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Humility and Compassion August 28, 2016

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Luke 14:1-14

Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

August 28, 2016


Focus:  God humbled Himself, taking on flesh, to die for us.

Function:  That the hearers care for others.

Structure:  Walking through the text.


Humility and Compassion


Sometimes when you read a text from Scripture, it just doesn’t seem to go together.  And our text from the gospel according to Luke today is just like that.  You can read it through and hear Jesus teach things, but they seem disconnected.  We have a healing on the Sabbath, and then some teaching on being humble, and it closes with some advice about who we should invite into our homes and spend our time with.

So at first we wonder what Luke is doing.  Why did he put these three things right next to each other?  But as we reflect on the text, we can see that Luke didn’t actually put these things together, Jesus did.  They all happened at the same time, one right after the other.

So then we wonder why Jesus is all over the board here, bouncing from one topic to another so quickly.  And this is why it’s truly helpful to read, mark, and inwardly digest the Word of God.  Too many believe that once you’ve read it once, you never need to read it again.  This isn’t some awful movie that you watch once and never want to see again.  It’s more like your favorite film, something like a Sound of Music or a Star Wars, where you want to see it time and time again.  And I know there are probably several people here who could sing that musical soundtrack without any help at all.  And yet, you still enjoy them.

The depth of Scripture is unparalleled.  You can read the same text every day for the rest of your life and you’ll still be learning, still growing in your understanding of how God is saving His people.

And so we look at our text from Luke again today, and a little closer.   Look at each of the three paragraphs, the three sections, and notice how they begin.

In the first paragraph, the very start of this chapter, we see that Jesus has been invited into the home of a Pharisee to eat with him and his other guests.  This, as it turns out, is the same context for the rest of our reading.  He’s not going anywhere.  It’s the same people, the same meal.

Now we’re not given a time, but at some point early in Jesus’ time in the house, He sees a man who has dropsy, which according to Mayo, is intense swelling of the hands, feet, and other limbs.  This man is clearly sick, his life deeply impacted by this illness and the limitations it presents.  And Jesus sees Him, and does what?  What’s His response?

Notice it isn’t immediately healing him.  Which makes you wonder if this sick man was there of his own doing, or if this was all a set up by the Pharisees to trap Jesus into breaking the Sabbath again.  Because instead of just healing him, Jesus begins to question, to teach, those around Him.  “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?”

And they respond with silence.  Silence, so as to allow Jesus to continue on, to just do what they knew He would.  Heal the man so we can cast you out.  And so He does, He heals the sick man and sends him away, and then goes right back to teaching, to challenging these Pharisees and lawyers.  “Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?”

It’s their trap, but Jesus spins it back on them, and traps them with it.  They don’t know how to respond.  In fact, they do know how to respond, but it proves them wrong, and so they keep their mouths shut once again.  We see a lot from Jesus here.  We see His compassion for the sick, but also His compassion for the misguided.  Because He’s teaching them, and He stays around.

You see the text continues.  Jesus remained in the house, and we watched others, He watched the guests take their place at the owner’s table.  And how each wanted the seats of honor, likely the seats right by the host.  Or maybe for you, the seat at the wedding reception table that gets to go get their food first!  But Jesus sees the pride of these people, how they seek after, covet the affections, the attention, the gifts of the guy throwing the party.

And so He counters them, again, teaching.  He tells them the parable of the wedding feast.  If you seat yourself in a seat of honor, what will happen if someone else arrives that the master of the banquet wants to give that honor?  He will ask you to move, and you will walk away embarrassed, ashamed, to the lowest place as most of the other seats are already filled.  But if you humble yourself, shed that ego, think less of yourself, and sit at the lowest place, what will happen?  Maybe nothing, you just end up sitting there, enjoy the party, meet some new people.  Or maybe, the master of the banquet singles you out, and raises you up, asking you to sit near him.  Rather than being embarrassed, you’ll be built up, encouraged, your relationship with the master grows all the more.

