Scripture Reference: Matthew 1:21, John 8:31-47
Jesus, The Gift Of FreedomDr. Erwin W. Lutzer | December 23, 2012
Scripture Reference: Matthew 1:21, John 8:31-47
Selected highlights from this sermon
The power of sin in our lives can be aptly described as bondage, and there is only one way to be set free from its grip—through Christ.
Jesus called Himself the Truth, and unlike what many say today, truth exists. It can be known in Jesus Christ. The Lord asks us to receive the truth and tear down our self-constructed walls. His deliverance can set us free from sin, and that’s crucial because the worst kind of slavery is slavery to sin.
All of us have birthdays and I’m sure we are glad when other people recognize that and they acknowledge our age. Some of us are to the point that when our kids want to blow out the candles on the cake they get pushed back because of the flames, but nonetheless we all delight in the fact that people remember our birthdays. But there is no birthday that has ever been remembered with as much detail as the birthday of Jesus Christ, and that only makes sense because He is a very unusual child. His birth was unusual. He was born of a virgin.
You know, sometimes it is said by those who are critical of Christianity that there are other miraculous birth stories in pagan literature. That’s true, but they are very different. For example, it is said that Alexander the Great had a miraculous birth. Well, after a person becomes famous people look back and then they invent these mythologies. Jesus Christ’s miraculous birth was predicted and mentioned right at the beginning. The other great difference is that these other stories are filled with degrading comments and degrading information about God being gods, having a sexual relationship with women and suddenly you have a miraculous birth. When you read the New Testament account you discover that it is bathed in holiness. The Bible says that an angel came to a virgin and said, “That which is created within you is of the Holy Spirit.”
Jesus had an unusual birth. He also had an unusual amount of criticism and hostility. Imagine what happened. We, of course, think of the tremendous tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, and yet we have to remember that Jesus Christ’s birth elicited so much hostility that Herod killed all of the baby boys two years of age and under that were in Bethlehem, hoping that he’d kill Jesus. Imagine a king being intimidated by the birth of a baby. He must have known that this was a very unusual baby to be sure. Jesus had an unusual upbringing and then He had an unusual ministry and died on a cross and then had an unusual resurrection. Well might we honor His birth. But you know, when you stop to think of it, you realize that when we end with the birth story we often miss the heart of the Christmas story.
Now let’s take, for example, Abraham Lincoln, who was born I believe on February 12, 1809. His father’s name was Thomas and his mother’s name was Nancy, and let us suppose that all that we did was look in our history book at pictures of where he was born in that one-room log cabin in Kentucky, and we stare at those, and that’s where it ends. The reason that we might be interested in the birth of Lincoln and the date on which he was born and where he was born is because of who he turned out to be and what he did, and that is true also of the story of Jesus. It doesn’t end in Bethlehem. And that’s why today I want to move beyond the manger to the actual man, Jesus.
And this is part of a series of messages, actually the last in a four-part series, on gifts that Jesus brought to us. We talked about the gift of light, and the gift of life, and the gift of love. Today we talk about the gift of liberty or freedom. That’s what I’m going to be speaking about, and this really is an exposition of the words of the angel when the angel came to Mary and to Joseph and said, “He shall be great and shall be called the Son of the Most High,” and then the text says in Matthew 1, “He came to save His people from their sins,” to bring freedom from sin, and that’s why we’re moving beyond the Bethlehem story today to an encounter that Jesus had with some Jews in John 8. Some of them were the sons of Abraham and this is a very testy encounter, and we’re going to be digging into it and seeing what this deliverance that the angel promised is all about.
I’m picking it up in John 8:31. “So Jesus said 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.’ 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?” Jesus answered them. ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you. I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.’” What an amazing statement, as we shall see in a moment, that Jesus made.
Now what we’d like to do in the next few moments is to go on a fact-finding trip about truth that really sets people free. “He shall save his people from their sins.”
First of all, let us notice that truth exists. Jesus said, “You shall know the truth.” When I was going to school it was said that truth is really the consensus of a lot of people. There is sociological truth. Today, of course, in post-modernism everyone has his own truth. There’s my truth. There’s your truth. And my thoughts are true simply because I think them. It’s all fraught with contradiction and impossibilities but people are willing to believe an awful lot of stuff to justify what they want to do, don’t they, and that’s where we are at.
