The Seventh Sunday after Trinity – Vicar Cody Anderson sermon
Text: St. Mark 8:1-9
In Christ Jesus, who never leaves us hungry but who fills us up abundantly, dear fellow redeemed:
Sometimes when I skip breakfast before going to church, I can often find myself saying that “I am starving” when it is time for lunch. We have other sayings that go along with hunger. One I remember hearing is always, “I’m so hungry I could eat a horse. Well, I’m pretty sure that I am not actually that hungry, and I know I definitely could not or would not want to eat a horse. And I also know that like the people in our text, I’ve never been to the point of where I thought I might collapse because of my hunger. That is where these people are. They have been with Jesus for three days and Jesus says that they are at the point that if they go to find food, they won’t make it.
Leading up to this point, the crowd following Jesus had become larger and larger. Jesus has been showing the power that he has over the diseases of the world. He has healed people who are sick. He brought a little girl back to life. The disciples witnessed him walk on water. This is a big deal. The people of Jesus day have only heard about God working miracles in the Old Testament when he used the prophets. Now here was Jesus, a man from Nazareth who was performing all of these signs and wonders. Only a couple of chapters before this account, Mark tells us that Jesus had already had a big crowd seated before him. There was over 5,000 people that Jesus fed with five loaves of bread and two fish. They picked up twelve little baskets full of leftovers, there was more than enough food. As Jesus shows his power to provide, and after he does a miracle of healing someone’s deaf ears, another crowd has gathered.
Now as Jesus is looking at this crowd with compassion about their needs, the disciples yet ask, “How can one feed these people with bread in this desolate place?” Jesus has shown them that before this they have nothing to worry about. The disciples have been watching Jesus perform miracle after miracle. We already listed what he has been doing. Jesus has been healing people’s physical ailments, and he performed this miracle already! What is 4,000 if he has already fed 5,000! So why did they respond, “How can one feed these people with bread in this desolate place?”
The disciples continue to doubt Jesus’ power, they were tested for a second time, knowing the outcome of what Jesus could do, and they failed. Can you imagine the patience that Jesus must have had with them? They saw a little girl brought back from the dead and over 5,000 people be fed by Jesus. Yet they failed. This place is too desolate Jesus, there is nothing here to feed the people. The disciples had forgotten what Jesus was capable of and this isn’t at all surprising as we also forget what Jesus is capable of.
We don’t fully understand how much compassion God has for us. He tells us not to worry about what will happen to us, by telling us that he will provide for our physical needs. God created the heavens and the earth. St. Matthew records, Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? (Matt 6:25-26) But we are often anxious and worrisome. We do not wait for God to feed us when we know that he can and he will but instead we look for more instant gratification. We start to think that we do not have enough stuff. We start to covet what our neighbor has. We might even overindulge even though we know that it could put us behind with our expenses.
When we take these matters into our own hands, we are doubting God’s care for us. We can hear what Jesus tells us, but as life gets hard, as budgets can get tight, we fail Jesus’ test too. Like the disciples, we doubt what God tells us in his Word, which puts us into despair. As we creep into despair, that doubt that we have, then turns into unbelief. How can something so simple turn into something so severe? That is what the devil wants. He wants us to doubt God. What are we fully doubting? Jesus only tells us the truth; He has never told a lie. As humans though the devil continues to use that same temptation. “Did God really say…” This can seem very small. Unfortunately, that is all it takes. One little doubt and we can start to think, “Well if God can’t do this, then what can He really do for me?”
The disciples did not understand the amount of compassion that Jesus had and neither do we. Jesus with great compassion, provided for the group of people with a great miracle. He fed them, saving their physical health, and providing for them. Jesus put the disciples doubt to rest. He puts our doubts to rest too. He provides our daily bread, all that we need for this life on earth. And He has also given Himself as the Bread of Life from heaven. As Jesus is able to feed our physical bodies, his great compassion stretched farther than that. He laid down His life for us. He paid for our sins, and then rose from the dead. Jesus has made sure that we will be provided for here on earth and forever in eternity.
Jesus wants to satisfy your spiritual hunger, which is deeper and more pressing than your physical hunger is. He continually feeds you through the Means of Grace. We receive this feeding every Sunday. As you come to church and listen to his Word, there he is with you. God’s Word gives you the strength to carry on when you think that you are on the verge of collapse. Your souls need to stay fed. When your souls get hungry, that is when your soul can fall into temptation which can lead to unbelief. As you continue to gather with your families with devotions and prayer, your souls continue to stay nourished. This isn’t just to make us feel good, this is for our survival. Our lives here on this earth are very short compared with living for eternity. He feeds us with his Word as it shows the life he lived in our place. Jesus shows us that we can’t make it on our own. All we can do is collapse on the way. Jesus is the one who has compassion and feeds us.
Jesus feeds us with his body and blood at the altar. Here, this holy food is taken and distributed to each of us hungry sinners. This is Christ coming to us. He comes to forgive us our sins, to assure us that those sins of coveting, those sins of doubt are not counted against us. Along with this medicine for our souls, Jesus is giving us a foretaste of the heavenly banquet that awaits us. He doesn’t tell us to receive it occasionally. Or to receive it when we feel like it. Jesus tells us to receive of it often. We need this holy nourishment. This is a gift that we receive not based on our merits, but from Christ, who had compassion, who did not want to see us starve for eternity.
The people ate until they were satisfied. Jesus didn’t feed them a little morsel. He fed them so that they were full. It wasn’t partial mercy. God feeds us in abundance. He makes sure that we will be satisfied here on this earth by providing us with everything that we need. This is what we confess in the meaning of the Apostles’ creed. He provides for us clothing, food, land, and all that we own. All that we need for our bodily life. When life gets difficult, it can be hard for us to find the positives of life that we have. When there is financial burden, a loss of a loved one, that doubt will try to creep back in.
Our text shows that God does not abandon us. He had so much compassion that he gave us the ultimate gift that we never deserved. He gave up his own Son so that we would be saved. When our journey on this world is over, God shows us that he has provided for our eternal lives as well. Our pains in this life, they are only in this life. They will soon cease to exist. Jesus tells us how he has prepared a place for us. His compassion is beyond our comprehension. He promises that someday, there will be no suffering, there will be no pain, and every tear will be wiped away from our eyes, because He has fed us.
The next time that we are hungry, more than likely soon as our service ends today, it is good to remember how Jesus feeds us with everything we need. Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ has had compassion on us. He had so much compassion that he gave his life for us. He will continue to provide for us even when we think that we don’t have enough. He gives us all that we need. We don’t deserve anything, yet he has given us everything. He will continue to bless us with the physical and spiritual things that we need in this life until he calls us home. Where we will eat at the heavenly banquet, forever and ever. Amen.
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.
+ + +
(picture of the Judean mountains in Israel)
St. Philip & St. James, Apostles – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. John 14:1-14
In Christ Jesus, whom we did not choose, but who chose us, and appointed us to go and bear fruit in His name (Joh. 15:16), dear fellow redeemed:
What do you want to be remembered for? Being a hard worker and achieving success in your job? Winning at the highest level of competition? Making a better life for yourself and your family? Being a pillar in the community? A good neighbor? A nice person? All of those are proper goals. But in all likelihood, most of what we do will not be remembered—at least not a few decades from now and certainly not 100 or 200 years from now.
The only reason we remember anything about the apostles Philip and James is because of their connection to Jesus. If He did not call them to follow Him, they would have been completely lost to history. As it is, we still know very little about them.
We know a little more about Philip. After Jesus was revealed as the Messiah at His Baptism and was tempted for forty days in the wilderness, He then went north to Galilee. He entered the town of Bethsaida where Andrew and Peter lived, and He found Philip. “Follow me,” He said (Joh. 1:43). Philip in turn found Nathanael, and from then on, both of them followed Jesus.
The other times that Philip is specifically mentioned in the Gospels, he seems most closely connected with Andrew. When Jesus put the question to Philip about feeding the crowd of 5,000, Philip replied that the need was too great (Joh. 6:7). Then Andrew chimed in that a boy had “five barley loaves and two fish” (v. 9). But what good could they do for such a large crowd? Another time, some Greeks approached Philip and said, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus” (Joh. 12:21). Instead of going right to Jesus, Philip told Andrew, and both of them went to Jesus. And then we heard the exchange between Jesus and Philip about seeing the Father.
James was there too at all those occasions, but we have no record of his words like we do for Philip. There were two Jameses among the apostles. This one is not the fisherman brother of John, who was part of Jesus’ inner circle. The Gospels identify this James as “James the son of Alphaeus.” Matthew’s father was also named Alphaeus (Mar. 2:14), so it is possible that James and Matthew were brothers.
