Good Friday – Pr. Faugstad homily
What would your life be like without Good Friday? What if you knew nothing about God the Father sending His only-begotten Son out of love for the fallen world? What if you didn’t know that Jesus willingly went to the cross for you, carrying your sins, so that He might take the punishment you deserved? What if you didn’t know you are righteous in God’s sight because of what Jesus accomplished?
Your life would be very different. You would have nothing but this life in this world. You would have no clear purpose for why you are here, no obvious motivation for putting others before yourself, and no reason to conclude that your life matters in any meaningful way. You could spend your time trying to get rich, you could maneuver for power and influence, or you could try to satisfy whatever passions you have as much as you can. But none of that holds up when death is staring you right in the face.
Many people carry on without Good Friday. Either they have not heard, or having once heard, now they do not care. God forces no one to believe. He “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1Ti. 2:4). But many are not saved. They reject the holy Word of God. They reject the salvation Jesus won for them.
Because He did win their salvation. He suffered for each and every one of their sins. He endured the horrific fires of hell in their place. He paid their debt. Good Friday wasn’t just for those who would believe in Him. It was for all people, all sinners past, present, and future.
What happened on Good Friday was a balancing of the scales of God’s justice. All the sins of the world were put on one side of the scale, and Jesus was put on the other. How heavy those sins must have been! Who can measure the evil that has been done in the world since time began? How much killing and lying and cheating and taking? How many wicked actions and words? How many evil thoughts? The sin of one human being cannot be measured, much less the collective sins of the world.
And on the other side of the scale was Jesus. He looked so insignificant and small. By the time He came to Golgotha, He could hardly walk. He was bleeding all over His body. His face was bruised and swollen. His breathing was labored. How could this one weak Man do anything about the world’s sin? Well it wasn’t just a Man on the scale. It was God—God clothed in human flesh. A mere man—even a really good one—could not move the balance against one sin. But God could.
When the God-Man stepped on one side of the scale, the other side filled with all our sins started moving. It rose higher and higher until it was clear that Jesus was more than enough. He was sufficient payment for sin. But justice required more than the weight of His person. It required His death. The Son of God had to die on the cross. This holy Lamb had to be sacrificed for all sin.
Think for a moment where God has placed you in this life. He has given you important things to do in your home, your school, your workplace, your community, your church. He has handed you important responsibilities as children, siblings, parents, co-workers, and neighbors. Now think of how you have failed in these areas. Think of the things you have done that make you feel guilty and ashamed. You are not perfect in any way. Your sin has stained every part of your life.
Your sins were there on the scale opposite Jesus. He felt God’s wrath for each of them. He suffered for those sins before God as though He had committed them. So for your hurting and lying and cheating and taking—whatever wrong you have done—, Jesus paid the penalty. He poured out His blood for you, and His blood cleanses you from all sin (1Jo. 1:7).
Jesus applies His cleansing blood in every area of your life. At a crime scene, detectives look for whatever evidence they can find to catch the criminal. But if God looked back at the “crime scene” of all your sins, the only thing He would find is blood—the holy, cleansing blood of His Son which has blotted out all of those sins. The precious blood of Jesus absolves you; it saves you.
By the grace of God, you don’t know what your life would be like without Good Friday. Through faith in Jesus, Every Day Is Good Friday for You. Because of what your Savior has done, your sins are forgiven, and eternal life in heaven is yours. Thanks be to God! Amen.
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(picture from “Cristo Crucificado” by Diego Velázquez, 1632)
Maundy Thursday – Pr. Faugstad homily
Text: 1 Corinthians 11:23-32
In Christ Jesus, whose message of grace and forgiveness is “foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1Co. 1:18), dear fellow redeemed:
Today is April Fools’ Day, a day of practical jokes, pranks, and hoaxes. It might not seem the right day to celebrate the events of Maundy Thursday. But in fact there are many who find the things that Jesus taught and did on this day to be very foolish. The same people would say it is foolish for you to take time out of your weekday to come to church and remember these things. We can see why people have questions about Maundy Thursday.
Even Jesus’ own disciples weren’t sure about His actions on that day. While they were all reclining at the table to observe the Passover celebration, Jesus got up, set aside His outer garments, tied a towel around His waist, and proceeded to wash and dry the disciples’ feet (Joh. 13:4-5). What He was doing was servants’ work, work considered far below His station. Peter protested, saying that it was foolishness for a Teacher to wash the feet of His disciples. “You shall never wash my feet!” He cried (v. 8).
Many have a similar view of the Lord’s Supper. The idea that the incarnate God comes to serve sinners by giving them His own body and blood in the bread and wine is utter foolishness to them. Why would God decide to bring forgiveness in this way? It just doesn’t stand to reason! We understand the skepticism some have about the Lord’s Supper, because we struggle with it too.
How could it be that Jesus keeps giving us His own flesh and blood? If that were true, wouldn’t His body get smaller and smaller until nothing was left? And how can we be certain that His body and blood are actually present? We could run any scientific test on the consecrated bread and wine, and we would find no skin or blood cells. Even many Christians agree that it is foolish to imagine that we actually take Jesus’ body and blood in our mouths along with the bread and wine.
However foolish it may seem, Jesus says it is true. “This is My body,” He declares. “This cup is the New Testament in My blood.” St. Paul explained it the same way to the Christian congregation in Corinth. He said that all who eat and drink at the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner are guilty “concerning the body and blood of the Lord.” They are not guilty of mishandling mere bread and wine. They are guilty of sinning against Jesus Himself, since they do not recognize what is being distributed and received.
To commune in a worthy manner means believing that Jesus speaks the truth when He calls the bread His body and the wine His blood. What He serves at the altar here is His same holy body that hung on the cross for your sins and the same precious blood that ran from His wounds. “This is given and shed for you,” He says, “for the remission of sins” (Mat. 26:28).
Since Jesus is making this Sacrament available “for the remission of sins,” it is clear it is intended only for those who know and admit that they are sinful. St. Paul writes, “Let a person examine himself, then.” We might be able to fool others by keeping our sins covered up. But we can’t fool God. He sees everything in our heart. He knows how we have broken His Commandments down to the smallest detail.
There are many who think they are prepared to come to the Lord’s Supper, but actually they are not. They might acknowledge that they have some sin, but it does not bother them in any major way. They figure they are no worse than the other people taking Communion, so why shouldn’t they take it too? This is not repentance. Measuring the extent of your sin by how you compare with others is not the standard God has set.
God’s holy Law demands perfection. We are supposed to perfectly love Him, perfectly honor His name, perfectly hear and learn His Word, and perfectly love the people around us. Because we have not done this, God the Father sent His only Son to be punished in our place. Our countless sins put Jesus on the cross.
