The Holy Nativity of Our Lord – Pr. Faugstad Exordium and Sermon
“Christmas is all about giving.” We hear that message frequently during this season. We are bombarded by TV commercials suggesting millions of gift ideas, while others encourage us to give of our time and money to help those in need. It is certainly good to give. But the first Christmas was about more than giving. The Son of God came in the flesh not only to give His blessings to us, but also to take certain things from us.
Some say that Jesus’ purpose was to make a better life for us on earth. They say that if you put your trust in Jesus, He will take away all the bad things in your life and will give you only good things. For example, He will take away your debt and give you wealth. He will take away your enemies and give you more friends. He will take away all your problems and give you happiness. This is called “prosperity preaching,” and it is not what God promises in the Bible. God does not promise to give you a perfect life on earth. He promises to take all who trust in Him to the eternal glories of heaven.
In order to accomplish this for you, He had to take away your sin. He had to take away the devil’s accusations against you. He had to take away the sting of death and the eternal punishment of hell. Jesus did this by taking on the demands of God’s law and meeting them perfectly for you. He did this by taking your sins on Himself and suffering for them on the cross. He did this by taking the death you deserved and rising victorious from the grave.
And what does He give to those who trust in Him? He gives His righteousness. He gives forgiveness for all sin. He gives eternal life and salvation. This is why the Christ-Child came. He came to save you from your sins (Mat. 1:21). Christmas is about much more than giving (especially our giving). It is about what Jesus came to take and give for our salvation. We now rise and sing our festival hymn, “Rejoice, Rejoice This Happy Morn!” (#142):
Rejoice, rejoice this happy morn!
A Savior unto us is born,
The Christ, the Lord of glory.
His lowly birth in Bethlehem
The angels from on high proclaim
And sing redemption’s story.
God’s great favor;
Bless Him ever
Give Him praise and adoration!
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Sermon text: Hebrews 1:1-12
In Christ Jesus, at whose name “every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Phil. 2:10-11), dear fellow redeemed:
The angels of God were prominent characters at the time of the first Christmas. The angel Gabriel appeared to the virgin Mary to tell her that she would conceive a Son by the power of the Holy Spirit (Luk. 1:26-38). Then an angel appeared to Joseph, her betrothed, in a dream. The angel encouraged him to take Mary as his wife, since her child was the promised Savior sent by God (Mat. 1:18-25). Then on the night of Jesus’ birth, a multitude of angels appeared to shepherds in a field outside Bethlehem and praised God for His grace in sending a Savior (Luk. 2:8-14).
What a sight this must have been! Can you imagine the night sky illuminated with countless bright angels? It was a very different scene a short time later when the shepherds saw a newborn Baby “wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger” (Luk. 2:12). Comparing the two scenes, the singing angels were far more impressive. And yet, here in the manger “asleep on the hay” was the Lord of the Angels.
To see was not to believe. Nothing about this Child revealed His eternal nature. He did not look like the Creator of the world. He did not look like “the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature.” He did not look like “He upholds the universe by the word of His power,” as today’s text describes Him. He just looked like a normal Baby. As He grew older, most of the people who knew Jesus would not have guessed He was the Son of God. They liked Him. He was a nice young man (Luk. 2:52). But He was Joseph and Mary’s son from Nazareth (Mat. 13:55).
This opinion about Him did not start to change until Jesus began to publicly teach and perform miracles. Even then, many might have preferred to see an angel than to spend time with Jesus. That still might be true. There are plenty who take comfort in guardian angels, but who have no desire to be visited by Jesus where He promises to be found—in His holy Word and Sacraments.
But why honor the messenger more than the Master? Why look to the servant more than the Lord? Perhaps it is because Jesus is too humble for the sinner’s liking. His entrance into the world was totally unimpressive. He didn’t look like the kind of person who would make a difference in the world or even in His community. For a while in His adult years, people believed in Him. But by the time He was condemned and nailed to a Roman cross, most had deserted Him. What good had He done?
Looks, of course, can be deceiving. Jesus, from His cradle to His grave, was much more than met the eye. Jesus is the Son of God, begotten of the Father from eternity. He was “begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father” (Nicene Creed). He was the Creator, not a creature. The evangelist John wrote that “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (Joh. 1:3).
The angels, on the other hand, are created beings, formed during the six days of creation. These mighty beings were created to serve God, to do His will. And that’s exactly what they were doing at Christmas. They were sent by God to deliver “good tidings of great joy,” the news that the Savior of the nations had come. These angels were in awe at God’s plan for mankind. They marveled at His love for sinners. They rejoiced at His mercy.
Their joyful devotion to the Lord is a great example for all of us. When we read about the holy angels, we never see them drawing attention to themselves. They do not look for glory or recognition for their work. Their glory is in the Lord. Their purpose is to serve Him.
