The Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity – Vicar Cody Anderson sermon
Text: Hebrew 12:1-2
In Christ Jesus, who has ran the race to completion and his victory counts as ours, dear fellow redeemed:
When I was growing up, I loved to play games that involved running. Tag, basketball, dodgeball, football, and many others. There was nothing better as a kid and being able to burn off that energy. Now as I mentioned games that I loved to play and be competitive at, there is one thing that I didn’t mention. I despise running. Yes, I get that I ran around in all of those games, but to run on a track, to be timed on how long it took, what an exhausting affair and I had no fun doing it. My siblings were 4 year varsity track and cross country runners in high school. You know what I did, I golfed! There is a question when it comes to running in these long distance races for me and that question is, Why should I run a race that I can’t win? Don’t we find ourselves asking the same question when it comes to the race we are currently in. The race of life. Is that not what the writer to the Hebrews calls it? When it comes to this race, we are going to have a lack of training in certain spots. What we need to do is to fix our eyes on Jesus as those who have gone before us have done, for in Christ, this will be a race to completion.
Unfortunately for me, track is one of the oldest sports around. The Greeks and the Romans loved the races and games. The Olympics would take place starting around early 8th century BC. More famous than that is the great Colosseum that was built in Rome in 70AD. At the Colosseum they had many games. It was so well known that many wealthy people would come and watch the games. Like today at a professional sporting event, they even had a seating chart. If you were wealthier, you were up front. The nosebleed tickets still put you up in the nose bleeds. Interestingly when the Colosseum is built, it happens to coincide with early Christianity. Why is this significant? Well, I have not told you what kind of games they played. They had track, but they also had battles there. It was an arena. Gladiators would fight. They would fight people; they would fight exotic animals. Lots of Christians attended these games. Instead of in the stands however, they were in the arena. They were being executed.
Like the Christians before us, running the race for Christ comes with its challenges. Jerusalem was sacked in 70 AD by Rome. The Jews had been displaced for their insurrection. The early Christians were considered a sect at that point. They were calling them “Followers of the Way”. Sects have a hard time belonging in the world. When you are considered as such, people try to remove you. Rome at this time believed in emperor worship. Anything other than that was unlawful. Besides this, Rome would also use rumors to try and stop the spread of Christianity. It is now 2022, and our race still has challenges like these.
Our race here on this earth, our race here in this life, requires lots of training. We have to race against the world as it tries to trap us in sin. The world is a very tough opponent. It flaunts so many things, like the junk food you are not supposed to eat to get in shape for a race. Those habitual sins that we crave most dear are like our sweets. Drinking to much, not caring about the language that comes out of our mouths, finding out the latest gossip, diving onto the pornography site for self-indulgence. See the world plants these traps because once we are caught in them, we don’t look like Christians anymore do we? The world can label us hypocrites. We look no better than anyone else. They do not see Christians who fail at times. We have to overcome the attacks that we face for running the race for Christ. This comes with the territory. Jesus told us that this was not going to be easy. Luke 9:23-25 says, “If anyone wants to come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me. 24. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. 25. After all, what will it benefit a man if he gains the whole world, but destroys himself or is lost?
Without constantly training, we can lose sight of the fact that Christ won the race. Going to church on Sunday’s, reading devotions, and going to God in prayer are the ways that Christians train. How often do we read our Bible? Once a day? Once a week? Once a month? Maybe a couple times a year? Being engaged with God’s word allows us to stay focused of the race. We hear Jesus telling us how the race is won. If we get out of our training, if we slow down even for a moment, then we have a problem. We can be overcome with fear in what is to come, we lose patience, and we run the risk of dropping out forever. We have no reason to worry about what the future will bring. We have no reason to lose patience with God, but that is what we do. If we get too far into the future, we worry about the problems to come. When the world attacks, we scream at God where are you. Why aren’t you helping me in my time of need! Too long out of our training, and we can start to think, God you must not be there, I don’t hear you.
Verse 2 reads, Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, who is the author of our faith and the one who brings it to its goal. In view of the joy set before him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of God’s throne. Christ has indeed ran the race ahead of us and he won it. He began it just like us. He began as a lowly child. He lived a life like the one that we are living now, except he lived his perfectly. He overcame the trials and temptations of the world. The Devil tried every which way to stop his race. He offered Jesus way’s out. He tried to show Jesus how it was in his power that he didn’t have to finish the race. Jesus fought off the Devil and willingly lived out our hard earthly life. He became under the Law for us living a perfect life in our place which the Father counts as our life by faith in the Savior.
He became a curse for us and overcame it. He kept his eye on the prize. God couldn’t even look at Jesus when he was on the cross. At that point Jesus once again could have said enough. Yet, he carried on, he carried on until the finish line had come. When he saw the finish line, he said, “It is finished”. With the earthly world being defeated and Satan’s schemes be thwarted, he had the last competitor to beat and that was death itself. He reversed the outcome of death with his death on the tree. Three days later death would be defeated. Jesus would rise on the third day crushing death and crossing the finish line for our redemption.
We have the ultimate plan when it comes to making sure we have the endurance to run this race. To start off, we need to train. That training starts off with daily contrition and repentance. Daily contrition and repentance allow us to start every day fresh and a new in the grace of God. Strengthening us for our challenges ahead. The food or nourishment for the race comes from the Means of Grace. Remembering our baptism with our daily contrition and repentance and we drown our Old Adam. Then our New Adam will rise. Holy Communion gives us the strength and knowledge that Christ death and resurrection paid for our sins. Jesus wants us to fix our eyes on him as he is our example as well as the Saints that have gone before us.
The saints of old show us how to run the race. We see those in Scripture. Moses, Joshua, David, the prophets, the disciples. Here are our examples and they are nicely recorded right in Scripture with their detailed accounts. They show us how to live Christ like lives in persecution and how to pick ourselves up again, as they all were not all perfect. In our gospel text Jesus encounters the 10 lepers. They ask Jesus for mercy and he has it. The Samaritan comes back to worship Jesus realizing he has been cured. He shows his faith as Jesus confirms it made him well. How about the saints that have gone before us that we know personally? A mom, a dad, a grandparent. I will always remember my Grandma Homann as the person who I looked up to, who let her faith shine. We tend to forget about them don’t we. We don’t think of them as finishing the race, yet that is what they did. They crossed the finish line! The faith of those ahead of us are shining examples which envelope us like a bright cloud in this dark world.
We want to put our faith into practice by helping others and doing works of service. As we struggle with our race, we don’t want to forget about our neighbor who also struggles. Some of our neighbors don’t even have the training or the nourishment that we have. They don’t even have the good news that we have. Therefore, we want to remember what the saints of old did. They left an imprint on us for a reason. They were our example so that we can be an example for others. We can give our time and our efforts. Lots of the time people are looking for help, and like us, we all are stubborn, we all want help, yet we don’t ask for it. We want to concentrate on Christ, he is both the start and end of the race, he is the ultimate witness who ran the race and overcame it. He already won the race for us. We must remember that we aren’t winning it for ourselves. When we fail, which we will, a lot, he gives us the strength as he already won it.
Running the race can be hard. Over time it can feel that exhaustion will just take over. We do have the training, we do have the strength. We will overcome the persecutions, the trials of this life. The saints that have gone before us give us hope. They finished their legs of the race and we know for certain that it was not in vain. We will continue and forge on. This race can seem daunting, but it is a race worth running. Christ has already run it for us, and with that knowledge knowing that the race is won, we know for certain we will hoist the gold. We are running the race, but thanks be to God that Jesus has already won it for us. We will cross the finish line, and we will be reunited with the saints and with Christ forever and ever. Amen.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
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(picture from “The Christian Martyrs’ Last Prayer” by Jean-Léon Gérôme, 1883)
The Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Luke 10:23-37
In Christ Jesus, whose “go and do” was perfectly fulfilled for you by His own life of love toward God and neighbor, dear fellow redeemed:
Who are the bad guys in Jesus’ account of the Good Samaritan? There are several bad guys, but they aren’t bad for the same reasons. The robbers sinned by beating up a man, taking his things, and leaving him for dead. The priest and the Levite sinned by not helping him when they saw him on the side of the road. But who was it that sinned the most?
The robbers sinned by their actions. The priest and the Levite sinned by their inaction. In our Catechism, we classify the sin of the robbers as sins of commission. They actively sinned against the Fifth and Seventh Commandments. They committed wrongs. The sins of the temple workers were sins of omission. They did not help their neighbor as the Fifth Commandment requires. They omitted to do what they should have.
Still it seems to us that the sins committed by the robbers were worse than the sins of the temple workers. After all, the robbers went looking for trouble; the priest and the Levite just happened on the scene. Let’s put ourselves in the sandals of these passers-by for a moment. We presume that the priest and the Levite were on their way to serve in the temple in Jerusalem. This service required that they be ceremonially clean. Touching the body of a dead man would disqualify them for that important work, and it looked like this man might not make it. And besides, they weren’t doctors—what could they even do for him? It was best to hurry on their way and pray that someone else would come along to help.
