St. Titus, Bishop & Confessor – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: Titus 2:11-15
In Christ Jesus, whose abundant grace covers all our sin, dear fellow redeemed:
Back in the 1930s, a prominent Lutheran pastor in Germany coined the term “cheap grace.” He didn’t apply the term to God, as though God were giving something second rate to sinners. He applied it to Christians, to those who use grace as a cover up for sin, who care very little about repenting of their sin and amending their lives. They are like spoiled children who expect their overindulgent parents to bail them out no matter what trouble they get into. Grace to them has become so common, so expected, that they hardly value it anymore. It has become cheap.
The Christians in Corinth were guilty of looking at grace in this way. The Corinthian congregation was marked by all sorts of divisions. Some minimized grace and taught that the Old Testament civil and ceremonial laws needed to be kept for salvation. Others used grace as a license to sin and boasted about having Christian freedom even in areas that went against the Commandments of God. The Apostle Paul rebuked them for abusing God’s grace in these ways. We have this rebuke in his First Letter to the Corinthians.
We also have a Second Letter to the Corinthians, a follow up to some of the issues Paul had raised. In this letter, he mentioned a visit of his co-worker Titus to the congregation. Titus, who we remember today, was a Gentile man who accompanied Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem before they set out on their missionary journeys (Gal. 2:1). He was a trusted associate of Paul’s, so Paul sent him to guide and teach the Corinthian congregation.
When he arrived, Titus learned how strongly Paul’s Letter had affected the people. The congregation received Titus “with fear and trembling” (2Co. 7:15). They were not so much afraid of Paul’s messenger as they were of Paul’s message. They did not want to be found outside of God’s grace.
This same concern should be in the mind and heart of every Christian. We should want nothing more than to remain in God’s grace. But how can we be sure we will? We have been taught since our youth that grace has nothing to do with us. It is God’s undeserved love for us. Since it comes from God, there is nothing I can do to make sure I stay in it, is there?
It is certainly true that grace is a gift from God to us. We can’t earn it, and we don’t deserve it. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Grace means we owe nothing to God for our salvation. It is not a loan that we have to pay back by our good works or any other sacrifice. Grace is freely given. It reflects the love of the Giver and not the worthiness of the receiver (Rom. 5:8).
Grace does not cost us anything, but it did cost Jesus. The Apostle Peter describes the price of our ransom. It was “not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ” (1Pe. 1:18-19). Jesus paid for our salvation by the shedding of His holy blood. He suffered the torments of hell and death on a cross to save us. That was the cost of His grace. Grace is G-R-A-C-E: God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.
Such a deep love, such faithfulness toward sinners demands some response, doesn’t it? Think about if your reckless or negligent behavior caused millions of dollars of damage, and someone stepped up to pay the price. How would you react? Or how about if someone took care of your significant credit card debt or the debt on your property? You would be totally humbled. You would feel indebted to that generous individual for the rest of your life. I imagine you would want to live a life worthy of the gift.
If you would feel that way about the cancellation of a temporary debt of money, how much more to have an eternal debt cancelled? That is what Jesus has done for you. He cancelled your debt of sin and death and opened heaven to you. People used to give great sums of money to get their loved ones transferred from purgatory to heaven (and some still do). But that is not necessary. Jesus paid the price to get us right into heaven—no purgatory required!
God’s grace does not cost us anything, but it should have an affect on us. In his Letter to Titus, Paul wrote that God’s grace trains us “to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age.” It makes sense. Since Jesus saved us by His grace, shouldn’t we want to please Him? Shouldn’t we want to live the way God commands us to? To do otherwise is to abuse the grace we have been given. It is to treat it as something common, something cheap.
We want to show others how much we value God’s gift of grace by reflecting His love in the way we talk and how we conduct ourselves. We want them to know that God’s grace makes a difference in our lives, that it changed our hearts and minds. We are still sinners, but by God’s grace we are sinners at peace with Him because of Jesus’ suffering and death. We are mortal, but by God’s grace we have the sure hope of eternal life in heaven because of Jesus’ resurrection.
Those who do not know God’s grace live very different lives. They struggle along as though everything depends on them. They carry the burden of guilt for many wrongs done and many good deeds left undone. They pin all their hope for progress in the world on elected officials and other powerful people, and they are routinely disappointed. They tremble at the prospect of death and grieve without hope at the loss of loved ones.
God’s grace makes all the difference. His grace allows us to look forward with eagerness and not backward with regret. It changes everything about our past and about our future. If we have failed and let down the people we care about, if we have caused hurt intentionally or unintentionally, we can move ahead by God’s grace knowing He looks with favor upon us and forgives our sins. By God’s grace, we can start out fresh again today and try to do better.
In his Letter to Titus, Paul speaks about how God’s grace works in the lives of His people, and how it leads them to show love to those around them. Paul writes that:
- Older men give evidence of this grace by being “sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness” (2:1).
- Older women are “reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They “teach what is good,” especially encouraging the younger women (v. 3).
- Younger women “love their husbands and children,” and are “self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands” (vv. 4-5).
- Younger men are also “self-controlled” and faithfully carry out their responsibilities (v. 6).
These loving attitudes and actions toward each other are given by grace, not because they are deserved or earned. We do not show love for one another as a reward, but as a reflection of the undeserved love God has for us.
By His grace, Jesus redeemed us—bought us back—from our lawless and selfish behavior. He shed His blood so He might cleanse us from all our sins and purify us for His work. We’re not just spinning our wheels anymore like unbelievers who have no purpose beyond satisfying their own desires. God has called us to carry out His will toward our neighbors, to love and serve them in His name, so they might be drawn to Him and receive His grace.
These are the things Paul charged Titus to do and teach as a pastor and bishop. He left Titus on the island of Crete, so Titus could help establish congregations and appoint pastors to serve them. Though his work occasionally took him to other places (2Ti. 4:10), he is thought to have died in Crete at an old age (c. A. D. 96). He no doubt had many administrative tasks to carry out, but his primary work was to administer the means of grace.
The same is true for pastors still today. Our calling from God through the congregations we serve is to administer the means of grace. It is to deliver and apply God’s grace in Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and the preaching of the Word. But before we apply the Gospel, we must apply the law. We must remind people of their need for God’s grace because of their sin.
But once they are convicted by the law and repent of their sin, we declare God’s grace. We announce the forgiveness of sin and new life through Jesus. And so I declare it to you today: God has not cast you away because of your sin. He does not hold you to your eternal debt. He forgives you all your sin because Jesus paid the price in full. He met the cost of your salvation and eternal life.
He gave Himself up for you because He loves you. He wants you to know that His steadfast love never ceases, and that His mercies are new every morning (Lam. 3:22-23). He wants you to know that your life matters and that you are needed by those around you. He wants you to have the “blessed hope” in this life, the knowledge that He will come again in His glory to take you out of this world of trouble.
All of this is by grace. It is an uncommon grace. It was costly, not cheap, and it is yours in rich supply. By God’s grace you are different than you used to be. God has changed you from a servant of sin, Satan, and death to His child and an heir of life. He has given you confidence and hope not in what you do for others or for Him, but in what He has done for you. Salvation is by His grace alone, and that changes everything.
