St. Titus, Bishop & Confessor – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: Titus 2:11-15
In Christ Jesus, whose abundant grace covers all our sin, dear fellow redeemed:
Back in the 1930s, a prominent Lutheran pastor in Germany coined the term “cheap grace.” He didn’t apply the term to God, as though God were giving something second rate to sinners. He applied it to Christians, to those who use grace as a cover up for sin, who care very little about repenting of their sin and amending their lives. They are like spoiled children who expect their overindulgent parents to bail them out no matter what trouble they get into. Grace to them has become so common, so expected, that they hardly value it anymore. It has become cheap.
The Christians in Corinth were guilty of looking at grace in this way. The Corinthian congregation was marked by all sorts of divisions. Some minimized grace and taught that the Old Testament civil and ceremonial laws needed to be kept for salvation. Others used grace as a license to sin and boasted about having Christian freedom even in areas that went against the Commandments of God. The Apostle Paul rebuked them for abusing God’s grace in these ways. We have this rebuke in his First Letter to the Corinthians.
We also have a Second Letter to the Corinthians, a follow up to some of the issues Paul had raised. In this letter, he mentioned a visit of his co-worker Titus to the congregation. Titus, who we remember today, was a Gentile man who accompanied Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem before they set out on their missionary journeys (Gal. 2:1). He was a trusted associate of Paul’s, so Paul sent him to guide and teach the Corinthian congregation.
When he arrived, Titus learned how strongly Paul’s Letter had affected the people. The congregation received Titus “with fear and trembling” (2Co. 7:15). They were not so much afraid of Paul’s messenger as they were of Paul’s message. They did not want to be found outside of God’s grace.
This same concern should be in the mind and heart of every Christian. We should want nothing more than to remain in God’s grace. But how can we be sure we will? We have been taught since our youth that grace has nothing to do with us. It is God’s undeserved love for us. Since it comes from God, there is nothing I can do to make sure I stay in it, is there?
It is certainly true that grace is a gift from God to us. We can’t earn it, and we don’t deserve it. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Grace means we owe nothing to God for our salvation. It is not a loan that we have to pay back by our good works or any other sacrifice. Grace is freely given. It reflects the love of the Giver and not the worthiness of the receiver (Rom. 5:8).
Grace does not cost us anything, but it did cost Jesus. The Apostle Peter describes the price of our ransom. It was “not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ” (1Pe. 1:18-19). Jesus paid for our salvation by the shedding of His holy blood. He suffered the torments of hell and death on a cross to save us. That was the cost of His grace. Grace is G-R-A-C-E: God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.
Such a deep love, such faithfulness toward sinners demands some response, doesn’t it? Think about if your reckless or negligent behavior caused millions of dollars of damage, and someone stepped up to pay the price. How would you react? Or how about if someone took care of your significant credit card debt or the debt on your property? You would be totally humbled. You would feel indebted to that generous individual for the rest of your life. I imagine you would want to live a life worthy of the gift.
If you would feel that way about the cancellation of a temporary debt of money, how much more to have an eternal debt cancelled? That is what Jesus has done for you. He cancelled your debt of sin and death and opened heaven to you. People used to give great sums of money to get their loved ones transferred from purgatory to heaven (and some still do). But that is not necessary. Jesus paid the price to get us right into heaven—no purgatory required!
God’s grace does not cost us anything, but it should have an affect on us. In his Letter to Titus, Paul wrote that God’s grace trains us “to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age.” It makes sense. Since Jesus saved us by His grace, shouldn’t we want to please Him? Shouldn’t we want to live the way God commands us to? To do otherwise is to abuse the grace we have been given. It is to treat it as something common, something cheap.
We want to show others how much we value God’s gift of grace by reflecting His love in the way we talk and how we conduct ourselves. We want them to know that God’s grace makes a difference in our lives, that it changed our hearts and minds. We are still sinners, but by God’s grace we are sinners at peace with Him because of Jesus’ suffering and death. We are mortal, but by God’s grace we have the sure hope of eternal life in heaven because of Jesus’ resurrection.
