Midweek Lent – Pr. Faugstad homily
St. Matthew 27:24-26
In Christ Jesus, who saved us from God’s wrath by shedding His blood in our place (Rom. 5:9), dear fellow redeemed:
Blood is absolutely essential to our survival. If we lose our blood, we lose our life. But as important as it is to us, we would rather not see it. We want it to stay inside us, not bleed through to the outside. When we do see blood, it always causes some shock. We react differently when we realize our nose is not running, it is bleeding! And we cry out in alarm when we accidently slice our hand while preparing a meal or working on a project.
We do not purposely make ourselves bleed. But it does happen that one person will inflict wounds on another. The Roman governor Pontius Pilate knew that Jesus’ lifeblood was about to pour out of Him. Pilate knew that Jesus was going to be killed. Even though he tried to wash his hands of Jesus’ blood, it was his order that sent Jesus to the cross. This is why in the Apostles’ Creed we still recall the part he played. We say that Jesus “suffered under Pontius Pilate.”
The sentence being given, Jesus was now treated as a criminal. The Romans had no love for the Jews, so this seemed an excellent opportunity for the Roman soldiers to make an example of one of them. And who better than the one called “The King of the Jews”? They tied Jesus to a pillar and proceeded to whip His back repeatedly. The soldiers used a whip made of leather strips with pieces of bone or metal attached to the ends. The whip cut into Jesus’ back and tore open the flesh. Just one slash would have left life-long scars, and Jesus was whipped over and over again. The pain was excruciating and the blood loss severe.
It makes us shudder to picture it. We can maybe imagine a notorious criminal deserving something like this. But not Jesus. All Jesus had done was help and heal and bless, and now He was being tortured. What an injustice! And yet this was all according to God’s plan. More than 700 years before this, the prophet Isaiah recorded the words of this Suffering Servant: “I gave my back to those who strike” (50:6).
Jesus was not being scourged against His will. He willingly gave His back to those who struck Him. But why would He do that? He did that because He wants you to see the picture painted by the whip. He wants you to read the message in those lines. In those cuts and gouges, He wants your eye to see that glistening red blood pool in the wounds, push outward, and run down from His body.
This is holy blood, cleansing blood; it is the blood of the eternal God! And Jesus let it pour out, in order to atone for all your sins. You see, there was something worse than a whip cutting into Jesus’ back. What cut even deeper and inflicted worse pain on Jesus was your sins.
He was whipped for all the times you took out your anger on someone and wanted to physically harm them. He was whipped for the times you lashed out and used harsh words to cut deep. He was whipped for your hateful thoughts when you breathed out curses for others instead of prayers and blessings. The punishment you deserved for your sins, He took for you.
This horrible punishment and suffering was God’s will for His Son. It was the only way to make payment for our sins. So when we see Jesus suffering, we see at the same time God’s wrath for our sins and we see His love for us. God poured out His wrath against sin on His only Son, and He did it so that we would be saved. In Jesus’ scourging, we see God’s punishment and His grace.
This is made vividly clear in Isaiah 53. It says that our Savior was “stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted” (v. 4). Isaiah does not name the Roman soldiers as the strikers, the smiters, and the afflicters. He says that it was God who did this. Jesus knew it had to be this way. Just a few hours earlier He had prayed, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done” (Luk. 22:42). The cup of suffering could not be removed. It had to happen like this. It was Jesus or us; His back or ours.
Like a parent who might wrap up a child and turn his back toward harm as a shield, Jesus embraced all humanity—the whole sinful world—and exposed His back to the Father’s holy wrath. He shielded us from the perfect anger and just punishment of God. Jesus didn’t deserve it, but He did it out of love for you.
So in those wounds on His back, you should see your sins. They are all reflected in those cuts and gouges and bruises. All of them were put on Jesus—not one missing, not even the ones you still carry with you as a burden of guilt. And Jesus’ precious blood poured out of those countless wounds to wash all your sins away. Because He shed His blood for you, you do not need to fear the wrath of God. You have no sins to suffer for since those sins have already been paid for.