That should be our focus and purpose too, but you and I are not always that way. We like people to see the good things we do and praise us for it. This can happen when we give nice gifts, or when we go out of our way to do something special for someone. We do this out of love for them, but it is not purely out of love. We also desire to be recognized for what we gave.
We like to feel that we have done important things, that we have mattered in the world. We have often bought into the idea that the most important thing is to try to make a name for ourselves and make our mark in some way. We adopt the world’s advice to follow our dreams and do what is best for ourselves. But what does that accomplish? Our earthly gains and successes are temporary. Focusing on these things only feeds our selfish sinful nature. In these ways, we are nothing like the angels of God. They are selfless. They are completely righteous. They are perfectly obedient to the Lord. You and I are not that way.
This is why the Son of God became man. He came to save us from our selfish attitudes, our unholy passions, and our thoughts, words, and deeds of sin. But He couldn’t just snap His fingers and make it all go away. There are consequences for breaking God’s holy law. Sin has to be punished. So the Son of God “made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Phi. 2:7).
Jesus came to serve. He came to offer Himself as your Substitute. This is why He came in such humility. He did not come for earthly glory. He came for your salvation. And the only way to save you was to be mistreated and wrongfully accused. It was to be mocked and tortured. It was to be pinned to a cross and left there until He died. It was to have the Father’s wrath poured out against Him, instead of against us. One of our Christmas hymns points to this purpose for His coming: “Nails, spear shall pierce Him through, / The cross be borne for me, for you” (ELH 145, v. 2).
Jesus’ life was not glorious as the world measures glory. But it was the most significant life ever lived. Jesus lived not for Himself, but for all people. He lived a perfect life of obedience for them. He offered up the perfect sacrifice of His body and blood for their sins. And He rose again from the dead in perfect fulfillment of His holy Word.
No angel ever did or ever could do this. Only God could. Only God could save sinners. God the Father sent His only Son to be “born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we [sinners] might receive adoption as sons” (Gal. 4:4-5). Oh, how the angels marveled when the Lord of heaven became a human Baby! Oh, how they wondered when “The King of heav’nly grace, / Came down from His exalted throne / To save our fallen race” (ELH 127, v. 2).
God wants you to join Him in heaven with all the saints and the holy angels. He wants your voice to be joined with the heavenly choir that once sang on the night of a special Baby’s birth. That humble Baby was the Christ-Child, the long-promised King, the Lord of the angels, the Savior of sinners.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
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(portion of painting by Geertgen tot Sint Jans, “The Nativity at Night,” c. 1490)
Festival of St. Michael and All Angels – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Matthew 18:1-10
In Christ Jesus, whom the holy angels gladly serve and obey, dear fellow redeemed:
If you could be an angel for a day, how would you spend your time? I’m guessing you would want to fly around a bit, testing your wings, maybe visiting some interesting places around the world. Of course you would want to have a good look at heaven and take in all the sights and sounds. Maybe you would even go to a place of major conflict to work on putting a stop to the fighting. You and I would want to do big things, things that were fulfilling to ourselves or helpful to a good many others.
But none of this describes the chief responsibilities of the holy angels. They are not interested in pursuing things that are personally fulfilling. They are content to take direction from God and carry out His will. They don’t spend their time sight-seeing; they spend their time serving—including service to the least in the world. They are perfectly devoted to the Almighty God who gave them life.
They are exactly opposite from the fallen angels—the devil and his fellow demons. These fallen angels were proud. They did not want to serve at God’s command. They did not want to worship Him alone. They wanted to be gods. They wanted all creation to bow to them. So they rebelled against their Creator. They led a revolt in heaven, which we heard about in today’s Epistle lesson (Rev. 12:7-12). They lost this battle and were thrown out of heaven. But they still operate on earth.
How exactly do they pursue their wicked agendas on earth? When we compare our day with the New Testament, it seems like the demons were much more active back then. We don’t observe obvious cases of demon-possession today like what we read about. But the demons haven’t given up. They aren’t taking a break. They are still active, most often in ways we don’t perceive.
When we face situations where we are tempted to sin, there is no doubt the demons are involved in it. They want us to put our own desires first and to rebel against God like they did. You know how intense these temptations can be. You are tempted to do something that you know you should not do. You are tempted to look at something that is not for you to see. You are tempted to repeat something about someone else that you know is unverified or unkind. You are powerfully pulled in the direction of the sin. You try to resist, but the desire grows more and more intense.
The devil and demons put the thought into your head that carrying out the sin is the only way to resolve the desire. They try to convince you that you can stay in control of the sin. “No one will find out,” you think. “It isn’t really that bad. Everybody does it.” But there is no excuse for sin. You and I do not have to sin. The demons cannot make us sin. They can only tempt us. The sin comes from our own hearts. Even those who are demon-possessed cannot say that the devil made them do bad things, because they are the ones who let the devil in in the first place.
