John 8:31-36: Sweet is the Liberation Christ Gives

In fighting cadence, a magnificent military, an army, takes the field early on a summer day. The cavalry sat tall in their saddles, their regimental flags unfurling a rainbow of colors in the sky. Young men on foot stood prepared to advance. The officers’ swords, drawn and shining in the sun, lent an air of strength and power. With tremendous pride, the commander reviewed his troops, ready for battle and more—to conquer whatever lay before them.

At a boundary between nations, a field soon spills with blood near a small village, not during the Middle Ages or at Custer’s last stand. Neither is this “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” of which Lord Tennyson wrote in his striking poem. No, this distinguished formation stood, Poland’s finest, to defend their homeland and flag. Across the border, an aggressor amassed a different force, with the Panzer replacing the horse. New warfare began, and the Blitzkrieg descended.

The once-sunny day turned gray. Polish cavalry galloped, their sabers gleaming and banners waving. Sure, a surprise will become their edge, they held their lances at the ready, primed to attack German infantry. Yet armored vehicles emerged from the forest, raking them with machine gun fire. Too soon, men and horses tangle of blood and smoke, with limbs, viscera, and skin goring the ground. In shock, stunned prisoners tap on tank armor, convinced Germans had built many cardboard panzers in a phony fiction to inflate their prowess. The faulty intelligence cost them.

So wrong on the Nazi threat, captivated by their misconception. Well, they remembered World War I and its horrors, refusing to accept this might happen again. Evidence of Hitler’s intent abounded, but such thoughts became too unpleasant to acknowledge. This denial exposed a tragic weakness in our human condition of accepting what we wish to be fact. The delusion will bear its cost in blood by those who swallowed such falsehood, considering a cavalry charge could prevail against modern weaponry.

On another summer’s day, Jesus and His fellow Jews tread their fateful steps. Aware of their delusions, Jesus yet tries to caution them. The discussion delights these Pharisees for a couple of courses, with several agreeing with Jesus on many points. Not so when Jesus mentions they are slaves, and the discourse spirals downward.

Fierce and reckless, they arise, “Vassals? Preposterous, we’re of Abraham and never suffered oppression or served another!” Utter nonsense, considering Israel’s forced labor in Egypt, their Babylonian exile, and now the Roman occupation of Judea. Of course, Jesus spoke of a different yoke, not to man but of foul corruption and evil, of chains wrapping around our hearts and minds. “Whoever sins is a slave to sin,” and with this verse, He indicted the whole of humanity.

Well, if they won’t confront their earthly subjugation, why should they heed His words of their wrongdoings binding them in bondage? This carpenter from Nazareth crossed their line—past their point of no return. To be Abraham’s seed meant they lived as liberated people, or so they liked to divine and presume. Little did they excite for emancipation, desiring not a lick of His teaching. “Hey,” they decry, “we’re unrestrained regardless of what you say!”

Such a grand illusion, with Roman occupiers providing conclusive evidence otherwise. Doesn’t their arrogance of scorning Jesus show them as the sinners they deny themselves to be? Beholden to a power enslaving them while deeming themselves free. Vile is slavery, but this servitude is the most revolting, wearing the false mask of freedom.

How tempting to judge those dullards of yesteryear. Are we not wiser and better, for we’re not so foolish? Yet, are we so different, incapable of error and delusion? No, and we best remember this.

Oh, we love to listen to the many things Jesus can do and how He grants us eternal life and daily bread. Don’t we enjoy the comfort of Him being with us always? The moment He mentions changing our ways, however, we dally and dither while others tune Him out and turn away.

Whenever Jesus exposes the scribes and Pharisees, we cheer and applaud. Here at church, we sing His praises, but how uncomfortable we become when He calls out our use of His name to curse another. At those hypocritical moments, we squirm and seek any excuse to end the conversation. So easy to spot the flaws of others, but when considering our own, we prefer to stay undercover.

Not counting those delusional, no one here denies he does no wrong. Though to label us as slaves to sin—what an insult! So is our call and clamor since “I can stop if I try hard enough. Yes, I’ll conquer with the force of my resolve, for I’m my fate’s own master and the captain of my soul.

In matters beyond and above us, spiritual free will is a myth. Yet, this lie makes us not so perverse and repugnant because we contribute, able to decide on our destiny, as the Jews imagined during Jesus’ day. The Scriptures describe us as born, not weak, but dead in our trespasses. Here’s the obscene truth—we cannot emancipate ourselves from our inherited bondage. Worse, our sinfulness keeps us from realizing how enslaved we are.

Sealed with sin since Adam’s fall, we ache to be unencumbered. Yet, we are prisoners of sin’s making. Forever crippled and captive, except by the everlasting grace of our triune God. Though loathsome by our condition as sinful indentured serfs and slaves, the Almighty sent His liberating Word, His flesh-born Son. With the full authority of deity, Jesus led the onslaught to secure our freedom. Not with a mighty army of cavalry, but with His saving sacrifice on Calvary.

So tiny a sliver in time. So immense a love for Jesus, to debase Himself, becoming sin’s thrall. Each of your iniquities He took upon His shoulders. Sinless, He became sin for us to free us from its curse. On the crucifying wood, He bought our amnesty, and by His blood, He cleansed us.

Yet consider the need for resurrection. Damaged beyond hope and irreversible—if our rescue only wrought the destruction of our guiltless Savior. What solace thrives in this liberty, or triumph over tyranny, against so steep a price, only to lament our Liberator’s loss? The divine freedom so foreign to us remains forlorn, with disgrace binding us tighter than before, for not only does death await, but damnation, too. For “if Christ did not rise, your faith is futile—and you are yet in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:17).

Unbound by the grave, sweet is the liberation God gives. So sweet the release from our sin since Jesus broke free and supplied new life to everyone who believes. No better gift can He give. Now, Jesus is the triumphant King of kings, seated at God’s right hand.

Through Word and water, the faith-bestowing Spirit brought you into the world of His kingdom. Out of the depths of those forgiving waters, a new person emerged, unleashed from sin’s shackles, enslaved no more. In baptism, the Son releases and rescues you—and when He does, you are free! Righteous and holy before God, not by your deeds or doings, but by the freeing actions of Jesus.

Still, one strip of this story awaits completion: yours. The only unfinished chapter is where you carry on in Christ’s Word, trusting and holding fast to Him. The Gospel sprang you from your depraved sinful servitude, but you’ll only prevail if the Word of life lives in you, as You rely on Him. “Abide in my Word and you are my disciples, and you will know the truth, which shall set you free.” So spoke Jesus.

Yet, how do we stay unfettered in Christ when temptations tempt us so? The Devil doesn’t forget us; always active. Do his whisperings not enter your ear? “Ha, you don’t need a Savior, my dear. Why you can press on alone and be your own dear master.” Out quivers another lie, swaggering your self-made ways to build you up, proud and strong—though leading only to hollow life, empty and wrong.

Remember, God does not forsake you in this fight. Isn’t Jesus your light against the darkness? Yes, and with His Word, He fortifies your belief in Him. With Him as your weapon, the victory is yours. Not in yourself, but in Him.

The Word is no heirloom bound in leather, fated to collect dust on a shelf. No, He’s living, accessible to you in Word and Sacrament. Each day, cling to Him alone for deliverance from the Evil One. By the grace given to you, continue in His Word.

Daily, confess your failings and your slavery to your vices. Dwell within this Word, Jesus, by the merciful working of God’s Spirit, trusting in Him for your full pardon. In Him, received and communing at His Table, Jesus loosens sin’s grip, and you are free. The Lord’s power, not yours, gives you the final Word: victory!

Here is Christ’s teaching, emphasized in our Reformation heritage: To reject transgression and live in faith isn’t only a past action but a lifestyle and principle. Ponder the first of Luther’s 95 theses, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said Repent, He willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”

Flee from sin, yourself, and Satan to follow Jesus. For sin’s slavery blinds us to this truth—we are captives and need a Liberator. Your Savior beckons the truth to break your trance and unleash you from perpetual servitude. Only His cross and empty tomb set you free. Gifted to you by His means of grace, God’s freedom becomes yours, received through faith. Amen.