The Festival of the Holy Trinity – Pr. Faugstad homilies
In Christ Jesus, who is one God with the Father and the Holy Spirit—one God uncreated, infinite, eternal, almighty, and worthy of all praise—, dear fellow redeemed:
The Apostles’ Creed
Before He ascended into heaven, Jesus gave His disciples a great commission: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me,” He said. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Mat. 28:18-20). Now if they were to baptize in this way, they would need to teach people who the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are.
This is what the Apostles’ Creed does. But how did this Creed originate? An old tradition was that on Pentecost the twelve apostles gathered together, and each of them contributed a phrase to this statement of faith. While this is possible, the New Testament contains no mention of it happening. We call it the “Apostles’ Creed” not because it was written by the apostles, but because it summarizes the doctrine, or the teaching, of the apostles. We don’t know exactly when it was written, but a statement of faith with similar wording can be traced back to the year 150. So Christians have been reciting this Creed for nearly 2,000 years.
The Apostles’ Creed contains three parts, the first about God the Father, the second about God the Son, and the third about God the Holy Spirit. From an early time, the Apostles’ Creed was known as the “Baptismal Creed.” An adult who wished to be baptized was expected to recite this Creed and be able to explain its teachings before being baptized.
The shortest article of the Apostles’ Creed is about God the Father. He is described as “Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.” The earth and everything in outer space did not come about by chance. All things were created by the Father. Every amazing detail came from His own creative brilliance. He was able to do this because there is no limit to what He can do. He is all-powerful, “Almighty.”
The second and longest article of the Apostles’ Creed is about God the Son. God the Father sent His only Son to take on human flesh in the virgin Mary’s womb. The purpose was so that He could suffer and die on the cross in the place of all sinners. Having completed His atoning work, Jesus descended into hell to declare His victory to the demons and to the damned (1Pe. 3:18-20, Col. 2:15). Then He rose from the dead and showed Himself alive to hundreds of His disciples before ascending visibly into heaven. He now rules over all things at the Father’s right hand until His visible return on the last day.
The third article of the Apostles’ Creed tells us how the saving work of Jesus comes to us today. It comes by the power of the Holy Spirit who works in the holy Christian Church. He works in the Church through the powerful Word and Sacraments of God—through the preaching of the Gospel and the administration of Baptism and Holy Communion. Wherever the Gospel is, the Holy Spirit is, bringing the forgiveness of sins and preparing the saints of God for the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.
Let us confess our holy faith in the words of the Apostles’ Creed.
The Nicene Creed
The details of the origin of the Nicene Creed are clearer than those of the Apostles’ Creed. The Nicene Creed was formulated at the Council of Nicea in the year 325 and finalized in 381. It was written to settle a doctrinal controversy about the nature of God. A theologian named Arius was trying to argue that God was not triune, but that only the Father was God from eternity. He said that the Son was perfect, but only a creature of God, which meant that “there was a time when he was not” (Arius’ slogan).
Arius was very effective at spreading this unbiblical teaching, and many followed his ideas. With the church divided, the Roman emperor Constantine called for an ecumenical council, or a council for the entire Christian Church. 220 bishops traveled to Nicea for this council, including Arius. Through the efforts of a young pastor named Athanasius, who at the time was only twenty-nine years old, the council affirmed the teaching of the Bible that God is triune. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are one God, of one substance, but are still three distinct Persons. By the grace of God, Arius’ false teaching had been rejected.
The Nicene Creed is similar in many ways to the Apostles’ Creed, but it is expanded for important reasons. God the Father is again confessed as the almighty Creator, but the phrase “of all things visible and invisible” is added. This is a reference to Colossians 1:16, which states that “by the Son,” the Father created “all things… in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible.” If the Son participated in every part of creation, He could not be a creature Himself.
The second part of the Nicene Creed clearly outlines the teaching that the Son is eternally God. The Son is “begotten of His Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.” If the truth of the Bible had not been preserved, the certainty of our salvation through Jesus’ death and resurrection would have been lost. If the eternal Son of God was not there on the cross for us, the scales of God’s justice could not have been balanced. But because Jesus is true God, our guilt is atoned for and our sin is forgiven.
The third part of the Nicene Creed emphasizes that the Holy Spirit is also our eternal Lord. He is the Giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. Because He is true God, He deserves to be worshipped and glorified. He inspired the words of the Bible by speaking through the prophets and apostles. And He continues to bring us the gifts of Jesus. Unlike the Apostles’ Creed, this Creed specifically confesses “one Baptism for the remission of sins.” This shows that the early Church rightly viewed Baptism not as our work for God as some of the Reformed and Baptist churches teach, but as God’s work for us.
Let us confess our holy faith in the words of the Nicene Creed.
The Athanasian Creed
The Athanasian Creed bears the name of the great defender of the faith, Athanasius, who helped guide the formation of the Nicene Creed. But like the Apostles’ Creed, which probably was not written by the apostles but is based on their teaching, so it is with the Athanasian Creed. The earliest evidence of this Creed dates to the mid-400s, fifty years or so after the death of Athanasius.
The Athanasian Creed is by far the longest of the three ecumenical creeds, and it is not structured like the other two. It was written to explain in detail the Bible’s teaching about the one true God. It teaches that God is triune, one God in three Persons—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This does not mean that God is three people or that He has three personalities. “Triune” means that while distinctions can be made about the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, they share the same substance; they are one God.
Our minds are not able to comprehend this truth and sort it out. But then it shouldn’t surprise us that there are things about the almighty, eternal God that are beyond our limited reason. We believe what God has revealed about Himself in His holy Word. We believe no more and no less than what the Bible teaches.
