Festival of St. Michael and All Angels – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Matthew 18:1-10
In Christ Jesus, whom the holy angels gladly serve and obey, dear fellow redeemed:
If you could be an angel for a day, how would you spend your time? I’m guessing you would want to fly around a bit, testing your wings, maybe visiting some interesting places around the world. Of course you would want to have a good look at heaven and take in all the sights and sounds. Maybe you would even go to a place of major conflict to work on putting a stop to the fighting. You and I would want to do big things, things that were fulfilling to ourselves or helpful to a good many others.
But none of this describes the chief responsibilities of the holy angels. They are not interested in pursuing things that are personally fulfilling. They are content to take direction from God and carry out His will. They don’t spend their time sight-seeing; they spend their time serving—including service to the least in the world. They are perfectly devoted to the Almighty God who gave them life.
They are exactly opposite from the fallen angels—the devil and his fellow demons. These fallen angels were proud. They did not want to serve at God’s command. They did not want to worship Him alone. They wanted to be gods. They wanted all creation to bow to them. So they rebelled against their Creator. They led a revolt in heaven, which we heard about in today’s Epistle lesson (Rev. 12:7-12). They lost this battle and were thrown out of heaven. But they still operate on earth.
How exactly do they pursue their wicked agendas on earth? When we compare our day with the New Testament, it seems like the demons were much more active back then. We don’t observe obvious cases of demon-possession today like what we read about. But the demons haven’t given up. They aren’t taking a break. They are still active, most often in ways we don’t perceive.
When we face situations where we are tempted to sin, there is no doubt the demons are involved in it. They want us to put our own desires first and to rebel against God like they did. You know how intense these temptations can be. You are tempted to do something that you know you should not do. You are tempted to look at something that is not for you to see. You are tempted to repeat something about someone else that you know is unverified or unkind. You are powerfully pulled in the direction of the sin. You try to resist, but the desire grows more and more intense.
The devil and demons put the thought into your head that carrying out the sin is the only way to resolve the desire. They try to convince you that you can stay in control of the sin. “No one will find out,” you think. “It isn’t really that bad. Everybody does it.” But there is no excuse for sin. You and I do not have to sin. The demons cannot make us sin. They can only tempt us. The sin comes from our own hearts. Even those who are demon-possessed cannot say that the devil made them do bad things, because they are the ones who let the devil in in the first place.
Jesus warns us in today’s text about temptations to sin. He says that temptations will come. The world is sinful, and we are sinners. All of us have fallen for temptations many times. But we must not become comfortable with sinning. We must not let down our guard. Getting comfortable with sin has led many children of God to abandon the faith. They choose the pleasures of the world over the promises of God’s Word.
But Jesus says that it would be better to lose a hand or foot or eye in this life if they lead us to sin, than to enter hell with all members intact. We must fight these temptations to sin. And we stay vigilant and watchful not only about things that may tempt us, but also what may tempt those in our care.
This is particularly important for parents and grandparents to understand. Children are not aware of their vulnerability or of how hard the demons are working to destroy their faith. Children are trusting, and they may be tempted to trust the wrong people. They desperately want to be accepted and fit in, so they may spend time in bad company. It is a gross shirking of responsibility when parents or guardians let children decide who to hang out with or how to spend their time.
Besides peers who exert a bad influence on your kids, how else do you suppose the devil and demons try to tempt them? What would your children or grandchildren do every waking moment at home if you let them? That’s right, they would use a smartphone or other digital device like it was glued to the palm of their hand. If you want to know where the demons are most active today—and not just against the youth—look no further than the endless temptations to sin online.
If you were a fish, you could find some good food on the internet, but you would also find millions of worms dangling off shiny, sharp hooks. Those are the temptations to sin. You can find pleasure online. You can find material to fuel your hatred, your worries, and your doubts. You can find distractions, which do not seem bad in and of themselves, but which keep you from your Christian callings. If you have spent any time online, you know this from personal experience. It is shocking how easy it is to find bad things you weren’t even looking for in the first place.
But as active as the demons are in trying to destroy our faith, our reputation, and our very life, the holy angels are active too. If the holy angels were not fighting on our behalf, we would already be ruined. The devil and the demons would certainly overcome us.
This is clear from the account of Job. Job was a believer who was richly blessed by the LORD. When God and Satan conversed about Job, Satan said that Job had prospered only because the LORD had “put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has,” and “blessed the work of his hands” (Job 1:10). So the LORD gave Satan permission to attack everything Job had. In a matter of hours, all of Job’s oxen, donkeys, sheep, and camels were either stolen away or destroyed, and his ten children died. That’s how quickly the good things we have would be taken away from us if God did not send His angels to protect us.
It is a remarkable thing that the mighty angels so willingly serve us lowly sinners. It is not because they have decided we are worth the time and effort. It is because they honor God and want to obey His will. And it is God’s will that these “ministering spirits” should serve “those who are to inherit salvation” (Heb. 1:14). The humble angels do just that. They encamp around those who fear Him (Psa. 34:7). They guard them in all their ways (Psa. 91:11). They turn back the constant assaults of the devil. They never grow tired of serving. They never take a break. They watch over us day and night.
Jesus says the angels are devoted to us because they are devoted to God. He says that the little children’s angels “always see the face of My Father who is in heaven.” This means that whatever the angels do for us, they do because God directs them to do it. Their protection of us is His protection. Their care is His care. This is why we don’t pray to the angels. They don’t need or expect our thanks. All the glory is God’s.
