The Sixth Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: Romans 6:3-11
In Christ Jesus, who renews us every day by His grace and forgiveness, dear fellow redeemed:
In this sinful world where things fall apart, break down, and decay, there is always something that needs replacing. The car that ran so well 50,000 or 150,000 miles ago is now parked for good in the junk yard. The top of the line smartphone you purchased a few years back seems to have aged as quickly as dogs do. “Out with the old! In with the new!” we say. Our society, more than many before us, is a disposable society. We love our things, and we also love to discard them for newer and better things.
In our country these days, this approach to things is also being applied to systems. We hear voices calling out more and more loudly that the old systems of governance, from local law enforcement to the founding principles of our country, need to be thrown out in favor of something new. “We can build something fairer and more just! We can cleanse out the bad! We can end all prejudice and discrimination! Out with the old! In with the new!”
While we might sympathize with some of the goals of these modern-day revolutionaries, we know that the problem is not so much the system of government in America. Granting that there is no perfect system devised by men, the people in this country enjoy more personal freedom than perhaps at any other time in history. The problem is not the system; the problem is sin. Our sin is what causes us to look down on others because their color or their culture are not like ours. Our sin shows itself in anger, hatred, and judgment toward those whom we should rather love as God commands us to do.
Our sin is the “old” that should concern us more than anything else. There is no forming a “more perfect Union” (Preamble to the U. S. Constitution) or improving our own life unless we deal with the rotting root deep inside us. The fifth chapter of the Letter to the Romans tells us how sin came to be buried in us. Paul writes that “sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin” (Rom. 5:12). Because Adam sinned, all his descendants inherited sin after him. “[B]y the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners” (v. 19).
There is nothing we can do to stop this transmission of sin. The hymnwriter describes our desperate state: “By Adam’s fall is all forlorn / Man’s nature and his thinking, / The poison’s there when we are born, / In sin yet deeper sinking” (Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary #430, v. 1). This is hard for us to accept. We don’t want to believe that before we had a chance at living life, we were already poisoned with sin.
But as hard as it is to believe, God tells us that when we were born—looking so vibrant and full of life—we were actually dead. We were dead in our sins (Eph. 2:1,5). Many people go through life never realizing how bad they have it. In their later years, they look back on their accomplishments and imagine they lived a pretty good life. But these poor souls never really lived. Their life was lived apart from Jesus, which means that even though their heart was beating, their brain was working, and they were getting stuff done, they weren’t really living. They were dying, only dying, and death is all they had to look forward to.
Jesus came to put an end to that futility, to reverse the poisonous effects of sin. He was the second Adam, the only-begotten Son of God the Father who became a man in the womb of the virgin Mary. His goal in coming was not to topple the Roman government or achieve social justice for all. It wasn’t to set up a new religion. His purpose was to fulfill the promises of God, spoken in ancient times even to the first sinners. He did not come to throw out the old order and replace it with something else. “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets,” He said; “I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Mat. 5:17).
He fulfilled God’s Law for you and me. He accomplished what we never could—a perfect life before God. Adam’s disobedience made us sinners, but Jesus’ obedience earned our righteousness. Then He took all our acts of disobedience, all our sin, and brought them to the cross where He paid the atoning price for each and every one. This is where He personally dealt with all hatred, all prejudice, all injustice, all division. All of it was wiped away in the flood of His precious blood. And then He dealt with death by rising from the grave. He addressed our disobedience with His obedience, our sin with His sacrifice, and our death with His resurrection.
But how can we connect our life to the life that He won? How can we leave behind our legacy of sin inherited from the first Adam and enter into the blessed company of the second Adam? Some say that this is done through a personal decision: “I’ve decided to leave my life of sin and live for Jesus.” Others say it is more of a process, a gradual changing and growth away from bad things and toward good things. But both of those are done from our side of things, by our effort, which means that both approaches will most certainly fail.
Today’s text describes a different way. By the power of the Holy Spirit, Paul writes, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?” Here something is introduced that did not come from man and is not accomplished by us. This is Baptism, instituted by Jesus for the salvation of all people and carried out by His power and command (Mat. 28:18-19). It is not symbolic. The water does not symbolize the washing away of sin. The water and the Word of Baptism actually cleanse us from sin by joining us to Jesus.
Baptism into Christ is a baptism into His death. This means that the benefit of Jesus’ death is applied to the sinner. And what benefit is that? Forgiveness, the full and free forgiveness of all sin. This is why we bring infants to the font. It is because they are born in sin (Psa. 51:5). They need to be forgiven, so that they might live in Christ. Sin does not live in Jesus; therefore our sin must be forgiven if we are to live in Him.
But Baptism does even more for us. It not only joins us with Jesus’ atoning death, it also joins us with Jesus’ glorious resurrection. “Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with Him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over Him.” For us who are baptized into Christ, death no longer has dominion over us. Death is not our lord anymore. Death is not the boss.
The two major problems in our life—sin and death—are dealt with at the baptismal font where Jesus meets us with His eternal blessings. It may not look like much happens at Baptism. Nothing changes in the appearance of the person who was baptized. But Baptism is an “Out with the Old! In with the New!” moment like no other. In the waters of Baptism our old Adam, our inherited sinful nature, is drowned. And our new life of faith rises to the surface. In another one of his letters, Paul writes, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2Co. 5:17).
Sadly we do not always live as we are. Even though we know we should leave the old sins of the past behind us, covered by Jesus’ righteousness and cleansed by His blood, yet those old sins still hold some appeal. The devil tempts us to think that the old and new can coexist. “Just because we have faith doesn’t mean we have to stop having fun,” we say. And this is how we so easily find our way back to old passions, old habits, and old vices.
But you cannot live for Adam and for Jesus. You cannot feed the sin and expect righteousness to survive. You cannot despise the blessings of your Baptism and remain in Christ. Paul writes that “our old self was crucified with Him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.”
You live in your Baptism by repenting every day of the sin that threatens to overcome you and destroy your faith. Repentance is how you “come clean,” so to speak. It is how you toss out the old, how you walk away from everything that draws, tempts, and pulls you away from your Savior Jesus. And every day you welcome the new by trusting in Jesus, hearing His saving Gospel, clinging to His promises, and striving by the power of the Holy Spirit to live the way God has called you to live.
The people of the world keep breaking down and building up in an attempt to create something that will last. But all their possessions, plans, and power are doomed to fail. All those new things will become old and be discarded in the landfill of history. Baptism gives you something that lasts. It gives you what you could never produce on your own. Baptism ties your past, present, and future to Jesus. It gives you the forgiveness and life He won. It gives you the comfort and peace of knowing you are a child of God. And it assures you that when this life comes to an end, you will live on as Jesus does.
No matter how many years are behind you or how long ago you were baptized, the blessings of Baptism never get old. In Baptism you were crucified and buried with Christ. You were raised with Christ. There His death became your death, and His life became your life. In Baptism, “[t]he old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
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(picture from stained-glass Baptism window at Redeemer)
Midweek Lent – Pr. Faugstad homily
Text: Genesis 4:1-12
In Christ Jesus, who shed His blood in death so we guilty ones might be redeemed and live, dear fellow redeemed:
The idea of sacrifice was built into creation by God from the very beginning. After He had made the first man, He told him he could eat of every tree of the Garden of Eden except for one. He must not eat fruit from “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Gen. 2:17). This was a sacrifice by which the man and his wife would prove their love and devotion to God. But they decided to disobey God. They did not want to make this sacrifice anymore, and they ate from the tree God had forbidden.
Their sin against God had consequences not just for them, but for all of creation. Because of their sin, now there would be death. To remind them of this death, God clothed the man and woman in animal skins (Gen. 3:21). Their sin had utterly changed their relationship to God, and it also changed their relationship to animals. Animals had been sacrificed for their clothing, and animals would now also be employed as sacrifices offered to God.
We learn this in today’s reading from Genesis 4. Like his father Adam, first-born son Cain worked in the field planting and harvesting crops. But second-born son Abel kept the sheep. As far as we know, God did not sanction the eating of meat until later, after the flood (Gen. 9:3). While the sheep may have been kept for their wool, we know they were used as sacrifices for Adam and Eve’s family. Our text says that “Cain brought to the LORD an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions.”
But God did not receive their offerings in the same way. He “had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard.” Why did the LORD look upon their offerings so differently? It wasn’t because of the type or the quality of the products offered. The author of Hebrews says that the difference was faith. “By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts” (11:4).
