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)
Thanksgiving – Pr. Faugstad homily
Text: Psalm 103
In Christ Jesus, “the Lord merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in mercy,” dear fellow redeemed:
In a typical year, we would celebrate Thanksgiving by getting together with family members and friends. We would all converge in one place, extend our tables, and cram in extra chairs. We would feast together, laugh together, enjoy being together. We would count our many blessings, starting with the loved ones with us in the room.
This is not a typical year. If you are getting together with loved ones, the group will probably be smaller than usual. Grown children may not be “coming home” like they usually do. Grandparents may not get to hug their grandchildren. Some of you are facing a Thanksgiving by yourself, perhaps the first time that has happened. Across the nation, this could go down as one of the most stressful, loneliest Thanksgivings we have ever had.
Today’s Psalm doesn’t really seem to fit the mood. It begins with joyful praise: “Bless the Lord, O my soul; And all that is within me, bless His holy name!” Is it praise and thanks to God that fills your thoughts right now? Or is it concerns about your health and the health of the people you care about? Or concerns about our country and its social and political disharmony? Or concerns about the future and the challenges you may have to face?
You might wonder what God’s plan is in all of this. Why doesn’t He just end all sickness? Why doesn’t He destroy the efforts of the wicked? You may not want to admit it, but part of you deep down questions whether God is seeing things clearly, whether He sees your struggle, whether He really loves you like He says He does. You might even be angry with God.
Now it isn’t wrong to complain to God. There are a great many Psalms that do this, that call Him to address the tension between His promises and our experiences. God wants to hear all our prayers—not just the ones offered in joyful thanksgiving, but also the ones expressed with heartfelt cries and groanings. So is today the day for thanksgiving to God or complaint?
We don’t know the situation in which Psalm 103 was written. It is a Psalm attributed to King David. It sounds like David was in a good mood when he wrote this Psalm. But hope-filled words do not come exclusively from good times. In fact, the hopeful words of believers often come from terrible times, times of suffering, times of persecution. Many of our best and most powerful hymns were written not in days of peace and prosperity, but in days of great trouble and hardship.
Whether you are filled with joy and thanksgiving today or with distresses and doubts, this Psalm was inspired by God for your comfort and encouragement. The second verse of the Psalm says, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, And forget not all His benefits.” It is easy to forget all that the Lord does for us. Sometimes we forget because in our pride we think we are responsible for all the good things we have. Or sometimes we forget because in our difficulties all we can see is our trouble.
This is why we need to be reminded to remember—to “forget not” all the Lord’s benefits. His kind and merciful actions toward us are so many we could not count them all. The psalmist lists some of them: He forgives all our iniquities. He heals all our diseases. He redeems our life from destruction. He crowns us with lovingkindness and tender mercies. He satisfies our mouth with good things. He executes righteousness and justice for the oppressed.
It might seem like David overstates God’s work here. If, as he writes, the Lord “heals all [our] diseases,” why do some still get sick? If He “executes righteousness and justice” for the oppressed, why do some still suffer? David does not claim that God keeps His people from ever getting sick or ever experiencing hardship. Sickness and hardship are part of life in this fallen world. So is our sinfulness. Just as we need the Lord’s forgiveness for every sin, so we need His healing for every sickness and His help in every trouble.
We may not always have healing in our sickness and help in our trouble as quickly or as completely as we want. But the Lord brings it about in His time. He may even decide to free us from our diseases and our oppression by calling our soul out of this life of trouble. Our faith does not rest in what our eyes can see, in the proofs of God’s love that we demand. Our faith rests in His holy Word, in what He has promised to all who trust in Him.
It may seem that God is angry with you or punishing you because of the suffering and pain that you experience. But you know that cannot be. God is not angry with you anymore because His holy Son atoned for your sins. Your sins were taken off you and put on Him. He suffered the wrath of God in your place. He was punished for every single one of your wrongs. “As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed [your] transgressions from [you].”
Now God wouldn’t do that for you and then forget about you when you suffer in this life. He wouldn’t send His perfect Son to the cross for you and then leave you all alone in your trials. “As a father pities his children, so the Lord pities those who fear Him”—He has mercy on you. “For He knows [your] frame; He remembers that [you] are dust.” He knows that it doesn’t take much to discourage you. He knows how hard the devil, the unbelieving world, and your own sinful flesh work to steal away your faith. He sees how often they succeed. He knows that you don’t always remember Him. But He remembers you.
