The First Sunday after Michaelmas – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: Ephesians 4:22-28
In Christ Jesus, whose blood cleanses us from every sin and frees us from our guilty conscience, so that we can live our lives in joyful service to Him, dear fellow redeemed:
A person who enters the witness protection program is required to leave behind nearly everything familiar to him. His immediate family may go with him, but he must walk away from his extended family and his friends. There can be no phone calls exchanged, no text messaging, and no social media contact. He can never return to the place where he lived in case someone there might recognize him.
Those in the program would have to get used to a totally new community in a new place with no family and friend network to help. This would be hard to do and lonely. But at the same time, there is something appealing about the idea. Haven’t you ever thought how nice it could be to have a completely fresh start? To go someplace where no one knows your family, no one knows your past, and you can just be you? There is comfort in the familiar, but there is excitement and possibility in the unknown.
In today’s Epistle, the apostle Paul urges us to Leave Our Sinful Past Behind, to walk away from our corrupt and destructive habits that weaken and endanger our faith. And he urges us to live in Jesus, to go forward in His righteousness and holiness with His blessing.
What are some of the things that should be left behind? Paul told the Christians in Ephesus to abandon an immature approach to spiritual things. They need to take God’s Word seriously and study it, so they are not “tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes” (Eph. 4:14). They should give up all sexual immorality, sensuality, and impurity (4:19, 5:3-5). And they should put away falsehood, anger, and thievery.
At the center of these words is the idea that the life and behavior of believers should look different than the life and behavior of unbelievers. What is it that makes them different? The believer and unbeliever may have had a similar upbringing. They may have grown up in the same community and worked at the same business. They may have participated in the same activities and had the same friends.
But as similar as they seem to be, they are very different. One of them walks in the light while the other walks in darkness. One of them is clothed in the spotless garments of Jesus’ righteousness, while the other displays the filthy rags of sin. One of them lives for his neighbor and looks for the life to come, while the other thinks of his own interests and focuses intently on this life. One of them lives under God’s favor, while the other lives under God’s frown.
Paul wrote to remind the Ephesian Christians of this tremendous difference. “You are not as you used to be,” he said. At one time they, like the unbelievers, were “separated from Christ… having no hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12). But now they had been “brought near by the blood of Christ” (v. 13). Now they had become “fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (v. 19).
Through Holy Baptism, they were adopted as God’s sons. They were joined to the body of Christ and given new life in Him. They were cleansed of their sins and covered in His righteousness. They were no longer agents of Satan carrying out his plans. Now they were set apart for the Lord’s work, called to serve His purposes.
The Christians in Ephesus already knew these things. They knew what the Lord had done for them and what they were called to do. So why did Paul have to remind them? He had to remind them because it is easy to slip into old habits, to fall back into one’s “former manner of life.” This is because we still have the old Adam in us, the sinful nature, and the devil and the unbelieving world are working tirelessly to draw us away from what is good.
They succeed all too often. We’re at the point in our day that the way many Christians think about right and wrong is no different than the way non-Christians do. We see this across the board in views regarding sexuality, marriage, family, business practices, stewardship of money and possessions, and the treatment of another person’s reputation. God has called us to stand up for what is right, to push back against the corruption and deceit of the devil and our own flesh, and to speak the truth.
But we do the opposite. We go along with the world. We don’t want to stand out. We don’t want to have a target on our backs. We don’t want to be the bad guy or the prude, who tells people that what they are doing is wrong. So we keep our mouths shut. We might talk big when we are around those who agree with us, but otherwise we clam up. The silence is deafening, and for those we fail to warn, it could very well be damning.
You can think of times when you should have spoken up but didn’t, when you failed to tell the truth even if it was a hard truth. Maybe you wanted to keep peace in your family or maintain your standing in your workplace or community. Maybe you didn’t feel qualified to speak up because of your checkered past. Maybe you told yourself that someone else would step up and do the “heavy lifting” for you. Maybe the time to talk never seemed to present itself.