Sins of omission (inaction) almost always seem less serious than sins of commission (action). It is easier to justify why we did not do something good to help our neighbor than it is to justify something we did to hurt our neighbor. This is why the lawyer speaking to Jesus felt confident in his own righteousness. He thought that he had kept the Law of God. He hadn’t killed anyone, he hadn’t cheated on his wife, he hadn’t taken someone else’s things, and so on. He had avoided sins of commission—at least in his opinion.
But refraining from bad behavior is only half of what God requires in His Law. He also requires that we show love to Him and our neighbors. So for example, honoring God’s name doesn’t just mean keeping ourselves from cursing, swearing, and lying by His name. It also means praying to Him, praising Him, and giving Him thanks. Protecting our neighbor’s life does not just mean holding back from physical harm. It also means helping him and showing kindness whenever he has a need. Protecting our neighbor’s things is more than just not stealing. It is also helping him to do better and improve what he has.
Keeping the Commandments is not just some cold exercise in avoiding wrongdoing. We might think we could accomplish that by never leaving our home or our bedroom, never speaking to or interacting with others. Then we could sit all alone with hearts full of pride thinking about how we are not as bad as all the people “out there.” But then what good have we actually done for our neighbors? This is why Martin Luther and many others renounced the monastic life—they realized that by hiding away, they were serving only themselves and not their neighbors.
But there is a problem with opening ourselves up to the needs and concerns of others: we might have to do some hard things. We might have to change the plans we had. We might have to get our hands dirty as we serve the hurting and the helpless.
I recently read a beautiful little book called Bright Valley of Love (Edna Hong). It detailed the life of a severely crippled boy who was treated little better than an animal by his parents and grandmother. They thought of him as a nobody, a nothing, who would never contribute to society in a worthwhile way. When he was six, they decided they had had enough and dropped him off at a center called Bethel, a Christian place where the physically and mentally disabled were cared for. There he learned to speak and walk and carry out numerous tasks for others in the community. It was a wonderful institution that focused on the needs of both body and soul.
Then World War II began, and Hitler gave the order that any people in Germany like the ones at this center, people who required full-time care—the mentally ill, disabled, paralyzed, infirm—that these should be “mercifully” killed. It’s terrible, isn’t it? Assigning greater value to one life than another. But we still do it—we all do it. Maybe we have something against a certain group of people because of how they look or where they come from. Maybe we wish harm on those who hold different views about culture and politics than we do. Maybe we look at a portion of the population as nothing more than a drain on our valuable resources.
Until we have nothing but love in our hearts and our minds toward our neighbors, including the ones we look down on or the ones who look down on us, we have not loved as God requires us to do. The man from Samaria spent his time, energy, and money on a man from Judea. Generally speaking, the Jews and the Samaritans despised each other. They wouldn’t think of lifting a finger to help one another. But God moved the Samaritan’s heart to compassion, and friends were made out of enemies.
God calls us to make friends like the Samaritan did, by making sacrifices and serving our neighbors around us. It is not possible for us to solve all the problems in the world. We can’t help everyone who is hurting. But we can help the people we come in contact with. The same book I read made the point that the neighbor who most needs your attention is the person near you who is suffering the most. That might be your parent or sibling, your spouse or child, a co-worker, someone you hardly know, or someone you don’t know yet.
Instead of looking at others with eyes of evil and disdain like the robbers, or with eyes of distraction or disinterest like the priest and Levite, we want to look at one another with eyes of compassion. That’s how the Samaritan looked upon the man whom he assisted and cared for. That’s how Jesus looks upon us.
You see, we’re not so different from the man who was robbed and beaten up. But it isn’t our enemies that have done this work. It is the Law of God. The perfect commands of God’s Law rob us of any notion that we have lived the kind of life that He requires. The lawyer wanted to justify himself, but Jesus made it clear that he had not loved his neighbor as he loved himself, and so he had not perfectly loved God.
And the more we look in judgment upon others and turn our backs on them, the more pride we feel because of how good we are, the more the Law takes us to task and treats us roughly. Unless you have perfectly loved God with your heart, soul, strength, and mind, unless you have perfectly loved your neighbor as yourself, you have nothing to boast about. The inspired letter to the Galatians states it clearly, “You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace” (5:4).
But you, dear friends in Christ, have not fallen away from grace. Even though you have failed your neighbors by the harm you have done and by the help you have not done, Jesus has not failed you. He saw you wounded by your own sin, helpless, dying. And He came to join Himself to you and make your situation His situation.
Looking upon you with compassion, He said, “I will take the punishment of the Law that you deserve. I will be condemned and beaten in your place. I will bear your wounds. I will be forsaken by everyone who passes by. I will be robbed of My life.” And because He suffered and died for you, the filth of your sins is washed away. Your wounds are treated. You are wrapped in His righteousness. And for your ongoing spiritual health and strength, He calls you to the inn of His Church when you hear His Word of grace and kneel before Him at His altar to receive the best medicine there is—His holy body and blood “given and shed for you.”
You are not justified before God because of anything you have done, and you are not condemned because of what you have failed to do or done wrongly. You are justified—declared righteous and innocent in God’s sight—because of what Jesus has done on your behalf. Your neighbor does need your love and care and compassion. But you do not do these things to earn something from God or to receive recognition and glory from the world. You do these things because Jesus did them for you. “We love because he first loved us” (1Jo. 4:19).
With your eyes on Jesus, you know what love looks like. He has let you in on the secret and inspires it in you. He says to you just as He said to His disciples, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.” You see Jesus’ love for you in the Samaritan’s love for the dying Jewish man, and so you see how to love your neighbor. Jesus gave all He had to save you. He put you first. He suffered for you and sacrificed Himself for your eternal good. Blessed are you, and Blessed Are All Whom Jesus Justifies.
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 “Parable of the Good Samaritan” by Jan Wijnants, 1632-1684)
The Twelfth Sunday after Trinity – Vicar Cody Anderson sermon
Text: St. Mark 7:31-37
In Christ Jesus, who has done all things well, making the deaf hear and the mute speak, dear fellow redeemed:
As a student, you probably remember the days when people came to test your vision and hearing. For the hearing test, you have to put on headphones. Once they were on, they gave you a buzzer that you would push when you heard the tone that they played, or maybe they had you raise your hand when you heard a sound in each ear. Now this tone would start out loud, but as it got softer and softer, and as you were concentrating, it would come to a point that you didn’t know if you could hear it at all. I had to take this text before starting my factory job. When the test was over, the lady who was administering the test told me that I had perfect hearing. I responded, “I can’t wait to get home and tell my mother that.” To which she responded, “I can’t control when you decide to listen.” The problem that we have isn’t that we choose when we want to listen. Spiritually the problem is much worse than that. Our sins have made it so that we can’t hear and are not able to speak. The text makes it clear that Jesus is the one who opens ears and loosens tongues.
Jesus shows that he did not only come to save the Jews but the Gentiles as well. The Jews were hoping that the Messiah would liberate them from the Roman government. But that is not what he came to do. Throughout the Old Testament God made it known that he would send a Savior for the whole world. That is who Jesus is. He didn’t come to save one race, or one group. He came to save the entire world. In Jesus ministry, we see that he continues to travel. He moves from Galilee, goes down to Jerusalem for the feasts and festivals, and then he goes back north. We see in our text that Jesus had left the area that was home, and he traveled with his disciples in the lands of the Gentiles. Jesus has come into the Decapolis which is an area of 10 gentile cities.
Now he performed a miracle in this area already. One of the well-known one is when he drove the demons out of the men and he sent them into a heard of pigs. This miracle created quite a stir in this area. Right before our text Jesus encounters the woman who had great faith. As Jesus told her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and feed it to the dogs.” But she answered him, “Yes, Lord; yet; even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs” (Mark 7:27-28). The news of Jesus is starting to gain traction since more know about him. Now here in our text yet another man has come to receive help from Jesus.
The people are beginning to have a wrong idea about what Jesus is doing. The people upon watching Jesus perform his miracles have had other thoughts about the Messiah. They want Jesus to be their king. It’s recorded in John, “Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself” (John 6:15). The people are not really paying attention to Jesus’ message any more. They see the miracles that he is performing and they are starting to only see his power. What is Jesus to do? He wants people to hear and listen to the message of the kingdom of God. As Jesus has a man brought to him and he can’t hear or speak, Jesus continues to have compassion. He has a plan.
Jesus takes the man away, not to show off his powers. When Jesus performs his miracles in front of the crowds, he has a message that he wants the people to know. With this miracle Jesus doesn’t want the crowd to see. So, he pulls the man away from the crowd. The people want to tell all about the signs and wonders they are seeing; they are in awe. But Jesus tells them not to say anything. As Jesus is trying to get them to stop, they continue to tell others about it. The crowd isn’t looking for a message anymore.
