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.
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)
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.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
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The 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)
The Second Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad
Text: St. Luke 14:16-24
In Christ Jesus, who welcomes us, serves us, and fills us through His holy means of grace, dear fellow redeemed:
I think it’s safe to assume that no one here received an invitation to attend the recent royal wedding in England. I can’t imagine anyone expected to receive an invitation either. You would have had to be a close relative of the bride or be part of much different circles than the ones in northeast Iowa. But I am sure there have been other events—celebrations of some sort—to which you expected to receive an invitation but did not. Why didn’t an invitation come? Was it lost in the mail? Was your name inadvertently left off the list? Did you misjudge your relationship to the host? You would have been glad to take part in the celebration, but instead you were left out.
On the other hand, there are many who receive invitations and don’t give the host the courtesy of a response. Anyone who has helped plan a wedding knows about this. Invitations are sent out a long time in advance. But then the deadline passes with many RSVPs missing. Some forget to reply, some don’t care enough to reply, and some drag their feet because they don’t want to offend the host with their reply. But the worst are those who say they are coming but then don’t show up.
An accurate count of guests is important because large events are expensive. One website says the average cost in 2017 for one guest at an Iowa wedding was about $100. It could be worse: in Manhattan, the average cost for one guest was over $600. I have heard about a couple that billed all “no-show” guests for the per plate cost of the wedding banquet. That might be going a bit far, but it is rude for guests to announce they are coming and then fail to attend for no good reason.
In today’s text, Jesus told about a man who was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. When the banquet was ready, he sent his servant to bring in the guests. We get the impression that all whom the servant visited had accepted the initial invitation. Their presence at the banquet had been planned for and expected. But now that the time had arrived, they decided there were other things that mattered more. One wanted to visit some property he had recently purchased. Another wanted to examine some oxen he had bought. Another had just gotten married.
None of those things were bad. But none of them required immediate attention. We can assume that the invitation for the banquet was sent long in advance. The event wouldn’t have caught anyone by surprise. The reality is that they chose to skip the banquet. It wasn’t important to them. That means they did not take the invitation seriously in the first place. If they had, they would have been certain to attend. The master of the house was understandably angry with their poor excuses. What unworthy guests he had invited! So he invited other guests: “the poor and crippled and blind and lame.” Still there was room. Then the master ordered his servant to go far and wide and “compel people to come in.”
Jesus told this parable to a group of Jewish Pharisees with whom He was eating dinner. These religious leaders could not help but admire Him for His wonderful miracles and bold teachings. But they did not appreciate His interpretation of the law, and they especially did not like His criticisms. They knew no others who followed the Old Testament law as strictly as they did. And yet Jesus spoke about them as though they were living contrary to God’s will!
This dinner which Jesus attended was on a Sabbath day. God commanded that no work should be done on the Sabbath, so that His people would have time to hear His Word. Jesus noticed a man in the room who had dropsy, a condition which causes the body to retain too much water. Turning to the lawyers and Pharisees, He asked, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” (Lk. 14:3). Then He healed the man and sent Him away. He wanted to teach them that such an act of love was not contrary to God’s law, but rather fulfilled it.
He also noticed how the guests of this Pharisee chose the places of honor at the table. Jesus said, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him…. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’” (vv. 8, 10). Then Jesus told the host not to invite people who would return the favor sometime, but “invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind,” those who “cannot repay you.”
Then today’s parable followed. Since they had been the subject of His criticism up to this point, the Pharisees must have perceived that Jesus’ parable was about them. They were right. The Jewish religious leaders knew God’s promise of salvation in the Scriptures. But now they were making excuses while the fulfillment of God’s promise stood before them. They were too occupied with their self-made spirituality to take a seat at the great banquet of salvation.
They could not say that an invitation had not come their way, and neither can you and I. We know what the Bible says, that God our Savior “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1Tim. 2:4). Jesus likewise commanded the church to “make disciples of all nations” (Mt. 28:19). The banquet of salvation is set for everybody. But not all want to attend. Why? It’s because all of us by nature prefer excuses to repentance and faith.
