The Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Matthew 6:24-34
In Christ Jesus, whose promise to provide for us is far more powerful than our worries and troubles, dear fellow redeemed:
He says it five times!
- “Do not be anxious about your life.”
- “Which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?”
- “Why are you anxious about clothing?”
- “Do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’”
- “Do not be anxious about tomorrow.”
Jesus thinks we have an anxiousness problem, a worry problem, and Jesus is never wrong. He also identifies another problem: our little faith. Both of those go together—worry and a lack of faith. We worry because we do not believe God will do what He says, or at least we have doubts that He will provide for us in just the way and at just the time that we need it.
But what is it that causes our worry? What is our worry based on? Our worry is not based on anything we find in God’s Word. We don’t read about an arbitrary or a fickle God who sometimes chooses to bless His children and sometimes chooses to harm them. At times He does chasten and discipline us, because He wants to lead us to repentance and a stronger faith. But this is done out of love. He is always faithful. He does not change. So worry is not based on uncertainty about God’s will and work which are clearly revealed to us in His Word.
Worry is based on our own experience and the evidence we see around us in the world. We can think of times when we had more expenses than income, more responsibilities than we had the ability to meet. Maybe we were worried about paying our bills, and then more bills came. We didn’t know where the money would come from to cover even the essentials like food and utilities. Or one of our family members was sick, and we didn’t know if we could afford the medicine needed for healing.
We also look around us and see many people who go hungry, who can’t afford clothing, who have no place to go home to. If God feeds the birds and clothes the lilies, why doesn’t He feed and clothe all people in need? And if doesn’t do this for the people who really need it, how can we be sure He will do this for us? So we worry. We give more weight to our experiences and doubts than to God’s promises.
When we allow worry to come in, we are taking matters that God wants to handle and holding those matters in our own hands. We keep the burden on ourselves of providing for our needs and fixing our own problems. Or we look for another provider, another god, whose promises seem more reliable.
This is how many people view the government. They trust the government to take care of all their needs. But as necessary as government is—and God has certainly ordained it for good order and for our protection—yet government is made up of sinners, who are often ready to take as much or more than they promise to give.
Our worries really come down to 1) having enough and 2) keeping what we have. A person just out of high school or a married couple with little children might especially worry about having enough. They do without new clothes, new cars, and a nice house. Retirement is a long way off—there’s lots of work to do! But older individuals whose work has been blessed and who are able to afford the finer things, now worry about having enough to retire on and having the good health and energy to enjoy it.
When we worry about the future like this, we behave like “the Gentiles.” Jesus says, “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.” Now many of us are Gentiles in the sense of not having Jewish background. But Jesus is referring to the unbelieving Gentiles, the ones who did not have the Scriptures. That isn’t us, but we act like the unbelievers when we worry about having what we need.
Instead of worry, Jesus teaches us to do this: “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” He says that when we put our faith in God and His Word—little though our faith may be—, all the things we need for this earthly life will be provided to us. That’s quite a promise! It’s a promise that we have difficulty accepting.
We think that if we are going to prosper in this life, we have to make it happen. We have to outwork our co-workers, we have to come up with new solutions to get ourselves noticed by the “higher-ups.” We have to be in the right place at the right time. Then we will have a shot at our dreams. Then we can have a chance at the life we always wanted.
This is not a criticism of hard work. God wants every one of us to do our work to the best of our ability, whether we are in the classroom, in the workplace, in our homes, or at church. God never endorses laziness. In teaching us not to worry, Jesus is certainly not teaching us to sit back and wait for everything to drop in our lap. The apostle Paul couldn’t have said it more clearly than this: “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat” (2Th. 3:10).
The difference is working for selfish gain or working for godly gain. We work for godly gain when we recognize that God is the one who gives each of us our unique abilities and strengths to employ in His service. We trust that He will bless our efforts as He sees fit. He might give more to some of His children and less to others, but all of it is a gift from His gracious hand. So it is not helpful to compare what we have with what others have, since God is the Giver, and “He is good, for His mercy endures forever” (Psa. 136:1).
And how do we know this is true beyond any doubt, that God really is so good and merciful? We know this because the Father who created and provides for all things also gave the greatest gift of all—His only-begotten Son to save us. When Jesus says, “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness,” He is referring to His own holy work.
God the Father sent Him to do for us what we could not accomplish, no matter how much we worried after it or worked for it. Jesus the Christ was born under the Law, so that He might redeem us, buy us back, by His own holy life. While we are anxious and doubtful about God’s care for us, He perfectly entrusted Himself to the Father’s will. He did not worry about tomorrow; He focused on God’s Word today.
Wherever we have failed in our work through our worry, our selfishness, and our laziness, Jesus fulfilled the holy Law through His faith, His love, and His perfect commitment to the work of saving us sinners. “His righteousness” is the righteousness we must seek if we will stand before God in heaven. And this is the righteousness we already have by faith in Jesus.
Yes, our faith is “little” and never as strong as it should be. But even a little faith has salvation in Christ. Our eternal future does not depend on how strong our faith is, but on how strong our Savior and Lord is. And He is strong! He is stronger than hunger and want, stronger than worry and fear, stronger than sin, death, and the devil.
He suffered when He went to the cross, but He was not worried. Just before He took His last breath, He cried out, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” (Luk. 23:46). Then He was taken off the cross and closed up in the tomb, but He was not worried. Death was no match for Him, and He rose from the dead on the third day to prove it.
It is this Conqueror of sin and death who tells you: “Do not be anxious; do not worry.” If your needs and concerns are like ten enemies threatening you with pocket knives and pitchforks, God’s care is like an entire army right behind you outfitted with the best weapons and equipment. Worldly cares are scattered by the powerful promise of God’s care.
He will provide for you. If He needs to say it again and again, even every day, He will: “Do not be anxious. I have not forgotten about your needs. I know how to turn trials into blessings. I will come and help you. Have no fear!” In His care for you, God the Father already sent His Son to rescue you from eternal death. That must mean He will not forsake you in your times of need (Rom. 8:32).
And you know this to be true. You know that your cares and worries have never done anything for you. You know that God’s care for you has never failed. Even when you were anxious, even when you complained, He kept on loving you. And if He didn’t give you everything you wanted at the time, He gave you everything you needed.
God knows your needs even better than you do. He gives you His kingdom and His righteousness for your eternal life, and He gives all that you need for this body and life besides.
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 of Jesus and the lilies from stained glass at Jerico Lutheran Church)
The Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Luke 17:11-19
In Christ Jesus, who heals the sick and rescues the dying, so they might be His own and live under Him in His kingdom, dear fellow redeemed:
It started with little sores that stuck around, reddish spots, and some skin numbness. He wished it would go away, he wanted to ignore it, but he couldn’t. He went to the priest to have it examined, and the priest confirmed his greatest fear—it was leprosy. He had to leave his job, leave his home, leave his family. The Book of Leviticus describes the protocol for lepers: “The leprous person who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean.’ He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease. He is unclean. He shall live alone. His dwelling shall be outside the camp” (13:45-46).
It was a hard reality, but there was no known cure. A person with leprosy had to stay away for the good of others. But he wasn’t completely alone. Lepers often formed their own communities. We see that in today’s reading, when ten lepers called to Jesus outside a village between Samaria and Galilee. We learn something else about this group of men. It was a mixture of both Jews and Samaritans. That probably wouldn’t have happened if this terrible disease hadn’t drawn them together.
In general, the Jews and the Samaritans interacted with each other as little as possible. They had long lists of reasons why the other group was inferior and not worth their time and attention. But “misery loves company,” and these men were miserable. They set aside the animosity they may have felt toward one another and stuck together. But they were still of course on the outside. They were not where they wanted to be. They were part of a community of death, a community of the dying.
And that’s exactly what the world is apart from Christ. It is full of people afflicted by the disease of sin, surrounded by death and facing death themselves. Leprosy is a helpful picture for thinking about how sin works in us. In the Large Catechism, Martin Luther quotes Romans 7:18, “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh.” Then he says, “If St. Paul may speak this way about his flesh, we cannot assume to be better or more holy than him. But the fact that we do not feel our weakness just makes things worse. It is a sign that there is a leprous flesh in us that can’t feel anything. And yet, the leprosy rages and keeps spreading” (Part V, paras. 76-77).
Because of nerve damage, a leprous person does not always notice when he cuts himself or gets burned or injured. And we do not always notice when we are getting injured or burned by sin. The more we participate in what is unclean, the less we perceive the damage that is being done to us. We think that we can stay in control of the sin. We won’t let it overcome us. But when we can’t stop consuming what is destroying us, can’t stop doing what we should not do, we are not in control of sin; sin is in control of us.