You know many years ago, and that’s many years ago. I’m estimating maybe forty years ago I was talking to a parishioner in another church and she was sitting beside someone in university who wrote a paper of two pages on why there is no truth, and she gave it to me to read. I answered in about two lines and said, “If there is no truth I know in advance that the paper that you have written is false. As a matter of fact, if you were consistent you would never open your mouth because the moment you do we know that you are saying something other than truth.” So she gave it to him and he never said a word to her the entire semester, which was really consistent with his view of truth I might say.
Truth has universality. Two plus two is equal to four. That’s true in India. It’s true all over the world. Truth has consistency. There’s no such thing as a logical contradiction. Contradiction is a Charley horse between the ears. Nobody can believe a contradiction.
Truth also has other elements such as objectivity. There could be stars in the sky that we’ve never seen but they are up there anyway, and if they are there that is true whether we’ve discovered it or not.
Parenthetically, I’m not sure that I heard it this year, but other years I heard that you could buy somebody a star for Christmas. I thought that’s a great idea – buy somebody a star for Christmas, and then invite him or her to go check on their property, and if they don’t like it you could guarantee they get their money back. Somebody is making some money on this thing, selling people stars, but anyway, the stars exist whether we acknowledge it or not. Now the truth that Jesus is talking about – the religious truth – is first of all, His words. You’ll notice what His words say. “If you abide in my word you are my disciples and you’ll know the truth.” Every word that proceeded out of the mouth of Jesus was a true word. “Thy word is truth.” If you want to find some truth, read the gospels and find out what Jesus had to say. But more than that, He said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” He embodies truth. In Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily. That baby there in the manger in Bethlehem had all of the attributes of God, and when He was held in the arms of Joseph and Mary and later on Simeon, there was a part of Jesus that was invisible to the human eye, but in their hands and in their arms they were holding the Son of God whose nature was God, a very God and man, both in one person.
You know I frequently refer to our oldest daughter. You know the average kid asks I think a half million questions by the age of about seven or eight. I think our oldest daughter got to that quota at about four years old. But she said, “Who was taking care of the world when God was a baby?” That’s a very good question. Who was taking care of the world when God was a baby? Well that baby had the attributes of deity and God was still taking care of the world, and Christ was still taking care of the world. No wonder the Bible says, “Great is the mystery of godliness. God was manifest in the flesh.” Wow! There is such a thing as truth. Look at Jesus who is the truth embodied.
Second, truth can be known. “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” The knowledge of God, for example, is revealed most clearly through Jesus. Though we see the knowledge of God in the Old Testament, it is in Jesus that we see the Father full of grace and truth, and so Jesus comes to us and says, “You can know the truth.”
Now you can’t know anything exhaustively. In fact we don’t know everything about anything. Our knowledge is always limited, and our knowledge of this infinite being called God is always limited, but it is meaningful. We can have a meaningful relationship with God, though we don’t understand all about Him, and so that’s what Jesus offers. “You shall know the truth,” and it’s possible to know it.
Now let’s look back at the text here. What’s happening in the text is He is talking to people who believe in Him and then in verse 33 there are also some who don’t. It’s mixed company. They answer Him, “We are the offspring of Abraham, and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say you will become free?” Then Jesus says, “Everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin,” and then I’m skipping to verse 36. “So if the Son sets you free you will be free indeed,” but notice this in verse 37. “I know that you are Abraham’s offspring, yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you. I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have seen with your Father,” and they say, “Abraham is our father.”
Now what’s going on there in the text? Think of this. These people are using their religiosity, their pedigree that goes all the way to Abraham. They are using that pedigree and their religion to keep them from Jesus, from the truth about themselves, from the truth about God, and they are choosing bondage rather than freedom in the name of religion. I want to be candid here. Religion can be one of the most deceptive shields that can become a mask that people wear so that they don’t really have to deal with the truth about themselves and God and their need for redemption.
So you have people say, “I’m okay. I attend Moody Church,” or possibly, “I’m okay because I’m a Baptist,” or “I’m okay because I’m a Catholic; I attend the Catholic church,” or “I attend the Mormon church” – whatever. And religion becomes a shield and even though that all may be true that they are committed to these various religions, the problem is that those become a shield to keep them from reality and acknowledging the truth about themselves and their need for a redeemer.
