The Sunday after The Ascension – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: 1 Peter 4:7-11
In Christ Jesus, who when He ascended on high led a host of captives and gave gifts to men (Eph. 4:8), dear fellow redeemed:
On this Memorial Day weekend, we remember some of the major battles in America history and the heroic people who fought in them. To prepare them for the violent conflict to come, the commanding officer would remind them why they were there. He might invoke the principles of freedom, justice, and the cause of good to inspire them. He would urge them to take courage and not be afraid of the enemy. If each man did his part, victory would certainly be theirs.
Before Jesus ascended into heaven, He mustered His “troops” and gave them their “marching orders,” so to speak. His objective, however, was not physical conquest. The battle they were to engage in was a spiritual one. Their success and victory would not come by way of the sword, but by way of the Word. They were to make disciples for Jesus by baptizing and teaching all nations (Mat. 28:19-20). To equip them for this Jesus said, “you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now,” and “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Act. 1:5,8).
Then Jesus was taken up from them into heaven. What was their next move now that their mighty Lord was no longer visibly present to lead them? They returned to Jerusalem and devoted themselves to prayer (Luk. 24:53, Act. 1:14). At this time, they certainly didn’t look like a force to be reckoned with. Their number was small, and no one expected much from them with Jesus out of the picture.
But then the Holy Spirit came upon them, which we will hear more about next weekend. On that Pentecost day, 3000 repented of their sin and were baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. The number of Christian disciples increased day after day, which alarmed the Jewish religious leaders and the governmental authorities. The Jewish leaders wanted the apostles to stop preaching in the name of Jesus. When threats did not work, they turned to violence (Act. 5:40). With their blessing, Saul led a persecution against the Christians beginning with the stoning of Stephen.
From the secular side, King Herod was also concerned with the growth of the Christian church. He wanted no unrest in his kingdom and wanted all honor and glory for himself. He did not want some Christian uprising to threaten his earthly authority. Herod got wrong what so many godless rulers have since. They see Christianity as a physical threat that must be suppressed by physical force. So Herod “laid violent hands” on some Christians and “killed James the brother of John with the sword” (Act. 12:1-2). He was glad to see that this pleased the Jews. But he was afraid of a violent reprisal from Christians. When he arrested the apostle Peter, he put him in prison and ordered four squads of soldiers to guard him.
And what were the Christians doing when this happened? Were they drawing up plans to sneak into the prison and overcome the guards? Were they sharpening their swords and knives for an attack? St. Luke writes that while Peter was in prison, “earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church” (Act. 12:5). That was the Christians’ response to this violence and trouble: they prayed. God answered their prayers for deliverance and sent an angel to release Peter from his chains and from prison.
Some years after this, Peter would record his First and Second Epistles. In today’s text from his First Epistle, he outlines what we might call “Marching Orders for the End Times.” The end times began when Jesus ascended into heaven. On that day, two angels told the disciples not to “stand looking into heaven,” and that Jesus “will come in the same way as you saw him go” (Act. 1:11). They told them He would return, but not right away.
Nearly 2000 years have passed since then, and Peter’s words are just as present and pressing now as ever: “The end of all things is at hand.” We are to live in expectation of Jesus’ return. We should constantly prepare for the last day. The clock is ticking. Our time and the world’s time are running out. But how exactly should we stay prepared?
We must “be self-controlled and sober-minded.” This means not letting the devil, the world, and our own flesh cloud our thinking. This happens when our plans are more important to us than God’s plan, when earthly riches mean more to us than heavenly riches, when personal pleasure and self-satisfaction keep our focus more than hearing God’s Word and doing His will.
We do not work to clear our minds of this clutter simply to feel more at peace or to “center ourselves” like the Eastern religions teach. We want clear and sober minds “for the sake of [our] prayers.” A mind distracted by worldly pursuits is not focused on the Lord and His promises. But when the Holy Spirit clears our minds by the power of the Word, we are ready to pray for our needs, for our fellow believers, and for all others. Time spent in humble prayer to the merciful God is never time wasted.
Besides prayer, God also calls us to “love one another earnestly” and to “show hospitality to one another.” Unbelievers generally expect believers to think and behave like they do, and in our sin we often do. But our light shines in the dark world when we do the unexpected. The world expects people to look out for themselves, to hold grudges, and to seek revenge. But God’s children love their neighbors as themselves, they forgive wrongs done against them, they respond with kindness when someone lashes out at them in anger or spite.
Peter writes that “love covers a multitude of sins.” If there were no love in us, think how many sins we could hold against others, big sins and little sins. The list would keep getting longer and longer. But then think how many sins God could bring up against us. We can’t imagine how long that list would be. No one has committed more sins against us than we have committed against God. And it’s not even close. But His love, in Christ, “covers a multitude of sins”—in fact, His love covers all of them.
This is what makes us willing and eager to take “marching orders” from the Lord. We know what He has done for us. We know the battle He had to fight to save us. We know what it cost. The God-Man Jesus had to suffer the eternal fires of hell in our place. He had to accept the full payment of God’s wrath for sin. He had to die.
If He was willing to do that to redeem you, to redeem me, that means we are not expendable in His eyes. He’s not going to send us to the front lines in a futile attempt to slow the enemy’s advance. He leads the way into battle. He fights for us and with us. He destroys the devil’s plans through His powerful Word, which motivates and guides our prayers and our lives of love. Wherever our love falls short, as it often has, His does not. His love covers over and hides our sins. Because our sins were put on Jesus, our heavenly Father does not find them on us anymore.
Forgiven of our sins, we are now able to approach the Father’s throne in confident prayer and to share His love with those around us. By His grace He bestows gifts upon us to use in service to others. But what gifts do we have? They are different for every person. No two people are alike in every way, having the same interests and abilities.
The Lord has equipped each of us in our vocations, our callings, to serve the people in our lives. What drives some people to serve is the recognition and thanks they receive. And if they are not recognized, they regret their service. But the good things we are able to do are not our own. We did not make these good things possible. We are not in control of their success.
God gives us our particular gifts like a master gives his goods to a servant. The servant does not take credit for the goods. He did not earn them or build them up. They belong to his master. He is simply a steward of the goods. He is given the job of management. So however the Lord has equipped you and whatever good you do, the glory belongs to Him and not to you. You are a steward of the gifts God graciously gives. You do not need to seek recognition for the things you do. You already have God’s approval in Christ, who lived a life of perfect love and service in your place. That perfect life is credited to you by faith in Him.
So these are the Christian’s Marching Orders for the End Times: pray, love, and serve in the name of Jesus. This kind of life will put you at odds with the world, which means you should expect to suffer. But you will not suffer alone. Your great and mighty King is with you in the conflict. He strengthens you when you are feeling faint and weak and are not sure you can carry on. He graciously forgives you and reinstates you by His Word of absolution when you fall into sin and desert your post. And He promises to relieve you from this struggle at the appointed time. He will come again in the same way the disciples saw Him go to take you to be with Him forever.
Not much has changed since the time that Peter wrote his epistle. The enemies are the same, and the sufferings and sorrows of this battle are the same. But our Lord’s commitment to us is the same too. His power to overcome whatever rises against us and His love and care for us as we struggle is unchanged. His promise to be with us and strengthen us is unchanged. His triumph over the forces of evil arrayed against us is unchanged.
We are safe and secure in Him. We are on the winning side. He has given us the victory by faith in Him, and we will soon have our rest in His heavenly kingdom. “To Him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”
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(picture from “Jesus Discourses with His Disciples” by James Tissot, 1836-1902)
The Sixth Sunday of Easter – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: James 1:22-27
In Christ Jesus, whose Word is truth and whose Way is salvation, dear fellow redeemed:
For many in our society, “religion” has become a dirty word. When they hear this word, they think about things like restriction, corruption, abuse of power, rules, and judgment. They do not like “religion,” but they do like the sound of “spirituality.” This has led many today to speak of themselves as “spiritual but not religious.” What this typically means is that they reject church-going, since that is “organized religion.” They prefer to meet God on their own terms. They think it is important to think about God, but how you think about God is up to you. The so-called “spiritual” person imagines that he is closer to God in nature or even on his living room sofa than he could ever be in a church building.
To a certain extent we can understand the misgivings about “religion.” We cannot deny that much harm has been done to people within organized religion. Some church leaders have abused their power and their trust. They have failed to warn the unrepentant and to comfort the hurting. Some church members have engaged in grudges, personal attacks, and mud-slinging and have hardly looked like the people that God has called them to be.
The self-proclaimed “spiritual” are glad to avoid that scene. They aren’t about to have anyone tell them what to believe or what to do. They don’t need a “middle man”—they can just go directly to God. But who is this god? Many in the “spiritual but not religious” category describe him as a god of love, a god who supports them, who is always there when they need him. He does not judge them but gives them room to make their own choices. He is a god who cares more about their feelings than their faith—how they feel about themselves, how they feel about others, and how they feel about him. In other words, this god is a god of their own making, which is ironic since they reject “religion” as being man-made.
