The Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Luke 17:11-19
In Christ Jesus, who heals the sick and rescues the dying, so they might be His own and live under Him in His kingdom, dear fellow redeemed:
It started with little sores that stuck around, reddish spots, and some skin numbness. He wished it would go away, he wanted to ignore it, but he couldn’t. He went to the priest to have it examined, and the priest confirmed his greatest fear—it was leprosy. He had to leave his job, leave his home, leave his family. The Book of Leviticus describes the protocol for lepers: “The leprous person who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean.’ He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease. He is unclean. He shall live alone. His dwelling shall be outside the camp” (13:45-46).
It was a hard reality, but there was no known cure. A person with leprosy had to stay away for the good of others. But he wasn’t completely alone. Lepers often formed their own communities. We see that in today’s reading, when ten lepers called to Jesus outside a village between Samaria and Galilee. We learn something else about this group of men. It was a mixture of both Jews and Samaritans. That probably wouldn’t have happened if this terrible disease hadn’t drawn them together.
In general, the Jews and the Samaritans interacted with each other as little as possible. They had long lists of reasons why the other group was inferior and not worth their time and attention. But “misery loves company,” and these men were miserable. They set aside the animosity they may have felt toward one another and stuck together. But they were still of course on the outside. They were not where they wanted to be. They were part of a community of death, a community of the dying.
And that’s exactly what the world is apart from Christ. It is full of people afflicted by the disease of sin, surrounded by death and facing death themselves. Leprosy is a helpful picture for thinking about how sin works in us. In the Large Catechism, Martin Luther quotes Romans 7:18, “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh.” Then he says, “If St. Paul may speak this way about his flesh, we cannot assume to be better or more holy than him. But the fact that we do not feel our weakness just makes things worse. It is a sign that there is a leprous flesh in us that can’t feel anything. And yet, the leprosy rages and keeps spreading” (Part V, paras. 76-77).
Because of nerve damage, a leprous person does not always notice when he cuts himself or gets burned or injured. And we do not always notice when we are getting injured or burned by sin. The more we participate in what is unclean, the less we perceive the damage that is being done to us. We think that we can stay in control of the sin. We won’t let it overcome us. But when we can’t stop consuming what is destroying us, can’t stop doing what we should not do, we are not in control of sin; sin is in control of us.
If one of the lepers in today’s reading denied that he had leprosy, it wouldn’t have changed the fact. And “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1Jo. 1:8). It is important that we see ourselves among those lepers. By nature, we are sinful and unclean (ELH, pp. 41, 61). We are the outsiders. We are the ones standing at a distance, away from all that is good. We cannot change our situation; we cannot save ourselves.
But One has drawn near to our community of death, even coming to live among us, One who has the power to heal us of our sin and save us from death. This One is very different; His reputation precedes Him. He has not been overcome by sin, and when death tried to take Him down, He took down death! “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” we cry.
And why should He have mercy? He isn’t the reason for our troubles. He is not responsible for the state we are in, for the messes we have made in our sin. But He does have mercy. He had mercy upon Naaman, an Old Testament Gentile who was afflicted by leprosy, by having him wash seven times in the waters of the Jordan River until he was clean (2Ki. 5). And our Lord had mercy upon us by bringing us to the cleansing waters of Baptism, where He applied the healing medicine of His holy blood to each one of us.
St. Paul explains this beautifully in Ephesians 2. He writes, “Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh… remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (vv. 11,12). We were on the outside, and we couldn’t get in. We were stuck in our sin and death. Paul continues, “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (v. 13). We were far off from salvation, but Jesus has brought us close to Him.
He accomplished this by perfectly keeping the Law of God, not just for the Israelite people but for all people. And then He went to the cross carrying the whole world’s sin and shed His holy blood to wash it all away. He poured His perfect righteousness and His cleansing blood over you through the waters of Baptism. That is how He transferred you from the community of death in the world to His holy Christian Church, the Communion of Saints. That is how He healed and cleansed you from the disease of sin that was killing you.
But many of the people He has done this for, whom He has joined to Himself in the waters of Baptism, continue on their way and forget what He has done. Like the nine lepers who were healed, they get caught up in “the cares and riches and pleasures of life” (Luk. 8:14). They don’t continue to listen to His healing Word. They don’t remember to give Him thanks. So even though Jesus freed them from the community of death, they have returned to it again. They might feel like they are alive. They might think they are doing important things. But none of it can save them, and none of it will last apart from Christ.
This is what the devil tempts all of us to do. He wants us to walk away from the life we have in Jesus, to give all of that up so we can fit in with the world. We might even feel ashamed sometimes of our membership in the Christian Church. We don’t tell anyone about it. We carefully keep it hidden, so we can fit in with the people who seem to matter. We don’t want them to think we are strange. We don’t want to be left on the outside. We don’t want to be singled out and left all by ourselves.
These are natural thoughts to have. It is difficult to be a follower of Jesus in a hostile world. But even though you may feel like you have to face these difficulties alone, you are not alone. The Samaritan went against the majority and turned back to give thanks to Jesus. He didn’t have the company of his former friends anymore, but He wasn’t alone. Jesus was with him, and Jesus blessed him. “Rise and go your way,” He said; “your faith has made you well.” Or as the Greek word literally reads, “your faith has saved you.”
You are saved by faith in Jesus who conquered your sin and death, and shares with you His life. And you are not the only one who has received this life. Going back to Ephesians 2: “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord” (vv. 19-21).
Look at how large your community is! You are a fellow citizen with all the saints, all the believers who have gone before you. You are a member of the household of God. You stand on the foundation built by the apostles and prophets. Christ Jesus Himself is the cornerstone. You are part of an immense structure, a beautiful building, a holy temple in the Lord. You are most certainly not alone.
