Husband. Father. Lutheran pastor. Sinfonian.

Saint Matthew Lutheran Church—Ernestville, Missouri

There’s more to the temptation of Christ than what we, at first, see.

If the choice really is either the devil or an empty stomach, that’s an obvious choice.

If the choice really is either the devil or an eventual death, that’s an obvious choice.

And if the choice really is either the devil as our god or the lack of worldly riches, even that’s an obvious choice.

If that’s how satan tempts us, with obvious Either/Ors, we should be glad to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from the faith.

But there’s more to temptation than simply having “God or…”

The devil wants you to have, “God and…”

Think of the temptation in the Garden of Eden. In Genesis, God says, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:16).

God gives a positive command—eat of every tree—and a prohibition—but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat.

How does the devil respond? He takes God’s Yes and God’s No and invites you to believe it’s “God and…”

“Did God actually say…?”

He casts doubt on the word of God.

He contradicts the Word of God, “You will not surely die…”

And then, here’s the “God and…” part, he says:

“For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

You can have your forbidden fruit and be like God.

That’s what the devil wants you to think.

He doesn’t correct Eve when she adds to God’s command, saying “neither shall you touch it.”

The devil rejoices in such additions.

He wants you to think that God can be your God and you can depart from His Word. God and.

If it’s put to us as a clear Either/Or, it’s an obvious choice. But when it’s “God and…” temptation is at its worst.

And that’s how Jesus is tempted.

It’s necessary to note that Jesus can’t possibly sin. The temptation of Jesus isn’t a battle between Good and Evil as though they were equal but opposite and we don’t know who’ll win. Rather, the temptation of Jesus shows us the mind of God—what He’ll endure to earn our salvation and even what He’ll allow us to endure to receive it.

“Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread’” (Matthew 4:1-3).

There’s more going on here than the temptation of a hungry man.

That’s the easy Either/Or part.

If the choice really is either the devil or an empty stomach, we should be glad to go hungry.

But not only does the devil tempt a hungry Jesus with earthly food, he’s also tempting a loving God with being an apparently loving God.

It’s as if the devil says, “If you are the Son of God, command these and all stones to become loaves of bread and feed and care for all people everywhere.”

“If you’re a loving God, you don’t want people to starve, so care for and feed your people.”

The devil tempts Jesus with being God, essentially saying, “If you are the Son of God, prove it—feed all people everywhere. Be God—and—prove it.”

But: ”Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).

God has a plan. He is God. He does prove it.

But He doesn’t dance to the devil’s tune.

There’s more to God’s plan for you than a full stomach.

And thanks be to God for that, because even if you always had a full stomach, bread without sweat, as it were, even then, the rest of you would one day give out.

Knowing this, God feeds you bread from heaven, the living bread. He strengthens you, body and soul, to life everlasting. Depart in peace!

Out of His mouth He gives you His Word, and on that you can live forever.

“Then the devil took [Jesus] to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “He will command his angels concerning you” and “On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone’” (Matthew 4:5-6).

There’s more going on here than the temptation of a mortal man

That’s the Either/Or part.

If the choice really is either the devil or an eventual death, we should be glad to one day die in the faith.

The devil here tempts God with being God a second time, because if Jesus jumped from the Washington Monument, and the angels swooped in and caught Him up, ”lest he strike his foot against a stone,” the people would see it and believe, even in Washington.

That’s what the devil wants you to think—that all it would take is a miraculous sign and the world would believe—but they would not.

The world has Moses and the prophets, but it doesn’t hear them. The world has Jesus, but neither did it believe when He rose from the dead.

Here, again, Jesus is tempted with being God.

It’s as if the devil says, “If you want people to believe—if you are a loving God—be their God and give them a sign! Save them! Be God—and—do it this way.”

But the world has been given a sign, the sign of the prophet Jonah. And since “they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead” (Luke 16:31) or be saved by swooping angels.

“Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test’” (Matthew 4:7).

There’s more to God’s plan for you than glorious, marvelous, spectacular sights, signs, and wonders.

Even when those things happen—or are claimed to have happened—they don’t endure.

Seemingly miraculous things are popular only until the ink on the book or movie deal is dry, but Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

The truly miraculous—the Word of God that endures forever—is at work by the Holy Spirit to bring us out of darkness and into God’s marvelous light.

God applies His name to us. He marks us as ones redeemed by Christ the crucified. He cares for us as a Father cares for His own dear children.

And we rejoice.

The Word of God—not signs and wonders—is a certainty. It creates and sustains faith in the Lord Jesus.

So we don’t put the Lord our God to the test.

Then, ”Again the devil took [Jesus] to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, ‘All these I will give you, if you fall down and worship me’” (Matthew 4:8-9).