If one of the lepers in today’s reading denied that he had leprosy, it wouldn’t have changed the fact. And “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1Jo. 1:8). It is important that we see ourselves among those lepers. By nature, we are sinful and unclean (ELH, pp. 41, 61). We are the outsiders. We are the ones standing at a distance, away from all that is good. We cannot change our situation; we cannot save ourselves.
But One has drawn near to our community of death, even coming to live among us, One who has the power to heal us of our sin and save us from death. This One is very different; His reputation precedes Him. He has not been overcome by sin, and when death tried to take Him down, He took down death! “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” we cry.
And why should He have mercy? He isn’t the reason for our troubles. He is not responsible for the state we are in, for the messes we have made in our sin. But He does have mercy. He had mercy upon Naaman, an Old Testament Gentile who was afflicted by leprosy, by having him wash seven times in the waters of the Jordan River until he was clean (2Ki. 5). And our Lord had mercy upon us by bringing us to the cleansing waters of Baptism, where He applied the healing medicine of His holy blood to each one of us.
St. Paul explains this beautifully in Ephesians 2. He writes, “Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh… remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (vv. 11,12). We were on the outside, and we couldn’t get in. We were stuck in our sin and death. Paul continues, “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (v. 13). We were far off from salvation, but Jesus has brought us close to Him.
He accomplished this by perfectly keeping the Law of God, not just for the Israelite people but for all people. And then He went to the cross carrying the whole world’s sin and shed His holy blood to wash it all away. He poured His perfect righteousness and His cleansing blood over you through the waters of Baptism. That is how He transferred you from the community of death in the world to His holy Christian Church, the Communion of Saints. That is how He healed and cleansed you from the disease of sin that was killing you.
But many of the people He has done this for, whom He has joined to Himself in the waters of Baptism, continue on their way and forget what He has done. Like the nine lepers who were healed, they get caught up in “the cares and riches and pleasures of life” (Luk. 8:14). They don’t continue to listen to His healing Word. They don’t remember to give Him thanks. So even though Jesus freed them from the community of death, they have returned to it again. They might feel like they are alive. They might think they are doing important things. But none of it can save them, and none of it will last apart from Christ.
This is what the devil tempts all of us to do. He wants us to walk away from the life we have in Jesus, to give all of that up so we can fit in with the world. We might even feel ashamed sometimes of our membership in the Christian Church. We don’t tell anyone about it. We carefully keep it hidden, so we can fit in with the people who seem to matter. We don’t want them to think we are strange. We don’t want to be left on the outside. We don’t want to be singled out and left all by ourselves.
These are natural thoughts to have. It is difficult to be a follower of Jesus in a hostile world. But even though you may feel like you have to face these difficulties alone, you are not alone. The Samaritan went against the majority and turned back to give thanks to Jesus. He didn’t have the company of his former friends anymore, but He wasn’t alone. Jesus was with him, and Jesus blessed him. “Rise and go your way,” He said; “your faith has made you well.” Or as the Greek word literally reads, “your faith has saved you.”
You are saved by faith in Jesus who conquered your sin and death, and shares with you His life. And you are not the only one who has received this life. Going back to Ephesians 2: “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord” (vv. 19-21).
Look at how large your community is! You are a fellow citizen with all the saints, all the believers who have gone before you. You are a member of the household of God. You stand on the foundation built by the apostles and prophets. Christ Jesus Himself is the cornerstone. You are part of an immense structure, a beautiful building, a holy temple in the Lord. You are most certainly not alone.
You are a member of the body of Christ. It is with Him that you belong. You will always find friendship, acceptance, and purpose in Him. He will not leave you by yourself. He visits you with His mercy in good times and bad, whether you are happy or sad, restful or anxious. He comes right to you through His Word and His Sacraments to cleanse you again with His holy blood and bless you with His promises.
Each time you receive these blessings, you praise Him and give thanks to Him, bowing down at His feet. And He looks upon you with love, and He says, “Rise and go your way; your faith has saved 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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(picture from “The Healing of Ten Lepers” by James Tissot, 1836-1902)
The Fifth Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Luke 5:1-11
In Christ Jesus, who did the work we had hardly even begun and were not about to finish, dear fellow redeemed:
What would it take for you to feel like you have really “made it”? When would you consider your life a success? Would it be rising to a prominent position in a company? Being recognized and awarded for your accomplishments? Making a certain amount of money and achieving the standard of living you always dreamed of? We look up to actors, athletes, and singers, because it seems like they have everything they want, the perfect life.
King Solomon had more than all of them. He looked back on a lifetime of hard work, of success and fame, and concluded that “all was vanity and a striving after wind” (Ecc. 2:11). He said that “there is more gain in wisdom than in folly,” but in the end, “the wise dies just like the fool!” (vv. 13, 16). He also recognized that everything he had worked for would one day be turned over to another to keep and manage, “and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool?” (v. 19).
So our satisfaction will not be found in climbing higher and higher and getting more and more. There is a better focus for our work, and we learn it today from the example of Jesus’ disciples.
When Jesus visited the fishermen by the lake of Gennesaret, they were not in good spirits. These men fished for their livelihood, not for leisure, which made a night’s work with no return especially frustrating. We might have expected Simon Peter’s response to be a bit saltier than it was when Jesus directed him to row to the deep part of the lake and let down his nets. For one thing, it was not the right time of day for fishing. And the deeper parts of the lake were probably not the best places to find fish. But Simon replied respectfully, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at Your word I will let down the nets.”
It wasn’t long before the fishermen saw the nets start to drag along as though they were filling up. In a short time their nets were so full, that two fishing boats could not handle the load. So much for all their fishing wisdom! This Jesus came along and prompted the greatest catch of fish they had ever seen! Now they were keenly aware of a power in their presence that was much greater than their own. They did not doubt that they had just witnessed a miracle, which meant Jesus was either a prophet of God or God Himself. Simon fell to his knees and said, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”
What Simon had forgotten at that moment is something that we lose sight of too. We forget that we are always in the presence of God, and that we cannot prosper in work without His blessing. So often we experience some success at work and are praised for what we accomplish, and we think of this as well-earned recognition. We worked hard for this and did what others could not do.
It is not wrong to take pride in a job well done. But it is wrong to take full credit for it. If you are a farmer, who is it that sends the sun and rain for your crops? If you work for an employer, who gave you the mental and physical abilities you have? If your kids grow up to be reasonably responsible citizens, who granted you the patience and care you needed to raise them?
To act as though God has nothing to do with our successes—which is what every unbeliever thinks—is to greatly dishonor Him. Unbelievers see their success as entirely dependent on themselves and even flaunt their riches in God’s face, as though He had nothing to do with it. But unless He opens His merciful hand and gives His blessings, no creature could live. He satisfies the desire of every living thing, as the Psalm says (145:16).
But we do not always feel satisfied with His gifts. Sometimes, like the disciples, we work hard and come up with nothing. Why is that? Why do we wear ourselves out and lose ground while the unrighteous appear to prosper? Has God forgotten our need? It is easy to question God when we are struggling, but it is just as easy to forget Him when we prosper. This may be why God sometimes gives us more and sometimes less—to remind us to trust in Him.
No matter how hard you work, if your work is not done to the glory of God, it is empty. No amount of money and goods will satisfy you without Jesus in view. Peter, James, and John recognized this. Even after the greatest catch of fish they had ever seen, they left it all behind. “[T]hey left everything and followed [Jesus].” They followed Jesus because He called them to a different kind of fishing. Now they would be “catching men” for God.
But they were not prepared to help fill God’s net until they were caught themselves. When Simon saw the great catch of fish, He begged Jesus to leave him, because he was a sinner. What sin do you suppose was on his mind? Was it that he doubted any fish would be caught when he “put out into the deep”? Or was it just a general awareness of his sinfulness as He stood before his Lord? The prophet Isaiah reacted in much the same way in the presence of God in heaven, “Woe is me! For I am lost” he said; “for I am a man of unclean lips” (Is. 6:5). But the last thing Simon Peter needed is what he requested. When he said, “Depart from me,” he should have said, “Save me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!”