When Pilate declared that he was innocent of Jesus’ blood, the mob stirred up by the Jewish leaders replied, “His blood be on us and on our children!” They were saying that they would accept responsibility for Jesus’ death. They meant to destroy Jesus, but He came to save them. Jesus turns that phrase around for our blessing. He poured out His blood to cover our sins and the sins of our children. His cleansing blood was applied to us at our Baptism, and it is poured into us when we drink from the cup of His Holy Supper.
Jesus let His blood pour out in suffering, and He still pours it out for our spiritual health. His holy blood is our lifeblood that we cannot do without. Jesus “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). Thanks be to God. Amen.
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(picture from “Flagellation of Christ” by Peter Paul Rubens, 1577-1640)
Ash Wednesday – Pr. Faugstad homily
Text: St. Matthew 6:16-21
In Christ Jesus, who “fills the hungry with good things” (Luk. 1:53), dear fellow redeemed:
Some people give up dessert during Lent. Some give up TV. Some give up social media. Roman Catholics are required to give up meat every Friday of Lent. Are you giving up anything? While this can be a useful practice, the Bible does not require it. Some suggest that we should rather add things during Lent—more Bible study, more prayer, and so on. I think these things go together—whenever we give up one thing, we have space to add another. So if you give up time in front of the TV or smartphone, you are adding time that can be spent in other ways, such as Bible reading or prayer.
It’s important for us to take an inventory of how we spend our time. Typically we say we don’t have enough time to accomplish what we want to. But that isn’t a problem of time as much as it is a problem of scheduling or a problem of priority. We can always “make time” for the things that matter most to us. And if we don’t “make time” for what we say matters most, then it’s fair to ask if it really matters as much as we say.
For example, we all agree that prayer is important. We know that the God of heaven commands us to pray and that He promises to hear us. But how many of us regularly take the time to pray? Prayer takes time—it doesn’t have to take a lot of time—but it takes some time or at least some effort. And there is always so much to do, and our minds are occupied by so much, that prayer gets forgotten and neglected.
In today’s text, Jesus calls us away from worldly distractions and toward spiritual discipline. Our text is a portion of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. In the section just before our text, Jesus talks about giving to the needy: “when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Mat. 6:3-4). Then He talks about prayer: “when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (v. 6). And then we have His encouragement to fast, to go without food for a time: “when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
There is a clear pattern here. First of all, Jesus does not command the people to give to the needy, pray, and fast. He just expects that they will: “when you give,” “when you pray,” “when you fast.” Second He says that as much as possible, we should hide our giving, our praying, and our fasting. These things are not meant for the eyes of others. They are meant for the eyes of our Heavenly Father, who rewards us according to His grace. That’s His third point: “your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
Perhaps the most surprising discipline on the list is fasting. You might have heard about how fasting can provide health benefits for adults without certain underlying conditions. I came across an “intermittent fasting” plan recently which suggests eating in an eight hour window each day and then fasting for sixteen hours to give the body time to burn fat.
But Jesus is speaking here about the spiritual benefits of fasting. This wasn’t a foreign concept to the people of the Bible. The Israelites often fasted in Old Testament times, and always on the Day of Atonement. In New Testament times, Luke tells us about the widow Anna, who “did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day” (Luk. 2:37). John the Baptizer and his disciples fasted in preparation for the Messiah’s coming (Mar. 2:18).
Jesus fasted for forty days and forty nights in the wilderness as He began His public work. The Christians in Antioch fasted when Barnabas and Saul were sent off as missionaries (Act. 13:2-3). And when pastors were appointed in Asia as a result of these mission efforts, we are told that “with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed” (Act. 14:23).
So why don’t we all have the habit of fasting today? In part, it’s because we don’t want to demand something that God has not. He did not give a law of fasting in the Ten Commandments. But it may also be that we don’t fast because we never have; it is a foreign concept to us.
It hasn’t always been a foreign concept among Lutherans. Think of the words of our Catechism which are printed on the front of the bulletin: “Fasting and bodily preparation are indeed a fine outward training; but he is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words, ‘Given and shed for you for the remission of sins’” (Proper Reception of the Sacrament).