The very beginning of the Creed speaks about “the catholic faith.” The word “catholic” means “universal,” so the catholic faith is the universal Christian faith based on the Bible’s teaching. It does not mean the Roman Catholic faith, which is not always based on the Bible. The end of the Creed says something surprising. It says, “they that have done good will enter into life everlasting; and they that have done evil into everlasting fire.” This is actually a direct quote from Jesus (Joh. 5:29). He is not teaching us to trust in our own good works. He is referring to the good that is only possible by faith in Him, and also to the evil that is counted against those who reject Him.
Let us confess our holy faith in the words of the Athanasian Creed.
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.
(Historical information from “I Believe: A Study of the Three Universal or Ecumenical Creeds” by Bjarne W. Teigen, 1976)
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(picture from painting of the First Council of Nicea in 325)
The Festival of Our Lord’s Ascension – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Mark 16:14-20
In Christ Jesus, the “Lord of lords and King of kings” (Rev. 17:14), who is worthy to be praised, honored, and glorified by all, dear fellow redeemed:
I recently saw an ad from Marvel Studios about the ten movies the company plans to release in the next two years. That is on top of all its movies that are already available. As long as people keep paying to watch them, Marvel will keep producing them. So what is the big appeal about these superhero movies? The characters are well-developed, the special effects are impressive, and the action sequences keep audience members on the edge of their seats. But it seems there is something deeper.
There is something about the theme of the “superhero” that really resonates with us. We like the idea of a powerful being who takes on the bad guys and fights for what is good and right. We imagine how nice it would be to have one keeping watch over us, ready to protect us when we face harm or danger. As our society slides further and further away from solid standards of truth and morality, we will become more and more desperate for superheroes to save the day.
But we don’t actually need a Captain America, an Iron Man, or a Superman. We have a Hero who is far better and stronger than all the big screen superheroes combined. We have Jesus.
We don’t often think about Jesus in superhero terms. But look at all the things He promised to accomplish through His disciples, which He then carried out. He said He would give them the will and the ability to declare His salvation to the world, and those once-timid men boldly did. He said He would give His followers power over demons, serpents, poison, and sickness, and give them the ability to speak in new tongues, and there are examples of all of these things in the book of Acts.
After Jesus spoke these promises, He rose up in the air not bound by the law of gravity, and He entered His heavenly kingdom. No enemy could keep Jesus from taking His position at the right hand of the Father. He flew straight up in the blue sky like nothing could be easier, and all the host of heaven welcomed Him with great rejoicing (Rev. 5).
If His victory was ever in doubt, it was when Jesus limped toward Calvary and was nailed to the cross. There His enemies mocked Him, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe” (Mar. 15:31-32). It looked like all was lost. That’s what His disciples thought. Evil had prevailed. Their great Lord and Teacher had been overcome.
But they were wrong. Jesus wasn’t losing; He was winning. He was winning back our souls from the devil, from death, and from hell. Jesus did what we like to watch every superhero do—He sacrificed Himself for His friends. He gave His life to atone for their wrongs. You are one of those friends He died for. You are not His friend because you have proven yourself to Him or somehow earned His trust. You are His friend because He chose you (Joh. 15:16).
He planned even before you were born that you would hear the Gospel. He planned that you would hear it and believe, and “[w]hoever believes and is baptized will be saved,” He says. That means you will be saved. That’s what Jesus promises. But how can you know for sure that He will deliver on that promise?
You know this because after Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead, forty days later He ascended into heaven. His ascension to the right hand of the Father means that His work to save sinners was finished. He had done what the Father commanded Him to do (Joh. 14:31). He had taken the place of all sinners and paid their immeasurable debt of sin. He had willingly laid down His life, and then He took it up again.
Jesus had already told His disciples what would happen next. They couldn’t get past His prediction of His death, so they didn’t grasp what He was telling them until after He rose from the dead and ascended. What He told them was that He would take His place at the right hand of the Father, and from there, rule over all things. He would go to prepare a place for all believers in heaven (Joh. 14:2). He would ask the Father to send out the Holy Spirit to teach and remind His followers about all that He had said and done (Joh. 14:16, 26, 15:26, 16:7, 13).
And this is what happened. Mark reports in today’s text that Jesus “was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God.” This makes some people think that Jesus is now very distant from us: “He is way up in heaven, so far away, so now it’s our job to take care of everything here. It’s our job to take His directions and run with them. He certainly keeps an eye on us like a parent watching a child making something in the kitchen, but the responsibility for running the church is ours.” This understanding is based on the false idea that Jesus is no longer with us on earth.
But Jesus is with us. He said, “behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Mat. 28:20). He is with us as we gather around His Word and Sacrament. It is not our Word and Sacrament to administer or change however we please. It is His Word and Sacrament. He gives it to us, and He gives His gifts through it. “Take, eat,” He says; “this is My body, which is given for you…. Drink of it all of you; this cup is the New Testament in My blood.”
Jesus is here. “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Mat. 18:20). We like the thought of a superhero keeping us safe from our enemies. Jesus is doing exactly that, right now and always. He is working here in our midst, just as He was working among and through the apostles. Mark writes that “they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by accompanying signs.”
Their work was Jesus’ work. The signs they performed were Jesus’ signs. He did not abandon them. He just wasn’t with them like He had been before. Before, He had been with them visibly, but not making full use of His divine power. This made them think that He was vulnerable, that He had limits, and that He was not strong enough to defeat death. Now they knew better. Now they knew nothing could stop their Lord and King. And He promised to be with them in their work, fully employing the power and authority He has at the right hand of His Father.