Jesus warns us in today’s text about temptations to sin. He says that temptations will come. The world is sinful, and we are sinners. All of us have fallen for temptations many times. But we must not become comfortable with sinning. We must not let down our guard. Getting comfortable with sin has led many children of God to abandon the faith. They choose the pleasures of the world over the promises of God’s Word.
But Jesus says that it would be better to lose a hand or foot or eye in this life if they lead us to sin, than to enter hell with all members intact. We must fight these temptations to sin. And we stay vigilant and watchful not only about things that may tempt us, but also what may tempt those in our care.
This is particularly important for parents and grandparents to understand. Children are not aware of their vulnerability or of how hard the demons are working to destroy their faith. Children are trusting, and they may be tempted to trust the wrong people. They desperately want to be accepted and fit in, so they may spend time in bad company. It is a gross shirking of responsibility when parents or guardians let children decide who to hang out with or how to spend their time.
Besides peers who exert a bad influence on your kids, how else do you suppose the devil and demons try to tempt them? What would your children or grandchildren do every waking moment at home if you let them? That’s right, they would use a smartphone or other digital device like it was glued to the palm of their hand. If you want to know where the demons are most active today—and not just against the youth—look no further than the endless temptations to sin online.
If you were a fish, you could find some good food on the internet, but you would also find millions of worms dangling off shiny, sharp hooks. Those are the temptations to sin. You can find pleasure online. You can find material to fuel your hatred, your worries, and your doubts. You can find distractions, which do not seem bad in and of themselves, but which keep you from your Christian callings. If you have spent any time online, you know this from personal experience. It is shocking how easy it is to find bad things you weren’t even looking for in the first place.
But as active as the demons are in trying to destroy our faith, our reputation, and our very life, the holy angels are active too. If the holy angels were not fighting on our behalf, we would already be ruined. The devil and the demons would certainly overcome us.
This is clear from the account of Job. Job was a believer who was richly blessed by the LORD. When God and Satan conversed about Job, Satan said that Job had prospered only because the LORD had “put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has,” and “blessed the work of his hands” (Job 1:10). So the LORD gave Satan permission to attack everything Job had. In a matter of hours, all of Job’s oxen, donkeys, sheep, and camels were either stolen away or destroyed, and his ten children died. That’s how quickly the good things we have would be taken away from us if God did not send His angels to protect us.
It is a remarkable thing that the mighty angels so willingly serve us lowly sinners. It is not because they have decided we are worth the time and effort. It is because they honor God and want to obey His will. And it is God’s will that these “ministering spirits” should serve “those who are to inherit salvation” (Heb. 1:14). The humble angels do just that. They encamp around those who fear Him (Psa. 34:7). They guard them in all their ways (Psa. 91:11). They turn back the constant assaults of the devil. They never grow tired of serving. They never take a break. They watch over us day and night.
Jesus says the angels are devoted to us because they are devoted to God. He says that the little children’s angels “always see the face of My Father who is in heaven.” This means that whatever the angels do for us, they do because God directs them to do it. Their protection of us is His protection. Their care is His care. This is why we don’t pray to the angels. They don’t need or expect our thanks. All the glory is God’s.
Some people think that their loved ones who die become angels and watch over them. But that is not the case. The souls of believers go straight to heaven. God does not send them to help their loved ones. He sends the holy angels. Like the angels who look to God, we should too, so that we are not led away from what the Lord says in His Word.
When we have ignored the Word and given into temptation, it is not because the angels failed to do their job. God chastens His children when they sin, so that they are humbled and return to Him. He may let the devil do some damage, so that we become aware of our pride and repent. And when we repent, Jesus tells us that there is great joy in heaven, “joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luk. 15:10).
The angels rejoice because they know there is forgiveness for sin. They know what God did for mankind. He took on our flesh, so that He could be our Substitute. He suffered and died, so that every temptation into which we had fallen—every sin we had committed—would be blotted out.
That includes your sins and mine—sins committed in the public eye, and sins committed in the privacy of our homes. Jesus died for sins of the past that burden you and trouble your conscience even now. You can be freed from the guilt of those sins. Repent of them and believe Jesus’ word of absolution. He paid for that sin too. He forgives all your sins.
There is nothing you have done that the angels assigned to you have not witnessed. They have seen it all. But they are not ashamed or reluctant to serve you because of your sins. God loves you, so they do too. They marvel at God’s love for sinners. They rejoice that He is such a good and merciful Lord, and they want nothing more than for each of us to join them in God’s glorious kingdom.