James’ mother was one of the Marys who followed Jesus from Galilee, who stood at His cross, watched His burial, and was greeted by the angel at the empty tomb on Easter morning. So his mother witnessed the most important events in Jesus’ life, which James missed because he was afraid and had gone into hiding along with most of the other disciples. James is referred to as “the younger” or “the less” to distinguish him from the other apostle of the same name (Mar. 15:40).
The reason Philip and James are remembered together on May 1st is because their supposed remains were transported to Rome at the same time in the sixth century. So then they began to be commemorated in the church on the same day. That’s about all we know of these two apostles.
While we might want to know more about them, there is something good about knowing so little. It makes it easier for us to imagine ourselves in their place. We see how Philip failed the test that Jesus gave him at the feeding of the 5,000. We see how he failed to understand Jesus’ words in today’s text. In both cases, Philip was concerned about having “enough.” “Two hundred denarii would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little” (Joh. 6:7), he said. And in today’s Gospel, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Philip worried about having enough for physical needs and enough for spiritual needs.
We can certainly relate to that. We often worry about having enough money, enough strength, enough patience, enough support. “What are we going to do? How will we make it?” Jesus gave us a prayer for times like these, a very simple petition: “Give us this day our daily bread.” But how can we be certain that our Father in heaven hears us? And why should we have to pray for what He already knows we need? And if He already knows we need it, why hasn’t He given it?
So our concerns about physical things quickly turn into spiritual concerns. We always want more from God—more assurance of His love, more proof of His power, more evidence that He really is in charge and will provide for all our needs. If only God would give us a glimpse of His glory. If only we had more to go on than Jesus’ Word. “Lord, show us the Father,” we say, “and it is enough for us.”
We can relate to James too, James who didn’t say or do anything that needed to be recorded in the inspired pages of the Bible. Maybe he was quiet and introverted, hardly noticed. Maybe he felt ashamed that he didn’t have the courage of Thomas who was ready to die with Jesus (Joh. 11:16), or of Peter who drew his sword in the Garden of Gethsemane. Maybe he wondered what caused Jesus to choose a person like him in the first place.
But Jesus did not choose the disciples for what they could do for Him; He chose them for what He could do for them. When Jesus asked Philip about feeding the 5,000 in the wilderness, He did it to strengthen Philip’s faith. “He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do” (Joh. 6:6). And when Philip wanted more evidence of Jesus’ connection to the Father, Jesus taught the disciples that they already had everything they needed.
He said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also…. Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own authority, but the Father who dwells in Me does His works.” Everything Jesus said and did, He received from His Father. God the Father and God the Son worked perfectly together. One was not before or after the other; one was not greater or less than the other (Athanasian Creed).
This is the God who loves you. His love for you is seen most clearly in the cross. When Jesus told His disciples, “Let not your hearts be troubled,” He said it because of what He was about to accomplish. He was going to the cross to pay for their sins. He was going to pay for their sins of doubt and fear, and for their sins of wanting more when they already had everything in Him.
In the disciples, we see ourselves. We see our own weaknesses and fears. We see our own doubt and discontentment. We feel like we need more from God than what He has given us, even though we already have more than we can comprehend. It sounds foolish to hear Philip say, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus is God incarnate! The disciples had seen Him heal the sick, cast out demons, raise the dead! What more did they need to see?
But we are no better. We have the living Word of God breathed out by the Holy Spirit—a Word that has brought us out of death to life, that has given us tremendous comfort and hope and strength, that has given us clear purpose and confidence for living out our life in the world. We know everything that Jesus did for our salvation. We have the clear eyewitness accounts of those who saw what He did.
And yet we think the Word is not enough. We are quick to become impatient when God does not answer our prayers as fast as we want or the way we want. We don’t trust Him to give us our daily bread as He has promised, and we put more stock in our work, our efforts. God’s Word is life, but we would rather pursue the things of this world that will all be forgotten, that will all pass away.
That’s why we needed Jesus to go to the cross in obedience to His Father. We needed Him to take the scourging and mockery and death that we deserved. We couldn’t pay the price for our sins, but He could. He did. And then He rose again to assure us that we have a place in heaven. We have a place there not because we earned it, not because we have proved ourselves worthy. We have a place in heaven because God is merciful. Jesus made our sin His own and has given His righteousness to us.
He is “the way, and the truth, and the life.” He is the Way to the Father because of His death and resurrection. He is the Truth because He spoke by the authority of His Father and carried out all things that His Father gave Him to do. He is the Life because death could not hold Him; He was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father. “No one comes to the Father except through [Him],” which is to say that all who trust in Jesus are children of God the Father.
You are a child of God. He cares for you and provides for you like a shepherd tends his sheep. Your sinful weakness and stubbornness have not caused Him to reject you. As He patiently guided and instructed the twelve disciples, so He guides and instructs you. As He strengthened and comforted them through His Word, so He strengthens and comforts you. As He fed them with His holy Sacraments, so He feeds you.
Do You Have Enough in Jesus? Yes, and more than enough. He prepares a table before you in the presence of your enemies; He anoints your head with oil; your cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy will follow you all the days of your life, and you will dwell in the house of the LORD forever (Psa. 23:5-6).
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.
+ + +
(picture of Philip and James from painting by Duccio di Buoninsegna, 1311)
The Resurrection of Our Lord – Pr. Faugstad exordium & sermon
When Job lost nearly everything he had on earth, he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away” (Job 1:21). What Job said was true. “[W]e brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world” (1Ti. 6:7).
The same was true for Jesus. He was born into poverty with an animal’s manger for His bed. And He died with nothing—no home, no money, not even any clothes. He had no earthly possessions to His name.
It’s funny how so many through the ages have desperately tried to collect earthly things connected to Jesus—wood slivers from His cross, the old nails, the cloth He was wrapped in when He was buried. But even if you held in your hands the real cross, the real nails, the real burial shroud, none of them could save you. There is no power in these things.
There is power in Jesus. Power in a dead man? But He’s not dead anymore—He lives! And He did not come back from the dead empty-handed. He doesn’t have earthly riches to give to you—money, mansions, the kinds of things the world thinks this life is all about.
Jesus has better gifts for you. He has forgiveness for all your sins, which He earned by His suffering and death on the cross. He has life for you, which He won by His victory over death. He has hope for you, the sure hope of eternal life in heaven with all who trust in Him.
So when you die empty-handed, taking none of your earthly treasures with you, you will still have everything you need. You are baptized into Jesus. His blood cleanses you. By faith in Him, His righteousness counts as your righteousness, His victory as your victory.
Since “death no longer has dominion over [Christ]” (Rom. 6:9), it has no dominion over you. And so we rejoice today and every day that: Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
Please rise for the hymn, “He Is Arisen! Glorious Word!” (#348):
He is arisen! Glorious Word!
Now reconciled is God, my Lord;
The gates of heaven are open.
My Jesus died triumphantly,
And Satan’s arrows broken lie,
Destroyed hell’s direst weapon.
Life He giveth—
He was dead, but see, He liveth!
+ + +
Sermon text: St. Mark 16:1-8
In Christ Jesus, by whom death is no more, and life is ours forevermore, dear fellow redeemed:
After the women saw where Jesus was laid in the tomb on Good Friday, they made plans to return and give Him a more proper burial. They would dress the body with spices and oils and no doubt with their tears. But as they made their way to the tomb after the Sabbath day early on Sunday morning, they faced a significant problem. “Who will roll away the stone from the door of the tomb for us?” The stone was very large—so large that these women could not possibly move it. They could not get to their beloved Teacher and Lord. A great barrier stood in their way.
This is similar to the way we feel when someone we love dies. We still want to be close to them, but a great barrier stands in our way. The door of death has slammed shut, and we can’t open it. Always ready to cash in on our trouble, the world has some solutions to offer. “We can take the remains of your loved one and make a keepsake that you can always have with you.” “We can mix their ashes with ink and tattoo a memorial onto your arm. Wouldn’t that be a great way to stay connected?” But that doesn’t change the fact that the person we love is dead. “Well then we can try to connect with their spirit. Just pay this fee, and we’ll have you communicating in no time.” These are the ways of the world, but they are not the way of God and His Word.
The women were separated from Jesus, but it wasn’t the stone that stood in their way. It was their lack of faith. The same was true of the eleven disciples who were hiding behind closed doors on that sunny Sunday morning. None of them believed Jesus when He told them He would rise from the dead on the third day. The women expected to find a dead man in the tomb, if only they could get inside.
