The Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity – Vicar Lehne sermon
Text: St. Luke 10:23-37
In Christ Jesus, who always loves us, his neighbors, as himself, dear fellow redeemed:
The lawyer was not happy. After all, he was an expert in the Law. He knew what the Law said and what it meant. And yet, in a verse that came just before our text for today, Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will” (Luke 10:21). Not only did this suggest that little children knew more about the Law than the lawyer did, but this also suggested that faith, given by God, was all that was required to understand the Holy Scriptures and to be saved. The lawyer had to prove that he understood the Law better than little children, better than Jesus. So, he put Jesus to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life” (verse 25)?
The Law clearly stated what a person had to do to be saved, so if Jesus’ answer showed that he did, in fact, believe that it was by faith that a person was saved, he would prove his ignorance. However, Jesus didn’t answer the lawyer’s question. Instead, Jesus turned it on him, saying, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it” (verse 26)? While not what the lawyer was expecting, he now had a chance to prove that he understood the Law. So, he summarized the Law by saying, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself” (verse 27). Jesus then responded to the lawyer by saying, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live” (verse 28).
Wait, so Jesus didn’t think that a person was saved by faith alone? That’s what Jesus’ response sounded like to the lawyer. However, that’s not what Jesus meant. He was actually trying to get the lawyer to see that he couldn’t live up to what the Law demanded and that it was purely by God’s grace and mercy that he was saved. But the lawyer didn’t see what Jesus wanted him to see. Instead, the lawyer shifted his goal to justifying himself. Jesus had told him to “do this,” but he already thought that he had. He had loved God like he should and his neighbor as himself—as long as “neighbor” was defined in a certain way. To see if Jesus saw things the way he did, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
This question was intended to prove to Jesus that the lawyer was needed to legally define what a neighbor is. After all, in the lawyer’s mind, since the Law was given by Moses to the Jews at the Mount Siani, then a neighbor had to be someone within the Jewish community, and he wanted to make that belief law. However, Jesus didn’t give the lawyer the justification he was looking for. Instead, Jesus showed that everyone is our neighbor, and therefore, (1) we’re not to show our love just to those we think deserve it, but (2) we’re to show our love to everyone, just as Jesus loves all of us.
In the parable, Jesus not only put the priest and the Levite, whom the lawyer would associate himself with, in a bad light, but he also put the Samaritan in a good light. The Samaritans were certainly not people whom the Jews would consider to be their neighbors. They were a mixed race and didn’t follow the Old Testament to the letter like the Jews did. But by using the Samaritan as the good example, Jesus made his point abundantly clear, so that even the lawyer had to admit it when he said that the one who “proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers” (verse 36) was “[t]he one who showed him mercy” (verse 37), or the good Samaritan.
When we hear accounts from the Bible like these, we can often times think to ourselves, “Yeah! You tell them Jesus!” However, we fail to realize that Jesus was not just speaking to the lawyer. He was speaking to all of us. Like the lawyer, there are those whom we don’t think deserve our love. Maybe it’s because they are murderers. Maybe it’s because they committed adultery. Maybe it’s because they didn’t keep a promise that they made. Or maybe it’s simply because they don’t belong to our group, like how the Jews viewed the Samaritans.
There are even times when we don’t think that those whom we would normally consider to be our neighbors deserve our love. In times like these, we act like the priest and the Levite, who passed by a fellow Jew in need of their help, simply because it wasn’t convenient for them. We might be willing to help someone in need, as long as it’s convenient for us or it benefits us. But, if we think that people have to deserve our love, then we also have to admit that we don’t deserve God’s love.
Since we have to keep the entire Law in order to earn God’s love, as Jesus told the lawyer, then we have to admit that we’ve failed. Sure, on the surface it may look like we’ve kept the entire Law, but Jesus shows us that it doesn’t take much to break the Law. We may think that we haven’t murdered anyone, but Jesus says that “everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire” (Matthew 5:22). We may think that we haven’t committed adultery, but Jesus says that “everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). We may think that we haven’t sworn falsely, but Jesus says, “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil” (Matthew 5:37). We may think that we don’t have to show love to our enemies, like how the Jews thought they didn’t have to show love to the Samaritans, but Jesus says, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). And these are just some of the ways that we fail to love our neighbors as ourselves.
We’re like the man who was attacked by robbers; beaten, bloody, and clinging to life; except we’re not the victim. We’re that way because of the sins that we committed, and Jesus would have every right to pass us by on the other side of the road and leave us to the fate that we brought upon ourselves. But he didn’t. Instead, like the good Samaritan, he came to help us in our time of need.
During his life on earth, Jesus was a good Samaritan in every way that we failed to be. He had compassion on those in need, feeding those who were hungry, healing those who were sick, and casting out demons. He didn’t let the background of others stop him from helping them. In fact, he would often times associate with Samaritans and those whom the religious authorities considered sinners. He even showed love to his enemies, praying while he was on the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). And he wasn’t concerned for his own wellbeing, putting the wellbeing of others before his own, with the ultimate example of this being that he willingly laid down his own life for our benefit. As the apostle Paul says, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
On the cross, Jesus paid the price for all of the times that you didn’t show love to your neighbors. You did nothing to deserve the love that Jesus showed you, for you were completely helpless and dying on the side of the road. But Jesus washed your wounds with the waters of baptism, nursed you back to health by feeding you the medicine that is his own body and blood in the Lord’s Supper, and clothed you with his own perfect and holy garments. Because of what Jesus did for you and still does for you, you haven’t just received the forgiveness of sins that he won for you, but his perfect fulfillment of the Law has also been applied to your life. Now, the Father no longer sees the beaten and bloody sinner that you once were, but only the new man that his only begotten Son, Jesus, made you. This is the same message that Jesus was trying to get the lawyer to understand, that he had come to save sinners and open heaven to all who trust in him.
The lawyer didn’t get the answer from Jesus that he was looking for. He thought that he had a better understanding of what a neighbor is than others did, and he thought that by showing love only to those whom he thought deserved it would earn him a place in heaven. Jesus showed him that his understanding of what a neighbor is was wrong and also that he needed the grace and mercy that only God can give in order to be saved. It is a message that the lawyer needed to hear, as well as all of us. We have not loved our neighbors like we should, but Jesus has loved us. Because of his love we now live, and because of his love we love one another as he has loved us.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
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(picture from “Parable of the Good Samaritan” by Jan Wijnants, 1632-1684)
The Second Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Luke 14:16-24
In Christ Jesus, who fills the hungry with good things, but who sends the self-secure away empty, dear fellow redeemed:
“I’d like to throw a party at our house soon, and you are invited! I just need a little bit of help from you to make it happen. I’m going to need about ten people to come early to clean the house and five more to get the yard set up. I’ll need a few of you to decorate, make things look nice. Then I’m going to need a bunch of you to work on the main dish and the rest of you to bring side dishes and desserts. And of course we will need you to help clean up afterward. ‘What will I be doing?’ you ask. Don’t worry, I’ll be at the party on time. It’s going to be great!”
How many people do you suppose will come to my party? I expect there would be a lot of excuses, a lot of conflicts in the schedule. Who wants to go to a party where they have to do all the work? We attend parties such as graduation open houses and wedding receptions to celebrate and have fun. We look forward to the good food and the good company. It is a privilege to be invited to attend.
In the same way, it was a tremendous honor to be invited to attend the party that Jesus speaks about in today’s parable. This was no backyard barbeque, no small gathering of relatives or friends. This was “a great banquet” that the guests had been informed about far in advance. “Many” were invited. They knew this banquet was coming; it didn’t catch them by surprise.
But when the master of the house sent his servant to tell those who were invited, “Come, for everything is now ready,” they started making excuses—not just some of them—all of them! Not one of them intended to come. What an insult to the host! You would be crushed if this happened to you. Then you would probably be angry. “All that work, and no one could trouble themselves to come?! Do I really mean so little to them?!”
That’s how the master of the house reacted. He became “very angry” and told his servant to invite anyone he found in the city, “the poor and crippled and blind and lame,” and the strangers way out in the country. The honored guests who were first invited lost their place to the dishonored and the downtrodden. And the master’s house was filled, and the great banquet was enjoyed by many.
