Good Friday – Pr. Faugstad homily
Text: Revelation 5:1-10
We hear the words of the fifth chapter of the “revelation of Jesus Christ” (Rev. 1:1) recorded by His apostle John. We will consider this reading in three different sections, beginning with the first four verses:
Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals. And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. (ESV)
Here John describes his vision of heaven. He saw God the Father holding a scroll in His right hand. “Sealed with seven seals” tells us the scroll was perfectly sealed. It could only be opened by one who was worthy. But “no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth” was qualified—not the saints, not the mighty angels, not the four living creatures, not the elders.
This reminds us how far we fall short of the holiness of God. We might think we are pretty impressive compared with the people around us. Maybe we are more kind, we behave better, we are more generous, and so on. But God does not command us to be better than other people, or even that we try our best. He demands perfection. Unless we are perfect, we have no business pointing out how good we are, and we certainly can’t get ourselves into heaven. If the perfect saints and angels were not worthy to open the Father’s scroll, think how unworthy that makes us sinners! Clearly we need a Savior. We hear the next two verses:
And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.” And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. (ESV)
Now the Savior makes His entrance. He is described in three different ways which don’t really seem to connect: as a Lion, a Root, and a Lamb. Each title is a reference to Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah. He was a King from the line of Judah through David (Gen. 49:9-10; Isa. 11:1,10). And He was a Lamb sacrificed for the sins of all people (Isa. 53:4-7).
John saw Him manifested as a Lamb, “as though it had been slain.” The “seven horns,” “seven eyes,” and “seven spirits” indicate that He is all-powerful and all-knowing. But how is it possible that One with such power could be slain? It must be that the Lamb let it happen, that He offered Himself for this purpose.
That is why we celebrate Good Friday today. This is the day that the Lamb of God was slain for the sins of the world. Jesus was that Lamb, and He willingly went to the cross for you. Isaiah described it so beautifully: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth” (Isa. 53:6-7).
No one tricked Jesus into this. No one overpowered Him. No one forced Him to die. He went in obedience to His Father and out of love for you. “For this reason the Father loves me,” said Jesus, “because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord” (Joh. 10:17-18). Jesus offered Himself in your place and now He bears the marks of the nails and spear as the signs of His love for you. We hear the next four verses:
And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” (ESV)
When Jesus took the scroll from the right hand of His Father in heaven, this showed the Father’s acceptance of His sacrifice. Jesus’ work to save sinners was complete. Through His suffering and death, the wages of your sin was paid in full. God’s righteous anger was satisfied. Then the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders bowed down before the Lamb and sang “a new song.” They sang of the Lamb’s worthiness, His sacrifice, and the shedding of His precious blood. “[B]y your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.”
Jesus shed His blood for everyone. He shows no partiality. You and I are not saved because we are any better than others. We are saved totally by the grace of God. Jesus’ death won our forgiveness, and that forgiveness is imparted to us again and again through the preaching of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments.
Jesus wants you to know that you are at peace with God because of His sacrifice. He wants you to find comfort in His wounds which were opened up for you. And He wants you to know that you are a royal priest before God. You may be despised and scorned by the world, but your prayers and thanksgiving are welcome at the throne of heaven. There Jesus stands on your behalf, His wounds perpetually reminding the Father of your redemption and salvation. Thanks be to God! Amen.
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(picture from “The Hymn of Adoration to the Lamb” by Albrecht Durer, 1498)
Maundy Thursday – Pr. Faugstad homily
Text: 1 Corinthians 11:23-32
In Christ Jesus, who freely gives Himself to us as food and drink, dear fellow redeemed:
We know the account of the institution of the Lord’s Supper very well. In fact we review its details every time we partake of the Sacrament: “Our Lord Jesus Christ, the same night in which He was betrayed, took bread” and so on. But it is easy to forget about the context of this Supper. Jesus instituted this Holy Meal while He and His disciples enjoyed another holy meal: the Passover. It was no accident that these two meals should be joined together.
The Passover meal was a reminder of the LORD’s deliverance of His people from slavery in Egypt. At that first Passover, each household slaughtered a blemish-free male lamb, consumed its flesh roasted over the fire, and painted its blood on the doorposts of the house. When the Angel of the LORD saw the blood of the lamb, He passed over that house, and everyone inside was saved from death.
God told His people to celebrate this Passover deliverance annually, so they would remember what He had done for them. This is why Jesus now reclined with His disciples in the upper room enjoying the Passover meal of lamb, unleavened bread, and wine. It was a meal for looking back, for thanking the LORD for His mercy upon His people. The disciples could not have guessed that Jesus was about to institute something new out of the Passover meal, something for the present and for the future.
He took some unleavened bread, gave thanks, broke it, and gave it to the disciples saying, “Take, eat; this is My body, which is given for you.” How unexpected! How strange! Jesus told them to eat His body, and He said it is given in the bread! Then Jesus took the cup of wine, gave thanks, and gave it to them saying, “Drink of it all of you; this cup is the New Testament in My blood, which is shed for you and for many for the remission of sins.” His blood in the cup! How can this be? As hard as it was to understand, Jesus’ words were clear. He was instituting a special Supper in which His body was the food and His blood was the drink.
But there are many who do not believe these words of Jesus. They do not believe He gives His own body and blood in the Supper for us to consume. And until they are led by the Holy Spirit to believe His Word, this Supper is not for them. St. Paul writes by inspiration that whoever “eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord…. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.”
This would be something like an Israelite at the first Passover saying that he is glad to eat the roasted lamb, but he isn’t about to paint his doorposts with blood. Death would have come to that house because the person did not believe God’s Word. In the same way, Paul writes that those who deny what Jesus says He gives in His Supper sin against Him, and they eat and drink judgment on themselves.
So how can we be certain that we will receive His Supper properly? First of all, we take Jesus at His Word. This is a matter of faith. We can’t see any change take place when the Words of Jesus are spoken over the bread and wine. There is no scientific proof that His body and blood are present. But Jesus says they are, and He does not lie.
Second, we eat and drink His body and blood “in remembrance of” Him. This means to remember all that Jesus did to save us, how He perfectly kept the Law for us, how He died in payment of all our sins, and how He rose again on the third day. We don’t go to the Lord’s Supper thinking of all the good things we have done for God or for others. We go with humble hearts, trusting in Jesus alone as our Savior.
This brings us to the third part of our preparation to receive the Supper. Paul writes that a person must “examine himself” before this eating and drinking. The Lord’s Supper is no ordinary meal. Jesus is present, and He knows our hearts. We come repenting of the sins He already knows about, and we ask Him to strengthen us and help us to change our sinful ways and do better. When we prepare for the Lord’s Supper in this way—trusting what Jesus says, remembering what He did to save us, and repenting of our sins—we can be sure we will receive His body and blood with blessing.