So Abel offered his sacrifice with fear, love, and trust in God. But Cain offered his sacrifice as a matter of show, as an obligation and nothing more. Why did Cain think the LORD would be satisfied with this faithless offering? Martin Luther suggests that Cain was consumed with self-importance. He was the first child ever born into the world, and hadn’t God said that the woman’s offspring would crush Satan’s head (Gen. 3:15)? Cain was destined for great things, and his parents may have even told him so. But there was nothing special about Abel. Abel was the second-born, second place. He was sent to work with the sheep while Adam and Cain presumably worked in the field side-by-side.
So when God accepted Abel’s offering and not Cain’s, “Cain was very angry, and his face fell.” The LORD called him to repent, and He warned him saying, “sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” The LORD told him not to open the door to jealous anger and hatred. That’s where sin was crouching, lying in wait to overcome him. This reminds us of the Apostle Peter’s words about how the devil works, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1Pe. 5:8). The devil tempts us to sin against one another, to think highly of ourselves and to look down at others.
Each of us here has opened the door to sin like Cain did. We have felt intense anger and hatred toward those around us, sometimes even the members of our own family. We have justified this anger by dwelling on the wrongs that have been done. We convince ourselves that because of a person’s sin against us or against others, they do not deserve our mercy or our love. They deserve to suffer. They deserve punishment. At the same time, we consider ourselves righteous. We would never do the things they do.
But in our anger and hatred toward someone because of their sin, we also sin. 1 John 3:15 says, “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer.” Even our hateful thoughts violate the Fifth Commandment. And if we do not “rule over” these thoughts as God urged Cain to do, the devil will use them to tempt us toward sins of word and action. That is what happened to Cain. He did not repent of his sin. He did not close the door to temptation. He let his anger lead to violence toward his brother, and he killed him.
God approved of the sacrifice of animals for offerings to Him. But He did not approve of the murder of men. Abel did not have to die. He was an innocent victim. Cain was the lawbreaker. He let sin rule over him, and in unbelief he rejected the LORD’s command and promise. “What have you done?” said the LORD. “The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground. And now you are cursed from the ground…. You shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.”
We sin in many of the same ways that Cain did. Like Cain we have also gone through the motions of righteousness toward God. We have offered prayers without thinking about them and expected God to be gracious even when we had no sincere intention to repent and amend our sinful ways. We justified our anger and unkindness toward others while avoiding any personal responsibility.
But the LORD has mercifully kept us from being overcome by sin and losing our faith. He has brought us back here today to repent of our sins and receive His forgiveness. Through His holy Word, He points us to Jesus, whose righteousness covers us like the garments God made for Adam and Eve, and who saved us by His innocent suffering and death. Because Jesus shed His precious blood for us, we are forgiven and cleansed of all our sins. He was the sacrifice required for our salvation, the sacrifice which Abel looked for in faith, and by which he was delivered from death to life just as we will be.
So once again today we humbly offer our sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving for God’s great love for us, and we fix our eyes on Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, who gave Himself for us. “Abel’s blood for vengeance / Pleaded to the skies; / But the blood of Jesus / For our pardon cries” (ELH 283, v. 4). Thanks be to God! Amen.
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(picture from “Cain Slaying Abel” by Peter Paul Rubens, c. 1600)
Baptism of Jesus – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: 1 Peter 3:18-22
In Christ Jesus, who was crucified, died, and was buried, who descended into hell, and who on the third day rose again from the dead in order to save us, dear fellow redeemed:
Imagine what it would be like if you and the members of your household were the only Christians in your community, the only Christians you knew about anywhere. And your neighbors were not peace-loving and law-abiding. They were concerned only for themselves. They lied, cheated, and stole from one another and from you. They despised everything you stood for. They ridiculed you for your morals and flaunted their sins in your face.
And imagine in a climate like this that God told you to build a church on your property, a big church. Your neighbors would soon come over to mock you and ridicule you. “What is that for? Do you think anyone’s going to join your little cult? What a waste of time! What idiots!” And the more that church took shape, the more it would irritate and anger them. They would plot to destroy the whole project, or at least to hinder you in your work. That would be a difficult job. You might even wonder why God let you experience all that pain.
This is a lot like how it was for Noah when the LORD told him to build a large boat in a local field. “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5). So the LORD decided to destroy everything on the earth He had made. “But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD” (v. 8). God told him to build an ark for himself, his family, and two of every sort of animal. These would be saved from destruction while all other living things would be wiped out by a worldwide flood.
Noah did “all that God commanded him” (v. 22), but it most certainly wasn’t pleasant. As long as it took to build that ark, his wicked neighbors made his life miserable. When the ark was finally completed and the LORD told Noah and his family to “go into the ark” (7:1), they must have felt some relief. Their hard work under challenging conditions was finally done. But there would have been sadness too, sadness that their unbelieving neighbors would not only die, but would perish eternally.
Then the waters came. It rained forty days and forty nights. It rained so much that the ark lifted off the ground where it had been built and began to float. Noah and his sons may have wondered how the ark would do on the water. It held up just fine. They must have exchanged smiles when the great boat began to move and rock back and forth. They were going to survive these terrible rains. God had saved them!
Outside the boat, the feeling was much different. There it was all chaos, man and animal clambering for the high ground, family members abandoning each other in a bid to survive, the waters rising and finally covering every tree, hill, and mountain. Total destruction. No survivors.
Those waters did two things at the same time: they destroyed all living things on earth, and they saved Noah and his family. The same waters had two very different effects. In today’s text the apostle Peter writes that “Baptism… corresponds to this.” God wants us to learn about Baptism from the worldwide flood. He wants us to understand how the waters of Baptism both destroy and save.
First of all we should be clear what Baptism is. Our Catechism states that “Baptism is not just water, but it is the water used according to God’s command and connected with His Word.” Where does God command Baptism? It is when Jesus told His apostles, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you” (Mat. 28:18-20, NKJV). Here Jesus commissioned His Church to “make disciples of all the nations” by baptizing and teaching them. Baptism is the application of water while the words of Jesus are spoken: “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
Jesus says that “all authority has been given to [Him]” to command this. But why should we recognize this authority, and how do we know His words have the power to do anything in Baptism? The reason Jesus can make this claim is spelled out in today’s sermon text. It says that “Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous.” He did not suffer for His own sins—there were none! He suffered for our sins. He was the righteous one, perfectly holy, pure in every way. And He gave Himself for the unrighteous ones, for you and me and everyone else. But this is strange. Why would someone who was perfect suffer for the wicked? It was so that “He might bring us to God.”
Jesus wanted to save us. We deserved to be destroyed, to be sent to eternal suffering in hell. Sin against God demands a response of justice. But instead of condemning us, God condemned His own perfect Son. Jesus stepped in our place. He took our punishment. He died our death and suffered our hell. With His saving work on the cross complete, Jesus said, “It is finished” (Joh. 19:30) and gave up His spirit.
Today’s text describes what happened next. Christ was “put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which He went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison.” This is what we confess in the Apostles’ Creed when we say that Jesus “descended into hell.” He did not go there to suffer some more—He had already suffered the punishment of hell on the cross. He went to “proclaim to the spirits in prison.” Peter writes that “the spirits in prison” are those who “formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared.” So these are the souls of the unbelievers who rejected God’s promises.
And what did Jesus proclaim to them? He did not proclaim their forgiveness or salvation. The souls of unbelievers in hell cannot pass over into heaven (Luk. 16:26). Jesus descended into hell to proclaim His victory, to show Whom they had rejected when they chose the sin of the world over the salvation of God’s Word. He went there to show them why those destructive waters came upon them and why Noah and his family were spared.
But His death and His decent into hell was not enough for Jesus to claim “all authority” for sending His disciples to baptize and teach. What authority could He have if He was buried in the tomb and never emerged again? His claim is entirely dependent on His resurrection. If Jesus did not rise again from the dead, He is nobody’s Savior. If He did not rise again from the dead, He is nothing but another dead man. But He did rise, on the third day. Peter witnessed it, along with more than 500 others (1Co. 15:6).
Who would question the authority and power of One who died and rose again? If this happened today, think how the world would flock to that person. All would want to know his secret or somehow get a share of that power, so that they also could rise again. This is exactly what Jesus gives us in Baptism. He gives the power to rise again from the dead.