A great many have heard the Gospel message. They know what the Bible teaches, that God became man in order to offer Himself for the sins of all people. But many who hear this go about their business as though this was nothing very remarkable. Suppose you had received an invitation to the royal wedding in England, and you were told that all your expenses for the trip would be covered. Would you go? Or if you’re not much for royal weddings, how about an all-expenses-paid trip to the Super Bowl? I would go.
But when God sets the table of salvation, when He offers the full forgiveness of our sins at no cost to us—all-expenses-paid—we hardly take notice. Some make excuses for hearing His Word of grace very little if at all, excuses like: “I need time to myself,” “I have to work,” “Our family is too busy.” They know their attendance at the banquet is expected, but they have other priorities. Others hear the Word but don’t let it affect them. They come to the banquet but only look through the windows and stare at the rich food. “Others need it more than I do,” they think. These do not recognize their great spiritual need.
Who are the ones that were ushered into the great banquet hall? It was not those who filled their lives with riches, work, and family activities. It was “the poor and crippled and blind and lame,” those who would seem unlikely to be included on a guest list. Are you one of these? Are you spiritually poor on your own—in fact, spiritually bankrupt—with nothing to your name but a lifetime of sin? Are you spiritually crippled, unwilling and unable to walk in the way God commands? Are you spiritually blind, unable to see your own way out of the world’s darkness? Are you spiritually lame, needing to be carried from danger to safety? If you are one of these poor souls, then there is no mistake. The banquet doors are open to you.
On the other hand, if you, like the Pharisees, would craft your own standard of righteousness while ignoring your tremendous debt to the law, then the banquet doors are closed. Jesus did not come to pat the “good” people on the back. He came to save the lost. He came to save sinners. If you are one of these, if you recognize your sin and are heartily sorry for it, God has a seat for you at His table.
For your spiritual thirst, He pours out the living water of His Word. For your spiritual nourishment, He serves up the body and blood of Jesus. Are you weary? Jesus will strengthen you through this feast. Are you sad? Jesus will cheer you. Are you worried and troubled? Jesus will calm and comfort you. This is what He promises to do through His Word and Sacraments. This is the feast of salvation prepared for us for our time in this sinful world. And this is the feast which prepares us for the eternal feast above.
No matter how much you have failed, no matter how far you have fallen, the Lord invites you to come to His banquet. But what if His invitation was not actually meant for you? What if you received it by mistake? If you had received an invitation to the royal wedding, you would assume it was a mistake. But if a special envoy from the Queen of England arrived at your door with all the paperwork completed and everything prepared for your trip, you could not ignore it—shocking though it would be.
God likewise made no mistake when His Word of grace came to you. To make sure you know His invitation is for you, He led you to the holy waters of Baptism. There, He showered you with His blessings and gave you a seat at His banquet. Since that life-changing moment, every time you hear His Word of forgiveness and life, and partake of His Supper, He reassures you and confirms that you are His honored guest.
He has invited others also, humble sinners like you, who join you at the banquet table. Together we wait for our Lord’s triumphant return on the last day, that day when we will cry out with one voice, “This is the LORD; we have waited for Him; let us be glad and rejoice in His salvation” (Is. 25:9).
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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)
The First Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Luke 16:19-31
In Christ Jesus, who was condemned for your sin, so you would be freed by His grace, dear fellow redeemed:
The question that weighs on the mind of every Christian is this: How Can I Be Sure I Am Saved? The question becomes all the more important when we come across accounts in the Bible like the one today. Jesus tells about one man who was saved and joined the saints in heaven, while another man was condemned and joined the tormented in hell. What was the difference between the two men?
One obvious difference is that one of the men was very rich and one was very poor. The rich man wore expensive clothes and “feasted sumptuously every day.” He enjoyed many good things. These were gifts from God, but the rich man did not recognize it. He was completely self-centered about these blessings. Money has that effect on a lot of people. 1 Timothy 6 says, “But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs” (vv. 8-10).
Lazarus on the other hand was impoverished. He had nothing to his name. He was a beggar. He would have gladly eaten the food that fell off the rich man’s table. We are told that Lazarus was laid by someone at the gate of the rich man, but whoever did that provided him no further help. Lazarus was penniless and alone—no one paid attention to him but the street dogs.