The Lord God Almighty Remembers You. And He will not forget you. He cannot forget you. You are joined by faith to His only-begotten Son, that Son with whom He is well pleased (Mat. 3:17, 17:5). So He is well pleased with you. “[T]he mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting On those who fear Him, And His righteousness to children’s children.”
This year has not gone like you expected, and neither have your Thanksgiving plans. But you are not alone. The Lord whose “throne [is] in heaven” and whose “kingdom rules over all” knows you. The God whom the mighty angels and all the host of heaven worship loves you and cares about you. He will not leave you no matter what you have to face in the days to come. And that is cause for joy; that is reason for thanksgiving. “Bless the Lord, O my soul; And all that is within me, bless His holy name! Bless the Lord, O my soul, And forget not all His benefits.” Amen.
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The Fourth Sunday of Easter – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: 1 Peter 2:11-20
In Christ Jesus, who walks with us in our suffering and comforts us with grace and peace for the present and the promise of a perfect life after this one, dear fellow redeemed:
A month and a half ago, our state officials prohibited gatherings of more than ten people, so we stopped holding regular services. Since that time, you and I have been worshipping in our homes, and we have done what we could to stay connected through the internet, phone calls, and mail. Now our state officials have lifted restrictions in our county while still urging us to take certain precautions. So here we are back in church.
That begs the question: who is in charge of the church and of our local congregation in particular? Are we required to close our doors every time the government tells us to? This question would be easy to answer if the governing officials ordered us to stop preaching God’s Word. Then we would have to “obey God rather than men” (Act. 5:29) and ignore the order. But the current case is not like that. The government imposed restrictions across society to try to protect the population and keep it safe. Protecting the population is a proper function of government which Christians support.
So where exactly should the line be drawn between church and state? They can’t be totally isolated and kept apart, or else you and I would have to choose one side or the other. But we are members of both. Martin Luther and others have talked about them as the “two kingdoms.” The church is the kingdom of God’s right hand where the emphasis is on grace and forgiveness. The state is the kingdom of God’s left hand where the emphasis is on law and justice. Without the kingdom of the left, we would live unhappy lives in anarchy and chaos. Without the kingdom of the right, we would live without hope and the promise of a better life after this one.
But living simultaneously in these two kingdoms can be tricky, as we have seen in the last few weeks. The Christians who first read St. Peter’s First Epistle did not have it any easier. In fact, they lived at a time of severe persecution by the Roman authorities. Many Christians were killed for their faith, and if the history is accurate, Peter was martyred in Rome also. I am sure it happened that non-Christians turned in their Christian neighbors to the authorities simply because they did not like them or because they hoped to gain from their deaths.
And what advice did Peter send to these Christians “under fire”? He told them to suffer patiently, to be kind, and to honor the authorities. This sounds like a different Peter than the one who was so ready to use his sword in the Garden of Gethsemane. At that time Jesus told him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (Mat. 26:52). Christians have the right to use their voice as citizens in our country, but we are not called to use physical violence to get our way.
Peter learned this lesson, and now he reminded the recipients of his letter that they are “sojourners and exiles.” They and we are not to imagine that the sinful world is our permanent place of residence. It is tempting for all of us to get more caught up in our rights as citizens than in our righteousness as saints, to pin our hopes on political activism rather than on the promises of God. We are only “sojourners” here; we’re just passing through. Ultimately, St. Paul writes, “our citizenship is in heaven” (Phi. 3:20).
And that is why we can live without fear even while a new virus rages through our country and the rest of the world. We are not desperate to hang on to this life for the sake of this life. Whether it is tomorrow or next week or next year or many years from now, our death will come if Jesus does not return first. We can embrace that death when it comes because Jesus has conquered death and forced it to serve His purposes. Now death is the dark doorway that leads us into the bright and glorious realm of heaven. There we will be not “sojourners and exiles”; we will be permanent citizens.
But we are not in heaven yet. While we are here, we have responsibilities to our neighbors, including our neighbors in the government. Peter writes that we should submit or “be subject… to every human institution… that by doing good [we] should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.” We are not motivated like so many others are by power or money or fame. Those are earthly things that cannot last. The whole world is caught up in the pursuit of these empty things.
What we have is far better. We have righteousness, redemption, and salvation. We have forgiveness, hopefulness, and life. We have freedom in Christ—freedom from our sin, freedom from the curse of the law, freedom from death. What are the fleeting things of the world compared to these eternal things? Christ has broken us free from these chains. So Peter urges us to “[l]ive as people who are free.”