You are a member of the body of Christ. It is with Him that you belong. You will always find friendship, acceptance, and purpose in Him. He will not leave you by yourself. He visits you with His mercy in good times and bad, whether you are happy or sad, restful or anxious. He comes right to you through His Word and His Sacraments to cleanse you again with His holy blood and bless you with His promises.
Each time you receive these blessings, you praise Him and give thanks to Him, bowing down at His feet. And He looks upon you with love, and He says, “Rise and go your way; your faith has saved 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 from “The Healing of Ten Lepers” by James Tissot, 1836-1902)
Good Friday – Pr. Faugstad homily
Text: Hebrews 10:26-31
When we see Jesus hanging on the cross, suffering in anguish, how could we ever doubt these words? “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” When we hear Him cry out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me,” we know how horrifying the wrath of God is.
God hates sin. He put His imprint of perfection on the world and everything in it. He made man in His own holy image. His creation was never meant to know sin, pain, and death. When His work was complete, He declared all of it to be “very good.”
And then one of His chief angels rebelled against Him and enticed the first man and woman to do the same. “[S]in came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Rom. 5:12). Fallen mankind deserved to die. We had perfection, and we threw it away. The holy God was perfectly justified to damn us all to hell.
But that is not what He did. He looked down on this fallen world and had compassion. And this is how He showed His love: He sent His only-begotten Son (Joh. 3:16). The Son of God took on flesh, so that He could give up His holy life as a sacrifice for all sin. It was no mistake that He was hanging on the cross. He was exactly where His heavenly Father wanted Him to be.
Jesus was being punished by God the Father for all sin. He felt the vengeance of God for every big and little sin, for every intentional and unintentional sin, for every setting aside of the law of Moses for whatever reason. You and I do not grasp how serious our sins are and how very far away we are from the holiness of God. But Jesus knew. He felt God’s wrath for each and every sin until the total price had been paid.
Does this not touch your heart? Can you sit there unmoved? Jesus suffered and died for the sins of every person in human history. He suffered and died for you. Many in the world do not care. They have heard about the death of Jesus, but it does not affect them. “Maybe He deserved it,” they think. Or they joke that only the really bad people needed Jesus to do this for them. But they are doing just fine without Him.
Our text says, “How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has spurned the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace?” When you see what Jesus did for you on this day, you cannot remain comfortable with sin. Sin and the death it brings leave dark, ugly stains on everything. Look at all the pain it caused the perfect Jesus.
We cannot hold onto Jesus and our sin. We cannot be faithful to the Word and the world. “For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins.” If we embrace our sin, we reject Jesus’ sacrifice. If we continue in our sin and spurn the Son of God, then we will fall into the wrathful hands of the living God. And that is a fearful thing.
But “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1Jo. 1:9). God the Father forgives our sins because Jesus poured out His blood to wash them all away. He presented His face for beating, His back for flogging, His head for thorns, and His feet and hands for the nails.
Those gracious hands—hands that created; hands that fed; hands that healed; hands that blessed. He opened those hands to receive the cold spikes. He opened those hands to take all that is wrong in the world and bring us back together with God.
Those hands still open, but no longer to receive suffering. They open to distribute blessings, the blessings won by the death of our merciful Lord. He poured those blessings over you at the font. He covers you with them through His Word. He feeds you with them at the Communion rail.
To all who repent of their sins and put their trust in Him—to you and me—, Jesus says, “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand” (Joh. 10:28). You do not have to fear the wrath of the living God. Because of what your crucified Savior did for you, “the hands of the living God” now guard you, comfort you, and lead you on the way to His heavenly kingdom.
We pray: O Lord Jesus Christ,
Wide open are Thy hands,
Paying with more than gold
The awful debt of guilty men,
Forever and of old.
Ah, let me grasp those hands,
That we may never part,
And let the power of their blood
Sustain my fainting heart. Amen.
(Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary #265, vv. 1-2)
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(picture from Isenheim Altarpiece by Matthias Grunewald, c. 1510)
Midweek Lent – Pr. Faugstad homily
Text: St. Matthew 27:38-44
In Christ Jesus, the sinless One, who for our sake was made to be sin by His Father, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God (2Co. 5:21), dear fellow redeemed:
“If You are the Son of God.” Jesus had heard those words before. The devil said them when Jesus had fasted for forty days and forty nights in the wilderness. Jesus had just begun His public work which would lead Him to His death outside Jerusalem. “If You are the Son of God,” the devil said, “why do You feel so hungry right now? Why not throw Yourself off the temple and let the angels catch You? Or maybe You aren’t the Son of God after all!” (Mat. 4:1-11).
Now as He hung on the cross, the same abusive words came at Jesus from all sides. “If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” “Save Yourself!” “Let God deliver You from this suffering, if He really thinks You are worth saving.” They mocked Him, speaking blasphemous words about Him. They jeered at Him, made fun of Him, laughed at Him.
Is that how you would treat someone who was fighting for your life? Would you verbally abuse the person trying to save you from a burning building, or the person who jumped in to defend you from an attacker? Would you laugh at him? Mock him? That’s what was happening at the cross. Jesus was hanging there out of love for the very people who spouted these hateful words at Him. He was there to save their souls, and they despised Him.
This didn’t surprise Jesus. The surprising thing is that the Jewish chief priests, scribes, and elders were so ignorant of the Scriptures they claimed to know. The very words they hurled at Jesus had been prophesied more than a thousand years before then. Listen for yourself to these words recorded by King David in Psalm 22 which clearly describe Jesus’ suffering on the cross: “But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people. All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads; ‘He trusts in the LORD; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!’” (vv. 6-8).
What the religious leaders said about Jesus at the cross is word-for-word what God said they would say. But they did not recognize it. They thought they were with God by being against Jesus. But they were with the devil. They were parroting the words of the “father of lies.” Through their mouths, the devil was tempting Jesus to give up His suffering, to abandon His mission.