But as much as you tried to justify your inactivity, you feel guilty about it. You know what God says in His Word. You know His standard for moral conduct does not change no matter what the world thinks about it. You know that the person who speaks the truth in love (Eph. 4:15) has nothing to be ashamed of before God. So you are disgusted with yourself for lacking the courage to do and speak and live according to His will.
This is why the words of today’s text are so comforting. St. Paul was writing to people in Ephesus who are just like you and me, people who are weak, who struggle, who fall into old habits, and who fail to speak the truth when they should. The solution for them and for us? Repentance and faith in Jesus. Paul describes repentance as “putting off your old self.” “Cast aside the garments of your sin,” he says. “Take your sinful past to the cleaners. Admit your wrongs. Acknowledge your transgressions. Expose your sinful passions. Hang all that dirty business out to dry!”
And then he says, “be renewed in the spirit of your mind.” Let your mind and heart be cleansed anew by the blood of Jesus, so that no guilt and sin remain. “[P]ut on the new self,” created and gifted by God in the image of His own righteousness and holiness. It sounds like we are responsible for doing these things—being renewed in our mind, putting on the new self. But this is really God’s work accomplished through His Word and Sacraments.
God does these things through the Gospel. The Gospel “is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16). The Gospel message of our salvation through Jesus at the same time brings us forgiveness and it strengthens us. It declares us righteous before God and increases our growth in righteousness in this life. It delivers both our justification and our sanctification.
The Gospel delivers our justification by delivering Jesus’ righteousness under the Law. His righteousness is the reason we are now counted righteous before God. And His atoning death on the cross is the reason we are forgiven. Whatever wrongs we have done in the past or whatever good we have left undone—all those sinful spots were washed out by the blood of Jesus. We no longer wear the filthy garment of sin. We wear the glorious robes of Jesus’ perfection. When the Father looks at us, He sees Jesus, His beloved Son.
The Gospel also delivers our sanctification by the work of Jesus in us. He comes to us to help us grow and improve in Christian living. He works in us the desire for and dedication to the truth by filling our ears with His saving Word of salvation. He frees us from the need for revenge by filling our hearts with His forgiveness. And He moves us to generosity by giving us more than enough for the needs of our body and soul.
He lays out a blessed future for us unaffected by the failures of our past. We may never live down the wrongs we have done among those who know us. But Jesus forgives every one of our sins—even the big ones. We don’t have to enter some sort of spiritual witness protection to hide our sins from others or from God Himself.
We deal with our sins before God by repenting of them, by putting them off and leaving them at the foot of Jesus’ cross. The cross is where Jesus paid for our sins completely and where He secured a bright future for us. Because of what He did, we are not stuck in our sinful past. In Jesus, We Leave Our Sinful Past Behind. Now we go forward in righteousness, in holiness, and in love according to His abundant grace.
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 “The Preaching of St. Paul at Ephesus” by Eustache Le Sueur, 1649)
The Seventh Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
In Christ Jesus, who bound our sin and death to Himself, so we would receive His forgiveness and life, dear fellow redeemed:
One of the lies the devil plants in people’s minds is that they are completely independent and free. “You are your own boss,” he says. “You make your own decisions. You don’t have to answer to anyone else.” This attitude is perhaps more prevalent in America where we enjoy such wide-ranging personal freedom. But we are not as free as we like to imagine, and we do not have freedom in all matters, particularly in spiritual ones.
In today’s text, Paul shows that every human being conceived and born into the world comes with strings attached. He writes that all by nature are “slaves of sin.” That is strong language! A slave is someone who must follow the will of his master. He must obey at all times. He is not allowed to chart his own course or make his own decisions. It’s a hard life.
This is how Paul describes our connection to sin. Sin is our taskmaster. It forces our will to submit to its plans, to participate in its campaign. It demoralizes us. It causes us tremendous suffering. Sin offers no way out, no relief, no hope. After all is said and done, the only promise sin makes is that we are unquestionably going to die. Death is “the wages of sin.” Death is what our slavery of sin has earned us.
