The First Sunday after Epiphany – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Luke 2:41-52
In Christ Jesus, the Son of Mary, who was manifested as the Son of God by His holy words and deeds, dear fellow redeemed:
If you have ever been left behind somewhere accidentally, you probably remember the feeling. If you have ever lost track of a child, you definitely remember the feeling. First looking where you expect to find him, then widening the search, then becoming more frantic until your child is finally located. We can imagine how Mary and Joseph were feeling when Jesus was not where they expected Him to be. How would small-town Jesus do by Himself in big-city Jerusalem?
While they were searching frantically for Jesus, He was not troubled in the least. He was twelve years old, the age of a seventh grader. This is a time of transition when a child begins to think and act more independently. It is clear that Joseph and Mary allowed Jesus some independence, since they were not concerned to set off for home without knowing exactly where He was. But Jesus was not with the travel group; He was in the temple.
He was hardly noticed as He made His way up the temple steps. Nobody in the temple knew the significance of this Boy. They did not perceive that He was God in the flesh. In Old Testament times, God entered His temple in a cloud of fire. Now He came in humility, His eternal glory hidden, “the whole fullness of deity” dwelling in His twelve-year-old body (Col. 2:9).
If you have ever seen the show, “Undercover Boss,” that is something like the irony of this moment. Jesus quietly took His seat before the temple teachers. They were some of the best and brightest teachers of the Law. But these experts had no idea that the LORD Himself was in their midst. They soon learned that there was something different about this Boy. He showed a depth of understanding they were not used to hearing from students of this age or perhaps any age.
Jesus respectfully asked them questions, and they responded with some questions of their own. “[A]ll who heard Him were amazed at His understanding and His answers.” They wondered where this Boy got His remarkable knowledge. They probably wanted to know His background: “What did you say Your name was? Where are You from? You say the family trade is carpentry?” It was astonishing that Jesus could come from such humble circumstances and display such understanding.
Jesus sat among the teachers for three days. During that time, Mary and Joseph were retracing their steps to Jerusalem before they eventually found Jesus in the temple. Now His mother had a question for Him: “Son, why have You treated us so?” We can certainly understand the question. If your child decided to spend a couple days at a friend’s house without telling you, you would probably use more pointed words than Mary when you finally found him or her.
But Jesus did not hang His head in shame. He replied calmly with two questions of His own: “Why were you looking for Me? Did you not know that I must be in My Father’s house?” These are the first words of Jesus recorded in the Gospels. They show that even at age twelve, He was focused on the work He had come to do. He had to be in His Father’s house. He was there to do His Father’s bidding.
The season of Epiphany is about the revealing of Jesus as God’s Son. That’s what “epiphany” means: a revealing or a manifesting. We heard last weekend how Jesus was revealed as the Messiah to the wise men. Next weekend, we will hear how He manifested His divine power by changing water into wine. We know these accounts well, but we cannot fully understand the mystery of God becoming Man. Nor do we fully appreciate what it means for life in this world.
When we are faced with the questions and concerns of the present, like questions about our health, our government, and our society, it is easy to forget that God has become one with us. Unbelievers do not know this. They do not know the Christ and what He has done. It’s no wonder they become so invested in scientific endeavors, political movements, and power plays. These worldly initiatives are their religion, and government officials and other prominent people are their gods.
We need to resist those currents. We do not stand on the eroding sand of human opinions. We stand on the solid rock of Jesus and His Word. The world of men thought it knew what power was. The world thought it was wise. But all of that was exposed as flimsiness and foolishness when the Creator God entered His world as a Man. We cannot make ourselves God, but God made Himself Man.
Who can stand against this God? He said about Himself, “See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand” (Deu. 32:39). The so-called powerful people of the world would be “shaking in their boots” if they realized what they were up against. “[T]he nations rage and the peoples plot in vain,” says the psalmist; they try to take the glory that belongs to God alone. But “He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision” (Psa. 2:1-6). God’s Son rules as King over heaven and earth.
But where is the evidence of His rule? Some can’t understand why He allowed the current president to be elected. Others can’t understand why He is letting the new president take office. In all the chaos of today, it can seem like Jesus is missing or that He really isn’t powerful. Can’t He see our troubles? Can’t He see that we are suffering? We start to sound like Mary: “Lord, why have You treated us so? Behold, we have been searching for You in great distress.”
All these anxious cares show that we have our minds set on earthly things and not on “things that are above” (Col. 3:2). Have we forgotten what God’s Son has done? Have we forgotten that He performed countless miracles—even raising people from the dead—while living a perfectly pure life on earth? Have we forgotten that He accepted the punishment for all sin and died on the cross in our place? Have we forgotten that He rose again from the dead just as He predicted? Have we forgotten that our future is inseparably tied to His because we have been buried and raised with Him in Baptism?
When we cry out: “We have been searching for You in great distress!” He says, “Why were you looking for Me? Did you not know that I must be in My Father’s house?” In other words He says, “You are guilty of looking for Me in the wrong places and not where I have told you to look.” If we think we will find Him in a perfect government on earth or in perfect success or in a life of constant pleasure and happiness, we will not find Him. He will remain hidden from us.
But if we look for Him in His Holy Word and His Holy Sacraments, we will find Him. We will find Him ready to forgive our sins, help us in our afflictions, comfort us in our sorrows, and strengthen us in our trials. Through the means of grace, Jesus is constantly doing the work His Father sent Him to do, the work of bringing us His blessings.
God sent His Son into the world to save the world. That doesn’t mean His Son came to reform the world or improve it or make everything fair and peaceful for everyone who lives on it. God sent His Son to save sinners from the eternal punishment they deserve. By His innocent suffering and death, Jesus did the work to redeem all people. And now He fights to keep believers in the faith and bring others to faith.
Our King is not hiding or missing. He is seated at the right hand of the Father ruling over all things. Nothing is hidden from His view and nothing is beyond His power. He is able to put all our questions to rest, either by answering them or by teaching us to live without the answers. Nothing is hidden from Him, but some things are hidden from us. We do not know what our future holds. We might want to know, but we don’t need to know.
What we do need to know is that no matter what changes around us, His mercy and love toward us will not change. That gives us the confidence to go about our daily tasks with joy and diligence. We are not searching in anguish for some earthly power to save us and make our lives better. Jesus is our Lord who won the victory over sin, death, and devil. And we are His people.
As His people, we abide by His Word and serve according to His direction. We love the family and friends He has given us. We go about our work honestly and faithfully. We care about the needs of our neighbor. Our good efforts may go unnoticed. They may be hidden from most everyone and lost to history. But we are not in it for our glory.
Our eternal glory is already secure in Christ. He fulfilled God’s Holy Law for us, including perfect obedience to His parents and all other authorities. He submitted Himself to the temple teachers and to His imperfect parents, so that we could stand righteous before God.