This is why the Lord sends them to us. He wants the angels to do their part in humble service to Him, so we are not tempted away from the faith, but so that we retain a childlike faith in Him our Savior.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
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(woodcut by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, 1794-1872)
The Festival of St. Michael and All Angels – Pr. Faugstad
Homilies and Hymns
I. Creation, Titles, and Ranks
The angels are unique creations of God. Though they are often depicted as people with wings and have even appeared as men, they are quite different from human beings. They do not reproduce like people (Mt. 22:30), and contrary to popular ideas about angels, Christians do not turn into angels when they die. As far as we know, no new angels have been added to the ranks since Creation.
Angels are a part of God’s creation that is invisible. The Bible says that “by [the Son of God] all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through Him and for Him” (Col. 1:16). The angels were made during the six days of creation, though we don’t know exactly which day. We do know that everything God made was “very good.” The angels recognized this too; they “shouted for joy” as God completed His work (Job 38:6-7).
But the angels did not all remain good. Satan, one of the angels, rebelled against God, and many angels joined him, perhaps as many as one third of them (Rev. 12:3-4). We commonly refer to these fallen angels as demons. God cast them all out of heaven and created hell for them (Mt. 25:41, 2Pet. 2:4).
But the majority of the angels remained in heaven, and these continue to serve God. The Bible assigns titles to the angels and divides them into ranks; it says Christ is “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion” (Eph. 1:21), which are titles for ranks of angels. These names indicate how strong the holy angels are. Psalm 103 calls them the “mighty ones” of the LORD (v. 20). They must be quite terrifying and awe-inspiring. In Scripture we notice that the first thing they often said when they appeared to people was: “Do not be afraid.” The Bible also describes different types of angels. The cherubim, for example, guarded the way to the Garden of Eden, which shows their great power. The seraphim are angels with six wings who sing the Lord’s praises in heaven (Is. 6).
Our first hymn mentions the ranks of the angels as all creation bows before God and worships Him “evermore and evermore.” We sing Hymn #181, “Of the Father’s Love Begotten,” vv. 1 & 5.
II. Honor and Glorify God
The angels’ entire purpose is centered on God’s glory and honor. They do not serve themselves, just as God does not want us to serve ourselves. They serve Him and those to whom He directs them. In the book of Revelation, St. John wanted to worship a mighty angel, but the angel told him: “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you…. Worship God!” (22:9).
The main feature of the angels’ worship and service is humility. Everything they do points to the Almighty God. The prophet Isaiah described their subservient attitude in the sixth chapter of his book: “I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of His robe filled the temple. Above Him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!’” (vv. 1-3).
Revelation chapter 4 again depicts these six-winged seraphim: “And around the throne, on each side of the throne, are four living creatures…. And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say, ‘Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!’” (vv. 6,8). Their worship around the throne is never-ending. This is how we will worship the Lord in heaven too. Even now, we join the angels in their song. We sing Hymn #15, “Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty,” vv. 2 & 4.
III. Messengers of Salvation
Christ is the Lord of hosts and the King of angels, but He isn’t one of them. He is their God; He is above them. We sing of this in the well-known hymn: “Jesus shines brighter, Jesus shines purer, than all the angels in the sky” (ELH 54, v. 3). Hebrews chapter 1 says He has become “as much superior to angels as the name He has inherited is more excellent than theirs” (v. 4).
But the holy angels do not resent Christ’s exalted position like the devil and the other evil angels did. The holy angels live to glorify God, so they glorify Christ and His work as the Savior. The angels rejoice the most about the salvation Jesus won for us and all sinners. Jesus said: “[T]here is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Lk. 15:10). Contrary to the destructive and evil behavior of false teachers who would pull believers from the faith, “angels… do not pronounce a blasphemous judgment against [believers] before the Lord” (2Pe. 2:11). The angels love us because God loves us. And they love what God prepared for the world through His Son.
The angels show this in how obediently they participated in the history of our salvation. They protected the people of Israel from whose line the Savior was born, especially on the night of the Passover when the angel of death “passed over” the Israelites’ houses but killed the Egyptians’ first-born. Many centuries later, angels strengthened Jesus after He was tempted in the wilderness and comforted Him when He suffered in Gethsemane. Jesus said “more than twelve legions of angels” (Mt. 26:53) stood ready to keep Him from death, but they were held back by His will.
Most importantly, they were “herald angels” or messengers. In fact, the word “angel” means “messenger.” We think of Gabriel who announced the forthcoming births of John the Baptizer to his father Zechariah and of Jesus to the Virgin Mary. Angels returned at three major points in the history of our salvation bringing the Gospel message:
Christmas: St. Luke 2:8-14
And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased!” We sing v. 1 of Hymn #125, “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.”
Easter: St. Matthew 28:1-7
Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for He has risen, as He said. Come, see the place where He lay. Then go quickly and tell His disciples that He has risen from the dead, and behold, He is going before you to Galilee; there you will see Him. See, I have told you.” We sing Hymn #366, “Ye Sons and Daughters of the King,” vv. 1-3.
