The First Sunday after Epiphany – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Luke 2:41-52
In Christ Jesus, the Son of Mary, who was manifested as the Son of God by His holy words and deeds, dear fellow redeemed:
If you have ever been left behind somewhere accidentally, you probably remember the feeling. If you have ever lost track of a child, you definitely remember the feeling. First looking where you expect to find him, then widening the search, then becoming more frantic until your child is finally located. We can imagine how Mary and Joseph were feeling when Jesus was not where they expected Him to be. How would small-town Jesus do by Himself in big-city Jerusalem?
While they were searching frantically for Jesus, He was not troubled in the least. He was twelve years old, the age of a seventh grader. This is a time of transition when a child begins to think and act more independently. It is clear that Joseph and Mary allowed Jesus some independence, since they were not concerned to set off for home without knowing exactly where He was. But Jesus was not with the travel group; He was in the temple.
He was hardly noticed as He made His way up the temple steps. Nobody in the temple knew the significance of this Boy. They did not perceive that He was God in the flesh. In Old Testament times, God entered His temple in a cloud of fire. Now He came in humility, His eternal glory hidden, “the whole fullness of deity” dwelling in His twelve-year-old body (Col. 2:9).
If you have ever seen the show, “Undercover Boss,” that is something like the irony of this moment. Jesus quietly took His seat before the temple teachers. They were some of the best and brightest teachers of the Law. But these experts had no idea that the LORD Himself was in their midst. They soon learned that there was something different about this Boy. He showed a depth of understanding they were not used to hearing from students of this age or perhaps any age.
Jesus respectfully asked them questions, and they responded with some questions of their own. “[A]ll who heard Him were amazed at His understanding and His answers.” They wondered where this Boy got His remarkable knowledge. They probably wanted to know His background: “What did you say Your name was? Where are You from? You say the family trade is carpentry?” It was astonishing that Jesus could come from such humble circumstances and display such understanding.
Jesus sat among the teachers for three days. During that time, Mary and Joseph were retracing their steps to Jerusalem before they eventually found Jesus in the temple. Now His mother had a question for Him: “Son, why have You treated us so?” We can certainly understand the question. If your child decided to spend a couple days at a friend’s house without telling you, you would probably use more pointed words than Mary when you finally found him or her.
But Jesus did not hang His head in shame. He replied calmly with two questions of His own: “Why were you looking for Me? Did you not know that I must be in My Father’s house?” These are the first words of Jesus recorded in the Gospels. They show that even at age twelve, He was focused on the work He had come to do. He had to be in His Father’s house. He was there to do His Father’s bidding.
The season of Epiphany is about the revealing of Jesus as God’s Son. That’s what “epiphany” means: a revealing or a manifesting. We heard last weekend how Jesus was revealed as the Messiah to the wise men. Next weekend, we will hear how He manifested His divine power by changing water into wine. We know these accounts well, but we cannot fully understand the mystery of God becoming Man. Nor do we fully appreciate what it means for life in this world.
When we are faced with the questions and concerns of the present, like questions about our health, our government, and our society, it is easy to forget that God has become one with us. Unbelievers do not know this. They do not know the Christ and what He has done. It’s no wonder they become so invested in scientific endeavors, political movements, and power plays. These worldly initiatives are their religion, and government officials and other prominent people are their gods.
We need to resist those currents. We do not stand on the eroding sand of human opinions. We stand on the solid rock of Jesus and His Word. The world of men thought it knew what power was. The world thought it was wise. But all of that was exposed as flimsiness and foolishness when the Creator God entered His world as a Man. We cannot make ourselves God, but God made Himself Man.
Who can stand against this God? He said about Himself, “See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand” (Deu. 32:39). The so-called powerful people of the world would be “shaking in their boots” if they realized what they were up against. “[T]he nations rage and the peoples plot in vain,” says the psalmist; they try to take the glory that belongs to God alone. But “He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision” (Psa. 2:1-6). God’s Son rules as King over heaven and earth.
But where is the evidence of His rule? Some can’t understand why He allowed the current president to be elected. Others can’t understand why He is letting the new president take office. In all the chaos of today, it can seem like Jesus is missing or that He really isn’t powerful. Can’t He see our troubles? Can’t He see that we are suffering? We start to sound like Mary: “Lord, why have You treated us so? Behold, we have been searching for You in great distress.”
All these anxious cares show that we have our minds set on earthly things and not on “things that are above” (Col. 3:2). Have we forgotten what God’s Son has done? Have we forgotten that He performed countless miracles—even raising people from the dead—while living a perfectly pure life on earth? Have we forgotten that He accepted the punishment for all sin and died on the cross in our place? Have we forgotten that He rose again from the dead just as He predicted? Have we forgotten that our future is inseparably tied to His because we have been buried and raised with Him in Baptism?
