The Second to Last Sunday of the Church Year – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Matthew 25:31-46
In Christ Jesus, who in His mercy does not give us what we deserve, and in His grace gives us what we do not deserve, dear fellow redeemed:
You could see it coming. She wasn’t as mobile as she used to be. The yard that she had kept so meticulously was beginning to get overgrown. So you offered to help her. You would be happy to mow her lawn, shovel her sidewalk, do any odd jobs she needed done. That’s what neighbors do. And she was always very grateful. She offered to pay you, but you told her it was easy to run over and take care of things since you are outside anyway. So she paid you with smiles and waves and thank yous and fresh-baked cookies. You got close to your neighbor and she got close to you.
But her health declined still more. The time came for her to move from her home to receive more care. You continued to keep up her lawn and visit her in the nursing home. You were not surprised when you received the call that she had died, but you were sad—a good neighbor and a good friend gone.
A couple weeks later, your phone rang. It was your neighbor’s lawyer asking you to be present for the reading of her will. That was a surprise! It was even more surprising to find no one else in attendance on the appointed day. The lawyer began to read. Your neighbor left a message of love and thankfulness for all your kindnesses. Then she proceeded to say that everything she owned she was giving to you. Unknown to anyone around her—including you—she had a significant fortune. Just like that, ten million dollars was yours!
You were in shock. Sure, you had helped her, but not ten million dollars’ worth! You helped her out of kindness, not expecting anything in return. This was truly humbling. In fact, you felt some guilt. You wished you had done more for her, spent more time with her. Your effort was so small compared to this massive gift. It was a totally incomprehensible and undeserved inheritance.
This is how it is with the inheritance our heavenly Father gives us. We don’t deserve it. We haven’t earned it. But He freely gives it. Notice how when Jesus names all the wonderful things the righteous do, the righteous wonder when they have done all these things. In their estimation, they haven’t done anything. And Jesus replies, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these My brothers, you did it to Me.”
Every good thing that we do out of love for God and for one another is counted as a good work before God. Many of these things are small in our sight: preparing meals, washing dishes, cleaning the house, pitching in to help our co-workers, sharing a kind word, encouraging the hurting, praying for those in need. Jesus sees it all. He delights in it, as though it were done directly for Him.
That is comforting to hear. But then we think about all the times we have not done good. We didn’t want to change our plans to help someone else. We complained when a hurting soul wanted more of our time than we wanted to give. We decided not to reach out to someone who had experienced loss because we weren’t sure what to say. We accepted all the praise for a job well done, but we passed the blame for a job done poorly. Would we treat Jesus this way? He said to the unrighteous, “as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.”
The scene in today’s Gospel is Judgment Day, when the Son of Man comes in His glory and sits on His glorious throne. “Judgment Day” has a scary sound to it. It sounds like a dark day, a day we would rather avoid. Jesus says that “on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak” (Mat. 12:36). And in words that are included in the Athanasian Creed, He says that on the last day all the dead will come out of their tombs—“those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment” (Joh. 5:29).
Are you ready to stand before the holy Son of God and give an account for every careless word you have spoken? Are you ready to give an account of all you have done? This is where some think they can balance the ledger themselves. “Let’s see: I said something that wasn’t very nice, but then I made up for it by giving some compliments. I used to be more selfish, but now I am generous with my gifts. I ignored my neighbor once when he needed help, but I have helped many others since then.”
But there is no excuse for our bad behavior, and there is no making up for our own wrongs. Trying to justify ourselves puts us in the camp of the unrighteous who unsuccessfully argue that if they had seen Jesus in need, they would have certainly helped Him. If we think we can stand before Jesus and plead the cause of our own righteousness, we will be condemned to eternal punishment.
So what hope do we have? If we can’t make things right with God, how can we possibly gain eternal life? We have eternal life because God made things right with us. It is strange for us to hear Jesus list all the good things the righteous have done. Compared with Jesus, the righteous really haven’t done a thing! He is the one who gave food to the hungry and drink to the thirsty. He is the one who welcomed strangers and treated them kindly. He is the one who helped the sick and needy. He perfectly fulfilled the law of love toward His neighbors. He did not fail anyone in any way.
And that is the key to the words that Jesus speaks about the righteous. They are not righteous because of what they have done. They are righteous because of what He has done. Our righteousness comes from Him. It is bestowed on us by Him. Romans 4:4-5 says, “Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.” We have not earned righteousness by our own works; we receive righteousness by faith in Jesus.
His righteousness is complete. It does not require anything from us. He has fully kept the law for us. Romans 10:4, “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” The gift of His righteousness is reflected in His words to the sheep at the right of His throne. “Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”
Jesus says that the righteous are those who are blessed by God the Father. They are the ones who are credited with Jesus’ righteousness. They are the ones who are cleansed by His holy blood. These are invited to inherit the Father’s kingdom. To leave no question how the righteous obtain this inheritance, Jesus says that “the kingdom [has been] prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” If the inheritance has been prepared from the foundation of the world, it can’t be something the righteous have earned. The kingdom of heaven is a gift. It is like the ten million dollar inheritance that you do not deserve.
This eternal inheritance is yours. Jesus’ death on the cross secured it, and His resurrection from the grave verifies it. The righteous are all those who deny their own righteousness and trust in Jesus only. The unrighteous are those who rely on their own efforts and expect God to reward them for their good behavior. You are righteous by faith in your Savior. You do not lack anything because He did everything for you.
He will not make a mistake on the last day. He will not send you to punishment. Every careless word you have spoken, every sinful thing you have done, has been blotted out by Jesus’ blood. Through Your Baptism, Jesus’ forgiveness was applied to you, and His perfect righteousness was placed over you. You are clean and holy in God’s sight.
As His righteous one, you reflect His righteousness by what you say and do. You help and serve your neighbor not because you are trying to build up righteousness before God. You help and serve your neighbor because you are righteous. And all those righteous words and actions which are possible only because of what Jesus has done for you, He counts them as having been done for Him!
So we do not look toward Judgment Day with dread. We look toward Judgment Day with confidence and anticipation. On that day we will be judged right with God by faith in Jesus. Jesus tells us that on the day of His glorious return, we should not cower in fear. You and I should “straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luk. 21:28).
Judgment Day for us is Inheritance Day. It is the day when all that our merciful Father has promised us, all that is already ours by faith, we will enjoy in all its fullness. In Jesus’ holy presence, we will not be thinking about anything we have done. We will praise Him for everything He has freely given to us—an “inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for [us]” (1Pe. 1:4)—to enjoy for all eternity.
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 Last Judgment” by Fra Angelico, c. 1395-1455)
The Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Luke 17:11-19
In Christ Jesus, who came to bring mercy and salvation to the afflicted and the hurting, for which He deserves eternal thanksgiving, dear fellow redeemed:
When you are too busy to get something done, there are different ways you can address the problem. You can prioritize, and let the things drop that are less important. You can delegate the responsibility to someone else. Or you can hire somebody else to do the job. We do this when we hire lawnmowers and housecleaners, or when we go out for a meal at a restaurant.
What if you hired someone to do the spiritual things that you know you should do, but you just can’t seem to find the time for? You could hire someone to have devotions with your kids. You could hire someone to pray. You could hire someone to give thanks to God for your blessings. If you hired someone to be thankful on your behalf, what would that look like? As you start to think about the blessings God has given you personally, in your family, at home, at church, at work, in your community, you realize that giving thanks is hardly part-time work. It is ongoing, constant, something that should happen daily.
Even the world recognizes the importance of thankfulness. We hear people talk about how we should have an “attitude of gratitude” every day and not just once a year in November. But there should be more to our thankfulness than an attitude or a habit. An atheist can be thankful. A Muslim can be thankful. Our thankfulness as Christians is much different than theirs.
We see the difference in today’s Gospel reading. Ten men had leprosy. They had a skin disease that forced them to quarantine from others. They had to live outside the town in their own community. They could not continue in the jobs they had. They could not go near their families and friends. It was something like the stay-at-home orders of March 2020 but with no promise of things getting better. There was nothing for lepers except the constant presence of disease, the slow deterioration of their health, and the company of other sick and heartbroken people.
