The Infancy of Jesus – Pr. Faugstad homily
St. Luke 2:21 – Circumcision/Naming of Jesus (8 days from birth)
Prayer: O Lord God, for our sakes You made Your blessed Son, our Savior, subject to the law and caused Him to endure the circumcision of the flesh: Grant us the true circumcision of the Spirit, that our hearts may be pure from all sinful desires and lusts; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one true God, now and forever. Amen.
Hymn #158 – “The Ancient Law Departs”
St. Luke 2:22-38 – Presentation in Temple (40 days from birth)
Prayer: O God our heavenly Father, You have shown Your love toward us by sending Your only-begotten Son into the world, that all might have life through Him: We pray that You would speed forth these good tidings of great joy to every nation, that the people who sit in darkness may see the great Light and may come to worship Him who is called Wonderful, even our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Hymn #151.1-4 – “Thou Light of Gentile Nations”
St. Matthew 2:1-12 – Wise Men Visit (about a year from birth)
Prayer: O God, by the leading of a star You manifested Your only-begotten Son to the Gentiles: Mercifully grant that we, who know You now by faith, may after this life enjoy the fullness of Your glorious Godhead; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one true God, now and forever. Amen.
Hymn #120.1-4 – “Bright and Glorious Is the Sky”
St. Matthew 2:13-23 – Move to Egypt and Nazareth (first years of Jesus’ life)
Prayer: O Lord God, heavenly Father, You allowed Your dear Son, Jesus Christ, to become a stranger and a sojourner in Egypt for our sakes, and led Him safely home to His fatherland: Mercifully grant that we poor sinners, who are strangers and sojourners in this perilous world, may soon be called home to our true fatherland, the kingdom of heaven, where we shall live in eternal joy and glory; through the same, Your beloved Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one true God, now and forever. Amen.
Hymn #173.1-2, 5 – “The Star Proclaims the King Is Here”
In Christ Jesus, who “made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Phi. 2:7) in order to be our Savior, dear fellow redeemed:
When we hear about the infancy and early childhood of Jesus, there is nothing impressive about the way He is described. His skin did not glow with an inner light, and His face did not shine like the sun. Any of the local people who saw Him in Mary’s arms would have concluded that He was just another little boy.
This is such a great mystery. Because the Boy in Mary’s arms was the eternal Son of God! “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (Joh. 1:3). He was Mary’s God who gave her life, and yet now she had given birth to Him, the Christ-Child. He was willing to be fed by her and be rocked to sleep. She changed His diapers and kept Him from wandering off when He started using His toddler legs.
During His early years, Jesus doesn’t look like much of a Savior. In today’s readings, the emphasis is on what was done for Him. Jesus appears totally helpless, totally passive. Eight days from His birth, His skin was cut at His circumcision and He bled. Forty days from His birth, Joseph and Mary brought Him to the temple where Simeon took the Baby into his arms. Within the next year or so, the wise men knelt before Jesus and gave Him gifts. And then Joseph had to rush his family away from Bethlehem to escape the jealous rage of Herod.
But while Jesus appeared to be passive in all these events, He was fully engaged in them. All these things were happening according to the will of God the Father, and His Son was in perfect obedience to His will. Jesus was circumcised so that He would be bound to keep the Law of God to the smallest detail. He was presented in the temple to show that He was set apart for the Lord’s work. He drew the wise men by a star to Bethlehem to prove that He had come not only for the Jews but also for the Gentiles. He traveled to Egypt and then back to Nazareth in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy (Hos. 11:1, Isa. 11:1).
Everything in His early years had a purpose. All of it was focused on the salvation of sinners, even though His ultimate sacrifice on the cross would not come for some thirty years. He came in total humility, not making full use of His divine powers. This is why the knife cut into His flesh at His circumcision. This is why He remained silent while Simeon and Anna identified Him as the Messiah. This is why He did not show His glory to the wise men. This is why He relied on Joseph to lead the family to safety.
God’s Son humbled Himself, so we would be exalted. As the apostle Paul wrote: “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Gal. 4:4-5). Jesus put Himself under the Law to redeem us, to buy us back from eternal death. We have all sinned against the Law of God, breaking it in every way, and “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23).
But because Jesus kept the Law perfectly for us, we are now counted as righteous before God. If Jesus had only been a perfect Man, His keeping of the Law could only count for Him. But He is also true God. That means when He kept the Law perfectly as a Man, it counted for all men. And we have received adoption as sons of God, because our Brother Jesus gave His life for ours on the cross. He paid the penalty for our sin. He endured His Father’s righteous wrath in our place.
That little Baby may not have looked like our Savior, but He was. Because of His perfect life and death for us, we know we enter this New Year with God’s favor. Jesus’ holy blood cleanses us from every sin, and His perfect righteousness covers us, so that no spot or blemish can be seen on us anymore. So with the hymnwriter we give thanks to Him and pray:
I am pure, in Thee believing,
From Thy store
Righteous robes receiving.
In my heart I will enfold Thee,
Let me there,
Loving, ever hold Thee. Amen.
(Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary #115, v. 14)
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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(stained glass picture from St. Michael’s Cathedral in Toronto)
The Holy Nativity of Our Lord – Pr. Faugstad exordium and sermon
Text: St. Luke 2:15-20
The darkness of winter weighs on us. It can seem like the long, warm days of summer will never return. We can experience a similar darkness in our spirit. We feel like each day brings more bad news. Nothing seems to come easy or work out right. We grieve the loss of better times. A dark cloud hangs over us. We can’t imagine feeling happy and joyful again.
Sometimes this darkness is due to wrongs we have done that we are unable to fix. We sinned against someone or against our own conscience, and the memory sticks with us as though it happened yesterday. Or we carry wounds from the sins others have committed against us, and the hurt still cuts deep.
This darkness around us and in us is the reason God sent His Son to take on our flesh. More than 700 years before Jesus’ birth, the prophet Isaiah described the effect His coming would have: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined” (Isa. 9:2). About 400 years before Jesus’ birth, the prophet Malachi referred to Him as “the sun of righteousness [who] shall rise with healing in its wings” (Mal. 4:2).
Jesus is “the light of the world” who came to bring “the light of life” to us who were lost in the darkness of sin and death (Joh. 8:12). He came to shine His healing light into our world of pain and sadness and to send His bright beams of grace into hearts full of turmoil and despair. His coming ushered in a glorious new day of hope and salvation for us that the darkness cannot overcome (Joh. 1:5).
Living in this light, we now rise and sing our festival hymn, “Rejoice, Rejoice This Happy Morn!” (#142):
Rejoice, rejoice this happy morn!
A Savior unto us is born,
The Christ, the Lord of glory.
His lowly birth in Bethlehem
The angels from on high proclaim
And sing redemption’s story.
God’s great favor;
Bless Him ever
Give Him praise and adoration!
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Sermon text: St. Luke 2:15-20
In Christ Jesus, the Son of God, whose coming in the flesh as a little Baby is the most monumental event in human history, dear fellow redeemed:
It’s natural to feel a bit of a letdown after Christmas. There was so much to do leading up to it: decorating the house, buying and wrapping presents, mailing cards, baking the favorite treats. Then suddenly, Christmas has passed by. The brightly wrapped presents under the tree have all been opened. The beautiful plates of cookies have turned into extra insulation around the waist. The decorations are put away. And the warmth and anticipation of the Christmas season gives way to the harsh cold of winter.
But the days after Christmas do not have to be a letdown. I don’t think it was for the people who played a part in the story of Jesus’ birth. Take the shepherds. They didn’t see Christmas coming. All of a sudden, an angel appears to them at night telling them the “good tidings of great joy” that the Savior, “Christ the Lord,” had been born in Bethlehem. The angel tells them to go to town and look for a Baby “wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” And if that wasn’t stunning enough, then the sky fills with a vast number of angels singing praises to God.
Imagine the wide eyes and open mouths of those shepherds. As soon as the angels disappeared, they must have given each other the look of: “Did that just happen!?!” And then, bubbling with excitement, they all talked at the same time, stumbling over their words, “Let’s go to Bethlehem!” “The Savior is here!” “The Lord has told us!” They took off as fast as they could.
