The Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Matthew 6:24-34
In Christ Jesus, whose promise to provide for us is far more powerful than our worries and troubles, dear fellow redeemed:
He says it five times!
- “Do not be anxious about your life.”
- “Which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?”
- “Why are you anxious about clothing?”
- “Do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’”
- “Do not be anxious about tomorrow.”
Jesus thinks we have an anxiousness problem, a worry problem, and Jesus is never wrong. He also identifies another problem: our little faith. Both of those go together—worry and a lack of faith. We worry because we do not believe God will do what He says, or at least we have doubts that He will provide for us in just the way and at just the time that we need it.
But what is it that causes our worry? What is our worry based on? Our worry is not based on anything we find in God’s Word. We don’t read about an arbitrary or a fickle God who sometimes chooses to bless His children and sometimes chooses to harm them. At times He does chasten and discipline us, because He wants to lead us to repentance and a stronger faith. But this is done out of love. He is always faithful. He does not change. So worry is not based on uncertainty about God’s will and work which are clearly revealed to us in His Word.
Worry is based on our own experience and the evidence we see around us in the world. We can think of times when we had more expenses than income, more responsibilities than we had the ability to meet. Maybe we were worried about paying our bills, and then more bills came. We didn’t know where the money would come from to cover even the essentials like food and utilities. Or one of our family members was sick, and we didn’t know if we could afford the medicine needed for healing.
We also look around us and see many people who go hungry, who can’t afford clothing, who have no place to go home to. If God feeds the birds and clothes the lilies, why doesn’t He feed and clothe all people in need? And if doesn’t do this for the people who really need it, how can we be sure He will do this for us? So we worry. We give more weight to our experiences and doubts than to God’s promises.
When we allow worry to come in, we are taking matters that God wants to handle and holding those matters in our own hands. We keep the burden on ourselves of providing for our needs and fixing our own problems. Or we look for another provider, another god, whose promises seem more reliable.
This is how many people view the government. They trust the government to take care of all their needs. But as necessary as government is—and God has certainly ordained it for good order and for our protection—yet government is made up of sinners, who are often ready to take as much or more than they promise to give.
Our worries really come down to 1) having enough and 2) keeping what we have. A person just out of high school or a married couple with little children might especially worry about having enough. They do without new clothes, new cars, and a nice house. Retirement is a long way off—there’s lots of work to do! But older individuals whose work has been blessed and who are able to afford the finer things, now worry about having enough to retire on and having the good health and energy to enjoy it.
When we worry about the future like this, we behave like “the Gentiles.” Jesus says, “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.” Now many of us are Gentiles in the sense of not having Jewish background. But Jesus is referring to the unbelieving Gentiles, the ones who did not have the Scriptures. That isn’t us, but we act like the unbelievers when we worry about having what we need.
Instead of worry, Jesus teaches us to do this: “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” He says that when we put our faith in God and His Word—little though our faith may be—, all the things we need for this earthly life will be provided to us. That’s quite a promise! It’s a promise that we have difficulty accepting.
We think that if we are going to prosper in this life, we have to make it happen. We have to outwork our co-workers, we have to come up with new solutions to get ourselves noticed by the “higher-ups.” We have to be in the right place at the right time. Then we will have a shot at our dreams. Then we can have a chance at the life we always wanted.
This is not a criticism of hard work. God wants every one of us to do our work to the best of our ability, whether we are in the classroom, in the workplace, in our homes, or at church. God never endorses laziness. In teaching us not to worry, Jesus is certainly not teaching us to sit back and wait for everything to drop in our lap. The apostle Paul couldn’t have said it more clearly than this: “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat” (2Th. 3:10).
The difference is working for selfish gain or working for godly gain. We work for godly gain when we recognize that God is the one who gives each of us our unique abilities and strengths to employ in His service. We trust that He will bless our efforts as He sees fit. He might give more to some of His children and less to others, but all of it is a gift from His gracious hand. So it is not helpful to compare what we have with what others have, since God is the Giver, and “He is good, for His mercy endures forever” (Psa. 136:1).