We are right to say that fasting is not required, but that does not mean it is to be rejected. Luther wrote that “Fasting and bodily preparation are indeed a fine outward training.” What makes fasting “a fine outward training”? Fasting prepares us to receive. It uncovers our hunger. It reveals our weaknesses. It exposes the idols of our heart. The purpose of fasting is not to offer it to God as a good work, which is often the way “giving something up for Lent” is understood. Fasting is rather a preparation to receive the good gifts of God.
Jesus promises that “your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” God does not reward us because we are so deserving. He always rewards us according to His grace. The humbling of our body through fasting along with the humbling of our spirit in repentance is seen by our merciful Father. He knows who we are. He knows our needs and our struggles and our sorrows. And He knows exactly how to address them.
He sends His Son Jesus to come to our aid. Jesus lived a holy life for us, including perfectly caring for the needy, perfectly praying, and perfectly fasting. And He was forsaken and rejected by the Father and swallowed up by death, so that we would be delivered from God’s eternal wrath and punishment. Jesus brings us these gifts of His righteousness, forgiveness, and life when He comes to us in His Word and Sacraments.
Through these means, Jesus addresses the sin, the weakness, and the hunger that fasting exposes. He does not come to punish us or lecture us. He comes to heal us and comfort us and strengthen us. When Jesus comes, we receive exactly what we need. He never leaves us empty-handed. He fills us with the gifts of His grace, and He gives us a taste of the heavenly treasures that we will enjoy in fullness for all eternity.
We fast now in joyful anticipation of the feast to come.
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 in Prison” by James Tissot, 1836-1902)
Midweek Lent – Pr. Faugstad homily
Text: St. John 1:29-34
In Christ Jesus, who came to offer Himself in your place, so you would be right with God, dear fellow redeemed:
We know the passage so well, that it doesn’t seem strange to us: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” But I wonder what we would have thought if we heard John the Baptizer say this in person. We might have wondered, “Why did John just call that man a lamb?” There are so many titles for Jesus that would seem to identify Him more clearly: “Behold, the Messiah/the Promised Prophet/the Son of David and of God/the Savior!” But John said, “Behold, the Lamb!”
Of course the context of the Jews at that time was different than ours. Lambs were a much bigger part of their culture than it is for us. At that time, lambs were sacrificed daily in the temple. Their blood was shed as an offering for sin. John wanted the people gathered there to make this connection. He wanted them to know that the Sacrifice for the world’s sins was finally here. The Old Testament promises had met their fulfillment.
We have reviewed some of these prophesies and pictures of Jesus over the last few weeks. We heard about the shepherd Abel who faithfully offered sacrifices to God before this innocent man was killed by his brother. We heard about Abraham who was prepared to sacrifice his only son at God’s command before the LORD stopped him and provided another lamb. We heard about the Passover when a spotless lamb was killed and its blood painted on the doorposts to save the Israelites from slavery and death. We heard about the offering of lambs at morning and at evening in the tabernacle on behalf of the people. And last week we heard the stunning prophecy of Isaiah describing the suffering and death of Him who bore our sins and was slaughtered for us.
These examples and many others pointed forward to the coming of the Christ and His work to save sinners. John looked to Jesus and said, “There He is! That is the Lamb! He is the One who takes away the world’s sin!” This “taking” or “carrying” away brings to mind God’s instructions for Israel on the annual Day of Atonement. The high priest was to select two goats. One was used for a sin offering. The other was brought to the priest who laid both his hands on its head and confessed all the transgressions of the people over it. Then the goat was sent into the wilderness to a remote area never to be retrieved (Lev. 16:20-22).
John was pointing to Jesus as the “scapegoat” for sin, as the one who would have the sins of the world placed on Him and would suffer for them all by Himself. It was at His Baptism that Jesus was officially anointed for this work. John testified that when Jesus was baptized, he saw “the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove” and rest on Him.
The prophet Isaiah had spoken about this many years before. He said that “the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD” (Isa. 11:2). Jesus was anointed by the Spirit to carry out His Father’s will. Isaiah described the peaceful scene that would result from His righteous and faithful work: “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them” (v. 6).
