The Epiphany of Our Lord – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: Isaiah 60:1-6
In Christ Jesus, who was manifested to the wise men in Bethlehem, and who is manifested to us here through the means of grace, dear fellow redeemed:
On the Festival of Epiphany, we celebrate the coming of the wise men to worship Jesus. As far as we know, these Gentiles were the first non-Jews to see Him. This is why Epiphany is sometimes called the “Gentile Christmas.” Epiphany shows that the Christ came not only for the Jews but for the Gentiles too, because it was the LORD who showed the wise men the star of the Christ-Child. It was He who motivated them to set out on the long journey to Judea.
Wouldn’t it be nice to have a sign like that, something to guide our way through life? As we considered a tough decision, God could make one option appear brighter than the others. He could give us a glimpse of our future, so we would know what to focus on and prepare for. He could keep us from heading off in the wrong direction.
Though some look for guidance like this in the stars, through mediums and fortune-tellers, or through their own superstitions and inner feelings, the LORD does not promise to enlighten us in these ways. Where He does promise enlightenment is through His holy Word. The star may have gotten the wise men going, but they did not find “the King of the Jews” until they heard the words of the Old Testament prophet Micah pointing them to Bethlehem (Mat. 2:6).
All the major events of Jesus’ life were predicted in the Old Testament Scriptures long before they took place. The visit of the wise men was no exception. We hear this prophecy about them in today’s text from the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah prophesied that nations would come to the light of the LORD. When they came, they would bring abundance and wealth. Their camels would cover the hills. They would bring gold and frankincense and proclaim the praises of the LORD. The wise men were the first in a wave of Gentiles whom the LORD continues to draw to His light today.
He must draw people to His light because they are lost in the darkness of unbelief, sin, and death by nature. If you have been reading the first chapters of Genesis this past week, you reviewed how this darkness came into the world. Adam and Eve ignored the command of God and rebelled against Him. Then their oldest son Cain killed his brother Abel, and the human race descended into greater and greater wickedness. Things became so bleak that God decided to destroy the world in a flood. Everything on earth perished except for Noah, his sons, their wives, and all the animals God had sent into the Ark.
But even after the flood, the world was not without sin. Sin increased again, and we are no better today than any who have gone before us. What Isaiah wrote is true: “darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples.” The darkness of sin and death is a “thick darkness.” It covers us and surrounds us like a thick cloud, an impenetrable fog that we cannot see through.
This is not how the world sees its situation. Especially at this time of year, people express great optimism about the future. “It’s a new year, a year to right every wrong, a year to achieve unparalleled success!” But many thought that way about 2019 and all the years before that. What happened to the promise of those years? Why are we always so eager to leave the last year behind by the time the new one rolls around?
It is because of the darkness that Isaiah describes. The people of the world think they can see just fine. They think they have all the solutions to the problems that afflict us. But there is no way forward without the light. Without the light, 2020 will be just as dark as 2019 and all the years before that.
The light that we need, the light that Isaiah prophesies about, is the light of Jesus. Isaiah spoke as if this light was already shining forth in his day, “Arise, shine, for your light has come,” he says. The Christ had not yet been born, but the promise of His coming filled the people’s hearts with hope. If God’s arrival in the flesh was like the sun shining brightly, the Gospel promises found in the Old and New Testaments are like the rays stretching out from the sun (U. V. Koren’s Works, Vol. 1, p. 81).
These rays of light still shine forth in the darkness and have reached our own hearts. These rays come through God’s holy Word. God’s Word shows us the light of Jesus. It draws us out of darkness “into his marvelous light” (1Pe. 2:9). His Word calls us to “Arise!”—“Get up!”—“Look to the light!” We do this by acknowledging our sin and guilt. We repent of the wrong we have done and trust in the forgiveness Jesus won for us. We don’t want to stay in the darkness. We don’t want to lose the light. This, more than anything else, should top our list of New Year’s resolutions.
We want to stay connected to the light of Jesus, because only in this light is there a clear way forward. Only in this light is there hope. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (Joh. 8:12). His light brings life. Without His light there is no life. Think of a life here with no light at all. These overcast wintry days are bad enough, but the sun still gives light, and when darkness comes we can flip on a switch and fill our homes with light. But a life with no light at all—no natural or artificial light—would be absolutely terrifying. We would not know where we are or where we might go.