From this position at His Father’s right hand, Jesus is still working today. We cannot always perceive it when we look around us. It often looks like evil has the upper hand, just as it appeared that way on Good Friday. But Jesus has not been displaced from heaven, and He has not grown tired of His work. He will never walk away from His promises. That means He will never walk away from you. As He said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Heb. 13:5).
Jesus is fighting for you, even in your heart and mind. That’s where the devil and the world are working to pull you away from Him. They feed you the lie that you are in control of your future and your fate, that you are the hero, that you can have anything you want. But living for this life in this world can only lead to despair and death.
Jesus tells no lie when He promises you salvation and eternal life. He does not lie when He says you will have a share in His glory and never-ending bliss with all the saints and angels. This is what He is preparing for you in His reign at the right hand of God. This is what He is confirming in you as He builds up your faith through His Word and Sacraments.
The day of your final redemption from sin, death, and devil is drawing near. Jesus will come again visibly in the same way as His disciples saw Him go. He will come from the right hand of His Father to judge both the living and the dead. Now, it is easy for the wicked to talk and act like Jesus is a nobody, a nothing. But when Jesus comes in all His glory on the last day, then at the utterance of His name, “every knee shall bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phi. 2:10-11).
No superhero ever received a tribute like that. But then Jesus is not like any other superhero. Thanks be to God. Amen.
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(picture of the Ascension by John Singleton Copley, 1775)
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)
Thanksgiving – Pr. Faugstad homily
Text: Psalm 103
In Christ Jesus, “the Lord merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in mercy,” dear fellow redeemed:
In a typical year, we would celebrate Thanksgiving by getting together with family members and friends. We would all converge in one place, extend our tables, and cram in extra chairs. We would feast together, laugh together, enjoy being together. We would count our many blessings, starting with the loved ones with us in the room.
This is not a typical year. If you are getting together with loved ones, the group will probably be smaller than usual. Grown children may not be “coming home” like they usually do. Grandparents may not get to hug their grandchildren. Some of you are facing a Thanksgiving by yourself, perhaps the first time that has happened. Across the nation, this could go down as one of the most stressful, loneliest Thanksgivings we have ever had.
Today’s Psalm doesn’t really seem to fit the mood. It begins with joyful praise: “Bless the Lord, O my soul; And all that is within me, bless His holy name!” Is it praise and thanks to God that fills your thoughts right now? Or is it concerns about your health and the health of the people you care about? Or concerns about our country and its social and political disharmony? Or concerns about the future and the challenges you may have to face?
You might wonder what God’s plan is in all of this. Why doesn’t He just end all sickness? Why doesn’t He destroy the efforts of the wicked? You may not want to admit it, but part of you deep down questions whether God is seeing things clearly, whether He sees your struggle, whether He really loves you like He says He does. You might even be angry with God.
Now it isn’t wrong to complain to God. There are a great many Psalms that do this, that call Him to address the tension between His promises and our experiences. God wants to hear all our prayers—not just the ones offered in joyful thanksgiving, but also the ones expressed with heartfelt cries and groanings. So is today the day for thanksgiving to God or complaint?
We don’t know the situation in which Psalm 103 was written. It is a Psalm attributed to King David. It sounds like David was in a good mood when he wrote this Psalm. But hope-filled words do not come exclusively from good times. In fact, the hopeful words of believers often come from terrible times, times of suffering, times of persecution. Many of our best and most powerful hymns were written not in days of peace and prosperity, but in days of great trouble and hardship.
Whether you are filled with joy and thanksgiving today or with distresses and doubts, this Psalm was inspired by God for your comfort and encouragement. The second verse of the Psalm says, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, And forget not all His benefits.” It is easy to forget all that the Lord does for us. Sometimes we forget because in our pride we think we are responsible for all the good things we have. Or sometimes we forget because in our difficulties all we can see is our trouble.
This is why we need to be reminded to remember—to “forget not” all the Lord’s benefits. His kind and merciful actions toward us are so many we could not count them all. The psalmist lists some of them: He forgives all our iniquities. He heals all our diseases. He redeems our life from destruction. He crowns us with lovingkindness and tender mercies. He satisfies our mouth with good things. He executes righteousness and justice for the oppressed.
It might seem like David overstates God’s work here. If, as he writes, the Lord “heals all [our] diseases,” why do some still get sick? If He “executes righteousness and justice” for the oppressed, why do some still suffer? David does not claim that God keeps His people from ever getting sick or ever experiencing hardship. Sickness and hardship are part of life in this fallen world. So is our sinfulness. Just as we need the Lord’s forgiveness for every sin, so we need His healing for every sickness and His help in every trouble.
We may not always have healing in our sickness and help in our trouble as quickly or as completely as we want. But the Lord brings it about in His time. He may even decide to free us from our diseases and our oppression by calling our soul out of this life of trouble. Our faith does not rest in what our eyes can see, in the proofs of God’s love that we demand. Our faith rests in His holy Word, in what He has promised to all who trust in Him.
It may seem that God is angry with you or punishing you because of the suffering and pain that you experience. But you know that cannot be. God is not angry with you anymore because His holy Son atoned for your sins. Your sins were taken off you and put on Him. He suffered the wrath of God in your place. He was punished for every single one of your wrongs. “As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed [your] transgressions from [you].”
Now God wouldn’t do that for you and then forget about you when you suffer in this life. He wouldn’t send His perfect Son to the cross for you and then leave you all alone in your trials. “As a father pities his children, so the Lord pities those who fear Him”—He has mercy on you. “For He knows [your] frame; He remembers that [you] are dust.” He knows that it doesn’t take much to discourage you. He knows how hard the devil, the unbelieving world, and your own sinful flesh work to steal away your faith. He sees how often they succeed. He knows that you don’t always remember Him. But He remembers you.