The Passover was a meal for looking back, and there was no spiritual benefit gained from eating the lamb and unleavened bread and drinking the wine. But now in the Lord’s Supper, we eat Jesus’ body with the bread and drink His blood with the wine “for the remission of sins.” The first Passover saved the Israelites from slavery to the Egyptians and from temporal death. The Lord’s Supper saves us from even more—our slavery to sin and eternal death.
Jesus instituted the new Supper of His body and blood at the Passover meal to show that He is the fulfillment of the Passover. The Passover lamb pointed to Him. His holy body given in His Supper is nourishment and strength for our journey, and His holy blood cleanses us from all our sins (1Jo. 1:7). Jesus is the Lamb of God, who gladly gives His body and blood for our eternal good. Thanks be to God! Amen.
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(painting of the Last Supper by Simon Ushakov, 1685)
Palm Sunday – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: Philippians 2:5-11
In Christ Jesus, whose name must be glorified on earth as it is in heaven, dear fellow redeemed:
When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, His disciples were glad to be associated with Him. The crowds spread their cloaks and palm branches on the road and sang the praises of their king. They welcomed Him in this way because of the miracles He had performed, most recently raising Lazarus from the dead. “Blessed is… the King of Israel!” they shouted (Joh. 12:13). “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (Luk. 19:38). “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Mat. 21:9).
The people of the crowd believed He was the promised Messiah who would deliver them from their enemies. The Jewish religious leaders who hated Jesus threw up their hands and said, “Look, the world has gone after him!” (Joh. 12:19). Even some Greeks approached one of the disciples and said, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus” (v. 21). Jesus had quite a following! The twelve disciples were glad to go along for the ride. Jesus was a “somebody,” somebody people paid attention to and wanted to know.
It’s amazing how quickly things can change. A person can go from a hero one minute to a villain the next, from rich and famous to poor and forgotten, from influential to ignored, from boom to bust. We have seen this happen to celebrities, politicians, businessmen, religious leaders, and plenty of others.
Jesus’ popularity took a major hit also. The week that started with crowds singing His praises and offering their cloaks for His donkey to walk on, ended with crowds calling for His crucifixion and soldiers dividing up His clothing. Such a change in fortune usually indicates that a major transgression was committed or that a clear boundary was overstepped. This was not the case with Jesus. He did nothing different than He had always done. He spoke the truth. He urged the people to “Trust in the LORD with all [their] heart, and… not lean on [their] own understanding” (Pro. 3:5).
He taught them to put away their self-righteousness and pride and to live a life of humble faith and service. That does not come naturally to us. By our inherited sinful nature, we care the most about pursuing our own passions and plans and receiving praise for our achievements. We can hardly “make a name for ourselves” by sacrificing our own desires for the benefit of others. It comes naturally to want to be loved, rather than to look for ways to show love.
This is why Jesus was opposed. He preached a message that was contrary to human thinking. He preached hope to the “bad” people, the cast-offs, who believed His promises. And He condemned the “good” people, the self-righteous, who were not as holy as they thought. He was no slick politician. He did not guard His words in certain company or say what each particular audience wanted to hear. He told them what they needed to hear.
That had consequences, but they were not unexpected consequences. Jesus knew what was coming. He knew what His clear teaching and His life of humble service would gain for Him. He did not live and work for the approval of the world. He cared about saving it. In today’s inspired text, St. Paul wrote that Christ Jesus “made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
On Maundy Thursday, Jesus had knelt down and washed His disciples’ feet. He had also given them a new Meal, the Supper of His own body and blood to eat and drink for the remission of their sins. And how did they show their gratitude for such love? As He walked with them to the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus told them, “You will all fall away because of me this night” (Mat. 26:31). Peter replied with so much confidence, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away…. Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” (vv. 33, 35). The other disciples said the same thing.
But a short time later facing a well-armed crowd, “all the disciples left [Jesus] and fled” (v. 56). For the next few days, the name “Jesus” was one that no one wanted to be associated with. Boastful Peter denied three times that he knew Him. The disciples all went into hiding except for John. They felt so proud to be connected to Jesus on Sunday when things were going well, but now they crouched in the darkness, ashamed.
We can hardly blame the disciples. I don’t expect we would have done any better. Each of us in our own lives has been ready to give up Jesus for less. The disciples hid when their Teacher was arrested, brutally beaten, and crucified. We have left Jesus not because our lives were threatened, but because we did not want to be made fun of, we did not want to be left out, we did not want to deny our sinful desires, we did not want to take a stand against error.
In these ways, we have dishonored the Lord’s holy name. His name is hallowed “when His Word is taught in its truth and purity, and we as the children of God live holy lives according to it” (First Petition of the Lord’s Prayer). When we do not teach rightly or live purely, we dishonor His name.
God wants His name to be honored because His name includes everything about Him, who He is and what He does. God told Moses to call Him, “I Am,” or “Yahweh” in Hebrew (Exo. 3:14). That is God’s personal name, a name to honor in every way. When Jesus came to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the people recognized that He came from Yahweh: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of Yahweh!”
He came on behalf of His Father, with His blessing, to do His work. The work He had given His Son to do was to become the Servant of all, to take their sins upon Himself, to suffer in their place, and to endure the anguish of their eternal death. That is how Jesus glorified the Father’s name. And that is how He redeemed the whole world from its sin.
He suffered for all the ways the Lord’s name has been abused by false teaching and sinful living. He suffered for your hesitation to confess His name, for your choosing the world over Him, for your sinful stubbornness, selfishness, and pride. His name was trampled and cursed, so you would have a clean conscience and a good reputation before God. He was condemned as a guilty sinner, so you would be regarded as an innocent saint.
Jesus humbly did all these things in obedience to His Father and in perfect love for you. Because of His holy work, Paul writes that “God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name.” The name of Jesus which seemed destined to be forgotten on Good Friday has been preached throughout the world generation after generation since then. His name is The Name That Is Above Every Name.
The most important people of a year, a decade, or a century are eventually forgotten. The names of very few people are remembered fifty or a hundred years after their death. But the name of Jesus endures because of what He did for you and me and all sinners. In fact, His name describes His work for us. The name Jesus means “Yahweh is salvation”—“The LORD saves.” No greater thing has ever been done or ever will be done for the world. God became a man to save us.
After Jesus ascended into heaven and the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples at Pentecost, they now boldly proclaimed the name of Jesus. Peter who had denied knowing Jesus the night of His death, now stood before the very religious leaders who had sentenced Jesus to die. He said to them, “This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Act. 4:11-12).
Only Jesus can give forgiveness, life, and salvation. And He has given and still gives these things to you. He is glad to have His name associated with you. You are called a “Christian”—a “Christ-ian”—a follower of Christ. God put His name on you and claimed you as His own when you were baptized “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Mat. 28:19).