Like the crowd that Jesus is trying to hush, like the man who was healed, our ears and tongues are also out of function. Jesus is telling us a message of repentance, that he is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. We as Christians, we know his message and we want to hear it. But the world is so noisy. We want to listen to what the world has to offer. It’s like our favorite music drowning our cares away. When we are living in our sins, we are deaf to God’s Word. Our sinful nature sees how hard it is to follow God’s commands. Why should we listen to them? They are so hard to follow and the sins are so easy to commit. The sin that we most want to commit is like the crowd. We don’t want to listen to Jesus’ message and we want Jesus to listen to us and to do what we tell him to. Jesus is still trying to communicate to us yet often we don’t want to listen. We want our tongues to stay mute at times. That is our bodies wanting to stay in our sins. But as the crowds continue to not listen, as we fall into our weaknesses, Jesus continues to heal and he did not give up on his mission.
Jesus restores the man of his ailments, showing that he is the one who hears and speaks what his Father wants. Ephphatha, be opened. Jesus shows how powerful his Word is. He is able to restore the man to full health. Adam was created knowing language and hearing God, but then he closed his ears to God’s Word. Jesus restores what was lost in the fall. This major reversal reveals how much mercy God has. He wants the world to hear the precious message of the gospel. His son lived a perfect life, listening to everything that the Father had told him. Only listening and doing his will. He then fulfilled God’s Word to the letter. Jesus continued to listen to his Father, and he took his cup and drank it, going to the cross. How awesome that we have a Savior who willingly listened to his Father and died for us. Jesus removes our deafness and loosens our tongues by perfectly hearing and speaking for us and forgiving us our sins.
Isaiah foretold that Jesus would come and do this. Jesus would come and cause a stir. Isaiah’s prophecy is our Old Testament lesson for today, “In that day the deaf shall hear the words of a book, and out of their gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind shall see. The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the LORD, and the poor among mankind shall exult in the Holy One of Israel” (Isaiah 29:18-19). The people of Jesus day were in great need of help. We also are in great need of help. The Holy One of Israel continues to come to open our ears and loosen our tongues. He brings us out of the darkness and into his marvelous light.
We see how God’s Word continues to perform miracles when the gospel is spread. The gospel is alive and active. It does not stay silent. It is meant for human ears to hear and Jesus commands us to go and share it. The gospel heals souls as it tells people about how God kept his promise and sent a Savior. When sinners hear the comfort of the gospel, they will exult the Holy One also. This is not a message for only some to hear. This is a message for everyone. Jesus says “Ephphatha, be opened”, so that all ears can hear the wonderful news that he has done. Fulfilling God’s promise of dying for our sins and taking them all away.
Jesus gives us comfort daily that our ears are opened, and our tongues are loosened. There may come a time where we have given into temptation and we think, “How can I share God’s Word with others?” We think that we should give up because we failed God and closed our ears to his Word in weakness. But the power to change hearts and reach souls is not ours. The power is in the Word, God calls sinners to speak it. God knows that we are sinful. He sees us here in this world. That is why he sent his son. It is Jesus who says “Ephphatha, be opened.” It’s not us saying those words. The Holy Spirit uses us as messengers to bring the sweet gospel to people’s ears. We can have confidence that is not our actions, and when we fail, Jesus still tells our ears to be opened. He knows the weaknesses that we go through. He is there with us in our temptations. He knows that we need to hear the word “Ephphatha” more than once in our lives. It is that comfort that allows us to continue to carry on and tell others about Jesus because we know how sweet it is to hear the gospel words of comfort.
This is how awesome our God is. As we used our selective hearing ever since the time of the fall, this has now been restored. God shows His power. He sent his Son to heal the deaf ears of the human race, all of us who were lost in our sins and deaf to God’s Word. The Holy Spirit opens our ears so that we can know that saving gospel. Our tongues are loosed so we can share it. We hear Christ loud and clear as he says, “Ephphatha,” “Be Opened.” So now that we have had our hearing tested and see that on our own it doesn’t exist, Jesus did have perfect hearing. That perfect hearing is now ours. Jesus makes it possible to hear and share his Word. To God be the glory that we hear “Ephphatha, be opened.” Amen.
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 stained-glass window at Saude)
The Eleventh Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Luke 18:9-14
In Christ Jesus, who frees us from the fading glory of this world and delivers us a glory that shall never pass away, dear fellow redeemed:
Of all the ways we could describe our favorite celebrities, whether athletes, actors, singers, politicians, or CEOs, I’m not sure the word “humble” comes to mind. Our culture teaches us to glory in our successes and pass the blame for our failures. Brash and arrogant talk gets a person noticed, while fair and kind statements are ignored. But the things that impress the world are not the things that impress our Lord.
Jesus says, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” As an example of someone who exalts himself, Jesus told a parable about a Pharisee. Now the Pharisees were some of the most virtuous and moral people of their day. They diligently followed God’s Commandments and the traditions of their fathers. They had a good reputation among the people. They stayed clear of any public scandals. This is not what Jesus was criticizing here.
Like the Pharisee, all of us should keep from swindling people out of their goods. All of us should be fair and give what we owe. All of us should honor marriage by our example and by the guidance we give others. And it would be beneficial for us to consider ancient practices like regular fasting to restrain our sinful desires, or the practice of tithing—giving a tenth of our income—to train ourselves not to become too attached to the things of this world.
The problem was not in how the Pharisee was living, but in how he was exalting himself. He started out by saying, “God, I thank You,” but it is obvious that he was praising himself and looking for praise from others. “I am not like other men,” he boasted, “I am a good man. Look at all the good things I am doing!” In the Pharisee’s mind, he didn’t really need anything from God. He thought God needed something from him, and he was happy to provide it.
This is an easy trap to fall into. We know how God wants us to live; we have His Ten Commandments. So we can’t help but think that if we do a better job of keeping the Commandments than others do, that God must be happier with us. But that is supposing we have actually kept some of the Commandments.
Your opinion about this will depend on how you understand the word “keep.” If “keep” means that you have not always chosen the sinful path, and that you have sometimes helped your neighbors, then you have “kept” the Commandments from time to time. But is that how Jesus teaches it? He says, “For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished…. You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mat. 5:18, 48).
Jesus says that if you have not perfectly kept the Commandments—in your thoughts, words, and actions—, then you have not kept them at all. That’s why Jesus condemns the Pharisee in His parable. The Pharisee may have lived an outwardly “good” life, but he had no love in his heart toward his neighbors, and he had no faith in his heart toward God. St. Paul writes that “all who rely on works of the law are under a curse,” because they have not been perfect. He quotes a passage from Deuteronomy: “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them” (Gal. 3:10).
That’s a different kind of standard than the pharisaical one of comparing ourselves with others. Comparing our righteousness with the righteousness of others is like rolling around in the same mud pit and then trying to determine who is less dirty. There is no room for pride in God’s equation of salvation. “For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:22-23).
Those who listened to Jesus were shocked that He was comparing a Pharisee and a tax collector. They saw them in completely different categories. The people respected the Pharisees, and they despised the tax collectors who were notorious for upping the taxes that were required for their own gain. But God puts everyone in the same category: “all have sinned.” Jesus did not approve of the greed of tax collectors any more than He approved of the pride of Pharisees. The difference was that the tax collector recognized his sin while the Pharisee did not.
Imagine what it took the tax collector to even walk into the temple courts. He was there because he knew he had done wrong. He knew he needed forgiveness. And if his sin wasn’t burdensome enough, he could just imagine the dirty looks he would receive, people questioning what he was even doing there. The reason he might have stayed away from the temple is the reason many don’t venture to church. They know they should go, but they imagine it will only cause them more shame.
By the grace of God, the tax collector came in to God’s holy house. He found a quiet spot, bowed his head, and prayed. Prayer is essential for the Christian. Our Lord commands it, and that means the devil opposes it. Whatever God wants for us, the devil tries to counter it. God wants us to confess our sins, so the devil tells us to embrace them. God wants us to trust in Him with all our heart, so the devil urges us to trust ourselves, others, plain old luck—anything but God.
So while the tax collector was praying for forgiveness, the devil was there telling him he hasn’t been so bad. Everything he has done is legal. He deserves to have a little for himself for how hard he works and all that he has to put up with. He doesn’t need the church. If his conscience is bothering him, maybe he could just do a good deed for someone sometime. Why should he waste time in the temple with those intolerable Pharisees? What a bunch of hypocrites they are anyway!
You know the devil’s voice; he has been in your ear too. “You work hard; you deserve to let loose every now and then!” “You give so much—no one appreciates you like they should.” “Everyone breaks the rules sometime. Stop being such a worrier and have some fun!” “Your parents might not like this, your pastor might not approve, but it’s your life, not theirs!” “Why should everyone else have it good, and you get nothing?”
When the devil tempts us like this, the best response is what Jesus told him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve’” (Mat. 4:10). We worship and serve the Lord, because He loves us. He is not the kind of master who is looking to get something from us. He is the Master who shares all His riches with His undeserving servants.
