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).
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 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)
Presentation of Our Lord – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: Hebrews 2:14-18
In Christ Jesus, who was not ashamed to take on our flesh and blood, but willingly became a Man out of love for us to save us, dear fellow redeemed:
Because God’s Son became incarnate in Mary’s womb, He was “born under the law” (Gal. 4:4). He was bound to keep God’s law as all Jews were. This law required Jesus to be presented to the LORD in the temple forty days after His birth. Every firstborn son among the Jews had to be offered to the LORD in this way as a reminder of their deliverance from slavery in Egypt (Exo. 13:1-16).
This was a significant day in the life of Jesus, which is why we celebrate it today (February 2), forty days after Christmas. It was Jesus’ first trip to Jerusalem, the city of Israel, in which the holy temple of God had been built. The temple was the place where God visited His people and blessed them. And it is where the people offered sacrifices to Him and worshiped Him. Every day, the priests prepared lambs to be sacrificed. The blood of these blemish-free lambs was a picture of the blood the Savior would shed for the sins of the world.
And now the Savior was there. It was a once-in-a-lifetime event for Mary and Joseph, but even they did not grasp the full significance of Jesus’ arrival in the temple. Their eyes began to be opened when faithful Simeon came up to them and called Jesus the “salvation” of God, “a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to [His] people Israel” (Luk. 2:30,32). Then he told Mary, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed” (v. 34). After that, a widow named Anna came along and “began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem” (v. 38).
They did not treat Jesus like a regular baby, because He was unlike any other baby. He was God in the flesh. Their eyes did not reveal this to them, but the Holy Spirit. By sight alone, no one could have known who Jesus was. He was like us in every way, except that He had no sin. Today’s text from the Book of Hebrews tells us: “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise partook of the same things.”
It was no mistake that the Christ was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the Virgin Mary. God fully intended to become a Man. He did not wish to become a tree, an animal, or even an angel. He became a Man to redeem mankind, to free us from our slavery to sin and death. So He partook of our flesh and blood. His lungs took in oxygen like ours do. His heart pumped blood through His body. His brain transmitted messages from head to toe. He had an eternal soul.
He also subjected Himself to the same sorts of weaknesses and afflictions we feel. He became weary and hungry. He experienced sadness. He endured intense pain. Jesus’ human experience was just like ours, including temptations to sin. The devil threw every possible temptation at Jesus to try to get Him to refuse His purpose. He wanted Jesus to reject His Father’s will and to forsake sinners.
We might think that because Jesus is God, He was hardly bothered by these temptations. But today’s text says that “He Himself has suffered when tempted.” He suffered because He had humbled Himself. He was not making full use of His divine powers. He did this so that He could feel temptation and pain, and so He could suffer and die for us. This suffering was severe, so severe that He asked His Father in heaven if there might be another way to save sinners.
But sin required a sacrifice, a spotless Lamb. Jesus knew this, and He perfectly submitted to His Father’s will. This is why He became a Man, “so that He might become a merciful and faithful High Priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.” That language of “priest” and “propitiation,” points us to the temple, where once a year a chosen priest would bring a sin offering into the Most Holy Place. There he would “make propitiation.” He would sprinkle the blood of a bull and goat on the mercy seat which was on top of the Ark of the Covenant.
Vast quantities of blood were spilt through the years in those temple sacrifices. It was done at God’s command, but animal blood by itself did not have the power to cleanse people of their sins. These sacrifices were a picture of the blood that God’s Son would shed to blot out sin. All of this was in Jesus’ future as His parents carried Him up the temple steps. He was both the true High Priest and the ultimate Sacrifice who would make atonement for the sins of the people.
Jesus returned to the temple many times during His earthly life. A couple weeks ago, we heard about how He went there to study the Scriptures as a twelve-year-old. On two occasions as an adult, He cleared the temple courts of those who were buying and selling. And He often taught in the temple, even in the week of His death.
The people’s focus in Old Testament times was on God’s presence hidden behind the thick curtain in the Most Holy Place. But here God was in the flesh interacting with and teaching the people! God had come to save sinners. He came to offer Himself in our place, so that through His death He might “destroy” and “deliver,” as our text says. He came to “destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.”
It says that our spiritual slavery resulted from our “fear of death.” It is very common for people to fear death. This fear is especially strong in those who like to be in control, who want to make every decision about their future. But death is no respecter of persons or of plans. Death comes to everyone, and from our perspective, never at the right time. How can the Bible say that the devil no longer has power over death and that we are no longer enslaved to it? It seems like the power of devil and death are as strong as ever.
But that is just another lie of the devil. He tries to manipulate us through accusation. He wants us to believe that God is angry with us, and that He will not forgive our frequent sinning. He gets us thinking that our sins are stains on our souls that can never be gotten out. He wants us to believe that God would never let us into His heavenly kingdom and that we must die without hope.
But these accusations of the devil are totally empty. God does not count our sins against us; He piled them all on Christ. Jesus was the scapegoat. He took on the burden of our sins, and He accepted punishment for them. He carried them to the cross and shed His holy blood to atone for them. This is how He destroyed the devil’s power. He died in our place, we who deserved to die, who should have been punished. He paid the penalty for our sin, so that the devil could not rightly accuse us anymore. The devil cannot throw back in our face what no longer exists in God’s eyes.