Some people think that their loved ones who die become angels and watch over them. But that is not the case. The souls of believers go straight to heaven. God does not send them to help their loved ones. He sends the holy angels. Like the angels who look to God, we should too, so that we are not led away from what the Lord says in His Word.
When we have ignored the Word and given into temptation, it is not because the angels failed to do their job. God chastens His children when they sin, so that they are humbled and return to Him. He may let the devil do some damage, so that we become aware of our pride and repent. And when we repent, Jesus tells us that there is great joy in heaven, “joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luk. 15:10).
The angels rejoice because they know there is forgiveness for sin. They know what God did for mankind. He took on our flesh, so that He could be our Substitute. He suffered and died, so that every temptation into which we had fallen—every sin we had committed—would be blotted out.
That includes your sins and mine—sins committed in the public eye, and sins committed in the privacy of our homes. Jesus died for sins of the past that burden you and trouble your conscience even now. You can be freed from the guilt of those sins. Repent of them and believe Jesus’ word of absolution. He paid for that sin too. He forgives all your sins.
There is nothing you have done that the angels assigned to you have not witnessed. They have seen it all. But they are not ashamed or reluctant to serve you because of your sins. God loves you, so they do too. They marvel at God’s love for sinners. They rejoice that He is such a good and merciful Lord, and they want nothing more than for each of us to join them in God’s glorious kingdom.
This is why the Lord sends them to us. He wants the angels to do their part in humble service to Him, so we are not tempted away from the faith, but so that we retain a childlike faith in Him our 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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(woodcut by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, 1794-1872)
The Third Sunday in Lent – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Luke 11:14-28
In Christ Jesus, who came to disarm the devil and win the victory of eternal life for sinners, dear fellow redeemed:
Last week marked the start of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. You may not care much about this, but I’m sure you have heard something about it. Maybe your classmates or co-workers have been talking about “filling out their brackets” and choosing teams to go to the “sweet sixteen,” the “elite eight,” and the “final four.”
Here’s how the tournament works: it starts out with 64 teams divided into four sections. In each section, the teams are ranked, and the highest seed is paired with the lowest seed. Then the next highest seed is paired with the next lowest until the eighth and ninth seeds are paired in the middle. The four best teams paired with the four worst teams in the tournament are expected to “walk all over” their lowly appointment. But last year, this did not happen. A last-ranked team took out a first-ranked team for the first time in tournament history.
We like these underdog stories. It’s the “David vs. Goliath” scenario. David looks sure to lose to his giant opponent but ends up standing over Goliath’s fallen body and wielding his enemy’s sword (1Sa. 17:41-51). But as much as we like to root for the underdog, more often than not the underdog loses.
Where do you suppose you and I would be ranked in a spiritual battle versus the devil and the demons? Where would Jesus be ranked? Who is the underdog? Who comes out on top?
The devil was pretty confident in the Garden of Eden. He had just gotten Eve and Adam to do the one thing God had told them not to do. All they had to do was leave “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” alone. But they ate its fruit, and so fell into sin. Imagine the smile that spread across the serpent’s face when he watched them pick the fruit and bite into it. Think how confident he felt – he had just turned the crown of God’s creation against Him!
But the deceiver was not going to get away with it. The LORD came to the garden and said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life” (Gen. 3:14). But “eating dust” would be the least of his problems. The LORD followed this with a promise: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (v. 15).
The devil was going to get his serpent head stepped on. Someone—the Offspring of the woman—was going to “walk all over” him. The devil probably figured he could wriggle his way out of it. He probably thought he could sink his fangs into his opponent before the blow was delivered to his head. He didn’t feel like the underdog; he felt like the champ.
So he slithered off on his belly and plotted more lies and deceit. He set his sights on the descendants of Adam and Eve. If he could get at their perfect parents, he could get at their weaker children. So he tempted them to all sorts of sin against God—murder, adultery, theft, pride, idolatry. By the time of Jesus’ arrival, the devil boasted that the whole world was firmly in his control, that he had possession of “all the kingdoms of the world and their glory” (Mat. 4:8).
But there was something Satan still had not conquered—the throne of the mighty God. This is what he wanted more than anything. He thought that perhaps the Man Jesus was the weak point in God’s armor. If Jesus, God’s Son, could be exploited or overcome, then His heavenly Father could too. Jesus, however, was a stiffer opponent than the devil anticipated.
The devil tried and failed to tempt Jesus alone in the wilderness. He tried and failed to tempt Jesus through His close friends. He tried and failed to tempt Him to give up the journey He was on, to avoid the suffering, to escape the cross. Jesus would not abort His mission. He would not step aside.
Jesus would neither fall for Satan’s temptations nor be intimidated by him. Every time he faced the devil or another demon, He didn’t flinch. We see an example today of how easily He dispatched the demons. A man had a demon which made him mute, so Jesus sent the demon packing, and immediately the man was able to speak.
The Pharisees and scribes tried to say that Jesus must be casting out demons by the power of Satan, or Beelzebul. But how would this benefit the devil’s kingdom? Then he would be working against himself. This would be like giving your best player to the opposing team. It would only increase your chance of losing.