You see, these people weren’t able to see themselves, and Jesus said it’s possible to know the truth. Some of you do know the truth. Others of you will not receive the truth, and you’ll use religion to shield yourself from the truth. That’s what’s happening here in the text, and it’s something that all of us can fall into - the hypocrisy of not dealing with who we are in God. So Jesus said, “You can know the truth,” and then He says, “And the truth will set you free.” If you accept the truth it will set you free.
Now let’s look at this. Verse 32 is an astounding statement. “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” In other words, “If the Son shall make you free,” Jesus says now in verse 36, “you are going to be free indeed. You are going to be wholly free.”
Now your Bibles are open and I want you to see two contrasts that Jesus now makes. The first is between a slave and a son. “Truly I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever. (Why? It’s because he’s not a part of the family. He may go to church but he’s not part of the family.) But the son remains forever because he is part of God’s family.”
So the first contrast is between slavery and sonship. Now, think of how amazingly accurate the Bible is. The Bible has the most interesting, the most true analysis of human nature available. There are people today who think that they are free, and they are slaves to sin. Now if you are a slave, you don’t get up in the morning and begin to tell the owner (your master) what to do. The master begins to bark out orders at you and you had better follow through with them. That’s the way some people’s lives are. They don’t have any control over the sins that entangle them, and they may be sins of the flesh that we frequently speak about. Most assuredly those sins bind. Oh the depths of that binding. You know, Jesus is using an illustration here of someone who is imprisoned and you can imagine that in the Middle Ages there was a man who made chains and who put his insignia on every link and took pride in the fact that nobody could break one of his chains. And then he was imprisoned and noticed that he was actually bound by his own chain.
The Bible in the book of Proverbs talks about being bound by cords of sin. Imagine the chain coming out of a concrete wall and it’s wrapped around somebody’s leg and there he is, and Jesus said that if you are a sinner committed to sin and you are actually only a slave and not a son, you are a slave to sin. And it may be the sins of the flesh or it may be the sins of the spirit. You know, when you look at the religious people of the day I wouldn’t say that they were necessarily bound to sensual sins, but they were bound to the sin of self-righteousness, the sin of anger, the need to be appreciated, the pride of the human heart, and all of those sins of the spirit. And Jesus said that if you commit and walk in that path you’re going to become a slave to sin, and what terrible slavery it really is. But if you are a son, well that’s something different. So because the son is really truly free, Jesus, the Son of God, is free and He takes His sons and His daughters, and He frees them if they are willing to accept the truth. And this is the message of Christmas. It’s the message of Bethlehem that Jesus came to set us free, even as the angel prophesied.
Now that’s the first contrast between a son and a slave. There’s a second contrast and that has to do with two different fathers. Jesus said in verse 38, “I speak of what I have seen with my Father (that’s the Father in heaven), and you do what you have heard from your father.” They answered Him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing what Abraham did, but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. You are doing what your father did.” And so they go back and forth with Jesus and they say, “Well you know our father is Abraham, and you are born (implied) of fornication.”
Now you have to brace yourself for this, but Jesus didn’t take that course How to Win Friends and Influence People. That came a little later than Jesus, and you may be offended by how plainly He speaks but that’s exactly why we have to hear what He has to say. He is speaking on behalf of the Father. The words that He speaks are true so are you ready for them? You can brace yourself a little bit for this. In verse 44 Jesus says, “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell you the truth,” Jesus says, “you do not believe me.” Wow!
Jesus is saying, “What about this imagery of fathers?” What’s going on there in the text? That has to do with the nature, you see. In what sense was the devil the father of these people? He was their father in this sense that they had his nature, which is the nature of deception and lies. And they told themselves these lies so many times over and over that they began to believe the lies about themselves that they were righteous in the sight of God because of their works, unwilling to see their need of deep abiding redemption. And that’s of course where the lie really resides.
And so Jesus said, “You know, there are two different fathers in the world. There’s the Father, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. That’s one father. The other father is the devil, and the human race is kind of divided between the two, isn’t it?