It is true that there are many man-made religions in the world. “Religion” is a rather broad term. One definition describes it as: “The outward act or form by which men indicate their recognition of the existence of a god or of gods having power over their destiny, to whom obedience, service, and honor are due” (Webster’s 1913 Dictionary). One could argue that every person has a religion—a set of beliefs about the universe and their place in it. But not all religious beliefs are the same and not all are good and true.
We follow the Christian religion, which is based on the Bible. Christianity is like other religions of the world in that it teaches about God and sets down laws to follow. But in its central teaching, Christianity could not be any more different. The religions of the world outline what we must do to hopefully get right with God. Christianity is about how God made things right with us by sending His only Son to suffer and die in our place.
This is why you are a Christian. You know you are a sinner, and that no matter how hard you try, you cannot make things right with God. You know that you deserve eternal punishment in hell for your sins. But you also know that all your sins are forgiven because Jesus paid for them in full on the cross. You know that all the blemishes and stains of your past are completely covered by the righteousness of Jesus. You know that eternal life in heaven is yours by faith in Him. No other religion offers such comfort and peace with God.
The good news of Christianity is also the power source for living a godly life. As we hear the Word of Jesus, the Holy Spirit is at work in us strengthening our faith and sanctifying us, so that the love of God shines through us into the world. The devil does not want the world to know God’s love, so he works to make our love grow cold. He tempts us to become complacent about hearing and learning the Word, to let down our guard, to focus on how others should serve us instead of how we can serve them.
This can happen even to those who regularly partake of the means of grace like you are here today. Even though you hear God’s Word and receive His Sacraments, you can become comfortable doing what God tells you not to do. You can ignore the needs of the people around you. You can become resentful when your needs are not met. You can give free rein to thoughts of hatred, jealousy, lust, and pride. And all of this while still considering yourself a “good Christian.”
This is why the inspired writer of today’s text urges believers in Christ to “be doers of the word, and not hearers only.” God has called us out of the darkness of unbelief to the light of His truth and salvation. Through Holy Baptism, He joined us with our Savior Jesus, so that we now “walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4). We are not what we used to be. We are not of the world. We are born of God.
There are plenty of people who give organized religion a bad name. We want to give it a good name. But how? “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” Christians have set themselves apart throughout history by the way they have treated the lonely, the weak, and the hurting. They have often led the way in medical care, education, and social services. They have sacrificed their own ambitions and put their own lives at risk in service to others.
This is what God calls us to do as His children. He calls us to dedicate ourselves fully to love for others, to live humble and honorable lives that lead others to know the hope we have in Christ. What better time could there be to share this hope than now? The world is consumed by fear about what the future will hold. “Will I or my loved ones get sick? Will I have enough money to buy what I need? Will the economy rebound?” And then there is the constant bickering and name-calling among those who are convinced their political party is guided by angels while the other is steered by demons.
What do we have to fear since Jesus has defeated sin, death, and devil for us? And why would we put our hopes in men when our Lord and Savior rules over all things at the Father’s right hand? This courage and confidence we have in Christ is what we want all people to have. We want them to know God is filled with abundant grace and mercy toward them. He does not count their sins against them anymore because Jesus died in their place and rose again from the dead. He will come again on the last day to take all who trust in Him to heaven.
This is no man-made religion. These are no empty words. These are the words of salvation and life that God has given us by His grace. But the people of the world will not listen to these words unless we take them seriously. They don’t just want to hear us “talk the talk,” they want to see us “walk the walk.” You can tell them that you go to church every week. But if the way you live your life is no different than the way unbelievers live their lives, why should they take your words seriously?
But “walking the walk” is not easy. People do not appreciate their bad behavior being magnified by your good behavior. It’s easier on their conscience if you join them in evil. And then there is the constant struggle inside ourselves between the desires of our flesh and the desires of the Spirit (Gal. 5:17). It is hard to keep the sinful nature restrained.
Thanks be to God we are not on our own in trying to do what is right! Unlike the misguided people who think they can find God by their own efforts or thoughts, we know that we cannot go to Him. Our sin keeps us from even getting close. But He gladly comes to us. He comes to us through the Word and Sacraments which we partake of in this place. He comes to forgive us for our failure to confess Him by our words and our actions. And He comes to strengthen us for continued service in His kingdom.
This is how your “doing” as a Christian is always connected to your “hearing” of God’s Word. As you hear the powerful Word with a humble and faithful heart, the Holy Spirit is working to put your faith in action. He is the one who produces good works, good words, and good thoughts toward others. It is by His power that you look to serve others instead of just yourself, that you speak what is kind instead of what is hurtful, that you are guarded from the temptations and forces that would ruin your faith.
It is only by His power that you are able to “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Mat. 5:44), as Jesus calls you to do. One of the most important ways for you to be a doer of the word and not a hearer only, is through prayer. Much “doing” is done by prayer, because prayer brings a difficult situation or a need to the all-powerful God, the One for whom nothing is impossible.
You are not on your own as you “walk the walk” of a godly life. You have the encouragement of your brothers and sisters in Christ as they walk alongside of you. And you have the assurance that Jesus is leading the way. He walked before you to the cross and the grave before rising to life again. And he still walks before you to guide you on the paths of righteousness until you join Him in His heavenly kingdom.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
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(picture from “Jesus and the Little Child” by James Tissot, 1836-1902)
The Fifth Sunday of Easter – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: James 1:16-21
In Christ Jesus, the Father’s greatest and most perfect Gift, who by His death and His resurrection to life again has brought salvation to our souls, dear fellow redeemed:
It’s planting season! Besides the farmers at work in their fields, I’m sure many of you have been at work in your gardens. You prepare the ground and dig in seeds, and before long those seeds sprout up and grow into large, food-bearing plants. You have a part to play in bringing those plants to maturity. You water as needed, and you clear out weeds that would choke them. But ultimately the plants grow on their own, while you watch God’s magnificent creation in action.
n Mark 4, Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear” (vv. 26-28). Just as God is the one who makes plants grow and brings a crop to maturity, so it is with our faith. When the seed of the Word is planted in someone, God is the one who makes it grow and produce.
This is what we hear about in today’s text. James writes about who is working, how He works, and what effect His work has. In the verses before our text, he mentions “the rich” who think that their success is due to their own ability or effort or strength. But their riches cannot save their souls. They will fade and die like wildflowers do. “For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes” (Jam. 1:11). The self-made and the self-reliant fall down as quickly as they rise up.
They do not realize that “[e]very good gift and every perfect gift is from above.” We forget that too. Often it takes the loss of our good things before we realize what we had. We don’t appreciate our health and strength as much as when we are sick or injured. We don’t appreciate work until we are out of a job. We don’t appreciate the blessings of home or possessions until they break down. We don’t appreciate family and friends as much as when they are gone.
All of these good gifts are from above, “coming down from the Father of lights.” This is a title for “God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth” (Apostles’ Creed). He “separated the light from the darkness” (Gen. 1:4) in the beginning and created “the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars” (v. 16). Just as the sun, moon, and stars keep shining day after day, so the bright beams of God’s love continue to shine upon us as He cares for us.
But as committed as He is to providing our “daily bread,” our heavenly Father especially wants us to have the “bread of heaven.” He wants us to have faith in His Son Jesus, because only faith in Jesus saves. To bring us this faith, the Father sends out the Holy Spirit. Jesus spoke about the Spirit’s work in the Holy Gospel for today: “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you” (Joh. 16:13-15).
“[T]he Spirit of truth” guides us into “all the truth” through “the word of truth.” This is what Jesus asked His Father to do for the disciples: “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (Joh. 17:17). Our spiritual life depends entirely on God’s Word of truth. His Word not only informs us what He has done for us, but it also imparts His blessings to us. Today’s text says, “Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth.” It was God’s choice to bring us forth by His Word. This was not by our will; we did not choose God. Our will could choose nothing but evil; “we were dead in our trespasses” (Eph. 2:5).
The Holy Spirit planted faith in our hearts and continues to nourish it and make it grow by the powerful working of His Word. This Word of truth gave us new life as the apostle Peter writes, “[Y]ou have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God” (1Pe. 1:23). A plant cannot grow without a seed. It may seem small and insignificant, but a seed contains all the genetic information necessary to grow the plant and produce its fruit. The Word of God may also seem small and insignificant—nothing special. But the seed of the Word is at work in us causing us to grow as fruitful children of God.