But Jesus’ coming seemed to produce anything but peace. Though He healed and helped people and proclaimed the Gospel to them, many rejected Him and opposed Him. Eventually the Jewish religious leaders got what they wanted and were able to arrest Him. They convicted Him in a sham trial, struck Him, spit on Him, and turned Him over to the Roman authorities. They did this because they wanted Him dead, and they wanted Him to die painfully.
What they did not realize is that it was God’s will for His Son to die. Isaiah had written about this: “Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief” (53:10). At the same time that the religious leaders worked to destroy Jesus out of bitter hatred and envy, He was working to save them out of His boundless mercy and love. When He went to the cross, He carried even the sins of those who sent Him to His death. His hands and feet freshly nailed to the cross, He prayed for them: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luk. 23:34).
This is what He came to accomplish. He came to forgive, to make peace between God and man. He said Himself that “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (Joh. 3:17). That is why John called Him “the Lamb”—God’s Lamb. The Son of God incarnate was the Father’s answer for sin. He was the only Sacrifice that could satisfy the justice of a holy God.
The death of this Lamb means your wrongs are fully atoned for. His blood cleanses you, purifies you. It sets you free from your bondage to sin and death. But you and I have done terrible things! How can we be certain that even those things are forgiven? Well what did John say? “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”
Jesus did not come to take away only the sin of the most faithful and the best-behaved. He came to take away all sin, “the sin of the world.” So if you are in the world, then Jesus has taken away your sin. Like the scapegoat on the Day of Atonement, each of your sins was placed on Jesus, and He took them far away never to bring them back against you.
Because your sins were placed on Him, they are not on you anymore. The Psalm states it beautifully: “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us” (103:11-12). This is what Jesus accomplished for you. Behold, the Lamb! He forgives all your sin. Amen.
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(picture is portion of 1895 painting by José Ferraz de Almeida Júnior)
Midweek Lent – Pr. Faugstad homily
Text: Isaiah 53:4-7
In Christ Jesus, the spotless, the lowly, the innocent, dear fellow redeemed:
Why did Jesus have to suffer? And what was that suffering like? We wouldn’t expect to find the answer to these questions in one of the Old Testament books. But that is what we have in Isaiah chapter 53. Isaiah’s prophecy was written more than 700 years before the events they describe. He clearly gives the reasons for and the details of Jesus’ suffering. He does this by means of a picture.
He speaks about a flock of sheep which gave its shepherd all sorts of fits! Maybe one sheep stayed away when the shepherd called. Another disregarded the pleading of its mother or father. Another put its life in danger through recklessness or wandering. Another cared only about satisfying its sexual urges. Another loved to eat the neighbor’s produce. Another was always blaming others for his wrongs. Every lamb in the flock went its own way, thought about its own plans, followed its own selfish instinct.
All except for one. One lamb stayed right by the shepherd’s side. He was perfectly attuned to the shepherd’s will and word. And the shepherd loved this lamb. The other sheep did not care about the shepherd unless they were in trouble. Then they would bleat and cry out and wonder what was taking him so long. In those times, they wished for a better shepherd, one who would give them everything they wanted exactly when they wanted it.
But that one loyal lamb did not join them when they did those things. They despised him for this. “He thinks he’s so special,” they thought. “Shepherd’s little pet!” “Why doesn’t he lighten up? Have some fun?” And truth be told, they wished that harm would come to him. If only he could be gotten away from the shepherd….
Then one day, they decided to do whatever mischief they could at the neighbor’s farm. They destroyed his crops, polluted his well, chewed on some wires and burned down his barn. Everything was ruined by those wicked sheep. What payment could the shepherd give? What could make up for all the good things that were destroyed? What should be done with those sheep?
The shepherd looked to the lamb at his side and said, “You are my most precious possession. I can offer no richer payment than you, and nothing less will suffice. I must give your life for theirs.” But that wouldn’t be right! Why should the good lamb suffer for the straying sheep? Those sheep are the ones who should pay! Except what would they give? They had no good to give. It had to be the lamb.
The hymnwriter Paul Gerhardt took up this theme in a hymn we have been singing this Lent. The first verse takes us right to the moment that the good lamb is sent for punishment.