Now we might have the idea that there was just one little stable on the outskirts of Bethlehem, and the shepherds went right there. But scholars suggest that it would have been common for the people of the day to have livestock in rooms or sheds adjoining their homes. The excited shepherds could have knocked on any number of doors in their search for the Baby Jesus.
How do you suppose those conversations went? Knock, knock. The owner of the house answers sleepily or with apprehension: “Yes?” Then the panting shepherds: “Is there a baby here!” | “Do you know what hour of the night it is?” | “Please! Is there a baby here? The Savior, the Christ, has been born!” Or maybe the stable entrances were obvious and the shepherds peaked through doors and windows looking for the sign the angel gave them.
They continued their excited search until they finally found Mary, Joseph, and the little Lord Jesus. There He was, “wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” The shepherds knew they were not worthy to lay eyes on the Christ-Child. Here was the fulfillment of God’s promise. Even in this humble setting, they stood on holy ground. Joseph and Mary must have been surprised by these unexpected visitors. They were even more surprised when the shepherds told them what they had seen and heard out in the fields.
After looking upon their Savior, the shepherds couldn’t keep their excitement to themselves. Maybe they even stopped by the same houses they had been at before. Knock, knock. “Not those crazy shepherds again!” They would not be silent. They told everyone what they had experienced. They returned to their work, “glorifying and praising God” for all He had so graciously revealed to them.
And that is the last we hear about these shepherds. They figure so prominently in the revealing of Christ’s birth, and then they disappear from the biblical account. What do you suppose the day after Christmas was like for them? We can assume it wasn’t just another day on the job. They didn’t put away the vision of the angels and the visit to the manger like we might put away our ornaments and nativities. Christmas had changed them. Nothing would—or could—be the same for them again.
They must have kept turning over every detail in their minds. They talked with one another about what this all means. If they were not students of the Scriptures before this, I suspect they became dedicated ones now. I wouldn’t be surprised if they returned to visit the Baby Jesus and watched Him grow. Might they have brought their best wool for His baby bed? And they kept telling the people they met about this good news.
I’m sure there were at least some who despised them. They grew tired of the angel stories and the talk of a special Baby in a manger. Why would God give these dirty shepherds such a privilege? They told the shepherds to keep it to themselves and stop pedaling their dreams and hallucinations. “You just worry about your sheep, and leave us alone!” But how could the shepherds stay silent? They were telling the truth! How could they not share these “good tidings of great joy,” which were meant for “all people”?
Whether or not the shepherds faced exactly this opposition, you and I certainly do. God has had mercy on us and revealed to us the salvation Jesus won for us. The Holy Spirit has brought us to faith in Him through the powerful Gospel and assures us that all who trust in Jesus will have eternal life. There is nothing better we could give to the people around us. There is nothing they need more than this.
And yet, we are sometimes reluctant to share the glorious hope we have. We doubt our ability to explain the Gospel truth. We worry what our friends and acquaintances will think of us if we talk about Jesus. What if they make fun of us? What if they accuse us of trying to force our religious beliefs on them? What if they threaten to harm us if we keep speaking up? We don’t want to stand out; we want to fit in.
But the truth is the truth, whether it is welcome or not. As the apostles Peter and John said to the angry Jewish council: “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Act. 4:19-20). It really all boils down to the question of whether God took on our flesh to save us or not. If He did—if what the Bible tells us about Christ’s birth, death, and resurrection is true—then we cannot keep this good news to ourselves. Then we cannot act like these things have not happened.
We can take our cue from the shepherds. The day after Christmas was no letdown for them. It was more than the dawn of a new day. It was the dawn of a new era, the era of God’s forgiveness, grace, and salvation, and the beginning of the countdown to the final day of redemption. We can also learn something from Mary. “Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.” We don’t move past Christmas, not even in a few weeks or a month. We keep Christmas with us by pondering it in our hearts.
We ponder the depths of God the Father’s love for us, that He would send His Son to be our Substitute and Savior. We ponder our Lord’s great humility, that He would lower Himself to become our Servant so that He might lift us up to glory. We ponder the wondrous exchange, that Jesus took on our sin in order to give us His righteousness. We ponder the compassion and mercy the Lord still has for us in visiting us in every trouble, pain, and sadness.
Jesus was born to save us. He was born to give us rebirth and new life. The shepherds praised God for this Savior, and so do we. Christmas Day may come and go each year. But God’s love for us and the salvation Jesus has won is the same “yesterday and today and forever” (Heb. 13:8).
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 “Adoration of the Shepherds” by Gerard van Honthorst, 1592-1656)
The Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: Galatians 3:15-22
In Christ Jesus, in whom “all the promises of God find their Yes” (2Co. 1:20), dear fellow redeemed:
It is election season in our country, which means it is a time when politicians make a lot of promises. Some of those promises are within their power to carry out if they are elected. Other promises they only hope they can keep. Still other promises are made to score political points, but there is really no follow through to fulfill them. A politician makes these promises to secure votes. In other words, he is willing to give something in order to get something in return.
That doesn’t sound very impressive, but a lot of our promises are like that. We promise to give our best on the field or court or in the classroom, and we expect our good effort to be recognized. We promise to work hard for an employer, and we expect to be treated well in return. We promise to be faithful to our spouse, and we expect their faithfulness to us. When we know our promises will be rewarded, it is easier for us to keep them.
It is much harder to keep our promises when the person we have made a promise to proves unworthy of it. Then we might try to go back and adjust our promise. “What I really meant was that I promise to do this or that if you meet my conditions, or as long as I am happy with you.” Experiencing betrayals and hurts might also cause us to adjust our promises on the front end. This has happened with marriage vows in certain places where “as long as we both shall live” has been changed to “as long as we still love each other.” But a conditional promise is really no promise at all.
A true promise is difficult business. A true promise puts us in another person’s debt. It commits us to serve them in some way, and service always requires sacrifice. Making a promise conditional or making no promises at all is much “safer,” so to speak. But that is not the way we have been taught by God. That is the way of selfishness, not the way of love.
Our gracious and merciful Lord does not make conditional promises. He does exactly what He says He will do. The promise that Paul writes about in today’s Epistle is the promise God made to Abraham after Abraham was ready to sacrifice his son Isaac (Gen. 22:15-18). But although it included a formal covenant, it wasn’t really a new promise. At its core, it pointed to an old promise, the promise of salvation for sinners. God first made this promise to Adam and Eve after they fell into sin.
When you read the account of the fall in Genesis chapter 3, you might expect to find Adam and Eve asking God what they could do to get right with Him again. Or you might expect God to give them some incentive to be better and prove themselves to Him. Neither of those things happens. First He makes the promise that the Seed of the woman will crush the serpent’s head (3:15). Then He outlines the consequences that man and woman will face because of their sins (vv. 16-19). No impression is given that the fulfillment of God’s promise to save is dependent on how well Adam and Eve carried out their callings in a sinful world.
The same goes for Abraham. The LORD called Abraham away from the idol worship of his father’s house. Abraham in no way deserved God’s favor, but the LORD chose him as an ancestor of the promised Messiah and gave him faith to believe the promise (Gen. 15:6). Even Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his only son at God’s command did not cause God to keep His promise.
If God’s promise to send a Savior depended on the world’s worthiness to receive this gift, no Savior would have ever come. The LORD did not negotiate terms for sending a Savior like Abraham did for saving Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham asked God to spare those wicked cities if only fifty righteous people were found there and then forty-five righteous ones and then thirty and then twenty and then ten (Gen. 18:22-33).
If the LORD had said He would save the world as long as fifty percent were righteous or even ten percent of the population, we would have no Savior. By nature, “None [of us] is righteous, no, not one” (Rom. 3:10). The LORD’s promise was not conditional like this. His promise did not depend on our character and our actions. It depended entirely on His holy will and His immeasurable love for us sinners.
This is why He kept His promise even though so many had despised His promise and so few were looking for its fulfillment. “[W]hen the fullness of time had come—when the time had come to fulfill the promise—, God sent forth his Son” (Gal. 4:4). God the Father sent His Son to be born into the world of men, to be subject to the holy Law, to endure terrible injustice, suffering, and pain, and to die at the hands of sinners.