By faith in Jesus, we know exactly where we are headed. We are on our way to heaven, to His kingdom of everlasting light. We are going there because He came to rescue us from the darkness. His coming was like the sun rising above a world that had never seen light. Imagine how bright that would be to eyes used to the darkness. Some might shy away from the light and run further into the shadows. But others would want to find the source of that light. This is what Isaiah describes: “the LORD will arise upon you, and His glory will be seen upon you. And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.”
The coming of the Christ brought people from near and far, including those wise men from the east. His light continues to draw people to Him. And how do they see that light? Through the Word. And how do they hear that Word? Through God’s people. If Jesus is like the sun, His followers are like the moon reflecting the sun’s light.
We want others to see this light in what we do and say. We “shine” as believers when we share the Gospel message of forgiveness and salvation through Jesus. We “shine” when we carry out our tasks and responsibilities diligently and honestly with love for our neighbor. A life lived for worldly glory, for selfish purposes, is a wasted life. Jesus said, “You are the light of the world…. [L]et your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Mat. 5:14,16).
We don’t need to pursue worldly glory, because God gives us a glory that will never pass away. He gives us the glory of being spotless in His sight by faith in Jesus. He gives us the glory of being heirs of His eternal kingdom. He gives us the glory of being seated with Jesus our King in heaven (Eph. 2:6).
What God does for us is far greater than what we can do for Him or for the world. I’m sure the wise men agreed. They laid before Jesus their treasures of “gold and frankincense and myrrh,” but these were trifles compared with the gift of laying eyes on their Savior. This is why the wise men “fell down and worshiped him” (Mat. 2:11). We also present our gifts to God of a life of devotion, prayer, and thanksgiving. But what we receive from Him is far greater than what we give to Him.
Jesus blesses us every time we hear His Word of grace and partake of the Sacraments with faith in His promises. This is where His light comes to us today and how His glory rises upon us here. The wise men saw more than a baby; they saw the Lord of heaven and earth. We also see more than water, bread, wine, and words in the Divine Service. We see Jesus’ bright presence here among us.
We see Him by faith in these humble, visible elements of Word and Sacrament because He has promised to be here. He is here to shine His bright light of forgiveness into hearts and minds troubled by guilt and shame. He is here to uncover the anger and hatred we feel toward another and to relieve us of these burdens. He is here to lighten our spirits with His shining grace and to give us healing and hope in all our difficulties and trials.
“Arise, shine,” says Isaiah, “for your light has come!” You can “arise” and “shine” with confidence each day, knowing that your Savior is here. He came out of love for you. His presence with you means you will have His blessings in the new year just as He has given them to you in the past.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
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The First Sunday in Advent – Pr. Faugstad sermon
In Christ Jesus, who through holy Baptism, “called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1Pe. 2:9), dear fellow redeemed:
We all appreciate a good “rags to riches” story. Jesus’ story is kind of like that, at least culminating in today’s Gospel reading. He went from the son of a poor woman with a manger for a bed to being welcomed into Jerusalem as a King! Of course there’s much more to the story. Jesus did not come to Jerusalem for the riches; He did not come for the throne. He came to give up His life for us. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2Co. 8:9).
Because of what Jesus did, our story is a true “rags to riches” one. Being joined to Him, the rags of our sinfulness are replaced by the robes of His righteousness. Our spiritual bankruptcy has become a spiritual windfall. We are no longer lost in the darkness but walk in His wondrous light. When exactly did all this happen for us? It happened at our Baptism.
In Baptism, everything that Jesus accomplished through His death and resurrection is applied to the sinner. His payment for sin is our payment for sin. His death is our death. His resurrection is our resurrection. His victory is our victory. St. Paul writes: “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4).
Baptism gives us a “new lease on life”—not just the certainty of eternal life in heaven, but a new life here on earth. We are not today what we started out to be. The waters of Baptism changed us and changed us for the better. But we do not always act like we are. We do not always show by our thoughts, words, and deeds that we are in Christ.
This is why Paul was compelled to write the warning of today’s text. He was writing to the church in Rome, the capital of the Roman Empire. Rome is the place where Paul and Peter are said to have died on the same day when persecution broke out against the Christians. Rome was a lot like the metropolitan areas we visit today. It could boast of impressive buildings, appealing locales, and vibrant commerce. It also offered opportunities for every vice and indulgence a person could imagine.
