Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” 33 They answered him, “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, “You will be made free’?” 34 Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. 35 The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. 36 So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.
Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Today we commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation and Martin Luther’s experience of a deeper truth. One that caused him to change outlooks, approaches, and life itself. And as a result of his experience of a deeper truth, the whole church (including the Roman Catholic church) was reformed.
Here’s what’s going on in this 8th chapter of John. The narrative is set during the Jewish Festival of Tabernacles, which acknowledges God’s presence with the Jewish people as they fled from slavery in Egypt. They built temporary huts, sometimes called booths or tabernacles, and used them for shelter during their 40 years in the wilderness. At the time that John is describing, all people are invited to gather in Jerusalem for this celebration—many of whom would build replica booth-like dwellings and even eat and sleep there during the week of the celebration.
As the people are commemorating God’s protection in the wilderness during their flight from slavery in Egypt, Jesus speaks of the very things the people have gathered to observe: slavery and freedom, dwelling places and truth.
Jesus says, “If you continue (literally: dwell, tabernacle, live) in my word, you are my disciples. You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
Those who had previously believed in him argue, saying, “We have Abraham and Sarah as our ancestors. We’ve never been slaves.” Uhhmmm . . . did they forget why they’re gathered in Jerusalem in the first place? What the Festival of Tabernacles is about?
Even if the people aren’t clear about what slavery–therefore freedom–is, Jesus is very pointed about it. “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”
What does he mean by “knowing truth”? The word John uses for “to know” (ginosko) is more than intellectual agreement. It means to deeply know, to be assured by, to know completely. It is the word used in the Bible when a man and a woman “know” each other, and 9 months later a baby is born. It’s more than reading a book about a subject, OK?
It’s like the difference between objectively watching an event and actually seeing what’s happening.
It’s like the difference between casually hearing someone talk and actually listening to what they are saying.
It’s like this: I can read books about white-water rafting, listen to lectures, and see movies–and therefore know about it. But that’s different than actually going white-water rafting. Then, I know it from the inside out, based on my experiences. I know it much more deeply. Ginosko.
This is the knowing Jesus talks about: an experience of Christ (who is truth) that changes us from the inside out. Much deeper knowledge. For example, quite a few years ago, I knew that the Bible stood in opposition to homosexuality. I knew it, because I could recite all seven verses in the Bible that seemed to oppose it. That’s one kind of knowledge, a book-like, incomplete knowledge.
Then, through a series of events, experiences, studies, and conversations, I came to a different kind of knowing, ginosko, a deeper, more complete knowing than a few Bible verses. I experienced the truth of God’s love and God’s inclusivity in ways that have changed me from the inside out. I have been set free from a bondage of a narrow, external perspective to a deeper, internal freedom in God’s grace and love for all humanity.
We will be witnessing today, in love and support, three of our young people as they take significant steps in their faith journey. Two will affirm their baptisms, and one will be received in the rite of Welcome to Baptism. They are doing this today not because they know the doctrines of the church, or have memorized enough Bible verses, but because they have struggled with what they actually believe. They have been brought inside and come to a deeper knowledge of God in their lives—which sometimes leaves more questions than answers. They probably can’t articulate Luther’s explanation to the 3rd Article of the Apostles’ Creed, but they have, I believe, experienced a deeper, internal knowledge of the Holy Spirit working faith in them (because we all know that that’s what the 3rd Article is about, right? Right?). They don’t know all the answers, but they know how to ask questions, how to watch for God in the world, and how faith needs to continue to grow with them. I’m not even sure they would say that, but I know it, because I’ve watched it happen in them. They know God in significant ways. And they know from the inside that God knows them. They know some truths, and they are set free.
You have hopefully heard about LCM’s “Renewal Team,” which is part of a cohort of three congregations seeking to know more fully what God is calling us to be and do. The idea is not for us to follow a program or series of prescribed steps, but to come to a deeper knowing of what God is doing in us and in our neighborhood.
On this 500h Anniversary of the Reformation, John declares that we are set free in Christ—truly free. Free from prejudice, from fear, from pretention, from other people’s opinions, from stagnation, from whatever it is that keeps us captive. And it is Christ who not only reveals this truth, but in whom that truth comes to us. This is the freedom Martin Luther experienced 500 years ago. A freedom that changed the world. As we continue to grow in our experience, our deep knowledge of this Christ from the inside out, we too become more and more free.