If anyone had the right to change a promise because the recipients of the promise were obviously unworthy, it is God. But God did not change His promise. He kept it. He sent His only-begotten Son to die alone for the sins of the whole world. Jesus died for everyone, even for those who hate Him and His Word, for those who bow down at the altars of worldly power and pleasure and riches, for the murderers, abusers, thieves, liars, and cheats. He died for all people past, present, and future who sin. That means He died for you and me.
Besides rejecting the salvation He won, the worst thing we can do is act like we contribute toward our salvation. Many people fall into this error, including many Christians. They say things like this: “Jesus did His part, and now I have to do mine.” Or, “Jesus died for my sins, and now I have to prove I am worthy of His sacrifice.” Or comfortless statements like these, “God helps those who help themselves.”
Jesus did not fulfill the Law and die for your sins just to have the Law placed on your shoulders again. Keeping the Law does not complete your salvation or give you another way to obtain salvation. This is St. Paul’s emphasis in today’s text. He said that God gave the promise of salvation to Abraham 430 years before He gave the Law through Moses. The giving of the Law did not annul God’s covenant of grace. It did not make the promise of salvation through faith void. Paul wrote that “if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise.”
You know this. You know you are saved by grace and not by works. You know that your inheritance of heaven comes by God’s promise alone. But the devil and your own flesh want to tempt you away from this certainty and get you to focus on the things you do or don’t do. So you might watch the news and think you are better than the rioters and looters. You would never behave like that! You follow the rules. You lend a helping hand. You prove every day how much more kind and loving you are than others.
Do you see the problem? Thinking so much about your own good deeds plants you in the ground of the Law. The only fruit you can bear there is self-righteousness and pride or else despair. But looking to your Savior in humility and faith plants you firmly in His promise. God did not give the Law so you could compare your righteousness with others. He gave the Law “because of transgressions,” as Paul writes. He gave the Law to humble you, to show you how far you have fallen short.
And He gave His promise to save you, to show you how deep His love is for you. No matter how often you have messed up, no matter what terrible words you have said or thoughts you have imagined toward others, God’s promise of your forgiveness has not changed. He does not say that the shed blood of Jesus takes away only minor infractions, or only benefits the people who show they are worthy. He says that “the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1Jo. 1:7).
You may feel like the most wretched sinner the world has ever known. You might hardly hope for peace with God because of your many sins. You may carry the burden of a million failures. But God says, “As surely as My holy Son died on the cross and rose again, your sins are forgiven. Your record is completely clean. Salvation is yours.”
God kept His promise to send a Savior, which means there is nothing you have to do to be saved. But what about the example of the Good Samaritan? Isn’t Jesus teaching us that we have to be kind and merciful toward those around us? He is. He is teaching us about love, which is the summary of His Law. But He is not teaching that salvation is earned by our love toward others.
Salvation was earned by His love. He is our Good Samaritan who saved us from our sin and death. Our love for Him and others comes as a response to His love, as a living sacrifice of thankfulness for what He has done. “We love because he first loved us” (1Jo. 4:19). As soon as we try to add our love to the equation of our salvation, then salvation becomes uncertain, because we do not love as God commands us to do. Paul writes: “For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.”
God has not changed His mind about you or the rest of the sinners of the world. He has not voided the work His Son did to save you. He gives no conditions to meet if you would enter into His favor. God’s Promise Stands on His faithfulness alone. That means your forgiveness, your life, and your salvation are completely secure 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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(picture of Abraham viewing the stars from 1919 Bible primer book published by Augustana Book Concern)
The Fourth Sunday of Easter – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: 1 Peter 2:11-20
In Christ Jesus, who walks with us in our suffering and comforts us with grace and peace for the present and the promise of a perfect life after this one, dear fellow redeemed:
A month and a half ago, our state officials prohibited gatherings of more than ten people, so we stopped holding regular services. Since that time, you and I have been worshipping in our homes, and we have done what we could to stay connected through the internet, phone calls, and mail. Now our state officials have lifted restrictions in our county while still urging us to take certain precautions. So here we are back in church.
That begs the question: who is in charge of the church and of our local congregation in particular? Are we required to close our doors every time the government tells us to? This question would be easy to answer if the governing officials ordered us to stop preaching God’s Word. Then we would have to “obey God rather than men” (Act. 5:29) and ignore the order. But the current case is not like that. The government imposed restrictions across society to try to protect the population and keep it safe. Protecting the population is a proper function of government which Christians support.
So where exactly should the line be drawn between church and state? They can’t be totally isolated and kept apart, or else you and I would have to choose one side or the other. But we are members of both. Martin Luther and others have talked about them as the “two kingdoms.” The church is the kingdom of God’s right hand where the emphasis is on grace and forgiveness. The state is the kingdom of God’s left hand where the emphasis is on law and justice. Without the kingdom of the left, we would live unhappy lives in anarchy and chaos. Without the kingdom of the right, we would live without hope and the promise of a better life after this one.
But living simultaneously in these two kingdoms can be tricky, as we have seen in the last few weeks. The Christians who first read St. Peter’s First Epistle did not have it any easier. In fact, they lived at a time of severe persecution by the Roman authorities. Many Christians were killed for their faith, and if the history is accurate, Peter was martyred in Rome also. I am sure it happened that non-Christians turned in their Christian neighbors to the authorities simply because they did not like them or because they hoped to gain from their deaths.
And what advice did Peter send to these Christians “under fire”? He told them to suffer patiently, to be kind, and to honor the authorities. This sounds like a different Peter than the one who was so ready to use his sword in the Garden of Gethsemane. At that time Jesus told him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (Mat. 26:52). Christians have the right to use their voice as citizens in our country, but we are not called to use physical violence to get our way.
Peter learned this lesson, and now he reminded the recipients of his letter that they are “sojourners and exiles.” They and we are not to imagine that the sinful world is our permanent place of residence. It is tempting for all of us to get more caught up in our rights as citizens than in our righteousness as saints, to pin our hopes on political activism rather than on the promises of God. We are only “sojourners” here; we’re just passing through. Ultimately, St. Paul writes, “our citizenship is in heaven” (Phi. 3:20).
And that is why we can live without fear even while a new virus rages through our country and the rest of the world. We are not desperate to hang on to this life for the sake of this life. Whether it is tomorrow or next week or next year or many years from now, our death will come if Jesus does not return first. We can embrace that death when it comes because Jesus has conquered death and forced it to serve His purposes. Now death is the dark doorway that leads us into the bright and glorious realm of heaven. There we will be not “sojourners and exiles”; we will be permanent citizens.
But we are not in heaven yet. While we are here, we have responsibilities to our neighbors, including our neighbors in the government. Peter writes that we should submit or “be subject… to every human institution… that by doing good [we] should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.” We are not motivated like so many others are by power or money or fame. Those are earthly things that cannot last. The whole world is caught up in the pursuit of these empty things.
What we have is far better. We have righteousness, redemption, and salvation. We have forgiveness, hopefulness, and life. We have freedom in Christ—freedom from our sin, freedom from the curse of the law, freedom from death. What are the fleeting things of the world compared to these eternal things? Christ has broken us free from these chains. So Peter urges us to “[l]ive as people who are free.”
But how can he say at the same time “live in freedom” and “submit to the authorities”? It is because both things—heavenly freedom and earthly authority—come from the same source. Peter writes, “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution,” “[live] as servants of God,” be subject to masters while being “mindful of God.” We submit to our authorities not because we fear, love, and trust in them above all things, but because we fear, love, and trust in God. We recognize that He has established the earthly authorities. As Jesus told Pontius Pilate, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above” (Joh. 19:11).
But what happens when the authorities behave badly, and instead of punishing the evil and praising the good, they do the opposite? Then they have clearly abused the power God has granted them, like when they persecuted and killed those early Christians. And while it is proper to point out corruption and sin even when committed by ruling officials, yet they are still to be respected and honored—not for their own sake but “for the Lord’s sake.” Our eyes are always on Him. Good rulers and bad rulers come and go, but “The LORD of hosts is with us” (Psa. 46:11), and He isn’t going anywhere.