But Jesus was not on the Satan’s side. He was on God’s side. He said, “if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” The kingdom of God was advancing through the devil’s territory. Jesus described the conflict in this way, “When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are safe; but when one stronger than he attacks him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his spoil.”
The devil was the “strong man, fully armed,” and his palace was the fallen world. Look at his impressive kingdom! Look at his reign of terror! But then “one stronger than he” came along. The Son of God appeared among men. Why did He come? The apostle John writes that “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1Jo. 3:8). He came to challenge and attack the “strong man.” He came to end the devil’s reign and cast him from his ungodly throne.
It was all very heroic, but that is not how it looked. Jesus’ humble life, His suffering, and His death looked like defeat. What good did three years of hard work—teaching, preaching, and healing—do when Jesus was arrested, put on trial, and sentenced to die? This is what His disciples thought. They thought it was all a loss. They had so much hope for Jesus’ future and their future with Him, but now it had all fallen to pieces. Now their great Teacher hung dying on a cross.
But what looked like defeat was actually victory. What Jesus did on the cross was what God said must happen after the fall into sin. This is how the woman’s Offspring would bruise the head of Satan and receive a bruise on His heel. By dying on the cross, Jesus broke Satan’s stranglehold on the human race. He stomped on Satan’s head so that his snake coils must loosen. Jesus’ atoning death meant that the devil could no longer accuse sinners. His death freed them from the curse of their first parents. “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (1Co. 15:22).
So the victory is won. The outcome is decided. The Mighty Lord Tramples Satan Underfoot, just as God predicted. But whose side are you on? Where do you stand? Do you present yourself as a follower of Christ but hold a different allegiance in your heart? This can show up when your actions do not match your words, or your words your actions. Or maybe there are secret sins carefully hidden away, so you can keep up appearances. Again John writes, “Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning” (1Jo. 3:8). And Jesus says, “Whoever is not with Me is against Me, and whoever does not gather with Me scatters.”
The fact is that none of us is pure like we should be. We fall into sin and sometimes persist in sin. But it is one thing to sin and embrace it; it is another thing to sin and repent of it. Repentance is one of the chief ways to fight the devil’s temptations. When we fail to repent or refuse to repent, we are playing the devil’s game. Then we are acting like our sin is not sin. But “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1Jo. 1:8).
By acknowledging sin, we are admitting that we are not as strong and as well-equipped as we think. We are admitting there are some weaknesses in our armor—a lot of weaknesses. We are admitting that we have lost to the devil again and again. This acknowledgement of our weaknesses and failures puts us in just the right position. It puts us in the right position to be lifted up by God from the battlegrounds of our defeat and to be made clean and righteous again by His grace. It puts us in the position to humbly receive forgiveness for all our sins, which Jesus gladly earned for us by His suffering and death.
Our losses to the devil show us that we cannot prevail on our own against him. The harder we try to resist him by our strength, the more he wins. This is why our trust must be in the mighty Lord Jesus. He is the only One who can and has defeated Satan. This is why we sing: “With might of ours can naught be done, / Soon were our loss effected; / But for us fights the Valiant One, / Whom God Himself elected. / Ask ye, Who is this? / Jesus Christ it is. / Of Sabaoth Lord, / And there’s none other God; / He holds the field forever” (ELH 250, v. 2).
Because Jesus has overcome the devil and trampled him underfoot, we pray in the Litany that He would “beat down Satan under our feet” (ELH p. 137). We pray that He keeps us faithful to His Word, so that we are strengthened and equipped in Him to resist the devil’s temptations. And when the devil tries to worm his way into our hearts and sometimes succeeds, we trust the Lord to trample him underfoot even there, so that our hearts remain true to God alone.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
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(woodcut by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, 1794-1872, depicting a legion of demons cast out of a man by Jesus)
The First Sunday in Lent – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Matthew 4:1-11
In Christ Jesus, who bore the dreadful curse of sin and death to save our souls, dear fellow redeemed:
What if there was a way for your dreams to come true, even the ones you could never imagine happening? What if you could go wherever you wanted, have whatever you imagined, and do whatever you liked? You could have a mansion by the ocean filled with all sorts of good things. You could become a stronger and better athlete than everyone else. You could become a famous actor or singer. You could be established as the leading intellectual authority in every academic discipline. You could be a world leader—maybe even the world’s king. Imagine what fun you could have, and what good you could do!
But suppose you didn’t have a fairy godmother to grant your wish like Cinderella did, or come across a magic lamp like the one Aladdin found. What if you could have anything you wanted, but you had to give up something to get it? What would you give up to see your dreams fulfilled? There are some—perhaps many—who would take this deal. They would give up just about anything to see their dreams fulfilled. But what about their soul? Would they wager their eternal soul for a lifetime of success and pleasure?
There are reportedly some who have done this. Legend tells of people who rose to prominence because they “made a deal with the devil.” The most famous story involves a man named Faust, who supposedly lived in Germany around the time of Martin Luther. Faust grew tired of being a nobody, so he offered his soul to the devil in exchange for great knowledge and power. More recent examples involve virtuoso musicians, who were rumored to have “sold their soul” for unparalleled musical abilities.
Setting aside the factualness of these accounts, they do highlight certain truths. First, they show how the sinful nature works. If we want something bad enough, we will stop at almost nothing to get it. Second, these legends underscore how the devil and demons are constantly tempting us to sin. They will promise the world if only they can draw us away from Christ and possess our souls.