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 of location in Crete)
Sexagesima Sunday | St. Matthias, Apostle – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: Acts 1:15-26
In Christ Jesus, who through His Word and Sacraments equips us and strengthens us for the work He has given us to do, dear fellow redeemed:
We know very little about the life of Matthias the Apostle. We do not know what his hometown was or his trade before becoming a disciple of Jesus. We do not know anything about his age, his personality, or his social standing. Some historical sources indicate that after becoming an apostle he worked near modern-day Turkey where he was killed. Others suggest that he was stoned and beheaded in Jerusalem. Ultimately those details—as interesting as they might be—are not important.
What is important is the reason Matthias was considered for the office of apostle: he had followed Jesus from the time of His baptism all the way to His ascension. Matthias must have witnessed many of the events recorded about Jesus in the four Gospels. He was not selected as one of the original twelve disciples, whom Jesus later named “apostles” (Luk. 6:13). But it is assumed that he was among the seventy-two, whom Jesus appointed to go ahead of Him “into every town and place where he himself was about to go” (10:1). They were supposed to proclaim to all the people they met: “The kingdom of God has come near to you” (v. 9).
When the seventy-two returned from their mission, they were filled with joy. They said to Jesus, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” (v. 17). And Jesus replied, “do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (v. 18). What a statement that was! An even greater thing than the power to cast out demons, was to have one’s name recorded in heaven.
Matthias may well have remembered Jesus’ words when he was one of two put forward by his brothers to become an apostle. Of the two men, the Lord chose Matthias. So Matthias now stepped into the office vacated by the death of Judas Iscariot. This would have been humbling. Judas had followed Jesus like Matthias had. He had heard and seen what Matthias had. But Judas let himself be overcome by Satan. He was greedy (Joh. 12:6). He even agreed to betray Jesus to the Jewish authorities for thirty pieces of silver (Mat. 26:15).
Peter told the brothers that this betrayal had been prophesied long before in the Psalms by David. Psalm 69 told of those who hated the Lord without cause and desired to destroy Him (v. 4). Therefore the Lord cried out to God for retribution, “May their camp be a desolation; let no one dwell in their tents” (v. 25). And a couple verses later, “Let them be blotted out of the book of the living; let them not be enrolled among the righteous” (v. 28). These verses applied to Judas. He had every good blessing from God but threw them away for earthly gain. By rejecting his Savior, Judas was rejected by God.
His terrible fall was a warning not just to Matthias and the other apostles, but it is for us as well. The devil is constantly trying to destroy our faith. He would like nothing more than for our names to be blotted out of the Book of Life. We could think on the one hand that the devil won’t bother with us. We don’t have nearly the prominence or status that Judas did. But on the other hand, if one of the chosen twelve disciples of the Lord could fall, we certainly could too.
Whatever good thing the Lord has prepared for you to do, the devil and his fellow demons want to ruin it. If you are a member of a congregation, the devil wants you to become secure in your sin or to find things to criticize in others. If you have a good reputation at your job, the devil wants you to become proud or to take advantage of your status for wrong purposes. If you are a parent, the devil wants you to resent your children or to spoil them. If you are a child, the devil wants you to disobey your parents or try to manipulate them.
The devil is a liar. He wants you to think that you deserve more, and that you can take what you don’t have without losing what you do. In other words, he wants you to ignore all the blessings God has given you (blessings too many to count) and to desire things that God has not given you.
Judas was chosen to be one of the Twelve. He was selected to accompany Jesus—the God-Man, the incarnate Christ—in His earthly work. He heard the promise Jesus spoke, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Mat. 19:29). But Judas thought thirty pieces of silver was more appealing than the glories of heaven.
Now Judas was replaced – “Let another take his office.” Matthias had known Jesus personally, but his most important qualification was that he had witnessed Jesus’ resurrection. That was the key. Matthias was now called to join the apostles in preaching Christ’s atoning death and His resurrection.
Without the resurrection, the apostles would have never left the security of their self-imposed prison following Jesus’ death. His resurrection changed everything. As the Catechism students can tell you, the resurrection of Christ proved that He is the Son of God, that He has made full satisfaction for sins, that all who believe in Him will also rise, and that He is now with us to help us forsake sin and live a new life (ELS Catechism, chapter 20, paragraph 165).
If the traditions are accurate, every one of the apostles faced violent opposition for preaching this message. How could they carry on? Why didn’t they lose courage? It was because a dead Man had come back to life. Jesus had risen! That meant He was the Lord of all, whom no earthly power or authority could overcome. When Peter and John were summoned before the leading Jewish Council, they boldly declared, “we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20). The apostles would not have been willing to die for a lie, but they were willing to die for the truth.
It was a privilege for Matthias to be chosen as an apostle, but the privilege came at a cost. The Lord who gave His life for Matthias, asked for Matthias’ life in return. He asked for Matthias’ faithfulness to Him and His holy Word, even when the temptations of the world were great and he was surrounded by terrifying enemies. I expect there were many times that Matthias wondered why he had been chosen to succeed Judas instead of “Joseph called Barsabbas” or someone else.
You have probably wondered something like this too in your own callings. Why did God put you in your family, where maybe you had to face a lot of challenges? Or you could wonder why God didn’t let you pursue your dreams, and you feel like you got stuck where you are. Or maybe you have had to shoulder more responsibility for family members or friends than you think you can carry. The devil would tempt you to run away from these callings, to go where your heart is leading you, to put yourself first.
But in the middle of these doubts and struggles, Jesus says, “Come to Me.” “Come to Me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.” The burden of living a life to God’s glory can feel awfully heavy at times. That is mostly because our sinful nature wants to pull us in the opposite direction of our life of faith. But with our eyes fixed on Jesus, who carried the heaviest burden before us, our burdens become much lighter.
Matthias was cheered by the same promises that cheer us. He had not volunteered himself for the position of apostle; God chose him for the work. And the One who died and rose again promised to be with him “always, to the end of the age” (Mat. 28:20). God has also chosen you for your work, and He promises to be with you always.
Like Matthias, you may often go through life unnoticed, with the attention on others. For all we know, Matthias was content with this. But then God called him out of the shadows, so to speak, and made him one of the Twelve. You don’t know what God might be preparing for you either. You may feel like most of the things you do go unnoticed. You may even wonder at times about the value of your life.
But God sees you. He has plans for you. In many ways that you don’t even think about, He is already blessing the people around you through your humble service. “For [you] are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that [you] should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). God has called you to do important things in your life, because your love for others is a reflection of His love. He does His work through you, just as He proclaimed the Gospel through Matthias and the other apostles.
You can go about this work He has prepared for you with joy, knowing that Jesus forgives all your failures and rights all your wrongs. Your glory is not in your own accomplishments or the honor given you for a job well done. Your glory is in Jesus, who died for you, and who rose again triumphant over death itself. Because of what He has done in your place, you have every reason to dedicate your life to Him. And along with Matthias and all the faithful, you can Rejoice that Your Name Is Written in Heaven.