Of all God’s creatures, we believers in Jesus are the “firstfruits.” We are the beautiful produce of the Lord’s great harvest. The Father “brought us forth by the word of truth” because He wanted us to share the victory and glory of His only Son. Jesus was planted in the tomb after His death, and no one expected Him to spring forth alive. But He did on the third day. He rose again from the dead showing that death was defeated for all people. This is why we bury the departed saints with hope and why we plant flowers on their graves. It is because we wholeheartedly believe that the seed of the body planted in the ground will come forth with great power and glory, never to perish again (1Co. 15:35-44).
The Word that we hear today is preparing us for that day. So we ought to “be quick to hear” and “slow to speak.” A person’s knowledge does not expand by listening to himself speak, but by listening to others. The same goes for faith. We cannot make faith stronger by our thoughts, words, or wishes. “[F]aith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17). A plant must receive to grow—water, sunshine, heat—, and it cannot grow without them. So also we grow by drinking from the living waters of God’s Word and soaking up the light of His grace.
But there are things that stunt our spiritual growth, that cause damage to our faith. A plant suffers when weeds choke it, when bugs attack it, and when its roots do not sink deeply into the ground. One of the things that chokes faith is our anger and bitterness toward one another. We refuse to forgive wrongs done to us, and we feel justified in returning evil for evil, whether toward family members or neighbors. The devil and the world also attack us with temptations toward “filthiness and rampant wickedness,” to put our sinful desires before anything else. Our sinful habits and our neglect of the life-giving Word keep the roots of faith from sinking more and more deeply.
We cannot work ourselves out of our sinful state any more than a rich person can buy his way out of death. That is why God must give His good and perfect gifts from above. The best gift He gave was the gift of His only Son. We sang about this in the hymn before the sermon, a hymn written by Martin Luther:
He spoke to His beloved Son:
“’Tis time to have compassion.
Then go, bright Jewel of My crown,
And bring to man salvation.
From sin and sorrow set him free;
Slay bitter death for him, that he
May live with Thee forever.”
(Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary, #378, v. 5)
Jesus let the weeds of our sin choke Him, the devils attack Him, and death strike Him. But none of these things could destroy Him. He destroyed them, so that we could grow up in Him and bear fruit in His name. “I am the vine; you are the branches,” He said. “Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (Joh. 15:5).
We abide in Him by faith in His promises, and we remain in faith by abiding in His Word (Joh. 8:31). So James urges the readers of his epistle to “receive with meekness the implanted word.” Many words are planted in us that we remember long after they are spoken. We think especially today about the words of instruction, advice, encouragement, and love from our mothers which still guide us. But even more powerful than that is the implanted Word of God.
It was no mistake that you were brought to faith through the powerful Word. God plants with purpose, and He constantly cultivates and tends what He caused to sprout inside you. He planted His Word of grace and forgiveness and life deep in your heart. He wants you to know His love for you, and He wants to keep your faith growing.
Like a mature plant, the stronger and healthier faith is, the more fruit it produces. But if faith is not fed by the Word, it will weaken and eventually wither up and die. This is why James urges us to “receive with meekness the implanted word”—receive God’s Word of grace gladly and with humble and repentant hearts—because “the implanted word… is able to save your souls.”
So we will not be deceived by other “products” that promise to do more for our spiritual life than the words of the Bible. We desire no better or more perfect gift than the life-giving Word of the mighty God, who has surely promised: “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Isa. 55:10-11).
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
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(picture from Jerico Lutheran Church)
The Fourth Sunday of Easter – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: 1 Peter 2:11-20
In Christ Jesus, who walks with us in our suffering and comforts us with grace and peace for the present and the promise of a perfect life after this one, dear fellow redeemed:
A month and a half ago, our state officials prohibited gatherings of more than ten people, so we stopped holding regular services. Since that time, you and I have been worshipping in our homes, and we have done what we could to stay connected through the internet, phone calls, and mail. Now our state officials have lifted restrictions in our county while still urging us to take certain precautions. So here we are back in church.
That begs the question: who is in charge of the church and of our local congregation in particular? Are we required to close our doors every time the government tells us to? This question would be easy to answer if the governing officials ordered us to stop preaching God’s Word. Then we would have to “obey God rather than men” (Act. 5:29) and ignore the order. But the current case is not like that. The government imposed restrictions across society to try to protect the population and keep it safe. Protecting the population is a proper function of government which Christians support.
So where exactly should the line be drawn between church and state? They can’t be totally isolated and kept apart, or else you and I would have to choose one side or the other. But we are members of both. Martin Luther and others have talked about them as the “two kingdoms.” The church is the kingdom of God’s right hand where the emphasis is on grace and forgiveness. The state is the kingdom of God’s left hand where the emphasis is on law and justice. Without the kingdom of the left, we would live unhappy lives in anarchy and chaos. Without the kingdom of the right, we would live without hope and the promise of a better life after this one.
But living simultaneously in these two kingdoms can be tricky, as we have seen in the last few weeks. The Christians who first read St. Peter’s First Epistle did not have it any easier. In fact, they lived at a time of severe persecution by the Roman authorities. Many Christians were killed for their faith, and if the history is accurate, Peter was martyred in Rome also. I am sure it happened that non-Christians turned in their Christian neighbors to the authorities simply because they did not like them or because they hoped to gain from their deaths.
And what advice did Peter send to these Christians “under fire”? He told them to suffer patiently, to be kind, and to honor the authorities. This sounds like a different Peter than the one who was so ready to use his sword in the Garden of Gethsemane. At that time Jesus told him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (Mat. 26:52). Christians have the right to use their voice as citizens in our country, but we are not called to use physical violence to get our way.
Peter learned this lesson, and now he reminded the recipients of his letter that they are “sojourners and exiles.” They and we are not to imagine that the sinful world is our permanent place of residence. It is tempting for all of us to get more caught up in our rights as citizens than in our righteousness as saints, to pin our hopes on political activism rather than on the promises of God. We are only “sojourners” here; we’re just passing through. Ultimately, St. Paul writes, “our citizenship is in heaven” (Phi. 3:20).
And that is why we can live without fear even while a new virus rages through our country and the rest of the world. We are not desperate to hang on to this life for the sake of this life. Whether it is tomorrow or next week or next year or many years from now, our death will come if Jesus does not return first. We can embrace that death when it comes because Jesus has conquered death and forced it to serve His purposes. Now death is the dark doorway that leads us into the bright and glorious realm of heaven. There we will be not “sojourners and exiles”; we will be permanent citizens.
But we are not in heaven yet. While we are here, we have responsibilities to our neighbors, including our neighbors in the government. Peter writes that we should submit or “be subject… to every human institution… that by doing good [we] should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.” We are not motivated like so many others are by power or money or fame. Those are earthly things that cannot last. The whole world is caught up in the pursuit of these empty things.
What we have is far better. We have righteousness, redemption, and salvation. We have forgiveness, hopefulness, and life. We have freedom in Christ—freedom from our sin, freedom from the curse of the law, freedom from death. What are the fleeting things of the world compared to these eternal things? Christ has broken us free from these chains. So Peter urges us to “[l]ive as people who are free.”
But how can he say at the same time “live in freedom” and “submit to the authorities”? It is because both things—heavenly freedom and earthly authority—come from the same source. Peter writes, “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution,” “[live] as servants of God,” be subject to masters while being “mindful of God.” We submit to our authorities not because we fear, love, and trust in them above all things, but because we fear, love, and trust in God. We recognize that He has established the earthly authorities. As Jesus told Pontius Pilate, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above” (Joh. 19:11).
But what happens when the authorities behave badly, and instead of punishing the evil and praising the good, they do the opposite? Then they have clearly abused the power God has granted them, like when they persecuted and killed those early Christians. And while it is proper to point out corruption and sin even when committed by ruling officials, yet they are still to be respected and honored—not for their own sake but “for the Lord’s sake.” Our eyes are always on Him. Good rulers and bad rulers come and go, but “The LORD of hosts is with us” (Psa. 46:11), and He isn’t going anywhere.
It is so easy to forget this. We forget that the Lord reigns, that He is in control. We are often looking and hoping for a perfect leader on earth, a new “messiah,” who will set everything right. Or we let a bad ruler shake our faith in the providence of God. We are so quickly caught up in these “passions of the flesh, which wage war against [our souls].” We don’t want to take the humble path. We don’t want to face trouble. We don’t want to suffer. We want things to go our way and on our timeline.
Our pride and selfishness are exactly the reasons God needs to humble us. This is why He lets trials and hardships come our way. He wants us to remember that He is the Lord, and there is none like Him. The unbelieving world in the midst of a crisis may put its total confidence in human ingenuity, medicine, or financial security. But these are temporary solutions that cannot save us. At best, they can only push off the inevitable.