A pagan culture is a difficult place for a Christian to be, especially for a Christian who once joined the pagans in their sinful activities. When someone becomes a Christian, he is the one who changes. Now he is at odds with the world. Now he walks closer to his Lord but further from his unbelieving neighbors. They notice, and they don’t always like what they see. Many Christians have endured the painful loss of friends and family who do not appreciate their changed values and outlook on life. Many are told that they just aren’t any fun to be around anymore.
This separation is hard for Christians. They struggle not only with the loss of friends, but with the constant coaxing and tugging of old desires. They remember the enjoyment of drug and alcohol abuse, the excitement and pleasure of a sexually promiscuous lifestyle, the egocentric satisfaction of putting self before God and neighbor. Those memories and desires don’t go away just because someone has been baptized. Along with the sinful flesh, the devil and the world don’t stop trying to pull the Christian back into the darkness of unbelief.
So Paul writes that “the hour has come for you to wake from sleep.” The time is here for us to open our eyes and recognize the temptations around us. Baptism removes the blindfold. It focuses our eyes on Jesus. With our eyes on Him, everything gets brighter and clearer—both the path to heaven and all the deviant paths that wind toward hell.
Imagine if you were lost in the countryside on a dark night. Looking around, you spot a yard light far in the distance. The closer you get to the light, the more it illuminates the ground. The closer you get, the less you trip and fall, and the more sure you are of your steps. But if you were to walk away from the light, you would have no idea where you were going and what dangers could lie ahead. Looking to Jesus and ever pushing forward to Him, our path ahead brightens and the dark shadows of the world recede. But whenever we look away from Jesus and go in the other direction, the light fades, and we stumble.
Now is not the time to go wandering. “For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed,” says Paul. “The night is far gone; the day is at hand.” He is reminding us that Jesus’ return is imminent. He could come at any time. This is one of the things we learn in the season of Advent, not only that Jesus has come, but that He will also come again. And when He comes again, all people will be judged by Him. Those who are lost in the darkness will be cast into “the outer darkness” of torment in hell (Mat. 8:12). And those who are in the light by faith will enter the eternal light of heaven (Rev. 22:5).
His return in glory is nothing to take lightly. We might be able to fake a Christian confession here, but we can’t fake it before God. So each of us must be diligent to “cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.” How do we do that? Paul explains that this means walking properly “as in the daytime.” This is to live according to God’s Commandments. It is to live as if everyone is always watching what we do and listening to what we say.
This is a good way to sharpen your conscience: ask yourself if you would do or say a certain thing if your parents were there, or your spouse, or your kids, or your pastor, or a respected member of the congregation. If you would not want to be found sinning in their presence, remember that the Lord Himself knows and sees all things. Nothing is “hidden from his sight” (Heb. 4:13).
We don’t want to be found behaving like unbelievers, because we are not unbelievers. This is why we watch what we eat and drink, unlike the unbelievers who see little wrong with carousing and drunkenness. This is why we live a “chaste and decent life” (Small Catechism, 6th Commandment), unlike the unbelievers who engage in sexual immorality and sensuality. This is why we speak kindly to each other, unlike the unbelievers who love to quarrel. This is why we practice contentment and thankfulness, unlike the unbelievers who are full of jealousy.
We are a people set apart by God. He claimed us as His own children in Baptism. He wants us to “set [our] minds on things that are above” (Col. 3:2) and not to get too comfortable in the world. But this is not always how we have lived. Sometimes we have done what God commands. Sometimes we have “cast off the words of darkness.” But other times, we have gladly engaged in the things God condemns.
We know very well how we have sinned. We feel the burden of past wrongs. We have given in to peer pressure and joined the crowd in doing evil. We have even planned out our wickedness step by step before carrying it out. Some of our sins are known to others, and some are known only to ourselves. What does that make us? How will we be judged when Jesus returns?
In his First Letter to the Christians in Corinth, Paul wrote that some of them were guilty of sins like sexual immorality, greed, and drunkenness. “But,” he said, “you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (6:11). The first thing he reminded them is that they were “washed.” They were baptized.
You are baptized too. In Baptism, you were washed clean of all your sins—not just the ones you had committed before then, but also the ones you would commit later on. In Baptism, you were clothed in the righteousness of Jesus, who lived a perfect life on your behalf. Your Baptism joined you to Jesus, your Savior. Your Baptism into Him is your present status before God and will remain so as long as you believe His Word. Jesus said, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mar. 16:16).