This is the way it is for all of us. We do not start out good and then either stay good or go bad. Neither do we start out neutral, choosing good or bad from that point. We start out in slavery—spiritual slavery—slavery to sin. But there is hope for sinners. Paul outlines this hope at the beginning of Romans chapter 6 which we heard last week. This hope is Baptism into Christ.
Through water and His powerful Word, Jesus comes to the sinner in Baptism and gives him tremendous gifts. He brings forgiveness for all sin on account of His death on the cross, and He brings eternal life on account of His resurrection. Jesus’ work on our behalf frees us from our slavery to sin and to death. He broke apart our chains of spiritual slavery. Sin is not our master anymore. Or at least it shouldn’t be.
Baptism joins us with Jesus, but it does not stop us from sinning. Sin is washed away in Baptism, but our sinful nature remains. This means that until the end of this life, we must be ready for a fight. Our sinful nature, our old Adam, wants to lead us back to a life of impurity and lawlessness, back to our slavery of sin. Our new man of faith, on the other hand, wants us to live a life of righteousness drawn from and focused on Jesus.
If we do not understand or acknowledge that this battle is going on inside us, then sin will gain the upper hand. This happens to those who are baptized into Jesus receiving His blessings, but then fail as they get older to fortify and strengthen their faith through His Word and Sacraments. This is something like an army unit rushing forward into enemy territory with no concern for its supply line or any reinforcements. The likeliest outcome is capture by the enemy or death.
We must not be so reckless with our faith, or be so self-assured that we think we could never fall. None of us here is immune to this. Any of us could give up our life in Christ and return to our slavery of sin. We can all think of many people who have done just that. Today’s text calls us again to attention. It reminds us of the battle: “For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.”
In short, what the apostle Paul is urging here by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, is that we view our Baptism into Christ not only as a freedom from, but also as a freedom for. In fact both of these must go together if we want to remain with Jesus. Because of what Jesus did for us through His perfect life, death, and resurrection, we are freed from our unrighteousness, sin, and death. If that’s all there is to it, we might conclude that we can keep on living in sin, doing whatever we feel like, because Jesus suffered the consequences for our sin and forgives us.
Paul addresses this wrong-headed attitude just before today’s text. “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” he asks (Rom. 6:1). “Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!” (v. 15). Then he explains, “Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?” (v. 16).
So either way, says Paul, you are enslaved. Bob Dylan took up this theme in one of his songs when he sang, “Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord / But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.” That doesn’t sound too great. We like the idea of being free from any coercion, any commitments. But that kind of freedom does not exist. It cannot exist, unless we had created ourselves and had complete power and authority over everything around us. Because this is not the case, “you’re gonna have to serve somebody.”
You have already heard what happens to those who are “slaves of sin.” They experience a lifetime of pain, sorrow, and hopelessness and receive in the end the reward of death—not just physical death but eternal death in hell. How about those who are “slaves to righteousness,” or as Paul refers to them a couple verses later, “slaves of God”? It seems that this wouldn’t necessarily be much better. You might picture God as the taskmaster demanding that you do everything right, just the way He wants it, or else you will face His wrath.
But that is not how Paul describes your slavery to righteousness and to God. He says that your slavery to righteousness “leads to” or is “for” sanctification. Sanctification here is contrasted with lawlessness. Lawlessness is living contrary to God’s commands. It is living as though I am the lord and not Him. This kind of unrepentant life does welcome His judgment.
But sanctification is living according to His will. It is finding all strength, peace, joy, and love in Him. You are sanctified as you hear the Gospel message of Jesus’ work to save you and as you receive His gifts in His Sacraments. These are the means by which the Holy Spirit continues to break apart the chains of your slavery of sin and draw you closer and closer to your holy Savior.