So He’s spoken to the religious leaders, and then to the guests at large at this party, and then the third paragraph here we come back to see Him address the man who invited Him, presumably, the owner of the house.

And again, He teaches.  He teaches this man who to invite.  He tells him not to invite friends, family, or wealthy neighbors.  Why?  Because they’ll pay him back.  They’ll return the favor.  Instead, he’s encouraged to invite those who can’t invite him back, those who can’t return the favor.  The poor, crippled, lame, and blind.   These people can’t give him anything because they don’t have anything.  He’s encouraging him to spend his time with the least of these.

And so as we dig deeper into this context, we do start to see how these three teachings all fit together.  It’s not three unconnected events.  It’s not even just three teachable moments for the Christ.  It is a series on compassion and humility in a place where compassion and humility were gravely absent.

We see a man in need of compassion, and the leaders refuse to give it to him.  They remain in their ego-filled high place, while this man with dropsy is looked down upon.  Christ comes along, has compassion upon him, heals his sickness, and sends him off back into his life.

We see this same message of humility then shared with the guests.  That rather than thinking too highly of themselves, they should be as servants, taking the lowest place, that they might receive honor and be lifted up.

And then to the host himself, Christ again speaks of compassion and humility.  The host’s home is filled with egos.  It’s filled with people seeking to glorify themselves and who look down on others.  So Jesus encourages this man to have compassion on the ones they look down on.  To care for the sick.  To befriend the lame.  To feed the poor.  This may not glorify you in the eyes of the world, certainly not the Pharisees, but it brings glory to God in heaven.  And maybe, just maybe, that repayment at the resurrection has something to do with seeing the least of these at the heavenly feast.

“For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”  This is Christ.  Let’s recall your catechetical instruction.   We talk about Christ as having two states.  What are they?  The state of humiliation and the state of exaltation.  And which came first?  As we plow through the creed, “came down from heaven…incarnate….made man…crucified also for us…suffered and was buried.”  These things, that Christ took on flesh, came into this world to conquer sin, death, and the devil.  Not a champion rider on a horse bringing destruction, but as a humble servant willing to lay down His life for His friends.

And that’s precisely what He did.  He laid down His life for all of us.  Christ died upon that cross that we might live.  He died that we wouldn’t have to die.  God died for you.  That’s humble.  And in the most embarrassing of ways, asphyxiated to death in front of the world to see.

But then out of this humility the Father in heaven exalted His Son: “rose again according to the Scriptures and ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father.  And He will come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead, whose kingdom will have no end.”  Whoever humbles himself will be exalted.  Christ was exalted, all the way to the right hand of the Father in heaven.

And so Christ comes to teach, to share what compassion and humility look like.  Many times I hear that sermons need to always spell out the application.  What does this text look like in my life?  Why should it matter to me?  I admit, I don’t often do that.  And I know it.  It’s intentional that I leave it out.  I want you to be able to hear the Word of God and to be able to figure out how it applies on your own.  That’s part of maturity in our faith.

With that said, it’s still good for me to give you the applications from time to time, as a guide, as an example, to help you in your ability to see how the Spirit works through His Word today.  And this text is quite simple.  It’s the same message Christ was teaching to the people then.

Have compassion on others.  Don’t look down upon them because they’re not like you.  For example, don’t look down upon an entirely different generation because they don’t seem to have life figured out like you do.  Have compassion, get to know them, walk alongside them, teach them.  But also be humble and realize there’s much they can teach you as well.

It’s also a good reminder for us to care for the least of these.  This isn’t just helping with charity events like Channel One or Feed My Starving Children.  Those are good things, helpful things.  But in your daily life, finding ways to invite others into your home who are hungry, or lonely, or grieving.

A great example of this is major holidays, times like Thanksgiving, Christmas, or Easter.   Go around your neighborhood and invite your neighbors to celebrate those days at your table.  Most will turn you down, having a place to go already.  But you may find someone who doesn’t, a widow marking her first Christmas alone.  A young couple a thousand miles away from home and the only family they know.  A man who looks so rich but is actually poor because of all the debt he has taken on trying to be something he’s not.  And you don’t have to wait for the holidays.  Invite someone over this weekend.