Now believing in Jesus means that you acknowledge your sins. It means you recognize that your thoughts, words, and deeds of darkness are the reason Jesus had to die on the cross. If you were not a sinner, Jesus would not have come. But He did come to save you and all people, because all have sinned.
By repenting of sin and trusting in forgiveness through Jesus, you return regularly to your Baptism. This is where you “put on the armor of light,” where you “put on the Lord Jesus Christ.” “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Gal. 3:27). Baptism is how God set you apart from the world. It was your blessed beginning as a member of the body of Christ and an heir of His kingdom. It was where your rags of sin and death were replaced with the riches of Jesus’ righteousness and eternal life.
And so every day you can gladly and confidently return to your Baptism—Always Going Back to Your Beginning. Jesus was there at your Baptism to free you from the kingdom of darkness. He has been with you ever since to heal and strengthen you through His Word and Sacraments. And He is the bright Light that will guide you home to 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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(picture is Baptism window at Redeemer Lutheran Church)
Children’s Christmas Program at Saude
December 17, 2017
The Norwegian Synod was established in America in 1853. The Rev. U. V. Koren was one of its early leaders. He organized numerous congregations in the area, including the Saude congregation in 1857 and the Jerico congregation in 1867.
A controversy over the doctrine of election fractured the Synod in the 1880s. The controversy later reignited when leaders in the major Scandinavian Lutheran church bodies proposed a merger, even though they were not in full agreement on the Bible’s teaching.
When the merger was finalized in 1917, a small group of pastors and congregations refused to go along. They resolved to continue in the old paths of the Norwegian Synod and reorganized that church body in 1918. This synod, now called the Evangelical Lutheran Synod (ELS), will mark the 100th anniversary of its reorganization in the coming year.
This program looks back on that Norwegian Lutheran heritage, which was brought to America from the remote lands of northern Europe. In the midst of the long, dark winters in homelands old and new, the Norwegians gathered around the light of God’s Word. They also sang warm Christmas songs about the bright Light that God sent into the world of darkness to save sinners.
CONGREGATION: #144.1-7 – “Thy Little Ones, Dear Lord, Are We”
INTRODUCTION: Pr. Faugstad
The bright greens started their transition toward a dull brown, the days ended progressively sooner and sooner, and a cold wind crept down from the arctic north through the majestic fjords. Winter was once again coming to Norway. Families methodically but urgently prepared food and kindling and braced themselves for the longest season. The cold and dark could dampen even the most cheerful spirit.
But as brightly as the fire burned in their little homes, so the flame of faith glowed in their hearts. The One who had saved them would not forget about them. Spring would return in glory just as surely as He would. So while the cold wind howled outside, the Norwegian people sang. They sang of the Christ-Child and rejoiced in this gift sent to them with love from their heavenly Father.
With spring came hope and renewed ambition. Families looking for better prospects and opportunities jammed everything they could in traveling trunks and bought tickets for the voyage to America. They had been told that there they would find fertile land for the taking, land like what the Lord’s people inherited in Canaan. The land was good, but the work to settle it was hard. And the days may not have been as short, but the winters felt just as long.
By firelight the people again reviewed the promises of God in His Word and sang their beloved hymns. In this way, by means of study and song, fathers and mothers passed down the faith to sons and daughters. Like a flame shared from one candle to another, this hope in Christ was transmitted from generation to generation.
And now that hope has come to us. How can we keep the hope of Jesus alive? How can we be sure that the flame of faith will not become extinguished among us? It is the same now as it was for our forefathers. Jesus comes to us still through the preaching, hearing, and singing of His Gospel.
This is why we gather again today around the light of God’s Word, so that we can hear of “the true light, which enlightens everyone” (Jn. 1:9). This Light is Jesus our Savior. He is the Light that “shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (v. 5).
CONGREGATION: #144.8 – “Thy Little Ones, Dear Lord, Are We”
God Gives Light
NARRATION: The first verses of the Book of Genesis describe the creation of the world: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” But God did not leave the world in darkness.
RECITATIONS: Kindergarten-1st Grade (Genesis 1:3, 1:4, 1:5, 1:14, 1:16, 1:17)
GIRLS’ CHOIR: #108.1-4 – “Creator of the Starry Height”
CONGREGATION: #108.5-6 – “Creator of the Starry Height”
NARRATION: Soon after God’s creation was complete, the devil tempted Adam and Eve to sin, and the world was plunged into spiritual darkness. Because sin is passed down from generation to generation, darkness reigns in the earth. An absence of light is keenly understood in some parts of Norway, where in the winter months the sun never rises above the horizon.
