Husband. Father. Lutheran pastor. Sinfonian.

“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9).

The first advent of Christ was humble.

He didn’t enter Jerusalem riding a horse fit for war. Rather, He rode a donkey, a beast of burden.

And that’s the image.

As the beast carries its burden—the Lord carries ours to cross and death and reconciliation.

He enters Jerusalem in humility, because had He come in glory then—we would’ve been destroyed.

The eternal Son of God, who created the world and all that’s in it out of nothing, He hides His almighty power, covering up His divine glory, to spare us.

The second advent of Christ will be different.

As He hid His power then—as He came to take away our sin, to save us from hell, and to win our hearts, then—His second advent will hide nothing but bring to light all that is.

As we confess in the Creed, “He will come again with glory to judge both the quick and the dead.”

But these two advents don’t mean that there are these two Christs—a poor one and a powerful one.

But He is not two but one Christ, one King. 

He came in His first advent to save the world.

He will come again to judge the world.

Meet him now—that’s the warning.

Know and trust in Jesus before He comes to judge, because when He comes to judge it’ll be too late.

If you don’t know Him by His first advent, you’ll face the just judgment of His second advent.

Now is the time of grace.

Now is the time to meet Jesus Christ the King.

But—O Lord, how shall we meet You?

That’s our third communion hymn today, “O Lord, How Shall I Meet You,” but as it appears in our hymnal, there are four stanzas left out that we should be aware of:

Ask the question the hymn asks—O Lord, how shall I meet You?—and hear the answer given in these four stanzas:

“What hast Thou e’er neglected / For my good here below? / When heart and soul dejected, / Were sunk in deepest woe, / When lost from that high station / Where peace and pleasure reign, / Thou camest, my Salvation, / And mad’st me glad again.

“Rejoice, then, ye sad-hearted, / Who sit in deepest gloom, / Who mourn o’er joys departed / And tremble at your doom. / Despair not, He is near you, / Yea, standing at the door, / Who best can help and cheer you / And bids you weep no more.

“Ye need not toil nor languish / Nor ponder day and night / How in the midst of anguish / Ye draw Him by your might. / He comes, He comes all willing, / Moved by His love alone, / Your woes and troubles stilling; / For all to Him are known.

“What though the foes be raging, / Heed not their craft and spite; / Your Lord, the battle waging, / Will scatter all their might. / He comes, a King most glorious, / And all His earthly foes / In vain His course victorious / Endeavor to oppose” (Walther’s Hymnal, 44:3,6-7, 9).

Now I get it—seeing a hymn with ten stanzas is like being asked to work overtime when all you want to do is go home.

But consider the Christian who, every Thanksgiving and Christmas, is brought low by the memories of loved ones lost.

How shall you meet the Lord when your heart and soul is dejected? Or when you’re sunk in deepest woe?

The hymn would have you rejoice and sing that your King comes to you, righteous and having salvation.

He gives you a reason to be glad again!

Or consider the Christian who sits in deepest gloom, mourning over joys departed. “Despair not,” we sing. He stands at the door and knocks, He who best can help you. He bids you weep no more, because He has removed all cause for weeping—in the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.

And then there’s the Christian who realizes a lack in their own efforts. Maybe they don’t feel it like they use to or as much. Maybe they’ve lost confidence. In the midst of anguish, you try to draw the Lord to yourself, but, by your reason or strength, you cannot.

He comes, He comes all willing, moved by His love alone. All your woes—He knows—and He speaks peace into existence where there was before a storm.

And then, for all Christians, who feel the rage of the old, evil foe, Christ our Lord comes to us as King and God and sacrifice.

He wages battle. The Lord fights for you.

O Lord, how shall we meet You?

We meet Him where and when He comes to us.

“Your king comes to you” (cf. Zechariah 9:9, Matthew 21:5).

You don’t find your way to Him.

He comes to His church, where His gospel is proclaimed, sung, prayed, confessed, and received in the sacraments.

He promises to be where His church is gathered.

He binds himself to His Word, to the preaching of His Word, to Holy Baptism, to His Body and His Blood, to the Absolution, to His Word in whatever form it comes.

He binds Himself to what’s considered simple, even despised, to the world.

He rides a donkey, a beast of burden.

He comes to you in humility—first—to humble Himself, to become obedient, to suffer.

It’s humility that obeys.

And it’s humility that suffers the indignity of suffering while innocent for others who’re guilty.

His obedience and suffering was vicarious—He did it for you, not for Himself.

First, He came in humility to obey—and to suffer—for you.

He comes to you in humility, second, that we would know Him and trust in Him.

If He didn’t hide His almighty power, we wouldn’t be able to face Him, much less embrace Him by faith.

He comes to us in a way that wins us.

He doesn’t scare the hell out of us.

He destroys the power of hell over us.

Take this to heart.

We live in a godless culture, falling deeper and deeper into vice. We see Christians persecuted by empty, talking heads who want to force us to bow down before the false gods of woke political correctness.

We pray and we wonder when God will address this evil. We pray and we wonder when God will vindicate His Word.

“O Lord, how long?” (cf. Isaiah 6:8-13).

And this is what we need to understand.

Wait.

In patient, ready faith. Wait.

Christ’s victory was on the Cross.

We defeat our spiritual enemies by bringing the gospel of peace to those who persecute us.

We forgive—as we have been forgiven.

We love—as we have first been loved (cf. 1 John 4:19).

We cry out to our Lord Jesus, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” (Matthew 21:9).

“O Lord, save us! But not just us—Save even the enemies of Your Church.”

Our Lord and Christ will return, and He will judge.

Have no doubt about that.

But only those who meet Jesus in His humility now, will be able to face Him in His glory then.

He is the One who died for all, even those who hate Him.

Wait for the Lord.

His return is at hand.

Now is the time to invite friends, neighbors, family, loved ones, coworkers—and anyone else willing to hear us. Now is the time to invite them here, to church, to meet Jesus.

We don’t draw Him here by our power or piety.

He comes all willing—to help and save us.

He wills and works to bear the burden of our sin, removing it from our hearts and souls.

O, Lord, how shall I meet you?

I’ll hear your word and do it.

I’ll believe your promises, trust your forgiveness, sing praises to your holy name, and give my neighbor the love that You have given me.

I will wait patiently—and in faith—for Jesus Christ, the King.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Advent 1 Sermon, 2021
Matthew 21:1-9
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

This is based on an outline of a sermon preached by Rev. Rolf Preus.

The gospel lesson for Thanksgiving Day is the account of Jesus healing the ten lepers.

If you’ve ever wondered why the gospel lesson for Thanksgiving Day is the account of Jesus healing the ten lepers, it’s because—like people at many Thanksgiving dinners—90% of them are ungrateful.

Of course that’s not literally true, but you know as well as I do that many people will be asked today what they’re thankful for—and we all know that one spiteful person who chooses, every year, to be an ungrateful leper—like there’s a sign-up sheet for it.

For their sake—and for ours—thus says the Lord through St. Luke: 

“Lifting up their voices, [the ten lepers] said, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us’” (cf. Luke 17:13).

And when Jesus saw them, He said, “Go and show yourselves to the priests” (Luke 17:14).

“And as they went they were cleansed. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan” (Luke 17:14-16).

At this, Jesus seems to wonder: “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” (Luke 17:17-18).

These are rhetorical questions.

Faith is found where some believe it ought not be, but sometimes, when good is done to you, you just move on and take no time to return and give thanks.