The Lord God Almighty Remembers You. And He will not forget you. He cannot forget you. You are joined by faith to His only-begotten Son, that Son with whom He is well pleased (Mat. 3:17, 17:5). So He is well pleased with you. “[T]he mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting On those who fear Him, And His righteousness to children’s children.”
This year has not gone like you expected, and neither have your Thanksgiving plans. But you are not alone. The Lord whose “throne [is] in heaven” and whose “kingdom rules over all” knows you. The God whom the mighty angels and all the host of heaven worship loves you and cares about you. He will not leave you no matter what you have to face in the days to come. And that is cause for joy; that is reason for thanksgiving. “Bless the Lord, O my soul; And all that is within me, bless His holy name! Bless the Lord, O my soul, And forget not all His benefits.” Amen.
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The Festival of the Reformation – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: Romans 1:16-17
In Christ Jesus, who “saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy” (Ti. 3:5), dear fellow redeemed:
Who is responsible for the Reformation movement? The answer that comes immediately to mind is Martin Luther, the bold monk from Wittenberg, Germany. But that is not really correct. The one who brought about the Reformation was God the Holy Spirit. The Reformation did not grow out of someone’s personality, personal strength, or intellectual ability. It grew out of the powerful Word of God.
To be specific, the Reformation can be said to have grown out of the short text before us today from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. It may seem straightforward and comforting to us, but it was terribly perplexing to Martin Luther. The part that troubled him the most was the part about “the righteousness of God.” He said these words “struck [his] conscience like lightning” (Luther’s Works, Vol. 54, p. 193), and that they were “like a thunderbolt in [his] heart” (LW, Vol. 54, pp. 308-309). He went as far as to say he hated these words.
He had been taught to understand “the righteousness of God” as referring to the vengeful God who punished unrighteous sinners. He explained it in this way: “Though I lived as a monk without reproach, I felt that I was a sinner before God with an extremely disturbed conscience. I could not believe that he was placated by my satisfaction [by the good works he had done]. I did not love, yes, I hated the righteous God who punishes sinners, and secretly, if not blasphemously, certainly murmuring greatly, I was angry with God” (LW, Vol. 34, pp. 336-337).
But as discouraged as he was by this text, he couldn’t leave it alone. He couldn’t shake the sense that he was missing something. The ideas didn’t seem to match up. On the one hand, Paul wrote about “the righteousness of God.” On the other hand, he cited a passage from the Old Testament prophet Habakkuk about how “The righteous shall live by faith.” Luther had been taught and was convinced that no one could be righteous before God unless he did enough good works to please Him. But Paul was connecting righteousness to faith.
One day Luther was sitting in the tower at his monastery pondering the words before us today, when it suddenly dawned on him. He realized the problem was not with the text—the problem was with him! He said he now “began to understand that the righteousness of God is that by which the righteous lives by a gift of God” (LW, Vol. 34, pp. 337). He learned that there was a difference between “the righteousness of the law” and “the righteousness of the gospel.”
The righteousness of the law is how God requires us to live according to the Ten Commandments. But the righteousness of the gospel is not about what we do at all. The righteousness of the gospel is all about what God gives to sinners according to His grace. What Luther learned in these two short verses is the proper distinction between God’s Law and God’s Gospel (LW, Vol. 54, pp. 442-443). He didn’t come to this understanding on his own. He gave all glory to God. He said, “The Holy Spirit unveiled the Scriptures for me” (LW, Vol. 54, p. 194).
This is why I said that God the Holy Spirit brought about the Reformation. But there are many who disagree. They wish the Reformation had never happened. They view it as the work of the devil. They feel this way because the Reformation caused the church to break in pieces like it never had before. Besides dividing the Lutherans and Roman Catholics, the Reformation also led to the formation of other Christian denominations like the Anabaptists, Anglicans, Presbyterians, Baptists, and Methodists. (We’ll be studying these denominations in more detail in our next Bible Class.)
We, too, are sad that the church is so divided. But we thank God for the Reformation. Before the Reformation, the Gospel message of salvation had been obscured. Christians were not confident that their sins were forgiven because of what Jesus did. They were terrified of death because they thought they would be in purgatory a long, long time paying for their sins. This is why they jumped at the chance to buy indulgences authorized by the pope. They were told that as soon as they purchased an indulgence, they could send a loved one from purgatory to heaven and store up merit for themselves.
But an indulgence is not needed for the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. Jesus is. He stated this clearly when He said, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (Joh. 3:16). We call this “the Gospel in a nutshell.” This is the good news—that God the Father sent His Son to take on our flesh to save us. Jesus lived a perfectly righteous life under the Law for us, and He carried all our sins to the cross to atone for them there. We are saved because of what He did and not because of anything we do. As soon as we believe this good news by the power of the Holy Spirit, we have eternal life in Him.
This runs contrary to natural human thinking. We think that since we messed up, since we sinned, we have to fix it. We have to make up for our wrongs by doing lots of good. Even we who know this is not the case still beat ourselves up over past sins. We won’t let ourselves live in the grace of God. We won’t let ourselves rejoice in His wonderful love and goodness toward us. “I have sinned too much,” we think. “My faults are too many.”
Do you realize that is just another way of saying that Jesus is not much of a Savior? If your sins are too great, if your past is too horrible for God to forgive you, then He is a very limited God, and Jesus was wasting His time on the cross. Why was Jesus there if not for you? Why did He suffer if your sins could not be forgiven? Or was He there because your sins could be forgiven? And did He rise again from the dead because your sins are forgiven? This is why He suffered, died, and rose again: to blot out all of your sins with His precious blood and to win your eternal salvation.