And how do we know this is true beyond any doubt, that God really is so good and merciful? We know this because the Father who created and provides for all things also gave the greatest gift of all—His only-begotten Son to save us. When Jesus says, “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness,” He is referring to His own holy work.
God the Father sent Him to do for us what we could not accomplish, no matter how much we worried after it or worked for it. Jesus the Christ was born under the Law, so that He might redeem us, buy us back, by His own holy life. While we are anxious and doubtful about God’s care for us, He perfectly entrusted Himself to the Father’s will. He did not worry about tomorrow; He focused on God’s Word today.
Wherever we have failed in our work through our worry, our selfishness, and our laziness, Jesus fulfilled the holy Law through His faith, His love, and His perfect commitment to the work of saving us sinners. “His righteousness” is the righteousness we must seek if we will stand before God in heaven. And this is the righteousness we already have by faith in Jesus.
Yes, our faith is “little” and never as strong as it should be. But even a little faith has salvation in Christ. Our eternal future does not depend on how strong our faith is, but on how strong our Savior and Lord is. And He is strong! He is stronger than hunger and want, stronger than worry and fear, stronger than sin, death, and the devil.
He suffered when He went to the cross, but He was not worried. Just before He took His last breath, He cried out, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” (Luk. 23:46). Then He was taken off the cross and closed up in the tomb, but He was not worried. Death was no match for Him, and He rose from the dead on the third day to prove it.
It is this Conqueror of sin and death who tells you: “Do not be anxious; do not worry.” If your needs and concerns are like ten enemies threatening you with pocket knives and pitchforks, God’s care is like an entire army right behind you outfitted with the best weapons and equipment. Worldly cares are scattered by the powerful promise of God’s care.
He will provide for you. If He needs to say it again and again, even every day, He will: “Do not be anxious. I have not forgotten about your needs. I know how to turn trials into blessings. I will come and help you. Have no fear!” In His care for you, God the Father already sent His Son to rescue you from eternal death. That must mean He will not forsake you in your times of need (Rom. 8:32).
And you know this to be true. You know that your cares and worries have never done anything for you. You know that God’s care for you has never failed. Even when you were anxious, even when you complained, He kept on loving you. And if He didn’t give you everything you wanted at the time, He gave you everything you needed.
God knows your needs even better than you do. He gives you His kingdom and His righteousness for your eternal life, and He gives all that you need for this body and life besides.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
+ + +
(picture of Jesus and the lilies from stained glass at Jerico Lutheran Church)
The Ninth Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Luke 16:1-9
In Christ Jesus, who does not ask for your money or your possessions or your property, but for a humble and generous heart concerned about the needs of your neighbors, dear fellow redeemed:
Just before today’s reading from the Gospel of Luke, Jesus told the parable of the prodigal son. That son took his inheritance from his father, journeyed to a far country, and “squandered his property in reckless living” (15:13). He wasted everything he had and was left with nothing. Jesus now uses the same word to describe what a rich man’s manager did. Charges were brought that this manager was wasting his employer’s possessions.
How did he waste it? Jesus leaves that part of the story untold, but from what we learn about the manager’s character, it is almost certain that he spent his master’s money on himself. He acted like what belonged to another was his. And now he was going to lose it all. He was just like the prodigal son, making bad decisions and having a hard time facing the consequences for them.
He didn’t want to do manual labor—that would be too hard. He didn’t want to have to beg—that would be too shameful. What did he have left? The clock was ticking. The “pink slip” had arrived. The books were due. Then he had an idea. He had fallen out of favor with his rich master. But there were still the debtors he had worked with. This manager was a “middle man.” He enjoyed rubbing elbows with the upper class, but if he could use his connections with the lower class, that was better than nothing.
The manager did not have anything of his own to offer, but he still had his master’s books. So he quickly brought in his master’s debtors and reduced what they owed. He did them a big favor, so they might do him a favor or two before long. The manager was a scoundrel, but he shrewdly arranged things for his own benefit. What could his master do? Fire him again?
