The Fifth Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Luke 5:1-11
In Christ Jesus, who by the power of His Word “is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think” (Eph. 3:20), dear fellow redeemed:
About the middle of this past week when I was attending our church camp with the youth, Kristin asked me if my time there seemed like work or like a getaway. As much as I enjoy camp—and we do have a good time—I told her that we pastors stay very busy with teaching, preaching, and chaperoning. And it’s not always clear what effect our efforts have. Do the campers leave camp with a clearer understanding of Law and Gospel? Have they grown in their faith? Has their love for God and for each other increased? Those things are difficult to measure.
We live in a results-driven society where everything gets measured. The success of a sports franchise is determined by how many titles it has won. Businesses are constantly doing cost and profit analyses to find their way in the market. Individuals are judged by their grades and their personal accomplishments. Even churches fall into the “results” trap and measure the effectiveness of their mission by their attendance totals or by how significant their financial holdings are.
Judged by this kind of standard, we would conclude that Simon, James, and John were not the greatest fishermen. They worked all through the night and didn’t catch a thing. What was the problem? Were their methods faulty? Had they chosen the wrong parts of the lake? Did they try at the wrong time? What exactly was keeping them from success?
But the message of today’s Gospel is not a tutorial from Jesus about how to maximize one’s success at fishing or anything else. The message is that no matter what skill and effort we might apply in our work, no matter what plans we make and what success we have had in the past, we cannot accomplish anything good apart from God’s mercy and the blessing of His Word.
The fishermen hadn’t done anything wrong in their approach to catching fish. They had been fishing for a long time, probably since they were kids. They wouldn’t stay up all night fishing unless they felt confident that the fish they would catch would outweigh the lack of sleep. They couldn’t explain why their nets came up empty. For whatever reason, the fish just weren’t there. They must have felt frustrated as they cleaned their nets on the shore. And tired.
But then something happened to take their attention away from their troubles. A great crowd had gathered on the lake shore. The people were listening to Jesus, that prophet from Nazareth, whom John the Baptizer identified as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (Joh. 1:29). Everyone wanted to hear Jesus and get a good look at Him, so they pressed toward Him. It was similar to how people act around a famous person today, all crowding in to get a picture or an autograph.
Jesus decided that a change was needed, so the people could focus on His Word and not on how close they could get to Him. He saw fishing boats on the shore and asked Simon to take Him out a little ways. From His place in the boat, He continued teaching with Simon sitting there listening. When He was done speaking, He told Simon to row to a deeper part of the lake and let down his nets for a catch.
Conventional wisdom said that if the fish couldn’t be caught the previous night, they certainly couldn’t be caught that day. Simon said to Jesus, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing!” But he had been listening to what Jesus was saying that morning. He recognized that Jesus was a prophet of some sort. “[A]t Your word I will let down the nets,” he said.
He was shocked to see the fish swarming, the nets breaking, and the boats filling. Simon cast out the nets just as he had the night before. The method hadn’t changed. But now he had an abundance of fish whereas before he had none. What was the difference? The difference was the Word of Jesus. Jesus spoke the Word, and He gave the increase. Jesus gave success to Simon. Jesus put fish in the boats.
This should teach us to put our trust in the Lord’s Word. Look at what His Word accomplished! It moved the disciples to action even after their previous efforts had failed. It filled the nets that before had come up empty. And it caused them to leave behind their historic haul of fish to follow Jesus. His Word continues to do amazing things like these each and every day. The problem is that we don’t recognize the hand God has in supplying our daily needs and giving us success.
We imagine that our work succeeds because of how gifted we are and because of how hard we try. “Look at what I have accomplished,” we think. “Look at what my hands have built.” But if we take all the glory for our successes, don’t we deserve all the blame for our failures? That’s not often how it goes. We are glad to receive praise for the good things, but we quickly pass the blame for the bad things.
Or maybe we do see our failure in earthly things as proof that we are no good. We imagine that God frowns on us and that He must be punishing us. We approach our work with a defeatist attitude. “Why should I even try? It isn’t going to work anyway. If it failed once, it will certainly fail again.”
Both of those perspectives are sinful—the idea that everything good we have is a result of our efforts, and the idea that we’re better off not trying anymore when we have failed. Simon was right to fall down before Jesus and acknowledge his sins. Each of us should do the same. We should recognize and acknowledge every day that we are sinners.
When our prideful or despairing hearts have been pierced by the Law of God, the difference between His holiness and our sinfulness couldn’t be more obvious. We see that even our best moments in life did not put us close to the glory of God. The thought that we could ever be good enough to get ourselves to heaven is an outright lie of the devil, and it destroys saving faith.
Simon had just pulled in the greatest catch of fish that he had ever seen, but when he realized what had happened, his eyes shifted to Jesus. And when he saw Jesus, he felt as though all his sins were laid bare before the almighty God. He wanted to hide. “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord,” he said. “I am not worthy to be in Your presence. I am not worthy to receive Your gifts.”
Simon was right about that. But Jesus did not leave him. He said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” Simon did not have to fear the wrath of God. Jesus had come to save sinners. He had come to atone for Simon’s sins and to give Simon special work—the work of preaching the Word of Jesus. Jesus’ Word which had filled Simon’s nets with fish would also fill God’s nets with repentant believers.
This is a net you want to be caught in, and which you are in through the saving Word. You were lost in the darkness, living without hope or a purpose like so many in the world today. And God drew you to Himself with the net of His Word. He called you out of darkness. He brought you forgiveness and life in the calm waters of Baptism. He claimed you as His own, and He still claims you.
But as you look back through your life, you know how much time you have wasted in pursuing your own plans. You know how prideful you have been when you have done well, and how you have failed to give glory to God for your success. And you know how easily you have given up when everything didn’t work out just the way you wanted. What kind of servant are you in the Lord’s kingdom? Why should He look kindly upon you? You can understand why Simon said, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”
But Jesus says, “Do not be afraid; I forgive you all your sins. I died and rose again for you. I will not depart from you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.” His Word of grace restores you. It lifts you out of your sin and despair. It shifts your focus from the gifts to the Giver, from your successes to your Savior, from the nets full of blessings to the One who fills them.
And when you recognize that The Word of God Gives the Increase, then you are ready for the work He has called you to do. You are ready to give your best to your family and your employer, knowing that God has called you to these vocations and will bless your efforts. You are ready to work humbly, knowing that you do not deserve either the opportunities you have or the success.
All the good things you have in this life and in the life to come are from the powerful Word of God. The Word He has spoken makes the sun shine, the rain fall, and the plants grow. His Word brought about your existence through the union of your parents and keeps you going. His Word gives life all around the world. Hebrews 1 says that the Son of God “upholds the universe by the word of his power” (v. 3). And His Word brought the light of faith to your heart and makes your faith strong.
