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.
+ + +
(picture from “The Sermon on the Mount” by Carl Bloch, 1877)
The Sixth Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: Romans 6:3-11
In Christ Jesus, who renews us every day by His grace and forgiveness, dear fellow redeemed:
In this sinful world where things fall apart, break down, and decay, there is always something that needs replacing. The car that ran so well 50,000 or 150,000 miles ago is now parked for good in the junk yard. The top of the line smartphone you purchased a few years back seems to have aged as quickly as dogs do. “Out with the old! In with the new!” we say. Our society, more than many before us, is a disposable society. We love our things, and we also love to discard them for newer and better things.
In our country these days, this approach to things is also being applied to systems. We hear voices calling out more and more loudly that the old systems of governance, from local law enforcement to the founding principles of our country, need to be thrown out in favor of something new. “We can build something fairer and more just! We can cleanse out the bad! We can end all prejudice and discrimination! Out with the old! In with the new!”
While we might sympathize with some of the goals of these modern-day revolutionaries, we know that the problem is not so much the system of government in America. Granting that there is no perfect system devised by men, the people in this country enjoy more personal freedom than perhaps at any other time in history. The problem is not the system; the problem is sin. Our sin is what causes us to look down on others because their color or their culture are not like ours. Our sin shows itself in anger, hatred, and judgment toward those whom we should rather love as God commands us to do.
Our sin is the “old” that should concern us more than anything else. There is no forming a “more perfect Union” (Preamble to the U. S. Constitution) or improving our own life unless we deal with the rotting root deep inside us. The fifth chapter of the Letter to the Romans tells us how sin came to be buried in us. Paul writes that “sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin” (Rom. 5:12). Because Adam sinned, all his descendants inherited sin after him. “[B]y the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners” (v. 19).
There is nothing we can do to stop this transmission of sin. The hymnwriter describes our desperate state: “By Adam’s fall is all forlorn / Man’s nature and his thinking, / The poison’s there when we are born, / In sin yet deeper sinking” (Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary #430, v. 1). This is hard for us to accept. We don’t want to believe that before we had a chance at living life, we were already poisoned with sin.
But as hard as it is to believe, God tells us that when we were born—looking so vibrant and full of life—we were actually dead. We were dead in our sins (Eph. 2:1,5). Many people go through life never realizing how bad they have it. In their later years, they look back on their accomplishments and imagine they lived a pretty good life. But these poor souls never really lived. Their life was lived apart from Jesus, which means that even though their heart was beating, their brain was working, and they were getting stuff done, they weren’t really living. They were dying, only dying, and death is all they had to look forward to.
Jesus came to put an end to that futility, to reverse the poisonous effects of sin. He was the second Adam, the only-begotten Son of God the Father who became a man in the womb of the virgin Mary. His goal in coming was not to topple the Roman government or achieve social justice for all. It wasn’t to set up a new religion. His purpose was to fulfill the promises of God, spoken in ancient times even to the first sinners. He did not come to throw out the old order and replace it with something else. “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets,” He said; “I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Mat. 5:17).
He fulfilled God’s Law for you and me. He accomplished what we never could—a perfect life before God. Adam’s disobedience made us sinners, but Jesus’ obedience earned our righteousness. Then He took all our acts of disobedience, all our sin, and brought them to the cross where He paid the atoning price for each and every one. This is where He personally dealt with all hatred, all prejudice, all injustice, all division. All of it was wiped away in the flood of His precious blood. And then He dealt with death by rising from the grave. He addressed our disobedience with His obedience, our sin with His sacrifice, and our death with His resurrection.
But how can we connect our life to the life that He won? How can we leave behind our legacy of sin inherited from the first Adam and enter into the blessed company of the second Adam? Some say that this is done through a personal decision: “I’ve decided to leave my life of sin and live for Jesus.” Others say it is more of a process, a gradual changing and growth away from bad things and toward good things. But both of those are done from our side of things, by our effort, which means that both approaches will most certainly fail.
Today’s text describes a different way. By the power of the Holy Spirit, Paul writes, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?” Here something is introduced that did not come from man and is not accomplished by us. This is Baptism, instituted by Jesus for the salvation of all people and carried out by His power and command (Mat. 28:18-19). It is not symbolic. The water does not symbolize the washing away of sin. The water and the Word of Baptism actually cleanse us from sin by joining us to Jesus.
Baptism into Christ is a baptism into His death. This means that the benefit of Jesus’ death is applied to the sinner. And what benefit is that? Forgiveness, the full and free forgiveness of all sin. This is why we bring infants to the font. It is because they are born in sin (Psa. 51:5). They need to be forgiven, so that they might live in Christ. Sin does not live in Jesus; therefore our sin must be forgiven if we are to live in Him.
But Baptism does even more for us. It not only joins us with Jesus’ atoning death, it also joins us with Jesus’ glorious resurrection. “Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with Him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over Him.” For us who are baptized into Christ, death no longer has dominion over us. Death is not our lord anymore. Death is not the boss.
The two major problems in our life—sin and death—are dealt with at the baptismal font where Jesus meets us with His eternal blessings. It may not look like much happens at Baptism. Nothing changes in the appearance of the person who was baptized. But Baptism is an “Out with the Old! In with the New!” moment like no other. In the waters of Baptism our old Adam, our inherited sinful nature, is drowned. And our new life of faith rises to the surface. In another one of his letters, Paul writes, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2Co. 5:17).
Sadly we do not always live as we are. Even though we know we should leave the old sins of the past behind us, covered by Jesus’ righteousness and cleansed by His blood, yet those old sins still hold some appeal. The devil tempts us to think that the old and new can coexist. “Just because we have faith doesn’t mean we have to stop having fun,” we say. And this is how we so easily find our way back to old passions, old habits, and old vices.
But you cannot live for Adam and for Jesus. You cannot feed the sin and expect righteousness to survive. You cannot despise the blessings of your Baptism and remain in Christ. Paul writes that “our old self was crucified with Him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.”
You live in your Baptism by repenting every day of the sin that threatens to overcome you and destroy your faith. Repentance is how you “come clean,” so to speak. It is how you toss out the old, how you walk away from everything that draws, tempts, and pulls you away from your Savior Jesus. And every day you welcome the new by trusting in Jesus, hearing His saving Gospel, clinging to His promises, and striving by the power of the Holy Spirit to live the way God has called you to live.
The people of the world keep breaking down and building up in an attempt to create something that will last. But all their possessions, plans, and power are doomed to fail. All those new things will become old and be discarded in the landfill of history. Baptism gives you something that lasts. It gives you what you could never produce on your own. Baptism ties your past, present, and future to Jesus. It gives you the forgiveness and life He won. It gives you the comfort and peace of knowing you are a child of God. And it assures you that when this life comes to an end, you will live on as Jesus does.
No matter how many years are behind you or how long ago you were baptized, the blessings of Baptism never get old. In Baptism you were crucified and buried with Christ. You were raised with Christ. There His death became your death, and His life became your life. In Baptism, “[t]he old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”
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.
+ + +
(picture from stained-glass Baptism window at Redeemer)
Midweek Lent – Pr. Faugstad homily
Text: St. John 1:29-34
In Christ Jesus, who came to offer Himself in your place, so you would be right with God, dear fellow redeemed:
We know the passage so well, that it doesn’t seem strange to us: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” But I wonder what we would have thought if we heard John the Baptizer say this in person. We might have wondered, “Why did John just call that man a lamb?” There are so many titles for Jesus that would seem to identify Him more clearly: “Behold, the Messiah/the Promised Prophet/the Son of David and of God/the Savior!” But John said, “Behold, the Lamb!”