When you were baptized, the waters of Baptism brought both destruction and salvation to you. Like the unbelievers destroyed in the flood, the waters of Baptism drowned your unbelief. Your sins were washed off in the water, and Christ’s righteousness was poured over you. Baptism, as today’s text says, is not some sort of outward cleansing or “a removal of dirt from the body.” It is “an appeal to God for a good conscience.” And on what grounds does Baptism make that appeal? “[T]hrough the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
We receive a clean conscience in Baptism because Jesus rose again from the dead. He took our sins to the cross, buried them in the grave, and rose again without them. Since He paid for and buried them, your sins are not stuck to you anymore. Your Baptism delivered this forgiveness and salvation to you. Romans 6:4 says, “We were buried therefore with [Christ Jesus] 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.” Since you have passed through the destructive and saving waters of Baptism, you now “walk in newness of life.” You were a sinner, and now you are a saint. You were dead, and now you are alive.
You could not make this happen; Jesus did it for you. On your own, you are no better than the sinners destroyed in the waters of the flood. The good works you have done would not be enough to get you on the ark today. Noah and his family were not saved because of good works. They were saved by faith, which God worked in them through His Word. Faith has also been worked in you through the same Word of grace. This faith clings to the promises Jesus has connected to Baptism.
Jesus’ statement about having “all authority” was no empty boast. He does have all authority in heaven and on earth. He sits “at the right hand of God” with every power subjected to Him. What Jesus does with His power is deliver forgiveness and life. That’s how He “flexes His muscles,” so to speak. He ensures that His saving Word and Sacraments continue to be administered. He wants you to be comforted by His promises, so that you do not fear His destruction but rejoice in His salvation.
The Lord has not commanded you to build a big church in your backyard. But He has called you to return to your Baptism every day by repentance and faith. He wants those cleansing waters to be your daily refuge, because in those waters, your sins were washed away, you became His child, and you were joined to your Savior Jesus, who suffered, died, and rose again for you.
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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(stained glass of Noah’s ark from Saude Lutheran Church)
The Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Trinity/All Saints – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Matthew 9:18-26
In Christ Jesus, through whom we are called to everlasting sainthood by faith in His name, dear fellow redeemed:
We have recently finished watching the Ken Burns documentary on The Civil War. When the war finally came to an end, the documentary detailed the reaction of the soldiers at that moment. After four years of fighting, we might expect to hear about union men shouting for joy and jumping up and down. But that was not their reaction. Their mood was quiet and subdued. They couldn’t help but think what it took to get to this point. They remembered all the lives lost, both the Americans on their side and the Americans on the other. How could they cheer? How could they celebrate?
Nearly as many soldiers died in the Civil War as have died in all other American wars combined. There was probably no family that was not touched by a soldier’s death. But death is not just confined to war. Death has touched each of us through the loss of family members and friends. Death comes because of sin. Romans 5:12 says, “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.” You and I are sinners. That means one day, death will come to us too.
Death is no laughing matter. This is why the crowd standing around the bed of a dead girl was so offended when Jesus said, “the girl is not dead but sleeping.” Was this some sort of sick joke? Who did Jesus think He was to come in and announce this? What a cruel statement to make in front of the grief-stricken parents of the girl! Matthew tells us that the crowd “laughed at Him.” It was a spiteful laugh, full of ridicule. They despised Jesus.
I’m sure the same thing would happen today if Jesus showed up at a “celebration of life” party and announced that the deceased was “not dead, but sleeping.” He would be laughed out of the room, or thrown out. I hope the same would not happen at a Christian funeral. The main theme at a Christian funeral is not how wonderful the deceased person was. It is not about how we will keep his or her memory alive. It is not about being comforted that the one we loved is watching over us and is still in our hearts. That may be how unbelievers deal with death, but it should not be that way for us who believe.
A Christian funeral is about Christ. It is a beautiful opportunity to be reminded of the hope and comfort we have in Him. If Jesus is not the focus, if He is not in the room, there can be no comfort. Without Jesus, there is only sadness. Then flute players sound the woeful songs of death, and people weep and wail loudly like they did at the house of the little girl (Mar. 5:38).
When Jesus came on the scene, He chided the people gathered there. He told them to stop their commotion and weeping. He chided them like a mother might when her noisy children are playing near a napping baby. “Go away,” said Jesus, “for the girl is… sleeping.” When the crowd had been put outside, then the house was quiet. Jesus was there, along with Peter, James, and John, and the girl’s parents.
The girl lay there unmoving, her heart stopped, no breath crossing her lips. By all scientific standards, she was dead. But Jesus walked over, He took her by the hand, and He said, “Little girl, I say to you, arise” (Mar. 5:41). Who was laughing now? Not death. Death had to give up its victim. Jesus gave the command, and death had to comply. Immediately the girl woke up as though from sleep, and she got up and started walking around.
The old saying states that “nothing is as certain as death and taxes.” But this account gives us reason to question that. In this case, the status of death was not certain. Death was able to be overcome. It was overcome by Jesus. So why are people still laughing at Jesus? They have to laugh—or else believe in Him. Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live” (Joh. 11:25). He said, “Because I live, you also will live” (Joh. 14:9). He said that to Him, death is nothing but a temporary slumber.
He said these things because He was about to conquer death, once and for all. He was going to put Himself in the jaws of death, and so occupy it, so that death could turn its attention to nobody else. The battle was on! Here was Jesus with His confident promises of victory and life facing death with its record of countless victories over humanity. In one of his hymns, Martin Luther said about this battle, “It was a strange and dreadful strife / When life and death contended” (ELH 343, v. 4). Who would win?
It appeared that death had conquered when Jesus was lowered from the cross and placed in a dark tomb. That’s what His friends thought, including Peter, James, and John. But death did not overcome Jesus. Jesus overcame death. He rose again! “Death no longer has dominion over him” (Rom. 6:9). That means it no longer has dominion over us. Paul writes that all who are baptized into Christ partake in His resurrection victory. Because He conquered, they conquer. Because He lives, they live.
But unbelievers reject this hope. They laugh at our confidence in Jesus’ promises. “If your Lord is so powerful,” they say, “why do you Christians end up the same as us? You shouldn’t need cemeteries if death has no power over you!” It is true that believers are buried “six feet under” just like unbelievers are. There is no obvious difference between them once they die. The same cold earth is dumped over the remains of both.
But believers view the burial of one of their own very differently than unbelievers do. Believers lay their brothers and sisters in Christ to rest in the sure hope of the resurrection. They tuck their loved one in a soft casket like a parent tucks his child in bed. They comfort one another with the certainty that their loved one is “not dead, but sleeping.” Jesus is going to come again, just like He came to the side of the little girl, and He is going to raise the dead.
This will happen because Jesus has promised it. The One who defeated death should be taken seriously. When He does this on the last day, then all the world will know who is victorious. Paul writes that “When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ ‘O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’” (1Co. 15:54-55). On that day, we will laugh at death, because it can no longer touch us.
But you don’t have to wait until the last day to laugh at death. You can laugh at death right now. I know that death looks scary. I know it has a ferocious growl. But all its teeth are missing. Jesus knocked them out when He marched back up the throat of death and out of the mouth of the grave. It comes down to this: either Jesus is Lord, or death is Lord; either Jesus conquers, or death conquers; either Jesus reigns, or death reigns. Death cannot defeat those who are in Christ.
The times that we are overwhelmed by death are the times that we have looked away from Jesus. If we trusted Jesus’ promise of the resurrection and eternal life, we would not weep so bitterly for our loved ones. We would not wish for the comfort of their presence more than the comfort of our Lord’s presence. We would not look backward with so much grief instead of forward with so much hope.
Those who do not look to Jesus try to cope with death in other ways. Some reach for the bottle or attempt to fill the void of loss with things. Some become despondent or angry and shut people out of their life. Some try to connect with the dead through psychics or mediums. Some feel life is not worth living, and they seek to end it. These methods offer no help at all. Nothing we come up with can give comfort in the face of death.
Our only comfort is from the Lord. He is the answer for the pain death causes. He is our assurance that death does not have the upper hand. Though it seems to prevail over all flesh, Jesus will make it give up the dead again. Jesus will raise all the dead and will bring all the saints to be with Him in heaven.
The saints are all believers, whether dead or living. They are those whose sins are no longer held against them, and who are declared holy in God’s sight through faith. Even now God calls you a saint, because you believe and confess that Jesus “was delivered up for [your] trespasses and raised for [your] justification” (Rom. 4:25).
Jesus’ victory over sin and death is your victory. Yes, one day your body will give out and die, yet Jesus will not leave your body in the grave. He will raise you again as if from sleep, because to Him death is nothing more than sleep. Because Jesus has overcome death, death must do His bidding, which is to deliver us from this sinful world to the glories of heaven.