Jesus spoke this parable to teach how the invitation to salvation came first to the Israelites, the chosen people of God. They should have known this salvation was coming because they had the Old Testament Scriptures which clearly pointed to the promised Messiah. But the devil tempted them to give attention to other things. He got them to focus not on the commands and promises of God, but on making and keeping their own self-righteous laws. These were too busy with their possessions, their work, and their families to listen to the Messiah when He came. They did not follow Jesus their Savior, but rejected Him.
So God turned His merciful help to the Gentiles. These were the dishonorable and downtrodden ones who did not have the Scriptures or live according to God’s holy law. They were not worthy to receive an invitation to salvation, but God graciously extended it to them. Jesus made this clear when He said just before His ascension into heaven, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Mat. 28:19). And the apostle Paul wrote by inspiration that God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1Ti. 2:4).
But “all nations” have not been converted to the Lord, and “all people” have not come to the knowledge of the truth. Why is that? Why does anyone reject the summons to God’s great banquet of salvation? It is because so many think they have better things to do with their time. Some people focus on their fields, their possessions in this life, building up more and more, better and nicer things. Some focus on their work, getting more done, making progress, building a legacy. And some focus on their family and friends, enjoying new experiences together, making memories, having fun.
All of those things can seem more important than the saving Word of God. We typically don’t go to the Word of God when we want to make money, when we want to move up in our job, when we want to have fun. Part of this is because of our misunderstanding about where all good things come from—they come from God who gives us our daily bread. And part of it comes from our own sinfulness, our stubborn tendency to overlook the best things in favor of the lesser things.
You wouldn’t miss your own child’s graduation party, but missing the great banquet of salvation is infinitely more serious. God doesn’t have our whole heart, soul, and mind until nothing matters more to us than His holy Word. The “field” can wait, the “five yoke of oxen” can be examined later, spouse and family must be led to the banquet and not away from it. “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness,” said Jesus, “and all these things—all these earthly blessings—will be added to you” (Mat. 6:33).
“[S]eek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness”—tell me why this priority is not possible, and I will sympathize with you. All of us think we have better things to do than to occupy our heart, soul, and mind with “the kingdom of God and his righteousness.” All of us have excuses, and they can sound pretty good and reasonable: “I am exhausted. I don’t have time to read the Bible or pray.” “We are on the go constantly! It just isn’t possible to have devotions at the dinner table or the bedside.” “I don’t feel qualified to have devotions with my family. What if I can’t answer their questions? What if I tell them something wrong?”
As reasonable as these excuses sound, they are all bad excuses. I’m especially talking to Christian fathers. It is our job to make sure our families are trained in the Word. It is our job to spend ourselves and sacrifice ourselves, even when we don’t feel like we have anything left to give. God tells us do this. Ephesians 6:4 says, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” It is not first of all the mother’s job or the church’s job. It is our job as fathers, whom God the Father has placed on this earth to be examples of His love and care for His dear children.
But here’s the important point, here’s the thing to remember: not one of us has to come up with the plan for the banquet; not one of us has to prepare the food. All of that is done. God the Father is the Master of the House, and His only Son is the Food, and this Food is enjoyed by all who are brought to faith by the Holy Spirit’s invitation.
This is not a party (like the one I am planning) where the people who are invited do all the work. This is a party where all the work is done—the table is set, the food is prepared, your spot is reserved, everything is ready. All of this was done by Jesus for you. He won your place at God’s table by setting aside His glory to suffer and die for you.
Your excuses for doing what you knew you shouldn’t and for not doing what you knew you should—Jesus took them on Himself. He accepted these excuses, not as valid reasons for acting the way you did, but as what they are, violations of God’s holy law and stains on His perfect creation of you. He took the blame for all of them.
Jesus offered no excuses to set aside His work of suffering and dying for you. He willingly went in your place, suffering the eternal anger of God, so that you would have “redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of [your] trespasses, according to the riches of his grace” (Eph. 1:7). God does not say, “You missed your chance! The door to the banquet hall is shut! Go away!” He says and keeps saying to you, “Come, for Everything Is Now Ready.”
That is often what I say after the Lord’s Supper has been prepared. Christ’s Words of Institution have been spoken, we sing the Agnus Dei, “O Christ, the Lamb of God, You take away the sin of the world, have mercy on us,” and you are summoned to the great banquet of salvation. Jesus is here for you. He is here to feed you with His holy body and blood. He is here to cleanse your heart and mind and give you a clear conscience. He is here to strengthen you for the work He has called you to do. So I say to all who have examined themselves—confessing their sin and their trust in Jesus and His Word—“Come, for Everything Is Now Ready.”
You haven’t had to do anything. God has prepared this banquet for you, His guest. Many are invited to this banquet, but they make excuses for why they cannot come. Those who do come when they are summoned are the ones who are done making excuses. These are the ones who recognize that they don’t deserve to be at the banquet, and that they have nothing to offer God that could ever compare with what He gives them.
God made no mistake when He invited you to this banquet. No matter how spiritually “poor and crippled and blind and lame” you have been, no matter how far down the highway of this sinful world you have gone, there is a place for you in the Lord’s kingdom. Listening to His Word, faithfully partaking of His Sacraments, you are tasting the rich food of His banquet.
And the foretaste that you enjoy right now with the Christian friends who sit beside you in the pews and kneel or stand beside you at the Communion rail—this delicious feast you will enjoy in all its fullness in the great banquet hall of your heavenly Father’s house.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
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(woodcut 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)
Midweek Lent – Pr. Abraham Faugstad homily
Text: St. Matthew 27:24-26
Dear Fellow Redeemed,
In our lesson, we see Pontius Pilate standing before the crowd washing his hands in an attempt to free himself from the guilt of Jesus’ innocent blood. In the verses preceding this, we learn of Pilate’s intense internal struggle regarding Jesus. The chief priests and the elders hurled accusation after accusation against Jesus. While the accusations were false, Jesus remained silent. Pilate marveled at this. What kind of defendant doesn’t defend himself? Especially, someone who is so clearly innocent. Jesus remained silent, fulfilling the words of the Prophet Isaiah, “He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth.” The few words Jesus spoke were in reply to Pilate’s question, “Are You the King of the Jews,” to which Jesus simply answered, “It is as you say.”
Pilate looked for the opportunity to release Jesus. While Pilate was sitting in the judgement seat, his wife sent word to him, “Have nothing to do with that just Man, for I have suffered many things today in a dream because of Him” (Matthew 27:19). At the Passover feast the governor was accustomed to releasing one prisoner to the multitude. Pilate knew of Jesus’ popularity among the people and so he saw this as an opportunity to go around the religious leaders. What he didn’t know was that the people in the crowds had largely been brought in by Jesus’ enemies. And so, when he gave the options between releasing Jesus or Barabbas—a known criminal, the crowds yelled, “Barabbas!” But to Jesus they yelled, “Let him be crucified!” Pilate even asks, “Why, what evil has He done?” But they only cried out louder, “Crucify Him!” Pilate knew the Jews could bring down on him Caesar’s harsh disfavor. When he finally saw that he could not prevail, he gave in to the crowds. He would defend this just man no more.
I. The Curse
Pilate now stands before the crowd washing his hands and says to the crowd, “You see to it.” He put the guilt on them. And the crowd in their frenzied and mad state gladly accepted it: “His blood be on us and on our children.” As if saying, “If we are guilty, then let God punish us and our children.” But just as Pilate did not have the power to remove his guilt by his words and actions, neither did the crowds have power to accept or reject their guilt. However, they did echo Jesus’ own words against their wicked generation who rejected him. A punishment they would face within one generation, when Jerusalem was attacked by the Romans and the Temple destroyed, leaving thousands dead and enslaved.
A wicked and unjust sentence was given to Jesus. The account of our Lord’s Passion is sobering. We can become angry with the people and think, “I wouldn’t have crucified Jesus if I was there! I would have defended him!” But it’s not just those who were there that day that are guilty of Jesus’ innocent blood. No, we weren’t there when they mocked Jesus. No, we weren’t present in Pilate’s courtyard. And no, we didn’t scream for Jesus’ blood, but our sin led him there. Our lack of love towards God and toward one another make us just as guilty and accused as the words the crowds shouted.
Jesus was mocked, spit on, beaten, scourged, condemned, and crucified for the guilt of our sin. He carried the sins of our first parents, Adam and Eve, and all their descendants who have broken God’s Law. No one can claim innocence from his blood. Isaiah says, “All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (53:6). We weren’t there like those who shouted in the crowd, but we are certainly not exempt from his blood. Your sin sent Jesus to the cross.
