The end of this month our LC-MS congregations will be commemorating and celebrating the Reformation. Why? A simple explanation would be that the Reformers understood the salvific meaning of freedom.
In the Holy Gospel assigned for Reformation Day Jesus declares, “…everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin…if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” Free, freed, freedom; what did these mean for the Reformers?
Perhaps some recall the movie Braveheart. In a closing heart-wrenching scene William Wallace, as he is being tortured to death, calls out with a loud, echoing voice, “FREEDOM.” Wallace was known to have fought for Scottish freedom in the 13th century. Certain historians believe he accomplished a literal and figurative cry for freedom by his fighting and his death. He did not die in anyone’s place, but he inspired in others the continued fight for freedom. Rome had seen Jesus as a kind of William Wallace.
Jesus informs us in our Gospel reading that everyone who practices sin is a slave of sin. The Reformers had come to understand both from Scripture and from the realities they observed within and without, that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God; that everyone is born a slave of sin, unable to free themselves.
Luther and the other great men of the Reformation also came to realize that no man exists who can set himself—let alone others—free from sin. There is no William Wallace when it comes to freeing people from enslavement to sin. No one, not even Jesus, can “inspire” others to fight and accomplish freedom from sin. It is impossible.
However, there is a man who was born for sinners that in Him they would have the gift of freedom from sin! That man is the sinless virgin-born savior, who would be given the name Jesus for He would save His people from their sins. The wages of sin is death. To free us from eternal death we must be freed from sin. It is somewhat logical that a single sinless man could indeed die in the place of one sinful man. However the sinless Jesus explains in our pericope how He could free more than one sinner from sin: He is THE SON. “If THE SON sets you free, you will be free indeed.” This man who sets sinners free is the eternal Son of God, the One who is one with the Father and the Spirit from eternity. The man named Jesus can earn freedom for all mankind because He is the eternal Son of God. This Son sets us free by His substitutionary death and thus the Reformers realized that the Son of God is the atoning sacrifice not for our sins only, but for the sins of the entire world!
The Reformers had come to realize that Christ does not free us from sin by inspiring us to fight for our freedom. Nor has Christ freed only a select few from their sins and thus from death. The proclamation of the Reformation is that the Son has set you free from sin—whoever you are. Continue to hear this Word of the Cross, and thus joyfully realize this fully purchased freedom now and into eternity.