Your sin was very clear to Him as He suffered hell in your place on the cross. But is your sin clear to you? Is there any area of your life where you have not been living the way God commands you to live? Have you told yourself that it is no big deal, because everyone else does it too? Have you found yourself going through the motions at church and at the Lord’s Table and not considering it all that important?
It is foolish to take sin lightly as well as the Lord’s own antidote for sin in His Holy Supper. We have all been this kind of foolish, but our merciful Lord has not written us off. He calls us to come again to His Table. He calls us to bring our imperfect life, our guilty conscience, and our weak faith to the altar in repentance. And He promises to fill us with His forgiveness, His comfort, His strength.
You are one of those sinners for whom Jesus instituted His Supper. All sinners are fools in their own way. But the Lord’s Supper is only for those who know they are fools, and who confess their sinful foolishness. It is not for those who reject Jesus’ Word about what He gives in His Supper. It is not for those who believe they are righteous on their own.
Remember that this is not our Supper that we are free to offer to whomever and in whatever circumstances we please. This is the Lord’s Supper. He decides who is welcome at His Table and what the conditions are for participation. He wants all to partake of this glorious Meal, but He wants none to receive it to their harm. This is why we make sure our guests know what the Lord’s Supper is all about before they join us at the Communion rail.
The unbelieving world says this is all foolishness. But the world has no solution for sin and no hope for a life after this one. By the grace of God, we believe that Jesus has paid for our sins, and that He brings us His forgiveness and life every time we eat and drink His body and blood. If this trust in His saving Word makes us foolish in the world’s eyes, then we will gladly take “the foolishness of God” over the empty thoughts of men (1Co. 1:25).
In the “foolishness” of Maundy Thursday, Jesus instituted the precious Supper of His body and blood “for you.” It is for your forgiveness, your salvation, and your life. Thanks be to God! Amen.
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(painting of the Last Supper by Simon Ushakov, 1685)
Palm Sunday – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Matthew 21:1-9
In Christ Jesus, who is our strength and our song, since He has become our salvation (Psa. 118:14), dear fellow redeemed:
The festival times of the year are when tradition seems especially important. So at Christmas, you always put up certain decorations in your home and prepare special foods. Maybe the same goes for Easter with its unique decorations, foods, and activities. At church, you expect certain readings to be read on these days, and you look forward to singing certain hymns. Christmas Eve might not seem the same without “Silent Night” or Christmas Day without “Joy to the World.” On Easter, it might be “Like the Golden Sun Ascending” or “I Know That My Redeemer Lives.”
The Jewish people had their own traditions for the major Old Testament festivals. Probably the most important festival was the Passover. This festival recounted the LORD’s deliverance of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. At that first Passover in Egypt, each Israelite household selected a lamb without any blemish, roasted its meat over the fire, and ate it being careful not to break any bones. Then they painted the lamb’s blood on the doorposts, so that the angel of God passed over that house and spared the lives of everyone inside.
The Israelites were to celebrate this deliverance every year. After the temple was built, they traveled to Jerusalem annually for the Passover Feast. We know that Jesus’ parents did this and brought Him along with them (Luk. 2:41). The Israelites were accustomed to singing certain songs at the Passover like we do at our festivals, and we know what they sang. We still have the hymnbook they used, because it is part of the Holy Scriptures. The Israelites sang from the Book of Psalms.
There were six Psalms in particular which were used for the Passover. Psalms 113-114 were sung before the Passover meal, and Psalms 115-118 were sung after the meal (called the “Passover Hallel” or the “Egyptian Hallel”). The festival would not have been the same without these Psalms, and most of the people knew them by heart.
The timing of Jesus’ triumphal entry to Jerusalem was not random. He came to the city riding on a donkey at the beginning of Passover week. He came as the city was filling up with people who were arriving for the festival. The evangelist John said it was a large crowd that greeted Jesus. They were drawn to Him by more than just curiosity. They came because they had heard that He raised Lazarus from the dead (Luk. 12:18).
You can imagine the electricity in the crowd. Here was the Man whom many of the religious leaders hated, but whose power could not be denied. No one had done miracles like He did. No one taught like He did. Could this be the Messiah? Could this be the long-awaited heir to David’s throne? Could He be the beginning of a new “exodus,” a new freedom from oppression by the Romans?
As they pressed forward to get a glimpse of Jesus and laid their cloaks and palm branches on the road in front of Him, they did something interesting. They starting singing—or at least shouting—the words of their Passover song. They chose the words from the last part of the song, from Psalm 118, which describes the coming of the Messiah. Here is some context from the Psalm for their Palm Sunday “Hosanna!” and “Blessed is He,” starting with verse 19:
19 Open to me the gates of righteousness; I will go through them, And I will praise the LORD.
20 This is the gate of the LORD, Through which the righteous shall enter.
21 I will praise You, For You have answered me, And have become my salvation.
22 The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone.
23 This was the LORD’s doing; It is marvelous in our eyes.
24 This is the day the LORD has made; We will rejoice and be glad in it.
25 Save now, I pray, O LORD; O LORD, I pray, send now prosperity.
26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD! We have blessed you from the house of the LORD.
27 God is the LORD, And He has given us light; Bind the sacrifice with cords to the horns of the altar. (Psa. 118, NKJV)
This was the source of the people’s Palm Sunday song. The word “Hosanna” is brought into English as “Save now, I pray”—“Save now, I pray, O LORD”—“Hosanna, O LORD!” It was quite a song and quite a connection for the people to make, whether by coincidence or by divine guidance.
The chief priests and scribes were not happy with the song of the crowd. “Do you hear what these are saying?” they demanded (Mat. 21:16). “Can’t You hear how they are referring to You, Jesus? Don’t You see that they think You are the Messiah? Tell them to be silent!” (Luke 19:39). But Jesus would not silence them. The people spoke the truth. He was the Messiah, and He had come to save.
But as clearly as the people sang the song of salvation on Palm Sunday, it seems that their initial excitement faded. Maybe their hopes for Jesus were more about social or political progress. But He was entirely focused on the spiritual. Soon Jesus would stand before the Roman governor Pontius Pilate and declare, “My kingdom is not of this world” (Joh. 18:36).
So while the people were still excited about Jesus, they weren’t sure what good He would do for them. They weren’t sure if His arrival would change their lives in any meaningful way. And by the end of the week, He had been crucified, died, and was buried. Did they feel foolish for their Palm Sunday excitement? Had they chosen the wrong song?
It is true for us also that the songs of Christmas and Easter come easily to our lips on those festival days. The reason why Jesus came and what He accomplished seem very clear. But we are unable to keep that festival excitement. The next Sunday doesn’t feel the same or the Sunday after that. We are unsure how Jesus’ work applies to our work as we clock in and out each day.