“[L]et Him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in Him,” they said. And why shouldn’t Jesus do this? Think of the powerful impact it would have. If all of a sudden the nails popped out, and Jesus floated down to the earth, how could the crowds deny who He was? But not even this would have convinced them. How many miracles had these people seen Him perform? Just a few weeks before this, they witnessed Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead. In their mocking words, they even admitted He had done these things: “He saved others,” they said, but “He cannot save Himself.”
They thought His suffering on the cross was proof that He was not the Son of God. But in fact the opposite was true. Jesus stayed on the cross not because He had no power to save Himself. He stayed on the cross because it was the only way to save sinners. Jesus could agree with what they said, “He saved others; He cannot save Himself.” If He was going to save others, He could not save Himself. In order to save others, He had to die in their place.
Jesus’ cross is planted right in the middle of human history. On one side of Him stand all the people of Old Testament times, from Adam to John the Baptizer. On the other side of Him stand all the people of the New Testament, from the apostles to you and me and everyone who will come after us. We all look upon Jesus—one Man before billions, one Man against the world, the Holy One surrounded by sinners.
We should come to His defense. We should own our sins. We should admit our wrongs. But instead we join the chief priests, scribes, and elders. We spit insults at Jesus. We mock Him. We laugh at Him. That is what we have done by our life of sin. We put Jesus on the cross. We caused His suffering.
And He willingly accepted it. He obeyed His Father’s will to become the scapegoat for all us straying sheep, to become the “fall guy” for us fallen sinners. God the Father knew what He was sending His Son to do. He knew how terrible the anguish and affliction would be, how ruthlessly He would be treated by those He came to save. But He would not let the people of the world go to hell without contending for their souls. He would send His Son on a rescue mission to redeem them.
This was the Father’s will, and His Son submitted Himself to it. Isaiah writes that “it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief” (53:10). God the Father forsook His Son instead of forsaking you. Jesus suffered the torments of hell, crying out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” so you never would. He endured taunting, mockery, and laughter at the cross, so your ears would be spared these demonic words which echo constantly and eternally through hell. You deserved this suffering, but Jesus endured it for you.
Jesus is the true focus of our Lenten series—not His enemies. They were ignorant tools, manipulated by the devil, who was in turn manipulated by God to carry out His holy plan. It does us no good to vent our anger toward the Jews or the Romans for their treatment of Jesus. Jesus had to suffer and He had to die if you were going to be saved. He could not come down from that cross. He could not save Himself. He stayed there and suffered for your forgiveness, to win eternal life for you.
As the hymnwriter says:
What Thou, my Lord, hast suffered
Was all for sinners’ gain:
Mine, mine was the transgression,
But Thine the deadly pain:
Lo, here I fall, my Savior!
’Tis I deserve Thy place;
Look on me with Thy favor,
Vouchsafe to me Thy grace.
What language shall I borrow
To thank Thee, dearest Friend,
For this, Thy dying sorrow,
Thy pity without end?
O make me Thine forever!
And should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never,
Outlive my love for Thee. Amen.
(Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary #335, vv. 4, 6)
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(picture from “Cristo Crucificado” by Diego Velázquez, 1632)
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)
Midweek Lent – Pr. Faugstad homily
Text: St. Mark 15:16-20
In Christ Jesus, who in great humility hid His power and glory, so that He might suffer and die in our place, dear fellow redeemed:
What the soldiers said was perfectly correct: “Hail, King of the Jews!” “Hail” was a positive and proper greeting. And Jesus was “King of the Jews,” at least in a certain respect. He was a descendant from the line of the great King David, and His reign had been prophesied all through the Old Testament. Earlier that Holy Week, Jesus had told the religious leaders that He was both David’s Son and David’s Lord (Mat. 22:41-45). He was David’s Son according to His human nature, and He was David’s Lord according to His divine nature.
But Jesus was more than the King of the Jews. The book of Revelation refers to Him as “King of kings and Lord of lords” (19:16; 17:14). He is King over all. He spoke everything into existence in the beginning, and “he upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Heb. 1:3). In Psalm 2, God the Father Almighty declares, “I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill” (v. 6). Then He says to this King, His eternal Son, “Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel” (vv. 7-8). In Psalm 110, the Father says to Him, “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool” (v. 1).
That is powerful language about a powerful king. But Jesus hardly looked the part on this day, the day of His arrest and His trial before Pontius Pilate. Pilate was showing his own weakness as he presided over a trial he wanted nothing to do with. He had no special compassion toward Jesus. Jesus was a Jew, and the Romans disliked the Jews. This Roman governor and the battalion of Roman soldiers would have much rather been about anywhere else, not watching over this annoying, unruly people. Now things were even worse, since the city of Jerusalem had filled with Jews who had traveled from all directions to celebrate the Passover.
In Jesus, the Roman soldiers found an outlet for their disgust of this people. Supposedly He was an important Jew from what they were hearing, perhaps some sort of a king. Some of the soldiers had already scourged Him leaving deep cuts all over His back and sides. But neither these wounds nor the bruising and swelling on His face would keep them from inflicting more pain on Him. He had just been sentenced to die, so why shouldn’t the soldiers have some fun at His expense?
The soldiers who had charge of Him called together the whole battalion. A battalion was about 600 soldiers. This church could hardly fit a group of people that large. These men acted without restraint. It was mob rule, where anything goes. They dressed Jesus in a purple cloak. They made a crown out of thorns and pressed it into His skull. Then the soldiers took turns saluting Him, striking Him on the head, spitting on Him, and kneeling before Him in mock worship.