We should never consider our sin a small thing. The hymnist puts it well, “Ye who think of sin but lightly nor suppose the evil great, here you see its nature rightly, here its guilt may estimate. Mark the sacrifice appointed, see who bears the awful load; ’tis the Word, the Lord’s anointed, Son of Man and Son of God.” While our Lord’s suffering reminds us of the greatness of our sin, it more importantly points us to the mercy and compassion of our Savior who died for our sin. By God’s grace, we do not bear the responsibility of the crowd’s words, but the blessing.
II. The Blessing
With their words the crowds meant evil towards Jesus, but what they meant for evil, God meant for our good (Genesis 50:20). In fact, their words serve as a beautiful sermon and prayer. For it was by our Savior’s innocent blood shed on the cross that he paid for the sins of the world. By his blood our guilt is washed away. John writes, “the blood of Jesus Christ [God’s] Son cleanses us from all sin” (I John 1:7). No matter how great our sin, how terrible our guilt, nor how often we have sinned—his blood is greater.
Jesus didn’t have to suffer. He didn’t have to face the false accusations, the taunts, the scourges, the nails, or the cross. But he did. The nails did not keep Jesus on the cross. It was his love for you. Our Lord knew that the only way that he could save us from the guilt of our sin was to be punished in our place. All the Old Testament sacrifices could not pay for sin, but they pointed to the Messiah, the Savior, the Lamb of God, who would take away the sins of the world.
God’s Law required payment for sin. It was necessary for sin to be atoned for. If God would have simply let sin go by without payment, he would be an unrighteous judge. But he didn’t. Instead, “God loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” And for this reason, believers can have certainty of their redemption because “you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (I Peter 1:18–19).
There are countless people who agonize over their guilt. They attempt to ease their guilt through acts of devotion, charity, or other sacrifices. But we cannot satisfy our guilt. All our attempts to pay for our guilt are like a hamster running on a wheel. We will get nowhere. These acts are simply washing our hands, like Pilate. Maybe, you have found yourself struggling with guilt. Guilt over your sins against God, your friends and neighbors, spouse, or children. Perhaps, there are sins from your past that you cannot forget or sins you continue to fall for again and again.
We can’t wash our guilt away by what we do, but Jesus can, and he has! When the Apostle John gives his description of his vision of heaven in Revelation 7, where he sees great multitudes standing before the throne of the Lamb robed in white—there is only one reason that is mentioned for why they are there. They were those who had “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:14). Whoever believes in Jesus has had their sins washed away by the blood of the Lamb. There is no doubt about it! As Paul writes, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace” (Ephesians 1:7). And so, we can rightly pray, “His blood be on us!”
No one is beyond our Lord’s saving help—no sin is too great. The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin! Even those who crucified Jesus were later urged by Peter to repent that their “sins may be blotted out” (Acts 3:19). Jesus says, “the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out” (John 6:37).
Our sin surely sent Jesus to the cross, but he went willingly for you. It pleased God to do this because he loves you. Jesus was condemned that you might go free. Our dear Lord Jesus wants you to be so certain of his love for you, that he instituted Baptism, where he washes away your sins through the water and the Word. He instituted the Lord’s Supper, where you receive his shed body and blood for the remission of all your sins. You are covered by Jesus’ blood and that’s a good thing! Because that is your clothing for heaven.
By God’s grace, we can pray, “His blood be on us!” Amen!
(picture from “The Sacrificial Lamb” by Josefa de Ayala, 1630-1684)
Ash Wednesday – Vicar Anderson homily
Text: St. John 11:45-53
In Christ Jesus, whose enemies plan was to silence Him and His message, instead prophesied His plan of salvation for you, dear fellow redeemed:
God’s people have had a history unlike any other. It could have been anyone, but God made a promise to Abraham that He would be great. The people of Israel had great success when they worshiped and followed and loved God with all their heart, soul, and mind. More times than not however, they failed to listen to God. In our text as the nation of Israel looks to be thriving, we see that they are only a shadow of what they once were. They were back to their old antics of not listening to God. The only issue on their mind is self-preservation. The religious leaders like their power. Instead of rejoicing that the Messiah is here, all they can think about is how to keep their power and not make Rome upset. The text shows their breaking point. It teaches how bad the corruption is as the religious leader of the nation prophesies his plan of evil. His plan is to kill Jesus.
Jesus raising Lazarus excites the crowd as they watched a man who had been sealed for four days in a tomb come out alive. There should be no way for anyone to deny that Jesus is the Christ. As most of the people are overjoyed with what has happened, some report the miracle to the authorities. The Jewish leadership cannot deny what Jesus is doing, they see His power. They even say, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs.” They can’t deny it. Instead of believing in His message and who He is, they are only thinking about their power and the repercussions that could come of this. There worst fear is that the people will get so worked up that Rome will come in and it will be like what happened to Israel with Babylon. The Babylonians were a nation that God used to take Judah into exile. They were in exile for 70 years from the land. The religious leaders see their influence dwindling. Caiaphas, the High Priest, the Spiritual leader of the people hatches what he thinks is the perfect plan. He thinks it is his own plan. He says, “You know nothing at all. Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.”
Caiaphas’ “sermon theme” is that Jesus should die. The wickedness of power and greed springs forth. Who needs a Savior, who needs the Christ when you can rule over yourself. When religion is mixed with politics, politics takes over and the religion disappears. Politics is law. We can think like the world that the law can change hearts. We think that if we can follow the law somewhat, that is good enough. We get too invested in what is happening in the world, we turn politics into religion and then we go to war against friends and relatives for ourselves. The Pharisees did the same thing. Their made-up laws make them look better than everyone else. That is what politics can do today. It wants you to look at the issues at hand and it wants you to put yourself over the other side. Being better than your neighbors because of political affiliation can turn you into a god as you judge others for what they do, and you can end up not showing them love.
Caiaphas and the religious leaders were worried that they were going to be destroyed by Rome. They are not focused on their job which is to be the religious leaders for the people. They are doing the opposite. All they care about is where they stand in the world. When the world tries to push its dividing agenda on us, we can do the same thing. We are tempted to make sure that our outward appearance fits in with society. When we fall into this sin then we don’t confess the truth of Scripture. The truth to love God and serve our neighbors.
As Caiaphas “sermon theme” is that Jesus should die, God has other plans. “He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.” Caiaphas was right in that God’s will is that Jesus will die for the people. Jesus did not die to keep him in power. Jesus died for the sins of the world. Caiaphas thought he was getting rid of a problem. Instead, the power that he thought he had was being used by God.
Jesus’ salvation won for us comes to us not because of our own plans or attempts to get it on our own. It comes to us by God’s Will. The gospel changes hearts showing the world that we are to rely on Christ. He did not come to rule over an earthly kingdom. He went to the cross with your sins on His back and died for you. He takes away the sins that weigh us down and keep us from helping our neighbors. This is the glory of the gospel on display. Jesus did not come and die for one group, He came and died for those who are scattered abroad. He came and died for you and me. He lived out a life in service to God and He served those who couldn’t care for themselves. When we fail and fall into these temptations to serve ourselves, it is Christ who takes those sins away because His life counts as ours.
What looks like doom and gloom as Jesus’ enemies look to carry out an evil plot, God works this out for the good of those who love Him. Our enemies will continue to plot against us, because our confidence is in Jesus. They will want us to take sides against one another. It will look like they are going to win in their evil deeds. The world is crumbling all around us. We are eternally protected from those who do evil as God shows us that even when they think that they have it all figured out, He can turn what they think is evil into good. Caiaphas had gotten it all wrong yet confessed it right. He confesses God’s plan, His plan of salvation.
God’s Will is far greater, and it serves His purpose. His purpose is that Christ would die for the sins of the whole world. This was not Caiaphas’ idea. Our loving Father had a plan from the beginning to send His son to save all mankind. The world wants to keep its power to be its own god and cause divisions. As the world tempts us to sin in these ways and when we fail, Christ tells us that our sins have been taken away as He has overcome the world. With Jesus death and resurrection, we do not need to fear when the end comes near. As we return to dust, we return to dust knowing that our bodies will rise again. Caiaphas’ sermon ends with a risen Jesus.
