The Seventh Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Mark 8:1-9
In Christ Jesus, who gently guides us, knows our need, and well provides us (ELH #177, v. 1), dear fellow redeemed:
“I shouldn’t have to ask! You should just know what I need!” Have you ever said this to someone? Has anyone ever said it to you? Most married couples have experience with this. One person is shocked that the other could be so clueless. The other is surprised that he is expected to be able to read minds. The only way out of a dilemma like this is not sarcasm, not shouting, not tears. Believe it or not, the only way out is actual communication!
A healthy relationship requires communication. Communication is a two-way street. One person speaks, and the other person listens. One expresses a need, and the other responds. Prayer is the way we communicate with God. We express our needs and troubles to Him, and He hears us. He promises that when we ask, He will give; when we seek, we will find; and when we knock, He will open (Mat. 7:7).
But why should we have to pray? Doesn’t God know what we need without our asking Him? He certainly does, but that does not mean prayer is a waste of time. If prayer is a waste of time, then Jesus wasted a lot of time, because Jesus often prayed. His disciples noticed this about Him. On one occasion when Jesus had finished a time of prayer, one of the disciples said, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luk. 11:1). Then Jesus gave them a basic framework for prayer, which we call the “Lord’s Prayer.”
In this prayer, Jesus taught us to pray for our earthly needs with the words, “Give us this day our daily bread.” In this petition, we acknowledge that our heavenly Father has the power to give us what we need. We also acknowledge that we don’t have this power. But is that really the case? It seems as though we are able to obtain on our own what we need for this life.
If I need a home, I can build one using materials found in the natural world. If I need clothing, there are various ways to produce it. If I need food, I can grow it, hunt for it, or buy it. Why do I need to ask God for the things that I can get myself? By teaching us this petition, Jesus wants us to recognize that although we have a part to play in harvesting and shaping goods for ourselves, they are ultimately gifts from God.
Where would we be if God stopped sending rain? Where would we be if He covered up the light of the sun? Where would we be if He took away all the trees? It is clear that the part we play in getting our daily bread is very small compared to what God does. We see this illustrated in today’s text. Nobody prompted Jesus to feed the crowd. As far as we know, no one begged Him for food. Jesus knew their need. “I have compassion on the crowd,” He said, “because they have been with Me now three days and have nothing to eat.”
He knew they would not have the strength to get home if He sent them away. So He put the concern to His disciples. Even though they had previously witnessed His feeding of five thousand men from five loaves of bread and two fish, they did not bring that up here. Why didn’t they? How could that not be on their minds? It’s probably because they never knew when Jesus would perform a miracle.
I’m sure there were times they went without, days when they wished they had more food. And Jesus did not just snap His fingers and make bread appear. Maybe they, too, were hungry and tired along with the crowd. Maybe they were irritated and uncomfortable in the heat, and Jesus was asking them to do something they could not do.
But it was something He could do. When Jesus learned they had seven loaves of bread and a few fish, He had the crowd recline on the ground. Then He gave thanks, broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples to distribute. Then He blessed the fish and had these distributed. The entire crowd of four thousand men, along with women and children (Mat. 15:38), had their fill of this food—so much so that seven large baskets of fragments were collected after the meal.
Now wouldn’t it be silly if the people who brought the seven loaves of bread and the fish took credit for everyone being fed? And wouldn’t it be offensive if the disciples went around bragging about how many people they had served? Isn’t it just as silly and offensive when we act like all our success on earth is due to our own hard work, our own intelligence, and so on? Sometimes we chalk up our success to “good fortune.” But the credit and glory should really go to our gracious God.
This is what we do when we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” We honor the Almighty God, the Maker and Preserver of all good things. God does not need to be reminded to give us the things we need. But we need to be reminded that He is the Giver, and there is no good apart from Him. And we need to remember to thank Him for His gifts. His gifts are not dependent on our thanks, or else we would probably have nothing. But only the arrogant or the rude refuse to give thanks when great gifts are given.