In reality, the tomb was already empty as they made their way to the cemetery, and that large stone wasn’t going to be a problem either. A mighty angel of the Lord came down from heaven in bright white clothing and rolled away the stone (Mat. 28:2-3). He did not roll it away to let Jesus out. Jesus was already gone. He had risen, and the thick stone walls of the tomb could not hold Him any more than death could. Now in His exalted state, Jesus could pass through those walls. “He is not here,” said the angel. “See the place where they laid Him.”
The evangelist Luke also records a question that the angel asked the women, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” (24:5). The women didn’t know what to say. Everything they had set out to do that morning, everything they thought they knew about the situation, had been turned on its head. The angel recognized how perplexed they were: “Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise” (vv. 6-7). Then the women “remembered his words” (v. 8). Their eyes were starting to open.
Nothing had happened to Jesus that He didn’t expect to happen. Nothing had taken Him by surprise. Everything had gone according to His plan. And it all hinged on “the third day.” Either He would rise from the dead, which would verify every word He said and every promise He made. Or He would not rise and be remembered as a liar or a lunatic. He rose.
But what did it all mean? That’s what the women were trying to figure out. They ran back to the disciples with trembling and amazement. Today’s Gospel reading even says, “they were afraid.” What were they afraid of? They were afraid because they realized they did not know what they thought they knew. They realized Jesus had a different plan than they did, and they hadn’t been listening to Him carefully enough. They were afraid because they had just come face to face with one of God’s angels. It was a lot to take in!
It’s helpful for us to see the women like this. They were with Jesus for the better part of three years, listening to His teaching, watching His miracles—and they still missed the most important thing. They hadn’t seen things clearly. Their faith was weak.
The death of our loved ones exposes the same weaknesses in us. We think the way to keep them closest is by our efforts, by what we do. We try to reach back in the past and hold onto every special moment, every unique experience, we had with them. We dedicate ourselves to “keeping their memory alive,” as though the deceased expect it of us and will somehow be angry if we fail. But carrying that sort of burden brings no comfort, and it doesn’t bring them back from the dead.
Only Jesus can bring them back from the dead, and that is exactly what He promises to do. He says, “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (Joh. 11:25-26). Jesus is “the resurrection and the life” (v. 25). He is the One who died a death that any coroner would sign off on. And then on the third day, He came alive again. That is where our comfort is to be found—in the One who overcame death and assures all who trust in Him of the same victory.
That victory is yours, dear friends in Christ. It became yours at the death that happened at the baptismal font. Your sinful nature was drowned through the water and Word of baptism, and your new life of faith began. “[You] were buried therefore with [Jesus] by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, [you] too might walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4). Or as the apostle Paul wrote in another place, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20).
Jesus Christ, the One who rose from the dead on Easter morning, now lives in you. This means that even though you are dying, you live. And even though you will die one day and be buried in a grave, you will rise again. What happened with Jesus is a preview of what will happen with you. His empty tomb is what your tomb will look like on the last day. The world says death is final. The Word says death is nothing more than a sleep, from which Jesus will wake up all the dead and raise all believers in Him to the blessedness of eternal life.
It is good to remember our brothers and sisters in Christ who have died, whom God gave for our love, our support, and our joy. And it is natural to grieve their loss. But we do not “grieve as others do who have no hope” (1Th. 4:13). We grieve without hope if we try to keep the dead alive among us by the things we do. We grieve with hope when we keep our eyes focused on Jesus who overcame death, not just for Himself but for all who trust in Him.
The way to stay close to our loved ones is to stay close to Jesus. He is present here, right now, to bring comfort and encouragement to our grief-stricken hearts. He is always present and eager to bless us through His holy Word and Sacraments. And He promises to come again in glory on the last day to wake up all the sleeping. He is the Conqueror of death, “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1Co. 15:20).
Because He rose from the dead, you also will rise. “Because [he lives], you also will live” (Joh. 14:19). “He has risen, as he said” (Mat. 28:6). He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
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.
+ + +
(woodcut from “The Empty Tomb” by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, 1794-1872)
Maundy Thursday – Vicar Anderson homily
Text: St. Luke 23:44-47
In Christ Jesus, who committed His spirit into His Father’s hands and brings all that He finished on the cross to you in His holy Supper, dear fellow redeemed:
The final words from Christ on the cross occur closely together, most likely only separated by a few seconds. He cried out with a loud voice, “it is finished” and then “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”
Most men who died by way of Roman crucifixion had no breath left in them, because the cause of death was usually suffocation. This was not the case for Jesus. He made sure to have plenty of breath for His final words. They were not said in weakness, but loudly and in triumph and victory. He wanted to cry out His final words as loud as He could so that all would know and never forget His almighty power over death.
Jesus had suffered eternal death in hell on the cross and still with life in Him declared it finished. He had fulfilled the great work of atonement for the sins of the entire world and now in His final words all the suffering and pain was approaching an end. The darkness that blotted out the sun for three hours was beginning to break and His Father’s countenance shone again on His beloved Son. Jesus commits His spirit into His Father’s hands and bows His head in death. It was a job well done indeed.
Death is hard for us to see; it’s even hard for us to talk or think about. This is especially true about our own death. It takes people quickly and far too young and sometimes it takes people slowly and painfully. Death is never a fair opponent. The world wants us to be afraid of death and hide us from it at all costs. But death for a Christian doesn’t need be scary and it doesn’t need to be thought of as only ugly and brutal. Jesus teaches us that death is only a sleep from which we will awake to be with Him in heavenly glory. (Luke 8:52) Death is only a portal into true life, life eternal with Jesus.
In the eyes of the unbelieving world Christ’s death is seen as defeat and as foolishness, but to the Christian it is powerful and the only way to salvation. (1 Corinthians 1:18) The sinless Son of God dies to save the sinful child of man. (ELH 292; 5) St. Paul writes, “Christ Jesus humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even death on the cross” (Phil. 2:8).
Jesus is our suffering servant who endured everything willingly. As Isaiah prophesied, “He was oppressed, and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not His mouth” (Isaiah 53:7). All the lashes and beatings He received were because of our sinfulness and not His own. He took the torture and ridicule we deserved without protest or hesitation.
All four evangelists refrain from using the language “He died” when describing Jesus’ death. Rather they all report that He breathed His last, gave up or yielded up His spirit. This language reflects the willingness He had when He bowed His head in death.
Christ had said earlier, “I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.” (John 10:17b-18) Although He truly died, Jesus didn’t lose His life; He gave up His life. Death’s power couldn’t take life from Jesus the Son of God. He entered into death and freely laid down His life (John 10:17–18) to rescue us from sin, suffering, pain and death. He met death and overcame it to save you and I from the jaws of death. What He has done is truly done. All is finished.
But how do we know that this soul saving and life giving work is ours? How do we know He finished it for us? Well, Jesus not only won life for us He also brings that life to us in His Word and Sacraments. All that He finished on the cross is brought to us by the power of the Holy Spirit. He has worked faith in our heart and continues to strengthen our faith by directly coming to us in Word and Sacrament. Jesus strengthens and prepares our soul for heaven by feeding Himself to us, by feeding us His living body.
You and I need to be fed by Jesus because we will never be able to live like Him. We cannot meet God’s holy Law. Even if we tried our absolute hardest we would still fall short of the mark. Only Christ is holy and blameless, only He can meet God’s requirements of perfection. He is righteous and innocent and He came to redeem us by living perfectly under God’s Law. (Galatians 4:4–5)
We need a way for Jesus perfect life and righteousness to come to us, to penetrate our heart and make us glad. He does this by bringing us the forgiveness He won on the cross. A strength that only He can provide and forgiveness only His body and blood can grant us. Jesus by the power of His Word sets a glorious banquet before us saying, “come, for all things are now ready” (Luke 14:17).
On Maundy Thursday evening, the night He was betrayed and the night before His crucifixion Jesus instituted this great banquet feast. St. Matthew writes, “Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat; this is my body.’ And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.’” (Matthew 26:26–28)
Jesus took and distributed the same body and blood to His disciples that will be distributed to you this evening. His Word is clear; “this is my body; this is my blood” and it is His Word by the power of the Holy Spirit that makes it so. In His wisdom Jesus gave all believers a way to be so close to Him that He truly dwells in us. As we sing in our beautiful hymn of thanksgiving, “my Savior dwells within me now, how blest am I how good art thou!” (ELH 325; 2)
In the Lord’s Supper He gives you His living flesh to eat, the same flesh torn by men’s hands, the scourging whip, and rusty nails that pounded His hands into the cross. He gives you His living blood to drink; the same blood that dripped down His face from the crown of thorns and poured out from His spear pierced side. He places on your tongue the body and blood that death could not hold, the same life giving, resurrected and ascended flesh and blood that reigns in all heavenly glory.
You receive Jesus’ righteousness, life and forgiveness, which strengthen and preserve your soul every day and even in death. When it is time for your soul to depart this world you can confidently rest in His Words from the cross knowing that Jesus finished everything. You can depart in peace to your Father where He will welcome you into His loving arms as He did your Savior. Amen.
+ + +
(painting of the Last Supper by Simon Ushakov, 1685)
The Fifth Sunday in Lent – Vicar Anderson sermon
Text: St. John 8:46-59
In Christ Jesus, who gave up His life on the cross to give you eternal life, dear fellow redeemed:
Maybe you can remember a time in your childhood when your Mother or Father left the house and put you or a sibling in charge? It’s a difficult job and comes with great responsibility and quite a few annoyances.
You now had to listen to your big sister or brother, or you were the one in charge, enforcing the rules and instructions of your parents. The sibling in charge received instructions from mom and dad and shared those instructions with the younger ones. These were in a sense the laws because they were given directly from parental authority.
But a problem exists; the younger sibling didn’t want to listen. Even when they knew it was the truth they still made up every excuse in the book to ignore it. “Leave me alone I’ll get to it later.” “You’re crazy there is no way mom and dad said that.” “Who do you think you are, you aren’t mom and dad and you can’t tell me what to do!” Not only is this dishonoring an older sibling it dishonors the parents because the instructions come straight from their authority.
The authority God sent for all of us, was likewise questioned. Jesus acted on behalf of His Father. He brought them the truth of God’s Word directly from His Father in heaven. But the Jews wouldn’t listen and made excuses for their defiance. They claimed Jesus couldn’t be who He said He was. They said, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” (John 8:48)
This is what often happens when we are confronted with the truth; if it doesn’t agree with us we only want to fight against it. If the truth doesn’t convict our heart and cut deep enough to where we are humbled, it will lead to a hardened heart that only denies the truth. Of course not all Jews rejected Jesus but the ones in our text surely were. With every Word of truth that came out of His mouth they only became more calloused towards it.
In a sense, Jesus is confronting His defiant and sinful younger siblings; who blatantly denied the truth until they exploded in anger and hatred. They wanted salvation without Jesus and wanted to know God apart from Christ. In doing so, they repressed the truth of His Word, which is this, that having or knowing God apart from Christ can only mean eternal destruction.
After speaking Law Jesus once again offers the sweet truth of the Gospel and said, “if anyone keeps my Word they will never see death.” But this only convinced them more that He had a demon. They said, “Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?” (John 8:53)
It was clear they wouldn’t hear Jesus; it was clear they had rejected Him and the Truth He spoke. Jesus gave them warning and encouragement and still they picked up stones with the intent to kill Him. They claimed that by being sons of Abraham in the flesh they knew who their Father was. Jesus said to them, “But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you” (John 8:55).
Jesus shows that a person does not automatically know God the Father; righteousness is not a right we are born into or something we can earn. This arrogant thinking causes us to look for God and His truth apart from who and what He has given us. We think, ‘The Word is great and all, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are neat, but we want to know that Jesus is proud of us and want to feel loved by Him.’ We search and look for it apart from His Word. Maybe we think we have found it when peers and our superiors praise us and tell us how well we are doing?
Or maybe it’s when we feel happy and our emotions have never been more positive. Or when we’ve been working really hard and now things are going well for us; then we know we are in His good favor.
We forget God isn’t like us. He doesn’t value us based upon how likeable we are or how generous and good we have been. This is what weak and fallen humans do. We turn ourselves into the judge and make others judge over us. We try to earn people’s favor and we only like those we consider likeable. We can’t love like God does; it’s not something humans can do by nature. If God valued us by how likeable we were or how good we have been we would be of no value to Him. But, we still think we can be good enough and God will recognize it, or at the very least make up for the sins we have done. This is a complete denial of the truth.
When we deny the truth and only want to pick and choose what truth is then we are bound in slavery to our sin. Then what was supposed to free us from our bondage only binds us further. It causes us to grasp at straws and make absurd and false claims to justify our sin. When we do this we dishonor the Word, we dishonor Christ and therefore dishonor His Father. We lose the knowledge of the Father the true and only judge (John 8:50) and when His gavel falls He will give the due penalty for sin, which is eternal death.
Like those who relied on their human ancestry with Abraham for a good standing with God, many today believe their own works earn redemption. But God’s Word, which is truth and life, tells us that only through faith in Christ is His righteousness granted to us. (Romans 4:3) It was granted to Abraham the same way (Gen 15:6) Jesus said, “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” (John 8:56) He saw this by trusting in someone else’s work, someone far greater than he was and we are. That someone is Jesus.
The same God who made Himself known to Abraham through His Word also made Himself known to us by the power of His Word. Jesus didn’t need God the Father to reveal Himself to Him like we do, instead Jesus revealed and made His Father known to the disciples and to all believers. We can only know God the Father through His Son.
Jesus said to Thomas, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” (John 14:6–7) Being fully God and fully man Jesus is the perfect human and the only one capable of keeping the entire letter of the Law. He is the perfect older and younger sibling. He perfectly declared the truth of God’s authority and He also perfectly listened and fulfilled everything God had set before Him.
He honored the Father and His Father glorified Him. (John 8:54) He is truly the offspring promised through Abraham; the One in whom the whole world would be blessed and redeemed. (Genesis 12:1–3) Only the work of Christ can redeem us, which culminated in the shedding of His blood on the cross. Jesus was judged by His Father in heaven and declared guilty for all our sins. Jesus lived the life we couldn’t and died the death we deserved. Your judgment rests on the shoulders of your Savior and them alone. Judgment fell on Him so now no judgment falls on you.
Christ our High Priest offered His body and blood as a sacrifice for your sin. He is the true sacrifice provided by God alone and what all Old Testament sacrifices pointed to. The sacrifice that redeemed all lost and condemned creatures, who purchased and won them from all sin from death and the power of the devil. (SC, Meaning to Second Article)
The Lamb of God spilt His holy blood on the cross to cleanse your soul from all guilt. He paid the wages of sin. St. Paul writes, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23) Jesus blotted out with His blood the judgment that stood against you. He made the payment that wiped away your debt and freely hands you eternal life.
In Christ through Baptism you stand cleansed in His blood; purchased and won by His life, sacrifice, honor, and glory. The salvation won by his sweat, blood and tears is freely distributed to you through His Word and Sacraments. The judge’s gavel has fallen, Jesus was declared guilty and you are declared innocent. Jesus willingly walked into the darkness of sin and death and you walk freely out of the chains of death into the righteous life won for you. You possess His life and His life is eternal. Death has no hold on you!
“Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my Word he will never see death.” (John 8:51) “This is the sweetest and most wonderful Gospel-news. Temporal death will have no terrors for you, being merely the gate and entrance to eternal life.”(Kretzmann p. 460)
Jesus saw real death; He saw eternal death (John 8:51) Instead of death you see Jesus and His Word; you know and trust in His works instead of your own. The Lord of all the living overcame death and hands you eternal life. Truly, truly, you will never see death; to die is gain for you. (John 8:51) (Philippians 1:21)
+ + +
(picture from the altarpiece in Weimar by Lucas Cranach the Younger, 1555)
The Fourth Sunday in Lent – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. John 6:1-15
In Christ Jesus, who spreads a table in the wilderness of this world and presents a rich feast to sustain and strengthen us, dear fellow redeemed:
It happens sometimes that we get so caught up in what we are doing that we lose track of time. We might be so focused that we even forget to eat or drink. It seems like this is what happened with Jesus and the crowds that followed Him. They followed Him right into a wilderness area near the Sea of Galilee. They were watching Him perform miracle after miracle as He healed the sick, and they were listening closely to what He said. But the shadows started to lengthen as the sun dropped lower in the sky.
Jesus didn’t seem to notice that so much time had passed. The evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke tell us that the twelve disciples approached Jesus and asked Him to send the crowd to the surrounding villages and countryside to find food and lodging. The disciples were concerned about the situation. “This is a desolate place, and the hour is now late,” they said (Mar. 6:35). I imagine the disciples were hungry and tired too—it had been a long day.
Their request of Jesus was reasonable. This was no good place for a crowd of thousands to spend the night, and there was no food here for them. It was just common sense that the time had come to send the crowds away. Jesus did not agree. “You give them something to eat,” He said (Mar. 6:37, Luk. 9:13). Did Jesus think this was a game? Philip looked at the size of the crowd and replied that even a half year’s wages wouldn’t be enough to feed them. Andrew said that all they had at hand were five loaves of barley bread and two fish, “but what are they for so many?”
Good common sense thinking: the need is too great; our resources are too small. I’ve been there, and so have you. We didn’t know how we could possibly pay the bills. We couldn’t see our situation ever improving. We only saw trouble ahead. We prayed to our heavenly Father, “Give us this day our daily bread,” but we acted as though the problem was entirely in our hands. We worried, and we lost sleep, and our stress level rose higher and higher. “I don’t know how to get out of this,” we said. “There’s nothing I can do to fix this.”
What we didn’t realize is how close that is to, “Lord, have mercy.” That’s an uncomfortable step for us. We like to be in control. Philip would have been glad to say that they had prepared for an occasion like this and had plenty of provisions with them for the crowd. But the sun kept dropping lower, and Jesus had dropped an impossible task in their laps. The disciples were getting upset. Jesus was being unreasonable. Couldn’t He see what they were seeing?
He saw it alright, but He was not worried in the least. John shares the secret that Jesus had done this for a test, “for He Himself knew what He would do.” Jesus always knows what He will do. He is God. Nothing surprises Him. He clearly sees all the difficult situations we face, and He knows the best response for each one. That should teach us to put our trust in Him, because we can’t see the way out. We can’t fix every problem. Like the disciples, we see the magnitude of the issue. We see our lack of resources. But we so often forget to see Him.
Jesus had a perfect lesson planned for them and for us. He took that tiny amount of food—five loaves and two fish—, gave thanks, and handed them to the disciples to distribute to the people. What He started with was about enough food for the twelve disciples to have a light meal. What He ended with was twelve full baskets of fragments left over after the crowd of thousands had eaten their fill. The disciples thought that Jesus wasn’t seeing the problem. Now He could say to them, “Do you see what I have done? Do you see how much is left over? Do you see why you had no reason to worry?”
Do you see, dear friends in Christ, why you have no reason to worry? I know that all of you face problems in your life, difficult things that you don’t know how to fix. Life in this world is not perfect. There will always be trouble. But all of you had food to eat this morning if you wanted it. All of you have clothes to wear. All of you have a place to live. You don’t have everything you want, but God has richly provided all that you have. And when you look back at the toughest times in your life, you can see how God provided for you even then, and how He carried you out of that trouble.
Your God, the true God, loves you. He has compassion on you. In His love, God the Father sent His Son to join the human race and make our troubles His trouble. He came not only to take these things from us, but to give to us in return. He came to give us His life of perfect love toward God and neighbor. He came to give us His holiness and joy and peace. He came to give us His cleansing blood to wash away all our sins. He came to be a perfect sacrifice, so that eternal life and heaven would be ours.
Jesus joined us here in the wilderness of this world where we had nothing good going. Our needs were too great; our resources were too small. We could not save ourselves. We were sick. We were hungry. We were thirsty. And here is Jesus with living water to quench our thirst. Here He is with bread of life from heaven to satisfy our hunger. Here He is with medicine of immortality to heal us.
“Everyone who drinks of [regular] water will be thirsty again,” said Jesus, “but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again” (Joh. 4:13-14). “Do not labor for the food that perishes,” He told the crowds, “but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you…. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever” (6:27, 51).
Jesus has life for you. He is life. His words are spirit and life (6:63). He sets a table, a rich feast, for you here in this wilderness. He speaks His saving Word to you. He gives His holy body and blood to you. “Come, everyone who thirsts,” He says, “come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price…. Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food” (Isa. 55:1,2). The spiritual gifts that Jesus gives to His disciples never go bad. They never spoil or make us sick. They never leave us feeling hungry or overfull. You can’t have too much of these blessings.
The gifts that God gives for our earthly needs are not like that. You can have too much of these earthly gifts. Expensive beverages are good but not when you drink too much. Delicious food is good but not if you consume too much of it. Money is good, but no matter how much you have, you think you could always use more. The problem is when we focus on the gift instead of the Giver. The same thing happened with the crowd that Jesus so mercifully fed. They came looking for Him the next day because they wanted more bread, more bread, more bread. The hunger of the flesh can never be satisfied.
Jesus wanted to give them something far better, something far more filling. He wanted to give His flesh and blood for their salvation. He wanted them to fill up on His Word. He offers the same rich gifts to you. The blessings of His Word and Sacraments never run dry no matter how often you hear His Word, no matter how often you partake of His Sacraments. “Abide in my word,” He says (Joh. 8:31). “If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear” (Mar. 4:23). “Take, eat… drink of this cup. This is My body…. This is My blood… given and shed for you for the remission of sins.”
In that Galilean wilderness, Jesus appeared to have nothing, but all things were in His hands. He had more than enough to help the needy and fill the hungry. Jesus has enough and more than enough for you. He sees your troubles. He knows how you worry. He is here to multiply the fragments. He is here to feed you and sustain you. He is here to provide all you need for your body and especially all you need for your soul.
In Jesus, you are rich. The world may see you as lowly and poor, possessing nothing that matters or will last. But you know the exact opposite is true. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2Co. 8:9). Because Jesus took your troubles on Himself and suffered and died for you, you are rich. You are rich in grace, rich in the love of God, rich with eternal life. Everything that Jesus has, He gives to you and keeps giving to you.
+ + +
(picture from “The Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes” by James Tissot, 1836-1902)
The Second Sunday in Advent – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Luke 21:25-36
In Christ Jesus, who is coming to put an end to all suffering and sorrow, who is coming with power and great glory, who is coming quickly, dear fellow redeemed:
Last week, we heard about Jesus’ humble entrance into Jerusalem at the beginning of Holy Week. He was welcomed as a king, but He didn’t exactly look the part. He was not wearing royal clothing, and He was not flanked by high-ranking officials or an impressive army. He came to Jerusalem as the sacrificial Lamb, the one who would die for the sins of the world.
But in today’s reading—which also took place during Holy Week—Jesus looks forward, beyond His death and resurrection, beyond His ascension, beyond the establishment of the New Testament Church. He described the end times, and what will happen prior to His return on the last day. He spoke about the signs which would show His people that His return was near.
We have just entered a season of signs, signs that tell us something important is going to happen. Lights have appeared on the homes in our neighborhood. Trees have been set up in living rooms. Decorations are getting hung. Cookies are being prepared. These are all signs that Christmas is coming. The closer it gets, the more our anticipation grows.
The signs of the end times are like this, though they are not pleasant like beautiful lights and delicious cookies are. A few verses before today’s reading, Jesus described some of these signs: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences. And there will be terrors and great signs from heaven” (21:10-11). These signs are major disruptions in the order of things, a huge upheaval. They will produce a general state of anxiety and distress as Jesus says: “And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world.”
The unbelieving world does not know what to make of these signs. These troubling signs reveal the limits of human power. We can work for peace, but there will still be war. We can try to predict when and where earthquakes and floods will happen, but we can’t stop them. We can plant special varieties of seed that do better under certain conditions, but we can’t make the sun shine or the clouds drop rain. We can promote healthy habits, but we can’t stop sickness.
For all of our supposed advances in social support, medical care, and technology, it doesn’t seem as though problems and crisis situations are happening less and less in the world. In many ways, it seems that they are happening with greater frequency. This causes great distress and perplexity. We wring our hands and wonder, “What can we do? How can we stop these things? How can we ensure everyone’s safety? How can we make the world a better place?”
And that’s the whole problem. The people of the world believe they have the power to address any issue that arises. They are not looking to the God who created all things and still preserves them. They are not trusting that He will provide, that He will have mercy, that He will save. And because of their unbelief, they will continue to be anxious and perplexed. They will continue to be afraid. They will continue to make desperate and damaging decisions.
But we who are the dear children of God, baptized into His holy name, should not get caught up in this fear and desperation. Jesus tells us exactly how we should interpret the signs of the times. We should see them as evidence that He is coming again. When we hear about warring among the nations, we should think, “Jesus is coming.” When there are reports about earthquakes, floods, and wildfires—“Jesus is coming.” When there are pestilences, plagues, and pandemics—“Jesus is coming.” Such rumblings that shake our world show us that He is about to come on the clouds in glory.
If you were waiting for someone to stop by your house on a cross-country trip, but you didn’t know exactly when he would arrive, you would appreciate regular reports about his progress. “I just got to this city, and this town; I spent a couple days here.” That is what the signs of the times impress upon us. The plan for Jesus’ return is in place. As surely as a budding branch tells you that summer is on the way, the signs in the heavens and on the earth tell you that Jesus is on the way.
But maybe you’re not convinced. Maybe you don’t think we can be so certain in our interpretation of these major events. We call them “natural disasters”—doesn’t that mean they happen on their own? Maybe they are just coincidences, chance occurrences in an unpredictable climate. Or maybe they can be explained by human factors, like the effect of pollution on the ozone layer.
Whatever people want to point to as the cause of these things, Jesus says they are signs from God. God wants us to learn from these signs. He wants them to make us more alert, more watchful. There is an immediacy about these things. Just because Jesus has not returned in glory yet does not mean He won’t come soon. “But watch yourselves,” says Jesus, “lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap.”
“Dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life” is the focus on worldly living, the pursuit of pleasures, spending our money, time, and effort on things that have no godly purpose, things that are self-serving. If we live like the unbelievers, the loss of our faith is not far away. Then like the rest of the world we will have only perplexity and fear when we see everything falling apart around us.
God did not make us for such futility and hopelessness. He made us so that we could know His love and love Him. He made us so that we could honor Him by serving our neighbor. He made us so that we could be with Him in heaven forever. To accomplish this, God the Father sent His only-begotten Son into this perplexed and fearful world. His coming was hardly noticed. Our Lord came in total humility in order to redeem us lost and condemned sinners. He came to offer Himself for all our sin, all our doubts, all our fear.
When He died, “the earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised” (Mat. 27:51-52). It was a sign that Jesus had gone to meet death—and death was shaking. There was nothing death could do to the Lord of life. Death could not prevail. Jesus rose from the dead in victory.
That victory is yours. No matter what happens to you in this world, no matter what disaster or crisis you must face, you are safe in Jesus. You are baptized into Him. In Him, your sins are forgiven. In Him, you have peace with God. In Him, eternal life and happiness are stored up for you in heaven.
He meets you even now, down here in this world of tribulation. He meets you in His Word and Sacraments. He comes to comfort you and keep your faith alive. He comes to keep you watchful and increase your expectation of the wonderful things to come. Your best life is not now, and it is not ahead of you on earth. Your best life is coming when Jesus comes again.
That time is rapidly approaching. You can expect the signs before His coming to increase and intensify. You can expect the world to become more and more perplexed. You can expect people to look for answers in all the wrong places. And most of all, you can expect Jesus to make good on His promise. The devil wants you to think that the troubles in the world are evidence that Jesus does not care or that He is unable to help. Jesus says these troubles are evidence that His Word is true.
If Jesus said that things would get better and better on earth before His return, we would have reason to doubt what He said. But He said that things would get worse and worse, which is exactly what we are seeing. These things are all evidence that His return is imminent. Jesus does not lie. He won the victory over sin, death, and devil, just as He promised. And He will come again with great glory on the last day, just as He promises.
He will come very differently than His coming into the world and His coming into Jerusalem. He will come in brilliant light, with all power and authority. All the monuments and machinery of the devil will topple over. The superpowers of the world will crumble in an instant. The rich and famous of the world will try to run and hide. You and I will “straighten up and raise [our] heads, because [our] redemption is drawing near.”
That will be a great, great day. The more anxious and fearful the world becomes about things it cannot control, the more we look for Jesus’ return. The Greater the Perplexity around us, the Greater the Expectancy of His coming. We wait for Him, not with our eyes toward the sky, but with our eyes on His Word. That’s how He prepares us for that day. That’s how He strengthens us, so that we are ready to stand before His throne in confidence. By His grace, we will leave the troubles of this world behind and enter with Him into glory.
+ + +
(picture from “Siege and Destruction of Jerusalem” by David Roberts, 1850)
The Third Sunday after Michaelmas (Trinity 21) – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. John 4:46-54
In Christ Jesus, who did many signs and wonders for the purpose of revealing who He was, so that all who believed in Him would have eternal life, dear fellow redeemed:
Years ago, I remember reading about an out-of-the-way place in Central or South America. A man was cooking something on a greasy grill. Then something on the grill caught his eye. There it was, an undeniable shape of that area’s patron saint right there in the grease! As scores of people paraded through to get a glimpse of the greasy figure, they said among themselves, “It must be a sign!” But what was that “sign” supposed to mean exactly?
Many people are on the lookout for signs to help guide them forward in life. Some look to the stars and a daily horoscope for direction. Some see signs in the clouds. Some will observe a bird or a deer outside their window and take it as a sign that the spirit of a loved one is present. Some find signs in the random experiences and conversations they have in an otherwise typical day.
Probably all of us have wondered before if God was trying to send us a message through a sign—or at least we hoped that He would. Maybe we even asked Him for a sign and were disappointed when nothing out of the ordinary happened. God certainly can and has communicated through signs, but His primary means of communication is not through unique signs. It is through His never-changing Word.
This is the central point of today’s text. We hear that Jesus “came again to Cana in Galilee.” This is where He had performed “the first of his signs,” changing water into wine at a wedding (Joh. 2:11). These “signs,” as the apostle John calls them, were more than miracles. They were special acts that revealed who Jesus really was—the Son of God incarnate, the long-promised Messiah. After the first sign in Cana, John reports that he and the other disciples of Jesus “believed in him” (v. 11).
Then Jesus went to Jerusalem and did more signs. As a result of these signs, “many believed in his name” (v. 23). But we find it was not a soul-saving faith (vv. 24-25). It was the signs that captured their attention. Who Jesus was did not interest them, as much as what Jesus could do. When Jesus returned to Galilee, He was welcomed by all the important people there. They rolled out the red carpet for Him because they wanted to see more signs (4:43-45).
It is no wonder that Jesus responded the way He did when a royal official asked Him to heal his son. Jesus said, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” This message was for all the people and not just for the official. It was a preaching of the law. It was meant to convict the sign-seekers for not seeing past the signs, for not recognizing the most important thing.
Jesus’ statement convicts us too. Who among us hasn’t suffered, experienced some difficulty, and we said to ourselves, “I thought God loved me, but apparently He doesn’t”? We were looking for a special sign of His love, for Him to provide instant relief and take away the pain. Or we were stuck in an intense struggle, full of inner turmoil, tempted to do what we knew we shouldn’t, but we were too weak to resist. Where was God’s strength and power when we needed it?
I suppose we want God to be something like a superhero. When we are at our most vulnerable, facing the greatest dangers and trials, we want God to swoop in and whisk us out of harm’s way. This is what the royal official wanted Jesus to do. He wanted Him to hurry over to Capernaum and heal his dying son. This man was looking for a sign. Jesus wanted to give him something more.
“Go,” said Jesus; “your son will live.” That was no sign like the people were hoping for. It was a Word, a simple statement. But there was power in it. The next thing we hear is that “The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way.” It doesn’t stand to reason! Why should the man believe what Jesus said? Jesus hadn’t bothered to go and visit the child. He hadn’t even sent along some special object that would heal the child when it touched him.
Why should the man believe what Jesus said? Because Jesus’ Word is powerful. Not only did Jesus’ Word bring instant healing to the sick boy, it also brought instant faith to the man’s heart. The apostle Paul explains how this happens. In his letter to the Romans, he wrote that “[the gospel] is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (1:16), and “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (10:17).
The Word of Christ is where help is found in trouble, where comfort is found in sorrow, where strength is found in weakness. When we are struggling and suffering, Jesus doesn’t tell us to look for signs in our lives that He loves us and cares for us. He tells us to look to His Word. His Word contains all the evidence of His love for us that we need.
His Word reveals the love of God the Father in sending His only Son to take on our flesh. His Word shows His own love in His perfectly pure life lived on our behalf and His suffering and death to pay for our sins. His Word changes us by the sanctifying work of God the Holy Spirit who brings and applies the good gifts of Jesus to us.
The Word of our Savior is all we need, but it doesn’t seem like all we need. We want more than His Word when someone is seriously ill. We want more than His Word when we are troubled and hurting and don’t know where to turn. We want more than His Word when someone we loved, someone we leaned on, is lowered in a casket into a vault. For our extraordinary problems and pains, we want more than the ordinary Word.
But God’s Word is hardly ordinary. His Word had the power to heal a dying boy who was nearly twenty miles away. His Word absolved a paralyzed man and then caused him to walk (Mat. 9:1-8). His Word brought a young man from Nain (Luk. 7:11-17), a little girl (Mat. 9:18-26), and Jesus’ friend Lazarus (Joh. 11:17-44) back from the dead. His Word will also raise you from the dead (1Th. 4:16).
The Word of Jesus is a powerful Word of life, and it is at work in you even now. As Jesus spoke life into the dying boy, so He speaks life into you. When you hear the Gospel message of His death and resurrection for you, that is Jesus saying to you, “I suffered in your place. I died for your sins and came alive again. Your sins are forgiven! Depart in peace. Because I live, you also will live (Joh. 14:19).”
His living Word does for you what nothing else in the world can do. His Word of absolution cleanses you from the sin and guilt that no amount of self-righteousness or self-punishment can fix. His Word heals the invisible wounds, the deep pains, that no psychiatric care or medicine can heal. His Word gives a hope and a confidence that no possession or power in the world can supply.
When Jesus joins His Word to water, it becomes a gracious water of life, a washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit (Ti. 3:5). When He joins His Word to bread and wine, it becomes a rich feast of forgiveness and salvation. You don’t need other signs than these of God’s love for you. In His Word and Sacraments, Jesus gives you more power to fight the devil than you can fathom, more treasures than the world can imagine, and more peace than any fleshly mind can comprehend.
His powerful, life-giving Word is the way that Jesus is at work in the world today. And yet we still think signs might be better. We want to see signs that He is turning government officials toward righteousness and justice. We want to see signs that He is influencing corporate leaders to promote what is good. We want to see signs that He is destroying the evil designs and wicked works of the devil.
If we are looking for signs of these things apart from the powerful activity of God’s Word, we are looking in the wrong place. It is through the Word that Jesus conquers and changes hearts. His Word is “the sword of the Spirit” (Eph. 6:17), a more powerful weapon than anything we can concoct. This Word is at work right now in our hearts, in our congregations, in our country, and in the world.
Through His Word, Jesus speaks righteousness into you and forgiveness and hope and life, and He does the same thing for countless others who are helpless and hurting. He calls us away from the devil’s temptations and the world’s deceit. He comes not to bring earthly glory and peace, but to bring eternal glory and peace. Through His Word, Jesus always gives what you need, even if it doesn’t come in the way you expect.
It was through Jesus’ Word that the royal official believed. It was through Jesus’ Word that the little boy was healed. You don’t need to look for signs of God’s power and love in the stars, in the clouds, or in things like grease stains. Your living Savior Jesus, who died on the cross for your sins and who rose from the dead on the third day in victory over your death, is found exactly where He promises He will be. He is found in His powerful Word of grace and in the Sacraments He instituted for your life and salvation.
+ + +
(picture from “The Healing of the Officer’s Son” by James Tissot, 1836-1902)
The Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity – Vicar Anderson sermon
Text: St. Luke 7:11-17
In Christ Jesus, who collided with death for you, whose victory over it is your own, giving you eternal life, dear fellow redeemed:
Physics tells us that a collision takes place when two or more structures or particles move toward each other and come near enough to interact and exert a mutual influence. One example of this is how billiard balls interact on a pool table. The opening sequence of a game is called the “break”, when the entire rack of balls is hit by the cue ball. If you have ever watched or played a game of pool you know that on a good “break”, the cue ball collides with the rest, ricocheting them all in different directions.
This morning we hear about a different kind of collision and its impact on everyone involved. However, instead of ricocheting into chaos, death or injury, this collision brought an end to all pain, suffering and death.
Jesus’ disciples and a great crowd were following Him towards a small town called Nain. Jesus had recently performed other miraculous things and this crowd following Jesus had heard and seen the powerful things He could do. They must have been filled with excitement and joy, even awe and wonder.
On their way into the town they encountered another crowd, one feeling anything but excitement and joy, processing out of the town. This crowd was walking towards the place outside the city where the graves are located. Bearers were carrying the body of a young man and were being followed by his mother a widow. Jesus could have gone around them and into the city, but instead He walked directly up to where the boy’s lifeless corpse lay and He spoke life into him. Fearlessly the Lord collides with death.
Death was not a part of God’s plan for us. Our God is not a God of the dead, but of the living (Mark 12:27). God intended for us to live forever with Him in perfect harmony. He created us perfectly and He intended us to stay that way (Gen. 1:27). Our bodies were never meant to fail us. But, man sinned and everything would change for mankind. This abrupt change caused an entirely different view of life. Instead of never having to worry about death now every person has to face it and this brought a tremendous amount of fear.
It is natural to avoid death, because it is contrary to man’s very being. Out of fear people attempt to prevent death or even things that resemble death. We cling tightly to this life, wanting to know when we will die, or how we will die. Questions like these became more prevalent when an unknown deadly virus began quickly sweeping across the globe and continues to threaten us today.
We are gripped in fear because death is a guarantee, and while our flesh fights against it, it cannot stop it. We think we would rather have death come when we expect it, but death is never convenient. We want to control when death comes, but just as we had no control over our birth we have no control over our death. We often forget that the one who gives life is also the one who takes it away (Deut. 32:39).
Death causes the sin of doubt and anger to bubble up inside each of us. We ask questions like; “does God know what He is doing, why would God let this happen?” We shake our fist at God saying, “if you loved me God you wouldn’t have done this to me. Maybe You don’t love me after all?” The devil delights in seeing us filled with doubt and anger towards God because it is at those times when we are most vulnerable to his attacks.
Thankfully, we do not face death and its consequences alone. Our Lord Jesus never once feared death. He says, “I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again.” (John 10:17b–18a). Jesus cannot die unless He allows Himself to, He does not fear death because He has power over it.
We see how Jesus approached the lifeless man without any fear or trepidation. He put His almighty hand upon the bier, which is similar looking to a stretcher. The body was laid upon it and carried by bearers and as Jesus touched it the bearers stopped. Then Jesus said “young man I say to you arise” and the man woke up as if he were only sleeping (Thess. 4:14). Jesus stopped that procession of death right in its tracks, bringing an end to the mourners’ sadness and despair.
Some of you here have lost a close friend, some a mother or a father, some have lost a spouse, and some have even lost your children. Jesus has compassion on you like He had compassion on that widow. Jesus was with you in that deepest moment of grief. He continues to be with you through those moments when you miss those loved ones. When that pain in your stomach and in your chest returns know that Jesus aches with you (Luke 7:13). He does this out of His abounding and steadfast love for you!
That is exactly what He felt for the widow who lost her only son. Jesus knew how much pain and suffering she had endured, first losing her husband, now her only son. He knew all the uncertainty and fear that accompanied her sadness. It made Him ache with compassion for her. So much in fact, His very guts or inward parts ached. He says to her, “Do not weep.” Not a chastisement, instead it was “look, see that I am about to provide for you a reason to stop weeping.”
Think about the times you have been told, “Everything is going to be okay,” “things will get better,” after something tragic has happened. Although that person meant well you found those words hollow and lacking because they had no power behind them to make things okay. This is not how Jesus works; instead He gives you what you do not deserve. He gives you the things you are afraid to ask Him for because you deem them impossible. Only Jesus can say, “do not weep” and provide you a reason not to.
When you lose a loved one from this life, or death seems to be approaching know that Christ has already given you a reason not to weep. He has already conquered death through His resurrection from the dead. Jesus’ compassion was not for the young man; it was for his grieving mother left all alone here on earth. Jesus knows all that you have been through. By Jesus bearing the cross for us and dying upon it He has taken away all your sins, including the sins of doubt and anger towards Him.
The theologian and hymn writer Paul Gerhardt boldly says, “Though a heavy cross I’m bearing and my heart feels the smart, shall I be despairing? God, my helper, who doth send it, well doth know all my woe and how best to end it” (ELH 377:2).
You have certainty that Jesus knows your sorrow and pain. Throughout His life and death He experienced every pain and suffering this broken world brings. He was rejected, mocked and laughed at, spit on and scourged. He put the weight of the world’s sin upon His shoulders and with each blow of the whip to His body felt the pain of your sin.
He went to the cross and paid the full penalty for your sin before giving up His spirit. He willingly died to conquer death for you; His death is the answer for your death. The Lord then descended to hell not in defeat but instead to proclaim His victory over sin death and the devil. He rose to show the world His holy life and sacrificial death was a sufficient payment to God the father.
Our living Lord and Savior is still with us, speaking His life into us through His powerful Word. He spoke life into the young man of Nain and spoke hope into his lonely mother.
The young man’s temporal life was restored; but because sin and death remain here he would eventually die again. But what has been created in you is eternal. All our loved ones who died in the faith live this very day in the presence of their Savior, and you will be in His presence one day as well.
St. Paul writes, “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4). This “newness of life” is happening now in each one of you and it continues on after death. You are a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17) and now have the assurance that because Christ lives you shall live also.