Being joined to His name by faith is to be joined to all the good things He is and does. By faith in your Savior, you share in His holiness, His honor, and His glory. You don’t have to “make a name for yourself,” because you have a far better identity in Jesus. There is no name above His. And even though His name continues to be disrespected and despised in the world today, this does not change what He accomplished for sinners. He won the victory over sin, death, and the devil, and He reigns victorious even now at the right hand of the Father.
His name is not honored in the world like it should be, but on the last day all creatures will glorify the name of our Lord. Paul writes that “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Unbelievers will acknowledge Him then, though they will not rejoice at His coming because they will be condemned. But the whole company of believers will joyfully welcome Him just like that Palm Sunday crowd. And we will cry out with one voice, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”
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 “The Procession in the Streets of Jerusalem” by James Tissot, 1836-1902)
Midweek Lent – Pr. Faugstad homily
Text: St. John 1:29-34
In Christ Jesus, who came to offer Himself in your place, so you would be right with God, dear fellow redeemed:
We know the passage so well, that it doesn’t seem strange to us: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” But I wonder what we would have thought if we heard John the Baptizer say this in person. We might have wondered, “Why did John just call that man a lamb?” There are so many titles for Jesus that would seem to identify Him more clearly: “Behold, the Messiah/the Promised Prophet/the Son of David and of God/the Savior!” But John said, “Behold, the Lamb!”
Of course the context of the Jews at that time was different than ours. Lambs were a much bigger part of their culture than it is for us. At that time, lambs were sacrificed daily in the temple. Their blood was shed as an offering for sin. John wanted the people gathered there to make this connection. He wanted them to know that the Sacrifice for the world’s sins was finally here. The Old Testament promises had met their fulfillment.
We have reviewed some of these prophesies and pictures of Jesus over the last few weeks. We heard about the shepherd Abel who faithfully offered sacrifices to God before this innocent man was killed by his brother. We heard about Abraham who was prepared to sacrifice his only son at God’s command before the LORD stopped him and provided another lamb. We heard about the Passover when a spotless lamb was killed and its blood painted on the doorposts to save the Israelites from slavery and death. We heard about the offering of lambs at morning and at evening in the tabernacle on behalf of the people. And last week we heard the stunning prophecy of Isaiah describing the suffering and death of Him who bore our sins and was slaughtered for us.
These examples and many others pointed forward to the coming of the Christ and His work to save sinners. John looked to Jesus and said, “There He is! That is the Lamb! He is the One who takes away the world’s sin!” This “taking” or “carrying” away brings to mind God’s instructions for Israel on the annual Day of Atonement. The high priest was to select two goats. One was used for a sin offering. The other was brought to the priest who laid both his hands on its head and confessed all the transgressions of the people over it. Then the goat was sent into the wilderness to a remote area never to be retrieved (Lev. 16:20-22).
John was pointing to Jesus as the “scapegoat” for sin, as the one who would have the sins of the world placed on Him and would suffer for them all by Himself. It was at His Baptism that Jesus was officially anointed for this work. John testified that when Jesus was baptized, he saw “the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove” and rest on Him.
The prophet Isaiah had spoken about this many years before. He said that “the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD” (Isa. 11:2). Jesus was anointed by the Spirit to carry out His Father’s will. Isaiah described the peaceful scene that would result from His righteous and faithful work: “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them” (v. 6).
But Jesus’ coming seemed to produce anything but peace. Though He healed and helped people and proclaimed the Gospel to them, many rejected Him and opposed Him. Eventually the Jewish religious leaders got what they wanted and were able to arrest Him. They convicted Him in a sham trial, struck Him, spit on Him, and turned Him over to the Roman authorities. They did this because they wanted Him dead, and they wanted Him to die painfully.
What they did not realize is that it was God’s will for His Son to die. Isaiah had written about this: “Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief” (53:10). At the same time that the religious leaders worked to destroy Jesus out of bitter hatred and envy, He was working to save them out of His boundless mercy and love. When He went to the cross, He carried even the sins of those who sent Him to His death. His hands and feet freshly nailed to the cross, He prayed for them: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luk. 23:34).
This is what He came to accomplish. He came to forgive, to make peace between God and man. He said Himself that “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (Joh. 3:17). That is why John called Him “the Lamb”—God’s Lamb. The Son of God incarnate was the Father’s answer for sin. He was the only Sacrifice that could satisfy the justice of a holy God.
The death of this Lamb means your wrongs are fully atoned for. His blood cleanses you, purifies you. It sets you free from your bondage to sin and death. But you and I have done terrible things! How can we be certain that even those things are forgiven? Well what did John say? “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”
Jesus did not come to take away only the sin of the most faithful and the best-behaved. He came to take away all sin, “the sin of the world.” So if you are in the world, then Jesus has taken away your sin. Like the scapegoat on the Day of Atonement, each of your sins was placed on Jesus, and He took them far away never to bring them back against you.
Because your sins were placed on Him, they are not on you anymore. The Psalm states it beautifully: “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us” (103:11-12). This is what Jesus accomplished for you. Behold, the Lamb! He forgives all your sin. Amen.
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(picture is portion of 1895 painting by José Ferraz de Almeida Júnior)
The Fifth Sunday in Lent – Pr. Faugstad sermon
In Christ Jesus, who offered Himself as a sacrifice for the sins of the whole world, and who still intercedes for us before His Father in heaven, dear fellow redeemed:
You have probably talked with people who pin their troubles and failures in life on one thing. They just can’t get past that one thing or let it go. Maybe it is regret that they turned right instead of left when the road ahead branched in two directions. Maybe they are filled with bitterness toward someone who wronged them many years ago. Maybe they think that if they had just stayed with that special individual or pursued that job opportunity, their life would have been much happier and more prosperous.
I suppose the same thoughts have crossed our minds. We think how it would be now if we could just go back and change one thing. The movie It’s a Wonderful Life plays off that idea. The main character gets the chance to see how things would have been different if he had followed his original plan and not stayed in his hometown. He realizes in the end that he didn’t have it so bad after all. But we don’t have that benefit. We can’t see how our lives would be without those decisions and experiences. So it is easy to dwell on the past, to live with regret, to carry the burdens of bad choices and sinful actions. What we wouldn’t give for a clear conscience!
Well, what would you give? What would you give if you could wipe away the bad memories and the bad decisions? If the stain on your past is bad enough, maybe you would give anything to remove it. You would go broke if it would undo the wrong. You might even endure intense physical pain if it could deliver you a clear conscience.
You don’t know what a blessing a clear conscience is until your conscience is troubled. It’s like how we are currently wishing we could go about our normal business with no threat of a fast-spreading virus. We wish we could visit family members and friends. We wish we could go back to church! The things we easily took for granted before are much more valuable to us now. That’s how it is with the conscience. You don’t think much about it until it accuses you, weighs down on you like a heavy burden.