So Shall We Laugh at Jesus or at Death? The answer is found in Jesus’ empty tomb. We now laugh with Jesus at death. Death did not win. Death will not win. “[T]hanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1Co. 15:57).
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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(painting by Gabriel von Max, 1878)
The Holy Nativity of Our Lord – Pr. Faugstad Exordium and Sermon
Is it “Merry Christmas!” or “Happy Holidays!” We prefer “Merry Christmas” because Christ is “the reason for the season.” If there is no birth at Bethlehem to celebrate, then we’re left with a season of bright lights, glittering decorations, gift giving, and Santa Claus—but no Savior. On the other hand, “Happy Holidays” is not totally objectionable. “Holidays” comes from “Holy days,” and the birth of the Christ-Child is a holy—a sacred—event.
While we can see the cultural tug-of-war between these two greetings, there seems to be no argument about the words “merry” and “happy.” One means just about the same as the other. We want people to have merriment and happiness. But as nice as this is, our wish cannot make it happen.
This is a time of year that not everyone feels so cheerful. Some feel very alone with no one who seems to understand or care for them. For others the season is a reminder of happier times past and of loved ones no longer present. As much as they might appreciate the sentiment of a “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays,” the warm feelings escape them.
You may be among those this morning who do not feel “merry.” But you can still rejoice, even in your sorrows and troubles. You can rejoice because the Savior was born into the world today, the One who would defeat the devil, pay your debt of sin, and destroy your death. Jesus the Christ came to do this for you. He came to win your salvation, so that you would enjoy everlasting merriment and happiness with Him in heaven. Let us therefore rejoice in these glad tidings by singing our festival hymn, “Rejoice, Rejoice This Happy Morn!” (#142):
Rejoice, rejoice this happy morn!
A Savior unto us is born,
The Christ, the Lord of glory.
His lowly birth in Bethlehem
The angels from on high proclaim
And sing redemption’s story.
God’s great favor;
Bless Him ever
Give Him praise and adoration!
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Sermon text: St. John 1:1-14
In Christ Jesus, God incarnate, eternally begotten and born in time, dear fellow redeemed:
Today is the birthday of Jesus. But we celebrate it differently than the way we celebrate the birthdays of friends and relatives. And that is as it should be. The birth of the Christ-Child should stand out. We would not do the day justice if we sang a quick round of the “Happy Birthday” song to Jesus before cutting into some festive birthday cake. Only the best will do for this occasion. So we bring out our most elaborate decorations. We give special gifts. We join the angels in singing “Glory to God in the highest!” We resolve to live holier lives to honor His name.
But even our best efforts fall short. No collection of beautiful things, no amount of riches, no high-sounding praise, and no good deeds are equal to what is declared in today’s text: “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Who is “the Word”? “The Word” is the Son of God, begotten of the Father from eternity. He was with the Father in the beginning when God said, “Let there be light” (Gen. 1:3). As all creation was spoken into existence, the Son—the Word—was at work. “All things were made through Him, and without Him was not any thing made that was made.” From the plants to the bugs to the birds to the fish to the cattle to humankind, all living things were given life through the Son.
But then death entered the world. Man and woman did not think they could really live unless they ate from the forbidden tree. They found that just the opposite was true. The LORD came and told the man, “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Gen. 3:19). Now their flesh would die, and their children would die, and their children’s children and all the generations after them would die. The prophet Isaiah described the terrible outcome of Adam and Eve’s sin: “All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the LORD blows on it; surely the people are grass” (40:6-7).
And yet we wonder: Are we really so weak? Are we no more than blades of grass in this life? But look at everything we have accomplished! Look at our great cities! Look at our ingenuity and creativity! Look at how we have subdued the wild things of the earth! It is true that humans are capable of many things. But there is one thing they have not and never could master. They cannot stand against death.
If you come down with pneumonia or some kind of infection, you are given an antibiotic to combat the sickness. This medicine must be introduced into your body, so that you can get better. The entire human race needed something like this. We needed an antidote for the poison of sin which had worked its way all through us. What could counteract it? Isaiah continues, “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever” (v. 8). The Word stands forever. The Word is life.
And “when the fullness of time had come” (Gal. 4:4), “the Word became flesh.” The Word who gave life to all things at creation now entered His creation in the most surprising and mysterious way—He bound human flesh to Himself. He did this by entering the small confines of a virgin’s womb as a human embryo. A short time later, His heart began to beat. His arms and legs formed. His brain developed. Mary was obviously “with child,” but no one—not even Mary—fully grasped who this Child was.
His birth was greeted with joy as births so often are. We love to see new life enter the world. There is nothing as precious as a tiny, wide-eyed baby. But as Mary and Joseph and the shepherds looked down at Jesus and held Him in their arms, they were not simply looking at a cute newborn. They were staring into the eyes of God. They were holding the One who held up all things. They gently cradled Him who would save them from eternal destruction. They seemed to be superior in strength to this Infant. But their strength was only temporary. Their flesh would give out in time.
This is why “the Word became flesh.” God became man to save humankind from its certain fate. He brought His life-giving power into the world of death. He came to dispel the darkness of sin by His life of perfect righteousness and by His innocent suffering and death. He was the antidote for the poison of sin. “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
So Life entered the world on Christmas, but John writes that “He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, yet the world did not know Him.” What a tragedy! Life had come for the dying, but they did not see what was before them. They pushed Him away. They did not want Him. This still happens. The Savior came for all, but so many think they do not need Him. They do not believe their condition is that serious. They might celebrate Christmas but not with any real concern about their sin or their Savior.
But there are some who welcome Christ’s coming in the right way. They approach Christmas with humility. They understand how corrupt the world is and their own heart. They celebrate Jesus’ birth, because they know His birth means salvation.
Your birthday without Jesus’ birthday would mean you are still in your sins. Your birthday is a special day, but you needed to be born again. Physical life in this world is only temporary; human flesh only lasts so long. You needed the spiritual life that Jesus obtained through His holy birth and life, His death, and resurrection. But none can conceive spiritual life in themselves. The dead cannot bring themselves to life. God must do this, and He does it through the Word.
John writes, “But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” Believers in Jesus, those whose hearts are filled with new life and hope, were given this spiritual life not through their own striving and efforts. They were born “of God.” He chose them. He sent His Son for them, to save them. His holy life counts as their holy life. His death for sin counts as their death for sin.
Everything that Jesus accomplished during His time on earth is given to us now through His Word. Many of you received these blessings just after your birth by the power of the Word in baptism. This is when God filled you with life and claimed you as His child. Others came to faith later in life by the same powerful Word. Whenever it happened, the injection of the Gospel into your heart is when you really started to live. This is when the Lord of life entered your dying flesh to give you the hope of eternal life.
It was for your salvation that “the Word became flesh.” This is why God’s Son took on flesh and was born of the virgin Mary. Our humble decorations cannot properly adorn this day, our gifts cannot do it justice, our hymns of praise cannot fully express it, our best efforts cannot equal it. And yet, we do and give what we can in thankfulness to our Savior.
He is pleased with our lowly praises because He is pleased with us. He looks with favor upon us like a loving parent looks upon his dear child. He will not forget His child. He will continue to feed and nourish us with the food of life, with the nourishment of the Word, until we are finally transferred from here, from this life of trouble and sorrow, into His glorious kingdom of light.
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(painting is “Adoration of the Shepherds” by Gerard van Honthorst, 1592-1656)
The Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Luke 7:11-17
In Christ Jesus, “who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2Tim. 1:10), dear fellow redeemed:
The town of Nain still exists. It sits among rolling hills not far from the Sea of Galilee. If you visited at the right time of year, you could find red poppies growing on the slopes of the hills. It would be a pleasant place to stop for a while and enjoy the beauty of the area. The word “Nain” means just that—a charming or beautiful place. Traveling south from Capernaum where He healed a Roman centurion’s servant, Jesus decided to stop at this little town. His disciples and the crowd with Him probably thought it was a nice place to take a rest.
The arrival of a big crowd would have typically brought excitement to Nain. But not today. Today was a sad day. The people of the town joined a distraught widow who mourned the death of her only son, a young man in the prime of his life. A thousand unanswerable questions ran through the mind of this poor woman: What would she do now? Who would provide for her? Why did God let this happen—first her husband and then her son?