But how can he say at the same time “live in freedom” and “submit to the authorities”? It is because both things—heavenly freedom and earthly authority—come from the same source. Peter writes, “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution,” “[live] as servants of God,” be subject to masters while being “mindful of God.” We submit to our authorities not because we fear, love, and trust in them above all things, but because we fear, love, and trust in God. We recognize that He has established the earthly authorities. As Jesus told Pontius Pilate, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above” (Joh. 19:11).
But what happens when the authorities behave badly, and instead of punishing the evil and praising the good, they do the opposite? Then they have clearly abused the power God has granted them, like when they persecuted and killed those early Christians. And while it is proper to point out corruption and sin even when committed by ruling officials, yet they are still to be respected and honored—not for their own sake but “for the Lord’s sake.” Our eyes are always on Him. Good rulers and bad rulers come and go, but “The LORD of hosts is with us” (Psa. 46:11), and He isn’t going anywhere.
It is so easy to forget this. We forget that the Lord reigns, that He is in control. We are often looking and hoping for a perfect leader on earth, a new “messiah,” who will set everything right. Or we let a bad ruler shake our faith in the providence of God. We are so quickly caught up in these “passions of the flesh, which wage war against [our souls].” We don’t want to take the humble path. We don’t want to face trouble. We don’t want to suffer. We want things to go our way and on our timeline.
Our pride and selfishness are exactly the reasons God needs to humble us. This is why He lets trials and hardships come our way. He wants us to remember that He is the Lord, and there is none like Him. The unbelieving world in the midst of a crisis may put its total confidence in human ingenuity, medicine, or financial security. But these are temporary solutions that cannot save us. At best, they can only push off the inevitable.
Only the Lord can save, and He does save. Like you, I don’t know what the future will look like. I don’t know what illnesses, injuries, or hardships may come to us or to the people we love. I don’t know how many days the Lord has numbered for us, whether many or few. But I do know this: Jesus Christ, true God and true Man, has redeemed us with His holy, precious blood, and with His innocent suffering and death. He took the humble path. He willingly faced trouble and anguish. He obeyed His Father’s will all the way to the point of His death.
He did this so that we would have forgiveness of all our sins, no matter what stains are on our past. He did this so we would have strength to face our trials knowing that He understands our suffering. He did this so we would have life whenever our present troubles come to an end. Jesus’ death accomplished all these things, and His resurrection assures us that these blessings are ours. We do not follow a leader who had the ability to inspire but couldn’t deliver on his promises. We follow the Lord Jesus who is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity.
This is why we freely submit to those in authority over us “with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust.” We do this out of love for the Lord, who has commanded us to behave in this way. We don’t know how He will use our humble example and honorable conduct. Perhaps it is to draw others, including government officials, to His saving grace so that that they will join us in glorifying God on the day of Christ’s return.
So in all things and at all times, We Serve the Lord. We take up our crosses daily and follow Him (Luk. 9:23). We go about our work “heartily, as for the Lord and not for men” (Col. 3:23). And we take comfort that it is He who keeps us safe. It is He who blesses our work. It is He who holds our present and our future. It is He who saves us and will take us to be with Him in His heavenly kingdom.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
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(picture from “Christ before Pilate” by Mihály Munkácsy, 1881)
The Third Sunday of Easter – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: 1 Peter 2:21-25
In Christ Jesus, who protects His sheep and guides them through the difficulties of this life, so they are safely brought to the peace and joy of heaven, dear fellow redeemed:
It feels good to do good things for a neighbor. We are glad to lend a helping hand, to make a burden lighter, to be a blessing in someone’s day. But I’m sure you can think of times when you tried to do good for others, and they did not appreciate your efforts. They may have even blamed you for the very problems you were trying to help them with! That hurts. It can make you feel like a failure. If you dwell on it enough, it can also make you bitter and angry at the person who rejected your good intentions and good deeds.
The apostle Peter writes about situations like this in the verses just before today’s text. He said that when you suffer for doing good and you endure the suffering by faith in Jesus, “this is a gracious thing in the sight of God” (2:20). He does not tell us to seek revenge, to inflict the same pain on others that they have inflicted on us. He tells us to patiently endure suffering with our eyes fixed on Jesus.