Only the Lord can save, and He does save. Like you, I don’t know what the future will look like. I don’t know what illnesses, injuries, or hardships may come to us or to the people we love. I don’t know how many days the Lord has numbered for us, whether many or few. But I do know this: Jesus Christ, true God and true Man, has redeemed us with His holy, precious blood, and with His innocent suffering and death. He took the humble path. He willingly faced trouble and anguish. He obeyed His Father’s will all the way to the point of His death.
He did this so that we would have forgiveness of all our sins, no matter what stains are on our past. He did this so we would have strength to face our trials knowing that He understands our suffering. He did this so we would have life whenever our present troubles come to an end. Jesus’ death accomplished all these things, and His resurrection assures us that these blessings are ours. We do not follow a leader who had the ability to inspire but couldn’t deliver on his promises. We follow the Lord Jesus who is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity.
This is why we freely submit to those in authority over us “with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust.” We do this out of love for the Lord, who has commanded us to behave in this way. We don’t know how He will use our humble example and honorable conduct. Perhaps it is to draw others, including government officials, to His saving grace so that that they will join us in glorifying God on the day of Christ’s return.
So in all things and at all times, We Serve the Lord. We take up our crosses daily and follow Him (Luk. 9:23). We go about our work “heartily, as for the Lord and not for men” (Col. 3:23). And we take comfort that it is He who keeps us safe. It is He who blesses our work. It is He who holds our present and our future. It is He who saves us and will take us to be with Him in His heavenly kingdom.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
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(picture from “Christ before Pilate” by Mihály Munkácsy, 1881)
The Third Sunday of Easter – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: 1 Peter 2:21-25
In Christ Jesus, who protects His sheep and guides them through the difficulties of this life, so they are safely brought to the peace and joy of heaven, dear fellow redeemed:
It feels good to do good things for a neighbor. We are glad to lend a helping hand, to make a burden lighter, to be a blessing in someone’s day. But I’m sure you can think of times when you tried to do good for others, and they did not appreciate your efforts. They may have even blamed you for the very problems you were trying to help them with! That hurts. It can make you feel like a failure. If you dwell on it enough, it can also make you bitter and angry at the person who rejected your good intentions and good deeds.
The apostle Peter writes about situations like this in the verses just before today’s text. He said that when you suffer for doing good and you endure the suffering by faith in Jesus, “this is a gracious thing in the sight of God” (2:20). He does not tell us to seek revenge, to inflict the same pain on others that they have inflicted on us. He tells us to patiently endure suffering with our eyes fixed on Jesus.
We look to Jesus who through His suffering “[left] us an example, so that [we] might follow in His steps.” Sometimes we suffer because of wrong choices we make or bad things we do. So if we are caught stealing something and are sent to jail, or if we purposely harm someone and they retaliate, that is suffering we bring on ourselves. Jesus did not suffer for things like this, because He never did anything wrong.
That is why He is such a powerful example for us. He only did good things for people. He only did what was helpful and noble and right. It seems like that should have caused everyone to love Him and have great respect for Him. But not all appreciated His goodness, such as a number of the scribes and Pharisees. Their standard of righteousness was different than God’s, and they did not think Jesus measured up. They charged Him with violating the holy law. They even accused Him of being an agent of Satan and having a demon.
These attacks gained a fresh intensity and violence during Holy Week. After He was arrested, Jesus endured physical and verbal abuse from the religious leaders and the Roman soldiers. They could not charge Him with a wrong, but they were glad to see Him suffer. He could have responded by unleashing the mighty angels against His attackers. He could have taken them all on by Himself, and not one would have been left standing.
But He did not do this. Peter writes that Jesus did not revile those who reviled Him. He would not stoop to their level. Nor did He threaten while He suffered. He took the suffering quietly, not lifting His voice or even opening His mouth much at all. Instead He “continued entrusting Himself” to His heavenly Father—“to Him who judges justly.”
This is the pattern to follow while we suffer. Our impulse is to hurt those who hurt us, whether they are family members, co-workers, or others in the community. Isn’t that how we dealt with our siblings in our younger years? “If you hit me, I’ll hit you.” “If you take something from me, I’ll take something from you.” It’s not that we should forego justice and let everyone walk all over us. But we should not take revenge into our own hands. Instead we entrust ourselves to “Him who judges justly,” like Jesus did.
But why should we behave in this way? Why should we let people off the hook and deny our own sense of justice? Why should we try to be like Jesus, as if that were even possible? Those are fair questions. It is true that we can hardly be compared with Jesus. We are nowhere near as good. We cannot come close to His level of righteousness. Even the best things we do are tainted by sin.
The reason we try, the reason we want to do better, is because of what Jesus did for us. Today’s text says that “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree.” This is why Jesus willingly and patiently suffered. It was to save you. It was to make atonement for all your sins. God had every right to hold your sins against you. His law is perfect, and you broke each one of the Commandments. But God the Father held these transgressions against His Son. Jesus endured God’s righteous anger for your sins, so you would be spared.
He suffered for every harsh or unkind word you have spoken and for every act of revenge you carried out in your anger. He suffered for all the times you took justice into your own hands and did not trust the Lord to do it. Jesus did this so that sin would neither define you nor overcome you. The blood He shed wipes your slate clean. His blood also cleanses you from the sins others have committed against you. He was reviled, attacked, and abused, so you could find relief in Him when you are wronged. “By His wounds you have been healed.”
Jesus suffered and died to give you a new life. He took your sins on Himself, so you could live in His righteousness. Because His righteousness is yours, you are free to do good for your neighbor without the need to be recognized, appreciated, or thanked. Those friendly responses are encouraging things that make us feel better about our service. But the Lord calls us to do good for the sake of good, to be kind for the sake of kindness, to show love for the sake of love. We do for others as Jesus did for us, freely and joyfully, no matter how our efforts are received.
But isn’t there a point when “enough is enough”? Peter wondered this. He asked Jesus, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” That sounds reasonable. Many people won’t even forgive once—seven times is pretty generous! Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven” (Mat. 18:21,22). He told Peter that our love for others should have no limit.
That is hard for us, and the Lord understands our struggle. That is why He not only comforts us when our love is rejected, He also strengthens us to carry on. He works these things in us through His means of grace, through His powerful Word and Sacraments. These are the “green pastures” and “still waters” where we find rest and restoration. This is where our Good Shepherd leads us and feeds us.
You and I have felt the hunger of having to go without this spiritual nourishment in regular divine services. We have had to be content with hearing the Word in our living rooms. We long to come together again to receive the Lord’s Supper and to encourage and be encouraged by our fellow congregation members. If we took these things for granted before, we don’t take them for granted as much now.
But even though our spiritual routine has been interrupted, our Good Shepherd continues to care for His sheep. He meets you in your home whenever you read and meditate on His Word. Through the Word, He leads you to daily repent of your sin and to return to His “paths of righteousness.” Even if you are quarantined in your home right now, the Lord is with you. He will not abandon you, His sheep.
Today’s text says, “For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” You and I have often strayed into sin and given in to our worst impulses. But again and again God turns us back to His grace. Jesus is the Shepherd and Overseer of [our] souls.” Like a shepherd who won’t leave even one little lamb behind, Jesus does not want to lose one soul for heaven.
He is totally committed to saving you from the eternal destruction that so many bring upon themselves. They are destroyed because they reject His salvation. Maybe they chose the pleasures of the world over the promises of His Word. Or they did not believe they needed saving. Or they thought it was up to them to get themselves to heaven by their own efforts.
Jesus is “the Shepherd of souls.” He and only He can save. It is only by His work that a soul can enter heaven. If a shepherd told a lamb to go from here to another place 100 miles away where it had never been, the lamb could not do it. How could it know the way? Jesus does not tell us to find our way to heaven on our own. He leads us there. By Baptism, He brings us through His death and resurrection and continues to apply His grace to us through Word and Sacrament.
By continuing to listen to His Voice, We Follow in the Steps of the Shepherd. His Word strengthens our faith in Him and strengthens our love for each other. His Word guides us through the good times and the bad. His Word keeps our soul safely in His care and comforts us on our journey. Our Good Shepherd is with us “all the way,” as the hymnwriter says it so well:
I walk with Jesus all the way;
His guidance never fails me.
Within His wounds I find a stay
When Satan’s pow’r assails me,
And, by His footsteps led,
My path I safely tread.
In spite of ills that threaten may,
I walk with Jesus all the way.
(Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary #252, v. 5)
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(picture from stained glass window in St. John the Baptist’s Anglican Church in New South Wales)
The Second Sunday of Easter – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: 1 John 5:4-10
In Christ Jesus, who gives us a share of His eternal victory by faith, dear fellow redeemed:
He had told them several times. He told them He had to suffer and die, and that He would be raised again on the third day (Mat. 16:21, 17:23, 20:19). But the disciples did not understand. They were so troubled by the thought of His death that His promise to rise did not even register with them. Peter let Jesus know what he thought about The Plan. He took Jesus aside and rebuked Him. He said, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you!” (Mat. 16:22).