I can imagine six against one. I can’t imagine six hundred against one, each taking his turn. But in a certain sense, the number was actually higher, much, much higher—thousands against one, millions against one, billions against one. We must remember why Jesus was in this horrible situation. It was because of sin—not just the sins of the Jewish leaders who turned Him over to Pilate, not just the sins of the godless Romans, but because of your sins, my sins.
When we see the terrible actions of these Roman soldiers, it should not make us feel self-righteous. “Oh, I would never do something like that! I would not treat someone like that!” Instead we should picture ourselves among those violent soldiers, striking Jesus, spitting on Him, mocking Him. Our sin put Jesus in this situation. Our sin caused His suffering. Our sin sent Him to the cross.
The sins we have committed against God are every bit as serious and just as bad as what those soldiers did. We cannot wash our hands of Jesus’ suffering. We cannot say, “the Jews did that,” or “the Romans did that,” without also realizing, “I did that.” If you and I don’t understand our part in it, then we will not see Jesus for who He is or understand what He did for us. He was not simply a tragic figure who was dealt a bad hand. He was not a victim of unfortunate circumstances, caught in the middle of a race war against His will.
He was a Lamb that “goes uncomplaining forth, / The guilt of all men bearing; / And laden with the sins of earth, / None else the burden sharing! / Goes patient on, grows weak and faint, / To slaughter led without complaint, / That spotless life to offer; / Bears shame and stripes, and wounds and death, / Anguish and mockery, and saith, / ‘Willing all this I suffer’” (ELH #331, v. 1).
He, this totally innocent Man, this descendant of David’s royal line, this mighty King of kings—He suffered willingly. For the salvation of sinners—for your salvation—He let the thorns be driven into His head. He let the punches land. He let the spit run down His face. He let the mocking words enter His ears and sting His soul. He did all of it in perfect obedience to His Father’s will.
The prophet Isaiah recorded these words of the Son’s humble submission to His Father: “The Lord GOD has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious; I turned not backward. I gave my back to those who strike, and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard; I hid not my face from disgrace and spitting. But the Lord GOD helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame. He who vindicates me is near” (Isa. 50:5-8).
Jesus did not fight back. He did not say a word. The apostle Peter wrote, “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1Pe. 2:23). Perhaps this is why the soldiers grew tired of their game. Maybe they were beginning to feel guilt for their terrible actions. For all the abuse they had carried out on Jesus, He hadn’t spoken one word in anger or hurled one curse their way. He just took it.
He took it for their sake and for yours. He took it in order to spare you from the eternal suffering of hell, a suffering we all deserve. He received this punishment, so you would receive God’s grace and forgiveness.
We know that Jesus’ humble suffering made an impression on some of the soldiers. They saw how intensely He suffered, and how He bore it patiently. Then when nails were driven mercilessly into His hands and feet, they heard Him say, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luk. 23:34). So when the ground shook immediately after His death, a centurion and those who were with him cried out, “Truly this was the Son of God!” (Mat. 27:54)—“Certainly this man was innocent!” (Luk. 23:47).
Perhaps they also added the same words as before, but now with a holy awe: “Hail, King of the Jews!” We join them in praising this suffering Servant, this righteous King, the Savior of our souls.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
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(picture from “Ecce Homo” by Mateo Cerezo, 1650)
Midweek Lent – Pr. Abraham Faugstad homily
Text: St. Matthew 27:1-5
Dear Friends in Christ,
Our lesson states, “When morning came, all the chief priests and elders of the people plotted against Jesus to put Him to death.” There is no rest for the wicked. While the disciples were sleeping, our Lord’s enemies pursued without ceasing. The chief priests and the elders plotted how they might put Jesus to death. They wanted to get this over with as quickly as possible to avoid any uproar among the people. They believed that he needed to be put to death for his blasphemy and would have gladly carried out this sentence themselves. However, they were prohibited from doing so. The scepter had departed from Judah (Genesis 49:10). They were now ruled by the Romans who reserved the right of inflicting the death penalty for themselves. It was therefore necessary for the chief priests to deliver Jesus to the Roman governor for sentencing.
And so, Jesus was bound and delivered to Pontius Pilate. When Judas, who betrayed him saw that Jesus was condemned, he was remorseful. Some translations say that “he regretted it” or “changed his mind.” But why would Judas, who had been seeking an opportunity to betray Jesus, feel remorse? While we cannot know for certain the reason for his remorse, some have suggested that it was because Judas never thought Jesus would actually be captured. Judas had never had the slightest thought that it would come to this. Rather, he thought that Jesus, as it had happened before, would slip away unharmed. He could come away with thirty pieces of silver and later he could again easily find forgiveness and reconcile with Jesus. However, when Jesus surrendered and was condemned to death, he was remorseful.
Judas did not start with the intent to betray Jesus. His initial temptation was greed for money. John writes, “he was a thief, and had the money box; and he used to take what was put in it” (John 12:6). His love for money grew so great that he jumped at the opportunity to betray his Lord with a kiss for thirty pieces of silver.
Judas’ betrayal serves as a warning to each of us. Judas was one of our Lord’s chosen disciples and yet he fell. Therefore, beware of proudly thinking, “It can never happen to me!” Judas betrayed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver; what is our price? Is it a great fortune? Is it success in our occupation? Is it a special someone? Or is it simply continuing in the sinful pleasure and entertainment we enjoy?
Peter writes, “your adversary the devil prowls about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour.” One of the great tricks the devil uses to separate us from God is minimizing our sin. The devil holds this minimizing mirror before our eyes to make our sin seem quite small and insignificant. He holds this up when he wants to tempt someone into sin. The devil says, “You are underpaid, what’s the big deal if you take that tool from work or add five minutes to your punch card. They really should be paying you that anyway. You’re not stealing, you’re taking what you deserve.” The devil lies, “I bet your neighbor has spoken ill of you. If you tell other people about their sins, it’s not slander because it is the truth. After what they’ve done to you, they deserve much worse than just being the topic of a little gossip.” The devil lures, “Watching this adult video or looking at these illicit pictures is not that bad. Everybody else does it, why can’t you?” The devil tempts, “So what if you have a few too many beers, it’s just one night. Take a load off and relax!”
