Festival of St. Michael and All Angels – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Matthew 18:1-10
In Christ Jesus, whom the holy angels gladly serve and obey, dear fellow redeemed:
If you could be an angel for a day, how would you spend your time? I’m guessing you would want to fly around a bit, testing your wings, maybe visiting some interesting places around the world. Of course you would want to have a good look at heaven and take in all the sights and sounds. Maybe you would even go to a place of major conflict to work on putting a stop to the fighting. You and I would want to do big things, things that were fulfilling to ourselves or helpful to a good many others.
But none of this describes the chief responsibilities of the holy angels. They are not interested in pursuing things that are personally fulfilling. They are content to take direction from God and carry out His will. They don’t spend their time sight-seeing; they spend their time serving—including service to the least in the world. They are perfectly devoted to the Almighty God who gave them life.
They are exactly opposite from the fallen angels—the devil and his fellow demons. These fallen angels were proud. They did not want to serve at God’s command. They did not want to worship Him alone. They wanted to be gods. They wanted all creation to bow to them. So they rebelled against their Creator. They led a revolt in heaven, which we heard about in today’s Epistle lesson (Rev. 12:7-12). They lost this battle and were thrown out of heaven. But they still operate on earth.
How exactly do they pursue their wicked agendas on earth? When we compare our day with the New Testament, it seems like the demons were much more active back then. We don’t observe obvious cases of demon-possession today like what we read about. But the demons haven’t given up. They aren’t taking a break. They are still active, most often in ways we don’t perceive.
When we face situations where we are tempted to sin, there is no doubt the demons are involved in it. They want us to put our own desires first and to rebel against God like they did. You know how intense these temptations can be. You are tempted to do something that you know you should not do. You are tempted to look at something that is not for you to see. You are tempted to repeat something about someone else that you know is unverified or unkind. You are powerfully pulled in the direction of the sin. You try to resist, but the desire grows more and more intense.
The devil and demons put the thought into your head that carrying out the sin is the only way to resolve the desire. They try to convince you that you can stay in control of the sin. “No one will find out,” you think. “It isn’t really that bad. Everybody does it.” But there is no excuse for sin. You and I do not have to sin. The demons cannot make us sin. They can only tempt us. The sin comes from our own hearts. Even those who are demon-possessed cannot say that the devil made them do bad things, because they are the ones who let the devil in in the first place.
Jesus warns us in today’s text about temptations to sin. He says that temptations will come. The world is sinful, and we are sinners. All of us have fallen for temptations many times. But we must not become comfortable with sinning. We must not let down our guard. Getting comfortable with sin has led many children of God to abandon the faith. They choose the pleasures of the world over the promises of God’s Word.
But Jesus says that it would be better to lose a hand or foot or eye in this life if they lead us to sin, than to enter hell with all members intact. We must fight these temptations to sin. And we stay vigilant and watchful not only about things that may tempt us, but also what may tempt those in our care.
This is particularly important for parents and grandparents to understand. Children are not aware of their vulnerability or of how hard the demons are working to destroy their faith. Children are trusting, and they may be tempted to trust the wrong people. They desperately want to be accepted and fit in, so they may spend time in bad company. It is a gross shirking of responsibility when parents or guardians let children decide who to hang out with or how to spend their time.
Besides peers who exert a bad influence on your kids, how else do you suppose the devil and demons try to tempt them? What would your children or grandchildren do every waking moment at home if you let them? That’s right, they would use a smartphone or other digital device like it was glued to the palm of their hand. If you want to know where the demons are most active today—and not just against the youth—look no further than the endless temptations to sin online.
If you were a fish, you could find some good food on the internet, but you would also find millions of worms dangling off shiny, sharp hooks. Those are the temptations to sin. You can find pleasure online. You can find material to fuel your hatred, your worries, and your doubts. You can find distractions, which do not seem bad in and of themselves, but which keep you from your Christian callings. If you have spent any time online, you know this from personal experience. It is shocking how easy it is to find bad things you weren’t even looking for in the first place.
But as active as the demons are in trying to destroy our faith, our reputation, and our very life, the holy angels are active too. If the holy angels were not fighting on our behalf, we would already be ruined. The devil and the demons would certainly overcome us.
This is clear from the account of Job. Job was a believer who was richly blessed by the LORD. When God and Satan conversed about Job, Satan said that Job had prospered only because the LORD had “put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has,” and “blessed the work of his hands” (Job 1:10). So the LORD gave Satan permission to attack everything Job had. In a matter of hours, all of Job’s oxen, donkeys, sheep, and camels were either stolen away or destroyed, and his ten children died. That’s how quickly the good things we have would be taken away from us if God did not send His angels to protect us.