So Jesus says to Samaritan ex-leper, “Rise and go your way; your faith has [saved you]” (Luke 17:19).

He says that only to the one.

The 90% go away happily, but they are ungrateful.

Now, if I were to ask you to define ingratitude, I’m sure you’d have a very specific example in mind, and I’m sure that example would not be you.

It’s very easy to pick up on ingratitude when other people are ungrateful.

You see the time that goes into the work provided, without a thank you for the work.

You see the effort required to accomplish a task, the effort poured out for another, without a thank you for the sweat it took to do it.

You see the money wasted on an ice-cold heart, without so much as a “By your leave…”

You see it all—that they don’t realize what it takes to give them what they want.

That everyone else suffers to give them joy—and they even gripe about the joy.

You see that if you were them—you’d do it differently.

You see it all—and you hate it.

Now, having said that, it must also be said that the last part of a good definition of ingratitude includes that hatred.

Is hatred not a lack of gratitude?

If you are not thankful, do you not, in fact, despise?

And when you despise—when it’s all said and done—who is your complaint against if not God?

By our own definition, observations, and hatred—we lump ourselves in with the 90% we love to hate.

Repent.

If it’s a good work, give the time, expecting nothing in return, not even thanks, and let God be the avenger.

If it’s a good work, give the effort required and realize, with much thanksgiving, that you still can—while many can’t—and let God give and take away as it pleases Him.

If it’s a good work, waste the money God has given you on the fool God has attached to you, and thank God for your property and income—you won’t go hungry.

God loves a cheerful giver (cf. 2 Corinthians 9:6-7), and we emulate the world when we gripe about it.

You don’t do good for gold stars and retweets.

Jesus didn’t heal the lepers so that they would thank Him.

He healed the lepers because He is God, and God is good.

Jesus doesn’t forgive your sins so that you would thank Him.

And of course I mean that whether you thank Him or not—He’s glad His life hung in the balance for yours.

He’s glad.

He didn’t die and rise only after receiving your thank you card.

It was good that one man should die for the people (cf. John 18:14), and being good—He did it gladly.

If it’s good to thank God or your neighbor when God or your neighbor does good to you—thank God or your neighbor when they do good to you.

Rejoice in it.

God is good to you without your leave.

Without your permission.

Whether you say thank you or not.

Because He is good.

Jesus heals the ten—because Man was created “very good” in the first place—because Man has fallen into sin and is now, by nature, sinful and unclean—because, in Christ, God is reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:19).

He gives a good gift, because He knows how.

What God does He does for all, even and especially the ungrateful, unworthy 90%.

All sin is forgiven in Christ.

Not all are thankful.

Some explicitly reject the word and work of Jesus.

Even so—“God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

He doesn’t unsay the Absolution when you’re not grateful—He hopes that you hear it again and again.

Whether or not someone is properly thankful has no bearing on whether or not you should do good to them.

Do good to them.

But here’s the difference praise, thanks, and faith makes.

To only the one who turned back, praising God with a loud voice…

To only the one who fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, worshipping Him, giving Him thanks…

To only the one who was found to return—in faith—to God…

To only that one does Jesus say, “Rise and go your way; your faith has [saved you]” (Luke 17:19).

What difference does proper praise, thanks, and faith make?

Before God, if you fail to confess your insignificance, your petty cruelties, and your hatred—you will have the look of the happy 90%.

But you will not be saved.

Only the one who, in humility and faith, returns and gives thanks to God for what God has done, only that one is saved.

Do good to others, as God has done good to you.

Do not despise them for their lack.

Love them.

God has forgiven their sin in Christ—and yours.

Believe that good news of the Gospel.

Rejoice in it.

And then—when God has done good to you…

Thank Him.

When your neighbor has done good to you…

Melt your petty, ungrateful, ice-cold heart, and thank him.

It is—good—and right so to do.

The gospel lesson for Thanksgiving Day is the account of Jesus healing the ten lepers—so that we would learn from the one to receive the gift of God—our salvation—rejoice in it—and thank God for it.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Thanksgiving Day, 2021
Luke 17:11-19
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

I think it’s impossible to be a compassionate human being and not wonder why the wise virgins offer no real help to the foolish.

Why don’t they share?

Why don’t they share their oil with those who were ill-prepared? Why not see to it that they enter into the joyous feast together?

If this parable were about the golden rule, that would be a great question, but this parable’s not about the golden rule.

Today’s Gospel lesson occurs in a section of Matthew that begins: “But concerning [the Day of the Lord, the final judgment, the Second Coming of Christ, concerning that day and hour] no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only” (Matthew 24:36).

After that, five parables follow, including today’s Gospel lesson, each dealing with being prepared for that Day.

In all five parables, something or someone arrives suddenly, creating a panic.

In three of the five, a key figure is delayed.

In four of the five, we’re exhorted specifically to watch and be ready.

In four of the five, the characters are divided into wise, faithful, and good or wicked, foolish, and hesitant.

The last three show us a scene of judgment where the faithful receive a joyous reward while the unfaithful receive ruthless punishment and banishment.

These parables aren’t about the golden rule and how you treat others.

They’re about the kingdom of God and how—or by what means—salvation comes to you.

The question is, then, why were the foolish virgins unprepared, and—for us today—are you prepared?

What does it take to be prepared for the end?

What makes the foolish virgins foolish?

What made the wise wise? And what’s the difference?

Well, we have to start with what they have in common.

That it’s two groups of virgins, this isn’t a comparison between churched and unchurched. Rather, it’s a comparison between the members of the visible Church.

The wise and foolish virgins is a picture of the Church on any given Sunday.

They all have lamps, that is, they all have the Word of God. So—for us—it’s like they have Bibles, the Small Catechism, and a Lutheran hymnal.

I say Lutheran hymnal because Methodist hymnals don’t teach what Lutherans believe.

The Word of the Lord is a lamp to the Christian’s feet and a light for his path (cf. Psalm 119:105), and Jesus says in Matthew chapter five, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

Both wise and foolish have the Word.

They even have good-looking works.

That’s not the difference between them.

Nor is the difference something like Confirmation. Every confirmed Lutheran can say that they were confirmed, obviously. But can every confirmed Lutheran say that they’ve remained in the faith that they were taught?

Have you nurtured it, picking up stones and pruning out thorns?

The difference between wise and foolish isn’t confirmation, or an old German bible, or a Small Catechism with your name printed on it.

What an obvious thing to say, though, right?

No one thinks that’s what makes you wise, merely possessing the Word.

But how many Christians read their bible to their children daily—or gladly, to have in mind the Third Commandment?

And let’s hear that in the past tense, too.

How many heads of house heed the words of the catechism, teaching it simply to their household?

You’re right, of course, to think it the pastor’s responsibility to teach the faith. But you’re wrong if you think that implies parents shouldn’t, can’t, or don’t.

The difference between wise and foolish isn’t in the outer observances of the Word: going to Church, opening a bible, being Baptized, receiving the Sacrament, or helping your neighbor.

The difference is: the foolish look to humanity for their salvation, and the wise look to Christ, the Bridegroom.

For salvation, the Father and the Son send us the Holy Spirit, the oil of faith, that fears, loves, and trusts Jesus Christ, the author and perfecter of our life and faith.

Fools look to human reason and trust in the merit of man. When an unbeliever dies, you’ll hear he was a good person, and you’ll be encouraged to donate to the Humane Society—as he did.