A young woman comes to me and says, “You know, I’m in love with a man who is really a nice guy but he’s not a Christian.” Well, what does Pastor Lutzer do? He takes her to this text and says, “You know, there are two different fathers in the world. There’s this father and there’s this father, the one in verse 44. You and he may get along for quite some time quite well, but eventually you are going to have trouble with your father-in-law.” I don’t have to repeat that, do I? (laughter)
Jesus is speaking to religious people, and today in this church and across the world wherever we go (and you know we stream live all over the world and are heard on the radio, etc. to primarily religious people) Jesus is saying that there is a level of deception that you can enter into as a religious person, and as a result of that you can miss the fact that you need the kind of redemption that Jesus Christ came to give. There are two different experiences, two different sons and two different contrasts actually, and Jesus is saying that what we ought to do is to recognize that we need God as our father. And very clearly Jesus just puts it out there. As you read the Gospel of John and elsewhere Jesus is constantly saying that if you don’t receive Me, you don’t receive my Father.
You think of the astounding claims that Jesus Christ made, and yet you have people today who say, “To me He’s a good teacher.” Well, good teachers normally don’t exalt themselves and tell people that their eternal destiny is totally determined by what these people do with Him. No, but Jesus did that, and what it comes down to is that, as C. S. Lewis has shown, either Jesus Christ was a liar or a lunatic, or he was Lord, King of kings, and Lord of lords. (applause) And that’s really the message of Christmas - the Seneca who cried, “Oh that a hand would come down from heaven and deliver me from my besetting sin.”
I’m speaking to you now heart to heart. I just want you to understand and listen very carefully when I tell you this. You and I don’t need a whole lot more good teaching. What we need is spiritual power to live differently, as the angel said, to deliver His people from their sins, and only Jesus is able to do that. And that’s why we exalt Him, and that’s why we remember His birthday. It is because He is King of kings, Lord of lords, God of all gods, the one deliverer, and the one savior whom we proclaim to the world.
Now there are a couple of things to help us take these strands and bring them together. I’ve already made the point but I want to emphasize that the worst possible slavery is slavery to sin. Now when these Jewish people, God bless them, said, “We’ve never been slaves of anyone,” they were not referring to political slavery because they were under the yoke of the Roman Empire, and of course the Jewish nation had been under the yoke of Egypt and other countries all the way through and so they understood all of that. But what they were saying is that religiously we’ve never been slaves to anyone. Religiously we have been free. What they didn’t realize was that because they failed to acknowledge the depth of their need, they were really slaves to their thought patterns that put them in much better light than they were. It’s something like the little boy who said to his mother, “I’m eight feet tall.” Really? And he was according to the yardstick that he had made. The Bible says that when we judge ourselves by others we sin and we are not wise.
So first of all, the worst kind of slavery you can have is slavery to sin. It is a bad taskmaster, and I am speaking to people who think that they are free and they can do whatever they like. They can go wherever they want. They can indulge in whatever they want to indulge in and they say to themselves, “I am free,” and I say to you today, “You are bound.” You wake up in the morning and it is sin that tells you what to do, and no matter how much you rationalize it you do it. It’s a terrible kind of bondage.
And there’s bondage to the conscience. Some day at Moody Church I want to preach a message on the conscience. I’ve been gathering material on that for a while, and I think for example of a man (true story) who murdered someone when he was basically a teenager – something like about the age of eighteen. And the police questioned him and all but he was never charged. He grew up, married, had a family, and became a Christian. And years later – I mean I’m talking about 25 years later – he turned himself into the authorities because he said he couldn’t live with his conscience. And he said later, and in one of my books I quote him, “I am a freer man here behind bars than I was when I was on the outside.”
There is a freedom of the spirit that can only be given by truth, which sets people free. The worst kind of bondage is bondage to self. I’m told that Alexander the Great, before he died, wept because there were no more worlds to conquer, but someone suggested that there was another world that Alexander had not conquered, and that is the world of the heart. And that, by the way, is one of the reasons I am preaching the series of messages that I told you about. I’m going to preach it because it was Luther who said, “I fear my own heart more than I do the pope.” What we need to do is to recognize that there is a slavery to the human heart.