Their malicious work among men started with our first parents, the crown of God’s creation. After failing in his attempt to overthrow God, the devil set his sights on Eve. He slithered over to her and told her she could have more and better. “[Y]ou will be like God,” he said. “All you have to do is eat this fruit” (Gen. 3:5). She did, and gave some to Adam “who was with her” (v. 6). But it was fruit from a tree God told them to stay clear of. In their bid to control their own destiny and obtain something beyond the perfect life they enjoyed, they lost everything.
Why should the devil stop there? If he could tempt the first two people to give up everything for a foolish dream, why couldn’t he continue to turn God’s people against Him? So he tempts us. He tempts us to fulfill every fleshly desire. If we have been blessed with plenty, he tempts us to be prideful about what we have and to think we deserve more. If we are blessed with little, he tempts us to be bitter and discontent and to covet what others have. This is why the Proverb says, “[G]ive me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’ or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God” (Pro. 30:8-9).
The devil also tempts us to recklessness. He wants us to become bored with the responsible life. He wants us to take unnecessary risks, even if they endanger ourselves or others. What matters overall is that he gets each of us to focus on what makes us happy, what we want, what others should do for us. His goal is to get all creatures to reject their Creator, just as he did. He tempts us to believe the lie that we don’t have to answer to anyone, and that we should fear, love, and trust not the one true God, but the god of self.
And the devil has often succeeded. In fact, there is no one here who has not fallen for his temptations. So when he saw the man Jesus head into the wilderness following His baptism, why shouldn’t he have success against Him too? For forty days, Satan tempted Jesus (Mar. 1:13, Luk. 4:2). We do not have record of all those temptations, but no doubt the devil employed his full arsenal. Hebrews 4:15 says that Jesus “in every respect has been tempted as we are.”
What is recorded today appears to be the devil’s last, best effort—at least for the time being. Jesus had now been fasting for forty days and nights, which corresponds to the length of our season of Lent. Think how you would feel after just four days of fasting. You would be weak and probably have a pounding headache. It would be hard to focus—this, after just four days. Jesus fasted for forty.
Seeing His physical weakness, the devil now attacked Jesus’ claim to be God. What sort of God suffers? What sort of God is weak? “If You are the Son of God,” he said. “If You are the Son of God, You shouldn’t be suffering. If You are the Son of God, You shouldn’t be hungry. Why don’t You just turn these stones into bread?” And why shouldn’t He? It was because Jesus had not come to serve Himself but His Father. He later said to His disciples, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work” (Joh. 4:34). So He told the devil, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
This is why God might allow us to hunger at times and to struggle along. It is not to drive us away from Him, but to teach us to trust His Word. Moses explained this to the Israelites after their forty years of wandering in the wilderness. He told them that the LORD “humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD” (Deu. 8:3).
The fact that Jesus quoted from this passage shows that His forty days in the wilderness had something to do with the Israelites’ forty years in the wilderness, and also with our own time of wandering in this world. What the Israelites and we do with doubts and complaining, Jesus did perfectly on our behalf, never succumbing to the devil.
Hearing Jesus quote from the Scriptures, the tempter devised a plan to use God’s Word against Him. He took Jesus to the top of the temple, that place of God’s holy presence, and urged Him to throw Himself into the arms of the angels. After all, hadn’t God said that He would send His angels to protect His people? Again, Jesus quoted words that Moses had spoken to the Israelites: “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test” (Deu. 6:16).
Then the devil tried once more. From a high mountain, he showed Jesus “all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.” “All these I will give You,” he said, “if You will fall down and worship me.” Setting aside the question of whether or not the devil could actually deliver these kingdoms to Jesus, what he was really asking for was Jesus’ soul. But it wasn’t just the soul of Jesus he hoped to gain; it was the souls of everybody.
If Jesus had done this, the devil would have won. He would have unseated God from His throne. He would have made the Creator bow to him, a fallen creature. Then the universe would have a wretched and diabolical overlord instead of a merciful Savior. But your soul is worth more to Jesus than that. Your soul is worth more than all the power and glory the world can offer. Jesus would not be tempted to abort His mission. Speaking once again words that Moses spoke, He said, “You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve” (Deu. 6:13).
So Jesus succeeded against the devil where you and I have so often failed. He did not give in to temptation. He did not compromise His soul. As the last part of Hebrews 4:15 tells us, Jesus “in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” I do not say this just for comparison’s sake, to show that you are a sinner but Jesus was not. I say this for your comfort. Jesus lived a sin-free life for you. He withstood temptation for your sake.
There are many times you have put your soul on the line to pursue what the devil and your sinful nature wanted. The devil had you right where he wanted you. But Jesus took your place in the scales of justice. He set His perfect life against God’s righteous demands, and the scales were balanced. Then He offered up His holy life in payment for your sins. In this way, He redeemed your soul. He bought it with His precious blood, so that you would be joined to Him and not the devil.
