Archive for the ‘Reformation’ Category

What Is Truth?

Saturday, October 25th, 2008

Twenty Fourth Sunday in Pentecost, October 26, 2008
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church. San Diego, CA
Click here for audio of this message.

 What is truth? In our Gospel reading this morning, Jesus says, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” But what is the truth?  Well, our message this morning is truth!  It is the Word of God in Law and Gospel it’s that Word, which sets people free!  Our truth this morning is the living Word of God, Jesus Christ who is with us this very moment giving us His truth. God the Father is a God of truth.  Christ is truth.  The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth and He guides us into all truth.  Because God is truth, we must worship Him in truth; walk before Him in truth; serve Him in truth; rejoice in truth; speak to one another in truth, and meditate on His truth.  Those who are found without the truth are punished for their lack of it.  Because the truth is the Gospel, it can come only through Jesus Christ…this is the truth!  The truth is purifying, justifying and sanctifying.  In your baptism God clothed you with the truth; truth is your robe of righteousness.  Truth is abundantly and daily revealed to you who are loved and called according to His purpose and it always abides with you always.  God desires that the truth be acknowledged, believed, loved, and obeyed, and by His Spirit of Truth you are able to do this very thing!  This is most certainly true!

What is not the truth? In order to help us know what the truth is, let’s briefly discuss what the truth is not.  In the early 16th century, a young German monk named Martin Luther desperately wanted to know the truth about God.  He had learned all of his life that God was an angry God, who relentlessly kept track of each and every person’s sins, patiently waiting for the moment of judgment so that He could punish these transgressions!  Luther was taught that if there was any hope for him at all it would come through the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.  Luther was also taught that through a prescribed series of religious exercises, he and the rest of humanity may be able to find favor in God’s eyes by trusting in God’s mercy.  But Luther soon found himself in a dilemma; how was he to know if he performed enough religious exercises to please God?  In response to his desire to “know the truth” the young monk was sent to Wittenberg to attend Seminary and to become a priest.  It was during his study of God’s Word, that He discovered the truth that set Him free, and that truth was found in the very Epistle lesson we heard read this morning: “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it- the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.  For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. [Rom. 3:21-25,28] 

These words, these living Words were the very truth that Martin Luther knew to be the key that explained all of God’s Word.  For years, he lived under the tyranny of God’s Law alone, but he discovered that God’s Law was only half of God’s truth, because you see, it lacked God’s Grace, the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Now armed with the whole truth of God’s Word, this young monk became consumed by the word of God!  He could not stop reading and studying.  And as he read, he was changed.  He quickly began to see the folly of sinners who placed their trust in their own good works.  ILLUS: If Luther were here this morning, he would tell us this about the devils lies and God’s truth: The devil wants us to look at God and see Him as one who is angry with us and out to punish us when we sin.  He is encouraged when we ask ourselves, “Why is God punishing me?” because this type of thinking is what he uses to get us to abandon our faith.  But if we see God this way, then we don’t see Him correctly, but instead “we’re looking at him as if a dark storm cloud has been drawn across His face.  God’s Word tells us that if we truly believe that Christ is our Savior, then we have a God of love; and to see God in faith is to look upon His friendly heart.”
    “So when the Devil throws your sins in your face so that you will abandon your faith, and when he declares that you deserve death and hell, tell him this: “I admit that I deserve death and hell, what of it?  For I know one who suffered, died, and paid for my sins; His name is Jesus Christ, Son of God and where He is there I shall be also.”

So what is truth?  Jesus graciously answers this question for us with these words, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” [Jn. 8:31-32]  Friends, the word of Jesus is the truth because it is the Word of God.  It is the Word alone that brings spirit and life…without the Word there is only spiritual death.  The only way to know God is through the Word, and if we want to live in truth we must live in the Word.  Jesus said, “If you remain in me, and my words I will remain in you.”  Whether we are babies in the faith or the most honored elder of the congregation, we are all equally held safe by the same power of God’s Word.  Young and old alike, we must all learn more and more of the Word’s precious truth.  It is this truth, this Word that holds us within the true faith.  This relationship of faith can only come from the Word and it can only be retained through a continual reliance on the living Word of God through which the blessed power of truth and faith are given.  The truth dear friends, is found in living out God’s Word and sharing that truth with others.  No one who rejects God’s truth can ever find saving faith.  No one who refuses to be led by God’s Word can expect to hold on to it.  God’s Word must have its way with us or it will not live within us. 