Secondly, the truth sets us free. Jesus was saying to these religious people, “If you want to be free you have to take off the mask and deal with reality and see yourself and see God.” You know it was Calvin, the great theologian who in the beginning of his institutes (and by the way his institutes became the textbook for Protestant theology for about 200 years) said that there are two kinds of knowledge. There is knowledge of God and knowledge of self, and sometimes it’s hard to know which comes first, but one thing is sure. You can’t have one without the other. You can’t know who you are unless you are in God’s presence. And knowledge of self comes by the knowledge of God.
Do you want to know what our big problem is in our society where everything seems to be going haywire? It’s people who think that they know who they are without any reference at all to God, and that they can just on their own find out who they are, find out their own morality and find out their own direction without knowing God. But God sees behind the mask.
You know, during the days of the O.J. Simpson trial many years ago, the prosecution began one of its defenses, or one of its assaults I guess would be more accurate, saying this. “Wealth and fame can’t change this simple truth. O.J. Simpson is a person. People have a good side and a bad side. We will show you the other side of the smiling face.” Now no matter where you come down on the verdict that was eventually given is irrelevant to the point that I am making. People have a good side and a bad side, and God sees what is on the other side of the smiling face. He sees the anger, the envy, the secret addictions and the other part of our life, and Jesus said, “When you come to Me you can be truthful in My presence, and when you know the truth about yourself, and you know the truth about Jesus and who I am, you can be free.”
Of course we continue to struggle with sin, but sin no longer is our taskmaster. We keep looking to Jesus for the deliverance that was promised by the angel to Joseph and Mary that He will save His people from their sins.
And then, of course, the bottom line is that truth has to be received, doesn’t it? As you go through the rest of this text you’ll discover that there are those who rejected Jesus, and they wanted to stone Him and kill Him all in the name of religion, by the way. And so there were those who went their way, and then the disciples of Jesus went another way, and so it is that Jesus is constantly dividing people. And that’s what He does today too.
You must confront this Christ. The question is are you going to receive what He has to say? You’ll notice that Jesus said that truth has to be received. He said back in verse 31, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth.” It isn’t just simply making a decision for Jesus, important though that is because there is a time when you cross that threshold, but that you abide in the truth, that truth becomes a part of you, that you are reading the truth, that you are allowing the word of God to impact your life, and then the truth begins to grow in your heart, and it overcomes the error.
Jesus came to die. We emphasize Bethlehem, of course, during the Christmas season, but remember that Jesus was really born crucified. And when Simeon held the little baby in his arms, do you remember that he said that this baby came that the hearts of many would be revealed? And God sees who we are today behind the mask, and He says, “If you know the truth and you receive the truth you’ll be fully free, free indeed. Seneca, as I mentioned, said, “Oh that a hand would come down from heaven and deliver me from my besetting sin.” Seneca, your wish has been granted. Jesus has come to save us from our sins, and may we rejoice in that at this Christmas season. (applause)
I want to conclude with Phillips Brooks who wrote that lovely song, O Little Town of Bethlehem. He was there during the winter. This was I think back in the 1800s. He saw the beautiful town and wrote that hymn that all of us love, but I choose it because of the last stanza. I looked at it this morning and I’ll see if I can remember it.
O holy child of Bethlehem,
descend to us, we pray;
cast out our sin, and enter in,
be born in us today.
If you’ve never received Christ as Savior, if you’ve never responded to the truth, give up the mask. Come as you are but come to Christ because remember the words of the angel, “He shall save His people from their sins.”
Let us rejoice in the real message of the manger. Let’s pray together.
Our Father, we ask that even as Your Word has gone out today that You might by Your Spirit help us to see that Jesus is the deliverer, that He is not only here to give us orders and to tell us how to live, but actually to reach down from heaven and save us. We ask that those who are bound today as slaves might be freed, that those bonds might be broken. And we ask, Lord, that there shall be a freedom in Jesus even as they face the truth of who they are and who He is. Help us, Father. Cast out our sin and enter in. Be born in us today.
Now before I close this prayer if God has talked to you, you talk to God. No matter by which means you may be listening, you can bow your head right where you are and say, “Jesus, I am a sinner. Today I receive the truth. Today, having heard Your Word, I give up my defenses and the mask of my hypocrisy and I receive Jesus as mine.”
Father, help us to do that with all that we are, with no reservations we pray, that we might see Your glory and Your victory. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.