Caiaphas thought that he had it all. Rome had put him in power as the religious head of the nation of Israel. Instead of guiding the people in the Word of God, he was only concerned about keeping the power that he was given. God works through the evil that is around us. He carries out His divine Will. Caiaphas thought that his plan was foolproof and made sense. He thought he would kill Jesus and save the people, or really his own power. And Jesus did die, but the result was not what Caiaphas had planned. God used Caiaphas as His mouthpiece. Caiaphas would prophesy not a plan of evil, but a plan of salvation. Jesus would die, not to preserve earthly power, but He would die to save you and me. Our enemies may look like they are powerful. We know that they are no match for God and His plans. God’s plans overcome evil, they have you in mind, and they work to your good, for your salvation. Amen.
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 “Christ before Pilate” by Mihály Munkácsy, 1881)
The Transfiguration of Our Lord – Vicar Anderson sermon
Text: St. Matthew 17:1-9
In Christ Jesus, who with three witnesses transfigured in all His glory, showing the World that He is the Christ, the Son of God, dear fellow redeemed:
We are currently in the last two games to see who will be playing in the Superbowl. I have had fun with the banter of talking with everyone as we cheered on our favorite teams and saw them lose out before the big game or didn’t make it to the playoffs at all. Now each one of these playoff games, especially the two that will play today are just a foretaste of what is to come. It’s good to win these playoff games, but not as good as tasting the ultimate win of that Superbowl. It’s an event like this that we see in our text today. Jesus reveals himself as the Messiah and He does it in an extraordinary way. Jesus takes three disciples with Him to witness this event. They don’t even realize what they see with their eyes. There are some key points to take away from this event. This is a high point in Jesus’ life before He continues to follow the will of His Father and heads to the cross for our salvation.
Peter, James, and John witness something beyond all human comprehension. Upon going up the mountain, Jesus shows His divine glory. Scripture has a hard time saying what this scene looked like, it is indescribable. Matthew’s account keeps it the simplest. Jesus became as bright as the sun and His clothes became as bright as a light. Two of the greatest figures of the Old Testament arrive and talk with Jesus. We see the Old Testament affirming that it is pointing at Jesus as the Messiah. Moses is representing the law. Elijah is representing the prophets. The topic that they are discussing is how Jesus is going to die. Just after this, a bright cloud overshadowed them. Not only has the Son of Man shown himself that He is truly the Son of God with His divine glory, The Father has also come upon the mountain confirming what is taking place. That Jesus is His beloved Son, and the Son is going to carry out His plan to save the world. The disciples fell on their faces in fear.
As God the Father envelops them in a cloud, what are the disciples thinking? This is not the first time that the glory of the LORD has been witnessed in a cloud. We see God appearing in a cloud in the Old Testament. It is recorded that, “On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled… Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the LORD had descended on it in fire” (Exodus 19:16, 18). The disciples have a big reason to fear. They grew up learning these accounts and here is the LORD Almighty coming down on their mountain. The LORD who delivered Israel out of Egypt. This is a glory that cannot be looked upon. When the LORD came down on Mount Sinai, the people were told they could not look upon him. The Israelites couldn’t even touch the base of the mountain. This is a glory that reminds people of their sin. They see how mighty and how holy the LORD is. We see how tiny we are.
Let’s put it into perspective. What if the cloud of the LORD filled this church right now? You see His glory around you. What sins begin to come to mind as the bright presence of God fills the church? You would squirm in your seat. Like the Old Testament Israelites and these three disciples, you would fall down in fear at the glorious presence of God. You would want to hide. In that cloud we see God’s omnipotence. God knows everything that we do. We cannot hide from his presence. Our sins are laid bare in front of God the Almighty. This is happening now—we just can’t see it. God is present right here in this church. He does see everything. God is here and knows every single sin that has been committed against Him. You can’t hide from God. You have to come clean. As the presence of God can overwhelm us, Jesus’ transfiguration did not happen to scare us.
Before the transfiguration, Peter made his great confession. Peter confesses that Jesus is the Christ. Jesus shows Peter, James, and John that Peter’s great confession is true as they get a foretaste of Jesus’ glory. He is the Christ. Everything that His disciple’s thought is true. Moses and Elijah talk with Jesus confirming that he will die for the sins of the world. This was the plan that He was sent into the world to complete. We see that Jesus is able to complete it because He is not just a man. The disciples see his glory. They see His glory shining like the Sun. God the Father confirms that what Jesus is doing is pleasing to Him. This plan has been set in stone since the beginning of time. God is keeping His promise. He is watching His Son willingly follow His plan to perfection. The fear of the cloud is gone as Jesus is the one who takes on the weight of the wrath of God. That is where Jesus is heading after leaving this mountain. He is heading to the cross, bearing the weight of the sins that have us in fear, and He is taking the wrath that we deserved.
Now as the disciples were laying down in fear, the scene ends. They hear the voice of their Savior. Jesus comforts his disciples that they don’t need to fear as he is still with them. He comforts you as well. He hides His glory from you as He comes to meet you in His Word and Sacraments. His Word brings you comfort as it tells you what He has done. You hear Jesus’ Words of comfort as He is with you in your struggles and hardships. He clothes you with the waters of Baptism marking you as God’s child. The forgiveness of sins is given to you on your tongue in Holy Communion. Your Savior knows that you can’t endure Him in all His glory because of your sins. So, He comes to you in the simplest yet majestic way. You don’t have to search for a way out of the problems that you are in. Jesus comes to you and says do not be afraid as He is the one who takes on the punishment. The ways in which Jesus comes to you are also a foretaste of what is to come, and you can look forward to what the disciples witnessed.
Jesus’ transfiguration is the foretaste of being with Him forever in all His glory. Jesus never lost His power as God. He always had it, but He did not always make full use of it. We see in our text how much He gave up for you. The disciples see what Christ’s resurrection, earthly appearance, ascension, and what heaven will look like. This is what will happen after He dies. Jesus rises from the dead glorified, making full use of His divine power. Peter writes in his letter that they were witnesses to what took place. Peter says, “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2 Peter 1:16). The Bible is not a book of made-up fairy tales.
The disciples watched as their teacher dropped the veil, giving them a glimpse of His divine glory. They witnessed Jesus staying on course to complete the Father’s will. Moses and Elijah assure Jesus of the plan for Him to suffer and die. This was God’s plan since the beginning of time. That Christ would come into the world to suffer and die for you. He would humbly live the life of a servant, live a perfect life obeying everything that the Father commanded for you.
This account speaks about the future as well. When our final hour comes and we are called to our heavenly home, we not only will see Christ in all his glory, we will also be transfigured. We will see the glory of Christ, and we will have no fear. The apostle John who was a witness to these things explains how this will look. He records in one of his letters the joy that we will have in our heavenly home. That we will be comforted by Christ in His full glory. He writes, “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). Amen.
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(picture from painting by Carl Bloch, c. 1865)
The First Sunday in Advent – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Matthew 21:1-9
In Christ Jesus, who “comes [to you] with gladness, / Moved by His love alone, / To calm your fear and sadness, / To Him they well are known” (ELH 94, v. 7), dear fellow redeemed:
My wife and I have been working our way through a book about Abraham Lincoln’s thirteen day train ride to Washington D. C., where he would take the oath of office. While Lincoln made his way there, the united states were coming apart at the seams. Some states in the south had already seceded and had elected a new president for themselves. The federal government was floundering. Credible intel suggested multiple assassination plots to keep Lincoln from ever getting to Washington. It was an anxious trip.
At every stop along the way on a carefully designed route through the northern states, Lincoln was met by large crowds of people wanting to catch a glimpse of this iconic man. Whenever he stepped off the train, they surged forward trying to get as close as they could and maybe even shake his hand. They hung on every word he spoke. As humble as his upbringing was and as down-to-earth as he conducted himself, they treated him like a celebrity—maybe even like a king.
If you had been there in that tumultuous time, and you met Lincoln at one of his train stops, what would you have done? What might you have said to him? To this point, Lincoln hadn’t done much more than talk. Was he really up for the task of leading a country that was on its way to civil war? Was he truly the man for this moment? There were many hopes, but also many questions.
The coming of Jesus to Jerusalem was met with just as much excitement and just as many questions. The people knew Jesus was special. They had seen Him perform many miracles, including the raising of Lazarus from the dead not far from Jerusalem. They also knew that the Jewish religious leaders despised Jesus and wanted Him silenced. No doubt the Roman authorities were aware of these things, and they were anxious to maintain the peace and avoid an uprising, especially now that the city was jammed full of people attending the annual Passover celebration.