But that doesn’t make the conscience bad. It is very important to have a functioning conscience. In fact, our eternal fate depends on it. The conscience functions properly as long as it is guided by God’s law. So when a person feels guilt for doing harm to his neighbor through actions or words, his conscience is working properly. The conscience is doing what God intends when any breaking of the Commandments in our thoughts, words, or deeds registers in our mind and heart. We want our conscience to do this, but it is hardly pleasant.
In Psalms 31 and 32, David described the heavy burden of a guilty conscience: “Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am in distress; my eye is wasted from grief; my soul and my body also. For my life is spent with sorrow, and my years with sighing; my strength fails because of my iniquity, and my bones waste away” (31:9-10). “For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer” (32:3-4). It is no fun to have a guilty conscience. The pressure it applies is intense. But the conscience can be unburdened. And you and I can move beyond the regrets of the past.
The author of the Book of Hebrews explains how. He describes the Old Testament sacrifices which were offered by a priest on behalf of the people. At God’s command, the priest purified all things—including himself—with animal blood, with the blood of goats and lambs and calves and bulls. But no amount of sacrifices could cleanse the people from all their sin. How could the offering of earthly things for sin prevail before the God of heaven?
This is why God sent a Lamb from heaven to earth. He sent His eternally-begotten Son, true God with Him and the Holy Spirit. He sent Him to be at the same time a perfect High Priest and a perfect Sacrifice. As High Priest, Jesus “entered… into the holy places.” The temple with the Holy Place and Most Holy Place was still standing at that time, but Jesus did not enter those places. He entered the holy places of heaven “by means of his own blood.”
Jesus was a Lamb “without blemish.” He had perfectly followed His Father’s will. He had nothing to be ashamed of, no past transgressions that caused Him regret. Even while He was wrongly accused, beaten, and sent to the cross, He maintained a pure conscience. He let these unjust things happen to Him out of love for us. The cross was the altar on which He was sacrificed for our sin. That is where the holy Lamb of God was pierced and blood flowed from His wounds.
The author of Hebrews tells us that by His death, Jesus redeemed us from our transgressions committed under God’s law. His death means that all our sins which bother our conscience and make us feel guilty—even wrongs committed long ago—are completely atoned for. His blood has made full satisfaction for all our sins.
But hearing those words may not immediately unburden your conscience, especially if you have been carrying a load of guilt for a long time. You know that God does not look at those sins anymore, but you do. You can’t clear out the memory of the wrong, the hurt that was caused, the damage that was done. Can you ever hope to have a clear conscience again?
Let’s go back to today’s text. It says that God’s Son took on flesh, so that He could offer Himself in our place. It says that “by means of His own blood,” He secured “an eternal redemption.” With His saving work complete, He returned to “the holy places” of heaven. There He sits at the right hand of His Father as “the mediator of a new covenant.”
A mediator is a go-between, an arbitrator. This person equally represents two sides which are divided. Our sin separated us from God, but Jesus our Mediator brought us back together. He is the perfect Mediator because He is both God and Man. As the inspired letter to Timothy states: “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time” (1Ti. 2:5-6).
Jesus continues to function as our Mediator even now. When we sin, He points His Father to the blood He shed on our behalf. “I poured out My blood for that sin, and that sin, and that sin,” He says. “My blood cleanses them from all sin” (1Jo. 1:7). That includes the sins of your past, the ones you still feel guilty about, the ones you would give anything to undo.
There is nothing you can do to make up for those sins. So many people try. They try to bury sin deep. But it always seems to find its way back to the surface. They try to cancel out the bad by doing good. But there is no winning that game, and they know it. Some even hurt themselves or withdraw from others in the hope that by punishing themselves, they can right a wrong. But none of those things work. They all fail.
There is only one path to a clear conscience, and that is Christ. He took your place. He claimed your sin as His own. He offered Himself as the target for your iniquities and misdeeds. He let His Father pour out His righteous wrath against Him. He paid in anguish, suffering, and death for every sin that you and I and the whole world have done.
He shed His blood on the cross to “purify our conscience.” When He died, we are told that “the curtain of the temple was torn in two” (Mat. 27:51, Mar. 15:38, Luk. 23:45). This was the curtain separating the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place. The tearing of this curtain showed that all people now had access to God’s throne of grace through Jesus’ blood. This includes you. You have access to God’s never-changing grace by faith in Jesus. He purifies your conscience from “dead works,” from all those attempts to make things right on your own. Only He can grant forgiveness and peace, and that is what He wants you to have.
Your Baptism is a clear testimony of this. Your Baptism was “an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1Pe. 3:21). Baptism delivered you a cleansed and purified conscience because it joined you to Jesus, whose righteousness is perfect (Heb. 10:22). And in the Lord’s Supper, He continues to bring cleansing for the sins you have committed and repented of, by giving you His body and blood to eat and drink.
So What Would You Give for a Clear Conscience? You don’t need to give anything. Jesus gave Himself for you. His holy blood cleanses you—including your troubled conscience—from all sin. In Jesus, and only in Him, you have a bright future. The road behind you may be covered in darkness and regrets and what-ifs. But the road ahead is illuminated by the light of God’s Word. Jesus leads you forward on this path toward your life’s end. Then He will take you into heaven. There you will not remember your record of sin, and you will live with a pure heart and a clear conscience for all eternity.
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 is from the altarpiece in Weimar by Lucas Cranach the Younger, 1555)
Midweek Lent – Pr. Faugstad homily
Text: Isaiah 53:4-7
In Christ Jesus, the spotless, the lowly, the innocent, dear fellow redeemed:
Why did Jesus have to suffer? And what was that suffering like? We wouldn’t expect to find the answer to these questions in one of the Old Testament books. But that is what we have in Isaiah chapter 53. Isaiah’s prophecy was written more than 700 years before the events they describe. He clearly gives the reasons for and the details of Jesus’ suffering. He does this by means of a picture.
He speaks about a flock of sheep which gave its shepherd all sorts of fits! Maybe one sheep stayed away when the shepherd called. Another disregarded the pleading of its mother or father. Another put its life in danger through recklessness or wandering. Another cared only about satisfying its sexual urges. Another loved to eat the neighbor’s produce. Another was always blaming others for his wrongs. Every lamb in the flock went its own way, thought about its own plans, followed its own selfish instinct.
All except for one. One lamb stayed right by the shepherd’s side. He was perfectly attuned to the shepherd’s will and word. And the shepherd loved this lamb. The other sheep did not care about the shepherd unless they were in trouble. Then they would bleat and cry out and wonder what was taking him so long. In those times, they wished for a better shepherd, one who would give them everything they wanted exactly when they wanted it.
