I would like to welcome all of you to the first† Election Sermon in Jefferson County. As I begin this afternoon, I would like to give you a brief historical introduction to the idea behind this event today. The fact that very few people in America today have ever heard of an "election sermon," is proof that we as Americans have forgotten a lot of our own countryís history and heritage. What we are doing here today with the election sermon is new only to us. It was a very common event all through the early history of the colonies. It even continued well after the ratification of our U.S. Constitution. Itís hard to tell exactly when the use of the election sermon fell into disuse in America. It certainly persisted in some parts of the country more than others. But what the American colonialists clearly understood is that the making of law and the subject of government cannot be divorced from issues of Justice, Equality, Mercy and Wisdom. Whatís more, these early Americans truly believed that the Bible speaks about these issues in such a way that would lead a nation into all the blessings of Godís world, if only they were actually put into practice. It was particularly in looking to the bright light of Godís revelation in Jesus Christ that the founders saw how to build a country where freedom could be experienced to the fullest by the greatest number of people. We believe there is wisdom for our world in the teaching of Jesus Christ; this is what the election sermon is all about.
Historically, Americans have received an untold number of blessings because we live in this country and not somewhere else in the world. Even though it is currently popular to deny that such a cause and effect relationship exists, America has been profoundly impacted by Christianity. Think of it this way: if it were possible to remove from our history every scrap that bears at least a trace of Jesus Christ then how much of our history would be left? There were certainly other influences on the history of America other than the biblical Christian Faith. That is certainly true, but nothing comes close to rivaling the influence Christianity has had on this country over the years. That influence is not as great today as it has been in the past, yet it remains real, even today.
What is true in our own countryís history is also true of world history. World history is full of revolutionary figures and the impact that they have had on the world around them. Just think of the 20th century. Lenin was instrumental in the communist Russian revolution of 1917. Adolf Hitler called his government the "Third Reich" because he planned it to last through the third millennium. The history books classify both of these men as revolutionaries who had a profound effect on this world for hundreds of millions of people. Yet, for all the impact they had, their ideas today belong to the dustbin of history. Neither revolution has lasted. The communist revolution of 1917 is in complete shambles if it is alive at all, and the famous "third Reich" of Nazi Germany is nothing but a distant memory. Now, do you realize that there is a revolution that has lasted two thousand years? This revolution continues even today. To this very day people actually call themselves Christians or followers of Jesus Christ. Over the last twenty centuries hundreds of millions of people have looked to Jesus Christ as the author and finisher of their faith as they lived their lives in this world. People still look to Jesus Christ as the Way into true life. Now, I ask you today, do you believe that an ignorant, naive person can possibly start a revolution that lasts for two thousand years? To our own detriment, the best kept secret in the modern world is that in Jesus Christ there is a storehouse of wisdom that exceeds all others. Indeed, there is wisdom for our world in the teaching of Jesus Christ. Let us go to our text in John 8 to consider the wisdom of the ages. Listen to the Word of the Living God.
To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." They answered him, "We are Abrahamís descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we that we shall be set free?" Jesus replied, " I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed." - John 8:31-36†
We have probably all heard different people quote a part of this famous passage in the Bible. What is amazing is that those who use part of this teaching are so unfamiliar with the whole statement that Jesus makes in these verses. "The truth will set you free" is certainly a part of the teaching of Jesus, but what is often ignored is that it is only a portion of his teaching in this text. The fact of this famous passage is simply that Jesus gives a precondition for knowing truth which itself is a precondition for being set free. The next time you hear someone boldly state "You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free!" or simply "the truth will set you free!" you should ask that person if they believe the complete teaching of Jesus on freedom. He says there is a precondition of knowing truth. "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples, then . . . "
We get our English word "discipline" originally from a Greek word that means "disciple." The word "disciple" actually appears more than 250 times in the New Testament. Do you know how many times the word "Christian" is used in the New Testament? Itís used three or four times. Originally a Christian was one who "followed Jesus Christ" and was synonymous with a "disciple of Jesus Christ." In our culture these two terms are no longer thought of as synonymous. You can find this true for yourself by asking your neighbor if he believes himself to be a "Christian." Most people would answer yes to that question. Now, if you were to ask the very same person if they were a "disciple" of Jesus Christ the answer you would get would rarely be an unqualified yes and would seldom come without a noticeable period of hesitation. The sad reality of our day is that it is generally agreed that one can be a Christian without being a disciple of Jesus Christ. This is really not what we see in the Bible. The New Testament is all about being a disciple of Jesus Christ in the life you live on earth.
In verse 31 we can see that Jesus says the whole truth about freedom is that one must hold to his teaching to be his disciple. This is the precondition for knowing truth and then the truth brings freedom. Holding to the teaching of Jesus absolutely involves many aspects, but it most surely is an active action. It is simply not enough to accept what others believe Jesus to teach: Jesus calls us to hold to it ourselves.
Our modern world currently operates in complete contradiction to the teaching of Jesus concerning freedom. In America today, you ostensibly vote for the kind of freedom you want. So-called conservative and liberals both have different definitions about what freedom is and third-parties offer an alternative even to these. Because our world has rejected the teaching of Jesus there is no longer any agreement about what true freedom actually is. However, the many opinions about what freedom is and how freedom works are all in general agreement when it comes to the idea that the freedom of man starts when he is free from Godís message in Jesus Christ. But is this true? Do societies that live without regard to the wisdom of Jesus enjoy liberty? Many, many people in our country will not accept the idea that true freedom is freedom under God. But Jesus teaches the whole truth about freedom is that it comes from being his disciple. Physical freedom in the world is a result of a spiritual reality. The well-known Christian writer, Elton Trueblood, summed it up well over thirty years ago when he wrote:
"The love of liberty is a very great thing and it has always been part of the Christian faith, but the liberty of the Christian man has been vastly more than a concern for his own freedom in isolation from the structures of society and the Church. It is the Christian concern for freedom that has produced such remarkable results as the emancipation of women and the legal cessation of human slavery. But the Christian philosophy of freedom has always involved discipline as its price. The original statement of this philosophy appears in the words of Christ which are frequently quoted in part, but seldom quoted in their totality, "If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth and the truth will make you free." In other words, according to Christ, freedom is not a starting point, but always a conclusion; it is something to be earned."
What we should understand about freedom in the modern world is that it has spiritual roots. Where there is no spiritual discipline there will soon be no physical freedom. If people or a nation refuses to act with self-control in conformity to the laws of God given to us in the Bible, then control will be brought over the people by their rulers. The choice we face in America today is whether we receive the discipline of Jesus Christ which brings true liberty, or whether we would rather receive the discipline of other men who will rule over us. You see, there is wisdom for our world in the teaching of Jesus Christ.
The people in our text took Jesusís words as an insult. Look at verse 33, "We are Abrahamís descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?" There is a serious problem with the comment the people made to Jesus. The problem with the peopleís statement is that it was utterly false. Israel as a nation lived under the dominion and rule of the Roman empire at the time. They were, in essence, slaves to Caesar because they were required to send tribute to the Roman empire. In fact, if they were to disobey Caesar then he very well could have destroyed the entire country of Israel. The people had no logical reason whatsoever to make the comment they made. They lived in a culture so blinded by sin that they could not even see that they were indeed slaves already.
You know, today our country gives a similar answer to the teaching of Jesus by the way it lives. Today, we wouldnít claim to be children of Abraham as the people in our text did. No, the answer today would be more like this. "We are Americans. We live in the land of the free and home of the brave! Jesus Christ, how can you say to this country that we will be set free?" Yet, like the people in our text today, our society doesnít even see that it is already living in slavery. You donít believe me? Letís just consider money, since our culture is so obsessed with dollars and cents. Current total taxation rates on Americans, Federal - State - Local, are approaching 40-50 percent. Think about that. It is very likely that nearly half of your lifeís work is used by your government. My friends, if that is liberty, then what is slavery? Of course, this contributes to all kinds of problems in our society. Many children do not receive the attention they need from their parents because their parents are too busy. Stress-related problems, psychological and mental illnesses plague our society. Drugs and alcohol offer multitudes an escape from the "daily grind." I recently read a new survey that more mothers in this country go to work within one year of the birth of their children than mothers who stay home with their babies. That survey also found out that the vast majority of mothers donít like it this way. They would rather stay home with their newborns, but believe they have no other choice than to go back to work. Life in modern America is lived in slavery to the modern welfare state. But there is wisdom for our world in the teaching of Jesus Christ.
The modern reality of slavery to the centralized welfare state should confirm to everyone with eyes to see that the teaching of Jesus is true: spiritual realities do indeed precede physical results. If the modern world could ignore the teaching of Jesus and enjoy full freedom, then would not the teaching of Jesus be proven false? As it is today, our culture is living proof of the truth and reality of our saviorís teaching. The whole truth about freedom is that God has made this world in such a way that spiritual truth always has physical results: only the culture that follows Jesus Christ can know the truth that leads to liberty.
The people asked about physical freedom. "How can you say that we shall be set free?" Jesus answers the peopleís question in verse 34 by saying, "I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin." The key to understanding Jesusí answer to the people is to realize that he speaks of the urgency of spiritual truth to the people. This is what our country needs more than anything else today. We need to rediscover the urgency of spiritual truth. As we go through this election, I hope that all the candidates and current officeholders will ponder this reality. How can we have Justice without understanding spiritual truth? Is justice something that simply grows on trees? How can we have righteous laws if we do not consider Godí righteousness? Are wisdom, mercy and equality before the law physical substances or are these things spiritual realities? There is wisdom for our world in the teaching of Jesus Christ.
While it is important to see that Jesusí answer to the people began with a discussion of spiritual truth it is also important to recognize that his teaching was not limited to spiritual truth. When he spoke of slavery to sin, he used the method of the analogy of human existence. He used the world around him to teach about spiritual things. You can see this clearly in verse 35 as he speaks about slavery to sin. "Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever." The Roman culture that the people lived in during this time was different from our world in this respect of human slavery. Slaves were owned by their masters and could be sold, or traded, or passed on as inheritance. They were property. We donít have a cultural situation such as this. Maybe the closest thing we have to what Jesus is referring is the hired hand. A hired hand also has no permanent place in the family, because a hired hand can be fired at any time and is an heir to nothing that the family possesses. The contrast Jesus gives to the slave is the son. A son is the heir to the whole house.
In the ancient world if the owner of the slave gave the slave his freedom, he was indeed a free man. It is important to note, also, that a slave could not free himself. Freedom comes to a slave from the outside, not directly from within. This is also true in Western Civilizationís recent past. Both in England and in America, freedom came to African slaves from the outside. I want to emphasize that what Jesus says in this passage is really true. "If the Son sets you free, you will be free, indeed." It is true that individuals can be free today in America even with the modern welfare state. When the Son sets you free there is nothing that our government can do hinder the God who made heaven and earth. When God sets people free who live in slavery to the modern welfare state they will be free, indeed, because they will know the primary form of freedom - that is spiritual freedom. It does not matter if you live in this country, in communist China, or in the poverty of central Africa, if the Son sets you free you will be free indeed.
I want to conclude with something else that we need to understand today. What is true of individuals is also true of entire countries. We have lost the heritage of freedom in this country simply because the Son has not set this nation free. In the past, the light of freedom burned brightly in this country because this country was governed by those who obeyed Godís Word. It is now obvious that what Jesus teaches is true. There is more to freedom than material things. There is more to freedom than the simple ability to do. The whole truth about freedom is that freedom comes from following Jesus Christ. May Christ the King liberate us, our families, our churches, and our once-great country. May the Word of God guide us into greater freedom in the days to come by the power of the Holy Spirit. -Amen.