Being in the presence of God and hearing His Word forces us to reckon with our sins. We hear the standard that God sets and realize how far we fall short of meeting it. But instead of crying out to Jesus, “Save me!” we try to make things better on our own. We know that the sin we have fallen into is condemned by God, and we want to stop doing it. But instead of trusting in Him, we put our trust in ourselves. “I am strong enough to overcome this,” we think. “I know I am better than this, and I will prove it!” And what happens? We fall again and again. And eventually, we lose the will to fight anymore. Sometimes we continue in the sin despite the conflict we feel in our conscience, or we begin to justify the sin in an attempt to rewire our conscience.
Our flailing attempts to get free of God’s accusing law are like a bird caught in a fishing net. The harder it tries to get away, the more tangled up it becomes. This is how it was with Martin Luther. Luther had tried to get right with God by his works. He even gave up a promising career in law in order to become a monk, so that he could dedicate his life to righteous living full-time.
But the harder he worked, the more his net of righteousness came up empty. He expressed this painful realization in a hymn verse: “Fast bound in Satan’s chains I lay; / Death brooded darkly o’er me. / Sin was my torment night and day; / In sin my mother bore me. / Yea, deep and deeper still I fell; / Life had become a living hell, / So firmly sin possessed me” (ELH 378, v. 2).
It wasn’t that Luther was more sinful than the common man. But he was more honest about his sinful condition than many are. No matter how hard you and I try, we are still sinners who deserve death. St. Paul lays it out clearly, “the wages of sin is death.” But then he speaks the good news for us sinners, “the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23).
By God’s grace, we learn that the righteousness God requires of sinners is supplied by Jesus. To try to get to heaven without Him is to come up empty. But to place one’s entire life and being in His hands through repentant faith is to obtain everything. By faith in Jesus, your net is filled with forgiveness for your many sins, with eternal life instead of death, and with salvation from your enemies. Faith receives such abundant blessings from God that you sink beneath their glorious weight. God’s grace surrounds you and covers you, so that your flimsy attempts at righteousness can no more be seen. All that is now in view is the righteousness of Jesus and His cleansing blood.
That is why we follow Him. He gives us what we could never get on our own. Our Constant Toiling Nets Nothing without Jesus. Romans 4:5 declares, “And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.” It is not your work that justifies you before God, but faith in Jesus who did all the work that was necessary to save you.
He worked hard to save you, and He isn’t about to let that hard work on your behalf go to waste. He comes to you still and continues to work in you through His Word and Sacraments. Through these means, He supplies forgiveness whenever your God-given work falls short, and He grants the strength that you need to carry out your work to His glory 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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(picture of the miraculous catch of fish by Raphael, 1515)
The Festival of the Holy Trinity – Vicar Anderson farewell sermon
Text: St. John 3:1-15
In Christ Jesus, who with God the Father and the Holy Spirit are one God, one Lord, who in the confession of the only true God, we worship the Trinity in person and the Unity in substance, of majesty co-equal, dear fellow redeemed:
In the last ten years, I have mostly moved once a year. First it was to college. After nine months, I packed everything up and brought it home. Then I moved for Seminary, then to Iowa, and later this month, to my first call to serve as pastor in Klamath Falls, Oregon. Packing and unpacking, packing, and unpacking. My wife and I are working to make sure everything is secured in boxes. Our text for today is teaching how some have tried to pack up God. The world and maybe we have wondered, how can we have a triune God who is also one true God? Is that even possible? Should packing God into a box even be done? The answer is that we do not want to try and pack God into a box. It is not possible. Yet how do we reason with God being triune? Our God is holy, perfect, and righteous. Jesus in our text explains how God is triune. The trinity is active in your life for your good. Jesus teaches you and Nicodemus how this is possible.
Nicodemus points out how they believe that Jesus was sent from God. “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” The Pharisees reveal that there is a God. They understand that God does exist. As they believe that God exists, they refuse to believe that Jesus came down from heaven to die for them. They don’t believe that Jesus is God in the flesh. They pack God into a box with their lack of understanding of the Scriptures.
As Nicodemus reveals that Jesus is a prophet, he doesn’t understand what Jesus is telling him. ‘Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.’ It is easy to understand why after hearing this, Nicodemus needs clarification. Jesus gives Nicodemus an explanation that His teaching is about heavenly things, but Nicodemus should know this as He is the teacher of Israel.
The reason that Nicodemus is having a hard time with this is because He has the wrong understanding about God’s Law. The Pharisees believed they were saved by their works. They had created their own laws, so it looked as though they were following God’s Law. This belief skewed their judgement, causing them to be upset about Jesus and His work as the Son of Man.
This concept of the Trinity, a Son of Man, how do we understand it? How do we explain that God is one God in three persons? By us believing that God is God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, we have alienated ourselves from the rest of the world and their beliefs. We are told that if we just believe in “a god”, we will easily fit in with everyone else. Why can’t we just have “a god”? If we have “a god”, or we try to remove the Trinity from the one true God then this is what we have, “for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness, and the peoples in his faithfulness” (Psalm 96:13). This is God boxed up into our glorious, most holy judge. He will come and judge the world in righteousness and faithfulness.
Our righteousness and faithfulness do not compare to what God wants. Jesus tells us, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). We cannot appease God and be perfect for Him. And since we can’t be perfect, we deserve His holy wrath and punishment. Like the Pharisees and the world, we can strive as much as we can and change God’s laws to be born again on our own, but it never works out. Jesus then tells Nicodemus that the prophets have been ignored.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” Here Jesus is telling Nicodemus that what Jesus and the prophets have spoken in Scripture will happen even if the world won’t receive it. He has tried to explain it in an earthly way, but Nicodemus still lacked understanding. As this cuts us to the heart, Jesus tells Nicodemus, He tells us what their testimony is all about.
The prophets prophesied that a Savior would come. That Savior cannot be just anyone. “No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.” Jesus confirms to Nicodemus that what the Pharisees think is true. Jesus has come from God. He is true God and the Son of Man. Our text ends with Jesus saying, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”
Jesus teaches that this can only happen with the work of the triune God, and this is how He is active. God the Father has mercy on all of mankind. He sends the Son of Man to suffer and die for all people. How is Nicodemus born again? It is not based on his works. He is born again by the work of the Holy Spirit who brings the work of the Son of Man to him as “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So, it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” It’s not Nicodemus work, it’s not our work. It is the Trinity active in your life.
God is righteous and merciful. He is so merciful that He did the unthinkable for you. Like Nicodemus, we can’t fathom that God would be so merciful that He would send His one and only Son. Jesus points out that the Father is looking out for you. He blesses you beyond all measure. He provides for your earthly needs, and He does the unthinkable by providing for your spiritual needs. He sent His Son to earth and born of flesh and blood. The Son of Man, felt your pains, sufferings, and temptations. He suffered this earthly life perfectly for you. He loved you so much, that He put your sins on His back that the Father’s perfect righteousness and holy judgement came down on Him that He was judged guilty of death even though He was innocent.
Jesus like that serpent, was raised up on the cross, becoming a curse for you. So that He would not have to judge you guilty of what you deserved. Jesus died and rose from the dead for your future. Your eternal future is eternal life in heaven not because of anything that you could do, but because of the death of your Savior.
To have eternal life, God can’t be packed into a box as just “a god”. We wouldn’t be able to be in His presence. Our triune God, not only rules over you, but He takes care of and comes directly to you in the Word and Sacraments. He comes to you in the Word as the Word is Christ. He speaks directly to you, He knows that you have sinned and because of your repentance, He forgives your sins. In baptism, you were baptized with the name of the triune God into the death of Christ. You were marked with the sign of the cross the mark of your Savior. The water and the Word washes away sins and drowned your old Adam. In Holy Communion Christ commands, you to come often to receive His holy body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins. Physical comfort of your Savior with you. These gifts that the Father has mercifully given you because of the life of His perfect Son come to you through these means by the work of the Holy Spirit.
Your baptism, going to communion, and hearing the Word of God preached to you strengthens your faith. You can be certain of your new life in Christ because this is not you’re doing. The work of the Holy Spirit brings you faith in Christ. Every good work that you do is because of the Holy Spirit. This is your new life, and the Trinity is constantly at work for your good. And when the problems of this life get you to again question like Nicodemus, “How can these things be?” The Holy Spirit works faith, you confess your sins, and He once again brings you comfort and assurance that you have been forgiven by Christ, giving you the blessing of eternal life.
This text is not quite the same as packing up belongings and moving them across the country. We see the opposite, that God cannot be contained. If God was contained into a supreme being, there would be no benefit for us. We would see how we cannot achieve what He wants from us. The Holy Trinity is active in our lives. God the Father blesses us, God the Son redeems us, and we receive all of this through the work of God the Holy Spirit. Three distinct persons, one true God. We will never be able to unpack this information because like Nicodemus, we are sinners. But as we confess our sins, the Holy Spirit works faith in our hearts giving us new life, and like Nicodemus we hear forgiveness in the Son of Man being raised up like that serpent on a pole. The next verse brings us comfort until the end of time. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Amen.
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(picture from “Christ and Nicodemus” by Fritz von Uhde, c. 1886)
The Second Sunday of Easter – Vicar Anderson sermon
Text: St. John 20:19-31
In Christ Jesus, who walks with you by faith, who you don’t see visibly, but He is right here with you, dear fellow redeemed:
Whose shoes do you want to be in? The city of Jerusalem on the first day of the week is quite busy. Soldiers are minding their own business, probably wondering why they are guarding someone’s grave. Women are wondering who is going to move the large stone away. To their surprise angels move away the stone and proclaim the wonderful news, Christ is risen! The fear of the religious leaders has become a reality, the tomb is empty. The women not only hear this glorious news, but then they see Jesus! They tell the disciples, the ones who loved Jesus so much, and they doubted what the women told them. Thomas is nowhere to be found. So again, whose shoes do you want to be in? I think we can all feel for those disciples. We know some of the thoughts that they probably had. Their teacher was gone! He was dead! We weren’t there, we did not witness what took place, but Scripture has revealed to us what happened that Easter day. Our Savior has risen! Christ tells us directly that seeing is not believing.
Jesus’ disciples needed to see Him. Our text shows that on the evening of Easter, they are locked in a room. This is a place that they feel safe. After seeing what happened, they knew that the authorities were probably coming for them next. Remember these are disciples who said “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death” (Luke 22:33). Some news arrives that the tomb is empty. Yet they still do not believe what they have heard.
We see in the Passion account that the disciples needed help to get to this point. They had forgotten Jesus’ teachings. Jesus had spoken plainly to them about how everything was going to be fulfilled. “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise” (Mark 9:31). Their little faith now has them locked in a room in fear of the leaders who put Jesus to death.
The other gospels have more details about that day. After the women had reported to the disciples what they discovered, Peter and John also raced to the tomb. They saw His folded up burial clothes. Jesus body was raised, yet they did not understand what was happening. They were stuck in despair. Thomas was not even in the room on that first day of the week. He did not get to rejoice in seeing His Lord. He wanted hard proof that Jesus was alive otherwise he would not believe it.
Scripture speaks very plainly to us just like Jesus spoke to His disciples. We will often ignore what Jesus says to stay in our sins. We try to appease the world, and the world will still throw us into despair. We can get to the point that our lack of faith can have us locked behind closed doors in fear too. This is what the devil wants. He wants us at that point of no return where we doubt God and we despair that we have been left alone. He points out all of the things that are going wrong in our lives. We hear the lie “If your God is a good God, why is He letting all of these bad things happen to you, surely you won’t have more than what you can bear?”
Like the disciples, we often doubt what God says. God tells us that He keeps His promises. The moment something happens in our lives that causes our world to turn upside down, we immediately doubt what God tells us. We try to find our own way of fixing the situation. The first thing we should be doing is praying to God. Our way of communicating with Him. And we should go to His Word where He shows us and tells us that He works things out for the good. We tend to not look much farther than the disaster in front of us because that doesn’t look like God’s promises.
God’s promise is that He will abide with us, provide for us, and help us. When we forget His first commandment to fear, love, and trust in Him above all things, we ignore His promises. When we forget about fear, love, and trust, well now why should we believe in Him? The world tells us to look around and see that there is no God. We must take care of ourselves. Unfortunately, we will continue into the pit of despair because we throw away our only source of comfort in this life.
The disciples looked like they were going to continue to stay in that pit of despair. Maybe they would have come around at some point from hearing what the women had told them. Jesus however has a different plan. Finally, as the day ends, they get to see Him with their own eyes. “Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.” Their Lord was there and was alive! Their faith was restored! They get to see in person that their Savior has risen from the dead! They see that He is no longer in the tomb. Death was destroyed. Jesus has done all that He says He would do!
Now remember Thomas was not there that first night. The grief of the events must have been overwhelming. Thomas also said he needs that physical proof. One week later and the first thing that Jesus does after saying “Peace be with you,” is that He heads right over to Thomas. This is not only Jesus walking over to Thomas, but this is Jesus walking over to speak directly to you.
Where you lack trust, that is all Jesus had. He trusted in God that this was the plan of Salvation. Like Isaac trusting his father when Abraham was about to sacrifice him, Jesus also put His trust in God the Father. He did it perfectly and instead of being spared, He took on all your sins and died for every one of them. Without Jesus death on the cross and resurrection, the world would be right, and you would have nothing or no one to trust in. There would be no reason to believe in God keeping His promises. There would be no reason to go to church to hear and learn from Him. You would just sit at home and wait for your untimely demise. These sins of doubt and failing to trust in God, they are forgiven. When the hard events of life get you, your faith might waver, but what you see in that room where Jesus met His disciples is the truth. Your faith in Jesus Christ is not in vain. He is risen indeed! And as He speaks to Thomas, He has a message for you.
That message comes to you right here and now. You are in the year 2023 and you did not get to witness the crucifixion. The men and women who were there saw and heard what happened, yet they doubted. You were not there, but you believe it. You have a new life in Christ because He is speaking directly to you. Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” You have faith because even though it has been 2,000 years since Jesus was visibly on this earth, He still comes directly to you in the Means of Grace providing you with strength every day. Jesus is still here! This is why you come to church, to hear His Word and to receive His Sacraments. This is where Jesus is present, coming to you. He has marked you as His own, He speaks His Words of comfort that you are blessed, and He personally provides you with forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation at the altar. He breathes the Holy Spirit on you so that you hear this message and believe it.
We walk by a clear and confident faith because God has kept His promises. Our Savior has risen from the dead. Jesus then tells us directly that we do not have to worry or doubt. We were not present, but we are blessed because we believe. This is why Scripture is recorded. Everyone can hear the message of their salvation. Jesus came and died for all. St. John tells us that it is recorded for our hearing so that we may believe. We receive comfort that Christ has not left us. He is with us now in this life and He will reign over us forever. It is 2023 and we know that the tomb of Jesus was empty. Like Job we can confess, I know that my Redeemer lives; what comfort this sweet sentence gives! He lives, He lives, who once was dead; He lives, my ever-living head (ELH 351). Amen.
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(woodcut from “Doubting Thomas” by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, 1794-1872)
The Resurrection of Our Lord – Pr. Faugstad exordium & sermon
The miracle-worker died, but his followers refused to accept it. “He will rise again!” they said. So they waited. They waited one day. Then two. On the third day, nothing happened. Weeks passed, then months. Then more than a year and a half had gone by. Finally the funeral home obtained a court order and buried the man’s body.
This actually happened in South Africa. A pastor who claimed to be able to heal the sick, and who reportedly predicted his own resurrection, stayed dead. He did not have the power he thought he had or said he had.
There is only one Man who predicted His own resurrection and then did it. We are gathered here today to hear His Word and sing His praises. Even though He had done countless miracles and even raised several people from the dead, His closest disciples did not believe He would rise. The eleven disciples went into hiding after He was crucified and buried. The women made plans to return to His tomb after the Sabbath to anoint His dead body with more spices.
The only ones who seemed to take Jesus’ prediction seriously were the chief priests and Pharisees. They went to 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” (Mat. 27:63-64). All this accomplished was putting witnesses at the tomb—the soldiers—who watched an angel descend from heaven and roll away the stone revealing an empty tomb. They reported what they saw to the chief priests, who, instead of hearing what they said, paid them to tell a lie (28:11-15).
But the resurrection of Jesus is no lie. It happened just as Jesus said it would, on the third day after His death. He did break the chains of death. He did emerge victorious. He did end the terrible reign of death brought into the world by Adam’s sin. He did it for the doubters, for the weak, for the faithless, for sinners—for you and me.
In thankfulness and joy, let us rise to sing hymn #348, “He Is Arisen! Glorious Word!”
He is arisen! Glorious Word!
Now reconciled is God, my Lord;
The gates of heaven are open.
My Jesus died triumphantly,
And Satan’s arrows broken lie,
Destroyed hell’s direst weapon.
Life He giveth—
He was dead, but see, He liveth!
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Sermon text: St. Mark 16:1-8
In Christ Jesus, who was not in the tomb on Easter morning, but who is here with us to bless us, dear fellow redeemed:
Many people claim to have seen angels. Some of them say angels appeared when they were in great distress or sorrow and brought them comfort. Others report messages spoken to them by the angels, special messages from God. The problem is, sometimes those messages do not agree with what the Bible says. So which is more reliable: a special visit from an angel or the Word of God?
If someone is given a message by a holy angel, it will not contradict the Word of God. The angels who serve God are without sin; they only tell the truth. So if an angel speaks a message that conflicts with the Word of God, it is not a holy angel. St. Paul writes that “even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light” (2Co. 11:14). Many prominent false teachers in history claim to have been visited by angels who gave them their new teachings. But these were not holy angels. They were the devil or demons coming in disguise.
So how can we know that the angel who spoke to the women at Jesus’ tomb was really sent by God? How can we be sure that it wasn’t just something they imagined in their state of emotional turmoil and sorrow? When the women went to Jesus’ tomb early Sunday morning, they went there expecting to find a dead man—if they could roll away the stone from the entrance to get to Him.
Instead, they looked up and saw that the stone had already been rolled away. That was strange. And when they cautiously peaked inside, they did not see the body of Jesus. They saw a young man wearing a long, white robe—an angel. Seeing their distress and alarm, the angel told them there was no need to fear. Why? There was no need to fear because Jesus had done everything He said He would do.
The angel didn’t tell them anything new. Jesus had told His disciples multiple times that He would go to Jerusalem to suffer, die, and on the third day rise again. And when they were in Jerusalem the night of His arrest, He told His disciples that they would all desert Him, but after He was raised up, He would go before them to Galilee (Mar. 14:27-28). Now the angel was saying the same thing: Jesus “was crucified. He is risen!… He is going before you into Galilee… as He said to you.”
That is the message the women took back to the disciples. The appearance of the angel was surprising, but the words he spoke should not have been surprising. He simply reminded them what they had already heard. That’s what the holy angels do. They proclaim the promises of God. Isn’t that what the angels did the night of Jesus’ birth? They proclaimed the fulfillment of God’s promise: “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord” (Luk. 2:11).
You can be sure that if an angel appears to you and speaks a message that does not agree with the Bible’s teaching, it is not an angel of God. St. Paul said that there are some who “want to distort the gospel of Christ.” Then he adds, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed” (Gal. 1:7-8). But how can we know that the Gospel is true? Or how can we be sure we have the right Gospel?
That topic came up in a conversation I had with a Mormon man. Before I knew his religious background, he asked me a question that every Lutheran pastor loves to hear, “What is the Gospel?” But I could tell as I explained the Gospel to him that he wasn’t convinced. It was a “gotcha question.” He wanted to make the point that if all of the different denominations of Christians had different understandings of the Gospel, none of us could be certain we had the right one. That’s why we needed a modern-day prophet to give the correct interpretation—a prophet like Joseph Smith (who, incidentally, claimed to get his special revelations from an “angel”).
But we can know the Gospel from the Bible and be certain that we have the true Gospel. The angel sitting in that tomb couldn’t have said it more plainly: Jesus “was crucified. He is risen!” That is the good news. That is the Gospel. A dead man rose from the dead! But it wasn’t just any dead man. It was a dead man who claimed to be the Son of God. It was a dead man who predicted that everything would happen just as it happened. It was a dead man who said that His victory over death would be your victory, that His life would be your life.
Jesus’ resurrection verified everything He ever said. He could have said what He did, died on the cross, and never been seen or heard from again. That would have proven that He was nothing more than a big talker, or that He was delusional. But that is not what happened. He did rise from the dead. We believe it not just because an angel said it happened. We believe it because Jesus showed Himself alive to the women later that morning, to His disciples on numerous occasions, and at one time to more than five hundred of His followers (1Co. 15:6). He talked with them, ate with them, and definitively proved that He is who He said—the Son of God in the flesh.
The disciples wrote down what they saw and heard, so that everyone could learn about Jesus and what He had done. Jesus hadn’t just accomplished something for His time. He had done something for all time. His apostle John wrote near the end of His Gospel account: “these 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” (Joh. 20:31).
Our faith in Jesus is not a special feeling we have about Him. It is not a decision we made when considering various faith systems. Our faith in Jesus is a confidence worked in us by God the Holy Spirit through the message of His Gospel. It is a confidence that because Jesus rose from the dead, we will rise. Because He lives forever, we will live forever. We know how ridiculous and impossible it sounds that a severely beaten and crucified man should rise from the dead a couple days later, alive and well, walking around and visiting with people all over the place.
But this was not just any man. This was God-in-the-flesh who won the victory for you. He went to the cross and crushed the devil’s head by paying for your sins. And He conquered death by coming alive on the very day He said He would. Sin, devil, and death could not stop Him. They met an Enemy who had them shaking in their boots.
This is the Lord and Savior who joined Himself to your flesh, so that He could do everything for you that you couldn’t do. And He has joined Himself to you in an even more personal way. He made you a member of His holy body through your Baptism into Him, cleansing you of your sins and covering you in His righteousness. And He feeds you and fills you with His life by giving you His immortal body and blood in His holy Supper. He graciously comes to you and me through His Word and Sacraments, so that even though outwardly we are wasting away, inwardly He renews us day by day (2Co. 4:16).
The Bible says that the angels are amazed by the gracious care God has for us. The gifts the Holy Spirit gives us through the Gospel are “things into which angels long to look” (1Pe. 1:12). So we do not need to wait for a special visit from an angel to know that God loves us. We do not need to seek comfort in our grief from strange coincidences, appearances of certain animals, or from other signs that seem to convey messages from those who are now dead.
We need the Gospel. We need to hear the message again and again that our sins are forgiven, that eternal life is ours through faith in Jesus, and that He will raise our bodies and the bodies of all our loved ones from the dead when He comes again in glory. That is the message God sent His holy angels to proclaim when His Son entered this world and when He rose in triumph out of the dark tomb.
And that is the message we still proclaim today and every day. We want our family, our friends, and even our enemies to hear the saving truth that Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
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(woodcut from “The Empty Tomb” by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, 1794-1872)
Palm Sunday – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Matthew 21:1-9
In Christ Jesus, who gladly hears the praise from the mouths of us little children, dear fellow redeemed:
The Jews traveled to Jerusalem from all directions to prepare for the Passover. They arrived at least a week early, so they could take part in the purification rites before the feast (Joh. 11:55). As they connected with friends and family in the holy city, the topic of conversation in the homes, in the streets, and in the temple was Jesus—Jesus of Nazareth (v. 56).
Not long before this, maybe a few months, Jesus had gone to Bethany where His friend Lazarus had died and was buried. Lazarus had been dead for four days when Jesus got there, but Jesus called him out of the tomb, alive and well. Now Jesus returned to Bethany where he enjoyed a dinner with Lazarus and others on the Sabbath, on Saturday.
Word came to Jerusalem that Jesus was there, so large crowds came to see both Him and Lazarus, the formerly dead man walking (Joh. 12:9). By the time Sunday arrived, it is certain that all Jerusalem knew about the presence of Jesus. When they heard that He was coming to the city, they went out to meet Him, not just hundreds, not just thousands, but very likely tens of thousands!
They had come to welcome their King. They made a carpet of palm branches and cloaks. They cheered His arrival. They shouted His praises. They sang the words of an old song—perhaps a thousand years old—“Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” The crowds on every side of Jesus were of all types—some old, some young; some darker-skinned, some lighter-skinned; some wealthy, some poor; men, women, and children.
We can picture ourselves in the crowd, watching Jesus go by, riding on a donkey. The sound was like a stadium filled with excited fans. “Hosanna! Here He comes! The One who has power over death! He is not afraid! Here comes the Conqueror! The King! Hosanna to the Son of David!” As you picture the people, I want you especially to find the children in the crowd. Some of them cling tightly to their parents’ legs as they watch Jesus come. Some are held in their mothers’ arms or sit on their fathers’ shoulders. Some of the older children dart around through the crowd or climb the trees to get a better look.
Some of them had probably seen Jesus before. They could have been part of the crowds of five thousand or four thousand who were miraculously fed from the small amount of loaves and fish. They could have been among those whom Jesus welcomed when the disciples wanted to shoo them away. “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them,” said Jesus, “‘for to such belongs the kingdom of God’…. And he took them in his arms and blessed them” (Mar. 10:14,16).
Whether they had seen Him before or not, the children would not forget this day. They would remember the great crowd and a humble Lord entering the city on Palm Sunday. We can tell what an impact this had on the children by the fact that they were still clustered around Him and singing His praises the next day.
Jesus spent the night of Palm Sunday back in Bethany (Mar. 11:11). When He returned to Jerusalem on Monday morning, His first order of business was to clear the temple of those who were buying and selling. They had turned the temple into a place for commerce instead of honoring it as a place of prayer. Wherever Jesus went that day, the children followed Him crying out, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” The chief priests and scribes were so bothered by this that they complained to Jesus: “Do you hear what these are saying?” And He said to them, “[H]ave you never read, ‘Out of the mouths of infants and nursing babies You have prepared praise’?” (Mat. 21:16).
The children were doing what God had called them to do. They were telling the truth, and they were praising their Lord. Their faithfulness was a wonderful witness to everyone around them. The clear and faithful confession of children still has this effect among us. It strengthens us to hear the simple and honest words of children as they sing, “Jesus loves me! This I know, / For the Bible tells me so,” as they recite their Christmas program passages, and as they publicly confess their faith in front of church before their Confirmation day.
There are reciprocal blessings as we train our children in the Word of God. They benefit from our efforts by learning more about what God has done for them. And we benefit by hearing them repeat and confess what they have learned. The beauty of the children’s confession is that they haven’t learned to doubt what God tells them in His Word. They believe what the Bible says.
That changes as we get older. Then we want to question everything. We provide evidence from the difficulties in our lives that God must not love us as much as He says He does, or that He must not be as powerful as we thought. But what is actually happening is that the devil, the world, and our own flesh are tempting us to doubt the sure promises of God. God hasn’t changed, and neither has His Word. What changes is you and me. We decide that chasing riches, fame, and pleasure in the world is better than the eternal gifts of God. And if someone calls us out for living different than the Bible says, we often get mad at them. We embrace the sin and cast aside the Word.
Or we maintain a belief in Jesus, but we keep it mostly to ourselves. We don’t want people to think we are pushing our beliefs on them. We don’t want them to think we are weird. So we keep our mouths shut. We don’t warn our friends about their bad behavior. And we don’t share the hope we have of forgiveness and eternal life through Jesus.
Little children don’t make these careful calculations. They say what they believe. Sometimes they even annoy their parents by pointing out when their parents do or say something wrong. Children are constantly watching, learning how to operate from those who care for them. That is quite the responsibility for adults! Our children are a reflection of us—both our bad and our good.
If we curse and swear, so will they. If we act selfishly, so will they. If we speak badly about others, so will they. If we prioritize almost everything else before the Word of God, so will they. But if we watch what we say, if we speak well of others, if we look to help those around us, if we “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Mat. 6:33), they are likely to do the same. Your presence here today is almost certainly a reflection of the faithful example provided you by your parents or another influential Christian in your life. If we want the Church to continue, we can’t leave it to someone else to do. The responsibility is yours and mine.
Children are watching, and they are listening. Once the Jerusalem children learned who Jesus was, they kept singing His praises and sharing the good news. The important religious leaders—the smart guys, the men of influence—rejected Jesus. The children believed in Him. As much as we need to be an example to our children, Jesus wants us to learn from their example too. He says, “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it” (Mar. 10:15). And, “unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mat. 18:3).
That is our approach as we bow our heads and enter Holy Week again this year. Like the little children gathered around Jesus, we gather here to gladly hear and learn His holy Word and receive His blessed Sacraments. And we open our mouths to joyfully confess who He is and praise Him for His mercies.
We know why He rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. It was to win the victory over our sin and death. He knew what He would face. He knew that He would have to suffer both for those who rejoiced at His coming and for those who despised Him. He went to the cross to pay for all sin, to pour out His holy blood so all wrongs would be washed away.
He shed His blood to cleanse you of all the times in your life when you behaved childishly, when you were a poor example to those in your care, when you failed to speak the truth, and when you doubted God’s Word. God the Father does not see those sins on you anymore, because they were transferred to Jesus, and Jesus left them buried in the grave when He rose from the dead. The Holy Spirit connected you with Jesus’ death and resurrection when you were baptized. That is when you became a child of your heavenly Father. That is when he adopted you to be His own, now and forever.
Each week, you come back here to your Father’s house to hear this message. He speaks His promises through His Word, and you speak back to Him what you have heard. That’s what happens in our Sunday School classes, our Catechism classes, and the Divine Service every week. We learn to participate in the holy conversation that God initiated with us sinners.
It is a holy conversation that can only be appreciated by those who have been given ears to hear it. Unbelievers hear what we say, and many of them mock us and laugh at us, “Do you hear what these are saying?” Some of them even try to silence our voices, because they hate what we say. But whatever is said about us or to us, we can reply with all childlike honesty and innocence that we are only telling what we have been told.
This is how we praise our Lord and Savior. We say back to Him and share with others what He has given to us. There is no better way to honor and glorify His name. And our dear Father loves to hear this faithful confession from the mouths of His dear children. “The children sang their praises, / The simplest and the best” (Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary #279, v. 1).
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(picture from “The Procession in the Streets of Jerusalem” by James Tissot, 1836-1902)
Sexagesima Sunday – Vicar Anderson sermon
Text: St. Luke 8:4-15
In Christ Jesus, who sows the Seed of the Word of God for all to hear, sowing forgiveness and grace in you, dear fellow redeemed:
Living in Iowa, there is one part of the scenery that I have gotten used too. The land is flat, and since it is flat, there will be corn. Miles and miles of corn. Jesus’ parable is very straight forward and knowing these congregations, you should hear Christ speaking directly to you. This message is very fitting. You know what it takes to get that corn to grow. The field has to be tilled. The rocks have to be picked out of the field and thrown to the side. The field has to be treated so that the weeds don’t attack and kill the baby corn stalk. Lastly, you pray to God for rain and look expectantly for it to grow. Jesus has designed this parable for you. Now as you are the sowers of your fields, in our text we see Jesus, the sower of the Word. Jesus warns us how the Word is under threat. He teaches that this is not just a parable of categories and where you fit in. Jesus is teaching us the truth that we can’t grow His Word on our own. We have to rely on him.
Jesus uses imagery that easily sticks in our minds. The parallels are very easy to spot. Pesky birds fly down and eat the seeds on the road. The Devil is a hunting lion stalking his prey and ready to strike. He is constantly working to make those who hear the Word reject it. The seed is eaten with almost no chance for it to ever come back. The seed can be planted multiple times and a person can reject it every time. Where the field’s edge sits, the rocks are thrown. The Word is believed and quickly forgotten. Many people love how the Word can be refreshing and comforting. But when the troubles and absolute hard times put us on our knees, those refreshing words can be tossed aside because what can they do to help me now?
Where weed killer isn’t used, the thorns grow. When God’s Word isn’t active, then faith is choked out. Jesus shows the crowd how easily the pleasures and riches of world can be those temptations that make faith wither. They saw the life He was living, yet they looked at all of their possessions and they did not want to give them up. The good fruit that comes from the Word is twisted into fruit selfishly used for oneself.
Did you hear yourself in any of those categories? A misconception of this text is to think that this text only applies to the world and not to those who believe. Most of the time if not all of the time we will consider ourselves in that field, holding onto the Word and yielding a hundredfold. A key verse to think about is when Jesus called out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” How often do we let the Word of God go in one ear and out the other ear? We hear; honor your parents, honor authority, don’t covet, don’t look at someone with lust, whoever hates his brother is a murderer. When we sin, we are rejecting God’s Word and Satan lies in wait.
Jesus tells his disciples that, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that ‘seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.’ Jesus has given us the understanding of this parable. But like the unbelievers, who can harden their hearts again and again, we also can harden our hearts. We cave to the pressures of the world and fail to live our Christian lives. We sin often which puts us under intense scrutiny. The more that we behave like the unbelievers do, the more we let God’s Word drift away.
When we are not listening to God’s Word, our faith will not grow. And if we set aside the Word long enough, our faith will die out. God says to rely on him, yet the pleasure of this life, the pleasures of our sins make us feel so good. It might not even be the pleasures of life either. We might ignore the comfort that Word brings in the hardest times in our lives. The budget might be tight, we begin to worry that God is not providing for us. Just because we have ears, doesn’t mean that we actually hear and learn. As we get caught up in our sins and problems, Jesus’ parable does point to a solution. The question to be answered is, why is Jesus so concerned that we listen to what He says? Why should we listen?
The reason that Jesus is so concerned about us listening to Him is because He is the one who is sowing the seed. “God desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). The truth is taught to us in the Word of God. The Word of God is a Means of Grace. It brings forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. The Word shows us that Christ is the one who saves us. It teaches how He died on the cross, taking away our sins, and rising from the dead. Why should we listen? This is how Christ comes to us. He comes to us directly in His Word. He doesn’t hide himself. This is where we find understanding. It’s not in what the world has to offer. We find it in the Word.
With your ears you hear that the Word of God is powerful and effective because it is how Jesus comes to you. Your sins are many and there are many times that you have failed to listen to God’s Word. You can’t grow the seed, but when you acknowledge that you have sinned against God, it is Jesus’ Words that you hear when the pastor says to you “I forgive you all your sins.” That word of absolution works powerfully within you. Jesus sows His forgiveness and grace in you. He takes and not only plants the seed, He waters it and He makes it grow. The Word brings you assurance. Your sins are not attached to you.
As you grow in the Word, it provides you with strength and comfort when the temptations come and the thorns grow. This is how you know that you are in the good soil. Jesus says, “as for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.” Jesus planted His Word in you and made your heart into good soil.
Holding fast to the Word of God, the honest and good heart is revealed. It is nurtured by Christ. We know that by nature our hearts are sinful. The heart is against God all the time and knows can’t rely on itself. But Christ comes to our hearts through the Word and dwells in us. With growing and patience in God’s Word, Jesus produces fruit in us, fruit that is shared with those around us.
Jesus teaches with this parable that the Word is not going out only to believers. After hearing God’s Word, and hearing how plainly the truth is taught, some people will still reject it. This is a sad truth and an all too familiar one. But knowing that the truth is rejected does not stop us from sharing it. We want people to hear how their salvation has been won. The Gospel has the power to change hearts. The Law reveals that we are fallen people. We needed to be redeemed. The Gospel proclaims the truth, that we are saved by faith alone. The Word brings us comfort and joy as we continue to grow in it.
As the Word works, we see how powerful it is. The Word is powerful through the working of the Holy Spirit. This is what we confess in the third article of the Apostle’s Creed. We can’t increase our faith on our own. It is the Holy Spirit who calls us by the Gospel. He opens our ears so that we hear the saving message. He is the reason we keep our faith. Not only does He keep us in the true faith through the preaching of the Word but He keeps the whole Christian Church on earth with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. The Word is working throughout our entire life.
The spring and fall are the two seasons that are looked on with great anticipation. It is the time for seeds to be planted and for them to rise up for harvest. Thankfully the Word of God does not work in seasons. The Word continues to work when we are in it, exploring, and hearing all that God has done for us. As we learn and hear His Word, Jesus comes to us. The world wants a personal Christ. He doesn’t get more personal than in His Word. We hear the comfort that He brings us which helps us through our trials and temptations. The Word of God tells us what Christ has done. The Word keeps us strong in our faith. The Word grows our fruit, fruit that is meant for the world. A testimony of Christ’s constant love to the world that comes from hearing the Word of the Gospel. “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Amen.
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(picture from Hortus Diliciarum, a book compiled by Herrad of Landsberg in the 12th century)
The Feast of the Holy Nativity of Our Lord – Pr. Faugstad exordium & sermon
“Merry Christmas!” It rolls easily off the tongue this time of year. We might not use the word “merry” in any other month, but it seems perfectly fitting in December. In this otherwise dark time of year, we want people to find joy and happiness in Christmas. The word “Christmas” was first recorded in an old English source from A. D. 1038 as “Crīstesmæsse.” It is the combination of two words: “Christ” and “mass.”
“Christ” is the special title given to the Savior of the world. It means, “anointed one.” So when we say, “Jesus Christ,” we are saying, “Jesus, the anointed one.” Jesus was officially anointed as the Savior at His baptism in the Jordan River. The heavens opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in the form of a dove while the Father spoke from above, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Mat. 3:17). The incarnate Son of God was anointed “to seek and to save the lost” (Luk. 19:10), to give Himself as the atoning sacrifice for all sin.
But what about the word “mass”? That comes from the Latin term “missa” which has long been associated with the Service of Holy Communion. “Christmas”—“Christ-mass”—means the coming of the Christ to us in His Supper. In Holy Communion, we receive more than bread and wine. We receive the life-giving body and blood of the incarnate Son of God.
The eternal God took on flesh in the virgin Mary’s womb and came to win our salvation by the sacrifice of His body and the shedding of His blood. He gives this same body and blood to us now for our forgiveness, our comfort, and our strength. Jesus’ coming to save us and His continued presence with us is the reason we can be joyful today, even as we carry various burdens and sorrows.
So I say again, “Merry Christmas!”—“Merry Christ-mass!” The Christ was born for you, and He still comes to bless you. For these wonderful gifts, let us rise and sing our festival hymn, #142 (“Rejoice, Rejoice This Happy Morn!”):
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, who came down from His exalted throne in heaven with gifts for you and me and all people, dear fellow redeemed:
The artistic depictions of the nativity often show the baby Jesus as the source of light. The faces of Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds shine as they look down on Jesus in the manger. One of our favorite Christmas hymns puts this idea into words: “Son of God, love’s pure light / Radiant beams from Thy holy face” (ELH #140, v. 3). But in reality, Jesus did not glow with an inner light. He looked just like any other baby. What set Him apart for the witnesses of His birth was the word of the angels.
The angel Gabriel told Mary, “the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God” (Luk. 1:35). An angel of the Lord told Joseph, “do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit” (Mat. 1:20). And then the angel told the shepherds the night of Jesus’ birth, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord” (Luk. 2:11, KJV). They would find Him in Bethlehem not by looking for a shining baby, but for a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a humble manger.
So as they worshiped Him that day, they worshiped Him not because of what their eyes saw, but because of what their ears heard. And that is why we worship Him today. We worship Him because of what has been revealed to us about Him in God’s holy Word. The Christian religion is not based on what we can see. It is a religion of faith—believing what we do not see.
That does not satisfy the people of the world. They demand proof of God’s existence, proof of the virgin birth, proof of Christ’s resurrection, proof that He still comes among us today. The proof that the Bible provides won’t do—it has to be proof on their terms. But if we’re talking about Santa Claus, then it’s all about faith. “Don’t ask questions; just believe!” I suppose in their minds, faith is fine when we’re talking fantasy, but it isn’t fine when we’re talking fact.
So why is it that we are so confident that Jesus is who the Bible says He is? Why do we believe in Him? We believe because God the Holy Spirit has worked faith in our hearts through the powerful Word. We didn’t decide to believe in Jesus; God decided to pull us out of the darkness of our sin and death and into the light of His grace.
But our faith is not a “blind faith” that has no evidence to go by. We have the evidence of eyewitnesses who saw what Jesus did and heard what He said. The evangelist John in today’s reading says, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory.” “The Word” is a special term that John uses to describe the Son of God. He writes that “the Word” was in the beginning, “the Word” was with God, and here’s the part that makes it clear who He is: “the Word was God.”
Once I was talking to a Jehovah’s Witness about who Jesus was. She would not agree with me that the Bible calls Jesus God. I asked her to look up John 1 in her Bible. There her translation (a total mistranslation) said that “the Word was a god,” in the sense of being “divine” or “holy.” But that is not what John wrote. He said, “the Word was God.” God the Son has always existed with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. All things that were made in the beginning were made through the Son. All life and all light came through Him.
This Lord of life and light is the One the Father sent to be clothed in our flesh. He looked like a regular human being, but He was much more. The apostle Paul wrote about the Christ that “in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Col. 2:9). That means that the Son of God was not just partially present in Jesus, but His entire person was now found in a human body.
Why not let His glory be seen by everyone around Him? Why not let His eternal light beam through His skin? It was because no sinner could have endured His bright presence. When Moses wanted to see God’s glory, the LORD said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live” (Exo. 33:20). The Son of God incarnate kept His glory hidden for our sake. He “made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant” (Phi. 2:7). He came to humble Himself, to put Himself below us in order to save us.
And that is hard to believe. Why would God do this for us? What is in it for Him? We think there always has to be an angle. For us there often is, but not for God. God sent His Son to take on our flesh out of love for us. He sent His Son to do for us what we are incapable of doing. The Son of God did not put Himself above the Law; He put Himself beneath it, so that He could fulfill God’s commands for us. And He willingly went the way of suffering and the cross, so that full payment would be made for our sins.