There’s more going on here than an attempt to get Jesus to worship a different god.

That’s the easy Either/Or.

If the choice really is either the devil as our god or the lack of worldly riches, we should rejoice to be poor.

But here, it’s as if the devil says, “If you’re the Son of God, be the Son of God. That won’t change. Be the Son of God and worship me. And I’ll give you all the world, its riches, its power. If you’re a loving God, rule the earth benevolently. Wouldn’t you do better than me?”

He says this as though God doesn’t already reign. He says this as though God’s will is not already done on earth as it is in heaven.

The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.

It’s not the devil’s to give.

For the third time, the devil tempts Jesus with being God, but Jesus said to him: “Be gone, satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve’” (Matthew 4:10).

There’s more to God’s plan for you than earthly, temporal glory, riches, wealth, power, and food.

Why store up your treasure where moth and rust destroy and thieves break in and steal?

Why trust in things that do not endure?

The devil rejoices when you love God—so long as it’s “God and…” that you love.

But thus says the Lord our God: “You shall worship the Lord your God… [Period.] And Him only shall you serve” (Matthew 4:10).

Jesus is Lord and God, and this is His plan:

In the midst of a culture of insatiable hunger and thirst, the One Who refused to live by dead and dusty bread gives you His own flesh to eat: Living Bread that never dies but strengthens and preserves your body and soul unto life everlasting.

Jesus was tempted with food that could’ve fed you. He resisted, that you would be fed by the Word, that you would hear, believe in Him, and live forever.

Food is important. Obviously.

We should feed those who are hungry, not counting as Korban what could go to our neighbor. Obviously.

But ours is the God who looks to our needs eternal. He would rather we suffer for a little while and be carried by the angels to Abraham than, feasting every day, depart to the unquenchable fires of hell.

To accomplish this, the One Who refused earthly, satanic power lay down His life for us, crushing the serpent’s head under His own pierced feet.

He gave up earthly glory to raise you to life eternal.

Jesus was tempted with life that you would’ve enjoyed. He resisted, so that all who believe in Him would rejoice forever.

In a culture of pluralism, unionism, and syncretism the One Who refused to bow the knee to false gods, false doctrine, and false unity preaches to you the Gospel, the Words of the Eternal Way, Truth, and Life.

God doesn’t Walk Out.

And Jesus was tempted with power that would’ve made our earthly lives a breeze. He resisted that, promising that as the world hated Him it would also hate us.

You’ll pick up your cross daily and follow Jesus with much toil and tribulation here on earth, but all this He did so that you would one day set down your cross, pick up your crown, and serve and reign with Christ the King forever.

Ours is the God who looks to our needs temporal and eternal. He gives us this day our daily bread and delivers us from death and devil.

”These things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ the only Son of God. And that by believing you have life in His Name” (John 20:31).

“Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to Him” (Matthew 4:11).

Behold—the devil has left you. He was cast out when you received the Holy Spirit.

Now, we go to the Lord’s Table where angels and archangels and all the company of heaven laud and magnify God evermore, saying, “Holy, holy, holy…”

Here, today, now, we receive for our body and soul’s good, for our temporal and eternal good, God’s plan for our salvation.

Come Lord Jesus.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Invocavit (Lent 1) Sermon, 2021
Matthew 4:1-11
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

Growing up, it always struck me as odd that we would receive ashes on our foreheads on the same day we hear Jesus say, “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward” (Matthew 6:16).

Now, you haven’t done anything wrong if you’ve received ashes, and you haven’t done anything better if you haven’t.

Ashes, lacking a penitent heart, are like no ashes.

And no ashes, having a penitent heart, are like ashes.

It matters that you repent and believe this Word of God: “Dust you are, and to dust you shall return” (cf. Genesis 3:19).

And that’s the point—the come to terms with death.

Our death.

The death, eventually, of our children and all we know and have.

It doesn’t last.

It will not.

And this is not an easy thought or thing to say.

We might teach our children to pray, “If I die before I wake,” but there are other versions of that prayer, “nicer” versions, that don’t.

And how many adults remember to think and live and act and speak as though the next nap or nightly rest may be your last?

Jesus says, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21).

This is why we impose ashes.

We don’t hand them out or distribute them.

It is an imposition, a forceful assertion about all you are and hold dear.

That you are dust. That you will die. And that to dust you shall return.

I know—it’s not a cheerful thought.

But there isn’t a long list of Lenten “carols” for us to sing. Can you imagine caroling with Lenten hymns for the shut-ins? We may as well dress in black and where a scythe.

We don’t send Lenten cards.

We don’t wish each other a merry or happy Lent.

The infant joy that was born into the world has grown and matured.

There is still joy.