As we hear His Word, we find that God is hardly a violent taskmaster. Instead we learn of His great love for us and the great mercy He has shown to us sinners. When we like the prodigal son have run away from Him and misused His good gifts, including the gift of our bodies, He does not deal with us in anger. He comes to embrace us with forgiveness (Luk. 15). In our sinful weakness when we fail to carry out the duties He has given us, He picks us up by His grace and helps us to move forward according to His will.
God is not the kind of master who sacrifices His slaves for His own benefit. It’s just the opposite. God sacrificed Himself for our benefit. That is how He exercises His lordship; He gives. God the Father gave His only Son to free us slaves of sin. Jesus suffered for our disobedience, for our rebellion against God. He took the wages of our sin. He took the punishment of our death. He died for us so we could be counted as righteous and receive His gift of eternal life.
This is how we “slaves of God” are treated. We are cleansed from the stains and bruises and cuts of the sin we have committed, and we are given a new status. We slaves are now treated like lords! We peasants are treated like kings! Jesus calls us to partake of His eternal glory and reign with Him in His heavenly kingdom.
But our time to depart from this world has not come yet. That means our battle here continues. With the devil and our own flesh constantly trying to deceive us and lead us back to our slavery of sin, we know the fight will be hard. We remember how often in the past we let sin gain the upper hand, so that we chose impurity and lawlessness instead of righteousness and sanctification. Does that mean we have no hope of winning the battle?
This would be the case if you were fighting by yourself. But your Master does not leave you alone in this fight. When you become discouraged or overwhelmed, or when the temptation to sin is strong, He steps right in where the conflict is most intense. He comes to you through the spiritual supply line that you were joined to at your Baptism. He speaks faith and courage into you through His holy Word. He strengthens and cheers you through the holy food of His body and blood. He protects you and guides you so you are not carried away to your former slavery.
Your merciful Lord has broken you free from your sin and death and joined you to Him. There is no shame in being a slave of this Master. Because of His grace toward you, you want to be His subject and serve Him. You want to obey Him because you know He is working for your good. You want Him to guide you where you should go. And you look forward to the day when He will lead you from the heat of this battle, from your struggle against sin, to the joys and blessings He has prepared for you in heaven.
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 “The Sermon on the Mount” by Carl Bloch, 1877)
The Second Sunday in Lent – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: 1 Thessalonians 4:1-7
In Christ Jesus, “who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1Co. 1:30), dear fellow redeemed:
If you grew up in the same neighborhood with a person who later became famous, you would be proud that you knew him. If you were a relative of his, you would feel even more special. If you were his friend, you would enjoy certain benefits and have some influence in his life. But if you were a member of his family, you would have a share in his fame, his honor, and his success. The closer you were to him, the greater effect it would have on your life.
The same goes for our closeness to God. The closer we are to Him, the greater effect He has on our lives. But how do we get close to God? Some say that closeness to God is achieved through prayer; they never feel as close to Him as when they pray. Others think they can get close to God by living a good life. They hope that if they are good enough, God will be happy with them and bless them.
But in reality, there is nothing we can do to get ourselves closer to God. How could the unholy get closer by their own efforts to the Holy One? How could the impure and unclean enter the presence of Him who is and ever has been without sin? The unbelieving world seeks to bring God down to our level. The world supposes that if there is a God, He would generally support the personal decisions each of us makes. He is portrayed as a supportive god, a smiley god, a non-judgmental god. “He is a god I can relate to,” people think, “because he is a lot like me.”
That is not the God of the Bible. The true God does not approve of our sinful behavior. He wants us to turn from our sins and seek His forgiveness. This is clearly illustrated in the Old Testament book of Leviticus. If you are taking part in the two-year reading plan of the Bible that we started a couple months ago, you might be wading through Leviticus now. It doesn’t capture the attention like Genesis and Exodus do. Leviticus gives so many detailed rules and regulations that it’s hard to imagine living like the Israelites did. It seems like there was almost nothing they could do that would be considered clean in God’s sight.
