Lectionary Homily for Reformation Day [2021]

Originally published at: Lectionary Homily for Reformation Day [2021] | Confident.Faith

  • Revelation 14:6–7
  • Psalm 46
  • Romans 3:19–28
  • John 8:31–36
  • Matthew 11:12–19

The Jews were incensed: ‘We have never been enslaved.’ How could this Man tell them that He could set them free if they were not slaves? Surely some heard His words as holding the promise of deliverance from Rome — surely a sentiment with which we can nearly commiserate on Reformation Day. Others seemed to call to mind more literal, physical chains than those that bind Satan in the pit. Undoubtedly, they recalled to mind the slavery of their ancestors in Egypt, but they had never — themselves — been slaves. How could this Man set them free from a slavery they had never known?

"Truly, truly, I say to you everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin." Christ immediately clarifies the matter for them. They are not slaves in irons — at least not physical ones; they are spiritual slaves — slaves to sin. All men are slaves to sin. This is what the Law — as mirror — shows us. Lex semper accusat. (Do carefully note that that is semper, not solaalways, not only.) As slaves, we could not remain forever in the house — in this case, the Kingdom of God. The Son remains forever, and we must be reborn — adopted by the Father through the blood of the Son — to remain in the House.

‘We have never been enslaved.’ He went to His own people, but they received Him not. The Jews rejected the Messiah — they still do so today. They were judged temporally for their faithlessness in AD 70 when Rome sacked Jerusalem and burned the Temple. Could the symbolism be more clear? The curtain rent in twain upon Christ’s death — He bridged the divide between God and man; the Temple destroyed in AD 70 — God dwells in the hearts of believers, not in a house of stone, and the apostate Jews are judged and condemned. To this temporal judgement will be added eternal damnation for all who do not repent and believe.

And yet, do we not hear the same refrain from many today? ‘How can you set me free? I have never been a slave!’ Ah, but you are a slave. Irony upon irony, many, today, who are slaves are slaves to ‘freedom’, to ‘liberty’. But let us be more specific: Many today are slaves to the idea, to the concept, to the abstraction of freedom or liberty. There is nothing of freedom or liberty in what many advance as an unfettered good. Is it freedom to believe a lie? Is it liberty to be damned for eternity? Fool, do you believe that the laws of men will carry any weight in the Courts of God? ‘Lord, Lord, did we not preserve ‘freedom of religion’? Did we not uphold ‘freedom of speech’?’ You who would elevate the laws of men to idols, who would raise the Constitution above the Second Commandment may one day pay the price for your sins.

‘How can you set me free? I have never been a slave!’ Fool, you are enslaved to a thousand desires, serving a thousand different masters. You are a slave to the device in your hand and the views in your heart. You are a slave to your unbiblical ideology and your venal desires. You are a slave to worry, doubt, fear, anxiety, and despair. You do not trust God as you ought. In what do you place your hope and your trust? What do you fear, love, and trust? Those are your idols. It is from those that Christ would set you free.

‘How can you set me free? I have never been a slave!.’ When you think of slavery, you almost certainly think first of irons and slave ships. You are a product of the Enlightenment and you do not even realize it. Search the Scriptures for a condemnation of chattel slavery — you will not find one. Do you believe that chattel slavery is a moral evil? You expose your slavery to the spirit of the age. Fool, would you set the things of men above the things of God? His thoughts are higher than your thoughts and His ways higher than your ways, and yet you would elevate your ways and your thoughts above His? What you call ‘freedom’ and ‘liberty’ God calls slavery, and the slavery you call a moral evil God does not condemn. The sons of God have a different Spirit from the spirit of this age. Which one do you have ears to hear?

‘How can you set me free? I have never been a slave!’ And that is the problem. Παῦλος δοῦλος Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ. Can you, with Paul, declare — truthfully, honestly, earnestly — that you are a slave of Christ? (Let us not engage in the modern nonsense of "bondservant".) Of course you cannot, because you believe slavery to be a natural evil. How could you possibly be a slave of Christ if slavery is an inherent evil? Fool, you have chosen slavery to the world and her ‘god’ over slavery to the one true God. His yoke is easy and His burden is light, but the devil and the world appeal to your sinful flesh with the appearance of wisdom and promises of pleasure. Our culture has chosen ‘freedom’ and ‘liberty’ over God, lies over truth, and Hell over Paradise. What we see around us today is only the beginning of the judgements to come. The Israelites were not special — the Jews are not special. Jerusalem was not special — no city build by human hands is. Do not fall to idolatry in believing that your tongue or your hands will save you — vain are the works of men.