But you’ll hear nothing of Jesus.

Or—maybe he followed Jesus with what he said.

Or maybe he followed Jesus with what he did.

But with an unbeliever, it’s never both.

The will of the Father is as foreign to them as the explanation of the Third Petition of the Lord’s Prayer.

Possessing the Word isn’t what distinguishes wise from foolish—but faith.

The object of their faith.

What their faith clings to.

Because the wise look to Christ, as faith always does.

The wise trust Him to look upon them as a groom does his bride, caring for her—not her beauty or wealth, God sees not as man sees. He cares for her—not the defects the world would make you aware of—just her.

That’s how Christ looks at you.

He doesn’t want your beauty or your wealth, those fleeting things. He doesn’t care to hear about your defects from the world.

What are those anyway, when they’ve been washed in the blood of the Lamb?

Faith that believes God has forgiven your sins in Christ  is the oil that separates wise from foolish.

It’s not a lack of sin.

Both fall asleep.

So then, “let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober” (1 Thessalonians 5:6) since we belong to the day.

“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. [But] if we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8-9).

Faith that believes this is the oil that prepares you for the Bridegroom’s return.

The difference between wise and foolish is faith.

Both appear to have good works, but that which does not proceed from faith is sin (Romans 14:3).

The faith of the wise trust Jesus.

The faith of the foolish trust in themselves.

Consider this:

The foolish ask the wise for oil—not God.

They’ve never asked God for anything.

They’ve never expected God to help.

They don’t look to Him in faith, so, doubting all, they look to man.

In the Gospel according to St. Luke, the rich man, in hades, asks Abraham to send Lazarus for aid.

He never asked God for anything.

So why start now?

When we regard Jesus as Lord only, that’s not enough. There’s no consolation, no redemption, if all Jesus is is Lord.

Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21).

If God is only “awesome,” that’s not enough.

If God only “walks with you,” that’s not enough.

What separates foolish from wise is faith that trusts Jesus to look at you as a groom does his bride.

The foolish have no oil, no faith.

When trouble comes, they don’t know God as merciful. They don’t know the things that make for peace. They don’t know how to seek righteousness, because they don’t know where righteousness is preached, proclaimed, poured out, and given and shed.

But the wise—the wise acknowledge sin and repent of it. They trust God, who forgives, to also forget, to remember the sin no more, since it’s washed in the blood of the Lamb.

You know the things that make for peace, because you know where God is.

You know that He fights for you.

The wise call upon Him in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks. They look for mercy, they seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.

They ask. They knock.

And to all the wise—to you—God opens the door to the feast, calls you in, rejoices in you—who you are in Christ.

He loves you, because He knows you as His own.

And then He shuts the door.

In Jesus’ name, Amen! 

Last Sunday of the Church Year, 2021
Matthew 25:1-13
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

“Awake! Put on strength, O Lord! Awake, as in the days of old” (Isaiah 51:9).

To which, thus says the Lord: “I, I am he who comforts you; who are you that you are afraid of man who dies? Who are you to have forgotten the Lord, your Maker, who stretched out the heavens and laid the foundations of the earth? Who are you to fear continually all the day because of the wrath of the oppressor?” (cf. Isaiah 51:12-13).

“I am the Lord your God, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar—the Lord of hosts. I have put my words in your mouth, covered you with the shadow of my hand, established the heavens, laid the foundations of the earth, and said to Zion, ‘You are my people’” (cf. Isaiah 51:15-16).

Who are you to have forgotten?

And then, from today’s Gospel lesson: “While [Jesus] was saying these things to them, behold, a ruler came and knelt before him” (Matthew 9:18).

This ruler remembered the Lord.

He’s not afraid of man or the oppressor.

He says, in perfect faith, “My daughter has just died, but…” (Matthew 9:18).

“But,” he says.

When we say “but,” we generally mean to ignore or negate whatever came before it.

I don’t mean to over-explain everything, but the conjunction “but” is used to introduce a phrase that contrasts with whatever comes before it.

This is amazing faith!

And God intends us all to have it.

It’s not that we’ll never weep or want or willfully sin, but God wants us all to admit the harsh, difficult truths so we can then add, “But—!”

Consider the confession:

I, a poor, miserable sinner confess unto Thee all my sins and iniquities, with which I have ever offended Thee and justly deserved Thy temporal and eternal punishment. But—

We say it every week.

And consider the Small Catechism:

I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; But—

“Behold, a ruler came and knelt before [Jesus] saying, ‘My daughter has just died, but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.’ And Jesus rose and followed him, with his disciples” (Matthew 9:18-19) to lay His hand on her that she would live.

“And behold, a woman who had suffered from a discharge of blood for twelve years came up behind [Jesus] and touched the fringe of his garment, for she said to herself, ‘If I only touch his garment, I will be made well’” (Matthew 9:20-21).

Like the ruler before her, this woman remembered the Lord—that it’s He who comforts—He who stretched out the heavens, knowing their limits—He who laid the foundations of the earth, knowing their depths.

Knowing all, He knows her suffering—its beginning and its end—but she touches the fringe of his garments, and that’s a very telling detail.

The fringe was a reminder of “all the commandments of the Lord, to do them, not to follow after your own heart and your own eyes, which you are inclined to whore after” (Numbers 15:38-39).

That’s how it’s written in Numbers chapter fifteen.

She touches the fringe of His garment—a reminder of the commandments of the Lord, against which she has transgressed—but she remembers that it’s the Lord who comforts, and she trusts that she will be made well.

“Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, ‘Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.’ And instantly the woman was made well” (Matthew 9:22).

It wasn’t her reaching out that healed her—that saved her, that is. This is another time where every word translated as “healed” is really the word for “saved.” It wasn’t her reaching out that saved her.

Who is she that she could reach out and take either healing or salvation?

It wasn’t her effort, her reason, her strength—but the Word of the Lord healed her and saved her.

What does Jesus say?

“Your faith has saved you” (Matthew 9:22), and at that instant she was made well.

She knows that the Lord has established the beginning and end of all things, her suffering included.

She knows that the Lord comforts.

Faith is willing to admit every harsh, difficult truth—to then arrive at “But—!”

As the ruler and the woman sing it already—and as we will sing in a few minutes—“I am flesh and must return / To the dust, whence I am taken; / But by faith I now discern / That from death I shall awaken / With my Savior to abide / In His glory, at His side” (LSB 741:4).

But this faith is a tested thing.

We endure in the midst of doubt and fear.

We suffer the scorn and derision of the world.

In this, we are like our Lord.

Behold—“When Jesus came to the ruler’s house and saw the flute players and the crowd [wailing], he said, ‘Go away, for the girl is not dead but sleeping.’ And they laughed at him” (Matthew 9:23-24).

There are those who can say only “And—“

Not “But—“

Think of it: “My daughter has just died, and—”

There’s nothing that can be done.

Behold, there was a woman who had suffered from a discharge of blood for twelve years, and—

She has no hope.

There are those who can say only “And—“

But—

For us all, and to us all, the Lord comes and commands those who laugh at Him to go away.

It is the Lord who comforts us by following the man to his house. It is the Lord who comforts us by healing and saving the woman. It is the Lord who comforts us by sending the crowd away. And it is the Lord who comforts us by raising the girl from the dead.

This is what Jesus came to do.

To serve—not to be served—to follow the man, to lay His hand on her, that she would live.