But it was not the rich man’s wealth that caused him to be condemned. And it was not Lazarus’ poverty that caused him to be saved. Many wealthy people have been saved, including Abraham, Job, David, and countless others. Conversely, many poor people have been condemned. Financial status is no sort of litmus test for whether or not a person is right with God.
The devil can use both wealth and poverty to tempt someone away from God. This is why the author of the Proverb prayed, “give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’ or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God” (30:8-9). The devil tempts the wealthy to love their riches instead of God, and he tempts the poor to blame God for their poverty.
Now if it wasn’t the rich man’s wealth that condemned him, maybe it was that he did not do enough good works. It is the belief of many Christians that they must prove their worth to God by doing good. But how much good is required? Do we need to exchange one good thought, word, and action for every sinful thought, word, and action? Do we need to do better than most people around us? Do we simply need to try our best, and God will overlook all the failures?
Let’s say you owe someone $10,000, and you try to get him to accept $10 as payment for the debt. No one would settle for that. Our debt of sin is far greater than this, and yet many think that the small amount of good works they produce is enough to satisfy that debt. In the Ten Commandments, God requires perfection. If we want to earn our way to heaven, we “must be perfect, as [our] heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt. 5:48). None of us has even come close to meeting this requirement.
But just because we cannot reach perfection in this life, does not mean good works are unimportant or optional. We should want to do what God commands us to do. Children are not perfect, but their parents certainly expect them to listen and do what they are told. Usually this is for their own good, so they do not become spoiled, and so they learn to love their neighbors as they love themselves. God wants to keep us from sin and the sorrows and pain that result from it, and He wants to teach us how to live a life of love toward Him and our neighbors.
So if the difference between why Lazarus was saved and the rich man was condemned, was not their level of wealth or how many good works they built up, what was it? The difference was that one heard “Moses and the Prophets” and believed the Word of God, while the other did not. We know this was the difference because of the conversation between the rich man and Abraham.
The rich man begged Abraham to send Lazarus back to earth to the rich man’s five brothers to warn them, so that they also were not condemned. Abraham replied, “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.” But the rich man insisted, “No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” What he was really saying was that the Word of God was not enough. It wouldn’t get through to his brothers. They were stubborn unbelievers like he was. Something more was needed. But Abraham replied, “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.”
Is that how I can be sure I am saved? By listening to “Moses and the Prophets,” by hearing the Word of God? Then all that would be required is that I go to church from time to time, or even just read the Bible occasionally at home. But it is safe to say that the rich man heard “Moses and the Prophets.” It is possible that he was even a regular attender at the synagogue. He could have had the reputation there of being a generous benefactor of the church. For all we know, he may have been well thought of by many in his community.
When Abraham said, “let them hear [Moses and the Prophets],” he did not mean simply letting the words enter their ears. He meant taking them to heart, and applying them to their life. This is why James states that we should “be doers of the word, and not hearers only.” To hear the Word and then to live as though we have not heard it is to “deceive ourselves” (Ja. 1:22). Do you suppose God is pleased with people who come to church on their best behavior, but then go home and mistreat the ones He has given them to love? And what should He think about those who reverently speak His name in prayer, but then use it for cursing and swearing among their friends? God keep us from being those that Isaiah described, those who “honor the Lord with their lips, while their hearts are far from [Him]” (Is. 29:13).
No one is saved by going through the motions of the Christian life. “God is not mocked” (Gal. 6:7). He knows the difference between belief and unbelief. He knows when our confession is sincere and when it is false. Lazarus was saved because he trusted God’s promises. He trusted that God loved him, even though He allowed him to lie on the street hungry. He believed that far greater treasure was waiting for him in heaven than the treasures that had eluded him on earth. He had nothing to offer God. The Holy Spirit moved him to reach out his beggar hand of faith, and God filled it with every spiritual blessing. Then the angels took hold of that beggar hand and lifted his soul to the mansions above.
Eternal life in heaven has been won for all sinners. And it is given to all who recognize their spiritual poverty and cling to the rich blessings of God. Each one of us has accrued a debt of righteousness to the law that we could never repay. Even if we stopped sinning today and only did good the rest of our lives, this still would not repay our debt. But in God’s sight, because of what Jesus has done, there is no more debt to pay. Can you imagine going to the bank to turn over the deed to your property because you defaulted on your loan, only to have the banker inform you that someone had fully paid the debt? Words could not express the joy, relief, and thankfulness you would feel.