Jesus gave this as an example of how “the sons of this world”—the unbelievers—operate. He said, “the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.” The “sons of this world” are driven by greed, selfishness, and self-preservation. The same should not be said of us “sons of light”—believers in Jesus. But that doesn’t mean we can’t be more shrewd—more wise and responsible—in our stewardship of what He gives us.
Jesus wants us to “make friends for [ourselves] by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive [us] into the eternal dwellings.” Now that sounds kind of strange. Why would Jesus want us to “make friends” using something “unrighteous”? The text literally says, “by the mammon of unrighteousness.” Jesus calls it “unrighteous,” because money, possessions, and property are for life in this world. They cannot be used to buy favor with God. They cannot pay for your sins or redeem your soul.
Just after today’s text, Jesus contrasts “unrighteous wealth” with “true riches” (v. 11). “True riches” are the spiritual gifts of God, such as the forgiveness of sins, the righteousness of faith, salvation and eternal life. Those things can’t be bought with money, but that doesn’t stop people from trying. When the Gospel was preached in Samaria after Pentecost, a magician named Simon believed and was baptized. He was amazed to see the Holy Spirit being given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands. He wanted this power too and offered the apostles money for it. Peter replied, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money!” (Act. 8:20).
Many still think they can obtain God’s gifts with money. They are told that if they give money to the church, God will be more pleased with them and their life will get better. The Roman church still sells indulgences and masses for the benefit of both the living and the dead. This wrong thinking can tempt us also. We might become proud because of our generous offerings. We might think that through our large gifts, we are doing more for the Church and for God than others are who give a lot less. Jesus put that idea to rest by praising the poor widow for her offering of two little mites (Luk. 21:1-4).
So why does Jesus connect the spending of “unrighteous wealth” with friends receiving us into “the eternal dwellings”? How can our earthly stewardship result in the eternal salvation of ourselves and others? This Divine Service is one example. Because you have called me to be your pastor, and you provide my livelihood, I am able to commit full-time to the preaching and teaching of God’s Word and the administration of His Sacraments. The hearing and learning of this Word causes you to grow in faith, and it prepares you to enter eternal life by God’s grace.
But you don’t give offerings just for yourself. You give so that others can hear the Word too, including people you don’t know yet, whom God will bring here in the future. We still benefit today from the gifts given by members who have long since entered into glory. It is good to give with that mentality. We don’t just give because of what our offerings can do for us right now. We give cheerfully and generously trusting that God will guide and prosper the use of our offerings for the growth of His kingdom.
The restoration project of the Saude church is a good example of this. A gift in 1948 which grew over time, covered half the cost of the project. That gift was a seed planted, which God caused to grow according to His will. Our gifts to the synod and missions don’t always seem to produce big results. But we don’t know what God has planned for the future. We may not see the fruits of our labor for a long time, and maybe not until we enter “the eternal dwellings.” There we will meet friends we never knew existed, who came to faith because God blessed our offerings for His work.
I know I don’t need to convince you of the importance of giving. And I expect that each one of you here would like to give more if you could. But things are often tight. We are paying more for food, clothing, gas, and utilities today than we did a year ago. As costs rise, worries increase. “Are there big changes coming for us?” “How much longer can we hang on?” “Will things ever get better?”
Our worries affect our stewardship. It isn’t just the effect that worry has on giving, making us hold more tightly to what we have. It’s the effect that worry has on our interactions with others. Worry causes us to think more about ourselves just like that manager did. Worry makes us feel desperate. It causes us to neglect the needs of our neighbors. It causes us to forget where our wealth comes from and who is really providing for us.
We might think that we have to protect and store away what little we have. We have nothing left to give. That didn’t stop the manager. He had nothing left to give, but his master did. All that we have belongs to our Master. Everything on earth is the Lord’s. He created all things and gives the fruits and resources of the earth for us to manage and use. To some He gives more and to others less. But all of it is gift.