But He has set His face toward Jerusalem—that He would take up His cross and suffer all to save all.

There is still joy.

But Lent takes on a dual theme, emphasizing repentance—and then joy.

We impose ashes to be reminded that this body and life is not all there is.

So that we’re ready—when our last hour comes—to meet the Lord face to face.

David says in the Psalm: “I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,’ and you forgave the iniquity of my sin” (Psalm 32:5).

No one can stand before God without bringing this confession of sins with him.

So David also says—If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared” (Psalm 130:3-4).

Anyone who wants to stand before God must be sure that this confession of sins comes from his heart and firmly believe that, unless the Lord is merciful to him, all is lost.

No matter how pious he is.

No matter his attendance or tithe or tenure.

Apart from the mercy of God—all is lost.

And there’s no difference—for all have sinned.

Repent.

This isn’t an easy thought or thing to say.

This is a terrible cross to bear.

But Jesus says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).

And from the Psalm: “Cast your cares on the Lord, and He will sustain you. He will never let the righteous fall” (cf. Psalm 55:22).

He doesn’t set His face toward Jerusalem or bear His cross for the same reason we do.

He sets His face, determined to beat down satan under His feet.

He bears His cross, because it’s necessary for the Son of Man to be lifted up—that all who look to Him would be saved.

Toward Jerusalem, we set our face, marked with cross and ash, to remember why He went.

“[He] was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Romans 4:25).

We bear our cross to follow Him.

Not that we can save ourselves—but, in faith, we follow Jesus and trust trust that He has saved us.

The whole life of a Christian is repentance.

But there is joy, too.

“Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the [author] and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 11:1-2).

The joy that was set before Him—His goal and end—was your salvation.

That’s what faithfulness to God the Father meant to Jesus—your salvation.

That’s what drinking the cup of cross and death meant to Jesus—your salvation.

Your God chose you and won.

He won you from sin and satan, from death and hell.

He is your priceless treasure.

And where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

If not “happy” or “merry” how about “blesséd.”

Blesséd Lent.

And may God bless and keep you in the true faith—in repentance and joy—unto life everlasting.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Ash Wednesday, 2021
Matthew 6:16-21
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

Jesus predicts His death and resurrection three times.

In Luke chapter nine, Saint Peter confesses that Jesus is “the Christ of God” (Luke 9:20).

Then—“[Jesus] strictly warned and commanded them to tell this to no one, saying, ‘The Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day’” (Luke 9:21-22).

This is followed, immediately, by Jesus saying to them all, “Take up your cross daily and follow me” (cf. Luke 9:23).

But they don’t hear Him—they don’t understand.

Later in chapter nine, Jesus “rebuked [an] unclean spirit, healed [a] child, and gave him back to his father” (Luke 9:42).

“And they were all amazed at the majesty of God. But while everyone marveled at all the things which Jesus did, He said to His disciples, ‘Let these words sink down into your ears, for the Son of Man is about to be betrayed into the hands of men.’ But they did not understand this saying, and it was hidden from them so that they did not perceive it; and they were afraid to ask Him about this saying” (Luke 9:43-45).

Again, they fail to hear Jesus—to understand Him.

We’re told, in fact, that “it was hidden from them so that they did not perceive it” (Luke 9:45).

They’re afraid to ask Him about what He’s said, and then, of all things—they argue about who among them is greatest.

And today, in Luke chapter eighteen, Jesus predicts His death and resurrection again, saying, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man will be accomplished. For He will be delivered to the Gentiles and will be mocked and insulted and spit upon. They will scourge Him and kill Him. And the third day He will rise again” (Luke 18:31-33).

“But they understood none of these things; this saying was hidden from them, and they did not know the things which were spoken” (Luke 18:34).

This is where we come in.

The thought and concept of death is, for many, either foolish or offensive.

To die well…to die a good death…or to sleep expecting to wake up, as the New Testament frames it, these should be how we speak—but they’re not.

Rather—it’s foolish, some say, to waste time talking about death because—what good can come of it?

And—it’s offensive, some say, to assert that death will occur at all, especially when someone you love is dealing with a bad diagnosis.

On the one hand, why waste your time?

And on the other, why make it worse?

Perhaps you think it better to be ignorant of a thing with unrealistic expectations than knowledgeable and have to deal with reality.

It won’t get us—if we don’t talk about it.

It’s not real—if we don’t say it out loud.

I recently read the account of a woman who is no longer Christian. When her husband died she was told by members of her religion that he must have lacked faith or he wouldn’t have died.

He must have committed some terrible sin or he wouldn’t have suffered as he did.

There are people who claim Christianity who believe that, and it is not true.