It wasn’t long before this that Peter had beautifully expressed the truth about who Jesus was: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (v. 16). Peter naturally did not want to see His great Teacher and Lord die. He may have also wondered whether this was even possible. If Jesus is truly God’s Son, how could He die? But Jesus was not about to follow the will of Peter—the will of man. He followed the will of His Father in heaven, and His suffering, death, and resurrection happened exactly as He had predicted.
Yet even after His resurrection, the disciples struggled to believe it. The women came on Easter morning telling them about an open tomb, shining angels, and a message from Jesus. “[B]ut these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them” (Luk. 24:11). How could it be true? The previous Friday, Jesus had died on the cross. There was no question about it. John himself was there. He saw the soldier pierce the side of Jesus, and he saw blood and water come out (Joh. 19:34). Jesus was dead. The disciples had watched Jesus call back Lazarus from the dead. But who could call back Jesus?
They did not believe it until Jesus appeared to them in the flesh on Easter evening. Since the doors were locked, at first they thought a spirit had come into their midst. But Jesus showed them the marks in His hands, feet, and side. He ate some fish in their presence (Luk. 24:42). Now they realized that He most certainly wasn’t a ghost. This was Jesus, risen from the dead!
All of them were convinced, all except for Thomas. Thomas wasn’t there when Jesus appeared. “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails,” he said, “and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe” (Joh. 20:25). The next Sunday, the disciples including Thomas were all together, and Jesus appeared again. Now Thomas believed: “My Lord and my God!” he said (v. 28). Jesus said to him, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (v. 29).
The skepticism of Thomas is the default position of many today regarding Jesus. They are willing to accept that He existed. They imagine He was probably a good guy. They like how He helped people in need. But they don’t believe He is God, and they don’t believe He came back to life after His death. The only way they would believe these things is if they had proof of some kind, like the proof that Thomas received.
The evidence that the apostle John brings forward is not the evidence one might expect. John says the proof that Jesus is the Son of God is found in “the Spirit and the water and the blood.” This is a reference especially to the beginning and end of Jesus’ public work. He was publicly identified as God’s Son and the promised Savior at His Baptism. When He was baptized, the heavens were opened, and the Spirit of God descended like a dove and rested on Him. Then a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Mat. 3:16-17).
That is strong testimony of Jesus’ identity. But how can we be certain it actually happened as described? Some people suggest that Jesus’ closest disciples invented stories about His life. But if you wrote a story and included yourself in it, how would you portray yourself? The disciples are often described as weak, petty, and ignorant. Either those creative writers were extraordinarily humble, or they simply told the truth about themselves and Jesus.
The same goes for John the Baptizer. He was not an all-knowing prophet. He admitted he did not know Jesus was the promised Messiah until he baptized Him. But seeing what happened and hearing the voice of God the Father, he then proclaimed, “this is the Son of God!” (Joh. 1:34). So by “the Spirit and the water” God the Father testified that Jesus was His Son.
Going forward three years, Jesus was now in Jerusalem. He had entered the city on Palm Sunday and was preparing for His imminent death. “Now is my soul troubled,” He said. “And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name” (Joh. 12:27-28). Then a voice sounding like thunder came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again” (v. 28). It was the voice of His heavenly Father.
And then it was time for the testimony of “the blood.” The shedding of blood shows that Jesus was clearly a Man. Blood poured out of His back from the wounds of His flogging and from His head where the crown of thorns had been driven. It dripped from His hands and feet where the nails had pierced. But how does the blood prove His divinity? How does it show He is the Son of God?
If Jesus had died and remained dead, we would have to conclude that He was not who God said He was, that He was not the Son of God. But since He has risen, that changes the way we look at His crucifixion. His resurrection from the dead shows us that it wasn’t just a regular Man hanging on the cross. It was the God-Man. His blood was holy blood shed for all people. His suffering was holy suffering, not for wrongs He had done but for the sins of the world. “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” He cried. His blood testifies that God the Father poured out His wrath against sin on His only Son in the place of all sinners.
“[T]he Spirit and the water and the blood.” This is God the Father’s testimony. “[T]his is the testimony of God that He has borne concerning His Son.” And Jesus’ resurrection is the bow that ties it all together. His resurrection proves that the testimony is true. It proves everything God declared about His Son and everything Jesus taught and did.
Those who deny Jesus’ resurrection will make of Him whatever they want, but they won’t have a Savior. You, on the other hand, who believe God’s testimony, have everything He has graciously promised you. You will not be judged along with the unbelieving world on the last day, because you are covered in Christ’s righteousness. You will not suffer eternal damnation in hell, because your sins are all forgiven. You will not remain in the grave, because Jesus will come again in glory to raise you from the dead.
All of these things are yours. You have been “born of God” by the power of the Holy Spirit. You were brought to faith in Jesus through His holy Word, so that His victory became your victory. He wants to continue to assure you and comfort you in this truth. He knows that the devil, the world, and your own flesh want to steal away your confidence. He knows how they try to use trials like the current pandemic to plant doubts in your mind about His love toward you and about the promises of His Word.
It is good that John recorded the doubts of Jesus’ disciples after His resurrection. They doubted like we do. Our faith is not perfect. It is common for all Christians to wonder why God lets troublesome things happen, or why He doesn’t fix a problem or help us in our need. We have also had doubts about whether we are right with God. How could He love people like us who have failed so miserably or done such bad things?
Jesus does not alleviate our doubts by appearing in person and showing us His hands and side like He did for Thomas. But He does set before us the testimony of His love through His Word and Sacraments. Publicly through His called servant and privately through the encouragement of fellow Christians, Jesus declares to us the forgiveness of our sins. As Jesus said to His disciples on Easter evening, so He still says to us, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld” (Joh. 20:22-23).
He also gives us the testimony of His Sacraments—Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. “Baptism,” He says, “is My cleansing blood applied to you. It is My bringing you the victory of My death and resurrection. It is your rebirth as a holy child of God.” And the Lord’s Supper is His body given in the bread and His blood given in the wine “for the remission of sins.” In this Supper, our resurrected and exalted Lord comes to us personally and brings us His eternal blessings of forgiveness and life and salvation.
So just as “the Spirit and the water and the blood” testified in Jesus’ life that He really is the Son of God, so “the Spirit and the water and the blood” in His Word and Sacraments continue to testify to Him today. It is impossible for our limited minds to understand these things. How could the Son of God take on flesh, suffer, die, and rise again? How could He continue to meet us through His Word and Sacraments?
But though our minds cannot comprehend these things, they are most certainly true. Jesus Really Is the Son of God. He really did die for your sins and rise again in victory over your death. And He really does come to you today to bring you comfort, strength, and peace in every need.
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(picture is from “The Incredulity of St. Thomas” by Caravaggio, c. 1601-1602)
The Resurrection of Our Lord – Pr. Faugstad exordium and sermon
I know you are disappointed like I am that we are not able to celebrate our Lord’s resurrection together in church. Not that there is ever a good time for a crisis, but I wondered why it had to happen now, at the high point of the Christian church year. For a number of you, this may be the first time in your life that you are not in church on Easter Sunday. It’s hard to miss out on that. It’s hard to be apart from your fellow congregation members, whom you love and who love you.
And then there are the difficulties on this day of not getting together with members of our extended family. This makes us feel sad and alone. Besides this, we are worried about the spread of a powerful virus, worried about its effect on the worldwide economy, worried about having enough for now and in the future. There are many who share these worries and fears. We wish this virus had never come. We wish we could go back to the way life was before. We were comfortable with that life.
But there were problems then too: health problems, financial problems, relationship problems. Since the fall into sin, there has never been a perfect time. There has always been trouble, hardship, and pain. And there has always been the threat of death. As more and more people are added to the statistics of the worldwide pandemic, death seems closer to us now than it did before.
That is why Easter could not have come at a better time. Easter provides a better hope and a surer comfort than “social distancing,” “flattening the curve,” or an effective antidote. Those things have their place. But our only real hope when we face uncertainty and death is Jesus. Jesus “bore our griefs and carried our sorrows” (Isa. 53:4) to the cross and died in payment for all our sin. Then after He had been placed in a tomb and a large stone was rolled over the entrance, He came alive again on the third day.
The very thing that causes us the most anxiety and fear had nothing on Jesus. He undid those chains that bind us so tightly, and He rose triumphant from the grave. Death had its chance at the Lord of Life, and death utterly failed. Jesus conquered death forever, and He conquered it for you. “I am the resurrection and the life,” said Jesus. “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live” (Joh. 11:25).