By saying that we don’t have enough for a neighbor in need, we are really saying that God hasn’t given us enough. People often wonder why God doesn’t do more to help the hungry and the needy. At the same time, they buy so much food that it expires before they consume it. They forget the new clothes they bought last year and keep buying more. They add another streaming service for their entertainment to the ones they already have. What if God said to us, “Turn in the account of your management—show Me what you have done with My goods!”?
There is no getting around it. We have not been faithful stewards of all that God has given us. Like the worldly manager, we have often acted out of greed, selfishness, and self-preservation. We have done what is best for ourselves—not for our families, our employers and co-workers, and our neighbors. Our sins are debts, which we cannot recover from or work our way out of on our own.
That’s why Jesus taught us to pray to our Father, “forgive us our trespasses—our debts—as we forgive those who trespass against us” (Luk. 11:4). Jesus is our Mediator, our “Middle Man.” He calls us to Himself, looks at our debt, and says, “Take your bill and write, ‘Ransomed. Forgiven. Redeemed.’” Jesus faced the wrath of our Master. He was punished for our wastefulness and selfishness. He balanced the scales and set everything right for us. He paid our debt in full.
When Jesus knelt in the Garden, sweating drops of blood, He didn’t say to His Father, “I have nothing left to give.” He said, “not my will, but yours, be done” (Luk. 22:42). And then He gave up His life for you. He died on the cross, so you would inherit His eternal riches. Jesus held nothing back, and He still holds nothing back. You will never run out of the “true riches” that He has obtained for you—His forgiveness, His righteousness, His life—continuously given to you through His Word and Sacraments. And He promises to provide what you need for this earthly life besides.
Despite your mismanagement in the past, He continues to send you out to do His work. He gives to you in abundance, so you can give generously to others. You may not always have large sums of money to offer for the needs of your neighbors. But you can always offer them the saving Word. You can offer your forgiveness and kindness and love. You can offer prayers on their behalf and lend a helping hand.
You are not poor at all, not by any means. You have what is your Master’s, and His riches are immeasurable. Until He runs out of gifts to give, you won’t either.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
+ + +
(picture from “Parable of the Unjust Steward” by Jan Luyken, 1649-1712)
The Second Sunday after the Epiphany – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. John 2:1-11
In Christ Jesus, who cares about your problems no matter how large or small they may be, dear fellow redeemed:
We don’t know much about Joseph, the stepfather of Jesus. We get the impression that he was a man of few words. The Gospels that speak about him never record him speaking. He seemed to be mostly in the background, quietly going about his work as a husband, father, and carpenter. Mary, on the other hand, was more outspoken. When she and Joseph finally located twelve-year-old Jesus in the temple, she blurted out, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress” (Luk. 2:48).
After this, we are told that Jesus returned with His parents to Nazareth “and was submissive to them” (v. 51). That’s the last we hear about Jesus’ life until His public revealing at His Baptism. So what happened from age twelve to thirty? We assume that Jesus worked with Joseph and helped Mary around the house. He lived in a home like ours with all of its anxieties, challenges, and joys.
Jesus was without sin, but the same could not be said for His parents. He probably witnessed Joseph and Mary get irritated with each other, maybe even raise their voices and argue. He heard about Joseph’s problems at work and listened to His mother worry and wonder how she would get everything done that needed doing. I expect He was a calm voice in situations like these, someone whom His parents felt they could lean on.
Perhaps this is why Mary went to Jesus when she learned that the wine had run out at the wedding banquet. We don’t know what she expected Him to do, but she was obviously troubled by the situation. Wedding celebrations at this time could last as long as a week, and it would have reflected poorly on the bride and groom and their parents if food and drink ran out before the time was up.
Our wedding celebrations don’t last a week, but even today it wouldn’t look good if the hosts were unable to provide for their invited guests. So we work through the guest list, we add up the numbers, we calculate the costs. Planning a wedding and reception is a big deal! If the bride and groom don’t need everything to be perfect, their mothers probably do. Some take it to the extreme. That’s where we get “bridezillas” and maybe “momzillas” too.
