Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear sons and daughters of the Lutheran Reformation, there have been some key dates throughout history that have really changed the course of human history. Perhaps one that we are all familiar with and one that we are still feeling the effects of today is July 4, 1776 and the declaration of independence. This began what would become a new country with inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It was began by a desire for political freedom from a political oppressor. In fact, it would seem that most revolutions occur because of a desire for freedom from oppression. But perhaps a day that changed the course of history more than anything since the time of Jesus was what happened on October 31, 1517. On October 31, 1517 Martin Luther, a little known monk in Germany, nailed a list of 95 theses to the community bulletin board on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. This sparked a revolution which changed the course of history.
So, what was it all about? In a way, it was all about freedom. Jesus told us in the gospel that “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” What Luther rediscovered was the truth of the gospel. He rediscovered what true slavery is, what true freedom is, and how we get that freedom.
What true slavery is. Luther grew up being taught about God from the church of his day. However, what he was taught was that a person had to earn God’s favor by being a good person, by good behavior. Luther also had a sensitive conscience. It didn’t matter how hard he tried or what he did, he knew that he could never live up to God’s demands. He felt God was angry with him for his sin. The more that he tried to keep the 10 commandments the more that he realized that he failed. His terror-stricken conscience led him to leave studying to become a lawyer and become a monk, the a priest, maybe just maybe if he dedicated his entire life to God, he could have peace. It didn’t work. So he did more. He’d wake himself up in the middle of the night to do more worship, more confession, more prayer. He’d sleep on hard surfaces and whip himself. Once his fellow monks found him passed out- working so hard to earn God’s favor.
He was a slave. He was a slave to sin. He was a slave to trying to earn God’s favor. And it didn’t matter what he did, he couldn’t free himself. “Everyone who sins is a slave to sin.” Medieval Christians thought a lot about sin, they had to keep track about what days they could eat meat and on what day it was a sin. They thought sin was like a disease, or a handicap, but they didn’t see that sin is a disease that puts us in a condition of spiritual death that makes us unable to help God along. To be acceptable to God we have to be as holy as God. Being right with God is more than calculating if I have done enough good to make up for the bad. The law of God’s Word kills us; it takes away any delusion or dream that we can save ourselves. We are in the worst form of slavery and we cannot free ourselves.
But Luther also rediscovered the truth about freedom. 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.” Luther’s superiors saw that Luther was zealous and very smart and they knew that if they didn’t do something, he would kill himself. So, they poured work on him. He began reading and studying and learning the Bible. It was a rare thing back then. You see, the Bible had been relegated. What was more important than the Bible was what the pope said or what the traditions of the church were or what the church councils determined. But slowly through His study of God’s Word, Luther was led to see the truth, we are saved not because of righteous things WE do, but because of God’s mercy. Righteousness isn’t what God demands of us, it’s what God gives to us because of Christ. The truth set Luther free.
Now, we have to spend a little bit considering “freedom.” What is this freedom that Jesus says we have when we know the truth? Now, when you ask people today how to define freedom, typically people define freedom by saying that Freedom is when nothing is impeding me, freedom is when nothing is getting in my way, freedom is being able to do whatever I want to do whenever I want to do it. But there are a number of problems with that. That’s not true freedom. What happens when what I want to do is stepping on the freedom of what someone else wants to do? Who’s to say that my freedom is more important than the freedom of someone else? There’s no standard to live by. Secondly, to say that freedom is to be able to do whatever I want to do doesn’t work because I want a lot of conflicting things. I want to live a long, healthy life but I also want to eat steak and ice cream every day. But both of those things are incompatible. Who would say, “In the name of freedom I want to brew my coffee in my coffee maker with concrete instead of coffee grounds.” Let me tell you why your coffee is of such a poor quality- your coffee maker wasn’t designed for that. Or if I were to say, “In the name of freedom I want to fish in the middle of a lake with my truck.” My truck wasn’t meant to float in water. Freedom isn’t being able to do whatever I want to do, but to do what I was designed to do. Like a fish. Is a fish free when it’s sitting on a sofa? No! The fish is free when it’s in the water because that’s what it was built for.
No, freedom isn’t freedom to do whatever we want. Freedom is freedom to live the way that we were designed to live, the way we were built to live by our Creator, freedom is to be ourselves as the people God created us to be. You see, that’s what Luther discovered. He discovered what true Freedom is. He discovered it from God’s truth which is His Word. Luther rediscovered the passage that says, “In the Gospel a righteousness from God is revealed.” It’s not a righteousness that we need to earn, but God gives it to us through faith in Christ!
This led Luther to a new found freedom. A freedom from the guilt of sin. We all carry around us a burden of guilt for doing things we know we shouldn’t have done, not doing things we should have, saying or thinking things that we shouldn’t, Jesus took those sins upon himself and carried our guilt on the cross and freed us from the guilt of our sins. “If we confess our sins he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” In Christ there’s also freedom from works. Luther spent his whole early life trying to earn God’s favor. We can fall into that same thinking. I have to do this, I have to do that, if I don’t do this God will be mad at me, we can so easily fall into this slavery of works. Christ has set us free! He’s given us salvation as a free gift, not something that we earn. He’s also freed us from fear. I don’t have to fear the future because the worst thing that could happen to me is now the best thing that could happen to me, should I die today, I know I’m going to go to heaven. There is no condemnation. That means I can boldly live for the truth. Luther had that freedom. In 1521 he was standing before the most powerful emperor of the time and being told he either recant from his teachings or face being declared an outlaw which meant that his life could be taken at any time. Standing on the truth of God’s Word he said, “I cannot and I will not recant anything. Here I stand, God help me. Amen.” He was free from the fear of death.
You see, he knew what you and I know too. Because Jesus came into this world, because Jesus was bound by ropes and arrested, because Jesus was bound to a cross with nails, because Jesus willingly enslaved himself with the punishment of all of our sins on the cross, we have been set free, free from slavery to sin and Satan. Free to live a life so full of gratefulness to God, so full of joy for what God has done, so desiring the life that God has designed us to live found in His word. That means to the degree that we know God more through His Word, know the truth, the more we will experience true freedom, the more we live according to God’s Word, the more we serve God and serve other people, the more we live selflessly, the more we will experience true freedom because we will be doing that which our Creator designed us to be, our true nature. And as we do so we will live the life that God has created for us to serve him not as slaves but as part of the family. “A slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”
Today we thank the Lord for what He accomplished through Martin Luther, but we thank Him infinitely more for what He accomplished through Jesus, freedom from slavery to sin and freedom for life in His eternal family. Welcome Home! Amen.