Truth Words: The hurt and the gift
To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.’
33 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?’
34 Jesus replied, ‘Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. 35 Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it for ever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. 37 I know you are Abraham’s descendants. Yet you are looking for because you have no room for my word. 38 I am telling you what I have seen in the Father’s presence, and you are doing what you have heard from your father.’
There is a saying about truth. The truth will set you free, but it will hurt you before it does!
That is true about truth. When someone speaks a word of truth to you about your unhelpful or even hurtful attitude or behaviour it can hurt as it challenges you and dents your pride before the good stuff of learning about yourself and peace between friends comes back.
Same here for Jesus and those Jewish people around him who had begun to believe that he must be someone special – even that he is the promised Saviour of God …
They hear this word of truth, but they don’t welcome it. In fact, we hear that they are offended by it …
Why so? Well, when you think about it, Jesus offers his good news as freedom, and by doing so tells those around him that they are not free. They don’t agree!
It seems that the Gospel doesn’t mean very much to the self-made man or woman. We know about that. We have grown up in families and a community and country who hold up self-made people as the ants pants all the time!
Even more, like all gifts of the good news Jesus brings, be it salvation from everlasting hopeless despair, from death, from God’s right judgement of our lives, or grace: God’s underserved unearned acceptance, or forgiveness of our wrong attitudes, words and actions that come from our idol-making heart or life now and beyond our dying, these gifts are given because we don’t have them, can’t make them and need Jesus for them.
So here Jesus gives freedom and thereby tells people that without his freedom they are slaves.
“If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”
Freedom! Awesome! Freddie Mercury in Queen, “I want to break free” or Mel Gibson playing Sir William Wallace in the movie, ‘Braveheart”, yelling out “Freedom”!
Everybody wants to be free, speak free, love free, work free, travel free, be free of this virus, be free of things that tie you down, make your life miserable or limited or small ….
Freedom is offered but not received …
“We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, ‘You will be made free’?”
In other words, “What do you mean, we are not already free; that we NEED freedom?” or, probably even more, “Who do you think you are, to give us freedom anyway?!?”
Now, there is just a little bit of blindness to their reply:
“We are the descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone.”
Ahh. People, have you forgotten about the Egyptians? Or the Assyrians? Or the Persians? Or – did you just see that group of Roman soldiers in all their ‘ploomery’ ride by? I hear a good one this week – “Denial. It ain’t just a river in Egypt.”
But what about us? Are you OK with being named needy, named a slave needing freedom from someone beyond your self-made self? So offended, or at least unconvinced about your slavery enough to not see or seek freedom from Jesus?
You might be. Many are. I am sometimes. We do pride ourselves on the self-made vision of being a human being probably more than any other culture.
In our community you make your own way, build your own farm, family business, career, fortune and life without help from anyone. Relying on others or admitting any need for assistance is just weakness, and to be avoided at all costs, lest someone find out you did not do it all or make it all or get it all right …
I suspect most of us find it really difficult to do some honest admitting that we aren’t perfect, that our life isn’t perfect, that there’s room not just for growth and improvement but also for help, repentance, and forgiveness and freedom from many things; to admit that things do get the better of me and I need help to get the better of it.
Maybe it is especially difficult today. There is so much cultural pressure to act as if you have it all together – a great life, great job, great relationships, great future, great … more or less everything.
Yes, social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter have proven for many to be a great way to keep in touch with people and share life when not physically together, they also and increasingly have proven to be vehicles that demand greater and greater levels of effort to fit in with the positivity flow.
There is a lot of pretending going on.
“We are descendants of Abraham – or the Barossa, or Australia or my family or … – and have never been slaves to anyone!”, we might say.
I have heard of several studies that end up finding that the four of the five most popular social media platforms increase negative feelings in users, particularly among teens and young adults.
You can only look at so many pictures of someone else’s wonderfully happy and exciting life on Facebook or Instagram before you begin to feel like yours doesn’t compare very well and feel even more pressure to pretend you’re perfect. That sounds like slavery.
So where is freedom Jesus speaks of today, and are you willing to receive it in your honest need for it?
The first of Luther’s 95 Theses is about repentance:
“When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent’ (Matthew 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”
Repentance? Not something we are confident about these days …
Luther goes on to say that by repentance he’s not talking simply about confession and absolution as administered by the clergy (2nd thesis), or an inward kind of feeling-really-bad moment (3rd thesis).
Rather, true repentance for Luther is a kind of truth-telling that allows you to be honest about how you are deceiving yourself, or letting yourself be deceived by the world (or both!), that gives you an opportunity to think and speak and act differently. Or, to put it another way, to live in freedom.
That is how it works here for the people around Jesus and for us hearing the same word from him today. Jesus’ invitation to freedom demands an act of repentance as truth-telling before it hits home and does its saving work because it demands that we come clean about our need, which isn’t easy for self-made men and women to admit.
So, this gift of freedom from Jesus may sound more like bad news to you before it’s good news to you. As we said, the truth will set you free, but first it will make you feel miserable.
That is because the truth of this Jesus, the truth that makes you free, the truth at the heart of the 95 theses which Luther nailed to the door at the Wittenburg church 500+ years ago, the truth of the Reformation in Europe that we remember and celebrate this Sunday, is that we are sinners – God’s fallen, at times flailing, regularly confused, and always imperfect children – from birth to death. Sinners that no amount of indulgences or good works or good intentions or status updates or likes or creative social media posts can redeem.
But – freedom comes now … Here is the (second) truth which finally sounds like good news –
we are also those sinners who are simultaneously God’s beloved children, sinners whom God calls blessed and holy and perfect, sinners for whom Christ died and now lives to pray for, sinners whose futures are not determined by regrets and mistakes but by the possibility created by resurrection of Jesus, sinners whom God loves above all else.
We are not perfect … and we don’t have to be in order to be loved or free in God’s love, says Jesus.
We are now free because “the Son has set us free indeed”, no longer needing to be slave to anyone or anything.
Friend, who has believed in Jesus, hear the two words;
“You have sinned and fallen short”
Second final word on you
“You are now justified by God’s grace as a gift.” (Romans 3:23-24)
Sit with the Son of Timaeus we heard about last week (Blind Bartimaeus). He knew his need and was OK with saying it – even in public…
‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’
Jesus says to this person in the need, as says to you in need here now,
‘Your faith in and my words have healed you’.
Now that is Reformation. That is freedom!