We have sinned in many ways against our parents, teachers, and other authorities, such as the government officials the Lord in His wisdom has established. But whatever our Fourth Commandment sins may be, Jesus atoned for every single one by His death. And He applies the perfect keeping of the Law to all who trust in Him.
We have many questions about what may happen to us here on earth. But we have no questions about what God has given us in Christ. All the questions that really matter—the questions about our eternal future—are answered by the gracious work of Jesus to save us.
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 “Jesus Among the Doctors” by James Tissot, 1836-1902)
Festival of the Ascension of Our Lord – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: Acts 1:1-11
In Christ Jesus, who is present with us and all His disciples just as He promised He would be, dear fellow redeemed:
The chief priests and the Pharisees had heard Jesus loud and clear. He said He would rise again on the third day after His death. Once they succeeded in having Him crucified, they remembered His words. They thought His disciples might now try to steal away His body and declare that He had risen. So they had a guard positioned at the tomb. They did not know that these soldiers would become the first witnesses of the empty tomb when an angel came down from heaven and rolled away the stone.
Some of the soldiers went trembling to the religious leaders and reported what they had seen. The leaders gave them hush money and said, “Tell people, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep’” (Mat. 28:13). So the religious leaders heard Jesus’ prediction, they heard the eyewitness account of these men that the tomb was empty, and they still denied that Jesus is who He said!
They may have silenced the guard, but I can’t imagine they were able to silence the thoughts and imaginations of their hearts. They must have dreaded the very real possibility that Jesus would turn up alive and show Himself to everyone. Then what could they say? Who would listen to them then?
It’s kind of surprising that Jesus did not do this. What better proof of His Word could there be than to take a victory lap all around Jerusalem? Or better still, why didn’t Jesus take His message on the road? “Look, they crucified Me—you can see the marks in My hands and feet. I died and was closed up in a tomb. But here I am alive again! That’s because I am the holy Son of God, the Savior of the world. Nothing—not even death—can overcome Me!”
Instead, the forty days between His resurrection and ascension were relatively low-key. He appeared to His disciples at different times, but He seems to have hidden Himself for the better part of those days. When He did appear to them, He spoke to them “about the kingdom of God,” and He told them to expect the outpouring of the Holy Spirit “not many days from now.” Then He said, “you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
Jesus made it clear that He was giving the work of spreading the Gospel of salvation to the disciples. But why was Jesus so eager to leave them? Why not proclaim the message Himself until the Christian Church was well-established? The disciples did not feel ready to have the Lord leave. We can see this in the way they intently gazed into heaven when Jesus ascended. How could He depart from them and keep His promise to be with them always?
Jesus’ ascension marks the transition point between the winning of salvation and the distributing of it. His ascension to His Father’s right hand is the crowning moment of His saving work. He had descended (or come down) from heaven to take on our flesh and save us, and now He was ascending (or going up) to heaven having won the victory over sin, death, and hell. Just ten days after this, the Holy Spirit would come upon the disciples and propel the Gospel throughout the known world.
So was that it for Jesus? Did He return to heaven to enjoy a well-deserved rest of a few thousand years after suffering the eternal punishment for sin? Is He just biding His time until the day comes for His triumphant return to earth? It sure would be nice to have Him here again like He was 2,000 years ago. The church on earth—broken in so many pieces—needs Him to come and set everything right. We need Him to bring healing to the sick—especially now when many are contracting a virus and some are dying. We need Him to calm our troubled hearts and encourage us on our way like He did His disciples.
All these things we need Him to do, He still does—just not in the way we want Him to. He is at work in the church by the power of His Word mending divisions and strengthening the fellowship of believers. He is bringing healing to the sick through the care of medical personnel and compassionate family and friends. And He does comfort and encourage us as He visits us through the means of grace.
But we want more. We want Him to be present with us visibly, to show His love for us by performing miracles and taking away our hurt and pain. It is frustrating to be told again and again of His great love for us while everything in our life is falling apart. How is His love helping me recover my health? How is it helping me pay my bills? How will it fix the break-down in my relationship? How will it make my boss treat me more fairly? How will it remove my loneliness, depression, and anguish?
This is where we go wrong: we assume that Jesus is not active because things are not turning out the way we want. Or we assume that He does not love us as much as the Bible says He does. The second error is put to rest by the fact of His sacrificial death. He didn’t go to the cross for any wrong He had done. He went there to pay for all our sins—our sins against Him! That’s a love we can’t even come close to matching.
It is also wrong to think that Jesus is not active anymore on earth. The Bible outlines three main areas of activity—His three-fold office as our Savior. Jesus continues to work on our behalf as a Prophet, a Priest, and a King. As Prophet, He speaks to us through His powerful Word and sends men to declare His forgiveness to His people. As Priest, He intercedes for us at the Father’s right hand and brings our needs before the throne of grace. As King, He rules over all things especially for the benefit of His Church and brings all the departed saints to His kingdom of glory. That’s a lot of activity!
So He is very aware of what is going on in your life. But how can you be assured of His presence? How can you be certain He is here with you no matter what you are going through? He may not show Himself to you like you would want. But He does promise to be with you, and He does not promise anything lightly. The apostle Paul writes that when Jesus ascended into heaven, His Father “put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Eph. 1:22-23).
You are part of Christ’s body. You are a member of His holy Church by faith in Him. He could no easier forget you or cast you aside than you could forget or cast aside your own arm or foot. He loves you. He wants you to remain with Him and so inherit eternal life and never-ending joy. That’s why He specially visits you through the preaching of His Word and through His Sacraments.
You do not see Him come visibly. But He is right here with you, even in the flesh that was nailed to the cross and came alive again in the tomb. Jesus did not lie to His disciples; He was with them always. He is with you too, to the end of each day, to the end of your life, and to the end of the world (ELH Evening Collect, p. 126).
Where Is Jesus When You Need Him? He is still here, wielding “all authority in heaven and on earth” (Mat. 28:18). He is here to bring His forgiveness and grace to your heart when you hear His Word. He is here to apply His saving gifts in Holy Baptism. He is here to give His own body and blood for you to eat and to drink for the remission of your sins. His Word and Sacraments are where Jesus promises to be found “always, to the end of the age” (v. 20).
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 Ascension by John Singleton Copley, 1775)
Palm Sunday – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Matthew 21:1-9
In Christ Jesus, “the Son of Man,” who “came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mat. 20:28), dear fellow redeemed:
It was not just another Sunday when Jesus entered Jerusalem. He had come there many times before, but this time was different. Shortly before this Jesus had called his dead friend Lazarus back to life. News about the miracle had spread throughout Judea, and now many who heard about it were coming to Jerusalem for the Passover celebration. Would Jesus come there too?
It was not a sure thing. The people knew how much the chief priests and the members of the ruling Jewish Council despised Jesus. They charged Him with blasphemy and wanted to have Him arrested. It felt as though something was about to happen. It seemed like some sort of showdown or struggle for power was unavoidable. It was hard not to favor Jesus, since no one else could do the things He was doing.