If Jesus should think so much of your soul, you should too. No amount of riches, glory, and power in the world is worth the loss of your faith. No “deal with the devil” is worth the cost of your eternal soul. Jesus told His disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or What Shall a Man Give in Return for His Soul?” Let it be your whole purpose to commit your body, soul, and all you have to Jesus, who has already secured for you the eternal glories of heaven.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
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(painting is “The Temptation of Christ by the Devil” by Félix Joseph Barrias, 1822-1907)
The Third Sunday after Michaelmas (Trinity 21) – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. John 4:46-54
In Christ Jesus, who gives life, salvation, and peace to all who trust in Him, dear fellow redeemed:
The devil knows how to get at you, and he knows how to get at me. He’s been doing his deceitful and destructive work for a long time. His goal is very simple: Keep unbelievers from the saving Word of Jesus and pull believers away from Jesus’ Word. Jesus’ Word is the light that pierces the devil’s darkness. It is the source of hope in his world of despair. It is the means by which life is brought into his kingdom of death. This is why Christians want to hear and learn the Word. They want to be fortified against the devil’s attacks.
The devil tempts us to the opposite of what today’s Epistle Lesson describes (Eph. 6:10-17). Instead of fastening on “the belt of truth,” the devil wants us to be unprepared to face temptation and counter his errors. Instead of putting on “the breastplate of righteousness,” the devil wants our hearts to be exposed to his seductions. Instead of shoes made ready “by the gospel of peace,” the devil wants us to be ready to run from Christ when our beliefs are challenged. Instead of taking up “the shield of faith,” the devil wants us to be vulnerable to his many accusations. Instead of wearing “the helmet of salvation,” the devil wants us to think that our reason will do more for us than a godly faith. And instead of taking up “the sword of the Spirit,” the devil wants us to set aside the Word for the sake of peace in this world.
These are “the schemes of the devil.” These are the ways the devil tries to destroy our faith. He may try to ruin faith by an all-out attack, whether through a sudden loss of good health, or a job, or a loved one. But most often, the devil does his work slowly and subtly. He will try to convince you that can enjoy both sin and faith. You can have this secret sin and still have a good reputation. You can have a vice or two and still be a good Christian. You can be totally comfortable in the world and in the church at the same time.
The devil is “a liar and the father of lies” (Jn. 8:44). The Apostle John writes that “Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1Jn. 3:8).
Jesus pointed out one of the devil’s works when a nobleman came to Him in Cana. The nobleman’s son was sick and didn’t have long to live. They must have spent all their resources on conventional treatments, and nothing worked. You can imagine how distressful this would have been. But the nobleman had heard about Jesus, that He had power to perform miracles. So he hurried from Capernaum to Cana, a span of about twenty miles, to ask for His help.
The first words Jesus said to him were jarring, “Unless you [people] see signs and wonders you will not believe.” Jesus was speaking about the Galileans, the people of His home territory. But His indictment applies to us and all sinners. We are those for whom faith does not seem sufficient. We want proof—physical, tangible, undeniable proof. “What good does ‘trusting in the Lord’ do,” we think, “when someone we love is sick?” or “when our possessions are destroyed?” or “when our life is falling apart?”
We look for “signs and wonders” from God. We want Him to provide miraculous healing to those who are ill. We want Him to restore the things we lose and bless us with even more, like He did for Job. We want Him to fix all our hurts, all our pains, all our troubles, so that we can enjoy the happy and carefree life that so many others seem to have.
When these things that we ask Him for and pray for don’t happen, the devil sows seeds of doubt and despair. “Perhaps God isn’t as powerful as you thought!” he whispers. “Perhaps He doesn’t love you like you thought He did!” “Perhaps His Word cannot be trusted!” That last lie is especially troubling. If the Word of God is not true, everything we have centered our lives on, everything we have hoped for, is empty.
If what the Bible says is not true, the evidence of creation and conscience would tell you there is a God. But you would not know who He was. What you would be aware of is your sin. You would question whether you were right with this God, and you would try to take steps to make sure you are. This is what you see in all the non-Christian religions of the world. They are all based on the premise that we must make ourselves right with God by how we live and how we worship Him. Or you might decide to ignore the reality of God like the atheists and agnostics do and live your life however you want.
If the Word of God is not true, then the Son of God did not take on human flesh in the Virgin Mary. Then He did not live a perfect life in your place. Then He did not go to the cross carrying all your sin. Then He did not rise again from the dead on Easter morning. Then He did not place His forgiveness and life in the Word and Sacraments. If none of these things happened, then you have nothing to look back on in your life except sin, and you have nothing to look forward to except death. This is what it means if God’s Word cannot be trusted.
The devil certainly would have tried to plant doubt in the nobleman’s mind. Jesus had just sent him home with the words, “Go; your son will live.” The text says that the man “believed the word that Jesus spoke to him,” but could he really be sure his son would be fine? The nobleman pushed those doubts aside and continued on his way. Then he was met with the happy news that his son had indeed recovered—and at the exact moment that Jesus said, “Your son will live.”
It was the powerful Word of Jesus that brought healing to the nobleman’s son. Jesus did not have to travel there and take the boy by the hand in order to heal him. He simply spoke His Word. This should be a great comfort to us. Jesus does not have to be visibly present with us in order to help us. He knows our condition. He knows how we struggle with our particular sins, and the shame we feel because of them. He knows when we are full of grief and hopelessness and the desperate feeling that we cannot escape the troubles we face.
Jesus does not come to us visibly to make everything better in an instant. But He does speak His Word, a Word which has tremendous power. Jesus’ Word imparts to us in the present whatever He has promised in the past. “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden,” He says, “and I will give you rest.” He spoke those words nearly 2,000 years ago, but they are just as true and powerful today. Here is another promise: “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (Jn. 8:31-32). And another promise: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (Jn. 11:25-26).