But all the details that seem so important leading up to the day—the flowers, the decorations, the dresses and suits, the food and drink—those are not the most important thing. The wedding day is about God’s gift of marriage, the joining together of husband and wife—a one-flesh union intended to last until death parts them.
And yet we often find ourselves losing sight of the big picture. We get stuck in the details of daily life, the challenges and problems that cause worry and stress. It’s probably the case that few of our problems would seem like big problems to others. For every problem we might bring up about work or school or our home life, lots of others could tell us how they have it worse.
Even if our troubles are relatively small, they are still troubling to us. History would never remember the wine running out at a little wedding in a little town. But it mattered to Mary in the moment. In the moment, a shortage of wine seemed like a significant problem, a serious blemish on what was supposed to be a joyful occasion.
This is the reality of life in a fallen world. We are going to have trouble and difficulty. Nothing goes as perfectly as we want. We aren’t always treated well. Our friends and family don’t always understand us or give us the support we need. We get bullied at school. We get disrespected at work. We run out—out of money, out of energy, out of patience.
And the more we dwell on these problems, the larger they get in our eyes. The hurtful words cut deeper. The relationship issues intensify. The tension increases. The stress rises. It may have started out as something small—someone making an offhanded comment, laughing at our mistake, not giving credit where it is due, not remembering what should have been remembered. And we let these things make us bitter. We hold grudges. We give the silent treatment. It can happen in any relationship. It happens most often with the people most closely connected to us—husband, wife, parents, children, brothers, and sisters.
We know how to turn little problems into big problems through our worry and through our anger. We know how to ignore the big picture—that God loves us and promises to take care of us, and that He commands us to love our neighbor as ourselves and to be kind and compassionate and forgiving toward each other. We know how to insist on fairness and justice, while ignoring grace and mercy. In short, we know how to make mountains out of molehills.
In the grand scheme of things, a shortage of wine at the wedding in Cana was a molehill problem. But what do we find? Jesus was on that molehill! He was at that little wedding in a little town, which no one would ever care about if He wasn’t there. But He was there. When Mary first conveyed the problem to Him, He didn’t seem to care about it. “Woman, what does this have to do with Me?” He asked, “My hour has not yet come.”
But Mary had faith in her Son. She told the servants, “Do whatever He tells you.” And Jesus decided to act. He had the servants fill six large jars with water and take some to the master of the feast. When he tasted it, it wasn’t water anymore—it was fine wine! The evangelist John tells us this was “the first of [Jesus’] signs,” and He “manifested His glory. And His disciples believed in Him.”
It is stunning that Jesus chose this setting and occasion for His first sign. Why not choose a more prominent place and a more public way to reveal His power? What we have in this account is a true comfort for us. It shows us that Jesus cares about the little things. He is aware of the everyday problems. By turning water into wine, He showed that He was concerned about the joy of the wedding couple, their parents, and their guests.
And in the bigger picture, we see Jesus demonstrating both respect for His mother and respect for marriage. He wanted to honor Mary, and He wanted to honor the occasion. He also wanted to begin to show His disciples who He was and to prepare them for when His “hour” would come three years later. At that time, He would die on the cross and rise again and ascend in glory to His place at the Father’s right hand.
For now, it was enough for them to know that Jesus had come from God and that He had come with mercy. He came with mercy for you. He came to relieve you of your burdens and bring calmness in your distresses. Sometimes you will hear people say, “God doesn’t have time to bother about my little problems.” On the contrary, that’s exactly what He loves to do. Jesus didn’t just come to save you from the big problems you face; He came to save you from the little ones too.