We see how excited the people were about Jesus by how willing they were to accommodate Him. All Jesus had to do was express his need for a donkey and its colt, and they were freely given to Him. There was no lengthy negotiation. No contract was signed, and no deposit was left. Finding a suitable way to ride the donkey was no problem either. The disciples removed their cloaks and draped them over the animal, so Jesus would have a comfortable place to sit.
By this time, word had spread about Jesus’ presence in the area. Great crowds of people came out of Jerusalem to meet Him. As He rode along, He didn’t have to worry about dust getting kicked up on the road, because the people spread their cloaks in front of Him on the road. Others cut branches from palm trees and laid those down also.
Jesus was certainly getting the “royal treatment”! In fact the crowd had exactly this in mind. They cried out, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” (v. 9). “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!” (Mar. 11:10). “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord” (Luk. 19:38), “even the King of Israel!” (Joh. 12:13).
This was not some idea thrown out by the crowds on a whim. They believed that Jesus was the promised Messiah, and that He would take the throne of his forefather David. The Jewish people knew their Scriptures. They knew the LORD’s promise to David that He would raise up an offspring of David whose kingdom and throne would be established forever (2Sa. 7:12-13).
They also recognized that the words of Psalm 118 applied to the coming Messiah. This is where their “hosanna” and “blessed is He” came from as Jesus approached Jerusalem. The translation of the Hebrew word “hosanna” is “save us, we pray.” As the people sang the Lord’s praises, they quoted directly from this Psalm: “[Hosanna]—Save us, we pray, O LORD! O LORD, we pray, give us success! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD!” (vv. 25-26).
It appeared that whatever could go right for Jesus was going right. The Pharisees threw up their hands and said, “Look, the world has gone after him” (Joh. 12:19). It seemed like whatever earthly glory Jesus wanted was His for the taking. He was hailed as a King, the people gladly let the donkey He rode walk on their cloaks, and they welcomed Him as the coming Messiah.
But those gifts and praises had shallow roots. The donkey, for one thing, was not His to keep. He probably returned it when He went back to the town of Bethany that night (Mar. 11:11). The people picked up their cloaks and dusted them off, and for all their eagerness to give them to Jesus on Sunday, He would be hanging on a cross naked by Friday. The enthusiastic cries of “hosanna!” and “blessed is He!” stopped too. They were soon replaced by mockery, jeering, and cries of “crucify Him!”
What Jesus was given on Palm Sunday did not hold up. They were appropriate gifts at the time, and we see that each part was a fulfillment of the Old Testament Scriptures. But Palm Sunday was not the ultimate goal. Jesus had not come to Jerusalem to receive earthly glory. He came to win heavenly glory for sinners.
To do this, Jesus had to walk a lonely path. Only He could travel it. He had to shoulder the burden of all sin and carry it to the cross where it must be atoned for by His death. We see in these loving actions how Jesus Gives Much More Than He Is Given.
He had the benefit of a donkey to ride as He came to Jerusalem. But that donkey’s burden was light compared to what Jesus carried. People offered their cloaks and palm branches to prepare the way to Jerusalem’s gates. But Jesus gives His own righteousness to prepare sinners to enter the gates of heaven. Many welcomed Jesus as an earthly king. But Jesus lifts us up to reign with Him in His eternal kingdom. Jesus Gives Much More.
We could never match these immeasurable gifts of Jesus. But our sinful nature makes us think we can. Our prideful self loves to be recognized for the good things we do. There are many—Christians included—who think that these good things put them in better standing with God. They believe that the more good works they do, the better chance they have of getting to heaven.
We know this is not the case. We know we cannot earn favor with God by what we do. We know we cannot get into heaven by any of our own efforts. We are saved by God’s grace through the faith He gives us. All of it is a gift and not a result of our works (Eph. 2:8-9). But that doesn’t stop us from thinking that we are owed something because of our good deeds and our sacrifices.
It is very easy for us to be bitter toward God when we experience a loss, or when we have to deal with pain or injury. We may think to ourselves, if not express it out loud: “Lord, I have done so much in Your service. Why are You letting this happen? I thought You loved me. I thought You appreciated how faithful I have been to You.” We think God should give His faithful children a happy and carefree life.
Or the opposite happens. We go through hard times, and we are convinced that God must be angry with us. He must be punishing us for past sins. In these times, we are quick to lose hope and to set aside faith in the Lord’s promises. We think God must not really care about us.
Both responses show how little we appreciate the work Jesus did to save us. On the one hand, we expect that our service to God should keep us from the effects of sin in the world. But our service to God is not even close to what He requires. We have not always done what He asks of us.
Where would we have been that first Holy Week? We might have offered our cloaks, palm branches, and praises on Sunday. But what about on Friday? On Friday, even Jesus’ closest disciples deserted Him, and we shouldn’t think so highly of ourselves to imagine we would have been different. We are not as faithful as we should be, so God sends us crosses to bear to teach us to trust in His strength and not ours.
On the other hand, to imagine that God is angry with us and does not love us anymore, is to totally ignore Jesus’ sacrifice. If God is punishing you for your sins, then why did Jesus have to suffer and die on the cross? There certainly may be consequences for one sin or another. But the punishment for sin was carried out against Jesus. “He was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed” (Isa. 53:5).
The things we do for God are important—honoring His name, hearing His Word, leading a disciplined and decent life, serving our neighbors out of love for Him. God is pleased with these things, and we should want to improve and do more. But while we do good, we pray for a humble heart and a humble disposition, and we pray that God leads us to repent when we fail to do what we should.
The self-righteous love to look at themselves in the mirror and be publicly recognized for all the good they do. The faithful keep their eyes on Jesus and see everything He did out of love for them. If anyone could be prideful, it is Jesus. He had done nothing wrong. He was perfect. But as today’s Epistle lesson says, our Savior “made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phi. 2:7-8).
He humbled Himself and went the way of the cross because He loves you. He refused an earthly throne in Jerusalem, because He had much more to give than what could have been given to Him. He wanted you to be freed from your sins through His death in your place. He wanted you to have His perfect righteousness, so you could stand before God unashamed. Everything you needed to get into heaven has been won for you by your humble Lord. He gives it all to you. It is yours.
And you will have still more. You will one day be glorified as He is glorified. You will be exalted as He is exalted. Then, as it is described in the book of Revelation, you will join the “great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’” (Rev. 7:9-10).