Jesus paid your debt of sin by pouring out His holy, precious blood and dying on the cross for you. He gave His holy life as collateral for the debt of the whole world, and God accepted the payment. There is nothing you still owe to God, no good works that must complete the payment. You are debt-free. You are free to do good works, not just because you have to, but because you love Him who loved you, and you want to show your thankfulness for what He did for you. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2Cor. 8:9).
You could never have certainty of salvation if it depended in any way on you. But because it depends entirely on the work of Jesus for you, you can have complete confidence and certainty. Your Savior Jesus lived a perfect life for you. He died for your sins. He rose in victory over your death. Because of this, the angels will carry your soul to heaven when you die, just as they carried Lazarus. There is no doubt that this will be so. Jesus did not lie when He said, “whoever believes in [Me] should not perish but have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16).
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(woodcut of Lazarus and the angels from 1880 edition of The Story of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation)
The First Sunday in Lent – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Matthew 4:1-11
In Christ Jesus, who chose suffering and the cross over glory and ease, so that sinners could be saved, dear fellow redeemed:
127 years ago, Pastor U. V. Koren preached this: “The age we live in is a difficult time for the church. There is a great apostasy. Many teachers are retreating step by step—they give up one truth after another—so it seems nothing will be left except a powerless Law-doctrine. Each person wants to be saved by his own beliefs, if they ask about salvation at all” (U. V. Koren’s Works, Vol. 1, Sermons, p. 130). They are words that are just as fitting today. The situation has not changed. In fact the Church has been suffering and stumbling along ever since Eden, when Adam and Eve gave in to the devil’s temptation.
God’s creation had a good beginning. Everything was peaceful and perfect. But some of the angels decided they did not want to serve the almighty God. Led by the devil, they rebelled against their Creator and were condemned to eternal torment. These fallen angels are called “demons.” Their entire scheme and activity is to promote wickedness and unbelief in the world, so that many people are condemned along with them.
We sadly see the great success they have had, starting with Adam and Eve. But they have not succeeded in overrunning and overturning all that is good. They still have not done—and will never accomplish—what they set out to do, which is to defeat their Creator. “[T]he devil has been sinning from the beginning,” but the Lord would not let this wickedness go unchecked. God the Father sent His Son to take on human flesh, so that He would “destroy the works of the devil” (1Jn. 3:8).
Jesus publicly stepped into the devil’s crosshairs when He was baptized in the Jordan River. It was an impressive beginning to His public work. Immediately after His baptism, “the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased’” (Mt. 3:16-17). How could the devil accomplish anything against the beloved Son of God, who was anointed with the Spirit of God?
But what followed is not what we would expect. Jesus did not embark in the power of the Spirit on a victory tour through the world. He did not immediately subdue the forces of wickedness and cause every knee to bow to Him. He did not make a public spectacle of Satan and bind him in unbreakable chains, so he could do no more harm. Instead, “Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” The evangelist Mark indicates this was no optional journey, writing that the Spirit “drove him out into the wilderness” (1:12).
For forty days and forty nights, Jesus went without food. The amount of time was not a coincidence. It rained for forty days and forty nights when no believers were left on the earth except Noah and his family (Gen. 7:11-16). Moses was on Mount Sinai for forty days and forty nights, during which the LORD engraved His Ten Commandments on two stone tablets. After Moses found the people worshiping a golden calf, he returned to the mountain for another forty days and forty nights to intercede for them. Moses neither ate nor drank while in the LORD’s presence on the mountain (Ex. 24:18, 34:28; Deut. 9:9, 18).
Because the Israelites did not trust God to give them the land He had promised, they were forced to wander in the wilderness for forty years. Their punishment was one year for each of the forty days the spies had seen the goodness of the land of Canaan and rejected it (Num. 14:28-35). Much later, Elijah returned to the area where Moses had received the Commandments of God. Before starting his journey there, an angel gave him food and drink that sustained him for the forty days and forty nights of travel (1Kin. 19:5-8).