This is what Jesus came to do.

To heal and to save—not because the woman touches the fringe of His garment, but through faith in the Lord who has promised that the “bowed down shall speedily be released; he shall not die and go down to the pit, neither shall his bread be lacking” (Isaiah 51:14).

This is what Jesus came to do.

To send those who scorn and deride Him away—that His victory and our victory in Him may be complete.

This is what Jesus came to do.

To serve, to heal, to save, to raise up the dead girl—that everyone of us would know and look forward to the Day when Jesus takes us by the hand and raises us up.

This is what Jesus came to do.

This is what His perfect life and suffering and death has earned for all—and this is what the Gospel gives to all who believe.

This is what Jesus has done for you.

Who are you that the Lord comes to serve you and save you and heal you and raise you up on the Last Day?

Who are you, that for you the Lord would die?

Well, thus says the Lord: “You are my people” (Isaiah 51:16).

Remember the Lord who has created you.

Remember the Lord who has redeemed you in Christ.

Remember the Lord who has made you His people, sanctifying you by the work of the Holy Spirit.

“In [the Lord] we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:14). Remember this and rejoice.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Trinity 24 Sermon, 2021
Matthew 9:18-26
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

What is yours now—and what will be yours?

If we divide the Beatitudes according to these two questions, this is how we would hear them:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3).

And, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:10).

That’s what is yours now, and this is what will be yours:

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. [And] blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:4-9).

With this division, what is yours and what will be, Jesus is telling us what Christian discipleship looks like.

And—Christian discipleship looks like dying.

Hear me out.

God calls you to faith by the Gospel.

He places you into the garden, to tend and keep it.

He tells you what to expect—what is yours and what will be. The problem is—our difficulty—is that the Beatitudes aren’t a lot of fun, because they teach Christians how to bear the scorn of child, husband, wife, and world—as did the prophets before you.

The Beatitudes teach Christians how to live and die well, that you would rejoice—in all that God has given you—in all that is yours now and all that will be.

So…”Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4).

You mourn after a death. At some point you’ll mourn. And so Jesus wants you to be prepared for that.

Consider the very intentional words of Jesus here.

When someone mourns, they’re not easily comforted. Relief doesn’t come quickly.

But they will be comforted. Relief will find them.

The Lord promises to wipe away every tear from their eyes (Revelation 7:17), but we’re not there yet. We bear and shed very real tears every day.

That’s an honest look at Christian discipleship.

Mourning now—comfort later.

Because our comfort is more than the “You’ll be okays” said after a death and while we mourn.

Our comfort is better than the “It gets betters” said during adolescence and adulthood.

“The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Corinthians 15:26), and so we perceive a lack of comfort now, as we wait and hope.

But you will be comforted, because death is defeated, Christ is risen, and you will be, too.

See? “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4).

Properly speaking, this isn’t a conversation about death but a reorientation towards the Christian’s final hope—the comfort of the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.

It’s not something we have now—like we have eyes now. It’s something we’ll have then, after our skin has been thus destroyed, yet in our flesh we’ll see God. Our eyes shall behold, and not another (cf. Job 19:23-27).

Next, Jesus says, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5).

Which is easy. Everybody—just be meek.

Put aside the way you were raised. Set aside your own thoughts. Forget right and wrong, and meekly submit to it all.

Even if you do, you can’t force an inheritance. When and where it pleases Him, God gives the growth, and for an inheritance, someone has to die, and in this case, it’s your pride and ice-cold heart which do not want you to hallow God’s name or to let His kingdom come.

The meek will die in the Lord—and then—inherit what they gladly did forsake.

Consider.

What do you reap? And what do you sow?

Do you live as though you will inherit the earth?

Or do you live as though you must purchase it at every moment with all your time, talent, and treasure?

Do you live as though you trust God?

Or do you live as though you trust yourself?

Blessed are the meek who die in the Lord, for they shall inherit the earth.

And then…“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matthew 5:6).

I don’t care what it is—you’re either unsatisfied or your not, but you should be.

We are insatiable. Or—to say it the way it’s been phrased between husband and wife or parent and child, “You’re impossible to please.”

To hunger and thirst for righteousness is to hunger and thirst for Living Bread and Living Water that rise and well up into eternal life.

It is, as we teach our confirmands, to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away.

That phrase, “even death,” doesn’t mean you “might” confess the faith until you die—it means you “must” and “do” and “will” confess the faith until you die. So…

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matthew 5:6).

And “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy” (Matthew 5:7).

It seems the death of conscience that we forgive others regardless as to whether or not they repent.

The mercy you show to others, you don’t always receive back, but it’s a cold heart that demands repentance before forgiveness. Faith trusts God to sort it out and waits and hopes in Him.

You shall receive mercy.

And “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8).

Is your heart pure?

Of course not—the heart makes for a terrible gift. Rather, we pray each week for God to create in us a clean heart, because this one’s filthy.

And when you sing the Offertory, realize that you’re asking for God to bring you through this veil of tears and death to the final hope of resurrection and life, where your heart—and eyes—are made new and you see God face to face.

Him you shall behold and not another!

And “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9).

How did the Son of God make peace?

He put His life in the balance, “enduring from sinners such hostility against himself, that you would not grow weary or fainthearted” (Hebrews 12:3).

Blessed are the peacemakers who take up their cross and follow Him. They shall be called Children of the Heavenly Father.

According to Jesus, that’s what will be yours.

He says what He does to prepare you for what Christian discipleship looks like.

He prepares you to live and die in the faith.

But He says all of that, He lays the promises of what will be before you, with the first and last beatitudes as bookends, declaring to you what is.

And they’re very similar.

Consider the first beatitude: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3).

Poor in spirit means spiritually bankrupt.

It means you bring nothing to the table with respect to your salvation. It means God saves you out of the love He bears for you.

And the kingdom of heaven is yours.

Forgiveness, hope, peace with God—are yours.

Consider the last beatitude: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:10).

He told you what faith will receive.

He tells you now what faith does receive.

Blessed are you when you’re hated for being on the right side of the Author of History, “when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely [on account of Christ]. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:11-12).

The kingdom of heaven is yours now.

God fights for you—that’s what that means.

And that means you win.

The difficulty is that so often Christian discipleship looks like losing—the Beatitudes are teaching us, among other things, how to die.

But not just how to die—but rather—how to live and die in Christ.

“To live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).

Believe this.

And blessed are you.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

All Saints Day (observed), 2021
Matthew 5:1-12
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

The Athanasian Creed uses the word “catholic” to refer to Christendom—the Christian Church of all times and places. I’m going to use the term “catholic” in two ways: as the Creed does and to refer to the Roman Church. Because—

There are “‘good’ Catholics” and there are “good catholics.”

That is, there are slaves and there are sons.

And—“Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” (Isaiah 5:20).

Amen, I say, and woe unto them, but what do I mean?

Let’s just go in order…

In our First Lesson, St. John writes: “Then I saw another angel flying overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation, language, and people. And he said with a loud voice, ‘Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water’” (cf. Revelation 14:6-7).

This “eternal gospel” may not be what we expect, as it’s a call to repentance, seemingly at the hour of God’s judgment.

But judgment falling on the enemies of God’s people is salvation for the Church.

That’s gospel. That’s good news.

And woe to those who call good evil.

Today, there are those who call good Lutheranism evil.

You know as well as I do that Lutherans are seen as joyless and argumentative.

