”31 So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 33 They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” 34 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave[b] to sin. 35 The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed”
In our Gospel lesson, Jesus says to the Jews who had believed in him: “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31–32). And the answer the Jews give him are simply shocking: “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone” (v. 33).
Obviously, the Jews did not remember their own history. And this should not surprise us. Many people forget their history. They enjoy their freedom, but they don’t know where it came from. True, they are descendants of Abraham, but they were also slaves in Egypt for 430 years.
And the fact that they were slaves is what makes the story of their redemption and freedom so precious. There is no better told story than that of Passover, when God rescued the children of Israel from Egypt, from the house of slavery, and brought them to the promised land. It was the most beautiful story ever told until the time of Jesus. And it’s true.
But how much more important is the truth that Jesus speaks to us today. This is the truth that sets us free. We are not speaking of a mere political freedom, but a freedom from the condemnation of the law, a freedom of conscience. Let’s take a moment to reflect on Jesus’ words, “The truth will set you free” (John 8, 32).
But if the truth makes us free, then what makes us slaves? What is the opposite of truth? It is the LIE that enslaves us. This is the great power of the prince of this world, the devil. It is much more than political oppression, even blood and violence, which could befall us day by day.
The power of the devil is the power of his lie. His name, “Satan,” means “liar.” Jesus says later in the same chapter: “When he speaks a lie, he speaks of himself; for he is a liar, and the father of lies” (John 8:44). He cannot help but deceive sinners and hook them on his lies.
We live in a world where people care very little about the difference between truth and falsehood. People prefer not to learn the difference. They would rather live their life the way they see fit. They want to sin, they even prefer sin, calling sin freedom, and thus they become slaves to everything they desire. To such people, Jesus says: “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.” And Satan, the master liar, leads the way.
He says that being a true son is about feeling good and being happy in this world. He even says that these are the benefits of being a son, of being free. He says: if you are truly a son, if you are a member of the Father’s house, then you should expect more material things from him, more than what he has promised you. If you really are a son, then you should have more than enough to eat and to enjoy.
He says that a true son should expect miracles, life-changing events, and release from suffering. He promises a political solution to all of life’s problems. But what is it to trust in the princes of this world but to bow down and worship the devil himself?
There is no freedom in the devil’s promises. No matter how it makes us feel inside for a little while, it is a bondage far worse than any kind of political oppression—it is a spiritual bondage. And nothing less than the truth that comes from the mouth of Jesus will set us free from his power and dominion.
The lie is the great enemy of the soul. It is not only the act of speaking lies, but also believing them, even if out of ignorance or stupidity. The lie is the lie, and it always fights against the kingdom of Christ.
Even if it causes you to lose your job, if you will be truly free you must believe and tell the truth. Even if it costs you the reputation and respect of your community, you must count “all things but loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus” (Phil 3). Even if it costs you political freedom and financial wellbeing, “if you continue in [the word of Christ], then you are truly [his] disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
Look at Jesus. They lied about him, filed false charges against him. Of course, he ignored all the nonsensical charges against him, which did not agree with themselves, and so canceled themselves out anyway. But when it came to who Jesus was, he did not deny the accusation. He permitted it to stand that he had indeed claimed to be the Christ, the Son of God. Because he was.
And for telling the truth they crucified him. With his life and death and his glorious resurrection, he proved that all the things that the prophets had said about him were true. He spoke the truth with every beat of his heart. He suffered the consequences of eternal truth. With the sword of truth he cut the dragon open and pierced his head through. And with his holy, precious blood and innocent suffering and death, Jesus ransomed us from sin, freed us from the devil transferred us into his own kingdom, and fulfilled the word of the prophets.
Jesus did it with the truth. He resisted every temptation of the devil with his word. There, where the children of Israel had become slaves to evil and sin, Jesus entered the shadow of lies, bringing the light of truth. He is the way, the truth, and the life. He is truth incarnate.
John says: “In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not prevail against it.” Thus he fulfilled the law as our substitute: he spoke the truth to the face of the liar and silenced him. In place of his lie, our Lord speaks a word that unveils all truth—the truth of our sin, yes, so that we must confess with St. Paul that nothing good dwells in us. But much more than that, Jesus proclaims himself to us. He says: “Look, all this obedience and suffering and victory I have done for you. And I give it all to you.”
Far from accusing us and crushing us to see if we can do better, he forgives us. It frees us, absolve us. He baptizes us causing us to be born again as permanent members of his household. We all enter through the baptismal font together—it is the true entrance to our Father’s home. Having entered with the robe of Christ’s righteousness and made the confession of Christ, which he himself made in his trial—this makes us worthy to sit with him at the table, where he feeds us and fills us with the bread of life. And then he invites us to remain in his house and rest in his forgiveness until he comes back to bring us into eternal joy. The Son has made us free. You are free indeed!
This week we celebrate the reformation of the Christian Church. We do not celebrate Martin Luther, but rather the truth that he confessed. Armed with the word of God, he declared before the emperor himself the following:
“Unless I am convinced by Scripture and by plain Reason—and not by Popes and Councils who have so often contradicted themselves—my conscience is captive to the Word of God. To go against conscience is neither right nor safe. I cannot and I will not recant. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me.”
He couldn’t lie because he couldn’t forget the great story of his redemption. Here we, too, stand. We do not forget where we were taken from and where we are going by God’s grace. Guided by the Son and made alive by his Spirit, we cannot but confess the truth that sets us free. God help us! Amen.