The Word of God can do what we consider impossible. It works even when the conditions don’t seem right and conventional wisdom says it will fall flat. The Word changes hearts. It comforts consciences. It is always effective. That means as the Word continues to be in your ears, in your mind, and in your heart, God will bring blessings in all that you do.
These blessings are not measurable according to the standards of the world. God’s Word may not appear to make much difference. But God is constantly at work through His Word. He promises that His Word will not return to Him empty, and that He will continue to give us blessing upon blessing each and every day.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
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(picture of the miraculous catch of fish by Raphael, 1515)
Midweek Lent – Pr. Faugstad homily
Text: St. John 19:30
In Christ Jesus, who never leaves a duty undone or a promise unkept, dear fellow redeemed:
The sixth word of Jesus from the cross is very short. We have it in English as three words: “It is finished!” But in Aramaic, Latin, and Greek, it is just one word. Scholars think that Jesus would have spoken this word in Aramaic from the cross. That word was most likely mashalam or shelim, which is a form of the word for peace. “Peace is accomplished!” In Latin, the word is consummatum and in Greek, tetelestai. One word, one very important word.
What did Jesus mean by this word? What exactly was He saying was finished? He wasn’t talking about being done with the sour wine. He wasn’t talking about His life either, since He did not give up His spirit until after speaking. The word He used meant that something had been done and would remain that way. It was finished, and it still is.
Jesus provided a clue when He used the same word with His disciples a short time before this. He told them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished” (Luk. 18:31). The word He used for “will be accomplished” is a form of the same word He spoke from the cross. What will be accomplished now is. It is finished!
Jesus had accomplished “everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets.” The Old Testament prophets had written about how the Son of Man “will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him” (vv. 32-33). All of this suffering was written about Jesus before He lived it. It was all there.
The first hint of His suffering was announced in the Garden of Eden. The LORD said to the lying serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Gen. 3:15). The woman’s offspring was the Christ. He would crush Satan’s head, and in doing so, His heel would be bruised. That bruise was His suffering and death on the cross.
It took a long time for God’s promise to be fulfilled. It took so long that many people wondered if God would do what He said He would. Where was the snake-stomping Savior? Where was mankind’s redemption? Where was the victory? God knew His people. He knew they would have doubts. He knew they would grow impatient and lose hope. So He repeated the promise and kept repeating it. He spoke it to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He spoke it to David and Solomon. He spoke it through prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah.
And now the time had come. The promise would be fulfilled. “[E]verything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished.” Jesus was mocked and abused and spit upon and flogged and nailed to a cross. Was this the plan? How could this turn into victory? But it was victory. While Jesus cried out in anguish under the crushing weight of our sins, the devil’s head was simultaneously being crushed under His heal.
Jesus was paying for the very sins that the devil loves to hold over your head and throw in your face. There on the cross is the answer for your guilty conscience. There is the answer for your shame. There is the answer for the sins you have regretted ever since you did them. Jesus suffered hell for those sins. You can’t make up for them, but Jesus could. He could ransom His sinless life for your sinful one to the Father.
And it didn’t just count for you; it counted for every sinner. He “gave himself as a ransom for all” (1Ti. 2:6). If you are included in that word “all,” then Jesus suffered and died for you. Then He paid for all your sins. He didn’t miss even one— not the sins of your hands, not the sins of your mouth, not the sins of your mind. I can speak this so confidently, so certainly, because of the sixth word Jesus spoke from the cross: “It is finished!”
Everything that had to be suffered for you was suffered. Everything that had to be paid for you was paid. Everything that had to be done for you was done. All of it was for you, to reconcile you with the holy God. The apostle Peter, the same Peter who denied knowing Jesus at the time of His most terrible anguish, wrote, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1Pe. 3:18).
The Christ suffered once for Peter’s sins, once for your sins, once for my sins, once for the sins of the whole world. He fulfilled His Father’s will on the cross. He proved definitely that God keeps His promises. “[E]verything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished,” said Jesus. And it was.
There is no better news than this news. That’s why the devil attacks it so ferociously. He knows what Jesus did on the cross. The Lamb of God shed His blood to wash away all sin. That means the devil cannot rightfully accuse us anymore (Rev. 12:10-11). What sins can he point to if they were all atoned for on the cross?
So the devil tries to trick us and tempt us away from Jesus. “Oh, you have messed up too badly,” he says. “How could God ever forgive you for that? You knew that what you were doing was wrong, and you did it anyway!” Or he tries the opposite approach: “You aren’t that bad. Jesus didn’t really have to go through all that for you. Just focus on being a good person, and God will be happy with you.”
When we see what Jesus did on the cross, we should neither despair nor be prideful. Yes, Jesus was nailed to the cross for your sins, but He went there willingly. He wanted to take the punishment for your sins, so you wouldn’t have to. But if you think your sins are not all that many or all that serious, look closer at the spotless Lamb brutally beaten and pinned to a cross. Even if no one else in the world needed Him to suffer and die in their place, your sins alone were enough to put Him there. He was there for you.
That means His word from the cross was spoken for you: mashalam! consummatum! tetelestai! That word is the power behind the means of grace. The pastor can declare by the authority of God and by his holy office that your sins are forgiven because Jesus said, “It is finished!” Because He said, “It is finished!” you can be certain that His body and blood given to you in the Supper is “for the remission of your sins.”
The work to save your soul and redeem you from eternal death was completed on the cross. If this work were in your hands to do, it would never be done. But because Jesus, Son of Man and Son of God, took on this work, it was finished, and it stands finished forever and ever. Thanks be to God. Amen.
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(picture from Isenheim Altarpiece by Matthias Grunewald, c. 1510)
Midweek Lent – Vicar Abraham Faugstad homily
Text: St. Luke 23:39-43
Dear Fellow Redeemed,
To the world, we Christians have an odd picture and understanding of our Lord on the cross. Why would we have crosses in our Church? Why would we wear it on our neck and put it in our home? The very thing which represents our dear Lord’s death. Even at the time of Christ, the cross symbolized defeat, humiliation, and shameful degradation. It was considered impolite to even mention the cross in polite Roman circles. To soften the severity of the word, many would refer to it as “the unlucky tree.”
The interaction between Jesus and the repentant thief shows us how we should view the unlucky tree. First, it reminds us that through the unlucky tree of the Garden, paradise was lost for all mankind when Adam partook of its fruit. But also through the unlucky tree of the cross, we see that paradise was won for all people through Christ.