So what can happen is a sort of separation, a compartmentalization, between what we believe and what we do, between what happens on Sunday and what happens the rest of the week. We see this in the way people can hold two very different beliefs at the same time. A person might accept the six-day creation at church and the theory of evolution at school. One might accept traditional values about marriage and family at church but support the opposite in society. Another might watch his language around fellow congregation members but let it all fly among his co-workers.
There are different reasons for these inconsistencies. Some of it is fear that others will judge us if come off as “too religious.” We want to fit in with others and not stand out. If we did take a stand, we might be uncomfortable trying to defend our beliefs. While it may seem easier for some to speak about Jesus, I’m not sure it is ever easy. What a person believes touches on the deepest parts of who they are. We want our friends to know that Jesus is their Savior, but we also don’t want to risk losing them as friends.
At its root, our reluctance to share the Gospel message with others comes from our own weakness. And that is something to both recognize and repent of. What Jesus has done is just as meaningful and life-changing today as any other day. But we treat it as something common. Or we become frustrated because Jesus doesn’t seem concerned about the problems in our life and in the world that need fixing.
Like the Palm Sunday crowd found out, Jesus does not give us everything we want. But He does give us everything we need. He did not come to work political or social change. He came to win our freedom from sin, death, and devil. And He accomplished it through sacrifice, the sacrifice of His own holy body on the cross. The people thought their Palm Sunday song had been wasted when Jesus was killed. But actually their song had been answered.
The song of the Passover was fulfilled by “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (Joh. 1:29). Jesus truly was the world’s Messiah, King, and Savior. He is your Savior too. He died to erase all of your sins—the times when your confession of the truth went cold because you were ashamed, the times when the song of salvation was silenced in your heart because you were angry at God, the times when you cared more about the riches and joys of this life instead of the life to come.
Jesus forgives the sins of your yesterdays, your sins of today, and the sins you will commit in the future. He suffered and died for all of them. You may not always think of Him in your day-to-day life, but He is always thinking of you. He wants you to be comforted by His Word of grace and forgiveness whenever you feel guilt and sorrow for your sins. He wants you to be strengthened by His promises whenever you are filled with doubts and faced with difficulties. He wants the song of salvation to play over and over again in your heart and mind, because He came to save you.
What Jesus has done may not shine as brightly or loom as large as it will this Holy Week and on Easter. We may not retain the festival excitement, but we will still have the festival song. Week by week and even day by day, We Sing the Song of Salvation. We hear again and again the beautiful words of Jesus’ coming to redeem us. He was willing to die for you and me—even for us weak sinners! And that means He will not abandon us in our weakness.
He still comes to us through His Word and His Sacraments to deliver His forgiveness and life. And we welcome Him here with singing and rejoicing just as the people welcomed Him to Jerusalem: “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
St. John 19:31-37
In Christ Jesus, whose streams of blood and water from His side give evidence both of His death and of our life, dear fellow redeemed:
The Roman soldiers were given orders to remove the three Jewish men from their crosses. Seeing that the criminals on either side of Jesus were still alive, the Roman soldiers brutally smashed their legs. This kept them from being able to push themselves up and allow their lungs to breathe. They died quickly gasping for air. But Jesus was already dead by that time. At three o’clock that Friday afternoon, Jesus had declared His work finished. Then He cried out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” (Luk. 23:46). After saying these words, He breathed His last.
The soldiers could see there was no need to break Jesus’ legs, since He was already dead. Through all the beating and torture He endured since the previous evening, His bones had stayed whole. This was to fulfill the prophecy of Scripture, “Not one of His bones will be broken.” Just as the bones of a Passover lamb had to be kept intact, so the bones of Jesus, the Lamb of God, also remained intact.
To verify Jesus’ death, a soldier plunged a spear into His side, and blood and water immediately spilled out. Medical experts explain that the tip of the spear pierced the pleural cavity near the heart where water would have built up, and they suggest that the spear may have entered the heart itself causing the blood to gush out. This stream of blood and water proved that Jesus had died. The Apostle John was there and saw it with his own eyes. He recorded it in his Gospel, so that we could be sure beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jesus really did die on the cross.
We also know why He died. He died to atone for the sins of all people stretching back to our first parents, Adam and Eve. The future of the first man was bright when the LORD God caused him to fall into a deep sleep, cut open his side, and removed a rib. He made that rib into a woman and brought her to the man as his perfect complement. God had brought life from the man’s side, and He promised to create life from their union as husband and wife.
But then the woman listened to the devil’s temptation and led her husband to join her in sin. St. Paul explains the terrible consequence of this sin: “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Rom. 5:12). This is why Jesus went to the cross. He went there to save us from the sin we inherited which required our death. He went there to give Himself in our place.
St. Paul expresses this good news: “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men” (v. 18). When we see the piercing of Jesus’ side, we see everything come full circle. Adam was led into sin by the wife who came from his side—life became death. And now the redemption of sinners was verified by what came from Jesus’ side—His death became our life.
You can see why the hymnwriter encourages you to hide in the cleft side of Jesus (ELH #286). The water and the blood cleanse you, he says. They are the “double cure” for the guilt and power of your sins. Without Jesus’ death, there is no cleansing for your sins. There is no hope of salvation and eternal life. Without His death, you are stuck with Adam, dying because of sin. But because of His death, you now live.
Those streams of blood and water are also a beautiful picture of the way Jesus continues even now to bring you His life. I have a painting at home which shows a chalice catching the blood from Jesus’ side and a baptismal font catching the water. The Sacraments of Jesus are where He applies His saving work to you.
Baptism joined you with the death of Jesus on the cross where He paid for each and every one of your sins. There is nothing left undone. Jesus made satisfaction for all your transgressions, and that forgiveness was applied to you in your Baptism. Then when you were able to examine yourself and understand the Lord’s rich promises, you were ushered to His table. There He continues to bring you forgiveness and fill you with His life-giving body and blood. The blood and water were signs of Jesus’ death, but now they are the signs of the life He gives through His Holy Sacraments.
Though the spear was plunged into Jesus’ side with coldness, that spear is meant for your comfort. It proved that Jesus was willing to do what it took to save you. The eternal Son of God was willing to die for you. He was willing to go through the immeasurable pain and suffering that He did, so you would be freed from the curse.
He kept that gash in His side as proof of His victory. On the third day after His death, Jesus appeared again alive to His disciples. He came in their midst, said “Peace be with you,” and immediately “showed them his hands and his side” (Joh. 20:19-20). Those marks from His crucifixion, so painful to watch when they were done to Jesus, now became marks of His glory.
Your Savior, who was “wounded for your transgressions” and suffered in agony for you on the cross, has risen again. He has triumphed over death itself and secured eternal life for you. “For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (1Co. 15:21-22). Thanks be to God. Amen.