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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(painting by James Tissot of Jesus sending out the seventy-two disciples by twos)
The Festival of All Saints – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Matthew 5:1-12
In Christ Jesus, whose righteousness and blood have opened the way for us to heaven, dear fellow redeemed:
Parents spend a lot of time telling their children to “stick with it,” because “the hard work will pay off.” It may be in reference to schoolwork or practice for a particular sport. Or maybe a child has taken on a job that is harder than he realized. He feels like quitting, but his parents urge him on: “Stick with it! You can do this!”
As we get older, the problems of life get more complex and serious, and we don’t always have the cheerleader in our corner urging us and helping us to “stick with it!” We feel as though the burden on our shoulders is more than we can carry. We feel like no one understands our troubles. Close relationships break apart, and we don’t see how they could ever be repaired. Our best efforts fail, and we are at a loss for what else to try. We imagine that there is no good solution to the difficulties we face.
Such feelings of helplessness are symptoms of life in a fallen world. In this world, righteousness and justice do not always win out. Kindness, love, and respect are not always returned. Wrongs are not always righted. Hard work is not always recognized. Sacrifices are not always appreciated. And the Gospel of Christ’s redemptive work is rejected by a great many.
It is because of the trials believers face in this world that Jesus spoke today’s words of comfort. His list of “Beatitudes” begins His “Sermon on the Mount,” which spans three chapters in the book of Matthew. Though some try to turn Jesus’ words into a creed for social justice, His words address spiritual and not social challenges.
The first blessing is for “the poor in spirit.” It is for you who recognize your spiritual bankruptcy. By nature, you have nothing good to present to God, nothing to offer that could make you acceptable to Him. You confess yourself to be a “poor sinner,” who can only “flee for refuge to [God’s] infinite mercy” (ELH “Confession of Sin,” p. 41). While despairing of yourself, you have the same confidence as the psalmist: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Ps. 51:17).
The second blessing is for “those who mourn.” It is for you who regret the wrongs you have done and are sorry for them. As much as you would like to take back things that you have done or said, you know that you cannot do this. And so you look to your merciful Savior. The hymnist Paul Gerhardt expressed this hope beautifully, “Rejoice, then, ye sad-hearted, / Who sit in deepest gloom, / Who mourn o’er joys departed, / And tremble at your doom; / Despair not, He is near you, / Yea, standing at the door, / Who best can help and cheer you, / And bid you weep no more” (ELH #94, v. 6).
The third blessing is for “the meek.” It is for you who have known injustice and unkindness, but who humbly commend your “body and soul and all things” into God’s loving hands (Luther’s Morning & Evening Prayers).
The fourth blessing is for “those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” It is for you whose soul pants for God like a ragged deer searching for flowing streams. It is for the soul that thirsts “for the living God” (Ps. 42:2). The world is a spiritual desert, so you long for the spiritual oasis of God’s Word and Sacraments where your spirit can be refreshed and strengthened.
The fifth blessing is for “the merciful.” It is for you who take the burdens of others upon yourself by offering help and encouragement and by praying for them. You do not love your neighbor perfectly, but God is pleased by even your humble efforts. No good word or kind deed goes unnoticed by Him.
The sixth blessing is for “the pure in heart.” It is for you who want to live a God-pleasing life, who want to follow His will. You recognize that your heart is not pure like it should be, and you trust that God will graciously create “a clean heart” in you and “renew a right spirit” within you (Ps. 51:10).
The seventh blessing is for “the peacemakers.” It is for you who want to establish and keep peace not by compromising the truth, but by speaking the truth in love (Eph. 4:25). You gently and patiently bear with others in love because you are “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3).
The eighth blessing is for “those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.” It is for you who are attacked for doing and saying the right thing. You willingly endure criticism and ridicule for your beliefs, because your trust is in God. You believe that nothing “will be able to separate [you] from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:39).
The ninth blessing is for “you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on My account.” You know what it is like to have lies told about you, or to have unkind assumptions repeated about you. When these hateful words are spoken against you because of your confession of Jesus and His Word, you have the promise of God’s unchanging love and compassion for you.
As you have listened to the list of those to whom Jesus Gives His Holy Blessings, you might think that some of the descriptions apply to you, but some do not. Maybe you do feel “poor in spirit,” but you have not been much of a “peacemaker.” Maybe you have been “mourning” about your sin, because you have not been very “merciful.”
But here is the comforting truth: Wherever we have lacked righteousness—which is in every aspect of our lives—Jesus substitutes His perfection. All of our pride, our me-first attitude, our lack of mercy toward others, our inner uncleanness, our reluctant faith—all of it is covered over by the righteousness of Jesus. When God looks at His children by faith, He does not see our sin; He sees the holiness of Jesus. This is why we are called saints even while we bear a sinful nature in this sinful world.
Today, we remember the saints from our churches who have entered the church triumphant within the past year. We remember Edna, Godfrey, Mavis, Eunice, and Stella. It is common in our culture to speak about the dead as though they had reached perfection on this earth. The five people we remember today would not want us to do that. They knew their sin just as surely as we know our own sin. But they were saints on earth by faith in Jesus, and now their souls are in heaven, unencumbered by any pain, sorrow, or trouble.
They are part of the great host that we heard about in today’s Epistle lesson. They are among the countless number of saints “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’” (Rev. 7:9-10). We are glad for them, but we miss them. And we find it harder to face the troubles of this world without them.
This is why Jesus promises the blessings He does in the Beatitudes. To you who are “poor in spirit,” Jesus gives “the kingdom of heaven.” To you who “mourn,” Jesus gives comfort. To you who are “meek,” Jesus gives the inheritance of all things. To you who “hunger and thirst for righteousness,” Jesus fills you with His holy food and drink. To you who are “merciful,” Jesus bestows His mercy. To you who are “pure in heart,” Jesus leads you into the glorious presence of God. To you who are “peacemakers,” Jesus calls you His brothers, the sons of God. To you who are “persecuted,” Jesus gives you the peace of heaven. To you who are reviled and lied about, Jesus gives you the eternal reward of Paradise.
These blessings are yours by faith in Jesus. You are among the suffering ones that He describes here. He is telling you that He understands your sorrow. He understands your pain. He understands the loneliness of life in the fallen world. If anyone knew these troubles, He did. He was despised and reviled and persecuted by all people in order to win for sinners the eternal riches of God.
This Lord who suffered on your behalf is now with you in your suffering. No matter how much it may feel like it at times, you are not alone. Jesus is here for you as you struggle through. He “opens His mouth” and speaks comforting words of forgiveness and healing to you through your pastor and other Christian friends. And He addresses your spiritual weakness by feeding you with His holy body and quenching your thirst with His precious blood. Jesus Gives His Holy Blessings Even to You.
