The Festival of All Saints – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Every year when we observe All Saints’ Day, we have the custom of singing one hymn in particular. The hymn is about 250 years old, and for many years you could count on singing it at funerals in Norwegian Lutheran churches. This hymn is “Behold a Host, Arrayed in White,” and we will sing it again today. The first stanza of the hymn is based on the first part of today’s Epistle lesson from Revelation 7. Here the apostle John describes what he saw in his vision of heaven:
After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”
Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?”
I said to him, “Sir, you know.”
And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” (ESV)
Now in these days of social distancing and small crowds, it seems strange to see old video footage of football stadiums and concert halls full of people. The same thought might have struck you when you heard about the “great multitude [in heaven] that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages.” What a glorious scene! Unlike the Tower of Babel when the peoples were divided and moved away from each other, now God’s people from all over the world and all across time are brought together.
There are no enemies in this great multitude, no cultural or language barriers, no socio-economic differences. These people are one, both regarding their status before God and their purpose in His presence. This oneness is emphasized by their common clothing. They are dressed in flowing white robes, perfectly clean. One of the elders in heaven explained to John how the robes got so uniformly white. He said, “They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”
Now that is the strangest bleach we’ve ever heard of! How could blood ever make clothing whiter? Because it is not just any blood, it is “the blood of the Lamb.” This refers to the fact that no sin stains the believers in heaven. They stand pure and holy before God because Jesus shed His blood to wash away their sins.
This is why they now sing joyfully “before the throne and before the Lamb.” They hold palm branches in their hands like the crowd that greeted Jesus on Palm Sunday. On that occasion the people cried, “Hosanna!”—“Save us, we pray!” And now the saints rejoice in the salvation won for them by crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
They sing together one song with one voice, the only song worth singing. They sing the song of their salvation through the God-Man Jesus. He is the Lamb enthroned in heaven. He has won the victory for them over sin, devil, and death. By faith in Him, these saints have now been translated from the troubles of the world to the glories of heaven. They have come out of “the great tribulation,” and now join the angels and the elders and the four living creatures in the praise and worship of their Lord.
We sing the first stanza of hymn #553, which tells us about this “host, arrayed in white,” who “in the flood of Jesus’ blood / Are cleansed from guilt and blame.”
Behold a host, arrayed in white,
Like thousand snow-clad mountains bright;
With palms they stand. Who is this band
Before the throne of light?
Lo, these are they, of glorious fame,
Who from the great affliction came
And in the flood of Jesus’ blood
Are cleansed from guilt and blame.
Now gathered in the holy place,
Their voices they in worship raise;
Their anthems swell where God doth dwell
Mid angels’ songs of praise.
We wish we could be there with the saints and angels in heaven, or at least get a temporary taste of their joy. The elder speaking to John explains what the saints have now that they are in God’s eternal presence:
“Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple; and He who sits on the throne will shelter them with His presence. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and He will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
Here the contrast between heaven and earth is described. In heaven there is no more hunger or thirst. No one is overcome by weariness or weakness. No harm is done by the sun and scorching heat. The sheep are not without a shepherd. No tears fill their eyes.
But the opposite is true on earth. On earth there is trouble, pain, sorrow. “[A]ll tribes and peoples and languages” are not united here. Here there is division—sometimes deep division—within the same community and even the same house. Instead of loving their neighbor as themselves, many decide to just love themselves. They view any challenge to the way they think as a great offense. Those who do not share their ideas are the enemy, who do not deserve to be treated with respect. We see these attitudes so clearly in our tense social environment.
And we are just as guilty of these divisions and troubles as others are. We have hated our enemies and cursed those who persecute us, when Jesus tells us to love them and pray for them (Mat. 5:44). Often our hardships on earth are self-inflicted. Because of our sin we bring trouble and pain on ourselves.
But other things happen simply because we live in a fallen world. Sometimes we get sick or injured. Eventually we will die. It may not be your own death that causes you the most anguish. It may be the death of a loved one, or even just the thought of having to live without someone you rely on for so many things.
We feel powerless in the face of death. We do not control who it strikes or when. It has always been this way since the fall into sin, but we are perhaps more aware of it this year than in years past. No matter what we do, no matter what measures we take, we cannot escape death.
But there is still hope! There is one who entered death and emerged from it again. A Lamb was snatched by the great jaws of death—easy prey, easy victory! But no! This was no ordinary Lamb. It was the Lamb of God. Jesus died in your place, so that death could not hold you in its terrible jaws. It is true that you will die, unless Jesus returns before it happens. But you will not stay dead. You will rise again. Your Savior will come and call you forth with a shout, and you will rise up to Him with glorified body clothed in the white robe of His righteousness.
That is your comfort today as you remember all who have gone on before you, whether parents or grandparents or siblings or children or friends. You will see the faithful departed again, and “God will wipe away every tear from [your] eyes.” We sing stanza two of the hymn:
Despised and scorned, they sojourned here;
But now, how glorious they appear!
Those martyrs stand, a priestly band,
God’s throne forever near.
So oft in troubled days gone by,
In anguish they would weep and sigh;
At home above the God of love
For aye their tears shall dry.
They now enjoy their Sabbath rest,
The paschal banquet of the blest;
The Lamb, their Lord, at festal board
Himself is host and guest.
God wanted John to write down what he saw in heaven so you and all believers would be comforted. He knows what trials and troubles you face here on earth. He knows how easy it is to become disheartened by the wickedness and sin you see all around you and that you also find inside yourself. He promises that these struggles are only temporary, while the bliss of heaven is forever.
In this text from Revelation, the Lord gives you a glimpse of the life to come. He shows you that you will not be alone in heaven but will be surrounded by a great multitude that cannot be numbered. That means you are not alone here on earth either because there are many around the world who confess Jesus as their Savior from sin.
While you are here, God calls you to stay close to Him by hearing His Word and partaking of His Sacraments. These are the means by which He strengthens you and keeps you steadfast in the faith. He also gives you the courage to let the light of His truth shine in your life, “so that [others] may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Mat. 5:16).
You won’t carry out these callings of God perfectly. You are still a sinner. Sometimes you will only stumble along, and sometimes you will fall—hardly the picture of a holy child of God. But the blood of the Lamb was poured out for all of your sins. All of your wicked thoughts, all of your self-inflicted wounds, all your doubts—all of them are forgiven by the merciful God. You can meet death and the grave with confidence knowing that nothing stands between you and God’s grace. You are reconciled to God the Father because of the perfect life and the holy death of His only-begotten Son.
When you hear John’s account of the saints in heaven and when you sing today’s hymn, picture yourself among that great Host, Arrayed in White. Look forward with confidence and joy to the day when you will join that holy choir, holding palm branches, gathered around the throne of the holy God. You will be numbered with those saints because you have been washed in the blood of the Lamb. Your place in heaven is reserved, where you will sing the song of salvation for all eternity. We join together in the third stanza of the hymn:
Then hail! ye mighty legions, yea,
All hail! now safe and blest for aye;
And praise the Lord, who with His Word
Sustained you on the way.
Ye did the joys of earth distain,
Ye toiled and sowed in tears and pain;
Farewell, now bring your sheaves and sing
Salvation’s glad refrain.
Swing high your palms, lift up your song,
Yea, make it myriad voices strong:
Eternally shall praise to Thee,
God, and the Lamb belong.
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(picture from “Seventh Seal and 144,000 Sealed” by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, 1794-1872)
The Festival of St. Michael & All Angels – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: Revelation 12:7-12
In Christ Jesus, whose death and resurrection secured your righteousness and innocence before God, dear fellow redeemed:
The section just before today’s text describes “a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars” (Rev. 12:1). She was in labor, and a huge, red, seven-headed dragon stood before her ready to devour her newborn child. A baby boy was born, but before the dragon could snatch him, he “was caught up to God and to his throne” (v. 5). The woman escaped into the wilderness to a place God prepared for her.