The devil always begins with seemingly minor sins. For Judas it wasn’t outright betrayal, but an outwardly insignificant temptation, planting greed in his heart. But after the devil tempts us into sin, he takes out another mirror—the magnifying mirror. With this he makes our sin appear so great that we are beyond forgiveness. He mercilessly holds this before our eyes after we have fallen so that he might lead us to despair.
This is what we see in the case of Judas. When he saw Jesus being led to Pilate, he realized for the first time what he really had done. He now saw his horrible sin and betrayal and he could not endure it. Before this he had loved the money so dearly that it seemed a small matter to him to betray Jesus for it, but now it changed. If he had all the money in the world, he would give it all in return to undo what he had done. Judas went to the chief priests and elders to bring back the money, which was a constant reminder of his sin, and said, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.”
But he received no comfort, “What is that to us? You see to it!” Even bringing back the money could not ease his conscience, and in despair, he hanged himself.
In the middle of Jesus’ passion, the Gospel writer holds out the example of Judas so that we might learn never to forsake or abuse what Jesus has done for us. The devil will use it to rip us away from God and bring us to despair. We must guard ourselves against the tricks of the devil by reminding ourselves before we fall into sin the serious and dangerous nature of sin. However, when we do fall, we should remember that Jesus’ sacrifice and God’s mercy are greater than our sin!
The ashes on Ash Wednesday, remind us that we are dust and to dust we shall return because of our sin. But we are not without hope because the cross reminds us that because of what Jesus did for us, our sins are forgiven, and God will raise us from the dead to be with him in heaven! Even Judas’ words offer comfort. Unbeknownst to Judas, he shared one of the best sermons on Jesus.
Jesus’ blood was innocent. He was holy. He was not deserving of death. And yet, for our sakes he came into this world to suffer and die for our sins, so that we could be forgiven and brought back to God (I Peter 3:18). “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). To those who mocked him, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” Jesus wants all men to be saved and to receive his forgiveness. He urges us to repent and look to him. Even in Gethsemane, Jesus longed for Judas to repent, calling him, “Friend.” The same is true for us. Despite our endless betrayals, Jesus wants us to come to him. He comes after us as the Good Shepherd seeking the lost sheep.
In Luke chapter 15, we learn the story of the prodigal son who left his father’s house and squandered his inheritance. The son realized his mistakes and went to ask forgiveness and to see if he could just be a servant in his father’s house. “But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him” (Luke 15:20). The father put the best robe on him, gave him a ring, and butchered a fatted calf! The father showed him love and mercy beyond measure. This is a picture of God’s mercy towards those who come in repentance to him. He sees us coming and runs to us. Jesus says that the angels rejoice in heaven over one sinner who repents!
For our comfort, Scripture also records for us the account of Peter. Peter and Judas’ sin was ultimately the same. The difference was not in them, but where they went when they had nothing to stand on. Judas tried to cover his sin. Peter took his sin to Jesus. The example of Peter gives us comfort that we don’t need to have anxiety and despair over our sin, but simply look to Jesus, who has paid for all sin. Are you concerned about your sin? Then take it to Jesus—he will never turn you away! Scripture states, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9). We can’t make the payment required for our sin, but Jesus did and because he paid the price, we are free from our sins.
John writes, “the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin” (I John 1:7), “And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world” (I John 2:2). Our dear Lord Jesus shed his innocent blood for you because he loves you. He wants you to have his forgiveness. He knew the cost, but Jesus gladly went to the cross to save us that he might bring us to heaven. And so, we can sing,
Thou hast died for my transgression,
All my sins on Thee were laid;
Thou hast won for me salvation,
On the cross my debt was paid.
From the grave I shall arise
And shall meet Thee in the skies.
Death itself is transitory;
I shall lift my head in glory.
(picture from “Judas Returns the Money” by James Tissot, 1836-1902)
The First Sunday in Lent – Vicar Anderson sermon
Text: St. Matthew 4:1-11
In Christ Jesus, who beat back all of the temptations that we face in this life, who fights the devil for us, dear fellow redeemed:
The battle of good versus evil is pretty much in every single script for any superhero and action movie. The only way these movies or TV shows succeed is if you have a humble yet powerful superhero who the viewers will love, take on the evil character. The movie usually has the hero finding himself throughout the story. This then leads to the climax that happens at the end. To add a little flavor, sometimes the hero will have already fought and lost to the bad guy. Here is where all these movies and TV shows find their origin. Jesus has begun his public ministry and as soon as He starts, He is going head-to-head with the prince of this world. This is the first climax and Satan is not hiding behind his punches. What Satan thinks is a cat and mouse game, it is a boxing match that Jesus intends to not lose. Our text is giving you a front row seat as the Adversary takes on your Savior and the Adversary is the one outmatched.
Jesus after being baptized by John, is led into the wilderness. Satan thinks he is ready for the showdown. He strikes when it seems that Jesus is most vulnerable. Jesus had just fasted for 40 days and 40 nights. The majority of people cannot go this long without food. Here comes Satan when Jesus is weak with hunger, and he tells Jesus to turn these stones into bread. Satan is always armed with his half-truths, hoping to get Jesus to trip up. He tempts Jesus with food that can only provide comfort for a little while. He shows Jesus’ ways in which He can give up on living this earthly life. This life is hard, why should Jesus have to make sacrifices, especially for sinners? He flaunts Jesus with the pleasures of the world to get him to give up. Satan shows his knowledge of Scripture, misinterpreting passages to use against Jesus. Jesus must trust the Father’s plan of salvation and it will not be easy.