If you disagree, that’s the argumentative part.

And if you’re not laughing, that’s the joyless part.

While there may be no joy in argument per se, there is most certainly joy in agreement—and that’s the point.

Wanting to agree, we argue until we do.

But that we agree with each other is meaningless if we disagree with God.

And “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31).

To agree with God—to believe the Gospel—is to fear God, give Him glory, and confess rightly the righteousness of God—as St. Paul does in the Epistle—where he writes: “No human being will be justified in [God’s] sight by works of the law” (cf. Romans 3:20).

And woe to those who say otherwise.

Because “the righteousness of God has been [revealed] apart from the law…through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. There is no distinction: all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and [all] are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith” (cf. Romans 3:21-25).

This is the righteousness of a loving God, that He should die for the many, that one act of righteousness would lead to justification and life for all men (Romans 5:18).

“For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many [are] made righteous” (Romans 5:19).

To agree with God—to believe the Gospel—is to believe in Jesus as a Redeemer of sinners, of whom one is chief.

If you think you’re saved because you give your heart to Jesus, you will not be saved.

Because you don’t choose a Redeemer for yourself.

But the one man, our gracious Lord, passes by, has mercy on us, rescues us, and takes us home with Him.

That’s how it is.

And woe to those who say otherwise.

That’s what Jesus means when He says, in the Gospel lesson, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free,” and then, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. [And] if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:31-32, 34-36).

To believe the Gospel—to believe in Jesus as a Redeemer of sinners—is to abide in His Word, to hear and believe it.

And if the Son sets you free, you will be free:

Free from the bondage of false gods.

Free from the terror of unforgiven sin.

You will hear and believe and be free indeed.

Because “faith comes [by] hearing, and hearing [by] the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17), and this faith “is not your own doing [but is] the gift of God, not a result of works, [lest anyone] boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

And woe to those who say otherwise.

This is the catholic faith; whoever does not believe it faithfully and firmly cannot be saved.

There are “‘good’ Catholics” and “good catholics.”

There are slaves and sons.

The eternal gospel calls everyone to repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus. It announces judgment on the enemies of the Church.

It announces the salvation of all who agree regarding the righteousness of God, and the righteousness of God is revealed in Jesus Christ the Son of God, who sets us free through the redemption in His blood.

This is the catholic faith; whoever does not believe it faithfully and firmly cannot be saved.

No matter what the Pope says about you.

Now, I could not care less about your politics.

But I could not care more about your theology.

Think in terms of theology—not politics.

I don’t know if you saw it or not, but the current Pope told President Biden that he was a “good” Catholic and that he should continue to receive the sacrament.

Set aside the obvious and sinister political use of such a lie, and consider the spiritual warfare that’s going on.

It’s neither good nor catholic to rejoice in or otherwise support abortion. It’s as simple as “Thou shalt not kill.”

But don’t make the mistake of thinking that’s a war we’re not waging. 

If it’s that simple with respect to abortion, it’s that simple with respect to frozen embryos.

Human life is not a commodity to be traded like cattle.

The modern day slave trade that goes on at hospitals should not be. Abortion for some. Fertilization and the freezer for others. Exit through the gift shop, and pay before you go.

All under the same roof, sometimes.

This is the spiritual warfare of our age.

But it doesn’t stop there.

I’ve taken my boys to the public library a few times over the last several weeks, and I found a book about everyone’s favorite doctor—Dr. Fauci.

It’s a children’s book. A picture book.

Think in terms of theology—not politics.

On one of the early pages, we learn this about America’s Doctor: “When the nuns at his school said you had to go to Mass each week in order to get into heaven, Anthony wondered about his grandfather, an Italian immigrant who spent his Sundays over steaming pots of pasta and bubbling red sauce. Anthony asked his grandfather why he didn’t go to church. ‘When I make you all the good food, that’s my Mass,’ his grandfather answered, ‘so don’t worry about me. I’m going to be fine.’”

First of all, that’s the worst children’s book ever written.

Second, don’t think this book is merely political.

How many of you have family members who don’t go to church? That might be misleading, so let me ask it this way: how many of you have family members who don’t abide in the Word of God?

From childhood now, in your public library, you can read about how that’s not only okay but also how you’ll be okay if that’s you.

Contrary to what Humanist of the Year and Puppy Killer Dr. Fauci thinks, we should raise our children to abide and delight in the Word of God and to be in church every Sunday.

This is the spiritual warfare of our age.

But it doesn’t stop there.

I’ve read about a school board in Virginia that apparently covered up the rape of a girl, by a boy, in the girls’ restroom.

I’ve read about a school in Kentucky where boys, dressed in lingerie, danced for members of the faculty, including the principal, while the girls were treated like unpaid prostitutes, all during the school day, for spirit week.

What spirit? Legion?

This is the spiritual warfare of our age.

But it doesn’t stop there.

I’ve read about China testing low earth orbit hypersonic missiles (space weapons, essentially), the sophistication of which caught our military by surprise—probably, and this is my opinion, probably because our military seems fixated with sex, making a recruitment ad about a soldier with two moms and rejoicing in the promotion-to-four-star-officer of a man pretending to be a woman.

These are political problems, don’t get me wrong.

But they teach confusion, a false theology old as sin, and that’s actually worse.

This is spiritual warfare, and our preparation, for the last several decades, has been woefully inadequate.

But we don’t need a new Luther.

We just need to hear—and believe—and confess like the last one.

Offensive to the world, but right, we sang these words a few moments ago:

“Lord, keep us in Thy Word and work, / Restrain the murd’rous Pope and Turk, / Who fain would tear from off Thy throne / Christ Jesus, Thy beloved Son.”

We should sing those words all the more.

Offensive to the world, but good, we sang these words, too:

“Destroy their counsels, Lord our God, / And smite them with an iron rod, / And let them fall into the snare / Which for Thy Christians they prepare.”

We should sing them all the more.

Because, in the words of the Athanasian Creed: “This is the catholic faith; whoever does not believe it faithfully and firmly cannot be saved.”

The Reformation isn’t over or irrelevant.

The Battle for the Bible isn’t done.

The battle for your souls, even, is being waged daily.

Believe in the Lord who fights for you.

Abide in His Word alone, in Christ alone.

And by the Grace of God alone, through Faith alone, give glory to God alone—and you will be free indeed.

Free from the bondage of false gods.

Free from the terror of sin.

Free indeed.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Reformation Day, 2021
John 8:31-36
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

In what way are you safe? In what way are you not?

For some, safe means a total absence of danger.

For others, safe is merely an acceptable absence of danger.

For others, safe describes the runner who’s not out at first or the way you sometimes drive.

Distinctions like this come up, in the world, all the time, and we understand them when they do.

But in the Church, we’re afraid to distinguish between, for example, temporal safety and eternal life.

I don’t mean always—but sometimes, we’d rather not  offend the sensibilities of the heathen, whether family or not, and so we remain silent when we should speak or we stay home when we should go.

It shouldn’t be this way, but we like to play it safe.

Christians have to be prepared to make distinctions, otherwise, someone will ask, “What does this mean?” or “What do you believe?” and we won’t know. Or worse yet, we’ll know—and we’ll choose not to answer.

Here’s an example of a distinction we should make.

What does the word until mean?

It means up to—but not after—a certain point.

Until 3pm includes 2:58pm, and it may even mean include 3:05pm, but it never reasonably includes 7pm.

We know what until means.

In Mark chapter ten, Jesus says, “Whenever you enter a house, stay there [ἕως] until you depart from there” (Mark 10:6). So clearly, you stay there until you leave. Then—you don’t stay there anymore, because you leave. 

We know what the word means.

But in the last chapter of Matthew, Jesus says, “Behold, I am with you always, [ἕως] until the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

Here, the same word [ἕως] until can’t mean the same thing as before, or else Jesus won’t be with us after the end of the age, and that’s not right. He’s with us now, until the end, while our consciences need comfort. And He’s with us after the end, too, when we have our lasting peace.

Until means both up to and not including after and up to and including after, and the only way we know the difference is context—what the rest of chapter or verse says.

You don’t need to be able to wax poetic about the nuances of translating prepositions, but you do need to be open to the fact that the same word might mean two different things.

Here’s another example.

We know that “[God] tempts no one” (James 1:13), that how St. James has it.

That’s simple and clear.

But how do you explain it when God tests Abraham, and it says—this is how Moses writes it—“It came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham” (Genesis 22:1, KJV).

The Hebrew word is [נִסָּ֖ה] tempt.

The Lutheran Study Bible has this footnote: “[The] verb is translated ‘tempt’ elsewhere, but that is not the sense here.”

That is the word, but that’s not the sense, meaning, we know God tempts no one even though we also know Moses used the word tempt.

So, what does this mean?

Just as with the word until, the word tempt has more depth to it than maybe we’d like.

God gives us a cross to bear, but He doesn’t desire us to sin.

God leads us into temptation, but He doesn’t tempt us.

This is the beauty and endless frustration of language.

The words until, tempt, and even believe all have a depth to them that we readily understand.

And in today’s Gospel lesson, there’s another word that’s used multiple times, that doesn’t mean the same thing each time.

We’re not making this up as we go. We’re not changing things to make them say what we want.

We’re distinguishing between what is and what seems.

In today’s Gospel lesson, we need to make a distinction regarding the word believe.

What did the man believe?

And what did the man and all his household believe?

Because the man believes twice.

He believes the word Jesus speaks to him when Jesus says, “Go; your son [lives]” (John 4:50).

And—after he meets his servants on the way home (cf. John 4:53), he and all his household believe.

The word for believe in those two verses is identical. The man believed—he and all his household.

But what he believed, what that means exactly, is different in each verse.

When Jesus tells the man, “Go; your son [lives]” (John 4:50), “the man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way” (John 4:50).

It has to be said—our translation renders it in an odd way. It’s not “your son will live.” Literally, it’s, “Your son lives.”

Regardless, the man believed, but at this point, he believes only that his son would live.

I say “only,” but it is a big deal. Moments ago, for the boy to live was an improbable hope. “He was at the point of death” (John 4:47). The man believes the word Jesus speaks to him, and he leaves with a victory.

A small victory—a fleeting one—because he doesn’t yet believe that he or his son will live forever.

The man believes the word spoken to him, that his son lives, but it could be that he assumes, merely, that his son is stable.

Not dead yet.

Getting better, maybe.

Feeling happy.

But stable doesn’t necessarily mean good.

Regardless, the man believes only that his boy will die later—not sooner—and that’s a victory.

But, “as he was going down, his servants met him and told him that his son [lives]. So he asked them the hour when he began to get better, and they said to him, ‘Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.’ [And] the father knew that was the hour when Jesus had said to him, ‘Your son [lives].’ [Then,] he himself believed, and all his household” (John 4:51-53).

That’s different.

They’ve put it together.

If St. John were only to have written, “And he himself believed,” we could think that the father simply believes the report. He believed the factual report from Jesus about his son, and he believed the factual report from his servants.

But the addition of his household—“He himself believed, and all his household” (John 4:53)—that is a wonderfully telling addition.

The servants that meet him on the road are part of his household. They bring the good news of the boy’s life, but they already believe, in the first sense, that he lives.

That’s why they’re on the road.

That’s what they’re coming to tell him.

The father, though, remembers the hour when Jesus confessed his son’s life. And upon hearing that the hour his boy got better was the same hour that Jesus spoke, the father realizes that something greater than coincidence is at work.

He himself believes not just that his boy is here today and gone tomorrow—no—not merely that.

Now, the father has faith.

He believes that Jesus has power over life and death. He believes that Jesus speaks into existence life and all things. He believes, basically, that Jesus Christ is Lord.

And then he does what every Christian father must, he teaches his household the faith—and they believe as he does.

Of course he does.

And of course they do.

The servants who come from home, who meet the father on the road, for their part, they have nothing to believe if the man doesn’t teach them.

How else would they know?

For the household to believe merely that the son is alive would be meaningless. They bring that message, themselves, to the father. So no—here, the household believes that Jesus Christ is Lord, and they believe because the father believes and has taught them.

They believe the boy will live, and that is a victory.

But they believe, now, because of Jesus, that though he will one day die, yet shall he live again and forever.

More than that, they believe—as our Lord teaches—that everyone who lives and believes in Jesus will never truly die.

The man went to Jesus hoping his boy would live, and he left believing he’d see him alive again.

But the gospel lesson concludes with the man hoping past life and death, trusting beyond what his eyes can see, leaning not on his own understanding, but trusting in Jesus, who speaks and brings life and immortality to light.

This man trusts Jesus to speak so that he and his son and all his household would be safe.

But safe how?

And until when?

And what does that mean?

Believe the Gospel—that Jesus speaks life and peace into existence, forgiving sin and raising the dead—and you’ll know.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Trinity 21 Sermon, 2021
John 4:46-54
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

“My song is love unknown, / My Savior’s love to me, / Love to the loveless shown / That they might lovely be. / Oh, who am I / That for my sake / My Lord should take / Frail flesh and die?” (LSB 430:1).

That’s the song we sing today in humble and faithful anticipation of our Lord—and—that’s the song we’ll sing forever at the wedding feast of Jesus Christ.

The wedding feast we’re invited to and part of.

Faith sings the love of God in Jesus Christ, but the man without a wedding garment is speechless.

He has nothing to say, because—before the king—only faith can be confessed—and—apart from faith in Jesus Christ, you are unworthy and will be cast out.

That you would know all this—that you would know God’s great love for you, and sing it—Jesus tells this parable.

I’m going to explain the parable, but—when you hear it—hear it as though it tells the entire biblical story of salvation—from Genesis to Revelation.

“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son.”

The King is our Father in heaven.

His Son is the Lord, Jesus Christ.

The wedding feast is heaven—the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.

Usually, using the image of a wedding, we would expect to hear of the bride, but in this parable, the bride isn’t mentioned—only the guests, those who’ll share in the feast with the Son.

“[Then, the king] sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast…”

And this is the kingdom of heaven: God bringing Christ and His creation together to rejoice.

“…but they would not come.”

This is not yet our generation. The time before Noah, perhaps. But—as we sang it a few minutes ago:

Men made strange, and none the longed-for Christ would know.

“[So the king] sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, “See, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast.”’ But they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them”

This is not yet our generation either.

This is the time of the prophets, perhaps; regardless, God caused His invitation to the feast to go out, and some paid no attention, while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them.

Jesus says, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, [but you would not]” (Matthew 23:37).

Then “Crucify!” Is all their breath, And for His death they thirst and cry.

“[Then] the king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.”

That might surprise us, but the point is—we are without excuse.