A Lamb goes uncomplaining forth,
The guilt of all men bearing;
And laden with the sins of earth,
None else the burden sharing!
Goes patient on, grows weak and faint,
To slaughter led without complaint,
That spotless life to offer;
Bears shame and stripes, and wounds and death,
Anguish and mockery, and saith,
“Willing all this I suffer.”
But why would He be willing to suffer for “the sins of earth”? What would cause Him to do this? The hymn continues:
This Lamb is Christ, the soul’s great Friend,
The Lamb of God, our Savior;
Him God the Father chose to send
To gain for us His favor.
“Go forth, My Son,” the Father saith,
“And free men from the fear of death,
From guilt and condemnation.
The wrath and stripes are hard to bear,
But by Thy Passion men shall share
The fruit of Thy salvation.”
“Yea, Father, yea, most willingly
I’ll bear what Thou commandest;
My will conforms to Thy decree,
I do what Thou demandest.”
O wondrous Love, what hast Thou done!
The Father offers up His Son;
The Son, content, descendeth!
O Love, how strong Thou art to save!
Thou layest Him within the grave
Whose might the boulders rendeth.
(Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary #331, vv. 1-3)
This is what Jesus did for you. He gave Himself over to suffering and death, so you would not be punished for the wayward and wicked things you have done. He offered Himself in your place, as your Substitute. He went to the cross bearing your griefs and carrying your sorrows. He went there to be wounded for your transgressions, to be crushed for your iniquities. He was chastised so you would have peace, flogged so you would be healed.
Every instance of your disobedience toward God, every time that you went your own way instead of His—all those iniquities were placed on the Lamb of God. God the Father laid your sins on His only Son, His beloved Son, with whom He was well pleased (Mat. 3:17, 17:5). And Jesus took it all willingly. He obeyed the will of His Father. He freely let Himself be sent to slaughter bearing the sins of the world. He did not defend Himself. He did not try to run away.
The apostle Peter describes His unthinkable sacrifice: “He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1Pe. 2:22-23). What caused Jesus to do all this? What did He expect to accomplish? Peter continues: “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (vv. 24-25).
Jesus gave Himself for you, so you would be reunited and reconciled with God. He let Himself be slaughtered and roasted in the fires of hell, so you would not be. The LORD is not angry with you for the sins that you and all the rest of us wicked sheep have done. He forgives you and me all our sins, every single one.
So what shall we do? Run back to the sins that have done so much damage to ourselves and others? No. We pray for God’s grace to serve Him more and better until the end of our days:
Lord, all my life I’ll cling to Thee,
Thy love fore’er beholding,
Thee ever, as Thou ever me,
With loving arms enfolding.
Yea, Thou shalt be my precious Light
To guide me safe through death’s dark night,
My heart in sorrow cheering;
Henceforth myself and all I have
To Thee, my Savior, e’er I’ll give,
Into Thy cause all pouring. (v. 5) Amen.
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(picture from “Flagellation of Christ” by Peter Paul Rubens, 1577-1640)
Midweek Lent – Pr. Faugstad homily
Text: Exodus 12:1-13
In Christ Jesus, whose holy blood delivers us from our slavery to sin and saves us from eternal death, dear fellow redeemed:
Last Wednesday we heard about God’s command to Abraham to sacrifice his son of promise, Isaac. But just before Abraham did this, God provided a ram for an offering instead. All of this was a picture of what God would do through His only Son. His Son would be offered as the sacrificial Lamb in each sinner’s place. Today we have another picture of God’s plan of salvation.
The Israelites, descendants of Abraham and Isaac, had become slaves in Egypt. God sent Moses to lead them to freedom, but Pharaoh refused to listen to the LORD’s word. Nine terrible plagues followed, but Pharaoh’s heart was hardened. He would not let the Israelites go. Then God sent a tenth and final plague: all the firstborn sons of man and beast would be killed unless a home had blood on its doorposts.
Up to this time, the Egyptians had experienced water turning to blood, infestations of frogs, gnats, and flies, the death of the livestock, painful boils, destructive hail, locusts that ate whatever crops remained, and total darkness over the land for three days. And now they saw the Israelites painting their doorposts with blood. That was not a good sign for the Egyptians.