The surgical strikes that Satan uses against Jesus are the same strikes that are used against us. These heat seeking missiles hit their mark. He tempts us with the power that we think we can use to change our outcomes. He often uses the temptations of wealth and social status. We see that with social media platforms like Tiktok, Snapchat and Instagram. To have power, we must look better than the competition. To be better than our friends, we have to know the latest gossip and have to share it. We are very quick to compare our accomplishments with others. We are quick to look on with lust over what someone else has. The devil also deliberately uses God’s Word against us the same way in which he used it against Christ. He twists the meaning of passages that apply to society saying, “Did God really say that you can’t do that?” The same temptation used in the Garden.
We test God when we throw ourselves into danger. We hear and know the ten commandments. We know what God expects from us. Yet we test God by breaking every single one. Satan waves the sin in front of us. We see that juicy fruit that is pleasing to the eye and good for the taste. Once we taste the fruit, there is no going back, and the consequences of our sins are in front of us. Like us, Jesus is also exhausted after the constant bombardment of temptations. The problem is that we give in to temptation. Repeatedly.
That is what sets us apart from Jesus. We see as clear as day that we are children of Adam and Eve. Their first sin has been passed down the family tree all the way down to us. There is no earthly cure for our sinful nature. Satan has our number. The temptations are dangled in front of us like the forbidden fruit that it is, and we take a bite almost every time. We crave the power, we test God, and we bow down to get gratification that is short lived. The sins that we commit condemn us to death. We can’t withstand the temptations of Satan on our own. That is why Jesus came to withstand Satan for us.
Jesus takes every attack that Satan has to offer and deflects them all with the Sword of the Spirit, the Word of God. Jesus points Satan to the Law demonstrating how He will keep it to perfection. He points out that we live by God. “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” He says, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” There is no reason to doubt what God can do since He is with us. Finally, He says, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ‘“You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.”’ There is no room for Satan and his lies. Jesus is victorious over Satan!
This battle gives us joy because in all the temptations that we fall into, Christ did not give in one inch because our souls were on the line. Our whole lives consist of us failing and falling into temptation. When we are close to despair, it is Jesus who not only beat the temptations perfectly His whole life, but He also took the punishment for what we have done. Jesus withstood what we cannot. The Gospel shows us that we are saved because of what Christ has done for us. Our sins have been wiped away. Satan wants us to despair. He is the accuser who tells God that since we have given into his temptation, that we should be his. Jesus tells Satan to “Be gone,” he cannot accuse what Jesus has redeemed.
Jesus fights for us through the His Word and Sacraments. His Word is where He defends us, comforts us, and He sends the devil away. We are not wielding the sword. Christ is the sword who does all the work as it is His power that causes Satan to flee. In our baptism we are clothed with Christ. Our old Adam was drowned, and the new man arises. The place that Jesus comes to us in the Word and Sacraments right here.
Jesus contends for you and fights for you each week in the Divine Service. When Satan tempts you and wins, you confess to God what you have done and that you are sorry for your sins. Then Jesus speaks His absolution to you through the mouth of the pastor or vicar. You hear these precious words spoken to you, hearing that as you admit that you have given in to the devil and his temptations, your Savior confirms to you that He has borne all your sins on the tree. They will not be remembered in the sight of God.
The sermon is Jesus’ own Word to you, where He teaches you what He has done for you, warns you about the devil’s temptations, and proclaims to you the power of the Gospel. The Gospel comes through clearly revealing that Christ came into the world, suffered everything that you suffer in this life, and He did it all perfectly and willingly in your place. Christ has beaten Satan. Then Jesus meets you in Holy Communion.
Holy Communion is the true body and blood of Christ. The precious body and blood of your Savior is placed on your tongue confirming that the sins that you have given into have been wiped away by Christ’s blood, shed for you and for many for the remission of sins. He fights the battles within you and keeps you close to him. You can’t get closer to your Savior than in His Word and Sacraments.
By the end of the service, you know that there is only One who you put all your hope and faith in, Jesus Christ your Savior. He is the same yesterday and today. He is your armor, your sword and shield against the enemy. He protects you, guides you, and brings forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation, not because you earned it. But because He has beaten the devil for you. When you are weak, He is strong. He is the Hero of all heroes, the One who cannot be overcome.
Satan thought that He could get Jesus. He thought that Jesus was weak. Satan underestimated what Jesus is capable of. Jesus is the Son of God. Satan’s temptations were no match for Jesus. He should have known this as he was told this would happen in the Garden of Eden. Satan won with tempting Adam and Eve, but God delivers to him the ultimate blow. He promised that the woman’s seed would come and crush his head. Jesus is that seed. He came into the world as a humble infant. He humbly lived a life like ours, perfectly keeping God’s Law. And then He went to the cross sacrificing Himself for us, destroying the works of the devil. Jesus is victorious over Satan and always will be. 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 “The Temptation of Christ by the Devil” by Félix Joseph Barrias, 1822-1907)
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 Baptism of Our Lord – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Matthew 3:13-17
In Christ Jesus, who “came by water and blood,” (1Jo. 5:6), who came to fulfill all righteousness and win our salvation from His baptism to His death on the cross, dear fellow redeemed:
What do you want to be when you grow up? If you are not asking that question now, you probably did at one time. Children and adolescents spend a lot of time thinking about that question. What am I supposed to do with my life? What will my future hold? Typically we start with grand ideas. We want to be just like the famous trailblazers and champions we admire. But as we get older, our plans become more realistic, even if our life doesn’t go in the direction we expect.