This does more for you than a motivational “Stick with it!” or a “You can do this!” Instead Jesus says, “I can do this, and I have done it. All that you need, I have given to you. All that is Mine is yours. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.” By faith in these promises, we will one day be free of all our troubles and will join those saints above, that joyful host clothed in white robes. Then together we will worship the Lamb, our Savior, 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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(portion of “The Sermon of the Beatitudes” painting by James Tissot, 1836-1902)
The Festival of the Reformation | St. Simon & St. Jude, Apostles – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. John 15:17-21
In Christ Jesus, who perfectly spoke the truth in love (Eph. 4:15), so that sinners might repent and believe in Him, dear fellow redeemed:
For most of the apostles, we know something about their personal lives. We know their occupation before they were apostles. We know some of the questions they asked Jesus, and the statements they made. We can also read Gospels and Epistles recorded by apostles such as Matthew, John, Peter, and Paul. But we know very little about Simon and Jude, whose saint day has been established on October 28.
Simon is referred to in the New Testament as “the zealot” (Lk. 6:15; Ac. 1:13). This may mean that he belonged to a Jewish revolutionary force called the “Zealots” before he became an apostle. This group opposed Roman rule over Israel and was willing to use force to advance Israel’s independence. There is no other mention of this apostle Simon beyond his name and title.
Simon’s fellow apostle, Jude, is listed either before (“Thaddaeus”—Mt. 10:3; Mk. 3:18) or after him (Lk. 6:16; Ac. 1:13) when the twelve apostles are named together. Jude, or Judas, was a common name at this time, just as the names Simon and James were. There were two apostles named Simon, two named James, and two named Jude, or Judas. The only time the apostle Jude is quoted in the New Testament, he is clearly identified as “Judas (not Iscariot)” (Jn. 14:22). While it is possible that the apostle Jude wrote the second to last book of the Bible, it is generally thought that a different Jude is the author.
Historical tradition indicates that Simon and Jude worked as missionaries in Persia following Pentecost, and that they were martyred there at the same time (Lindemann, The Sermon and the Propers, Vol. IV, pp. 119-120). This may explain why their lives are commemorated on the same day. But it could also be because little more can be said about one than the other.
The apostles Simon and Jude are not important to us because of their personal lives. There are no lessons to be learned from their weak or courageous statements of faith, because none of those statements are recorded. They were two men chosen by Jesus to witness His wonderful words and actions over three years, and then to Speak the Truth about His death and resurrection “in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Ac. 1:8).
We do not have personal accounts of their missionary activity. But Jesus’ words to the disciples the night before His death give us an idea what they faced. Jesus warned them that the world would hate them just as it hated Him. They would be persecuted on account of His name. And so it happened. The apostle James was killed by government officials (Ac. 12:2). The apostle Peter was arrested shortly afterward and would have been killed also, but he was freed from jail by an angel (vv. 3-11). The apostle Paul details many abuses and troubles he endured simply because of what he preached (2Co. 11:23-27).
What is it that makes the world react in this way? What is so scary about the Christian message? Paul explained that “Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles” (1Co. 1:22-23). The Gospel stands in the way of human thinking, and therefore it is opposed.
The Jews expected a Messiah who would come with great power and wow the world with His mighty works. Instead Jesus came in humility and suffered a wretched death on the cross. This is not what they were looking for in the Messiah. The Gentiles on the other hand seek wisdom. Their god is the human mind. If something does not match their natural sentiments, they reject it. In this thinking, there is no place for an incarnate God and a victorious resurrection.
This is why Jesus is rejected. The world’s unbelievers are not convinced they need a Savior, and they are offended by the Christians’ insistence that they do. They want to believe that they are basically good, and that they are in firm control of their own destiny. But the Bible teaches the opposite. It teaches that all people by nature are dead in sin and are on the road to eternal punishment in hell. Unless the Holy Spirit works faith in human hearts, they cannot be saved.
So every Christian should expect this hatred and persecution in the world, just as the apostles did. Christianity is a religion of self-denial in a world that preaches self-indulgence. It is a religion of humble faith in a world that preaches pride and self-determinism. It is a religion of love for others in a world that preaches hatred and revenge toward one’s enemies. Jesus said, “If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.”
But the primary problem we face as Christians is not the wrath of the world. It is the weakness of our own flesh and our constant failings. Jesus chose us “out of the world,” and yet we so often speak and think and act no different than those who still are “of the world.” We take the Lord’s name in vain just like unbelievers do. We exhibit anger and hatred like they do. We deny our sins like they do. We gossip like they do. We live selfishly like they do. We buy into the lie that the way to be happy and successful and to get the most out of life is to put ourselves first.
Suppose Simon and Jude and the other apostles had done this. If they did what was beneficial for themselves, they would have quietly left Jerusalem after Jesus’ death and gone back to their previous occupations. Or they might have preached while times were good and then stopped preaching at the first sign of opposition. But the Holy Spirit compelled them to Speak the Truth, no matter the consequences.
After Pentecost, Peter and John were hauled before the Jewish Sanhedrin in Jerusalem. The Jewish leaders “charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.” But the apostles replied, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Ac. 4:18-20). How could they deny the One who had died and risen again? How could they fail to tell people what this meant—that sin is forgiven and death defeated? No better news than this had ever been spoken or heard. God had visited His people! The world’s Savior had come!
The apostles preached this message boldly and courageously, and their preaching turned the world upside down. The message of Christ crucified brought Jews and Gentiles, rich people and poor people, outwardly good people and outwardly bad people to faith in Jesus. They realized that all their attempts at self-justification were pointless; they could not save themselves. But Jesus had saved them. He had satisfied the righteous requirement of the law on their behalf and died in payment for their sin.
This is the saving truth that has been passed along from generation to generation until it has come to you. You also are a sinner whom Jesus redeemed with His own blood, and whom He has clothed in His righteousness. You may have failed again and again and joined in the sins of the world again and again, but Jesus grants you forgiveness again and again through His Word and Sacraments.
You would not know the good news of your salvation except for the work of the apostles and all the faithful confessors who followed them. Besides remembering the apostles Simon and Jude today, we also remember the work of Martin Luther and his fellow reformers. We know far more about Luther than we know about Simon and Jude. But Luther from 500 years ago and Simon and Jude from 2,000 years ago are significant for the same reason: They proclaimed the pure Gospel message. They counted “everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus” (Ph. 3:8).
We honor the memory of these faithful confessors by doing the same thing. We fix our eyes on Jesus. We hear and learn His Word. We Speak the Truth. We take up our cross and follow after Him. We servants are not greater than our Master. If He, the Perfect One, was persecuted, then we should expect no better treatment. If the God of perfect love was hated, then we should welcome the world’s disdain.
We have a remarkable illustration of this when the Christian church was beginning to grow in Jerusalem. The Holy Spirit had given power to the apostles to preach and to heal the sick. More and more were coming to faith through the Gospel. The Jewish authorities wanted to put a stop to the apostles’ work before the movement grew any more. So the authorities “beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go” (Ac. 5:40).
But instead of complaining about their injuries or shying away from their work, the apostles rejoiced “that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ” (vv. 41-42). This courage and strength did not come from inside them. It came from God.
That is where our courage comes from as well. Through the powerful Word, the Holy Spirit strengthens our faith, so that we are prepared to Speak the Truth in every situation. Like the Apostles, We Speak the Truth about Jesus. We proclaim everything He has done to save us and the whole world of sinners.
