John 8: 31-36 The search for the truth
Everyone can remember a time when we had to line up before our parents, perhaps together with our brothers and sisters, to give account for something we had done wrong; perhaps we lied about something or broke a window but denied it. All standing in a line, dad or mum would walk up and down asking for the truth to be told; demanding that the truth of the matter be revealed so that the issue at hand can be dealt with and the wrong put right. ‘Now what happened, which one of you did this’?
Finding out the truth and putting right what is wrong is justice; its making sure wrong is dealt with so that the injustice does not continue. Yet as all of us are painfully aware, getting us to tell the truth is the hardest battle. Getting us to admit that we are in the wrong, can take an effort of biblical proportions! Often we don’t want to tell the truth because we can’t or don’t want to face the reality of the truth.
I have a short clip from the movie ‘A few good men’. Its a story about two lawyers trying to get to the truth out about a murder that happened within a military camp. I want you to take note of the accused man’s response when caught out lying to the jury. (play clip)
‘You can’t handle the truth’. This man justified his lies about what happened because he couldn’t face the truth about himself. He couldn’t face the reality of what he had done and so justified his actions by blaming the lawyers, blaming the pressures of his job and blaming the system. It was everyone else’s fault; they can’t handle the truth.
The reality is, we who are at fault can’t handle the truth! We can’t handle the truth about who we are before God. We can’t handle the truth we are sinners that are going to die. Jesus himself said ‘”I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.’ And a moment before this Jesus repeated three times ‘you will die in your sins’. Jesus is standing before those around him and he is standing before us saying ‘you can’t handle the truth.’, the reality is ‘you are slaves to sin and you are going to die in your sins. Stop blaming everyone and own up!’ They are fighting words, and they are the words which sent Jesus to the cross to be crucified.
Martin Luther couldn’t handle the truth of Jesus words either. He couldn’t handle the reality of his sin. He couldn’t handle the reality of Jesus’ words ‘you will die in your sins’. Like the army officer, like us all, he blamed everyone but himself for his condition; he even blamed God.
‘‘Though I lived as a monk without reproach, I felt that I was a sinner before God… I did not love, yes, I hated the righteous God who punishes sinners, … I was angry with God, and said, “As if, indeed, it is not enough, that miserable sinners, eternally lost through original sin, are crushed by every kind of calamity by the 10 Commandment, without having God add pain to pain by the gospel of Jesus and also by Jesus words threatening us with his righteousness and wrath’ (LW 34: 336).’
This was Luther’s struggle against God which sparked off the reformation, and often its our struggle against God. ‘We can’t handle the truth about ourselves’. Jesus came to earth full of the truth and he said ‘I am the truth and the life’, and he also said ‘my words are truth’. Jesus came to tell us the truth, and the truth hurts. Yet if we are prepared to hear the truth about ourselves, we will hear the truth about God.
In today’s reformation gospel reading Jesus says ‘If you hold to my word, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” To be a disciple of Jesus, a Christian, means to take Jesus words as truth. This is very important. If we don’t hear and remain in Jesus words as the truth, then we lose the gospel; we lose Jesus and we cannot be free. Jesus said ‘when you know the truth, then you will be free.
The truth of Jesus words to us lay at the centre of the reformation and Jesus words are still at the centre of our confession as Lutherans. One of the key discoveries of Luther, which paved the way for the reformation of the church, was the realization that when God speaks to us, his words are truth. And when he speaks to us he speaks in two ways; first the bad news and then the good news; both are the truth and both are essential for salvation.
The truth of our condition is as clear and stark as Jesus says ‘you will die in your sins’. A truth that we can’t handle and many don’t. That is why our churches are emptying and why the prophet Jeremiah laments ‘o whom can I speak and give warning? Who will listen to me? Their ears are closed so they cannot hear. The word of the LORD is offensive to them; they find no pleasure in it.’ It is so sad that many don’t want to hear the truth because we need to hear the truth, and handle it, because the truth of God’s word will also set us free from sin and death.
This is the good news, the other side of God’s word. Jesus came to set us free from our condition. He said ‘I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.’ When we remain in Jesus words, take them to heart and apply them to ourselves, them the words of Jesus set us free. When we believe Jesus at his word, we have already crossed from death to life.
This was the keystone of the reformation; we are saved by grace alone, in faith alone, in Christ alone. Today, as you hear the words of Jesus, ‘if the Son sets you free, you are free indeed’, apply them to yourself, and take them as the truth and the truth of Jesus word will set you free. I don’t know what you need to be set free from, it is between you and God. Perhaps its from past hurts, perhaps its from guilt from past sins, perhaps its from the torment you feel as you hear God’s word of bad news, what ever it is, hear Jesus word to you today ‘whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life; he has crossed over from death to life..
The truth of Jesus words speak loudest to us in Holy Communion. Jesus is truly present in and with the bread and wine to set you free. Hear, touch, hold onto and then swallow the words of Jesus and know they are true ‘, “Take and eat; this is my body. “take and Drink, all of you. This is my blood, which is poured out for the forgiveness of sins.’
Jesus said ‘‘If you hold to my word, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free’. Once we understand the truth of God’s word, both bad news and good news, then we can join with Luther and say, ‘Here I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates.’