We look to Jesus who through His suffering “[left] us an example, so that [we] might follow in His steps.” Sometimes we suffer because of wrong choices we make or bad things we do. So if we are caught stealing something and are sent to jail, or if we purposely harm someone and they retaliate, that is suffering we bring on ourselves. Jesus did not suffer for things like this, because He never did anything wrong.
That is why He is such a powerful example for us. He only did good things for people. He only did what was helpful and noble and right. It seems like that should have caused everyone to love Him and have great respect for Him. But not all appreciated His goodness, such as a number of the scribes and Pharisees. Their standard of righteousness was different than God’s, and they did not think Jesus measured up. They charged Him with violating the holy law. They even accused Him of being an agent of Satan and having a demon.
These attacks gained a fresh intensity and violence during Holy Week. After He was arrested, Jesus endured physical and verbal abuse from the religious leaders and the Roman soldiers. They could not charge Him with a wrong, but they were glad to see Him suffer. He could have responded by unleashing the mighty angels against His attackers. He could have taken them all on by Himself, and not one would have been left standing.
But He did not do this. Peter writes that Jesus did not revile those who reviled Him. He would not stoop to their level. Nor did He threaten while He suffered. He took the suffering quietly, not lifting His voice or even opening His mouth much at all. Instead He “continued entrusting Himself” to His heavenly Father—“to Him who judges justly.”
This is the pattern to follow while we suffer. Our impulse is to hurt those who hurt us, whether they are family members, co-workers, or others in the community. Isn’t that how we dealt with our siblings in our younger years? “If you hit me, I’ll hit you.” “If you take something from me, I’ll take something from you.” It’s not that we should forego justice and let everyone walk all over us. But we should not take revenge into our own hands. Instead we entrust ourselves to “Him who judges justly,” like Jesus did.
But why should we behave in this way? Why should we let people off the hook and deny our own sense of justice? Why should we try to be like Jesus, as if that were even possible? Those are fair questions. It is true that we can hardly be compared with Jesus. We are nowhere near as good. We cannot come close to His level of righteousness. Even the best things we do are tainted by sin.
The reason we try, the reason we want to do better, is because of what Jesus did for us. Today’s text says that “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree.” This is why Jesus willingly and patiently suffered. It was to save you. It was to make atonement for all your sins. God had every right to hold your sins against you. His law is perfect, and you broke each one of the Commandments. But God the Father held these transgressions against His Son. Jesus endured God’s righteous anger for your sins, so you would be spared.
He suffered for every harsh or unkind word you have spoken and for every act of revenge you carried out in your anger. He suffered for all the times you took justice into your own hands and did not trust the Lord to do it. Jesus did this so that sin would neither define you nor overcome you. The blood He shed wipes your slate clean. His blood also cleanses you from the sins others have committed against you. He was reviled, attacked, and abused, so you could find relief in Him when you are wronged. “By His wounds you have been healed.”
Jesus suffered and died to give you a new life. He took your sins on Himself, so you could live in His righteousness. Because His righteousness is yours, you are free to do good for your neighbor without the need to be recognized, appreciated, or thanked. Those friendly responses are encouraging things that make us feel better about our service. But the Lord calls us to do good for the sake of good, to be kind for the sake of kindness, to show love for the sake of love. We do for others as Jesus did for us, freely and joyfully, no matter how our efforts are received.
But isn’t there a point when “enough is enough”? Peter wondered this. He asked Jesus, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” That sounds reasonable. Many people won’t even forgive once—seven times is pretty generous! Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven” (Mat. 18:21,22). He told Peter that our love for others should have no limit.
That is hard for us, and the Lord understands our struggle. That is why He not only comforts us when our love is rejected, He also strengthens us to carry on. He works these things in us through His means of grace, through His powerful Word and Sacraments. These are the “green pastures” and “still waters” where we find rest and restoration. This is where our Good Shepherd leads us and feeds us.
You and I have felt the hunger of having to go without this spiritual nourishment in regular divine services. We have had to be content with hearing the Word in our living rooms. We long to come together again to receive the Lord’s Supper and to encourage and be encouraged by our fellow congregation members. If we took these things for granted before, we don’t take them for granted as much now.
But even though our spiritual routine has been interrupted, our Good Shepherd continues to care for His sheep. He meets you in your home whenever you read and meditate on His Word. Through the Word, He leads you to daily repent of your sin and to return to His “paths of righteousness.” Even if you are quarantined in your home right now, the Lord is with you. He will not abandon you, His sheep.