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(“Meal of Our Lord and the Apostles” painting by James Tissot, 1836-1902)
Saint Day: Mary Magdalene
Text: St. John 20:1-2,11-18
In Christ Jesus, who has compassion on poor sinners and suffered and died for each one, dear fellow redeemed:
In the three years of Jesus’ public work, the twelve disciples went wherever He went. But they were not the only followers of Jesus. The New Testament informs us of other men (Ac. 1:23) and women who traveled with Him. Regarding the women, the evangelist Luke writes that they “provided for [Jesus and His disciples] out of their means” (Lk. 8:3). Their financial support allowed Jesus and the Twelve to focus on teaching, preaching, and healing, rather than on finding daily bread.
The women showed this kindness toward Jesus because of the compassion He had showed them. Luke notes that some of the women “had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities,” including “Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, [King] Herod’s household manager, and Susanna” (vv. 2-3). Our focus today is on Mary Magdalene.
As far as we know, Mary came from a village on the Sea of Galilee called “Magdala,” which made her, “Mary the Magdalene.” Mary would not have been remembered beyond her lifetime except for her association with Jesus.
She first beheld Him, as though peering through a dark cloud. Seven demons had taken residence in her. This could have caused her to behave in all sorts of troubling ways. One girl was possessed by a demon which gave her fortune-telling abilities (Ac. 16:16). A demon afflicted another boy by trying to cast him into fire and water to destroy him (Mk. 9:22). A legion of demons possessed another man and drove him into the desert to live among tombs (Lk. 8:26-30).
Demons inflict harm and are constantly working to move people to sin against themselves and others. According to tradition, Mary’s demons led her to sin especially against the Sixth Commandment. [Luke 7:36-50 has been applied to Mary Magdalene in the history of the church, but there is no proof that this woman and Mary are the same.]
We do not know how long Mary had been possessed by demons, but we do have an idea how it came about. Jesus explained that demons are only too ready to enter hearts that are empty of saving faith. He said that a demon “finds the house [the heart] empty, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there” (Mt. 12:44-45). Mary was in a terrible state. She had no hope. She was controlled by satanic forces. She appeared to be alive, but her body was full of death. If nothing changed, her anguish on earth would have given way to an eternity of suffering in hell.
Then the menacing cloud was lifted. Jesus stood before her, and as He did for many others, He commanded the demons to come out of her. Mary was freed from the chains of death that held her. The same powerful Word that forced the demons out of her body also worked its way into her heart. Her hardened heart of unbelief became a living heart of faith. She looked upon her Savior and loved Him for the mercy He had showed her. She could never repay Him, but she could follow Him and devote her life to Him.
Mary joined the men and women who traveled with Jesus until their journey led them through the gates of Jerusalem on a Sunday of palm branches and praises. Still, the mood was tense. It was well known that many of the Jewish religious leaders despised Jesus. Would they try to have Him arrested during this festival week on charges of blasphemy and insurrection? And in fact they did, in a secluded garden with few eyes watching.
By Good Friday morning, word began to spread about Jesus’ arrest. Mary heard too and went to where the crowd was gathering to see what would happen. The religious leaders succeeded in turning the people against Jesus, and they pressured Pilate to give the order for Jesus’ crucifixion. Wearing a crown of thorns, bruised and bleeding, Jesus was sent out from the governor’s palace carrying His own cross. A great many joined the procession, including women who mourned and lamented for Him (Lk. 23:27). Mary must have been one of these, because we know she was among the few followers of Jesus who stood by His cross at Golgotha (Jn. 19:25).
Her heart broke as she watched her Savior in such agony. How could they do this? How could this happen to such a great man? He had delivered her from her demons, and from death itself. But now there was no one to save Him. Darkness descended at noontime, and about 3:00pm, Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt. 27:46). He was suffering the eternal fires of hell for sinners. Then He said, “It is finished” (Jn. 19:30), and followed that with, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” (Lk. 23:46). After saying this, He breathed His last.
Mary Magdalene witnessed all these things, but she could hardly comprehend what she was hearing and seeing. Could this be it? Could her Savior be dead? Many went home, but she and some of the other women from Galilee would not leave Jesus. They watched from a distance and saw Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus take the body down from the cross and wrap it in a clean linen shroud. They followed the men and saw the tomb where the body was buried (Mt. 27:55-61). Then they hurried back to their homes before the start of the Sabbath at sundown.
God established the Sabbath for a day to rest and be refreshed and strengthened through the Word. But Jesus’ followers could hardly relax. They could not believe their kind Teacher was dead. They worried that the authorities would be coming for them next. For their part, the women resolved to serve Jesus one last time. After the Sabbath, they would bring spices and ointments to give Jesus a more proper burial (Lk. 23:56).
But their spices and ointments would not be needed. The women found the tomb open and empty. While Mary Magdalene stood there weeping, Jesus appeared and spoke to her. She did not recognize who it was. But when Jesus said her name, “Mary,” she turned and cried out, “Rabboni!”—“Teacher!” This was Jesus’ first earthly appearance after His resurrection. Mary—formerly inhabited by seven demons—was the first witness of the event that changed everything forever.
It’s a good story with a happy ending. But it’s no good if that’s all we see in it. We should recognize that Mary’s story could just as well be your story and mine. Like Mary, we also were controlled by satanic forces before we were converted by the power of the Holy Spirit. This is why in our baptismal liturgy, we ask sponsors to answer this question on behalf of the young child or infant, “Do you renounce the devil, and all his works, and all his ways?”
Through Baptism, the light of God’s powerful Word pierced our darkness and brought us to faith. This saving Baptism into Christ is our continued defense against the demons who would do us harm. We return to our Baptism through repentance of our sins and trust in God’s Word of grace. His Word leads us from spiritual death to spiritual life, just as His Word gave life to Mary.
The proof that this life is ours is based on what Mary and many others witnessed. They saw Jesus die. It was no elaborate hoax. They did not deposit an unconscious Jesus in the tomb and leave an opening for Him to escape. He was dead. Tombs are not closed and sealed unless this is certain. Listen to how Mary referred to Jesus on Easter morning: “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.” She assumes He had to be taken and laid somewhere because He was dead. Of course He couldn’t move Himself!
And by this assumption, Mary was just as guilty as all the rest. Jesus had told them otherwise. He said He would die and rise again. But they did not believe it. No one had ever risen from the dead. We are tempted to the same unbelief. All we see around us is death. How can we be sure the dead will rise again?
Our certainty is not in what we see with our eyes, but in what others saw with theirs. Did the disciples believe Jesus could rise? No. What changed their minds? They saw Jesus alive multiple times. It was undeniable. Even when they were arrested and killed for preaching Jesus’ death and resurrection, they would not deny His resurrection, because it was true.
Jesus’ resurrection is a historical fact. It can be rejected, but it cannot be undone. Jesus rose in victory over death, so that each sinner can be certain of forgiveness. His resurrection means that God accepted His sacrifice on behalf of all sinners. Jesus paid the debt of your sin. He conquered your death. The death of your body in this life is only temporary. Jesus will raise you again, and then there will be no pain, trouble, or weeping.