It is a remarkable thing that the mighty angels so willingly serve us lowly sinners. It is not because they have decided we are worth the time and effort. It is because they honor God and want to obey His will. And it is God’s will that these “ministering spirits” should serve “those who are to inherit salvation” (Heb. 1:14). The humble angels do just that. They encamp around those who fear Him (Psa. 34:7). They guard them in all their ways (Psa. 91:11). They turn back the constant assaults of the devil. They never grow tired of serving. They never take a break. They watch over us day and night.
Jesus says the angels are devoted to us because they are devoted to God. He says that the little children’s angels “always see the face of My Father who is in heaven.” This means that whatever the angels do for us, they do because God directs them to do it. Their protection of us is His protection. Their care is His care. This is why we don’t pray to the angels. They don’t need or expect our thanks. All the glory is God’s.
Some people think that their loved ones who die become angels and watch over them. But that is not the case. The souls of believers go straight to heaven. God does not send them to help their loved ones. He sends the holy angels. Like the angels who look to God, we should too, so that we are not led away from what the Lord says in His Word.
When we have ignored the Word and given into temptation, it is not because the angels failed to do their job. God chastens His children when they sin, so that they are humbled and return to Him. He may let the devil do some damage, so that we become aware of our pride and repent. And when we repent, Jesus tells us that there is great joy in heaven, “joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luk. 15:10).
The angels rejoice because they know there is forgiveness for sin. They know what God did for mankind. He took on our flesh, so that He could be our Substitute. He suffered and died, so that every temptation into which we had fallen—every sin we had committed—would be blotted out.
That includes your sins and mine—sins committed in the public eye, and sins committed in the privacy of our homes. Jesus died for sins of the past that burden you and trouble your conscience even now. You can be freed from the guilt of those sins. Repent of them and believe Jesus’ word of absolution. He paid for that sin too. He forgives all your sins.
There is nothing you have done that the angels assigned to you have not witnessed. They have seen it all. But they are not ashamed or reluctant to serve you because of your sins. God loves you, so they do too. They marvel at God’s love for sinners. They rejoice that He is such a good and merciful Lord, and they want nothing more than for each of us to join them in God’s glorious kingdom.
This is why the Lord sends them to us. He wants the angels to do their part in humble service to Him, so we are not tempted away from the faith, but so that we retain a childlike faith in Him our Savior.
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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(woodcut by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, 1794-1872)
The Tenth Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Luke 19:41-48
In Christ Jesus, through whom we are justified and have peace with God (Rom. 5:1), dear fellow redeemed:
When Noah and his sons worked on building the ark, none of their neighbors thought a great flood would come. When the people of Sodom and Gomorrah tried to abuse Lot’s guests, none of them expected fire to rain down on them from heaven. When the leaders of Jerusalem conspired to kill Jesus, they did not imagine that Jesus’ prophecy about their beloved city would come to pass. But it did. In the year 70, the Roman army did what Jesus predicted. The Romans besieged the city of Jerusalem, breached its walls, killed its inhabitants, and burned the great temple to the ground.
Each of these examples—the flood, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and the overthrow of Jerusalem—teach us something about the human condition, about God’s wrath, and about God’s mercy. They show us how unaware or uncaring sinners are about the will of God. Noah’s neighbors heard his warnings about what was coming and ignored it. Lot’s neighbors saw his righteous example and despised it. The people of Jerusalem witnessed Jesus’ miracles and heard His teaching, and still they sent Him to His death.
Therefore God’s wrath burned against these hardened unbelievers. By the waters of the flood, He destroyed all life on the earth. By fire from heaven, He burned up everything in Sodom and Gomorrah. And by the hand of the Romans, He brought terrible suffering and death to Jerusalem.
On the other hand, these events show His mercy too. Many were drowned in the flood, but Noah and his family were preserved. Two cities were burned up, but Lot and his daughters were spared. Jerusalem was overcome, but the Christian inhabitants of the city were moved to relocate before the Romans arrived.
God does not delight in destruction. He wants all sinners to repent and be saved. In Ezekiel chapter 18, He says, “For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone… so turn, and live” (v. 32). We see His compassion in the tears Jesus shed while looking over Jerusalem: “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace!”
The “things that make for peace” were the things Jesus was about to do in the city. He was going to offer Himself as the sacrifice for sinners. He would willingly let Himself be beaten, flogged, ridiculed, and crucified. He suffered and died to pay for all sin. This included the sins of the people in Noah’s day, the sins of Lot’s neighbors, and the sins of the people of Israel who rejected Him. He paid for their sins and everyone else’s sins besides.
He paid for sin, so that mankind might no longer be separated from its Creator. He is the One who could blot out the wrongdoing of thousands of years of human history. He could right the wrong begun in the Garden of Eden. He and only He could do this, and He did. He made peace “by the blood of his cross” (Col. 1:20).
But so many reject this peace. They want war, war with God. Who would go to war with God? Satan tried it and now he slithers along on his belly eating dust. That doesn’t stop others from doing what he did. They rebel. They go to war with God by acting like His Commandments are no longer in place. In our “enlightened” age, many now feel comfortable setting that “traditional morality” aside. Among other things, they ignore what God says about respecting authority, about guarding against harm to the body, and about keeping sexual intimacy within marriage only.
Many who take issue with the Bible’s teaching, however, still like what they see in Jesus. They like the Jesus who sticks up for the poor and hurting and who eats with social outcasts. But what do they make of the Jesus who forcefully drives out the sellers from the temple courts, as we heard in today’s text? Jesus is the Savior of all people. But He also clearly identified Himself as the Judge, who will condemn the unrepentant to hell on the last day (Mat. 25:31-46).
Early in His public work, Jesus went around preaching this: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mat. 4:17). Jesus called sinners to repentance. His primary mission was not to diagnose and treat people’s physical or social ills, but to address their spiritual ones. He said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Luk. 5:31-32).
Those who think they need no spiritual care are the self-righteous. They find it easy to point out the shortcomings of others. But they fail to see their own sins. They compare their lives with others and feel they must be on the right track. They haven’t made the mistakes that this person made. They haven’t acted like that person does. They have done a lot of good for a lot of people. Others could learn plenty from their example.
This was the attitude of the chief priests and scribes. They took pride in their holy living. They also hated Jesus. Our text says that they “were seeking to destroy Him.” Why were they fighting against Jesus? Why did they want Him dead? It’s because they did not want to acknowledge their sins and repent.
It is painful to admit our sins. We do not want to believe that we have been as bad as God’s law says we have. But by clinging to our self-righteousness and doing all we can to keep our sins buried, we only make things worse. Then we fail to recognize “the things that make for peace.” We fail to realize “the time of [our] visitation.” By refusing to repent of our sins, we show that we are opposed to Jesus, because He came to suffer and die for sinners.
But the Lord does not give up on stubborn sinners. He weeps for them. The Holy Spirit continues to work on their hearts through the law, so that their eyes are opened. He helps them to see the difference between God’s holiness and their sin. He shows them there is no hope for them without Jesus. There is no salvation apart from Him.
Jesus and only Jesus could bridge the gap between us and God. He is perfect God and perfect Man in one person. He came to live the life the law requires. He came to fulfill all righteousness for us, to do what only God can do. We sinners have fallen far short of God’s requirement, but Jesus met it. He met it for us.
And then He went to the cross absorbing the punishment for our violations of the law. He suffered for the people’s rejection of the truth in Jerusalem. He suffered for every time a Christian house of prayer is used to pedal the world’s goods. He suffered for our self-righteousness, our spiritual laziness, and our selfish attitudes.
Whether you own up to them or not, Jesus shed His blood for each and every one of your sins and my sins. The price has been paid. The payment is made. No bad deed went unpunished. Jesus bore the sins of all. He suffered death and hell for all. God and man have been reconciled. The sin that separated God and man was atoned for. Jesus made peace between us. That means you have nothing to lose by confessing your sins—nothing except your pride.
When you repent of your sin, God does not sit on His throne weighing the pros and cons of forgiving you. Your sin was already forgiven when Jesus hung on the cross. So then why should you have to confess your sins? Because you need to remember who you are in relation to God. You are the sinner. He is the Savior. There is no justification for your sinning. But there is justification for those who admit their sin and trust in the grace of God.
You cannot come to this understanding on your own. On your own, you would be at war with God, trying to show how you are better than He says you are. But the Holy Spirit humbles you through the law and then brings you peace through the Gospel. Through the law, He cleanses the temple of your body like Jesus cleansed the temple in Jerusalem. Through the Gospel He fills you with the righteousness and glory of God.