In each case, the forty days and forty nights reflected a period of disobedience and sin against God. Jesus now fasted in the wilderness for forty days and forty nights in perfect obedience to His Father’s will. He came to cover in righteousness what the human race had done in sin. No man could go so long without food under his own power, but Jesus was the God-Man. As God, He could go as long as He wanted without food. But as Man in His state of humiliation, He became hungry.
The devil saw an opportunity. “If You are the Son of God,” he said, “command these stones to become loaves of bread.” Why should Jesus deny Himself? If He was hungry, He should eat. It was as though the devil were saying that whatever Jesus was trying to accomplish by fasting in the wilderness, it wasn’t worth it. He could just as well have said that whatever He thought He needed to do on earth in general, that wasn’t worth it either. “Throw yourself down from the temple”—then everyone will know who you are. No need to be patient. No need to wait. “Fall down and worship me”—no need to stick with the plan. No need to suffer for sinners. Jesus, they aren’t worth it!
Satan tempted Jesus with a cross-free life, which is exactly how he tempts us. “Why suffer?” he says. “Why deny yourself? Why miss out? If you desire it, do it. If you want it, take it. Steal that money. Take those drugs. Down that bottle. Eat what you want. Look at those pictures. Jump in that bed. Tell some lies. Blame someone else.” What the devil wants us to do is exactly what the world says we should do. This should come as no surprise. The devil reigns in this kingdom of darkness. He is “the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience” (Eph. 2:2).
But if we acted on all our desires and pursued everything our flesh wanted, this would not lead us to greater joy and contentment, but rather to greater pain and suffering. The idea that a life of self-indulgence, immorality, and worldly pleasure is the best course a person can take is a lie. The world swallows this lie, hook, line, and sinker. This is why no one wants to admit sin anymore, or take responsibility for their own actions, or recognize that how they feel should have no bearing on what they do.
Adam and Eve did not want to take responsibility for their sin either, the very first sin. They wanted to pass the blame. They tried to plead ignorance. They tried to hide. But there was no escaping from the holy God. There was no way that they could justify sinning against God. There is no justification for our sins either. The devil can only tempt us to sin; he cannot make us do it. If you and I have sinned, the responsibility and fault is our own.
But God promised to send a Savior, a Substitute, One who would take responsibility for the irresponsible, who would pay the price for the unworthy. Contrary to the devil’s temptation, Jesus did not take the easy way out. The easy way out—and a just way—would have been to punish sinners for their wrongs in the eternal fires of hell. That is exactly what you and I and all sinners have earned and deserved.
But Jesus chose the way of suffering and the cross to save sinners. He endured immense anguish and agony, so that the wrath of God against sin would be satisfied. He was nailed to the cross, so that your sins would no longer be counted against you. By removing sin, He removed any claim the devil had on you. If the devil accuses you and points out your sin, you can point to Jesus. He paid for your sins with His holy, precious blood. He chose to suffer your death and hell, so you would have His life and heaven.
Your salvation is why Jesus was willing to “go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Mt. 16:21), as He told His disciples. Peter did not like the sound of that. He took Jesus aside and told Him to stop thinking and talking that way. Then Jesus said to him, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (v. 23).
The way of God is the way of love and sacrifice and self-denial. This is how Jesus calls His followers to live. “If anyone would come after me,” says Jesus, “let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” If we aim for pleasure and fulfillment in the world, we will join the devil in eternal destruction. But if in humble repentance and faith we follow after Jesus, we will enjoy the eternal victory He won for us.
Satan Tempts with a Cross-Free Life. But Jesus would not hear of it, and neither should you. The way of the world’s glory is meaningless and short-lived. The way of the cross is the way of trouble and difficulty in the world, but it is also the way of life and hope. It is to follow after Jesus, to be blessed by His constant presence and care, and finally to receive from Him the crown of everlasting life.
In this forty day season of Lent, remember that you are not alone in the wilderness of this world. As Luther wrote, Jesus is “by our side upon the plain / With His good gifts and Spirit” (ELH 250, v. 4). He is “with us in the fight” (251, v. 4), and He will not let the devil overcome any who trust in Him. Jesus would not give up His mission no matter how the devil tempted Him, and He will not give up on you, for whom He willingly took up His cross, died, and rose again.
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(picture from a woodcut by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, 1794-1872)