This story, which reads like science fiction, is the central chapter in God’s plan of salvation. It is the fulfillment of the promise God delivered to “that ancient serpent” many years earlier in the Garden of Eden: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Gen. 3:15). The LORD told the devil that he would not prevail over all humanity. One would be born of a woman who would crush his head.
As the devil listened in on the angel Gabriel’s announcement to the virgin Mary, and then heard a multitude of angels herald the birth of the Christ-Child, he knew who his enemy was. He wasn’t about to take Jesus’ arrival lying down! He did all that he could to overcome Jesus and ruin His mission. He attempted to have Him destroyed by the hand of wicked King Herod who killed the baby boys of Bethlehem. He poisoned the minds of many against the gracious words Jesus spoke, and he even turned Jesus’ own dear disciples against Him.
But the incarnate Son of God was not defeated so easily. Jesus kept on the paths of righteousness. He obeyed His Father’s will. He stayed the course. He was willing to suffer the punishment for sinners. He was willing to die for their sins. “[F]or the joy that was set before him [he] endured the cross, despising the shame” (Heb. 12:2). And then He rose again from the dead. All the devil’s plots and plans had failed. Jesus had succeeded. His mission complete, the Father welcomed Him back to the courts of heaven to sit at His right hand.
The Father’s right hand is a position more than a local place. It is the position of all power and authority over all things. The devil doesn’t like the look of that. He thought he had humanity conquered long ago. How could it happen that a flesh and blood descendent of pitiful Adam and Eve would come to reign at God’s right hand? How could any Man rise higher than him, a magnificent, terrifying angel of the mighty God?
That’s what the devil is: an angel. He was a good angel in the beginning, perfect in every way. But he wanted to have more. He wanted to be like God. And he did not think God should favor man and woman like He did. Who were they compared to him? This bright angel-among-angels was not about to serve those inferior creatures of the earth below. So he rebelled against God and convinced a number of other angels to rebel with him.
From that point on, he established himself in opposition to God and did all he could to thwart God’s good plans. This started with his temptation of Adam and Eve, and we find another clear example in the Book of Job. Job was a faithful believer, who had been blessed by God with great riches and honor. The devil came before the LORD and argued that if God touched Job with trouble instead of blessing, Job would surely curse God to His face (Job 1:11, 2:5).
It is clear that at this time, God still allowed the devil to come before His throne in heaven and speak. There is another example of this recorded by Zechariah the prophet. Zechariah was shown “Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him” (Zec. 3:1). But this does not happen anymore. The devil no longer plays the role of prosecuting attorney at the throne of God. His arguments against our sinfulness are no longer admitted.
Today’s account from Revelation tells us when and how Satan was booted from God’s heavenly courtroom. It happened when Jesus returned to heaven in victory after His death and resurrection. He ascended into heaven where all the saints and angels received Him with rejoicing (Rev. 5). The conquering King had returned! But one thing more had to be done. The dragon had to go.
Although it sounds like brute force is what got the devil and his angels cast out of heaven, the terrifying dragon was overcome by something else. He was overcome by “the blood of the Lamb.” How could a Lamb stand up to a powerful dragon? Well that gentle Lamb was the Son of God in the flesh. The only way to silence the devil’s accusations against sinners was for the Lamb to pay for those sins. Jesus offered Himself as the spotless sacrificial Lamb in each sinner’s place and shed His holy blood to blot out all sin.
It hardly had the look of it to those who watched it happen, but there was a battle raging when Jesus went to the cross. It was not a battle among men. It was a battle against mankind’s greatest enemies: sin, devil, and death. Everyone who saw Jesus nailed to the cross thought this was His defeat. It looked like sin, devil, and death would be victorious. But oh how the tables turned! Just before His death, Jesus declared His victory, and a few days later, He proved it by rising from the dead. The death of Jesus in the place of sinners was the day the serpent’s scaly head was crushed just as God had promised so long ago that it would be.
With Christ’s heel constantly bearing down on his head, the devil’s mouth doesn’t work like it used to. Like a pancaked cartoon character, this smooth-talking liar can only mumble now. And God does not care what he has to say. With the accusation of our sin silenced by the death of Jesus for us, no accusation is allowed against us anymore. The devil can hiss “sinner!” and “failure!” and “law-breaker!” about us all he wants, but God is not listening. We are redeemed, we are reconciled, we are forgiven by the precious blood of Jesus.
His atoning blood is why Satan was forever cast out of heaven. As our text says, he was conquered “by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.” The “word of their testimony” is the confession of the faithful who were the target of the devil’s accusations. Now whenever the devil’s lips start moving, they point to Jesus, and there is nothing more that the lying serpent can say.
The holy angels of God have witnessed all these things. They watched the devil and other fellow angels rebel against God. They saw Adam and Eve fall into sin. They marveled as God promised to send a Savior for sinners and then carried it out by taking on their flesh to live and die in their place. What love their holy God has for mankind!
They watched as the Son of God fasted for forty days in the wilderness and as He prayed that there might be another way to save the world. They knew what was coming. They knew that the Son of God who had called them into existence had to suffer the eternal wrath of His Father for sin. They knew He had to die, but they also knew He would rise again.
The angels saw it all, and they know what it means for you. It means your salvation. Your salvation is why the chief angel Michael and other good angels fought to expel the devil and his wicked angels from heaven. Since Jesus had paid your debt of sin, there was nothing more that the fallen angels could bring against you. “[T]here was no longer any place for them in heaven.”
So “the great dragon was thrown down… and his angels were thrown down with him.” Having failed to capture the throne of heaven, they now seek to capture the hearts of men. Their focus is especially on believers. The devil will do whatever he can to make you doubt your salvation. He wants to distract you from Jesus through pleasure-seeking, worldly pursuits, and a guilty conscience. He wants to convince you that God doesn’t really love you, and that you don’t need Him anyway.
God sends His good angels to guard you from these attacks. They defend you in temptation and help to pick you up when you fall. The holy angels see everything you do, good and bad, but they do not grow weary with you. They stay committed to their mission because they are faithful to God, and God is faithful to you. No matter how much you have given way to the devil and sinned in the presence of the holy angels, they still fight for you. “Are they not all ministering spirits,” says the Bible, “sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?” (Heb. 1:14).
The angels of God know the truth. They Testify to Your Innocence. They will not stop serving and protecting you, because they know what the Lord accomplished for you. They know you are God’s own holy child, who stands righteous before Him by faith. Their service toward you will not cease until they bring you to join them in the blessed courts of heaven.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
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(woodcut by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, 1794-1872)
The Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: Galatians 5:25-6:10
In Christ Jesus, who gives us rest from our heaviest burden of sin, so that all other burdens carried by faith in Him feel easy and light (Mat. 11:28-30), dear fellow redeemed:
“I love you. You love me. We’re a happy family.” You probably recognize those words from a popular kids show featuring a large purple and green dinosaur. Impressionable preschoolers loved to watch and sing along. They thought Barney was nice and fun, and they believed that he cared about them. His song taught them that since he loved them and they loved him, they were one big happy family. The message was memorable for its simplicity. But it takes more than mutual love to make a family.
So what does make a family? As you can imagine, the definition of “family” has become less definite in recent years. The traditional definition of family is: “The group comprising a husband and wife and their dependent children, constituting a fundamental unit in the organization of society” (Webster’s 1913 Dictionary). Other definitions of family are less specific, less concrete, more like the Barney definition. At the same time that society is moving the boundaries of what a family is, we see less stability in home life and much more brokenness. A passing love or a vague commitment do not make a family.
Family requires more; it calls for “blood, sweat, and tears.” Family begins when a man leaves his father and mother and holds fast to his wife. Here two different bloodlines are brought together. A man and woman are joined in marriage and become “one flesh” (Gen. 2:24). More often than not, the union of husband and wife brings about children. The mother’s blood provides nutrients to the growing baby in her womb. And then the baby is born to be loved and cared for by its parents.
But parenting is not easy; it requires more than a little “sweat equity.” There are diapers to change, illnesses and injuries to tend to, attitudes to adjust, and crises to manage. The mother especially feels the pressure of showing the children they are loved, and the father feels the pressure of providing for them. Because of the fall into sin, God told Adam and Eve that there would be pain in family life. Parents and children would struggle along until they returned to dust (Gen. 3:16-19).
So there would also be tears. Tears when family problems are beyond our power or ability to fix. Tears when families are divided by disagreements and conflicts. Tears when spouses and parents and children breathe their last. But there are happy tears too. Tears of joy for birthdays and big accomplishments and renewed health and the expansion of the family circle. Family is more than “I love you. You love me.” Family is a gift from God formed and forged through blood, sweat, and tears.
The spiritual family of God was also brought about through blood, sweat, and tears, but not our own. Our adoption into God’s family was made possible by the sacrifice of God’s Son in our place. As His death approached, He cried for the people who rejected Him as Savior (Luk. 19:41-44). “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace!” He said (v. 42). Later that week as He knelt in earnest prayer to His Father, He shook in agony, “and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luk. 22:44).
Then He went to the cross carrying the sins of all people. Blood dripped from the stripes of His scourging and from the gouges made by the crown of thorns. Then it ran from His hands and feet as the nails were driven into the cross. His tears, His sweat, and His blood were all for sinners. He did all the work, all the heavy lifting, to win our salvation. Nothing was left undone. “It is finished!” He said before breathing His last (Joh. 19:30).
His death brought us life. It was the ultimate sacrifice. He died so that all sinners would be reconciled to God. He died to make atonement for every sin. He died so we could have a share in eternal life. All who believe in Him by the power of the Holy Spirit are joined to Him. We are covered in His righteousness and cleansed by His blood. “[I]n Christ Jesus [we] are all sons of God, through faith” (Gal. 3:26).
We did not get ourselves into God’s family any more than a baby gets himself conceived. We were reborn spiritually in Holy Baptism by the power of the Holy Spirit (Joh. 3:5). Because God does the work, all have equal standing in His family. One is not greater or less than another. God does not play favorites. We are equally loved and forgiven according to His tremendous grace.
That means there is no reason for conceit or self-centeredness in the family of God. We believers should ask ourselves, “What good things do we have that God did not give us? What is the source of our abilities and strength and wealth? What is it that enables our faithfulness to the Lord?” The answer is that God does all these things. But we love to take credit for them. If I am successful, I want to accept the glory for it. If I have a good reputation and a clean record, I am eager to pat myself on the back.
On the flip side, it is oh so easy to point out the failures of others. “If only they got their act together like we have. If only they stopped complaining and started working!” We like to compare ourselves with others because it makes us feel better about ourselves. Seeing a life in shambles gets us thinking we have it all together. Focusing on their mistakes helps us forget about our own.
But such comparison does not put our righteousness and faithfulness on display. It shows our sin. Our sin causes us to look down on others, to think we are better than they are, to gloat about their spiritual stumbling. This is not how Jesus, our Brother-in-the-Flesh, treated us. He looked with mercy upon us, joined us in the depths of our darkness, and shouldered the burden of our sin.
He calls us to do the same for the brothers and sisters in our spiritual family. When a fellow believer sins, our job is not to gossip about it. It’s not to shun him. Our job is to speak the Word of reconciliation to him, to share the love of Christ who paid for all sin. In this way, the wounded soul may be restored “in a spirit of gentleness,” and the bleeding in the body of Christ can be stopped.
We extend grace toward others because the time will come—and probably quite often—that we will need grace extended toward us. St. Paul writes that everyone has his own load to bear. The devil and his fellow demons have special temptations ready for each one of us. They know how to tempt our sinful flesh to anger or worry or pride or selfishness. None of us can claim to have come through these temptations unscathed, to think that we have lived consistently righteous lives. Again, the text says, “if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.”
So we members of the family of God are the walking wounded. We are the spiritually sick. We are weaker than we want to admit. Recognizing this about ourselves makes it much easier to see the help that our spiritual brothers and sisters need. They are as we are. They struggle as we struggle. They suffer as we suffer. They need mercy and help and forgiveness just like we do. So Paul writes, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”
In His family, God gives the young to care for the elderly, and the elderly to encourage the young. He gives some to be good listeners and some for wise advice. He gives some to be generous and charitable with their means and others to give of their time. He gives pastors to teach and pray for His people, and His people to support and pray for their pastor.
By ourselves, each one of us is weak and vulnerable to all sorts of attacks. This is why the devil loves to try to divide the family of God, to turn us against one another, to drive us all apart. But God’s Word is the glue that holds us together. The Word of His Law exposes our conceit and pride. And the Word of His Gospel brings us forgiveness for those sins and relief from our burdens.
As we together look to Jesus in faith, we find in Him an inexhaustible storehouse of grace. Through the message of His perfect life lived for us, His holy death to save us, and His resurrection to secure the victory, we find healing when we have been wronged, help when we are hurting, and comfort in our pain. By His Word of grace, The Lord Keeps His Family Together.
Even though each of us is imperfect and weak, He promises to work powerful blessings through us for the people He brings into our lives. Whatever blood, sweat, and tears are required for our spiritual family or our physical one, His grace gives us the strength to carry on even when the job is hard. He helps us “do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.”
When a burden feels too heavy for us, it is not too heavy for Him. He will carry it—and us—through every difficulty we face and will bring us safely to His heavenly kingdom.
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 “Jesus Traveling” by James Tissot, 1836-1902)
The Second Sunday of Easter – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: 1 John 5:4-10
In Christ Jesus, who gives us a share of His eternal victory by faith, dear fellow redeemed:
He had told them several times. He told them He had to suffer and die, and that He would be raised again on the third day (Mat. 16:21, 17:23, 20:19). But the disciples did not understand. They were so troubled by the thought of His death that His promise to rise did not even register with them. Peter let Jesus know what he thought about The Plan. He took Jesus aside and rebuked Him. He said, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you!” (Mat. 16:22).
It wasn’t long before this that Peter had beautifully expressed the truth about who Jesus was: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (v. 16). Peter naturally did not want to see His great Teacher and Lord die. He may have also wondered whether this was even possible. If Jesus is truly God’s Son, how could He die? But Jesus was not about to follow the will of Peter—the will of man. He followed the will of His Father in heaven, and His suffering, death, and resurrection happened exactly as He had predicted.
Yet even after His resurrection, the disciples struggled to believe it. The women came on Easter morning telling them about an open tomb, shining angels, and a message from Jesus. “[B]ut these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them” (Luk. 24:11). How could it be true? The previous Friday, Jesus had died on the cross. There was no question about it. John himself was there. He saw the soldier pierce the side of Jesus, and he saw blood and water come out (Joh. 19:34). Jesus was dead. The disciples had watched Jesus call back Lazarus from the dead. But who could call back Jesus?
They did not believe it until Jesus appeared to them in the flesh on Easter evening. Since the doors were locked, at first they thought a spirit had come into their midst. But Jesus showed them the marks in His hands, feet, and side. He ate some fish in their presence (Luk. 24:42). Now they realized that He most certainly wasn’t a ghost. This was Jesus, risen from the dead!