Of course the context of the Jews at that time was different than ours. Lambs were a much bigger part of their culture than it is for us. At that time, lambs were sacrificed daily in the temple. Their blood was shed as an offering for sin. John wanted the people gathered there to make this connection. He wanted them to know that the Sacrifice for the world’s sins was finally here. The Old Testament promises had met their fulfillment.
We have reviewed some of these prophesies and pictures of Jesus over the last few weeks. We heard about the shepherd Abel who faithfully offered sacrifices to God before this innocent man was killed by his brother. We heard about Abraham who was prepared to sacrifice his only son at God’s command before the LORD stopped him and provided another lamb. We heard about the Passover when a spotless lamb was killed and its blood painted on the doorposts to save the Israelites from slavery and death. We heard about the offering of lambs at morning and at evening in the tabernacle on behalf of the people. And last week we heard the stunning prophecy of Isaiah describing the suffering and death of Him who bore our sins and was slaughtered for us.
These examples and many others pointed forward to the coming of the Christ and His work to save sinners. John looked to Jesus and said, “There He is! That is the Lamb! He is the One who takes away the world’s sin!” This “taking” or “carrying” away brings to mind God’s instructions for Israel on the annual Day of Atonement. The high priest was to select two goats. One was used for a sin offering. The other was brought to the priest who laid both his hands on its head and confessed all the transgressions of the people over it. Then the goat was sent into the wilderness to a remote area never to be retrieved (Lev. 16:20-22).
John was pointing to Jesus as the “scapegoat” for sin, as the one who would have the sins of the world placed on Him and would suffer for them all by Himself. It was at His Baptism that Jesus was officially anointed for this work. John testified that when Jesus was baptized, he saw “the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove” and rest on Him.
The prophet Isaiah had spoken about this many years before. He said that “the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD” (Isa. 11:2). Jesus was anointed by the Spirit to carry out His Father’s will. Isaiah described the peaceful scene that would result from His righteous and faithful work: “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them” (v. 6).
But Jesus’ coming seemed to produce anything but peace. Though He healed and helped people and proclaimed the Gospel to them, many rejected Him and opposed Him. Eventually the Jewish religious leaders got what they wanted and were able to arrest Him. They convicted Him in a sham trial, struck Him, spit on Him, and turned Him over to the Roman authorities. They did this because they wanted Him dead, and they wanted Him to die painfully.
What they did not realize is that it was God’s will for His Son to die. Isaiah had written about this: “Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief” (53:10). At the same time that the religious leaders worked to destroy Jesus out of bitter hatred and envy, He was working to save them out of His boundless mercy and love. When He went to the cross, He carried even the sins of those who sent Him to His death. His hands and feet freshly nailed to the cross, He prayed for them: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luk. 23:34).
This is what He came to accomplish. He came to forgive, to make peace between God and man. He said Himself that “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (Joh. 3:17). That is why John called Him “the Lamb”—God’s Lamb. The Son of God incarnate was the Father’s answer for sin. He was the only Sacrifice that could satisfy the justice of a holy God.
The death of this Lamb means your wrongs are fully atoned for. His blood cleanses you, purifies you. It sets you free from your bondage to sin and death. But you and I have done terrible things! How can we be certain that even those things are forgiven? Well what did John say? “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”
Jesus did not come to take away only the sin of the most faithful and the best-behaved. He came to take away all sin, “the sin of the world.” So if you are in the world, then Jesus has taken away your sin. Like the scapegoat on the Day of Atonement, each of your sins was placed on Jesus, and He took them far away never to bring them back against you.
Because your sins were placed on Him, they are not on you anymore. The Psalm states it beautifully: “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us” (103:11-12). This is what Jesus accomplished for you. Behold, the Lamb! He forgives all your sin. Amen.
+ + +
(picture is portion of 1895 painting by José Ferraz de Almeida Júnior)
The First Sunday in Lent – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: 2 Corinthians 6:1-10
In Christ Jesus, who guards and keeps us so that the devil, the world, and our own flesh may not overcome us, but so that we may overcome them by His grace and retain the victory, dear fellow redeemed:
One of the most common pieces of advice we hear and have probably offered many times is this: “God will not give you more than you can handle.” So a person might get fired from his job and have no idea how he will pay this month’s bills, and someone says, “God will not give you more than you can handle.” A friend is diagnosed with an aggressive cancer: “God will not give you more than you can handle.” Someone is carrying heavy burdens and is feeling completely overwhelmed: “God will not give you more than you can handle.”
The problem with this statement is that it is not exactly what the Bible tells us, and it may not provide the comfort we intend. We derive the statement from St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians where he writes, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (10:13). So what Paul says here: “[God] will not let you be tempted beyond your ability,” is expressed as: “God will not give you more than you can handle.” But those two statements are not exactly the same.
Paul specifically refers to times of temptation, times when the devil tries to use our sinful weakness to pull us away from Jesus. Paul talked about the various ways the Israelites had given in to temptation: through idolatry, sexual immorality, discontentment and disbelief. He said that these things were recorded in the Old Testament “for our instruction” (10:11). We are to look at the example of the Israelites and recognize that they did not have to sin; they did not have to give in to temptation. The LORD provided them a way out every time they were faced with these tests.
We are faced with the same sorts of temptations. The devil knows our weaknesses; he knows where we are vulnerable. He knows how to use others to entice us to sin. They assure us that going against what God says will make us happier. They offer friendship and empty promises, but they will not be there when the money is gone or the so-called “good times” have ended. The devil also uses others to provoke us to sin. Their constant bullying and abuse causes us to lash out with violent words or actions and to wish for them to fail in every way. And the devil uses our own sinful flesh to tempt us through things like laziness, lust, greed, selfishness, and pride to set aside love for God and for our neighbors.
In every temptation the devil’s aim is to keep our focus on ourselves and not on God or His Word. This is how he tried to tempt Jesus, as we heard in the Holy Gospel for today (Mat. 4:1-11). Jesus had just been baptized by John in the Jordan River. Then the Holy Spirit sent Him into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. There Jesus fasted, He went without food, for forty days and forty nights, which is why we set aside forty days for Lent. After those forty days, the devil came and tempted Him to follow His own will: “Turn stones into bread to feed Yourself!” he said. “Jump off the temple to show who You are!” “Enjoy everything the world has to offer!” But Jesus resisted these temptations. He did not seek self-gratification and pleasure. He came to suffer and bear the cross for the salvation of sinners.
The devil left Him at that time, but he would be back. The devil does not give up. He tempted Jesus all through His state of humiliation until Jesus descended into hell to proclaim His victory and rose again from the dead. When Jesus urges us to resist temptation and bear our cross after Him, He speaks as one who fully understands the troubles we face. The author of the book of Hebrews writes that Jesus can sympathize with us because He “in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (4:15).
The apostles kept their focus on Jesus’ Word and His example as they faced temptation and endured great suffering for preaching the Gospel. Paul listed “afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger.” All of these were opportunities for the devil to tempt them: “Is it really worth it to suffer like this? Why would the God who you think loves you let this happen to you? Look at what little progress you make! Your best efforts have been wasted! You are a nobody!”
I am sure these thoughts entered their minds because they come into ours too. The devil tempts us in the same ways. When things are going badly in our lives, he wants us to think God has abandoned us. He wants us to think that all the good things we have tried to do were a waste of time. Nobody appreciates us. Nobody cares. Nobody would really notice if we weren’t here. These temptations can be severe, shaking us to our core and dropping us to our knees. Jesus suffered like this too, but He did not reject His Father’s will. He carried on in faith, and He promises to help you do the same. “For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” (Heb. 2:18).