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
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(painting is “The Procession in the Streets of Jerusalem” by James Tissot, 1836-1902)
Palm Sunday / The Annunciation – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: Philippians 2:5-11
In Christ Jesus, “The King of heavenly grace,” who “Came down from His exalted throne / To save our fallen race” (ELH 127, v. 2), dear fellow redeemed:
I have never heard of a CEO of a multi-billion dollar company giving up the job to become a minimum-wage worker of the same company. It is possible that this could happen, but not very likely. An “undercover boss” might spend some time with workers at the bottom of the corporate ladder, but he will not stay there. Human beings are not inclined to give up what they have gained and move down instead of up. We want to have more success, better our standing, rise higher. This is why no one could have imagined what God would do for mankind, and how He would go about it.
Suppose you were the CEO of a company: What would you do if an employee of yours broke all the rules for the job, attacked the people around him, stole from the company, and threatened you? Not only would you fire him, you would also expect him to be arrested and punished for his crimes. In the same way we who have broken God’s holy Commandments again and again should expect to be removed from His gracious employ and punished for all our sins.
But that is not what happened. Instead, God sent one of His angels to inform a young, poor woman named Mary: “you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Lk. 1:31-33). It is not impossible, though not very likely, for a king to rise up from such poor circumstances. But this was not just any king; this was the Messiah. This was God come in the flesh.
Human reason cannot comprehend these things. How could a virgin be pregnant? How could the tiny Child in her womb be the eternal God? How could the Lord’s death win life for us? This is so difficult to grasp because Jesus’ power and glory are not displayed like we would expect them to be.
If we were to plan the arrival of God on earth, we would envision it much differently than how it happened. First of all, we would choose a woman of different status—certainly someone known for her good deeds, but someone more prominent than Mary of Nazareth. When told that Jesus was from that town, one of His future disciples remarked, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (Jn. 1:46). Then we would also expect the God-Man to step onto the world’s stage with stunning demonstrations of heavenly power and with swift judgment against the wicked. In short, we would imagine that the Lord of All would act like the Lord of All.
But the Lord of heaven, begotten of the Father from eternity, “made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” This is an even greater step down than CEO to minimum-wage earner. In that case, it is still exchanging one human position for another. But God the Son stepped down from His position of power and authority over heaven and earth to become the Servant of men.
What caused Him to do this? Was it because He considered the human race worthy of the effort? Did He see enough goodness, enough promise in man, that He was willing to help them out? No, the “redeeming quality” was in God, not in people. It was God the Father’s love for the pinnacle of His creation that caused Him to send His Son to become Man (Jn. 3:16). He did not have to talk His Son into it; His Son obeyed Him without hesitation. His will perfectly conformed to His Father’s, even though He must endure intense agony and punishment for sin. The text says, “And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
It was in humility that Jesus revealed His greatness and glory. Many people rejected Him as Lord because He did not fit their picture of the Messiah. He did not act like they would if they were God incarnate. Which was exactly the point. Jesus was the opposite of what mankind had become since the fall into sin. He came without a hint of pride and without any pressure to prove Himself to the satisfaction of sinners.
All of this was quite unexpected—The Lord of All Becomes Servant of All?! The disciples did not understand why their great Teacher must go to Jerusalem to die an ugly death. The people on Palm Sunday did not understand His purpose in coming to Jerusalem “humble and mounted on a donkey” (Zech. 9:9). Pontius Pilate did not understand why, “like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,… he opened not his mouth” (Is. 53:7) when false accusations were leveled against Him. No one can rightly understand Jesus’ sacrifice in our place. It required a humility unknown and unobtainable by any of us.
And yet our text says, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.” We should have the attitude that Jesus had and conduct ourselves as He did. In the verses just before today’s text, we are urged to “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (vv. 3-4). This is the how Jesus was. He told His disciples that although He was their Lord, yet He was among them as one who serves (Lk. 22:27). He stooped down and washed their feet just as they “also ought to wash one another’s feet” (Jn. 13:14).
This is not how our self-centered, entitlement culture operates. We are taught to demand respect. We should fight for the benefits we deserve. We should never let anyone question the decisions we make or how we live our lives. We should never have to back down from anyone. So in other words, everyone else should serve our interests and make sacrifices for us, but they better not expect the same treatment in return.
Isn’t it obvious why there is so much hatred and bitterness in our society? It is not the fault of our political leaders or the media or anything else outside of us. The problem is in our hearts. Our hearts are full of selfishness and pride. If we loved our neighbor as God demands, we would view no one as below us. Serving others would never feel like a chore. We would give with no thought of recognition or reward. We would show respect even when the same courtesy was not returned to us.
If anyone had cause to be offended by others, it was Jesus. He did wrong to no one. He was the perfect neighbor. Yet He was betrayed, tortured, and crucified. How did He respond to such indignities, such injustice? “Father, forgive them,” He said, “for they know not what they do” (Lk. 23:34). Who can comprehend the sacrifice? Who can understand the humility?
In a sermon on this text, Martin Luther said that “Were we similarly to humble ourselves, and even to go beyond Christ in humility—a thing, however, impossible—we should do nothing extraordinary. Our humility would still reek of sin in comparison with his. Suppose Christ [were] to humble himself in the least degree—but a hair’s breadth, so to speak—below the most exalted angels; and suppose we were to humble ourselves to a position a thousand times more abased than the devils in hell; yet our humility would not compare in the least with that of Christ.” (Sermons of Martin Luther, Vol. 7, p. 170)
Nothing like this had ever happened before or ever would again. God became Man. Would you become a mosquito to save the mosquitos? Probably not—better to have them die. But God became Man to save sinful mankind. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the Virgin Mary when the angel visited her on that history-altering day. The Church remembers this annunciation—this announcement to Mary—on March 25th, which is exactly nine months before Christmas.
This year, March 25th also marks the start of Holy Week. This week, we see why God became Man, why He humbled Himself so completely. One of our Christmas hymns makes the connection:
Nails, spear shall pierce Him through,
The cross be borne for me, for you;
Hail, hail the Word made flesh,
The Babe, the Son of Mary!” (ELH 145, v. 2).
The Lord “made Himself nothing,” so you could have everything. The first pastor of this parish, the Rev. U. V. Koren, explained that “God’s Son came down to bring us up to God. He became poor to make us rich. He took our condition on Himself to give us His. He reconciled God to us so that we might be reconciled to God” (U. V. Koren’s Works, Vol. 1, p. 166). He did not come to serve us because we are worthy of His service. By nature, we are just as self-focused, prideful, impatient, unkind, and unloving as everybody else.
But Jesus did not let the nastiness of His neighbors turn His love away. He continued on His mission with a clear conscience, a definite purpose, and an obedient heart. He lived a perfect life for you, me, and all sinners who are not as we should be, and He willingly gave Himself over to death to obtain our forgiveness.
God the Father accepted His humble sacrifice on our behalf and raised Jesus from the dead. Now “God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name.” But our Brother in flesh did not return to the Father’s right hand alone. He came down to our level, in order to bring us up to His. He lifts us up from our low and despised position in this world to reign with Him in heaven. As another of our Christmas hymns says,
He serves that I a lord may be;
A great exchange indeed!