That is why God the Son came in our flesh. He came to serve us and give Himself for us. Even though Jesus was entirely perfect, He did not go around like the Pharisee boasting about His goodness all the time. He humbly spent Himself for the good of others, for their healing, their help, their salvation. Everything we have failed at, all the damage we have done, Jesus came to set it right.
Unlike the Pharisees, He loved His neighbors in perfect humility. Unlike the tax collectors, He gave with perfect generosity and selflessness. He perfectly kept God’s Commandments for you too. However you have done wrong in your vocations, your different stations in life, Jesus did right. This is why there is no need for you to compare yourself with others or to think that God must be pleased with you because of how hard you have tried. God is pleased with you, because Jesus lived a life of perfect obedience for you. By faith in Jesus, you are perfect in God’s sight just as He requires you to be.
And all of your wrongs—your pride and arrogance, your unloving attitude, your taking advantage of others, your weakness in the faith—all of these transgressions are washed away in the blood of Jesus. Just after St. Paul writes that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” he continues by saying that all “are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood—a sufficient payment, an atoning sacrifice—, to be received by faith” (Rom. 3:24-25).
This promise of God that you are justified because of what Jesus has done is the reason you can pray to Him for mercy with total confidence. His mercy toward you does not depend on your own goodness or your own efforts. His mercy depends on His promise, which comes from His own unchanging and unchangeable will toward you and all mankind.
In His mercy, He does not judge you for the many ways you have failed. He does not point an accusing finger at you like that Pharisee. He does not despise your humble heart of repentance or your anguished prayer spoken with trembling lips. He forgives your sins, grants you a clear conscience, and sends you to your home restored and strengthened—back to your stations in life to humbly serve and love your neighbors.
This humble service may go unnoticed or unappreciated in the world. You might not be recognized, praised, and looked up to as others are. But you are right with God. You are justified—declared innocent and holy—because Jesus humbled Himself to the point of death to save your soul and then rose from the dead to secure your victory over the grave.
The things that are worth having, you have them by faith in Jesus. And the glory that He now enjoys exalted at the right hand of His Father will be yours too. You haven’t earned it. You don’t deserve it. And all of it is yours, because God Is Merciful to You.
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(woodcut from “The Pharisee and the Tax Collector” by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, 1794-1872)
The Tenth Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Luke 19:41-48
In Christ Jesus, who does not weep for you, because by His grace, you do know “the things that make for peace,” because you know “the time of your visitation,” dear fellow redeemed:
The temple in Jerusalem was the center of religious life for the Jews. It was the place of God’s presence. Other cities had impressive buildings, but none of them had a place like the temple. The first temple was built by King Solomon who covered the whole interior in gold. This temple was destroyed by the Babylonians nearly 600 years before the birth of Christ. A second temple was built about seventy years later when the Jewish exiles were allowed to return to Jerusalem. This temple was not nearly as magnificent as the first one, but King Herod later expanded and improved it.
A young mother and her husband carried a baby boy into this temple to present Him to the LORD. He looked like a normal baby to most everyone except for Simeon and Anna, who welcomed Him as the promised Messiah. This baby Jesus returned to this temple as a twelve-year-old and probably many other times besides. After starting His public work, we know that Jesus went to Jerusalem several more times, visiting the temple and teaching the people.
And then on a day known as Palm Sunday riding down the Mount of Olives on a donkey, Jesus looked upon the city with its glorious temple, and He wept. Why did He weep? A great crowd was praising Him with “hosannas” and spreading their cloaks and palm branches on the road. “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!” they shouted. The jealous Pharisees couldn’t do anything to stop what was happening. So what was there for Jesus to be sad about?
He wept because so many in Jerusalem had rejected Him as their Savior. Some who were praising Him now would approve of His sentence of death by the end of the week. And He wept because He foresaw the destruction of this great city and its temple. He even described how it would happen: enemies would lay siege to the city and then destroy it and everyone in it—man, woman, and child. The city would be so utterly destroyed that one stone would not be left on another.
About forty years later in the year 70, everything took place just as Jesus described it. Following a Jewish revolt, the Romans surrounded the city with four legions of soldiers. They came in the spring just as the city had filled with travelers coming to attend the Passover. Things quickly went from bad to worse inside the city. Different Jewish factions fought over who was in control, and leaders were frequently assassinated. Food became so scarce, that many starved to death or resorted to eating what should not be eaten.
Eventually the Romans breached the walls and fought their way to the temple. The temple was set on fire, and it burned to the ground in August of that year, which is why this Gospel reading is appointed to be read each year in August. But our hearing of this account is not just an historical exercise. It is a warning to us. Why did Jesus weep over the city and prophesy that it would be destroyed? “Because,” He said, “you did not know the time of your visitation.”
They did not recognize that the all-powerful God who made everything was standing before them in human flesh. They did not realize why this would be necessary. They did not know how corrupted their hearts were with sin. They did not understand that their sin required a perfect sacrifice in order to save them from eternal destruction. The people of Israel were more interested in a national revolution than they were in the spiritual kingdom of Christ.
How about you? What do you think is our most pressing need today? Are you frustrated by the action or inaction of government officials on the national level? The state level? The local level? Do we need better-paying jobs? Better healthcare? Improved infrastructure? It is fine to care about these things and try to do something about them. But it’s very easy for these concerns to become our primary concern.
We forget that Jesus is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, where He rules over all things. We forget that He holds the power over sin, devil, and death. We forget that He sets up governments and tears them down. We forget that He is coming again to judge the living and dead, and that on that day every knee will bow to Him (Phi. 2:10-11). We forget that He comes to us and blesses us now through His Word and Sacraments.
If we fully appreciated these truths, we would humbly fall on our knees each day in repentance and praise. We wouldn’t have to make ourselves go to church, read the Bible, and pray—we would do them eagerly and gladly. We would quote the Word of God more easily than the lines of our favorite movies or songs. We would discuss the Word of God as naturally as we do the weather or the prospects of our sports teams. We would be willing to be rejected by the world and bear our cross after Jesus. The fact that we find these things to be a struggle shows that we are not as strong as we think we are.
The Jews thought they were in good shape spiritually. They thought they were right with God. They were sacrificing animals in the temple like He required. They were keeping the festivals. They were trying to follow His law. But they were just going through the motions. There was no faith in their hearts. The Lord is not just concerned about outward actions. He is not pleased with you just as long as you try to be a good person and as long as you go to church.
King David understood it rightly when he wrote by inspiration, “For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, A broken and a contrite heart—These, O God, You will not despise” (Psa. 51:16-17, NKJV). “A broken and a contrite heart” means a heart that knows its sinfulness and is crushed by the indictment of the Law. God the Father does not despise a heart like this. He knows how to turn a broken, sinful heart into a clean and faithful one.
He does it by the visitation of His only-begotten Son, Jesus. Jesus went to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday on a peace mission. He wasn’t trying to bring the Jews and the Romans more closely together. He went there to reconcile sinners with God. And the only way to accomplish this was to offer up His perfect life in the place of all sinful people. Jesus wept, because even though the work would be done for all, not all would believe it. Even though His blood would be shed for all, many would remain in their sins through unbelief.
And how does it stand with you? Do you believe that Jesus rode into Jerusalem to make peace between God and you? Do you believe He carried your sins to the cross—every single one? Do you believe He poured out His holy blood to cleanse your heart? Do you recognize that This Is the Time of Your Visitation? Because it is. Jesus is present for you and working in you right now. He is here to comfort you and strengthen you.
He wants you to know that His righteous life under the Law is for you. His death and resurrection are for you. His forgiveness is for you. He is here to free you from the guilt of your bad decisions and give you a clean conscience. He is here to wake you up from your sleepy approach to spiritual things and keep your attention fixed on His saving Word of truth.
Many before you have been in this same blessed position. They have heard the Word as you do and received the Sacraments. And then they walked away from it. They thought everything was fine. They were happy with their life. They were happy in the world. They didn’t worry about the destruction that was coming. They rejected “the things that make for peace.” They “did not know the time of [their] visitation.”
The devil even now is trying to do the same to you. He wants to “surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground.” How can you withstand his attacks? How can you make sure your faith will not fail? You cannot stand against the devil on your own. You will never win the victory by your strength. The devil is too powerful. He has been fighting a long time—he knows how to conquer souls.
But Jesus knows how to save them and defend them, and the devil’s power is nothing compared to His. Jesus freed you from the devil’s accusations through His atoning death, and He triumphed over the devil in His resurrection. Jesus brings that victory to you through His Word and Sacraments. Through those means of grace, He plants His flag in your heart. He says to the devil, “If you want this member of Mine, you have to go through Me!”
Jesus took up residence in your heart at your Baptism, and He remains there by the faith the Holy Spirit worked in you and continues to strengthen in you (Eph. 3:16-17). This Is the Time of Your Visitation. Jesus is here for you, to bring peace to your broken and contrite heart. He is here to protect you and save you from destruction. He is here to impart His holiness to you and prepare you to enter His heavenly kingdom. Jesus is here for you, and there is no place that He would rather be.