Jesus Gives Grace in Every Temptation. He “provide[s] the way of escape.” And what is that way? It is the way of the cross. Jesus did not avoid suffering; He did not try to go around it. He went through it all the way to His death. He suffered, but His suffering was not pointless. It was not wasted. His suffering secured your salvation. The verse before today’s reading says, “For our sake [God] made [Christ] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2Co. 5:21). Jesus took on your sin, all the times you have given into temptation and broken God’s Commandments, and He gave you His righteousness, His flawless record, His perfect life.
His grace toward you is the reason Paul writes, “Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” Jesus loves you today just as He loved you yesterday and just as He will love you tomorrow. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb. 13:8). Even though you have not always patiently endured temptation, even though you have sinned, your Savior has not changed His mind about you. He does not regret suffering and dying in your place or joining you to Himself in Holy Baptism. He is glad to have you eat His body and drink His blood in His Holy Supper. You are precious to Him. You are not a nobody.
This grace strengthened Paul and his fellow co-workers to take up their crosses and do the work the Lord had given them to do even if it meant suffering. This grace so encouraged and comforted Paul that he hardly seemed to notice the trouble. “We are treated as impostors, and yet are true,” he said; “as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.” Those are not the words of someone whom the devil has overcome. Those are the words of one who lived in and by God’s grace alone.
The problem with “God will not give you more than you can handle,” is that it could make someone think he has to handle the problem, he has to draw on his own strength. The reality is that there is really nothing we can handle on our own. We are weak. We certainly cannot and will not prevail if we stand alone against the devil and the world. Our ability to “handle” the temptations and suffering that come our way is only by the grace of Jesus. He must come and fight for us. He must save us.
This is what He does through His Word and Sacraments. He comes to “provide the way of escape” from our temptations. He comes to carry us through our suffering. He comes to bestow His grace, so that we are kept in the saving faith through the troubles of this life and finally enter His glory.
“[W]e appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain,” writes Paul. Don’t think you have to “handle” everything on your own. Don’t let the devil convince you that you are all by yourself. Rather lean on your fellow Christians whom He has given for your encouragement and consolation. And most of all rely on His unchanging grace, His great love for you, which will carry you through every distress, every affliction, and every pain. Then with Paul you can say that by the grace of God, though dying, you live; though sorrowful, you rejoice; though having nothing, yet you possess everything.
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.
+ + +
(painting is “The Temptation of Christ by the Devil” by Félix Joseph Barrias, 1822-1907)
The Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Luke 17:11-19
In Christ Jesus, whose gracious healing is impartially offered to all sinners, dear fellow redeemed:
The ten men in today’s Gospel were infected with leprosy, a disease that especially attacks the skin and nervous system. Nine of these men were Israelites and one was a Samaritan. They would typically have been at odds with each other, but their common illness brought them together. Any differences in their social status were set aside by their desperate situation. Leprosy was a great equalizer.
This disease is still active around the world but is rarely seen in the United States. In our country, the top two causes of death are heart disease and cancer. It would be difficult to find someone who had not lost a close relative or friend to one of these diseases. They are illnesses that strike all types—the old and the young, the rich and the poor, the physically weak and the physically fit.
When people are diagnosed with serious conditions like this, they are often willing to do whatever it takes to get better. They will endure the rigor and discomfort of treatment plans and surgical procedures. They will suffer the various side effects from medication. They will commit large amounts of time and money—all in the hopes of regaining the health they had before. This shows how valuable people consider their health to be.
It’s also the case that we place a higher value on things that are harder to come by and not as available as they were before. When we are in good health, we take it for granted. We don’t recognize what we have until we don’t have it anymore. Nothing gets a person exercising and watching what he eats like a health scare does. Even a cold or a headache remind us what we have to be thankful for.
Now suppose you had a serious health problem, and somebody offered you medication with a 100% success rate. “There must be a catch,” you think. “Why don’t more people take advantage of this? The cost must be astronomical! The side effects must be unbearable!” You are informed that the side effects are nothing compared to your disease, but the cost is indeed much higher than you could afford. “But don’t worry!” you’re told. “The cost has been covered for you! You’re going to be cured!”
How would you feel about this? Shocked, no doubt, and blessed. How about thankful? The ten men were healed of their leprosy at no cost to themselves. There were no side effects. The only prerequisite to their healing was that they listen to Jesus’ word and do what He told them. Now this took faith! Why show themselves to the priest when nothing about their condition had changed? Right after Jesus talked with them, the patches of leprosy still showed up on their skin. But then on the way, they were cleansed! Their trust in Jesus was rewarded.
They were shocked. They felt blessed. But for whatever reason, they did not return to thank their Healer. Only one of them—the Samaritan—turned back praising and thanking God as He fell at Jesus’ feet. But then the other nine lepers had a lot on their minds! Jesus told them to show themselves to the priest, and the process of being declared clean was time consuming. Besides, they missed their loved ones terribly. God wouldn’t want them to delay their reunion, would He? He wouldn’t discourage them from returning immediately to their homes and occupations.
Leprosy was a great equalizer. When the men had it, they together cried out for Jesus’ mercy. But when their disease no longer troubled them, they forgot about Jesus. Jesus did not forget about them. “Were not ten cleansed?” He asked. “Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”
Their ungratefulness should trouble us just as it troubled Jesus. We may even imagine that we would have been like the Samaritan. We would have returned to give thanks. But let’s move the question from the theoretical to the actual. Jesus has not healed us from leprosy, but He has healed us from something far worse, something much more damaging than an infection. He has healed us from our sin.
This sin had left its mark on every inch of our body and soul. It had traveled through every vein. It saturated our heart. How could we be freed from its terrible effects? Some just let it be. They act like it isn’t there. They are like the guy with frostbite, who says he doesn’t feel pain, but who can’t move his fingers anymore either. Others figure they can address the sin on the inside by doing good works on the outside. But no matter how good a rotting board or rusted car looks with a new coat of paint, the issue underneath the paint will keep getting worse.
No human remedy could fix the problem of sin. Sin is a great equalizer, which affects all people the same. The harder we try to get rid of it ourselves, the deeper it sinks inside. We who are responsible for our sin are not qualified to remove it. And God wants us to know this. He wants us to admit our powerlessness over sin. He wants us to humbly acknowledge that we have a problem.
And God has the solution. The solution is His only Son. He sent His perfect Son to become Man. Sending His Son into the sinful world was something like a father pushing his healthy son into a leper colony. In that respect, Jesus did not belong here. He was far above this place, this world. He did not deserve to be sent in among sinners.
But He came willingly. He had compassion on His people. He saw their sorry state. He heard their cries for mercy. He came to save them. The only way to free them from their sin was to take their sins upon and into Himself. Their sin required a spotless Lamb, a perfect sacrifice. Jesus was that “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (Joh. 1:29). When He was nailed to the cross, all our sin was nailed there with Him. “[B]y means of his own blood,” He secured our “eternal redemption” (Heb. 9:12). He paid the price in full. He “put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” (v. 26).
This payment was made for all sinners. But an inheritance does a person no good unless he is informed about it. God distributes His salvation through the Word by the power of the Holy Spirit. He gives the blessings of Christ’s death through the message of Christ’s death. Now this Word of God does not appear to have much power. It does not make the pages of a Bible glow. It does not always seem to have a great effect on those who hear and read it. Jesus’ Word to the lepers didn’t seem effective either. But hearing His Word and believing it, the lepers were cleansed.
God promises that His Word will not return to Him empty (Isa. 55:11). It brings healing to the sick, comfort to the distressed, and peace to the hurting. And you know this in your own life. You know the relief you have when you lay your sins before Jesus and hear His Word of forgiveness absolving you of all your sins. You hear Him declare you clean and pure in His sight and an heir of eternal life. There is no spiritual bill of health we could receive that is better than this.