When Mary saw Jesus standing outside His tomb, she wanted to cling to Him. But Jesus told her that His Word—and not His visible presence—would now have most importance. She was to share that Word with the disciples, that Jesus would soon ascend “to My Father and your Father, to My God and your God.” This is the moment captured in Jerico’s altar painting, which is also printed on today’s bulletin cover. Jesus holds up His hands showing the marks of the nails and points to the heavens.
This painting reminds us to take Jesus at His Word, even though we cannot now see Him. We believe that He died and rose again for us, and that He has ascended into heaven to prepare a place for all believers. We learn with Mary to “Set [our] minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Col. 3:2). We wait eagerly for Jesus to appear to us like He did to Mary, and then our journey from Death to Life will be complete.
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The Nativity of St. John the Baptizer (June 24)
Text: St. Luke 1:57-80
In Christ Jesus, whose success is our success, whose life is our life, whose victory is our victory, dear fellow redeemed:
When I was in high school, my English teacher gave us the assignment of writing down what we expected to be doing in ten or fifteen years. I do not remember exactly what I wrote, though I know my future plans included finding a wife and having a family. Like a typical high schooler, I’m sure I also hoped to have a good-paying job through which I could live comfortably and make a difference in the world. I never ruled out becoming a pastor, but that is not what I planned to do with my life. I would not have guessed that this is the purpose God was preparing me for from childhood on.
How about you? Has your life played out like you expected? Would you rather have the life you have now, or the one you dreamed of having as a child? If you are still young, how set are you on your plans for the future? Would you be disappointed if you don’t end up getting a job in the field you have trained for?
Some people are so eager to know their future that they even use questionable means to try to get this information. They might visit psychics or other “spiritualists” who claim to receive messages from another realm. Or they might trust their daily horoscope to give them answers that supposedly come from the stars. But believers in Christ do not need to use these methods. They know that the Lord holds their future and that He will turn even their bad experiences into something good (Rom. 8:28).
Still, you may wonder what plans God has for you. You don’t want to waste time and energy pursing things that are not part of His plan. If only all children born into the world came with a general indication of their future attached: “This child will be a farmer.” “This child will work for the government.” “This child will serve in the church.” “This child will be a business owner.” “This child will be a homemaker.” Even those general descriptions would help children to focus on those areas of work and study which would best fit their future occupations.
John the Baptizer had the benefit of something like this. When the Israelite priest Zechariah was serving in the temple, the angel Gabriel appeared to him. He said that Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth would have a son even in their old age. They were to call him “John,” a name meaning, “The LORD is gracious.” The angel said that “he will be great before the Lord,” and “he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared” (Lk. 1:15-17). John would know that the LORD was calling him to do special work. He would be a prophet of the Lord like Elijah was, and he would prepare the way for the Messiah.
Then after his birth, his father, “filled with the Holy Spirit,” spoke another prophecy about his life. Zechariah declared, “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare His ways, to give knowledge of salvation to His people in the forgiveness of their sins.” John had a clear knowledge of his purpose in life. He did not need to try different occupations to see what fit. God had determined what He should do. Trusting this plan, John “became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day of his public appearance to Israel.”
John knew what he was supposed to do, but that didn’t take away all uncertainty. He was sent to prepare people for a Messiah that for a long time he could not identify himself. Later, when Jesus was revealed as that Messiah through baptism, John said, “I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel” (Jn. 1:31). John also could not have guessed how quickly his work in the wilderness would come to an end. Yes, he had said about Jesus that “He must increase, but I must decrease” (Jn. 3:30). But did John really expect to be put away in Herod’s prison just as the Messiah was being revealed to the world? Is this the future he imagined when he was specially called to be the LORD’s prophet?
Then due to a foolish promise made by Herod, John was beheaded (Jn. 6:21-28). His prominent and promising earthly life had suddenly ended when he was only about thirty years old. It seems so tragic. We imagine he would have accomplished many more great things through his bold preaching and humble example.
If John had been able to see exactly how his life would play out, do you think it would have changed anything? If he knew Jesus was the Messiah when they were adolescents or teenagers, would he have been tempted to reveal this information before the appointed time? If he knew he would be arrested and beheaded, would he have checked his criticism of the king?
It is better for the details of our life to be unknown to us until they take place. If we knew what was coming, we would feel like we were in control of our future. We would also try our utmost to alter or adjust the future that is revealed. There are many things in our lives that we wish had never happened. We wish we made better decisions in our younger years. We wish we had not entered into relationships that brought us pain and heartache. We wish we had spent our money more wisely. We wish we had not let one opportunity or another pass us by. We wish we had not lost people we love.
But God has not given us the ability to know the future or to change the past. What He calls us to do is to trust Him—to trust Him who knew us even before the world was made, who formed us in our mother’s womb, who called us out of the darkness of unbelief to the light of salvation by the power of His holy Word, who abides with us still, and who guides us all along the path to heaven. If our trust in Him were perfect, we would feel no discontent about our present situation. We would feel no guilt about the past and no fear about the future. We would know that the Lord sets everything right, and that He will not fail to work good out of even the most difficult situations.
But trusting in the Lord with all our heart (Pro. 3:5) seems too inadequate and risky. We want to have some control. We want to do things that are personally fulfilling, even if they are not exactly God-pleasing. In this way, the human will and human desire are elevated to the position of all authority. But why should your plan for your life be better than God’s plan for your life? How many times have you made a bad decision? How many times have you chosen the wrong path?
God has never done anything wrong. He has never made a bad decision. He is perfect. All His plans are right, and they are always geared toward your salvation. If you wonder whether God has a plan for your life, you need look no further than Jesus. Jesus is the irrefutable proof that your life has purpose and that God cares about you. No other conclusion can be reached than this one. Why else would the eternal, all-powerful God take on human flesh—your flesh? If the one and only God became a man, then mankind must matter—then you must matter.
And you do. God’s Son became Man to give you a future. He came to fulfill the holy law in your place and to pay the penalty for your sin. He came to set your life on a very different course than you were on by nature. By nature, you were destined to live a meaningless life and to spend eternity in hell. But in Christ, even the smallest details and movements of your life now have meaning. No matter how much you have deviated from the right path, no matter how often you have put your desires before God’s will, your Savior forgives you. He redeemed your soul through the shedding of His holy, precious blood.
It is not what you do with your life that counts for your salvation, but what Jesus did with His life. When you were baptized, you died to the world. You died to its plans. You died to its promises. At the same time, you were made alive in Christ. You were given His holiness and His victory. The Apostle Paul states that “you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:3).
What Is Your Life’s Purpose? It is to remain in Christ by faith in Him. It is to gladly hear and learn His Word. It is to love your neighbor as Jesus loves. It is to serve as He serves. This is why John’s life had purpose and was tremendously important, even though it ended quickly. His life was not about him. It was about Jesus. John’s calling was to point to Him. With that accomplished, God called John’s soul to its heavenly home. His life was not a failure. It did not end too soon. He lived out the purpose God had given to him for as long as God had planned.