Could Jesus’ love do more for me
To help me in my need,
To help me in my need? (ELH 148, v. 7)
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(painting is “The Procession in the Streets of Jerusalem” by James Tissot, 1836-1902)
The First Sunday in Advent – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Matthew 21:1-9
In Christ Jesus, who still comes humbly in the name of the Lord, dear fellow redeemed:
“It’s the most wonderful time of the year!” Have you heard that song on the radio yet? It is so lively and cheerful. It’s the kind of song that gets stuck in your head—whether you like it or not. And what is it that makes this the most wonderful time? According to the song, it’s kids jingle belling, parties for hosting, caroling out in the snow, and having loved ones near. Those are all good things, but those things alone cannot guarantee happiness.
For many, this season is not the most wonderful but is the most difficult time of the year. They feel the crunch of preparing for Christmas parties at work and at home. They feel the financial strain of trying to get the perfect gift for everyone. Some feel a deep sadness due to the recent death of someone close to them. Others feel the emptiness of dreams and plans unfulfilled through the passing years. They wonder how everyone else can manage to be so happy when they are so discouraged and down.
It was for you who are struggling that Paul Gerhardt wrote this hymn stanza: “Rejoice, then, ye sad-hearted, / Who sit in deepest gloom, / Who mourn o’er joys departed, / And tremble at your doom; / Despair not, He is near you, / Yea, standing at the door, / Who best can help and cheer you, / And bid you weep no more” (ELH #94, v. 6). You can rejoice even in the difficult times of life, because He Is Near You Who Can Cheer You.
Who is it that is “near you”? It is Jesus. Jesus is God, and God is everywhere. So in that sense, He is near everyone. But that is not what we are talking about here. The Son of God “was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary” (Nicene Creed) to be our Immanuel—God with us. He came to meet us in the depths of our sin, our despair, our grief, and our trouble. He did not shy away from sickness and disease, from physical, mental, and spiritual distress. He came.
He came humbly, and many despised Him for it. They did not like how He associated with the social outcasts and sinners. If He was the Christ of God, shouldn’t He be in the company of those who tried the hardest to keep God’s holy law? Wouldn’t He praise their efforts and usher them into closer communion with God? But instead, they were criticized and even cursed by Him. Jesus openly told the people to “practice and observe whatever [the scribes and Pharisees] tell you—but not what they do” (Mt. 23:3). He called them hypocrites! That was not the sort of Messiah they were expecting.
But aside from the religious elite, the common people were enthralled by Jesus. His powers were so far above them, yet none were below His concern. And He did not employ those powers for selfish gain or fame. He used them to help people and serve them. He could heal with a touch or just with a Word. Shortly before riding through the gates of Jerusalem on a donkey, Jesus had even called the dead man Lazarus out of his tomb. This is what brought the crowd out to meet Him and to cover the road ahead of Him with palm branches and cloaks (Jn. 12:18). Who could this be but the Messiah, the promised Savior from the family of David? “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they shouted, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”
They believed that He had come to be their king, but they did not understand this in the right way. They hoped for a king who would liberate them from the Romans. They wanted a king who would restore earthly glory to the people of Israel and cause them to be respected around the world. But this is not why the Son of God came. God became Man to save. He came to shoulder the burden of the law that was impossible for us all to carry and to let His body be pierced and His blood shed to atone for all sin.
The true King hides His power in humility and His strength in weakness. This is not the sort of king that many people are looking for. If you ask them what their greatest needs are, they will probably talk about needing more time, more money, and help with relationships. The first thing on their minds is not the forgiveness of sins, righteousness from God, and the certainty of eternal life. What they especially want God to give them is good health, success at work, a comfortable lifestyle, and a feeling of happiness. If they do not receive these things, they complain and question God. They want a heavenly king who shows His strength and power in the world, so that everyone can see the visible and tangible benefits of following him.
But our Savior’s glory is hidden in the cross. He won by losing. He conquered by dying. Natural human thinking cannot comprehend this. The world despises it. But we treasure it. By faith, we see it for what it is. We understand that God became Man for me. He took my place because He loved me. He suffered and died on my behalf. He wants me to be with Him in heaven.
This is what He tells you in His Word. But He doesn’t just tell in His Word; He gives and grants through His Word. This is how the God who “came near” to the human race by taking on flesh, comes near to you personally. Jesus comes to you through His Word and Sacraments. “Behold, I am with you always,” He says, “to the end of the age” (Mt. 28:20). He is with you “where two or three are gathered in [His] name” (Mt. 18:20). He is with you when water and Word are applied in Baptism (Rom. 6:4). He is with you when bread and wine are blessed and distributed in His Holy Supper. God can get no closer to you than His means of grace.
Many Christians think that their closeness to God depends on what they do. They measure how close they are to God by how close they feel to God. This affects how they approach prayer and worship and Christian living. Their chief consideration is not what God promises them, which is the Gospel. Their focus is on their promises to Him, which rest on the Law. It’s no wonder they find comfort in Christ so hard to come by.
If closeness to God depended on you, you know how far off you would be. God’s reach is not limited, but yours is. The prophet Isaiah says, “your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear” (Is. 59:2). Your sins have caused the great divide between you and Him. You could never, ever bridge that gap.
But Jesus can, and He did. “[N]ow in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Eph. 2:13). St. Paul writes that Jesus reconciled you with His Father by His death on the cross. Then he states that the resurrected Christ “came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near” (v. 17).
Jesus comes to you with a message of peace. It is not a sentimental peace like you might have all cozied up, watching a fire in the fireplace. It is a real peace, a peace that binds us together with the living God, a peace that comes from having forgiveness and salvation through Christ. This peace that we have with God is the source of our spiritual rejoicing even when we don’t feel very cheerful.
Peace with God does not replenish my bank account, but it does bestow spiritual treasures that will never be exhausted. Peace with God does not make all my earthly troubles go away, but it does increase my longing to be where trouble is no more. Peace with God does not bring my loved ones back from the dead, but it does give me hope that their bodies will be raised up, and that we will be united again in heaven.
God does not promise you a carefree life in this world. But He does promise to be present in your grief, your pain, and your struggle. That is the kind of King you have—a King who serves. He wants you to turn your weaknesses and your guilt, your worries, fears, and doubts over to Him. How do you do that? By bowing your head in repentance and giving up on your ability to make and do everything right. And then by satisfying your spiritual hunger and thirst by coming to the Lord’s Table and receiving His holy body and blood.
Jesus comes to save you there just as He came to save on Palm Sunday. Why does He come? The hymnwriter tells us: “He comes, He comes with gladness, / Moved by His love alone, / To calm your fear and sadness, / To Him they well are known…. He comes, He comes procuring / The peace of sins forgiv’n, / For all God’s sons securing / Their heritage in heav’n” (ELH 94, vv. 7, 8).
Therefore we pray, “O glorious Sun, now come, / Send forth Thy beams so cheering, / And guide us safely home!” (ELH 94, v. 10).
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(picture of the Jerico sanctuary where Jesus is present through Word and Sacrament)
Palm Sunday – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Matthew 21:1-9
In Christ Jesus, who “set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Lk. 9:51) to accomplish our salvation, dear fellow redeemed:
Donkeys have not enjoyed the most glowing reputation over the years. They are a notoriously stubborn animal, which is why their other name is applied to those who are difficult to get along with. But for all their negative qualities, donkeys have provided a great service to mankind for a long time. They also figure prominently in the Bible.
One of the unique accounts in the Bible describes a donkey speaking to its master. The king of Moab asked a man named Balaam to curse the people of Israel. The LORD told Balaam not to do this, but Balaam was swayed by the promise of earthly riches (2Pe. 2:15-16). He hopped on his donkey to meet the king. On the way, the angel of the LORD stood in front of him with sword drawn. The donkey could see him, but Balaam could not. The donkey stubbornly refused to go forward, which angered Balaam greatly. It happened three times, and Balaam beat the donkey each time.
Then God let the donkey speak, “‘What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?’ And Balaam said to the donkey, ‘Because you have made a fool of me. I wish I had a sword in my hand, for then I would kill you.’ And the donkey said to Balaam, ‘Am I not your donkey, on which you have ridden all your life long to this day? Is it my habit to treat you this way?’ And he said, ‘No’” (Num. 22:28-30). Then Balaam was allowed to see the angel of the LORD and realized his poor donkey had actually saved his life. He continued on to his meeting with the king, and he blessed the people of Israel instead of cursing them.
Donkeys or mules were often the mount for kings before horses became more popular. King David made his successor known by having his son Solomon sit on the royal mule and paraded around as king (1Ki. 1:33-34). The people of Israel may have been thinking of this on Palm Sunday when they shouted “Hosanna to the Son of David!” In the same way that Solomon the son of David brought peace and security to Israel, the people hoped Jesus would again make their nation great. They welcomed Jesus as a king, which is exactly what the prophet Zechariah said He was. He wrote, “Say to the Daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your King is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’”
For each load whether noble or not that donkeys had ever carried, no burden was as precious as this One. A donkey carried the Man, the One who called Himself “the Son of Man.” The donkey felt the weight of this Man on her shoulders, but she could not perceive the weight on His shoulders. He carried something too. He carried the weight of the whole world’s sin, the weight of knowing what had to be done to save sinners. Shortly before His Palm Sunday entrance, Jesus told His disciples, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day” (Mt. 20:18-19).
Jesus knew what was coming, and He still carried on. He did not dig in His heels like a stubborn donkey who figures he has done enough. Jesus was focused on His mission and intended to drink the cup of His Father’s wrath to the bottom. In this respect, I suppose we could call Jesus stubborn. He would not yield no matter how terrible the road ahead looked.
Not all stubbornness is bad. A person can be stubborn about good things just as much as bad things. Stubbornness about sin is always bad. There are many who want to live life their own way, on their terms, and they will not let anyone say otherwise. Not even a passage from Scripture will make them reconsider. If God does not accept them just the way they are, then maybe the problem is with Him.
We tend to be most stubborn when we perceive that we have been wronged by someone. Maybe they were only teasing or joking with us, but we decided to take great offense. Maybe they said or did something hurtful, intentional or not, but our cold-shoulder response is ten times harsher than the initial word or action. We can be so stubborn that we will hold a grudge not just for days, but even for months and years! At that point, what could the offender do to satisfy your stubborn sense of justice?
But there is also a proper stubbornness. It is right to be stubborn about the Bible’s teaching. No matter what the world says, the Bible is true as it is written. “[T]he word of our God will stand forever” (Is. 40:8). “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb. 13:8). The world can call you ignorant for believing in a six-day creation and a world-wide flood. It can make fun of you for thinking there is an almighty God and a life after this one. It can call you crazy for living according to the teachings of an old Book. But you have nothing to be ashamed of. You have God and His truth on your side.
And it is right to be stubborn about moral issues. It is right to insist that the body is a temple of the Holy Spirit bought by the price of Jesus’ blood, and that it is not ours to do with whatever we want (1Cor. 6:19-20). It is right to defend life and the family and the church and the authorities and everything else God commands in His Word. This is stubbornness which God blesses, stubbornness which pleases Him.
Sometimes we have been stubborn about good things, but we have just as often (if not more often) been stubborn about bad things. Jesus was stubborn about good things and good things only. He stubbornly refused the devil’s temptations, stubbornly loved the people who hated Him, and stubbornly went His way to suffering and death. Nothing could stop Him. His great love for the world compelled Him.
Jesus lived righteously in every instance that you sinned against God by being stubborn about bad things and not stubborn enough about good things. He did not harbor hatred and nurse old grudges. He did not compromise God’s plan for mankind established before the foundation of the world. He did not give one inch on God’s moral law. Rather He fulfilled the law in every part.
He then blotted out these sins as if you never committed them. He suffered and died for your sinful actions, words, and thoughts, for your donkey-like stubbornness to persist in doing what you knew you shouldn’t. This is the reason He rode through the gates of Jerusalem on that Palm Sunday. That coming Friday, He would be nailed to a cross from which He would say, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Lk. 23:34). He was crucified on behalf of the ungodly, the stubborn sinners, including you and me. He was crucified to redeem us from all our sins, from death, and from the power of the devil.
Many centuries ago, a crude picture of Jesus was scratched onto a wall in Rome, in which Jesus was depicted on the cross with the head of a donkey (“Alexamenos graffito”). It was drawn to mock Christians, that they worship a poor excuse for a God in Christ. Christians at that time were likewise referred to as donkeys and treated with contempt. It was a designation they could wear with honor. They stubbornly refused to capitulate to the pagan culture. They stubbornly confessed Jesus as Savior and God even when it led to their torture and violent death. They acknowledged themselves to be lowly creatures unworthy of anything good.
In this they were blessed, and so are you in the same confession. With Jesus, you are sometimes honored in this world, but more often attacked. You are despised and rejected by men and acquainted with grief (Is. 53:3). You take up your cross and follow Jesus to suffering and death. But your story does not end there. Jesus rose again from the dead, and so will you. Jesus is seated in glory in heaven as you will be. Whatever hardship or pain you feel in this life, however heavy the load you must carry, in heaven you will have rest from your labors (Rev. 14:13). Jesus warmly invites you to have this, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden,” He says, “and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Mt. 11:28-30).
The burden of faith in Jesus is heavy in this world, but it is light as a feather compared to the burden of sin. This, Jesus has removed from you, and He wants to remove it from everyone. He came to Jerusalem for this purpose, to save sinners. A Donkey Carried the Man Who Carried the World. He carried the world’s sin. He carried the world’s hope. He carried the plan that would bring life to a world shrouded in death. We therefore carry on in stubborn confidence and hope, knowing what He already carried for us.
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Baptism of Our Lord – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Matthew 3:13-17
In Christ Jesus, into whose death we are buried and in whose resurrection we rise to new life through holy baptism, dear fellow redeemed:
Nothing about Jesus’ appearance as a child made people think He was the promised Messiah. He was visited by the shepherds the night of His birth, but only because the angels told them where to look. He was praised by Simeon and Anna in the temple, but only because the Holy Spirit brought them to Him. He was worshipped by the wise men, but only because God compelled them to follow the star westward to His home. After spending His earliest years in Bethlehem and in Egypt, He and His family moved to Nazareth in the territory of Galilee, where like all of us, He passed through the stages of adolescence. No one guessed by looking at Him that He was the Messiah, true God and true Man.
While Jesus was living a very ordinary life in Nazareth, a man named John “came preaching in the wilderness of Judea” (Mt. 3:1). He was the only son of a Jewish priest named Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth. John was, in a word, strange. He dressed in a strange way, ate strange things, and preached a strange, or rather, unique message. He cried out, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (v. 2). And people actually listened. The evangelist Matthew writes that “Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins” (vv. 5-6). John told the crowds, “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (v. 11).
It was at this time that Jesus prepared Himself for a journey some distance to the southwest of Nazareth. I wonder what He told His mother about this trip. Did He say He was going to visit some relatives, of which John the Baptizer was one? Or did He say something like He did as a twelve-year-old, “I must be about My Father’s business” (Lk. 2:49)? Both of these things would have accurately stated the purpose of the trip. He traveled to the Jordan River where John was preaching and baptizing and asked John to baptize Him. But why? John baptized with water for repentance, and He knew enough about Jesus to wonder why Jesus should require this. “I need to be baptized by You,” he said, “and do You come to me?”
John knew there was something significant about Jesus, but as he declared later, he did not know until he began his wilderness work that Jesus was the Messiah. He explained that God sent him to baptize with water, so that the Messiah “might be revealed to Israel” (Jn. 1:31). God told him that “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit” (v. 33). John did consent to baptize Jesus. When this was done, the heavens opened, the Spirit of God descended upon Jesus in the form of a dove, and the voice of God the Father said, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
The time had finally come. Jesus’ baptism marked the beginning of His public work. He was now revealed as the Son of God. John wasted no time in pointing Him out as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn. 1:29). The long-repeated promise of the LORD had come to pass. The Savior was here! Jesus now entered into His three-fold office as Prophet, Priest, and King. As Prophet, He would declare God’s truth to any who would listen. As Priest, He would offer up Himself as the perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world. As King, He would assume the rule over all creation, over the Church, and over all the hosts of heaven—not only as God, but also as Man.
His official anointing into this three-fold office was seen in the descent of the Holy Spirit upon Him in the form of a dove. Isaiah had already prophesied long before that this would take place. He recorded the words of God the Son, who said: “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor” (Is. 61:1-2).
On His first trip back to Nazareth after His baptism, Jesus read these exact words in the synagogue. He told the people in His hometown, people who saw Him grow from a young boy into a man, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Lk. 4:21). In other words, Jesus told the townspeople that He was the promised Messiah. This offended them. They did not believe that Jesus could be anything other than what they thought Him to be – the son of Joseph and Mary (v. 22). They did not know that something new had begun at His baptism.
But something new had begun, and not just for Jesus. What was it that He told John? What reason did He give for being baptized? He said, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” We all know that Jesus had no sins to wash away in baptism. John perceived this also, which is why he hesitated to baptize Him. So then why did Jesus ask to be baptized? He was not baptized because of His sins, of which there were none; He was baptized because of your sins. He had to fulfill all righteousness for your sake and for all who are unrighteous by nature. You might think of it this way: when Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River, your sins were poured over Him. Taking that awful load on Himself, He now began the three-year walk to His death to make atonement for that sin.
He did this so that at your baptism, His righteousness would be poured over you. Paul described this great exchange between Jesus and sinners, “For our sake [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2Cor. 5:21). Jesus took on your sin, so that He could endure the wrath of God in your place. He did this willingly. None of us knows what burden Jesus carried as He set out to be baptized by John and begin His public work. None of us knows how much heavier the burden got the closer He came to His crucifixion. But He carried it gladly. He carried the burden of sin for you. He wanted to save you from death. He wanted you to have perfect life with God forever. So He carried on.
We wonder how it is that Jesus could love us in this way. What did He see in us that was worthy of His sacrifice? What had we done, or what would we do, that would convince Him that this was worthwhile? The answer is nothing at all. He considered us worthy not because of anything in us, but simply because He had compassion on us. Nothing we have done or might do, could ever measure up to what He did for us. Jesus saved us by grace alone. His motivation to save us came from His own heart.
This loving disposition toward us is the reason He is gracious and merciful to us today. It is the reason He calls us to the waters of baptism where our new life begins. Jesus says that all who are born, must be born again “of water and the Spirit” (Jn. 3:5). Prior to baptism, you are a child of God, but only in the sense of having physical life through Him. By baptism, you become a spiritual child of God and an heir of His heavenly kingdom. Paul told the Christians in Galatia, “[F]or in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Gal. 3:26-27). Here God clearly links baptism and faith together. When you were baptized as a baby, you were also brought to faith in Jesus. If you came to faith before baptism, baptism still confirmed your faith, and it increases your confidence in God’s promises.
Baptism is a great gift no matter when it is administered in a person’s life. Because of what it gives, we want people to be baptized as soon as possible, preferably a short time after birth. We want them to be joined to Christ and covered in His righteousness. We want them to be freed from the devil’s kingdom of darkness and transferred to God’s kingdom of light. We want them to receive what Jesus began at His baptism and what He brought to completion through His death and resurrection. Baptism is where it began for Jesus, and Baptism Is Where It Begins for you and me. As Paul said in another place, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2Cor. 5:17).
Jesus did not look that special to His Nazareth neighbors, even though He was the holy Son of God. His baptism seemed ordinary too, until God the Father opened the heavens to send down the Holy Spirit and declare His love for His Son. You likewise do not look so special to the people of this world. They do not recognize that the almighty God has claimed you as His own child, and that He did this at your baptism. Your baptism certainly looked ordinary. But when the water was applied while the words were spoken, God the Holy Spirit descended upon you, God the Son joined your body to His, and God the Father declared you to be His beloved, with whom He is well-pleased.
In baptism, heaven was opened to you, and it does not close as long as you continue to hear and believe the gracious promises of God. Now may He who began a good work in you bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ (Phil 1:6).
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The Twenty-Third Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
The Festival of the Reformation
Text: Philippians 3:17-21
In Christ Jesus, “the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God” (1Tim. 1:17), dear fellow redeemed:
Martin Luther never ran for political office. That was not really an option for him in 16th century Germany, which was governed by emperor, electors, and princes. Even if it had been, Luther was not concerned about political revolution. He was interested in the reformation of the church, a church which no longer clearly taught salvation by grace, for Christ’s sake, through faith. But in order for the church to go about its proper work, government also needed to recognize its God-given responsibilities and to know the limits to its authority.
Luther explained that God has established two kingdoms. One is the kingdom of God’s right hand—His heavenly kingdom—, which is the kingdom of His grace and promises. The other is the kingdom of God’s left hand—the temporal kingdom—, which operates by reason and law, by punishment and reward. “Both must be permitted to remain,” said Luther; “the one to produce righteousness, the other to bring about external peace and prevent evil deeds. Neither one is sufficient in the world without the other” (Luther’s Works, Vol. 45, p. 92).
You and I live in both of these kingdoms at the same time. We live in the world and are governed by the laws of our country, and we belong to Christ’s spiritual kingdom, which is governed by His Word. The kingdom of the world may seem more powerful at times, but it will ultimately come to an end. God’s spiritual kingdom may seem weaker, but it will endure eternally with Jesus as its victorious Head. This is why, according to God’s command, We Respect the Authorities, but We Worship Only One King.
In 1521, Martin Luther stood before Emperor Charles V, the ruler of a good portion of Europe at that time. He had been summoned before the emperor to answer for what he had been teaching and writing over the past four years. Luther thought he would have the opportunity to explain why he taught what he did on the basis of the Scriptures. But instead, he was ordered to recant (or take back) all of it. Luther refused. How could he deny the teaching of the Bible? He said, “My conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant, because it is neither safe nor wise to act against conscience.” Was Luther right to respond in this way, or did he fail to show proper respect to the emperor, whose authority was from God?
To answer this question, we should review what the Bible says about the governing authorities. In the thirteenth chapter of Romans, the Apostle Paul wrote, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God” (v. 1). The Apostle Peter wrote much the same thing in his first epistle, “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good” (2:13-14). This clearly says that the authority of government is established by God. Just as children must honor their fathers and mothers, so citizens should honor the governing authorities (Fourth Commandment).
But there must be some limit to this authority. And there is. Government officials do not have authority from God to disregard His Commandments and abuse their power. Their responsibilities as rulers are to protect citizens from harm, preserve order in society, and uphold and support what is good. God also gives government the authority to assess taxes. As Jesus said, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Mt. 22:21; also Rom. 13:7).
God has given government no authority over His Church. Government has no authority to tell you what you may and may not believe. It has no authority to legislate what a pastor preaches from the pulpit or what parishioners confess from the pews. It has no call from God to allow one religion or set of beliefs while outlawing another. As Luther stated before Emperor Charles V, a person’s conscience is free from any directive of government. Not surprisingly, the emperor was outraged. How dare Luther ignore his demand? He ordered that he should be arrested after which he would be tried as a heretic. But the ruling Elector of Luther’s homeland secretly whisked him away to a remote castle, so that his life was spared.
Emperor Charles thought he was acting properly and within his authority by condemning Luther. In the same way, the governing authorities in our day may also threaten us and our beliefs because they think they stand on the side of justice. They think that if any progress will be made, it must be done by the efforts of mankind. Others accuse Christians and their Gospel as being the source of the world’s problems. Their goal is to silence Christians and ultimately to eliminate them. Today’s sermon text predicted this. It says that there are many who “walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.” Such people are not fit to serve in positions of authority, and yet, God lets this happen. Why?
The Christians in the Roman Empire in the first centuries A. D. must have wondered this as no less than ten waves of persecution against them swept through the land. Luther might have asked this when he was condemned by the emperor. We see government officials in our day promoting what is wrong and attacking what is good. But we are in no position to tell God what He should be doing (Rom. 11:34). God may allow wicked rulers as a judgment against an immoral land. Or He may allow it so that a sharper distinction is made between the Church and the world. Or He may use the attacks of a corrupt government to bring wandering Christians back to Him and strengthen their faith. Whatever God’s reasons and plans may be, we know that He ultimately works these things out for the good of His children (Rom. 8:28).
We must admit that when we live in times of peace, and when we are happy with our government officials, we are tempted to let down our guard as Christians. Or else we put too much trust in the officials. We think that if this or that person is elected, everything will get better. But if they are not elected, everything will be lost. As citizens of this country in God’s left hand kingdom, we have every right to support and vote for whatever policy or politician we think is best, or even to run for political office ourselves. But we must not forget where our true hope lies and where our salvation is found, that is, in Jesus.
Jesus is easy to overlook. He came in such humility that hardly anyone believed He was the Messiah sent from God. They were looking for something more – a conqueror’s disposition, a dazzling display of power, a real threat to the Roman authorities. Instead He submitted to these authorities. Even as He rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, hailed as a king, He did not come to threaten any earthly rulers. The only thing that worried the Roman governor Pontius Pilate about Jesus, was the prospect of sending an innocent Man to death. Pilate said to Him, “Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” Jesus answered, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above” (Jn. 19:10-11).
If God did not will the death of His only Son, Pilate could have done nothing with Him. But it was God’s will that Jesus should die for the sins of the Jewish leaders who called for His death, for the sins of Pilate, and for the sins of you and me. Jesus hardly looked the part of a king when He was led to Calvary and nailed to the cross. But the sign was right; He was the “King of the Jews” (Jn. 19:19). In fact, He is the King of all. On the throne of the cross, wearing thorns for a crown, Jesus single-handedly destroyed the powers of sin, devil, and death that had ruled the world for so long. By His humble sacrifice, He won eternal life in His kingdom for you and for me and for all.
There is no ruler or government that can promise you this. The kingdom of the world can only promise riches and happiness in this life, and it rarely delivers them. Your King promises forgiveness and eternal salvation, and He freely delivers these gifts day in and day out. His grace does not depend on donations to His campaign, or to an impeccable history of loyalty to Him. He remains our merciful King no matter how much we have doubted Him or how often we have looked for help and salvation anywhere else.
Earthly kingdoms, governments, and rulers all topple, but the spiritual kingdom of Christ prevails over every enemy and continues to conquer not by force or by the sword, but only by the Gospel in God’s Word and Sacraments (Mt. 16:18). Luther wrote in his great reformation hymn that even if our enemies take away our “kindred, goods, and life, / We freely let them go, / They profit not the foe; / With us remains the kingdom” (ELH 251, v. 4).
With us remains the kingdom and its King. No matter what happens in our country in the future, we will pray for our elected officials (1Tim. 2:1-2) and obey them as far as God’s Word permits. But we will worship only one King, because “our citizenship is in heaven.” When Jesus our King returns in all His glory, the great and powerful rulers and government officials of this world will all fall to their knees and will have nothing more to say except “that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Phil. 2:11).
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