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(picture from the altarpiece in Weimar by Lucas Cranach the Younger, 1555)
The Fifth Sunday in Lent – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. John 8:46-59
In Christ Jesus, who told the truth even when it was not welcome, so that some would hear it and believe, dear fellow redeemed:
In the iconic scene from the movie, A Few Good Men, the prosecuting attorney demands answers from the witness on the stand, a marine colonel. “I want the truth!” he shouts. And the marine colonel snaps back: “You can’t handle the truth!” The truth is difficult to handle, as this colonel soon found out. The truth is so difficult to handle, that many today deny there even is such a thing. Instead of THE truth, a set of facts about which most everyone can agree, people dismiss long-held beliefs as YOUR truth. It may be true for you, they say, but it is not true for all. This is post-modernist thinking.
Jesus was no post-modernist. He spoke definitely. He pointed out right and wrong, and He stated His message clearly even when He knew people would struggle to accept it. We saw this last Sunday when Jesus called Himself “the bread of life” and said: “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him” (Joh. 6:35, 56). He spoke the truth, but it was a truth the people did not want to hear. It did not match up with the way they viewed Jesus and what they expected Him to do.
Later Jesus told the people that they would know the truth if they remained in His Word (8:31-32). What He spoke to them was “the truth that [He] heard from God [the Father]” (v. 40). But they did not want the truth. They could not bear to listen to His Word (v. 43). Why was that? Jesus stated it bluntly: “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me” (vv. 44-45).
Then He continued with the words of today’s text, about truth, the Word of God, and eternal life. All of these topics are ones that our “enlightened” society ignores or rejects. Jesus still seems to be viewed favorably today, but it is not really the Jesus of the Gospels. The “Jesus” who is popular today is “Jesus the Social Activist,” or “Jesus the Teacher of Morality,” or “Jesus the Cheerleader.”
The real Jesus says, “Which one of you convicts Me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe Me? Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.” Jesus does not leave room for anyone to stay neutral about Him. He called Himself the eternal Son of God who came down to bring life to the dying world. Was He telling the truth, or was He lying?
The Jews who opposed Him accused Him of having a demon. They had already shown their cards. They did not believe He was God in the flesh. If they believed this about Him, it would have revealed a truth about themselves, a truth they weren’t prepared to consider. If Jesus was who He said He was, then they weren’t who they thought they were. They thought they were holy. They thought they were right with God by the way they lived their life. They did not think they needed a Savior from sin.
Much of the world says the same thing: “I’m a good person,” “I’m doing just fine on my own,” “I’m not that bad,” “I don’t need a Savior.” No one wants to face the hard truth that they are not as good as they think, that they are not fine on their own, that they deserve eternal punishment for their sins and will certainly have it if they don’t have Jesus.
Even we who know this truth don’t like it. We don’t like the idea that no matter how hard we try to be good or how much good we do, we can’t make up for the sins we have done. We don’t like it that God has given us a standard for our moral conduct that is impossible for us to fulfill. We don’t like it that as far as our eternal future is concerned, we are not the ones in control.
The truth that no matter what we do on this earth we all deserve to suffer eternally in hell, is too much for us. We can’t imagine that our inherited condition is so dire, or that our sins should require such punishment. We can’t handle the truth. If God didn’t tell us we needed a Savior, we would imagine there was some way we could overcome our sins, or some way that we could appease Him.
But only God could save us, and the only way for Him to do it was to send His eternal Son to take on our flesh. If nothing else shows us the bad shape we were in because of our sin, the Son of God becoming Man should. The Creator God didn’t take on human flesh just to get a closer look at things on earth. He came because the world and every human heart were so broken, they could not be repaired. They had to be redeemed.
They had to be cleansed and purified from all their sins, and only Jesus could do it. He had to offer Himself in every sinner’s place. He had to come among the prideful who thought they were holy on their own. He had to come among the liars who called Him a liar, when it was their hearts that were full of darkness. He had to come among the ungrateful who would never in this life fully appreciate what He came to do.
But knowing all this would happen, He still came. He came to substitute Himself for us and shed His blood for our sin. He came to suffer the unquenchable fires of hell on our behalf. He came to be slaughtered as our sacrificial Lamb on the cross. This was the only way our redemption could be accomplished. Jesus asked His Father if there might be some other way, but there wasn’t. The divine requirement that Jesus must endure suffering, hell, and death for our salvation was a hard truth, but it was THE truth.
We can’t handle the truth of what we deserve for our sins, but Jesus could. He could handle the truth of what our sins required. He could handle the hellish punishment. He could handle the cold dark of death. He did all of this willingly for the sins of the whole world. Because of what Jesus did, God the Father declares every sinner righteous, innocent of any wrongdoing. He says that heaven belongs to one person just as much as to another because Jesus paid for all sin.
But our sinful nature within us protests: “This can’t be! It can’t be that easy! There must be something I have to do to become right with God!” Just as we can’t handle the truth of the Law, which tells us what we deserve for our sins, we can’t handle the truth of the Gospel. The good news of what Jesus has done seems too good. His grace seems too free. The way we receive forgiveness and life through His Word seems too simple.
But how it seems to us does not matter. What matters is whether or not the Gospel message is true. St. Paul says it is, and he received his words from God. He wrote: “[I]n Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation” (2Co. 5:19). He said that God sent him to preach to everyone that Jesus brought us back together with God through His death and resurrection.
Paul was sent to preach “Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1Co. 2:2). He was not sent to preach “Ten Secrets to a Having a Happier Life,” or “Five Steps to Becoming a Better Person.” He was sent to tell what Jesus had done to save us from sin, death, and hell. He was sent to tell everyone the truth, whether they wanted to hear it or not.
You and I have heard the truth, and we have believed it by the power of the Holy Spirit. Others have heard the truth, and they have ignored it because they prefer the devil’s lies instead. The devil’s lies are appealing. They agree with our sinful, self-centered thinking. They make us comfortable in our sin and glorify the bad choices we make. But as nice as the devil’s lies sound, they all lead to death.
Only Jesus’ Word of truth can bring us life. He declared, “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word, he will never see death.” What a promise! He says that whoever pays attention to His Word, holds it tightly, guards it in his heart, shall never see death. What the believer has to look forward to is eternal life, life with Jesus, life in His heavenly kingdom with all the saints and angels. Can it really be? “Truly, truly,” said Jesus, “Amen, Amen”—“Yes, yes, it shall be so.”
The unbelieving world will never stop peddling lies in the name of “truth.” It will keep trying on new truths to see if the latest one will fit better than the last one. But there is no truth apart from God, and no way to know truth apart from His Word. By the grace of God, you have the truth. You can’t handle it, because it is so far above you. But it is still yours.