If you had been in Jerusalem at the beginning of that festival week, and Jesus came riding down toward you from the Mount of Olives, what would you have done? What might you have said? We know what the Israelites did. They removed their outer garments and cut branches from nearby trees, and they laid them on the ground in front of Him. They wanted to create a soft carpet for Jesus’ arrival. They wanted Him to know He was most welcome.
But while the donkey’s hooves may have fallen quietly on the path, the crowd was anything but quiet. The people who went before Him and those who followed Him were shouting and singing the words of an old song, perhaps as much as 1,000 years old. “Hosanna!” they cried, which means, “Save us, we pray!” “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”
They were shouting the words of Psalm 118, a messianic song of victory. They believed the coming of Jesus was the fulfillment of these words. They welcomed Him as a king, “the Son of David.” Just what sort of king He would be was not clear to them, but they almost certainly had nationalist notions in mind. Jesus could lead them into a new era of earthly glory and prosperity, free from the rule of outsiders, like the rule of the great king David!
But Jesus was not that sort of king. By the end of the week, He stood before Pilate and said, “My kingdom is not of this world” (Joh. 18:36). His kingdom was heavenly. He was looking to gain eternal souls, not earthly subjects. He would win them in a most surprising way. It would not be done by political deal-making, alliance building, or a superior show of strength. Jesus secured freedom for the captives by suffering. He brought them life by dying. He won everything for them by appearing to lose it all.
Jesus came to do what the people were crying out for, “Hosanna! Save us, we pray!” But it wasn’t salvation from corrupt religious leaders or pagan overlords. He saved them from their sin and death. It is rare and perhaps even impossible for an earthly leader to do something that benefits everyone. But what Jesus accomplished was for everyone. He suffered and died for everybody’s sins. He made no distinctions, played no favorites. Jesus was there on the cross for all sinners.
That means He was there for you. When Jesus received His crown of thorns and was pinned to that gruesome instrument of death, you didn’t exist. You wouldn’t exist for nearly 2,000 years! But God the Father saw the wrongs you would do and the good you would leave undone as clear as day. All sin was before Him, and He placed all of it on His holy Son. All your pride when things went your way, and all your impatience when things didn’t. All your bad decisions, your unfaithfulness, your brokenness. All of it was piled on Jesus, who suffered as though all of it was His doing, as though all of it was His sin.
Suppose you were employed somewhere, and you decided that you would do whatever you felt like doing. You broke the rules. You broke merchandise. You took whatever you wanted. When the losses couldn’t be ignored, the boss called everyone together. Now things were getting serious. How would you lie your way out of this one? But you didn’t have to. Even though the evidence strongly pointed to you, your innocent co-worker was accused instead. He was the one to be fired—not you. And he didn’t even open his mouth. He knew the truth, and he willingly took the punishment—took the punishment for you.
Knowing what your sin did to Jesus, knowing what He suffered in your place, what would you do if He met you here? What might you say? Part of you would want to try to justify yourself and pass the blame for your sins on to others. You were just a victim of unfortunate circumstances. Or maybe you would even have some criticisms of Him, that if He were a king more attuned to your daily needs and more aware of your troubles, you would not have struggled along like you had.
That would be no way to greet your King. But He would stand there patiently, looking right at you, a mixture of love and compassion and truth in His eyes. Then slowly He would lift His hands and turn them open to show two marks—marks from the nails. Those marks speak a message of perfect love, perfect sacrifice, perfect forgiveness, a message that can be boiled down to two words, “For you.”
Nothing more needs to be said. Nothing more needs to be done. Jesus died for you. He rose from the dead in victory for you. And He still lives for you. “I am with you always,” He says (Mat. 28:20). He does meet you here. He comes humbly, hidden in simple words, simple water, simple bread and wine. He comes through these lowly means to transfer all the wealth of His kingdom to you. He gives you His forgiveness, His righteousness, His life.
And when He comes in each Divine Service, you greet Him like the Israelites did outside Jerusalem. As the Israelites laid their garments at His feet, so you put off your old Adam in repentance and lay your sins before Him. That is how the Divine Service begins, with repentance. You tell the truth about yourself and put yourself at His mercy. And immediately you hear His words of absolution, the free forgiveness of all your sins.
As the Israelites also decorated the road with palm branches, so you sprinkle the path of your coming King with praises. You join the angels in their Christmas song, “Glory be to God in the highest. And on earth peace, goodwill toward men.” And as the Israelites repeated what they had learned about Jesus in the Holy Scriptures, so you listen to the Scripture readings and sermon and confess the truth about your King in the Creeds, acknowledging Him as the fulfillment of all of God’s promises.
Then in the service of Holy Communion, you even take up the Israelites’ hosanna song. Just before Jesus joins His body and blood to the bread and wine, you sing, “Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.” Then you hear Jesus’ invitation, “Take, eat; this is My body, which is given for you…. Drink of it all of you; this cup is the New Testament in My blood, which is shed for you and for many, for the remission of sins.”
The entire Divine Service is a review of what Jesus did to save you and what He still does to keep you in His kingdom. Your King is not ashamed to count you among His followers. He is happy to meet you and dispense His riches to you. He does not ask anything from you except that you trust what He tells you. And even this faith comes to you as a gift from Him.
He is not a king who forces His subjects to be devoted to Him and praise Him. He doesn’t have to force us. When we see all that He has done for us, we cannot help but give Him thanks and praise and desire to live our life in His service. None of it is good enough for Him, and He accepts all of it with gladness.
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(picture from “Entry of Christ into Jerusalem” by Pietro Lorenzetti, 1320)
The Second-Last Sunday of the Church Year – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Matthew 25:31-46
In Christ Jesus, who chose us and appointed us that we should go and bear fruit, so that others may receive the blessings of God as we do (Joh. 15:16), dear fellow redeemed:
Jesus gives a description in today’s reading of what will happen on the last day. He says He will come in His glory. All the angels will accompany Him. He will sit on His glorious throne. The holy angels will gather before Him the people of all nations. It will be clear to everyone who the King is. It won’t matter who has power on earth at that time; the rulers of the world will be as nothing before Him. Everyone will be at His mercy, but not everyone will receive mercy. The sheep placed at His right hand will be honored, while the goats at His left hand will be cursed.
The sheep are believers in Jesus, those who are blessed by the Father, given the inheritance of eternal life in heaven through faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection. Jesus says that the kingdom was prepared for them “from the foundation of the world.” That means the sheep did not earn their salvation or somehow make themselves worthy of salvation. They were chosen for salvation from the very beginning of the world, before they even existed. This choosing, which the Bible also calls their “election,” was realized when they were brought to faith by the power of God’s Word.
And that is what happened to you. Your heavenly Father chose you to be His own from eternity and called you out of the darkness of your sin and death into His marvelous light. He wanted you. He rescued you. That means He has big plans for you. Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” God made us and redeemed us for a specific purpose, that we should live in His grace and do good while we are here on earth. He has even laid out the good works He wants us to do. We don’t have to search high and low looking for them; they are right there in front of us.
At the time of the Reformation, many people had the idea that the workers in the church had the most important work—the bishops, priests, monks, and nuns. They were seen as doing so much good, that they had enough to share—or sell—to others. Martin Luther once believed that too, but even while he served as a monk, he knew he was not as holy as others thought he was or as holy as he wanted to be.
Later he learned that good works are not done only or especially by the church workers. They are done by all whom God has called to faith. He said something to the effect that the mother caring for her children is doing more good than all the monks and nuns combined. The mother hardly thinks about all the good she is doing, while the monks and nuns are filled with pride for their works which do nothing for their neighbors.
You have important work to do, work which God has prepared for you, work which brings your Lord and Savior great joy. Jesus gives some examples of that work in today’s reading. Looking back over the lives of the sheep, He said they were busy with feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, welcoming strangers, clothing the naked, visiting the sick, and supporting those who were in prison. “In fact,” He said, “you did all of those things for Me.” The sheep are shocked! “When did we do all those things for You?” they ask. And Jesus answers, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these My brothers, you did it to Me.”
This remarkable statement covers every good work you do with gold. It shows how precious your life of faith is to Jesus. It shows that He is not upset with you, wondering when you will shape up and do more for the kingdom. He regards your life of faith as a life filled with good. You might think of a few times in your life when you really shined, when you really did something significant, when you know you accomplished something worthwhile.