You’re not alone in wondering if this message of the Gospel is too good to be true. Luther wondered this. So did the Apostle Paul. Paul admitted he was “a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent” of God. But, he said, “the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost” (1Ti. 1:14-15).
Paul spread this Gospel message all over Europe. No matter how much he was ridiculed and attacked, he would not stop preaching the good news. “I am not ashamed of the gospel,” he wrote, “for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” It is hard for us to understand how a message, a collection of certain words, could have the power to save. Our words do not have this power. But God’s words do.
In His Gospel, God reveals His righteousness. He shows us that what we could not accomplish, He accomplished for us. He tells us that we are no longer His enemies doomed to eternal destruction. Now we are His children destined for eternal life. Everything He required of us in His Law, He gives to us in His Gospel.
The Gospel message is able to do this for us because the Holy Spirit is powerfully at work through it. Just as He opened Luther’s mind and heart to understand and believe the good news of what Jesus had done, so He does the same for us. He works faith in our hearts through the Gospel, and He continues to strengthen our faith in the same way.
This faith, a gift from God, joins us to Jesus and everything He did to save us. This is why God the Father counts all who believe in His Son as righteous. We are righteous because Jesus was perfectly righteous. His righteousness covers over all our sinfulness. And because Jesus rose from the dead, never to die again, so we live in Him. Jesus Himself promised, “everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (Joh. 11:26).
When the Holy Spirit led Luther to understand the truth about what God had done for him, he could not contain his joy: “Here I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates.” Luther now realized that his sins were all forgiven, not because of anything he had done, but by faith in his Savior. “And I extolled my sweetest word with a love as great as the hatred with which I had before hated the word ‘righteousness of God,’” he said. “Thus that place in Paul was for me truly the gate to paradise” (LW, Vol. 34, p. 337).
The Gospel of salvation through Jesus is our “gate to paradise” too. It is why we celebrate the Reformation. It is why we will not budge an inch from the Bible’s teaching for the sake of outward unity in the church. The Gospel is everything to us. If we lose the good news of what Jesus has done for us, we will go back to thinking salvation depends on ourselves. And then we are lost.
But as long as we have the Gospel, the Holy Spirit is at work cleansing, comforting, and strengthening us. He continues the work of reformation in our hearts just as in the church, so that we are pointed always to Jesus, our Savior.
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 “Martin Luther at Worms” by Anton von Werner, 1877)
The Festival of St. Michael & All Angels – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: Revelation 12:7-12
In Christ Jesus, whose death and resurrection secured your righteousness and innocence before God, dear fellow redeemed:
The section just before today’s text describes “a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars” (Rev. 12:1). She was in labor, and a huge, red, seven-headed dragon stood before her ready to devour her newborn child. A baby boy was born, but before the dragon could snatch him, he “was caught up to God and to his throne” (v. 5). The woman escaped into the wilderness to a place God prepared for her.
This story, which reads like science fiction, is the central chapter in God’s plan of salvation. It is the fulfillment of the promise God delivered to “that ancient serpent” many years earlier in the Garden of Eden: “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” (Gen. 3:15). The LORD told the devil that he would not prevail over all humanity. One would be born of a woman who would crush his head.
As the devil listened in on the angel Gabriel’s announcement to the virgin Mary, and then heard a multitude of angels herald the birth of the Christ-Child, he knew who his enemy was. He wasn’t about to take Jesus’ arrival lying down! He did all that he could to overcome Jesus and ruin His mission. He attempted to have Him destroyed by the hand of wicked King Herod who killed the baby boys of Bethlehem. He poisoned the minds of many against the gracious words Jesus spoke, and he even turned Jesus’ own dear disciples against Him.
But the incarnate Son of God was not defeated so easily. Jesus kept on the paths of righteousness. He obeyed His Father’s will. He stayed the course. He was willing to suffer the punishment for sinners. He was willing to die for their sins. “[F]or the joy that was set before him [he] endured the cross, despising the shame” (Heb. 12:2). And then He rose again from the dead. All the devil’s plots and plans had failed. Jesus had succeeded. His mission complete, the Father welcomed Him back to the courts of heaven to sit at His right hand.
The Father’s right hand is a position more than a local place. It is the position of all power and authority over all things. The devil doesn’t like the look of that. He thought he had humanity conquered long ago. How could it happen that a flesh and blood descendent of pitiful Adam and Eve would come to reign at God’s right hand? How could any Man rise higher than him, a magnificent, terrifying angel of the mighty God?
That’s what the devil is: an angel. He was a good angel in the beginning, perfect in every way. But he wanted to have more. He wanted to be like God. And he did not think God should favor man and woman like He did. Who were they compared to him? This bright angel-among-angels was not about to serve those inferior creatures of the earth below. So he rebelled against God and convinced a number of other angels to rebel with him.
From that point on, he established himself in opposition to God and did all he could to thwart God’s good plans. This started with his temptation of Adam and Eve, and we find another clear example in the Book of Job. Job was a faithful believer, who had been blessed by God with great riches and honor. The devil came before the LORD and argued that if God touched Job with trouble instead of blessing, Job would surely curse God to His face (Job 1:11, 2:5).
It is clear that at this time, God still allowed the devil to come before His throne in heaven and speak. There is another example of this recorded by Zechariah the prophet. Zechariah was shown “Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him” (Zec. 3:1). But this does not happen anymore. The devil no longer plays the role of prosecuting attorney at the throne of God. His arguments against our sinfulness are no longer admitted.
Today’s account from Revelation tells us when and how Satan was booted from God’s heavenly courtroom. It happened when Jesus returned to heaven in victory after His death and resurrection. He ascended into heaven where all the saints and angels received Him with rejoicing (Rev. 5). The conquering King had returned! But one thing more had to be done. The dragon had to go.