Rejoice that you have it. Thank God for giving you the truth. Ask Him to help you share the truth with others. And take comfort that the truth of God’s love for you in Christ stands today and will stand 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 from “Ecce Homo” by Antonio Ciseri, 1871)
Midweek Lent – Pr. Faugstad homily
St. Mark 15:22-32
In Christ Jesus, who let His strong hands be pierced, so that the sins of our hands would not be counted against us, dear fellow redeemed:
The Gospels say nothing about Jesus trying to protect or defend Himself when He was beaten and scourged. And when He was taken to Golgotha, there is no record of Him trying to escape and flee. He did not fight back against those who harmed Him. He let the punishment come. “[L]ike 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. 53:7).
They threw Jesus down on the cross beam and roughly stretched His arms to each side. Then the point of a large nail was pressed into each hand, and a soldier struck with a hammer again and again until the nails had passed through Jesus’ flesh into the wood. Not only did this cause more blood to flow from Jesus, but it also caused immense pain as the nails displaced and crushed nerves.
Many experiencing this would have cursed those ruthless soldiers. But Jesus did not curse them. He said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luk. 23:34). Jesus forgave them and accepted the curse for their sin. They did not seem to notice. While Jesus’ hands were pinned to the cross, their hands were busy. They set about dividing His garments. They cast lots with dice to see who would get it. First their hands gave out punishment, and now they took from a dying Man.
The people passing by derided Him: “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save Yourself, and come down from the cross! Let’s see those hands go to work now! Let’s see You get Yourself free!” The Jewish religious leaders joined in the chorus: “He saved others; He cannot save Himself!” They intended to mock Him, but what they said was true. He had saved others and was in the process of saving the whole world through His sacrificial death. He could not save Himself and save them. He could not come down from the cross and fulfill His Father’s will.
So Jesus stayed, His fingers curled over the nails in agony. Those beautiful hands—think of all the good they had done! They had perfectly served Mary and Joseph from childhood to adulthood. They had brought healing to the sick and demon-possessed. They had broken bread for crowds of thousands. They had taken the hand of a dead girl and brought her back to life. His hands had folded in prayer. Only hours earlier, His hands had taken bread and wine and given it to His disciples with the words, “Take, eat; this is My body. Drink of it all of you; this cup is My blood.”
Such noble hands, such gracious hands! How could this be? It was to pay for all the wrongs done by the hands of men. Think how many sins are done or helped along by hands: sins of violence; sins of damage and theft; sins of angry and slanderous writing; sins of harmful computer use; sins of driving where we should not go and doing what we should not do.
Jesus emphasized the seriousness of the sins of our hands when He said, “[I]f your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire” (Mar. 9:43). None of us would have hands if we cut them off the first time we used them to sin. But it would be far better to enter heaven without our hands than to enter hell with them. Our sin is serious and not to be waved off or brushed aside.
We see the seriousness of sin nowhere more vividly than the crucifixion of Jesus. Only the direst circumstances could cause God to send His Son to suffer in this way. The horrible suffering of Jesus was the only way to balance the scales of divine justice. It was the only way to save us from the countless wrongs we had done.
In the ultimate act of love, Jesus opened up His hands to receive those nails. He willingly stretched out His arms because He knew this was the only way to draw all people to Himself (Joh. 12:32). He knew this was the only way to redeem you, to buy you back from the depths of your sin. He let His hands be bound and pierced, so yours would be free and whole. He answered for your sins and suffered your hell, so you would never have to.
By His act of redemption, Jesus redeemed every part of you, including your hands. However they have led you to sin, He forgives it. Whatever damage they have done to others, He is able to heal. He now calls you to use your hands for good. He put His hands in service to you, so your hands could be put in service to Him. Most of the blessings Jesus gives come from the hands of others.
Today we remember how Jesus used the hands of St. Patrick in his mission work to the people of Ireland. Many hands were ready to do him harm. He said, “Daily I expect either a violent death, or a return to slavery, or some other calamity…. I have cast myself into the hands of Almighty God, for he rules everything” (Saints and Angels All Around, CPH 1996, p. 111). This is what Jesus did on the cross. With His suffering for sin complete, He said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” (Luk. 23:46).
We are safe in the Lord’s merciful hands. A beautiful prayer is attributed to St. Patrick which speaks of Jesus’ continued work among us to bless us, help us, and heal us:
Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.
(Treasury of Daily Prayer, CPH 2008, p. 1285)
Thanks be to our Lord and Savior for the work of His hands to bring us forgiveness and life. Amen.
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(picture from Isenheim Altarpiece by Matthias Grunewald, c. 1510)
The Fourth Sunday in Lent – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. John 6:1-15
In Christ Jesus, the Food that our souls need so that we may live forever even though our bodies may die, dear fellow redeemed:
We could do without a lot of things we have in this life. We don’t need dressers and closets full of clothes. We don’t need TVs, computers, and smartphones. We don’t need large living spaces, nice vehicles, and most of our possessions. We could learn to live without all these things. But we can’t do without food. Food is essential to our survival. The body needs food like a car needs fuel—it can’t run without it.
We heard at the beginning of Lent how Jesus fasted for forty days in the wilderness. That’s a long time to go without food, and Jesus “was hungry” (Mat. 4:2). When the devil tempted Him to turn stones into bread to prove He was the Son of God, Jesus replied: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (v. 4). He quoted these words from the book of Deuteronomy in the Old Testament. They were part of Moses’ message to the Israelites after they had wandered in the wilderness for forty years because of their disobedience.
God required those forty years of wandering to humble them and to test their faithfulness toward Him. In the wilderness, there was no way to find food for that large amount of people. The people had to rely on God to give them what they needed. Six days a week, He provided a type of bread for them called “manna.” When the morning dew lifted, the people would see the ground covered with “a fine, flake-like thing, fine as frost” (Exo. 16:14). They stooped down and collected it, and they took it home to prepare it and eat it. God provided this food until they entered the Promised Land of Canaan (Jos. 5:12).
In today’s text, we find another group of Israelites in the wilderness without supplies of food. They followed Jesus because they saw how He healed the sick, and they wanted to hear His teaching (Mat. 6:34, Luk. 9:11). But now evening approached, and the people needed to eat. Jesus asked His disciples to give them something. “Impossible!” they said. “The crowd is too large! Our resources are too limited!” Andrew told Him: “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?”
The disciples were thinking logically. But Jesus wasn’t looking for logic; He was looking for faith. He wanted them to trust in Him no matter how difficult the problem seemed to be. He wanted them to see that the God who provided bread for forty years in the wilderness was now sitting right there next to them. “Five barley loaves and two fish” were more than enough to feed the thousands gathered there.
When the people saw how Jesus multiplied the bread and fish to feed everyone, they weren’t slow to make the manna connection. “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” they said. Moses had prophesied long before that the LORD would raise up for the people a Prophet like him from among them (Deu. 18:15). “Just as Moses gave the people bread in the wilderness,” they thought, “now Jesus can give us bread!” They even plotted to take Him by force to make Him their king.