But Jesus does not look at your life the way you do. In His view, the most significant works you have done may have been ones that you don’t even remember or ones you were never aware of. Every time you prayed in His saving name, every time you listened to His Word, every time you repented of your sin, every act of service done for those around you such as supporting your family, preparing meals, cleaning the house, working hard at your studies and your job, speaking a kind word, helping the needy, and so on—all of these are wonderful, beautiful works in the eyes of your Savior. “You have done these things for Me,” He says.
This realization shapes our life of love. We help and serve and make sacrifices out of love for Him who loved us first (1Jo. 4:19). As we look at all the neighbors in need around us, Jesus wants us to see Him. This is why Christian wives are willing to submit to their imperfect husbands, and Christian husbands are willing to sacrifice for their imperfect wives. This is why Christian children obey their unreasonable parents, and Christian parents are patient with their unruly children. This is why Christian employees serve their inept bosses, and Christian bosses put up with their lazy employees. The apostle Paul writes, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ” (Col. 3:23-24).
But we know how stained by sin our service has been. Yes, we have done good things for our families, our co-workers, and the people in our community. Yet so often we have done these things begrudgingly, complaining about how much we have to do. We have worked half-heartedly, telling ourselves that they do not deserve our best. We have done more for those who seem grateful and worthy and less for those who don’t.
It’s hard to imagine that Jesus will praise these weak works of ours on the last day. They are so imperfect, so tainted by selfishness and pride. How can we be certain that we will stand among the sheep on the last day and not among the goats? The absolutely essential point, the key, is not to focus on your works. If you focus on your works, you will always be uncertain. “Have I done enough? Have my efforts been good enough? Were my works pure enough?”
You and I have not done enough. Galatians 3:10 says, “For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.’” Unless you have lived perfectly, you cannot find comfort in your works. You will never be certain of your salvation by focusing on what you do. That’s why most of our Christian friends are uncertain about their salvation. They think their salvation depends in some part on what they do.
Your salvation depends on Jesus only. That is where your focus needs to be—not on the good you do, but on the good He has done. His works are not tainted. They were never done begrudgingly, half-heartedly, or selfishly. Jesus lived His life of perfect love for you, for your benefit, to credit these works to your account.
This is the strange reality behind Jesus’ words on the last day. While He praises the good works of the sheep, they stare at Him wide-eyed, totally perplexed that the perfect King should say anything good about their life. Is He talking about their small efforts, their insignificant works, their weak attempts? What is their life compared with His?
The reason He accepts the works of believers—your works—as good is because He has cleansed every work of yours with His precious blood. He has removed all your imperfections, forgiven all your failures. You are still aware of your weaknesses, your bad behavior, your missed opportunities. But He sees you as pure, holy, and righteous by faith in Him. On the last day, Jesus will not judge you by what you managed to do or by what you did not do. He will judge you as lacking nothing, failing never, because your trust is in Him.
There is great freedom in this Gospel truth. You don’t have to spend your life trying to make up for your wrongs. You don’t have to worry about doing everything just right. You can live your life boldly, generously, sacrificially. You can share food and drink and hospitality and clothing and kindness, because your account is overflowing with God’s goodness. He has given to you in abundance, so that you can pass on the riches of His grace to others.
You know exactly What to Do When the Days Are Few. You are the servants of the King, with whom He has shared His inheritance—all the wealth of His kingdom. The work you do is not about you; it is not for you. It is about Him; it is for Him. As He comes to you through His Word and Sacraments filling you and strengthening you, He makes you ready for the work He has given you to do.
And when your time here is ended, when your work here is complete, you will hear these gracious words of your Lord and Savior, “Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”
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(picture from “The Last Judgment” by Fra Angelico, c. 1395-1455)
St. James of Jerusalem, Brother of Our Lord – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: James 1:1-12
In Christ Jesus, the Savior of both those who were near to Him such as His relatives and those who were far away such as you and me, dear fellow redeemed:
Imagine growing up in the town of Nazareth at the same time as Jesus, maybe even living next door to Him, both of you about the same age. What would you think of Him? Would you admire Him for His honesty, for being so kind to others, for His respectfulness toward His parents and superiors? Or would you tease Him and criticize Him for always doing the right thing? “Oh, You think You’re so good, Jesus, so much better than the rest of us! Why don’t You loosen up? Live a little?”
We don’t know what these years were like except for the account of Jesus staying behind at the temple when He was twelve. Other than that, we have this summary statement from the evangelist Luke, “And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man” (2:52).
One person who knew what it was like to live near Jesus was James, whom we remember today. James is referred to as a brother of Jesus, as were Joseph, Judas, and Simon—different people than the apostles (Mar. 6:3). We don’t know that these sons were born from the union of Joseph and Mary. In fact, the church has a long tradition of regarding Jesus as the only biological child of Mary. It is suggested that these “brothers” of Jesus could have been sons from Joseph and a previous wife who had died. Or they could have been close relatives who had joined the household or lived nearby.
Whatever James, Joseph, Judas, and Simon thought about Jesus in their younger years, we know that they did not believe He was the promised Messiah. After Jesus began teaching and performing miracles, and crowds started to gather around Him, His family did not like it. “He is out of his mind!” they said, and they tried to get Him away from the crowds (Mar. 3:21). When they couldn’t get Him to stop, they eventually seemed to grow tired of what looked to them like an act. The evangelist John reports that “not even his brothers believed in him” (7:5).
It is possible that their doubts remained all the way through Jesus’ earthly ministry. We are not told that they traveled with Him to Jerusalem when He entered the city on Palm Sunday. They were not in the upper room where Jesus instituted His Supper. And only Mary is mentioned as standing at the cross when Jesus gave her to the care of His disciple John—not to the care of the brothers James, Joseph, Judas, or Simon.
So why are we taking time today to talk about James? We are talking about James because of what happened after Jesus died and rose again. Paul writes that after His resurrection on the third day, Jesus “appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James” (1Co. 15:5-7). That made a believer out of James! Just as the eleven disciples did, now James understood how wrong he had been. He thought he had seen everything clearly, but he was totally blind. He did not see who Jesus was until then.
Jesus’ resurrection changed everything. After His ascension forty days later, we are told that Mary, James, and his brothers now devoted themselves to prayer with the apostles (Act. 1:14). Fast forward still more, and we find James as the recognized Christian leader in Jerusalem. Paul visited with him before setting off on his missionary journeys (Gal. 1:19). Peter acknowledged him as a leader in the church (Act. 12:17). And when a dispute arose about whether Gentiles should have to follow the Old Testament laws, James had the final say as we heard in today’s first lesson (Act. 15:12-22).
We see how much James’ view of Jesus had changed by the time he wrote his epistle. His opening words were, “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.” He didn’t really know Jesus before as they grew up together, but now he knew. Jesus was the Christ, the anointed One, the Son of God. Jesus was his Lord and his Savior. James was just a humble servant in Christ’s church.
When James wrote in his epistle about faith, he must have thought about the way he had doubted Jesus years before. James thought his own thinking was so wise. He thought Jesus was so misguided. He learned that it was exactly the opposite. He saw how merciful God had been toward him, how the Holy Spirit had worked faith in his heart, so that he now understood who Jesus was. Now he knew that his former plans and pursuits were all empty. Now he knew that there was no better service to enter into than the Lord’s service.
That doesn’t mean James’ life was easy. Being the leader in Jerusalem was very difficult since the Christian Church continued to face persecution there. As James wrote to the Christians who had been scattered from there throughout Asia and Europe, he said, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.”
A faith never tested would remain a weak faith. Your faith is being tested all the time as you live in this fallen world that is under the spell of the devil. But if your faith is not regularly fed and strengthened through God’s Word and Sacraments, you will not notice the conflict between your faith and the world, or you will notice it less and less.
It is common for Christians who no longer go to church to say, “I have faith; I don’t need the church.” But there are some things that should be true of a person who has faith. That person should be able to explain what he believes, and it should match what the Bible teaches. He should recognize that Jesus calls him to stay connected to His saving Word and Sacraments. And he should live a life that reflects the faith he says he has.
That last point is a major concern in the epistle of James. James makes bold statements about the necessity of works in the Christian’s life. He writes: “be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (1:22). And, “faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (2:17). And another one that really makes the eyebrows go up, “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone” (2:24). How does that square with the letter to the Romans which says, “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law” (Rom. 3:28)?