This promise of life through Jesus is what the dying world needs. It is what you and I need. Jesus died for you, and He rose again for you. A joyous life awaits you in heaven where there will be no more worries, no more fears, no more troubles. Jesus lives, so you will live. That is something to celebrate wherever you are on this Easter day. The Lord is risen! He is risen indeed! We sing the hymn, “He Is Arisen! Glorious Word!” (ELH 348).
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Text: 1 Corinthians 5:6-8
In Christ Jesus, to whom we are joined in Baptism and on whom our faith rests, dear fellow redeemed:
How do you typically celebrate the festival of Easter? Besides the activities at church, do you usually have a big dinner, maybe ham with all the fixings? Does Mom make a special dessert? Is there an Easter egg hunt or some other family activity? Those are all wonderful things, good ways to set the day apart.
In today’s text, the apostle Paul urges us to remember one thing more: “Don’t forget to cleanse out the old leaven.” He is not talking about how you should prepare your dinner rolls. He is talking about sin, sin which works its way through us like yeast in a lump of dough. This is “the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil,” which is contrasted with “sincerity and truth.”
“Already done!” we say. “I’m hardly malicious and evil, and I would definitely consider myself a sincere and truthful person.” But that’s the kind of thinking that shows the leaven is inside us. We just don’t realize it. The inspired words of Paul are not asking for us to render a judgment about ourselves. They are a judgment. If there were no “old leaven” in us Christians, these words would not have needed to be written.
The leaven of sin is certainly still inside us. It makes us become “puffed up” with pride. It makes us “swell” with our own self-importance. It makes us think we are “too big” to serve or help a neighbor who needs it. If we hold the opinion that we are really good people, it will be easy for us to justify whatever we chose to do or not do. We find it easy to criticize the “bad” people in our community, who deserve whatever trouble comes their way. At the same time, we are eager to dismiss the wrongs of the “good” people we know, even when they are actively engaged in sins against God’s law.
This was the case of the Christians in Corinth who were the first to receive Paul’s letter. A member of the congregation there was involved in a sinful sexual relationship. And it wasn’t just that the congregation ignored what was going on. They gave it their approval. Paul said they boasted about it! That is the context for the words of today’s text: “Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?” Sin affects not just the individual Christian but also the Church.
When we adopt a different moral code for ourselves or others, when we hold one another to a different standard than God does, we do away with Jesus’ work on our behalf. Jesus did not die for what we consider sinful or not sinful. He died for what God says is sinful. This death for what God says is sinful is at the heart of today’s text.
Paul writes that “Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed.” Jesus was the perfect Passover Lamb, without blemish. He was offered up as the sacrifice for all sin. He let Himself be blamed for our wrongs. He suffered and died for our “old leaven.” If we justify our sinning, if we say that we have no leaven to repent of, then Jesus died for nothing. If we embrace sin, we lose our Savior.
But if we embrace our Savior, we lose our sins. This is what Paul means when he says, “cleanse out the old leaven.” He means to repent of sin and believe in Jesus. In Jesus we have new life. Our old lump of flesh is shaped into something useful. We are formed into “a new lump,” free from the self-inflating leaven of sin.
The Holy Spirit began this cleansing and reshaping of our lives at our Baptism. Paul writes that in Baptism, we were buried with Christ—“our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin” (Rom. 6:6). And in that same Baptism we were united with Him in His resurrection. Just as Jesus rose from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we also “walk in newness of life” (6:4).
When we were baptized into Christ, life stopped being about us, what we wanted, what our desires and plans were. Then we gained a much higher calling and greater purpose. Then we were joined to the body of Christ like grains of wheat brought together into a loaf. By faith in Him, we now share in His holiness, His life, His majesty. All of His work was for our salvation: His triumph over sin, His victory over death, His glorious reign in heaven—all of it is ours.
“For Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival.” In the Old Testament, the Feast of Unleavened Bread began immediately after the Passover celebration (Deu. 16:1-8). The Passover reminded the people of their deliverance from slavery and death in Egypt. The Feast of Unleavened Bread reminded them of the haste with which they left. There was not even time for the bread to rise!
Jesus is our Passover Lamb sacrificed on Good Friday. And His resurrection the following Sunday is the Feast of Unleavened Bread which we celebrate as long as we have breath. Jesus took care of all “the old leaven.” It doesn’t stick to us anymore. He cleansed it out by the shedding of His blood and left it buried when He rose from the grave.
That empty tomb where Jesus used to be on that first Easter, is the proof that your sins are forgiven. No matter what wrongs you have done, what sins you have fallen into, what guilt you carry, in Jesus you are found innocent. God the Father declares you “not guilty” because of what His Son has done. So we do not pursue sin; we pursue Him. We do not serve ourselves; we serve Him.
And through the powerful Word, the Holy Spirit continues shaping us in His image. He humbles us in order to work out the leaven that wants to rise up in us. And He strengthens us for whatever we must face in this life. There is nothing in our future that we will have to suffer through by ourselves—no trial, no pain, no sadness. We are joined with Jesus. He is our Bread of Life. He is our comfort, our hope, our joy in every trouble.
Even when the time comes for our earthly death, we do not enter it alone. We were already buried and raised with Jesus in Baptism, so death is nothing to fear. We enter death with the Lord of Life, the one whom “death no longer has dominion over” (Rom. 6:9). He has made death the door by which our soul enters His heavenly kingdom. And then He will come again in all power and glory and raise up our bodies from our temporary tombs, totally free from the leaven of this life.
Let Us Therefore Celebrate the Festival! Our victory is won! Our sin is forgiven! Heaven is ours! All of this because: The Lord is risen! He is risen indeed! Amen.
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(picture from Jerico altar painting)
The Sunday after The Ascension – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. John 15:26-16:4
In Christ Jesus, who never made a promise He didn’t keep, dear fellow redeemed:
The disciples had gone through the anguish of Good Friday and Holy Saturday when Jesus was crucified, died, and was buried. They had experienced the euphoria of Easter Sunday when Jesus appeared to them alive again. And now after forty days, they watched Him rise up in the sky until a cloud hid Him from their sight. What would you be thinking in that moment?
The disciples looked intently skyward hoping that Jesus might perhaps come right back again. Instead two men appeared by them in white robes and told them there was no need to stare toward the clouds. Jesus had been “taken up” into heaven, they said, but He would come back again (Act. 1:11).
So it was true. The visible presence of Jesus, which had brought the disciples such comfort, was no longer. They must go forward alone. And yet they wouldn’t be alone. Jesus had promised them, “behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Mat. 28:20). Jesus would be invisibly present with them and work among them through His Word and Sacraments. “For where two or three are gathered in my name,” He said, “there am I among them” (18:20).
He also promised that when He went away to His Father, He would send them the Helper, the Spirit of truth. When would the Holy Spirit come? Jesus told them: “you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now” (Act. 1:5). He told them to return to Jerusalem and wait for this to happen. They did not know how long to wait or what to look for, but they did what Jesus said.
How do you suppose they passed the time? They didn’t have smartphones or Facebook, no TV to watch, no podcasts or music to listen to. The Book of Acts tells us that “All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers” (Act. 1:14). This is what they did when Jesus left them. They prayed in His name to the Father.
Their actions in this difficult time are instructive. This was a time that they had many more questions than answers. They still feared what the Jewish or Roman leaders might do to them. They felt utterly outnumbered and weak. They did not know what to do next. All they could do was wait and pray.
I’m sure you can relate. You have faced situations like this, times when you had more questions than answers. You have felt afraid and weak. You have been unsure how to move forward. All you could do was wait and pray. But that is not a bad position to be in! It is in such times that we realize we are not in control, that we cannot fix everything. There is nothing we can do but commend our life and our future into the hands of the merciful Lord and pray that His will be done.
One of those times that we come before God in prayer is when we are criticized or attacked for believing and doing what the Bible says. This sort of opposition can come at us in school, in the workplace, in the public square of our local or online community, or even in our own homes. We can also face this trouble from within the church, from those who do not want to hear the truth of God’s Word.
Jesus told the disciples that this would happen. He said, “They will put you out of the synagogues,” the Jewish places of worship. Because they preached the truth about Jesus, that He is the true Son of God who came to save the world through His death and resurrection, they would be excommunicated by the Jewish leaders. They would be kicked out of the synagogues. They would be told that their doctrine has no place in the holy church.
The persecution of the truth would not stop there. Jesus said, “Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God.” This is what Saul did. He approved of the execution of Stephen, the first Christian martyr (Act. 8:1). Then he continued to ravage the church by dragging Christian men and women off to prison and death (v. 3). Jesus said that some like Saul would do this, “because they have not known the Father, nor Me.”
But didn’t Saul worship the Lord? He described himself as “a Hebrew of Hebrews,” “a Pharisee,” and “under the law, blameless” (Phi. 3:5,6). He may have been a devout follower of Old Testament law, but he denied the promises of God. By rejecting God’s Son in the flesh, he showed that he had no love for the Father. Jesus stated it clearly, “No one comes to the Father except through me” (Joh. 14:6).