But the people had selective memories. They were so impressed by the bread that they forgot Moses’ emphasis on the Word. What was it that Moses had said? “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Deu. 8:3). It isn’t that food for our bodies is unimportant. We do need it. But as much as we need physical food, spiritual nourishment is even more essential.
That isn’t really how we think. We hardly ever go a day without eating something. On the other hand, we might go a whole week or even longer without tending to the needs of our soul. A continued lack of food eventually leads to the death of the body. But a continued lack of spiritual nourishment is worse than that. It leads to spiritual death and then eternal death. Physical hunger comes to an end. But spiritual hunger never ends in hell, and it will never be satisfied.
Think about the rich man and the beggar Lazarus (Luk. 16:19-31). The rich man had all he wanted. He “feasted sumptuously every day.” Lazarus had nothing. He was sick and starving. Both men died, but they didn’t go to the same place. Lazarus went to heaven, and the rich man went to hell. Lazarus was actually the wealthy one. He did not have food or any of the finer things in life, but he had faith. He feasted on the Scriptures and died with confidence in God’s promise of eternal life. The rich man had plenty of food but no faith. He had his “good things” on earth but then entered eternal torment.
What good is it to have a full belly if your heart is not full of God’s Word? What good is a new car if you have no concern for your new life in Christ? What good is earthly wealth if you have no interest in the riches stored up for you in heaven? All these earthly things pass away. They get burned up, and they break down. They get stolen from us, and they slip through our fingers. God gives us our many earthly blessings for our use and enjoyment. He does not give them to us so we can make them into idols.
Earthly bread was the idol of that wilderness crowd. They were not interested in the better gift that Jesus wanted to give them. The day after the miraculous sign, they found Jesus. And Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you” (Joh. 6:26-27). And what was this eternal food? Jesus said, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (v. 35).
Jesus is the Food of faith. He is the food our souls need. Apart from Him, we can only “hunger and thirst for righteousness” (Mat. 5:6). Apart from Him, we have nothing valuable to set before God. Even if we gathered together and piled up all the riches of the world, He would not accept it as payment for one person’s sins. God needs nothing from us. We have nothing to bargain with for our salvation.
And that’s why God did the bargaining. That’s why He supplied what was lacking. He did for us what we could not do. God the Father sent His only Son to save the sick and dying world. Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever” (vv. 48-51).
There is no limit to this Food. Jesus is enough for the salvation of all sinners. His perfect life under the law is enough to satisfy the righteousness we sinners crave. We don’t have to prove we are important or special by how much earthly stuff we accumulate. Our worth before God is not measured by how successful we are here. Our worth before God is measured by how successful Jesus was here.
We are acceptable before God because of the life Jesus lived for us—perfect works, perfect words, perfect thoughts. And then He went to the cross to perfectly pay for all of our sins. Fragments remained after the people ate the bread and fish. But no fragments of our sin remain now that Jesus has given His holy body and blood to atone for them all.
Jesus has even instituted a special Meal to assure us of this forgiveness. Its benefit is not found in how well it pleases our palate, or in how much it satisfies our stomach. This Meal of His body and blood in Holy Communion is given for our spiritual health. And if it is given for our spiritual health, it has benefits that last for eternity.
Even though Jesus had not instituted His Holy Supper yet when He fed the five thousand, He used language at that time that anticipated this Meal. Jesus said to the people: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him…. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever” (vv. 53-56,58).
“Man Shall Not Live by Bread Alone,” said Jesus. Bread is important. It is right to pray for “daily bread,” which “includes everything needed for this life” (Fourth Petition, Lord’s Prayer). But Jesus gives us more and greater blessings through His Holy Word and Sacraments.
Jesus is our Bread of Life. We feast on His forgiveness, righteousness, and salvation and are filled up by Him every time we hear His Word and read it and think about it and speak it and sing it. His Word does not return to Him empty. Like the rain and snow that water the earth, “making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,” so our Lord’s Word is planted in our hearts, and it grows and nourishes us (Isa. 55:10-11). His Word brings food to the starving and life to the dying. His Word saves our souls.
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 Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes” by James Tissot, 1836-1902)
Midweek Lent – Pr. Faugstad homily
St. Luke 23:26-33
In Christ Jesus, who advanced toward the cross in order to crush Satan under His feet, dear fellow redeemed:
On Palm Sunday, Jesus was welcomed by the people as a King: “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!” they shouted (Luk. 19:38). Jesus rode through the gates of Jerusalem on a donkey just as the prophet Zechariah said He would (Zec. 9:9).
But now just five days later, Jesus stumbled along, bleeding from wounds all over His body, too weak to carry His cross. He was pushed toward a different gate of the city from which He had come. The Roman soldiers were forcing Him toward a place beyond the city walls called “Golgotha,” which means “place of a skull” (Mat. 27:33). It was there that Jesus would be crucified.
By now word had traveled about what was being done to Jesus—that great teacher and miracle-worker, the likes of which the people had never had seen. The people came running to see what would happen to Him. They followed after Jesus with His halting, anguished steps, and they could not hide their sorrow.
But they did not dare stand in the way of the Romans. To question them or oppose them would have meant death. The Romans were in charge; they did what they pleased. Jesus made reference to their brutal methods: “For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?” He said. He was prophesying that violence would come upon all Jerusalem in the future like what the Romans were now doing to Him (Luk. 19:41-44).
The Romans had also taken hold of an innocent bystander, a man in the crowd named Simon of Cyrene, and they forced him to carry Jesus’ cross after Him. Simon did not want to do this, but now he is remembered with honor. He was chosen to carry that rough piece of wood, which was nothing less than a holy altar. On that altar the Lamb of God would be slain as the all-sufficient sacrifice for the sins of the world.
Jesus calls us to take up the cross too, but not His wooden cross like Simon did. Jesus told His disciples: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it” (Luk. 9:23-24). He calls us to walk away from the selfish leanings of our nature, walk away from the riches and pleasures and glories of the world, walk away from the temptations of the devil and all his empty promises.
But it is not easy to walk away. The path is a hard one. The cross of suffering we must take up as bearers of Jesus’ name is heavy. We strain under its weight, and our steps falter. At times we stumble and fall. This isn’t what we want. We want a care-free journey. We want “easy street.” But we need the cross. Without the cross of suffering and trial that Jesus lovingly places upon us to strengthen our faith, we become too attached to our broken life in this world.
The cross is necessary for us, and it was necessary for Him. Jesus had to take those painful steps to Golgotha. He had to have His feet and hands pinned to the cross by the ruthless blows of hammer on nail. He had to feel the terrible pain shooting through His body with every strike. He had to hang there, feet stuck in place, not trying to break free, not running away. They called out to Him: “If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross” (Mat. 27:40). But Jesus would not come down.
He stayed on the cross for you. He stayed on the cross because your feet have not always walked the narrow path. You have not always gone the way He called you to go. Sometimes you willingly walked into sin. You didn’t turn away even when you knew you should.