What James emphasizes in his Spirit-inspired epistle, is that faith is more than knowledge. It is not just knowing the basic facts about Jesus. Faith is firmly believing and trusting that if Jesus had not perfectly kept the Law for us and died for our sins, we would be damned to hell. A person who has faith, who knows how gracious God has been to him, will not live like a pagan. He will not behave, speak, and act in such a way that no one could guess he is a Christian.
A faith that has no love for God and His Word and no love for his neighbor is a dead faith. A dead faith is no faith at all. That’s why James writes that a person who has faith will produce fruits of faith. Faith will be active in love. But what about the times that love is the last thing on our minds? What about when we are unkind to someone, when we say harsh and regrettable things, when we behave selfishly? Does that mean we no longer have faith, that we have lost it?
Your faith certainly can be lost. But if you are worried about having lost your faith, you haven’t lost it. A person who has lost faith won’t care about the truth anymore. If you are troubled by your sins, if you desire forgiveness in the name of Jesus, you have not lost your faith. In fact, your faith may be stronger at that moment than it usually is, because you realize how weak you are and how impossible it is to save yourself. On the other hand, when you feel like you have a strong faith, it may be very weak, because you are trusting in your own strength.
It is not possible to measure your faith, and measuring your faith isn’t necessary anyway. Our focus is not on our faith; it is on Jesus and His Word. We do not trust in our faith or lean on our faith. We trust in Jesus and lean on Jesus. Jesus is the only person who ever had perfect faith. He perfectly obeyed the will of His Father which resulted in your salvation.
Jesus lived a life of perfect works on your behalf. He did not become impatient or angry, even when His own family members and friends rejected Him. He willingly suffered and died for their sins and for everybody’s sins. He died for your sins of not taking Him at His Word, of doubting that He is who He says and that He does what He promises. He paid the penalty for your sinful compromises, for setting your faith aside in order to indulge in what the world has to offer.
You and I are so often the doubters, the double-minded, unstable people tossed around like a wave of the sea that James writes about, just as he was too. But Jesus gave Himself for us. He redeemed us and washed us clean. He covers us in His holiness. He calls us not just “friends” but even “brothers and sisters.” We are “fellow heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:17). We must suffer in this world as He did, but God works it for our good.
“[T]he testing of your faith produces steadfastness,” wrote James. He learned that firsthand as he humbly served the church and was later martyred for his faithful confession. The Holy Spirit granted him a saving faith in Jesus just as He has done for you. Your faith may not always be so strong, but even a little faith is a saving faith, because Faith Is Focused on Jesus, and He is not weak.
Jesus will see you through the trials and storms of this life. And when your time here comes to an end, He will bestow on you “the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love Him.”
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(picture from 16 c. Russian painting of “James the Just”)
The Eighth Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Matthew 7:15-23
In Christ Jesus, who brought truth from heaven to earth when He took on our flesh and who still imparts the truth through His holy Word, dear fellow redeemed:
The devil is opposed in every way to our merciful God. The devil is “a liar and the father of lies” (Joh. 8:44). God is the Lord of love, full of grace and truth. Both the devil and God are contending for your soul—the devil wants you to have the eternal torment of hell, and God wants you to have the eternal bliss of heaven. This battle is constantly raging inside you as the devil leverages your sinful nature against the new man of faith that God has raised up in you.
How the battle goes inside you—inside your mind and heart—has a lot to do with what happens outside you. Most of what happens inside your mind starts outside you. The mind is exercised by what comes through the five senses: sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. What we look at can refresh and cheer the soul or draw us into temptation. What we hear can encourage us to do good or to do evil. What we smell and taste and touch can lead to overindulgence or to contentment and thankfulness toward God.
While the devil can and does tempt us through each of our senses, his temptations often start with our ears. First there is a suggestion: “Hey, come take a look at this.” Or, “Why don’t you give this a try?” Or, “Another drink or two can’t hurt.” A temptation in the ears quickly leads to more temptation. Then you are looking at what you should not look at, doing what you should not do, consuming things that dull your senses and impair your judgment.
When the devil tempted Eve, he started with her ears: “Did God actually say?” (Gen. 3:1), he asked. He wanted to draw her in, lead her along. After she responded innocently enough, the devil acted like an old friend sharing secrets, “God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (v. 5). Eve listened, and then what happened? She saw that the tree was good for food, a delight to the eyes. Perhaps it gave off a sweet smell. She reached out to touch the fruit, pulling it off the tree and bringing it up to her lips to taste it.
The devil slithered into the minds of Adam and Eve through their senses and corrupted their thinking. And that is what he still tries to do to us. Jesus warns us about this in today’s Gospel reading. “Beware of false prophets,” He says. A false prophet is someone who claims to be speaking the truth of God but is really telling lies. Such a prophet may not realize he is leading people astray. He might think that he speaks for God. But if what he says contradicts the Word of God, then he speaks for the devil and not for God.
There are many prophets like these who stand in the pulpits of Christian churches all over the world. If the devil can corrupt the shepherd of a congregation, the sheep are exposed to attacks from every side. Many Christians judge their pastors by how nice or how relatable they are, how easy they are to listen to, and how healthy the church is in attendance and finances.
What Christians should judge their pastor by is whether he is faithful in proclaiming the Word of God. Does he preach and apply God’s law in all its force to drive sinful hearts and minds to repentance? Does he preach the sweet message of forgiveness through the blood of Jesus? Does he bring the means of grace to the hurting, the sick, and the elderly, who are unable to attend church? Is he willing to seek the sheep who have strayed?
This is what Jesus means when He speaks of “the one who does the will of My Father who is in heaven.” This is the opposite of false prophets, who are “workers of lawlessness,” who teach their hearers to give in to their sinful desires and pursue what God condemns. Jesus says, “You will recognize them by their fruits.” These fruits include the way they conduct themselves. But false prophets could appear outwardly good and kind. The main way to identify false prophets is by what they say, what they teach.
That means you need to know the difference between what is true and what is false, what is from God and what is from the devil. That knowledge is important not only within the walls of the church as you listen to your pastor. That knowledge is required in every part of your life. You need to be able to defend and confess the truth when your co-workers or friends or members of your family repeat lies that they learned from their favorite politicians, singers, or even their teachers.
Here are some popular lies of today: that God did not make each one of us male or female; that you can choose to do whatever you want with your body; that consent is all that is required for sex and not the commitment of marriage; that what God cares the most about is your happiness; that what you’re doing is okay as long as it’s not hurting anyone else. All those are lies, lies that are repeated again and again, so that they are constantly echoing in our ears.
That’s why your ears need to be filled with the truth, with a Steady Diet of God’s Word. You know what will happen if all you eat is junk food. Your body will not get the nourishment it needs, and your health will suffer. For a similar reason, you do not want to put “junk food” in your ears. You want to listen to what is good, what will improve your spiritual health. You want to drown out the lies of the devil by listening to the clear voice of your Good Shepherd.
Many people today believe it is impossible to know the truth. “Truth is relative,” they say. “You have your truth, and I have my truth.” But everything that comes from our own sinful hearts is a lie. Jesus proved that His Word is truth by perfectly carrying out the will of His Father. Not only did He predict the impossible, He also performed it. “I lay down my life for the sheep,” He said. “I lay down my life that I may take it up again…. This charge I have received from my Father” (Joh. 10:15,17,18).
Jesus predicted His death on the cross and His resurrection on the third day, and everything happened just as He promised. He told the truth all along. That’s why you can be sure that your sins are forgiven. He clearly stated the purpose of His suffering and death—it was to save you and all people from their sins and eternal death.
He died for the sins of your eyes, the sins of your ears, the sins of your nose and mouth and hands. All those ways that you let the devil gain a foothold, that you let him into your mind and heart, Jesus washed clean with His holy blood. There is no other way to be saved. There is no other way to enter the kingdom of heaven than by faith in Him. Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (Joh. 14:6).
Jesus was no wolf in sheep’s clothing. He did not come to gain your confidence so that He might destroy you. He became one with you to redeem you and reconcile you with the Father. He took on your flesh, so that He could do everything required of you by the holy God. He was no “worker of lawlessness”; He was a keeper of the law. He did not let the devil tempt Him to sin through His ears or any of His senses. He perfectly listened to the Word and will of God, and He credits that perfect listening to you.