Jesus’ death freed us from the devil’s grasp and from the fear of death. I imagine you are not so much afraid of death as you are about how you will die. If you had your choice, you would die in your sleep at a good old age. But this is in God’s hands, not yours. The time that He chooses to bring His children to heaven is always the right time, even if it doesn’t seem that way to us. The devil wants us to worry about these things, things outside of our control. He tempts us to question God and to feel alone in our suffering.
But that’s just another one of his lies. Jesus was alone in His suffering, but you are not. As the High Priest, now exalted and glorified, Jesus intercedes for you before the Father. He is your Advocate. He prays for you. And He continues to offer you His holy body and blood for your forgiveness and strengthening. He understands suffering and temptation better than anyone. That means “He is able to help those who are being tempted,” including you.
There is no longer a temple in Jerusalem. It was destroyed long ago. The old sacrifices are no longer required, because Jesus, the once-for-all Sacrifice, came. He Offered Himself for Your Salvation. His love for you brought Him down from heaven and into a woman’s womb. He took on flesh and blood, so He could cleanse you and the whole human race of its sins. He died and rose again, so that even though you may die, yet you will rise again and live with Him. Through Jesus, your slavery to sin, devil, and death have ended, and your salvation is secure.
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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(stained glass picture from St. Michael’s Cathedral in Toronto)
Thanksgiving – Pr. Faugstad homily
In Christ Jesus, who has touched the human race with His good gifts of life and salvation, dear fellow redeemed:
When God made the first man and woman, He said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Gen. 1:28). But making use of God’s creation is not the same as controlling it. We learn that lesson over and over again, that we are hardly in control of creation.
We learned that lesson this week as we watched a weather system move through our area with the potential to upset Thanksgiving travel plans. We learned that lesson in the spring when it was difficult to get the crop planted. We learned it again this fall when it was difficult to get the crop harvested. We do not control when the sun shines or the rain and snow fall. We do not control whether it is warm or cold, wet or dry, windy or calm.
And there is so much more. We have little to do with the vast animal kingdom around us, besides our domesticated animals. We do not care for all the little bugs and four-legged creatures. We do not watch over the birds to make sure they are doing alright. They exist mostly apart from us and find their food, homes, and communities on their own. The plant kingdom is much the same. We do not plant most trees, flowers, and grasses. We do not water them and tend to their growth. They grow up and flourish by themselves.
Except that nothing really functions by itself, not the plants, not the animals, and not humankind. Each living thing is dependent in some way on other living things. And all living things find their source and supply in God’s creation and providence. God’s Fingerprints Are on Every Living Thing.
This is why the psalmist calls on the whole creation to praise the LORD. He starts in the heavens and works his way to earth. He first calls on the angels and hosts of heaven to praise Him, and we know that they do. They are always gathered around the throne praising Him for His mighty works and for His mercy toward mankind. Even the sun, moon, and stars are invited to join in the chorus, along with all the parts of God’s creation beyond and above our universe.
But the praise of God is not complete if it only comes from heaven. It must also come from the earth, from all things animate and inanimate. It must come from the sea creatures in the watery depths, from the elements of nature, the mountains and hills, the trees, and the animals. Above all, it must come from the crown of God’s creation, from humankind—from kings, princes, and rulers to the common and poor, from the young and old, male and female.
God spoke all these things into existence. He set them in order. He made the planets spin and the stars shine. He created the laws of nature and time and the changing of the seasons. He ordained marriage and family and through them created government and community. These things were all established through His Word, and they are upheld through His Word. If the LORD took back His Word, everything around us would fall to pieces. Nothing could survive apart from God—including us.
This is why we “praise the name of the LORD”—“For His name alone is exalted; His glory is above the earth and heaven.” There is no God but the Triune God. He is the one and only God. He shares His glory with no other because there are no other gods. He deserves the praise of every living thing.
And yet praise for Him is not always on our lips. Sometimes we are upset and impatient with Him because things are not going the way we want. Or we are too distracted to think of praising Him. Or we praise ourselves instead of Him—that one happens a lot at Thanksgiving. Everybody says how thankful they are, but where is their thanks directed? Often not toward God, but toward themselves—for the house they bought, the stuff they have accumulated, the family they produced. They don’t recognize that it is God alone who gives these good things.
If we don’t see God’s fingerprints on all the little things we enjoy in this life, we won’t see His fingerprints on the biggest thing either. Our God has controlled the events in human history in such a way as to deliver on His promise to Adam and Eve. They sinned and brought death and destruction to the whole creation. But He promised them a Savior. He determined to send His eternally-begotten Son to the sinful world, so that He might save it.
The LORD kept this promise. The Creator entered His creation in a magnificent way. The Son of God became a Man. He clothed Himself in our flesh by being born of the Virgin Mary. So the Maker of all living things, the Source of all life, the One who “upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Heb. 1:3), inserted Himself in this world of disorder, disease, and death. He came to re-establish the rule of life. He came to give hope to the dying. He came to save your soul and your body.
This hope and life could only come through His death. That seems backward, wrong. Why should life only be possible through death? The death of our innocent Lord was the price that had to be paid for our salvation. It was the only way to set right what we had done wrong. It was the only way to atone for our sins of impatience, bad priorities, ungratefulness, and every other transgression we have committed against God. Our fingerprints of sin are on everything—everything that we touch—but His fingerprints of grace wipe away every evidence of our wrongs.
Therefore we praise Him. We join the angels in heaven, the sun, moon, and stars, the snow and wind, the hills and trees, the cattle and birds, and scores of the faithful in thanking and praising the LORD. It is He who made us, He who cares for us, and He who has saved us.