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(picture from “Reconstruction of Jerusalem and the Temple of Herod” by James Tissot, 1836-1902)
The Ninth Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Luke 16:1-9
In Christ Jesus, who does not ask for your money or your possessions or your property, but for a humble and generous heart concerned about the needs of your neighbors, dear fellow redeemed:
Just before today’s reading from the Gospel of Luke, Jesus told the parable of the prodigal son. That son took his inheritance from his father, journeyed to a far country, and “squandered his property in reckless living” (15:13). He wasted everything he had and was left with nothing. Jesus now uses the same word to describe what a rich man’s manager did. Charges were brought that this manager was wasting his employer’s possessions.
How did he waste it? Jesus leaves that part of the story untold, but from what we learn about the manager’s character, it is almost certain that he spent his master’s money on himself. He acted like what belonged to another was his. And now he was going to lose it all. He was just like the prodigal son, making bad decisions and having a hard time facing the consequences for them.
He didn’t want to do manual labor—that would be too hard. He didn’t want to have to beg—that would be too shameful. What did he have left? The clock was ticking. The “pink slip” had arrived. The books were due. Then he had an idea. He had fallen out of favor with his rich master. But there were still the debtors he had worked with. This manager was a “middle man.” He enjoyed rubbing elbows with the upper class, but if he could use his connections with the lower class, that was better than nothing.
The manager did not have anything of his own to offer, but he still had his master’s books. So he quickly brought in his master’s debtors and reduced what they owed. He did them a big favor, so they might do him a favor or two before long. The manager was a scoundrel, but he shrewdly arranged things for his own benefit. What could his master do? Fire him again?
Jesus gave this as an example of how “the sons of this world”—the unbelievers—operate. He said, “the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.” The “sons of this world” are driven by greed, selfishness, and self-preservation. The same should not be said of us “sons of light”—believers in Jesus. But that doesn’t mean we can’t be more shrewd—more wise and responsible—in our stewardship of what He gives us.
Jesus wants us to “make friends for [ourselves] by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive [us] into the eternal dwellings.” Now that sounds kind of strange. Why would Jesus want us to “make friends” using something “unrighteous”? The text literally says, “by the mammon of unrighteousness.” Jesus calls it “unrighteous,” because money, possessions, and property are for life in this world. They cannot be used to buy favor with God. They cannot pay for your sins or redeem your soul.
Just after today’s text, Jesus contrasts “unrighteous wealth” with “true riches” (v. 11). “True riches” are the spiritual gifts of God, such as the forgiveness of sins, the righteousness of faith, salvation and eternal life. Those things can’t be bought with money, but that doesn’t stop people from trying. When the Gospel was preached in Samaria after Pentecost, a magician named Simon believed and was baptized. He was amazed to see the Holy Spirit being given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands. He wanted this power too and offered the apostles money for it. Peter replied, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money!” (Act. 8:20).
Many still think they can obtain God’s gifts with money. They are told that if they give money to the church, God will be more pleased with them and their life will get better. The Roman church still sells indulgences and masses for the benefit of both the living and the dead. This wrong thinking can tempt us also. We might become proud because of our generous offerings. We might think that through our large gifts, we are doing more for the Church and for God than others are who give a lot less. Jesus put that idea to rest by praising the poor widow for her offering of two little mites (Luk. 21:1-4).
So why does Jesus connect the spending of “unrighteous wealth” with friends receiving us into “the eternal dwellings”? How can our earthly stewardship result in the eternal salvation of ourselves and others? This Divine Service is one example. Because you have called me to be your pastor, and you provide my livelihood, I am able to commit full-time to the preaching and teaching of God’s Word and the administration of His Sacraments. The hearing and learning of this Word causes you to grow in faith, and it prepares you to enter eternal life by God’s grace.
But you don’t give offerings just for yourself. You give so that others can hear the Word too, including people you don’t know yet, whom God will bring here in the future. We still benefit today from the gifts given by members who have long since entered into glory. It is good to give with that mentality. We don’t just give because of what our offerings can do for us right now. We give cheerfully and generously trusting that God will guide and prosper the use of our offerings for the growth of His kingdom.
The restoration project of the Saude church is a good example of this. A gift in 1948 which grew over time, covered half the cost of the project. That gift was a seed planted, which God caused to grow according to His will. Our gifts to the synod and missions don’t always seem to produce big results. But we don’t know what God has planned for the future. We may not see the fruits of our labor for a long time, and maybe not until we enter “the eternal dwellings.” There we will meet friends we never knew existed, who came to faith because God blessed our offerings for His work.
I know I don’t need to convince you of the importance of giving. And I expect that each one of you here would like to give more if you could. But things are often tight. We are paying more for food, clothing, gas, and utilities today than we did a year ago. As costs rise, worries increase. “Are there big changes coming for us?” “How much longer can we hang on?” “Will things ever get better?”
Our worries affect our stewardship. It isn’t just the effect that worry has on giving, making us hold more tightly to what we have. It’s the effect that worry has on our interactions with others. Worry causes us to think more about ourselves just like that manager did. Worry makes us feel desperate. It causes us to neglect the needs of our neighbors. It causes us to forget where our wealth comes from and who is really providing for us.
We might think that we have to protect and store away what little we have. We have nothing left to give. That didn’t stop the manager. He had nothing left to give, but his master did. All that we have belongs to our Master. Everything on earth is the Lord’s. He created all things and gives the fruits and resources of the earth for us to manage and use. To some He gives more and to others less. But all of it is gift.
By saying that we don’t have enough for a neighbor in need, we are really saying that God hasn’t given us enough. People often wonder why God doesn’t do more to help the hungry and the needy. At the same time, they buy so much food that it expires before they consume it. They forget the new clothes they bought last year and keep buying more. They add another streaming service for their entertainment to the ones they already have. What if God said to us, “Turn in the account of your management—show Me what you have done with My goods!”?
There is no getting around it. We have not been faithful stewards of all that God has given us. Like the worldly manager, we have often acted out of greed, selfishness, and self-preservation. We have done what is best for ourselves—not for our families, our employers and co-workers, and our neighbors. Our sins are debts, which we cannot recover from or work our way out of on our own.
That’s why Jesus taught us to pray to our Father, “forgive us our trespasses—our debts—as we forgive those who trespass against us” (Luk. 11:4). Jesus is our Mediator, our “Middle Man.” He calls us to Himself, looks at our debt, and says, “Take your bill and write, ‘Ransomed. Forgiven. Redeemed.’” Jesus faced the wrath of our Master. He was punished for our wastefulness and selfishness. He balanced the scales and set everything right for us. He paid our debt in full.
When Jesus knelt in the Garden, sweating drops of blood, He didn’t say to His Father, “I have nothing left to give.” He said, “not my will, but yours, be done” (Luk. 22:42). And then He gave up His life for you. He died on the cross, so you would inherit His eternal riches. Jesus held nothing back, and He still holds nothing back. You will never run out of the “true riches” that He has obtained for you—His forgiveness, His righteousness, His life—continuously given to you through His Word and Sacraments. And He promises to provide what you need for this earthly life besides.
Despite your mismanagement in the past, He continues to send you out to do His work. He gives to you in abundance, so you can give generously to others. You may not always have large sums of money to offer for the needs of your neighbors. But you can always offer them the saving Word. You can offer your forgiveness and kindness and love. You can offer prayers on their behalf and lend a helping hand.
You are not poor at all, not by any means. You have what is your Master’s, and His riches are immeasurable. Until He runs out of gifts to give, you won’t either.
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(picture from “Parable of the Unjust Steward” by Jan Luyken, 1649-1712)
The Eighth Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Matthew 7:15-23
In Christ Jesus, who brought truth from heaven to earth when He took on our flesh and who still imparts the truth through His holy Word, dear fellow redeemed:
The devil is opposed in every way to our merciful God. The devil is “a liar and the father of lies” (Joh. 8:44). God is the Lord of love, full of grace and truth. Both the devil and God are contending for your soul—the devil wants you to have the eternal torment of hell, and God wants you to have the eternal bliss of heaven. This battle is constantly raging inside you as the devil leverages your sinful nature against the new man of faith that God has raised up in you.
How the battle goes inside you—inside your mind and heart—has a lot to do with what happens outside you. Most of what happens inside your mind starts outside you. The mind is exercised by what comes through the five senses: sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. What we look at can refresh and cheer the soul or draw us into temptation. What we hear can encourage us to do good or to do evil. What we smell and taste and touch can lead to overindulgence or to contentment and thankfulness toward God.
While the devil can and does tempt us through each of our senses, his temptations often start with our ears. First there is a suggestion: “Hey, come take a look at this.” Or, “Why don’t you give this a try?” Or, “Another drink or two can’t hurt.” A temptation in the ears quickly leads to more temptation. Then you are looking at what you should not look at, doing what you should not do, consuming things that dull your senses and impair your judgment.