All of them were convinced, all except for Thomas. Thomas wasn’t there when Jesus appeared. “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails,” he said, “and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe” (Joh. 20:25). The next Sunday, the disciples including Thomas were all together, and Jesus appeared again. Now Thomas believed: “My Lord and my God!” he said (v. 28). Jesus said to him, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (v. 29).
The skepticism of Thomas is the default position of many today regarding Jesus. They are willing to accept that He existed. They imagine He was probably a good guy. They like how He helped people in need. But they don’t believe He is God, and they don’t believe He came back to life after His death. The only way they would believe these things is if they had proof of some kind, like the proof that Thomas received.
The evidence that the apostle John brings forward is not the evidence one might expect. John says the proof that Jesus is the Son of God is found in “the Spirit and the water and the blood.” This is a reference especially to the beginning and end of Jesus’ public work. He was publicly identified as God’s Son and the promised Savior at His Baptism. When He was baptized, the heavens were opened, and the Spirit of God descended like a dove and rested on Him. Then a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Mat. 3:16-17).
That is strong testimony of Jesus’ identity. But how can we be certain it actually happened as described? Some people suggest that Jesus’ closest disciples invented stories about His life. But if you wrote a story and included yourself in it, how would you portray yourself? The disciples are often described as weak, petty, and ignorant. Either those creative writers were extraordinarily humble, or they simply told the truth about themselves and Jesus.
The same goes for John the Baptizer. He was not an all-knowing prophet. He admitted he did not know Jesus was the promised Messiah until he baptized Him. But seeing what happened and hearing the voice of God the Father, he then proclaimed, “this is the Son of God!” (Joh. 1:34). So by “the Spirit and the water” God the Father testified that Jesus was His Son.
Going forward three years, Jesus was now in Jerusalem. He had entered the city on Palm Sunday and was preparing for His imminent death. “Now is my soul troubled,” He said. “And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name” (Joh. 12:27-28). Then a voice sounding like thunder came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again” (v. 28). It was the voice of His heavenly Father.
And then it was time for the testimony of “the blood.” The shedding of blood shows that Jesus was clearly a Man. Blood poured out of His back from the wounds of His flogging and from His head where the crown of thorns had been driven. It dripped from His hands and feet where the nails had pierced. But how does the blood prove His divinity? How does it show He is the Son of God?
If Jesus had died and remained dead, we would have to conclude that He was not who God said He was, that He was not the Son of God. But since He has risen, that changes the way we look at His crucifixion. His resurrection from the dead shows us that it wasn’t just a regular Man hanging on the cross. It was the God-Man. His blood was holy blood shed for all people. His suffering was holy suffering, not for wrongs He had done but for the sins of the world. “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” He cried. His blood testifies that God the Father poured out His wrath against sin on His only Son in the place of all sinners.
“[T]he Spirit and the water and the blood.” This is God the Father’s testimony. “[T]his is the testimony of God that He has borne concerning His Son.” And Jesus’ resurrection is the bow that ties it all together. His resurrection proves that the testimony is true. It proves everything God declared about His Son and everything Jesus taught and did.
Those who deny Jesus’ resurrection will make of Him whatever they want, but they won’t have a Savior. You, on the other hand, who believe God’s testimony, have everything He has graciously promised you. You will not be judged along with the unbelieving world on the last day, because you are covered in Christ’s righteousness. You will not suffer eternal damnation in hell, because your sins are all forgiven. You will not remain in the grave, because Jesus will come again in glory to raise you from the dead.
All of these things are yours. You have been “born of God” by the power of the Holy Spirit. You were brought to faith in Jesus through His holy Word, so that His victory became your victory. He wants to continue to assure you and comfort you in this truth. He knows that the devil, the world, and your own flesh want to steal away your confidence. He knows how they try to use trials like the current pandemic to plant doubts in your mind about His love toward you and about the promises of His Word.
It is good that John recorded the doubts of Jesus’ disciples after His resurrection. They doubted like we do. Our faith is not perfect. It is common for all Christians to wonder why God lets troublesome things happen, or why He doesn’t fix a problem or help us in our need. We have also had doubts about whether we are right with God. How could He love people like us who have failed so miserably or done such bad things?
Jesus does not alleviate our doubts by appearing in person and showing us His hands and side like He did for Thomas. But He does set before us the testimony of His love through His Word and Sacraments. Publicly through His called servant and privately through the encouragement of fellow Christians, Jesus declares to us the forgiveness of our sins. As Jesus said to His disciples on Easter evening, so He still says to us, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld” (Joh. 20:22-23).
He also gives us the testimony of His Sacraments—Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. “Baptism,” He says, “is My cleansing blood applied to you. It is My bringing you the victory of My death and resurrection. It is your rebirth as a holy child of God.” And the Lord’s Supper is His body given in the bread and His blood given in the wine “for the remission of sins.” In this Supper, our resurrected and exalted Lord comes to us personally and brings us His eternal blessings of forgiveness and life and salvation.
So just as “the Spirit and the water and the blood” testified in Jesus’ life that He really is the Son of God, so “the Spirit and the water and the blood” in His Word and Sacraments continue to testify to Him today. It is impossible for our limited minds to understand these things. How could the Son of God take on flesh, suffer, die, and rise again? How could He continue to meet us through His Word and Sacraments?
But though our minds cannot comprehend these things, they are most certainly true. Jesus Really Is the Son of God. He really did die for your sins and rise again in victory over your death. And He really does come to you today to bring you comfort, strength, and peace in every need.
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 is from “The Incredulity of St. Thomas” by Caravaggio, c. 1601-1602)
Maundy Thursday – Pr. Faugstad homily
Text: 1 Corinthians 11:23-32
In Christ Jesus, who freely gives Himself to us as food and drink, dear fellow redeemed:
We know the account of the institution of the Lord’s Supper very well. In fact we review its details every time we partake of the Sacrament: “Our Lord Jesus Christ, the same night in which He was betrayed, took bread” and so on. But it is easy to forget about the context of this Supper. Jesus instituted this Holy Meal while He and His disciples enjoyed another holy meal: the Passover. It was no accident that these two meals should be joined together.
The Passover meal was a reminder of the LORD’s deliverance of His people from slavery in Egypt. At that first Passover, each household slaughtered a blemish-free male lamb, consumed its flesh roasted over the fire, and painted its blood on the doorposts of the house. When the Angel of the LORD saw the blood of the lamb, He passed over that house, and everyone inside was saved from death.
God told His people to celebrate this Passover deliverance annually, so they would remember what He had done for them. This is why Jesus now reclined with His disciples in the upper room enjoying the Passover meal of lamb, unleavened bread, and wine. It was a meal for looking back, for thanking the LORD for His mercy upon His people. The disciples could not have guessed that Jesus was about to institute something new out of the Passover meal, something for the present and for the future.
He took some unleavened bread, gave thanks, broke it, and gave it to the disciples saying, “Take, eat; this is My body, which is given for you.” How unexpected! How strange! Jesus told them to eat His body, and He said it is given in the bread! Then Jesus took the cup of wine, gave thanks, and gave it to them saying, “Drink of it all of you; this cup is the New Testament in My blood, which is shed for you and for many for the remission of sins.” His blood in the cup! How can this be? As hard as it was to understand, Jesus’ words were clear. He was instituting a special Supper in which His body was the food and His blood was the drink.
But there are many who do not believe these words of Jesus. They do not believe He gives His own body and blood in the Supper for us to consume. And until they are led by the Holy Spirit to believe His Word, this Supper is not for them. St. Paul writes by inspiration that whoever “eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord…. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.”
This would be something like an Israelite at the first Passover saying that he is glad to eat the roasted lamb, but he isn’t about to paint his doorposts with blood. Death would have come to that house because the person did not believe God’s Word. In the same way, Paul writes that those who deny what Jesus says He gives in His Supper sin against Him, and they eat and drink judgment on themselves.
So how can we be certain that we will receive His Supper properly? First of all, we take Jesus at His Word. This is a matter of faith. We can’t see any change take place when the Words of Jesus are spoken over the bread and wine. There is no scientific proof that His body and blood are present. But Jesus says they are, and He does not lie.
Second, we eat and drink His body and blood “in remembrance of” Him. This means to remember all that Jesus did to save us, how He perfectly kept the Law for us, how He died in payment of all our sins, and how He rose again on the third day. We don’t go to the Lord’s Supper thinking of all the good things we have done for God or for others. We go with humble hearts, trusting in Jesus alone as our Savior.
This brings us to the third part of our preparation to receive the Supper. Paul writes that a person must “examine himself” before this eating and drinking. The Lord’s Supper is no ordinary meal. Jesus is present, and He knows our hearts. We come repenting of the sins He already knows about, and we ask Him to strengthen us and help us to change our sinful ways and do better. When we prepare for the Lord’s Supper in this way—trusting what Jesus says, remembering what He did to save us, and repenting of our sins—we can be sure we will receive His body and blood with blessing.
The Passover was a meal for looking back, and there was no spiritual benefit gained from eating the lamb and unleavened bread and drinking the wine. But now in the Lord’s Supper, we eat Jesus’ body with the bread and drink His blood with the wine “for the remission of sins.” The first Passover saved the Israelites from slavery to the Egyptians and from temporal death. The Lord’s Supper saves us from even more—our slavery to sin and eternal death.
Jesus instituted the new Supper of His body and blood at the Passover meal to show that He is the fulfillment of the Passover. The Passover lamb pointed to Him. His holy body given in His Supper is nourishment and strength for our journey, and His holy blood cleanses us from all our sins (1Jo. 1:7). Jesus is the Lamb of God, who gladly gives His body and blood for our eternal good. Thanks be to God! Amen.
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(painting of the Last Supper by Simon Ushakov, 1685)
The Fifth Sunday in Lent – Pr. Faugstad sermon
In Christ Jesus, who offered Himself as a sacrifice for the sins of the whole world, and who still intercedes for us before His Father in heaven, dear fellow redeemed:
You have probably talked with people who pin their troubles and failures in life on one thing. They just can’t get past that one thing or let it go. Maybe it is regret that they turned right instead of left when the road ahead branched in two directions. Maybe they are filled with bitterness toward someone who wronged them many years ago. Maybe they think that if they had just stayed with that special individual or pursued that job opportunity, their life would have been much happier and more prosperous.
I suppose the same thoughts have crossed our minds. We think how it would be now if we could just go back and change one thing. The movie It’s a Wonderful Life plays off that idea. The main character gets the chance to see how things would have been different if he had followed his original plan and not stayed in his hometown. He realizes in the end that he didn’t have it so bad after all. But we don’t have that benefit. We can’t see how our lives would be without those decisions and experiences. So it is easy to dwell on the past, to live with regret, to carry the burdens of bad choices and sinful actions. What we wouldn’t give for a clear conscience!
Well, what would you give? What would you give if you could wipe away the bad memories and the bad decisions? If the stain on your past is bad enough, maybe you would give anything to remove it. You would go broke if it would undo the wrong. You might even endure intense physical pain if it could deliver you a clear conscience.
You don’t know what a blessing a clear conscience is until your conscience is troubled. It’s like how we are currently wishing we could go about our normal business with no threat of a fast-spreading virus. We wish we could visit family members and friends. We wish we could go back to church! The things we easily took for granted before are much more valuable to us now. That’s how it is with the conscience. You don’t think much about it until it accuses you, weighs down on you like a heavy burden.
But that doesn’t make the conscience bad. It is very important to have a functioning conscience. In fact, our eternal fate depends on it. The conscience functions properly as long as it is guided by God’s law. So when a person feels guilt for doing harm to his neighbor through actions or words, his conscience is working properly. The conscience is doing what God intends when any breaking of the Commandments in our thoughts, words, or deeds registers in our mind and heart. We want our conscience to do this, but it is hardly pleasant.
In Psalms 31 and 32, David described the heavy burden of a guilty conscience: “Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am in distress; my eye is wasted from grief; my soul and my body also. For my life is spent with sorrow, and my years with sighing; my strength fails because of my iniquity, and my bones waste away” (31:9-10). “For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer” (32:3-4). It is no fun to have a guilty conscience. The pressure it applies is intense. But the conscience can be unburdened. And you and I can move beyond the regrets of the past.
The author of the Book of Hebrews explains how. He describes the Old Testament sacrifices which were offered by a priest on behalf of the people. At God’s command, the priest purified all things—including himself—with animal blood, with the blood of goats and lambs and calves and bulls. But no amount of sacrifices could cleanse the people from all their sin. How could the offering of earthly things for sin prevail before the God of heaven?
This is why God sent a Lamb from heaven to earth. He sent His eternally-begotten Son, true God with Him and the Holy Spirit. He sent Him to be at the same time a perfect High Priest and a perfect Sacrifice. As High Priest, Jesus “entered… into the holy places.” The temple with the Holy Place and Most Holy Place was still standing at that time, but Jesus did not enter those places. He entered the holy places of heaven “by means of his own blood.”
Jesus was a Lamb “without blemish.” He had perfectly followed His Father’s will. He had nothing to be ashamed of, no past transgressions that caused Him regret. Even while He was wrongly accused, beaten, and sent to the cross, He maintained a pure conscience. He let these unjust things happen to Him out of love for us. The cross was the altar on which He was sacrificed for our sin. That is where the holy Lamb of God was pierced and blood flowed from His wounds.
The author of Hebrews tells us that by His death, Jesus redeemed us from our transgressions committed under God’s law. His death means that all our sins which bother our conscience and make us feel guilty—even wrongs committed long ago—are completely atoned for. His blood has made full satisfaction for all our sins.
But hearing those words may not immediately unburden your conscience, especially if you have been carrying a load of guilt for a long time. You know that God does not look at those sins anymore, but you do. You can’t clear out the memory of the wrong, the hurt that was caused, the damage that was done. Can you ever hope to have a clear conscience again?
Let’s go back to today’s text. It says that God’s Son took on flesh, so that He could offer Himself in our place. It says that “by means of His own blood,” He secured “an eternal redemption.” With His saving work complete, He returned to “the holy places” of heaven. There He sits at the right hand of His Father as “the mediator of a new covenant.”
A mediator is a go-between, an arbitrator. This person equally represents two sides which are divided. Our sin separated us from God, but Jesus our Mediator brought us back together. He is the perfect Mediator because He is both God and Man. As the inspired letter to Timothy states: “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time” (1Ti. 2:5-6).
Jesus continues to function as our Mediator even now. When we sin, He points His Father to the blood He shed on our behalf. “I poured out My blood for that sin, and that sin, and that sin,” He says. “My blood cleanses them from all sin” (1Jo. 1:7). That includes the sins of your past, the ones you still feel guilty about, the ones you would give anything to undo.
There is nothing you can do to make up for those sins. So many people try. They try to bury sin deep. But it always seems to find its way back to the surface. They try to cancel out the bad by doing good. But there is no winning that game, and they know it. Some even hurt themselves or withdraw from others in the hope that by punishing themselves, they can right a wrong. But none of those things work. They all fail.
There is only one path to a clear conscience, and that is Christ. He took your place. He claimed your sin as His own. He offered Himself as the target for your iniquities and misdeeds. He let His Father pour out His righteous wrath against Him. He paid in anguish, suffering, and death for every sin that you and I and the whole world have done.