It is through these promises of Jesus that faith is formed in sinful hearts. The Bible says, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17). When sinners come to faith through the Gospel by the power of Holy Spirit, the great burdens of guilt that they carry are lifted off their shoulders. All our sin and guilt was put on Jesus to carry for us. He suffered and died for all our sins, for all the times that we let “the devil, the world and our own flesh” overcome us and “lead us into misbelief, despair and other shameful sin and vice” (Small Catechism, Sixth Petition).
All of these past failures and sins are removed from us, and in their place, Jesus puts His righteousness. By the power of His Word in Holy Absolution, Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper, Jesus declares us right with God and perfectly holy in His sight. These are the great and eternal blessings that God promises us and all sinners in His Word. The nobleman believed this Word, and He proclaimed it to his entire household. His son was not saved through human wisdom, through the efforts of the best doctors money could buy. His son was saved through Jesus’ Word, and the whole household believed.
We do not always understand why we must endure one trial or another in this world, or why God doesn’t graciously bring these problems to a quick end. But we can trust His Word. With Paul we say, “Let God be true though every one were a liar!” (Rom. 3:4). Our Faith Is Founded on Jesus’ Word. It is a sure foundation, with “Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone” (Eph. 2:20). The devil will try to convince us that it is a false word, but “the shield of faith” extinguishes all those flaming darts. Our faith is enlivened and strengthened by Jesus’ Word, which can overcome every attack of the devil and his allies.
Therefore with the psalmist David we say, “O my God, in you I trust; let me not be put to shame; let not my enemies exult over me…. Let me not be put to shame, for I take refuge in you” (Ps. 25:2,20).
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(“The Healing of the Officer’s Son” painting by James Tissot, 1836-1902)
The Third Sunday in Lent – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Luke 11:14-28
In Christ Jesus, who still is with us in the fight against our ancient foe, dear fellow redeemed:
March 19th is the day the Church remembers St. Joseph, the guardian of Jesus and husband of Mary. No sinful man has ever been asked to do what Joseph did. He was commanded by God to marry a woman who was pregnant with a child that was not his. Beyond that, he was told that the child had been conceived by God the Holy Spirit, and that this baby would “save his people from their sins” (Mt. 1:21). How could Joseph ever live up to this task? He was to watch over the One who watches over all creation! He was to provide for the One who gives all things! He was to teach the One who possesses all wisdom and knowledge! Joseph must have wondered why God chose him among all men for this responsibility. Wasn’t there someone more qualified than he was?
But if the Lord had chosen him, He must also intend to give the strength and wisdom Joseph would need. This was Joseph’s comfort as he held the baby Jesus in his arms and watched Him grow day after day. Still, Joseph had no idea what troubles were coming. King Herod had learned from the wise men that there might be a threat to his throne, the “king of the Jews,” they said (Mt. 2:2). When the wise men did not come back to him after their visit to Bethlehem to see the newborn King, Herod sent soldiers to kill “all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under” (v. 16). He acted as a man possessed, no doubt with the devil spurring him toward this wicked deed.
How could Joseph be any match for such forces of evil? Well Joseph did not face them alone. The angel of the Lord warned him in a dream, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him” (v. 13). Herod carried out the horrible slaughter of innocent boys, but Joseph, Mary, and Jesus were spared according to God’s plan.
This account shows us something about the devil’s power and influence. King Herod gave the command, but it was Satan who was holding the puppet strings. Ephesians 6 tells us that “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (v. 12). We see in today’s account the power a demon had over a man to make him mute. The Gospel of Matthew adds that this man was also blind. How helpless he was! But Jesus cast out the demon, so that the man could speak and see (Mt. 12:22).
The Pharisees told the people that Jesus cast out demons by the power of Beelzebul, the prince of demons. Jesus countered by teaching the people about the character of demons. He said that the devil and the demons are not opposed to each other. They are united in their hatred of God and of His creation. They constitute a formidable kingdom of darkness which has brought great evil into the world. When Jesus referred to “a strong man, fully armed, [who] guards his own palace,” he was talking about the devil. Luther described the devil like this in his famous hymn, “For still our ancient foe / Doth seek to work us woe; / Strong mail of craft and pow’r / He weareth in this hour; / On earth is not his equal” (ELH 251, v. 1).
No human force can stand up to the devil’s power. Jesus said that a person is not safe even when a demon goes out of him. The house may be “swept and put in order” in this respect, but it is still vulnerable. The demon will likely return, and as Jesus says, it “brings seven other spirits more evil than itself…. And the last state of that person is worse than the first.” Here he underscores again that the demons are not territorial, but are even willing to recruit worse demons to join them in inflicting more harm.
How can we possibly stand against such terrible enemies as these? On our own, we can’t. We would surely lose. Luther talks about this in the same hymn, “Stood we alone in our own might, / Our striving would be losing.” But there is hope! “For us the one true Man doth fight, / The Man of God’s own choosing. / Who is this chosen One? / ’Tis Jesus Christ, the Son, / The Lord of hosts, ’tis He / Who wins the victory / In ev’ry field of battle” (v. 2). The devil is like “a strong man, fully armed,” but Jesus also describes “one stronger than he.” What does this stronger one do? “[H]e attacks him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his spoil.” The so-called “strong man” is completely overthrown. He is no match for the stronger one.