But it is easy to take God’s grace for granted. We may think that we have heard this Gospel message plenty of times. We know what Jesus did for us. We don’t need to hear about it again and again. We can go without the Word and Sacraments for a while. They will be there for us when we have time for them. And in this way, we see the availability of the Gospel something like the availability of oxygen. It’s always there when we need it, so we don’t need to give it much thought. “When I need an extra supply,” we say, “I’ll know where to find it.”
Why don’t we treasure these blessings of God more? Is it because they are too easy to get? Would we value them more if they were harder to come by? If that is the case, then we are saying we want some of the responsibility for making things right with God. Or is it actually that we want some of the credit? Those efforts all fail. We cannot get ourselves right with God. He made peace with us, and He brings us that peace through the means of grace.
And His grace is easy to get. Martin Luther wrote that if “forgiveness of all sin, grace, and eternal life” could come by picking up a piece of straw or by plucking out a feather, wouldn’t we do this joyfully? Wouldn’t we treasure and cherish those simple items? “Why then are we such disgraceful people,” he asks, “that we do not regard the water of baptism, the bread and wine, that is, Christ’s body and blood, the spoken word, and the laying on of man’s hands for the forgiveness of sin as such holy possessions?” Why don’t we appreciate that by these means, “he wishes to sanctify and save [us] in Christ?” (“On the Councils and the Church,” Luther’s Works, Vol. 41, p. 172).
By our sporadic or reluctant use of God’s Word, we show that our spiritual health is not as valuable, not as pressing a concern, as it should be. We show ourselves to be ungrateful for the cleansing of sin carried out by the Lord. We overlook this blessing because our minds are often on other things, things that will not last.
And yet God has called us once again to receive the antidote for sin through His Word. He has not taken back His gifts from us. He has not cast us out because of our ungratefulness. He cleanses us today. He restores our spiritual health. He strengthens our faith so that we want to hear His Word more and serve Him more faithfully. He does this because we are valuable to Him. We are worth His time. He has mercy on us, and His mercy endures forever.
+ + +
(“The Healing of Ten Lepers” painting by James Tissot, 1836-1902)
The Fourth Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Luke 6:36-42
In Christ Jesus, who looks upon us not as we deserve but according to His grace, dear fellow redeemed:
We can all think of people who have no business pointing out the sins in others. Their sins are so obvious and clear that they are in no position to judge what anyone else does. Jesus talks about the log in a person’s eye. It’s quite a picture. Imagine a long plank sticking out of someone’s eye. But suppose the person did not notice it was there. He shows up at a party and starts talking about what is wrong with other people—how they look, how annoying they are, how he has everything together, and how they could learn a lot from him.
He does not understand why everyone wants to keep their distance, and why they get so angry whenever he shows up. That eye log is a hindrance to personal interaction! It pops people on the nose and smacks them on the side of the face whenever he turns his head. He complains about everyone blaming him. Why don’t they watch where they are going and give him more space?
It’s a ridiculous scenario. How could a person not know that a big log is sticking out of his eye? How could he not notice that? The problem with this guy is that he does not understand his problem. He thinks everyone around him is at fault for his feelings of rejection and discomfort. He is the victim. If everyone around him changed, he would be happier, and he assumes they would be too.
What Jesus is teaching about here is self-righteousness, about not being aware of one’s own glaring sins. A self-righteous person is a person who believes he is holy through his own efforts. It makes sense that Jesus would warn the Pharisees and scribes about this because they thought they were right with God through their keeping of the law. They did not realize how far they had fallen short. They were very prideful.
But Jesus did not speak the words of today’s text to the Pharisees and scribes. He spoke them to “His disciples” (Luk. 6:20), to those who believed in Him and followed Him. He told these disciples to take the logs out of their own eyes. He even called them “hypocrites”! This shows that Jesus was not afraid to criticize His followers. But He wasn’t doing it out of spite; it was out of love.
Jesus wanted His followers to see their own weakness and to understand the sinful condition of all descendants of Adam and Eve. He could speak in this way because He was without sin. He had been conceived in Mary’s womb by the power of the Holy Spirit and was therefore free of original sin. He fully understood temptation to sin, but He committed no sin Himself.
He told His disciples to guard against the self-righteousness that was part of their sinful nature. They needed to hear the condemning words of the law, so that they would be humbled and cry out for God’s grace. They needed to see that they were no better than anyone else around them, either the Jews or the Gentiles.
The same goes for us. We are no better than anyone else, but the devil and our sinful nature try to convince us that we are. They tempt us to measure our righteousness by how much holier we are than others. But it isn’t a fair comparison. We typically do not look at others the same way that we look at ourselves. We see their sins more clearly than we see our own sins. We are much more ready to overlook our faults than the faults of others.
So it might be easy for me to justify telling a lie, but I come down harshly on others who do the same. Or I might be critical of a mess someone made, but I am totally unwilling to acknowledge my own messes. Self-righteousness is holding someone’s feet to the fire for a $100 debt, while being unconcerned about your own $100,000 debt. Self-righteousness is being eager to offer criticism but being totally unwilling to receive criticism.
Our self-righteousness is the reason Jesus reminds us to “be merciful,” to “judge not,” to “condemn not,” to “forgive,” and to “give.” He wants us to be humble and regard others as better than ourselves (Phi. 2:3). He wants us to look into the mirror of His holy law and see our many sins in that reflection. He wants us to repent of these sins and look to Him for forgiveness and for help to love our neighbors.
But showing love to our neighbors does not mean ignoring their sin altogether or confirming them in their sin. One of the most-quoted Bible passages in our day is: “Judge not.” Another version of this is the statement: “Only God can judge me.” These phrases are usually brought out when a person does not want to be questioned for his behavior or lifestyle choices. So what can you say when someone throws your words of caution or warning back in your face?
Let’s say that you find out your co-worker has been stealing from your employer. You call him on it, and he responds, “Who do you think you are? Are you so perfect? I thought Jesus said not to judge other people!” What do you say? Maybe his point sounds valid, and you let the issue go. But how is that loving to your co-worker, much less to your employer? A good way forward is to accept what your co-worker says without approving of the sin. You could say, “You’re right. I’m not perfect, far from it. I’ve sinned as much as anyone I know. But that does not mean I have to go along with something that is wrong or act like it isn’t happening.”
If your neighbors think you are criticizing them because you believe you are so good, they will avoid you like the people avoiding the guy at the party with the log in his eye. But if they see your humble spirit and know that you care about them, they will be much more ready to listen to what you say. They might not accept your criticism right away. They might even be angry with you. But in time they hopefully will see that you said what you did out of love for them.
Our goal in warning and correcting others is not to elevate ourselves in their eyes, as though they should be more like us. Our goal is to point them to Jesus. Jesus is the one solution to our problem of self-righteousness and sin. If we think we are so good compared to others, we should try comparing ourselves to Jesus. Then we see that our righteousness is nothing. We have not come close to loving as He loved and sacrificing as He sacrificed.
Our righteousness compared to His is like the light of a match compared to the light of the sun. Our righteousness—if it is truly righteousness—can light up just a tiny corner of this dark world. The light of His righteousness fills the earth and the heavens. His holy life under the law was so pure, so flawless, that it was able to cover over the unrighteousness of all sinners.
This perfect holiness was placed upon you when you were baptized, and it continues to cover you now. What good is it to keep a tally of your own good deeds or compare your life with others when Jesus’ righteousness is yours? We would rather lose all glory and honor in the world, all recognition and fame, than to lose Jesus’ righteousness. He is our perfection that the law demands. He is the fulfillment of all righteousness for us.
He is also the atonement for our sins. We have not always been merciful and forgiving and generous. We have not always been humble in our dealings with others. We have not always perceived the log in our own eye. But Jesus, with clear vision and perfect focus, walked the way of the cross for us.
He had no log in His eye, but He did have one on His back as He made His way to Golgotha. He was nailed to that log—the cross with all our transgressions—and He died for the sins of all, for the self-righteous, the prideful, and the unrepentant. By the shedding of His blood, Jesus atoned for every single one of your sins and mine. God the Father poured out the full measure of His wrath on His Son, so that the good measure of His grace and forgiveness would be “pressed down, shaken together, running over” and “put into [our] lap.”
We need this forgiveness every day because we continue to sin against our neighbors. We sin against them by hoping for their harm and failing to offer them our help. There is something in our eye, just as there is something in every sinner’s eye. But the Lord’s absolution, His free forgiveness, removes the logs and specks from our eyes. His grace clears up our vision, so that we see Jesus and everything He did to save us.
Seeing Jesus more clearly also helps us to see our neighbors more clearly. Our neighbors need mercy like we need mercy. They need forgiveness like we need forgiveness. They need help like we need help. And the Lord is eager to give these blessings to everyone. He blesses them through our efforts, and He often causes those blessings to return to us in good measure.
Jesus’ command to love our neighbor more and better than we have is hard for us to hear. It is painful to have the logs of self-righteousness removed from our eye. But He does this so that we look away from ourselves and any good things we might do and look toward Him. In Him we will always find righteousness, salvation, and the strength to live for His glory.
+ + +
(“The Parable of the Mote and the Beam” by Ottmar Elliger the Younger, 1666-1735)
The Fifth Sunday of Easter – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. John 16:5-15
In Christ Jesus, who returned to the Father after completing His saving work on earth (Joh. 16:28), and then sent out the Holy Spirit to distribute His salvation, dear fellow redeemed:
If you have never heard the word “Paraclete” before, you might wonder what it means. Here are some multiple choice options for you:
- “Paraclete” is a type of bird that repeats what people say.
- “Paraclete” is the footwear you need for outdoor sports.
- “Paraclete” is a title for the Holy Spirit.
I hope that was an easy one.
In our translation of the Bible, the word “Paraclete” is rendered “Helper.” Other translations for this word are “Advocate,” “Intercessor,” or “Comforter.” Jesus referred to the Holy Spirit by this term four times in His conversation with the disciples the night before His death.
- In John 14:16-17, Jesus said: “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper [Paraclete], to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.”
- John 14:26: “But the [Paraclete], the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”
- John 15:26: “But when the [Paraclete] comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.”
- And then in today’s Gospel where Jesus said the Paraclete would come to convict the world and guide believers into all truth.
The Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, was sent to convict the world concerning three things: “sin and righteousness and judgment.” This work is done through the Law of God. The primary function of the Law is to condemn. It is a mirror which reveals how we really are. We may seem to have things pretty well in order. But the Law uncovers our hidden sins, even the sins of our mind.
The Holy Spirit testifies through the Law that our sins have separated us from God. If we remain in these sins, we cannot have communion with God, because God is holy. The world is full of people who believe they are right with God (or at least hope they are), but who actually are opposed to Him. They do not believe they are in spiritual danger because of their sins, or they worship false gods who cannot save. So the Holy Spirit through the Law convicts the world’s inhabitants of sin. He shows that their trust and confidence are misplaced when they do not believe in Jesus as their Savior.
The Holy Spirit also convicts the world concerning righteousness. One of the biggest and most obvious lies today is the notion that “people are basically good.” It is true that many people do many good things. This is due to the influence of God’s moral Law written in their hearts (Rom. 2:15). But we ignore the great wickedness around us and in us if we say that people are mostly righteous. We cannot give ourselves or others so much credit.
Some are even so bold as to reject Jesus because they think their level of holiness rises to His. But who has ever done as much good as Jesus did? Who healed so many sick people? Who had such compassion on the poor and outcasts? Who gave so much hope? And when He was falsely accused and beaten and crucified, who suffered so quietly and humbly? If Jesus were little more than an example for us, and if living as He lived were the way to get to heaven, still no one could hope to attain such righteousness.
The Bible does not teach us to be confident in our own righteous deeds. It says that “[n]one is righteous, no, not one,” and that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:12, 23). Jesus said that He is the only one who is worthy to “go to the Father.” He was perfect. He did no wrong. He lived the life the holy Law requires. He succeeded where all others have failed.
Finally, the Holy Spirit convicts the world concerning judgment. The world follows its ruler. Isn’t that as it should be? No, because the world’s ruler—the devil—is an imposter. He usurped the throne that belongs rightfully to the world’s Creator. The Lord is the rightful King. But the devil will spread his lies and work for the destruction of souls as long as he has opportunity.
Everyone who denies Jesus follows the devil. They choose to follow the loser instead of the Champion. The devil is already judged. His fate is sealed. He cannot knock the crown off Christ’s head or the almighty God from His throne. Unless sinners repent, they will join the devil in the fires of hell and suffer there with him forever.
This is what the Holy Spirit comes to do for the world. He comes to “convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.” The work the Paraclete does through the Law may not seem all that “helpful” or “comforting.” But if He does not convict through God’s Law, there will be no need for God’s comfort. If He does not carry out His condemning work, He cannot do His saving work. So He convicts the world—and us too—of our sin, our self-righteousness, and the judgment that comes upon the unrepentant. But He also strengthens believers in their faith through the Gospel.
The disciples were sad when Jesus told them He was going to the Father. Jesus said His leaving was to their advantage. His visible departure meant that the Paraclete would come. The Holy Spirit would be sent forth from the Father and the Son. He would come to guide the disciples “into all the truth.” He would bring to their remembrance everything Jesus said to them (Joh. 14:26). He would declare “the things that are to come.”
Those things that were coming were Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection and His glorious ascension to the right hand of the Father. The disciples did not understand that these things were necessary. But they soon learned why they were so important. The Holy Spirit enlightened their minds to understand that salvation could be won in no other way than this.
God the Son had to obey the will of His Father. He had to take on flesh and be born under the Law, so that His righteousness would cover each sinner’s sin. He had to suffer and die, so that the eternal punishment each of us had coming would be assigned to Him instead. He had to rise again on the third day to prove that He was who He said He was and that He did what He said He would.
This is the truth the Holy Spirit taught the disciples and what He still teaches us. This is what He helps us to remember, especially when we are troubled by our sins and failures. He comforts us by coming to us through the Word and Sacraments and declaring what He has been given to declare. He brings the gifts of the Father which were obtained for us by the Son. Jesus said of the Holy Spirit that “He will glorify Me, for He will take what is Mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is Mine; therefore I said that He will take what is Mine and declare it to you.”
What is it that the Holy Spirit declares? After bringing you to repentance through the Law, He points you to Jesus. He declares that Jesus is your righteousness. He is your Savior. Because of Jesus’ suffering and death in your place, you have peace with God and eternal life. Your sins are forgiven. You are justified in God’s sight; you are not condemned.
This is how the Paraclete comforts you. He does not need to change His message from time to time to keep it fresh and interesting. The message of forgiveness and life in Christ is just as powerful and applicable today as it has been through all of human history. It is exactly what every sinful human needs to hear and believe. Until the end of time, God will continue to send the Holy Spirit to convict and comfort through His Word.
But Jesus spoke about the Holy Spirit’s coming as being in the future. When would this happen? It happened on Pentecost, fifty days after Easter and ten days after Jesus’ ascension. We are approaching these festivals again—Ascension in less than two weeks and Pentecost in three weeks. These are excellent times to remember that the Lord keeps His promises. Everything Jesus predicted to His disciples came about. He did die and rise again, He did return to His Father, and He did send the Holy Spirit.
This means you will never lack hope, even in these troubled and troubling times. You are not alone in the world. Yes, the devil rules in the world and many follow him, but he is judged. He cannot win. Even while he carries out his destructive activities, the Paraclete counters them through the powerful Word. If the Holy Spirit were not active, there would be no church on earth; no one would believe. But God has reserved many “who have not bowed the knee to Baal” (1Ki. 19:18, Rom. 11:4), who have not gone away after “the ruler of this world.” He keeps many in the faith who look with eager anticipation for Jesus’ triumphant return.
Through His ongoing work in the church, the Holy Spirit lives up to His title. He is our Paraclete—our Helper, Advocate, Intercessor, and Comforter. He brings the gifts of God from heaven to earth, from the holy Savior to us unworthy sinners. For our salvation, The Paraclete Comes to Convict and Comfort. He works repentance in our hearts through the Law and faith in our hearts through the Gospel. He brings us everything we need to get to heaven, just as Jesus said He would.
+ + +
(picture is stained glass by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, c. 1660)
Good Friday – Pr. Faugstad homilies
I. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)
Jesus was innocent. He had only done what was right. He had helped a great many people. He gave the blind their sight, made the lame walk, cleansed lepers, brought hearing to the deaf, rescued the demon-possessed, and even raised the dead to life (Luk. 7:22). Yet by this time on Good Friday, Jesus had been struck in the face, spit on, punched, flogged, and crowned with a tangle of thorns. Besides this, He was verbally abused, lied about, and mocked. And now He was nailed to a cross and hoisted up in the air for all to see.
Jesus might have been angry about all the injustice. He might have uttered threats and promised revenge. But instead He prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” He did what Isaiah prophesied He would do. He made “intercession for the transgressors” (53:12). Who were these transgressors? Whom did He ask God to forgive? It was the religious leaders who even now stood around the cross mocking Him. It was the Roman soldiers who cast lots for His clothing and mistreated Him.
But that was not all. Jesus was praying for you too, and for me. It was your sins and mine that caused Him to suffer and be nailed to the cross. It was your sins and mine that sent Him to His death, and your sins and mine that He died to forgive. We sing hymn #292, vv. 1, 3 (“O Dearest Jesus”).
II. “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:43)
The guilty man was hanging from a cross, and yet he thought he was in a position to judge another. He and his friend on the opposite side of Jesus joined the crowd in reviling Him: “If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross!” (Mat. 27:40,44). But as his suffering intensified, this criminal began to see things differently. He heard people mocking Jesus as “the Christ” and “the King of the Jews.” He saw the sign above Jesus, “This is the King of the Jews” (Luk. 23:38). He saw how patiently Jesus took this abuse, and the Holy Spirit led him to see that he was not dying next to another criminal. He was hanging there with God in the flesh, the Savior!
So he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luk. 23:42). And Jesus replied, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” Here is hope for all who have committed grievous sins, and for all who have despised and mocked the Lord. By His suffering and death, the Lord secured Paradise for sinners. He wants all to repent of their sins and believe in Him. He invites all—no matter how stained their past may be—to join Him forever in the Paradise of heaven. We sing hymn #334/335, vv. 1, 8 (“O Sacred Head, Now Wounded”).
III. “Woman, behold, your son!”—“Behold, your mother!” (John 19:26-27)
Mary was there too, the mother who had carried Jesus in her womb and had given birth to Him. She had nursed Him and watched Him grow. She had followed Him all the way here to Jerusalem. And now she saw Him, her precious, holy Son, dying a terrible death on a cross. Simeon had predicted this moment in the temple when Jesus was brought there as a baby. He told Mary, “and a sword will pierce through your own soul also” (Luk. 2:35). That sword turned inside her as she watched her Son writhing on the cross.
Even while He suffered for all people, Jesus was concerned for His mother. He would no longer be her Son in the way they were accustomed. He would die and rise again, but nothing would return to the way it was before. So Jesus looked upon Mary and His disciple John and said, “Woman, behold, your son!” and “Behold, your mother!” Through His friend, Jesus provided for His mother’s care.
And so He continues to do for the single, the widowed, the lonely, and the outcast. “God settles the solitary in a home” (Psa. 68:6). He gives communion and community through the members of His family, the members of His Church, who gather together around His Word and Sacraments. We sing hymn #294, vv. 1, 3 (“Near the Cross Was Mary Weeping”).
IV. “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Psalm 22:1, Matthew 27:46, Mark 15:34)
Jesus was nailed to the cross at 9:00am. Then starting at 12:00 noon, “there was darkness over all the land” (Mat. 27:45). This lasted for three hours. It was dark through the lightest part of the day. This is when Jesus suffered our hell. This is when He suffered the eternal punishment that we deserve because of our sins. During this time, Jesus felt the full force of His Father’s wrath. God the Father took out His holy anger against sin on His Son, because His Son was made to be our sin (2Co. 5:21).
Suffering those eternal torments, Jesus cried out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” How could the Father do this to His own Son? This is the price that had to be paid for your sin, so you would not have to pay it. This is what it took. It isn’t pretty. It should unsettle you to know how seriously God looks upon sin. Don’t turn your eyes away! This is your sin hanging on that cross. It is also your salvation. We sing hymn #297, vv. 2-3 (“Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted”).
V. “I thirst.” (Psalm 69:21, John 19:29)
The next words of Jesus come from the 69th Psalm. There it says, “You know my reproach, and my shame and my dishonor; my foes are all known to you. Reproaches have broken my heart, so that I am in despair. I looked for pity, but there was none, and for comforters, but I found none. They gave me poison for food, and for my thirst they gave me sour wine to drink” (vv. 19-21). This Psalm expresses Jesus’ anguish as He suffered hell on the cross. No one was there to comfort Him; He suffered alone. But now His suffering was coming to an end. And “to fulfill the Scripture” (Joh. 19:28), Jesus said, “I thirst.” He had consumed the cup of His Father’s wrath; He had emptied it to the bottom (Mat. 26:39,42).
Instead of this cup of suffering, the Lord now offers you the cup of salvation. He gives His own precious blood for you to drink, and His own holy body for you to eat. He received “sour wine” for His thirst (Joh. 19:29). You receive the sweet wine of His forgiveness, along with His promise of a hunger-free, thirst-free eternity in heaven. We sing hymn #331, vv. 8-9 (“A Lamb Goes Uncomplaining Forth”).
VI. “It is finished!” (John 19:30, also Matthew 27:50, Mark 15:37, Luke 23:46)
Six hours on the cross—three of them in darkness—was that enough? Was Justice satisfied? Was the redemption of sinners accomplished? With a loud cry, Jesus said, “It is finished!” He did not say, “I’ve done My part, now you do yours!” He said the work is complete. Salvation does not require His works plus your works, His righteousness plus your righteousness. He did it all. All of it is yours by faith in Him.
But that does not mean you should feel secure in your sins. You should not think that you can do whatever you want and live however you like, since salvation does not depend on you. Jesus died on the cross to free you from sin, not to free you to sin. He broke the chains of your sin and death, so you could live for Him in His kingdom.
Looking upon the crucified Christ, no one should be prideful about his own goodness. And no one should despair because of his own sins. Jesus speaks these words, “It is finished!” for all people. Jesus willingly went to the cross for you. He is ever ready to forgive you and strengthen you for His blessed service. We sing hymn #284, vv. 2-3 (“Go to Dark Gethsemane”).