Although it sounds like brute force is what got the devil and his angels cast out of heaven, the terrifying dragon was overcome by something else. He was overcome by “the blood of the Lamb.” How could a Lamb stand up to a powerful dragon? Well that gentle Lamb was the Son of God in the flesh. The only way to silence the devil’s accusations against sinners was for the Lamb to pay for those sins. Jesus offered Himself as the spotless sacrificial Lamb in each sinner’s place and shed His holy blood to blot out all sin.
It hardly had the look of it to those who watched it happen, but there was a battle raging when Jesus went to the cross. It was not a battle among men. It was a battle against mankind’s greatest enemies: sin, devil, and death. Everyone who saw Jesus nailed to the cross thought this was His defeat. It looked like sin, devil, and death would be victorious. But oh how the tables turned! Just before His death, Jesus declared His victory, and a few days later, He proved it by rising from the dead. The death of Jesus in the place of sinners was the day the serpent’s scaly head was crushed just as God had promised so long ago that it would be.
With Christ’s heel constantly bearing down on his head, the devil’s mouth doesn’t work like it used to. Like a pancaked cartoon character, this smooth-talking liar can only mumble now. And God does not care what he has to say. With the accusation of our sin silenced by the death of Jesus for us, no accusation is allowed against us anymore. The devil can hiss “sinner!” and “failure!” and “law-breaker!” about us all he wants, but God is not listening. We are redeemed, we are reconciled, we are forgiven by the precious blood of Jesus.
His atoning blood is why Satan was forever cast out of heaven. As our text says, he was conquered “by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.” The “word of their testimony” is the confession of the faithful who were the target of the devil’s accusations. Now whenever the devil’s lips start moving, they point to Jesus, and there is nothing more that the lying serpent can say.
The holy angels of God have witnessed all these things. They watched the devil and other fellow angels rebel against God. They saw Adam and Eve fall into sin. They marveled as God promised to send a Savior for sinners and then carried it out by taking on their flesh to live and die in their place. What love their holy God has for mankind!
They watched as the Son of God fasted for forty days in the wilderness and as He prayed that there might be another way to save the world. They knew what was coming. They knew that the Son of God who had called them into existence had to suffer the eternal wrath of His Father for sin. They knew He had to die, but they also knew He would rise again.
The angels saw it all, and they know what it means for you. It means your salvation. Your salvation is why the chief angel Michael and other good angels fought to expel the devil and his wicked angels from heaven. Since Jesus had paid your debt of sin, there was nothing more that the fallen angels could bring against you. “[T]here was no longer any place for them in heaven.”
So “the great dragon was thrown down… and his angels were thrown down with him.” Having failed to capture the throne of heaven, they now seek to capture the hearts of men. Their focus is especially on believers. The devil will do whatever he can to make you doubt your salvation. He wants to distract you from Jesus through pleasure-seeking, worldly pursuits, and a guilty conscience. He wants to convince you that God doesn’t really love you, and that you don’t need Him anyway.
God sends His good angels to guard you from these attacks. They defend you in temptation and help to pick you up when you fall. The holy angels see everything you do, good and bad, but they do not grow weary with you. They stay committed to their mission because they are faithful to God, and God is faithful to you. No matter how much you have given way to the devil and sinned in the presence of the holy angels, they still fight for you. “Are they not all ministering spirits,” says the Bible, “sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?” (Heb. 1:14).
The angels of God know the truth. They Testify to Your Innocence. They will not stop serving and protecting you, because they know what the Lord accomplished for you. They know you are God’s own holy child, who stands righteous before Him by faith. Their service toward you will not cease until they bring you to join them in the blessed courts of 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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(woodcut by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, 1794-1872)
Festival of the Ascension of Our Lord – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: Acts 1:1-11
In Christ Jesus, who is present with us and all His disciples just as He promised He would be, dear fellow redeemed:
The chief priests and the Pharisees had heard Jesus loud and clear. He said He would rise again on the third day after His death. Once they succeeded in having Him crucified, they remembered His words. They thought His disciples might now try to steal away His body and declare that He had risen. So they had a guard positioned at the tomb. They did not know that these soldiers would become the first witnesses of the empty tomb when an angel came down from heaven and rolled away the stone.
Some of the soldiers went trembling to the religious leaders and reported what they had seen. The leaders gave them hush money and said, “Tell people, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep’” (Mat. 28:13). So the religious leaders heard Jesus’ prediction, they heard the eyewitness account of these men that the tomb was empty, and they still denied that Jesus is who He said!
They may have silenced the guard, but I can’t imagine they were able to silence the thoughts and imaginations of their hearts. They must have dreaded the very real possibility that Jesus would turn up alive and show Himself to everyone. Then what could they say? Who would listen to them then?
It’s kind of surprising that Jesus did not do this. What better proof of His Word could there be than to take a victory lap all around Jerusalem? Or better still, why didn’t Jesus take His message on the road? “Look, they crucified Me—you can see the marks in My hands and feet. I died and was closed up in a tomb. But here I am alive again! That’s because I am the holy Son of God, the Savior of the world. Nothing—not even death—can overcome Me!”
Instead, the forty days between His resurrection and ascension were relatively low-key. He appeared to His disciples at different times, but He seems to have hidden Himself for the better part of those days. When He did appear to them, He spoke to them “about the kingdom of God,” and He told them to expect the outpouring of the Holy Spirit “not many days from now.” Then He said, “you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
Jesus made it clear that He was giving the work of spreading the Gospel of salvation to the disciples. But why was Jesus so eager to leave them? Why not proclaim the message Himself until the Christian Church was well-established? The disciples did not feel ready to have the Lord leave. We can see this in the way they intently gazed into heaven when Jesus ascended. How could He depart from them and keep His promise to be with them always?