It was a sad scene. We have witnessed scenes like this in our own lives. Some of us have felt the sadness this woman felt. It is a rare person who does not have to face the death of loved ones at a young age. The longer we live, the closer death gets to us. Death takes our grandparents and parents, and then it comes to us. One Lutheran pastor described the reality of death in this way, “The whole earth is a graveyard, and the whole race of humanity a funeral procession.” But it is worse than that. He writes, “We don’t simply follow the dead when we walk behind a coffin; we carry death in ourselves and hasten to our own graves” (Laache, Book of Family Prayer, p. 577).
What does it mean that “we carry death in ourselves”? It means that we carry the germ of death inside. We have been infected with sin, even from the moment of our conception. We are something like the tire with a nail in it. It can run for a while, but eventually it goes flat. We can live with the thorn of sin for a time, but eventually our bodies give out. The Apostle Paul states that because of sin in our bodies, “our outer self—our physical life—is wasting away” (2Cor. 4:16).
If you have an injury, you let it rest until it heals. If there is an infection in your body, the doctor prescribes an antibiotic. If your weight is causing health problems, you try to eat better and exercise. But what can you do about sin? Some people act like it isn’t even there, or they try to cover it up. They point out the bad in others, but not in themselves. Some feel the burden of sin and try to make up for it. They volunteer and go out of their way to help others, not so much because they feel love for their neighbors, but because they hope it will look good to God. But no matter what people try to do about sin—ignoring it, covering it up, trying to make amends for it—they end up in the same place. They can’t escape death.
There is nothing more sobering than death. No scientist or strong man has successfully defeated it. All attempts have failed. Still, human beings boast continuously about what they have accomplished. Look at our power! Look at our ingenuity! Look at our social progress! Look at our success! And yet death marches on and fells the world’s heroes one after the other. The old 18th century saying suggests that nothing is as certain as “death and taxes,” but a person might be able to evade taxes. He cannot evade death.
If nothing else woke up the world to its own pride and vanity and weakness, it seems that death would do the job. The universal problem of death should make everyone seek God and His mercy. For those who don’t, there isn’t much comfort to be had at their funeral, or as it is commonly called, their “celebration of life.” Loved ones share memories and funny stories. Everyone cheers the deceased for “doing things his way.” They remember him saying that he didn’t always make the best choices, but nobody had as much fun as he did. And they imagine the deceased now being “in a better place”—often described as a perfect golf course or a prime fishing spot.
These are the ways unbelievers try to lessen the sting of death. But their self-comfort is empty. The reality is that the person they loved is gone and isn’t coming back. Death won again. Death always wins. Well, almost always.
When the two crowds met at the gates of Nain, it must have been awkward. The townspeople were mourning the death of one of their own. The crowd with Jesus was looking for a place to have rest and refreshment. The visitors would not have been greeted with welcoming smiles. They may have been met with frowns, since they were getting in the way of a very personal ceremony.
But instead of stepping aside, Jesus stepped right up to the grieving woman. Gently He said to her, “Do not weep.” But who was this? Had anyone seen Him before? Didn’t He understand what was going on? Jesus did not offer an explanation. He turned from the woman and touched the open coffin. Those carrying the dead man stood still. They didn’t realize it, but death was about to be stopped in its tracks too. Jesus said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.”
If there was any delay between Jesus’ words and the rising up of the man, who would have believed it could happen? But immediately the dead man sat up and began to speak! Then a mother’s tears of anguish became tears of joy. Here was her son, alive! But who was this strange Man?
This Man was the Son of God incarnate, and He was on a mission. He came to deliver sinners from the universal curse. He came to provide the solution for sin. That solution was a life of innocence and the shedding of His divine blood. The Living One, the Lord of Life, had to die, so that that the dying ones, slaves of death, might live. But it was one thing to raise a dead man to life. Could Jesus raise Himself? The answer came on the third day after His death. To the surprise of everyone—both His enemies and His friends—Jesus rose from the dead on Easter morning.
Jesus’ victory over death was not just for Him. Before all this took place He had declared, “Because I live, you also will live” (Jn. 14:19). He said that His life would be not only His, but His disciples’ also. And how could they be assured of this life even while their bodies declined and they faced their death? Their assurance of life was their baptism into Christ. Baptism is your assurance too. The Letter to the Romans says, “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. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (6:4-5).
“We shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” This certainty is given us in baptism. In our baptism, we are joined with our Savior; we become part of His body. That means His victory is our victory. His life is our life. Because we are in Christ, death can no more prevail against us than it prevailed against Him. This is why we can laugh at death even as it seems to be winning. We can say along with the believers of Old and New Testament times, “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (Hos. 13:14; 1Cor. 15:55).
The poet John Donne wrote an excellent poem on this theme. He starts by addressing death:
Death be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not so,
For, those, whom thou think’st, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poore death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
He says that death will not defeat him. And why is that? It is because of Jesus’ resurrection, and the life He delivered to us in our baptism. Donne concludes his poem with these confident words:
One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.
“Death shalt die” because the Life-Winner has triumphed over it. Death does its terrible work as long as there is sin in the world. But Jesus will soon return. Then the shadow of death will be dispelled in His bright light, and death will trouble us no more. This is our only comfort when we lay loved ones to rest in the tomb. We bury them with the confidence that their stay in the tomb is only temporary. To Jesus, they are only sleeping, and He can wake them with a word as easily as He raised the young man of Nain.
Death is all around us, and it is in us. But Jesus is in us and with us too, and He is stronger than death. When death takes a fellow child of God away from us, or when death comes for us, we can say with all boldness, “Death, Meet Life.” Death cannot harm our souls, which are safely in our Lord’s hands. He has even caused death to serve His purpose of delivering our souls to eternal life. It is in this bold confidence that we can sing with the hymnist,
I thank thee, death, thou leadest me
To that true life where I would be.
So cleansed by Christ, I fear not death.
Lord Jesus, strengthen Thou my faith. (ELH #530, v. 2)
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(painting of the “Resurrection of the Widow’s Son from Nain” by the Lutheran artist Lucas Cranch the Younger, c. 1569)
Saint Day: Mary Magdalene
Text: St. John 20:1-2,11-18
In Christ Jesus, who has compassion on poor sinners and suffered and died for each one, dear fellow redeemed:
In the three years of Jesus’ public work, the twelve disciples went wherever He went. But they were not the only followers of Jesus. The New Testament informs us of other men (Ac. 1:23) and women who traveled with Him. Regarding the women, the evangelist Luke writes that they “provided for [Jesus and His disciples] out of their means” (Lk. 8:3). Their financial support allowed Jesus and the Twelve to focus on teaching, preaching, and healing, rather than on finding daily bread.
The women showed this kindness toward Jesus because of the compassion He had showed them. Luke notes that some of the women “had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities,” including “Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, [King] Herod’s household manager, and Susanna” (vv. 2-3). Our focus today is on Mary Magdalene.
As far as we know, Mary came from a village on the Sea of Galilee called “Magdala,” which made her, “Mary the Magdalene.” Mary would not have been remembered beyond her lifetime except for her association with Jesus.
She first beheld Him, as though peering through a dark cloud. Seven demons had taken residence in her. This could have caused her to behave in all sorts of troubling ways. One girl was possessed by a demon which gave her fortune-telling abilities (Ac. 16:16). A demon afflicted another boy by trying to cast him into fire and water to destroy him (Mk. 9:22). A legion of demons possessed another man and drove him into the desert to live among tombs (Lk. 8:26-30).
Demons inflict harm and are constantly working to move people to sin against themselves and others. According to tradition, Mary’s demons led her to sin especially against the Sixth Commandment. [Luke 7:36-50 has been applied to Mary Magdalene in the history of the church, but there is no proof that this woman and Mary are the same.]
We do not know how long Mary had been possessed by demons, but we do have an idea how it came about. Jesus explained that demons are only too ready to enter hearts that are empty of saving faith. He said that a demon “finds the house [the heart] empty, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there” (Mt. 12:44-45). Mary was in a terrible state. She had no hope. She was controlled by satanic forces. She appeared to be alive, but her body was full of death. If nothing changed, her anguish on earth would have given way to an eternity of suffering in hell.
Then the menacing cloud was lifted. Jesus stood before her, and as He did for many others, He commanded the demons to come out of her. Mary was freed from the chains of death that held her. The same powerful Word that forced the demons out of her body also worked its way into her heart. Her hardened heart of unbelief became a living heart of faith. She looked upon her Savior and loved Him for the mercy He had showed her. She could never repay Him, but she could follow Him and devote her life to Him.
