Get the Message Straight! Get the Message Out!
As believers in Jesus Christ, we have been entrusted with the best news on the planet, not just for now but for all time. It is the news that brings us forgiveness for our sins, new life and eternal salvation in Jesus Christ. It is news that we are called to share with those who have not heard it, or properly understood it, and to share joyfully with those who already know it. It is the Gospel message about what our gracious God has done for us in sending and giving his own Son to die in our place so that we may know peace and life and freedom in him forever.
One church leader from the modern era said that the church – the redeemed people of God – has two main tasks in relation to this Good News we have received from God: “to get the message straight and to get the message out!”
In the Gospel text that is before us today, we see Jesus deeply concerned about both of those things. He had been teaching fearlessly in the temple, bearing witness to the fact that he had come from God. He said at one point, “He who sent me is reliable, and what I have heard from him I tell the world” (v. 28). He wanted them to know that he had God’s message straight and that he needed to get it out.
John tells us that, “Even as [Jesus] spoke, many put their faith in him” (v. 30). It was “to the Jews who had believed in him” that Jesus now said, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (v. 31-32). It was great that many put their faith in him, but Jesus wasn’t prepared to leave it at that. Those who believed in him needed to get the message straight so that they could be sure they were truly set free.
Jesus’ word “if” implies that there are other ‘takes’ to the Gospel message that will not end in truth and therefore will not also end in freedom for those who follow them. The word “you” reminds us that the promise of truth and freedom is for us, and it reminds us of our obligation to continue in his word. The word “continue” implies that believing in Jesus is not just a one-off confession of faith, or the claim to some so-called ‘spark of faith’ that makes little difference to our daily lives. It implies an ongoing devotion to the One who saved us and to the things he teaches us. When Jesus says, “in my word,” he makes it plain to us what that ‘continuing’ involves. This is no mystical search for something within ourselves. God has given us his “word” – his divine revelation – which tells us who he is, what he is like, who we are, what he plans for us, what has gone wrong in our lives and how he has acted to put us right with him. Jesus’ desire that we ‘continue’ in his word is summed up well in the Reformation prayer: “Lord God, you have given all Holy Scriptures for our learning. Lead us to hear them, read, note, learn, and inwardly digest them. Encourage and support us by your holy word, so that we may always hold onto the joyful hope of eternal life, which you have given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ.”
Continuing in the word of Christ helps us to keep on getting the message straight. Jesus says to us, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples.” Those words remind us that it is possible for people to think we are his disciples when in fact we don’t have the message straight. We may think that we are ‘ok’ with God because of the good things that we do, or just because we got baptised or confirmed ‘way back when’, or just because we say that we believe in Jesus. We may even believe that Jesus is our Saviour and yet also believe that we need to do at least something to contribute to our salvation. Jesus, however, wants us to get the message straight by continuing in his word so that we can truly be his disciples.
By continuing in the word we won’t be so easily swayed by what other people think or try to tell us. Jesus said, “You will know the truth” – the truth about God, his holiness, his justice and his love. You will know the truth about your own human condition and your constant need for a Saviour. You will know the truth about God’s Son, his perfect sacrifice for your sins and his gift of salvation. With Jesus you will confess that God’s Word is the only truth that can point you in the right direction. True disciples of Jesus know that we are neither saved nor guided by our own ideas of the truth, or anybody else’s ideas, but by the truth as revealed in God’s Word alone.
The great thing about getting the message straight is that, “the truth will set you free.” It will truly set you free from the guilt of your sin; from the eternal consequences of sin and from the power of sin to rule in your life. The words, “set you free,” remind us that we are not – and cannot be – free from sin’s guilt, its power of its consequences on our own. We are, in fact, as we admit in our public prayer of confession, “born in bondage to sin and [unable to] free ourselves.” But if we get the message of God’s perfect love and Jesus’ perfect sacrifice straight, we can then know true freedom in Christ, not because of anything we have done, but because of what Christ has done for us.
Once we have ‘got the message straight’ for ourselves, we are well equipped for our second great task in relation to God’s good news – to ‘get the message out’ to others. We are free to join Jesus in proclaiming to the world – beginning with those closest to us – that “If the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” That’s truly a message worth getting out. It is, as we said before, the best news on the planet; and it is for everybody. The trouble is, many don’t know that it is the best news on the planet. God wants everybody to know and receive a freedom that can’t be bought or earned, but which comes freely as a gift to all who put their trust in Jesus and what he has done for them. This sets the Christian good news apart from any other religious system, philosophy, or ideal that originates from anywhere else but the love of God made known in his Son, Jesus Christ. This is the message that the people of the world really need to hear, and it is our job to get the message out to them.
Today we remember and give thanks for the Protestant Reformation and for the ‘reformers’ themselves whom God used to help ‘get the message straight’ – to restore the truth and purity of the gospel message in the church. One of the reasons we observe the Festival of the Reformation is to remind us of the importance of ‘getting the message straight’ in every era of the church’s’ life. If the good news about Jesus is not proclaimed in its truth and purity we cannot be sure that those who ‘put their faith in Jesus’ are ‘truly his disciples’. The way we understand Jesus and his gift of salvation may well affect our own salvation.
Therefore, it is vitally important to ‘get the message straight’, so that when it does ‘get out’, the message that people hear is the Gospel truth that really saves. There can be a tendency for some in our day and age to emphasize ‘getting the message out’ at the expense of ‘getting the message straight’. It is sometimes easier for Christians and churches to become ‘lax with the truth’ in order to stay ‘cool with the world’; to worry more about ‘mission’ at the expense of the ‘message.’
The fact remains that the church’s best efforts at mission work are all futile if we haven’t got the message “straight”. A church may call itself ‘Christian’, be welcoming, comforting, inviting, inclusive, exciting, inspiring, benevolent, and a host of other very fine things, but if it is not preaching, teaching and living God’s truth as revealed in his word, it cannot make anybody into a true disciple of Jesus.
On the other hand, there is not much point investing a lot of time and energy ‘getting the message straight’, if we make little effort to ‘get the message out’. We must continue to remember that we are called to take this message of salvation by grace, through faith in Jesus Christ into all the world, beginning with those closest to us.
It would be wrong to assume that the Protestant Reformation was all about “getting the message straight” and not about “getting the message out”. The reformers’ concern for the right proclamation of the Gospel was a concern, but also for the salvation of souls who are loved by God and whom he also wants in his eternal kingdom. It was a concern, not just for the message of the church but also for the mission of the church. The salvation of souls for God’s kingdom depends on the purity of the Gospel that is spoken.
So let us allow our commemoration of the Reformation to remind us that the Christian Gospel really is the best news on the planet, bringing comfort, peace, hope and freedom to all who believe it.
Let us also allow our commemoration of the Reformation to remind us of our two main tasks in relation to that good news, to “get the message straight” and to “get the message out.” Amen.
And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
This message from Rev. Andrew Brook, is brought to you by Grace Lutheran Church, Web and Park Street, Mountain View, Arkansas. For prayer or more information, contact Pastor Kenneth Taglauer by email: [email protected]. A Pass it On Project You may read more at LCA Worship Planning Page Reformation day