We know how often we have filled our ears with what is false, misused every part of our bodies, and given in to sin. But because of what Jesus has done, God does not see our sin anymore. He sees us covered by the perfect life of Jesus. False prophets cannot offer more, but they try. They promise the world, but can deliver nothing that lasts. Jesus promises joy and peace that never end.
How does that sound to you? Is it enough? Or are you looking for something more, something that can make your life better now, something that fits better with the world? St. Paul wrote nearly 2,000 years ago, “the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (1Ti. 4:3-4).
We pray that God keeps us from such “wolves in sheep’s clothing,” from such “workers of lawlessness,” who offer what our sinful nature wants. These are all disguises of the devil who “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1Pe. 5:8). The devil’s temptations are resisted by the Word of God. The Holy Spirit works through the Word to reveal our weaknesses, to lead us to repentance, and to strengthen us by the promises of Jesus.
When our ears have a steady diet of God’s Word, then we will know the truth that sets us free (Joh. 8:32). Then we will be able to recognize the fruits of false prophets. Then we will be prepared to enter the kingdom of heaven where sin will never again overcome our senses, and we will see and hear and smell and taste and touch with perfect fullness for all eternity.
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(picture from “The Sermon on the Mount” by Rudolf Yelin the Older, 1912)
The First Sunday in Lent – Vicar Anderson sermon
Text: St. Matthew 4:1-11
In Christ Jesus, who battled the devil and defeated Him, dear fellow redeemed:
After Jesus’ baptism He immediately went out into the wilderness to be tempted. The apostle Mark records that the Holy Spirit drove Jesus out. (Mark 1:12–13) This means God purposely brought Him out in the wilderness to face off against the devil. It wasn’t as though Jesus had second thoughts and needed motivation but that He consented to His Father’s will.
Not a moment is wasted as the first battle between the prince of light and the prince of darkness begins. Satan knew who Jesus was and since He was fully man the devil attempted to coax Him into sin. He also knew that Jesus would be feeling hungry after fasting for forty days.
Satan tried to use the bodies’ natural need for food to his advantage and it calls to mind how he used food in the Garden of Eden to trap our first parents Adam and Eve. Again the devil thought this was a perfect opportunity to strike. “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” He attempted to break the trust Jesus had in His Father. Then the devil says, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and “‘on their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’” Here he tries to use scripture to provoke Jesus into testing His Father’s promises.
When this also fails, he offers Jesus all power and authority over the kingdoms of the earth. This of course he has no right to offer and yet still foolishly taunts Jesus. He knows what Jesus must do to redeem the world and establish His Kingdom so he tells a lie to try and tempt Jesus away from this salvific work. As if to say, ‘just bow to me and I’ll make things much easier for you; you can avoid all the suffering you have ahead.’
The devil is called the father of lies and the inventor of sin, but these are just a few of his names. In our text Jesus calls him Satan, this comes from the Hebrew language and it means adversary, or in the more literal sense “one lying in ambush for.” In first Peter we hear, “be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8) This fits the definition of Satan quite well, he is our “adversary” and he stalks us like a lion waiting to ambush its prey. Satan learns all our weaknesses and makes plans on how he is going to devour us.
He makes these plans against those who are baptized in the name of the Triune God. Once you are marked as a Child of God, Satan uses this mark as a target on your back. You are now his main rival and he will do whatever it takes to tear you away from God and drag you back into the wilderness of sin and death.
We are born with original sin, or as Luther refers to it, the “old Adam.” We have wicked thoughts and desires and without the grace of God temptation is impossible to overcome. No matter how hard we fight our sinful human nature gives in to temptation. St. Paul writes, “But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 11:3) While we live here on earth we are both saint and sinner. We have been justified by Christ’s work but our sinful nature still clings to us.
Because of this reality Satan’s assaults continue. He plants the seed of doubt. “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” (Genesis 3:1) “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:4–5) All it takes is for us to question God once and Satan has caught us in his trap; he’s already convinced us that we know better than God.
All of us have the innate desire to push the limits of sin, almost as if we fear danger and yet also have an odd fascination with it. We live in a culture that accepts and praises just about anything. They tell us, ‘go for it, as long as it isn’t hurting anyone else it’s not a big deal’. This impacts even the way Christians think, ‘just one more little look won’t hurt anyone, just a tiny bit more won’t cause any harm’.
We foolishly put ourselves in danger and think; I shouldn’t be here right now but I’ll be okay, I can take care of myself. We want so badly to be accepted by others or find the right spouse that we look for them in the wrong places. We think, ‘I don’t agree with what my friends do, but they’re all I have and I’ll never let myself become like them.’ We justify our actions and the people we choose to surround ourselves with because we don’t want to admit we are wrong and we tell ourselves lies to avoid the truth.
These thoughts come from the devil and from our own sinful flesh. When we act in these ways we test God and become our own god. (Deuteronomy 6:16) (Exodus 20:3) We arrogantly think we can keep from sinning even when we recklessly place ourselves in temptation. That’s like placing your hand in an open flame thinking you won’t get burned. Thankfully for our sake the Spirit brought Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted.
The wilderness is where Satan first tried to stop the work of Christ but it continued throughout His life. (Luke 4:13) Satan even used the disciples to try and trip Him up. Jesus said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to Me” (Matthew 16:23) and a later time the devil entered the heart of Judas Iscariot before he betrayed Jesus. (John 13:2)
Jesus was tempted in every way that Peter, Judas and you and me are. The writer to the Hebrews, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15) Being both God and man Jesus had a perfect human nature. He went into the wilderness fully capable of resisting all temptation and sin. Jesus didn’t need to make full use of His divine attributes to defeat the devil; He didn’t do any miracles to keep the devil at bay. Jesus resisted the devil’s attack as a perfect human with flesh and blood like you and me!
He is mankind in its perfection and defeated our adversary and all temptation, restoring what the first Adam lost. Jesus was sent into the wilderness and there He rebuked every temptation the devil threw at Him, so that you would be led out of the wilderness of sin into the life He won for you.
Jesus was winning salvation and giving you the right to call His Father your Father. He never desired to fit in with the world, instead He came to make you fit into His family, making you a child of God through faith in Him. Now you are a part of Jesus’ body the Church and there is nothing greater than that. He has clothed you with the garment of salvation and made you richer and more powerful than any earthly kingdom could offer!
He speaks to you through His Word and shows you that it does absolutely no good to be around people who add temptations to your life and entice you to sin. But it does a lot of good to stay connected to Jesus’ Word and Sacraments, through which He comes to strengthen you against temptation and fight for you.
We would have fallen for the devil’s tricks in the wilderness but thankfully God sent a perfect man to save us. The one who is good and holy never sought out danger or pushed the limits of sin. He never lied or needed to justify His actions. Jesus our warrior stood up against Satan and would not lose. He used His powerful Word to throw the devil back down to his rightful place of silence and incompetence.
“Jesus said to him, for it is written, ‘you shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve’” (Matthew 4:10). Our Lord resisted the temptation of putting His wants and needs above His Father’s and always faithfully served Him. He did this in service to you, for the times you wanted to go your own way instead of following God’s Word.
He depended on the Word for His strength and for His weapon to fend off the devil. Through His Spirit He gave you power over your enemy arming you with the same weapons He used against Satan. With Jesus by your side, you fight with, “the shield of faith, which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:16–17). He has also given the power of prayer; where you can ask for His help and He promises to answer.
Martin Luther writes, “If you try to help yourself by your own thoughts and counsel, you will only make the matter worse and give the devil more space. For he has a serpent’s head [Revelation 12:9], if it finds an opening into which it can slip, the whole body will follow without stopping. But prayer can prevent him and drive him back.” (LC; Part III, 111)
Jesus taught you in the Lord’s Prayer to run to your heavenly Father and ask that you not fall because of temptation, but be delivered from the evil one. You run to Him because you know it would be unwise to try and rely on your own power and He promises to help you.
Our Lord willingly entered into the wilderness of sin to resist for us all Satan’s temptation. When affliction and temptation come, because they will come, ask your heavenly Father to help you remind Satan what Jesus has already done to him. Jesus already defeated your adversary; the serpent’s head is crushed. You can fearlessly say as your Lord did, “Be gone, Satan.” (Matthew 4:10)
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(picture from “The Temptation of Christ by the Devil” by Félix Joseph Barrias, 1822-1907)