When we cry out: “We have been searching for You in great distress!” He says, “Why were you looking for Me? Did you not know that I must be in My Father’s house?” In other words He says, “You are guilty of looking for Me in the wrong places and not where I have told you to look.” If we think we will find Him in a perfect government on earth or in perfect success or in a life of constant pleasure and happiness, we will not find Him. He will remain hidden from us.
But if we look for Him in His Holy Word and His Holy Sacraments, we will find Him. We will find Him ready to forgive our sins, help us in our afflictions, comfort us in our sorrows, and strengthen us in our trials. Through the means of grace, Jesus is constantly doing the work His Father sent Him to do, the work of bringing us His blessings.
God sent His Son into the world to save the world. That doesn’t mean His Son came to reform the world or improve it or make everything fair and peaceful for everyone who lives on it. God sent His Son to save sinners from the eternal punishment they deserve. By His innocent suffering and death, Jesus did the work to redeem all people. And now He fights to keep believers in the faith and bring others to faith.
Our King is not hiding or missing. He is seated at the right hand of the Father ruling over all things. Nothing is hidden from His view and nothing is beyond His power. He is able to put all our questions to rest, either by answering them or by teaching us to live without the answers. Nothing is hidden from Him, but some things are hidden from us. We do not know what our future holds. We might want to know, but we don’t need to know.
What we do need to know is that no matter what changes around us, His mercy and love toward us will not change. That gives us the confidence to go about our daily tasks with joy and diligence. We are not searching in anguish for some earthly power to save us and make our lives better. Jesus is our Lord who won the victory over sin, death, and devil. And we are His people.
As His people, we abide by His Word and serve according to His direction. We love the family and friends He has given us. We go about our work honestly and faithfully. We care about the needs of our neighbor. Our good efforts may go unnoticed. They may be hidden from most everyone and lost to history. But we are not in it for our glory.
Our eternal glory is already secure in Christ. He fulfilled God’s Holy Law for us, including perfect obedience to His parents and all other authorities. He submitted Himself to the temple teachers and to His imperfect parents, so that we could stand righteous before God.
We have sinned in many ways against our parents, teachers, and other authorities, such as the government officials the Lord in His wisdom has established. But whatever our Fourth Commandment sins may be, Jesus atoned for every single one by His death. And He applies the perfect keeping of the Law to all who trust in Him.
We have many questions about what may happen to us here on earth. But we have no questions about what God has given us in Christ. All the questions that really matter—the questions about our eternal future—are answered by the gracious work of Jesus to save us.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
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(picture from “Jesus Among the Doctors” by James Tissot, 1836-1902)
The Second Sunday of Easter – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. John 20:19-31
In Christ Jesus, whose Gospel is foolishness to the world, but power and wisdom and life to us, dear fellow redeemed:
Picture yourself riding in the family car as a kid. Suddenly, someone else in the car points at something—“Look at that!” You look but don’t see anything. Everyone else says, “Wow! That’s amazing! I’ve never seen anything like that before!” You keep looking around desperately: “Where? Where is it? I don’t see anything!” But it’s too late. You missed it. You won’t enjoy what the others did. How does that make you feel?
Or if you’re old enough, think back to your middle school, junior high, and high school days. Remember all those little groups and exclusive clubs and cliques? Some of you may have been self-secure enough that you did not care about them. But others of us worried our way through these years. We wanted to fit in. We wanted to be accepted. The thing we dreaded was for no one to notice us, like we didn’t even exist—or worse, to be singled out and picked on or made fun of.
It is no fun to be on the outside looking in. It is no fun to miss out on what everyone else seems to enjoy. These feelings can hound us even when we get beyond our teenage years and enter adulthood. We don’t want to be left out. We want to be included. If we are left out, we assume it is for one of two reasons: it is someone else’s fault, or there must be something wrong with me. Either those who exclude are mean, uncaring, or shallow, or I am not good company, and people would rather not have me around.
What was Thomas supposed to think? He was one of the “the Twelve.” He had followed Jesus from the earliest times of His public work. But when he returned after Easter evening and heard the reports of Jesus’ resurrection, he was troubled. He learned that Jesus had supposedly appeared to some of the women that morning, and to Peter, and to some others on the road to Emmaus. Then the Lord was said to have appeared to all the disciples gathered together in a tightly secured room in Jerusalem.
But why should Thomas have been left out? If Jesus had actually risen and appeared to people all over the area, couldn’t He have found Thomas too? He was no less important than the other disciples, was he? Thomas couldn’t bear the thought of a resurrected Jesus deliberately concealing Himself from him. So instead of pinning the problem on himself, Thomas pinned it on his fellow disciples. No matter how much the disciples repeated what they had seen and heard, he refused to listen. “Unless I see in His hands the mark of the nails,” he said, “and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into His side, I will never believe.”
Thomas would not play the part of the fool. He wanted the facts. He wanted visible, tangible proof. This is why many today reject the claims of Christianity. They want visible, tangible proof of God. They want undeniable proof that the Bible is entirely God’s Word. They are not satisfied with Christians telling them they just need to “have faith.” And we can understand their hesitation. They have doubts, just as Thomas did.