The devil is constantly setting snares and traps to tangle us up in sin, and he has caught us many, many times. But as often as we have stepped into sin, the Lord has set us free again. He stayed on the cross to atone for all our wandering, all our missteps, all our trespassing. He let His feet be pierced for all of our transgressions, so that we could walk the way of righteousness and eternal life.
It was ironic that Jesus’ feet were raised above the crowd while He hung on the cross. The psalmist David had recorded a prophecy of what the Savior would accomplish through His death and resurrection. God the Father said to His Son: “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool” (Psa. 110:1). All of Jesus’ enemies—the Jewish religious leaders, the Romans, and especially sin, death, and devil—thought they had prevailed. They thought Jesus would never take another step. They strutted around like they were the king. And now all of them are His footstool.
It looked like Jesus would not survive the cross. It looked like His beautiful work had finally come to an end. But that “end” was your beginning. His cross was your salvation. The blood He poured out won your forgiveness. By His sacrificial death, He walked over all His enemies and yours.
And He still beats them down under His feet. St. Paul writes that God the Father “put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Eph. 1:22-23). Jesus still comes to you through His Word and Sacraments. He leads you away from the snares and pitfalls the devil has set. He comes to give you strength for the journey, and to help you bear the crosses you must take up in this life.
He comes not just to walk beside you, but to carry you each and every step of the way. “He leads [you] in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake” (Psa. 23:3), and He “guide[s] [your] feet into the way of peace” (Luk. 1:79). Thanks be to God. Amen.
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(picture from “What Our Lord Saw from the Cross,” by James Tissot, 1836-1902)
The Third Sunday in Lent – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Luke 11:14-28
In Christ Jesus, Satan’s great enemy and our merciful Savior, dear fellow redeemed:
Before the fall into sin, Adam and Eve were perfectly one with God. There was no tension between them, no division. God had made them in His image, which meant that they perfectly understood His will and perfectly possessed His righteousness and holiness. But then an intruder slithered into their holy garden. It was the devil in the form of a serpent. Having already rebelled against God, he wanted to destroy God’s good creation. He set his sights on the crown of God’s creative activity—man and woman.
The devil succeeded in poisoning their minds and getting them to do exactly what God warned them not to. The devil had brought Adam and Eve over to his side. Now they were completely separated from God, and when they heard Him in the garden, they hid from Him. But no one can really hide from God. He found them cowering among the trees, crudely covered in fig leaves, and they weren’t alone. They were hiding with their new friend, the devil.
The LORD could not let this stand. His love for mankind was too great. He would not see them given over to Satan and facing a hopeless death. So He cursed the devil and spoke words of comfort for Adam and Eve. He said to Satan: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her Offspring; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel” (v. 15).
To “put enmity” between two parties is to set them in opposition, to make them hostile toward one another. In other words, the LORD would not let the devil keep his prize. The devil would not reign over all mankind. The LORD reclaimed His people even in their sin, and He promised to deliver them. He would send the woman’s “Offspring” or “Seed” to crush the serpent’s scaly head and win the victory over the great deceiver and his plans.
What we find in these words to Satan is God’s declaration of war. Things would not go so easily for the devil as they had with Adam and Eve. His wicked schemes would be frustrated. The LORD would stand against him at every turn, and the devil would ultimately be overcome.
Jesus demonstrates and speaks about these things in today’s text. He was that Seed of the woman whom the LORD promised to Adam and Eve and their descendants. During the time of His public work, He cast many demons out of those who were afflicted. Today we hear about Him delivering a man from a demon who had caused him to be mute. After the demon had left, the man could speak! The demon could not stand against Jesus’ power. It had to depart.
When some in the crowd accused Jesus of casting out demons by the power of Beelzebul, or the devil, Jesus replied that this would make no sense. “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste,” He said, “and a divided household falls.” Jesus was not in league with Satan; He was opposed to him. He cast out demons “by the finger of God,” by the power of His Holy Word. This is a clear sign, said Jesus, that “the kingdom of God has come upon you.”
God’s kingdom still comes upon us, which is what we pray for in the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy kingdom come.” We learn in the Catechism that “The kingdom of God comes when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and live godly lives here in time and hereafter in eternity” (Luther’s Explanation to the Second Petition).
But the work of the Holy Spirit through the Word does meet some resistance. Jesus describes this resistance in His parable of the sower. He says that the devil snatches the Word away from some, “so that they may not believe and be saved” (Luk. 8:12). Some believe for a time, but because of the devil’s continued afflictions and torments, their faith does not become deeply rooted and it withers (v. 13). Others believe for a while, but the devil slowly chokes their faith “by the cares and riches and pleasures of life” (v. 14).
The devil is constantly trying to weaken and overthrow the faith of believers. Today’s Epistle lesson describes how he tries to tempt us through “sexual immorality,” “impurity,” and “covetousness” (Eph. 5:3), among other things. And he has often succeeded. The devil has coaxed us away from the mighty fortress of God and His Word and has gotten us to venture into the darkness. Not only does he tempt us to sin, but when we sin, he holds it over our heads. “Look what you’ve done! You sinned against God, and He hates sin! There is no hope for you! You will die in your sins! I will see you in hell!”
The devil wants us to think that God does not love us anymore and that He will punish us. But those are bold-faced lies. The devil is just spouting off. He knows what Jesus did for sinners. Out of love for the whole world, God the Father sent His Son on an epic rescue mission. Jesus came to storm the devil’s castle. The God of all goodness and truth came to face off against the lord of wickedness and the father of lies.
Jesus was more than ready for the fight. He describes the conflict in today’s text. He talks about the “strong man, fully armed, [who] guards his own palace.” That is a reference to the devil. Satan is strong, but there is One “stronger than he.” This One “attacks him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his spoil.” Jesus is the One stronger. He is not afraid of the devil. The apostle John writes: “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1Jo. 3:8).
But the way Jesus overcame the devil is not what we might expect. We expect a slug fest in which the toughest and strongest prevails. Or better yet, a battle of laser beams and lightning strikes waged in the clouds and on the tops of mountains. But Jesus did not come to show the devil who was more powerful. He came to save sinners. He was not fighting for bragging rights; He was fighting for souls.
And the only way for Jesus to win that battle was to lose. The only way to overcome was to be overcome. Jesus had to suffer and die in our place. If He did not take our sins on Himself, those sins would still count against us, and the devil’s accusations would never stop. But by pouring out His precious blood in payment for sin, Jesus ended the devil’s reign over us.
The power of Satan’s kingdom crumbled before his very eyes when Jesus willingly went to the cross for you. This was the fulfillment of the LORD’s promise about “the woman’s Seed” crushing the serpent’s scaly head. Jesus’ death looked like defeat, but it was victory. The devil will never recover from this work of love that secured your redemption. No matter what temptations Satan may try on you, no matter what lies he may tell you, he has no claim on you.