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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The Festival of the Reformation – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Matthew 11:12-15
In Christ Jesus, who is “with us in the fight with His good gifts and Spirit” (ELH 251, v. 4), dear fellow redeemed:
Can you answer this riddle: When is a million dollars equal to a penny, and when is garbage more valuable than gold? These things are true where there is no food. Money cannot buy what is unavailable, and the garbage heap may produce something more edible than gold. We need food; we cannot live without it. But there is something still more important than food for our bodies. That is food for our souls.
Food for our souls is consumed not with our mouths, but with our eyes and especially with our ears. It is almost always the case that when sinners are converted, they are converted because someone spoke the Gospel to them. Someone told them about Jesus’ saving work, and they listened. The power to open their ears to hear did not come from the person who told them, but from the Holy Spirit who brings sinners to faith through the Word. This is what Romans 10:17 says, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”
The spiritual food of the Gospel is necessary for faith to survive and grow. When a Christian stops hearing the Gospel, his faith weakens, and his love for others grows cold. This was true when John the Baptizer came on the scene. God’s people, the Israelites, had bad teachers at the time. These teachers taught them plenty about obedience to the law but hardly at all about repentance and faith. John urged them to “[b]ear fruit in keeping with repentance” (Mat. 3:8), and he baptized them “for the forgiveness of sins” (Luk. 3:3).
He also made it clear to them that the long-promised Savior was coming. In fact the Savior was among them already. This was a major time of transition. The Church of believers which to this point had lived by the inspired words of the prophets now could hear from God in the flesh. The promise made was now the promise fulfilled.
About this change Jesus said, “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.” What did that mean? In the short period of time since John was imprisoned and Jesus was traveling and preaching more extensively, many heard Him gladly. But others despised Him. Some were willing to follow Him to death. Others were content—even eager—to see Him die.
There is no middle ground with Jesus. A person either believes in Him as Savior, or he does not. Many today say they believe in Jesus, but they do not actually hold the saving faith. They look up to Jesus only as an example for how to live, as an activist for social justice, or as a self-esteem coach. But they look away from His horrible suffering and death. And they pay no attention to His resurrection. They do not want to reckon with Jesus as Savior because then they would have to reckon with themselves as sinners.
Others pay lip service to Jesus’ death and resurrection, but then they say with a straight face: “It wasn’t enough. The work isn’t done. Now we have to do our part.” That isn’t what the Bible teaches. The Bible says that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified—declared right with Him—by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:23-24). The Bible says that “the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23).
Jesus does not need our help to save us. He won our salvation through His work alone—His perfect life, His death for our sins, His resurrection from the dead. He did it all. This clear understanding and proclamation of the Gospel is the legacy of Martin Luther and the Reformation.
Into his 30s, Luther thought that salvation required our good works. He understood “the righteousness of God” as the holiness God demands of us in His law. But through Luther’s study of the Word, the Holy Spirit led him to understand and believe that “the righteousness of God” is what is bestowed on sinners through faith in Jesus. Romans 1 says that “in the [Gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith’” (v. 17). We are saved—we live—by faith alone in Jesus.
When Luther understood this, he said it was as though he could see the gates of heaven open before him. He now set out to let others know about God’s grace and forgiveness. He preached and wrote tirelessly about what the Gospel means for sinners. He wrote so much, that not even half of his writings have been translated into English—and we already have about 100 volumes that have been translated!
Luther pointed people to the food their souls needed. It is the food that souls still need. But how hungry are you to hear the good news of God’s grace? If you lived in a time of famine, and food was scarce, imagine how far you would go to find something to eat for yourself and your family. But would you go that far for the pure Gospel? Or would you be content to nibble on the spiritual food that doesn’t taste quite right but doesn’t really seem to be fatal?
A tainted gospel is what is served at many Christian churches around us. The Gospel of what Jesus has done might be mentioned, but the main message conveyed there is what we have to do for God (or for the church). Or the Gospel is mentioned, but nobody hungers for it, since the law is not preached to convict them of their sins. How far would you go to hear the pure preaching of the Gospel and to have the Sacraments rightly administered?
The devil, our flesh, and the sinful world are so effective at their work, that they convince us there are more important things in life than hearing and learning God’s Word. There is money to make, hobbies to pursue, sporting events to watch, parties to attend. We wouldn’t miss the television show we love or maybe the evening news, but we might miss church. We religiously check our social media accounts or news feed each day, but we haven’t got time for Bible study and prayer.
Martin Luther fought some hard battles to guard the truth of the Gospel from those who wanted to pollute it or do away with it. That battle has not ended. Every generation must fight for the truth of God’s Word, or they will lose it. We cannot be indifferent about the Word. We cannot be complacent. Those who oppose the Word are not complacent. You know how fiercely they fight to get us to change our beliefs to match the thinking of the world. If we do not bow down with them at the altar of human passions and perversions, they seek to destroy us.
The question we have to ask ourselves, and the question that really determines whether or not we are Lutheran Christians is this: Is the Bible God’s Word? If we answer “yes,” there are other questions that follow, such as: Is the Bible clear and sufficient? Are we free to reinterpret the Bible to fit the times? Are we free to pick and choose what to believe from the Bible? Can we actually be Christians if we deny what the Bible says?
Jesus tells us that opposition to God’s Word will not diminish. With the devil’s encouragement, there are many who want to violently snatch it away from us. So Jesus urges us to actively defend the truth. We must struggle and fight for it, not using physical force, but by knowing how to use “the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God” (Eph. 6:17).