I recently watched an interview with an atheist who thought he was really smart. He said that if God is all-powerful but does nothing about evil in the world, then He is either not loving or not all-powerful and would therefore be unworthy of worship.

That sounds so smart, but he fell victim to one of the classic blunders—never go in against God when death is on the line—or think that death and suffering is without point or purpose.

Death is, to many, either foolish or offensive.

“Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block, [a scandalous offense,] and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ [is] the power of God and the wisdom of God” (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:22-24).

In and to a world obsessed with death and dying but oblivious to what kills and makes alive, we preach Jesus Christ and Him crucified.

We, Christians, know better than any other that through the suffering and death of One there is salvation for all.

We, Christians, know better than any other that through the daily taking up of our cross, following Jesus, we “partake of Christ’s sufferings” (1 Peter 4:13).

That’s how St. Peter writes it.

And—“If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you” (1 Peter 4:14).

This is a hard saying, and we’re not alone in our befuddlement.

When Jesus predicts His death and resurrection, “[the disciples] understood none of these things; this saying was hidden from them, and they did not know the things which were spoken” (Luke 18:34).

This is where we come in.

Death concerns us, because we know it’s coming.

Death frightens us, because we know we can’t beat it.

Death humbles all men, because it can find any man at any time.

It’s foolish and offensive to talk about it.

But we preach Christ crucified.

Jesus said, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man will be accomplished. For He will be delivered to the Gentiles and will be mocked and insulted and spit upon. They will scourge Him and kill Him. [But] on the third day He will rise again” (Luke 18:31-33).

For the disciples and for us, as proof of the power and love of God, He restored the sight of the blind man.

“Hearing the multitude passing by, he asked what it meant. So they told him that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by. And he cried out, saying, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Then those who went before warned him that he should be quiet; but he cried out all the more, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’” (Luke 18:36-39).

And here we see the good that can come of suffering, the good that can come of blindness even. That man had faith greater than all twelve of the disciples.

He persisted in his prayer and was unfazed by the masses.

Jesus commanded him to be brought to Him and said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has saved you” (Luke 18:42).

Jesus foretold His death and resurrection three times, which was a fine thing to do but hidden from them all.

But then He speaks blind eyes open.

“And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God” (Luke 18:43), because He just proved He can do all the things He promises.

And so, for the disciples and for us, as proof of the power and love of God, He died in the place of sinners, forgiving the sin, and was raised on the third day.

All of what God promises is true.

You can die a good death and die well.

That is, you can live to the Lord, fearing neither what is or is to come.

Well and faithfully, you can suffer for doing good and bear the cross God gives you.

You can thank God that He counts you worthy to partake of Christ’s sufferings. Blessed are you.

“If anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter” (1 Peter 4:16).

To my shame, I heard recently the story of some Lutherans in Africa—a place, to be sure, we would all at first look down on.

These Lutherans happen to be a four hour drive away from militant Muslims who seek to kill Christians and steal their children.

What we see on the nightly news—or really, what we don’t see—is, for them, real life and an every day affair.

Nevertheless, knowing that there are those close by who desire their death and the death of all Christians, they not only go to church every Sunday—they bring their kids to Sunday School for two hours before the service begins.

Too much breakfast or fifteen minutes less sleep than normal might be enough of a temptation for us to skip Sunday School and even church all together.

To our shame we should hear that there are Lutherans who live under such a daily burden and yet glorify God with exceeding joy, giving Him praise.

Jesus foretells His death and resurrection—He restores sight to the blind—so that you can suffer all, even death, in faith that trusts that God has suffered all, even death, that you would be saved, body and soul, from sin and satan, death and hell, and be raised to life eternal.

And all the people when they saw it—when they heard it—gave praise to God.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Quinquagesima, 2021
Luke 18:31-43
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

Saint Matthew Lutheran Church—Ernestville, Missouri

Last week, we heard the parable of the workers in the vineyard and this week, the parable of the sower.

It must be said that, in human terms, the parables don’t make sense.

They’re not fair.

They’re not how we think.

And that’s the point.

The parables are how God thinks; and if you hear and understand them rightly, there is great comfort for you.

Today—Jesus Himself gives the right understanding.

He says, “The parable is this: The seed is the word of God. The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away. And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience” (Luke 8:11-15).

There isn’t a better explanation of the parable.

There isn’t a better explanation of how God saves the world—that He causes His Word to be preached everywhere, giving it growth, bringing it to maturity, that it produce good works—unto the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. Amen.

I don’t have to explain the parable—because Jesus does.

Rather, our task is for us to hear and believe and confess in our daily lives the explanation that Jesus gives.

The parable of the sower is about the kingdom of God, how God causes His Word to be preached everywhere so that the mysteries of the kingdom of God may be revealed to those who believe (cf. Luke 8:10).