ILLUS: Over 1900 years ago, Jewish Zealots made a courageous stand, holding off an elite Roman legion for more than a year. Jerusalem was destroyed months earlier, and the mesa named Masada, was the site of the last pocket of Jewish resistance.  Come morning that, too, would change. The wooden walls were burning, and soon the Roman battering ram would begin again and make its final assault upon the weakened walls and gates.
   The leader of the 960 men, women and children who held the mesa gathered the men together, and shared the hopelessness of the morning’s coming battle. Defeat was certain, and it would come with slavery, the murder of the children and the aged, and the rape of the women. He urged one last act of defiance, one last act of freedom: “Let us choose death before we become slaves, and let’s go out of this world, with our children and our wives, in a state of freedom.”    With no other apparent avenues of honor left for them, the men of the garrison gathered their families, and together they took their own lives.  Their desire to live was not as great as their hatred of slavery.
   When the Romans burst through the walls in the morning, they were greeted with the silence of the dead. This story developed in the aftermath of the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, just as Jesus, the living and true Word of God had predicted earlier. The prediction was fulfilled four decades after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension.  If only they would have listened to Jesus, the living Word of God…if only they would have understood that God’s Word is truth…

But what is the purpose of truth?  Well Jesus answers this question pretty well, “and the truth shall set you free.”   If it is only truth that sets us free, then we can surmise that without truth we are in bondage…we are slaves.  But slaves to what, or to whom?  This was the question of the unbelieving Jews who were mixed in with the newly converted Christians when they said: “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” [vs. 33]  Can you hear the pride and sarcasm in their voices?  It’s like they’re saying, “If the truth you’re speaking about is only good for slaves, then don’t bother us…WE ARE Abraham’s children, a royal nation of priests, and we have no master except God Himself!  We have rules that we follow that God Himself gave to us.  And by following these rules we will appease God’s anger and find salvation!  And to this, Jesus, the Living Word of God, gives them more truth: “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.”  He says to the Pharisees and he says to us, “So how are you doing with keeping those rules?  Have you ever broke one?  Have you ever sinned?  Of course you have, and you will continue to sin…You are a slave to sin…you are in captivity of it and there is nothing you can do to save yourself! 

Friends, Jesus is asking us to understand and believe that everyone of us who does what is sin is enslaved by it and can never on our own break away from it.  We are, without question trapped in spiritual soul slavery, and that is the worst kind of slavery you can ever be captivated by.  He is asking us to accept the fact that we do sin in thought, word, or action daily, hourly, even every moment.  If God were to put us on trial, our very own conscience would be the best witness against us.  So what are we to do?  Nothing…nothing but confess that there is nothing we can do, and then we rest in our own helplessness and receive the help of God.  What is that help?  Well it’s His truth, the true and Living Word of God, Jesus Christ.  He is your champion who speaks God’s grace to you:  ‘Friend, even though you are guilty of many sins, I forgive.  Even though you have ignored my presence in your life and refused to enter into a relationship of trust with me, I shall show your mercy and love.  By the power of God’s love through Jesus Christ you are forgiven.  “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” ILLUS: Have you ever heard of Sojourner Truth? She was born a slave in 1797, and she died a freed woman in 1883.  She was an American abolitionist. In 1827 she and her entire family were freed from slavery and they moved to New York. In 1843, she said that she heard “a voice from Heaven,” and in response to that voice she began to travel in the North preaching freedom for all slaves. In the mid-1860’s, she moved to Washington, D.C., and began to help resettle ex-slaves.

She was quoted as saying: “When I left the house of bondage I left everything behind. I wanted to keep nothing of Egypt on me, and so I went to the Lord and asked him to give me a new name (Sojourner Truth).   I set up my banner, and then I sing, and then folks always comes up ’round me, and then … I tells em about Jesus.”  Sojourner Truth frequently began her messages by saying: ‘Children, I talk to God and God talks to me.”  One day at an abolitionist meeting in Boston, Frederick Douglass had spoken and said that the slaves had no hope except in their own strength and desire to fight for themselves. Sojourner Truth quietly asked him: “Frederick, is God dead?”

Friends, I believe that Sojourner Truth was asking not just Frederick Douglass but all of us: Do you think that God is not always present in this world and in your life working out His goodness in all things despite what things may appear in the present?  Sojourner Truth was proved right of course.  Shortly thereafter, human slavery was abolished in these United States.  But dear friends, a far more terrible form of slavery still exists today and it can be found right outside of the doors of this church.  You who have been freed from the slavery of sin, death, and the devil, have been called by God’s Word of truth to help free your neighbors…your neighbors who live in this very community.  The spirit of Sojourner Truth lives on today, because you see it is the voice of truth, the voice of the Living Word of God, Jesus Christ.  Like Sojourner, you are called to be a part of a holy nation of people, a nation of abolitionists, whose one mission is to declare the love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ.  And when you speak God’s Word of peace to your neighbor, speak it as one who can truly say…. “Free at last!  Free at last!  Thank God almighty I’m free at last! 

May the peace of God, which supassess all understanding, keep our hearts and minds in His truth, for the sake of Jesus Christ….AMEN