RECITATIONS: 2nd-3rd Grades (John 3:19, 3:20, 1 John 2:11, Ephesians 6:12)
CONGREGATION: #110.1, 6 – “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”
A Glimmer of Light
NARRATION: After the fall into sin, God promised to send light into the dark world. He promised to send a Savior. This promise was for people in every corner of the world, from the north to the south and from the east to the west.
RECITATIONS: 4th Grade (Numbers 24:17, Malachi 4:2, Luke 1:78-79, Psalm 107:13-14)
CONGREGATION: #90.1, 2, 5, 6 – “Savior of the Nations, Come”
The Light Comes
NARRATION: The fullness of time had come. The time of the Savior’s arrival was here. A bright light shined in the darkness.
CHRISTMAS GOSPEL: St. Luke 2:1-7 (1st-4th Grades)
CHILDREN: #127.1-4 – “I Am So Glad when Christmas Comes”
(first verse in Norwegian: “Jeg er så glad hver julekveld”)
RECITATIONS: 5th Grade (Isaiah 9:2, John 1:4-5, 1:14)
CHRISTMAS GOSPEL: St. Luke 2:8-12 (5th-6th Grades)
CHILDREN: #123.1-5 – “From Heaven Above to Earth I Come”
CHRISTMAS GOSPEL: St. Luke 2:13-14 (All Grades)
CHILDREN: #125.1, 3 – “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”
Light for All
NARRATION: The angels told the shepherds that the good news of Christ’s coming is for “all people.” The shepherds told this news to everyone they met. Even wise men far away learned of Jesus’ birth and set out after a star to find Him. The light of the Gospel reached Norway around the year 1000, and before long, much of the country was converted to Christianity.
CHRISTMAS GOSPEL: St. Luke 2:15-20 (7th Grade)
CONGREGATION: #143.1-7 – “The Happy Christmas Comes”
RECITATIONS: 6th Grade (Isaiah 60:1-2, 60:3-4, 60:6, Matthew 2:1-2, 2:9-10, 2:11)
CHILDREN: “Dejlig er den himmel blå”
CONGREGATION: #120.1-4 – “Bright and Glorious Is the Sky”
Walking in the Light
NARRATION: The evangelical preaching of the Lutheran reformers came to Norway in the 1520s, and Lutheranism was declared the official state religion in 1536. When a significant portion of the Norwegian population emigrated to America in the nineteenth century, Norwegian Lutheran preachers followed. By the grace of God, the clear Gospel teaching of those faithful preachers continues to shine forth in our churches today.
RECITATIONS: 7th Grade (1 Thessalonians 5:4-6, 1 Peter 2:9, Colossians 1:13-14, 2 Peter 1:19, 2 Corinthians 4:6)
CONGREGATION: #120.5-6 – “Bright and Glorious Is the Sky”
OFFERING & LIGHTING OF THE CANDLES
CONGREGATION: #140 – “Silent Night”
PRAYERS & BENEDICTION
CONGREGATION: #153.1-4, 7 – “The People That in Darkness Sat”
ANNOUNCEMENTS & SHARING OF GIFTS
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(painting is “Adoration of the Shepherds” by Gerard van Honthorst, 1592-1656)
The Last Sunday of the Church Year (Trinity 27) – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Matthew 25:1-13
In Christ Jesus, who came into our world of darkness, so we may join Him in His kingdom of light, dear fellow redeemed:
One of the books in C. S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia series details the adventures of Prince Caspian and his friends as they sailed in a ship called the “Dawn Treader.” One of the islands they discovered was a place “where dreams come true.” That may sound like a pleasant place to be, except that it wasn’t just good dreams that became reality; it was all dreams. The harder a person tried to think good thoughts, the more bad thoughts would come to mind—and come true. To emphasize the terror of this place, Lewis described it as an island totally enveloped in darkness. After rescuing a man who had been trapped on the island for years, the ship’s captain and crew rowed back toward the light as quickly as they could.
It is in the darkness that we typically feel the most fear. When it is dark, we do not fear dangers that are actually around us, as much as the dangers that could be around us. Our own minds are the greatest threat to our feeling of safety. Some weeks ago, I watched the Ken Burns television series on the Vietnam War. One of the marines who was interviewed said that he won’t sleep without a nightlight. He remembers too vividly what it was like to go out on patrol in the darkness and to hear the voices and movements of an enemy he could not see. That terrifying experience still wakes him up at night and probably always will.
A deep darkness where terrible things happen is how the Bible describes this fallen world. This world is “the domain of darkness” (Col. 1:13), where Satan and his followers operate. The danger is all around us, but it cannot be seen. By nature, everyone is blind to the threat. They can’t see “the devil prowl[ing] around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1Pe. 5:8). They also don’t recognize—or else won’t admit—the darkness in their own hearts. They are quick to point out the bad behavior and wicked actions of others, while self-righteously thinking that they could never be capable of doing those things.
But the darkness of sin is not just around us, it is in us. Jesus says that from the heart comes all sorts of sinful thoughts and actions—sexual immorality, theft, lies, slander (Mt. 15:19). Our hearts on their own cannot chart a course leading to God and heaven. On their own, our hearts have us heading toward deeper darkness, where dreams might come true, but not like we were expecting.
It was into this world of spiritual darkness that God the Father sent His holy Son. But if mankind was blind to the good things of God, how would they ever recognize His coming? The Lord first sent John the Baptizer to prepare the way for the Savior. He boldly preached in the wilderness to expose “the unfruitful works of darkness” (Eph. 5:11), and to “bear witness about the light” (Jn. 1:8). He told the people that “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world,” and then he pointed out Jesus as that light (vv. 9, 29). Jesus Himself said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (8:12).
But many did not follow Him. “He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (1:10-11). His own people did not receive Him, because they did not want to own up to their aimless wandering in the darkness. They wanted to think they were on the right path, the path of righteousness. Proverbs 4 says that “the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day. The way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know over what they stumble” (vv. 18-19). What the self-righteous scribes and Pharisees stumbled over was Jesus. He told them that their righteousness was merely external, superficial. Their hearts were empty vessels devoid of the faith and love that God requires.
Only God knows from one person to the next whether their hearts contain the flame of faith. Take today’s parable about the women waiting for the bridegroom. All ten of them were virgins and all ten of them had oil-burning lamps. If you saw them when they first arrived for the wedding feast, you would have noticed no differences among them. But when the bridegroom did not come right away, “they all became drowsy and slept.” They had not anticipated the delay. They thought he was coming sooner. They might have begun to wonder if he would come at all.
Even so, five of the virgins had prepared for this possibility. They had extra oil with them. If the other five were aware of this, they might have made fun of them or criticized them for being such worriers. But they weren’t laughing when the cry sounded at midnight that the bridegroom had come. “Give us some of your oil,” they begged, “for our lamps are going out.” But the five wise virgins did not have enough oil to share. While the unprepared women went to buy more oil, the door to the wedding feast was closed, and they were denied entrance. Their opportunity had come and gone; they must remain in the darkness.
This parable is Jesus’ warning to all that He is coming again soon to admit those who are prepared to His wedding feast. He will know who is ready by the presence or absence of faith in the heart. On the outside, many may appear to have a living faith—their lamps may seem to have an active flame. But nobody can fool the Lord. No one can impress Him either. No amount of generous deeds, kind words, or impressive knowledge will count as a substitute for faith. It was not the most intelligent, the most beautiful, the most successful women who were admitted to the wedding feast. It was the ones who were prepared; it was the faithful.
Faith is not the kind of thing that once you have it, you keep it forever. For many, faith is like a match that burns for a time but then goes out. Faith must be kept alive by some sort of fuel. But that fuel does not come from inside us any more than faith itself does. The One who strikes the flame of faith inside our darkened hearts is God the Holy Spirit, who uses the kindling power of God’s Word. The dynamic Word of God is the oil that keeps faith burning bright even in the midst of great darkness. The five wise virgins had oil reserves along—they had the Word. The five foolish virgins took their faith for granted and found that their flame had gone out by the time the bridegroom arrived.
But notice that all ten women “became drowsy and slept” before his arrival. All ten of them failed to properly keep watch like they should have. As long as we live in this dark world, we must be on our guard against Satan and our sinful nature, and ready ourselves daily with the Word of God. We are always in danger of going through the motions as Christians, of hearing the Word regularly but not taking our sins and repentance seriously.