If Jesus were just a man, nothing He did could count for you. But because He is God incarnate, “the Word made flesh,” everything He accomplished counts for you. His perfect keeping of the Law is for your righteousness. His innocent death on the cross is for your salvation. These gifts were intended for you long before you were born and long before Jesus was born. Right after the fall into sin, God revealed His plan to send a Savior, the woman’s Seed, the devil’s Destroyer.
That promised Savior was the infant baby Jesus lying in a manger in a little town with a bunch of poor people gathered around Him. “He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, yet the world did not know Him.” No one knew except those who had received a special invitation. They were not rich or famous or influential. They were people like us, sinful people, whose eyes of faith looked in awe upon the Promise fulfilled, Hope incarnate.
We are invited to join them in beholding this great mystery. Jesus was not born for them alone, but for all people of all time. You are hearing the good news today, because God wants you to hear it. He wants you to know that a Savior was born for you to save you from your sins—that there is a solution for the darkness in your heart and mind which has caused you to do dark things.
“The Word became flesh” not to bring God’s righteous wrath down on your head, the punishment you deserve for your sins. The Son of God came down to earth “full of grace and truth.” That’s far better than presents spilling out from under your Christmas tree or brightly-colored boxes stacked in your living room. Jesus came to reconcile you with God the Father through His death in your place. He came to bring peace on earth by the shedding of His blood.
That is why when we hear again the account of our Savior’s birth today, we see more than a baby in a manger. We see “the breadth and length and height and depth” of God’s love for us (Eph. 3:18). We see “the true Light, which enlightens everyone… coming into the world.” We see His glory, “glory as of the only Son from the Father.” It is beyond our human comprehension, but it has been granted us to know it and to understand it by faith.
By His grace, through His Word of truth, Jesus has given us “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.” Because you were baptized into Him, all of His life and light and glory and grace are now yours. You couldn’t ask for better gifts at Christmas, and these gifts last forever.
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(picture from “Adoration of the Shepherds” by Gerard van Honthorst, 1592-1656)
The Last Sunday of the Church Year – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Matthew 25:1-13
In Christ Jesus, who has covered us with the robe of His righteousness and who rejoices over us as a bridegroom rejoicing over his bride (Isa. 61:10, 62:5), dear fellow redeemed:
If I were to open up a new water bottle and pour the water into a glass, we would all say that is pure water. As we looked at it, it would appear clean and ready to drink. But what if I took a container of poison, a liquid also clear in color? No matter how many drops of poison I added to the glass of water, the water would appear no different. It would look just as clean as it was at the beginning, but looks would be very deceiving.
Jesus’ parable for today teaches us that outward appearances do not always reflect what is inside. The ten virgins with their lamps all looked the same. They were all eager to go and meet the bridegroom. But we quickly learn that five of them were wise and five were foolish, five were truly prepared and five were not.
These virgins are a picture of believers. The lighted lamp carried by each virgin is the living faith that burns inside of us and produces good works. But just because a person once has faith does not mean he will always have faith. We see that over time, the faith of five of the virgins grew weaker and was going out. Why did this happen?
Jesus says that “the bridegroom was delayed.” This delay, this change in expectation, caused the virgins to become drowsy and sleep. That tells us that the Christian life is more of a marathon than a sprint. Jesus gives some insight into this with His parable about the sower and the seed. He says that many hear the Word and believe it—the seed takes root in their heart. But some fall away “in time of testing” like a plant withering on a rock (Luk. 8:13). Others are “choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life” like a plant among thorns, “and their fruit does not mature” (v. 14).
We know that faith can be lost, including our own faith. That is why we are here today. “[F]aith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17). We are here to listen carefully to the Word of God, so that our faith is exercised and strengthened. The Word is the way the oil for our lamps is replenished. It is the fuel source for our life of good works, and it is the means by which we are kept alert for our Savior’s return.
But many, including many Christians, think it is foolish to give so much time and attention to the Word. If they hear that you go to church every week, they might joke about what a bad person you must be if you need to go that often. Or they might tell you that they don’t need to hear the same thing week after week. They know what they believe, and they can think about God at home just as well as they can at church.
These comments show how weak their flame of faith is getting. They are thinking of God’s Word as common information and not as divine power. They are letting the temptations of the devil and the world lull them to sleep. And the same temptations are coming at us trying to do the same to us. Maybe we are strong right now, but there is a lot that could happen from now until we die or until Jesus returns. What might happen to our faith if we experienced great hardship, great pain, great loss? How strong would we be then?
All the virgins “became drowsy and slept.” None of them were as attentive—as focused and alert—as they should have been. This is true of all believers. None of us watches and prays like we ought to. But Jesus our Bridegroom is coming, and He is coming soon. How soon? Jesus tells us to expect His return at any time and says that no one knows the day or the hour except for God (Mat. 24:36). Today’s Epistle lesson says, “For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night” (1Th. 5:2).
As much as we would like to know when the last day will be, we do not need to know. What we do need to know is what God has given us in His Word. We need to know why God sent His Son to earth in the flesh and what Jesus accomplished for us. God sent His Son to earth because the world was going to hell. Adam and Eve disobeyed God, and the poison of their sin worked its way down through each generation all the way to us. Babies look pure, as pure as a human being can be, but they are sinners, and “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23).
Every one of us is defiled by sin. We deserve eternal punishment for it. No matter how good we may look on the outside, no matter how holy we may appear to be, “we are by nature sinful and unclean” as we confess at the beginning of the service (Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary, p. 41). God’s Son took on our flesh, but He was not infected by our sin. He was perfect and pure, the only righteous person who had walked the earth since Adam and Eve before their fall.
And even though Jesus was tempted with every sort of temptation like we are, He never sinned (Heb. 4:15). He perfectly obeyed the holy commands of our holy God. He did in the flesh what no other human could do, and He did it for the entire human race. Then He offered His perfect life as a sacrifice to the Father, so that the whole world’s sins would be atoned for by His precious blood.
His holy life and atoning death were applied to you at your Baptism. That’s what St. Paul wrote in his inspired letter to the Christians in Ephesus. He said that “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:25-27).
You were brought into this spotless, holy Church through the waters of Baptism. The baptismal font is where Jesus applied His cleansing blood to you (Act. 22:16), where He purified your conscience from dead works (Heb. 9:14), where He covered you in His own perfect life (Gal. 3:27). This is why Jesus refers to believers as “virgins.” They are the pure ones with no blemish on their reputation, because Jesus’ perfect life covers over theirs.
Being a believer in Jesus means that no wrong you have done, no failure of judgment, no sin you have committed sticks to you anymore. The devil does his utmost to get you to think otherwise, to make you think your sins are not forgiven or even that they are not forgivable. Jesus disagrees. He suffered and died for every single one of your sins, willingly and completely. And if they were put on Him and paid for by Him, then they are not on you anymore.
The apostle Paul wrote to another congregation, “I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ” (2Co. 11:2). That is what you are by faith in Him. You are a member of the Church, His holy Bride. Jesus is your Bridegroom who cares for you and provides for all your needs in this life and who leads you on to the eternal wedding feast in His kingdom.
He promises that there will be an end to the troubles and death of this world. He will come on the last day to separate the sheep from the goats, the believers from the unbelievers. He will bring the faithful into the blessedness of heaven and cast the wicked into the curses of hell. He tells us this, so we are not overwhelmed by the darkness or overcome by spiritual sleep. He tells us what is coming to keep us alert and prepared.
Like the foolish virgins, there are many who will be found unprepared when the Bridegroom comes. They took too much for granted. They got complacent about their faith. They gave into temptation and embraced sin. They neglected the means of grace. And the devil pounced when they were weak. Or maybe they did attend divine services, but they did not take the Word to heart. They were there to keep up appearances and nothing more. The flame of their faith diminished and then went out like a lamp running out of oil.
Jesus warns us about this, so that we are not foolish but wise. Being wise to God is foolishness to the world. Those who put their trust in Jesus must endure criticism and persecution in this world. It is not the easy path. But it is the only path that leads to salvation.
Jesus your Bridegroom meets you on this path. Though you cannot see Him now, He is present through His Word and Sacraments. He has the oil you need for your lamp. He keeps your faith going. He promises that the wait is worth it, that great blessings will be had by those who remain holy and pure by faith in Him.
In this faith, you will be ushered with perfect joy and delight through the doors of heaven where the marriage feast of the Lamb is prepared. There you will not remember the hardships. You will not remember the sorrows and pains. You will not remember how much you had to suffer in this evil world. You will join the great company of heaven, those who are saints, holy ones, pure virgins—all those who “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Rev. 7:14).
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(picture from 11th century painting from the Rossano Gospel)