That’s just a couple of an endless number of examples you could come up with about compassion and humility.  But we also remember that it’s not by our compassion or our humility that we earn our salvation.  Christ has already done that for us.


Faithful in Persecution August 14, 2016

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Hebrews 11.17-31 and 12.1-3

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

August 14th, 2016


Focus:  God promises us life and salvation in the blood of His Son Jesus Christ.

Function:  That the hearers put their trust in Christ alone.

Structure:  Walking through the text, continuation from previous week.


Faithful in Persecution


In our text this week, we rumble forward, we continue our Scripture reading from the Book of Hebrews last weekend.  And the theme is the same, we pick up right where we left off.

We continue to talk about what faith is.  Faith is not an empty hope.  It’s not hoping in your dreams to come true.  It’s not thinking that if I just believe it enough, it will happen.  These things are false idols, they’re fakes.  They’re not faith.

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”  That is, faith is trust in the promises of God giving His Son Jesus Christ to die on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins, and to rise again to new life on that third morning.  Faith is grasping these promises, given through the Word of God and through His sacraments, you are forgiven, you are healed, you have life.  That’s faith.  Trusting in God’s promises given to us.

And we saw this.  The author of Hebrews spelled out this faith in the life of five of our brothers and sister in Christ.  Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, and Sarah.  Each and every one of these people looked forward to the promise of a Messiah, of a Savior who would come for them granting victory over the grave.  They put their faith, their trust, in Christ alone.  As we do today.

And so the author continues this morning with more examples of what this looks like.  We return to Abraham.  To the man who was promised that even in his old age, he would bear a son, and that this son, Isaac, would grant Abraham many descendants, to become a nation that can’t be counted.  And then a command comes from God to Abraham that he would sacrifice this son, this Isaac as an offering to God.

This was a test, clearly to us in hindsight.  This isn’t the way God works.  In fact, child sacrifice was deemed to be a horrid and detestable practice that a pagan group did in honor of a false god they called Molech.  And yet, this test fell on Abraham.  And Abraham believed.   The author of the Hebrews tells us that Abraham believed that even if he sacrificed Isaac, God would raise him from the dead and still keep His promise.

What faith!  We hear of Isaac passing that blessing and promise on to his boys, Jacob and Esau.  And then Jacob to his grandsons Ephraim and Manasseh.  And we see Joseph, second in command of all of Egypt, already talking about the exodus, the promise of a land of their own, that they can call home.

We see Moses, disowning his upbringing, casting aside all the treasures and wealth of Egypt, all the power that came with his position, his status in Pharaoh’s household.  All so that he could walk alongside his own people, God’s people, and endure the same mistreatment.  Our writer penned this verse beautifully, “choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt.”

We are reminded that trusting in God, Moses challenged Pharaoh himself, that the Israelites would go on to celebrate the Passover, that they would cross the Red Sea.  And then he leaps forward, he talks about the trust of an army.  That the army of Joshua, God’s people, obeyed His command, however strange it sounded.  March around the city of Jericho seven times, and then sound the trumpets, and the city will be yours.  And they listened, they trusted, and indeed the Battle of Jericho was a victory.

And the last person he mentions in our text today is Rahab.  A prostitute.  An outsider even among her own people.  And rather than fearing the possible punishment for harboring the spies from Israel, Rahab chose to fear the Lord.  She protected the spies, saving their lives, and in turn, they spared hers.  She married, and became part of the genealogy of the Messiah.

And then we skip some verses.  And I want to pick those right up.  We won’t fully unpack them, but here’s the rest of Hebrews 11:

32 And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets—33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. 35 Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. 36 Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated—38 of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.

39 And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, 40 since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.