VII. “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.” (Psalm 31:5, Luke 23:46)
With His final words, Jesus gives words to the faithful that they can confidently use at their death. Before breathing His last, Jesus said, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.” No longer was He forsaken by His Father. His work to save sinners was complete. But He still had to die. His soul had to separate from His body and be committed to His Father’s keeping, just as yours will be at your death.
Your life and death are completely in the hands of the Lord. Even Jesus’ own life was not taken from Him by the chief priests, scribes, and Pharisees, or by the Roman authorities. He very clearly stated, “I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father” (Joh. 10:17-18). Jesus laid down His life on Good Friday, but He would soon take it up again. So you also remain in the Lord’s keeping both in life and in death. We sing hymn #337, vv. 5-8 (“Our Blessed Savior Seven Times Spoke”).
+ + +
(“Cristo Crucificado” painting by Diego Velázquez, 1632)
The Sixth Sunday after Trinity
Text: St. Matthew 5:20-26
In Christ Jesus, who gives the rich blessings of salvation to sinners at no cost to them, dear fellow redeemed:
When you see a penny on the ground, do you stoop down to pick it up? A recent survey (YouGov) indicates that older Americans value the penny more than younger Americans do. 70% of people over age 55 said they would pick up a penny, while less than 40% in their teens and twenties would do so. Overall, more than half the people surveyed said they would not bother with a penny. They figure it isn’t worth the effort. It is not valuable enough to them.
This is similar to the way many people think of the Gospel, the good news of salvation through Jesus. For many, the Gospel is not worth more than a passing glance. It has no great effect on their daily lives. It hardly figures into their work and plans. For those that do bother to take a closer look at it, it is often easily set aside or forgotten. Even by many Christians, the Gospel is not seen as essential for our life. “What Jesus did was important,” they say, “but what matters the most now is how I live.” Instead of seeking refuge in the Gospel, these individuals try to find comfort in the Law.
This temptation to draw our confidence from the Law instead of the Gospel is something that every Christian has fallen for. We look to separate the so-called “good Christians” from the “bad Christians” by the fruits they produce. This is not entirely off-base. Jesus plainly taught that “no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its own fruit” (Lk. 6:43-44). So then the thinking goes that if I do good things, I must be a good tree, and if I do bad things, I must be a bad tree. But who decides what counts as “good” and what counts as “bad”?
What happens is that each person decides in his or her own mind what is “good” and “bad,” and the definition is always skewed. I will naturally define as “good” the way I live my life and how I like to operate. On the other hand, my definition of “bad” is when other people do things I don’t like or when they contradict or criticize my plans and desires. But a self-made set of principles or rules to live by, is no way to produce the righteousness that God requires.
Jesus said, “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” The scribes and Pharisees were regarded as the “holy people” among the Jews. They followed the rules. They set the standard. But theirs was an empty righteousness. Their obedience to God’s Law was only external; it did not come from hearts of faith. They were something like our Amish neighbors, who are careful to follow strict rules of lifestyle and behavior, and who imagine that it is this which pleases God.
But Jesus said that the righteousness that gains the kingdom of heaven must exceed such outward righteousness. No matter how “good” a person is, it is not enough. God requires perfection—perfect righteousness in everything we think, do, and say. To test His listeners to see how they thought of themselves, Jesus applied the Ten Commandments in ways the people were not used to hearing. To begin with, Jesus said that it is not simply murderers who fall under the condemnation of the Fifth Commandment. It is also those who store up anger toward someone, or who refuse to admit the wrongs they have done.
Then He taught about the Sixth Commandment that it is broken not just by those who commit adultery, but also by those who have lustful thoughts about someone else (Mt. 5:27-30), and by those who stubbornly file for divorce (vv. 31-32). The Second and Eighth Commandments are broken by taking foolish oaths (vv. 33-37). The Fifth Commandment is again broken by those who seek revenge (vv. 38-42), and who think it is proper to “love your neighbor and hate your enemy” (v. 43). But Jesus said that children of God should “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (v. 44).
These examples are enough to show us how much we lack the righteousness God requires of us. If we imagine that we are “good enough” to get into heaven by our own works, we will pay the eternal consequence for this arrogant thinking. Jesus says that not one bit of God’s Law is considered fulfilled by us unless all of it is kept (5:18). And if it is not all kept, eternal payment is required. We might not care about a penny on the ground, but the righteous God demands a full payment for our sins, even down to “the last penny.”
If our sins were pennies, the last thing we would want to do is gather them up. We usually act like they are not even there. When we do feel guilty about one sin or another, we just let them be or kick them aside and hope that time will wash them away. But if our sins were collected day by day, throughout our lives, this would be no small amount. Our sins are like piles—or more likely, mountains—of pennies that cannot be pushed aside and that keep us from reaching our heavenly goal. We wish we could forget about our sin, but like a financial debt, it doesn’t just go away. The wages of sin must be paid (Rom. 6:23), and we haven’t got the funds.
This is why the Gospel is nothing to take for granted or ignore. The Gospel is the good news of what Jesus did to save us. He said, “I have not come to abolish [the Law or the Prophets] but to fulfill them” (Mt. 5:17). He did not come to change God’s standard of perfection or to remove it. As we can see by today’s reading, He put a sharper point on the Law than people were accustomed to (7:28-29). He wanted to show that no one has produced the righteousness God requires. None can get to heaven on their own. Another must do for us what we cannot do.
The Apostle Paul wrote that “you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2Cor. 8:9). How was our Lord rich? He was rich in righteousness and life. From eternity, God the Son shared perfection and glory with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. It was in His image of perfect righteousness that God created man and woman. When Adam and Eve sinned, they lost their holiness and were separated from God. But God still loved them and all who would be born from them. He promised to send a Savior.
This Savior was God’s Son, born of the Virgin Mary. He came in total humility, not making full and constant use of His divine power. He subjected Himself to the requirements of the Law and diligently kept it in every detail. He did this for you and me. He kept God’s Law in our place, so that we might inherit His eternal riches. “For our sake [God] made [Christ] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (5:21). Our sins were placed on Jesus like an immeasurable weight of bag after bag of pennies, and He accounted for each of our terrible sins through His suffering and death. He also now places His perfect righteousness on us and on all who believe in Him. He was rich and became poor, so that we who were spiritually impoverished would become rich.
The riches of righteousness and life that He produced are all we need. They are our only hope for salvation. They are the only lifeline there is between us and God. What Jesus has done, the Holy Spirit graciously brings to us through Word and Sacraments. Through the Law, He impresses upon us our great debt of sin and our need for salvation. Through the Gospel, He brings us the full forgiveness of our sins and strengthens our faith in Jesus.
We are saved entirely by grace, and not by our own righteousness. The place for our works is not in earning or contributing toward our salvation. We live according to God’s will and want to keep His Commandments out of love for Him and out of thankfulness for His grace. We do not carry the burden of having to prove ourselves to God, or of trying to win His favor. We are already righteous in His sight by faith in His Son. We will enter the kingdom of heaven because of Jesus’ righteousness, because He did for us what we could not do.
So the question that every sinner should be concerned with is this: In What Do You Put Your Trust? If your trust is in your own righteousness, then the words of Paul to the Galatians apply to you, “You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace” (Gal. 5:4). But if your trust is in Christ alone, in Jesus only, then your righteousness does exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees, because then you have Jesus’ righteousness credited to you.
Whether or not you make it a habit to pick up pennies off the ground is up to you. But if you do, take a moment to read our national motto printed there, “In God We Trust.” Think of why the true God is to be trusted, and think of what any alternative to His grace would be. Then humbly repent of your sins and hold tightly to His promises. Say with the psalmist, “In You, O LORD, I put my trust; Let me never be ashamed; Deliver me in Your righteousness” (Ps. 31:1, NKJV). With such a faith, you will receive rich blessings from a gracious God, who loves you and gave Himself for you.