Our God knows exactly what we need—not just us as a people, but us as individuals. He knows what you need. He knows when you are in need of help and comfort and encouragement. And He also knows when you are in need of chastisement and training. He does not automatically give you everything you ask for. What you ask for might not be good for you, even if you think it is. What you need might actually be the opposite of what you ask for, or it might be something you haven’t even considered.
Jesus knew that His disciples needed to be presented with a problem they could not solve. He knew that their faith in Him was weak and needed strengthening. Even though they had witnessed Him perform miracle after miracle, they did not fully understand who He was and why He came. They were focused on earthly kingdoms and earthly glory. Jesus was focused on giving Himself as the atoning sacrifice for sinners. The disciples thought the main thing they lacked was bread. Jesus knew the main thing they lacked was faith.
So Jesus tested them, and then He showed them again that when He is present there is no need to worry. We need to be tested and taught like this as well. The Lord tests us through pain and trial and loss to teach us not to rely on ourselves but to trust in Him. We cannot get by on our own. We need to be shown our severe limitations. We need to know our weaknesses. We need to recognize how thoroughly sin has worked its way through us, and how deserving we are of death.
And we also need to know that the Lord still looks upon us with compassion. We need to know that “with the LORD there is mercy, and with Him is abundant redemption” (Psa. 130:7, NKJV). We need to know that He did not turn His back on us because of our sin, but that He gave Himself to pay for our sin.
The world’s most pressing want or desire is not the forgiveness Jesus won. Ask many people, and they will say our most pressing need is food for the starving, or peace for the nations at war, or justice for the hurting. But the world’s most pressing need is not these temporary things. As Moses reminded the people of Israel, “man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD” (Deu. 8:3). What the world needs most, what each one of us needs most, is God’s Word of grace and forgiveness.
And Jesus knows this. That’s why He instituted the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, by which we are cleansed of our sins. That’s why He appoints pastors to serve His people and speak His absolution for their sins. That’s why He established the Sacrament of the Altar, so that the faithful might kneel before Him and receive His body and blood for the remission of their sins.
Our celebration of the Lord’s Supper bears a striking resemblance to the feeding of the four thousand. At the feeding of the four thousand, Jesus took the bread, gave thanks, broke it, and gave it to the people gathered around Him. At the institution of His Supper, Jesus took the bread, gave thanks, broke it, and gave it to His disciples (Mat. 26:27). And just as He blessed the fish before it was distributed, we also bless the wine with His own words (1Co. 10:16). Then we distribute His body with the bread and His blood with the wine.
The great crowd was completely satisfied with the bread and fish Jesus gave them. And we are completely satisfied when we come to the Lord’s Table. We trust that when we eat His body and drink His blood, we receive exactly what He promises—the full and free forgiveness of all our sins. There was no limit to the amount of people Jesus could have fed in the wilderness. And there is no limit to the amount of sinners Jesus wants to feed and cleanse with His own body and blood.
Jesus Knows Our Need. This is why we pray for His blessings. He knows what we need better than we do. In His compassion, He freely and abundantly provides for the needs of our body and soul. He teaches us to ask for these gifts with confidence and to believe that He will always give us what is best for us. We give thanks that He makes the impossible possible for the people He so dearly loves.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
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(picture from “The Last Supper” by Juan de Juanes, 1507-1579)
Good Friday – Pr. Faugstad homily
What would your life be like without Good Friday? What if you knew nothing about God the Father sending His only-begotten Son out of love for the fallen world? What if you didn’t know that Jesus willingly went to the cross for you, carrying your sins, so that He might take the punishment you deserved? What if you didn’t know you are righteous in God’s sight because of what Jesus accomplished?
Your life would be very different. You would have nothing but this life in this world. You would have no clear purpose for why you are here, no obvious motivation for putting others before yourself, and no reason to conclude that your life matters in any meaningful way. You could spend your time trying to get rich, you could maneuver for power and influence, or you could try to satisfy whatever passions you have as much as you can. But none of that holds up when death is staring you right in the face.