But at some point, they heard about a man named Jesus who had the power to heal. And then they learned that He was entering a village nearby. They stood at a distance and cried out to Him, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” Those are serious words. We don’t cry out for mercy when we miss a turn or run out of milk or butter. We cry out for mercy when we face something difficult that we don’t have the power to fix.
You may have cried out for mercy when a new virus made its way around the world, or when you were seriously ill at home. You may have cried out for mercy when someone you love was diagnosed with heart failure or cancer, or when someone close to you died. You may have cried out for mercy when things were not going well at home, at work, or at school.
Jesus hears those cries, just as He heard the cry of those lepers. He knows the anguish behind the cry, and He also sees the faith. No one looks to Him for mercy if they don’t believe He is merciful. No one looks to Him for mercy if they don’t believe He has the power and the desire to help. He is merciful, and He does want to help.
The ten lepers believed this—at least at that time. And when Jesus told them to show themselves to the priests, they went. As they were going, they realized that a miracle had happened. They had no more leprosy—their skin was healed! You heard what happened next. Only one of the ten came back to thank Jesus; the rest were too busy, too focused on their own plans. The one who came back would have seemed the least likely to return. He was a Samaritan, and the Samaritans and Jews generally avoided each other. But this Samaritan fell at Jesus’ feet and gave thanks to Him.
I imagine the other men were thankful too. How could they not be? They were thankful to be cleansed. They were thankful that they would be able to see their families again, thankful to return to normal life. But here is where we see the difference between the thankfulness of believers and the thankfulness of everyone else. The thankfulness of the nine men was a thankfulness for. The thankfulness of the one was especially a thankfulness to.
The nine were thankful for healing and for all the good things they were about to enjoy. The Samaritan was thankful for those things also, but most of all he was thankful to the merciful Lord. Jesus Himself made the distinction. He said, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” All ten were thankful, but only one was thankful to God.
You can see how mere thankfulness is not acceptable before God. God is the one who has mercy. He is the Giver. So we should give thanks to Him. The Samaritan did this. He had cried out for mercy, and Jesus had answered. The man had not healed himself—Jesus had. Here was the evidence of the man’s faith. He was not too busy to give thanks. He didn’t have something more important to do. He gave all praise and glory to the Lord for his miraculous healing. And Jesus said, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well”—or as it can also be translated, “your faith has saved you.”
We want to learn to be thankful like this Samaritan, thankful to the Lord at all times. The apostle Paul often talks about the practice of Christian thankfulness. Paul had a lot of things to complain about. His was not a carefree life. But in his letter to the Thessalonians he wrote, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1Th. 5:16-18). And in his letter to the Ephesians he said, “[give] thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (5:20).
Both passages tell us why we can be thankful always, no matter what we are experiencing. We are thankful because of what Jesus has done for us. Jesus, the perfect Son of God, willingly came into this world of trouble and death. He did not shrink back from sinners, like people would from a group of lepers. He took our sins to Himself and provided His holy blood as the antidote for our spiritual disease. His blood cleanses us from every sin (1Jo. 1:7). There is nothing that now keeps us from the eternal gifts God has stored up for us in heaven.
But maybe your back hurts. You don’t have the energy you used to. You wish you could lose a few pounds. You are not as secure financially as you want to be. You don’t get the support at work or at home that you need. We can always identify things we are not thankful for. It is very easy to make that list. But there is far more good in our lives than evil. The Lord is merciful toward us.
He has mercy upon us even when we don’t respond to it like we should. Jesus knew that nine of the lepers would not return to give thanks, and He still healed them. In the same way, He knows that we will get distracted by the things of this life. We will think we are too busy to hear His Word, pray to Him, and thank Him for His gifts. And yet His mercy endures.
In church each week, we cry out for this mercy. We acknowledge our sins and weaknesses. We admit that we are unable to fix all the wrongs we have done and save ourselves. From our own leper colony, from this congregation of sinners, we cry, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” And He does. He comes to us through His Word and Sacraments. He returns us to the cleansing waters of Baptism through His absolution. He brings healing to our body and soul through His holy body and blood. And then He sends us home with His blessing, saying to us as He did to the Samaritan, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well”—“your faith has saved you.”
Faith trusts what Jesus promises in His Word even when we are experiencing great problems and troubles. Was Jesus merciful the day before the lepers cried out to Him? Yes, He was merciful even while they remained in their leprosy. Our pains and difficulties in this life are not signs of God’s disinterest or His lack of mercy toward us. He often uses these things for our good, to draw us closer to Him.
Think about your own life. When is it that you are the most thankful? Probably when you no longer have what you used to take for granted. You are not so thankful for good health until you are sick. You are not so thankful for a job until you are let go. You are not so thankful for your possessions until they are taken from you.
We give thanks in good times and bad because we see how our merciful Lord keeps bringing us blessings. We learn that His mercy toward us is constant. His love toward us does not change. He is always ready to help and strengthen us. He is always ready to forgive us even though we have failed so many times to be thankful.
His mercy does not depend on our thankfulness. But it does make Him glad when we, like the Samaritan, bring our thanks to Him for all the wonderful works He does in our lives. And so we join the psalmist in saying, “Oh give thanks unto the LORD, for he is good, for his mercy endures forever!” (Psa. 106:1).
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)
St. Mary, Mother of Jesus – Vicar Anderson sermon
Text: St. Luke 1:46-55
In Christ Jesus, you who are blessed through the gracious merits of our Lord the Son of the Most High, dear fellow redeemed:
Some Christian churches today believe and confess that Mary was conceived immaculately, completely without the stain of sin. That she was full of grace from the time of her birth and throughout her entire life. They say it had to be this way in order for her to accept the task set before her. They say she had to be a virgin because her virginity is the sign of her faith “unadulterated by any doubt,” and of her complete devotion to God’s will. Because of this they believe Mary is worthy of our prayer and she brings our petitions to the Lord.
But we know none of this is true because scripture does not speak on any of those things. God’s Word only speaks of one person who was born completely without sin and His name is Jesus. The only Immaculate Conception we believe in is the conception of Jesus Christ. God’s Word came to Mary when Gabriel visited her, and the Holy Spirit conceived the child. She became the mother of the Savior because God chose her and decided that she would be, not because of any willful decision Mary made.
Mary would give birth to a Son, but He would not be a typical son. This son would be called holy––the Son of God (1:35). He had no earthly father, but was conceived by the Holy Spirit. He was fully God according to His divine nature and fully man according to His human nature. It was only possible for the Virgin Mary to conceive a perfect human being because God the Holy Spirit caused her to conceive.
The angel Gabriel said, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you” (Luke 1:35). We confess that Jesus is the second person of the holy trinity. Jesus is true God and true man. Therefore Mary is truly the blessed virgin, the mother of our Lord.
But the fact that she is the mother of our Lord is not the only reason Mary rejoices in today’s text, or even the main reason. She rejoices because of what Jesus’ coming means for all people. The Lord has exalted those of humble estate, and The Lord helped His servant Israel, in remembering His mercy.
Mary lived in a town in the region of Galilee called Nazareth and was betrothed to a man named Joseph (Luke 1:27). We know that Mary was a virgin; she had not had any physical relations with a man. She was a servant of the Lord, she knew what God commanded in His law and she believed in the promise of a Savior. She was not of any public significance and still God sent the angel Gabriel to come to her, to inform her that she will conceive in her womb a Son and she is to call His name Jesus (Luke 1:31).
It was a great honor for Mary to bear the God-man Jesus Christ. God chose her because she had faith. But even with a strong faith Mary could not provide any help in the plan for the salvation of mankind. Rather then being prideful and thinking highly of herself Mary recognized her need for a Savior.
Mary immediately takes the spotlight off herself and shines it on her Lord. She acknowledges her humble estate. In her song of praise she mentions “He” or “Him” close to twenty times. She refers to herself four times and in each case it is only in response to what God has already done for her. She knows where her help comes from. All her help comes from the Lord, to whom she sings her praises.
The same is true for us; our help comes from the Lord, and from the Lord only. And still our sinful nature continues to get in the way. Our self-centeredness and pride want us to believe we can do it apart from Jesus Christ. We puff up our chest in arrogance and think that we have all the answers. Our own intellect and reason become our idol and we put our trust in them, elevating them above the Lord. We think we know better than God, needing results now and the results we want. If God has something else in mind for us, well we just aren’t all that satisfied with it. We make our decisions with no regard to what His Word says and without His blessing. We think of ourselves as special, but in reality we are just ordinary sinners.