So the work is done for you. Your sins are forgiven. In Jesus, You Have the Things That Make for Peace. Is that it? Should each of us go back to our homes secure in the knowledge of God’s mercy and grace toward us? Yes! And day after day, we should retrace the spiritual steps that brought us this comfort. You and I sin every day, so we should repent every day. And every day we should replenish our hearts and souls with God’s message of peace. Then a week from now, we will have the opportunity to be fed again through Word and Sacrament in the divine service just as we have been fed today.
When Jesus was teaching daily in the temple, we are told that “all the people were hanging on His words.” They listened intently to Him. They did not want to miss anything, because Jesus had “the words of eternal life” (Joh. 6:68). He spoke words that they could not live without. He spoke words of peace, peace for the greatest and the smallest, peace for the good and the bad, peace for you and for me.
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 of the “Reconstruction of Jerusalem and the Temple of Herod” by James Tissot, 1836-1902)
The Third Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Luke 15:1-10
In Christ Jesus, who “is patient toward [us], not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2Pe. 3:9), dear fellow redeemed:
You don’t realize how much a music soundtrack and sound effects change the movie-watching experience until the sound is removed. Without sound, an action sequence is not as impressive, and a scene of suspense is not as compelling. Sound makes the image much more powerful and impactful.
When our thoughts turn toward heaven, and we imagine what heaven is like, I think we often picture heaven without much sound. We might imagine shouts of joy when family members and friends are reunited there. But otherwise, we may think of a peaceful setting, something like a walk through a meadow or time spent by a river or lake.
Heaven is a bit noisier than that. Isaiah wrote about the angels in heaven calling to one another in voices powerful enough to shake “the foundations of the thresholds.” They say, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” (Isa. 6:3-4). The apostle John wrote about heaven being filled with the sound of trumpets and described “flashes of lightning, and rumblings, and peals of thunder” coming from the throne (Rev. 4:5). He said the “Holy, holy, holy” cry does not cease day or night, and the twenty-four elders respond with their own song of praise (4:8-11). The saints in heaven also join in these songs of praise. John speaks about hearing “the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, ‘Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns!’” (19:6).
What we hear in heaven will far surpass what is produced by the greatest musicians and singers here on earth. Unlike here, the sounds that come from our mouths in heaven will always be beautiful and holy and right. There is no imperfection in heaven. That includes imperfections in our singing and hearing.
I expect that in heaven, we will be able to detect and appreciate layers of sound unknown to us now. Just think of those trumpets and rumblings and shouts and singing blending together in a rich and holy song that our ears will never tire of hearing. Four-part harmony will not impress us in heaven like it does here. Maybe heaven will feature forty-part harmony or four-hundred-part harmony.
But why this emphasis today on the sounds of heaven? It is because Jesus says in today’s text that “there will be more joy in heaven/there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” A celebration without sound wouldn’t be much of a celebration, no matter how amazing it looks. When a sinner repents, the halls of heaven ring with the sound of thanksgiving—thanksgiving to God for His abundant grace.
But why is it that repentance causes this reaction? Repentance is not something the world celebrates. The world celebrates things like birthdays, graduations, promotions at work, and the purchase of a home. The world has even taken to celebrating when a person dies, focusing on happy memories of that person’s life because it cannot bear to face the reality of death. The saints and angels in heaven do not celebrate these things, as significant as they may seem to us here. They celebrate our repentance. And if that is what the saints and angels celebrate around God’s throne, this must be what God celebrates too.
So what exactly is this repentance? The word for “repent” means “to change one’s mind,” “to turn back.” We change our minds all the time, such as what we want to eat or what we want to do with our day. But the repentance Jesus talks about here is a spiritual turning, a spiritual changing of the mind. This is necessary because the unconverted mind, “the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God,” as Scripture says; “it does not submit to God’s law” (Rom. 8:7).
The first table of God’s law demands that we love Him “with all [our] mind” (Mat. 22:37). The second table demands that we “love [our] neighbor as [ourselves]” (v. 39). No human being born of a sinful father and mother has done these things, because each person has inherited the sin of his parents, passed down through the generations all the way from Adam and Eve. By nature, we are opposed to God; we do not want to live by His rules. We want to make our own rules. We are self-centered and selfish. In this state, we are ruled by the devil and are stuck in his kingdom of darkness without any way of getting ourselves out.