It is so easy to forget this. We forget that the Lord reigns, that He is in control. We are often looking and hoping for a perfect leader on earth, a new “messiah,” who will set everything right. Or we let a bad ruler shake our faith in the providence of God. We are so quickly caught up in these “passions of the flesh, which wage war against [our souls].” We don’t want to take the humble path. We don’t want to face trouble. We don’t want to suffer. We want things to go our way and on our timeline.
Our pride and selfishness are exactly the reasons God needs to humble us. This is why He lets trials and hardships come our way. He wants us to remember that He is the Lord, and there is none like Him. The unbelieving world in the midst of a crisis may put its total confidence in human ingenuity, medicine, or financial security. But these are temporary solutions that cannot save us. At best, they can only push off the inevitable.
Only the Lord can save, and He does save. Like you, I don’t know what the future will look like. I don’t know what illnesses, injuries, or hardships may come to us or to the people we love. I don’t know how many days the Lord has numbered for us, whether many or few. But I do know this: Jesus Christ, true God and true Man, has redeemed us with His holy, precious blood, and with His innocent suffering and death. He took the humble path. He willingly faced trouble and anguish. He obeyed His Father’s will all the way to the point of His death.
He did this so that we would have forgiveness of all our sins, no matter what stains are on our past. He did this so we would have strength to face our trials knowing that He understands our suffering. He did this so we would have life whenever our present troubles come to an end. Jesus’ death accomplished all these things, and His resurrection assures us that these blessings are ours. We do not follow a leader who had the ability to inspire but couldn’t deliver on his promises. We follow the Lord Jesus who is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity.
This is why we freely submit to those in authority over us “with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust.” We do this out of love for the Lord, who has commanded us to behave in this way. We don’t know how He will use our humble example and honorable conduct. Perhaps it is to draw others, including government officials, to His saving grace so that that they will join us in glorifying God on the day of Christ’s return.
So in all things and at all times, We Serve the Lord. We take up our crosses daily and follow Him (Luk. 9:23). We go about our work “heartily, as for the Lord and not for men” (Col. 3:23). And we take comfort that it is He who keeps us safe. It is He who blesses our work. It is He who holds our present and our future. It is He who saves us and will take us to be with Him in His heavenly kingdom.
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(picture from “Christ before Pilate” by Mihály Munkácsy, 1881)
Palm Sunday – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: Philippians 2:5-11
In Christ Jesus, whose name must be glorified on earth as it is in heaven, dear fellow redeemed:
When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, His disciples were glad to be associated with Him. The crowds spread their cloaks and palm branches on the road and sang the praises of their king. They welcomed Him in this way because of the miracles He had performed, most recently raising Lazarus from the dead. “Blessed is… the King of Israel!” they shouted (Joh. 12:13). “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (Luk. 19:38). “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Mat. 21:9).
The people of the crowd believed He was the promised Messiah who would deliver them from their enemies. The Jewish religious leaders who hated Jesus threw up their hands and said, “Look, the world has gone after him!” (Joh. 12:19). Even some Greeks approached one of the disciples and said, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus” (v. 21). Jesus had quite a following! The twelve disciples were glad to go along for the ride. Jesus was a “somebody,” somebody people paid attention to and wanted to know.
It’s amazing how quickly things can change. A person can go from a hero one minute to a villain the next, from rich and famous to poor and forgotten, from influential to ignored, from boom to bust. We have seen this happen to celebrities, politicians, businessmen, religious leaders, and plenty of others.
Jesus’ popularity took a major hit also. The week that started with crowds singing His praises and offering their cloaks for His donkey to walk on, ended with crowds calling for His crucifixion and soldiers dividing up His clothing. Such a change in fortune usually indicates that a major transgression was committed or that a clear boundary was overstepped. This was not the case with Jesus. He did nothing different than He had always done. He spoke the truth. He urged the people to “Trust in the LORD with all [their] heart, and… not lean on [their] own understanding” (Pro. 3:5).
He taught them to put away their self-righteousness and pride and to live a life of humble faith and service. That does not come naturally to us. By our inherited sinful nature, we care the most about pursuing our own passions and plans and receiving praise for our achievements. We can hardly “make a name for ourselves” by sacrificing our own desires for the benefit of others. It comes naturally to want to be loved, rather than to look for ways to show love.
This is why Jesus was opposed. He preached a message that was contrary to human thinking. He preached hope to the “bad” people, the cast-offs, who believed His promises. And He condemned the “good” people, the self-righteous, who were not as holy as they thought. He was no slick politician. He did not guard His words in certain company or say what each particular audience wanted to hear. He told them what they needed to hear.
That had consequences, but they were not unexpected consequences. Jesus knew what was coming. He knew what His clear teaching and His life of humble service would gain for Him. He did not live and work for the approval of the world. He cared about saving it. In today’s inspired text, St. Paul wrote that Christ Jesus “made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
On Maundy Thursday, Jesus had knelt down and washed His disciples’ feet. He had also given them a new Meal, the Supper of His own body and blood to eat and drink for the remission of their sins. And how did they show their gratitude for such love? As He walked with them to the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus told them, “You will all fall away because of me this night” (Mat. 26:31). Peter replied with so much confidence, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away…. Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” (vv. 33, 35). The other disciples said the same thing.
But a short time later facing a well-armed crowd, “all the disciples left [Jesus] and fled” (v. 56). For the next few days, the name “Jesus” was one that no one wanted to be associated with. Boastful Peter denied three times that he knew Him. The disciples all went into hiding except for John. They felt so proud to be connected to Jesus on Sunday when things were going well, but now they crouched in the darkness, ashamed.
We can hardly blame the disciples. I don’t expect we would have done any better. Each of us in our own lives has been ready to give up Jesus for less. The disciples hid when their Teacher was arrested, brutally beaten, and crucified. We have left Jesus not because our lives were threatened, but because we did not want to be made fun of, we did not want to be left out, we did not want to deny our sinful desires, we did not want to take a stand against error.
In these ways, we have dishonored the Lord’s holy name. His name is hallowed “when His Word is taught in its truth and purity, and we as the children of God live holy lives according to it” (First Petition of the Lord’s Prayer). When we do not teach rightly or live purely, we dishonor His name.
God wants His name to be honored because His name includes everything about Him, who He is and what He does. God told Moses to call Him, “I Am,” or “Yahweh” in Hebrew (Exo. 3:14). That is God’s personal name, a name to honor in every way. When Jesus came to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the people recognized that He came from Yahweh: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of Yahweh!”
He came on behalf of His Father, with His blessing, to do His work. The work He had given His Son to do was to become the Servant of all, to take their sins upon Himself, to suffer in their place, and to endure the anguish of their eternal death. That is how Jesus glorified the Father’s name. And that is how He redeemed the whole world from its sin.
He suffered for all the ways the Lord’s name has been abused by false teaching and sinful living. He suffered for your hesitation to confess His name, for your choosing the world over Him, for your sinful stubbornness, selfishness, and pride. His name was trampled and cursed, so you would have a clean conscience and a good reputation before God. He was condemned as a guilty sinner, so you would be regarded as an innocent saint.
Jesus humbly did all these things in obedience to His Father and in perfect love for you. Because of His holy work, Paul writes that “God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name.” The name of Jesus which seemed destined to be forgotten on Good Friday has been preached throughout the world generation after generation since then. His name is The Name That Is Above Every Name.
The most important people of a year, a decade, or a century are eventually forgotten. The names of very few people are remembered fifty or a hundred years after their death. But the name of Jesus endures because of what He did for you and me and all sinners. In fact, His name describes His work for us. The name Jesus means “Yahweh is salvation”—“The LORD saves.” No greater thing has ever been done or ever will be done for the world. God became a man to save us.
After Jesus ascended into heaven and the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples at Pentecost, they now boldly proclaimed the name of Jesus. Peter who had denied knowing Jesus the night of His death, now stood before the very religious leaders who had sentenced Jesus to die. He said to them, “This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Act. 4:11-12).
Only Jesus can give forgiveness, life, and salvation. And He has given and still gives these things to you. He is glad to have His name associated with you. You are called a “Christian”—a “Christ-ian”—a follower of Christ. God put His name on you and claimed you as His own when you were baptized “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Mat. 28:19).
