The First Sunday in Lent – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Matthew 4:1-11
In Christ Jesus, whose every thought, every word, and every action, were focused on your salvation, dear fellow redeemed:
His hair still dripping from His baptism, Jesus came out of the water. At that moment the heavens opened, and the Holy Spirit came down in the form of a dove and rested on Him. Then the voice of the Father rang out of the heavens, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Mat. 3:16-17). It was an impressive beginning, a fitting inauguration for the God incarnate, the only Son of the Father who came to save the world.
What would happen next? Not what we expect. “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” The evangelist Mark writes that the Holy Spirit “drove him out into the wilderness” (1:12). So much for the picture of the Spirit as a gentle dove! Why would the Spirit do this to the Son? It was the Father’s will. He had not sent His Son for glory here on earth, but for suffering.
Suffering was possible for Jesus because He was in His state of humiliation. He was not making full use of His divine powers. That meant He could feel weakness and temptation and pain. In today’s account, we see He could experience hunger. He fasted—went without food—for forty days and forty nights, and “He was hungry.” You have perhaps fasted for a day or two because of an illness. But when you recover, you feel a gnawing hunger. Your stomach is ready to be filled again!
Jesus went without eating for forty days. This is humanly possible and has been done by others, but it is not easy. As His fast extended, Jesus would have increasingly felt dull and weak. This helps us understand how the devil’s temptations were real trials for Jesus. The devil used Jesus’ hunger to attack His mission and His Person. “So You are the ‘beloved Son’ of the Father, are You? And He claims to be ‘well pleased’ with You, doesn’t He? That’s interesting because He doesn’t seem to care much about You right now. Here You are, all alone, hungry. If You are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”
There is something reasonable about this. The devil is an expert at making wrong things seem reasonable. If Jesus is God, why shouldn’t He make some food for Himself? Why should His suffering have to continue? But the Spirit did not drive Jesus into the wilderness for rest and relaxation. It was to prepare Him for the hard work He came to do, the work of redeeming the world from sin and death. If it was the Father’s will that Jesus should be hungry, then He would be hungry. Quoting from the book of Deuteronomy, Jesus said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
“Oh, so You want to cite the Scriptures, do You,” thought the devil. “I can do that too! If you are the Son of God, throw Yourself down, for it is written, ‘He will command His angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’ Then the Father will prove His love for You! Then You can know this suffering isn’t for nothing!” Again Jesus replied with Scripture, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” God’s love for us is clear in His Word. He does not need to prove it on our terms, or bail us out if we do something foolish.
Then the devil got right to the heart of the matter. “So You’ve come here to reign, have You? All the kingdoms of the world and their glory are at my fingertips. They can all be Yours! All these I will give You, if You will fall down and worship me. No need to struggle, no need to be hungry, no need to suffer!” Jesus, even in His weakened state, had heard enough. “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve.’” Forty days into a fast, out in the wilderness, terrible anguish and affliction looming in front of Him, and Jesus said: “I choose suffering.”
Only He could have done this. You and I don’t have the will or the strength. It isn’t that we always choose the easy path. There are plenty of examples of people choosing the hard road. A soldier exposes himself to enemy fire to save his friend. A wife cares for her ailing husband or a husband for his ailing wife. An employee stands up to an unethical boss. A young man or a young woman says “no” even when they know they will be ridiculed for it.
But none of us would make the choice Jesus did. He chose intense suffering, the fires of hell, and death for the very people who sinned against Him. Many of them were glad to see Him die. Even while He hung on the cross, they mocked Him. St. Paul writes that “one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:7-8). Paul goes on to say that we were all Jesus’ enemies; we were all against Him by nature (v. 10). And He suffered and died for us.
If we saw a future like that laid out before us, we wouldn’t go another step forward. We would turn the stones into bread. We would throw ourselves down from the temple. We would bow to the devil. We would do what was in our own best interest, and our track record proves it.
Often we have chosen to feed our hunger for the things of this life—more things, nicer things, newer things—all of them things that are temporary and will pass away. We have “put God to the test” by throwing ourselves into one sinful situation after another. We knew what we were doing was wrong, but we did it anyway. And we have bowed down to the devil by valuing glory in the world more than grace in the Word, by caring about the future of our own making more than the blessings prepared for us by our heavenly Father. When we should have said, “Be gone, Satan!” we said, “I like what I’m hearing. Stick around a while. Tell me more!”
It was because of our sin that Jesus fasted for forty days in the wilderness. It was a full forty days of fasting before the forty days of feasting after His resurrection. Forty comes up many times in the Bible. At the time of Noah, rain fell for forty days and forty nights to cleanse the world of its wickedness. Moses went without food and water for forty days and forty nights while he received the holy Law from God. The Israelites wandered for forty years in the wilderness until all those who rebelled against God had died.
Jesus fasted for forty days and forty nights because of your hunger for worldly things. He wanted to do for you what you had neither the desire nor the ability to do for yourself. He chose to deny His own physical needs and “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Mat. 6:33), so that you would receive the treasures of heaven that will last forever. He chose to do His Father’s will and endure hardship and pain, so that you would become the Father’s own dear child and an heir of everlasting life. He chose to be a humble servant and to give Himself as a sacrifice, so that you would reign with Him at the right hand of the Father and enjoy eternal glory.
Jesus did not choose the easy way out. He chose the path of suffering in order to save you. Jesus saw hunger, torment, and pain in His future. But He also saw you. He saw you, lost, helpless, hopeless. He saw you covered in your sins, spiritually starving, dying. And He loved you. “I will give My life for yours,” He said. “I will pay for your sins. I will take your punishment. I will suffer your hell. I will die your death.”
And nothing could steer Him from this path. Nothing that the devil tried succeeded. No temptation overcame Him. In every respect He was tempted as we are, but He did not sin (Heb. 4:15). To fail was to lose you and all sinners. So Jesus would not fail. He would not lose you.
He still fights for you, even now. He fights for you by coming to you in His Word and Sacraments. He comes to chase away the devil when you have gotten comfortable having him around. He comes to strengthen you for the temptations and trials ahead which would be too much for you. And He comes to comfort you for the hardships you have experienced and the pain you have endured as a Christian living in a fallen world.
Jesus will not forsake you. He suffered and died for you, and now He lives for you. He is with you in the wilderness as you wander through this world. He feeds you with His own body and blood. He bears you up in His arms of providence and power. And He lifts your eyes to the joys to come, the joys of heaven where sorrow and suffering will be no more.
Jesus remained faithful to His mission. He followed His Father’s will. The devil did not win. “[F]or the joy that was set before him [he] endured the cross, despising the shame” (Heb. 12:2). He gladly fasted, endured affliction, and died in order to redeem you. Jesus Chose Suffering for You, to save you.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
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(picture from “The Temptation of Christ by the Devil” by Félix Joseph Barrias, 1822-1907)
The Second Sunday of Easter – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: 1 John 5:4-10
In Christ Jesus, who gives us a share of His eternal victory by faith, dear fellow redeemed:
He had told them several times. He told them He had to suffer and die, and that He would be raised again on the third day (Mat. 16:21, 17:23, 20:19). But the disciples did not understand. They were so troubled by the thought of His death that His promise to rise did not even register with them. Peter let Jesus know what he thought about The Plan. He took Jesus aside and rebuked Him. He said, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you!” (Mat. 16:22).
It wasn’t long before this that Peter had beautifully expressed the truth about who Jesus was: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (v. 16). Peter naturally did not want to see His great Teacher and Lord die. He may have also wondered whether this was even possible. If Jesus is truly God’s Son, how could He die? But Jesus was not about to follow the will of Peter—the will of man. He followed the will of His Father in heaven, and His suffering, death, and resurrection happened exactly as He had predicted.
Yet even after His resurrection, the disciples struggled to believe it. The women came on Easter morning telling them about an open tomb, shining angels, and a message from Jesus. “[B]ut these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them” (Luk. 24:11). How could it be true? The previous Friday, Jesus had died on the cross. There was no question about it. John himself was there. He saw the soldier pierce the side of Jesus, and he saw blood and water come out (Joh. 19:34). Jesus was dead. The disciples had watched Jesus call back Lazarus from the dead. But who could call back Jesus?
They did not believe it until Jesus appeared to them in the flesh on Easter evening. Since the doors were locked, at first they thought a spirit had come into their midst. But Jesus showed them the marks in His hands, feet, and side. He ate some fish in their presence (Luk. 24:42). Now they realized that He most certainly wasn’t a ghost. This was Jesus, risen from the dead!
All of them were convinced, all except for Thomas. Thomas wasn’t there when Jesus appeared. “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails,” he said, “and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe” (Joh. 20:25). The next Sunday, the disciples including Thomas were all together, and Jesus appeared again. Now Thomas believed: “My Lord and my God!” he said (v. 28). Jesus said to him, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (v. 29).
The skepticism of Thomas is the default position of many today regarding Jesus. They are willing to accept that He existed. They imagine He was probably a good guy. They like how He helped people in need. But they don’t believe He is God, and they don’t believe He came back to life after His death. The only way they would believe these things is if they had proof of some kind, like the proof that Thomas received.
The evidence that the apostle John brings forward is not the evidence one might expect. John says the proof that Jesus is the Son of God is found in “the Spirit and the water and the blood.” This is a reference especially to the beginning and end of Jesus’ public work. He was publicly identified as God’s Son and the promised Savior at His Baptism. When He was baptized, the heavens were opened, and the Spirit of God descended like a dove and rested on Him. Then a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Mat. 3:16-17).
That is strong testimony of Jesus’ identity. But how can we be certain it actually happened as described? Some people suggest that Jesus’ closest disciples invented stories about His life. But if you wrote a story and included yourself in it, how would you portray yourself? The disciples are often described as weak, petty, and ignorant. Either those creative writers were extraordinarily humble, or they simply told the truth about themselves and Jesus.
The same goes for John the Baptizer. He was not an all-knowing prophet. He admitted he did not know Jesus was the promised Messiah until he baptized Him. But seeing what happened and hearing the voice of God the Father, he then proclaimed, “this is the Son of God!” (Joh. 1:34). So by “the Spirit and the water” God the Father testified that Jesus was His Son.
Going forward three years, Jesus was now in Jerusalem. He had entered the city on Palm Sunday and was preparing for His imminent death. “Now is my soul troubled,” He said. “And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name” (Joh. 12:27-28). Then a voice sounding like thunder came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again” (v. 28). It was the voice of His heavenly Father.
And then it was time for the testimony of “the blood.” The shedding of blood shows that Jesus was clearly a Man. Blood poured out of His back from the wounds of His flogging and from His head where the crown of thorns had been driven. It dripped from His hands and feet where the nails had pierced. But how does the blood prove His divinity? How does it show He is the Son of God?
If Jesus had died and remained dead, we would have to conclude that He was not who God said He was, that He was not the Son of God. But since He has risen, that changes the way we look at His crucifixion. His resurrection from the dead shows us that it wasn’t just a regular Man hanging on the cross. It was the God-Man. His blood was holy blood shed for all people. His suffering was holy suffering, not for wrongs He had done but for the sins of the world. “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” He cried. His blood testifies that God the Father poured out His wrath against sin on His only Son in the place of all sinners.
“[T]he Spirit and the water and the blood.” This is God the Father’s testimony. “[T]his is the testimony of God that He has borne concerning His Son.” And Jesus’ resurrection is the bow that ties it all together. His resurrection proves that the testimony is true. It proves everything God declared about His Son and everything Jesus taught and did.
Those who deny Jesus’ resurrection will make of Him whatever they want, but they won’t have a Savior. You, on the other hand, who believe God’s testimony, have everything He has graciously promised you. You will not be judged along with the unbelieving world on the last day, because you are covered in Christ’s righteousness. You will not suffer eternal damnation in hell, because your sins are all forgiven. You will not remain in the grave, because Jesus will come again in glory to raise you from the dead.
All of these things are yours. You have been “born of God” by the power of the Holy Spirit. You were brought to faith in Jesus through His holy Word, so that His victory became your victory. He wants to continue to assure you and comfort you in this truth. He knows that the devil, the world, and your own flesh want to steal away your confidence. He knows how they try to use trials like the current pandemic to plant doubts in your mind about His love toward you and about the promises of His Word.
It is good that John recorded the doubts of Jesus’ disciples after His resurrection. They doubted like we do. Our faith is not perfect. It is common for all Christians to wonder why God lets troublesome things happen, or why He doesn’t fix a problem or help us in our need. We have also had doubts about whether we are right with God. How could He love people like us who have failed so miserably or done such bad things?
Jesus does not alleviate our doubts by appearing in person and showing us His hands and side like He did for Thomas. But He does set before us the testimony of His love through His Word and Sacraments. Publicly through His called servant and privately through the encouragement of fellow Christians, Jesus declares to us the forgiveness of our sins. As Jesus said to His disciples on Easter evening, so He still says to us, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld” (Joh. 20:22-23).
He also gives us the testimony of His Sacraments—Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. “Baptism,” He says, “is My cleansing blood applied to you. It is My bringing you the victory of My death and resurrection. It is your rebirth as a holy child of God.” And the Lord’s Supper is His body given in the bread and His blood given in the wine “for the remission of sins.” In this Supper, our resurrected and exalted Lord comes to us personally and brings us His eternal blessings of forgiveness and life and salvation.
So just as “the Spirit and the water and the blood” testified in Jesus’ life that He really is the Son of God, so “the Spirit and the water and the blood” in His Word and Sacraments continue to testify to Him today. It is impossible for our limited minds to understand these things. How could the Son of God take on flesh, suffer, die, and rise again? How could He continue to meet us through His Word and Sacraments?
But though our minds cannot comprehend these things, they are most certainly true. Jesus Really Is the Son of God. He really did die for your sins and rise again in victory over your death. And He really does come to you today to bring you comfort, strength, and peace in every need.
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 is from “The Incredulity of St. Thomas” by Caravaggio, c. 1601-1602)