But the merciful Lord is firmly invested in freeing us from this hopeless life. God the Father sent His eternal Son to enter the fallen world and lead us into His marvelous light. That is easier said than done! In order to free us from our chains of sin and death, Jesus had to pay the price. He had to pay the debt we owed by shedding His holy blood and giving Himself up to the jaws of death. This was the only way to satisfy the Father’s wrath against sin. It was the only way to overcome the devil’s hold on sinners.
His saving work was done for all sinners, but not all sinners believe it. It is a mystery to us why some hear the Word of God and repent, while others hear the Word but do not repent. We are all equally sinful. We are all equally lost in the darkness by nature. None of us deserves to be forgiven by God. But by the power of the Holy Spirit through the Word, some are converted. Some are led to repentance and faith.
If we think that our conversion must depend in some way on ourselves, today’s text—among many others—says otherwise. Jesus describes a sheep that wandered away, referring to a person who has wandered away from God into sin. The shepherd does not sit around waiting for the sheep to come back on its own. He goes after it. And when he finds it, he puts it on his shoulders and carries it to safety. That does not sound like cooperation in conversion.
But for those who would say that the sheep could possibly have returned on its own, what about the next example Jesus gave? How likely is it that a lost coin by its own power could roll itself back into the purse of its owner? Ephesians 2 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” (vv. 8-9).
When the Holy Spirit turns back the sinner from the path of destruction and works a spiritual change in his mind and heart, this is when heaven erupts in celebration. We can’t always know when this celebration happens. It certainly happens when a baby is baptized and when an adult confesses the true faith. But in some cases, a person’s confession is not honest, and his repentance is not heartfelt. The Bible tells us there are some who may appear to be model Christians, but who live otherwise than they confess, or who think otherwise than they say.
It is one thing to fall into sin unintentionally. Maybe you got caught up in a crowd that behaved badly. Or you stumbled across something you were not seeking out but which led you to sin. This can happen when you spend time on the internet or look for something to watch on TV. Or maybe unkind, impure, or judgmental thoughts enter your mind about another person, and you are immediately sorry for thinking in those ways. These sins are not faith-destroying, and God will help us fight these temptations.
But intentionally and willfully doing what God condemns can and does destroy faith. Christians are not immune to these sins. In fact the devil works harder to pull us from the faith than he works on those who are already in darkness. Some Christians fall into sin and instead of acknowledging the sin—even if the consequences would be severe—they try to cover them up, hide them. But nothing can be hidden from God, and what the unrepentant will face on the last day is far worse than anything they might experience here.
All of us have need of repentance. We sin many times every day. We have all done things we knew were wrong, but we did them anyway—and often more than once. None of us is righteous. But the Lord is gracious. He works to bring us back when we fall into sin. Like those tax collectors and sinners, the Lord moves us to repent through His law, and He draws us near to hear His Word of grace. He wants us to know that all our sin is forgiven, all the things that trouble our conscience and make us feel ashamed. All of it was set on Jesus, who suffered and died in our place so that we might live.
The Good Shepherd loves to hear us humbly repent of our sins and rejoice in His forgiveness. We are ones whom He has brought back from our wanderings, and whom He still brings back. Through daily repentance, He leads us again and again to the still waters of our Baptism and guides us to the green pastures of His Word and Sacrament. These great spiritual blessings which God showers down upon us are a cause for continuous celebration in heaven.
We do not see or hear the saints and angels in their songs of praise, but by faith in Jesus we are already counted in their number. We join these songs of praise imperfectly here on earth as we thank God for His mercy toward us. And we look forward to being among the great host in heaven, where we will forever rejoice in the Lord’s great love for 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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(portion of “The Good Shepherd” painting by James Tissot, 1836-1902)
New Year’s Eve – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Luke 13:6-9
In Christ Jesus, who patiently and diligently calls us to repentance and faith, dear fellow redeemed:
When making New Year’s resolutions, not many will seriously resolve to do things that are bad. Almost no one says, “I am going to eat and drink too much, so I can be unhealthy.” “I am going to be a lazy worker and take advantage of my employer.” “I am going to hurt the people around me with my short temper and selfish behavior.” “I am going to assume the worst and be easily offended.” Typically, our resolutions have to do with adopting a healthier lifestyle, working harder, treating the people around us better, and having a positive outlook on life.
But for all the promise that a new year brings, our plans do not always play out like we hope. Before too long, our good intentions fail, and we often revert to the same old habits. That doesn’t mean we should give up on our resolutions. Having the desire to be and do better is important even if we fail to really improve. Even if we do improve and succeed at our resolutions, this will not guarantee a happy new year for each of us. Our joy in the new year is not about carrying out our own plans, but on following God’s plan for us, a plan which has two major parts.
The first part of His plan does not start with what you will do, but what you already have done. His plan for you starts with your repentance, the acknowledgement of your sins. Everyone making new year’s resolutions does this, but only in part. People don’t make resolutions unless they recognize they have failed in some way. They resolve to lose weight because they have maintained a poor diet and insufficient exercise habits. They resolve to treat others better because they have often treated them poorly.
But backed into a corner, most will try to pin their failures on others. “I am overweight and out of shape because of my work and family responsibilities.” “I would have treated my family members and co-workers better if they showed me some respect and didn’t expect me to do everything for them.” So even though there is recognition of failure, there is not necessarily repentance.
Repentance comes from the heart. It is a breaking down of all my excuses, all my pride, all my bravado, and stating the matter exactly as it is. I am a sinner. I am not what I should be. I have not done what I should do. I deserve to feel the holy wrath of God for eternity. Repentance is to speak as David did after his adultery, murder, and lies had been uncovered. “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me,” he said to God. “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment” (Ps. 51:3-4).
Until the LORD brought David to repentance, he had fallen from grace. He was an unbeliever—even David, whom the LORD had called “a man after his own heart” (1Sam. 13:14, Ac. 13:20). If the great King David could fall, who penned our most beautiful Psalms, then any of us could as well. The devil is only too happy to take our hand and help us along the path toward unbelief. Like David who was overcome with lust when he saw a woman bathing, so the devil uses pornographic images to draw men away from healthy sexual behavior and from marriage. He tempts people to abuse drink and drugs, so that they think of little else. He fills hearts and heads with stubbornness and selfishness, causing an epidemic of people who are eagle-eyed about what they can get from others and blind to what they should give.
Maybe you haven’t succumbed to these addictions and bad behaviors. Maybe you are the one people think of when they hear the adjectives “kind,” “faithful,” and “generous.” Then you need to watch out for the temptations to pride and self-reliance. You certainly should resolve to do good things and live better, but you should not imagine that you have accomplished everything God has given you to do.
If you were to measure yourself against the people around you, you might think you are doing pretty well. But God tells you to measure yourself against His holy law. His law is a mirror that shows you a true reflection of your sinful nature. Notice in Jesus’ parable how the owner of the vineyard clearly saw the problem with his fig tree: three years with no fruit. The fig tree did not judge itself. If it could think, it might have regarded itself as a lovely tree, with beautiful branches and leaves. It provided a place for birds to nest and a nice spot in the shade for anyone looking for relief from the sun. What did it matter whether it had fruit or not?
This is how it goes for the person who does not measure himself against God’s law. He thinks he is living a virtuous life. She thinks that God must be happy with her. But that cannot be true when there is no repentance.
The second part of God’s plan after your repentance is for you is that you look to Him in faith. If all you had were His law, you could do nothing but hang your head in shame and wait for His judgment. But God has given you hope. He has given you His Son. God’s Son arrived on earth with resolutions of His own. He resolved to perfectly keep the law of God on behalf of sinners. And He resolved to atone for all sin and crush Satan by His death on the cross. These were not empty promises. God set His mind to save sinners, and He would not let anything derail His plans.
Your God did for you exactly what He said He would. He did live a holy life in your place, and He did redeem you from your sin and death. Your status before God does not depend on your improving and getting holier day after day. His love for you will not change even when you fall into sin. While you should repent of all your sins committed in the past year, you should also believe that those sins are erased from God’s ledger. They are already forgiven. The tension between your sinfulness and God’s law is resolved in Jesus, who gave Himself for you.
Now you could hear what I just said and let the devil twist it like this: “Well, if Jesus forgives my sins, then I might as well just go on sinning.” And why not? Whether I do well or poorly, won’t Jesus love me just the same? Here’s the problem with this thinking: You can’t have Jesus while hating His Word. Whenever you willfully do something that the Bible says you should not do, you show what little respect you have for God. Then you are in danger of being the fruitless fig tree that the master of the vineyard orders to be cut down and destroyed.
Believers in Jesus want to live according to His Word. They want to do what pleases Him. They willingly repent of their sins knowing that God is already aware of the wrongs committed and already forgives it. They humbly commit their life, their work, and their future to God’s hands trusting that He will bless them and bless others through them.
And He does. Even through us weak sinners, the Lord brings blessings to those around us. He brings love and stability to our families through our feeble efforts, He gives daily bread to others through our imperfect work, and He provides help to our neighbors even though our service is not always so willing. You may not be living the life you dreamed you would when you were younger. But God has put you where you are now to love and serve your neighbors.
Your acts of love and kindness are the fruits of faith produced in you by the Holy Spirit. The Apostle Paul listed such fruits in his letter to the Galatians. They are the fruits of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (5:22-23). God produces these fruits by applying and reapplying the potent fertilizer of His Word. His Word keeps your faith fed and your spiritual life growing. His law shows you where you have fallen short and what needs to change in your life. His Gospel gives you the eternal blessings won by Jesus. The Gospel is like a tree full of fruit providing exactly what your hungry soul needs—the righteousness, forgiveness, and life of your Savior. The Gospel also motivates you to share the love of Jesus with others.
This is how God’s Plan for You in the New Year is carried out. He leads you to repentance and faith through His Word. Peter in today’s Epistle lesson describes the Word of God as “living and abiding,” a Word that “remains forever” (1Pe. 1:23,25). You were planted in God’s kingdom through the imperishable seed of this Word, and it is through this living Word that God keeps your faith alive and growing. You may or may not keep your resolutions in the coming year, but God will keep His. He will comfort and strengthen you through His Word as He has promised, and He will bring you the same heavenly blessings in the coming year as He has given you in years past.
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(picture is from a painting by James Tissot, 1836-1902)
The Tenth Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Luke 19:41-48
In Christ Jesus, who saves us from destruction and from despair, dear fellow redeemed:
Jesus had been teaching and preaching for the better part of three years. He had gained many disciples, but also many enemies. While He was walking in the temple, the Jewish leaders surrounded Him and said, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly” (Jn. 10:24). Jesus replied, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand” (vv. 27-28). At this, they picked up stones to kill Him, but He escaped from them and traveled with His disciples to the other side of the Jordan River. Jerusalem with its heightened tensions did not seem a safe place for Jesus to be.
But then He received word that his friend Lazarus from the town of Bethany was sick. The problem was that Bethany was only about two miles away from Jerusalem. His disciples cautioned Him; they knew what His enemies would try to do to Him if He went there. Would He go? Jesus said, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him” (11:11). Jesus was referring to Lazarus’ death and His plan to raise him to life again. When He arrived in Bethany, Lazarus had been dead and buried for four days. His sisters Martha and Mary were overcome with sorrow. They told Jesus what must have been running over and over again through their minds, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (vv. 21,32).
When Jesus saw the grief of Mary and the whole crowd, “he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to him, ‘Lord, come and see.’” (vv. 33-34). Then Jesus did something unexpected: He wept. He cried right out in the open, in view of everyone there. Why did Jesus do this? He is God! Why would One who controls the wind and the waves, who kills and makes alive (Deut. 32:39), who knew what He was about to do—why would this One cry? Because a moment later, He commanded Lazarus to come forth from the tomb. And Lazarus did. So why the tears when life and joy were in view?
Have you ever felt like the weight of the world was on your shoulders? That is just an expression. But Jesus actually did feel the weight of the world on Him. Isaiah tells us that He bore every grief and carried every sorrow (Is. 53:4). All the troubles and sins of the world rested on Him. And you can only imagine that the weight became heavier and heavier the closer He came to His hour, to the time that He would suffer hell and death for everyone.
That time was fast approaching when Jesus arrived in Bethany. He saw what pain and distress Death—that great enemy of mankind—had caused. And He tasted there the bitterness of His own impending death. He knew what it would do to another Mary, His mother, and how terribly His brothers the disciples would be shaken. “He was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled.” He wept. And that wasn’t the last time.
Jesus left Bethany without incident, though the Sanhedrin was actively plotting His death. Now, He no longer walked openly among the people, but went to stay north of Jerusalem near the wilderness (11:54). When the time of the Passover came that spring, the people in Jerusalem wondered if Jesus would come. Many hoped He would, so they could interact with and listen to the One who could even bring back the dead. Others probably hoped He would stay away, because they knew what their leaders wanted to do to Him.
Jesus did come. He first stopped in Bethany, where He shared a meal with His friends. When word about this got to Jerusalem, many came to see both Him and Lazarus (12:9). This was on a Saturday, with the Passover just six days away. The next day, Jesus prepared to go to Jerusalem. By now, everyone knew about His arrival. Great crowds went to meet Him with palm branches in hand, and singing “Hosanna to the Son of David!” On a carpet of cloaks and branches, Jesus rode forward.