Mary joined the men and women who traveled with Jesus until their journey led them through the gates of Jerusalem on a Sunday of palm branches and praises. Still, the mood was tense. It was well known that many of the Jewish religious leaders despised Jesus. Would they try to have Him arrested during this festival week on charges of blasphemy and insurrection? And in fact they did, in a secluded garden with few eyes watching.
By Good Friday morning, word began to spread about Jesus’ arrest. Mary heard too and went to where the crowd was gathering to see what would happen. The religious leaders succeeded in turning the people against Jesus, and they pressured Pilate to give the order for Jesus’ crucifixion. Wearing a crown of thorns, bruised and bleeding, Jesus was sent out from the governor’s palace carrying His own cross. A great many joined the procession, including women who mourned and lamented for Him (Lk. 23:27). Mary must have been one of these, because we know she was among the few followers of Jesus who stood by His cross at Golgotha (Jn. 19:25).
Her heart broke as she watched her Savior in such agony. How could they do this? How could this happen to such a great man? He had delivered her from her demons, and from death itself. But now there was no one to save Him. Darkness descended at noontime, and about 3:00pm, Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt. 27:46). He was suffering the eternal fires of hell for sinners. Then He said, “It is finished” (Jn. 19:30), and followed that with, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” (Lk. 23:46). After saying this, He breathed His last.
Mary Magdalene witnessed all these things, but she could hardly comprehend what she was hearing and seeing. Could this be it? Could her Savior be dead? Many went home, but she and some of the other women from Galilee would not leave Jesus. They watched from a distance and saw Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus take the body down from the cross and wrap it in a clean linen shroud. They followed the men and saw the tomb where the body was buried (Mt. 27:55-61). Then they hurried back to their homes before the start of the Sabbath at sundown.
God established the Sabbath for a day to rest and be refreshed and strengthened through the Word. But Jesus’ followers could hardly relax. They could not believe their kind Teacher was dead. They worried that the authorities would be coming for them next. For their part, the women resolved to serve Jesus one last time. After the Sabbath, they would bring spices and ointments to give Jesus a more proper burial (Lk. 23:56).
But their spices and ointments would not be needed. The women found the tomb open and empty. While Mary Magdalene stood there weeping, Jesus appeared and spoke to her. She did not recognize who it was. But when Jesus said her name, “Mary,” she turned and cried out, “Rabboni!”—“Teacher!” This was Jesus’ first earthly appearance after His resurrection. Mary—formerly inhabited by seven demons—was the first witness of the event that changed everything forever.
It’s a good story with a happy ending. But it’s no good if that’s all we see in it. We should recognize that Mary’s story could just as well be your story and mine. Like Mary, we also were controlled by satanic forces before we were converted by the power of the Holy Spirit. This is why in our baptismal liturgy, we ask sponsors to answer this question on behalf of the young child or infant, “Do you renounce the devil, and all his works, and all his ways?”
Through Baptism, the light of God’s powerful Word pierced our darkness and brought us to faith. This saving Baptism into Christ is our continued defense against the demons who would do us harm. We return to our Baptism through repentance of our sins and trust in God’s Word of grace. His Word leads us from spiritual death to spiritual life, just as His Word gave life to Mary.
The proof that this life is ours is based on what Mary and many others witnessed. They saw Jesus die. It was no elaborate hoax. They did not deposit an unconscious Jesus in the tomb and leave an opening for Him to escape. He was dead. Tombs are not closed and sealed unless this is certain. Listen to how Mary referred to Jesus on Easter morning: “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.” She assumes He had to be taken and laid somewhere because He was dead. Of course He couldn’t move Himself!
And by this assumption, Mary was just as guilty as all the rest. Jesus had told them otherwise. He said He would die and rise again. But they did not believe it. No one had ever risen from the dead. We are tempted to the same unbelief. All we see around us is death. How can we be sure the dead will rise again?
Our certainty is not in what we see with our eyes, but in what others saw with theirs. Did the disciples believe Jesus could rise? No. What changed their minds? They saw Jesus alive multiple times. It was undeniable. Even when they were arrested and killed for preaching Jesus’ death and resurrection, they would not deny His resurrection, because it was true.
Jesus’ resurrection is a historical fact. It can be rejected, but it cannot be undone. Jesus rose in victory over death, so that each sinner can be certain of forgiveness. His resurrection means that God accepted His sacrifice on behalf of all sinners. Jesus paid the debt of your sin. He conquered your death. The death of your body in this life is only temporary. Jesus will raise you again, and then there will be no pain, trouble, or weeping.
When Mary saw Jesus standing outside His tomb, she wanted to cling to Him. But Jesus told her that His Word—and not His visible presence—would now have most importance. She was to share that Word with the disciples, that Jesus would soon ascend “to My Father and your Father, to My God and your God.” This is the moment captured in Jerico’s altar painting, which is also printed on today’s bulletin cover. Jesus holds up His hands showing the marks of the nails and points to the heavens.
This painting reminds us to take Jesus at His Word, even though we cannot now see Him. We believe that He died and rose again for us, and that He has ascended into heaven to prepare a place for all believers. We learn with Mary to “Set [our] minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Col. 3:2). We wait eagerly for Jesus to appear to us like He did to Mary, and then our journey from Death to Life will be complete.
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The Festival of the Resurrection of Our Lord – Pr. Faugstad Exordium and Sermon
Could there be a more fitting day for Easter than April 1st? Easter is the day that Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. They believe His resurrection means that they will one day rise from the dead too. Could anything be more foolish than this? Has anyone now living seen a dead person come back from the dead? And yet Christians confidently say this will happen, as though there is no doubting it. What fools they are, on April 1st and every day!
And the Christian cannot argue. None of this stands to reason. Believers in Christ struggle with the same sins that unbelievers do. We feel the same pains and infirmities. We die the same death. Why should we be so confident that we—and not they—will rise to eternal life in heaven? What makes us so sure? The answer to the question hinges on whether Jesus was God in the flesh who died and rose again, or whether He was a tremendous liar or lunatic whose remains now reside in a tomb somewhere by the old city walls of Jerusalem.
It is true, as the apostle Paul says, that “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1Cor. 15:17). If you trust in a man named Jesus who was only a man, then you are a fool, because no ordinary man can save you. But if Jesus is who He said He is—the holy Son of God—and if He did what hundreds of eyewitnesses claimed He did—rise from the dead—then the joke is on the world and not you. Then the unconverted may call you a fool, but you are no fool before God.
What the world calls foolishness, God calls salvation. He sent His Son to do for you what the world never could. Our Lord Jesus “was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Rom. 4:25). He entered into death and came back to life again, so that you would be assured of life forevermore. Let us now rise to sing our exordium hymn, “He Is Arisen! Glorious Word!” (ELH 348, TLH 189).
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Sermon Text: St. Mark 16:1-8
In Christ Jesus, the eternal Destroyer of death, dear fellow redeemed:
The two Marys and Salome dutifully observed the Sabbath, but that troubled day could not pass soon enough. Their great Teacher and Lord had been shamefully killed the day before. They could not reverse what had been done, but at least they could bury His remains more properly. They woke up early in the morning and made their way toward His tomb. Preoccupied with their thoughts, they did not consider another important matter until they were nearly there: “Who will roll away the stone from the door of the tomb?”
Three days before in the late afternoon of Good Friday, the women had watched Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus quickly prepare Jesus for burial, needing to finish before the Sabbath started at sundown. They laid Him in Joseph’s new tomb, which had been cut out of a rock in the middle of a garden. In order to keep thieves and wild animals out, they rolled a large stone against the tomb’s entrance and hurried away.
For the women approaching at daybreak, that big stone was a big problem. It was too heavy to roll back, to tip over, or to pry up. And at this time of day, no one would be coming along to help—that is if they were even willing to open up a tomb for them in the first place. The women had no ready solution to the problem that lay ahead.
You and I have times like that in our lives too. We are faced with big problems that seem like immovable stones. There are troubles and trials and sins that we do not know how to overcome. There are burdens that overwhelm us and weigh us down, so that we do not know how to escape from under them. These “big stones” can get in the way of healthy communication among family members. They can stand in the way of a strong and loving marriage. They can affect our relationship with members of our community and our church.
Sometimes we set up these big stones, and sometimes others put them in our way. The big stones we set up might be the need to always be right or have the last word. They might be our stubborn refusal to forgive those who have offended us, or to apologize for our unkindness. They might be addictions that we work harder to cover up than we do to address.