Ascension: Acts 1:9-11
And when [Jesus] had said these things, as they were looking on, He was lifted up, and a cloud took Him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as He went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw Him go into heaven.” We sing vv. 2-4 of Hymn #389, “A Hymn of Glory Let Us Sing.”
IV. Carry out God’s Will
The holy angels continually see God face to face. In today’s Gospel reading, Matthew 18, Jesus says: “I tell you that in heaven [the little ones’] angels always see the face of My Father who is in heaven.” The holy angels are constantly in the presence of God, just as we will be in heaven. In a dream God showed Jacob that angels were “ascending and descending” on a ladder that “reached to heaven” (Gen. 28:12). The angel Gabriel said to Zechariah: “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God” (Lk. 1:19).
In God’s presence, the angels always see His concern for His people and gladly go to help and protect them on earth. Hebrews 1:14 says, “Are they not all ministering spirits [angels] sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?” At one point, the king of Syria dispatched his entire army to kill the prophet Elisha, and they surrounded the city where he was staying. Elisha’s servant said, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” Elisha answered: “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” Elisha asked the Lord to open the boy’s eyes, and then he saw the mountain “full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha” (2Ki. 6:15-17)—not just one guardian angel but many of them protecting this child of God.
Philip Melanchthon, the chief co-worker of Martin Luther during the Reformation, wrote a wonderful hymn about the angels. Please turn to Hymn #545, “Lord God, We All to Thee Give Praise.” We sing the first 3 verses which teach about the angels’ service before God.
V. Needed on Earth
You and I are always in danger even though we cannot see it. God warns us that “your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1Pe. 5:8). The devil tries to take you from Christ back into the kingdom of darkness. After Michael and his angels defeated the devil and his angels and cast them out of heaven, a voice from heaven said, “[R]ejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!” (Rev. 12:12). Ephesians chapter 6 warns us about “the schemes of the devil” and reminds us that “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (vv. 11-12).
The Scriptures record many attacks upon Christians, such as on Lot, Daniel, and Peter. But the Bible says that angels “brought [Lot] out” of Sodom and Gomorrah to safety (Gen. 19:16), “God sent His angel and shut the lions’ mouths” (Dan. 6:22) so Daniel was not hurt, and “the Lord sent His angel” (Ac. 12:11) to rescue Peter from prison. We sing of this danger and our help again in Hymn #545, vv. 4-8.
VI. Protect Christians at All Times
God’s gift of angels is very comforting because they are stronger than the devil and all his evil angels. Psalm 91:10-12 assures us: “[N]o evil shall be allowed to befall you, no plague come near your tent. For He will command His angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.”
Christians should know that angels are guarding them, just as baby Moses was kept from harm when his mother set him adrift in a little basket. This is a particular comfort for parents who worry about their children’s welfare. Martin Luther once said: “If it were not for the protection of the dear angels, no child would grow to full age, even if the parents took all possible care.”
Our guardian angels also protect us when we sleep. Psalm 121 says: “He who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep” (vv. 3-4). One of the chief ways God protects us during the night is through His holy angels. This is why at nighttime and in the morning Lutherans pray: “Let Your holy angel be with me, that the wicked foe may have no power over me.” We sing Hymn #569, “Now Rest Beneath Night’s Shadow,” vv. 5-6.
VII. Bring Souls to Heaven
The angels are the Christian’s companion from infancy until death, from the waters of Baptism until their final breath. This means that no believer in Christ dies alone. In Luke 16, Jesus describes the death of the beggar Lazarus: “The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side” (v. 22). This inspired another hymn we sing: “Lord, let at last Thine angels come, To Abram’s bosom bear me home, That I may die un-fearing” (ELH 406, v. 3).
The holy angels bear the soul of the believer up to heaven with utmost care and majesty, like the chariots of fire and horses of fire that carried Elijah into heaven (2Ki. 2:11). There, the soul is welcomed by all the heavenly host—the saints and the angels. This is what we sing about in Hymn #541, “Jerusalem, Thou City Fair and High,” vv. 2-3.
VIII. Accompany Christ on the Last Day
The angels will serve us one last time, when Jesus returns in glory. The Bible says that “the voice of an archangel” will announce Jesus’ coming (1Th. 4:16). On the Last Day, “all the angels” will be with Him (Mt. 25:31), and “before Him will be gathered all the nations” (Mt. 25:32). Jesus will raise the dead, but the angels will bring them before Him.
The holy angels will be a terrible sight for unbelievers. Jesus said that He “will send His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers…. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Mt. 13:41,49-50).
But the holy angels will be a beautiful, comforting sight for every Christian. Jesus promised that He “will send out His angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other” (Mt. 24:31). The believers will hear Jesus say to them: “Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Mt. 25:34).