You are living out your purpose in life right now. You can serve God and your neighbor wherever you are and in whatever station He has given you. It may not be what you imagined when you were younger, but your life and purpose are not about you. They are about Jesus, who loves you with an undying love, and who will bring you when your days are ended to Himself.
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(excerpt of “The Beheading of John the Baptist” by Puvis de Chavannes, c. 1869)
The Festival of All Saints – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Matthew 5:1-12
In Christ Jesus, who has opened the kingdom of heaven to all who trust in Him alone, dear fellow redeemed:
An athlete being interviewed after a victory might say with a smile that he is blessed to have the talents he has. The family sitting around the table at Thanksgiving might list all the good things they share. And you, when you look around at your neighbors, might think to yourself how blessed they are and wish you could have the blessings that they do.
When we think about “blessedness,” we imagine happiness and good fortune and success. But that is not how Jesus speaks about it in today’s text. He says that even those who mourn and those who are persecuted are blessed. How can this be? Well which would you rather have: riches now or riches forever? joy now or joy forever? peace now or peace forever? Of course it doesn’t have to be an either/or. God often gives His children riches, joys, and peace both now and forever. But often is not always.
It can be very difficult to see the blessing in a job lost, in a relationship broken, or in the death of a family member. These things feel more like a curse to us than a blessing. We might even express as much to God. “God, why did You let me get fired?” “Why didn’t you fix my relationship?” “Why didn’t You heal my loved one?” We are troubled by the knowledge that the Lord is all-powerful, and yet does not help us in the ways we want. Is it because He is uncaring? Is it because He is punishing us for some reason?
God does not promise that we will understand the reason for every trial we experience. He does tell us that some trials are given to train us in Christian discipline, “For the Lord disciplines the one he loves” (Heb. 12:6). St. Paul writes that with this in mind we can even “rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope” (Rom. 5:3-4). Whatever the reason for our trials, we remember the promise from God that “for those who love God all things work together for good” (8:28).
Everything works out for good “for those who love God.” But how can you and I know that we love God enough? If the standard is what Jesus lists today in the first part of His “Sermon on the Mount,” we have all fallen short. Jesus says that “the poor in spirit” are blessed, but we are often proud and boastful. “The meek” are blessed, but we are often self-centered and glory-seeking. “Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness” are blessed, but we hunger and thirst the most for earthly goods that do not last. Then there are “the merciful,” “the pure in heart,” and “the peacemakers.” It is not hard to think of where we have failed in those areas too. So if these behaviors that Jesus outlines are required for blessedness, how could we ever hope to be blessed?
On your own, you can achieve and gain things that are counted as blessings in the world. You can take a job that suits you. You can get married and have a family. You can make a good name for yourself. You can buy a house and nice things to go in it. But these are all earthly blessings. They are yours for a short time, and then they are left behind. The blessings Jesus refers to are spiritual blessings that benefit you not just here in time but on into eternity. They are blessings that you cannot get on your own. They must be given to you. And before they can be given to you, those blessings had to be won.
When Jesus presented His list of beatitudes, He knew full well that no one could perfectly live up to them. That doesn’t mean it was a waste of time to speak them. It is important for sinners to know the righteousness that God requires. It is important to be reminded that even our best efforts do not come close to what God commands. But the Bible is clear that our salvation does not depend on our own righteousness. It depends on the righteousness of Jesus.
Did Jesus meet the standard of God? Let’s see. Was He poor in spirit? Did He mourn for the lost? Was He meek? Did He hunger and thirst for righteousness? Was He merciful? Was He pure in heart? Was He a peacemaker? Was He persecuted for righteousness’ sake? Each of these beatitudes describes a different part of Jesus’ active obedience. They describe how He humbled Himself and willingly endured all sorts of injustice in His quest to save sinners. Because of His perfect life, Jesus was blessed before God and given the kingdom of heaven.
But the Son of God did not become Man to win this reward for Himself. He came to win it for you. He lived a perfect life for you so that you would inherit heaven, so that you would be comforted, so that you would receive mercy, and see God, and be called His own sons. But how do you get these blessings? How do you know they are yours? Jesus says, “Blessed… are those who hear the word of God!” (Lk. 11:28). And He says, “Blessed are those who… have believed” (Jn. 20:29). You receive the blessings of God, not by your own works or good behavior. You receive the eternal blessings of God by His Word alone and through faith alone.
Today we are remembering the members of our churches who have entered the church triumphant within the past year: Harvey, Art, Maxine, Jim, Hilda, Jean, and Vera. Adding up their ages nets a total of well over 600 years and an average of almost 90 years each. If we totaled the blessings we received from knowing them throughout their lives, it would be a very lengthy list. But the blessings they received from God are uncountable. From the time of their baptism until their dying day, the Lord poured out upon them His grace and comfort, His righteousness, forgiveness, and life – always and only through the means of grace.
The Lord does the same for you too. By His powerful Gospel, He sustains and strengthens your faith, so that the benefits of Christ’s perfect life and atoning death are continually credited to you. Through faith in Him, Jesus’ righteousness is given to you as though you had produced it yourself, and His cleansing blood is applied to you as though you had paid for your own sins.
If you lived before the Reformation, your priest probably would have told you that you must make satisfaction for your own sins. He would have also reminded you to do what you could to help the souls of the deceased get out of purgatory. How might this be done? By making pilgrimages to various holy sites and relics, by purchasing indulgences from the pope, by sponsoring private masses in the name of a loved one, and so on. But how could human works ever satisfy a person’s great spiritual debt?
The righteousness that counts before God could never come through your works. It must come through faith, faith in Jesus who accomplished everything for you. In Him you are declared to be a saint, or holy one, of God. You are counted as one who is innocent, sinless, pure. Everything God demands of you, He freely gives you. So when Jesus talks about the poor in spirit, the mourners, the meek, the hungry and thirsty, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers – He is describing you, because you are in Him, and He is all those things.
What this means is that you are blessed. Blessed Are You even when you mourn and suffer persecution. Blessed Are You even when everything seems to be going wrong, because “the kingdom of heaven” is yours in Christ. All of your earthly blessings can be taken away from you, but the spiritual blessings of God are eternal. This is why Jesus says, “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things—all you need in this life—will be added to you” (Mt. 6:33).
The Lord is not uncaring about your troubles, nor should you assume He is punishing you when something bad happens to you. If you as a Christian experienced no trouble in the sinful world, that in itself would be a cause for concern! We will have trouble here, because we are only temporary inhabitants of this world. Our true home is somewhere else. St. Paul writes, “[O]ur citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil. 3:20).
When Jesus returns visibly in all His glory, He “will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself” (v. 21). Then we will look like the saints that we already are in Christ. Then we will inherit the eternal blessings that we already possess but do not yet fully enjoy. Then we will live under the Lord in His heavenly kingdom, “and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness” (Explanation to the Second Article). What a blessing that will be!