The big problems are our sinfulness, and death staring us right in the face. Jesus accepted our sins as though they were His own and carried them to the cross. We often talk about this in a big picture way—all our sins, all paid for on the cross. But let’s look at the details. Jesus paid for your sins of worrying that you will have enough money and enough time to do what you need to. He paid for your sins of mistreating those closest to you and not caring about their needs like you care about your own. He paid for your sins of failing to put the best construction on what someone has said or done and instead letting bitterness and anger grow in your heart toward them. Not only has He paid for your sins against others, He has also paid for their sins against you, each and every one.
If He did all that for you—even suffering your own hell and death, is He going to forget about your daily needs and ignore your momentary struggles? Jesus comes to you no matter what you are experiencing, no matter what troubles trouble you. He comes through His Word and His Sacraments to bring you forgiveness for the wiping away of your guilt, peace for your contentment, and strength for your endurance.
No problem of yours is too big for Jesus, and no problem is too small. He wants you to have joy in Him and His Word even though everything else seems to be going poorly. He invites you to bring your worries and concerns to Him just like Mary did. And He promises to give you what you need for today. Maybe for your good, the wine will need to run out as a way to teach you to trust in Him. And then He will make the wine overflow in your life as you see His many wonderful gifts toward you.
Jesus loves you with a magnificent, mountainous love. He knows your needs and well provides you. He Meets You wherever you are, whatever condition you are in—Even on the Molehills.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
+ + +
(picture from a work by a 10th century monk)
The Third Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: 1 Peter 5:6-11
In Christ Jesus, who will never cast out those who come to Him in faith (Joh. 6:37), dear fellow redeemed:
When you want someone to back up what they say by what they do, you might remind them that “talk is cheap.” In last week’s Epistle lesson, we heard John address this when he wrote, “let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (1Jo. 3:18). So it’s one thing for a person to say, “I care about you,” and it’s another for them to show it. One of the most comforting passages in the Bible is found in today’s text: “[Cast] all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you.” But How Does God Care for Us?
Our friends show that they care for us by being there when we need them. They listen sympathetically to our problems. They may speak words of encouragement to us, or offer us food and gifts to help us and cheer us up. God also cares for us like this as He joins us in our troubles and listens to our prayers. He shares His Word of encouragement with us, and He constantly provides the things we need for this body and life. But He demonstrates His care for us in even more profound ways than these.
Peter writes by inspiration of the Holy Spirit that “the God of all grace… has called you to His eternal glory in Christ.” The God of all grace does not punish us for our sins as we deserve. He shows undeserved love and kindness toward us. In His grace He has called us to “eternal glory in Christ.” The “in Christ” is crucial. God did not say, “I know you have broken all My Commandments, but let’s let bygones be bygones. Let’s just forget that that happened. Why don’t you come up here to heaven and enjoy My eternal glory?”
We are called to eternal glory “in Christ.” Eternal glory was won for us by Christ. He won eternal glory by taking the everlasting guilt and punishment for our sin on Himself. This shows us so clearly that God cares for us. God the Father sent His Son to be our Substitute, to pay the price for sin in our place, to die our death, to suffer our hell. Because He did this out of obedience to His Father, “[t]herefore God has highly exalted him” (Phi. 2:9). Now the kingdom and the power and the glory are His both as God and Man.
Our heavenly Father also wants us to have a share of this glory. This is why He has called us to faith in Christ by the working of the Holy Spirit. We confess that “the Holy Ghost has called [us] by the Gospel” (Third Article of the Creed). He has called us through the message of Christ crucified and risen. When we were converted, the forgiveness of sins which Jesus won for us on the cross was applied to us, and His perfect keeping of the Holy Law was credited to us. This means that nothing stands between the believer and eternal glory. Eternal glory is ours already in Christ.
But that is difficult to understand or even to remember when our life on earth is anything but glorious. Peter here clearly acknowledges that we Christians have anxieties, worries, cares. Sometimes we share the same anxieties, such as when flooding or drought affect the whole community, or when economic troubles touch us all. Last March when concerns about a new virus reached us, we collectively felt the anxiety of the unknown. Will we and our loved ones stay healthy? Will we have enough food and supplies? Will we be able to keep our jobs?