What a happy day that will be for all the saints and the angels! The angels will no longer need to protect us, and we will no longer need their protection. We will join their everlasting worship of Christ in His kingdom that has no end. “Oh, where shall joy be found? Where but on heav’nly ground? Where now the angels singing With all His saints unite, Their sweetest praises bringing In heavenly joy and light. May we praise Him there! May we praise Him there!” We sing Hymn #461, “Come, Ye Thankful People, Come,” vv. 3-4.
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Edited from original homilies by the Rev. Jerry Gernander
(woodcut by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, 1794-1872)
The Festival of St. Michael and All Angels (officially observed on Sept. 29th) – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Matthew 18:1-10
In Christ Jesus, who is “the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” and shares His greatness with you, dear fellow redeemed:
In 2009, the Barna research group asked a sampling of Christians across the U. S. to respond to the statement that Satan “is not a living being but is a symbol of evil.” In other words, Satan is not real, but is a name we give to bad things in the world. Almost 60% of Christians surveyed either strongly agreed or somewhat agreed with the statement. They did not believe Satan was a real being. On the other hand, a 2011 survey of Christians and non-Christians suggested that a large majority of Americans think that angels are real. Put together, these surveys indicate that a majority of Christians do not think the devil is real, while the majority of people think angels are.
Why do angels fare so much better in the national consciousness than the devil does? It is no surprise that people deny the existence of the devil. First of all, they do not want to believe that a totally evil being exists whose only goal is to get people to go to hell. They pass this off as “bogeyman talk” from Christians who are trying to get people in church. The other reason the devil’s existence is denied is by his own doing. If Satan can get people to ignore him, he can infiltrate their lives easily. Not recognizing this danger is like leaving the front door unlocked in a bad part of the city or sending your bank account information to “hackers anonymous.” Martin Luther writes that all the devil is looking for is a small opening. If his serpent-head can fit through, then the rest of his scaly body will follow.
But at least people believe in the existence of angels. This is good, except that their idea of angels is not exactly on the mark. They might talk about a dead person who now serves as their guardian angel, watching over them. Or they might content themselves to skip church and let their Bibles collect dust, because their angel will keep them safe. Such sentimental thoughts about the angels are contrary to what the Bible teaches. When people die they do not become angels. And the protection of angels is no substitute for hearing and learning God’s Word.
What the Bible teaches is that Satan and the angels are real. The devil and the demons were once good angels, created by God to serve Him and mankind. Sometime after the creation was complete, a portion of the angels rebelled against God, perhaps for the same reason that Adam and Eve rebelled—they wanted to “be like God” (Gen. 3:5). Of course, these created beings were no match for their Creator. When they could not defeat Him, they set their sights on God’s special creation. Today’s Epistle lesson from St. John’s Revelation, describes the devil like a prosecutor in a courtroom, who “who accuses [God’s children] day and night” (Rev. 12:10). But his accusations do not stand. All sinners are acquitted. Their penalty has been paid “by the blood of the Lamb” (v. 11).
But that does not stop the devil from trying. He plants seeds of doubt in the Christian’s mind. “Are you sure that God loves you? How could He forgive a sinner like you?” Or he approaches from the other side, “Look at how much better you are than other people! Look at how much you do, how much you give! What a fine example you are!” When pride and self-righteousness enter the heart, there is not much room for faith. Or the devil might afflict you like he did Job. He tries to steal away your daily bread to get you to question God and lose faith in Him. He turns Christian against Christian, and Christians against their church. He makes everything else in life seem more appealing and more important than God’s Word.
But for all the ways the devil assaults us, we are not without protection. God commands countless good angels who did not join in Satan’s rebellion. He sends those angels especially to serve believers. The author to the Hebrews indicates this when he writes about angels, “Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?” (1:14). And the psalmist says, “For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways” (Ps. 91:11). We would be absolutely stunned to know how much the angels have protected us in our lives, from all sorts of trouble and harm. Luther writes that “If it were not for the protection of the dear angels, no child would grow to full age, even if the parents took all possible care.” That is how intent the demons are to destroy us.
But the demons cannot prevail against the angels, because the angels are sent by God and operate under His authority. You might think it is possible for a good angel to be separated from his fellow spirits and be ambushed by the demons. But the angels are never away from God’s presence. Jesus says in today’s text, “For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of My Father who is in heaven.” The angels are always looking upon God, and He is always looking upon them and those they serve.
Specifically here, Jesus is talking about the angels’ service to the “little ones.” He is not referring to those of short stature. He is talking about little children. Isn’t it something! God sends His mighty angels to watch over and protect the little children. This is like the company CEO taking a shift in the daycare center for his employee’s kids, or like the number one golfer in the world cleaning up the messes kids leave at a putt-putt golf course. It seems as though the angels should have more important things to do. But no, Jesus says. They could do nothing better than care for children.