If we are willing to compromise the truth of God’s Word, nothing in the Word is safe. If we compromise what it says about moral issues, it won’t be long before the Remedy for sin is done away with too. If there is no longer objective right and wrong, then there is no longer a need for a Savior, who came to right all wrongs.
This is why we cling to the Word so tightly and defend it so fiercely. We do not want to lose the Gospel. We cannot forfeit the forgiveness and salvation that Jesus won for all people. He came to deliver us a good conscience through His perfect life in our place and His death on the cross. There is no question that our sins are many—choosing the empty promises of the world over His Word, choosing our plans over God’s will, ignoring the spiritual feast He continuously supplies. These are serious sins, as all sins are.
But Jesus died for all these sins. They were counted against Him, so they are no longer counted against you. By faith in Jesus, all the spiritual blessings He won are yours. There is nothing you must do to gain them. You don’t have to prove your worth somehow. You and I do not deserve to be saved, but God considered us worth the life of His only Son. Jesus willingly went to the cross for you. He died so that you could join Him in His everlasting kingdom.
This is what we celebrate today, that God used Martin Luther to proclaim the Gospel so clearly, and that the Gospel is still clearly heard today. What Jesus promised is still true, that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against [His church]” (Mat. 16:18). The forces of evil will not overcome our Lord and His Word. The Powerful Gospel which Opens Ears to Hear will prevail. “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
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(1877 painting, “Martin Luther at Worms” by Anton von Werner)
Festival of St. Michael and All Angels – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Matthew 18:1-10
In Christ Jesus, whom the holy angels gladly serve and obey, dear fellow redeemed:
If you could be an angel for a day, how would you spend your time? I’m guessing you would want to fly around a bit, testing your wings, maybe visiting some interesting places around the world. Of course you would want to have a good look at heaven and take in all the sights and sounds. Maybe you would even go to a place of major conflict to work on putting a stop to the fighting. You and I would want to do big things, things that were fulfilling to ourselves or helpful to a good many others.
But none of this describes the chief responsibilities of the holy angels. They are not interested in pursuing things that are personally fulfilling. They are content to take direction from God and carry out His will. They don’t spend their time sight-seeing; they spend their time serving—including service to the least in the world. They are perfectly devoted to the Almighty God who gave them life.
They are exactly opposite from the fallen angels—the devil and his fellow demons. These fallen angels were proud. They did not want to serve at God’s command. They did not want to worship Him alone. They wanted to be gods. They wanted all creation to bow to them. So they rebelled against their Creator. They led a revolt in heaven, which we heard about in today’s Epistle lesson (Rev. 12:7-12). They lost this battle and were thrown out of heaven. But they still operate on earth.
How exactly do they pursue their wicked agendas on earth? When we compare our day with the New Testament, it seems like the demons were much more active back then. We don’t observe obvious cases of demon-possession today like what we read about. But the demons haven’t given up. They aren’t taking a break. They are still active, most often in ways we don’t perceive.
When we face situations where we are tempted to sin, there is no doubt the demons are involved in it. They want us to put our own desires first and to rebel against God like they did. You know how intense these temptations can be. You are tempted to do something that you know you should not do. You are tempted to look at something that is not for you to see. You are tempted to repeat something about someone else that you know is unverified or unkind. You are powerfully pulled in the direction of the sin. You try to resist, but the desire grows more and more intense.
The devil and demons put the thought into your head that carrying out the sin is the only way to resolve the desire. They try to convince you that you can stay in control of the sin. “No one will find out,” you think. “It isn’t really that bad. Everybody does it.” But there is no excuse for sin. You and I do not have to sin. The demons cannot make us sin. They can only tempt us. The sin comes from our own hearts. Even those who are demon-possessed cannot say that the devil made them do bad things, because they are the ones who let the devil in in the first place.
Jesus warns us in today’s text about temptations to sin. He says that temptations will come. The world is sinful, and we are sinners. All of us have fallen for temptations many times. But we must not become comfortable with sinning. We must not let down our guard. Getting comfortable with sin has led many children of God to abandon the faith. They choose the pleasures of the world over the promises of God’s Word.
But Jesus says that it would be better to lose a hand or foot or eye in this life if they lead us to sin, than to enter hell with all members intact. We must fight these temptations to sin. And we stay vigilant and watchful not only about things that may tempt us, but also what may tempt those in our care.
This is particularly important for parents and grandparents to understand. Children are not aware of their vulnerability or of how hard the demons are working to destroy their faith. Children are trusting, and they may be tempted to trust the wrong people. They desperately want to be accepted and fit in, so they may spend time in bad company. It is a gross shirking of responsibility when parents or guardians let children decide who to hang out with or how to spend their time.
Besides peers who exert a bad influence on your kids, how else do you suppose the devil and demons try to tempt them? What would your children or grandchildren do every waking moment at home if you let them? That’s right, they would use a smartphone or other digital device like it was glued to the palm of their hand. If you want to know where the demons are most active today—and not just against the youth—look no further than the endless temptations to sin online.
If you were a fish, you could find some good food on the internet, but you would also find millions of worms dangling off shiny, sharp hooks. Those are the temptations to sin. You can find pleasure online. You can find material to fuel your hatred, your worries, and your doubts. You can find distractions, which do not seem bad in and of themselves, but which keep you from your Christian callings. If you have spent any time online, you know this from personal experience. It is shocking how easy it is to find bad things you weren’t even looking for in the first place.