For the times that we try to show love to our neighbors, but they reject our help and choose to put the worst construction on our actions or words, we cannot move these big stones on our own. We commend these stones to God in prayer, knowing that nothing is impossible with Him.
Like the women in today’s account, the big stones in our lives cannot be removed by hoping they will just go away, by trying really hard to move them, or by blaming others for our problems. Our sin and the sin of others does not budge easily. It is anchored in our hearts, and it stands in the way of God and eternal life.
If sin did not weigh us down, none of us would have to be concerned about the greatest obstacle in life, which is death. But all of us are concerned about death, because all of us are sinners. Sin leads to death. When death comes, the lifeless body of the deceased is placed in a coffin and sealed in a vault. It all looks very final. It makes us sad. It worries us, because we know our time is coming too. Death is the biggest barrier, the biggest stone that stands in our way. The women wondered who would roll away the stone from Jesus’ tomb, but we wonder who will roll away the stone from ours.
The women received their answer when they looked up to see that the large stone already had been rolled away! Mary Magdalene turned around immediately to convey the message to Peter and John that someone had taken the body of the Lord. The other women continued on to the tomb, where the angel reassured them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid Him.” Before, the women were fretting about how the stone might be removed, so that they could anoint Jesus’ dead body. Now the tomb was open, and they were told by an angel that Jesus had risen!
This is how Jesus takes care of the big boulders of our sin that we cannot see a way around. He crushes the sin that stands in His way, and He produces a better solution to our problems than we could have imagined. While we turn our sins and difficulties into mountains, Jesus makes them insignificant molehills. Our sins are not too big for God. He rolled them all out of our way through the holy death of Jesus.
But can we really be sure of this? From our perspective, our problems are as big as ever, and they do not seem to go away. We might still feel lost, and we are desperately afraid that sin and Satan will overcome us. How can we be certain that Jesus paid for our sins? How can we know that we will be safe when death takes us?
The answer is in Jesus’ empty tomb. He was not there when the stone was rolled away. He had risen! The strong bands of death could not hold Him fast. Satan could not drag Him forever into hell. Our Lord’s resurrection proves that He was not simply a righteous Man, but that He is the holy God who suffered and died for our sins, and who rose again in victory! His resurrection is the declaration to the whole world that sin is forgiven, Satan is defeated, and death is annihilated. “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (1Co. 15:55).
Through His resurrection, Jesus changed our cemeteries from places of death and hopelessness, to places of anticipation and even joy. Because Jesus has risen from the dead, all who are faithful to Him unto death will also receive the crown of life (Rev. 2:10). Our cemeteries are simply resting places, temporary habitations, where the bodies of the dead are safely kept until Christ’s triumphant return on the Last Day.
But how will these bodies escape from their graves? Who Will Roll Away the Stone of death from the door of their tombs? Jesus, the One who has already risen, has promised to see to it personally. He will awaken our sleeping bodies with a powerful shout, and He will dispatch His angels to gather us from our tombs to meet the Lord in the air (Mk. 13:27, 1Th. 4:16).
This event will paralyze the unbelieving world with fear, just as it paralyzed the soldiers standing guard at Jesus’ tomb. But for all who believe in the crucified and risen Savior, this will be a day greater than any other day before it. This will be the day of our resurrection from the dead, the day of our ultimate victory over sin, death, and the devil.
You do not need to wonder if this victory will be yours on that day. This victory is already yours by faith. At your baptism, your sins were buried with Christ in His tomb, and in that same baptism you were raised to new life in Him. Even while you stand in the midst of death, you can rejoice and give thanks for your baptism into Christ, through which you have been given His righteousness and life.
You need not wonder how the stone of your death will be rolled away. Jesus’ tomb stands wide open. He is eternally alive, which means that your sin and your death are eternally dead. The Lord is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
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(woodcut by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, 1794-1872)
The Fifth Sunday in Lent – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. John 8:46-59
In Christ Jesus, through whom alone is salvation and eternal life, dear fellow redeemed:
“Who Is Jesus?” It is an important question, and anyone you ask will have an answer for it. But the answers will not all agree. Some think of Jesus as an excellent teacher who shows us how to live a life of love. Some think of Him as a buddy or a sort of life coach, who just wants them to be happy. Some don’t think much of Him at all, because they don’t like what Jesus said, or they doubt that He even existed. And then a good many believe that Jesus is the true God and the Savior of the world.
C. S. Lewis, the author of The Chronicles of Narnia, weighed in on the same question. His contention was that Jesus could be only one of three things: a lunatic, a liar, or the Lord. He wrote: “I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell.”
Lewis argues that with Jesus, there is no middle ground. “Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God” (Mere Christianity, “The Shocking Alternative” chapter). Others have said there is a fourth option: that Jesus is only a legend. But the testimony of the Bible along with testimony from ancient non-Christian sources make this a difficult argument to make. Even going by the Bible alone, what human could or would make up the things Jesus said and did?
The people who consider Jesus to be no more than a moral teacher have not actually read what the Bible says. They have some vague notion of Jesus’ words about “turning the other cheek” and “not judging.” But they investigate no further. What about Jesus’ claim that after He is killed, He will rise again (Mt. 16:21)? Or what about His statement in today’s text that “before Abraham was, I AM.” No matter what others might say about Him, He certainly claimed to be more than a Man.
The Jews who saw the miracles He did and listened to His words were divided in their opinion about Him. Some argued that His miracles proved He was the Christ (Jn. 7:31). Others said Jesus could not be the Christ because He was from Galilee, and the Christ was to come from Bethlehem (7:41-42). Jesus declared in no uncertain terms, “I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me” (8:42).
Many who heard Jesus rejected this. He was not God, they said. So that must make Him a lunatic or liar: “Are we not right in saying that You are a Samaritan and have a demon?” they asked Jesus with not a hint of innocence. Can you imagine that? Accusing the eternal Lord, the One who came “to destroy the works of the devil” (1Jn. 3:8) of being demon-possessed?
Such accusations were not leveled only against Jesus, but also against His followers after Him. It still happens today. I watched a TV show last week that portrayed Christian parents as being stuck-in-the-muds and wrong-headed for trying to stop their son from participating in a school play—a play in which he would act out a homosexual relationship with another boy. The criticism of Christian morals could not be more obvious. There will be no debate and no compromise. The message sent by the show is clear: traditional Christian teaching stretching back thousands of years cannot be tolerated.
Jesus predicted these very things. He said, “If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you…. If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (Jn. 15:19,20). But why does it have to be this way? Can’t there be some sort of compromise?
Whenever Christians try to work out a compromise with the world, what happens? Christianity always loses. Look at what has taken place in Christian churches across America. As more and more have accommodated and even promoted the errors of evolution, the killing of the most helpless among us, homosexual unions, and gender as a feeling instead of a biological reality, these churches have become almost indistinguishable from the culture around them. No longer are they characterized by the message of sin and grace. Now they embrace the sin, which does away with God’s grace.
They try to say that this is all done in the name of and with the blessing of Jesus. But it is not the Jesus who says, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins” (Jn. 8:23-24). Or as He said in today’s text, “Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.”
The Jews were shocked and offended by these words. “What do you mean we are ‘not of God’? We are descendants of Abraham—God’s chosen people. We follow God’s law. We worship in His temple. Who do You think You are?!” But while they may have followed some of the laws in Scripture, they had stopped paying attention to the promises. Their connection to Abraham was physical—they had descended from his line. But they were not his spiritual descendants. Jesus told them this is because “my word finds no place in you” (Jn. 8:37).
All of us here would say that Jesus’ word has a place in our life. But what place does it have? Does it have a place only when we come to church? Even here, we can easily go through all the motions without really taking the Word to heart. We can walk out the door and cheerfully go back to the same sins we did before. Do we long to hear God’s Word? Do we honestly apply it to our own lives? Do we cling to the promises the Lord makes toward us?
We should be willing to give up all earthly gain, all our plans, all our wealth and possessions, and even our own life for the Word of God. Without the Word, we have nothing that can last. With the Word, we have Jesus and the eternal glories He won for us. But the devil convinces us that the world has more to offer. He says it is not God’s truth that matters, but your truth; what matters is that you stay true to yourself. The devil is a liar (8:44). He would have you make a god of yourself, which is the cause of all the evil and heartache we see in the world today.