Many people carry on without Good Friday. Either they have not heard, or having once heard, now they do not care. God forces no one to believe. He “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1Ti. 2:4). But many are not saved. They reject the holy Word of God. They reject the salvation Jesus won for them.
Because He did win their salvation. He suffered for each and every one of their sins. He endured the horrific fires of hell in their place. He paid their debt. Good Friday wasn’t just for those who would believe in Him. It was for all people, all sinners past, present, and future.
What happened on Good Friday was a balancing of the scales of God’s justice. All the sins of the world were put on one side of the scale, and Jesus was put on the other. How heavy those sins must have been! Who can measure the evil that has been done in the world since time began? How much killing and lying and cheating and taking? How many wicked actions and words? How many evil thoughts? The sin of one human being cannot be measured, much less the collective sins of the world.
And on the other side of the scale was Jesus. He looked so insignificant and small. By the time He came to Golgotha, He could hardly walk. He was bleeding all over His body. His face was bruised and swollen. His breathing was labored. How could this one weak Man do anything about the world’s sin? Well it wasn’t just a Man on the scale. It was God—God clothed in human flesh. A mere man—even a really good one—could not move the balance against one sin. But God could.
When the God-Man stepped on one side of the scale, the other side filled with all our sins started moving. It rose higher and higher until it was clear that Jesus was more than enough. He was sufficient payment for sin. But justice required more than the weight of His person. It required His death. The Son of God had to die on the cross. This holy Lamb had to be sacrificed for all sin.
Think for a moment where God has placed you in this life. He has given you important things to do in your home, your school, your workplace, your community, your church. He has handed you important responsibilities as children, siblings, parents, co-workers, and neighbors. Now think of how you have failed in these areas. Think of the things you have done that make you feel guilty and ashamed. You are not perfect in any way. Your sin has stained every part of your life.
Your sins were there on the scale opposite Jesus. He felt God’s wrath for each of them. He suffered for those sins before God as though He had committed them. So for your hurting and lying and cheating and taking—whatever wrong you have done—, Jesus paid the penalty. He poured out His blood for you, and His blood cleanses you from all sin (1Jo. 1:7).
Jesus applies His cleansing blood in every area of your life. At a crime scene, detectives look for whatever evidence they can find to catch the criminal. But if God looked back at the “crime scene” of all your sins, the only thing He would find is blood—the holy, cleansing blood of His Son which has blotted out all of those sins. The precious blood of Jesus absolves you; it saves you.
By the grace of God, you don’t know what your life would be like without Good Friday. Through faith in Jesus, Every Day Is Good Friday for You. Because of what your Savior has done, your sins are forgiven, and eternal life in heaven is yours. Thanks be to God! Amen.
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(picture from “Cristo Crucificado” by Diego Velázquez, 1632)
Maundy Thursday – Pr. Faugstad homily
Text: 1 Corinthians 11:23-32
In Christ Jesus, whose message of grace and forgiveness is “foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1Co. 1:18), dear fellow redeemed:
Today is April Fools’ Day, a day of practical jokes, pranks, and hoaxes. It might not seem the right day to celebrate the events of Maundy Thursday. But in fact there are many who find the things that Jesus taught and did on this day to be very foolish. The same people would say it is foolish for you to take time out of your weekday to come to church and remember these things. We can see why people have questions about Maundy Thursday.
Even Jesus’ own disciples weren’t sure about His actions on that day. While they were all reclining at the table to observe the Passover celebration, Jesus got up, set aside His outer garments, tied a towel around His waist, and proceeded to wash and dry the disciples’ feet (Joh. 13:4-5). What He was doing was servants’ work, work considered far below His station. Peter protested, saying that it was foolishness for a Teacher to wash the feet of His disciples. “You shall never wash my feet!” He cried (v. 8).