The Apostle Paul warns us about this, “So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Rom. 13:12-14). He sounds the same alarm in today’s Epistle lesson, “So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation” (1Thes. 5:6-8).
Paul says that we who are in the light should not act like those in the darkness, because we are not in the kingdom of darkness anymore. Satan and his cohorts no longer have dominion over us. Their dark plans, along with the yawning pit of death and hell, were all exposed and dispelled by the light of Jesus. He gave Himself over into darkness, so that you would be rescued from it and brought into the light.
The light of His grace and salvation is strong enough to pierce even into the darkest of hearts. This healing light has also entered your heart. Whatever darkness was there by nature and active sin, is removed and replaced by light, just as the flip of a light switch does away with the darkness that was previously there. Now there is nothing more in the spiritual darkness of the world that you have to fear. By the light of Jesus, nothing can ambush you or harm you.
Even now in this light, you see through the darkness to the banquet hall ahead, glowing with marvelous light. That is where the marriage feast is ready and waiting. As you journey forward, you have the Word of God, “a lamp shining in a dark place” (2Pe. 1:19), “a lamp to [your] feet and a light to [your] path” (Ps. 119:105). His Word is what keeps your lamp of faith burning as the darkness of this age passes and the bright dawn of eternity comes.
It will not be long before you and I hear the cry, “Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.” Then we will experience something much better than even our best dreams. Jesus will graciously call everyone who trusts in Him to follow Him into His glorious kingdom of light. In the unfiltered presence of the mighty God, we will need no light of lamp or sun, for He will be our light, and we will reign with Him forever and ever (Rev. 22:5).
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
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The Festival of All Saints – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Matthew 5:13-16
In Christ Jesus, whose “light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (Jn. 1:5), dear fellow redeemed:
It is quite a view to look at America from outer space, particularly at nighttime. The eastern half of the country is peppered with light, as is the west coast. You can tell from the concentrated circles of light where the larger cities are, and you get a sense of just how many people there are in our country.
In today’s sermon text, Jesus says that His followers are “the light of the world.” Imagine if believers in Christ actually glowed with light. How would that look from the night sky? Would the most concentrated number of believers be in America, or somewhere else in the world? How closely would the number of self-proclaimed Christians match up with the people of light?
When Jesus calls us “the light,” of course He is not referring to a visible light, but to the faith that glows within us. Our faith is unseen. But our actions are seen by others. We give glory to God by living according to His Commandments. But we dishonor Him when we break His Commandments. This is why Jesus Calls Us to Be the Holy Ones We Are. We are already counted as righteous before God by faith in Him. But we also want to live holy lives so that more around us are drawn to the light of Christ.
A lot of emphasis is placed on being unique these days, on being your own person, no matter what crazy or deviant behavior this might include. But in reality, all people by nature are the exact same. They may look different on the outside, they may have different personalities, but they are no different on the inside. They are driven by sinful desires and walk in spiritual darkness. God describes this darkness as the world of “orgies and drunkenness… sexual immorality and sensuality… quarreling and jealousy” (Rom. 13:13). Spiritual darkness blinds sinners to what is good and holy, and it feeds hatred and all sorts of wickedness (1Jn. 2:9-11). Jesus said, “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed” (Jn. 3:19-20).
Believers in Christ no longer walk in this spiritual darkness. They do not conform to the world, but are transformed by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 12:2). Some say this happens when a person opens his heart to Jesus and lets the light of God’s grace shine in. But if we are lost in the darkness of our sin, there is no getting ourselves out. Our spiritual darkness is like being left alone in a pitch-black cave deep in the heart of the earth. Trying to escape this darkness through our own efforts ultimately makes us more lost and confused than we were before.
Only God can rescue a sinner from spiritual darkness, and He does it by the power of the Holy Spirit through the Word. 2 Corinthians 4 says that God “has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (v. 6). Jesus came as a bright light into the dark world. His holiness and goodness were so blinding that many covered their eyes and would not see or listen to Him (Jn. 1:10-11). The devil convinced them that it would be better to remain in their self-righteousness than to repent of their sins and entrust themselves to Christ. But some did repent by the power of God and received Him by faith (v. 12). They were reborn into the kingdom of light.