Being joined to His name by faith is to be joined to all the good things He is and does. By faith in your Savior, you share in His holiness, His honor, and His glory. You don’t have to “make a name for yourself,” because you have a far better identity in Jesus. There is no name above His. And even though His name continues to be disrespected and despised in the world today, this does not change what He accomplished for sinners. He won the victory over sin, death, and the devil, and He reigns victorious even now at the right hand of the Father.
His name is not honored in the world like it should be, but on the last day all creatures will glorify the name of our Lord. Paul writes that “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Unbelievers will acknowledge Him then, though they will not rejoice at His coming because they will be condemned. But the whole company of believers will joyfully welcome Him just like that Palm Sunday crowd. And we will cry out with one voice, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”
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(picture from “The Procession in the Streets of Jerusalem” by James Tissot, 1836-1902)
Baptism of Jesus – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: 1 Peter 3:18-22
In Christ Jesus, who was crucified, died, and was buried, who descended into hell, and who on the third day rose again from the dead in order to save us, dear fellow redeemed:
Imagine what it would be like if you and the members of your household were the only Christians in your community, the only Christians you knew about anywhere. And your neighbors were not peace-loving and law-abiding. They were concerned only for themselves. They lied, cheated, and stole from one another and from you. They despised everything you stood for. They ridiculed you for your morals and flaunted their sins in your face.
And imagine in a climate like this that God told you to build a church on your property, a big church. Your neighbors would soon come over to mock you and ridicule you. “What is that for? Do you think anyone’s going to join your little cult? What a waste of time! What idiots!” And the more that church took shape, the more it would irritate and anger them. They would plot to destroy the whole project, or at least to hinder you in your work. That would be a difficult job. You might even wonder why God let you experience all that pain.
This is a lot like how it was for Noah when the LORD told him to build a large boat in a local field. “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5). So the LORD decided to destroy everything on the earth He had made. “But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD” (v. 8). God told him to build an ark for himself, his family, and two of every sort of animal. These would be saved from destruction while all other living things would be wiped out by a worldwide flood.
Noah did “all that God commanded him” (v. 22), but it most certainly wasn’t pleasant. As long as it took to build that ark, his wicked neighbors made his life miserable. When the ark was finally completed and the LORD told Noah and his family to “go into the ark” (7:1), they must have felt some relief. Their hard work under challenging conditions was finally done. But there would have been sadness too, sadness that their unbelieving neighbors would not only die, but would perish eternally.
Then the waters came. It rained forty days and forty nights. It rained so much that the ark lifted off the ground where it had been built and began to float. Noah and his sons may have wondered how the ark would do on the water. It held up just fine. They must have exchanged smiles when the great boat began to move and rock back and forth. They were going to survive these terrible rains. God had saved them!
Outside the boat, the feeling was much different. There it was all chaos, man and animal clambering for the high ground, family members abandoning each other in a bid to survive, the waters rising and finally covering every tree, hill, and mountain. Total destruction. No survivors.
Those waters did two things at the same time: they destroyed all living things on earth, and they saved Noah and his family. The same waters had two very different effects. In today’s text the apostle Peter writes that “Baptism… corresponds to this.” God wants us to learn about Baptism from the worldwide flood. He wants us to understand how the waters of Baptism both destroy and save.
First of all we should be clear what Baptism is. Our Catechism states that “Baptism is not just water, but it is the water used according to God’s command and connected with His Word.” Where does God command Baptism? It is when Jesus told His apostles, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you” (Mat. 28:18-20, NKJV). Here Jesus commissioned His Church to “make disciples of all the nations” by baptizing and teaching them. Baptism is the application of water while the words of Jesus are spoken: “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
Jesus says that “all authority has been given to [Him]” to command this. But why should we recognize this authority, and how do we know His words have the power to do anything in Baptism? The reason Jesus can make this claim is spelled out in today’s sermon text. It says that “Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous.” He did not suffer for His own sins—there were none! He suffered for our sins. He was the righteous one, perfectly holy, pure in every way. And He gave Himself for the unrighteous ones, for you and me and everyone else. But this is strange. Why would someone who was perfect suffer for the wicked? It was so that “He might bring us to God.”
Jesus wanted to save us. We deserved to be destroyed, to be sent to eternal suffering in hell. Sin against God demands a response of justice. But instead of condemning us, God condemned His own perfect Son. Jesus stepped in our place. He took our punishment. He died our death and suffered our hell. With His saving work on the cross complete, Jesus said, “It is finished” (Joh. 19:30) and gave up His spirit.
Today’s text describes what happened next. Christ was “put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which He went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison.” This is what we confess in the Apostles’ Creed when we say that Jesus “descended into hell.” He did not go there to suffer some more—He had already suffered the punishment of hell on the cross. He went to “proclaim to the spirits in prison.” Peter writes that “the spirits in prison” are those who “formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared.” So these are the souls of the unbelievers who rejected God’s promises.
And what did Jesus proclaim to them? He did not proclaim their forgiveness or salvation. The souls of unbelievers in hell cannot pass over into heaven (Luk. 16:26). Jesus descended into hell to proclaim His victory, to show Whom they had rejected when they chose the sin of the world over the salvation of God’s Word. He went there to show them why those destructive waters came upon them and why Noah and his family were spared.
But His death and His decent into hell was not enough for Jesus to claim “all authority” for sending His disciples to baptize and teach. What authority could He have if He was buried in the tomb and never emerged again? His claim is entirely dependent on His resurrection. If Jesus did not rise again from the dead, He is nobody’s Savior. If He did not rise again from the dead, He is nothing but another dead man. But He did rise, on the third day. Peter witnessed it, along with more than 500 others (1Co. 15:6).
Who would question the authority and power of One who died and rose again? If this happened today, think how the world would flock to that person. All would want to know his secret or somehow get a share of that power, so that they also could rise again. This is exactly what Jesus gives us in Baptism. He gives the power to rise again from the dead.
When you were baptized, the waters of Baptism brought both destruction and salvation to you. Like the unbelievers destroyed in the flood, the waters of Baptism drowned your unbelief. Your sins were washed off in the water, and Christ’s righteousness was poured over you. Baptism, as today’s text says, is not some sort of outward cleansing or “a removal of dirt from the body.” It is “an appeal to God for a good conscience.” And on what grounds does Baptism make that appeal? “[T]hrough the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
We receive a clean conscience in Baptism because Jesus rose again from the dead. He took our sins to the cross, buried them in the grave, and rose again without them. Since He paid for and buried them, your sins are not stuck to you anymore. Your Baptism delivered this forgiveness and salvation to you. Romans 6:4 says, “We were buried therefore with [Christ Jesus] by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” Since you have passed through the destructive and saving waters of Baptism, you now “walk in newness of life.” You were a sinner, and now you are a saint. You were dead, and now you are alive.
You could not make this happen; Jesus did it for you. On your own, you are no better than the sinners destroyed in the waters of the flood. The good works you have done would not be enough to get you on the ark today. Noah and his family were not saved because of good works. They were saved by faith, which God worked in them through His Word. Faith has also been worked in you through the same Word of grace. This faith clings to the promises Jesus has connected to Baptism.
Jesus’ statement about having “all authority” was no empty boast. He does have all authority in heaven and on earth. He sits “at the right hand of God” with every power subjected to Him. What Jesus does with His power is deliver forgiveness and life. That’s how He “flexes His muscles,” so to speak. He ensures that His saving Word and Sacraments continue to be administered. He wants you to be comforted by His promises, so that you do not fear His destruction but rejoice in His salvation.
The Lord has not commanded you to build a big church in your backyard. But He has called you to return to your Baptism every day by repentance and faith. He wants those cleansing waters to be your daily refuge, because in those waters, your sins were washed away, you became His child, and you were joined to your Savior Jesus, who suffered, died, and rose again for you.
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(stained glass of Noah’s ark from Saude Lutheran Church)
Presentation of Our Lord – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: Hebrews 2:14-18
In Christ Jesus, who was not ashamed to take on our flesh and blood, but willingly became a Man out of love for us to save us, dear fellow redeemed:
Because God’s Son became incarnate in Mary’s womb, He was “born under the law” (Gal. 4:4). He was bound to keep God’s law as all Jews were. This law required Jesus to be presented to the LORD in the temple forty days after His birth. Every firstborn son among the Jews had to be offered to the LORD in this way as a reminder of their deliverance from slavery in Egypt (Exo. 13:1-16).
This was a significant day in the life of Jesus, which is why we celebrate it today (February 2), forty days after Christmas. It was Jesus’ first trip to Jerusalem, the city of Israel, in which the holy temple of God had been built. The temple was the place where God visited His people and blessed them. And it is where the people offered sacrifices to Him and worshiped Him. Every day, the priests prepared lambs to be sacrificed. The blood of these blemish-free lambs was a picture of the blood the Savior would shed for the sins of the world.
And now the Savior was there. It was a once-in-a-lifetime event for Mary and Joseph, but even they did not grasp the full significance of Jesus’ arrival in the temple. Their eyes began to be opened when faithful Simeon came up to them and called Jesus the “salvation” of God, “a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to [His] people Israel” (Luk. 2:30,32). Then he told Mary, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed” (v. 34). After that, a widow named Anna came along and “began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem” (v. 38).
They did not treat Jesus like a regular baby, because He was unlike any other baby. He was God in the flesh. Their eyes did not reveal this to them, but the Holy Spirit. By sight alone, no one could have known who Jesus was. He was like us in every way, except that He had no sin. Today’s text from the Book of Hebrews tells us: “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise partook of the same things.”
It was no mistake that the Christ was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the Virgin Mary. God fully intended to become a Man. He did not wish to become a tree, an animal, or even an angel. He became a Man to redeem mankind, to free us from our slavery to sin and death. So He partook of our flesh and blood. His lungs took in oxygen like ours do. His heart pumped blood through His body. His brain transmitted messages from head to toe. He had an eternal soul.
He also subjected Himself to the same sorts of weaknesses and afflictions we feel. He became weary and hungry. He experienced sadness. He endured intense pain. Jesus’ human experience was just like ours, including temptations to sin. The devil threw every possible temptation at Jesus to try to get Him to refuse His purpose. He wanted Jesus to reject His Father’s will and to forsake sinners.
We might think that because Jesus is God, He was hardly bothered by these temptations. But today’s text says that “He Himself has suffered when tempted.” He suffered because He had humbled Himself. He was not making full use of His divine powers. He did this so that He could feel temptation and pain, and so He could suffer and die for us. This suffering was severe, so severe that He asked His Father in heaven if there might be another way to save sinners.
But sin required a sacrifice, a spotless Lamb. Jesus knew this, and He perfectly submitted to His Father’s will. This is why He became a Man, “so that He might become a merciful and faithful High Priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.” That language of “priest” and “propitiation,” points us to the temple, where once a year a chosen priest would bring a sin offering into the Most Holy Place. There he would “make propitiation.” He would sprinkle the blood of a bull and goat on the mercy seat which was on top of the Ark of the Covenant.
Vast quantities of blood were spilt through the years in those temple sacrifices. It was done at God’s command, but animal blood by itself did not have the power to cleanse people of their sins. These sacrifices were a picture of the blood that God’s Son would shed to blot out sin. All of this was in Jesus’ future as His parents carried Him up the temple steps. He was both the true High Priest and the ultimate Sacrifice who would make atonement for the sins of the people.
Jesus returned to the temple many times during His earthly life. A couple weeks ago, we heard about how He went there to study the Scriptures as a twelve-year-old. On two occasions as an adult, He cleared the temple courts of those who were buying and selling. And He often taught in the temple, even in the week of His death.
The people’s focus in Old Testament times was on God’s presence hidden behind the thick curtain in the Most Holy Place. But here God was in the flesh interacting with and teaching the people! God had come to save sinners. He came to offer Himself in our place, so that through His death He might “destroy” and “deliver,” as our text says. He came to “destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.”
It says that our spiritual slavery resulted from our “fear of death.” It is very common for people to fear death. This fear is especially strong in those who like to be in control, who want to make every decision about their future. But death is no respecter of persons or of plans. Death comes to everyone, and from our perspective, never at the right time. How can the Bible say that the devil no longer has power over death and that we are no longer enslaved to it? It seems like the power of devil and death are as strong as ever.
But that is just another lie of the devil. He tries to manipulate us through accusation. He wants us to believe that God is angry with us, and that He will not forgive our frequent sinning. He gets us thinking that our sins are stains on our souls that can never be gotten out. He wants us to believe that God would never let us into His heavenly kingdom and that we must die without hope.
But these accusations of the devil are totally empty. God does not count our sins against us; He piled them all on Christ. Jesus was the scapegoat. He took on the burden of our sins, and He accepted punishment for them. He carried them to the cross and shed His holy blood to atone for them. This is how He destroyed the devil’s power. He died in our place, we who deserved to die, who should have been punished. He paid the penalty for our sin, so that the devil could not rightly accuse us anymore. The devil cannot throw back in our face what no longer exists in God’s eyes.
Jesus’ death freed us from the devil’s grasp and from the fear of death. I imagine you are not so much afraid of death as you are about how you will die. If you had your choice, you would die in your sleep at a good old age. But this is in God’s hands, not yours. The time that He chooses to bring His children to heaven is always the right time, even if it doesn’t seem that way to us. The devil wants us to worry about these things, things outside of our control. He tempts us to question God and to feel alone in our suffering.
But that’s just another one of his lies. Jesus was alone in His suffering, but you are not. As the High Priest, now exalted and glorified, Jesus intercedes for you before the Father. He is your Advocate. He prays for you. And He continues to offer you His holy body and blood for your forgiveness and strengthening. He understands suffering and temptation better than anyone. That means “He is able to help those who are being tempted,” including you.
There is no longer a temple in Jerusalem. It was destroyed long ago. The old sacrifices are no longer required, because Jesus, the once-for-all Sacrifice, came. He Offered Himself for Your Salvation. His love for you brought Him down from heaven and into a woman’s womb. He took on flesh and blood, so He could cleanse you and the whole human race of its sins. He died and rose again, so that even though you may die, yet you will rise again and live with Him. Through Jesus, your slavery to sin, devil, and death have ended, and your salvation is secure.
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(stained glass picture from St. Michael’s Cathedral in Toronto)
Thanksgiving – Pr. Faugstad homily
In Christ Jesus, who has touched the human race with His good gifts of life and salvation, dear fellow redeemed:
When God made the first man and woman, He said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have 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 making use of God’s creation is not the same as controlling it. We learn that lesson over and over again, that we are hardly in control of creation.
We learned that lesson this week as we watched a weather system move through our area with the potential to upset Thanksgiving travel plans. We learned that lesson in the spring when it was difficult to get the crop planted. We learned it again this fall when it was difficult to get the crop harvested. We do not control when the sun shines or the rain and snow fall. We do not control whether it is warm or cold, wet or dry, windy or calm.
And there is so much more. We have little to do with the vast animal kingdom around us, besides our domesticated animals. We do not care for all the little bugs and four-legged creatures. We do not watch over the birds to make sure they are doing alright. They exist mostly apart from us and find their food, homes, and communities on their own. The plant kingdom is much the same. We do not plant most trees, flowers, and grasses. We do not water them and tend to their growth. They grow up and flourish by themselves.
Except that nothing really functions by itself, not the plants, not the animals, and not humankind. Each living thing is dependent in some way on other living things. And all living things find their source and supply in God’s creation and providence. God’s Fingerprints Are on Every Living Thing.
This is why the psalmist calls on the whole creation to praise the LORD. He starts in the heavens and works his way to earth. He first calls on the angels and hosts of heaven to praise Him, and we know that they do. They are always gathered around the throne praising Him for His mighty works and for His mercy toward mankind. Even the sun, moon, and stars are invited to join in the chorus, along with all the parts of God’s creation beyond and above our universe.
But the praise of God is not complete if it only comes from heaven. It must also come from the earth, from all things animate and inanimate. It must come from the sea creatures in the watery depths, from the elements of nature, the mountains and hills, the trees, and the animals. Above all, it must come from the crown of God’s creation, from humankind—from kings, princes, and rulers to the common and poor, from the young and old, male and female.