But for many, no proofs that are put forward about God and His Word could ever be enough. Christian teaching does not fit the way they want to look at the world. Even the very idea that there is a God is offensive to many. They believe that everything came about by chance starting with a Big Bang. They believe that more complex organisms came from less complex ones, and that humans evolved over time from monkeys.
We have legitimate questions about these theories. They offer no explanation for where matter began. If it was through a Big Bang, where did that explosive material come from? And how was it possible for living things to come from material that had no life in it? This is certainly something that humans cannot duplicate. And if humans evolved from monkeys, and one species of animal from another, where is the evidence of these half-and-half creatures?
So which side has the facts? One side says that humans have a sufficient answer for all of life’s questions. The other says that God is the answer to all of life’s questions. Those are very different ways of looking at the world. Thomas wanted to rely on his own reason and experience. He was not willing to humbly listen to the Word that was shared with him. He was going to make the rules. He was going to set the conditions for establishing fact.
Why was Thomas wrong to think this way? He was wrong because Jesus actually had risen from the dead! Everything about the Christian faith hinges on whether or not this happened. If Jesus did rise from the dead, His Word is true, and everyone should listen to what He has to say. If He did not rise from the dead, then the Christian religion is no different than all the other religions of the world. Then we have no certainty of God’s grace and no certainty of a blessed life after this one.
We confess that Jesus was crucified, died, and was buried, and that He rose again on the third day. We confess this based on the testimony of eyewitnesses who saw all these things happen. The world of unbelievers mock Christians for this confession. Unbelievers can live with the idea that Jesus was a really nice teacher, who told everyone to be loving. But they don’t want to hear that Jesus is true God who took on human flesh, so He could suffer and die for their sins and rise again in victory over their death. If that is true, they cannot remain how they are. If it is not true, they can go about their business as they always have.
And so they look down on pious Christians and call them simpletons. They regard the Christian’s faith in Jesus as little more than superstition. Ultimately they think Christians are fools, who would benefit from using their brains once in a while.
There is no shame in being thought a fool. There’s a saying that goes something like this: “It’s better to be thought a fool, than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt” (possibly derived from Pro. 17:28). Being called a fool, or suspected of being a fool, does not mean you actually are one. Those who call Christians foolish like to think they are the intelligent ones. That isn’t how David put it. He wrote, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds, there is none who does good” (Ps. 14:1). David argues that a person using his intellect would conclude there is a God.
Another Psalm speaks of the greatness of the LORD’s work, which can be seen all around us in creation. But instead of praising the LORD, the fool exalts himself. He ignores his own mortality, the destruction which comes upon all people (92:4-9). He thinks he is the master of his own fate. But unknown to himself, it is the devil who controls him. The prophet Isaiah described this situation: “For the fool speaks folly, and his heart is busy with iniquity, to practice ungodliness, to utter error concerning the LORD, to leave the craving of the hungry unsatisfied, and to deprive the thirsty of drink” (Isa. 32:6).
But we do not despise those who single us out, who call us fools. Jesus died for them just as He died for us. He rose victorious over their death just as much as for ours. The forgiveness He won is for everybody’s sins, and it is imparted to all who repent of their sin and trust in Him. Jesus gave this power of forgiveness to His Church, as you heard in today’s text: “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” The sins of penitent sinners are forgiven, while the sins of the impenitent are not forgiven.
For the repentant person, no matter what foolishness he has pursued, no matter what sins he has committed, Jesus forgives. He died for that sin, and His resurrection proves that this payment was acceptable to His Father. This goes for the times that you avoided making a clear confession of your faith, because you were afraid of what others might think of you. You wanted to fit in. You didn’t want to be left out. You didn’t want to be different. And now you regret that. You see how you let your sinful flesh take control, and how you disregarded and despised your Lord’s Word.
The merciful Lord forgives that sinful foolishness, just as He forgave the foolishness of Thomas. He came again into that room and said, “Peace—Peace be with you.” This was for Thomas too. Jesus was not angry with him. He did not put Thomas out and act like he didn’t exist. But He did encourage him to set aside his pride and cling to God’s Word. He said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
The death and resurrection of Jesus is no fairy tale. It is no superstition. It is a fact that in this way, Jesus accomplished your eternal salvation. The apostle Paul writes, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1Co. 1:18). The world can say what it wants about the Bible’s teaching, but it has nothing better to offer—not by a long-shot! All the world knows is sin and death. But Jesus gives us His righteousness and everlasting life. The world’s heroes all die. But Jesus lives!
Because of what Jesus has done for you, you are not on the outside looking in. You haven’t missed anything. You are on the side of the resurrected Lord, which means that even though some may think you a fool, you are no fool at all.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
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(painting is portion of “The Incredulity of St. Thomas” by Caravaggio, c. 1601-1602)