He shed His blood on the cross to “purify our conscience.” When He died, we are told that “the curtain of the temple was torn in two” (Mat. 27:51, Mar. 15:38, Luk. 23:45). This was the curtain separating the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place. The tearing of this curtain showed that all people now had access to God’s throne of grace through Jesus’ blood. This includes you. You have access to God’s never-changing grace by faith in Jesus. He purifies your conscience from “dead works,” from all those attempts to make things right on your own. Only He can grant forgiveness and peace, and that is what He wants you to have.
Your Baptism is a clear testimony of this. Your Baptism was “an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1Pe. 3:21). Baptism delivered you a cleansed and purified conscience because it joined you to Jesus, whose righteousness is perfect (Heb. 10:22). And in the Lord’s Supper, He continues to bring cleansing for the sins you have committed and repented of, by giving you His body and blood to eat and drink.
So What Would You Give for a Clear Conscience? You don’t need to give anything. Jesus gave Himself for you. His holy blood cleanses you—including your troubled conscience—from all sin. In Jesus, and only in Him, you have a bright future. The road behind you may be covered in darkness and regrets and what-ifs. But the road ahead is illuminated by the light of God’s Word. Jesus leads you forward on this path toward your life’s end. Then He will take you into heaven. There you will not remember your record of sin, and you will live with a pure heart and a clear conscience for all eternity.
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(picture is from the altarpiece in Weimar by Lucas Cranach the Younger, 1555)
Midweek Lent – Pr. Faugstad homily
Text: Exodus 29:38-46
In Christ Jesus, who “loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Eph. 5:2), dear fellow redeemed:
Besides the annual Passover celebration that God commanded His people to observe, He also instituted the practice of daily sacrifices in the tabernacle. This happened after the Israelites had been led out of slavery in Egypt and set up camp near Mt. Sinai. God gave Moses instructions for building a portable tabernacle where He would be present to bless the people. He also called Moses’ brother Aaron to serve as a priest along with his sons.
The first part of Exodus chapter 29 describes the consecration of these priests. It was not just a matter of Moses asking them to repeat certain words after him followed by a handshake. The consecration process was quite elaborate. Aaron and his sons had to be washed with water and clothed in clean vestments. Then a bull was brought, they laid their hands on its head, and it was slaughtered for a sin offering. Next they laid their hands on the head of a ram. It was slaughtered, its blood was thrown against the sides of the altar, and the parts of the ram were placed on the altar for a burnt offering.
Then they laid their hands on the head of another ram, which was also slaughtered. Its blood was put “on the tip of the right ear of Aaron and on the tips of the right ears of his sons, and on the thumbs of their right hands and on the great toes of their right feet” (v. 20). This blood covered them from head to toe, so that they were ready to hear the Word of God (ear), handle the holy things of God (hands), and walk on the holy ground before God (toes). The rest of the blood was thrown on the altar and sprinkled on the garments of the priests.
There were even more requirements besides these. But this much shows the prominent place of blood in cleansing sinful men. Aaron and his sons could not come before God by their own personal preparations. They had no resources to make themselves holy. It was the LORD who set them apart for His holy work, and He used animal blood to do it. Why animal blood? He later explained through Moses that “the life of every creature is its blood: its blood is its life” (Lev. 17:14). The un-holiness of mankind required the shedding of blood. The life of one could only be redeemed through the death of another.
Once Aaron and his sons had been consecrated for the LORD’s work, they were commanded to offer two lambs as sacrifices each day. This is described in today’s text. Each lamb was a year old. One was offered in the morning and the other at twilight. Like waking up to the smell of a fresh-cooked breakfast or coming home to a dinner hot out of the oven, these sacrifices were “a pleasing aroma” to the LORD.
The word “pleasing” in Hebrew can also be translated as “soothing” or even “tranquilizing.” It is the word used to describe Noah’s burnt offering after the flood waters had receded and the ark had settled on dry ground. The LORD smelled the pleasing aroma of the sacrifice and said, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done. While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease” (Gen. 8:21-22). The offerings of a lamb in the morning and a lamb in the evening had the same effect. It was a soothing aroma to God. It was evidence that His people were humbly keeping His Word.
We are taught to practice something similar as we return to our Baptism each day by repentance and faith. In teaching about the meaning of Baptism, Martin Luther writes: “Such baptizing with water means that the old Adam in us should, by daily contrition and repentance, be drowned and die with all sins and evil lusts; and that a new man daily come forth and arise, who shall live before God in righteousness and purity forever” (Small Catechism).
One way to remind yourself of this daily return to Baptism is to confess your sins and give thanks for forgiveness as you wash your face or take a shower at the beginning of the day. The same goes for the end of the day as you put on fresh clothes and wash before bed. The hymnwriter Paul Gerhardt wrote about this practice in one of his evening hymns: “To rest my body hasteth, / Aside its garments casteth, / Types of mortality; / These I put off and ponder / How Christ shall give me yonder / A robe of glorious majesty” (Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary #569, v. 4).
The LORD is pleased with our daily practice of repenting and clinging to His promises, just as He was pleased with those twice a day sacrifices. As long as the people continued in His Word, He promised to be present in the tabernacle and to “dwell among the people of Israel” and “be their God.” He came to share His holiness with them and bless them.
This same merciful God still draws near to bless us. He does not come to only one location like the tabernacle or temple in Old Testament times. He comes to every place where His holy Word is heard or read or even meditated upon in the heart or mind. Through His Word, He applies the cleansing blood of Jesus to our whole person from head to toe—our sinful mind, heart, hands, and feet. Our un-holiness required the shedding of Jesus’ holy blood. Our lives could be redeemed only through the loss of His. He took all our sins on Himself and suffered our death, and in exchange He gives us His holiness and eternal life.
By His presence through the Word, the LORD strengthens our faith to endure through good and bad times. Like the people of Israel journeying through the wilderness, we often feel vulnerable and afraid. We wonder what the future will hold for us, especially in times like these. But God does not abandon His people. He dwells among us, protects us, and comforts us through His powerful Word. He is the LORD our God, “a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Exo. 34:6). Thanks be to Him! Amen.
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(picture is “The Sacrificial Lamb” by Josefa de Ayala, 1630-1684)
Midweek Lent – Pr. Faugstad homily
Text: Exodus 12:1-13
In Christ Jesus, whose holy blood delivers us from our slavery to sin and saves us from eternal death, dear fellow redeemed:
Last Wednesday we heard about God’s command to Abraham to sacrifice his son of promise, Isaac. But just before Abraham did this, God provided a ram for an offering instead. All of this was a picture of what God would do through His only Son. His Son would be offered as the sacrificial Lamb in each sinner’s place. Today we have another picture of God’s plan of salvation.
The Israelites, descendants of Abraham and Isaac, had become slaves in Egypt. God sent Moses to lead them to freedom, but Pharaoh refused to listen to the LORD’s word. Nine terrible plagues followed, but Pharaoh’s heart was hardened. He would not let the Israelites go. Then God sent a tenth and final plague: all the firstborn sons of man and beast would be killed unless a home had blood on its doorposts.
Up to this time, the Egyptians had experienced water turning to blood, infestations of frogs, gnats, and flies, the death of the livestock, painful boils, destructive hail, locusts that ate whatever crops remained, and total darkness over the land for three days. And now they saw the Israelites painting their doorposts with blood. That was not a good sign for the Egyptians.
The blood on the doorposts was not just a matter of the Israelites declaring whose side they were on, like we will do by hanging the flag of a favorite team on our porch. The blood was a signal for the LORD to destroy or to save. It was the difference between death or life for the firstborn sons in that home.
Red paint or dye was not acceptable. Blood was required, the blood of a lamb. The lamb had to be “without blemish, a male a year old.” When the Israelites prepared these lambs, one per household, they were to prepare them like a shepherd might, roasted whole over a fire. They were told not to break any of its bones. The flesh of the lamb was to be eaten, and anything left over had to be burned.
