2 in the morning after several hours of self-medicating. And the conversation would go something like this. He would say, “Pastor, have you noticed how we always ask God for mercy when we are in church?”
And the pastor would say, “Yah. I’ve noticed that.”
The man would say, “I get that now. I never used to. Not when I was The Man, the star. But I do now. The only chance I have of heaven is if God has a whole lotta of mercy on a sinner like me.”
The pastor responded, “He already has, when he sent his Son to pay for your sin.” There was a silence. The pastor asked, “You know that, right? God promised at your baptism that he would always have mercy on you because of his Son’s death and resurrection.”
The man would say, “But it’s been a long time since I was baptized. Did you know I was baptized in the hospital when I was just 12 hours old? But I’ve done a lot of bad stuff since.”
The pastor would always say the same thing. “God made you a promise at your baptism. And that’s the truth. And you can’t outrun the Truth.” And the man would cry. It was the only time he would ever cry. Because it was the only time he felt safe enough to.
And then he would be OK. For a while, sometimes a long while. Until the next time he felt like running away from life and from God. Until one day it snowed. This man, who used to be able to run the 40 in 4.4 and deadlift 450 pounds, went outside to shovel and had a massive heart attack.
When he looked up, the first thing he noticed about Jesus was his eyes. Those were the kindest, most excited eyes he had ever seen. “How good to have you here!” Jesus boomed to him.
And suddenly the man knew. He knew that it was Jesus who had made sure his legs never healed properly. He asked, with puzzlement, “Why did you do that? You knew how living without football would ruin my life!”
Jesus’ face was a mixture of earnestness and compassion. He said, “Because I made you a promise. I knew how much you loved football. But I also knew that if you made into the pros, with the egos and money and the media and lifestyle, you would drift away from church. And your faith would die. And you would be lost.” He paused, letting the words sink in. “But I had made you a promise, see. At your baptism. I promised I would take you to heaven one day. I had to find a way to keep that promise. And so it was either football or heaven.”
The man felt like crying. Because he felt so safe and so loved. “You took that much of an interest in a sinner like ME?”
“Well, of course,” Jesus replied. “I called you by name at your baptism, didn’t I. I connected you, by name, to my own death and resurrection at your baptism, didn’t I. I washed away all your sins, by name, at your baptism, didn’t I. I promised to take you, by name, to heaven at your baptism.”
“And,” the man replied, slowly understanding, “you are the one who gave me a pastor to call at 2 in the morning when I was trying to run away from you.”
“Of course. Because, after all, I made you a promise when you were just 12 hours old.”
That was when this man learned that no matter how much mercy you may need, you can’t outrun the Truth. At your baptism, the Triune God made you a promise to take you to heaven. That’s the truth. You can’t outrun the Truth.
Because one way or another, the Truth will catch up to you. It catches up to everyone, as that woman found out to her horror, as this man found out to his gratefulness. And how about when it catches up to you, to me? And so our Lord urges us today, to stay close to the Truth, his Truth, in his Word. Sola Scriptura. Scripture alone. “To the Jews who 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.” Amen.