You died once to sin already at your baptism and have risen from death to life with Him through your baptism. Jesus performed a life-giving miracle in each one of you. Christ spoke His living Word into you and your spiritually dead heart was awakened to a new life of faith. The washing of regeneration and the renewal of the Holy Spirit created in you a clean heart (Titus 3:5-6; Psalm 51).
These Words of forgiveness continue to come to you daily when you repent of your sins and receive His holy absolution. He has given you the means to believe in Him, and the means to strengthen that faith by Word and Sacrament. His compassionate and merciful Word continues to bring you comfort, life and forgiveness.
You and I will all have to face death unless Jesus returns before then, but you do not need to fear it! You obtained Jesus’ righteousness by faith and you also obtained His victory over death by faith (Isaiah 25:8, 1 Cor. 15:51–55). For you an earthly death is but a portal to an eternal life! “Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die”” (John 11:25–26).
The Lord fearlessly collided with death and destroyed it for you. He stopped it in its tracks and spoke life into you. Just as Jesus awoke the young man so too will His all-powerful Word awake your body when He comes again. In Jesus’ second coming, the one who has fearlessly collided with death will speak His Word and your already glorified soul will re-unite with your mortal body and you will become glorified both body and soul.
Death will not defeat you because Jesus defeated death. Martin Luther wrote about this powerful victory in his great Easter hymn: “It was a strange and dreadful strife when life and death contended. The victory remained with life (with Jesus), the reign of death was ended; Holy Scripture plainly saith, that death is swallowed up by death, In vain it rages o’er us.” (ELH 343:4)
+ + +
(picture from “Resurrection of the Widow’s Son from Nain” by Lucas Cranch the Younger, c. 1569)
In Christ Jesus, who came to heal every wound and right every wrong, dear fellow redeemed:
About a week ago, I went to every door in our house one after the other, and I opened and closed them multiple times. No one thought it was strange. Why? Because I was fixing noisy hinges. Some of the doors groaned just about the entire span of their swing, but thankfully now they don’t make a sound. We need the newborn to sleep!
Old hinges are not the only source of groaning in the house, and I suspect the same is true or has been true for your home. There are groans when jobs are handed out and groans when mean parents say “no” to certain requests. Sometimes groans will also accompany the effort of getting out of a chair at the end of a long day.
There are still other reasons that we groan. St. Paul writes that “the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Rom. 8:22-23). The presence of sin in the world and in ourselves causes difficulties for us. One of those difficulties is physical trouble. We experience sickness, disease, injury, disability, pain.
In the Gospels, we find numerous references of Jesus healing people with such conditions. We meet one of them in today’s reading, “a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment.” Those two conditions naturally go together. If he could not hear, he would not know how to correctly form sounds and words.
But the man could groan, and I’m sure he did. He could see how much was closed to him in his world of silence. He must have wondered why it had to be him. He saw everyone around him enjoying the normal operations of their ears and tongue. He thought about how much good he could accomplish if only he could hear and speak. But there was nothing he or his friends could do about it. It was his cross to bear.
We can’t say why certain things happen to certain individuals. We have all known scoundrels who seem perfectly healthy, and we have also known kind and wonderful people who endure constant pain. This makes no sense to us. We want to have a logical explanation for why some people seem to suffer more than others. We think it would be right if bad people should experience more trouble.
Jesus’ disciples thought the same way. When they passed by a man who had been blind his entire life, they asked Jesus, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” And Jesus said, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him” (Joh. 9:2,3). Jesus’ answer shows us that God has higher purposes for the crosses we bear than we often perceive.
If you are one who is afflicted with something that brings you significant pain or trouble, there is comfort in Jesus’ words. Your pain is not a sign of His anger or His abandonment. He has not sent it to harm you or to push you away from Him. He has allowed it in His wisdom and according to His good plan. He intends to work through it for your good and for the good of others. And if He has a purpose for your suffering, that means He has a purpose for you.
The deaf man had purpose too. He was not a mistake. He was not a lesser person in God’s eyes. Whether or not he had been healed, God loved him. God the Father sent His only Son to suffer and die for this man’s salvation. That was the man’s greatest need, just as it is our greatest need. But God also knows our lesser needs, and many times He brings us relief and healing from the things that burden us.
In the account from today’s Gospel, Jesus in His mercy chose to bring physical healing to the man. First He took him aside from the crowd. This wasn’t for the sake of modesty or humility. He wanted to keep the people from being distracted by the miracles. He wanted them to understand the primary reason for His coming—not for miracles, but for their salvation. He was the Messiah. That’s the reason He had power to heal. He was God in the flesh, who had come to redeem the world of sinners.
Because He was God in the flesh, His touch had healing power. His flesh is life-giving flesh. He pressed those life-giving fingers into the man’s deadened ears. He put life-giving saliva on the man’s imprisoned tongue. He spoke a life-giving Word into that world of dead silence. But before Jesus spoke, He sighed. Or rather, He groaned. He groaned toward heaven. This groan was a prayer to His Father, expressing the trouble of this man and the troubles of all sinners.
Jesus willingly took that trouble on Himself. He felt every pain, every sorrow, every hurt. Healing went out from Him, while He stored up every affliction. Jesus was a Magnet that drew all our sin and all the effects of our sin to Himself. This is why He groaned toward heaven and why He would groan in agony in the Garden and on the cross.
His groaning was for you. He made your groans His own. Whatever has caused you pain or sorrow or weakness, whatever has made you cry out for mercy and brought you to your knees, He took that to Himself. He put in on His shoulders. His shoulders are stronger than yours or anyone else’s. His can carry the load. “Surely,” says the prophet Isaiah—“Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” (Isa. 53:4).
Jesus went to the cross, weighed down, carrying all those things for you. Your groaning and the groaning of all the fallen in the history of the world hung in His ears. And it pushed Him forward. He went to the cross to free you from everything that drags you down in this life. He went there to provide the answer for every groan. That answer is His grace.
Grace is what we find in Jesus. “Be opened,” He said to the deaf man, and “his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.” In his first condition, the man could neither hear nor speak. Now he heard plainly and spoke rightly. Before Jesus came to us with grace, our hearts were hardened and our ears were unhearing. “Be opened,” He said through His powerful Word. And our ears were opened, our tongues were released, and we could speak rightly. We could speak the truth—the truth about ourselves and the truth about God and His salvation.
We can speak rightly, but we don’t always do it. Sometimes we don’t think that God has things quite right in His Word. We think that leniency or compromise are called for, when He says, “Stand firm!” According to the Preacher in Ecclesiastes, there is “a time to keep silence, and a time to speak” (3:7). But we often get those things backwards.
That’s what the people in the crowd did. Jesus charged them not to tell anyone about the deaf man’s healing. But we’re told “the more He charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it.” We almost feel proud of the people. Even Jesus couldn’t stop them from telling the marvelous truth about the amazing thing He had done!
But Jesus didn’t tell them to stay quiet with a smile and a wink. The people were telling the truth about Him, but they were spreading a less important truth. They weren’t telling people about Jesus the Messiah, Jesus the Savior. They were telling people about Jesus the Miracle Man. This distracted from the primary work Jesus came to do. The crowds around Him may have often been very large, but we find that very few were looking for eternal salvation.
We want to look to Jesus for the right thing. We don’t hinge our faith on whether or not He fixes our earthly pains and troubles. We don’t conclude that if He allows us to suffer, He must not love us. We cling to Him—and even more tightly—while we suffer. We trust that He will be with us in our anguish because He says He will be.
He promises to reach out and meet us in our pain with the healing touch of His Word and Sacraments. He comes through these means to provide spiritual relief and strength and to help us stay focused on Him. We may not feel His fingers in our ears or on our tongue as the deaf man did. But we partake of the same life-giving flesh when we eat Jesus’ holy body and drink His precious blood in the Supper.
When Jesus comes to heal, He also brings with Him the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit comforts us and increases our faith in the midst of our suffering. And He expresses to the heavenly Father those things we can’t find the words for. St. Paul says that “the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Rom. 8:26). Not only did Jesus groan for us—so does the Holy Spirit.
It is clear we have a God who loves us. He knows our troubles, and He urges us to set those troubles before Him. He does not promise to grant us everything we ask for just the way we want it. He does not promise us a life without trouble on earth. But He does promise us His grace. When His grace fills our ears through the hearing of His Word, His healing medicine flows through our body and soul. Then our tongues find their release, and we speak rightly, clearly, loudly of our gracious Savior and Lord, who has “done all things well.”
+ + +
(picture from “Jesus in Prison” by James Tissot, 1836-1902)