When applying the Law, no one is righteous, no not one (cf. Romans 3:10; Psalm 14:1-3; 53:1-3).

“Through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12).

The whole city is guilty, so the whole city is destroyed.

They killed the prophets. They killed the Christ, because they took Him for a prophet.

A murderer they save, The prince of Life they slay.

In the verses immediately before today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus says to the chief priests, the elders, and the Pharisees: “‘Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it. And whoever falls on this stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to dust.’ Now when the chief priests and Pharisees heard His parables, they perceived that He was speaking of them. But when they sought to lay hands on Him, they feared the multitudes, because they took Him for a prophet” (Matthew 21:43-46).

“Do you not see all these things?” Jesus says. “Truly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down” (cf. Matthew 24:2).

Yet cheerful He To suffering goes That He His foes From thence might free.

“Then [the king] said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.’ And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good.”

This is what St. Paul means when he writes that salvation was unto the Jews first and then the Greek, that is, the Gentiles, the non-Jews.

The kingdom of God was taken from the Pharisees and all hard-hearted Jews and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it.

So the kings servants, then and now, gather all whom they find, both bad and good.

That’s the wheat and the tares which grow together until harvest, and at the time of harvest, the king says to his servants: “First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn” (cf. Matthew 13:24-30).

“[And now] the wedding hall [is] filled with guests.”

And there we sit—here we sit—singing the love of God made known to us, until He returns.

And He will return.

From the perspective of God looking back at what He’s done, according to the parable, Jesus says:

“But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth’” (cf. Matthew 22:2-13).

The wedding garment is the righteousness of Christ we put on in Holy Baptism.

It’s the full and faithful armor of God—what the Christian wears that’s been washed clean in the blood of the Lamb.

It is, in fact, given to all who believe.

The man is speechless, because he has no faith, because he does not believe.

And so, he’s bound, hand and foot, and cast into hell.

The king sees the heart of man—that is, God does—and God is not mocked.

He promises to prepare a table before you in the presence of your enemies so that your victory—the victory and love of God—would be complete.

Earlier, we sang a song of love unknown, of God’s love, unknowable unless it is revealed, poured out, and given and shed.

Love to the loveless shown that they might lovely be.

Oh, who am I? That for my sake my Lord shall take frail flesh and die?

Who am I? And who are you? That the love of God is shown to and for us all in the death of the Son of God?

Jesus says, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast” (Matthew 22:2-3).

This is the kingdom of heaven: God bringing Bride and Groom, Christ and His Church together to rejoice.

That’s the song we sing today in humble and faithful anticipation of our Lord—and—that’s the song we’ll sing forever at the wedding feast we’re invited to and part of.

So—“Here might [we] stay and sing, / No story so divine! / Never was love, dear King, / Never was grief like Thine. / This is my friend, / In whose sweet praise / I all my days / Could gladly spend” (LSB 430:7).

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Trinity 20 Sermon, 2021
Matthew 22:1-14
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

Today, Jesus forgives the paralytic’s sins saying, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven” (Matthew 9:2).

Eventually, Jesus heals the man—“[saying] to the paralytic—‘Rise, pick up your bed and go home.’ And he rose and went home” (Matthew 9:6-7).

Jesus forgives sin and later connects the forgiveness of sins with the healing of the body.

He makes that connection—and that connection still exists today—but we need to understand it rightly.

Some of the scribes understand Jesus wrongly.

They hear Him say, “Your sins are forgiven,” and they say to themselves, “This man is blaspheming” (Matthew 9:3).

But how? We need to ask how.

How is forgiving sins blaspheming?

In Mark 2 and Luke 5—just like in Matthew 9—the scribes and Pharisees consider Jesus to be blaspheming when He says to the paralytic, “Your sins are forgiven.”

But in Mark 2 and Luke 5, the scribes and Pharisees are recorded to have also said, “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (cf. Mark 2:7; Luke 5:21).

To them—that’s the blasphemy—that Jesus, here, forgives sins instead of God.

The scribes reject—what we believe—that Jesus is God With Us. For them, it’s impossible for a man to forgive sin, because the authority to forgive sin belongs to God.

Knowing their thoughts, Jesus puts forward this rational argument, saying, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic—“Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And he rose and went home (Matthew 9:4-7).

Jesus does two things here.

First, He does the more difficult thing to prove He can do the easier thing.

We draw conclusions like this all the time. If you need help at four o’clock, and someone’s working with you until five, you know they’ll be able to help you.

If you need to lift one-hundred pounds, and you know someone who can lift two-hundred pounds, you know they can do it.

When you prove the more difficult, you also prove the easier.

To say, “I forgive you” may not change the look of anything—to our eyes, it’s not immediately verifiable—but it is in the realm of divine things, the forgiveness of sins.

The scribes believe man can’t do that.

So for Jesus to say, “Rise, pick up your bed, and go home,” that is immediately verifiable to our eyes.

But that is in the realm of divine things, too.

The scribes believe man can’t do that either.

“But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins,” Jesus does the more difficult thing to prove He can do the easier thing—forgiving sins.

That’s His argument. That’s what He does first.

For our comfort, He demonstrates His authority over fallen Creation to then demonstrate further His authority to forgive sin, which brought about the Fall in the first place.

The second thing He does is the result He brings about. “When the crowd saw [the previously paralytic man walk home], they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men” (Matthew 9:8).

Second, Jesus brings about this conclusion, that man, in fact, is able to, can, and does forgive sin—in the stead of God, as from God Himself.

The scribes hate Him for it, but we rejoice—receiving, again and again, the absolution as from God Himself.

Now, in some ways, we don’t have the same problem as the scribes, because we’ve heard it said every week of our Lutheran lives, “In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you of all your sins.”

We’ve been trained—and rightly—to hear and receive the absolution from the pastor as from God Himself.

We don’t conflate the two—but rather—rejoice that God works through means, even simple ones.

But when sins are forgiven today, the response is usually one of two things…thanks or no thanks.

It’s “Thanks” when forgiveness is received and believed and cherished for what it is—the forgiveness and salvation of sinners.

We all like the Gospel.

We all like the idea of heaven and peace and unity—but the Gospel is the forgiveness of sins. Our peace is found in the wounds of Jesus who was delivered up for our trespasses. There’s only discord if we don’t believe the same things, hence the very word concord or Concordia.

What I mean is, sometimes the forgiveness of sins seems as blasphemous to us as it did for the scribes—but for very different reasons.

And then—it’s no thanks.

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us (cf. 1 John 1:8).

The first words Jesus says in His public ministry, in His first sermon, are “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17).

Our preaching should be the same, not different.

The last sermon Jesus preaches, according to St. Luke, is fundamentally the same. Jesus says, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations” (cf. Luke 24:45-47).

Our preaching should be the same, not different.

But the Gospel is scandalous—blasphemous, even—if you don’t want to talk about sin.

Because the Gospel is the forgiveness of sins, earned by Christ the crucified, given by the work of the Holy Spirit in the Word, unto all who believe.

I’ve said before that only sinners will go to heaven.

What I mean is, “There is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15:7).

Having your sins forgiven seems blasphemous if you don’t think you’ve done anything wrong.

If you don’t believe me, the next time you’re at the bank, the next time you’re at the gas station, and somebody messes up and says, “Oh, I’m sorry,” look them in the eyes and say, “I forgive you.”

The awkward silence, the uncomfortable grimace is proof that the Gospel is often—to us—a scandal, as though we don’t expect to be forgiven.