The blood on the doorposts was not just a matter of the Israelites declaring whose side they were on, like we will do by hanging the flag of a favorite team on our porch. The blood was a signal for the LORD to destroy or to save. It was the difference between death or life for the firstborn sons in that home.
Red paint or dye was not acceptable. Blood was required, the blood of a lamb. The lamb had to be “without blemish, a male a year old.” When the Israelites prepared these lambs, one per household, they were to prepare them like a shepherd might, roasted whole over a fire. They were told not to break any of its bones. The flesh of the lamb was to be eaten, and anything left over had to be burned.
The Israelites did what God commanded. They prepared the lamb exactly in this way. They painted their doorposts with its blood. And the LORD “passed over” their homes. He did not destroy any of their inhabitants. The Israelites were saved by the blood of the lamb. But death came to the Egyptians. “[T]here was a great cry in Egypt, for there was not a house where someone was not dead” (Exo. 12:30). Now Pharaoh gave the order to release the Israelites. In the same night they had been delivered both from death and from slavery!
God told the Israelites to commemorate their Passover deliverance every year with a Passover meal. They were not required to paint blood on the doorposts each time, but they did eat the meat of a blemish-free lamb roasted over the fire. This was an annual reminder of what God had done for them through a lamb, one of the gentlest and meekest animals in creation. And it was an annual picture of what God would do for them through His own Son, who came down to us in all meekness and humility.
Like each Passover lamb, Jesus was without blemish. He had no sin; He was holy. At no time did He give in to the devil’s temptations. He remained perfectly pure in His actions, words, and thoughts. We, on the other hand, are all with blemish. We have been arrogant and proud like Pharaoh and impatient and doubtful like the Israelites. We, along with all people in history, have sinned. And God is just. There must be punishment for sin. But He does not punish us as we deserve. He punished Jesus in our place.
Our salvation required that Jesus be sacrificed for us. The shedding of His blood was necessary to save us from slavery to sin and death. The apostle Peter explained that “you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (1Pe. 1:18-19). No amount of money could free you from your spiritual slavery and no amount of good things that you try to do. The ransom price for your soul and the souls of all sinners was the blood of God’s only Son. That was not just any blood; it was holy blood, the blood of God. That’s why it could blot out all your sins.
This blood of God is available to you still for the continuous washing away of your sins. Just as the Israelites continued to observe the Passover in remembrance of what God had done for them, so we continue to eat the holy Lamb’s body and drink His blood in the Supper He instituted for us. “Take, eat,” He says; “this is My body, which is given for you…. Drink of it all of you; this cup is the New Testament in My blood. This do… in remembrance of Me.”
When you eat His body and drink His blood with faith in His words, you have exactly what Jesus promises: “the remission of sins.” That means God does not count your sins against you anymore. He counted them against Christ, who paid the ransom price in full. Martin Luther wrote about this in a hymn verse that we will sing at Easter:
Here the true Paschal Lamb we see,
Whom God so freely gave us;
He died on the accursed tree—
So strong His love—to save us.
See, His blood doth mark our door;
Faith points to it, death passes o’er,
And Satan cannot harm us. (ELH 343, v. 5)
Satan cannot harm you any more than Pharaoh could harm the Israelites. He cannot keep you enslaved to sin and death, because Jesus has set you free. Jesus’ blood cleanses you of all your blemishes of sin before God, so that you might “be His own, live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness” (Explanation to the Second Article). Thanks be to God! Amen.
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(picture from “The art Bible, comprising the Old and New Testaments: with numerous illustrations,” 1896)
Midweek Lent – Pr. Faugstad homily
Text: Genesis 22:1-14
In Christ Jesus, the fulfillment of the LORD’s covenant with Abraham, dear fellow redeemed:
When Abraham was seventy-five years old, the LORD promised him, “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great” (Gen. 12:2). But Abraham and his wife Sarah had no children. More time passed, and the LORD said again, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them…. So shall your offspring be” (15:5). Still more time passed. Now Abraham was ninety-nine years old, and his wife Sarah was eighty-nine. Who ever heard of a couple this old conceiving a child? But the LORD kept His promise. They did conceive a child, and a healthy baby boy named Isaac was born.
Imagine how they doted on their son! Not only did they have to wait twenty-five years for God to keep His promise, not only was Isaac born to them in their old age, but he was also the beginning of a great nation. The LORD had promised Abraham, “I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you” (17:6-7).
But after some time when Isaac had grown and was perhaps in his teens, God told Abraham to take his son “to the land of Moriah and offer him there as a burnt offering.” Along with this command, the LORD’s description of his son almost seemed cruel, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love… and offer him.” These were shocking and troubling words. We can only imagine what was going through Abraham’s mind: “Sacrifice my son, the son of the promise? But You said nations and kings would come from me! You said Your covenant between You and me and my offspring was an everlasting covenant! Take my life, O Lord, but not my son!”
But Abraham obeyed. He set off with Isaac and two servants, and they came in sight of Moriah on the third day. He told the servants to wait there while he and his son went to worship. Then he said they would come back again. Did Abraham lie to his servants? It seems like it. How could he and Isaac return if Isaac was to be killed? But in fact Abraham did not lie. The author of the book of Hebrews fills us in on what Abraham believed: “He considered that God was able even to raise [Isaac] from the dead” (11:19). Abraham fully intended to kill his son, and he fully expected the LORD to raise him back to life. How else could God keep His earlier promises?
So Abraham and Isaac continued on to the place of sacrifice. Abraham had Isaac carry the wood, while he took the fire and the knife. Isaac noticed that something was missing: “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering? And Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” And God did provide the lamb. Just when Abraham was ready to kill his son, “the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven” and stopped him. “[N]ow I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” Abraham showed that he loved the LORD more than his only son. The LORD’s promise was primary; nothing was more important than the Word of the living God.
The LORD provided a lamb that day, a ram whose horns were caught in a nearby thicket. Abraham offered this ram as a sacrifice to God, and he and Isaac returned to the servants and went home. But this episode was far more than a trip to a lonely place, a test of faith, and an offering to God. This episode was all about the Messiah.
The LORD’s description of Abraham’s son was not cruelty, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love.” It was a description that God the Father could apply to His own Son. The Messiah is the only-begotten Son of the Father, begotten of His Father from eternity. And He was a perfect Son, without fault, without sin. This did not change with His incarnation. When He was baptized and when He was transfigured on the mountain, the Father said about Him, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Mat. 3:17, 17:5). The Father loved His Son.
But He also loved the world, a world that had rebelled against Him and deserved nothing from Him but eternal punishment. And this is how He showed His love: He sent His only-begotten Son to save sinners. His perfect Son would be sacrificed in their place. His perfect Son would absorb His holy wrath for sin, so they would be freed from condemnation and death.
So God’s Son set out for Moriah. That hill where Abraham built an altar was the very place where Jerusalem would later be established and God’s holy temple would stand. Like Isaac, Jesus came to this place as the sacrificial lamb. Like Isaac, He carried the wood on which He would be sacrificed. Like Isaac, He trusted His Father even as sharp instruments were readied to harm Him.
But nobody stepped in when thorns and nails pierced the flesh of Jesus. Nobody stepped in when His Father in heaven punished Him in the place of all sinners. Nobody stepped in when the eternal fires of hell tormented Him. Isaac did not have to die. But Jesus did.
Jesus had to die for you. That was the only way to redeem you, a lost and condemned creature. It was the only way to purchase and win you from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil. A holy sacrifice was required for your salvation, and God provided it. Abraham was right, “God will provide the lamb.” The Lamb that God provided was His only Son.
Abraham never forgot the ram God gave him to sacrifice instead of his son Isaac. And God did not forget His promise. He did make a great nation from Abraham. From his offspring all the nations of the earth were blessed (Gen. 22:18). That includes you. From the line of Abraham and Isaac came the world’s Savior, the one who took your sins to Himself and blotted them out by the shedding of His blood. Thanks be to God! Amen.
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(painting by Orazio Riminaldi, 1625)
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)