I. Shows us our sin
It may be that, at least initially, both thieves mocked Jesus and ridiculed him as they were led with him to Calvary. They joined in with those who were insulting Jesus: the soldiers, the Pharisees, and the crowd. Mirroring the other taunts, the first thief mocks Him, “If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us.” Jesus makes no reply. He doesn’t try to justify himself against these unfounded words. He was silent, fulfilling the words that the prophet Isaiah foretold, “He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He opened not His mouth” (53:7).
Both thieves mocked Christ, but one repented. As the thief witnessed and heard Jesus’ comforting words to the mourning women on the way to Golgotha, and saw all the pain and slander Jesus bore with patience, and how with meekness he even prayed for his enemies, through all of this the Holy Spirit was working faith in him. And as was the Roman custom, they came to put a sheet of paper above the cross to list all of the reasons for criminal’s sentence. As the thief looked up at his own, he knew he was guilty of them all. But then he looked over at Jesus’ sentence, the inscription with the reasons for his punishment, “The King of the Jews.”
So the penitent thief rebukes the other, “Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation?” As if saying, don’t you realize that only in a few hours you will have to stand before God our maker? Then the thief goes on to this frank and honest confession. “And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.”
The Holy Spirit led him to true repentance, and he does the same with us. As the thief knew the accusations against him were true, so also must we admit that we justly deserve the sentence of hell for our deeds. When our first parents fell into sin, death spread to all men because all sinned (Rom 5:12). We aren’t only sinful by nature, but each day we add to the list of our sins. There is no more room on the paper above our heads for our sins! We often try to belittle our sin and make it seem like it is not that big of a deal. At least we aren’t like so and so! But that would be a mistake because the things we have done, the sins we have committed, are real sins against God. Sin that sent Jesus to the cross. It’s our sin that was taunting Jesus on his way to the cross, it’s our sin which nailed his hands and his feet, it’s our sin which pushed the crown of thorns into his head, it’s our sin. The example of the thief on the cross doesn’t teach us to wait until the end to repent. When we realize our sin, we are to repent of it. 1 John states, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1:8).
II. The unlucky tree gives us confidence through Christ
But, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” This confession is only possible through faith in Jesus, which is a gift from God. The thief had lived a terrible life. Crucifixion was kept for the worst of criminals. He was likely a murderer and by no means a model citizen. But the Holy Spirit worked faith, so that he recognized his sin and repented. This is the first part of repentance—sorrow over sin. But the thief also demonstrated the second part of repentance, faith in Jesus. He trusted that Jesus could take away his sins. Despite His bloody outward humiliation, the criminal confessed Jesus as his Lord and King, and asked that He would remember him in his Kingdom.
Jesus, in the face of all the taunts and mockery, remained silent. He made no reply to all of the taunts. But to the plea of the repentant thief, a contrite criminal, Jesus answered him without delay. He didn’t hesitate. He did NOT keep silent, but said, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”
The first Adam outstretched his hand to the fruit of the forbidden tree and brought death to all people; the Second Adam stretched out His hands on the tree of the cross, paying for all our guilt, that a repentant thief might have the gates of Paradise opened to him. Jesus, with His perfect suffering and death on the cross, opened wide the gate to heaven—the gate to paradise. Jesus uses the same word which described the Garden of Eden— showing the dying man and us today that the beauty of Eden has been restored for us. Jesus had undone all that the first Adam had done. The first Adam had brought death to all through a living tree, but Jesus brought life to all people through the dead tree of the cross. He has earned forgiveness and salvation for all the world. There is now no sin too great to close the gate. Paradise has been opened wide!
Christ’s words to the thief, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise,” are the most comforting words that he could have heard because he knew that he would soon die, the soldiers knew their mortal business, but now he knew God’s plan for him. That day his bitter suffering would be over, and he would be with Jesus in the Kingdom of Glory. Now death for him had lost its sting.
The admission of the criminal into heaven shows that there is no need for any of us to despair over our sins. Christ has wiped our sin-filled slate clear by nailing them to the cross (Col 2:14). Our guilty conscience is cleansed through faith in Christ, who has nailed the handwriting of our guilt to the cross. A wonderful comfort for all time and eternity. Surely, there are trials, struggles, and sorrows all the way of our lives. There may be times when the weight seems too much to bear. But regardless of our burdens, we are assured that heaven is our destination, heaven is our home because of Jesus. The sorrows in this life can’t compare to the glories which are reserved for us there. Even now the same Lord Jesus who prepared Paradise for us, is with us in every need, giving us the strength to do all things through Him through Word and Sacrament.
When our last hour is close at hand, we need not fear. Jesus who has defeated death will be right beside us. To comfort and defend us. As the hymnist writes (ELH 481:5),
But Christ is with me through the strife,
And He will bear me into life,
And open heaven before me
The Lord’s second word from the cross explains why Christians treasure the cross. It’s why we put it in our churches and homes. The cross of Christ is the surest proof for our salvation. On the cross, Jesus paid for the sin of the thief and for the whole world, for me and for you, so that when our last hour is close at hand, we are comforted with these same words, “Today, you will be with me in Paradise.” Amen.
(picture from Isenheim Altarpiece by Matthias Grunewald, c. 1510)
The First Sunday after Michaelmas (Trinity 19) – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Matthew 9:1-8
In Christ Jesus, who went to the cross bearing our sin and guilt, and who now declares us innocent of all wrongdoing through His Word of absolution, dear fellow redeemed:
Sometimes our mistakes leave marks that are visible to others. A few years ago, an NFL player was playing with fireworks. One of them went off in his hand and caused extensive damage to his fingers. His injury is a constant reminder to himself and others of the mistake he made. But most of our mistakes, most of our sins, do not leave visible marks. Most of the time, we are able to cover up our sins, and no one ever knows about them but ourselves.
And as long as no one ever finds out, it’s like the sin never actually happened, right? This is what we tell ourselves. It starts when we see something we want. We make sure no one else is around. We check over our shoulders and check again. Then we indulge ourselves. The pattern is the same whether it is a child sneaking cookies, someone looking at explicit content on his smartphone, or an employee stealing things at work. “As long as I don’t get caught, then everything is okay.”
But of course everything is not okay. We might have been able to hide our sin from others, but we can’t hide it from ourselves. We see it. It plays over and over again in our mind. We wish we hadn’t done it, but we can’t take it back. We want to come clean, but we can’t bear the thought of other people knowing our deep flaws. How do we deal with these invisible scars? How do we deal with the guilt of our own sins? Today’s Gospel reading shows us the way forward.
We hear about a paralyzed man. We’re not told how he got that way. It could have been an accident that was totally out of his control. Or maybe it was because of reckless behavior. Whatever the cause, this young man had some dedicated friends. Four friends carried him on a bed to the house where Jesus was preaching, but they could not make their way inside. The crowd was too large. So they climbed up on the roof and removed enough of the clay roof tiles, so they could lower the paralyzed man before Jesus.