And it is about the world—unto which the Word of God is preached.

“The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved” (Luke 8:12).

God causes His Word to be preached unto all the world, and He certainly desires the salvation of all.

But some have hardened their hearts against God and His salvation.

These might consider themselves saved—or damned—or perhaps they don’t consider themselves at all.

Historically, this was called acedia, spiritual or mental sloth, that inbred sin of reluctance to work.

But let’s not pretend we’ve never planted our feet firmly in that kind of soil.

The devil snatches away the seed because we harden our heart to what God says about our idols.

Or—we refuse to admit we have idols.

Or—we live in complete apathy, except for the inch deep, mile wide, all-inclusive hedonism of the world.

God is just.

There is no fault with the seed or how it’s planted.

But the hard heart, the lazy heart, your heart will be called to account.

That’s how it is for the ones along the path.

“And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away” (Luke 8:13).

We’ve all seen this.

A man will come to faith after much grief—and he will think his grief behind him.

“But the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and few are those who find it” (cf. Matthew 7:14).

But let’s not pretend we never sing with all the saints on Sunday—only to ruin it all in the car ride home.

One slight, real or imagined, is all it takes for us to give up the ghost.

For the ones on the rock, that’s how it is.

“And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature” (Luke 8:14).

These are the Sunday-only Christians.

The Christmas and Easter Christians.

The Christians who take advantage of the Church’s generosity until graduation.

Imagine the heart of a person who rejoices in front of you on Sunday, agreeing with God and the congregation from nine to eleven, or ten to eleven, if you don’t go to Sunday School, only to go home, get drunk, shack up with and celebrate sin.

“From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My [friends], these things ought not…be so” (James 3:10).

Imagine the heart of a person who feigns a seasonal need of God only to fit in with the fad.

Their children shall be their judges (cf. Matthew 12:27).

This being the third type of soil in the parable, you know to expect me to say: let’s not pretend this isn’t us.

Thorns and thistles have grown up, and we reap what we did sow.

How many among you hear the Word of God but have no cares that would take your heart from you?

Which man among you is concerned not at all with riches?

Or what woman wants nothing to do with the pleasures of this life?

Is there anyone whose fruit could not give an increase?

This parable is about us and the world unto which the Word of God is preached, but if we hear and believe and confess this parable as only a description of soils, we miss the point entirely.

Our task is to hear and believe and confess in our daily lives the explanation that Jesus gives.

It’s not “Which soil are you today?”

But rather, “Do you know what God has done to save you?”

He didn’t cause His Word to be preached only to the good soil—like we would do.

He causes His Word to be preached everywhere, unto all the world, and He certainly desires the salvation of all.

Bad soil doesn’t cultivate itself.

And good soil does not make itself so.

Rather—hear the Word of God.

Believe it.

Confess it.

Live your life as one who is dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus (cf. Romans 6:11).

When your heart is hardened like the path, pray that God would melt your heart in mercy.

And when there are many stones, build your house on the rock. Jesus says, “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock” (Matthew 7:24-25).

And if it’s thorns, and cares, and riches, and the pleasures of this life—you’re in the company of every human being who’s ever lived.

“Count it all as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Jesus Christ [the] Lord. For his sake [we will suffer] the loss of all things and count them as rubbish…that [we] may gain Christ…” (cf. Philippians 3:8). Be found in Him—and receive a righteousness which comes through faith.

“As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience” (Luke 8:15).

Do you know what God has done to save you?

Unto all the world the Word of God is preached and planted.

Unto all the world the Savior came and taught.

And now forgiveness and eternal life is granted.

To all those who know His blood them bought.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Sexagesima, 2021
Luke 8:4-15
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

Saint Matthew Lutheran Church—Ernestville, Missouri

There are three clarifications that need to be made about today’s Gospel lesson—regarding how certain things are translated and understood.

First of all, when the master went out at about the third hour, he said to them: “You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you” (Matthew 20:4).

Right is the right word, but you need to know that right calls to mind not only right and wrong but righteous and unrighteous.

The word translated as right is used throughout Matthew to refer to the righteous.

This is a parable—what the kingdom of heaven is like—so God, the master of the house, is calling sinners to repentance and reestablishing Creation—calling workers into the vineyard—just as Adam, the first worker in the vineyard, was called forth and put—to tend and keep it.

God’s plan has been and is to give to all—the righteous gift of everlasting life.

That’s the wage.

That’s the second clarification that needs to be made.

Verse eight should read: “And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them the wage, beginning with the last up to the first’” (Matthew 20:8).

There is one righteous wage.

And notice, they don’t get what they earn; rather, they receive what is just and right and good.

They receive what God gives.