So there are some who think they are acting in line with the Father but are actually opposed to Him. This includes those who change what the Bible says or ignore certain parts of it because it does not fit the thinking of society. A large section of the visible church today has compromised the Bible in order to fit in with the world. We see this in the way many church bodies, congregations, and individual Christians deny what the Bible says about creation, the sanctity of human life, and the restricting of sexual activity between one man and one woman in marriage.
We can understand why so many have caved in these areas. It is difficult to swim against the current, to push back against popular trends in society. Contending against the world has consequences. It often means the loss of respect and honor. It means trouble and pain. A few verses before today’s text, Jesus said, “If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (Joh. 15:19).
How are we to respond? Should we hate others as much as they hate us? No, Jesus tells us to love them (Mat. 5:44). And how should we love them? We love them by praying for them and by speaking the truth. Telling the truth of God’s Word is always loving, even if it is not always welcome. Nowhere in the Bible does God tell us to lie. To lie is to join the devil, “for he is a liar and the father of lies” (Joh. 8:44).
Believers in Jesus tell the truth about Him, and the Holy Spirit empowers them to do this. In today’s text, Jesus says the Holy Spirit “will bear witness about Me”—He will testify about what Jesus did and remind us what Jesus said (Joh. 14:26). In this way, the Holy Spirit equips us to bear witness, to testify in the world. We may feel as though we stand alone, but we do not.
Jesus told His disciples that they would be delivered up to the synagogues and prisons and brought before kings and governors for His name’s sake. “This will be your opportunity to bear witness,” He said. “Settle it therefore in your minds not to meditate beforehand how to answer, for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict” (Luk. 21:14-16).
The Lord promises to guide us in speaking His Word, because He wants more to have the hope that we have. The message of salvation in Christ is not just for us, it is for everybody. All sinners need this equally. There is no reason why we should have this salvation while others do not. We are not better than they are. We don’t deserve it more.
But just as God has granted us forgiveness by His grace, by His undeserved love, so we pray that He grants it to all others. We want them to have the peace we have when we hear how Jesus purchased and won us lost and condemned sinners through His innocent suffering and death. We want them to experience the joy of knowing our death is only temporary because of the resurrection of Christ. And we want them to taste the holy food and drink we do when we join together at the Communion rail and consume Jesus’ own body and blood.
Holding to what the Bible teaches can make us feel like a target is on our backs, that we are alone in the world. But of all the things that may be said about believers in Christ, they are most certainly not alone. Jesus gives us brothers and sisters in the faith to encourage us by pointing us to the promises of God. These promises are sure and powerful. Through these promises, Jesus Himself comes to us and sends the Holy Spirit to comfort and keep us in the faith and to strengthen us as we contend for the truth.
There is no more beautiful and edifying thing we can possess than the truth of God’s Word. It is a bright light shining in a dark world. It is a solid rock to stand on. It is our very life. We would rather lose everything else that we currently have than to lose the saving Word of Christ. This is what Saul concluded after he was converted and became a great testifier of the truth. “But whatever gain I had,” he said, “I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Phi. 3:7-8).
This is why we contend, albeit inconsistently and weakly and timidly. We still have fears and doubts because of our sin. But we cling to Jesus by faith, knowing that “there is salvation in no one else” (Act. 4:12). This salvation must be proclaimed “to the whole creation” (Mar. 16:15), so that more sinners like the disciples and you and me will learn that no amount of trouble in this world could “separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:39).
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(portion of painting by John Singleton Copley, 1775)
The Sixth Sunday of Easter – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. John 16:23-30
In Christ Jesus, who opened for us direct access to the Father by His innocent suffering and death in our place, dear fellow redeemed:
What words do you say every single day? Some of the likely ones are: hello, good-bye, yes, no, good morning, good night, please, thank you. Maybe you say “I love you” to someone each day. If you’re around kids, you hear them say “why?” or “why not?” every day. There’s another one that I’m confident you say each day—the word “Amen.”
If you say prayers when you wake up in the morning, before and after meals, and before you go to bed at night, you might say “Amen” five to ten times a day. The number may be even higher if you pray throughout the day. If you used the word “Amen” about 50 times a week (including all the times in church), you would be saying or singing it over 2,500 times each year. If you lived eighty years, this would mean using the word “Amen” over 200,000 times. That’s a significant word!
But why do we use it? Where did the word come from? What Does “Amen” Mean? The word is found thirty times in the Hebrew Old Testament, where it is pronounced “ah-main.” Pagan scholars say the Hebrew people took the word from the name of an Egyptian god. And the name may sound similar, but it isn’t even spelled the same. The noun “Amen” actually comes from a Hebrew verb which means “to confirm” or “be trustworthy.”
In the Old Testament, the word was used to show agreement for what someone said. One example is when the Ark of the Covenant was brought to Jerusalem by King David. On this occasion David led a song of thanks, and all the Israelites responded with a loud “‘Amen!’ and praised the Lord” (1Ch. 16:36). The word “Amen” is also used as a conclusion, such as when it ends the first four sections of the Book of Psalms.
“Amen” was used as a part of the synagogue worship of the Jews, so Jesus would have heard this word frequently as a boy. Later on in His public work, He often utilized this word to emphasize the truth of what He said. Each of the seventy-five instances of “Amen” in the four Gospels comes from Jesus as part of the phrase, “Amen, I say to you,” often translated as “Truly, I say to you.” In the Gospel of John, Jesus’ use of the word is always doubled, like it is in today’s text: “Truly, truly, I say to you,” or “Amen, amen, I say to you.” “Amen” is used about twenty-five more times in the New Testament in connection with a statement of praise or as a conclusion to one of the Epistles.
What we do not find anywhere in the Bible is a command that we use this word, or that it must be spoken at the end of every prayer. We do not have instructions for how to end our prayers, but we do have instructions for how to pray. Jesus taught prayer both by example and by education. He often spent time in prayer to His heavenly Father, including the night before His death. These frequent references to His praying should show us how important prayer is.
He also taught His disciples what they should and should not do regarding prayer. He told them they should not draw attention to themselves when they pray, like “the hypocrites” who stand prominently “in the synagogues and at the street corners.” Instead they should pray humbly and privately to the Father, who promises to hear their prayer (Mat. 6:5-6). Of course it is also fine and good to pray in public like we do in church, as long as this is not done for show.
The Lord also directed His disciples to avoid “vain repetition” or “empty phrases,” as though “they will be heard for their many words.” Jesus told the disciples a great multitude of words is unnecessary, since “your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Mat. 6:7-8). Right after this Jesus taught them to say the brief but exceedingly rich “Our Father,” or “Lord’s Prayer.”
The Lord’s Prayer shows us how bold we should be in our petitions or requests. When we pray for what God has promised to give us, we do not pray conditionally. We do not say, “Thy kingdom come if You want it to,” or “Thy will be done if You’re not too busy,” or “Give us this day our daily bread if You are happy enough with us.”
Jesus taught us to pray with boldness, to use imperatives: “Give us!” “Forgive us!” “Deliver us.” Jesus repeated this instruction to pray boldly when He said, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened” (Mat. 7:7-8).
This is not how the doubter approaches prayer—the one who isn’t sure God is listening or even wants to hear his prayer. James writes that “the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways” (Jam. 1:6-8).
So how can we learn to pray with more confidence, as Jesus invites us to do, and not be unstable doubters? The key is found in today’s Gospel reading. There Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you—listen carefully; I am not lying—, whatever you ask of the Father in My name, He will give it to you.” The key is in those three words, “in My name.” Jesus repeats that phrase three times in this section, and He had already used the phrase four times before in the same conversation (Joh. 14:13, 14, 26, 15:16). That makes seven uses of this phrase in the night before His death.
Jesus explained what “in My name” means further along in the text. He said they could pray boldly to the Father in heaven because He loves them. And why does He love them? “[B]ecause,” as Jesus said, “you have loved Me and have believed that I came from God.” That is what it means to pray “in Jesus’ name.” It is to pray with faith in Him and all He has accomplished for our salvation.
Your boldness in prayer is directly related to your confidence in Jesus’ work. If you are certain that His perfect life is fully credited to you by faith; if you believe that He made complete satisfaction for your sins by His death on the cross; and if you trust that He rose again on the third day in victory over your death, then you should not wonder if God hears your prayers or wants to hear them.
Do you think God the Father wanted to hear the prayers of Jesus, His Son? Then why shouldn’t He want to hear your prayers? “[F]or in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith” (Gal. 3:26). When you pray “in Jesus’ name”—by faith in Jesus—the Father looks upon you with favor. He looks at you through the lens of His Son. He does not see the sinner who has fallen again and again, the weak Christian who spends so much of his time worrying about unimportant things. He sees His holy, blood-bought child. He sees a rightful heir, one to whom He will give all the riches of heaven.