+ + +
(painting of “The Sermon on the Mount” by Rudolf Yelin the Older, 1912)
The Fifth Sunday of Easter – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. John 16:5-15
In Christ Jesus, whose saving gifts are imparted to us by the Holy Spirit through the powerful means of grace, dear fellow redeemed:
Like the words of the Holy Gospel for last Sunday, Jesus spoke the words of today’s text the night before His crucifixion. After about three years of public work, the crowning moment of His life was fast approaching. He was about to shed His holy blood for the salvation of sinners before rising again on the third day. But in this part of His discourse with His disciples, He wanted to prepare them for what would happen after His resurrection.
He said, “I am going to Him who sent Me.” He planned to return to the Father from whom He came. This was good news, but the disciples did not realize it. The return of Christ to His Father could only mean that God the Father accepted the work of His Son. It must mean that there was nothing more for sinners to do to gain their salvation. The work was finished; salvation had been won.
This return to His Father happened when Jesus ascended into heaven forty days after His resurrection. At His ascension, God the Father seated Him at His right hand, putting all things under His feet and giving Him as head over all things to the church (Eph. 1:22). From this position of all power and authority, God the Son in cooperation with His Father sent out the third Person of the Trinity, God the Holy Spirit. And what was the Holy Spirit to do? Jesus said, “He will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.”
He must “convict the world concerning sin,” because no person by nature wants to admit his sins. Instead of acknowledging sin, many decide to embrace it. Some do this in violation of their conscience—they know something is wrong, but they do it anyway. Others sin in ignorance—they actually do not realize that what they are doing or saying is displeasing to God. The Holy Spirit works on both kinds of people to convince them of the unchanging standard of God’s moral law.
The reason He must do this is because sin acts like a depressant, like a drug, which slowly lulls the sinner to spiritual sleep. The more we participate in a wrong thing, the more we continue in it, the less we will be aware that it is wrong. Our spiritual life is one example of this. It is easy to think that we are getting as much spiritual nourishment as we need through regular or semi-regular church attendance. But what about the other six and a half days of the week? Does God’s Word and prayer have any place in those days?
You might be more knowledgeable about spiritual things than many of your peers. But how do you compare with your parents or grandparents or great-grandparents? Does your focus on spiritual things match what you witnessed in them? Typically, those who do not recognize their own great sinfulness will have little interest in the regular hearing and learning of the Word. They are content to know the basic teachings in the Bible and figure they are in good shape. But a lazy Christian disconnected from the Word is just a small step away from being no Christian at all.
Jesus said, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples” (Jn. 8:31). The Word reveals Jesus. It is the record of the essential details of Jesus’ life and saving work. Everything written about Jesus is true, from what He said to what He did. All of it happened. Many eyewitnesses who had nothing to gain by lying accurately recorded these things. What is found in the Bible is not just some collection of spiritual opinions, which are no more true or valid than the teachings of other religions. The Bible is God’s own Word; it is what He wants every sinner to know and believe.
To know what the Bible says, to learn everything that Jesus did, and then to reject it, is the greatest sin. Jesus says the Holy Spirit “will convict the world concerning sin… because they do not believe in Me.” By rejecting Jesus, the sinner embraces his sin. Only through the blood of Jesus is sin forgiven. If Jesus does not stand between us and God as our Substitute, we will one day have to stand before God on our own. Then all our sins will be counted against us, and eternal torment will be our just reward. But if our trust is in Jesus, our sins will not be counted against us. Then we are credited with the payment Jesus made for sin.
The Holy Spirit works faith through the Gospel only after condemning through the Law. No sinner will look to a Savior if he doesn’t first understand why he needs saving.
The second task of the Holy Spirit is to “convict the world concerning… righteousness.” Jesus explained that the Holy Spirit must do this “because I go to the Father, and you will see Me no longer.” Just as sinners do not naturally understand the depths of their sinfulness, they also do not recognize the poor record of their own attempts at righteousness.
We are far less righteous than we imagine ourselves to be. We judge our righteousness by the wrong standard. We measure our righteousness against the behavior of others. This is what the Pharisee in the temple did. He thanked God that he was not like other men who were robbers, unjust, adulterers, or tax collectors (Lk. 18:11). But righteousness is not determined by sinners comparing themselves to each other. That’s like trying to determine who smells better after playing in the manure pile!
The standard for our righteousness is the perfect God. That is where we should be. We should “be perfect, as [our] heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt. 5:48). But we are not even close to that. This is why God gave His people all those specific regulations for holiness in the Old Testament. It was to show the people the vast gap between their sinfulness and His holiness. It was to teach them to trust in Him alone and not in their own efforts at righteousness. In the final reckoning, our righteousness could never hold up before God. The prophet Isaiah states the matter plainly, “all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment” (64:6).
This explains half the reason for Christ’s coming. He did not come only to atone for our sin. He also came to fulfill all righteousness for us. He came to meet the standard God had set for mankind in His Ten Commandments. He loved the LORD God with all His heart, soul, and mind. He perfectly honored the authorities, helped His neighbor, kept Himself pure, respected the possessions of others, told no lies, and didn’t even desire what belonged to His neighbor.
When you were converted and incorporated into the body of Christ, His perfect righteousness was placed upon you, like a spotless garment covering all your sin. Every sin against God and neighbor that could be counted against you, Jesus replaces with His holiness. You might remember the many sins of your past, but God does not. He sees you through His Son as perfectly righteous and holy.
This does not mean we can stop trying to do the right things, since Jesus accomplished everything perfectly for us. We want to live according to His Word out of love for Him and out of thankfulness for what He has done. But even as the Holy Spirit moves us to do these good things, He guides our focus away from our own works and to the perfect works Jesus did on our behalf.
The third task of the Holy Spirit revealed by Jesus is that “He will convict the world concerning… judgment… because the ruler of this world is judged.” The “ruler of this world” is the devil. He reigns over all that is evil. In his well-known hymn, Martin Luther described Satan as “our ancient foe,” who “doth seek to work us woe; / Strong mail of craft and pow’r / He weareth in this hour; / On earth is not his equal” (ELH 251, v. 1). He is a powerful opponent of the truth. “He is a liar and the father of lies” (Jn. 8:44).
But this prince of darkness is no match for the holy Lord. As hard as he tried, he could not get Jesus off course from what He came to do. Jesus said that “[The devil] has no claim on me, but I do as the Father has commanded me” (Jn. 14:30-31). Satan never had the upper hand. His fate was sealed right after Adam and Eve’s fall when the LORD promised to send One to crush Satan’s head and destroy his power over sinners (Gen. 3:15). The Apostle John wrote that “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1Jn. 3:8).
By His atonement for sin through His death on the cross and by His resurrection from the dead, Jesus did just that. Because your sin has been blotted out, the devil cannot rightfully accuse you anymore. He cannot argue that you belong in the kingdom of darkness, because Jesus has won your salvation. Jesus has brought you over into the kingdom of light.
But all who reject this salvation remain under judgment along with the devil. Unless they repent, they will suffer as he suffers, and they will forever be separated from God. Our merciful Lord does not want this to happen. He “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1Tim. 2:4).
The Holy Spirit guides sinners “into all the truth.” He takes everything Jesus did to produce your righteousness and earn your forgiveness and win your salvation, and He brings it to you through His powerful Word and Sacraments. He takes the blessings that are of the Father and of the Son, and He declares them to you. The Triune God keeps none of these good things from you. What Jesus Won, the Holy Spirit Distributes, so that you may believe and be saved.
+ + +
(picture is stained glass by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, c. 1660)