If it was not obvious who this stronger one is, Jesus says, “Whoever is not with Me is against Me, and whoever does not gather with Me scatters.” A person does not talk like that unless he is confident in who he is and what he is capable of. So Jesus was telling the people that if they want to be on the side of strength, then they should want to be with Him. And if they do not want to go along with Him, then they and their weak plans will be overcome by Him. It is a very direct thing to say, but then Jesus had just made a blind and mute man able to see and speak.
However, the hearts of the Pharisees and scribes were hardened. Satan had bewitched them. They were hell-bent on destroying Jesus by any means possible. And they eventually accomplished this, or at least they thought they did. They convinced Pontius Pilate to give Jesus the death sentence and watched Him suffer and die on the cross. They gloated and jeered and mocked Him. They said, “If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross” (Mt. 27:40), which sounded eerily like the devil’s temptations of Jesus in the wilderness. Through their mouths, Satan was trying desperately to get Jesus to give up His mission and forsake the human race.
But Jesus would not leave the vulnerable sheep to the wolves. By His death in the place of sinners, Jesus ruined every claim Satan had on them. He stormed the devil’s stronghold of darkness and freed all who were held in its prison. By His atoning death, Jesus crushed Satan’s head (Gen. 3:15). Jesus did not ruin the devil’s kingdom by dividing it against itself, but by destroying it completely. This is why you are not part of the devil’s kingdom now, but you live in God’s kingdom of grace and are protected and blessed by a merciful Lord.
Yet the devil is not content to leave you alone. Your sins have been atoned for, and you were redeemed by the blood of Jesus. This is true. But Satan can still tempt you to reject these blessings and reenter his kingdom of darkness and death. How can you guard against these attacks and keep the goods of your forgiveness, life, and salvation safe? Jesus answers that question in today’s text. A woman in the crowd had said, “Blessed is the womb that bore You, and the breasts at which You nursed!” She thought that if anyone is blessed, it must be the mother of such a high prophet and excellent teacher. We see the same misunderstanding today among those who elevate Mary to God-like status and offer their prayers and petitions to her.
Jesus replied to the woman, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” Those are blessed who hear and keep God’s Word. Keeping the Word of God means to keep watch over it, to guard and defend it. It is the same word used earlier in the text for the strong man who attempts to guard his own palace and goods. So Jesus tells us both to hear and to guard His Word.
But why is it that we must pay attention to the Word and carefully defend it? It is because the Word of God is the instrument He uses to bring life and to overthrow the powers of darkness. Wherever the Word is spoken, the Holy Spirit is working. Jesus called the Holy Spirit the “finger of God” (Mt. 12:28/Lk. 11:20), who works through the Word to drive out demons and pluck sinners from the pit of death. This is how God’s kingdom comes and lays waste to the devil’s kingdom (Lord’s Prayer, Second Petition). The Devil Is Overthrown by Jesus and His Word.
If you want to be kept safe from the attacks of the devil and demons, you will find security and an ever-present help in God’s Word. The demons cannot stand His Word. They want you to die forever, but the Word gives you eternal life. They want you to despair in your sins, but the Word brings you forgiveness. They want you to think that the greatest treasurers are found in this fallen world, but the Word imparts to you the everlasting riches of heaven.
The Word gives courage to fathers like Joseph to do their duty and to provide the spiritual leadership their family needs. The Word strengthens every Christian to withstand the devil’s attacks. And wherever you have failed in your Christian callings and sinned against God, the Word assures you that each sin is forgiven by the blood of Jesus. The demons with their prince would easily defeat you alone. But through Jesus’ Word, you are now clothed in “the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil” (Eph. 6:11).
“And were the world with devils filled, / All watching to devour us, / Our souls to fear we need not yield, / They cannot overpow’r us. / Their dreaded prince no more / Can harm us as of yore; / His rage we can endure; / For lo! his doom is sure, / A word shall overthrow him.” (ELH 251, v. 3)
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The First Sunday in Lent – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Matthew 4:1-11
In Christ Jesus, who knows how perplexed we are by the devil’s temptations and faithfully defends us, dear fellow redeemed:
The devil excels at the use of trickery and half-truth. Notice how he engaged Eve in the Garden of Eden. He opened the conversation by attributing a statement to God that He never said. The devil asked in a manner dripping with sweet innocence, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” Eve took the bait. She had to set the record straight. “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” And then the devil did what he does so well. He planted doubt in Eve’s mind. He said, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
Nothing more needed to be said. The serpent had accomplished what he set out to do. Eve thought the fruit looked tasty, and she certainly did not want to miss out on this mysterious knowledge that the devil talked about. She ate some fruit and offered it to Adam who gladly followed his wife’s lead. Then the Bible says that “the eyes of both were opened.” What the devil said had come true, but not how they expected. They now knew the difference between good and evil firsthand, but they had become nothing like God. In fact they had moved further away from Him. Before their sin, they enjoyed the perfect image of God. They had true knowledge of Him and perfect righteousness. But that was now lost. Oh they learned the difference between good and evil alright. They had been good, and now they were evil (see Gen. 3).