Since the heavenly Father looks upon you in this way, there should be no question in your mind that He wants to hear your prayers. But not all requests are the same. Not all prayers are proper. You do not get everything you want just because the Father loves you, or because you pray “in Jesus’ name.” We love our children, but we do not give them everything they want. They do not always want the right things.
You should not pray to God for foolish things, like vast riches to live an indulgent life, or a different family than the one God gave you, or impressive power and prestige in the world. These are the desires of the flesh. On the other hand, you can pray without hesitation for the good things God has promised to give you, like you do in the Lord’s Prayer. You can also pray for things you aren’t sure that God will give you, confident that He will do what is best. In this regard, you may pray for improved health, for a better work environment, or for relief from something that troubles you or those you love.
When you make these humble petitions by faith in Jesus, you are assured that your requests are heard by Him and will most certainly be answered. This is where “Amen” comes in. It is much more than an “okay, I’m done,” or some kind of punctuation mark. It is a word which confirms what has been said “in Jesus’ name.” It expresses trust that the Father in heaven has heard the prayer and will act. It is not a word we are required to use, but if it was used so often by Jesus, it should be useful to us.
What Does “Amen” Mean? In his classic definition in the Small Catechism, Martin Luther writes, “Amen means that we should be sure that these petitions are acceptable to our Father in heaven and are heard by Him; for He Himself has commanded us so to pray and has promised to hear us. Amen, Amen; that is, Yes, Yes, it shall be so.”
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(portion of “Crucifixion, Seen from the Cross,” by James Tissot, c. 1890)
The Fifth Sunday of Easter – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. John 16:5-15
In Christ Jesus, who returned to the Father after completing His saving work on earth (Joh. 16:28), and then sent out the Holy Spirit to distribute His salvation, dear fellow redeemed:
If you have never heard the word “Paraclete” before, you might wonder what it means. Here are some multiple choice options for you:
- “Paraclete” is a type of bird that repeats what people say.
- “Paraclete” is the footwear you need for outdoor sports.
- “Paraclete” is a title for the Holy Spirit.
I hope that was an easy one.
In our translation of the Bible, the word “Paraclete” is rendered “Helper.” Other translations for this word are “Advocate,” “Intercessor,” or “Comforter.” Jesus referred to the Holy Spirit by this term four times in His conversation with the disciples the night before His death.
- In John 14:16-17, Jesus said: “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper [Paraclete], to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.”
- John 14:26: “But the [Paraclete], the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”
- John 15:26: “But when the [Paraclete] comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.”
- And then in today’s Gospel where Jesus said the Paraclete would come to convict the world and guide believers into all truth.
The Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, was sent to convict the world concerning three things: “sin and righteousness and judgment.” This work is done through the Law of God. The primary function of the Law is to condemn. It is a mirror which reveals how we really are. We may seem to have things pretty well in order. But the Law uncovers our hidden sins, even the sins of our mind.
The Holy Spirit testifies through the Law that our sins have separated us from God. If we remain in these sins, we cannot have communion with God, because God is holy. The world is full of people who believe they are right with God (or at least hope they are), but who actually are opposed to Him. They do not believe they are in spiritual danger because of their sins, or they worship false gods who cannot save. So the Holy Spirit through the Law convicts the world’s inhabitants of sin. He shows that their trust and confidence are misplaced when they do not believe in Jesus as their Savior.
The Holy Spirit also convicts the world concerning righteousness. One of the biggest and most obvious lies today is the notion that “people are basically good.” It is true that many people do many good things. This is due to the influence of God’s moral Law written in their hearts (Rom. 2:15). But we ignore the great wickedness around us and in us if we say that people are mostly righteous. We cannot give ourselves or others so much credit.
Some are even so bold as to reject Jesus because they think their level of holiness rises to His. But who has ever done as much good as Jesus did? Who healed so many sick people? Who had such compassion on the poor and outcasts? Who gave so much hope? And when He was falsely accused and beaten and crucified, who suffered so quietly and humbly? If Jesus were little more than an example for us, and if living as He lived were the way to get to heaven, still no one could hope to attain such righteousness.
The Bible does not teach us to be confident in our own righteous deeds. It says that “[n]one is righteous, no, not one,” and that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:12, 23). Jesus said that He is the only one who is worthy to “go to the Father.” He was perfect. He did no wrong. He lived the life the holy Law requires. He succeeded where all others have failed.
Finally, the Holy Spirit convicts the world concerning judgment. The world follows its ruler. Isn’t that as it should be? No, because the world’s ruler—the devil—is an imposter. He usurped the throne that belongs rightfully to the world’s Creator. The Lord is the rightful King. But the devil will spread his lies and work for the destruction of souls as long as he has opportunity.
Everyone who denies Jesus follows the devil. They choose to follow the loser instead of the Champion. The devil is already judged. His fate is sealed. He cannot knock the crown off Christ’s head or the almighty God from His throne. Unless sinners repent, they will join the devil in the fires of hell and suffer there with him forever.
This is what the Holy Spirit comes to do for the world. He comes to “convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.” The work the Paraclete does through the Law may not seem all that “helpful” or “comforting.” But if He does not convict through God’s Law, there will be no need for God’s comfort. If He does not carry out His condemning work, He cannot do His saving work. So He convicts the world—and us too—of our sin, our self-righteousness, and the judgment that comes upon the unrepentant. But He also strengthens believers in their faith through the Gospel.
The disciples were sad when Jesus told them He was going to the Father. Jesus said His leaving was to their advantage. His visible departure meant that the Paraclete would come. The Holy Spirit would be sent forth from the Father and the Son. He would come to guide the disciples “into all the truth.” He would bring to their remembrance everything Jesus said to them (Joh. 14:26). He would declare “the things that are to come.”
Those things that were coming were Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection and His glorious ascension to the right hand of the Father. The disciples did not understand that these things were necessary. But they soon learned why they were so important. The Holy Spirit enlightened their minds to understand that salvation could be won in no other way than this.
God the Son had to obey the will of His Father. He had to take on flesh and be born under the Law, so that His righteousness would cover each sinner’s sin. He had to suffer and die, so that the eternal punishment each of us had coming would be assigned to Him instead. He had to rise again on the third day to prove that He was who He said He was and that He did what He said He would.
This is the truth the Holy Spirit taught the disciples and what He still teaches us. This is what He helps us to remember, especially when we are troubled by our sins and failures. He comforts us by coming to us through the Word and Sacraments and declaring what He has been given to declare. He brings the gifts of the Father which were obtained for us by the Son. Jesus said of the Holy Spirit that “He will glorify Me, for He will take what is Mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is Mine; therefore I said that He will take what is Mine and declare it to you.”
What is it that the Holy Spirit declares? After bringing you to repentance through the Law, He points you to Jesus. He declares that Jesus is your righteousness. He is your Savior. Because of Jesus’ suffering and death in your place, you have peace with God and eternal life. Your sins are forgiven. You are justified in God’s sight; you are not condemned.
This is how the Paraclete comforts you. He does not need to change His message from time to time to keep it fresh and interesting. The message of forgiveness and life in Christ is just as powerful and applicable today as it has been through all of human history. It is exactly what every sinful human needs to hear and believe. Until the end of time, God will continue to send the Holy Spirit to convict and comfort through His Word.
But Jesus spoke about the Holy Spirit’s coming as being in the future. When would this happen? It happened on Pentecost, fifty days after Easter and ten days after Jesus’ ascension. We are approaching these festivals again—Ascension in less than two weeks and Pentecost in three weeks. These are excellent times to remember that the Lord keeps His promises. Everything Jesus predicted to His disciples came about. He did die and rise again, He did return to His Father, and He did send the Holy Spirit.
This means you will never lack hope, even in these troubled and troubling times. You are not alone in the world. Yes, the devil rules in the world and many follow him, but he is judged. He cannot win. Even while he carries out his destructive activities, the Paraclete counters them through the powerful Word. If the Holy Spirit were not active, there would be no church on earth; no one would believe. But God has reserved many “who have not bowed the knee to Baal” (1Ki. 19:18, Rom. 11:4), who have not gone away after “the ruler of this world.” He keeps many in the faith who look with eager anticipation for Jesus’ triumphant return.
Through His ongoing work in the church, the Holy Spirit lives up to His title. He is our Paraclete—our Helper, Advocate, Intercessor, and Comforter. He brings the gifts of God from heaven to earth, from the holy Savior to us unworthy sinners. For our salvation, The Paraclete Comes to Convict and Comfort. He works repentance in our hearts through the Law and faith in our hearts through the Gospel. He brings us everything we need to get to heaven, just as Jesus said He would.
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(picture is stained glass by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, c. 1660)