Many have a similar view of the Lord’s Supper. The idea that the incarnate God comes to serve sinners by giving them His own body and blood in the bread and wine is utter foolishness to them. Why would God decide to bring forgiveness in this way? It just doesn’t stand to reason! We understand the skepticism some have about the Lord’s Supper, because we struggle with it too.
How could it be that Jesus keeps giving us His own flesh and blood? If that were true, wouldn’t His body get smaller and smaller until nothing was left? And how can we be certain that His body and blood are actually present? We could run any scientific test on the consecrated bread and wine, and we would find no skin or blood cells. Even many Christians agree that it is foolish to imagine that we actually take Jesus’ body and blood in our mouths along with the bread and wine.
However foolish it may seem, Jesus says it is true. “This is My body,” He declares. “This cup is the New Testament in My blood.” St. Paul explained it the same way to the Christian congregation in Corinth. He said that all who eat and drink at the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner are guilty “concerning the body and blood of the Lord.” They are not guilty of mishandling mere bread and wine. They are guilty of sinning against Jesus Himself, since they do not recognize what is being distributed and received.
To commune in a worthy manner means believing that Jesus speaks the truth when He calls the bread His body and the wine His blood. What He serves at the altar here is His same holy body that hung on the cross for your sins and the same precious blood that ran from His wounds. “This is given and shed for you,” He says, “for the remission of sins” (Mat. 26:28).
Since Jesus is making this Sacrament available “for the remission of sins,” it is clear it is intended only for those who know and admit that they are sinful. St. Paul writes, “Let a person examine himself, then.” We might be able to fool others by keeping our sins covered up. But we can’t fool God. He sees everything in our heart. He knows how we have broken His Commandments down to the smallest detail.
There are many who think they are prepared to come to the Lord’s Supper, but actually they are not. They might acknowledge that they have some sin, but it does not bother them in any major way. They figure they are no worse than the other people taking Communion, so why shouldn’t they take it too? This is not repentance. Measuring the extent of your sin by how you compare with others is not the standard God has set.
God’s holy Law demands perfection. We are supposed to perfectly love Him, perfectly honor His name, perfectly hear and learn His Word, and perfectly love the people around us. Because we have not done this, God the Father sent His only Son to be punished in our place. Our countless sins put Jesus on the cross.
Your sin was very clear to Him as He suffered hell in your place on the cross. But is your sin clear to you? Is there any area of your life where you have not been living the way God commands you to live? Have you told yourself that it is no big deal, because everyone else does it too? Have you found yourself going through the motions at church and at the Lord’s Table and not considering it all that important?
It is foolish to take sin lightly as well as the Lord’s own antidote for sin in His Holy Supper. We have all been this kind of foolish, but our merciful Lord has not written us off. He calls us to come again to His Table. He calls us to bring our imperfect life, our guilty conscience, and our weak faith to the altar in repentance. And He promises to fill us with His forgiveness, His comfort, His strength.
You are one of those sinners for whom Jesus instituted His Supper. All sinners are fools in their own way. But the Lord’s Supper is only for those who know they are fools, and who confess their sinful foolishness. It is not for those who reject Jesus’ Word about what He gives in His Supper. It is not for those who believe they are righteous on their own.
Remember that this is not our Supper that we are free to offer to whomever and in whatever circumstances we please. This is the Lord’s Supper. He decides who is welcome at His Table and what the conditions are for participation. He wants all to partake of this glorious Meal, but He wants none to receive it to their harm. This is why we make sure our guests know what the Lord’s Supper is all about before they join us at the Communion rail.
The unbelieving world says this is all foolishness. But the world has no solution for sin and no hope for a life after this one. By the grace of God, we believe that Jesus has paid for our sins, and that He brings us His forgiveness and life every time we eat and drink His body and blood. If this trust in His saving Word makes us foolish in the world’s eyes, then we will gladly take “the foolishness of God” over the empty thoughts of men (1Co. 1:25).
In the “foolishness” of Maundy Thursday, Jesus instituted the precious Supper of His body and blood “for you.” It is for your forgiveness, your salvation, and your life. Thanks be to God! Amen.
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(painting of the Last Supper by Simon Ushakov, 1685)
Midweek Lent – Pr. Faugstad homily
St. John 19:31-37
In Christ Jesus, whose streams of blood and water from His side give evidence both of His death and of our life, dear fellow redeemed:
The Roman soldiers were given orders to remove the three Jewish men from their crosses. Seeing that the criminals on either side of Jesus were still alive, the Roman soldiers brutally smashed their legs. This kept them from being able to push themselves up and allow their lungs to breathe. They died quickly gasping for air. But Jesus was already dead by that time. At three o’clock that Friday afternoon, Jesus had declared His work finished. Then He cried out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” (Luk. 23:46). After saying these words, He breathed His last.
The soldiers could see there was no need to break Jesus’ legs, since He was already dead. Through all the beating and torture He endured since the previous evening, His bones had stayed whole. This was to fulfill the prophecy of Scripture, “Not one of His bones will be broken.” Just as the bones of a Passover lamb had to be kept intact, so the bones of Jesus, the Lamb of God, also remained intact.
To verify Jesus’ death, a soldier plunged a spear into His side, and blood and water immediately spilled out. Medical experts explain that the tip of the spear pierced the pleural cavity near the heart where water would have built up, and they suggest that the spear may have entered the heart itself causing the blood to gush out. This stream of blood and water proved that Jesus had died. The Apostle John was there and saw it with his own eyes. He recorded it in his Gospel, so that we could be sure beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jesus really did die on the cross.
We also know why He died. He died to atone for the sins of all people stretching back to our first parents, Adam and Eve. The future of the first man was bright when the LORD God caused him to fall into a deep sleep, cut open his side, and removed a rib. He made that rib into a woman and brought her to the man as his perfect complement. God had brought life from the man’s side, and He promised to create life from their union as husband and wife.
But then the woman listened to the devil’s temptation and led her husband to join her in sin. St. Paul explains the terrible consequence of this sin: “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Rom. 5:12). This is why Jesus went to the cross. He went there to save us from the sin we inherited which required our death. He went there to give Himself in our place.
St. Paul expresses this good news: “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men” (v. 18). When we see the piercing of Jesus’ side, we see everything come full circle. Adam was led into sin by the wife who came from his side—life became death. And now the redemption of sinners was verified by what came from Jesus’ side—His death became our life.
You can see why the hymnwriter encourages you to hide in the cleft side of Jesus (ELH #286). The water and the blood cleanse you, he says. They are the “double cure” for the guilt and power of your sins. Without Jesus’ death, there is no cleansing for your sins. There is no hope of salvation and eternal life. Without His death, you are stuck with Adam, dying because of sin. But because of His death, you now live.
Those streams of blood and water are also a beautiful picture of the way Jesus continues even now to bring you His life. I have a painting at home which shows a chalice catching the blood from Jesus’ side and a baptismal font catching the water. The Sacraments of Jesus are where He applies His saving work to you.
Baptism joined you with the death of Jesus on the cross where He paid for each and every one of your sins. There is nothing left undone. Jesus made satisfaction for all your transgressions, and that forgiveness was applied to you in your Baptism. Then when you were able to examine yourself and understand the Lord’s rich promises, you were ushered to His table. There He continues to bring you forgiveness and fill you with His life-giving body and blood. The blood and water were signs of Jesus’ death, but now they are the signs of the life He gives through His Holy Sacraments.
Though the spear was plunged into Jesus’ side with coldness, that spear is meant for your comfort. It proved that Jesus was willing to do what it took to save you. The eternal Son of God was willing to die for you. He was willing to go through the immeasurable pain and suffering that He did, so you would be freed from the curse.
He kept that gash in His side as proof of His victory. On the third day after His death, Jesus appeared again alive to His disciples. He came in their midst, said “Peace be with you,” and immediately “showed them his hands and his side” (Joh. 20:19-20). Those marks from His crucifixion, so painful to watch when they were done to Jesus, now became marks of His glory.
Your Savior, who was “wounded for your transgressions” and suffered in agony for you on the cross, has risen again. He has triumphed over death itself and secured eternal life for you. “For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (1Co. 15:21-22). Thanks be to God. Amen.
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(picture from the altarpiece in Weimar by Lucas Cranach the Younger, 1555)
The Fourth Sunday in Lent – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. John 6:1-15
In Christ Jesus, the Food that our souls need so that we may live forever even though our bodies may die, dear fellow redeemed:
We could do without a lot of things we have in this life. We don’t need dressers and closets full of clothes. We don’t need TVs, computers, and smartphones. We don’t need large living spaces, nice vehicles, and most of our possessions. We could learn to live without all these things. But we can’t do without food. Food is essential to our survival. The body needs food like a car needs fuel—it can’t run without it.
We heard at the beginning of Lent how Jesus fasted for forty days in the wilderness. That’s a long time to go without food, and Jesus “was hungry” (Mat. 4:2). When the devil tempted Him to turn stones into bread to prove He was the Son of God, Jesus replied: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (v. 4). He quoted these words from the book of Deuteronomy in the Old Testament. They were part of Moses’ message to the Israelites after they had wandered in the wilderness for forty years because of their disobedience.
God required those forty years of wandering to humble them and to test their faithfulness toward Him. In the wilderness, there was no way to find food for that large amount of people. The people had to rely on God to give them what they needed. Six days a week, He provided a type of bread for them called “manna.” When the morning dew lifted, the people would see the ground covered with “a fine, flake-like thing, fine as frost” (Exo. 16:14). They stooped down and collected it, and they took it home to prepare it and eat it. God provided this food until they entered the Promised Land of Canaan (Jos. 5:12).
In today’s text, we find another group of Israelites in the wilderness without supplies of food. They followed Jesus because they saw how He healed the sick, and they wanted to hear His teaching (Mat. 6:34, Luk. 9:11). But now evening approached, and the people needed to eat. Jesus asked His disciples to give them something. “Impossible!” they said. “The crowd is too large! Our resources are too limited!” Andrew told Him: “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?”
The disciples were thinking logically. But Jesus wasn’t looking for logic; He was looking for faith. He wanted them to trust in Him no matter how difficult the problem seemed to be. He wanted them to see that the God who provided bread for forty years in the wilderness was now sitting right there next to them. “Five barley loaves and two fish” were more than enough to feed the thousands gathered there.
When the people saw how Jesus multiplied the bread and fish to feed everyone, they weren’t slow to make the manna connection. “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” they said. Moses had prophesied long before that the LORD would raise up for the people a Prophet like him from among them (Deu. 18:15). “Just as Moses gave the people bread in the wilderness,” they thought, “now Jesus can give us bread!” They even plotted to take Him by force to make Him their king.
But the people had selective memories. They were so impressed by the bread that they forgot Moses’ emphasis on the Word. What was it that Moses had said? “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Deu. 8:3). It isn’t that food for our bodies is unimportant. We do need it. But as much as we need physical food, spiritual nourishment is even more essential.
That isn’t really how we think. We hardly ever go a day without eating something. On the other hand, we might go a whole week or even longer without tending to the needs of our soul. A continued lack of food eventually leads to the death of the body. But a continued lack of spiritual nourishment is worse than that. It leads to spiritual death and then eternal death. Physical hunger comes to an end. But spiritual hunger never ends in hell, and it will never be satisfied.
Think about the rich man and the beggar Lazarus (Luk. 16:19-31). The rich man had all he wanted. He “feasted sumptuously every day.” Lazarus had nothing. He was sick and starving. Both men died, but they didn’t go to the same place. Lazarus went to heaven, and the rich man went to hell. Lazarus was actually the wealthy one. He did not have food or any of the finer things in life, but he had faith. He feasted on the Scriptures and died with confidence in God’s promise of eternal life. The rich man had plenty of food but no faith. He had his “good things” on earth but then entered eternal torment.