But that one loyal lamb did not join them when they did those things. They despised him for this. “He thinks he’s so special,” they thought. “Shepherd’s little pet!” “Why doesn’t he lighten up? Have some fun?” And truth be told, they wished that harm would come to him. If only he could be gotten away from the shepherd….
Then one day, they decided to do whatever mischief they could at the neighbor’s farm. They destroyed his crops, polluted his well, chewed on some wires and burned down his barn. Everything was ruined by those wicked sheep. What payment could the shepherd give? What could make up for all the good things that were destroyed? What should be done with those sheep?
The shepherd looked to the lamb at his side and said, “You are my most precious possession. I can offer no richer payment than you, and nothing less will suffice. I must give your life for theirs.” But that wouldn’t be right! Why should the good lamb suffer for the straying sheep? Those sheep are the ones who should pay! Except what would they give? They had no good to give. It had to be the lamb.
The hymnwriter Paul Gerhardt took up this theme in a hymn we have been singing this Lent. The first verse takes us right to the moment that the good lamb is sent for punishment.
A Lamb goes uncomplaining forth,
The guilt of all men bearing;
And laden with the sins of earth,
None else the burden sharing!
Goes patient on, grows weak and faint,
To slaughter led without complaint,
That spotless life to offer;
Bears shame and stripes, and wounds and death,
Anguish and mockery, and saith,
“Willing all this I suffer.”
But why would He be willing to suffer for “the sins of earth”? What would cause Him to do this? The hymn continues:
This Lamb is Christ, the soul’s great Friend,
The Lamb of God, our Savior;
Him God the Father chose to send
To gain for us His favor.
“Go forth, My Son,” the Father saith,
“And free men from the fear of death,
From guilt and condemnation.
The wrath and stripes are hard to bear,
But by Thy Passion men shall share
The fruit of Thy salvation.”
“Yea, Father, yea, most willingly
I’ll bear what Thou commandest;
My will conforms to Thy decree,
I do what Thou demandest.”
O wondrous Love, what hast Thou done!
The Father offers up His Son;
The Son, content, descendeth!
O Love, how strong Thou art to save!
Thou layest Him within the grave
Whose might the boulders rendeth.
(Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary #331, vv. 1-3)
This is what Jesus did for you. He gave Himself over to suffering and death, so you would not be punished for the wayward and wicked things you have done. He offered Himself in your place, as your Substitute. He went to the cross bearing your griefs and carrying your sorrows. He went there to be wounded for your transgressions, to be crushed for your iniquities. He was chastised so you would have peace, flogged so you would be healed.
Every instance of your disobedience toward God, every time that you went your own way instead of His—all those iniquities were placed on the Lamb of God. God the Father laid your sins on His only Son, His beloved Son, with whom He was well pleased (Mat. 3:17, 17:5). And Jesus took it all willingly. He obeyed the will of His Father. He freely let Himself be sent to slaughter bearing the sins of the world. He did not defend Himself. He did not try to run away.
The apostle Peter describes His unthinkable sacrifice: “He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1Pe. 2:22-23). What caused Jesus to do all this? What did He expect to accomplish? Peter continues: “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (vv. 24-25).
Jesus gave Himself for you, so you would be reunited and reconciled with God. He let Himself be slaughtered and roasted in the fires of hell, so you would not be. The LORD is not angry with you for the sins that you and all the rest of us wicked sheep have done. He forgives you and me all our sins, every single one.
So what shall we do? Run back to the sins that have done so much damage to ourselves and others? No. We pray for God’s grace to serve Him more and better until the end of our days:
Lord, all my life I’ll cling to Thee,
Thy love fore’er beholding,
Thee ever, as Thou ever me,
With loving arms enfolding.
Yea, Thou shalt be my precious Light
To guide me safe through death’s dark night,
My heart in sorrow cheering;
Henceforth myself and all I have
To Thee, my Savior, e’er I’ll give,
Into Thy cause all pouring. (v. 5) Amen.
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(picture from “Flagellation of Christ” by Peter Paul Rubens, 1577-1640)
The Fourth Sunday in Lent – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: Galatians 4:21-5:1
In Christ Jesus, who took upon Himself the yoke of sin and entered the dungeon of death, so that we would be ransomed and freed, dear fellow redeemed:
You and I are Americans. We were born here. We are citizens, so we have all the rights and privileges as outlined in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. We wouldn’t like it if someone came along and tried to say we weren’t actually Americans. “You don’t understand what it means to be an American,” you’re told. “You don’t appreciate American freedoms. You may have been born here, but you are not from here.” We probably wouldn’t have to think too hard about a response. We know what we are.
But what if it were true? What if we thought we were “good Americans,” but everything we stood for contradicted the founding principles of our country? Something like this happened when Jesus told the Jews they were not descendants of Abraham. “What!?” they said, “Of course we are descendants of Abraham! We can trace our family line all the way back to Abraham and his son Isaac and his son Jacob!” Jesus replied, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did” (Joh. 8:39-40).
The Jews to whom Jesus spoke may have been blood relatives of Abraham, but they were not his spiritual heirs. They thought they were children of promise in good standing with God. Jesus called them “slaves”—slaves to sin. “Whoever is of God hears the words of God,” He said. “The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God” (8:47). The Jews were so offended at Jesus’ criticisms and His claim to be God that “they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself” (v. 59). It wasn’t His time to die yet, though that time would come.
In his letter to the churches of Galatia, the apostle Paul by inspiration of the Holy Spirit took up the same topic of Abraham and his descendants. Paul had traveled through the area of Galatia on his first and second missionary journeys. Christian congregations had been established along the way. But after Paul left, other preachers came. They did not teach the same doctrine as Paul. Presenting themselves as Christians, they urged the Galatian congregations to diligently keep the Old Testament laws. This included the laws regarding Jewish festivals and the law of circumcision.
But the Old Testament regulations were in place to point to Christ. Once He had accomplished His work, the Old Testament ceremonial and civil laws were no longer required (Col. 2:16-17). Jesus perfectly fulfilled them for all (Mat. 5:17-18). Hearing that the Galatian Christians were being swayed by these false teachers, Paul sent his letter. He asked the congregation members whether they received “the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith” (Gal. 3:2). He wrote that Abraham received the Spirit by faith, so “it is those of the faith who are the sons of Abraham” (v. 7).
Further on in the letter, Paul illustrated this teaching by the example of Abraham’s two sons. One was born from Sarah’s maidservant Hagar whom Sarah gave to Abraham in the hopes of obtaining a child (Gen. 16:2). Abraham and Hagar conceived a son named Ishmael. But Ishmael was not the child of promise. God kept His Word to Abraham and Sarah that they would have a son of their own. They named their son Isaac. Isaac was the child of promise. “[A]ll the nations of the earth [would] be blessed” (Gen. 22:18) through him, because the Messiah would come from him.