Imagine the scene: Jesus is preaching, and everyone’s attention is fixed on Him. Then there are footsteps above on the roof. Then pieces of dust and dirt and clay start showering down on people’s heads. Everyone looks up, probably Jesus too. Then blue sky, the room gets brighter, and heads peer down from a hole in the ceiling. Then a large object fills the space and is lowered down through the opening. What a scene!
Now put yourself in the place of the paralyzed man. You’re up pretty high. There’s nothing you can do but trust your friends to hang on and not drop you. You inch lower and lower, looking to see past the edge of your bed at the people in the room. And then Jesus comes in view. What is the look on His face? Is it irritation? Surprise? Anger? No, the look on His face is warm concern; it’s compassion.
What would you say to Jesus if you had His attention like this, looking Him right in the eye? What would you say if it were just the two of you with no one else around? We have rehearsed this before. When the troubles in our lives keep getting worse and nothing is going the way it should, we want to ask Him why. Doesn’t He see? Doesn’t He care? Why doesn’t He help? We wonder why He doesn’t take away our pain, make everything better. We think of all the things we would say to Him face-to-face if only we had the chance.
Perhaps it was the same for the paralyzed man. Maybe he wondered why he should have to suffer like this. Why him and not everyone else around him? But when the opportunity finally arrived, he said nothing. Nothing needed to be said. Jesus knew. He knew the hardships of this young man. He knew the deep concern of those who brought him. He knew what brought them to Him. “[W]hen Jesus saw their faith—the faith of the friends and of the man set before Him—“He said to the paralytic, ‘Take heart, My son; your sins are forgiven.’”
Is that what the man needed the most? It seems like what he needed most was physical healing. He needed to be able to walk again, so he would no longer be such a burden on his friends. But that was not his greatest need. We don’t know the young man’s history. We don’t know what troubles he had faced, what anguish he had felt, what guilt weighed down on him. If we knew about his past, maybe we would think he deserved his paralysis. Maybe we would think he should have neither spiritual nor physical relief.
But the Lord is ever merciful and gracious. He constantly gives the opposite of what is deserved. The times that we get angry with Jesus or question Him are the times that we think He is failing us. He is not giving us what we believe we deserve. That is dangerous territory. We are not entitled to anything from God. We don’t deserve anything good from Him. We deserve to be punished for our sins. We deserve eternal damnation.
But that is not what Jesus gives us. He lets us bring all our grievances to Him, and then He meets us not with anger or with annoyance. He meets us with absolution. He comes to us with grace. “Take heart, My child,” He says; “your sins are forgiven.” What sins of the paralyzed man did He forgive? The sins that only He could see, sins that we know nothing about. And what sins of yours does He forgive? Only the ones He can see.
Which sins are these? We ask that question in our Catechism. The answer is the sins that we commit in every area of our lives—the sins we commit as fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, employers and employees; the sins of our disobedience, dishonesty, laziness; the sins of unkind speech and hurtful action; sins of neglect, wastefulness, and so on.
Many of these sins only you know about. Only you know the depth of your sinfulness, the darkness that clouds your love for God and neighbor. Only you know the extent of your selfishness, your pride, and your judgmental attitude toward others. But today’s reading shows that Another knows.
When Jesus forgave the paralyzed man his sins, the scribes and Pharisees thought to themselves, “This man is blaspheming! Only God can forgive sins, and this man is not God!” They did not say this out loud. No one could have known what was in their hearts, no one except Jesus. “Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, ‘Why do you think evil in your hearts?’”
Just as He could see faith in the paralyzed man and his friends, so He could see sin and unbelief in the scribes and Pharisees. Nothing is hidden from Him. “Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the LORD. Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the LORD” (Jer. 23:24). The Lord sees. He sees all. That is terrifying. It means He knows all the sins that we have carefully tried to hide from others.
But this is also comforting. Because the Lord knows all my wrongs, I don’t have to try to hide them. I don’t have to carry my burden of guilt. I can own up to them, admit them. I can hand them over to Him. That’s exactly what we do when we confess our sins. We pull them out in the open. We bring them into the light. And we leave them there for Jesus to deal with.
And Jesus says, “I’ll gladly take them. I will take them away.” But He doesn’t take them somewhere and bury them where they might be found again and brought against us. He took your sins to Himself, and He erased them and all the evidence of them. The trail of evidence leading to your sinfulness goes to the cross, and it stops there. The evidence never points to you, because Jesus blotted out all evidence of your sinning with His holy blood.
On the cross, Jesus suffered only for the sins of yours that He knew about, only for the ones He could see. And He saw them all. He suffered and died for the sins you have never told another soul about. He suffered and died for the sins you have convinced yourself are unforgiveable. He forgives them. He paid for those sins.
When He looks at you, He does not see your sins anymore. He sees His dear child. He does not ask for anything. He does not seek payment or proof that you know how badly you messed up. He looks at you with mercy and compassion and says, “Your sins are forgiven! Rise up and go your way.”
This is the message that He has sent me, your pastor, to proclaim. The crowds were right to “[glorify] God, who had given such authority to men,” because He has. He has given His church the authority to forgive sins, and that forgiveness is announced publicly by your pastor. I have been around you long enough to see some of your sins, just as you have seen some of mine. But when I or the vicar speak the absolution, we speak the forgiveness of all sin, even the sins nobody else knows about.
Jesus knows your sins even better than you do, because He suffered in anguish paying for each and every one on the cross. The absolution that you hear today is a constant pointing to His sacrifice. And if His absolution does not settle the question in your mind about whether or not He forgives your sin, He also invites you to His table. There He places His own holy body and blood in your mouth, and He tells you what that faithful eating and drinking is for—“for the remission of your sins.”
You see your sins, but Jesus does not see them anymore. He forgives them.
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 woodcut by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, 1794-1872)
Good Friday – Pr. Faugstad homily
What would your life be like without Good Friday? What if you knew nothing about God the Father sending His only-begotten Son out of love for the fallen world? What if you didn’t know that Jesus willingly went to the cross for you, carrying your sins, so that He might take the punishment you deserved? What if you didn’t know you are righteous in God’s sight because of what Jesus accomplished?
Your life would be very different. You would have nothing but this life in this world. You would have no clear purpose for why you are here, no obvious motivation for putting others before yourself, and no reason to conclude that your life matters in any meaningful way. You could spend your time trying to get rich, you could maneuver for power and influence, or you could try to satisfy whatever passions you have as much as you can. But none of that holds up when death is staring you right in the face.
Many people carry on without Good Friday. Either they have not heard, or having once heard, now they do not care. God forces no one to believe. He “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1Ti. 2:4). But many are not saved. They reject the holy Word of God. They reject the salvation Jesus won for them.
Because He did win their salvation. He suffered for each and every one of their sins. He endured the horrific fires of hell in their place. He paid their debt. Good Friday wasn’t just for those who would believe in Him. It was for all people, all sinners past, present, and future.
What happened on Good Friday was a balancing of the scales of God’s justice. All the sins of the world were put on one side of the scale, and Jesus was put on the other. How heavy those sins must have been! Who can measure the evil that has been done in the world since time began? How much killing and lying and cheating and taking? How many wicked actions and words? How many evil thoughts? The sin of one human being cannot be measured, much less the collective sins of the world.
And on the other side of the scale was Jesus. He looked so insignificant and small. By the time He came to Golgotha, He could hardly walk. He was bleeding all over His body. His face was bruised and swollen. His breathing was labored. How could this one weak Man do anything about the world’s sin? Well it wasn’t just a Man on the scale. It was God—God clothed in human flesh. A mere man—even a really good one—could not move the balance against one sin. But God could.
When the God-Man stepped on one side of the scale, the other side filled with all our sins started moving. It rose higher and higher until it was clear that Jesus was more than enough. He was sufficient payment for sin. But justice required more than the weight of His person. It required His death. The Son of God had to die on the cross. This holy Lamb had to be sacrificed for all sin.
Think for a moment where God has placed you in this life. He has given you important things to do in your home, your school, your workplace, your community, your church. He has handed you important responsibilities as children, siblings, parents, co-workers, and neighbors. Now think of how you have failed in these areas. Think of the things you have done that make you feel guilty and ashamed. You are not perfect in any way. Your sin has stained every part of your life.
Your sins were there on the scale opposite Jesus. He felt God’s wrath for each of them. He suffered for those sins before God as though He had committed them. So for your hurting and lying and cheating and taking—whatever wrong you have done—, Jesus paid the penalty. He poured out His blood for you, and His blood cleanses you from all sin (1Jo. 1:7).
Jesus applies His cleansing blood in every area of your life. At a crime scene, detectives look for whatever evidence they can find to catch the criminal. But if God looked back at the “crime scene” of all your sins, the only thing He would find is blood—the holy, cleansing blood of His Son which has blotted out all of those sins. The precious blood of Jesus absolves you; it saves you.
By the grace of God, you don’t know what your life would be like without Good Friday. Through faith in Jesus, Every Day Is Good Friday for You. Because of what your Savior has done, your sins are forgiven, and eternal life in heaven is yours. Thanks be to God! Amen.
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(picture from “Cristo Crucificado” by Diego Velázquez, 1632)
Midweek Lent – Pr. Faugstad homily
St. Matthew 27:24-26
In Christ Jesus, who saved us from God’s wrath by shedding His blood in our place (Rom. 5:9), dear fellow redeemed:
Blood is absolutely essential to our survival. If we lose our blood, we lose our life. But as important as it is to us, we would rather not see it. We want it to stay inside us, not bleed through to the outside. When we do see blood, it always causes some shock. We react differently when we realize our nose is not running, it is bleeding! And we cry out in alarm when we accidently slice our hand while preparing a meal or working on a project.
We do not purposely make ourselves bleed. But it does happen that one person will inflict wounds on another. The Roman governor Pontius Pilate knew that Jesus’ lifeblood was about to pour out of Him. Pilate knew that Jesus was going to be killed. Even though he tried to wash his hands of Jesus’ blood, it was his order that sent Jesus to the cross. This is why in the Apostles’ Creed we still recall the part he played. We say that Jesus “suffered under Pontius Pilate.”
The sentence being given, Jesus was now treated as a criminal. The Romans had no love for the Jews, so this seemed an excellent opportunity for the Roman soldiers to make an example of one of them. And who better than the one called “The King of the Jews”? They tied Jesus to a pillar and proceeded to whip His back repeatedly. The soldiers used a whip made of leather strips with pieces of bone or metal attached to the ends. The whip cut into Jesus’ back and tore open the flesh. Just one slash would have left life-long scars, and Jesus was whipped over and over again. The pain was excruciating and the blood loss severe.
It makes us shudder to picture it. We can maybe imagine a notorious criminal deserving something like this. But not Jesus. All Jesus had done was help and heal and bless, and now He was being tortured. What an injustice! And yet this was all according to God’s plan. More than 700 years before this, the prophet Isaiah recorded the words of this Suffering Servant: “I gave my back to those who strike” (50:6).
Jesus was not being scourged against His will. He willingly gave His back to those who struck Him. But why would He do that? He did that because He wants you to see the picture painted by the whip. He wants you to read the message in those lines. In those cuts and gouges, He wants your eye to see that glistening red blood pool in the wounds, push outward, and run down from His body.
This is holy blood, cleansing blood; it is the blood of the eternal God! And Jesus let it pour out, in order to atone for all your sins. You see, there was something worse than a whip cutting into Jesus’ back. What cut even deeper and inflicted worse pain on Jesus was your sins.
He was whipped for all the times you took out your anger on someone and wanted to physically harm them. He was whipped for the times you lashed out and used harsh words to cut deep. He was whipped for your hateful thoughts when you breathed out curses for others instead of prayers and blessings. The punishment you deserved for your sins, He took for you.
This horrible punishment and suffering was God’s will for His Son. It was the only way to make payment for our sins. So when we see Jesus suffering, we see at the same time God’s wrath for our sins and we see His love for us. God poured out His wrath against sin on His only Son, and He did it so that we would be saved. In Jesus’ scourging, we see God’s punishment and His grace.
This is made vividly clear in Isaiah 53. It says that our Savior was “stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted” (v. 4). Isaiah does not name the Roman soldiers as the strikers, the smiters, and the afflicters. He says that it was God who did this. Jesus knew it had to be this way. Just a few hours earlier He had prayed, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done” (Luk. 22:42). The cup of suffering could not be removed. It had to happen like this. It was Jesus or us; His back or ours.
Like a parent who might wrap up a child and turn his back toward harm as a shield, Jesus embraced all humanity—the whole sinful world—and exposed His back to the Father’s holy wrath. He shielded us from the perfect anger and just punishment of God. Jesus didn’t deserve it, but He did it out of love for you.
So in those wounds on His back, you should see your sins. They are all reflected in those cuts and gouges and bruises. All of them were put on Jesus—not one missing, not even the ones you still carry with you as a burden of guilt. And Jesus’ precious blood poured out of those countless wounds to wash all your sins away. Because He shed His blood for you, you do not need to fear the wrath of God. You have no sins to suffer for since those sins have already been paid for.
When Pilate declared that he was innocent of Jesus’ blood, the mob stirred up by the Jewish leaders replied, “His blood be on us and on our children!” They were saying that they would accept responsibility for Jesus’ death. They meant to destroy Jesus, but He came to save them. Jesus turns that phrase around for our blessing. He poured out His blood to cover our sins and the sins of our children. His cleansing blood was applied to us at our Baptism, and it is poured into us when we drink from the cup of His Holy Supper.
Jesus let His blood pour out in suffering, and He still pours it out for our spiritual health. His holy blood is our lifeblood that we cannot do without. Jesus “was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed” (Isa. 53:5). Thanks be to God. Amen.
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(picture from “Flagellation of Christ” by Peter Paul Rubens, 1577-1640)
Christmas Eve – Pr. Faugstad Homilies
Text: St. Matthew 1:18-25
I. “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.”
We have no record of Joseph and Mary’s courtship beyond what is recorded by the evangelist Matthew. Some speculate that Joseph was a bit older than Mary and that he may have even been married and had children before. Whatever the case, Joseph and Mary now became betrothed to each other. This was something like our modern practice of engagement. It was a public declaration that they intended to be married. But since they were not married yet, Joseph and Mary did not live in the same house or share a bed.
So imagine Joseph’s surprise when Mary told him she was pregnant! She told Joseph how she had been visited by an angel, who informed her that she would conceive a Son. She was to name Him Jesus. The Lord God would give Him the throne of David, and there would be no end to His kingdom. Mary asked the angel how this was possible since she was a virgin. And the angel said that the Holy Spirit would conceive the Child in her womb (Luk. 1:26-35).
That was a lot to process for Joseph and for Mary too! The only proof Joseph had for any of it was that before long Mary’s womb would grow. What should he do? He decided to call off their marriage quietly. But before he did this, the Lord’s angel now appeared to him in a dream. He verified what Mary had said. Her Child was from the Holy Spirit. The Child in her womb was the Son of God incarnate!
TLH #76, 1-2 / ELH #113, 1-2 – “A Great and Mighty Wonder”
II. “She will bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”
Just as Mary had been directed, the angel told Joseph that her Child should be named Jesus. So the name for this Baby came from God Himself. This name described what the Child would be and what He was sent to do. The name “Jesus” means “the LORD is salvation,” or “the LORD saves.” “[Y]ou shall call His name Jesus,” said the angel, “for He will save His people from their sins.”
So who exactly were “[this Child’s] people”? First of all, they were the Israelites, the Jewish people. As Jesus said years later during His public work, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Mat. 15:24). But while His public activity focused on the Jews, He later sent out the apostles to “make disciples of all nations” (Mat. 28:19)—all people regardless of nationality.
And what did He come to “save His people” from? He came to save them “from their sins.” A sin is anything that is contrary to God’s holy law. It wasn’t just the Jewish people who had sinned, but all people. The apostle Paul writes, “For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:22-23).
Sin requires justice, since God is holy. You and I can’t save ourselves. We are spiritually bankrupt before God. We have nothing to pay our debt to His law. That is why God sent His only Son. He sent Him to take our place, to offer His holy life for us and to die in payment for our sin. The little Lord Jesus came to save you and me. He came to rescue us from eternal damnation. He came to win for us eternal life in heaven.
TLH #94 – “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”
ELH #145 – “What Child Is This?”
III. All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call His name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).
The first promise of a Savior came right after Adam and Eve disobeyed God and fell into sin. At that time, the LORD told the devil, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Gen. 3:15). So the Offspring of the woman would stomp on Satan’s head and sustain a bruise on His heel. In other words, the woman’s Offspring would fare much better than the serpent.
Thousands of years later, the LORD delivered another promise through the prophet Isaiah. Like a telescope bringing something far away into focus, the picture of how the Savior would arrive was becoming clearer. Isaiah prophesied that “the virgin shall conceive and bear a son.” How could that be? How could a virgin conceive a child? The virgin Mary wondered the same thing some 700 years after this prophecy. But “nothing will be impossible with God” (Luk. 1:37).
The Holy Spirit formed an embryo in Mary’s womb who was no ordinary Person. This was Immanuel. This was the Son of God begotten of the Father from eternity, who had come to take on our flesh and blood. He came to take our sin and pain and sorrow to Himself and to die in our place. He came to give us His perfect righteousness and everlasting life. This was Immanuel—not “God far above us” or “God against us”—but “God with us.”
Jesus is “God with us.” He is your Savior, who still comes to take away your sin and pain and sorrow. He comes even now through His Word and Sacraments to give you His grace and salvation.
TLH #647 / ELH #137 – “O Little Town of Bethlehem”
IV. When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called His name Jesus.
If you were in Joseph’s position, would you have done what he did? In a certain respect you are faced with the same dilemma he was. The question is whether you believe the Baby in Mary’s womb was conceived in the natural way, or whether you believe He was conceived by the Holy Spirit. The way you answer that question matters.
If you say that Jesus was conceived in the natural way and had a biological father, then for you he can be no more than an influential person and a good teacher. He cannot be your Savior. A regular human being cannot save you any more than he can save himself, since all of us are sinners.
But if you believe that Mary was telling the truth, then you do have a Savior. Then you know the God who took on human flesh, so He could save you. Then you know Him who was “born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law” (Gal. 4:4). Then you know the One who offered up His holy body and shed His holy blood on the cross for the full and free forgiveness of all your sins.
The unbelieving world rejects the message of Christmas because it does not agree with reason or common experience. “But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are” (1Co. 1:27-28).
God grant us the same confident faith of Joseph and Mary, who believed the Word, who believed that this Child was exactly what the angel said: the holy Son of God.
TLH #81, 1-4 / ELH #161, 1-4 – “O Jesus Christ, Thy Manger Is”
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(painting is “Adoration of the Shepherds” by Gerard van Honthorst, 1592-1656)
The First Sunday after Michaelmas – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Matthew 9:1-8
In Christ Jesus, who was delivered over to death for our sins, and who imparts forgiveness to us through His powerful Word, dear fellow redeemed:
“Do you believe in the forgiveness of sins?” A fellow pastor said he posed that question to some Jehovah’s Witnesses who came to his door. It’s a great question. In fact it’s the perfect way to learn where people stand in spiritual matters. “Can sins be forgiven?”
People might like to know what you mean by “sins.” You explain that sins are anything we do which contradicts the Commandments of God. Those Commandments are summed up by love for God and love for neighbor. If we have not perfectly done these things day in and day out, we have sinned. Then they might want to know what “forgiveness” means. You explain that forgiveness means the sins are cancelled out or pardoned, as though they had never even happened.
“Well that sounds too good to be true!” they might say. “If we have broken God’s law, we can’t imagine those sins are so easily removed!” You reply that the Bible clearly teaches the forgiveness of sins, but that it certainly didn’t come easily. “I knew it!” they say. “God wouldn’t just tell us we are forgiven. We must have to do something to prove ourselves to Him.”