When His disciples wanted to know who was the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, Jesus brought a child before them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Then He took the point even further, “Whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me.” This should impress on us how dedicated we should be to the nurture and training of children.
God has given this responsibility first of all to fathers and mothers or guardians, and then to pastors and teachers. The devil and demons are constantly working to pollute the minds of the youth, to get them to despise God’s Word, to be greedy and selfish, to disrespect their authorities, to seek fulfillment in their own accomplishments. This is why they need to be taught how the Ten Commandments apply to their lives, and how they have not come close to keeping them. And they need the comfort and strength of the Gospel, that message which tells them there is hope. The Gospel gives them Jesus and changes their hearts, so that they desire the good that God gives instead of the empty promises of the world.
The world seems to offer so much. You can be the best athlete, the smartest student, the prettiest person if you just work hard, if you dedicate yourself to your dreams. But what happens if you do not reach the top? What if you do? Does the world’s adoration bring you any closer to heaven? Just the opposite. There are many great athletes, great thinkers, great beauties in hell. What good did their success in the world accomplish for them? They followed the devil’s temptations and now have the result. This is why Jesus warns about these temptations. He says that it would be far better for you to lose the parts of your body that lead you into temptation and “to enter life crippled or lame” or “with one eye” than to be condemned to hell with all parts intact.
God does not require you to be great as the world defines it—a great parent, a great friend, a great citizen, and so on. Who among us could say that we are these things? We know our sins. We know where we have failed our neighbors, including the youth in our care. God does not look for greatness; He looks for faithfulness, that you believe His Word. He hears the cry of the weary and burdened, and the humble repentance of the sinner. He listens to every petition for mercy and help, and He gives it. The Lord has not forgotten you. As ready as He is to defend you with His angels, He is just as eager to be gracious unto you and give you peace.
Jesus has made peace between you and God. He offered His perfect eyes for your sinful ones, His perfect hands and feet for yours that have led you into sin. He substituted His perfect love and concern for His neighbor, with yours which is not always pure. Jesus was thrown into the eternal fire of hell, so you would have the glories of heaven. The concern God has for your salvation is shown by the way heaven erupts in rejoicing whenever a sinner repents and trusts in Jesus. The good angels reflect what they see in the face of God. So when “there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Lk. 15:10), that joy is radiating from the face of your gracious Lord.
The world cares not at all about repentance and faith, or about the proper training of the youth, or about the actual mission of God’s angels. These things are unimportant to the world. But The World’s Least Are God’s Greatest. The saving work of Jesus, the conversion of the sinner, the tender faith of the child, the obedient service of the angels—these things are great in God’s sight. He loves you not for what you could be, but for what you are. You are His own child, bought by the blood of Jesus, saved by His death, acquitted by His resurrection, baptized into His grace, fed with His body and blood, destined for the eternal mansions.
Your humble, childlike faith in Jesus will not be disappointed when your time on this earth comes to an end. The angels will bring you into God’s kingdom where, like them, you will always behold the face of your heavenly Father.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
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The First Sunday in Lent – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Matthew 4:1-11
In Christ Jesus, who knows how perplexed we are by the devil’s temptations and faithfully defends us, dear fellow redeemed:
The devil excels at the use of trickery and half-truth. Notice how he engaged Eve in the Garden of Eden. He opened the conversation by attributing a statement to God that He never said. The devil asked in a manner dripping with sweet innocence, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” Eve took the bait. She had to set the record straight. “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” And then the devil did what he does so well. He planted doubt in Eve’s mind. He said, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
Nothing more needed to be said. The serpent had accomplished what he set out to do. Eve thought the fruit looked tasty, and she certainly did not want to miss out on this mysterious knowledge that the devil talked about. She ate some fruit and offered it to Adam who gladly followed his wife’s lead. Then the Bible says that “the eyes of both were opened.” What the devil said had come true, but not how they expected. They now knew the difference between good and evil firsthand, but they had become nothing like God. In fact they had moved further away from Him. Before their sin, they enjoyed the perfect image of God. They had true knowledge of Him and perfect righteousness. But that was now lost. Oh they learned the difference between good and evil alright. They had been good, and now they were evil (see Gen. 3).
Satan had succeeded in his quest to drag the world into his darkness. He had gotten the very crown of God’s creation—man and woman—to deny their Creator. And that was just the beginning, the start of his terrible work. He has sown the seeds of evil in every generation and in every heart. No one has successfully withstood his temptations. All have fallen for his lies and sinned against God—all except for One. But why shouldn’t the devil have success with Him too?
Jesus did not look like the God who told the devil he was cursed to slither along on his belly and eat dust for the rest of his existence (Gen. 3:14). Jesus looked weak. He looked hungry—Ah, there’s the opening! “If You are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” And what would be the harm in it? Jesus was hungry, His body needed nourishment, and He certainly was God, so why not turn stones into bread? But Jesus had absolutely no obligation to indulge the devil’s request. The devil did not actually want Him to eat; he wanted Him to doubt the love of His Father. Because if Jesus was God’s Son, then why was He suffering there in the wilderness?