What good is it to have a full belly if your heart is not full of God’s Word? What good is a new car if you have no concern for your new life in Christ? What good is earthly wealth if you have no interest in the riches stored up for you in heaven? All these earthly things pass away. They get burned up, and they break down. They get stolen from us, and they slip through our fingers. God gives us our many earthly blessings for our use and enjoyment. He does not give them to us so we can make them into idols.
Earthly bread was the idol of that wilderness crowd. They were not interested in the better gift that Jesus wanted to give them. The day after the miraculous sign, they found Jesus. And Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you” (Joh. 6:26-27). And what was this eternal food? Jesus said, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (v. 35).
Jesus is the Food of faith. He is the food our souls need. Apart from Him, we can only “hunger and thirst for righteousness” (Mat. 5:6). Apart from Him, we have nothing valuable to set before God. Even if we gathered together and piled up all the riches of the world, He would not accept it as payment for one person’s sins. God needs nothing from us. We have nothing to bargain with for our salvation.
And that’s why God did the bargaining. That’s why He supplied what was lacking. He did for us what we could not do. God the Father sent His only Son to save the sick and dying world. Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever” (vv. 48-51).
There is no limit to this Food. Jesus is enough for the salvation of all sinners. His perfect life under the law is enough to satisfy the righteousness we sinners crave. We don’t have to prove we are important or special by how much earthly stuff we accumulate. Our worth before God is not measured by how successful we are here. Our worth before God is measured by how successful Jesus was here.
We are acceptable before God because of the life Jesus lived for us—perfect works, perfect words, perfect thoughts. And then He went to the cross to perfectly pay for all of our sins. Fragments remained after the people ate the bread and fish. But no fragments of our sin remain now that Jesus has given His holy body and blood to atone for them all.
Jesus has even instituted a special Meal to assure us of this forgiveness. Its benefit is not found in how well it pleases our palate, or in how much it satisfies our stomach. This Meal of His body and blood in Holy Communion is given for our spiritual health. And if it is given for our spiritual health, it has benefits that last for eternity.
Even though Jesus had not instituted His Holy Supper yet when He fed the five thousand, He used language at that time that anticipated this Meal. Jesus said to the people: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him…. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever” (vv. 53-56,58).
“Man Shall Not Live by Bread Alone,” said Jesus. Bread is important. It is right to pray for “daily bread,” which “includes everything needed for this life” (Fourth Petition, Lord’s Prayer). But Jesus gives us more and greater blessings through His Holy Word and Sacraments.
Jesus is our Bread of Life. We feast on His forgiveness, righteousness, and salvation and are filled up by Him every time we hear His Word and read it and think about it and speak it and sing it. His Word does not return to Him empty. Like the rain and snow that water the earth, “making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,” so our Lord’s Word is planted in our hearts, and it grows and nourishes us (Isa. 55:10-11). His Word brings food to the starving and life to the dying. His Word saves our souls.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
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(picture from “The Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes” by James Tissot, 1836-1902)
Midweek Lent – Pr. Faugstad homily
St. Matthew 27:24-26
In Christ Jesus, who saved us from God’s wrath by shedding His blood in our place (Rom. 5:9), dear fellow redeemed:
Blood is absolutely essential to our survival. If we lose our blood, we lose our life. But as important as it is to us, we would rather not see it. We want it to stay inside us, not bleed through to the outside. When we do see blood, it always causes some shock. We react differently when we realize our nose is not running, it is bleeding! And we cry out in alarm when we accidently slice our hand while preparing a meal or working on a project.
We do not purposely make ourselves bleed. But it does happen that one person will inflict wounds on another. The Roman governor Pontius Pilate knew that Jesus’ lifeblood was about to pour out of Him. Pilate knew that Jesus was going to be killed. Even though he tried to wash his hands of Jesus’ blood, it was his order that sent Jesus to the cross. This is why in the Apostles’ Creed we still recall the part he played. We say that Jesus “suffered under Pontius Pilate.”