The practicing Jews in Paul’s day would have absolutely called themselves the spiritual descendants of Isaac. But Paul disagreed. Paul called the Jews who rejected the Gospel the spiritual children of Hagar’s son Ishmael. “[Hagar] corresponds to the present Jerusalem,” he wrote, “for she is in slavery with her children.” And what was it that the Jews were enslaved to? They were enslaved to the law. They adhered to a religion of works. They rejected Jesus as their Holiness, their Substitute, and their Savior, and they trusted in their own righteousness. Therefore they remained in slavery to sin.
But the spiritual descendants of Isaac are those who believe the promise. They believe that God the Father sent His only Son to be born of Mary who could trace her lineage back to Abraham and Isaac. They believe that her Son Jesus kept the law perfectly in their place, so the law could no longer condemn them. They believe that His sacrifice on the cross ransomed them from the power of sin, devil, and death. These, wrote Paul, are “children of promise,” children of freedom.
So which category describes you? There are some who believe that the freedom which Jesus obtained for them allows them to do whatever they want. They are kind of like those who behave badly and say whatever wicked and unkind thing they want because “it’s a free country.” Our freedom as Christians can be misused just like our freedom as citizens can. Jesus’ death for the forgiveness of our sins should not make us comfortable with sin. Since our sin caused the death of our perfect Lord, we should want to avoid sin at all cost. We are free from the condemnation of the law, but the Ten Commandments are still in place for our good and for the good of our neighbors.
Let’s dig deeper into what it means to be free in Christ. Freedom in Christ means I do not have to wear a certain kind of clothing, eat or avoid certain foods, or work a certain job. I am free to go to the grocery store and buy whatever I want. I am even free to buy more than I need in the case that I might need it in the future. However I am not free to disregard the needs of my neighbor. Unfortunately we see this happening now when people hoard essential goods in quantities far higher than they need or for the purpose of reselling the products at a higher price. This selfishness and greed leaves their neighbors without and uncertain what to do. That is not the way of Christ.
At the same time, it is easy to think well of ourselves when we do not do those things. We care about our neighbors. We want to help them. We are generous. From these thoughts, it is only a small step to self-righteousness. Self-righteousness is comparing ourselves with others and imagining that we come out ahead. It is the opinion that we have done a fair job of keeping God’s law. This is how the Jewish preachers were who wanted to pull the Galatian Christians from the doctrine they had been taught by Paul. They urged the Galatians to seek comfort and peace in what they did for God and not in what He had done for them.
Like the Galatians, we have fallen for this temptation many times. We love to compare ourselves with others and pass judgment on them: “Well I wouldn’t have done that!” “How could he be so stupid!” “We would be so much better off without them!” Or, “They would be so much better off if they were like us!” This kind of self-righteous behavior comes even easier to us at this time of tremendous stress in our country. We want to find people to blame for this disruption in our lives. It could be carriers of the virus from other countries, our national and local government officials, health care workers who do not support us the way we expect, or any number of other targets.
But if all we want to do is hold other people’s feet to the fire, then we should start holding our own feet to the fire. If we want to level the law at others, we should level it at ourselves. The fact is none of us by ourselves is better or more righteous than another. Paul wrote in another letter quoting a Psalm that “all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written: ‘None is righteous, no, not one’” (Rom. 3:9-10). By nature we are all slaves to sin.
But “Christ has set us free” from this slavery. He kept the requirements of the law perfectly in our place. As soon as we came to faith by the power of the Holy Spirit, His righteousness became our righteousness. That means we have no need to compare our life with the lives of others. We have nothing to do to get ourselves into heaven. Jesus fulfilled the law for us, and He fully paid the price for our sins. His atoning death in our place means the devil can do nothing more than blow hot air. His accusations cannot stick anymore, because Jesus won salvation for us.
We are now “heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:17). We are children of promise, and The Children of Promise Are Free. We are free to love God and our neighbors, not in an attempt to get ourselves out of trouble or to prove our worth, but because Jesus set us free to love freely just as He loves us. We are members of “the Jerusalem above,” the holy Christian Church.
Our membership in Christ’s Church by faith subjects us to persecution from those who remain enslaved to sin. But we are not about to return to that slavery. We “stand firm” in the glorious freedom we have in Christ. In Him, our sins are not counted against us anymore. Through Him, our salvation is certain when our life in this world ends. And with Him, we will enjoy the perfect bliss of heaven forever.
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 is from “The Dismissal of Hagar” by Pieter Pietersz Lastman, 1583–1633)
Midweek Lent – Pr. Faugstad homily
Text: Exodus 29:38-46
In Christ Jesus, who “loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Eph. 5:2), dear fellow redeemed:
Besides the annual Passover celebration that God commanded His people to observe, He also instituted the practice of daily sacrifices in the tabernacle. This happened after the Israelites had been led out of slavery in Egypt and set up camp near Mt. Sinai. God gave Moses instructions for building a portable tabernacle where He would be present to bless the people. He also called Moses’ brother Aaron to serve as a priest along with his sons.
The first part of Exodus chapter 29 describes the consecration of these priests. It was not just a matter of Moses asking them to repeat certain words after him followed by a handshake. The consecration process was quite elaborate. Aaron and his sons had to be washed with water and clothed in clean vestments. Then a bull was brought, they laid their hands on its head, and it was slaughtered for a sin offering. Next they laid their hands on the head of a ram. It was slaughtered, its blood was thrown against the sides of the altar, and the parts of the ram were placed on the altar for a burnt offering.
Then they laid their hands on the head of another ram, which was also slaughtered. Its blood was put “on the tip of the right ear of Aaron and on the tips of the right ears of his sons, and on the thumbs of their right hands and on the great toes of their right feet” (v. 20). This blood covered them from head to toe, so that they were ready to hear the Word of God (ear), handle the holy things of God (hands), and walk on the holy ground before God (toes). The rest of the blood was thrown on the altar and sprinkled on the garments of the priests.
There were even more requirements besides these. But this much shows the prominent place of blood in cleansing sinful men. Aaron and his sons could not come before God by their own personal preparations. They had no resources to make themselves holy. It was the LORD who set them apart for His holy work, and He used animal blood to do it. Why animal blood? He later explained through Moses that “the life of every creature is its blood: its blood is its life” (Lev. 17:14). The un-holiness of mankind required the shedding of blood. The life of one could only be redeemed through the death of another.
Once Aaron and his sons had been consecrated for the LORD’s work, they were commanded to offer two lambs as sacrifices each day. This is described in today’s text. Each lamb was a year old. One was offered in the morning and the other at twilight. Like waking up to the smell of a fresh-cooked breakfast or coming home to a dinner hot out of the oven, these sacrifices were “a pleasing aroma” to the LORD.