God sees right through our conceited hearts. He cuts through your self-reliance and pride so that you recognize your need for dependence on Him. He brings you down in order to raise you up again. This is what God’s Law and Gospel do for you. If you were not graciously given the Holy Spirit to recognize your sin and selfishness and need for Christ, you most certainly would be lost forever. God loves you far too much to let this happen.
God has always taken care of those He calls His own. Throughout the Old Testament God used small and insignificant people to help preserve the coming of His Son. Using the small in stature to bring down the mighty. A young faithful shepherd boy kills a tall strong pagan warrior with nothing but a stone and a sling. And this same boy David would grow up to be one of the greatest and mightiest kings Israel ever saw and from whose descendants Jesus would come (Sam. 17:33, 46–51). Without God’s almighty hand over David, he surely would have failed.
Apart from Christ we are nothing. The Lord takes what is nothing and makes it significant. He takes you, just an ordinary sinner and makes you righteous in God’s sight. He makes the unimportant blessed beyond compare through His Son. He used Mary a small and insignificant servant of the Lord to bring about the Savior of the world.
It is right for us to recognize the honor Mary has of being the mother of the Lord. Mary’s relative Elizabeth just prior to our text had greeted her saying, “blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” Mary truly was blessed but not more blessed than you (Luke 1:48). She was blessed because of what her Savior did for her. His payment of death on the cross was for her, a sinner who trusted in her Savior. She is a saint in heaven because of her faith in Him.
There is a big difference between honoring Mary and praying to her. We do not pray to Mary or any of the saints, nor elevate them above Jesus Christ. God’s Word tells us in St. Paul’s letter to Timothy, “For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5).
Martin Luther greatly opposed praying to Mary and the saints. He says, “we want to hold the dear virgin and mother in all honor, as she certainly deserves to be honored; yet we do not want to honor her in such a way that we make her equal to her Son, Christ. For she was not crucified for us, nor did she die for us or pray for us on the cross; but Christ was crucified for us and died and pleaded and prayed for us with tears on the cross. Therefore honor Mary; but do not accord her the honor which we should accord Christ” (Ewald M. Plass, What Luther Says, 4009 pg. 1257).
Mary was unique in that her savior would physically dwell inside her womb and be born of her flesh and blood. He would be nursed by her and raised by her. She would love him as any mother loves her son. Throughout Jesus’ life she would witness how the world would receive Him. She would hear how people talked about Him and see how badly He was treated. She knew that at some point He would be taken from her. This would be a tremendous challenge for Mary and she would need protection and support from the Holy Spirit.
Nevertheless she struggled to always trust the plan God had set in motion. Mary did not always nor perfectly understand who Jesus was and what He must do. When she finds Jesus in the temple teaching as a young boy she asks Him, “Son why have you treated us like this?” Jesus responds, “why were you looking for me, did you not know that I must be in my father’s house?” (Luke 2:48–49).
At a later time in Jesus’ ministry, Mary seems to have joined her family in wanting Jesus to stop teaching like He was. Some in the family try to seize Him saying, He was “out of His mind” (Mar. 3:21). Mary did not always speak up and rebuke others when they questioned what Jesus was doing. His mother and His brothers stood outside the house where He was, a house packed with people listening to Him. Jesus was told that His mother and His brothers were outside the crowd seeking Him. Jesus responded, “who is my mother and my brother?” And then with an outstretched hand He points to all who were seated around Him and He says, here are my mother and my brother and my sister, for whoever does the will of my Father is my brother, sister and mother” (Matt. 12:46–50).
Jesus makes it exceptionally clear that Mary His mother is not the focal point of His ministry; she was only a small piece of it. Jesus shows that the focal point of His ministry is the work of His Father. He was about His Father’s business, saving souls and He is as much His mother’s savior as He is yours.
Your Lord lived perfectly and went to the cross to die for you never once questioning the will of His father. You who are in Christ Jesus have everything. The Lord has filled you with good things. He has emptied you of your worldly ego and pride and filled you with God’s grace. All that was completely worthless is now replaced with something precious. Through His Word He has filled you with His Holy Spirit and given you his body and blood for nourishment. The food he provides you with will never let you hunger and thirst again. The bread from heaven, Jesus Christ Himself, fills you! You are now full and completely satisfied.
Jesus has “clothed you with garments of salvation. You are covered in the robe of His righteousness” (Is. 61:10). The promise to Abraham and his descendants was kept. The mercy of God is remembered in His Son Jesus. He has caused “righteousness and praise to sprout up before all nations” (Isaiah 61:11). His promises are kept for you, and the benefits of them continue to come to you just as “flowers continue to sprout from the earth.” All generations who believe in Him are called blessed. You are blessed just as St. Mary is.
St. Mary is a great example to all Christians. She had humility and a strong faith in her Savior. She knew that she did not deserve the honor of being the mother of our Lord and she also knew that she didn’t deserve a Savior. Yet, God chose her from eternity to bear the Son of God and also be saved by Him.
The Lord has also chosen you from eternity to believe and to be saved. His love and mercy is abundant and abounds for all who believe in Him. The mother of Our Lord truly did have a reason to rejoice, and so do 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 Visitation” by Giotto di Bondone, c. 1310)
The Second Sunday of Easter – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. John 20:19-31
In Christ Jesus, who took our sins to His grave and rose from the dead with forgiveness, life, and peace for us, dear fellow redeemed:
When the ancient Pharaohs were buried, they were buried with all sorts of treasures and provisions. The tomb of King Tut contained over 5,000 items including a solid gold coffin, weapons of war, furniture, food, and clothing. The Egyptians believed they would need all these things in the afterlife. But ultimately those treasures lay unused until robbers or archaeologists found them. The Pharaohs were buried with great plenty but never lived again to use it.
Jesus was put in a tomb with nothing but burial cloths and the spices that accompanied them. The Jews did not believe like the Egyptians that earthly things could be taken into the eternal realm. The Jews believed that death was death, so they assumed that the amazing work of Jesus was over and done. They would not see Him again on earth.
Suppose they had believed Jesus’ promise that He would rise again. What do you think they would have buried with Him in the tomb? Maybe some food and clothes? Some ointment for His wounds? If they had believed His promise, I think they would have wanted to be there in the tomb with Him, waiting and watching for Him to start breathing again.
But His disciples did not believe, not yet. Today’s text describes what happened on the evening of Easter. Jesus had risen from the dead early that morning and appeared to several women who came to the tomb expecting to find His dead body. He had spoken to two of His followers on the road to Emmaus. And at some point that day, He had also appeared to Simon Peter.
But none of these appearances coaxed His disciples out of their fear and hiding. They remained huddled together in an out-of-the-way place in Jerusalem. They felt completely lost without their confident Leader. They probably tried to remember the things He had told them, but none of it seemed to do much good now that He was gone. They almost certainly felt ashamed for boasting that they would fight with Him to the death before deserting Him when He was arrested. As much as they would like to be with Him again, how could they bear to look Him in the eye?
Then suddenly Jesus was standing right there in the room, right in their midst! We expect the first words from Jesus’ mouth to be something like, “Now do you believe?” or, “Why didn’t you listen to what I said?” or, “Why are you here hiding?” But the first words from His mouth were, “Peace to you!” Jesus was not concerned about punishing His weak disciples or hatching a payback plan against those who beat Him and crucified Him. He did not come to “take names” or to “take revenge.” He came to give, to give gifts.
His sacrificial death brought peace with God. If Jesus had not suffered and died for our sins, we would still be opposed to God. We would be His enemies, and His wrath would be turned toward us (Rom. 5:9-10). Because we have proven ourselves to be no more faithful than the disciples. We wonder why they didn’t believe when Jesus told them He would rise again. But others could wonder why we haven’t lived the way God has told us to in His Ten Commandments. God always speaks clearly and truthfully, but we do not always listen to and follow Him faithfully.
We don’t deserve to have peace with God. But “Peace!” is what Jesus declared when He rose from the dead. He made peace by going to the cross and shedding His blood in payment for our sins (Col. 1:20). This is why He said, “It is finished!” just before He died (Joh. 19:30). But those words would have been empty if Jesus had not risen from the dead. He could have said whatever He wanted and made whatever promises, but none of them would have mattered if He stayed in the grave.
His resurrection proved that He truly was the Son of God and that His work to save sinners was complete. His empty tomb shows that peace was made between God and sinners. God is not at war with us. He wants to empty tombs, not fill them. He promises that all who trust in Jesus as their only Savior will rise just as Jesus rose. St. Paul writes that He “was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 4:25-5:1).
So Jesus rose with a message of peace for His disciples. It wasn’t the first time He had promised them peace. Shortly before His death, He told them, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (Joh. 14:27). And how did He find them just a few days later? With troubled and fearful hearts (Luk. 24:38). But “the things that [made] for peace” had been accomplished (Luk. 19:42). He had died and risen again. The peace of His forgiveness and life was not dependent on their actions or attitude. The “Peace!” He declared was a gift coming from His saving work.
It was a gift He wanted others to have too. “Peace to you,” He said again. “As the Father has sent Me, even so I am sending you. What a strange thing! The disciples might have expected Jesus to disown them for their weakness and faithlessness. Instead He commissioned them to bring His message of peace to the world.
Then we come across a detail in our text that causes us to scratch our heads a bit. St. John writes that after declaring “Peace!” for the second time, Jesus “breathed on them.” We don’t usually think of getting “breathed on” as a positive thing. Think back to when you were a kid. Did you ever tell your brother or sister to go away and stop breathing on you? And in our year of facemasks and social distancing, getting “breathed on” was avoided by people around the world.
But Jesus breathed on His disciples. His breathing on them was tied directly to the words that followed, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit upon them, so they would be equipped to bring His peace to others.
One Lutheran commentator argues that Jesus did not breathe on each disciple individually but on the group as a whole. If it had been individually, He would have done the same for Thomas when He appeared again a week later. But this breathing out of the Spirit was not just for these special individuals; it was for the Church of all time (The Wenzel Commentary, p. 792).
Jesus has given the Church the authority to forgive sins or to retain sins. This is called the “Office of the Keys.” To those who are sorry for their sins and believe in Jesus as their Savior, the Church declares “Peace!” We tell them that the door to heaven is open to them because of what Jesus has done. But for those who are not sorry for their sins, the Church cannot declare “Peace!” Peace was won for them by Jesus, but the unrepentant reject it by denying their sins. Until they admit their sins, heaven is closed to them.
No one can make another repent of their sins and trust Jesus’ Word of peace. It is not in our power to change hearts. But God can. He does this transformative work through His Word. Wherever the Word is, God the Holy Spirit is active. Jesus clearly tied together the message about what He had accomplished with the ongoing work of the Spirit. And we see the effect His Spirit-filled Word had on His disciples. They went from anxiety and doubt to comfort and confidence.
The Holy Spirit does the same for you when you hear the powerful Word of God. Through the Word and Sacraments, Jesus comes right here in our midst. He comes to you in the midst of your troubles and sorrows and doubts, and He says, “Peace to you!” He breathes His rich blessings of forgiveness and life upon you by sending the Holy Spirit to you. The Holy Spirit assures you that everything Jesus did was for you.
Anyone can know the facts about Jesus’ death and resurrection. But knowing the facts alone does not save you. You are saved by believing that Jesus’ death and resurrection were for you, that He reconciled you eternally with God, that He won your freedom from sin, death, and devil. This gives great comfort as you struggle along in this life and are afflicted by anxieties and fears. Jesus triumphed over all your enemies and continues to bring you the comfort, hope, and strength of His victory.
Those Pharaohs stored up treasures in their tombs out of greed and selfishness, but all of it was taken from them. Jesus took no riches into His tomb, but He emerged with wonderful gifts to give. Jesus gives these gifts every time you partake of the Word and Sacraments in church and as you encourage one another in personal conversation.
Wherever Jesus’ Word of peace is declared, the Holy Spirit is working to turn doubts into confidence and sorrows to gladness. The gifts of Jesus bring peace to our troubled hearts and prepare us to depart this world in peace to join Him in heavenly glory.
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(picture from “Doubting Thomas” by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, 1794-1872
The Festival of the Resurrection of Our Lord – Pr. Faugstad exordium and sermon
Is your faith worthless? Many say that it is. They say faith is for the weak-minded. Faith is what people hide behind to remain in their ignorance. Faith is based on feelings while reason is based on facts. When faith is mischaracterized like this, it is a fairly easy target.
But what is faith exactly? Faith is trust. It is taking someone at their word. It is believing that something will happen or be done even if it is outside our control. Everyone operates by faith to some extent. A child believes there will be food on the table tomorrow because there was food on the table today. An employee believes he will be compensated for his work again just like he has been compensated in the past. So faith is not based on feelings at all. It is based on promises and often on the evidence of what has taken place in the past.
The same is true of the Christian’s faith. Our faith is based on the promises Jesus made and on what He accomplished. But why Him out of all the significant people in history? What sets Him apart from all the rest is that after He died—a death that was verified by professional soldiers—, He came alive and left His tomb. This is what makes Jesus unique. He died and then He came back to life.
What makes it even more amazing is that Jesus predicted His resurrection in advance. This was not like picking the winning team in the NCAA tournament or calling a home run with the point of a bat. Those things are humanly possible. Jesus did something impossible. He conquered death itself. Death was able to hang on to Jesus for parts of three days, but only because He let it. He made a mockery of death. He took all its power away.
Jesus didn’t do this for His own benefit. He did it for you. He died and rose again for you. He died to make payment for your sins, and He rose to claim victory over your death. “All of this is yours by faith,” He says. “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (Joh. 11:25-26, ESV).
So your faith is not worthless. It is not evidence of weak-mindedness, and it is not based on your feelings. It is based on the facts of what Jesus said and what He did. Because He is risen from the dead just as He promised, your sins are all forgiven and eternal life is yours (1Co. 15:17). We now rise to sing our exordium hymn, “He Is Arisen! Glorious Word!” (#348):
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, whose resurrection proves that He is who He claimed to be, dear fellow redeemed:
When the women set out early Sunday morning, they expected to find a dead body. There were no doubts about it. They saw Jesus die on the cross, and they saw Joseph take Him down and put Him in a tomb. They felt totally helpless and hopeless. The most remarkable person they had ever known was gone. They had followed Him all the way from Galilee listening to His comforting words and witnessing His wonderful works. And now He was dead.
They weren’t ready to let go. The only thing they could think to do was bring spices after the Sabbath to give Him a more proper burial. After that, there were no answers, no guarantees, only more questions. We know how this feels. We know what it’s like to lose someone who was such a big part of our life that nothing could be the same for us again. We don’t know what to do next, so we focus on the present—funeral preparations, paperwork, sharing memories with family and friends.
But as the women approached the tomb filled with grief and focused on the task at hand, they looked up and saw something unexpected. The stone that they didn’t know how to remove had already been rolled away! Did someone know they were coming? Did others have the same intentions they did? Or was something more sinister going on? The women didn’t know.
They stepped carefully through the doorway and looked around the dim interior. On the right side of the tomb, they saw a man, but it wasn’t Jesus. Today’s text describes him as “a young man clothed in a long white robe.” The evangelists Matthew and Luke include more details about him. They say that his appearance was “like lightning,” and that his clothes shone like snow in the bright sun (Mat. 28:3, Luk. 24:4). It’s no wonder that the women were alarmed!
This “young man” was really an angel of God, a messenger sent to deliver news that the women did not expect to hear. “[Jesus] is risen!” said the angel. “He is not here…. [T]ell His disciples—and Peter—that He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him, as He said to you.” The women were full of sorrow when they made their way to the tomb. Now they rushed away from the tomb and back to the city with trembling and amazement.
Just two days earlier, Jesus had been crucified while the prominent religious leaders and Roman officials looked on with approval. Jesus’ disciples went into hiding. They figured they were next. Those were dark days. But with the report of the women came a glimmer of hope. Could it be? Could the Lord who raised Lazarus from the dead actually raise Himself?