When the devil tempted Eve, he started with her ears: “Did God actually say?” (Gen. 3:1), he asked. He wanted to draw her in, lead her along. After she responded innocently enough, the devil acted like an old friend sharing secrets, “God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (v. 5). Eve listened, and then what happened? She saw that the tree was good for food, a delight to the eyes. Perhaps it gave off a sweet smell. She reached out to touch the fruit, pulling it off the tree and bringing it up to her lips to taste it.
The devil slithered into the minds of Adam and Eve through their senses and corrupted their thinking. And that is what he still tries to do to us. Jesus warns us about this in today’s Gospel reading. “Beware of false prophets,” He says. A false prophet is someone who claims to be speaking the truth of God but is really telling lies. Such a prophet may not realize he is leading people astray. He might think that he speaks for God. But if what he says contradicts the Word of God, then he speaks for the devil and not for God.
There are many prophets like these who stand in the pulpits of Christian churches all over the world. If the devil can corrupt the shepherd of a congregation, the sheep are exposed to attacks from every side. Many Christians judge their pastors by how nice or how relatable they are, how easy they are to listen to, and how healthy the church is in attendance and finances.
What Christians should judge their pastor by is whether he is faithful in proclaiming the Word of God. Does he preach and apply God’s law in all its force to drive sinful hearts and minds to repentance? Does he preach the sweet message of forgiveness through the blood of Jesus? Does he bring the means of grace to the hurting, the sick, and the elderly, who are unable to attend church? Is he willing to seek the sheep who have strayed?
This is what Jesus means when He speaks of “the one who does the will of My Father who is in heaven.” This is the opposite of false prophets, who are “workers of lawlessness,” who teach their hearers to give in to their sinful desires and pursue what God condemns. Jesus says, “You will recognize them by their fruits.” These fruits include the way they conduct themselves. But false prophets could appear outwardly good and kind. The main way to identify false prophets is by what they say, what they teach.
That means you need to know the difference between what is true and what is false, what is from God and what is from the devil. That knowledge is important not only within the walls of the church as you listen to your pastor. That knowledge is required in every part of your life. You need to be able to defend and confess the truth when your co-workers or friends or members of your family repeat lies that they learned from their favorite politicians, singers, or even their teachers.
Here are some popular lies of today: that God did not make each one of us male or female; that you can choose to do whatever you want with your body; that consent is all that is required for sex and not the commitment of marriage; that what God cares the most about is your happiness; that what you’re doing is okay as long as it’s not hurting anyone else. All those are lies, lies that are repeated again and again, so that they are constantly echoing in our ears.
That’s why your ears need to be filled with the truth, with a Steady Diet of God’s Word. You know what will happen if all you eat is junk food. Your body will not get the nourishment it needs, and your health will suffer. For a similar reason, you do not want to put “junk food” in your ears. You want to listen to what is good, what will improve your spiritual health. You want to drown out the lies of the devil by listening to the clear voice of your Good Shepherd.
Many people today believe it is impossible to know the truth. “Truth is relative,” they say. “You have your truth, and I have my truth.” But everything that comes from our own sinful hearts is a lie. Jesus proved that His Word is truth by perfectly carrying out the will of His Father. Not only did He predict the impossible, He also performed it. “I lay down my life for the sheep,” He said. “I lay down my life that I may take it up again…. This charge I have received from my Father” (Joh. 10:15,17,18).
Jesus predicted His death on the cross and His resurrection on the third day, and everything happened just as He promised. He told the truth all along. That’s why you can be sure that your sins are forgiven. He clearly stated the purpose of His suffering and death—it was to save you and all people from their sins and eternal death.
He died for the sins of your eyes, the sins of your ears, the sins of your nose and mouth and hands. All those ways that you let the devil gain a foothold, that you let him into your mind and heart, Jesus washed clean with His holy blood. There is no other way to be saved. There is no other way to enter the kingdom of heaven than by faith in Him. Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (Joh. 14:6).
Jesus was no wolf in sheep’s clothing. He did not come to gain your confidence so that He might destroy you. He became one with you to redeem you and reconcile you with the Father. He took on your flesh, so that He could do everything required of you by the holy God. He was no “worker of lawlessness”; He was a keeper of the law. He did not let the devil tempt Him to sin through His ears or any of His senses. He perfectly listened to the Word and will of God, and He credits that perfect listening to you.
We know how often we have filled our ears with what is false, misused every part of our bodies, and given in to sin. But because of what Jesus has done, God does not see our sin anymore. He sees us covered by the perfect life of Jesus. False prophets cannot offer more, but they try. They promise the world, but can deliver nothing that lasts. Jesus promises joy and peace that never end.
How does that sound to you? Is it enough? Or are you looking for something more, something that can make your life better now, something that fits better with the world? St. Paul wrote nearly 2,000 years ago, “the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (1Ti. 4:3-4).
We pray that God keeps us from such “wolves in sheep’s clothing,” from such “workers of lawlessness,” who offer what our sinful nature wants. These are all disguises of the devil who “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1Pe. 5:8). The devil’s temptations are resisted by the Word of God. The Holy Spirit works through the Word to reveal our weaknesses, to lead us to repentance, and to strengthen us by the promises of Jesus.
When our ears have a steady diet of God’s Word, then we will know the truth that sets us free (Joh. 8:32). Then we will be able to recognize the fruits of false prophets. Then we will be prepared to enter the kingdom of heaven where sin will never again overcome our senses, and we will see and hear and smell and taste and touch with perfect fullness for all eternity.
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(picture from “The Sermon on the Mount” by Rudolf Yelin the Older, 1912)
The Seventh Sunday after Trinity – Vicar Cody Anderson sermon
Text: St. Mark 8:1-9
In Christ Jesus, who never leaves us hungry but who fills us up abundantly, dear fellow redeemed:
Sometimes when I skip breakfast before going to church, I can often find myself saying that “I am starving” when it is time for lunch. We have other sayings that go along with hunger. One I remember hearing is always, “I’m so hungry I could eat a horse. Well, I’m pretty sure that I am not actually that hungry, and I know I definitely could not or would not want to eat a horse. And I also know that like the people in our text, I’ve never been to the point of where I thought I might collapse because of my hunger. That is where these people are. They have been with Jesus for three days and Jesus says that they are at the point that if they go to find food, they won’t make it.
Leading up to this point, the crowd following Jesus had become larger and larger. Jesus has been showing the power that he has over the diseases of the world. He has healed people who are sick. He brought a little girl back to life. The disciples witnessed him walk on water. This is a big deal. The people of Jesus day have only heard about God working miracles in the Old Testament when he used the prophets. Now here was Jesus, a man from Nazareth who was performing all of these signs and wonders. Only a couple of chapters before this account, Mark tells us that Jesus had already had a big crowd seated before him. There was over 5,000 people that Jesus fed with five loaves of bread and two fish. They picked up twelve little baskets full of leftovers, there was more than enough food. As Jesus shows his power to provide, and after he does a miracle of healing someone’s deaf ears, another crowd has gathered.
Now as Jesus is looking at this crowd with compassion about their needs, the disciples yet ask, “How can one feed these people with bread in this desolate place?” Jesus has shown them that before this they have nothing to worry about. The disciples have been watching Jesus perform miracle after miracle. We already listed what he has been doing. Jesus has been healing people’s physical ailments, and he performed this miracle already! What is 4,000 if he has already fed 5,000! So why did they respond, “How can one feed these people with bread in this desolate place?”
The disciples continue to doubt Jesus’ power, they were tested for a second time, knowing the outcome of what Jesus could do, and they failed. Can you imagine the patience that Jesus must have had with them? They saw a little girl brought back from the dead and over 5,000 people be fed by Jesus. Yet they failed. This place is too desolate Jesus, there is nothing here to feed the people. The disciples had forgotten what Jesus was capable of and this isn’t at all surprising as we also forget what Jesus is capable of.
We don’t fully understand how much compassion God has for us. He tells us not to worry about what will happen to us, by telling us that he will provide for our physical needs. God created the heavens and the earth. St. Matthew records, Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? (Matt 6:25-26) But we are often anxious and worrisome. We do not wait for God to feed us when we know that he can and he will but instead we look for more instant gratification. We start to think that we do not have enough stuff. We start to covet what our neighbor has. We might even overindulge even though we know that it could put us behind with our expenses.
When we take these matters into our own hands, we are doubting God’s care for us. We can hear what Jesus tells us, but as life gets hard, as budgets can get tight, we fail Jesus’ test too. Like the disciples, we doubt what God tells us in his Word, which puts us into despair. As we creep into despair, that doubt that we have, then turns into unbelief. How can something so simple turn into something so severe? That is what the devil wants. He wants us to doubt God. What are we fully doubting? Jesus only tells us the truth; He has never told a lie. As humans though the devil continues to use that same temptation. “Did God really say…” This can seem very small. Unfortunately, that is all it takes. One little doubt and we can start to think, “Well if God can’t do this, then what can He really do for me?”