God spoke all these things into existence. He set them in order. He made the planets spin and the stars shine. He created the laws of nature and time and the changing of the seasons. He ordained marriage and family and through them created government and community. These things were all established through His Word, and they are upheld through His Word. If the LORD took back His Word, everything around us would fall to pieces. Nothing could survive apart from God—including us.
This is why we “praise the name of the LORD”—“For His name alone is exalted; His glory is above the earth and heaven.” There is no God but the Triune God. He is the one and only God. He shares His glory with no other because there are no other gods. He deserves the praise of every living thing.
And yet praise for Him is not always on our lips. Sometimes we are upset and impatient with Him because things are not going the way we want. Or we are too distracted to think of praising Him. Or we praise ourselves instead of Him—that one happens a lot at Thanksgiving. Everybody says how thankful they are, but where is their thanks directed? Often not toward God, but toward themselves—for the house they bought, the stuff they have accumulated, the family they produced. They don’t recognize that it is God alone who gives these good things.
If we don’t see God’s fingerprints on all the little things we enjoy in this life, we won’t see His fingerprints on the biggest thing either. Our God has controlled the events in human history in such a way as to deliver on His promise to Adam and Eve. They sinned and brought death and destruction to the whole creation. But He promised them a Savior. He determined to send His eternally-begotten Son to the sinful world, so that He might save it.
The LORD kept this promise. The Creator entered His creation in a magnificent way. The Son of God became a Man. He clothed Himself in our flesh by being born of the Virgin Mary. So the Maker of all living things, the Source of all life, the One who “upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Heb. 1:3), inserted Himself in this world of disorder, disease, and death. He came to re-establish the rule of life. He came to give hope to the dying. He came to save your soul and your body.
This hope and life could only come through His death. That seems backward, wrong. Why should life only be possible through death? The death of our innocent Lord was the price that had to be paid for our salvation. It was the only way to set right what we had done wrong. It was the only way to atone for our sins of impatience, bad priorities, ungratefulness, and every other transgression we have committed against God. Our fingerprints of sin are on everything—everything that we touch—but His fingerprints of grace wipe away every evidence of our wrongs.
Therefore we praise Him. We join the angels in heaven, the sun, moon, and stars, the snow and wind, the hills and trees, the cattle and birds, and scores of the faithful in thanking and praising the LORD. It is He who made us, He who cares for us, and He who has saved us.
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The Festival of the Reformation – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Matthew 11:12-15
In Christ Jesus, who is “with us in the fight with His good gifts and Spirit” (ELH 251, v. 4), dear fellow redeemed:
Can you answer this riddle: When is a million dollars equal to a penny, and when is garbage more valuable than gold? These things are true where there is no food. Money cannot buy what is unavailable, and the garbage heap may produce something more edible than gold. We need food; we cannot live without it. But there is something still more important than food for our bodies. That is food for our souls.
Food for our souls is consumed not with our mouths, but with our eyes and especially with our ears. It is almost always the case that when sinners are converted, they are converted because someone spoke the Gospel to them. Someone told them about Jesus’ saving work, and they listened. The power to open their ears to hear did not come from the person who told them, but from the Holy Spirit who brings sinners to faith through the Word. This is what Romans 10:17 says, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”
The spiritual food of the Gospel is necessary for faith to survive and grow. When a Christian stops hearing the Gospel, his faith weakens, and his love for others grows cold. This was true when John the Baptizer came on the scene. God’s people, the Israelites, had bad teachers at the time. These teachers taught them plenty about obedience to the law but hardly at all about repentance and faith. John urged them to “[b]ear fruit in keeping with repentance” (Mat. 3:8), and he baptized them “for the forgiveness of sins” (Luk. 3:3).
He also made it clear to them that the long-promised Savior was coming. In fact the Savior was among them already. This was a major time of transition. The Church of believers which to this point had lived by the inspired words of the prophets now could hear from God in the flesh. The promise made was now the promise fulfilled.
About this change Jesus said, “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.” What did that mean? In the short period of time since John was imprisoned and Jesus was traveling and preaching more extensively, many heard Him gladly. But others despised Him. Some were willing to follow Him to death. Others were content—even eager—to see Him die.
There is no middle ground with Jesus. A person either believes in Him as Savior, or he does not. Many today say they believe in Jesus, but they do not actually hold the saving faith. They look up to Jesus only as an example for how to live, as an activist for social justice, or as a self-esteem coach. But they look away from His horrible suffering and death. And they pay no attention to His resurrection. They do not want to reckon with Jesus as Savior because then they would have to reckon with themselves as sinners.
Others pay lip service to Jesus’ death and resurrection, but then they say with a straight face: “It wasn’t enough. The work isn’t done. Now we have to do our part.” That isn’t what the Bible teaches. The Bible says that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified—declared right with Him—by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:23-24). The Bible says that “the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23).
Jesus does not need our help to save us. He won our salvation through His work alone—His perfect life, His death for our sins, His resurrection from the dead. He did it all. This clear understanding and proclamation of the Gospel is the legacy of Martin Luther and the Reformation.
Into his 30s, Luther thought that salvation required our good works. He understood “the righteousness of God” as the holiness God demands of us in His law. But through Luther’s study of the Word, the Holy Spirit led him to understand and believe that “the righteousness of God” is what is bestowed on sinners through faith in Jesus. Romans 1 says that “in the [Gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith’” (v. 17). We are saved—we live—by faith alone in Jesus.
When Luther understood this, he said it was as though he could see the gates of heaven open before him. He now set out to let others know about God’s grace and forgiveness. He preached and wrote tirelessly about what the Gospel means for sinners. He wrote so much, that not even half of his writings have been translated into English—and we already have about 100 volumes that have been translated!
Luther pointed people to the food their souls needed. It is the food that souls still need. But how hungry are you to hear the good news of God’s grace? If you lived in a time of famine, and food was scarce, imagine how far you would go to find something to eat for yourself and your family. But would you go that far for the pure Gospel? Or would you be content to nibble on the spiritual food that doesn’t taste quite right but doesn’t really seem to be fatal?
A tainted gospel is what is served at many Christian churches around us. The Gospel of what Jesus has done might be mentioned, but the main message conveyed there is what we have to do for God (or for the church). Or the Gospel is mentioned, but nobody hungers for it, since the law is not preached to convict them of their sins. How far would you go to hear the pure preaching of the Gospel and to have the Sacraments rightly administered?
The devil, our flesh, and the sinful world are so effective at their work, that they convince us there are more important things in life than hearing and learning God’s Word. There is money to make, hobbies to pursue, sporting events to watch, parties to attend. We wouldn’t miss the television show we love or maybe the evening news, but we might miss church. We religiously check our social media accounts or news feed each day, but we haven’t got time for Bible study and prayer.
Martin Luther fought some hard battles to guard the truth of the Gospel from those who wanted to pollute it or do away with it. That battle has not ended. Every generation must fight for the truth of God’s Word, or they will lose it. We cannot be indifferent about the Word. We cannot be complacent. Those who oppose the Word are not complacent. You know how fiercely they fight to get us to change our beliefs to match the thinking of the world. If we do not bow down with them at the altar of human passions and perversions, they seek to destroy us.
The question we have to ask ourselves, and the question that really determines whether or not we are Lutheran Christians is this: Is the Bible God’s Word? If we answer “yes,” there are other questions that follow, such as: Is the Bible clear and sufficient? Are we free to reinterpret the Bible to fit the times? Are we free to pick and choose what to believe from the Bible? Can we actually be Christians if we deny what the Bible says?
Jesus tells us that opposition to God’s Word will not diminish. With the devil’s encouragement, there are many who want to violently snatch it away from us. So Jesus urges us to actively defend the truth. We must struggle and fight for it, not using physical force, but by knowing how to use “the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God” (Eph. 6:17).
If we are willing to compromise the truth of God’s Word, nothing in the Word is safe. If we compromise what it says about moral issues, it won’t be long before the Remedy for sin is done away with too. If there is no longer objective right and wrong, then there is no longer a need for a Savior, who came to right all wrongs.
This is why we cling to the Word so tightly and defend it so fiercely. We do not want to lose the Gospel. We cannot forfeit the forgiveness and salvation that Jesus won for all people. He came to deliver us a good conscience through His perfect life in our place and His death on the cross. There is no question that our sins are many—choosing the empty promises of the world over His Word, choosing our plans over God’s will, ignoring the spiritual feast He continuously supplies. These are serious sins, as all sins are.
But Jesus died for all these sins. They were counted against Him, so they are no longer counted against you. By faith in Jesus, all the spiritual blessings He won are yours. There is nothing you must do to gain them. You don’t have to prove your worth somehow. You and I do not deserve to be saved, but God considered us worth the life of His only Son. Jesus willingly went to the cross for you. He died so that you could join Him in His everlasting kingdom.
This is what we celebrate today, that God used Martin Luther to proclaim the Gospel so clearly, and that the Gospel is still clearly heard today. What Jesus promised is still true, that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against [His church]” (Mat. 16:18). The forces of evil will not overcome our Lord and His Word. The Powerful Gospel which Opens Ears to Hear will prevail. “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
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(1877 painting, “Martin Luther at Worms” by Anton von Werner)
The Second Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Luke 14:16-24
In Christ Jesus, who both invites us to the banquet of salvation and provides the life-giving food our souls need, dear fellow redeemed:
Day in and day out, there are various tasks and responsibilities on your mind that want your attention. But you can only do so much. You have to make decisions about what has priority. Listen to these examples and think which one would take priority over the other in your life:
- Your son or daughter asks you to play with them, but you were planning to get some work done. Which do you choose?
- You were looking forward to enjoying some peace and quiet, but your neighbor comes over looking for help.
- You and your spouse are heading out the door on a date when a distressed friend calls asking if you have time to talk.
- Your boss offers overtime hours on Sunday morning and begs you to come, but you would have to miss church.
These decisions are not always easy. Often we must choose between two things that are both good or important.
The men invited to the great banquet found themselves in this position. They had been invited to the banquet, but no specific day had been set. They were told that when everything was ready, they would be notified. When the time for the banquet arrived, the host sent out his servant to inform the guests. Apparently, the banquet came at a bad time. The first man said he had just made a land purchase and had to go see it. The next man said he had just finalized the purchase of five yoke of oxen and had to examine them. The third said he had just gotten married and was needed at home.
The things they mentioned were all good things. They had to make a choice between important events in their lives and the invitation to the banquet. They chose to skip the banquet. But this was no backyard barbecue. This was “a great banquet,” a feast that wouldn’t come around all that often. It was a big enough deal that the honored guests were given notice a long time before the banquet occurred. They were expected to make it a priority. Instead excuses were made. Things that could have waited were given precedence.
This parable is not about an actual earthly banquet that people decided to skip out on. It is about the spiritual banquet of salvation, which was promised ever since the fall into sin. The invitation to this banquet first went out to Adam and Eve. They were told that One would come from woman, who would crush Satan’s head (Gen. 3:15). From that point on, any who heard the promise of salvation were receiving an invitation to attend the banquet. It was not known when the table would be set and the feasting would begin. But those who had heard the promise, who had received the invitation, were to be ready whenever that day should come.
But how long could God expect them to wait? If enough time passed between the original promise and its fulfillment, isn’t it natural that the people would wonder if the banquet was still on? This is why the LORD sent His servants the prophets to repeat the promise and give more details about how it would be fulfilled. You can find these promises sprinkled throughout the Old Testament, all of them pointing ahead to the great banquet.
But not all of God’s chosen people believed this promise. The Israelites were certainly all invited to the banquet, but many of them became more concerned about their business than God’s business. The religious leaders were often the worst offenders. They taught the people to focus on outward works more than the inner righteousness of a believing heart. They weren’t so concerned about the banquet of salvation, because they thought they had a nice feast of good works going on their own.
These were the ones making excuses when Jesus arrived. Why should they listen to Him? What were they lacking? What could He give them that they could not do for themselves? Their rejection of the invitation angered the Lord. He commanded that “the poor and crippled and blind and lame” be brought to His banquet. These were the Jewish people who were thought to be rejected by God. The Lord’s mercy went out to them—the tax collectors, the prostitutes, the demon-possessed. Many of these heard His Word and received the invitation to salvation with penitent and believing hearts.
Still, there was room at the banquet. So the servant was sent “to the highways and hedges” to “compel people to come in.” These were the ones outside the city. They were the Gentiles who had not had the invitation brought to them through the Old Testament Scriptures. Even they were now welcome at the banquet of salvation by faith, and many of them have taken their seat at the table.
You also have received an invitation to the great banquet. For many of you, this invitation came at your baptism. At that time you were washed of your sins, faith was planted in your heart, and you were joined to the body of Christ. Your seat at the banquet table was reserved. But baptism does not ensure that an honored place at the table will always be yours.
There are many who had God’s wonderful gifts handed to them at baptism, who now despise these gifts. They give many other things priority over God’s Word. Like the first man in the parable, they get so caught up in obtaining, improving, and enjoying their property, that they decide there is no time for spiritual things. Like the second man, they are so concerned about expanding their possessions and growing their riches that work always comes before the Word. Like the third man, they use the excuse of family. “We don’t have enough time already to do everything the kids need to do! There just isn’t time for devotions during the week or church on the weekend!”
This is why keeping our priorities in the right order is so important. Land and possessions are good. Work is good. Family is good. But none of these is to take precedence over the Word. Just after today’s parable Jesus said, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” (Luk. 14:26). This smacks us right in the face. It is shocking. Jesus says that nothing—not our parents, not our spouse, not our kids, not our siblings, not our goals and goods and health—should come before Him and His Word.
This troubles us, both because of what Jesus asks of us and because we have obviously fallen far short of His demand. We made church our priority this morning, but we have many excuses to own from our past. We have made excuses for the times we have willingly done what God condemns. We have made excuses for why we have acted selfishly at work, why we have ignored and neglected those in our household, and why there just isn’t time to regularly study God’s Word.
And yet despite all these excuses, these misplaced priorities, the Lord’s invitation still echoes in our ears, “Come, for everything is now ready.” He wants us to be at the banquet of salvation. He wants us to feast on the rich food He supplies. We are not in the Old Testament era wondering when God’s promise will be fulfilled. His promise has been fulfilled! Jesus has come!
When Jesus appeared, He made no excuses for mankind’s sin. He spoke about it plainly. And when the time came for Him to suffer and die for all this sin, He went forward willingly. He didn’t excuse Himself when the anguish and pain became most intense. He invited the Father’s anger and wrath against sin. He let the fires of hell torch Him. He did that for you and me. He did that so all our sins would be forgiven.
The forgiveness, life, and salvation that Jesus won for us is the main course in the great banquet. It is what you are given when the pastor speaks the absolution in the divine service. It is what you receive when you eat and drink the Lord’s body and blood in His Supper. The Lord is not stingy with these gifts. He offers them in abundance at all times. They are for your spiritual nourishment and comfort every single day.
Your feasting at the banquet of salvation here through Word and Sacrament prepares you for the eternal feasting to come. Your continuance in the faith here is what keeps a seat reserved for you at the heavenly table. No one who rejects the invitation of the Gospel here on earth will enter heaven, including those who may be baptized but who no longer believe. When an unbeliever stands before the Lord on Judgment Day, he will have no more excuses. He will not escape the fires of hell.
But all who believe and are baptized will be excused from that suffering. They will leave the Church Militant where they walk by faith, and they will enter the Church Triumphant where they will see and experience all the glorious things God has prepared for those who love Him.
You can be sure that you will be among the guests at the Lord’s heavenly banquet, because your salvation is not based on anything you could do. God invited you to this banquet because Jesus redeemed you from your sin through His suffering and death, and the Holy Spirit worked saving faith in your heart through this Gospel message. You have not always made God and His Word your priority, but His priority has always been clear. Your Salvation Is God’s Priority. “Come, for everything is now ready,” He says—“everything is now ready” for you.
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(woodcut of the poor, the blind, and the lame being invited to the banquet from the 1880 edition of The Story of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation)