“If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” And the Jews who had believed in him answered against him. It’s what the Greek text actually says, that they spoke against Jesus. They didn’t like or agree with what he said, but why? Why were they so offended? Did they not want to be free, to be liberated?
Actually their response against Jesus indicates that they felt they already were free. The question of whether or not they wanted to be free didn’t even enter in to it. “How dare you imply that we aren’t free people! We are the descendants of Abraham,” they told Jesus. “We have never been enslaved to anyone!”
There’s nothing like dropping a big-time name down on the table to spice up your credentials, is there? Abraham’s name was the biggest name of all. “You think we need to be set free, Jesus? We are Abraham’s descendants. We are his children.”
Their response was soaked with pride and saturated with an air of superiority. Leaning on their ethnic heritage, they believed themselves to already be free. If it is the truth that will set them free, they will ride the truth of who they are.
After all, God’s relationship to Abraham is legendary. Abraham was a man of great faith, chosen and promised by God to be the father of many nations. He is the very progenitor of the Jewish people. Abraham actually conversed with God over the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah and when God tested Abraham, Abraham passed with flying colors – he was willing to sacrifice his own son at God’s command! Can anyone else claim as much? In the end it could even be said that Abraham was a friend of God. And Jesus had the gall to suggest that they were not free? These are Abraham’s children!
Pride doesn’t really sit well with Jesus so their reasoning didn’t take. So, he did what he had to do – he crushed their identity altogether. “Everyone who commits sin,” said Jesus “is a slave to sin.” Earlier in chapter eight, a host of the leaders brought a woman caught in adultery before Jesus asking if they should indeed stone the woman as the law commanded. It’s one of the classic stories in the Gospels. Seemingly unconcerned, Jesus knelt down to scribble something in the dirt and then told those condemning the girl, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Of course Jesus had them there. One by one they all dropped their stones because not one of them was without sin. They knew it then and they know it now. When Jesus told them that everyone and anyone who commits sin is a slave to sin he accused them of being slaves to sin.
They aren’t children of Abraham. They are all slaves – we are all slaves – held in bondage to sin and as the confession states, we cannot free ourselves. Just look at yourself, look at the world around you, this is a world held captive by sin and evil. Injustice, abuse, deceit, corruption, it’s all there – and that is just what’s in the mirror, not to mention the rest of the world!
What does it mean to be a slave? Jesus tells us in a very simple way. “The slave does not have a permanent place in the household.” In other words, the slave can be sold, dismissed and left alone with nothing. The slave has no stability, no security and no future. A slave’s life is not their own. It belongs to their master and their master is sin.
We are all slaves to sin. The only thing secure about our future is that we have no future. It is as Jesus says, “the son has a place in the household forever,” but we are just slaves, who, looking from the outside in, long to be treated as sons and daughters in the household.
Fortunately, Jesus didn’t continued. “The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; however, the son has a place there forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.”
As a member of the household the son has all the security the slave craves and as heir, all the future the slave desires. So if the Son, especially the firstborn son, proclaims freedom upon the slave then that slave is most certainly made free. The implication Jesus makes about himself are just as strong as his implication that everyone is a slave to sin.
Jesus is the firstborn overall creation, the Son of God. All authority is his and is given to him by God the Father. And through the merit earned by his brutal death on the cross he declares us to be most certainly free. The truth that will set us free is grounded firmly in Christ.
And this is the truth that will set you free: that Christ was betrayed for you, that Christ was beaten for you, that Christ died for you, that Christ was raised for you. It isn’t an abstract truth. Rather it is a truth rooted in human history and given to us in the present by our baptism where we are crucified with Christ and raised to new life with him. In the promise of his word attached to the water we are washed of our sin and guilt and proclaimed to be children of God.
When we strive to rest on the truth of who we are as determined by our own merit and our own goodness or by the merit of our ancestry – as the Jews in our passage did – we will find that we can only be slaves to the sin that entangles us. We cannot be free of it.
But when we abide in the promise of God’s word bestowed upon us in baptism we can know with all certainty that we are children of our heavenly Father set free from the captivity of sin. And not only are we declared to be God’s children, we are also called brother and sister of Christ, adopted into the household of God and made joint heirs with Christ. That’s a long way from being a slave, isn’t it? This is the fullness of our emancipation bought for us by the blood of Jesus.
In the cross, in the waters of baptism, in the proclamation of God’s word your heavenly Father tells you, “I love you. You are no longer a slave to sin. You no longer need to stand on your own merit, your own goodness or your own efforts. I forgive you and through my Son I free you from the guilt and bondage of sin. You are mine. You are a lasting member of my household. You are my child. You are free.”