“Where do you stand?” “Well, on what?” you might ask. For, in America right now, there are quite a number of questionable positions. Where do you stand on immigration…on impeachment…on the food pyramid…on political ads on Twitter…on and on and on and on we could go. You name it, we could ask it. And the answers to those questions to some degree depend on who you are – or at least they’re related. If you’re a union Democrat, or a woman, or you’re a recent immigrant, or…
This morning, characteristically, Jesus comes at us from a different direction. He says, essentially, that where you stand determines who you are, whether his disciple or not, and if you stand with him and follow him, you will experience what you cannot otherwise achieve. Listen again (I’m going to read another translation), “If you remain in my word, you are really my disciples. You will also know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
That’s a heavy statement. It’s that characteristic kind of statement Jesus makes: objective – boxes you in or out. Discipleship, following Jesus, is connected with standing in one place – in his Word. And doing otherwise means you are a slave. The Jews who thought they were Jesus’ followers understood just what he meant. Though they disagreed about the slavery thing. They said, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?” The Jews were most comfortable to stand in their own word about themselves – “we’re Abraham’s descendants; that’s what determines us…so we’re not slaves – never been true.” And though they may not have thought it through, their statement implied something too: “Jesus, we don’t need you…”
Whatever they thought about freedom, they needed to hear the truth: they were slaves, because “everyone who sins is a slave to sin.” Essentially, Jesus was saying that standing in your own estimation about yourself, your own word on your identity, on life – concluding that you don’t need Jesus or that Jesus might just be a bonus added in – that makes you a slave – because everyone sins and everyone is a slave of sin and Jesus is the one way to freedom. Sin enslaves by making anything look more desirable than Jesus – our identity, our needs, our deeds, our honor, winning. It’s desiring something above Jesus and then acting on it. And it eventually damns us. Unless something intervenes, it leads to hell. In that slavery, someone might say, “I’m fine with desiring things more than Jesus. Sounds free to me.”
And, if you’ve experienced the normal way of life – as a disciple of Jesus Christ – then you know how Master Sin tries its best to exercise control over you, to destroy life by temptations and their ramifications and results, to chain you up in guilt, to condemn you. Perhaps like the woman at the beginning of chapter 8. She’d been unfaithful with a marriage. She was condemned and they brought her to stand before Jesus. “Moses told us she should be stoned – killed for such a sin – what say you? Where do you stand, Jesus?” they said. He didn’t reply. Didn’t stand even, bent down and sketched some nothing in the dirt with his finger. When they pressed, he pressed back and invited the one with no sins to throw first. When they all had left and the woman, presumably still feeling guilty and accused and condemned, was standing there alone, Jesus looked up and said, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” Because, “if the son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”
For that woman, at Jesus’ word everything changed. She was free – of her guilt, of her sin, and to do God’s will. For sinners, at Jesus’ word everything changes. This morning he reminds us, “If you remain in my word, you are really my disciples. You will also know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” What truth? He says of himself, “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life.” In Jesus, “The Word [of God] became flesh and made his dwelling among us. [And he was] full of grace and truth.” The truth of Jesus’ word is that Jesus the word of God was made flesh to be bound to all our sins and their punishment. And that his death brings forgiveness to our hearts, it sends our sins away. The truth is that we are not so valuable in ourselves, but by faith in Jesus, we have a righteousness from God apart from our own doing. It’s Jesus’ righteousness – perfection, holiness, freedom… So that the law cannot condemn us any longer for sins. We are justified [declared not guilty] by faith in him. And “since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand.” More, we, sons and daughters of God, disciples of Jesus, will abide in God’s house with him forever.
It’s actually the thing of the Reformation and the center of this day’s celebration. We are disciples of Jesus Christ alone as our Savior, whose work is ours by grace alone, which we receive by faith alone – and now everything from this point forward for us is to God’s glory alone. And this all we find to be the truth – in Holy Scripture alone. It’s why when Luther appeared at the Imperial Diet at Worms he could not take back what he had taught. It was from the Word of Christ. He said: “Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason – I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils – my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything… God help me. Amen.” It was a world changing stance, to be in God’s Word alone.
Where do you stand? Jesus says, “If you remain in my word, you are really my disciples…” Stay “in” Jesus’ Word – persuaded of its truth and living by it, attracted to its beauty more than anything else, treasuring the peacefulness of its grace and power, nourished and refreshed on the bread of life, and confident in the brightness of its light in this dark world. And as Luther said, you disciples of Jesus Christ will be captives to his Word, slaves of righteousness, but absolutely free.
“the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord endures forever.’ And this is the word that was preached to you.” (1 Peter 1:24-26)