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.
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 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.
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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