In the name of the Father and of the ✠ Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
“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). Thus the Word of the Lord. “You will know the Truth.” Know the Truth.
In October 2018, the Student Union at Manchester University “voted to replace noisy appreciation with the British Sign Language equivalent—a wave of both hands.” In other words, they decided to ban clapping, applause, in favor of what is known as “jazz hands.” Now, one year later, the Oxford University Student Council has taken the same action, banning clapping in favor of “jazz hands.” According to the student newspaper, The Oxford Student, the Oxford Student explains that traditional clapping “presents an access issue for some disabled students who have anxiety disorders, sensory sensitivity, and/or those who use hearing impairment aids.” But wait. Doesn’t this move exclude blind people? What about people who have only one hand or one arm? I’ve known some, and they can clap by slapping one hand on their leg; but jazz hands? Waving one hand, they’d look like they’re waving ‘hi.’ This new rule is exclusionary and discriminatory against other disabilities. The truth is, clapping is a natural, universal human response.
Dr. David MacKereth worked for 26 years in Britain’s National Health Service. By all accounts, he was an excellent doctor. Last year, he was assigned Department for Work and Pensions as a disability assessor. During training for this, he and others were told to address ‘transgender’ people “by their preferred pronouns, in line with the department’s policy.” When Dr. MacKereth said that he could not do so “in good conscience” as a Christian, he was fired. In his challenge before an employment tribunal, he stated that for religious reasons he could not refer to “any six-foot tall bearded man” as a “she” or a “her.” He then cited Genesis 1:27, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” He lost his appeal, and the tribunal stated, “Belief in Genesis 1:27, a lack of belief in transgenderism and conscientious objection to transgenderism in our judgment are incompatible with human dignity and conflict with the fundamental rights of others” [emphasis added]. As Christian apologist John Stonestreet observes:
The Bible verse cited by MacKereth and repudiated by the tribunal is the singular basis for the idea of human dignity and “fundamental rights.” Without “God created man in his own image,” the imago Dei, the only dignity anyone possesses is what others are willing to give them.
The truth is that had Scripture not introduced the image of God to the world’s lexicon in the first place, the notion of human dignity wouldn’t exist. Even raging atheist Friedrich Nietzsche acknowledged that.
A present-day atheist, French author and philosopher Luc Ferry, also credits Christianity with the very idea of human dignity. In A Brief History of Thought, he writes, “Christianity was to introduce the notion that men are equal in dignity; an unprecedented idea at the time and one to which our world owes its entire democratic inheritance.”
What these incidents and so many others have in common is that they are examples of an all-out assault on the truth. Both examples given are from Britain, yet this assault has been going on in this country and across Western civilization for decades. American college campuses have “safe spaces” where overgrown children in adult bodies have access to coloring books and stuffed animals, but where free speech cannot “threaten” them. Many colleges and universities are considering doing away with traditional grading because it’s “racist”; students’ “labor” should count more than results (how will that work in the real world, such as in engineering or the operating room?). Practicing good grammar in the classroom has been deemed “white language supremacy.” Increasingly, the phrase religious freedom is put in “scare quotes,” as though the very notion of the freedom of religion is frightening and dangerous.
“Know the truth,” Jesus said. In the particular instance of our text, Jesus doesn’t put this as a command; it’s a “then” to Jesus’ initial if, “If you abide in My Word,” and this if clause is effectively a command from the Lord. “If you abide in My Word, [then] truly My disciples you are, and you will know the Truth, and the Truth will free you.” He is saying, So abide in My Word, that you may be My true disciples, know the Truth, and be set free by the Truth. Jesus emphasizes the importance to God of matter and our bodies through His incarnation, through His taking on of matter in His own human body. Likewise, Jesus emphasizes the importance of words with His choice of words, and especially by His identity as the Word of God, the Word who is God, the Word made flesh. In this conversation with some Jews who have believed in Him, Jesus says, “Abide, remain, dwell in My Word.” His Word is the house, the abode, where His disciples may freely dwell with Him. Five times He uses forms of the word truth, the word free three times, and forms of to be four times. To know the Truth is to know the true God and His Word, Holy Scripture, and to know the One who is the Center of Scripture, Jesus Christ, and to know the Spirit of Truth, who is the indwelling Breath of God by whom men wrote the Scriptures. To know this God through belief in His Son is a state of being, a free gift bestowed by the Holy Spirit.