Jesus’ ascension marks the transition point between the winning of salvation and the distributing of it. His ascension to His Father’s right hand is the crowning moment of His saving work. He had descended (or come down) from heaven to take on our flesh and save us, and now He was ascending (or going up) to heaven having won the victory over sin, death, and hell. Just ten days after this, the Holy Spirit would come upon the disciples and propel the Gospel throughout the known world.
So was that it for Jesus? Did He return to heaven to enjoy a well-deserved rest of a few thousand years after suffering the eternal punishment for sin? Is He just biding His time until the day comes for His triumphant return to earth? It sure would be nice to have Him here again like He was 2,000 years ago. The church on earth—broken in so many pieces—needs Him to come and set everything right. We need Him to bring healing to the sick—especially now when many are contracting a virus and some are dying. We need Him to calm our troubled hearts and encourage us on our way like He did His disciples.
All these things we need Him to do, He still does—just not in the way we want Him to. He is at work in the church by the power of His Word mending divisions and strengthening the fellowship of believers. He is bringing healing to the sick through the care of medical personnel and compassionate family and friends. And He does comfort and encourage us as He visits us through the means of grace.
But we want more. We want Him to be present with us visibly, to show His love for us by performing miracles and taking away our hurt and pain. It is frustrating to be told again and again of His great love for us while everything in our life is falling apart. How is His love helping me recover my health? How is it helping me pay my bills? How will it fix the break-down in my relationship? How will it make my boss treat me more fairly? How will it remove my loneliness, depression, and anguish?
This is where we go wrong: we assume that Jesus is not active because things are not turning out the way we want. Or we assume that He does not love us as much as the Bible says He does. The second error is put to rest by the fact of His sacrificial death. He didn’t go to the cross for any wrong He had done. He went there to pay for all our sins—our sins against Him! That’s a love we can’t even come close to matching.
It is also wrong to think that Jesus is not active anymore on earth. The Bible outlines three main areas of activity—His three-fold office as our Savior. Jesus continues to work on our behalf as a Prophet, a Priest, and a King. As Prophet, He speaks to us through His powerful Word and sends men to declare His forgiveness to His people. As Priest, He intercedes for us at the Father’s right hand and brings our needs before the throne of grace. As King, He rules over all things especially for the benefit of His Church and brings all the departed saints to His kingdom of glory. That’s a lot of activity!
So He is very aware of what is going on in your life. But how can you be assured of His presence? How can you be certain He is here with you no matter what you are going through? He may not show Himself to you like you would want. But He does promise to be with you, and He does not promise anything lightly. The apostle Paul writes that when Jesus ascended into heaven, His 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).
You are part of Christ’s body. You are a member of His holy Church by faith in Him. He could no easier forget you or cast you aside than you could forget or cast aside your own arm or foot. He loves you. He wants you to remain with Him and so inherit eternal life and never-ending joy. That’s why He specially visits you through the preaching of His Word and through His Sacraments.
You do not see Him come visibly. But He is right here with you, even in the flesh that was nailed to the cross and came alive again in the tomb. Jesus did not lie to His disciples; He was with them always. He is with you too, to the end of each day, to the end of your life, and to the end of the world (ELH Evening Collect, p. 126).
Where Is Jesus When You Need Him? He is still here, wielding “all authority in heaven and on earth” (Mat. 28:18). He is here to bring His forgiveness and grace to your heart when you hear His Word. He is here to apply His saving gifts in Holy Baptism. He is here to give His own body and blood for you to eat and to drink for the remission of your sins. His Word and Sacraments are where Jesus promises to be found “always, to the end of the age” (v. 20).
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(picture of the Ascension by John Singleton Copley, 1775)
Good Friday – Pr. Faugstad homily
Text: Revelation 5:1-10
We hear the words of the fifth chapter of the “revelation of Jesus Christ” (Rev. 1:1) recorded by His apostle John. We will consider this reading in three different sections, beginning with the first four verses:
Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals. And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. (ESV)
Here John describes his vision of heaven. He saw God the Father holding a scroll in His right hand. “Sealed with seven seals” tells us the scroll was perfectly sealed. It could only be opened by one who was worthy. But “no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth” was qualified—not the saints, not the mighty angels, not the four living creatures, not the elders.
This reminds us how far we fall short of the holiness of God. We might think we are pretty impressive compared with the people around us. Maybe we are more kind, we behave better, we are more generous, and so on. But God does not command us to be better than other people, or even that we try our best. He demands perfection. Unless we are perfect, we have no business pointing out how good we are, and we certainly can’t get ourselves into heaven. If the perfect saints and angels were not worthy to open the Father’s scroll, think how unworthy that makes us sinners! Clearly we need a Savior. We hear the next two verses:
And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.” And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. (ESV)
Now the Savior makes His entrance. He is described in three different ways which don’t really seem to connect: as a Lion, a Root, and a Lamb. Each title is a reference to Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah. He was a King from the line of Judah through David (Gen. 49:9-10; Isa. 11:1,10). And He was a Lamb sacrificed for the sins of all people (Isa. 53:4-7).
John saw Him manifested as a Lamb, “as though it had been slain.” The “seven horns,” “seven eyes,” and “seven spirits” indicate that He is all-powerful and all-knowing. But how is it possible that One with such power could be slain? It must be that the Lamb let it happen, that He offered Himself for this purpose.
That is why we celebrate Good Friday today. This is the day that the Lamb of God was slain for the sins of the world. Jesus was that Lamb, and He willingly went to the cross for you. Isaiah described it so beautifully: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth” (Isa. 53:6-7).