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The Festival of All Saints – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Matthew 5:13-16
In Christ Jesus, whose “light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (Jn. 1:5), dear fellow redeemed:
It is quite a view to look at America from outer space, particularly at nighttime. The eastern half of the country is peppered with light, as is the west coast. You can tell from the concentrated circles of light where the larger cities are, and you get a sense of just how many people there are in our country.
In today’s sermon text, Jesus says that His followers are “the light of the world.” Imagine if believers in Christ actually glowed with light. How would that look from the night sky? Would the most concentrated number of believers be in America, or somewhere else in the world? How closely would the number of self-proclaimed Christians match up with the people of light?
When Jesus calls us “the light,” of course He is not referring to a visible light, but to the faith that glows within us. Our faith is unseen. But our actions are seen by others. We give glory to God by living according to His Commandments. But we dishonor Him when we break His Commandments. This is why Jesus Calls Us to Be the Holy Ones We Are. We are already counted as righteous before God by faith in Him. But we also want to live holy lives so that more around us are drawn to the light of Christ.
A lot of emphasis is placed on being unique these days, on being your own person, no matter what crazy or deviant behavior this might include. But in reality, all people by nature are the exact same. They may look different on the outside, they may have different personalities, but they are no different on the inside. They are driven by sinful desires and walk in spiritual darkness. God describes this darkness as the world of “orgies and drunkenness… sexual immorality and sensuality… quarreling and jealousy” (Rom. 13:13). Spiritual darkness blinds sinners to what is good and holy, and it feeds hatred and all sorts of wickedness (1Jn. 2:9-11). Jesus said, “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed” (Jn. 3:19-20).
Believers in Christ no longer walk in this spiritual darkness. They do not conform to the world, but are transformed by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 12:2). Some say this happens when a person opens his heart to Jesus and lets the light of God’s grace shine in. But if we are lost in the darkness of our sin, there is no getting ourselves out. Our spiritual darkness is like being left alone in a pitch-black cave deep in the heart of the earth. Trying to escape this darkness through our own efforts ultimately makes us more lost and confused than we were before.
Only God can rescue a sinner from spiritual darkness, and He does it by the power of the Holy Spirit through the Word. 2 Corinthians 4 says that God “has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (v. 6). Jesus came as a bright light into the dark world. His holiness and goodness were so blinding that many covered their eyes and would not see or listen to Him (Jn. 1:10-11). The devil convinced them that it would be better to remain in their self-righteousness than to repent of their sins and entrust themselves to Christ. But some did repent by the power of God and received Him by faith (v. 12). They were reborn into the kingdom of light.
You also have been blessed with spiritual rebirth. You “were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (v. 13). By the powerful working of the Holy Spirit, you were delivered from the dark womb of the world into the light of God’s truth and grace. When you were baptized in God’s holy name as a child or heard the saving Gospel later in life, the Lord “called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1Pe. 2:9). He changed the trajectory of your life and your future in the most dramatic way possible. You became His child by faith in Jesus and were made an heir of His eternal kingdom. God turned you “from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to [Him],” and He gave you “forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith” (Ac. 26:18).
All of this is because of what Jesus did for you. “I have come into the world as light,” He said, “so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness” (Jn. 12:46). In Jesus, you no longer have to fear what the devil may do to you or what will happen to you when you die. The guilt of your sin does not need to weigh you down anymore. You broke God’s law by failing to perfectly love Him and your neighbor, but Jesus fulfilled it. He lived a holy life for your sake. He also destroyed the power that sin, death, and devil had over you by going to the cross as your Substitute and rising again from the dead in victory. This is why God now counts you among the saints, “the holy ones.” By faith in Jesus, that is what you already are. But is that how you live?
Probably the worst thing someone could say to us after knowing us for a few years is: “Oh, I had no idea you were a Christian!” We would have to wonder what we had said and done that made this such a surprise. Was it because of the way we lived, engaging in immoral and unethical behavior? Was it because of the language we used, including the frequent misuse of God’s name? Not that we have to give a personal testimony of our faith in Jesus to every stranger we meet. If you have met people like that, you know that this is a little awkward. But the people around us should notice something different about us, even if we do not talk about Jesus.
I suppose a person could say about this that they never signed up to be a “poster-child” for Christianity. “There are better people to talk about and represent Jesus than me,” they say. But God did not put someone else in their position in life with their particular experiences and acquaintances. He called that specific person to be His child and to live for Him. The Lord does not favor one Christian over another. He says to each one: You are salt, so be salt. You are light, so be light. Why? Jesus says, “[T]hat they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” Since God has chosen you as His child, He has chosen you to be His representative. He wants others to learn about His love through you. That is after all how you came to faith, through the example and testimony of someone else.
This is why it matters how you live your life. You want others to see what God has done for you, how His love has changed you, what His forgiveness has meant for your life, the sure hope you have of life after this one. But if the way you live and act is just the same as the unbelievers around you, what does this say? The Apostle Paul writes, “[F]or at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light” (Eph. 5:8). We feel the pressure of what Jesus asks of us. Sometimes we just want to fit in and live free of the law like non-Christians do. But this isn’t actually freedom. It is slavery to darkness where there can be no true hope or joy.
And yes, as a Christian, your actions will be closely watched by the people of the world. If they can catch you trying to pass the blame for your sin, or getting puffed up with pride, they will conclude that Christianity is just what they thought all along—a waste of time. But if they see your humble attitude and hear you repent of sin and offer forgiveness to others, they will be faced with something totally foreign to them, something strange—and yet something hopeful. It is at those times that they may ask you to tell them more about Jesus.
The history of the Christian Church is filled with weak and cowardly sinners, whom God called to be His holy ones. You are not the first one to wonder why God chose you, or how He could ever use someone like you for His good purposes. But sinners like you are just the instruments God wants to use to proclaim His saving Gospel. You are something the world needs because you have something the world needs. This is why Jesus calls you “the light of the world.” He has brought you and many others out of spiritual darkness, and has filled you with the light of His grace. When the light of your faith shines, it is the light of Jesus that people see.
None of us is really up for this responsibility that Jesus gives us, to be salt and light in the world, to be His representatives. But God knew what He was getting when He called us to be His own. He was not looking for “super saints” who already had their lives in good order. He was looking for sinners, and He found us. We are the ones God loves. We are the ones He chose in His Son. We are the ones who live in the light of His salvation.
The world cannot see this light, and neither can we. But what we cannot see with our eyes, we know by faith. We know that we are not alone in this dark world, because there are many brothers and sisters in Christ around us. We also know that God keeps His promises. He promises to be with us and strengthen us in this life, and He promises to take us to live in His heavenly kingdom. Already, many saints have been translated in spirit to heaven, where they await the resurrection of their bodies on the Last Day.
It would be quite a sight to see God’s children glowing with light on earth, if we could see this from the night sky. But imagine if we were able to look up and see the saints in heaven above. They would be countless like the stars. And one day you will “share in the inheritance of the saints in light” (Col. 1:12). You will be joined to that number by God’s grace, and then you will be exactly what you are—holy in God’s sight forever.
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