The disciples did not understand the amount of compassion that Jesus had and neither do we. Jesus with great compassion, provided for the group of people with a great miracle. He fed them, saving their physical health, and providing for them. Jesus put the disciples doubt to rest. He puts our doubts to rest too. He provides our daily bread, all that we need for this life on earth. And He has also given Himself as the Bread of Life from heaven. As Jesus is able to feed our physical bodies, his great compassion stretched farther than that. He laid down His life for us. He paid for our sins, and then rose from the dead. Jesus has made sure that we will be provided for here on earth and forever in eternity.
Jesus wants to satisfy your spiritual hunger, which is deeper and more pressing than your physical hunger is. He continually feeds you through the Means of Grace. We receive this feeding every Sunday. As you come to church and listen to his Word, there he is with you. God’s Word gives you the strength to carry on when you think that you are on the verge of collapse. Your souls need to stay fed. When your souls get hungry, that is when your soul can fall into temptation which can lead to unbelief. As you continue to gather with your families with devotions and prayer, your souls continue to stay nourished. This isn’t just to make us feel good, this is for our survival. Our lives here on this earth are very short compared with living for eternity. He feeds us with his Word as it shows the life he lived in our place. Jesus shows us that we can’t make it on our own. All we can do is collapse on the way. Jesus is the one who has compassion and feeds us.
Jesus feeds us with his body and blood at the altar. Here, this holy food is taken and distributed to each of us hungry sinners. This is Christ coming to us. He comes to forgive us our sins, to assure us that those sins of coveting, those sins of doubt are not counted against us. Along with this medicine for our souls, Jesus is giving us a foretaste of the heavenly banquet that awaits us. He doesn’t tell us to receive it occasionally. Or to receive it when we feel like it. Jesus tells us to receive of it often. We need this holy nourishment. This is a gift that we receive not based on our merits, but from Christ, who had compassion, who did not want to see us starve for eternity.
The people ate until they were satisfied. Jesus didn’t feed them a little morsel. He fed them so that they were full. It wasn’t partial mercy. God feeds us in abundance. He makes sure that we will be satisfied here on this earth by providing us with everything that we need. This is what we confess in the meaning of the Apostles’ creed. He provides for us clothing, food, land, and all that we own. All that we need for our bodily life. When life gets difficult, it can be hard for us to find the positives of life that we have. When there is financial burden, a loss of a loved one, that doubt will try to creep back in.
Our text shows that God does not abandon us. He had so much compassion that he gave us the ultimate gift that we never deserved. He gave up his own Son so that we would be saved. When our journey on this world is over, God shows us that he has provided for our eternal lives as well. Our pains in this life, they are only in this life. They will soon cease to exist. Jesus tells us how he has prepared a place for us. His compassion is beyond our comprehension. He promises that someday, there will be no suffering, there will be no pain, and every tear will be wiped away from our eyes, because He has fed us.
The next time that we are hungry, more than likely soon as our service ends today, it is good to remember how Jesus feeds us with everything we need. Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ has had compassion on us. He had so much compassion that he gave his life for us. He will continue to provide for us even when we think that we don’t have enough. He gives us all that we need. We don’t deserve anything, yet he has given us everything. He will continue to bless us with the physical and spiritual things that we need in this life until he calls us home. Where we will eat at the heavenly banquet, forever and ever. Amen.
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(picture of the Judean mountains in Israel)
The Sixth Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Matthew 5:20-26
In Christ Jesus, who reconciled us with God and grants us the gift of reconciliation with others, dear fellow redeemed:
When a star athlete, a talented actress, or a top student takes his or her talents to a larger community, it can often be a humbling experience. These individuals were the best in their hometown, but they find that things don’t come so easily on the big stage. They thought they were pretty good, but they learned they were not good enough.
Jesus told the crowd that had gathered around Him while He taught from the mountainside, “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” The people may have thought they were living a good life before God. They were trying to do what was right. They were at least as good as those around them. They maybe weren’t on the level of the scribes and Pharisees, the people who dedicated their entire lives to learning and doing the Law of God. But they were doing okay.
Jesus sent the clear message that their level of righteousness was insufficient. Even the scribes and Pharisees were not good enough to stand before God. He told the people their righteousness needed to exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees. To illustrate His point, Jesus brought up the Fifth Commandment: “You shall not murder.” The people knew that if they committed murder, they would have to go on trial in a human court. But as long as they did not murder, they imagined they had kept the commandment.
“Not so,” said Jesus. “This commandment is not kept by outward actions alone. It must be kept in the heart. I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” The people were completely shocked. They had never heard the Law explained in this way. If what Jesus said was true, then no one was righteous before God. If what He said was true, then they were guilty of sinning against the Fifth Commandment and all the rest of them.
To amplify His teaching, Jesus offered some examples of what keeping the commandment should look like. In this part of His sermon, He switched from addressing the crowd as a whole—using plural pronouns—to speaking to individuals, personally—using the singular pronoun. “This is for each one of you to consider in your own heart,” He was saying, including you and me today.
Jesus spoke about what to do when we have wronged another person in some way. When we remember an offense we have committed in our words or actions, we should seek to be reconciled with the one we offended. Our memory might especially be jogged as we listen to God’s Word. Jesus said when “you are offering your gift at the altar,” when you have come to hear the Word of God and glorify His name, that is when the memory of an offense may come to mind. The Holy Spirit works through the Word to convict us of our sins, which He is also doing today.
When our sins are not illuminated by the bright light of God’s Word, it is easy to think we are doing pretty well, like the people who first listened to Jesus so many years ago. The people in our community who have rejected the regular hearing and learning of the Word generally have the opinion about themselves that they are “good people.” They don’t need some preacher telling them what he thinks about God or about them.
Apart from God’s Word, it is also easy for us to justify the wrong things we have done or said or thought. “Well maybe I could have treated him better, but he treated me much worse!” “She doesn’t deserve Christian love and compassion after what she has done!” “I might have lost my temper and said some mean things, but he needed to hear it!” “I have every right to be angry with the way she hurt me!”
But God’s Law does not teach us to mistreat others if they have mistreated us. God’s Law teaches us to “[l]ove [our] enemies and pray for those who persecute [us]” (Mat. 5:44). Jesus says that if you “remember that your brother has something—anything—against you,” go and “be reconciled to your brother.” This thought is overwhelming. We have sinned against so many people in so many ways. How could we ever start to make amends with them all?
The place to start is with the person and situation that God has often brought to your mind—maybe someone you are thinking about right now. Very likely, your conscience has been troubled about how you treated them, but you don’t know how to fix what was broken. You tell yourself that maybe that person has forgotten what you said or doesn’t think it was a big deal. Or you worry that by admitting your wrongs to them, they will not admit the wrongs they did which hurt you. Or you are not sure they will even hear you out, and you are nervous about how they will respond.
Apologizing to someone for a sin you have committed is a hard thing, one of the hardest things to do. It is hard because apologizing makes you vulnerable. It puts your sin out in the open. It puts you at the mercy of another. And you cannot control how the other will respond. You cannot make them forgive you or apologize for their own hurtful words and actions.
So why would you ever want to go through with it? Why not just ignore the conflict in your conscience, try to forget what you have done, bury it deep? Because then you have harmed not only your neighbor, but you do tremendous harm to yourself, including spiritual harm. Jesus indicates the damage that comes if you refuse to be reconciled. He says that if you fail to “[c]ome to terms quickly with your accuser,” you will be judged and “put in prison.” And He adds that “you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.”
Insisting on our own righteousness even when we have done wrong, and ignoring the harm we have done to another, is a recipe for losing our faith. And that leads to the eternal prison of hell. We cannot trust our own righteousness and Jesus’ righteousness. We cannot justify our own words and actions and believe we are justified by grace. The righteousness that counts before God cannot come from ourselves. It has to come from outside of us.
Just before today’s reading, Jesus told the crowd that He had not come “to abolish the Law or the Prophets,” but “to fulfill them” (Mat. 5:17). He did not come to do away with the Law or to soften its impact. He sharpened its point, so that none could think on the basis of God’s Law that they are right with God. We feel the sharp point of the Law today. Our hearts are pierced as we think about how we have let selfishness and pride get in the way of love for our neighbors.
Our sin and guilt are why the Son of God came down from heaven and was made man in Mary’s womb. He came to fulfill all righteousness for us, to keep the holy Law of God to the smallest detail. His righteousness far exceeded the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees. He never did an unkind deed, spoke an unloving word, or had a sinful thought toward any of the people around Him, not even those who wanted to destroy Him.
He went to the cross to pay for all their sins and yours and mine. He accepted the curse of the Law for us, even though He had not done anything to deserve it. He willingly took our punishment, so that we would be reconciled to God the Father. St. Paul writes that “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them…. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2Co. 5:19,21).
We are at peace with God because Jesus fulfilled the Law for us and shed His holy blood on the cross to redeem us. Jesus was the ultimate Peacemaker. Who else could have brought together the sinful human race and the perfect God? Now Jesus wants us to be the same kind of peacemakers in our communities, workplaces, and in our homes. He doesn’t ask us to make peace by our own skills of compromise and negotiation. He expects us to extend the peace to others that He shares with us.