Lex semper accusat. Hear the voice of the Law and tremble. See your sins and despair. Recognize the wickedness of our culture and fear. God will not be mocked and His patience can be exhausted. How long do you think He will bear with a nation that murders tens of millions of children, that produces countless hours of pornographic so-called ‘entertainment’ (and it matters little whether such is sexual, violent, or both in nature), that pursues foreign policies that are — at best — at odds with Scripture, that sexualizes and mutilates those children it does not outright murder, that not only tolerates but promotes — at home and abroad — all manner of sexual and other perversions, that deifies freedom and liberty, that tolerates an endless array of false teachers, that calls evil good and good evil? Do you presume upon the mercy and forbearance of God? The axe is laid to the root of the tree and the fire is kindled — repent, turn, and live, or follow our culture into the abyss, into the outer darkness where there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.

Do you tolerate false teaching? false teachers? Our culture — under the old refrain of ‘freedom’ and ‘liberty’ — calls this good; Scripture would call this a violation of the Law. Tolerance is not a moral good. God alone is good, and God is Truth. All false statements — all lies — about God’s Word or God’s Creation are pernicious, vile sin, and to tolerate such sin is to become complicit in it. Do not fall for the siren song of our culture; do not follow the devil and the world into the pit; do not obey your sinful flesh; do not enter into the fire that does not consume; do not choose eternal death.

The lies of the world seem, at first, pleasant. ‘You can be free.’ ‘You can be liberated.’ ‘You don’t have to be a slave.’ ‘You can forge your own path.’ Ultimately, all such lies boil down to one central, false claim: ‘You can be your own god.’ or, in the original Snake: ‘You [can] be like God.’ A truly ridiculous lie. God is the one true Infinite; you are a finite. He is the Creator; you are a creature. You would make more progress trying to extinguish the sun by spitting at it than you will make if you try to elevate yourself to God’s level. What became of the last creature to mount such an attempt? »"I saw Satan fall like lightning from Heaven."« The last creature to attempt to rise to God’s level was cast down from Heaven — and took many with him. It was for Satan and his fallen angels that Hell was constructed, but many — most, even — men will join him where the fire does not consume and the worm does not die. There is only one God, and you are not He.

We are fallen; we are sinful; we are doomed to die; but thanks be to God that we are men and not angels, for Christ has died for us. By the Passion and the blood and in the waters of Holy Baptism we are made sons of the Kingdom, coheirs with Christ, our one true Head. Do not reject the gift of faith, do not neglect the Word or the Sacraments. Christ comes to you as He has chosen to do so — in Word and Sacrament. Many listen to the devil, the world, and the sinful flesh, but the sheep hear the voice of their Shepherd. Do not attempt to work your way to God, "[f]or by the works of the Law no man will be justified in His sight[.]" Yes, you must do good works, but these flow from faith — they do not justify you. In fact, you cannot do good works except in faith. Hear the words of Christ: »"Apart from Me, you can do nothing."« And do not make the Roman mistake — good works are not such things as pilgrimages, monastic life, and other such nonsense. What does Scripture say of good works? ‘God has prepared them beforehand that we should walk in them.’ God, in HIs perfection, does not need our good works — He is never hungry or cold or in prison, but our neighbors are. Feed the hungry; clothe the cold; house the homeless; visit those in prison. Do these according to your vocation and your means. Talents, abilities, gifts, resources are not distributed evenly, and this is according to God’s wisdom; use what you have been given to serve your neighbor — and ‘neighbor’ does mean neighbor, the man beside you. If you have been given the ability to teach, then teach the things of God, teach the truth. If you are a parent, then raise your children well and instruct them in the things of God. If you are a tradesman, then do good work for a fair wage or a fair price. If you are a magistrate, then seek justice and do not show partiality. If you are wealthy, then care for the poor and provide for the Church. Do according to your station, your abilities, and your resources. Serve your neighbor, and, in so doing, serve God.

Above all else, hold true to God — uphold all truth, for all truth is one. Do not teach falsely and do not tolerate those who do so. Remember your Baptism — you are a child of God, a sheep of His pasture. The Good Shepherd laid down His life for His sheep; by His blood you have been cleansed, you have been made whiter than snow. »"It is finished!"« There is nothing you need do for your salvation: "For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the Law." He was perfect because you could not be; He performed the work you could not. That is freedom and that is liberty. You are no longer a slave to sin, death, and the devil. You are a child of God, so: »"Fear God and give Him glory, because the hour of His Judgment has come, and worship Him Who made Heaven and Earth, the sea and the springs of water."«