And that was really the point. God wanted to impress on His people the difference between His holiness and their un-holiness. He wanted them to understand that they were not God. They were not free to do whatever their desires led them to do. Their only hope for salvation from sin and eternal life in heaven was through Him.
God emphasized this by the animal sacrifices He required for their sins. The people brought bulls, goats, and sheep for their sin offerings. These animals had to be without blemish. Whoever brought one laid his hand on the animal’s head before it was killed to signify the placing of his sins on the sacrifice. Then it was given as a burnt offering by the priests “to make atonement for him” (Lev. 1:4). The congregation of Israel was never done with sacrifices because it was never done with sin.
They were not holy enough to ascend to God, but the holy God was willing to come down to them. He settled in a cloud in the Most Holy Place of the Tabernacle above the mercy seat. A chosen priest could only enter the Most Holy Place once a year on the Day of Atonement. The priest entered on behalf of the people bringing their sins, and he exited on behalf of God bringing His holiness. The LORD promised the people that in this way, “You shall be clean before the LORD from all your sins” (Lev. 16:30).
So closeness to God was initiated by Him. The people confessed their un-holiness, and the holy God came to them with forgiveness and healing. As impressive as it would have been to see a cloud stretch down from the heavens and drop into the Most Holy Place, God had something greater planned. The Father would send down His holy Son, not hidden in a cloud but covered in our flesh. He came to offer Himself as the ultimate sacrifice for sin. No more slaughtering of animals for burnt offerings. No more sprinkling of blood on the LORD’s altar and on the mercy seat.
When Jesus breathed His last on the cross, the evangelists report that “the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom” (Mat. 27:51, Mar. 15:38, Luk. 23:45). This was not the result of a natural phenomenon. God did it. He showed by the tearing of the curtain that holiness should not be sought from the LORD anymore in the Most Holy Place. Holiness would be found in the presence of His only Son, who by His death had destroyed death, atoned for sin, and crushed Satan’s head.
After His resurrection, Jesus told His disciples He would be with them always, to the end of the age (Mat. 28:20). That remained true even after He visibly ascended into heaven. He was still with them, but how could they be assured of His presence? Jesus told them and all believers after them exactly where He could be found. He could be found always in His Word and Sacraments.
These are the ways our Lord Jesus still draws near to us today. These are the ways He imparts His holiness to us who are unholy. Like the priest who entered the Most Holy Place bringing the people’s sins, so we bring our sins to the Lord both here in church and in our personal confession. And the Lord brings His holiness to us through His Word. This is how we are sanctified by God throughout our lives. This is how the Holy Spirit makes us holy. It is all done through His holy Word, and it is all done by Him.
But we can reject this sanctifying work. We can keep ourselves from His holiness by giving ourselves over to unholy pursuits. Paul mentions one of these unholy pursuits in today’s text: sexual immorality. Sexual immorality is any kind of sexual activity outside of marriage. Our culture thinks that “committed” and “consensual” are the appropriate standards for sex. God says it is marriage between one man and one woman. That is the only place to exercise sexual passion in a God-pleasing way. St. Paul writes that the faithful should pursue “holiness and honor” in sexual matters. They should not operate “in the passion of lust like the Gentiles—unbelievers—who do not know God.”
There are other ways to reject the Lord’s sanctifying work beyond actively pursuing sin. One is to keep ourselves from the holy Word. It is to place a higher priority on any number of other things, whether that be family time or work or athletic competition or recreation. Those things are all good in their own way, but they are certainly not better than God’s presence through His Word. They are earthly things, temporary things. God’s Word imparts eternal things.
At the same time, it is possible to be in the presence of the Lord but still reject His holiness. We could be every Sunday church-goers, but we are simply going through the motions. We are not particularly troubled by our sins. We are not all that interested in changing our sinful habits. We feel like we are pretty holy already. The holy Lord is present here through His Word and Sacraments, but we can deny His work through our self-righteousness and pride.