No one tricked Jesus into this. No one overpowered Him. No one forced Him to die. He went in obedience to His Father and out of love for you. “For this reason the Father loves me,” said Jesus, “because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord” (Joh. 10:17-18). Jesus offered Himself in your place and now He bears the marks of the nails and spear as the signs of His love for you. We hear the next four verses:
And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” (ESV)
When Jesus took the scroll from the right hand of His Father in heaven, this showed the Father’s acceptance of His sacrifice. Jesus’ work to save sinners was complete. Through His suffering and death, the wages of your sin was paid in full. God’s righteous anger was satisfied. Then the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders bowed down before the Lamb and sang “a new song.” They sang of the Lamb’s worthiness, His sacrifice, and the shedding of His precious blood. “[B]y your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.”
Jesus shed His blood for everyone. He shows no partiality. You and I are not saved because we are any better than others. We are saved totally by the grace of God. Jesus’ death won our forgiveness, and that forgiveness is imparted to us again and again through the preaching of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments.
Jesus wants you to know that you are at peace with God because of His sacrifice. He wants you to find comfort in His wounds which were opened up for you. And He wants you to know that you are a royal priest before God. You may be despised and scorned by the world, but your prayers and thanksgiving are welcome at the throne of heaven. There Jesus stands on your behalf, His wounds perpetually reminding the Father of your redemption and salvation. Thanks be to God! Amen.
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(picture from “The Hymn of Adoration to the Lamb” by Albrecht Durer, 1498)
Maundy Thursday – Pr. Faugstad homily
Text: 1 Corinthians 11:23-32
In Christ Jesus, who freely gives Himself to us as food and drink, dear fellow redeemed:
We know the account of the institution of the Lord’s Supper very well. In fact we review its details every time we partake of the Sacrament: “Our Lord Jesus Christ, the same night in which He was betrayed, took bread” and so on. But it is easy to forget about the context of this Supper. Jesus instituted this Holy Meal while He and His disciples enjoyed another holy meal: the Passover. It was no accident that these two meals should be joined together.
The Passover meal was a reminder of the LORD’s deliverance of His people from slavery in Egypt. At that first Passover, each household slaughtered a blemish-free male lamb, consumed its flesh roasted over the fire, and painted its blood on the doorposts of the house. When the Angel of the LORD saw the blood of the lamb, He passed over that house, and everyone inside was saved from death.
God told His people to celebrate this Passover deliverance annually, so they would remember what He had done for them. This is why Jesus now reclined with His disciples in the upper room enjoying the Passover meal of lamb, unleavened bread, and wine. It was a meal for looking back, for thanking the LORD for His mercy upon His people. The disciples could not have guessed that Jesus was about to institute something new out of the Passover meal, something for the present and for the future.
He took some unleavened bread, gave thanks, broke it, and gave it to the disciples saying, “Take, eat; this is My body, which is given for you.” How unexpected! How strange! Jesus told them to eat His body, and He said it is given in the bread! Then Jesus took the cup of wine, gave thanks, and gave it to them saying, “Drink of it all of you; this cup is the New Testament in My blood, which is shed for you and for many for the remission of sins.” His blood in the cup! How can this be? As hard as it was to understand, Jesus’ words were clear. He was instituting a special Supper in which His body was the food and His blood was the drink.
But there are many who do not believe these words of Jesus. They do not believe He gives His own body and blood in the Supper for us to consume. And until they are led by the Holy Spirit to believe His Word, this Supper is not for them. St. Paul writes by inspiration that whoever “eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord…. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.”
This would be something like an Israelite at the first Passover saying that he is glad to eat the roasted lamb, but he isn’t about to paint his doorposts with blood. Death would have come to that house because the person did not believe God’s Word. In the same way, Paul writes that those who deny what Jesus says He gives in His Supper sin against Him, and they eat and drink judgment on themselves.
So how can we be certain that we will receive His Supper properly? First of all, we take Jesus at His Word. This is a matter of faith. We can’t see any change take place when the Words of Jesus are spoken over the bread and wine. There is no scientific proof that His body and blood are present. But Jesus says they are, and He does not lie.
Second, we eat and drink His body and blood “in remembrance of” Him. This means to remember all that Jesus did to save us, how He perfectly kept the Law for us, how He died in payment of all our sins, and how He rose again on the third day. We don’t go to the Lord’s Supper thinking of all the good things we have done for God or for others. We go with humble hearts, trusting in Jesus alone as our Savior.
This brings us to the third part of our preparation to receive the Supper. Paul writes that a person must “examine himself” before this eating and drinking. The Lord’s Supper is no ordinary meal. Jesus is present, and He knows our hearts. We come repenting of the sins He already knows about, and we ask Him to strengthen us and help us to change our sinful ways and do better. When we prepare for the Lord’s Supper in this way—trusting what Jesus says, remembering what He did to save us, and repenting of our sins—we can be sure we will receive His body and blood with blessing.
The Passover was a meal for looking back, and there was no spiritual benefit gained from eating the lamb and unleavened bread and drinking the wine. But now in the Lord’s Supper, we eat Jesus’ body with the bread and drink His blood with the wine “for the remission of sins.” The first Passover saved the Israelites from slavery to the Egyptians and from temporal death. The Lord’s Supper saves us from even more—our slavery to sin and eternal death.
Jesus instituted the new Supper of His body and blood at the Passover meal to show that He is the fulfillment of the Passover. The Passover lamb pointed to Him. His holy body given in His Supper is nourishment and strength for our journey, and His holy blood cleanses us from all our sins (1Jo. 1:7). Jesus is the Lamb of God, who gladly gives His body and blood for our eternal good. Thanks be to God! Amen.
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(painting of the Last Supper by Simon Ushakov, 1685)