Satan had succeeded in his quest to drag the world into his darkness. He had gotten the very crown of God’s creation—man and woman—to deny their Creator. And that was just the beginning, the start of his terrible work. He has sown the seeds of evil in every generation and in every heart. No one has successfully withstood his temptations. All have fallen for his lies and sinned against God—all except for One. But why shouldn’t the devil have success with Him too?
Jesus did not look like the God who told the devil he was cursed to slither along on his belly and eat dust for the rest of his existence (Gen. 3:14). Jesus looked weak. He looked hungry—Ah, there’s the opening! “If You are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” And what would be the harm in it? Jesus was hungry, His body needed nourishment, and He certainly was God, so why not turn stones into bread? But Jesus had absolutely no obligation to indulge the devil’s request. The devil did not actually want Him to eat; he wanted Him to doubt the love of His Father. Because if Jesus was God’s Son, then why was He suffering there in the wilderness?
Jesus did not take the bait. He quoted the Word of His Father, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” The Word was primary. If Jesus could go forty days without bread, He could go still longer. We do not pass that test as well as Jesus. We know His promise that if we “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness,” then He will surely provide for our earthly needs as well (Mt. 6:33). But the devil so often turns that around in our minds. He wants us to judge God’s faithfulness by how successful and happy we are in this life.
If we are suffering with a lack of food or other necessities and having trouble paying bills, Satan wants us to think that God must be punishing us or does not really care about us. On the other hand, if we are doing well and have all that we need, he tells us that we are just fine on our own; we don’t really need God. Whatever the devil can do to keep us away from the Word of God, he will do. He knows how powerful the Word is. It is the sole reason why he cannot claim the entire human race as his own. He wants everyone to live eternally with him in hell, but the Word brings sinners forgiveness and life.
Of course, the devil is willing to utilize even the Word if it suits his diabolical purposes. After Jesus silenced his first temptation by quoting Scripture, Satan thought he could see another opening. Taking Jesus to the top of the temple of Jerusalem, the holy dwelling place of God, he said, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down, for it is written, ‘He will command His angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’” These words do come from the Bible, from Psalm 91:11-12, but there is a problem with the way the devil used them.
He conveniently left out the last part of verse 11, which says, “For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.” He did this because he knew “in all your ways” does not include every sinful and reckless thing we do. God does not promise to protect us no matter what. If I climb up to the top of the steeple of this church and then jump off, I have no promise from God that He will keep me from severe injuries. This would be a foolish thing for me to do. It would be a sin against the Fifth Commandment, which tells us not to harm one another or ourselves. God does promise to send His angels to protect us when we walk in the ways He has commanded. But when we deliberately go against His will, then Jesus’ response applies to us as much as it did to Satan, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.”
The devil also tempted Jesus with fame, fortune, and power. He had successfully enticed many, many people to chase after these things, so why wouldn’t it also be effective on Jesus? But Jesus brought his temptations to a close by saying, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve.’”
Our encounters with the devil do not play out like the Lord’s encounter with him. We might stay strong for awhile, but Satan keeps chipping away at us. He bides his time. He does not mind waiting. He gently nudges and pulls us away from the Word. He points us toward other things that promise pleasure, but are never what they seem (ELH 182, v. 1). He prepares unique temptations for everyone. He might tempt the lonely with the comfort of the bottle, the discontented spouse with the arms of another, the greedy with riches, and the proud with an uncharitable and judgmental attitude.
No one has to give in to these temptations. “The devil made me do it,” is not a valid excuse for sin. The devil cannot make you do anything. He can be sent packing, as Jesus shows us. But we do not have the power to stand up to him on our own. He is an expert tempter with thousands of years of experience. By comparison, we are novice Christians. But we have something on our side that Satan does not have. We have Jesus. He is not one “who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). He knows firsthand what the devil is capable of. He also knows his limitations.
Jesus knew what was waiting for Him those forty days in the wilderness. He knew He would face every manner of difficulty and experience every sort of suffering. He knew that the devil would seek to tempt Him from the truth, because “he is a liar and the father of lies” (Jn. 8:44). This is the way it had to be if sinners would be saved. There was no other hope for mankind. Jesus was the One promised by God immediately after Adam and Eve’s fall. The LORD told the serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Gen. 3:15). The eternal Son of God was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary so that He could free the world from Satan’s death grip.
Hebrews 2:14-15 says, “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” Jesus’ sights were set on ruining the devil’s plans once and for all. The Apostle John writes that “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1Jn. 3:8). Satan has power, but it is limited. He wilts in the presence of Jesus. He can do nothing against Him. This is because Jesus conquered the devil’s two greatest allies. He paid down the debt of sin by His death on the cross, and He defeated death itself by His resurrection on the third day.
How can the devil threaten you if the LORD no longer counts your sin against you, and if your death no longer has staying power? Satan can do you no harm as long as you remain in Christ by faith. Jesus is your Refuge. He is the Savior from your sins, the Healer of your wounds, the Strength in your weakness, and the Hope in your difficulties. In Him, you have immunity from the devil’s accusations, and freedom from sin and death. He also sends His angels to protect you from the devil’s schemes.
Whenever you do fall for Satan’s temptations, the LORD reaches out to you with compassion, and He cleanses you of your sins. As focused as He was on winning your salvation, He is just as focused at keeping you in the saving faith. He Will “Guard You in All Your Ways.” Therefore, “Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act” (Ps. 37:5). He will protect you, and He will see you through your trials.
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