You also have been blessed with spiritual rebirth. You “were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (v. 13). By the powerful working of the Holy Spirit, you were delivered from the dark womb of the world into the light of God’s truth and grace. When you were baptized in God’s holy name as a child or heard the saving Gospel later in life, the Lord “called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1Pe. 2:9). He changed the trajectory of your life and your future in the most dramatic way possible. You became His child by faith in Jesus and were made an heir of His eternal kingdom. God turned you “from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to [Him],” and He gave you “forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith” (Ac. 26:18).
All of this is because of what Jesus did for you. “I have come into the world as light,” He said, “so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness” (Jn. 12:46). In Jesus, you no longer have to fear what the devil may do to you or what will happen to you when you die. The guilt of your sin does not need to weigh you down anymore. You broke God’s law by failing to perfectly love Him and your neighbor, but Jesus fulfilled it. He lived a holy life for your sake. He also destroyed the power that sin, death, and devil had over you by going to the cross as your Substitute and rising again from the dead in victory. This is why God now counts you among the saints, “the holy ones.” By faith in Jesus, that is what you already are. But is that how you live?
Probably the worst thing someone could say to us after knowing us for a few years is: “Oh, I had no idea you were a Christian!” We would have to wonder what we had said and done that made this such a surprise. Was it because of the way we lived, engaging in immoral and unethical behavior? Was it because of the language we used, including the frequent misuse of God’s name? Not that we have to give a personal testimony of our faith in Jesus to every stranger we meet. If you have met people like that, you know that this is a little awkward. But the people around us should notice something different about us, even if we do not talk about Jesus.
I suppose a person could say about this that they never signed up to be a “poster-child” for Christianity. “There are better people to talk about and represent Jesus than me,” they say. But God did not put someone else in their position in life with their particular experiences and acquaintances. He called that specific person to be His child and to live for Him. The Lord does not favor one Christian over another. He says to each one: You are salt, so be salt. You are light, so be light. Why? Jesus says, “[T]hat they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” Since God has chosen you as His child, He has chosen you to be His representative. He wants others to learn about His love through you. That is after all how you came to faith, through the example and testimony of someone else.
This is why it matters how you live your life. You want others to see what God has done for you, how His love has changed you, what His forgiveness has meant for your life, the sure hope you have of life after this one. But if the way you live and act is just the same as the unbelievers around you, what does this say? The Apostle Paul writes, “[F]or at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light” (Eph. 5:8). We feel the pressure of what Jesus asks of us. Sometimes we just want to fit in and live free of the law like non-Christians do. But this isn’t actually freedom. It is slavery to darkness where there can be no true hope or joy.
And yes, as a Christian, your actions will be closely watched by the people of the world. If they can catch you trying to pass the blame for your sin, or getting puffed up with pride, they will conclude that Christianity is just what they thought all along—a waste of time. But if they see your humble attitude and hear you repent of sin and offer forgiveness to others, they will be faced with something totally foreign to them, something strange—and yet something hopeful. It is at those times that they may ask you to tell them more about Jesus.
The history of the Christian Church is filled with weak and cowardly sinners, whom God called to be His holy ones. You are not the first one to wonder why God chose you, or how He could ever use someone like you for His good purposes. But sinners like you are just the instruments God wants to use to proclaim His saving Gospel. You are something the world needs because you have something the world needs. This is why Jesus calls you “the light of the world.” He has brought you and many others out of spiritual darkness, and has filled you with the light of His grace. When the light of your faith shines, it is the light of Jesus that people see.
None of us is really up for this responsibility that Jesus gives us, to be salt and light in the world, to be His representatives. But God knew what He was getting when He called us to be His own. He was not looking for “super saints” who already had their lives in good order. He was looking for sinners, and He found us. We are the ones God loves. We are the ones He chose in His Son. We are the ones who live in the light of His salvation.
The world cannot see this light, and neither can we. But what we cannot see with our eyes, we know by faith. We know that we are not alone in this dark world, because there are many brothers and sisters in Christ around us. We also know that God keeps His promises. He promises to be with us and strengthen us in this life, and He promises to take us to live in His heavenly kingdom. Already, many saints have been translated in spirit to heaven, where they await the resurrection of their bodies on the Last Day.
It would be quite a sight to see God’s children glowing with light on earth, if we could see this from the night sky. But imagine if we were able to look up and see the saints in heaven above. They would be countless like the stars. And one day you will “share in the inheritance of the saints in light” (Col. 1:12). You will be joined to that number by God’s grace, and then you will be exactly what you are—holy in God’s sight forever.
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