The word “pleasing” in Hebrew can also be translated as “soothing” or even “tranquilizing.” It is the word used to describe Noah’s burnt offering after the flood waters had receded and the ark had settled on dry ground. The LORD smelled the pleasing aroma of the sacrifice and said, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done. While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease” (Gen. 8:21-22). The offerings of a lamb in the morning and a lamb in the evening had the same effect. It was a soothing aroma to God. It was evidence that His people were humbly keeping His Word.
We are taught to practice something similar as we return to our Baptism each day by repentance and faith. In teaching about the meaning of Baptism, Martin Luther writes: “Such baptizing with water means that the old Adam in us should, by daily contrition and repentance, be drowned and die with all sins and evil lusts; and that a new man daily come forth and arise, who shall live before God in righteousness and purity forever” (Small Catechism).
One way to remind yourself of this daily return to Baptism is to confess your sins and give thanks for forgiveness as you wash your face or take a shower at the beginning of the day. The same goes for the end of the day as you put on fresh clothes and wash before bed. The hymnwriter Paul Gerhardt wrote about this practice in one of his evening hymns: “To rest my body hasteth, / Aside its garments casteth, / Types of mortality; / These I put off and ponder / How Christ shall give me yonder / A robe of glorious majesty” (Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary #569, v. 4).
The LORD is pleased with our daily practice of repenting and clinging to His promises, just as He was pleased with those twice a day sacrifices. As long as the people continued in His Word, He promised to be present in the tabernacle and to “dwell among the people of Israel” and “be their God.” He came to share His holiness with them and bless them.
This same merciful God still draws near to bless us. He does not come to only one location like the tabernacle or temple in Old Testament times. He comes to every place where His holy Word is heard or read or even meditated upon in the heart or mind. Through His Word, He applies the cleansing blood of Jesus to our whole person from head to toe—our sinful mind, heart, hands, and feet. Our un-holiness required the shedding of Jesus’ holy blood. Our lives could be redeemed only through the loss of His. He took all our sins on Himself and suffered our death, and in exchange He gives us His holiness and eternal life.
By His presence through the Word, the LORD strengthens our faith to endure through good and bad times. Like the people of Israel journeying through the wilderness, we often feel vulnerable and afraid. We wonder what the future will hold for us, especially in times like these. But God does not abandon His people. He dwells among us, protects us, and comforts us through His powerful Word. He is the LORD our God, “a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Exo. 34:6). Thanks be to Him! Amen.
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(picture is “The Sacrificial Lamb” by Josefa de Ayala, 1630-1684)
The Third Sunday in Lent – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: Ephesians 5:1-9
In Christ Jesus, who freely gives you His inheritance of eternal life, honor, and glory, dear fellow redeemed:
We are in the middle of an unprecedented health crisis that has schools, businesses, and individuals taking drastic measures to avoid the spread of a virus. On the positive side, we see great cooperation happening in our communities and country. We have a greater appreciation for the work done by medical health professionals. We are more thankful for the little things we often take for granted. On the other hand, many are filled with worry and fear. People are “panic buying” and thinking more about self than neighbor. They are irritated that the way of life they value and the things they like to do have had to change.
What god does the world look to at a time like this? There are many of them. Some look to the god of self, trusting that their own efforts and precautions will make them safe and keep them alive. Some look to the god of medicine, expecting that doctors and nurses will cure them if they get sick. Some look to the god of government at the local and national levels, waiting for the perfect plan of care and treatment that will get us out of this trouble. Others don’t know what they will do without the god of sports since competition at all levels has been suspended. Many of course also look to the God of heaven to take care of us and end this threat.
Whatever or wherever our god is, that is where we are willing to make sacrifices. If what I care most about is myself, I will be willing to sacrifice everything else around me. If it is medicine, any cost for care is worth it. If it is government, it will receive my full attention and trust. If it is sports, that will get my extra time and resources. All people make sacrifices to preserve the things they care about.
But what the world does not realize is that any sacrifice that is not made out of love for God and neighbor is a sacrifice made to the devil (1Co. 10:20). There is no neutral worship. Either we worship the true God and honor Him in what we think, say, and do, or we worship the devil and do the things he wants.
As baptized children of God, we are called to worship Him only and to offer Him the sacrifices of prayer and thanksgiving and a godly life. In today’s text the apostle Paul writes, “be imitators of God, as beloved children.” How are we to imitate God? The verse just before this says, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph. 4:32). We imitate God by humbly serving others and by being eager to forgive those who wrong us. This is how we “walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us.”
The devil wants us to do the opposite of this. He wants us to put ourselves first, to force others to serve us, to satisfy our own desires. This is what people do who engage in “sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness.” They are not driven by what God says or what is good for their neighbor. They are driven by what they want. They don’t realize that this is what the devil wants too. The more he can keep them thinking about themselves, the less they will be focused on God.
We can all think of people who have fallen for the devil’s temptations in this area. In fact I am almost certain that each of us here has an unmarried family member, friend, or neighbor who is currently living with a significant other as though they were married. This is sexual immorality. Our culture considers this an acceptable practice, but God calls it a sin.
You may not do this yourself, but what about the other things Paul mentions: “filthiness,” “foolish talk,” or “crude joking”? This includes things like pornography use or sharing pictures you wouldn’t want anyone to know about, romance novels where sexual immorality is depicted in words, repeating dirty jokes, listening to and singing along with immoral song lyrics, and gladly participating in gossip about the personal details of other people’s lives. These are all things the devil wants us to engage in. But Paul says they are “out of place” for Christians. They are means by which the devil would coax us from faith in Jesus.
One way to determine whether or not something is pleasing to God is to think in terms of the Old Testament sacrifices offered up to God from an altar. God did not accept sacrifices with imperfections and blemishes. The animals had to be healthy and clean in appearance. The grain offerings had to be from the best part of the crop. These sacrifices given gladly from the heart pleased the LORD.
So you could ask yourself: Am I willing to set these words about someone on God’s holy altar—am I speaking as honestly and kindly as I can? Am I willing to offer up these things I am doing—are they done out of love for Him and my neighbor? Am I willing to give these thoughts as a holy sacrifice to Him?
There are many things we do, say, and think with a clear conscience, things which we gladly dedicate to God’s glory. These fruits of faith are a pleasing sacrifice to Him, and we also are blessed through them. But not everything coming from our hearts and minds, our hands and mouths is acceptable to Him. These things may please the devil, the world, and our own flesh. But they do not please the LORD. They are unholy sacrifices that give off a displeasing aroma before God and among our fellow Christians.
The life of an unbeliever can only produce such displeasing sacrifices. Paul writes that they have “no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God,” and “the wrath of God” will come upon them. We are not unbelievers, but we have often sinned in many of the ways they have. How do we avoid the same fate because of our sins?