You may not see how you can reconcile with someone who has caused you deep pain. But Jesus can do it; it is not impossible for Him. He reconciled you with God, even though you had broken His Law time and time again. And He can reconcile you with a brother or sister in Christ, a sinner just like you.
When He pours His peace and forgiveness into you through His Word and Sacraments, it spills over into your relationships with others. Acknowledging your sins takes courage, and He will give you that courage. Humbling yourself to apologize takes strength, and He will give you that strength. God forgives all your sins, and as He works through your humble words of repentance, He can move the heart of your friend to forgive you too.
At the beginning of His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Blessed Are the Peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Mat. 5:9). All of you are “sons of God” through faith in Christ Jesus (Gal. 3:26). That means you are God’s peacemakers on this earth. As you extend His peace and seek reconciliation with others, you most certainly will be blessed, as Jesus promises.
Even if others do not return the peace to you that you extend to them, you can go forward with a clear conscience. You “have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1). His righteous life counts for you and all sinners and is the reason why you will enter the kingdom of heaven.
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(picture from “The Sermon of the Beatitudes” by James Tissot, 1836-1902)
The Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity – Vicar Anderson sermon
Text: St. Luke 7:11-17
In Christ Jesus, who collided with death for you, whose victory over it is your own, giving you eternal life, dear fellow redeemed:
Physics tells us that a collision takes place when two or more structures or particles move toward each other and come near enough to interact and exert a mutual influence. One example of this is how billiard balls interact on a pool table. The opening sequence of a game is called the “break”, when the entire rack of balls is hit by the cue ball. If you have ever watched or played a game of pool you know that on a good “break”, the cue ball collides with the rest, ricocheting them all in different directions.
This morning we hear about a different kind of collision and its impact on everyone involved. However, instead of ricocheting into chaos, death or injury, this collision brought an end to all pain, suffering and death.
Jesus’ disciples and a great crowd were following Him towards a small town called Nain. Jesus had recently performed other miraculous things and this crowd following Jesus had heard and seen the powerful things He could do. They must have been filled with excitement and joy, even awe and wonder.
On their way into the town they encountered another crowd, one feeling anything but excitement and joy, processing out of the town. This crowd was walking towards the place outside the city where the graves are located. Bearers were carrying the body of a young man and were being followed by his mother a widow. Jesus could have gone around them and into the city, but instead He walked directly up to where the boy’s lifeless corpse lay and He spoke life into him. Fearlessly the Lord collides with death.
Death was not a part of God’s plan for us. Our God is not a God of the dead, but of the living (Mark 12:27). God intended for us to live forever with Him in perfect harmony. He created us perfectly and He intended us to stay that way (Gen. 1:27). Our bodies were never meant to fail us. But, man sinned and everything would change for mankind. This abrupt change caused an entirely different view of life. Instead of never having to worry about death now every person has to face it and this brought a tremendous amount of fear.
It is natural to avoid death, because it is contrary to man’s very being. Out of fear people attempt to prevent death or even things that resemble death. We cling tightly to this life, wanting to know when we will die, or how we will die. Questions like these became more prevalent when an unknown deadly virus began quickly sweeping across the globe and continues to threaten us today.
We are gripped in fear because death is a guarantee, and while our flesh fights against it, it cannot stop it. We think we would rather have death come when we expect it, but death is never convenient. We want to control when death comes, but just as we had no control over our birth we have no control over our death. We often forget that the one who gives life is also the one who takes it away (Deut. 32:39).
Death causes the sin of doubt and anger to bubble up inside each of us. We ask questions like; “does God know what He is doing, why would God let this happen?” We shake our fist at God saying, “if you loved me God you wouldn’t have done this to me. Maybe You don’t love me after all?” The devil delights in seeing us filled with doubt and anger towards God because it is at those times when we are most vulnerable to his attacks.
Thankfully, we do not face death and its consequences alone. Our Lord Jesus never once feared death. He says, “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.” (John 10:17b–18a). Jesus cannot die unless He allows Himself to, He does not fear death because He has power over it.
We see how Jesus approached the lifeless man without any fear or trepidation. He put His almighty hand upon the bier, which is similar looking to a stretcher. The body was laid upon it and carried by bearers and as Jesus touched it the bearers stopped. Then Jesus said “young man I say to you arise” and the man woke up as if he were only sleeping (Thess. 4:14). Jesus stopped that procession of death right in its tracks, bringing an end to the mourners’ sadness and despair.
Some of you here have lost a close friend, some a mother or a father, some have lost a spouse, and some have even lost your children. Jesus has compassion on you like He had compassion on that widow. Jesus was with you in that deepest moment of grief. He continues to be with you through those moments when you miss those loved ones. When that pain in your stomach and in your chest returns know that Jesus aches with you (Luke 7:13). He does this out of His abounding and steadfast love for you!
That is exactly what He felt for the widow who lost her only son. Jesus knew how much pain and suffering she had endured, first losing her husband, now her only son. He knew all the uncertainty and fear that accompanied her sadness. It made Him ache with compassion for her. So much in fact, His very guts or inward parts ached. He says to her, “Do not weep.” Not a chastisement, instead it was “look, see that I am about to provide for you a reason to stop weeping.”
Think about the times you have been told, “Everything is going to be okay,” “things will get better,” after something tragic has happened. Although that person meant well you found those words hollow and lacking because they had no power behind them to make things okay. This is not how Jesus works; instead He gives you what you do not deserve. He gives you the things you are afraid to ask Him for because you deem them impossible. Only Jesus can say, “do not weep” and provide you a reason not to.
When you lose a loved one from this life, or death seems to be approaching know that Christ has already given you a reason not to weep. He has already conquered death through His resurrection from the dead. Jesus’ compassion was not for the young man; it was for his grieving mother left all alone here on earth. Jesus knows all that you have been through. By Jesus bearing the cross for us and dying upon it He has taken away all your sins, including the sins of doubt and anger towards Him.
The theologian and hymn writer Paul Gerhardt boldly says, “Though a heavy cross I’m bearing and my heart feels the smart, shall I be despairing? God, my helper, who doth send it, well doth know all my woe and how best to end it” (ELH 377:2).
You have certainty that Jesus knows your sorrow and pain. Throughout His life and death He experienced every pain and suffering this broken world brings. He was rejected, mocked and laughed at, spit on and scourged. He put the weight of the world’s sin upon His shoulders and with each blow of the whip to His body felt the pain of your sin.
He went to the cross and paid the full penalty for your sin before giving up His spirit. He willingly died to conquer death for you; His death is the answer for your death. The Lord then descended to hell not in defeat but instead to proclaim His victory over sin death and the devil. He rose to show the world His holy life and sacrificial death was a sufficient payment to God the father.
Our living Lord and Savior is still with us, speaking His life into us through His powerful Word. He spoke life into the young man of Nain and spoke hope into his lonely mother.
The young man’s temporal life was restored; but because sin and death remain here he would eventually die again. But what has been created in you is eternal. All our loved ones who died in the faith live this very day in the presence of their Savior, and you will be in His presence one day as well.
St. Paul writes, “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4). This “newness of life” is happening now in each one of you and it continues on after death. You are a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17) and now have the assurance that because Christ lives you shall live also.
You died once to sin already at your baptism and have risen from death to life with Him through your baptism. Jesus performed a life-giving miracle in each one of you. Christ spoke His living Word into you and your spiritually dead heart was awakened to a new life of faith. The washing of regeneration and the renewal of the Holy Spirit created in you a clean heart (Titus 3:5-6; Psalm 51).
These Words of forgiveness continue to come to you daily when you repent of your sins and receive His holy absolution. He has given you the means to believe in Him, and the means to strengthen that faith by Word and Sacrament. His compassionate and merciful Word continues to bring you comfort, life and forgiveness.
You and I will all have to face death unless Jesus returns before then, but you do not need to fear it! You obtained Jesus’ righteousness by faith and you also obtained His victory over death by faith (Isaiah 25:8, 1 Cor. 15:51–55). For you an earthly death is but a portal to an eternal life! “Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die”” (John 11:25–26).
The Lord fearlessly collided with death and destroyed it for you. He stopped it in its tracks and spoke life into you. Just as Jesus awoke the young man so too will His all-powerful Word awake your body when He comes again. In Jesus’ second coming, the one who has fearlessly collided with death will speak His Word and your already glorified soul will re-unite with your mortal body and you will become glorified both body and soul.
Death will not defeat you because Jesus defeated death. Martin Luther wrote about this powerful victory in his great Easter hymn: “It was a strange and dreadful strife when life and death contended. The victory remained with life (with Jesus), the reign of death was ended; Holy Scripture plainly saith, that death is swallowed up by death, In vain it rages o’er us.” (ELH 343:4)
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(picture from “Resurrection of the Widow’s Son from Nain” by Lucas Cranch the Younger, c. 1569)