The third clarification has to do with translating an idiom. In verse fifteen, “or do you begrudge my generosity?” is literally “or is your eye evil because I am good?” (Matthew 20:15).

This parable isn’t about right and wrong but righteousness and unrighteousness.

This parable isn’t about generosity and niceness but what is good and righteous.

With these clarifications in mind, consider the parable:

Workers are called into the vineyard to work.

Early in the morning, and again at the third, sixth, ninth, and eleventh hour, workers are called into the vineyard to work.

“Whatever is right I will give you” (Matthew 20:4), says the master of the house.

And when evening comes, the owner instructs his foreman to pay them the wage, beginning with the last up to the first.

Two things stand out here.

The amount is the same for all. Those who worked only one hour are given a wage equal to those who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.

And—the last are paid first.

Maybe I’m making more of this than I should.

Maybe your experience is different.

But I always wondered as a child why my dad had to get to work half an hour earlier than everyone else on his shift. And why he was always fifteen minutes later than everyone else when we would pick him up from work.

I asked, and he explained it this way:

His shift started at eight. That meant he had to show up before eight to be able to start on time. And his shift ended at four. Which meant he worked until four and then cleaned up.

Seemingly everyone else camped out at the door and punched out at four o’clock exactly.

He never got paid for the extra time.

That’s just what it took for him to do his job.

In human terms, in worldly terms, if he was given what was right, he would’ve received more than the guys who, basically, showed up late and left early. He would’ve received better pay and more recognition.

But they were paid the same, and the guys who didn’t bear the full burden of the day or the scorching heat got home to their families first.

The parable that Jesus tells should shock us.

It’s not how we operate. It’s not nice.

You shouldn’t be paid the same for less work.

And we don’t favor the lazy, last minute workers.

We know what’s meet, right, and salutary.

But I’ve gone too far if I use our human understanding of right and wrong to define God’s will and work to save us.

And that’s why Jesus uses parables.

This isn’t how the world is.

This is how the kingdom of heaven is.

And God’s not nice.

He’s good.

To ask, “Do you begrudge my generosity?” fails on two fronts.

Generosity is not necessarily goodness.

A generous man may not be a good one, and a good man is not generous when he should not be.

Translated this way, we fail to confess against the evil eye that hates God when He’s good to someone else.

We think the unfaithful should suffer more than the faithful, but they don’t always.

We think the wicked should perish before the good, but they don’t always.

Sometimes it’s the Christian’s privilege to bear the cross, the burden of the day and the scorching heat.

Why and to what end?

Do you not know someone who needs a good, Christian example and a kind word?

Is there no one God has put in your life who would benefit from the patient, God-fearing help of a friend?

Everyone who went into the vineyard later in the day had the example of those who went before them etched into their minds.

For every single one of us—God called someone else into the vineyard first, that we would learn from them.

I’m not talking about peer pressure; I’m talking about “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23).

I’m talking about “being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15).

God doesn’t need these things—but you do.

And so does your neighbor.

Jesus says, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him” (John 6:44).

God calls workers into His vineyard.

Apart from His call, no one can enter.

For those who labor the whole day and rightly—God sees you and knows your struggle.

He’s with you the whole day through—pleased with you.

And great is your reward—if not now then after.

Rejoice! He chooses to give to you exactly as He promised.

And for those whose labor is but an hour—rejoice!

God called you into the vineyard to work.

You heard His call and believed Him when He said He’d give you what is right.

And for us all—He gave His only Son.

That is what He chose to do with what belonged to Him.

That is the kingdom of heaven.

God is good.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Septuagesima, 2021
Matthew 20:1-16
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

Saint Matthew Lutheran Church—January 24, 2021

St. Peter is the twelve disciples reduced to one person.

St. Peter is the “stand in” for the Twelve and for us all.

In Matthew chapter sixteen, just before today’s Gospel lesson, Peter confesses Jesus to be the Christ.

He says to Jesus, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”

And with him, we confess the same.

But then, the Christ Himself confesses that “he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Matthew 16:21).

When we think of success and faithfulness, we don’t think of suffering and being killed, so Peter, standing in for us all, rebukes Jesus, saying: “Far be it from you, Lord!”

But to rebuke Jesus for going to the cross, to attempt to hinder Jesus from His mission, is satanic.

“Get thee behind me satan,” Jesus says.

And Peter, again, standing in for the Twelve and for us all, can’t understand Jesus’ death as the sacrifice and victory that it is.

We want our powerful God to look powerful.

We don’t want Him to die.

We want our powerful God to save our friends and family from death, not to seemingly abandon them and us along the way.

We want to be faithful in the midst of ease.

We forget that faith is a thing to be tested by God.