We know what a lie it is, and yet we fall for this temptation again and again. We hardly study and meditate on God’s Word, and so we remain spiritually vulnerable and weak. We fail to take the Word to heart, and so we live without the confidence and comfort that only the Holy Spirit can provide.
A vengeful and uncaring God might have already destroyed you. An impatient God might have given up on you long ago. An indifferent God would not give you a second thought. But the true God loves you. And the way He showed His love was to send His only-begotten Son to assume our human flesh. Jesus did not come spouting half-brained theories—He was no lunatic. He did not come making promises He never intended to keep—He was no liar. He came to fulfill what you had not done and would never do. He perfectly kept the holy Word of God.
But if He kept the Word, why did He die? He Himself said, “If anyone keeps My word, he will never see death.” He died on the cross because that was the only way to save you and all people. He offered up Himself to atone for all sin. The author of the Book of Hebrews writes that Jesus suffered and died, “so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone” (2:9). The death that He tasted was eternal death in hell, the just punishment for sin. He tasted that death, so you would never have to. He tasted that death, so you could drink deeply of His life by faith in Him.
Jesus is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Those men are alive in spirit now, even though their bodies gave out long ago. Jesus “is not God of the dead, but of the living” (Mt. 22:32). Because Jesus lives, His people live also. His people are not the ones with a certain bloodline or lineage. They are the ones who believe His Word. This is what God’s Word is for—it brings Jesus with all His blessings into your mind and heart. The Apostle John said near the end of his Gospel that the signs and sayings of Jesus “are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (20:31). Who Is Jesus? He is the Lord and your Savior.
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(painting is portion of the altarpiece in Weimar by Lucas Cranach the Younger, 1555)
The Resurrection of Our Lord – Pr. Faugstad Exordium and Sermon
In 1974, some farmers in China were digging a well when they bumped into clay pieces, arrowheads, and artifacts. Their discovery turned out to be an army of some 8,000 clay warriors, chariots, and horses buried deep in the soil. This Terracotta Army was put there by the first emperor to rule over a unified China. He ruled over a great empire, but that was not enough for him. He wanted his reign to go on forever. He sent many on the quest to find some elixir of life, which might make him immortal.
He became convinced that these life-giving properties were hidden in the mysterious substance that we know as mercury. Legend has it that he consumed this liquid metal, which of course did not make him stronger and healthier but sicker and sicker. Before his death, he commanded the construction of a vast underground city, including that Terracotta Army and rivers of mercury, so that his spirit would have something to rule over in the afterlife. This is what comes of humankind’s attempt to get eternal life. The task fails woefully, and the great plans of proud people end up dead and buried.
If you would have life, if you would grab hold of the one thing that will not slip through your fingers, then you would have Jesus. Jesus does not send you on a mission to uncover the secret of life hidden away somewhere in the world. This is a world of death, brought about by sin. Jesus came to rescue us from this empty world and to bring us to the place where death is no more. The way to rescue us was not to conquer worldly authorities, but to defeat the powers of darkness. He drank the poisonous cup of our sin and entered the dungeon of death, so that this spiritual mercury could no longer harm us. Then He rose again from the grave, victorious over sin, leading us from the death that awaits us to the life which we shall have with Him.
Jesus is our elixir of life, which we consume by faith in Him. In Him, we need not fear death, for He is risen indeed! Let us now rise to sing hymn #348 – “He Is Arisen! Glorious Word!”
Sermon Text: St. Mark 16:1-8
In Christ Jesus, who won the victory for us over death and hell, dear fellow redeemed:
Before we can appreciate what today’s Gospel tells us, we need to make sure we are clear about what led up to it. First of all, what was it that happened to Jesus on the Friday before this? He was sentenced to death by the Jewish religious leaders and handed over to the Romans for execution. Roman soldiers flogged Him, drove a crown of thorns into His head, and led Him to Calvary where they nailed His hands and feet to a cross. This was done just outside Jerusalem, so many people saw Jesus hanging there. He most certainly was crucified.
Since the Jewish holy day, the Sabbath, would begin at sundown, a request was made that the death of Jesus and the two criminals might be hastened and their bodies taken away. “So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with [Jesus]. But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water” (Jn. 19:32-34). The soldiers were not at all doubtful about what had come of Jesus. He most certainly was dead.
Then two members of the Jewish Sanhedrin, secret disciples of Jesus, took His body and bound it in linen cloths along with burial spices. They brought His body to a cemetery nearby and placed Him in an unused tomb. Then they rolled a great stone over the entrance of the tomb and departed just before sundown (Jn. 19:38-42). Their actions were witnessed by some women who had followed Jesus from Galilee. They made plans to return to the tomb after the Sabbath to apply more spices and ointments (Lk. 23:54-56). There was no question about it, Jesus most certainly was buried.
So far, nothing about these facts give the impression that Jesus was anything more than a man, who died a painful death and was committed to his tomb. But the chief priests and Pharisees were nervous. They went to Pontius Pilate and said, “Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise.’ Therefore order the tomb to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last fraud will be worse than the first” (Mt. 27:63-64). Pilate gave them permission to secure the tomb as they wished, so they sealed the stone and set a guard there.
As they had been planning since Friday afternoon, the women returned to the tomb early Sunday morning as the sun was rising. They likely did not know about the guards posted there, who almost certainly would not have allowed them to enter the tomb. The women wondered along the way how they could remove the great stone blocking the entrance. They never would have guessed that the one to do it would be an angel! The evangelist Matthew says that with a great earthquake, an angel of the Lord came down from heaven, rolled back the stone, and sat on it (28:2). The guards were petrified with fear at the sight of the angel, and the women were afraid too. “His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow” (28:3).
But what was even more significant than the appearance of this angel, was what they did not see. They did not see the body of Jesus in the tomb! The tomb was empty! And it was not as though Jesus had slipped past them somehow while their attention was diverted. By the time the angel appeared and rolled away the stone, Jesus had already left the tomb. He had already been raised. “He is not here,” the angel declared. “See the place where they laid Him.”
A crucifixion, a death, and a burial could have happened to anyone, but not a resurrection. A dead person coming back from the dead by his own power had never happened before. What could this mean? It could mean that what Jesus said about Himself was true, that He was not simply a Man born of Mary, but was also true God, begotten of the Father from eternity. It could mean that what He said He came to do—save sinners—was actually done. In fact, this is what it does mean. This is what it must mean. No one else in history has done this. All the great people of the world who have died are still dead. But Jesus lives!
And this changes everything. Jesus’ resurrection means it was no mere man who hung on the cross, but God Himself. And God who is perfect certainly would not be suffering for His own sins. It was for you, for your sins. His death likewise was not a death to benefit Himself. He died your death, to save you from eternal death in hell. So then it was not just a man wrapped in cloths, covered in spices, and sealed in the tomb. It was the God who cannot decay and who cannot be trapped in any tomb.
If Jesus had not risen, He would have been remembered for awhile by His followers, but He may well have been lost to history. There would be no Christianity. There would probably be more false religions than there are now, but one would be no better than the other. Without a risen Jesus, there is no peace between God and man. Without a risen Jesus, there is no promise of eternal life and salvation by faith alone. Without a risen Jesus, you would have to be your own savior, desperately trying to please a God who you can imagine would not be very happy with you.
But Jesus has risen! What that means for you is what Romans 4:25 says, that Jesus “was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.” He died on the cross to atone for your sins, and He rose again to prove that His sacrifice was accepted by His Father. The empty tomb on Easter morning means that God does not count your sins against you anymore. It declares that there is no sin left to make satisfaction for. Jesus’ empty tomb is the exclamation point punctuating His saving work.
His resurrection changes everything for you. When you endure suffering and hardship in this world, you can look to the One who suffered intensely in the place of sinners but who now is glorified. When you face your death, you can take comfort in knowing that your death is no more final than it was for Jesus, who rose again in victory. When you lay a brother or sister in Christ to rest in the grave, you can know that their rest is only a temporary one, as Christ’s was, for they will rise again as He did. Instead of living a hopeless life under the dark cloud of death, in Christ you can anticipate life and peace and joy forevermore.
This starts at your Baptism where you were buried and raised with Jesus. It continues whenever you hear God’s powerful Word of grace which brings you the forgiveness Jesus won for you. And at the Communion rail, you eat and drink the food of life, because you there consume the body and blood of Him who will never die again. In this way covered and cleansed and filled by Jesus, you need not be alarmed by the threat of death. Death will not get the last word; it must give way to the King of Life. Jesus has the final say, and He declares victory. The Lord is risen! He is risen indeed! Amen.
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