Today’s text says, “For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” You and I have often strayed into sin and given in to our worst impulses. But again and again God turns us back to His grace. Jesus is the Shepherd and Overseer of [our] souls.” Like a shepherd who won’t leave even one little lamb behind, Jesus does not want to lose one soul for heaven.
He is totally committed to saving you from the eternal destruction that so many bring upon themselves. They are destroyed because they reject His salvation. Maybe they chose the pleasures of the world over the promises of His Word. Or they did not believe they needed saving. Or they thought it was up to them to get themselves to heaven by their own efforts.
Jesus is “the Shepherd of souls.” He and only He can save. It is only by His work that a soul can enter heaven. If a shepherd told a lamb to go from here to another place 100 miles away where it had never been, the lamb could not do it. How could it know the way? Jesus does not tell us to find our way to heaven on our own. He leads us there. By Baptism, He brings us through His death and resurrection and continues to apply His grace to us through Word and Sacrament.
By continuing to listen to His Voice, We Follow in the Steps of the Shepherd. His Word strengthens our faith in Him and strengthens our love for each other. His Word guides us through the good times and the bad. His Word keeps our soul safely in His care and comforts us on our journey. Our Good Shepherd is with us “all the way,” as the hymnwriter says it so well:
I walk with Jesus all the way;
His guidance never fails me.
Within His wounds I find a stay
When Satan’s pow’r assails me,
And, by His footsteps led,
My path I safely tread.
In spite of ills that threaten may,
I walk with Jesus all the way.
(Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary #252, v. 5)
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 stained glass window in St. John the Baptist’s Anglican Church in New South Wales)
The First Sunday in Lent – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Matthew 4:1-11
In Christ Jesus, who chose suffering and the cross over glory and ease, so that sinners could be saved, dear fellow redeemed:
127 years ago, Pastor U. V. Koren preached this: “The age we live in is a difficult time for the church. There is a great apostasy. Many teachers are retreating step by step—they give up one truth after another—so it seems nothing will be left except a powerless Law-doctrine. Each person wants to be saved by his own beliefs, if they ask about salvation at all” (U. V. Koren’s Works, Vol. 1, Sermons, p. 130). They are words that are just as fitting today. The situation has not changed. In fact the Church has been suffering and stumbling along ever since Eden, when Adam and Eve gave in to the devil’s temptation.
God’s creation had a good beginning. Everything was peaceful and perfect. But some of the angels decided they did not want to serve the almighty God. Led by the devil, they rebelled against their Creator and were condemned to eternal torment. These fallen angels are called “demons.” Their entire scheme and activity is to promote wickedness and unbelief in the world, so that many people are condemned along with them.
We sadly see the great success they have had, starting with Adam and Eve. But they have not succeeded in overrunning and overturning all that is good. They still have not done—and will never accomplish—what they set out to do, which is to defeat their Creator. “[T]he devil has been sinning from the beginning,” but the Lord would not let this wickedness go unchecked. God the Father sent His Son to take on human flesh, so that He would “destroy the works of the devil” (1Jn. 3:8).
Jesus publicly stepped into the devil’s crosshairs when He was baptized in the Jordan River. It was an impressive beginning to His public work. Immediately after His baptism, “the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased’” (Mt. 3:16-17). How could the devil accomplish anything against the beloved Son of God, who was anointed with the Spirit of God?
But what followed is not what we would expect. Jesus did not embark in the power of the Spirit on a victory tour through the world. He did not immediately subdue the forces of wickedness and cause every knee to bow to Him. He did not make a public spectacle of Satan and bind him in unbreakable chains, so he could do no more harm. Instead, “Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” The evangelist Mark indicates this was no optional journey, writing that the Spirit “drove him out into the wilderness” (1:12).
For forty days and forty nights, Jesus went without food. The amount of time was not a coincidence. It rained for forty days and forty nights when no believers were left on the earth except Noah and his family (Gen. 7:11-16). Moses was on Mount Sinai for forty days and forty nights, during which the LORD engraved His Ten Commandments on two stone tablets. After Moses found the people worshiping a golden calf, he returned to the mountain for another forty days and forty nights to intercede for them. Moses neither ate nor drank while in the LORD’s presence on the mountain (Ex. 24:18, 34:28; Deut. 9:9, 18).
Because the Israelites did not trust God to give them the land He had promised, they were forced to wander in the wilderness for forty years. Their punishment was one year for each of the forty days the spies had seen the goodness of the land of Canaan and rejected it (Num. 14:28-35). Much later, Elijah returned to the area where Moses had received the Commandments of God. Before starting his journey there, an angel gave him food and drink that sustained him for the forty days and forty nights of travel (1Kin. 19:5-8).