I think you should expect to be forgiven.

And I think you should expect to forgive.

Do you know what that means?

For you and for your neighbor, do you know what that does?

If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (cf. 1 John 1:9).

To rejoice in the forgiveness of sins is to rejoice in what God has done for all in Christ, who was lifted up, that everyone who suffers because of the curse would look to him and be healed—forgiven—saved.

To deny forgiveness to any is to deny what God has done for you—and all—in Christ.

After Jesus teaches the Lord’s Prayer, to forgive as we have been forgiven, He says, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15).

Don’t be scandalized by having sin defined—or defining sin.

Don’t be scandalized by having sins forgiven—or forgiving sins.

Do not think evil in your hearts.

For which is easier to say—“You shall not want, you’ll lie down in the greenest of pastures, beside the stillest of waters, with a restored soul”?

Or—“Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”?

But that you may know that God is at work in you to accomplish both—to forgive sin, to heal the body, to raise the dead, and to bring life and immortality to light—that you may know this, I say to you what Jesus said to the paralytic: “Take heart, [dear child of God], your sins are forgiven” (Matthew 9:2).

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Trinity 19, 2021
Matthew 9:1-8
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

St. Matthew records that, when tempted by satan, Jesus says: “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test’” (Matthew 4:7; Deut. 6:16).

He’s quoting Deuteronomy chapter six when He says that.

The Pharisees don’t realize—or maybe they do—that they’re putting the Lord their God to the test by pitting the Word of God against itself.

That’s what the lawyer’s doing when he asks his question, saying: “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” (Matthew 22:36).

It says he did this to test Jesus, but tempt is the better translation, since this lawyer wants Jesus to fail.

Tests are from God, and He wants you to be faithful.

Temptations are from satan, and He wants you to sin.

The Pharisees try to entangle Jesus in His words (cf. Matthew 22:15). They try to trap Him.

Like the talking heads on today’s television, they want the soundbite. The spin. The “gotcha” moment.

It’s as if the Pharisees are thinking, “Maybe we can get him to say what we want him to say.”

And so they put Him to the test.

It’s easy for us to side with Jesus against the Pharisees, of course it is, but to be honest, we’re not that far from the Pharisees, from time to time.

We want God to say what we want Him to say.

And when God answers our prayers in a way we don’t like—when He says no—we don’t think He means it.

God wants me to be happy.

God’s “No” makes me unhappy.

Therefore—there must be something wrong with God.

It’s not faith but doubt—not faith but fear—that draws that conclusion.

So how does Jesus respond?

He said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40).

He’s quoting Deuteronomy chapter six, again.

The Pharisees tempt Jesus—just as satan did—putting God to the test.

They are of their father, the devil, which is why, in the verses after today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus refers to the Pharisees as children of hell (cf. Matthew 23:15).

Because they do as satan did.

Then, “while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, saying, ‘What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?’” (Matthew 22:41-42a).

That’s a straightforward question with a straightforward answer, and they know it. “They said to him, ‘The son of David’” (Matthew 22:42b), and they’re right.

But while the question and answer is straightforward, the implications of the answer—for the Pharisees—are not—and that leaves a bitter taste the children of hell can’t stomach.

Jesus says to them: “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet”’? If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?” (Matthew 22:43-45).

Those are the first words of Psalm one-hundred ten, a psalm of David, where David—in the inerrant inspiration of God—says that the Lord, Yahweh, said to David’s Lord, the Christ, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet” (cf. Psalm 110:1).

If the Christ is David’s Lord—Jesus wants to know—how is He his son?

“And no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions” (Matthew 22:46), because you don’t tug on Superman’s cape, you don’t spit into the wind, and you don’t put the Lord your God to the test.

Now, I’m convinced that the Pharisees could’ve answered but that they didn’t want to deal with the implications of the answer.

The only way for David’s son to be also David’s Lord is for the Lord to become flesh and dwell among us.

David’s Lord, True God, begotten from the substance of the Father before all ages—to use the words of the Athanasian Creed.

And David’s son, True Man, born from the substance of His mother in this age.

David’s son and David’s Lord. If you’re familiar with 2 Samuel chapter seven, it’s all there.

But if the Pharisees bring that up, they’d have to submit to Jesus, because—as St. Matthew tells it—Jesus has been called the Son of David by other people exactly seven times, eight if you include His genealogy.

The Pharisees have the Word of God.

They know it.

But they allow neither their heart nor their soul nor their mind to submit to it.

The Pharisees—and us, too, sometimes—won’t believe what God says because it’s difficult to understand or it would mean changing the way we do things on Sunday mornings—as though what God says has to be easy or nice to be true.

They know the Word—but they don’t believe it.

They’re cut to the heart and cannot answer or ask anything else.

“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, joints and marrow—discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (cf. Hebrews 4:12).

The Pharisees try to trap Jesus in His words about the Word, and they are, themselves, trapped.

Because Jesus responds perfectly: Love fulfills the Law.

The Word of God is not a contradiction.

The First Commandment includes all the others.

How is it you love God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind?

Love your neighbor—who was created in God’s image just like you—Love your neighbor as yourself.

That’s how St. Paul has it: “The one who loves another fulfills the law. For the commandments…are summed up in this word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law” (cf. Romans 13:8-10).

But while Jesus’ response to the lawyer’s question is perfect, if that’s all He says, if that’s all we know, He’s only a preacher and teacher of the Law—and we’re lost.

If Jesus doesn’t have more to say, we’re left with the commandment: “Love God perfectly. And your neighbor as yourself.”

And as perfect as that law is—we all fall short.

God’s not wrong.

There’s nothing wrong with the Law.

There’s something wrong with us.

In the first Psalm it says “Blessed is the man…[whose] delight is in the law of the Lord, and on His law he meditates day and night” (cf. Psalm 1:1-2).

We know that’s not always us.

And we know it should be.

So what happens next?

We could—with the Pharisees—put God to the test and pit the Word of God against itself.

We can say it doesn’t mean this or that.

We could refuse to preach the Law, which would make everyone more comfortable. Or we could refrain from saying things like, “Stop breaking the law,” that would make us popular with the talking heads.

We could—with the Pharisees—exert our reason over and against Scripture, saying things like:

God wants me to be happy.

God’s “No” makes me unhappy.

Therefore—God doesn’t really say “No.”

That’s the response of doubt and fear but not of faith.

The faithful response is to hear and believe what Jesus says to the Pharisees when they gather together.

“What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” (Matthew 22:42).

He’s David’s son, of course, and David’s Lord.

But why does Jesus ask?

If it’s only to trap them and us—He’s no different.

Rather—Jesus wants you to wonder and to see how God has chosen to love us.

Lord of all, seeming servant of none, God took on flesh, a servant’s form, to love and die for all.

He is of His Father, who loves us.

And so He loves us Himself and loved us to the end.

As often as we eat the bread, as often as we drink the cup, we proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.

As often as we receive Him, as often as we call on Him, as often as we remember His great love for us—all the more—He receives us, calls us by name, and remembers His promises.

The Pharisees put the Lord to the test.

They rejected the Word of God.

Of their father the devil, they are children of hell (cf. Matthew 23:15).

But not you.

You believe the Lord and wait on Him in fear and patient faith.

You are children of your Heavenly Father who never leaves you nor forsakes you.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Trinity 18 Sermon, 2021
Matthew  22:34-46
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt