The Festival of St. Michael and All Angels (officially observed on Sept. 29th) – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Matthew 18:1-10
In Christ Jesus, who is “the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” and shares His greatness with you, dear fellow redeemed:
In 2009, the Barna research group asked a sampling of Christians across the U. S. to respond to the statement that Satan “is not a living being but is a symbol of evil.” In other words, Satan is not real, but is a name we give to bad things in the world. Almost 60% of Christians surveyed either strongly agreed or somewhat agreed with the statement. They did not believe Satan was a real being. On the other hand, a 2011 survey of Christians and non-Christians suggested that a large majority of Americans think that angels are real. Put together, these surveys indicate that a majority of Christians do not think the devil is real, while the majority of people think angels are.
Why do angels fare so much better in the national consciousness than the devil does? It is no surprise that people deny the existence of the devil. First of all, they do not want to believe that a totally evil being exists whose only goal is to get people to go to hell. They pass this off as “bogeyman talk” from Christians who are trying to get people in church. The other reason the devil’s existence is denied is by his own doing. If Satan can get people to ignore him, he can infiltrate their lives easily. Not recognizing this danger is like leaving the front door unlocked in a bad part of the city or sending your bank account information to “hackers anonymous.” Martin Luther writes that all the devil is looking for is a small opening. If his serpent-head can fit through, then the rest of his scaly body will follow.
But at least people believe in the existence of angels. This is good, except that their idea of angels is not exactly on the mark. They might talk about a dead person who now serves as their guardian angel, watching over them. Or they might content themselves to skip church and let their Bibles collect dust, because their angel will keep them safe. Such sentimental thoughts about the angels are contrary to what the Bible teaches. When people die they do not become angels. And the protection of angels is no substitute for hearing and learning God’s Word.
What the Bible teaches is that Satan and the angels are real. The devil and the demons were once good angels, created by God to serve Him and mankind. Sometime after the creation was complete, a portion of the angels rebelled against God, perhaps for the same reason that Adam and Eve rebelled—they wanted to “be like God” (Gen. 3:5). Of course, these created beings were no match for their Creator. When they could not defeat Him, they set their sights on God’s special creation. Today’s Epistle lesson from St. John’s Revelation, describes the devil like a prosecutor in a courtroom, who “who accuses [God’s children] day and night” (Rev. 12:10). But his accusations do not stand. All sinners are acquitted. Their penalty has been paid “by the blood of the Lamb” (v. 11).
But that does not stop the devil from trying. He plants seeds of doubt in the Christian’s mind. “Are you sure that God loves you? How could He forgive a sinner like you?” Or he approaches from the other side, “Look at how much better you are than other people! Look at how much you do, how much you give! What a fine example you are!” When pride and self-righteousness enter the heart, there is not much room for faith. Or the devil might afflict you like he did Job. He tries to steal away your daily bread to get you to question God and lose faith in Him. He turns Christian against Christian, and Christians against their church. He makes everything else in life seem more appealing and more important than God’s Word.
But for all the ways the devil assaults us, we are not without protection. God commands countless good angels who did not join in Satan’s rebellion. He sends those angels especially to serve believers. The author to the Hebrews indicates this when he writes about angels, “Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?” (1:14). And the psalmist says, “For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways” (Ps. 91:11). We would be absolutely stunned to know how much the angels have protected us in our lives, from all sorts of trouble and harm. Luther writes that “If it were not for the protection of the dear angels, no child would grow to full age, even if the parents took all possible care.” That is how intent the demons are to destroy us.
But the demons cannot prevail against the angels, because the angels are sent by God and operate under His authority. You might think it is possible for a good angel to be separated from his fellow spirits and be ambushed by the demons. But the angels are never away from God’s presence. Jesus says in today’s text, “For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of My Father who is in heaven.” The angels are always looking upon God, and He is always looking upon them and those they serve.
Specifically here, Jesus is talking about the angels’ service to the “little ones.” He is not referring to those of short stature. He is talking about little children. Isn’t it something! God sends His mighty angels to watch over and protect the little children. This is like the company CEO taking a shift in the daycare center for his employee’s kids, or like the number one golfer in the world cleaning up the messes kids leave at a putt-putt golf course. It seems as though the angels should have more important things to do. But no, Jesus says. They could do nothing better than care for children.
When His disciples wanted to know who was the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, Jesus brought a child before them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Then He took the point even further, “Whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me.” This should impress on us how dedicated we should be to the nurture and training of children.
God has given this responsibility first of all to fathers and mothers or guardians, and then to pastors and teachers. The devil and demons are constantly working to pollute the minds of the youth, to get them to despise God’s Word, to be greedy and selfish, to disrespect their authorities, to seek fulfillment in their own accomplishments. This is why they need to be taught how the Ten Commandments apply to their lives, and how they have not come close to keeping them. And they need the comfort and strength of the Gospel, that message which tells them there is hope. The Gospel gives them Jesus and changes their hearts, so that they desire the good that God gives instead of the empty promises of the world.
The world seems to offer so much. You can be the best athlete, the smartest student, the prettiest person if you just work hard, if you dedicate yourself to your dreams. But what happens if you do not reach the top? What if you do? Does the world’s adoration bring you any closer to heaven? Just the opposite. There are many great athletes, great thinkers, great beauties in hell. What good did their success in the world accomplish for them? They followed the devil’s temptations and now have the result. This is why Jesus warns about these temptations. He says that it would be far better for you to lose the parts of your body that lead you into temptation and “to enter life crippled or lame” or “with one eye” than to be condemned to hell with all parts intact.
God does not require you to be great as the world defines it—a great parent, a great friend, a great citizen, and so on. Who among us could say that we are these things? We know our sins. We know where we have failed our neighbors, including the youth in our care. God does not look for greatness; He looks for faithfulness, that you believe His Word. He hears the cry of the weary and burdened, and the humble repentance of the sinner. He listens to every petition for mercy and help, and He gives it. The Lord has not forgotten you. As ready as He is to defend you with His angels, He is just as eager to be gracious unto you and give you peace.
Jesus has made peace between you and God. He offered His perfect eyes for your sinful ones, His perfect hands and feet for yours that have led you into sin. He substituted His perfect love and concern for His neighbor, with yours which is not always pure. Jesus was thrown into the eternal fire of hell, so you would have the glories of heaven. The concern God has for your salvation is shown by the way heaven erupts in rejoicing whenever a sinner repents and trusts in Jesus. The good angels reflect what they see in the face of God. So when “there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Lk. 15:10), that joy is radiating from the face of your gracious Lord.
The world cares not at all about repentance and faith, or about the proper training of the youth, or about the actual mission of God’s angels. These things are unimportant to the world. But The World’s Least Are God’s Greatest. The saving work of Jesus, the conversion of the sinner, the tender faith of the child, the obedient service of the angels—these things are great in God’s sight. He loves you not for what you could be, but for what you are. You are His own child, bought by the blood of Jesus, saved by His death, acquitted by His resurrection, baptized into His grace, fed with His body and blood, destined for the eternal mansions.
Your humble, childlike faith in Jesus will not be disappointed when your time on this earth comes to an end. The angels will bring you into God’s kingdom where, like them, you will always behold the face of your heavenly Father.
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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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!
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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