In each case, the forty days and forty nights reflected a period of disobedience and sin against God. Jesus now fasted in the wilderness for forty days and forty nights in perfect obedience to His Father’s will. He came to cover in righteousness what the human race had done in sin. No man could go so long without food under his own power, but Jesus was the God-Man. As God, He could go as long as He wanted without food. But as Man in His state of humiliation, He became hungry.
The devil saw an opportunity. “If You are the Son of God,” he said, “command these stones to become loaves of bread.” Why should Jesus deny Himself? If He was hungry, He should eat. It was as though the devil were saying that whatever Jesus was trying to accomplish by fasting in the wilderness, it wasn’t worth it. He could just as well have said that whatever He thought He needed to do on earth in general, that wasn’t worth it either. “Throw yourself down from the temple”—then everyone will know who you are. No need to be patient. No need to wait. “Fall down and worship me”—no need to stick with the plan. No need to suffer for sinners. Jesus, they aren’t worth it!
Satan tempted Jesus with a cross-free life, which is exactly how he tempts us. “Why suffer?” he says. “Why deny yourself? Why miss out? If you desire it, do it. If you want it, take it. Steal that money. Take those drugs. Down that bottle. Eat what you want. Look at those pictures. Jump in that bed. Tell some lies. Blame someone else.” What the devil wants us to do is exactly what the world says we should do. This should come as no surprise. The devil reigns in this kingdom of darkness. He is “the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience” (Eph. 2:2).
But if we acted on all our desires and pursued everything our flesh wanted, this would not lead us to greater joy and contentment, but rather to greater pain and suffering. The idea that a life of self-indulgence, immorality, and worldly pleasure is the best course a person can take is a lie. The world swallows this lie, hook, line, and sinker. This is why no one wants to admit sin anymore, or take responsibility for their own actions, or recognize that how they feel should have no bearing on what they do.
Adam and Eve did not want to take responsibility for their sin either, the very first sin. They wanted to pass the blame. They tried to plead ignorance. They tried to hide. But there was no escaping from the holy God. There was no way that they could justify sinning against God. There is no justification for our sins either. The devil can only tempt us to sin; he cannot make us do it. If you and I have sinned, the responsibility and fault is our own.
But God promised to send a Savior, a Substitute, One who would take responsibility for the irresponsible, who would pay the price for the unworthy. Contrary to the devil’s temptation, Jesus did not take the easy way out. The easy way out—and a just way—would have been to punish sinners for their wrongs in the eternal fires of hell. That is exactly what you and I and all sinners have earned and deserved.
But Jesus chose the way of suffering and the cross to save sinners. He endured immense anguish and agony, so that the wrath of God against sin would be satisfied. He was nailed to the cross, so that your sins would no longer be counted against you. By removing sin, He removed any claim the devil had on you. If the devil accuses you and points out your sin, you can point to Jesus. He paid for your sins with His holy, precious blood. He chose to suffer your death and hell, so you would have His life and heaven.
Your salvation is why Jesus was willing to “go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Mt. 16:21), as He told His disciples. Peter did not like the sound of that. He took Jesus aside and told Him to stop thinking and talking that way. Then Jesus said to him, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (v. 23).
The way of God is the way of love and sacrifice and self-denial. This is how Jesus calls His followers to live. “If anyone would come after me,” says Jesus, “let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” If we aim for pleasure and fulfillment in the world, we will join the devil in eternal destruction. But if in humble repentance and faith we follow after Jesus, we will enjoy the eternal victory He won for us.
Satan Tempts with a Cross-Free Life. But Jesus would not hear of it, and neither should you. The way of the world’s glory is meaningless and short-lived. The way of the cross is the way of trouble and difficulty in the world, but it is also the way of life and hope. It is to follow after Jesus, to be blessed by His constant presence and care, and finally to receive from Him the crown of everlasting life.
In this forty day season of Lent, remember that you are not alone in the wilderness of this world. As Luther wrote, Jesus is “by our side upon the plain / With His good gifts and Spirit” (ELH 250, v. 4). He is “with us in the fight” (251, v. 4), and He will not let the devil overcome any who trust in Him. Jesus would not give up His mission no matter how the devil tempted Him, and He will not give up on you, for whom He willingly took up His cross, died, and rose again.
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(picture from a woodcut by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, 1794-1872)