Those who do not know God’s grace live very different lives. They struggle along as though everything depends on them. They carry the burden of guilt for many wrongs done and many good deeds left undone. They pin all their hope for progress in the world on elected officials and other powerful people, and they are routinely disappointed. They tremble at the prospect of death and grieve without hope at the loss of loved ones.
God’s grace makes all the difference. His grace allows us to look forward with eagerness and not backward with regret. It changes everything about our past and about our future. If we have failed and let down the people we care about, if we have caused hurt intentionally or unintentionally, we can move ahead by God’s grace knowing He looks with favor upon us and forgives our sins. By God’s grace, we can start out fresh again today and try to do better.
In his Letter to Titus, Paul speaks about how God’s grace works in the lives of His people, and how it leads them to show love to those around them. Paul writes that:
- Older men give evidence of this grace by being “sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness” (2:1).
- Older women are “reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They “teach what is good,” especially encouraging the younger women (v. 3).
- Younger women “love their husbands and children,” and are “self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands” (vv. 4-5).
- Younger men are also “self-controlled” and faithfully carry out their responsibilities (v. 6).
These loving attitudes and actions toward each other are given by grace, not because they are deserved or earned. We do not show love for one another as a reward, but as a reflection of the undeserved love God has for us.
By His grace, Jesus redeemed us—bought us back—from our lawless and selfish behavior. He shed His blood so He might cleanse us from all our sins and purify us for His work. We’re not just spinning our wheels anymore like unbelievers who have no purpose beyond satisfying their own desires. God has called us to carry out His will toward our neighbors, to love and serve them in His name, so they might be drawn to Him and receive His grace.
These are the things Paul charged Titus to do and teach as a pastor and bishop. He left Titus on the island of Crete, so Titus could help establish congregations and appoint pastors to serve them. Though his work occasionally took him to other places (2Ti. 4:10), he is thought to have died in Crete at an old age (c. A. D. 96). He no doubt had many administrative tasks to carry out, but his primary work was to administer the means of grace.
The same is true for pastors still today. Our calling from God through the congregations we serve is to administer the means of grace. It is to deliver and apply God’s grace in Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and the preaching of the Word. But before we apply the Gospel, we must apply the law. We must remind people of their need for God’s grace because of their sin.
But once they are convicted by the law and repent of their sin, we declare God’s grace. We announce the forgiveness of sin and new life through Jesus. And so I declare it to you today: God has not cast you away because of your sin. He does not hold you to your eternal debt. He forgives you all your sin because Jesus paid the price in full. He met the cost of your salvation and eternal life.
He gave Himself up for you because He loves you. He wants you to know that His steadfast love never ceases, and that His mercies are new every morning (Lam. 3:22-23). He wants you to know that your life matters and that you are needed by those around you. He wants you to have the “blessed hope” in this life, the knowledge that He will come again in His glory to take you out of this world of trouble.
All of this is by grace. It is an uncommon grace. It was costly, not cheap, and it is yours in rich supply. By God’s grace you are different than you used to be. God has changed you from a servant of sin, Satan, and death to His child and an heir of life. He has given you confidence and hope not in what you do for others or for Him, but in what He has done for you. Salvation is by His grace alone, and that changes everything.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
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(picture of location in Crete)
The Third Sunday in Advent – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: 1 Corinthians 4:1-5
In Christ Jesus, who still comes to bless us through His holy Word and Sacraments, dear fellow redeemed:
God’s Mysteries Revealed Here! If an ad with those words popped up on your computer, would you click it? God’s Mysteries Revealed Here! If those words were on a sign outside a building, would you go in?
We would all like to know more about God and how He works. We want to know why He decided to create the universe and why He made it possible for angels and men to rebel against Him. We want to know why He lets certain things happen in the world and what His plans are for the future. We want to know how much longer we will live and when Jesus will come again in glory.
All of these things are known to God but are mysteries to us. But there are other mysteries of God that He has revealed to us, things that remain hidden to others. This is not a unique concept among the world’s religions. Many of them have elements of mystery that are revealed only to their dedicated disciples. For example, the eastern religions teach that meditation and other acts of devotion are needed to unlock the secrets of the divine. The Masonic Lodge reveals its secrets only to those who make a vow and commitment to the organization. Other religions like Scientology will reveal as many secrets as you have money to pay for them.
But the mysteries of Christianity are not like any of these. We freely share God’s mysteries with others, and we invite anyone and everyone to explore them and learn more about them. The mysteries God has revealed to us and that St. Paul refers to in today’s text are the mysteries of the Gospel. They are the mysteries of the Son of God becoming a man in order to save the human race. They are the mysteries of Christ’s death and resurrection and His continued presence with us in the means of grace.
This Gospel message is proclaimed around the world. But as clearly as it is spoken about, for many it remains hidden and shrouded in mystery. Earlier in his First Epistle to the Corinthians, Paul wrote that for unbelievers, “the word of the cross is folly” (1:18). It is a “stumbling block” to the Jews who “demand signs,” looking for miracles as confirmation of God’s presence. And it is foolishness to the Gentiles who “seek wisdom,” requiring that every teaching agrees with human reason (vv. 22-23).
Paul was not interested in meeting the demands for proof that the unbelievers required. “[W]e preach Christ crucified,” he said; “Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (v. 23,24). He explained that this is “not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a [mystery] and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory” (2:6-7).
This is the mystery that John the Baptizer set out to reveal in his preaching and teaching. Now John was an odd one. He did not dress like other people did (Mar. 1:6). He did not indulge in strong food or drink like they did (Luk. 1:15). He lived in the wilderness and spent no time on self-promotion. How did a guy like this attract a crowd?
He attracted a crowd because of what he said. He was not afraid to call out the people who came to listen to him, from Jewish religious leaders to tax collectors to soldiers. He was not in the business of building up their self-esteem or making them feel good about themselves. He preached the law, so that they might recognize their great sinfulness. And he preached the Gospel of salvation through Christ, so that they might eagerly watch for His coming.
It might seem like John was a strange choice for this important role. Why couldn’t it have been an intelligent and well-liked scribe from Jerusalem? He could have utilized his position in the temple to prepare the people for the Savior. Or why couldn’t it have been a member of the king’s court or the king himself? He could have issued a decree for everyone to get ready.
Paul wrote that “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God” (1Co. 1:27-29). John was nobody special, at least as far as the world could tell. He was just some quirky Jewish preacher. But God chose this so-called “foolish” and “weak” man to do powerful things. He was the messenger sent by God to prepare the way for Jesus (Mat. 11:10).
God still sends “foolish” and “weak” men to carry out His work. This is a comfort for me and for you as well. As far as our sinful nature goes, you and I are exactly the same. Each of us deserves eternal damnation for our sins. But by God’s grace we are given forgiveness and life instead. The difference between us is that God called me to be a steward of His mysteries. He called me to be your pastor.
Of course, I’m not the only pastor out there. Many pastors have served here through the years. It is typically the case that the pastor who baptized you is not the one who confirmed you or the one who will conduct your funeral. You might feel like you connect better with one pastor over another. But every pastor has his quirks, and each one has said or done things that at least some members thought were questionable.
Despite our quirks and the personal shortcomings we have as pastors, God still distributes His good gifts through us. Through our unimpressive and faltering speech, He speaks His saving Gospel. Through our weak and trembling hands, He distributes His holy Sacraments. The work of a pastor is not about him. The pastor’s work is about Jesus.
This is why Paul said that he and his co-workers should be regarded as “servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.” A servant does the bidding of his master. A steward manages what belongs to another. The main thing required of a servant or a steward is that he is trustworthy, faithful to his responsibility. This is what a pastor must do: he must faithfully reveal the mysteries of God through the administration of His Word and Sacraments. Whether or not he does that is the true measure of your pastor.
But it is tempting to judge a pastor by other standards. In the larger Christian church, pastors are often judged by their personality, by how much they contribute to the stability and growth of a congregation, and by how their work is perceived in the community. Pastors are expected to be fundraisers, therapists, community activists, and expert problem solvers.
While a particular pastor may have gifts in some of these areas, his call from God is to preach the Word. He is to preach God’s law to expose sin and not cover it up by accommodating the culture. He is to preach the Gospel to forgive sin and not give the impression that one’s salvation is in his own hands. He is to encourage the regular hearing of the Word and partaking of the Sacraments and not treat the souls in his care with indifference. These are the things a pastor will answer for when he stands before the throne of God on the last day.
But no pastor carries out his work perfectly. Each is guilty of trusting himself too much and the Word too little. And no parishioners perfectly love, honor, and support their pastor. They judge him by human standards and not according to his calling. This is why the mystery of the Gospel is so important. We need the forgiveness Jesus won. We need His righteousness to cover our sinful attitudes and actions.
God gladly gives us these blessings. He knows our weaknesses and failures. He knows how much we need His mercy and grace. This is exactly why He sent out the apostles like Paul and Peter and why He still sends pastors. He sends them to administer His good gifts.
Jesus could appear in every congregation and speak to us directly, but He has not chosen to do this. He works through His servants, His stewards. He tells them, “The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me” (Luk. 10:16). Likewise He says, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld” (Joh. 20:23).
This means that a pastor’s teaching and preaching in Jesus’ name is His teaching and preaching. The forgiveness a pastor declares is His forgiveness. Whenever and wherever Jesus’ Word is proclaimed, He Himself is present. The means of grace are the vehicle for His present advent, His present coming. The way to find Jesus and commune with Him is to look for the marks of the church: the Gospel purely preached and the Sacraments rightly administered. When you locate these marks, you will also find a servant of Christ at work revealing His mysteries.
These mysteries of God are revealed free of charge. They cannot be unlocked by any amount of money or by any human effort. The Holy Spirit unlocks them for you through the Word and Sacraments. He wants you to know the grace of Jesus Christ, who gave Himself to save you. He wants you to know that in Him your sins are forgiven and heaven is yours.
The mysteries of other religions, the mysteries of the world, are nothing like God’s mysteries. The world’s mysteries focus on your work, not on God’s. God’s Mysteries are Revealed Here, the mysteries of His love for you, of the Savior born of a virgin, of a once-for-all sacrifice and a triumphant resurrection from the dead. These mysteries are foolishness to the world, but they are hope and life and salvation to you and to all those who believe.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
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(picture of Saude Lutheran Church)
The Third Sunday of Easter – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. John 10:11-16
In Christ Jesus, whose rod and staff comfort us, and who prepares a table of good spiritual food before us and a cup overflowing with grace, dear fellow redeemed:
You have heard it said that no two fingerprints are exactly the same. But that is not the only identifying characteristic that sets you apart from others. Your eyes may have the same color, but upon closer examination no two eyes share the same details. No two ears have the exact same curves and ridges. No two tongues have the same shape and texture. But perhaps the primary way you are recognized as you is by your voice.
Every voice is unique. I’m sure you have had the experience of being in a noisy, crowded place, and the familiar sound of a friend’s voice from the other side of the room catches your ear. The same can be true of a laugh or a whistle. Even after someone has been gone a long time, you can still recall the sound of their voice.
Not only humans but animals, too, learn to identify one voice from another. The same command given by a stranger as by the master will be ignored. But as soon as the master calls, his pets or livestock come running. Jesus uses this voice recognition to illustrate the connection between Him and His followers. He calls His followers “sheep,” since sheep are known for their ability to discern between their master and an imposter. Jesus says that the sheep hear the voice of the Shepherd, and they follow Him. “A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers” (Jn. 10:5).
Sheep get moving not just because of their shepherd’s familiar voice. If their master regularly led them to harm, they would stop listening to that voice. So it is not simply the voice, but the reputation that comes with it. They will follow a kind and good shepherd, but they will run from one who is cruel. Jesus says of Himself that He is “the Good Shepherd.” On what basis can He make that claim? What is it that makes Him “good”? He explains that “The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.” This Shepherd is willing to sacrifice all—even His own life—for the well-being of the sheep that He knows and loves.
But would the rescue of sheep actually be worth the death of a shepherd? Comparing animals to humans, it is safe to say that we would rather see 100 sheep die than the shepherd who tends them. Animals are great gifts from God intended for our companionship and service. But they should not be elevated in value beyond human life. Humankind was the crown of God’s creation to whom He gave the “dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Gen. 1:28).
But while we would rather choose the death of animals than the humans who care for them, this is not necessarily how their owners would view the situation. If a treasured pet or livestock were in danger, there are many who would risk their own lives to save them. The bond between them is strong. They cannot bear the thought of harm coming to the creatures they love. It’s harder to imagine a farmer giving his life for the pig that constantly tests and destroys his fences or for the sheep that refuses to follow his command. Animals like that soon find themselves on the way to the butcher.
It was for such disobedient, unruly creatures as this, that Jesus was willing to lay down His life. He laid down His life for the bull-headed, who wish to do things their way and answer to no one. He laid down His life for the wanderers, who don’t see the harm in going this way or that, even if it means departing from God’s Word. He laid down His life for the busy-bodies, who happily chatter about the sins of others while ignoring their own wrongs.
It was not good sheep for whom the Good Shepherd died. It was for the wicked. “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Is. 53:6). This is what makes Jesus so good. He loved you and me and all sinners with an immeasurable love. He sacrificed Himself for those whom no one could argue are worth the sacrifice. The perfect Lord gave Himself for sinners.
He has proven His commitment. He has done what deserves the respect of all. By His death and resurrection, He has shown that His voice can be trusted. But not all follow Him. Some prefer the voice of a hired hand, or even the growl of a wolf.
Jesus doesn’t have much good to say about the hired hand with regard to the sheep. In our economy, the work of hired hands is indispensable. Without employees working for employers, each of us would have to provide for our own needs—our own food, our own clothing, our own homes—unless others dealt charitably with us. But it is also true that employees do not feel the same kind of ownership about the products they produce and sell or the business they conduct as their employers do. They may not be as gentle with the company truck as they would be with their own. They may not be as careful with the goods they handle when it is not their money on the line.
This is why Jesus says that the hired hand will not risk his life for the sheep like the shepherd would. The hired hand is concerned more for his wages than the sheep. Jesus said this to the Pharisees, whom He accused at another point of being like “whitewashed tombs.” They looked and acted righteous on the outside, but inside were “full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Mt. 23:27). They and the chief priests and scribes cared more for their standing among the people, than for the people themselves (Mk. 12:38-40).
This is like the pastor who fails to warn people when a wolf is sighted. He assures them that they are safe where they are, doing what they are doing, living how they are living. He doesn’t want to have to get his hands dirty or risk his own standing in the church or community. But the wolf is right there! The sheep need to be warned, not led to complacency. Because when the hired hand does not take his job seriously, there is no one in place to guard the sheep. Then “the wolf snatches them and scatters them.”
I think oftentimes, the pastor who functions like a hired hand does not realize he is the hired hand. He imagines he is a faithful undershepherd of Christ. But we are not always good judges of ourselves, are we? Take the voice. How our voice sounds to ourselves is not how it sounds to others. When we hear a recording of our own voice, it doesn’t sound right to us, but it is what everyone else hears. The measure of a hired hand’s faithfulness is not what he thinks about himself, but what others hear him saying.
The question that followers of Jesus must ask is whether their pastor speaks as the Good Shepherd speaks. Does he present the law as Jesus did to convict of sin, and does he then speak the Gospel of forgiveness to the penitent? Or is he eager to tell people just what they want to hear? “Go ahead, do what your heart tells you. Break the rules a little. Do what feels right.” Then he is at best a hired hand and at worst a wolf who loves neither God nor neighbor.
Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (Jn. 10:27). Christians discern the difference between their Master and an imposter by His voice. They hear His Word. They want to obey His commands. They trust that He will lead them the right way. They long for the comfort and guidance that only He can provide. Hearing that voice, they are willing to “walk through the valley of the shadow of death” (Ps. 23:4). They know He is with them, and that He will lead them to “green pastures,” beside “still waters,” and in “the paths of righteousness” (v. 2).
To assure the sheep of His care, Jesus calls undershepherds to minister to them (1Pe. 5:1-4). They are not there to pad their pockets. They do not run away when the wolf attacks. These undershepherds know what the Lord’s sheep need, because they are also part of His flock. They need the same forgiveness, help, and encouragement as the rest of the sheep. They need to hear the same voice of the Good Shepherd, so that they and the sheep in their care are led in the right way.
There is no voice like the Lord’s voice. It is a voice so full of love and compassion. There is no double-talk there. No lie ever crosses His lips. He will rebuke when needed, but only so that you recognize the sin that has entangled you. Then He frees you from that sin by His holy Absolution. The place where the sheep are fed, strengthened, and refreshed is His pure Word and Sacraments. This is where His saving voice is heard. This is where Jesus makes good on His promise to “give [His sheep] eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of [His] hand” (Jn. 10:28).
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 is portion of stained glass window from St. John the Baptist’s Anglican Church in New South Wales)
The Second Sunday of Easter – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. John 20:19-31
In Christ Jesus, who preaches peace to those who are far off and peace to those who are near (Eph. 2:17), dear fellow redeemed:
If you asked a child or a sibling or a friend not to do something, and then they went ahead and did it right in front of you, how would you respond? You would probably like to be able to stay calm and level-headed in such a circumstance, but you may find that your temper gets the best of you. The disobedient action often results in an equal and opposite reaction. And the offender would have to see this coming. He or she would expect consequences for their bad behavior.
What they would not expect is if you came up to them and said, “I am not angry with you at all. I forgive you, and I love you. We are at peace!”? Can you imagine how wide-eyed that person would be? The consequence that was deserved and expected does not come about. This is essentially how Jesus dealt with His disciples on Easter Sunday.
You will recall Jesus’ warning to them the night before His death, “You will all fall away because of me this night. For it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee” (Mt. 26:31-32). Peter and the other disciples said that they would sooner die than deny Jesus (v. 35). Later that evening, Jesus asked Peter, James, and John to watch with Him in the garden, but they all fell asleep (vv. 38-45). Not long after, when soldiers came to arrest Jesus, “all the disciples left him and fled” (v. 56). Peter and John mustered some courage and entered the courtyard of the high priest to see what would become of Jesus. There, Peter explicitly denied three times that he even knew Jesus, the One whom he had accompanied for three years.
On the third day after His suffering and death, Jesus rose again and left the tomb. He appeared to some women who had come to anoint His dead body. He said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me” (Mt. 28:10). Jesus had every right to be angry with His weak disciples, but there is no hint of that in His words. He even called them His brothers!
The women conveyed Jesus’ message to the disciples, but we are told that “these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them” (Lk. 24:11). Even more reason for Jesus to be irritated with them! But then what are the first words He spoke to them when He appeared in the place where they were hiding? He said, “Peace be with you!” Think of how they had contradicted Him, and told Him they would never fall away. Then they did fall away. They acted like they did not know Him. They hid.
And Jesus spoke peace. This is unexpected. We assume there should be judgment, harsh words, a clear consequence. He did rebuke their unbelief (Mk. 16:14). He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?” (Lk. 24:38). But His primary message to them was peace. Jesus was not finished with His disciples. He had big plans for these men. They hardly seemed the right candidates for His work. They were so weak, so filled with fear. This is why Jesus came to them with a gentle word of peace. He wanted them to know that He would not count their faithlessness against them, and that He was not bitter toward them.
When Jesus spoke peace to them, He was not expressing a wish or simply trying to cheer them up. He was giving them peace. What He says, He delivers. He declared to them the powerful Word of comfort that God would not punish them for their sins. Peace had been made between God and man by Jesus’ death on the cross. His resurrection was God the Father’s stamp of approval on His saving work. Peace was theirs both now and forever. But it was not theirs only.
Jesus said again to His disciples, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you” (v. 21). What He was sending them to do, He also made clear. He breathed on His disciples and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld” (vv. 22-23). Jesus gave the authority to forgive or not to forgive sins to His Church, beginning with His apostles. He wanted the peace of His death and resurrection, the peace of sins forgiven, to be declared to generation after generation from that time forward.
The first mission prospect of the disciples was Thomas, one of the Twelve who was not present when Jesus appeared. What did they tell him? They said, “We have seen the Lord!” In other words, “The Lord is risen! He is victorious over death and the grave! He has won peace for us with God!” But Thomas would not believe it without physical proof. He needed to see and touch the marks from the nails and spear. He would settle for nothing less. How stubborn he was! The report of one disciple may have been dismissed as a dream. But by that time, the women claimed to have seen and talked with Jesus, as did the two disciples from Emmaus, as did Peter and James and John and all the rest.
But Thomas’ stubbornness is not so hard to understand. You and I have had our share of doubts too. Like Thomas, we have wondered if Jesus could really be present. When we are struggling and the difficulties of life are piling up, it certainly seems as though we are alone with no one to care for and help us. We cannot feel the presence of Jesus. We imagine that wherever God is, He must not have time for our problems. And sometimes we also demand proof from God beyond His promises, as Thomas did.
But God has nothing to prove to us, any more than He had anything to prove to Thomas. He did appear to Thomas about a week later, but it was with a firm rebuke for his unbelief. He said to him, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (v. 29). Even so, He still commissioned Thomas as He had the other disciples to spread the Gospel message of His death and resurrection for the salvation of all.
This is a shocking message to the world, and we know why. The idea seems too far-fetched that God could be at peace with me after all the sins I have racked up, all the occasions I put my needs above everyone else’s, all the time I spent thinking I knew best. The disciples were that way too. No matter how often and how clearly Jesus said it, they did not believe He would rise from the dead. At heart, you and I are the same as every human being. We want a god of our own making, one who does not require us to wrestle against our own fallen nature, one who does what we think he should do. But the god we want is not the God that is.
The true God loves us, and because He loves us, He is not content to let us stay secure in our sins. God the Father sent His only Son to take on our flesh and join us in our weakness. Jesus came to make peace, but not by a treaty and not by striking a deal with sinners. Peace with a perfectly just God required holy blood shed on man’s behalf. Jesus supplied that for you and me. He made peace for us with God.
That is a peace we need to hear about often. We need to hear it often because we continue to sin. We have a hard time forgiving others. We do exactly what God says we should not do. We are like that child or sibling or friend who hears what was expected of them, and then does the exact opposite. This is why God established the office of pastor.
The authority to forgive or not to forgive sins belongs to the whole Church, to every single believer in Jesus. That means you are qualified to extend forgiveness to anyone who sins against you. But it is not your calling to preach, to baptize, and to administer the Lord’s Supper. It is my calling to do these things publicly on behalf of the church. I have been called to dispense and administer the gifts of Jesus to anyone who repents of sin and trusts the promises of God.
And so Sunday after Sunday I forgive your sins. God knows you need to hear this. And it is not just a reminder. When I speak God’s Word of forgiveness, you actually are forgiven, right then and there. Any and every sin you brought with you to church is blotted out before God through that Word of forgiveness. No matter how you have sinned against Him in the past—like that long list of sins the disciples committed against Jesus—all of that is forgiven and forgotten in Jesus’ word of peace.
This realization of what God does for you may be almost as shocking as Jesus suddenly appearing to His disciples in that closed room. But Jesus was there declaring peace just as surely as He is here declaring peace. If the Lord did not want you to be comforted, there would be no pastor saying His words to you. There would be no Sacraments where His grace is dispensed. There would be no Bible to turn to again and again to read and review. But you do have all these things. You know who Jesus died and rose again for. It was for you, even weak, sinful you.
Your Father in heaven does not give you what you expect. He does not give you what you deserve. He gives you Jesus, and Jesus gives you salvation. Jesus Speaks Peace to the Weak. You are weak by nature, but you are strong in Christ, and that is the only strength that matters. Peace be with you! Your sins are all forgiven in Him!
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