So here we are, each of us aware of our own sins. By nature we are an unholy people. We have done the things God said we must not do, and we have not done the things we should have. But the Lord does not turn us sinners away. He comes still to wash our unclean hearts and minds. He comes to cleanse us from our sins of thought, word, and deed, whether those be sexual sins, sins of spiritual laziness, or sins of pride.
It does not matter how you have defiled yourself in the past. You have not committed a sin that God does not forgive. King David was an adulterer, a murderer, and a liar. The apostle Paul before his conversion worked for the imprisonment and murder of Christians. These men were forgiven of their sins, and so are you.
The Lord is not here to destroy you. He is here in grace to forgive you and bless you. He is not ashamed to meet you in your un-holiness. He is not ashamed to be associated with you. You are more than just an acquaintance of His, more than a distant relative, even more than His friend. You are God’s own child, and you share flesh and blood with Christ your Brother.
He does not wait for you to get yourself holy enough to come into His presence. That would never happen. He brings His holiness to you. He sanctifies you. The Holy Lord Sanctifies You through His Holy Word. The closer you are to Him because of His coming to you, the more you are changed and the more His work is done in you.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
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(picture of the tabernacle of Israel)
The Transfiguration of Our Lord – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Matthew 17:1-9
In Christ Jesus, “the bright morning star” (Rev. 22:16), who by His glory reveals the glory that we shall have, dear fellow redeemed:
A number of years back, I bumped into a guy that I probably hadn’t seen for two or three years. Only a short time had passed, but I almost didn’t know who he was. He had lost a lot of weight, and his face had changed so much it was hardly recognizable.
A similar effect happens with those who have a complete makeover. They get their hair done, their teeth fixed, maybe their tummy tucked, and they are outfitted in new clothes. Family and friends are brought in to witness the transformation, and they are amazed at what they see. “She’s like a new person!” they say.
They are right. The individual seems “like” a new person, but she hasn’t changed substantially. She has only changed on the outside; she is still the same on the inside. She may have a bit more confidence than she did before, but she has the same personality, the same abilities, the same opinions and beliefs.
Making changes on the inside is harder than making changes on the outside. Those who make New Year’s resolutions know this well. Perhaps you resolved to exercise more this year or be more patient or look for opportunities to help others or study the Bible more. And maybe you are doing these things. But it is so easy to revert to old habits. How many times have you told yourself that you will never do one thing or another again? You won’t let temptation get the best of you. You will be stronger than before.
You might even tell the people around you that you have changed. They can doubt you, but you will show them! And sometimes that happens. Maybe that really is the last drink, the last binge, the last lie. But such drastic changes are not easily accomplished and hardly ever by the force of one’s own will. As long as we live, we will struggle to do what is good and to maintain good behavior. This is because sin clings to us. We got it from Adam & Eve. Their corruption of God’s holy creation has been passed down generation to generation all the way to us.
We call this corruption in our flesh the “old Adam” or “original sin.” Our Catechism defines this as “the total corruption of our whole human nature, inherited from our first parents, which makes us inclined only to evil and unable and unwilling to do that which is good” (2014 ELS Catechism, p. 77). This explains why it is so hard for us to stop sinning and live holier lives, particularly if we try to accomplish this on our own.
There are many who suggest that if you only keep a positive outlook and focus on your goals and pray harder that you can become a better person. In other words, they say that the power to improve and succeed is found inside you. With this message, self-help gurus with their best-selling books have wormed their way into the church. But they do not belong. God does not tell you to look inside yourself to find the strength for improvement. He says to look to Him. It is only through Him that real and lasting change can happen on the inside.
We see how small the disciples plans’ looked when they were face to face with the glory of the Lord. When they saw Jesus shining with brilliant light, and Moses and Elijah conversing with Him, Peter stammered that he would be glad to build tents for each one to make this moment last. The evangelist Mark tells us that Peter “did not know what to say, for they were terrified” (Mar. 9:6). Then a bright cloud came over them, and the voice of God the Father boomed from the cloud. This caused the frightened disciples to fall to the ground and hide their faces.
Why did they act this way? The disciples were afraid because they were in the presence of the holy God. This made them aware of their unholiness. Think how foolish they would have sounded if they started to tell God all the ways they had tried to improve themselves and all the good things they had done for Him. They knew they were nothing but weak, sinful men, and He was the mighty God, perfectly righteous.
Their only hope in this moment was the Man before them, who was much more than a man. “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” said God the Father; “listen to Him.” Jesus was God in the flesh. But His human nature stood out more than His divine nature. This is because He did not make full use of His divine powers. He produced miracles and signs that no other human could do, and yet He did not show forth His glory in all its brilliance. He did not shine with the kind of light that caused those around Him to cover their faces or hide.
The exception to this was Jesus’ transfiguration on the mountain. There, He revealed His glory to Peter, James, and John. They saw Him as they had never seen Him before. They now saw with their eyes what they had confessed Him to be by faith: “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mat. 16:16). What He had come to do was to offer Himself as the sacrifice for sin, “the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1Pe. 3:18). The disciples had not grasped this yet. They could not see why He should have to die and rise again (Mar. 9:10).
The reason was so that the unholy might stand in the presence of the holy God. It was so that the disciples and you and I would no longer have to feel the guilt of sins past or the pressure of trying to prove our worth. “[F]or all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:23-24). We cannot escape the sin we have inherited, the “old Adam,” which still causes us to commit more sin. We cannot get ourselves right with God.
This is why Jesus took our place. He took the fall for our self-assured attitudes. He suffered for our failed attempts at doing better. He died for us so that we could be transformed from the sinners we are and changed from the inside out. This inner spiritual transformation began in a very unassuming way. It started at our baptism. Through baptism, our heart of sin was cleansed and filled with faith. In those waters, we were claimed as our Lord’s own, we were buried and raised with Him (Rom. 6:4), and we were covered in His righteousness (Gal. 3:27).
But His glory which fills us and covers us is not visible as long as we are in the world. No one can tell by looking at us that we are children of the heavenly Father. There is no special mark on us. There is no glow showing that God abides in us. We get sick and suffer just like unbelievers do. We sin like they do. To unbelievers, it seems that our devotion to God and His Word is a hindrance to life in the world and gives us no advantage over them.
But we do have an advantage. We have hope, a certain hope. We have hope of a better life after this one, when we shall join our Lord in His glorious presence. We have hope that our bodies which are full of sin and imperfection will soon be glorified like Jesus is. We believe this because Jesus did not stay in the grave after His death. He is not simply a Man. He is the true God who rose again and is seated in glory at the right hand of the Father.
From that position of all power and glory, Jesus powerfully works in our hearts through His Word and Sacraments. These are the means by which He strengthens us to forsake sin and to live a godly life. This power to do better does not come from inside us, but from Him. Paul wrote to the Philippians, “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (1:6).
We grow in sanctification not by relying on ourselves to do better but by keeping our eyes on Him. We grow by leaving our sins every day at the foot of His cross and being absolved of them through His cleansing blood. This is how we walk in the “newness of life” begun at our baptism (Rom. 6:4). We humbly and sincerely confess our sins and rely on Jesus’ righteousness. And then His fruit will be seen in us, the fruits of faith which show our love and thankfulness to God.
We disciples of the Lord do not look so glorious now, but we will on the last day. On the last day, the transformation that happened at our baptism will be evident in our changed appearance. When Jesus comes in all His glory, our transformation will be like His was on that high mountain. As His face shone like the sun, so will ours. As His body beamed with bright light, so will ours.
The apostle John, who was with Jesus on the mountain, confidently writes, “we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1Jo. 3:2). And Paul says, “Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed” (1Co. 15:51-52).
On the last day, sin will no longer weigh us down, the devil will no longer torment us, and we will feel no more terror or fear. We Shall Be Changed Like Him, and we shall join Him in the bright light of His glorious presence forever.
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(painting by Carl Bloch, c. 1865)