Whenever you hear the devil whispering in your ear and trying to plant doubts in your mind, you can point to the Lamb of God sacrificed on the cross in your place and say: “Listen to this, devil: Jesus died for my sins! You have no authority here! Why don’t you crawl back in the hole you came from!”
The devil knows this is all true. It is all clearly recorded and revealed in God’s Holy Word. This is why he seeks to turn us away from the Word. The Word is how God creates faith and keeps His people in the faith. Jesus says, “Blessed… are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” The word translated “keep” does not mean “obey.” It means to watch over, guard, and defend the Word. Jesus says we are to guard and defend His Word as though our lives depend on it. And in fact, our lives do depend on it!
Without His Word, we have no message of the cross, no promise of salvation, no forgiveness of sins, no comfort in trouble, no life after death. Without His Word, it’s just us hiding among the trees of this world, wearing the fig leaves of our self-made righteousness, stumbling through the darkness with the devil by our side. But through the Word, “now [we] are light in the Lord.” We “[w]alk as children of light” (Eph. 5:8).
By walking in the bright light of God’s Word, we are safe from the devil’s sneak attacks. God’s Word keeps our eyes open. It keeps us alert. It keeps us in God’s kingdom. The kingdom of God comes through His Word. His Word is how God does battle against the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh. His Word is how His kingdom advances and conquers the hearts and minds of those whom the devil used to have in his grasp. The devil is strong, but he cannot stand against God’s powerful Word.
Even now, The Lord Jesus Fights for You through His Holy Word. He comes to the battleground of your heart and mind to beat back the devil’s advances. When you fall into sin, Jesus brings you forgiveness through His Word and calls you back to His kingdom of light. When you are troubled by doubts and fears, Jesus comes through His Word to bring you comfort and peace. When you think you cannot withstand the devil’s temptations, Jesus comes through His Word to strengthen and keep you, so that you are not overcome.
As much as we would rather avoid the devil’s attacks, it is good to have him as an enemy. The LORD promised that He would “put enmity” between His people and the devil. Having the devil as our enemy means that we have the Lord Jesus as our Friend. And our Friend Jesus will not leave us to fend for ourselves. He will wage the fight for our soul until He brings us “safely into his heavenly kingdom” (2Ti. 4:18).
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(picture from “Exorcism” woodcut by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, 1794-1872)
Midweek Lent – Pr. Faugstad homily
St. John 19:1-6a
In Christ Jesus, whose sacred head was wounded and crowned with thorns, so we would receive healing and the crown of life, dear fellow redeemed:
The night before He was brought to Pontius Pilate, Jesus prayed by Himself in the Garden of Gethsemane. He was in agony. He knew what was coming—suffering for the sins of the whole world. He prayed so earnestly that beads of sweat appeared on his face. The evangelist Luke tells us this sweat was mingled with blood after blood vessels under His skin burst because of His intense anguish (22:44). This would have caused the skin on His face to be swollen and more sensitive to pain.
Shortly after this, Judas Iscariot and a small army arrived in the Garden. Judas went over to Jesus and kissed Him, the sign of his betrayal. Then Jesus was taken to the high priest where He was accused and found guilty in a sham trial conducted in the middle of the night. Once Jesus had been condemned, the temple guards began to spit in His face, punch Him, and slap Him. They put a blindfold over His eyes and said, “Prophesy to us, you Christ! Who is it that struck you?” (Mat. 26:68).
By the time Jesus came before Pilate early Friday morning, His face was bruised and bloody. Perhaps He could barely see through swollen eye sockets. He looked pitiful. Pilate believed Jesus was innocent, but he never asked why an innocent man had been beaten. As the pressure intensified to have Jesus killed, Pilate thought that he might be able to garner sympathy for Jesus by having Him scourged.
This caused severe wounds on Jesus’ back, but the Roman soldiers did not stop there. As we heard in our text, they weaved together a crown of thorns and pressed it into His skull. Then they also spit on Him and struck Him on the head, driving the thorns deeper.
All of this was very painful for Jesus, but none of it was a surprise. Jesus told His disciples beforehand that all these things would take place: “See, we are going up to Jerusalem,” He said, “and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him” (Mar. 10:33-34).
The evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke all report that Jesus was spit upon. The author of the book we are reading for our Monday Book Study says he asks the members of his Bible Classes “if they would prefer to be punched in the face or spit upon by an enemy” (Has American Christianity Failed? p. 86). Being punched is physical suffering. Being spit upon is to suffer shame. Jesus suffered in both of these ways at the hands of the Jews and the Romans.
But the shame Jesus suffered was not for anything He had done. He had no reason to hang His thorn-encircled, blood-stained head. He suffered for the sins of Adam and for the sins of Adam’s descendants. When Adam fell into sin, the LORD said to him, “cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you” (Gen. 3:17-18). Now those thorns that Adam’s sin brought forth were used by his descendants to torture Jesus. Adam and his heirs—including you and me—committed the sins, but Jesus took the punishment.
Jesus did not deserve any of this. In the hymn we will sing in a few minutes, “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded,” the hymnwriter says, “What Thou, my Lord, hast suffered / Was all for sinners’ gain: / Mine, mine was the transgression, / But Thine the deadly pain: / Lo, here I fall, my Savior! / ’Tis I deserve Thy place; / Look on me with Thy favor, / Vouchsafe to me Thy grace” (Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary #335, v. 4).
And Jesus does look on you with favor. Even those swollen eyes on Good Friday were full of compassion for you. He endured the spitting, the slapping, and the striking for you. He endured all of that to save you from an eternity of this kind of suffering in hell. You and I deserved to feel that pain and shame for our sins. Our head is the source of many of our sins—using our eyesight for evil, listening to gossip, speaking harmful words, thinking wicked thoughts. Jesus willingly absorbed the punishment for those sins, so that we would be freed of all of them, forgiven of every wrong.
The Lord predicted this exact suffering in our place through the prophet Isaiah. “I gave my back to those who strike, and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard; I hid not my face from disgrace and spitting. But the Lord GOD helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame. He who vindicates me is near” (Isa. 50:6-8). Jesus knew the suffering and anguish that He would have to endure for sinners. But He also saw through to its conclusion. He knew He would rise again in victory after His suffering and death.
So He “set His face like a flint,” toward the cross, and no devilish blow was able to turn Him away. He went “uncomplaining forth” (ELH #331), the Lamb of God silently suffering for the sins of the world. The apostle Peter wrote that “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).
Jesus truly was “the King of the Jews.” He was the King of the whole world! The thorns were not a fitting crown for Him. But He wore them willingly, so that we, one day, would receive the blessed crown of eternal life. Thanks be to God. Amen.
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(picture from “Ecce Homo” by Mateo Cerezo, 1650)