Tied up in our plans for the future is the question about where we fit in the world. We want to be noticed. We want to be liked. We want to be successful. We want others to think we are special. And that’s a lot of pressure. A report released last week by the CDC said that anxiety and depression are on the rise among teenagers, and it’s way up among teenage girls. Part of the reason for this increase has to do with the pressure that teenagers feel in matters of their sexuality.
Our current culture does not provide a healthy environment for children to mature and grow. It expects them to make life-changing decisions about themselves and their bodies when they aren’t ready to make those decisions. How do we help them with the burdens they carry? How do we settle our own anxious thoughts about our purpose in life and our future?
Today’s reading provides good direction for us. The events happened at a time when hardly anyone knew who Jesus was. His neighbors in Nazareth thought of Him as a kind and intelligent young man. But they didn’t exactly expect Him to be a world-changer. He was the son of Joseph and Mary, and He was probably destined for a very anonymous life (Mat. 13:55).
But that isn’t what John the Baptizer thought. When Jesus made His way to the Jordan River where John was preaching and baptizing, John said something surprising, “I need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?” How did John know who Jesus was? We don’t know. What we know is that John was called to prepare the way for the Messiah. And he said that “for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel” (Joh. 1:31).
John and Jesus were also cousins, so it is possible they grew up around each other, and John could see how good and upright Jesus was. Whatever impressions John had about Jesus would now become set in stone. “Let it be so now,” said Jesus, “for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” So John baptized Him.
As soon as Jesus stepped down into the river and had water poured over Him, you and I were assured of a very bright, a very beautiful future. How can that be? When Jesus stepped into the water, He didn’t go for Himself. We can see why John questioned Jesus’ intent to be baptized. John clearly proclaimed that his baptism was for sinners. But what sins did Jesus have to confess?
Jesus had no sins of His own, but He had all of yours and mine. This was no ordinary man who showed up at the river. This was the eternal Son of God clothed in our flesh. Whatever God did in the flesh should have our very close attention. He didn’t go to the Jordan to pass the time. Everything He did had purpose. His baptism was not a small detail in His life. It was the public beginning of His work of salvation. It was His anointing as the Savior of the world.
He stepped into the river “to fulfill all righteousness.” You can’t “fulfill all righteousness.” I can’t “fulfill all righteousness.” But Jesus could fulfill it for all of us. When He entered the water, He stepped in for you and me and every member of the human race. He was baptized to work a great exchange—your sin for His righteousness. He was baptized into your sin, so that you could be baptized into His righteousness.
In other words, His baptism in the Jordan is your future flashing before your eyes. And His journey from the Jordan to the cross and grave is your journey. What I mean is that you do not have to worry about the mark you will make on the world. You do not have to prove that you matter or that you are special. You do not have to create your own identity or determine your own fate. Jesus already addressed these concerns for you.
You can’t see what your future will hold, but you can see what Jesus’ future held. You see how the heavens were opened after His baptism and the Holy Spirit came down like a dove and rested on Him. You see how God the Father gave the stamp of approval to His Son by saying, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
You know how Jesus went on from there to the wilderness to be tempted, how He started teaching about the kingdom of God and healing the sick and the hurting, how His enemies made plans against Him, and eventually brought Him up on false charges before the governor Pontius Pilate. You see how Jesus willingly suffered, like a lamb that is led to the slaughter opening not His mouth. You see how He was nailed to the cross, cried out in anguish, died, and was buried.
That’s not exactly a future to aspire to. Do we really want to walk in those steps? Jesus told His disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mat. 16:24). That is the exact opposite of what we want to do. The world tells us to indulge ourselves—food, drink, entertainment, pleasure—and our own flesh wants it. Why should we fight these desires? Why do we have to take up a cross? Won’t that only lead to heartache and pain?
It is true that following after Jesus brings us trouble. He says the world will hate everyone who trusts in Him, because the world hated Him (Joh. 15:18-19). “In the world you will have tribulation” (Joh. 16:33), He says. But persecution and trouble are not all that our future holds. In fact, Jesus says that these things only last “a little while.”
Jesus’ future did not end with His death and burial and neither will yours. Jesus came to life again on the third day. He undid death. He reversed the curse. Death no longer had dominion over Him (Rom. 6:9). He rose from the dead, and He lives on in glory. That is your future. He won that victory for you.
And all of it starts at baptism. Baptism changed your future and your focus like nothing else in the world possibly could. It had a bigger impact on you than having all your hopes and dreams for this life come true, even more than winning the lottery or becoming the ruler of the whole world. Because at your baptism, Jesus officially made His righteousness, His accomplishments, and His eternal victory over death yours.
Jesus had your sins poured over Him at the Jordan River, so you would have His righteousness poured over you at the font. He was punished by the Father in your place, so you would be forgiven of all you have done wrong. He died, so that you would live. When you were baptized, the Holy Spirit came to rest on you and filled your heart with faith. When you were baptized, God the Father called you His “beloved,” with whom He is “well pleased.”
St. Paul explains that “We were buried therefore with [Christ Jesus] by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4). At your baptism, you were set on a new course. The plan for your future was locked in. Your life gained an instant and clear purpose. Because the merciful God chose you. He adopted you as His own. He named you His child and heir with Jesus as your brother.
Everything Jesus earned for you from His baptism to His grave became yours, and it is still yours. No matter how much you have messed up, God has not taken His baptism away from you. All that Jesus did for you is still done. Your future in Him is still secure.
So for the young who feel the pressure of being everything the world says they should be, who think they need to prove their worth and show how special they are, who are tempted to compromise themselves and their beliefs in order to be accepted, we can tell them that God loves them perfectly. He sees the temptations they have to face, how difficult their life is, and He promises that He will never leave them alone. He sent His Son to redeem their life with His, He brought them to the font to receive His blessings and give them new life, and He still meets them in their times of sadness and pain to help and strengthen them by His Word and Sacrament.