When we are troubled by the things we have done, when we regret the sinful sacrifices we have made, God calls us to repent. He urges us to expose our sins to the light. This is what Paul told the Ephesian Christians in the verses immediately after today’s text: “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light” (Eph. 5:11-14).
Through repentance, acknowledging our wrongs, we expose our sins to the light. The devil works in the darkness. He wants to keep us in the darkness too and tries to convince us that the best thing to do is to try to hide our sins, deny them, blame others for them. But we cannot hide anything from the living God, and it doesn’t do any good for us to try. After King David was convicted for his many and serious sins, he wrote of God’s mercy toward the repentant: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Psa. 51:17).
God does not despise your sacrifice of a broken spirit and contrite heart, because Jesus paid for all sin. Your unkind or crude words, your immoral actions, your foolish and impure thoughts—all of these were placed on Jesus. He was perfect in every way, free from any blemish on His record. And He willingly offered Himself up to suffer and die in your place. His sacrifice fully atoned for your sins, every single one of them. Because of this, you are clean in God’s sight.
Today’s text says that “Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” His “fragrant offering and sacrifice” overcomes the unpleasant aroma of sin. Jesus’ sacrifice, and not our sins, is what our heavenly Father sees when we look to Him in faith. The gods of this world cannot save us from our sins. They cannot promise any comfort or help in times of trouble. The devil wants people to care only about themselves and to act desperately when their way of life is threatened.
But the true God loves us. He sent His Son to redeem us, so that we would be comforted in this life and have the sure confidence of life after this one. As long as we are here, He promises that He will “guard and keep us so that the devil, the world and our own flesh may not deceive us nor lead us into misbelief, despair and other shameful sin and vice” (Explanation to the Sixth Petition). The merciful Lord is with us no matter our trouble, whether that be a widespread virus or anything else. He will either deliver us from the threat, or He will use it to bring us to Him in heaven.
For these great mercies, especially the sacrifice of His only Son for our salvation, our Lord is worthy of the best sacrifices we can make to Him. These are the sacrifices of a repentant heart, a humble faith, and a God-pleasing life.
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(portion of “Jesus in Prison” painting by James Tissot, 1836-1902)
Midweek Lent – Pr. Faugstad homily
Text: Exodus 12:1-13
In Christ Jesus, whose holy blood delivers us from our slavery to sin and saves us from eternal death, dear fellow redeemed:
Last Wednesday we heard about God’s command to Abraham to sacrifice his son of promise, Isaac. But just before Abraham did this, God provided a ram for an offering instead. All of this was a picture of what God would do through His only Son. His Son would be offered as the sacrificial Lamb in each sinner’s place. Today we have another picture of God’s plan of salvation.
The Israelites, descendants of Abraham and Isaac, had become slaves in Egypt. God sent Moses to lead them to freedom, but Pharaoh refused to listen to the LORD’s word. Nine terrible plagues followed, but Pharaoh’s heart was hardened. He would not let the Israelites go. Then God sent a tenth and final plague: all the firstborn sons of man and beast would be killed unless a home had blood on its doorposts.
Up to this time, the Egyptians had experienced water turning to blood, infestations of frogs, gnats, and flies, the death of the livestock, painful boils, destructive hail, locusts that ate whatever crops remained, and total darkness over the land for three days. And now they saw the Israelites painting their doorposts with blood. That was not a good sign for the Egyptians.
The blood on the doorposts was not just a matter of the Israelites declaring whose side they were on, like we will do by hanging the flag of a favorite team on our porch. The blood was a signal for the LORD to destroy or to save. It was the difference between death or life for the firstborn sons in that home.
Red paint or dye was not acceptable. Blood was required, the blood of a lamb. The lamb had to be “without blemish, a male a year old.” When the Israelites prepared these lambs, one per household, they were to prepare them like a shepherd might, roasted whole over a fire. They were told not to break any of its bones. The flesh of the lamb was to be eaten, and anything left over had to be burned.
The Israelites did what God commanded. They prepared the lamb exactly in this way. They painted their doorposts with its blood. And the LORD “passed over” their homes. He did not destroy any of their inhabitants. The Israelites were saved by the blood of the lamb. But death came to the Egyptians. “[T]here was a great cry in Egypt, for there was not a house where someone was not dead” (Exo. 12:30). Now Pharaoh gave the order to release the Israelites. In the same night they had been delivered both from death and from slavery!
God told the Israelites to commemorate their Passover deliverance every year with a Passover meal. They were not required to paint blood on the doorposts each time, but they did eat the meat of a blemish-free lamb roasted over the fire. This was an annual reminder of what God had done for them through a lamb, one of the gentlest and meekest animals in creation. And it was an annual picture of what God would do for them through His own Son, who came down to us in all meekness and humility.
Like each Passover lamb, Jesus was without blemish. He had no sin; He was holy. At no time did He give in to the devil’s temptations. He remained perfectly pure in His actions, words, and thoughts. We, on the other hand, are all with blemish. We have been arrogant and proud like Pharaoh and impatient and doubtful like the Israelites. We, along with all people in history, have sinned. And God is just. There must be punishment for sin. But He does not punish us as we deserve. He punished Jesus in our place.
Our salvation required that Jesus be sacrificed for us. The shedding of His blood was necessary to save us from slavery to sin and death. The apostle Peter explained that “you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (1Pe. 1:18-19). No amount of money could free you from your spiritual slavery and no amount of good things that you try to do. The ransom price for your soul and the souls of all sinners was the blood of God’s only Son. That was not just any blood; it was holy blood, the blood of God. That’s why it could blot out all your sins.
This blood of God is available to you still for the continuous washing away of your sins. Just as the Israelites continued to observe the Passover in remembrance of what God had done for them, so we continue to eat the holy Lamb’s body and drink His blood in the Supper He instituted for us. “Take, eat,” He says; “this is My body, which is given for you…. Drink of it all of you; this cup is the New Testament in My blood. This do… in remembrance of Me.”
When you eat His body and drink His blood with faith in His words, you have exactly what Jesus promises: “the remission of sins.” That means God does not count your sins against you anymore. He counted them against Christ, who paid the ransom price in full. Martin Luther wrote about this in a hymn verse that we will sing at Easter:
Here the true Paschal Lamb we see,
Whom God so freely gave us;
He died on the accursed tree—
So strong His love—to save us.
See, His blood doth mark our door;
Faith points to it, death passes o’er,
And Satan cannot harm us. (ELH 343, v. 5)
Satan cannot harm you any more than Pharaoh could harm the Israelites. He cannot keep you enslaved to sin and death, because Jesus has set you free. Jesus’ blood cleanses you of all your blemishes of sin before God, so that you might “be His own, live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness” (Explanation to the Second Article). Thanks be to God! Amen.
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(picture from “The art Bible, comprising the Old and New Testaments: with numerous illustrations,” 1896)