“Know the Truth,” Jesus said. For years, a lot of folks seem to have denigrated “head knowledge.” “It’s okay to have ‘head knowledge’ about Jesus and the Bible, but what’s really important is to have ‘heart knowledge,’ to know and feel Jesus in your heart.” Yes, you must know and believe not only that Jesus did all this, living obediently and suffering and dying and rising from the dead; you must know and believe that He did all this for you, out of His and His Father’s great love for you. But that’s far more than feelings; that is fact, that is the Truth. Jesus also affirmed the First Great Commandment, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind ” (Lk 10:27). He expects us to apply our minds to knowing and loving God and His Word. Last Sunday, we heard the account of Jacob’s wrestling with “a Man” who was the LORD, and Jacob received a blessing. Jacob came away from his divine wrestling match with a limp, but that was a sign of the Lord’s blessing. Likewise, the Man, Christ the Lord, visits us in His Word, and He challenges us to wrestle, to struggle, with His Word, and through that we will be blessed. If you feel like you’re limping your way through the Scripture, take that as the sign of Jacob, and take it as the mark of Jesus, who was struck in the heel by the Serpent, but He struck the Serpent’s head, defeating the enemy’s power. Jesus’ body, the Church, still limps, but His limp, our limp, is the sign of His victory for us!
This past week at our school chapel, Pastor Joel Schultz of Beautiful Savior in Olathe focused on the Reformation. He reminded the students that God’s Word declares a great awful, ugly truth about us: We’re all poor, miserable sinners. We’re crud (or something like that). We deserve to go to hell. As Saint Paul says in our Epistle, “For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:22b–23). When Martin Luther learned how to read the Bible correctly, he recovered the other great truth, the greater, gracious, merciful, beautiful, glorious truth: that all “are justified by [God’s] grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by His blood” (Rom 3:24–25a). God appeased His own wrath against our sin and regained for us His own goodwill by the shedding of His own blood. So the greater, glorious, beautiful Truth is Immanu-El, God became one of us to be God with us and God for us. As the Lesson from Revelation says, His judgment against sin is but for a short while—“the hour of His judgment has come”—but the Gospel, the Glad Tidings of His forgiveness in Christ, life, and salvation, is eternal.
We rightly call the Bible, Holy Scripture, the Word of God. Why, then, do we so often try to understand it as man’s word? It is the Book of the Three-in-One God, His story. In His Book, the Father tells us that He sends and gives His Son, and then He sends and gives His Spirit. Through the Son alone, we have access to the Father. The Son, Jesus, points us to Scripture, which is His Father’s Word, and the Book about Him, Jesus, and the work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit then points us back to Jesus. The Spirit-authored Scripture points us to Jesus. Jesus declares that all the things written in “the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms”—the whole Old Testament—were written about Him, and all that is foretold is fulfilled in Him. It is impossible truly to say “I believe in Jesus, but not the Bible,” or to say, “I believe in the Bible, but not in Jesus.” The Scripture is the Book of Jesus. It is the Book of all that He has said and done, and says and does, and will do, for you. As Revelation 14 declares the message to a fourfold humanity and a fourfold creation, so this fourfold Gospel, given through Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, declares the fullness of God’s work in Christ to redeem all humanity and to restore all creation to His intent and design.
So what should you do? If you’re asking what good works you should do for God and Jesus, then go back to what He says through the Apostle Paul: “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in His sight … But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law … Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law, a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we reckon that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law” (Rom 3:20a, 21a, 27–28). Seven times the Lord speaking through Apostle excludes, denies, and negates human works or works of the law as having any merit or worth in God’s will for our redemption. What then is the Truth about good works? Does doing good do any good? Yes, indeed! First, our God commands good works, not for His benefit, but for our neighbor’s sake. “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Luther said, “God doesn’t need your good works, but your neighbor does.” God wears various masks to serve your neighbor and the world through you, through your various vocations, the callings He gives you in your earthly life. Christ Jesus the Son has set you free by His blood and His Word. You don’t have to serve your neighbor to earn God’s favor. You already have His favor; you get to serve your neighbor in the love and freedom of Christ! So be true to the true Triune God in Christ, abide in His true Word, know the Truth, take a stand for the Word and the Truth, and be free, free from the tyrannies of the world, the devil, and sinful Flesh.
And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds by His Spirit in ✠ Christ Jesus. Amen.