When all that was happening, a friend pointed out that the anxiety we felt at that time is something that a portion of the population deals with much or all the time. There are some who live under a cloud of despair, who constantly imagine the worst case scenario, who experience depressive episodes or severe mood swings, who are stuck in addictive behavior, who hardly ever feel happy. For these friends of ours, anxiety and depression and a feeling of worthlessness are often a daily struggle. It can be difficult in these times to believe that God really cares.
And that’s exactly the doubt that the devil wants to plant in our minds. Peter writes that “[y]our adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” His aim is to attack and destroy our faith, our hope, and our love. He wants to tear us away from Jesus and the salvation He has won for us. He does this primarily through temptation.
He tempts us to wonder if God cares about us when things are going badly. He tempts us to doubt God’s Word which assures us of our Lord’s care. And if we become convinced that God will not help, the devil tempts us to rely on ourselves to pull ourselves out of the depths and to fix our own deep-rooted problems. This only sends us deeper and deeper down.
The devil may successfully tempt us to doubt God’s care, but he cannot stop God’s care. It is an unchangeable, irreversible truth that God Cares for Us. He has not only “called [us] to His eternal glory in Christ,” which we will fully enjoy in heaven, but He is also with us in our struggles here on earth. Our text says that “after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace… will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.”
How does He “restore” us? Psalm 23 tells us that the Good Shepherd restores our soul “in green pastures,” “beside still waters,” and “in paths of righteousness.” Our soul is restored in the life-giving nourishment and in the living waters of our Lord’s Word. Through His Word, our Shepherd meets us with the gifts of His grace. He brings us forgiveness when we have listened to the lies of the devil instead of trusting in Him. He brings us His holiness, so that we can stand free of sin and guilt before our Father in heaven and be judged as righteous on the last day.
Jesus also comes to “confirm” our faith, so we can resist the attacks of our adversary. We who belong to Jesus by faith have Him on our side in the fight against the devil and all evil. The devil wants us to think that we are totally alone in this world, that God does not care for us and neither does anyone else. But we are not alone, not even close. The Lord is with us, and He reminds us that “the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.”
We are joined together with all believers in the body of Christ. We face a common enemy, but God has equipped us for the battle, and Jesus leads the charge. No matter what troubles come our way, we cannot lose because we are in Christ, and He conquers all. So He “strengthens” us in this promise of His undying care, and He “establishes” us, gives us a firm footing in His Word, so that nothing can destroy our faith in Him.
These are the concrete ways God shows His care for us. He does not always give us what we ask for or give to us right away. But He certainly still cares. Sometimes in His care, He places a cross on us, not to drive us away from Him but to draw us closer. These crosses remind us that we cannot get along by our own wisdom and strength. We are not in control of the past, the present, or the future. Our life is in the hands of “the God of all grace.” Whatever He does, including humbling us under His “mighty hand,” is for our good. It is because He cares.
So you may cast all your anxieties on Him. He invites you to do this. He can handle anything you throw His way. These burdens are too heavy for you, but they are not too heavy for Him. Jesus carried your sins and the sins of the whole world to the cross. He can bear the daily worries and cares that weigh you down. “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden,” says Jesus, “and I will give you rest” (Mat. 11:28).
We find rest in Jesus. We find it by listening to His sure promises in His Word. We find it by receiving His free gifts in His Sacraments. His care for us never falters. His commitment to us never dries up. As long as we have breath, He has blessings to give us through His Word. And when we breathe our last, He has eternal blessings waiting for us in heaven.
God’s talk is not cheap. He sealed the promise of our salvation through the blood of His Son. He showed His care for us not just by saying, but by doing. And He still actively works for our good. He defends us from the constant attacks of the devil, and He delivers us when we have fallen to our knees and can go no further. “[A]t the proper time” He will exalt us, lift us up, and bring us at last to “His eternal glory.”
+ + +
(picture from “The Good Shepherd” painting by James Tissot, 1836-1902)