It is surprising that the news from the women caught them off guard, and that they doubted it. Jesus told them this would happen! At least three times prior to Holy Week, Jesus told the disciples He would die and then rise on the third day (Mar. 8:31, 9:31, 10:34). As recently as Thursday evening, He said that He would rise from the dead and meet His disciples in Galilee (Mar. 14:28). He was not lying. He was not speaking figuratively. He was telling them the truth.
Jesus always tells the truth. He does not lie. Everything that He predicted would happen did happen. His death and burial was the greatest test of His truthfulness. If He did not rise from the dead on the third day, all of His promises would have been proven false. They would have died right along with Him. But by rising from the dead, everything He claimed about Himself and everything He promised was verified. Who can argue with someone who defeated death itself?
Jesus’ resurrection is the great dividing line in all of human history. If you believe that Jesus rose from the dead, then you are obviously going to pay attention to what He said. His resurrection gives authority to His Word. On the other hand, if you believe that Jesus did not rise from the dead, then you will not care about His Word at all.
We see the difference very clearly in the way believers and unbelievers deal with death. When an unbeliever loses someone, a gaping hole opens up in their heart that nothing can fill—not food or alcohol or revisiting old memories or looking for some evidence that the spirit of their loved one is still with them. Their loved one is gone, and there is no reason to think they will ever be reunited again.
Christians likewise feel the pain of death and the void that is left. But they have somewhere to take their pain, and they know where to find peace. They take their pain to Jesus. He knows the pain of death. He endured it Himself, and He also wept at the death of a close friend. He invites us to bring our pain and grief to Him, and He promises to give us comfort and rest. He knows our pain, and He knows how to relieve it.
He calls us to hold tightly to His promise of life even when a casket is lowered into the ground. It appears that death is the end for someone we love. But Jesus says, “No. This is just a sleep. This is only temporary. The soul of your loved one is safe with Me. This child of God will rise just as I rose. Because I live, you also will live” (Joh. 14:19).
The resurrection of the faithful, including your own resurrection from the dead, is promised and sealed to you on Baptism day. At your Baptism, Jesus rescued you from the kingdom of darkness and brought you into His kingdom of light. He applied His saving work to you by bringing you the forgiveness He won on the cross, and by covering you in His righteousness through His perfect fulfillment of the Law. You went to Baptism bearing the blame of sin inherited from our first parents and deserving eternal death. But you emerged from Baptism a new creation, walking in newness of life (Rom. 6:3-4).
Baptism united you with Jesus, who will never die again. That means His resurrection victory and His unending life are yours. It sounds unbelievable, too good to be true. But then again, so did Jesus’ promise that He would rise from the dead on the third day. Jesus kept that promise, and He will keep the promise He made to you at your Baptism.
The baptized who die in faith truly do “rest in peace.” They remain in the grave only for a short time, and then they will come to life again. On the last day, our gravestone flowers will be no more necessary than the women’s burial spices. With a shout from the mouth of our Lord, all the tombs will be emptied, and all believers in Him will come forth in glory. Then our sorrow over death will eternally cease, and we will live on forever and ever and ever.
This is your comfort as you grieve the death of those who have gone on before you. And it is your comfort when you one day face your own death. Jesus did not stay in the tomb. He rose just as He said He would. Because He kept that promise, you can believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that He will raise you and all the dead on the day of His glorious return. Jesus has promised to do this, and He always keeps His promises.
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(picture from Jerico altar painting)
The First Sunday after Michaelmas – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: Ephesians 4:22-28
In Christ Jesus, whose blood cleanses us from every sin and frees us from our guilty conscience, so that we can live our lives in joyful service to Him, dear fellow redeemed:
A person who enters the witness protection program is required to leave behind nearly everything familiar to him. His immediate family may go with him, but he must walk away from his extended family and his friends. There can be no phone calls exchanged, no text messaging, and no social media contact. He can never return to the place where he lived in case someone there might recognize him.
Those in the program would have to get used to a totally new community in a new place with no family and friend network to help. This would be hard to do and lonely. But at the same time, there is something appealing about the idea. Haven’t you ever thought how nice it could be to have a completely fresh start? To go someplace where no one knows your family, no one knows your past, and you can just be you? There is comfort in the familiar, but there is excitement and possibility in the unknown.
In today’s Epistle, the apostle Paul urges us to Leave Our Sinful Past Behind, to walk away from our corrupt and destructive habits that weaken and endanger our faith. And he urges us to live in Jesus, to go forward in His righteousness and holiness with His blessing.
What are some of the things that should be left behind? Paul told the Christians in Ephesus to abandon an immature approach to spiritual things. They need to take God’s Word seriously and study it, so they are not “tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes” (Eph. 4:14). They should give up all sexual immorality, sensuality, and impurity (4:19, 5:3-5). And they should put away falsehood, anger, and thievery.
At the center of these words is the idea that the life and behavior of believers should look different than the life and behavior of unbelievers. What is it that makes them different? The believer and unbeliever may have had a similar upbringing. They may have grown up in the same community and worked at the same business. They may have participated in the same activities and had the same friends.
But as similar as they seem to be, they are very different. One of them walks in the light while the other walks in darkness. One of them is clothed in the spotless garments of Jesus’ righteousness, while the other displays the filthy rags of sin. One of them lives for his neighbor and looks for the life to come, while the other thinks of his own interests and focuses intently on this life. One of them lives under God’s favor, while the other lives under God’s frown.
Paul wrote to remind the Ephesian Christians of this tremendous difference. “You are not as you used to be,” he said. At one time they, like the unbelievers, were “separated from Christ… having no hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12). But now they had been “brought near by the blood of Christ” (v. 13). Now they had become “fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (v. 19).
Through Holy Baptism, they were adopted as God’s sons. They were joined to the body of Christ and given new life in Him. They were cleansed of their sins and covered in His righteousness. They were no longer agents of Satan carrying out his plans. Now they were set apart for the Lord’s work, called to serve His purposes.
The Christians in Ephesus already knew these things. They knew what the Lord had done for them and what they were called to do. So why did Paul have to remind them? He had to remind them because it is easy to slip into old habits, to fall back into one’s “former manner of life.” This is because we still have the old Adam in us, the sinful nature, and the devil and the unbelieving world are working tirelessly to draw us away from what is good.
They succeed all too often. We’re at the point in our day that the way many Christians think about right and wrong is no different than the way non-Christians do. We see this across the board in views regarding sexuality, marriage, family, business practices, stewardship of money and possessions, and the treatment of another person’s reputation. God has called us to stand up for what is right, to push back against the corruption and deceit of the devil and our own flesh, and to speak the truth.
But we do the opposite. We go along with the world. We don’t want to stand out. We don’t want to have a target on our backs. We don’t want to be the bad guy or the prude, who tells people that what they are doing is wrong. So we keep our mouths shut. We might talk big when we are around those who agree with us, but otherwise we clam up. The silence is deafening, and for those we fail to warn, it could very well be damning.
You can think of times when you should have spoken up but didn’t, when you failed to tell the truth even if it was a hard truth. Maybe you wanted to keep peace in your family or maintain your standing in your workplace or community. Maybe you didn’t feel qualified to speak up because of your checkered past. Maybe you told yourself that someone else would step up and do the “heavy lifting” for you. Maybe the time to talk never seemed to present itself.
But as much as you tried to justify your inactivity, you feel guilty about it. You know what God says in His Word. You know His standard for moral conduct does not change no matter what the world thinks about it. You know that the person who speaks the truth in love (Eph. 4:15) has nothing to be ashamed of before God. So you are disgusted with yourself for lacking the courage to do and speak and live according to His will.
This is why the words of today’s text are so comforting. St. Paul was writing to people in Ephesus who are just like you and me, people who are weak, who struggle, who fall into old habits, and who fail to speak the truth when they should. The solution for them and for us? Repentance and faith in Jesus. Paul describes repentance as “putting off your old self.” “Cast aside the garments of your sin,” he says. “Take your sinful past to the cleaners. Admit your wrongs. Acknowledge your transgressions. Expose your sinful passions. Hang all that dirty business out to dry!”
And then he says, “be renewed in the spirit of your mind.” Let your mind and heart be cleansed anew by the blood of Jesus, so that no guilt and sin remain. “[P]ut on the new self,” created and gifted by God in the image of His own righteousness and holiness. It sounds like we are responsible for doing these things—being renewed in our mind, putting on the new self. But this is really God’s work accomplished through His Word and Sacraments.
God does these things through the Gospel. The Gospel “is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16). The Gospel message of our salvation through Jesus at the same time brings us forgiveness and it strengthens us. It declares us righteous before God and increases our growth in righteousness in this life. It delivers both our justification and our sanctification.
The Gospel delivers our justification by delivering Jesus’ righteousness under the Law. His righteousness is the reason we are now counted righteous before God. And His atoning death on the cross is the reason we are forgiven. Whatever wrongs we have done in the past or whatever good we have left undone—all those sinful spots were washed out by the blood of Jesus. We no longer wear the filthy garment of sin. We wear the glorious robes of Jesus’ perfection. When the Father looks at us, He sees Jesus, His beloved Son.
The Gospel also delivers our sanctification by the work of Jesus in us. He comes to us to help us grow and improve in Christian living. He works in us the desire for and dedication to the truth by filling our ears with His saving Word of salvation. He frees us from the need for revenge by filling our hearts with His forgiveness. And He moves us to generosity by giving us more than enough for the needs of our body and soul.
He lays out a blessed future for us unaffected by the failures of our past. We may never live down the wrongs we have done among those who know us. But Jesus forgives every one of our sins—even the big ones. We don’t have to enter some sort of spiritual witness protection to hide our sins from others or from God Himself.
We deal with our sins before God by repenting of them, by putting them off and leaving them at the foot of Jesus’ cross. The cross is where Jesus paid for our sins completely and where He secured a bright future for us. Because of what He did, we are not stuck in our sinful past. In Jesus, We Leave Our Sinful Past Behind. Now we go forward in righteousness, in holiness, and in love according to His abundant grace.
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(picture from “The Preaching of St. Paul at Ephesus” by Eustache Le Sueur, 1649)
The First Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: 1 John 4:16-21
In Christ Jesus, who is constantly busy and active distributing the gifts of His love, dear fellow redeemed:
We know why the beggar Lazarus in the Holy Gospel for today was laid at the gate of the rich man. It is because the rich man obviously had the means to help him. But having the means to help and having the desire to help are two different things. The rich man did not care about Lazarus. He cared about his fine linens and his great feasts. This man lacked love. It is no surprise to learn that he also lacked faith. We know this because his soul went to hell when he died.
Faith and love go together. Those who have faith have love for others. Those who do not have faith do not have love for others—at least not the kind of love that God requires. The world is very confused about love. The world thinks of love as a feeling, an emotion, the thing that makes me happy. This love is not so much focused outward toward others but inward toward self. We are told to cultivate a self-love, to focus on what is self-fulfilling. And if someone does not show us the love that we require, then it is time to find another who will.
What if God defined love in this way? What if He said that He will love us only if we properly show love to Him? This is what we would think if all we had was the Law of God. The Commandments tell us to perfectly love the true God only, to perfectly honor His name, to perfectly hear and learn His Word. But we have not loved God like this. So what is stopping Him from walking away and never coming back?
He does not walk away from us, because His love for us does not depend on our love for Him. He loved us even in our fallen and rebellious state. In perhaps the most well-known passage in the Bible, the apostle John records these words of Jesus about God’s love: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (Joh. 3:16).
God loved the world not because we had earned His love, as though He owed something to us. He loved the world because He is love. And He expressed that love not by making us as comfortable as He can on earth before our sad and hopeless death. He sent His only Son to redeem us, so that we have hope in this life and are saved from eternal suffering in hell.
This is the love that John refers to in today’s text when he says: “God is love.” Some take this to mean that whoever and however and whatever I choose to love, God supports me. Like a 70s hippie, God just wants us to love, man, and there are no rules or restrictions about that love. But characterizing God’s love in this way is false and blasphemous. God does not approve of our sinful behavior. He does not support the destructive things we do that go against His holy Law.
If the love I have for someone or something does not agree with the Ten Commandments, then it is not the love of God. So it is right for a man and a woman to love each other and want to serve one another. But it is not right for them to express that love in a sexual way until they are married. It is right for two men or two women to have love for each other and work on building their relationship. But it is not right for them to pursue a union of flesh. It is right to admire the nice things one’s neighbor has. But it is not right to covet those things and seek to take them.
It is so important that we recognize this. Some Christians have the idea that as long as they say they believe, then it does not matter how they live their life. They don’t like to be told that “Christians shouldn’t,” or “Christians won’t.” “No one has the right to tell me if I’m a Christian or not,” they say. “I know what I am in my heart.” But what if the rich man had called himself a good Christian? Wouldn’t it be natural to expect him to help the beggar Lazarus as God’s Commandments require? Wouldn’t his inactivity make his personal testimony questionable?
If our life is lacking in the love that God requires, and it is filled with a selfish love which God condemns, that calls our faith into question. Then what we say is totally different than how we act. Let’s say you called yourself a Bears fan, but you wore Packers gear, and you rooted for the Packers even when they played the Bears. Could that cause someone to wonder if you really were a Bears fan?
When that kind of inconsistency shows up in the life of a Christian, between what he says and what he does, this indicates a problem. In that case it would be good and loving for another Christian to warn him about the inconsistency, so that his faith is not lost. Jesus clearly tells us that it is possible to lose faith (Luk. 8:4-15). Faith is more than mere knowledge. It is not just a recitation of the facts given in the Bible. Faith grabs hold of the promises of the Gospel. It clings to the perfect life and atoning death of Jesus for our righteousness and forgiveness.
Faith receives what God gives by grace. Faith does not express itself defiantly, as though a believer could never be guilty of a sin. Faith expresses itself in humble repentance for sins committed day after day, and it looks to Jesus for salvation. Only Jesus lived the life of love that God requires. He lived a life of perfect love toward God and neighbor. His life of love is why we are acceptable before the Father. His love is credited to us by faith in Him.
Where faith is alive by the grace of God, it is also active. Faith bears fruit in our lives. It is active in a Godly love. “We love because He first loved us,” writes John. This love for others is not self-serving; it is self-sacrificing. It is not pleasure-seeking; it is service-oriented. It is not boastful or arrogant. It is not calloused or insensitive. It is patient and kind and generous and forgiving. That is the love God has for us, and it is the love He calls us to have for each other.
But we have not loved in this way, not always. We can all look back (and we don’t have to look very far) to see where we have failed to love like we should. So how confident can we be on the day of judgment? Will we stand before God and say that we loved as He loved us? John writes that “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” Are you afraid to give an account before God of how you have loved? Are you afraid of His punishment?
The blessed truth is that we will not be judged on the last day by what we have done or failed to do. We will be judged by what Jesus did. His perfect life of love is credited to us by faith. In this way, we are just like a beggar. When a humble beggar receives a gift, he does not think about how well he has begged or how worthy he is to get something. He is simply grateful to receive. He recognizes that he has been given something that he did not have before and had no ability to get.
This is what God has done for us. He has brought to us the perfect work of Jesus—His holy life, His atoning death, His great resurrection. He doesn’t wait for us to prove our worth before He will give it. He reaches down to us through His Word and Sacraments, peels open our sin-clenched hands, and gives us blessing after blessing. He did this for the beggar Lazarus, and He does it for us. He gives us such abundant riches that there is more than enough to share with others.
Suppose someone handed a beggar a million dollars. Wouldn’t it seem harsh if he turned up his nose at his fellow beggar friends and kept his newfound wealth all to himself? In the same way, since we have received such great riches from God, why would we keep them to ourselves? How could we gratefully receive His love, but not want to show love to those around us? A faith that is alive and well by the working of the Holy Spirit through the Word cannot help but extend love to others.
This is what you are prepared for in church each week. You come here to be filled up with the love of God. You come to have your bag of faith resupplied. You are filled with God’s forgiveness, His courage, His peace, and His strength. You leave here spiritually rejuvenated, blessed. Having received these gifts, your faith is ready for action. Now you see one neighbor lonely, another sad, another in pain, another racked by guilt. You know what they need. They need the love of God in Christ. So you show your love by listening to them, by caring for them, and especially by pointing them to Jesus and the undying love He has for all.
A Living Faith Is Active in Love. Your faith is alive because it is fixed on Jesus, and Jesus is most certainly alive. And because your faith is alive, it is active in love. The love you show does not have to come from some source or supply of love inside you. That kind of love often runs out. But the perfect love of your Lord for you and for others is never exhausted. As you continue to draw on His love by faith, you will never be without love for your neighbors.
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(picture from painting of the beggar Lazarus by Fyodor Bronnikov, 1886)
The Second Sunday of Easter – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: 1 John 5:4-10
In Christ Jesus, who gives us a share of His eternal victory by faith, dear fellow redeemed:
He had told them several times. He told them He had to suffer and die, and that He would be raised again on the third day (Mat. 16:21, 17:23, 20:19). But the disciples did not understand. They were so troubled by the thought of His death that His promise to rise did not even register with them. Peter let Jesus know what he thought about The Plan. He took Jesus aside and rebuked Him. He said, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you!” (Mat. 16:22).
It wasn’t long before this that Peter had beautifully expressed the truth about who Jesus was: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (v. 16). Peter naturally did not want to see His great Teacher and Lord die. He may have also wondered whether this was even possible. If Jesus is truly God’s Son, how could He die? But Jesus was not about to follow the will of Peter—the will of man. He followed the will of His Father in heaven, and His suffering, death, and resurrection happened exactly as He had predicted.
Yet even after His resurrection, the disciples struggled to believe it. The women came on Easter morning telling them about an open tomb, shining angels, and a message from Jesus. “[B]ut these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them” (Luk. 24:11). How could it be true? The previous Friday, Jesus had died on the cross. There was no question about it. John himself was there. He saw the soldier pierce the side of Jesus, and he saw blood and water come out (Joh. 19:34). Jesus was dead. The disciples had watched Jesus call back Lazarus from the dead. But who could call back Jesus?
They did not believe it until Jesus appeared to them in the flesh on Easter evening. Since the doors were locked, at first they thought a spirit had come into their midst. But Jesus showed them the marks in His hands, feet, and side. He ate some fish in their presence (Luk. 24:42). Now they realized that He most certainly wasn’t a ghost. This was Jesus, risen from the dead!
All of them were convinced, all except for Thomas. Thomas wasn’t there when Jesus appeared. “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails,” he said, “and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe” (Joh. 20:25). The next Sunday, the disciples including Thomas were all together, and Jesus appeared again. Now Thomas believed: “My Lord and my God!” he said (v. 28). Jesus said to him, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (v. 29).
The skepticism of Thomas is the default position of many today regarding Jesus. They are willing to accept that He existed. They imagine He was probably a good guy. They like how He helped people in need. But they don’t believe He is God, and they don’t believe He came back to life after His death. The only way they would believe these things is if they had proof of some kind, like the proof that Thomas received.
The evidence that the apostle John brings forward is not the evidence one might expect. John says the proof that Jesus is the Son of God is found in “the Spirit and the water and the blood.” This is a reference especially to the beginning and end of Jesus’ public work. He was publicly identified as God’s Son and the promised Savior at His Baptism. When He was baptized, the heavens were opened, and the Spirit of God descended like a dove and rested on Him. Then a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Mat. 3:16-17).
That is strong testimony of Jesus’ identity. But how can we be certain it actually happened as described? Some people suggest that Jesus’ closest disciples invented stories about His life. But if you wrote a story and included yourself in it, how would you portray yourself? The disciples are often described as weak, petty, and ignorant. Either those creative writers were extraordinarily humble, or they simply told the truth about themselves and Jesus.
The same goes for John the Baptizer. He was not an all-knowing prophet. He admitted he did not know Jesus was the promised Messiah until he baptized Him. But seeing what happened and hearing the voice of God the Father, he then proclaimed, “this is the Son of God!” (Joh. 1:34). So by “the Spirit and the water” God the Father testified that Jesus was His Son.
Going forward three years, Jesus was now in Jerusalem. He had entered the city on Palm Sunday and was preparing for His imminent death. “Now is my soul troubled,” He said. “And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name” (Joh. 12:27-28). Then a voice sounding like thunder came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again” (v. 28). It was the voice of His heavenly Father.
And then it was time for the testimony of “the blood.” The shedding of blood shows that Jesus was clearly a Man. Blood poured out of His back from the wounds of His flogging and from His head where the crown of thorns had been driven. It dripped from His hands and feet where the nails had pierced. But how does the blood prove His divinity? How does it show He is the Son of God?
If Jesus had died and remained dead, we would have to conclude that He was not who God said He was, that He was not the Son of God. But since He has risen, that changes the way we look at His crucifixion. His resurrection from the dead shows us that it wasn’t just a regular Man hanging on the cross. It was the God-Man. His blood was holy blood shed for all people. His suffering was holy suffering, not for wrongs He had done but for the sins of the world. “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” He cried. His blood testifies that God the Father poured out His wrath against sin on His only Son in the place of all sinners.
“[T]he Spirit and the water and the blood.” This is God the Father’s testimony. “[T]his is the testimony of God that He has borne concerning His Son.” And Jesus’ resurrection is the bow that ties it all together. His resurrection proves that the testimony is true. It proves everything God declared about His Son and everything Jesus taught and did.
Those who deny Jesus’ resurrection will make of Him whatever they want, but they won’t have a Savior. You, on the other hand, who believe God’s testimony, have everything He has graciously promised you. You will not be judged along with the unbelieving world on the last day, because you are covered in Christ’s righteousness. You will not suffer eternal damnation in hell, because your sins are all forgiven. You will not remain in the grave, because Jesus will come again in glory to raise you from the dead.
All of these things are yours. You have been “born of God” by the power of the Holy Spirit. You were brought to faith in Jesus through His holy Word, so that His victory became your victory. He wants to continue to assure you and comfort you in this truth. He knows that the devil, the world, and your own flesh want to steal away your confidence. He knows how they try to use trials like the current pandemic to plant doubts in your mind about His love toward you and about the promises of His Word.
It is good that John recorded the doubts of Jesus’ disciples after His resurrection. They doubted like we do. Our faith is not perfect. It is common for all Christians to wonder why God lets troublesome things happen, or why He doesn’t fix a problem or help us in our need. We have also had doubts about whether we are right with God. How could He love people like us who have failed so miserably or done such bad things?
Jesus does not alleviate our doubts by appearing in person and showing us His hands and side like He did for Thomas. But He does set before us the testimony of His love through His Word and Sacraments. Publicly through His called servant and privately through the encouragement of fellow Christians, Jesus declares to us the forgiveness of our sins. As Jesus said to His disciples on Easter evening, so He still says to us, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld” (Joh. 20:22-23).
He also gives us the testimony of His Sacraments—Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. “Baptism,” He says, “is My cleansing blood applied to you. It is My bringing you the victory of My death and resurrection. It is your rebirth as a holy child of God.” And the Lord’s Supper is His body given in the bread and His blood given in the wine “for the remission of sins.” In this Supper, our resurrected and exalted Lord comes to us personally and brings us His eternal blessings of forgiveness and life and salvation.
So just as “the Spirit and the water and the blood” testified in Jesus’ life that He really is the Son of God, so “the Spirit and the water and the blood” in His Word and Sacraments continue to testify to Him today. It is impossible for our limited minds to understand these things. How could the Son of God take on flesh, suffer, die, and rise again? How could He continue to meet us through His Word and Sacraments?
But though our minds cannot comprehend these things, they are most certainly true. Jesus Really Is the Son of God. He really did die for your sins and rise again in victory over your death. And He really does come to you today to bring you comfort, strength, and peace in every need.
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(picture is from “The Incredulity of St. Thomas” by Caravaggio, c. 1601-1602)
Maundy Thursday – Pr. Faugstad homily
Text: 1 Corinthians 11:23-32
In Christ Jesus, who freely gives Himself to us as food and drink, dear fellow redeemed:
We know the account of the institution of the Lord’s Supper very well. In fact we review its details every time we partake of the Sacrament: “Our Lord Jesus Christ, the same night in which He was betrayed, took bread” and so on. But it is easy to forget about the context of this Supper. Jesus instituted this Holy Meal while He and His disciples enjoyed another holy meal: the Passover. It was no accident that these two meals should be joined together.
The Passover meal was a reminder of the LORD’s deliverance of His people from slavery in Egypt. At that first Passover, each household slaughtered a blemish-free male lamb, consumed its flesh roasted over the fire, and painted its blood on the doorposts of the house. When the Angel of the LORD saw the blood of the lamb, He passed over that house, and everyone inside was saved from death.
God told His people to celebrate this Passover deliverance annually, so they would remember what He had done for them. This is why Jesus now reclined with His disciples in the upper room enjoying the Passover meal of lamb, unleavened bread, and wine. It was a meal for looking back, for thanking the LORD for His mercy upon His people. The disciples could not have guessed that Jesus was about to institute something new out of the Passover meal, something for the present and for the future.
He took some unleavened bread, gave thanks, broke it, and gave it to the disciples saying, “Take, eat; this is My body, which is given for you.” How unexpected! How strange! Jesus told them to eat His body, and He said it is given in the bread! Then Jesus took the cup of wine, gave thanks, and gave it to them saying, “Drink of it all of you; this cup is the New Testament in My blood, which is shed for you and for many for the remission of sins.” His blood in the cup! How can this be? As hard as it was to understand, Jesus’ words were clear. He was instituting a special Supper in which His body was the food and His blood was the drink.
But there are many who do not believe these words of Jesus. They do not believe He gives His own body and blood in the Supper for us to consume. And until they are led by the Holy Spirit to believe His Word, this Supper is not for them. St. Paul writes by inspiration that whoever “eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord…. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.”
This would be something like an Israelite at the first Passover saying that he is glad to eat the roasted lamb, but he isn’t about to paint his doorposts with blood. Death would have come to that house because the person did not believe God’s Word. In the same way, Paul writes that those who deny what Jesus says He gives in His Supper sin against Him, and they eat and drink judgment on themselves.
So how can we be certain that we will receive His Supper properly? First of all, we take Jesus at His Word. This is a matter of faith. We can’t see any change take place when the Words of Jesus are spoken over the bread and wine. There is no scientific proof that His body and blood are present. But Jesus says they are, and He does not lie.
Second, we eat and drink His body and blood “in remembrance of” Him. This means to remember all that Jesus did to save us, how He perfectly kept the Law for us, how He died in payment of all our sins, and how He rose again on the third day. We don’t go to the Lord’s Supper thinking of all the good things we have done for God or for others. We go with humble hearts, trusting in Jesus alone as our Savior.
This brings us to the third part of our preparation to receive the Supper. Paul writes that a person must “examine himself” before this eating and drinking. The Lord’s Supper is no ordinary meal. Jesus is present, and He knows our hearts. We come repenting of the sins He already knows about, and we ask Him to strengthen us and help us to change our sinful ways and do better. When we prepare for the Lord’s Supper in this way—trusting what Jesus says, remembering what He did to save us, and repenting of our sins—we can be sure we will receive His body and blood with blessing.
The Passover was a meal for looking back, and there was no spiritual benefit gained from eating the lamb and unleavened bread and drinking the wine. But now in the Lord’s Supper, we eat Jesus’ body with the bread and drink His blood with the wine “for the remission of sins.” The first Passover saved the Israelites from slavery to the Egyptians and from temporal death. The Lord’s Supper saves us from even more—our slavery to sin and eternal death.
Jesus instituted the new Supper of His body and blood at the Passover meal to show that He is the fulfillment of the Passover. The Passover lamb pointed to Him. His holy body given in His Supper is nourishment and strength for our journey, and His holy blood cleanses us from all our sins (1Jo. 1:7). Jesus is the Lamb of God, who gladly gives His body and blood for our eternal good. Thanks be to God! Amen.
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(painting of the Last Supper by Simon Ushakov, 1685)
Midweek Lent – Pr. Faugstad homily
Text: Genesis 4:1-12
In Christ Jesus, who shed His blood in death so we guilty ones might be redeemed and live, dear fellow redeemed:
The idea of sacrifice was built into creation by God from the very beginning. After He had made the first man, He told him he could eat of every tree of the Garden of Eden except for one. He must not eat fruit from “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Gen. 2:17). This was a sacrifice by which the man and his wife would prove their love and devotion to God. But they decided to disobey God. They did not want to make this sacrifice anymore, and they ate from the tree God had forbidden.
Their sin against God had consequences not just for them, but for all of creation. Because of their sin, now there would be death. To remind them of this death, God clothed the man and woman in animal skins (Gen. 3:21). Their sin had utterly changed their relationship to God, and it also changed their relationship to animals. Animals had been sacrificed for their clothing, and animals would now also be employed as sacrifices offered to God.
We learn this in today’s reading from Genesis 4. Like his father Adam, first-born son Cain worked in the field planting and harvesting crops. But second-born son Abel kept the sheep. As far as we know, God did not sanction the eating of meat until later, after the flood (Gen. 9:3). While the sheep may have been kept for their wool, we know they were used as sacrifices for Adam and Eve’s family. Our text says that “Cain brought to the LORD an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions.”
But God did not receive their offerings in the same way. He “had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard.” Why did the LORD look upon their offerings so differently? It wasn’t because of the type or the quality of the products offered. The author of Hebrews says that the difference was faith. “By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts” (11:4).
So Abel offered his sacrifice with fear, love, and trust in God. But Cain offered his sacrifice as a matter of show, as an obligation and nothing more. Why did Cain think the LORD would be satisfied with this faithless offering? Martin Luther suggests that Cain was consumed with self-importance. He was the first child ever born into the world, and hadn’t God said that the woman’s offspring would crush Satan’s head (Gen. 3:15)? Cain was destined for great things, and his parents may have even told him so. But there was nothing special about Abel. Abel was the second-born, second place. He was sent to work with the sheep while Adam and Cain presumably worked in the field side-by-side.
So when God accepted Abel’s offering and not Cain’s, “Cain was very angry, and his face fell.” The LORD called him to repent, and He warned him saying, “sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” The LORD told him not to open the door to jealous anger and hatred. That’s where sin was crouching, lying in wait to overcome him. This reminds us of the Apostle Peter’s words about how the devil works, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1Pe. 5:8). The devil tempts us to sin against one another, to think highly of ourselves and to look down at others.
Each of us here has opened the door to sin like Cain did. We have felt intense anger and hatred toward those around us, sometimes even the members of our own family. We have justified this anger by dwelling on the wrongs that have been done. We convince ourselves that because of a person’s sin against us or against others, they do not deserve our mercy or our love. They deserve to suffer. They deserve punishment. At the same time, we consider ourselves righteous. We would never do the things they do.
But in our anger and hatred toward someone because of their sin, we also sin. 1 John 3:15 says, “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer.” Even our hateful thoughts violate the Fifth Commandment. And if we do not “rule over” these thoughts as God urged Cain to do, the devil will use them to tempt us toward sins of word and action. That is what happened to Cain. He did not repent of his sin. He did not close the door to temptation. He let his anger lead to violence toward his brother, and he killed him.
God approved of the sacrifice of animals for offerings to Him. But He did not approve of the murder of men. Abel did not have to die. He was an innocent victim. Cain was the lawbreaker. He let sin rule over him, and in unbelief he rejected the LORD’s command and promise. “What have you done?” said the LORD. “The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground. And now you are cursed from the ground…. You shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.”
We sin in many of the same ways that Cain did. Like Cain we have also gone through the motions of righteousness toward God. We have offered prayers without thinking about them and expected God to be gracious even when we had no sincere intention to repent and amend our sinful ways. We justified our anger and unkindness toward others while avoiding any personal responsibility.
But the LORD has mercifully kept us from being overcome by sin and losing our faith. He has brought us back here today to repent of our sins and receive His forgiveness. Through His holy Word, He points us to Jesus, whose righteousness covers us like the garments God made for Adam and Eve, and who saved us by His innocent suffering and death. Because Jesus shed His precious blood for us, we are forgiven and cleansed of all our sins. He was the sacrifice required for our salvation, the sacrifice which Abel looked for in faith, and by which he was delivered from death to life just as we will be.
So once again today we humbly offer our sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving for God’s great love for us, and we fix our eyes on Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, who gave Himself for us. “Abel’s blood for vengeance / Pleaded to the skies; / But the blood of Jesus / For our pardon cries” (ELH 283, v. 4). Thanks be to God! Amen.
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(picture from “Cain Slaying Abel” by Peter Paul Rubens, c. 1600)