But as active as the demons are in trying to destroy our faith, our reputation, and our very life, the holy angels are active too. If the holy angels were not fighting on our behalf, we would already be ruined. The devil and the demons would certainly overcome us.
This is clear from the account of Job. Job was a believer who was richly blessed by the LORD. When God and Satan conversed about Job, Satan said that Job had prospered only because the LORD had “put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has,” and “blessed the work of his hands” (Job 1:10). So the LORD gave Satan permission to attack everything Job had. In a matter of hours, all of Job’s oxen, donkeys, sheep, and camels were either stolen away or destroyed, and his ten children died. That’s how quickly the good things we have would be taken away from us if God did not send His angels to protect us.
It is a remarkable thing that the mighty angels so willingly serve us lowly sinners. It is not because they have decided we are worth the time and effort. It is because they honor God and want to obey His will. And it is God’s will that these “ministering spirits” should serve “those who are to inherit salvation” (Heb. 1:14). The humble angels do just that. They encamp around those who fear Him (Psa. 34:7). They guard them in all their ways (Psa. 91:11). They turn back the constant assaults of the devil. They never grow tired of serving. They never take a break. They watch over us day and night.
Jesus says the angels are devoted to us because they are devoted to God. He says that the little children’s angels “always see the face of My Father who is in heaven.” This means that whatever the angels do for us, they do because God directs them to do it. Their protection of us is His protection. Their care is His care. This is why we don’t pray to the angels. They don’t need or expect our thanks. All the glory is God’s.
Some people think that their loved ones who die become angels and watch over them. But that is not the case. The souls of believers go straight to heaven. God does not send them to help their loved ones. He sends the holy angels. Like the angels who look to God, we should too, so that we are not led away from what the Lord says in His Word.
When we have ignored the Word and given into temptation, it is not because the angels failed to do their job. God chastens His children when they sin, so that they are humbled and return to Him. He may let the devil do some damage, so that we become aware of our pride and repent. And when we repent, Jesus tells us that there is great joy in heaven, “joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luk. 15:10).
The angels rejoice because they know there is forgiveness for sin. They know what God did for mankind. He took on our flesh, so that He could be our Substitute. He suffered and died, so that every temptation into which we had fallen—every sin we had committed—would be blotted out.
That includes your sins and mine—sins committed in the public eye, and sins committed in the privacy of our homes. Jesus died for sins of the past that burden you and trouble your conscience even now. You can be freed from the guilt of those sins. Repent of them and believe Jesus’ word of absolution. He paid for that sin too. He forgives all your sins.
There is nothing you have done that the angels assigned to you have not witnessed. They have seen it all. But they are not ashamed or reluctant to serve you because of your sins. God loves you, so they do too. They marvel at God’s love for sinners. They rejoice that He is such a good and merciful Lord, and they want nothing more than for each of us to join them in God’s glorious kingdom.
This is why the Lord sends them to us. He wants the angels to do their part in humble service to Him, so we are not tempted away from the faith, but so that we retain a childlike faith in Him our Savior.
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(woodcut by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, 1794-1872)
Good Friday – Pr. Faugstad homilies
I. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)
Jesus was innocent. He had only done what was right. He had helped a great many people. He gave the blind their sight, made the lame walk, cleansed lepers, brought hearing to the deaf, rescued the demon-possessed, and even raised the dead to life (Luk. 7:22). Yet by this time on Good Friday, Jesus had been struck in the face, spit on, punched, flogged, and crowned with a tangle of thorns. Besides this, He was verbally abused, lied about, and mocked. And now He was nailed to a cross and hoisted up in the air for all to see.
Jesus might have been angry about all the injustice. He might have uttered threats and promised revenge. But instead He prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” He did what Isaiah prophesied He would do. He made “intercession for the transgressors” (53:12). Who were these transgressors? Whom did He ask God to forgive? It was the religious leaders who even now stood around the cross mocking Him. It was the Roman soldiers who cast lots for His clothing and mistreated Him.
But that was not all. Jesus was praying for you too, and for me. It was your sins and mine that caused Him to suffer and be nailed to the cross. It was your sins and mine that sent Him to His death, and your sins and mine that He died to forgive. We sing hymn #292, vv. 1, 3 (“O Dearest Jesus”).
II. “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:43)
The guilty man was hanging from a cross, and yet he thought he was in a position to judge another. He and his friend on the opposite side of Jesus joined the crowd in reviling Him: “If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross!” (Mat. 27:40,44). But as his suffering intensified, this criminal began to see things differently. He heard people mocking Jesus as “the Christ” and “the King of the Jews.” He saw the sign above Jesus, “This is the King of the Jews” (Luk. 23:38). He saw how patiently Jesus took this abuse, and the Holy Spirit led him to see that he was not dying next to another criminal. He was hanging there with God in the flesh, the Savior!
So he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luk. 23:42). And Jesus replied, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” Here is hope for all who have committed grievous sins, and for all who have despised and mocked the Lord. By His suffering and death, the Lord secured Paradise for sinners. He wants all to repent of their sins and believe in Him. He invites all—no matter how stained their past may be—to join Him forever in the Paradise of heaven. We sing hymn #334/335, vv. 1, 8 (“O Sacred Head, Now Wounded”).