The Israelites did what God commanded. They prepared the lamb exactly in this way. They painted their doorposts with its blood. And the LORD “passed over” their homes. He did not destroy any of their inhabitants. The Israelites were saved by the blood of the lamb. But death came to the Egyptians. “[T]here was a great cry in Egypt, for there was not a house where someone was not dead” (Exo. 12:30). Now Pharaoh gave the order to release the Israelites. In the same night they had been delivered both from death and from slavery!
God told the Israelites to commemorate their Passover deliverance every year with a Passover meal. They were not required to paint blood on the doorposts each time, but they did eat the meat of a blemish-free lamb roasted over the fire. This was an annual reminder of what God had done for them through a lamb, one of the gentlest and meekest animals in creation. And it was an annual picture of what God would do for them through His own Son, who came down to us in all meekness and humility.
Like each Passover lamb, Jesus was without blemish. He had no sin; He was holy. At no time did He give in to the devil’s temptations. He remained perfectly pure in His actions, words, and thoughts. We, on the other hand, are all with blemish. We have been arrogant and proud like Pharaoh and impatient and doubtful like the Israelites. We, along with all people in history, have sinned. And God is just. There must be punishment for sin. But He does not punish us as we deserve. He punished Jesus in our place.
Our salvation required that Jesus be sacrificed for us. The shedding of His blood was necessary to save us from slavery to sin and death. The apostle Peter explained that “you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (1Pe. 1:18-19). No amount of money could free you from your spiritual slavery and no amount of good things that you try to do. The ransom price for your soul and the souls of all sinners was the blood of God’s only Son. That was not just any blood; it was holy blood, the blood of God. That’s why it could blot out all your sins.
This blood of God is available to you still for the continuous washing away of your sins. Just as the Israelites continued to observe the Passover in remembrance of what God had done for them, so we continue to eat the holy Lamb’s body and drink His blood in the Supper He instituted for us. “Take, eat,” He says; “this is My body, which is given for you…. Drink of it all of you; this cup is the New Testament in My blood. This do… in remembrance of Me.”
When you eat His body and drink His blood with faith in His words, you have exactly what Jesus promises: “the remission of sins.” That means God does not count your sins against you anymore. He counted them against Christ, who paid the ransom price in full. Martin Luther wrote about this in a hymn verse that we will sing at Easter:
Here the true Paschal Lamb we see,
Whom God so freely gave us;
He died on the accursed tree—
So strong His love—to save us.
See, His blood doth mark our door;
Faith points to it, death passes o’er,
And Satan cannot harm us. (ELH 343, v. 5)
Satan cannot harm you any more than Pharaoh could harm the Israelites. He cannot keep you enslaved to sin and death, because Jesus has set you free. Jesus’ blood cleanses you of all your blemishes of sin before God, so that you might “be His own, live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness” (Explanation to the Second Article). Thanks be to God! Amen.
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(picture from “The art Bible, comprising the Old and New Testaments: with numerous illustrations,” 1896)
Maundy Thursday – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. John 13:1-15
In Christ Jesus, the Lord of all but also the Servant of all, dear fellow redeemed:
If you knew you would die tomorrow, what would you do today? Would you eat at the fanciest restaurant you could find? Would you make a trip to a place you always wanted to visit? Would you spend as much time as you could with friends and family? Or would you do exactly what you are doing right now – listening to Jesus’ Word?
We do not know when our death will come. But Jesus did. Our text says that “Jesus knew that His hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father.” So what did He do? He spent the night before His death in service. On Palm Sunday, He was hailed as a king. But now on Thursday, He knelt down and washed His disciples’ feet, one-by-one.
The disciples were not aware that Jesus’ death was so close. But they certainly recognized how strange it was that their Teacher and Lord should wash their feet. It should have been the other way around, except that none of the disciples had volunteered for the job. In fact, that same evening they spent their time arguing about “which of them was to be regarded as the greatest” (Luk. 22:24).
Jesus said to them that the pagan Gentiles are concerned about power and authority over others. But the disciples should practice humble service. “[L]et the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But,” said Jesus, “I am among you as the one who serves” (vv. 25-27).
His demonstration of humble service by washing the disciples’ feet was a small sample of what He would do on a large scale the next day. On Friday, He willingly walked the path of suffering to Golgotha and was crucified in every sinner’s place. He could have carried out no more humble service than this. He was regarded as “a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people” (Psa. 22:6). “He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phi. 2:8).
If Jesus, the perfect Son of God, was willing to serve in this way, then we should be willing to serve in even the humblest circumstances. We should consider no one below us. We should be ready to help any who are in need. Jesus said, “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.”
This is not the message we hear from the world. The world does not tell you to put others first. The world tells you to look out for yourself, to stay true to you. You need to stand up for your rights and have others bow to you. Is it any wonder that civil discourse is hardly seen in the public square? Almost no one is concerned about serving their neighbor. They are all concerned about serving themselves.
This selfish spirit resides in our sinful nature. It is the reason we are often reluctant to serve those around us, and why we become upset when others do not serve us like we think they should. It is why spouses keep a record of wrongs, why children pout when they do not get their way, and why people feud with members of their congregation and members of their community. We want to be served, not serve.
That is why Jesus the Foot-Washer had to come. We could not rise above our selfishness and free ourselves from the sin that entangled us. Jesus had to do this. He had to save us and cleanse us from our unrighteousness. And He continues to do this work among us. Jesus told His disciples the night before His death that He had given them an example to follow. But that is not all He gave them. He also gave them His body and blood for their forgiveness and strengthening.
He took bread and said, “Take, eat; this is My body, which is given for you.” Then He took a cup of wine and said, “Drink of it all of you; this cup is the New Testament in My blood, which is shed for you and for many, for the remission of sins.” In this way, Jesus would continue to come and serve them. He would come to cleanse them of their sins, and to equip them for their lives in the world.
He does this for us also. He still comes to serve us through His holy Supper. We do not deserve to have Him come to us; we do not deserve to be in His presence. And yet He visits us here. He comes to you and me—imperfect, stained, unworthy, guilty, unclean—and gives us His holy body and blood to eat and drink.
This is no symbolic exercise. It is not simply a way to remember Jesus, who is supposedly far, far away from us in heaven. It is not a time for going through the motions while our mind is set on other things. It is not a right we can demand simply because we have gone through the proper channels. Partaking of this holy Supper is a privilege, a privilege which should not be taken lightly.
Paul underscores this in his First Letter to the Corinthians. He said that it is possible to receive the Lord’s Supper to one’s harm. Imagine if the disciples had despised Jesus’ service to them as He washed their feet. Suppose one of them hardly acknowledged Jesus while his feet were being washed, as though it did not even matter. Or suppose another kicked over the wash basin and laughed at Jesus. We would say the recipient of Jesus’ service was not worthy of the gift.
In the same way, someone might come to the Lord’s Table who does not think that anything important is happening. Or he is not really concerned about repentance and amending his sinful life. Or another might reject Jesus’ words and laugh at the idea that Jesus would give His body and blood in this way. Paul addresses such thinking when he writes: “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup” (11:27-28).
We examine ourselves by approaching the altar with humility, by recognizing that Jesus meets us here just as He says. He comes to serve us and bring us the forgiveness of our sins. This is not the time to insist on our own way, or to imagine like Peter that we know better than the Lord. We come to eat and drink trusting His Word, and we do not go away again empty.
Through His service to us in the Supper, Jesus prepares us to go and serve the people around us. He helps us to see the needy in our lives in the same way that He looks at us, with compassion and love. The same night He washed the disciples’ feet, He told them, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Joh. 13:34-35).