Like Peter, we don’t understand Jesus’ suffering and death as the sacrifice and victory that it is.

Even Peter’s pretty words can’t cover up his error. He says, later on, “Though [the other disciples] fall away because of you, I will never fall away…Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you” (Matthew 26:33, 35).

But Denying Peter does just that. He does deny Jesus—and three times!

Peter, standing in for the Twelve and for us all, doesn’t listen.

In today’s gospel lesson, he rejoices to see the Christ in glory.

Whatever his motivation, whatever his intent, he desires to prolong his mountaintop experience saying, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah” (Matthew 17:4).

The center of Peter’s world is what he can see.

And, with him, we are easily fooled.

Peter sees Jesus in glory, and wants to partake. So do James and John, the disciples who are with him. And so would we!

But the center of the gospel is not what we see but what we hear. Our eyes can be fooled, because experience changes from day to day. But our ears aren’t fooled, because the word of the Lord endures forever.

That’s a fancy way of saying that faith comes by hearing (not seeing) and hearing by the word of Christ.

And this is what we hear: the heavenly voice. The voice of God our Heavenly Father saying: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him” (Matthew 17:5).

He says this while Peter is still speaking.

God the Father interrupts Peter—gently—but clearly so as to identify all that is needed for this life and the life to come.

“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”

Of course we need to listen to all of what Jesus says.

“Blessed…are those who hear the word of God and keep it” (Luke 11:28).

Of course we should listen to that!

And Jesus’ first sermon: “Repent! For the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Matthew 4:17).

Of course we should listen to that!

But perhaps, most especially, we should listen to what, in Matthew’s account of the gospel, Jesus says in the immediate context of His Father’s imperative.

It’s as if God the Father says, “Listen especially to what He just said. Listen to what He’s about to say.”

Because just before and just after today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus predicts His passion, death, and resurrection.

Before the Transfiguration, Jesus says “he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Matthew 16:21).

The response to this was Peter’s rebuke.

And after the Transfiguration, Jesus says “‘The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day.’ And they were greatly distressed” (Matthew 17:22-23).

…Because they don’t listen to Jesus.

The key, the center of our comfort today, is in verse nine. “As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, ‘Tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead’” (Matthew 17:9).

It may seem strange, for Jesus to command His disciples not to tell about something He did.

But He wants them to wait…and then to tell.

Because Peter’s life—the life of a disciple of Jesus the Christ—your life as a Christian—none of it makes sense apart from Jesus’ resurrection—the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.

Apart from that, we can’t understand suffering, let alone endure it with patience and faith.

Apart from that, we can’t understand death, let alone die well and teach our loved ones to do the same, with patience and faith.

Apart from the resurrection of the body, we can’t even understand glory, because every trophy on this side of things will fade away. And on the other side of things, there’s only immortality and the imperishable that God bestows.

Only with the resurrection in mind can we—do we—endure suffering and death with patience and faith that looks at all the body can suffer and still says, “It is good, Lord, to be here.” Wherever here is.

Only with the resurrection in mind can we confess with St. Paul: “‘O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:55-57).

And not only do we endure these things, we desire for ourselves whatsoever God desires for us:

Today, always and especially, He desires us to hear Jesus.

Out of either the perceived need or just the want of the experience, every one of us desires the miraculous mountaintop—something akin to the Transfiguration.

But—after Jesus’ resurrection—now, when he’s supposed to talk about it—this is how Peter speaks of such things: “We were eyewitnesses of his majesty. When he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the [Father], ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,’we ourselves heard this very voice…for we were with him on the holy mountain.[But] we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention” (2 Peter 1:16-19).

That is, the prophetic word, the Word of God, what we have, is better than any mountaintop or miracle.

We have Jesus.

Listen to Him.

Though discipleship may, will, and does include suffering and death…

…The crucifixion, death, and resurrection of Jesus shows us how the story ends.

It shows us how the Christian’s story—your story—will end: with the same words Jesus spoke to Peter and the disciples when they were on the holy mountain and afraid.

Jesus says, “Rise, and have no fear” (Matthew 16:7).

And, on the Last Day, everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will get up and say: “Yes, Lord.”

So “Listen to him.” And live as one who does.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

The Transfiguration of Our Lord, 2021
Matthew 17:1-9; 2 Peter 1:16-21
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

January 17, 2021—Saint Matthew Lutheran Church

The wedding at Cana was a dull affair.

That’s not pessimism. I’m just emphasizing what’s true:

They ran out of wine.

Steakhouses always have steak. Burger joints always have burgers. And Walmart has “Low Prices. Always.”

Weddings never run out of wine—so the families involved are poor or wasteful—either way, that’s a problem.

Mary said to Jesus, “They have no wine” (John 2:3).