III. “Woman, behold, your son!”—“Behold, your mother!” (John 19:26-27)
Mary was there too, the mother who had carried Jesus in her womb and had given birth to Him. She had nursed Him and watched Him grow. She had followed Him all the way here to Jerusalem. And now she saw Him, her precious, holy Son, dying a terrible death on a cross. Simeon had predicted this moment in the temple when Jesus was brought there as a baby. He told Mary, “and a sword will pierce through your own soul also” (Luk. 2:35). That sword turned inside her as she watched her Son writhing on the cross.
Even while He suffered for all people, Jesus was concerned for His mother. He would no longer be her Son in the way they were accustomed. He would die and rise again, but nothing would return to the way it was before. So Jesus looked upon Mary and His disciple John and said, “Woman, behold, your son!” and “Behold, your mother!” Through His friend, Jesus provided for His mother’s care.
And so He continues to do for the single, the widowed, the lonely, and the outcast. “God settles the solitary in a home” (Psa. 68:6). He gives communion and community through the members of His family, the members of His Church, who gather together around His Word and Sacraments. We sing hymn #294, vv. 1, 3 (“Near the Cross Was Mary Weeping”).
IV. “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Psalm 22:1, Matthew 27:46, Mark 15:34)
Jesus was nailed to the cross at 9:00am. Then starting at 12:00 noon, “there was darkness over all the land” (Mat. 27:45). This lasted for three hours. It was dark through the lightest part of the day. This is when Jesus suffered our hell. This is when He suffered the eternal punishment that we deserve because of our sins. During this time, Jesus felt the full force of His Father’s wrath. God the Father took out His holy anger against sin on His Son, because His Son was made to be our sin (2Co. 5:21).
Suffering those eternal torments, Jesus cried out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” How could the Father do this to His own Son? This is the price that had to be paid for your sin, so you would not have to pay it. This is what it took. It isn’t pretty. It should unsettle you to know how seriously God looks upon sin. Don’t turn your eyes away! This is your sin hanging on that cross. It is also your salvation. We sing hymn #297, vv. 2-3 (“Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted”).
V. “I thirst.” (Psalm 69:21, John 19:29)
The next words of Jesus come from the 69th Psalm. There it says, “You know my reproach, and my shame and my dishonor; my foes are all known to you. Reproaches have broken my heart, so that I am in despair. I looked for pity, but there was none, and for comforters, but I found none. They gave me poison for food, and for my thirst they gave me sour wine to drink” (vv. 19-21). This Psalm expresses Jesus’ anguish as He suffered hell on the cross. No one was there to comfort Him; He suffered alone. But now His suffering was coming to an end. And “to fulfill the Scripture” (Joh. 19:28), Jesus said, “I thirst.” He had consumed the cup of His Father’s wrath; He had emptied it to the bottom (Mat. 26:39,42).
Instead of this cup of suffering, the Lord now offers you the cup of salvation. He gives His own precious blood for you to drink, and His own holy body for you to eat. He received “sour wine” for His thirst (Joh. 19:29). You receive the sweet wine of His forgiveness, along with His promise of a hunger-free, thirst-free eternity in heaven. We sing hymn #331, vv. 8-9 (“A Lamb Goes Uncomplaining Forth”).
VI. “It is finished!” (John 19:30, also Matthew 27:50, Mark 15:37, Luke 23:46)
Six hours on the cross—three of them in darkness—was that enough? Was Justice satisfied? Was the redemption of sinners accomplished? With a loud cry, Jesus said, “It is finished!” He did not say, “I’ve done My part, now you do yours!” He said the work is complete. Salvation does not require His works plus your works, His righteousness plus your righteousness. He did it all. All of it is yours by faith in Him.
But that does not mean you should feel secure in your sins. You should not think that you can do whatever you want and live however you like, since salvation does not depend on you. Jesus died on the cross to free you from sin, not to free you to sin. He broke the chains of your sin and death, so you could live for Him in His kingdom.
Looking upon the crucified Christ, no one should be prideful about his own goodness. And no one should despair because of his own sins. Jesus speaks these words, “It is finished!” for all people. Jesus willingly went to the cross for you. He is ever ready to forgive you and strengthen you for His blessed service. We sing hymn #284, vv. 2-3 (“Go to Dark Gethsemane”).
VII. “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.” (Psalm 31:5, Luke 23:46)
With His final words, Jesus gives words to the faithful that they can confidently use at their death. Before breathing His last, Jesus said, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.” No longer was He forsaken by His Father. His work to save sinners was complete. But He still had to die. His soul had to separate from His body and be committed to His Father’s keeping, just as yours will be at your death.
Your life and death are completely in the hands of the Lord. Even Jesus’ own life was not taken from Him by the chief priests, scribes, and Pharisees, or by the Roman authorities. He very clearly stated, “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. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father” (Joh. 10:17-18). Jesus laid down His life on Good Friday, but He would soon take it up again. So you also remain in the Lord’s keeping both in life and in death. We sing hymn #337, vv. 5-8 (“Our Blessed Savior Seven Times Spoke”).
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(“Cristo Crucificado” painting by Diego Velázquez, 1632)
Maundy Thursday – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. John 13:1-15
In Christ Jesus, the Lord of all but also the Servant of all, dear fellow redeemed:
If you knew you would die tomorrow, what would you do today? Would you eat at the fanciest restaurant you could find? Would you make a trip to a place you always wanted to visit? Would you spend as much time as you could with friends and family? Or would you do exactly what you are doing right now – listening to Jesus’ Word?
We do not know when our death will come. But Jesus did. Our text says that “Jesus knew that His hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father.” So what did He do? He spent the night before His death in service. On Palm Sunday, He was hailed as a king. But now on Thursday, He knelt down and washed His disciples’ feet, one-by-one.