You tell them that there is nothing we could ever do to make up for our sins. There are too many of them. Our sins have separated us from God (Isa. 59:2). We could not make things right with Him. But He could make things right with us. God accomplished this by sending His holy Son to take on our flesh and live among us in the world. He followed God’s Commandments perfectly. He never sinned. Then He offered His perfect life as a sacrifice in our place by dying on the cross.
God’s Son had to die in our place. It was the only way to satisfy God’s wrath against sin. It was the only way to free us from our sins and the death we deserve. So, as you said, the forgiveness of sins did not come easily—God Himself had to die for it. But it is a free gift offered to all sinners. They do not have to make up for their own sins somehow. Jesus paid the penalty for them.
Most people in the world today do not believe in the forgiveness of sins. They do not believe that a lifetime of sins could be wiped away without any contribution on their part. But then we have the account in today’s Gospel. Four men brought their paralyzed friend to Jesus, because they heard about Jesus’ power to heal (Luk. 5:17). After some effort, they were able to set him before Jesus. Jesus looked at the man and said, “Take heart, My son; your sins are forgiven.”
Matthew, Mark, and Luke each record this account, but none of them includes the reaction of the paralyzed man and his friends. We imagine that Jesus’ statement shocked them. As far as we can tell, they did not come to Him for forgiveness. They came to Him so that He might make the paralyzed man walk. But Jesus had something better planned. Jesus was aware of the man’s need for forgiveness even if he himself was not.
This man did nothing to get this forgiveness. He did not make the case for why Jesus should bless him. He did not point to the good things he had done for God or others. He did not even ask for forgiveness! The scribes and Pharisees did not believe the forgiveness of sins could come so easily. “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” they thought (Mar. 2:7, Luk. 5:21). They did not believe Jesus had authority to forgive sins, because they did not believe Jesus was God.
Since that is how you feel, said Jesus, then I will prove who I am. I will demonstrate the power of My Word. So He said to the paralyzed man, “Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And the man did just that. The crowds were afraid and amazed when they saw this. They had seen Jesus perform miracles before, but now He proved He could forgive sins too. They glorified God that He had given this authority to men.
Here today I stand before you saying the same thing Jesus did, “Your sins are forgiven!” I say this not because I have the power within myself to forgive your sins. If I did, you should ask me to prove it by making a paralyzed man walk or by raising someone from the dead. But I do have the authority to declare this forgiveness. I have this authority from God, and so do you. Jesus granted this authority to the Church, which consists of all believers. He has given the Church on earth “the keys of the kingdom of heaven” (Mat. 16:19). Whoever the Church forgives on the basis of His Word, He forgives. Whoever the Church does not forgive, He does not forgive.
By the call of God extended through this congregation, I have been appointed to publicly administer God’s grace to you through Word and Sacrament. I have been appointed to declare your sins forgiven. When I speak this forgiveness, I am not expressing a wish that this happen for you. And it is not a forgiveness conditioned by something you have to do. Spiritually speaking, you are like the paralyzed man who can do nothing for himself and has to be brought to Jesus. The Holy Spirit brings you to Jesus through His Word. He brings you to Jesus, so that you can hear His Word from my mouth: “Take heart! Your sins are forgiven!”
But let me go back to the question I asked at the beginning of the sermon: Do you believe in the forgiveness of sins? Do you believe it is actually true? Could it be that God forgives the horrible things you said to your parents, your spouse, or your friend? Could it be that God forgives those bad things you did that still weigh you down with guilt? Could it be that God forgives you for the harm you caused and the lies you told?
Do you need God to give additional proof that these sins are forgiven before you believe it? Do you need Him to give you some sign to show you are right with Him? There is no other proof and no other sign God needs to show you besides the cross. That’s where Jesus went for you. That’s where He did the wretched work. That’s where each and every one of your sins was placed on Him. That’s where He atoned for your sins before God.
He did not simply pay for the small sins on the cross. He did not just pay for the usual ones that all people are guilty of. He paid for the unique sins too, the sins that make you think you are worse than everyone else around you. He paid for the big sins, even the sins that are so terrible, we can’t bring ourselves to mention them. John writes that “[Jesus] is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (1Jo. 2:2). God the Father accepted Jesus’ sacrifice for all sin. Your sins are forgiven!
You know this, and I know this. But we don’t always act like our sins are forgiven. We know we are forgiven, but we still dwell on our failures in the past. We know we are forgiven, but we focus on our deficiencies rather than God’s grace. We know we are forgiven, but we are troubled by the memories of hurt and pain we caused others.
God’s forgiveness frees us from having to right our wrongs, which we couldn’t do even if we tried. It also frees us so that we may try to reconcile with those we have harmed. Maybe you are still bothered by something mean you said to a classmate or coworker years ago. Maybe you feel guilty because you failed to be there for someone who needed you. Maybe you realize that the grudge you and another have held against each other has gone on way too long.
Jesus says that if you “remember that your brother has something against you,” then go and “be reconciled to your brother” (Mat. 5:23,24). But what if that person rejects your apology and refuses to forgive? Then you can take comfort that the sin is forgiven by God. But what if acknowledging a secret sin causes a person you care about to turn against you? Then at least your conscience will be clear, and the burden you have long carried will be removed. You can also trust that God’s grace and forgiveness which comfort you will also work on the hearts of those whom you hurt.
After Jesus had forgiven the man’s sins, He told him to get up, pick up his mat, and go home. And when Jesus forgives your sins, He calls you to get up also. As He raised up the man from physical paralysis, so he raises you from spiritual paralysis. Your sins are forgiven—don’t sit there in despair! Your sins are forgiven—go forward in grace! Your sins are forgiven—declare what God has done for you! And let that joy start in your own home just like the previously paralyzed man did.
There is no way to get your sins forgiven apart from Jesus. But by faith in Him worked by the Holy Spirit, forgiveness is yours. Your sins were put on Jesus, so none of them cling to you anymore—not the sins of your youth, not the sins of a year ago, not the sins of yesterday. Your Sins Are Forgiven! Get Up! And give glory to God.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
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(woodcut by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, 1794-1872)
The First Sunday after Michaelmas – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Matthew 9:1-8
In Christ Jesus, who came as the Physician for the spiritually sick (Mt. 9:12), dear fellow redeemed:
The account of the healing of the paralytic is recorded in three of the four Gospels—Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Both Mark and Luke offer the interesting detail that when the friends of the paralytic could not get into the house where Jesus was teaching, they opened up a hole in the roof. Then they let down their friend on his bed before Jesus. This would have been something to witness! If you were in the house, you would have wondered what was going on when pieces of the roof rained down, beams of light cut into the room, and faces peered down from above.