We confess our faith in Jesus not only by what we say, but also by how we live. We could quote a thousand Bible passages and demonstrate our extensive knowledge about what the Bible says. But if this is not coupled with a life of humble service toward our neighbors, our words will fall on deaf ears.
So whether we have many more years in this world, or whether our end is fast approaching, we spend our time by receiving Jesus’ blessings through His Word and Sacraments. Then we are continuously equipped to go out in our vocations to share His love with others. We pray that through our service, others will learn as we have that Jesus is not a vengeful Lord, one who is angry with us, but that Jesus Is Among Us as One Who Serves.
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(painting of the Last Supper by Simon Ushakov, 1685)
The Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Luke 17:11-19
In Christ Jesus, whose comfort renders sweet ev’ry bitter cup we meet (ELH #293, v. 4), dear fellow redeemed:
He remembered the day when he first noticed the spot on his leg. It didn’t hurt when he touched it. He felt fine. Maybe it was just a little irritation or rash from something he ate or rubbed against. He tried to tell himself it was nothing to worry about, but it stayed on his mind. He started checking it every day and multiple times during the day. The light patch on his skin was expanding. The hairs inside the patch turned white. The thought of what this might be made him sick. He went to the priest. The priest looked at his leg and uttered the diagnosis he was dreading, “You have leprosy. You are unclean.”
The man knew what came next. The LORD had spelled it out clearly to Moses and Aaron many years before: “The leprous person who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean.’ He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease. He is unclean. He shall live alone. His dwelling shall be outside the camp” (Lev. 13:45-46). His home would not be his home anymore. He must leave his family. Very likely, he would never again hug them or share the joys and sorrows of life with them. His living quarters would be outside the city with others who had this disease, with others who were miserable like him. He was crushed beyond words.
None of us has been in a situation quite like this. But we have known sorrows and troubles for which there seemed to be no remedy. You or someone you love may have been diagnosed with a serious disease or injury, and no cure for it is available. A relationship may have soured, and you don’t know how to fix it. You are stuck in debt and don’t know how to get out. It is times like these that our glass looks half empty. You might even be suffering to such an extent that a half empty glass sounds like a great scenario. You feel so far in the depths; you are down to the dregs. So it was for the leprous man and others in his community.
But then the lepers heard whispers, whispers of hope. It was said that a man named Jesus had the power to heal. Who He was, no one knew for sure. The rumors could hardly be true. But if they were, if Jesus could do this, maybe He would heal them. Wherever Jesus went, a crowd followed Him. Ten lepers saw this crowd and were able to find out who the people were gathered around. From a distance, these men cried out with one voice, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” Many people in the crowd probably didn’t notice, but Jesus heard them. They were about to find out if the rumors about Jesus’ power were true.
Jesus looked their way and said, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” But why should they do that? The only reason they might go to the priest is if their leprosy had disappeared. This was not the case; their skin was still covered in it. It would have been easy for them to ignore Jesus and say, “I guess the rumors weren’t true. He couldn’t help us after all.” But they followed His direction; they trusted His word. This was a great test of their faith.
It is likewise a test of our faith when God promises to work all things for good (Rom. 8:28). What good can come of an injured back? What good can come of cancer? What good can come of a broken relationship? What good can come of money problems? What good can come of an addiction? It is easy to doubt that God can help. This is just what the devil wants. The devil wants us to doubt God’s promises. He wants us to be angry at God and at the people who hurt us. He wants us to grow bitter and to despair. He wants us to focus so much on our troubles here, that we no longer look forward with hope.
But the Lord is merciful to us. When Jesus sent the lepers on their way, He cleansed them. Those who used to call out, “Unclean! Unclean!” now cried with joy, “I’m clean! I’m clean!” Their faith in Jesus’ word was rewarded. Faith in Jesus is always rewarded, but not always in this way. Not all of our hurts are healed, not all of our problems are fixed simply because we trust in the Lord. God never promised this.
If we lived in a perfect world, we would experience no trouble. But the world is infected by sin and so is our body. Sin is the leprosy that afflicts all people. Some people show their sin a bit more on the outside, but all are the same on the inside. This is why the sinless One had to come. His blood held the cure for our disease. His body and blood were untainted by sin. He was holy. He offered up His holy life on behalf of sinners in fulfillment of God’s law, and He poured out His holy blood to counteract the effects of sin. “[T]he blood of Jesus [God’s] Son cleanses us from all sin” (1Jn. 1:7).
Jesus shed His blood for all people. He invites all to believe in Him, just as the hymn says, “Come in poverty and meanness, / Come defiled, without, within; / From infection and uncleanness, / From the leprosy of sin, / Wash your robes and make them white; / Ye shall walk with God in light” (ELH #412, v. 2). Notice in today’s text that Jesus healed both Jewish and Gentile lepers. He made no distinction between them. His merciful goodness was the same for all.
We gather that nine of the leprous men were Jews, while one was a Samaritan Gentile. When they realized they were healed, only the Samaritan turned back, “praising God with a loud voice.” The one who had the least training in the Scriptures is the one who recognized what a gift he had received. We are often like the nine who did not return to give thanks. We can get so used to the gifts we receive from God, that we hardly notice them.
But where else do we find the full and free forgiveness of all our sins? Where else do we hear about God’s love and care for us in every area of our lives? Where else can we be covered in the righteousness of God and receive the body and blood of Jesus on our tongues? If these amazing gifts do not move us to give thanks to God, what could? And there are so many other gifts besides. The good Lord also provides for us everything that we need for this body and life.
Now imagine you have two empty glasses in front of you. One glass is for the difficulties in your life, and the other is for your blessings. On small pieces of paper, first write down your troubles, one at a time. This glass is for the guilt you feel, for your sadness, your aches and pains, your anxiety and stress, your loneliness, your depression, your doubts, your fears, your difficulties at home and at work. This would take some time—there is much that troubles us.
The other glass is for your blessings. These might be harder to think of initially, but they will come. You write down what you are thankful for: your parents, your grandparents, your siblings, your spouse, your children, a home to live in, food to eat, clothes to wear, a car, good friends, a good church, good health, air to breathe, pets to keep you company, beautiful trees and flowers, music, the warmth of the sun, rain and snow to water the ground, a free country, angels to guard you, the Law to teach you, the Gospel to cheer you, and heaven for eternity.
Which of these two glasses is fuller? Many days, it seems that the glass of our troubles is overflowing while the glass of our blessings is empty. But that is only how it seems. It seems this way because we are weak by nature. We do not wish to take up our cross and follow after Jesus. We think that other people deserve to suffer like this, but not us. This is sinful. It is prideful to think that we deserve anything good.
But what we do not deserve, God freely gives us. He is as He told Moses, “a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Ex. 34:6). Our sinful mind tricks us to think the glass of our troubles is full. It isn’t; it’s empty. Jesus emptied it. He took all our guilt and pain and trouble upon Himself, and when He rose again from the tomb, all of that stayed buried.
Because of His life and death in your place, the cup of your blessings overflows. How can one who stands in God’s favor be without hope? How can one adopted by the mighty God go thirsty? Our journey through this fallen world is not easy; it is not without its great trials. But we go forward with the Lord’s clear Word in our ear. We go forward with the nourishment of His holy body and blood. Through His Word and Sacraments, the leprosy of our sin does not spread uncontrollably. It does not lead to a lonely and troubled death.
Our Lord’s Gospel of grace strengthens and keeps us in the saving faith. His promises fill our hearts with peace and with thankfulness for all the mercies He has shown us. Therefore, like the Samaritan, we go on our way rejoicing and praising God from whom all blessings flow.
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(“The Healing of Ten Lepers” painting by James Tissot, 1836-1902)