Essentially, you get the point.  I don’t need to continue to list off people of faith for you.  There just wouldn’t be enough time.  And the people he mentions are of questionable faith even at that.  They had their failures, those moments where they didn’t trust in God above all else.  But just like we said last week of Sarah, the promises of God don’t depend on us.  He fulfills them.  And that’s why we can trust His promises.  They’re His work, not ours.

I’m not sure we should skip the rest of this reading.  You can argue all you want right now about persecution of Christians in America.  Some say it’s happening, pointing to the way our culture looks down on us, or to the people who are being sued and losing their livelihoods.  Others argue that true persecution is only that which leads to martyrdom, that is, torture and death on account of the name of Christ.

Whichever way you want to define persecution of Christians, if this nation continues its current course, you, your children, and your grandchildren will be persecuted.  This is why we pointed out last week that Abel was killed for his faith.  This is why the author points to stonings, imprisonment, flogging.  Real persecution, however you define it, is something Christ promised the church.  From 2 Timothy 3:12, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”

There’s a new book out there, you can find it on Amazon, called It’s Dangerous to Believe.  At one point the author of the book, Mary Eberstadt, says Christians “are the only remaining minority that can be mocked and denigrated — broadly, unilaterally, and with impunity. Not to mention fired, fined, or otherwise punished for their beliefs.”

The book is a collection of stories, accounts of people losing things on account of their faith.  Chi Alpha, a Christian student college organization, was charged with religious discrimination and removed from California campuses because they would refused to open up the leadership roles of their organization to non-Christians.  That’s just one of countless examples.  You know of others.  Our culture is changing.

But don’t mishear me.  I’m not saying that’s necessarily a bad thing.  In fact, one Christian from the Middle-East doesn’t want to hear Christians from America praying for God to stop persecution of Middle-Eastern Christians.  Her name’s been changed for safety reasons, but I’ll let her speak for herself.  She said,

The persecution is getting worse and worse and worse. But on the other hand actually, what has encouraged me, encouraged my faith, encouraged my church, encouraged everybody Christian in [the region] is that is the Church is increasing. A lot of Muslim people now, they are so confused about what is going on now. A lot of them are asking, ‘Who is this God whose name is Allah, who orders people to slaughter?’ They are confused and they are asking and wondering now days about ISIS and about what is going on. We are not afraid or worried that the persecution will increase. We are just feeling that this is God’s time. God is working perfectly now in the Middle East. Even with all these crazy stuff happening, God is really working now. So, I want to encourage you that, of course, you need to pray for your brothers and sisters in the Middle East who are suffering for being Christians and for their faith, but I am asking you to pray a different prayer. Don’t pray for the persecution to be stopped. … But pray for the Christians there, for their boldness, their encouragement, for their faith and that they can all be witnesses for God’s work and for God.


Wow.  She nails it.  As Americans, learning of our brothers and sisters in Christ dying for their faith in Christ, our first thought is to pray to God to put an end to the persecution.  But she’s asking us not to.  She’s asking instead that God would work through that persecution to continue to change the hearts, the minds, the souls, of those doing the persecuting.

What faith!  And yet, what this young woman is commending is exactly how the early church grew.  The eleven disciples who died martyrs for Christ.  Paul, too, and Stephen, among many others.  And yet the church was growing.  People were trusting in God.

Persecution does that, because it removes the unfaithful.  The American church is filled with people who are self-seeking, and who are, by false teaching, leading many people away from Christ.  Persecution helps stop that.  If you knew, for example, that the government was going to tax Christians double, and they posted an IRS agent at the front door of every church, would you still come?  Even more than that, if you knew that walking through those doors, could well mean your death at the hands of a masked assailant, would you still come?

Persecuted nations have a lot less denominations than we do.  For good reason.  Their faith, their trust in God is a matter of life and death.  They take it seriously.  Some Americans do too, but we’ve grown comfortable, and are starting to assimilate into our culture.  Increasing persecution will change that.

As persecution begins to increase, I look forward to hosting one of these brothers or sisters for a Bible class here.  I’m not sure if I’ll be able to get someone, but I’ll try.  To be able to listen to them describe life in persecution, how they continue to trust in God day by day.

That’s the last part of our text.  Looking at the surrounding cloud of witnesses.  All the people of the Old Testament he’s been talking about.  All the people of the New Testament era.  All the people of the early church and the churches throughout the ages.  There are a couple billion Christians living now, but there are even more who have gone before us.

That is the author’s encouragement to us.  You are not alone in this.  We are witnesses of God, we have seen His promises fulfilled.  And so he tells to cast off our burdens and the sins that cling to us so tightly, and to run the race that is before us, that is, to live the life that God has given us.  In all forms.  He’s talking about vocation.  Of loving your family, your neighbors.  Of sharing the good news of Christ with them.

That as we run this race, whether persecuted or not, whatever we endure along the way, that our eyes would constantly be fixed on Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.  For Christ loved us so richly, that He was willing to go even to death for us.  That He endured the cross and the shame for us.   And that this Christ is now seated at the right hand of God the Father in Heaven.  Living our lives, running our race, trusting in God, looking to Christ alone to fulfill His promises to us.  You are forgiven and you have life in His name.

Faith in the Promises August 7, 2016

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Hebrews 11:1-16

Twelfth Sunday After Pentecost

August 7, 2016


Focus:  God keeps His promises to us.

Function:  That the hearers trust in the promises of God.

Structure:  Walking through the text.


Faith in the Promises


What a wonderful text that we have today!  As we pour into the book of Hebrews, we learn what faith is all about.  “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

So with just enough faith, if you just believe it to be true, whatever you hope for will be yours.  If I just believe it, it will become true.

Now, just two weekends ago we talked about our need for discernment.  Hopefully you discerned that what I just said was a load of rubbish.  Garbage.  Seriously, that kind of belief about faith is exactly what will undermine your faith.

And you know it.  You’ve seen it.  Let’s consider just a couple of examples.  Illness and death.  How many of us have lost someone we cared about?  We surely hoped they would get better.  We hoped they would recover and everything in our life would go back to normal.  But they didn’t.  Things continued to go downhill.  And we started to question whether we were praying right, were we praying hard enough.  We start to question if we really have any faith.

That same thing can be said about failing relationships, of losing of a friend or even a family member.  It can be said of our jobs, our careers, our livelihoods.  It can be said of our goals and ambitions in life.  If we just have faith, we’ll achieve anything we want.

This isn’t Christianity.  It’s the heresy we call the prosperity gospel.  That idea that if you just have enough faith, if you just believe enough, or try hard enough, or give enough, your life will be blessed.  You will prosper in all you do.  It’s almost like that old legend of Midas, that everything he touched turned to gold.  This is heresy.  It’s not faith.  And yet, this is what most Americans believe.

No, the author of Hebrews tells us what faith looks like, if only we leave it in the context in which he wrote it.  He’s going to spend this entire chapter giving us examples of what this faith looked like.  And here it is.  “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

So he starts with Abel.  Abel, one of the first sons of Adam and Eve, all the way back in Genesis 4.  Abel brings an offering before the Lord.  As a shepherd, he brings the firstborn of his flock, that first little lamb.  And his brother Cain also brings an offering, as a farmer, he brings some of his crops to offer to the Lord.  God saw the offering of Abel as pleasing, but not Cain’s.  Why?  Does God hate corn, or whatever it was Cain was growing?  Not at all.

This is a matter of faith.  Abel brought the first of his flock.  Cain brought some of his crop.  The difference is in their faith.  And here’s where we need to define that.  Faith is the Latin word for “trust.”  The difference is in their trust.  Abel trusted in God and in His promises.  Abel trusted that if he gave God the firstborn of his flock, God would still provide for him.  Cain didn’t.  He gave an offering, but it was leftovers.

The trust of God’s provision wasn’t there.  And so Cain gets angry, and over the issue of tithing, kills his brother.  Did Abel’s faith, his trust in God, lead to a long and prosperous life?  Quite the opposite, it got him killed.