As He looked up at the great city that sat proudly upon Mount Zion, we imagine what thoughts must have filled His mind. This was the city of David, the city of God’s holy presence in the temple. This was the city of many faithful patriarchs and prophets. But this city that He loved was about to turn against Him in the worst way. This is where He would die, right outside these walls. This is where all the forces of evil would converge upon Him, and He would endure the agonizing separation from His own heavenly Father. And just as He had not long before at the tomb of Lazarus, Jesus again wept. “He wept over [the city], saying, ‘Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.’”
He wept because He could see the future. He knew what was in store for Jerusalem. He described it just as though He was sitting there watching forty years later. He said, “[Y]our enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you.” This is what happened in the year 70. The Jews had rebelled against the oppressive rule of Roman governors. They had in their minds the glory days of the Maccabees, when Israel had won its independence. The LORD God would fight for them again! He would have mercy on His people!
But they didn’t see. They didn’t comprehend what they had done. The temple curtain had torn for a reason when Jesus died. The temple sacrifices should have ceased, since the Lamb of God had been slain for sin, once for all. Peter told the crowd on Pentecost, “[Y]ou crucified and killed” Jesus the Messiah (Ac. 2:23). Many listened. By the power of the Holy Spirit, they believed and were baptized. But others rejected the Gospel. Led by men like the murderous Saul, they attacked the Christians, driving many of them out of Jerusalem. Those who remained evacuated the city when they saw trouble brewing with the Romans. By this time, the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke had been written and circulated. The Christians knew what Jesus had said. They knew that destruction was coming upon Jerusalem. When the Romans laid siege to the city, the Christians had all safely relocated. The Lord had preserved them.
But the people within the city were not preserved. They ran out of food and water. They resorted to eating the leather of their sandals and worse. The dead multiplied. The siege lasted for months until the Romans finally breeched the walls. With swift violence, they cut down soldier and citizen alike. They set fire to homes, to the palace, and to the grand, beautiful temple. Everything burned. So many died. This destruction happened in August of the year 70, which is why this Gospel reading is appointed to be read in August.
Why did this happen to the people of Jerusalem? Through tears, Jesus said that this was “because you did not know the time of your visitation.” What was “the time of [their] visitation”? It was His visitation. It was the long-promised coming of the Messiah to save them. He wept because He loved them. He loved them to death—all the way to His death. Would that they had known “the things that make for peace”!
Do you know these things? Yes, you do. But it is easy to forget them. It is easy to get lazy in your faith, so that your confession comes from habit and not from the heart. It is easy to take God’s Word for granted and not regularly apply it to your life. It is easy to fall into sin like into a nice, warm bed, and get comfortable in it. It is easy to put off repentance, because “there will be plenty of time for that later.” But God does not say “later,” He does not say “tomorrow.” He says, “Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2Cor. 6:2). Now is the time to repent. Now is when the Holy Spirit brings absolution and salvation to the humble and contrite.
The Lord does not have to weep over you because He has saved you. He suffered your hell for you. He died your death for you. Think of Him on the cross, nailed there for you. See How Jesus Loves You! Will you reject His love? No! Without Jesus, there is no hope, there is no salvation. Without Jesus, there is only pain and destruction.
But with Jesus, there is comfort through every trial and every terror of life. When Jesus stood there weeping after the death of Lazarus, the Jews remarked, “See how he loved him!” (Jn. 11:36). Then He did something to show His love. He broke the grip of death with a word, and Lazarus arose. Jesus knows the terrible pain of death. He felt it Himself. But He conquered it, and He promises to awaken you and your loved ones with a word, just as He did Lazarus.
And when you weep for those who have rejected the faith like the inhabitants of Jerusalem—whether it be your children or your parents, your relatives or friends—remember how Jesus wept for sinners. He is not uncaring. He has “no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live” (Ez. 33:11). He “desires all people to be saved” (1Tim. 2:4). The Lord hears your prayers. He does not forget His children, especially those who have already been brought to Him through Holy Baptism.
It is okay to weep for those who have fallen away, and for those who are now at rest. But weep with faith in your Savior and His promises. Take refuge in Him. Commit your cares to Him. Jesus will not forsake you. He redeemed you. He intercedes for you and all your loved ones at the right hand of God. He continues to fight the good fight for your souls. See How He Loves You! With a love that will never change.
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