October 30, 2016
St. John 8:31-36
It doesn’t matter to God how bad you are. Jesus died for your sins. All of them. Even if you are the worst sinner, the most vile, wretched, messed up, God-hating, neighbor-despising sinner ever it doesn’t matter. Nothing you have thought, said, or done is beyond the redemption of Jesus’ blood. Now, that’s Good News! That no matter what sins you’ve committed, no matter how sinful you really are, Jesus died for you. But here’s some more good news. And this may come as a shock. And, in fact, this is the real awesome good news that Martin Luther and the Reformation brought to light. Ready? Here it is. It doesn’t matter to God how good you are either! That’s good news because even if we can say the right words that we don’t earn our way to heaven by being good, our Old Adam still believes God will like you better if you’re good. If you’re well-behaved, God won’t let bad things happen to you. When I do nice things, that makes God happy with me. Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, let me say this as clear as possible. Jesus forgives all your sins. AND He forgives all your good works, too! He forgives you for thinking that when you do something good, that makes you a good person. It all comes down to this. Your goodness or badness isn’t about you. It’s about this one thing: are you in Christ or not? Outside of and apart from Jesus, there is nothing in you but sin, death, and the wrath and judgment of God. In Christ, where His Word has declared you forgiven, there is nothing in you but righteousness, innocence and blessedness.
This is what the Jews who believed in Jesus didn’t get. And it’s the thing we miss too. They refused to believe they were slaves of sin. If you sin, you’re a slave of sin. Jesus sets us free. But sin isn’t just doing bad things. It’s also thinking your good things are all that great and make you a good person. We tend to think of sin in terms of doing bad and evil and wicked things. True enough. But our real demonstration of unbelief is thinking that any good things we do balance out the bad. That thinking we’re not people who actually deserve eternal death and judgment for how we like to parade our self-righteousness for the world. But Jesus tells them plainly. If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. So He does. By His death for you. You want to know who’s really good? Jesus. Perfect even. Spotless and without blemish. Sinless. You want to know who’s bad? Really bad? Worst sinner ever? Jesus! Because all the sins of the world are His, carried to Calvary. Bled and died for. It is by that payment for sin and the defeat of death by rising on Easter that the Son sets you free from the slavery of sin. Slavery to sin means being unable to stop sinning. It means being worried about how bad your sins are. It means thinking your good is good enough. The death and resurrection of Jesus clears all that away and sets you free. Once and for all and forever free.
Now, the HOW of your being set free is the other big deal of which the Lutheran Reformation reminded us. It doesn’t matter to God how good or bad you are but that you are in Christ. So how do we know whether we are in Christ? Well, we don’t believe our sins because those might lead us to conclude that we’re nothing but toast! On the other hand, we don’t believe our good works either. Those might persuade us that we’re pretty good people who don’t really actually need Jesus that much. So how do we know? How do you know you are free? How do you know the Son has set you free and made you one of the family? His promises. The promise made at the font by water and the Spirit. The promise made when the pastor Jesus called absolves you. The promise made when Jesus gives you His body and blood to eat. The promise of “for the forgiveness of your sins.” These gifts, water, word, body and blood—these gifts tell you what God has to say. Your goodness or badness doesn’t matter. What matters is Jesus. What Jesus did. What Jesus gives.
Now, I said that it doesn’t matter to God how bad or good you are. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter. It matters very much to your neighbor. Loving or not loving your parents or spouse or the people around you doesn’t make God angrier or happier with you. But it matters to your parents or spouse or the people around you! So there needs to be one more bit of good news for you today on that front. That too, your good works, is Jesus living in and through you. The Holy Spirit dwells in you. He works through you to love and care for others. You could pause and wonder how you love and care for others. But then you would either say, “I don’t do a very good job” or “yeah, I’m pretty good at that.” See the trap? Making it all about you again. Jesus loves others perfectly in you. And you, in Jesus, love others perfectly. You keep the commandments by being in Christ who keeps them always. So there you go. Your salvation. The delivery of your salvation. The life of love toward others. This is all Jesus. This really is what Jesus means when He says He sets you free. Free from worrying, calculating and measuring. Free from wondering “how bad?” or “how good?” Free from sin and its curse. For He is the Son. And He has set you free. And therefore, you are free indeed. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.