Jesus did not take the bait. He quoted the Word of His Father, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” The Word was primary. If Jesus could go forty days without bread, He could go still longer. We do not pass that test as well as Jesus. We know His promise that if we “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness,” then He will surely provide for our earthly needs as well (Mt. 6:33). But the devil so often turns that around in our minds. He wants us to judge God’s faithfulness by how successful and happy we are in this life.
If we are suffering with a lack of food or other necessities and having trouble paying bills, Satan wants us to think that God must be punishing us or does not really care about us. On the other hand, if we are doing well and have all that we need, he tells us that we are just fine on our own; we don’t really need God. Whatever the devil can do to keep us away from the Word of God, he will do. He knows how powerful the Word is. It is the sole reason why he cannot claim the entire human race as his own. He wants everyone to live eternally with him in hell, but the Word brings sinners forgiveness and life.
Of course, the devil is willing to utilize even the Word if it suits his diabolical purposes. After Jesus silenced his first temptation by quoting Scripture, Satan thought he could see another opening. Taking Jesus to the top of the temple of Jerusalem, the holy dwelling place of God, he said, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down, for it is written, ‘He will command His angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’” These words do come from the Bible, from Psalm 91:11-12, but there is a problem with the way the devil used them.
He conveniently left out the last part of verse 11, which says, “For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.” He did this because he knew “in all your ways” does not include every sinful and reckless thing we do. God does not promise to protect us no matter what. If I climb up to the top of the steeple of this church and then jump off, I have no promise from God that He will keep me from severe injuries. This would be a foolish thing for me to do. It would be a sin against the Fifth Commandment, which tells us not to harm one another or ourselves. God does promise to send His angels to protect us when we walk in the ways He has commanded. But when we deliberately go against His will, then Jesus’ response applies to us as much as it did to Satan, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.”
The devil also tempted Jesus with fame, fortune, and power. He had successfully enticed many, many people to chase after these things, so why wouldn’t it also be effective on Jesus? But Jesus brought his temptations to a close by saying, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve.’”
Our encounters with the devil do not play out like the Lord’s encounter with him. We might stay strong for awhile, but Satan keeps chipping away at us. He bides his time. He does not mind waiting. He gently nudges and pulls us away from the Word. He points us toward other things that promise pleasure, but are never what they seem (ELH 182, v. 1). He prepares unique temptations for everyone. He might tempt the lonely with the comfort of the bottle, the discontented spouse with the arms of another, the greedy with riches, and the proud with an uncharitable and judgmental attitude.
No one has to give in to these temptations. “The devil made me do it,” is not a valid excuse for sin. The devil cannot make you do anything. He can be sent packing, as Jesus shows us. But we do not have the power to stand up to him on our own. He is an expert tempter with thousands of years of experience. By comparison, we are novice Christians. But we have something on our side that Satan does not have. We have Jesus. He is not one “who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). He knows firsthand what the devil is capable of. He also knows his limitations.
Jesus knew what was waiting for Him those forty days in the wilderness. He knew He would face every manner of difficulty and experience every sort of suffering. He knew that the devil would seek to tempt Him from the truth, because “he is a liar and the father of lies” (Jn. 8:44). This is the way it had to be if sinners would be saved. There was no other hope for mankind. Jesus was the One promised by God immediately after Adam and Eve’s fall. The LORD told the serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Gen. 3:15). The eternal Son of God was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary so that He could free the world from Satan’s death grip.
Hebrews 2:14-15 says, “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” Jesus’ sights were set on ruining the devil’s plans once and for all. The Apostle John writes that “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1Jn. 3:8). Satan has power, but it is limited. He wilts in the presence of Jesus. He can do nothing against Him. This is because Jesus conquered the devil’s two greatest allies. He paid down the debt of sin by His death on the cross, and He defeated death itself by His resurrection on the third day.
How can the devil threaten you if the LORD no longer counts your sin against you, and if your death no longer has staying power? Satan can do you no harm as long as you remain in Christ by faith. Jesus is your Refuge. He is the Savior from your sins, the Healer of your wounds, the Strength in your weakness, and the Hope in your difficulties. In Him, you have immunity from the devil’s accusations, and freedom from sin and death. He also sends His angels to protect you from the devil’s schemes.
Whenever you do fall for Satan’s temptations, the LORD reaches out to you with compassion, and He cleanses you of your sins. As focused as He was on winning your salvation, He is just as focused at keeping you in the saving faith. He Will “Guard You in All Your Ways.” Therefore, “Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act” (Ps. 37:5). He will protect you, and He will see you through your trials.
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