As striking as this experience must have been, Matthew says nothing about it. All he says is that some people brought their paralyzed friend to Jesus. This shows us that how the paralytic was brought to Jesus is not the most important detail. The most important details are what happened when he was set before Jesus.
Now what was this young man’s most pressing need? No one could fail to see the sad condition he was in. He was paralyzed. He could not walk. Perhaps he could not even move his arms. The friends of this person went to the great trouble of hoisting him up on the roof and lowering him down before Jesus. What were they expecting Jesus to do? Jesus recognized the young man’s most pressing need. “Take heart, My son” He said; “your sins are forgiven.”
If you were in the position of the paralyzed man, would you have been disappointed about what Jesus said? Would you have been perplexed that Jesus seemed to ignore your paralysis? But the paralyzed man did not protest. Maybe his paralysis was not what troubled him the most.
Can you imagine a scenario in which no physical pain is worse than the spiritual turmoil of your heart and soul? What if this man struggled with serious depression and had lost the will to live? What if he had become paralyzed by doing something foolish, and he carried a great burden of guilt for his actions? What if he worried that God was punishing him for past sins by making him paralyzed? If any of these were true, he would have seen his paralysis as a symptom of a much deeper problem, a problem which seemed to have no solution.
But then Jesus spoke. His words brought calm to the inner sea of turmoil. It cast beams of healing light into the paralytic’s troubled heart. He was not yet able to rise from his bed, but his spirit was lifted up. He was comforted. How do we know Jesus’ Word had this effect? There was no change that could be observed in the paralytic, unless a once troubled countenance now showed signs of relief and peacefulness. The scribes, for their part, denied that the young man’s sins had been forgiven. They said within themselves, “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Mk. 2:7).
Their assumption was that Jesus was not God. That assumption was about to be challenged. Jesus knew their thoughts. He said to them, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’?” What is the answer? You and I can easily say both things, but we do not have the power to make either of them happen. Jesus has the power to do both, and He proved the power to give spiritual healing by giving physical healing.
As proof “that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins,” Jesus said to the paralytic, “Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” Now if the man could not stand up, what would it mean? That his sins were not forgiven. But the second miracle was proof of the first. He did get up. His sins were forgiven. And all because of Jesus’ powerful Word.
We said earlier that Matthew did not include the detail of how the paralyzed man was brought before Jesus. But Matthew did include a detail that Mark and Luke did not. At the end of this account, Matthew wrote that the crowds “glorified God, who had given such authority to men.” That is an interesting conclusion for the crowd to arrive at. Jesus proving that He could forgive sins made the crowd marvel that God “had given such authority to men.”
Until Jesus’ coming, there had never been a human being who could forgive sins. People could set broken bones and treat illnesses. They could help the poor and console the grieving. But of and by themselves they had no answer for spiritual distress. And they had no answer for “the wages of sin,” which is death (Rom. 6:23). But now here was a flesh-and-blood man, Jesus, who had an answer not only for physical ills, but for spiritual ones. He had the authority to forgive sins.
Now if you are authorized to do something, you wouldn’t say the power is yours. Authority is granted to you by someone else. So if you are given the password to a company account, you receive it from someone above you. You are entrusted with what is theirs. Any authority we have in our vocations comes in this way. Even the authority parents have over their children is not something they produce by themselves. They are given authority. And who gives it? In his Letter to the Romans, St. Paul says, “For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God” (13:1).
This is how it works also with the authority to forgive sins. After His resurrection, Jesus declared to His disciples, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” Then He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld” (Jn. 20:21,22-23). The authority Jesus received from His Father, He passed on to His disciples. He emphasized the same thing shortly before His ascension into heaven. He told them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore” (Mt. 28:18-19).
Jesus makes it clear that the authority to forgive sins—something only God can do—is now put into the mouths of His disciples to declare. And that is something to wonder about! How could Jesus give something so sacred, so precious, so powerful as the authority to forgive sins to sinners? But that is what He does. Each of you as children of God has been given this authority. When your brother or sister in Christ sins against you and repents of the sin, you can say to them, “I forgive you, and God forgives you.” You can still forgive them even if they are not sorry—and it is important that you do. But the sins of the impenitent are not forgiven them by God “as long as they do not repent” (Small Catechism, Office of the Keys).
The Lord has also called certain men to stand in His place and declare the forgiveness of sins publicly. This is the chief responsibility of pastors. Their job is to forgive sins. They have no special power to do this because of who they are; pastors are sinners like everyone else. Their authority is given them by Jesus to speak His Word. The Word of absolution is powerful because it is from Jesus. This is why pastors preface the absolution with, “By the authority of God and of my holy office.” The forgiveness comes from God to the sinner through the Word.
It is a great comfort to know that Jesus’ absolution is available to us here and now. You may be troubled by a certain sin that you have never told anyone about. You may be filled with passions and desires that you know are against God’s Commandments. You may be tempted to look at things you know you shouldn’t, or to listen to things that attack your faith. Maybe you give the impression on the outside that everything is fine, while on the inside you are full of spiritual turmoil.
You do not need to carry these burdens. The Lord knows your struggle. He knows what you need the most. He says to you, “Take heart, My [child]; your sins are forgiven.” He can forgive your sins because on the cross He made full atonement for them, every one. The scales of justice were balanced by Jesus offering up Himself in payment for your sins.
But you may struggle to believe that even your great sins are forgiven. “How could God forgive this?!?” you wonder. You feel ashamed. You come to church, but you do not let yourself be comforted by the absolution. You go to Communion, but you feel just as troubled as before. In times like these, I encourage you to make an appointment with your pastor. One of my duties as your spiritual shepherd is to apply God’s Word to your specific situation, to your specific troubles and pain.
No one likes the thought of exposing their sins to others. But there is a certain relief in uncovering sins long hidden. You don’t need to try to keep buried anymore what your conscience keeps digging up. The way to be freed of your hidden sins and hidden hurts is through confession and absolution. If you confess your sins privately to your pastor, he is bound to keep that confession secret for the rest of your lives. He hears your confession of sin as God hears it, and your pastor never brings it up again to others just as God never brings it up again.
The healing absolution of Jesus, the declaration of the forgiveness of your sins and peace with God, is God’s powerful Healing for Hidden Hurts. Some of those hurts are self-inflicted, and some are inflicted by others. The hurts inflicted by others can cause you to be consumed by anger and even hatred, which can cause great spiritual harm. But through confession and absolution, all these things are left with Jesus at the cross. He bore “our griefs and carried our sorrows” (Is. 53:4), and in place of these burdens, He gives His eternal rest and gladness.
So bring your sins before Jesus with humble hearts and believe the soul-cleansing Word which He declares to you: “Your sins are forgiven!”
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(woodcut by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, 1794-1872)