The sentence being given, Jesus was now treated as a criminal. The Romans had no love for the Jews, so this seemed an excellent opportunity for the Roman soldiers to make an example of one of them. And who better than the one called “The King of the Jews”? They tied Jesus to a pillar and proceeded to whip His back repeatedly. The soldiers used a whip made of leather strips with pieces of bone or metal attached to the ends. The whip cut into Jesus’ back and tore open the flesh. Just one slash would have left life-long scars, and Jesus was whipped over and over again. The pain was excruciating and the blood loss severe.
It makes us shudder to picture it. We can maybe imagine a notorious criminal deserving something like this. But not Jesus. All Jesus had done was help and heal and bless, and now He was being tortured. What an injustice! And yet this was all according to God’s plan. More than 700 years before this, the prophet Isaiah recorded the words of this Suffering Servant: “I gave my back to those who strike” (50:6).
Jesus was not being scourged against His will. He willingly gave His back to those who struck Him. But why would He do that? He did that because He wants you to see the picture painted by the whip. He wants you to read the message in those lines. In those cuts and gouges, He wants your eye to see that glistening red blood pool in the wounds, push outward, and run down from His body.
This is holy blood, cleansing blood; it is the blood of the eternal God! And Jesus let it pour out, in order to atone for all your sins. You see, there was something worse than a whip cutting into Jesus’ back. What cut even deeper and inflicted worse pain on Jesus was your sins.
He was whipped for all the times you took out your anger on someone and wanted to physically harm them. He was whipped for the times you lashed out and used harsh words to cut deep. He was whipped for your hateful thoughts when you breathed out curses for others instead of prayers and blessings. The punishment you deserved for your sins, He took for you.
This horrible punishment and suffering was God’s will for His Son. It was the only way to make payment for our sins. So when we see Jesus suffering, we see at the same time God’s wrath for our sins and we see His love for us. God poured out His wrath against sin on His only Son, and He did it so that we would be saved. In Jesus’ scourging, we see God’s punishment and His grace.
This is made vividly clear in Isaiah 53. It says that our Savior was “stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted” (v. 4). Isaiah does not name the Roman soldiers as the strikers, the smiters, and the afflicters. He says that it was God who did this. Jesus knew it had to be this way. Just a few hours earlier He had prayed, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done” (Luk. 22:42). The cup of suffering could not be removed. It had to happen like this. It was Jesus or us; His back or ours.
Like a parent who might wrap up a child and turn his back toward harm as a shield, Jesus embraced all humanity—the whole sinful world—and exposed His back to the Father’s holy wrath. He shielded us from the perfect anger and just punishment of God. Jesus didn’t deserve it, but He did it out of love for you.
So in those wounds on His back, you should see your sins. They are all reflected in those cuts and gouges and bruises. All of them were put on Jesus—not one missing, not even the ones you still carry with you as a burden of guilt. And Jesus’ precious blood poured out of those countless wounds to wash all your sins away. Because He shed His blood for you, you do not need to fear the wrath of God. You have no sins to suffer for since those sins have already been paid for.
When Pilate declared that he was innocent of Jesus’ blood, the mob stirred up by the Jewish leaders replied, “His blood be on us and on our children!” They were saying that they would accept responsibility for Jesus’ death. They meant to destroy Jesus, but He came to save them. Jesus turns that phrase around for our blessing. He poured out His blood to cover our sins and the sins of our children. His cleansing blood was applied to us at our Baptism, and it is poured into us when we drink from the cup of His Holy Supper.
Jesus let His blood pour out in suffering, and He still pours it out for our spiritual health. His holy blood is our lifeblood that we cannot do without. Jesus “was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed” (Isa. 53:5). Thanks be to God. Amen.
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(picture from “Flagellation of Christ” by Peter Paul Rubens, 1577-1640)
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.
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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.
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(picture is from “The Incredulity of St. Thomas” by Caravaggio, c. 1601-1602)