Then we see Enoch, who we really know next to nothing about.  Enoch appears in Genesis 5, in the genealogy of Adam leading us to Noah.  Enoch is in that line.  We learn he is the son of Jared, we learn he fathered Methuselah, and we learn that he lived 365 years.  We learn that he walked with the Lord, and that then the Lord just took him away.  Enoch is just one of two people in world history that we know of who never saw death.  Faith, trust in the promises of God.

Because even as early as Genesis 3, there’s already the promise of a Savior.  Even in the moments after the fall, in the moments after Adam and Eve sinned and broke this perfect creation of God, even then, God is already promising hope, life, and salvation.  He’s already promising a Savior, a champion over sin, death, and the devil himself.  That’s where the assurance of things hoped for, and the conviction of things not seen comes from.  That’s the source, it is the object of our faith.  A Savior, Jesus Christ, in whom Abel and Enoch placed their faith, their trust.  They had never seen Him, but they were convinced, they were sure.

We also get Noah, and not the cutesy version.  God tells Noah of a global destruction, a catastrophic event the likes of which the world had never seen.  It was a promise, and Noah believed it.  Noah went out, and as he was instructed, he built that ark, together with his sons.  And when the time came, and God sent the animals to board the ark, so did Noah, his sons, and their wives.  They hadn’t seen it, but they believed it.  They weren’t righteous, they weren’t good, but on account of their faith, their trust in God, they were saved.

Then we get Abraham, or Abram at this point still.  And as he’s living in the land of Ur, God calls out to him, makes great promises of innumerable offspring, a nation for himself, and wealth beyond compare.  Just imagine that call, and it was a unique call, but just imagine God saying that to you, calling you to leave behind everything you know, and to trust Him alone.  To go to a foreign land, with nothing but your wife and the clothes on your back.

And then the author is nice to Sarah as he looks back on her.  That God promised her a child, and that He delivered on that promise.  Now, we could quarrel over how strong her faith actually was, over just how much she actually trusted that promise from God, as she laughed at the very thought of it.  But nonetheless, God’s promises depend not on us.  He fulfills them.  And He gave her a son, and they named him “he laughs.”  Or Isaac, as you know him.

From our last paragraph of our text today, verse 13: “These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.”  Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, none of these saw Jesus Christ.  None of them saw the Savior of promise, the Messiah to whom all of the Old Testament points.  But they trusted, they were waiting.  Verse 16 concludes in saying “Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared for them a city.”  Salvation is theirs in Christ.

So many people today ask that question.  “But if we have to believe in Jesus to be saved, what happened to all those people who lived before Jesus died on the cross?  Are they saved?”  It really is a common question, and the Scriptures answer it.  Right here, in this text.  They are saved, not by what they did, but on account of Christ.

And this verse, which we should all commit to memory, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”  This verse about faith, this is true today, too.  This verse applies just as much to you and me as it did to them.

Think about it.  The Lord’s Supper.  How many of you can truly say you understand it?  That somehow, this bread becomes the flesh of Christ.  That somehow this wine becomes the blood of Christ.  And yet, at the same time, they’re still bread and wine.  This is what Luther meant when he described the sacrament as “in, with, and under.”  He meant, we have no clue how it works, we just trust that it’s true because God said it, because God promised it.

And baptism is the same.  When we baptize someone, can you see the forgiveness of sins?  Can you see the Holy Spirit create faith in their hearts?  Can you see that same forgiveness granted in the Lord’s Supper?  Can you see that same forgiveness in confession and absolution?  We can’t see it, but we trust it’s there.  We trust because God promised us.  And God is indeed faithful.

That’s faith, that we trust in His promises, even though we can’t see them, we can’t see the forgiveness, we can’t see the risen Jesus, but nonetheless we trust.  We don’t trust in the things of this world, our relationships, our wealth, our health.  We trust in God.  And we put our hope in His promises.  Your sins are forgiven in the blood of Christ.  And in His resurrection, you too have the newness of life.