The disciples were not aware that Jesus’ death was so close. But they certainly recognized how strange it was that their Teacher and Lord should wash their feet. It should have been the other way around, except that none of the disciples had volunteered for the job. In fact, that same evening they spent their time arguing about “which of them was to be regarded as the greatest” (Luk. 22:24).
Jesus said to them that the pagan Gentiles are concerned about power and authority over others. But the disciples should practice humble service. “[L]et the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But,” said Jesus, “I am among you as the one who serves” (vv. 25-27).
His demonstration of humble service by washing the disciples’ feet was a small sample of what He would do on a large scale the next day. On Friday, He willingly walked the path of suffering to Golgotha and was crucified in every sinner’s place. He could have carried out no more humble service than this. He was regarded as “a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people” (Psa. 22:6). “He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phi. 2:8).
If Jesus, the perfect Son of God, was willing to serve in this way, then we should be willing to serve in even the humblest circumstances. We should consider no one below us. We should be ready to help any who are in need. Jesus said, “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.”
This is not the message we hear from the world. The world does not tell you to put others first. The world tells you to look out for yourself, to stay true to you. You need to stand up for your rights and have others bow to you. Is it any wonder that civil discourse is hardly seen in the public square? Almost no one is concerned about serving their neighbor. They are all concerned about serving themselves.
This selfish spirit resides in our sinful nature. It is the reason we are often reluctant to serve those around us, and why we become upset when others do not serve us like we think they should. It is why spouses keep a record of wrongs, why children pout when they do not get their way, and why people feud with members of their congregation and members of their community. We want to be served, not serve.
That is why Jesus the Foot-Washer had to come. We could not rise above our selfishness and free ourselves from the sin that entangled us. Jesus had to do this. He had to save us and cleanse us from our unrighteousness. And He continues to do this work among us. Jesus told His disciples the night before His death that He had given them an example to follow. But that is not all He gave them. He also gave them His body and blood for their forgiveness and strengthening.
He took bread and said, “Take, eat; this is My body, which is given for you.” Then He took a cup of wine and said, “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.” In this way, Jesus would continue to come and serve them. He would come to cleanse them of their sins, and to equip them for their lives in the world.
He does this for us also. He still comes to serve us through His holy Supper. We do not deserve to have Him come to us; we do not deserve to be in His presence. And yet He visits us here. He comes to you and me—imperfect, stained, unworthy, guilty, unclean—and gives us His holy body and blood to eat and drink.
This is no symbolic exercise. It is not simply a way to remember Jesus, who is supposedly far, far away from us in heaven. It is not a time for going through the motions while our mind is set on other things. It is not a right we can demand simply because we have gone through the proper channels. Partaking of this holy Supper is a privilege, a privilege which should not be taken lightly.
Paul underscores this in his First Letter to the Corinthians. He said that it is possible to receive the Lord’s Supper to one’s harm. Imagine if the disciples had despised Jesus’ service to them as He washed their feet. Suppose one of them hardly acknowledged Jesus while his feet were being washed, as though it did not even matter. Or suppose another kicked over the wash basin and laughed at Jesus. We would say the recipient of Jesus’ service was not worthy of the gift.
In the same way, someone might come to the Lord’s Table who does not think that anything important is happening. Or he is not really concerned about repentance and amending his sinful life. Or another might reject Jesus’ words and laugh at the idea that Jesus would give His body and blood in this way. Paul addresses such thinking when he writes: “Whoever, therefore, 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. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup” (11:27-28).
We examine ourselves by approaching the altar with humility, by recognizing that Jesus meets us here just as He says. He comes to serve us and bring us the forgiveness of our sins. This is not the time to insist on our own way, or to imagine like Peter that we know better than the Lord. We come to eat and drink trusting His Word, and we do not go away again empty.
Through His service to us in the Supper, Jesus prepares us to go and serve the people around us. He helps us to see the needy in our lives in the same way that He looks at us, with compassion and love. The same night He washed the disciples’ feet, He told them, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Joh. 13:34-35).
We confess our faith in Jesus not only by what we say, but also by how we live. We could quote a thousand Bible passages and demonstrate our extensive knowledge about what the Bible says. But if this is not coupled with a life of humble service toward our neighbors, our words will fall on deaf ears.
So whether we have many more years in this world, or whether our end is fast approaching, we spend our time by receiving Jesus’ blessings through His Word and Sacraments. Then we are continuously equipped to go out in our vocations to share His love with others. We pray that through our service, others will learn as we have that Jesus is not a vengeful Lord, one who is angry with us, but that Jesus Is Among Us as One Who Serves.
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(painting of the Last Supper by Simon Ushakov, 1685)
Children’s Christmas Program at Jerico
December 16, 2018
CONGREGATION: #144.1-5 – “Thy Little Ones, Dear Lord, Are We”
“O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” is a hymn based on the “O Antiphons,” which have been in use since at least the 8th century. The “O Antiphons” are a series of seven responsive, or antiphonal, verses for Advent which lead into Christmas.
The arrangement of the antiphons is purposeful, progressing from before the creation of the universe, continuing through the messianic prophecies of Israel, and culminating in the incarnation and birth of Christ in Bethlehem.
One antiphon is assigned to each day from December 17-23 in this order:
December 17: O Wisdom (Sapientia)
December 18: O Lord (Adonai)
December 19: O Root of Jesse (Radix Jesse)
December 20: O Key of David (Clavis David)
December 21: O Dayspring (Oriens)
December 22: O King of the Nations (Rex Gentium)
December 23: O God with Us (Emmanuel)
Today we look more closely at the “O Antiphons” as we prepare again to celebrate the coming of Jesus, our Savior, at Christmas.
CONGREGATION: #144.6-8 – “Thy Little Ones, Dear Lord, Are We”
The coming Messiah identified Himself as “Wisdom” in Proverbs 8. He said that He was with the Lord “before the beginning of the earth” (v. 23), and that He was “beside Him, like a master workman” (v. 30). The evangelist John describes the same thing: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…. All things were made through Him” (John 1:1,3).
We pray: O Wisdom, proceeding from the mouth of the Most High, pervading and permeating all creation, mightily ordering all things: Come and teach us the way of prudence. Amen.
1 Corinthians 1:23,24
1 Corinthians 2:7
O come, Thou Wisdom from on high,
Who ord’rest all things mightily;
To us the path of knowledge show
And teach us in her ways to go.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.
The Israelites were slaves in Egypt and had no one to lead them to the promised land of Canaan. Then the Lord appeared to Moses in a burning bush and told him to lead the people to freedom. Once they had been freed, the Lord delivered His Law to them from Mt. Sinai, so they would know His holy will. They had been rescued from slavery in Egypt, but they still needed to be rescued from their sins.
We pray: O Lord and ruler of the house of Israel, who appeared to Moses in the burning bush and gave him the Law on Sinai: Come with an outstretched arm and redeem us. Amen.
O come, O come, Thou Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes on Sinai’s height
In ancient times didst give the law
In cloud and majesty and awe.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.
O ROOT OF JESSE
After the Israelites settled in the land of Canaan, they desired to have a king like the nations around them. Their kings brought them glory for a time, but before long the kingdom faltered and fell. God promised another King, one whose kingdom would endure forever. This King would come from the line of Jesse, a shepherd in Bethlehem and the father of King David.
We pray: O Root of Jesse, who stands for an ensign before the people, before whom kings are mute and to whom the nations will do homage: Come quickly to deliver us. Amen.
O come, Thou Rod of Jesse’s stem;
From ev’ry foe deliver them
That trust Thy mighty pow’r to save,
And give them vict’ry o’er the grave.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.
O KEY OF DAVID
Before his death, Jacob prophesied to his son Judah, “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him” (Genesis 49:10). Kings would come from the line of Judah. David was one of these. His kingdom flourished, but the scepter was not his to keep. It would be taken up again by Jesus, David’s Son and David’s Lord. This King would have the power to release his subjects from sin, death, and the devil.
We pray: O Key of David and scepter of the house of Israel, You open and no one can close, You close and no one can open: Come and rescue the prisoners who are in darkness and in the shadow of death. Amen.
O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heav’nly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.
After the death of David’s son Solomon, the kingdom of Israel split in two. The northern half of the kingdom was conquered by the Assyrians in 722 B. C. The southern half of the kingdom fell to the Babylonians in 586 B. C. Times were dark for the Israelites. Would the Lord keep His promise to send them a Savior? Would the light of God’s gracious countenance shine on them again?
We pray: O Dayspring, splendor of light everlasting: Come and enlighten those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. Amen.
O come, Thou Dayspring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.
O KING OF THE NATIONS
After their captivity in Babylon, the LORD brought His people back to the land of Israel. Following a period of independence, Israel was taken over by the Romans. The Israelites hoped that the coming Messiah would free their land once again and restore the kingdom to the glory it had under King David. But the Messiah’s kingdom was “not of this world” (John 18:36). His reign would be over all things on earth and in heaven.
We pray: O King of the nations, the ruler they long for, the cornerstone uniting all people: Come and save us all, whom You formed out of clay. Amen.
O come, Desire of nations, bind
All peoples in one heart and mind;
Bid Thou our sad divisions cease,
And be Thyself our King of Peace.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.
The time for the world’s Savior had come. God the Father sent His Son to become man, so He could be placed under the law to keep it for sinners, and so He could suffer and die for their salvation. The desperate cry of sinners—“O come, O come, Emmanuel!”—had finally been answered. The Savior was here.
We pray: O Emmanuel, our King and our Lord, the anointed for the nations and their Savior: Come and save us, O Lord our God. Amen.
Sung with the melody from the Norwegian Synod hymnbook of 1913:
O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here,
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.
CHRISTMAS GOSPEL: St. Luke 2:1-7 (1st-8th)
CHILDREN: #119 – “Away in a Manger”
CHILDREN: #127.1-4 – “I Am So Glad when Christmas Comes”
(first verse in Norwegian: “Jeg er så glad hver julekveld”)
CHRISTMAS GOSPEL: St. Luke 2:8-12 (3rd-8th)
CHILDREN: #123.1-5 – “From Heaven Above to Earth I Come”
CHRISTMAS GOSPEL: St. Luke 2:13-14 (PreK-8th)
CHRISTMAS GOSPEL: St. Luke 2:15-20 (7th-8th)
CHILDREN: “Dejlig er den himmel blå”
CONGREGATION: #120.1-4 – “Bright and Glorious Is the Sky”
OFFERING & LIGHTING OF THE CANDLES
CONGREGATION: #140 – “Silent Night”
PRAYERS & BENEDICTION
CONGREGATION: #138 – “Joy to the World”
(photo by Neil Shaffer)