That is the promise and comfort that all of us need whether we are looking forward with anxiety or backward with regret. Jesus was baptized for you, to fulfill all righteousness for you. He went to the cross for you and rose again for you. Because of His work, your future is bright. You are baptized into Him. You believe in Him. And “[w]hoever believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mar. 16:16).
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(picture from 1895 painting by José Ferraz de Almeida Júnior)
Thanksgiving Eve – Pr. Faugstad homily
Text: Romans 1:18-23
In Christ Jesus, whose work is foolishness to the world but is the greatest treasure to us who are saved, dear fellow redeemed:
Mother Nature has completed her work again this year. She brought warmer weather and needed rain in the springtime, so that seeds could take root and grow. She provided the heat of summer, so that plants and crops could flourish providing food for people and animals. And she caused the crops to mature in time for the abundant harvest that has just been taken in. What a good provider Mother Nature is!
Except that it was no mother who brought us these blessings. It was a Father, our Father who art in heaven. He is our Creator, our Provider, and our Protector, as we confessed earlier. The psalmist says about the LORD: “The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season. You open your hand; you satisfy the desire of every living thing” (Psa. 145:15-16). When we look at the order and beauty and fruitfulness of nature, it is obvious to us that there is a God, and that He is a good God. Today’s reading tells us that the “eternal power and divine nature” of God are clearly seen in what He has made.
But there are many who ignore what their reason and all their senses tell them. They deny that there is a God. They reject that any higher power designed and produced the things we can see. They say that all this came about by chance—a big explosion, billions of years, life forming out of dead objects, and then very complex organisms forming out of very simple ones.
The apostle Paul writes that “by their unrighteousness [they] suppress the truth.” He doesn’t say that they deny the truth because the evidence is not strong enough. They deny the truth about God, because they are opposed to God. They do not fear Him. They do not love Him. They do not trust Him. So then what is it that they fear, love, and trust? They fear, love, and trust the gods of their own making.
Isn’t that a predominant spirit in our country’s Thanksgiving celebrations? We are told how important it is to give thanks, and it certainly is important. But where should our thanks be directed? To whom should we give thanks? The default position for sinners is to give thanks to ourselves. We say how thankful we are for our homes and possessions, our families and friends, our good health and success—and we do it while patting ourselves on the back. “I have worked hard for these things. I have earned my position in life. I deserve everything I have.”
That is a sort of thanksgiving, but it is not godly thanksgiving. It is like the thanksgiving of the Pharisee in the temple who gave thanks that he was not like other sinners and that he had lived such a good life (Luk. 18:11-12). He kept the glory for himself instead of giving it to God. This is the sin that Paul identifies in today’s reading. He writes that “although they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks to Him.”
When we think about our own sin, most of the time we think about sins of commission, sins we have committed. We are sorry for the bad things we have done and said and thought. But Paul is pointing out a different kind of sin—sins of omission. These are sins resulting from not doing what we should have done. It is a sin when we don’t actively give God the glory for all the blessings that we have. It is a sin when we do not give Him thanks for the gifts He has given.
This shows us how great our sinfulness is. Just think of it: how many good things have you received from God that you took the credit for, or at least took for granted? How often have you prayed for His help and received it, but then failed to thank Him for it? We expect God to make everything go well for us and come out the way we want. And when He blesses us even beyond our expectation, we quickly forget how helpless and lost we were, and we go forward as though nothing significant has been done for us.
Paul writes that those who did not honor or give thanks to God “became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools.” Instead of worshipping God, they turned to the worship of created things. This might be the worship of our home and possessions, the worship of money, the worship of other people, the worship of our own impressive qualities or attractiveness.
But all of these things pass away. All of them fade, including ourselves. In a few weeks, we will hear again the words of the prophet Isaiah comparing all flesh to grass and to flowers in the field. These live and die by God’s command. “The grass withers, the flower fades,” says Isaiah, “but the word of our God will stand forever” (Isa. 40:8). God’s Word stands when all our plans and hopes and health and riches pass away.
And it’s a good thing the Word stands, because the Word is what awakens us from our foolish thinking and the darkness of our hearts. God the Father sends the Holy Spirit through the Word to convict us of our sins, to show us how we have failed to live our lives to His glory. The Word of God’s Law shows us that we have not honored Him or thanked Him as He deserves.
But the Holy Spirit also shows us another truth. He teaches us how God sent down His only-begotten Son to address the world’s sin. In His love, God the Father sent His Son to be a Substitute for sinners. His perfect life would count for theirs, and His death would satisfy the debt of their sin. Not only did Jesus avoid all sins of commission, but He also feared, loved, and trusted in God above all things. He perfectly honored, glorified, and thanked God for His abundant mercies.
So even though you have done many wrongs and failed to do many righteous things like thank God for His blessings, He does not charge these sins to your account. They were counted against Jesus, who paid the penalty for each one. By faith in Jesus, His perfect life is credited to you, including His perfect praise of His Father and His perfect thanksgiving.
This is why your thanksgiving today is not a chore. You don’t have to worry about making your thanksgiving good enough for God. Nothing you do could ever reach that height. But you can give your thanks and praise freely, cheerfully, and confidently, knowing that God sanctifies even your imperfect efforts. He Receives Your Thanksgiving with Great Joy and continues to pour His rich blessings upon you.
All that you have is a gift from Him. The glory belongs to Him—not to Mother Nature, not to you, or anyone else. The merciful Lord is the One who made you. He is the One who loved you and redeemed you from your sin and death. He is the One who provides for all your needs here and will bring you safely to His heavenly kingdom. “Oh give thanks unto the LORD, for He is good, for His mercy endures forever!” (Psa. 106:1). Amen.
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