And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come” (John 2:4).

That is, the hour for the Son of Man to be glorified has not yet come.

It’s not yet time for Him to ascend the Cross and win humanity away from sin, death, and satan.

And He’s right—we’re in John chapter two.

His hour doesn’t come until chapter twelve when Jesus says, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:23-24).

When the hour comes for the Son of Man to receive the wrath of God—in our place—as the due penalty for our sin—Jesus steps right up.

But what has this to do with Him—a wedding reception run dry?

The wedding at Cana is not that hour, but the two have this in common.

God—through them both—provides for our joy.

Wine, at a wedding and in general, provides joy.

Scripture is clear about the earthly joy of wine: God causes the grass and plants to grow, “that [man] may bring forth food from the earth and wine to gladden the heart” (cf. Psalm 104:14-15).

So yes, wine provides joy.

And the crucifixion of Jesus the Christ, the hour of our salvation, is the source and cause of our unending joy.

The most terrible event—by all accounts—yields the most terrific fruit: by His stripes we are healed.

Mary, knowing for what purpose Jesus came into the world, asked Jesus to bring about a little joy.

And Jesus, knowing for what purpose He came into the world, replied that the hour for that joy had not yet come.

So Mary said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5). These are the perfect words of faith, because Mary trusted that God is always working to bring about our joy—sometimes earthly, sometimes not.

“Do whatever he tells you,” because if, today, we shall receive good from God, let there be wine.

But— “Do whatever he tells you,” also, because if, today, there is no wine, if, today, we’re to receive from God adversity, it’s only so that we may be brought—eventually, kicking and and screaming, but finally—to the eternal joy set aside for us.

So— “Do whatever he tells you.”

And not only does the water become wine, it becomes the best wine. Drink up and rejoice.

“This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him” (John 2:11).

As often as you can—but especially when confronted with all that is dull and dark in our world—remember the joy of the Lord.

Our Lord, in all that He does, brings joy.

Eventually.

To each wedding. To each family. To each day.

He brings joy.

Eventually.

And I say “eventually” not to sound pessimistic but to emphasize what’s true. Everything God gives He gives with your salvation and joy in mind.

It’s not that it isn’t there—it’s that it’s not what we want.

He may give the painful joy of learning not to rely on things or dreams or people but rather the God who redeems you in Jesus Christ and promises never to leave you nor forsake you.

Remember—Job doesn’t begin to repent until he puts away his plans and the desires of his heart.

We pray “Thy will” not “my will” be done.

And He may give you the hard-earned, years-spent joy of one good friend, two beers, and three hours of good conversation.

You may have joy in the extreme—but rarely.

Compare that with the false-joy immediately had by much wine and no talk.

God may give the joy (and pain) of children, the incomparable joy of raising a family in the Christian faith.

But of course you know, that joy also comes with the cruciform hardship of living in a world that hates Jesus and all those who believe in Him.

Keep the faith—and rejoice that your names are written in the Book of Life.

God daily and richly gives the joy of the forgiveness of sins, which we receive, again and again—always needed and always relevant.

That is the joy and hour for which Jesus was born into the world—to endure the cross and despise its shame.

To take into Himself in our place and on our behalf the wrath of God, the due penalty of our sin.

To take away the sin of the world.

To save it.

That death would be swallowed up in His life and our resurrection—at the end—guaranteed.

Remember, then, to “lay aside every weight and sin which clings so closely, and…run with endurance the race that is set before [you], looking to Jesus, the [author] and perfecter of the faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising [its] shame, and is [now] seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (cf. Hebrews 12:1-2).

Remember the joy of the Lord and that all our Lord does and says brings joy—eventually.

That’s not pessimism—I’m just emphasizing what’s true. The Christian life is long-suffering faith—to the end.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Epiphany 2 Sermon, 2021
John 2:1-11
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

“What are you waiting for?”

That’s the question, right?

The question we ask other people.

The question we ask ourselves.

The self-help question of New Year’s resolutions.

That’s the question John the Baptist asks in Matthew chapter eleven.

And that’s the question Jesus asks today, essentially.

So—what are you waiting for?

Sometimes you’re just waiting for tomorrow, thinking you know what tomorrow brings or that it’ll at least be better than today.

Or—you’re waiting for next week or next month.

Or next time, the next paycheck, or the next visit.

Whatever it is, sometimes you’re just waiting for the next one, because this one isn’t it.

Or you’re waiting for “them” whoever they are.

Sometimes you wait for them to calm down.

Or you wait for them to realize.

And you’ll even wait for them to apologize.

But you’re always waiting on them and not the other way around.

We’re waiting for the world, too.

The world needs, simultaneously, to catch up and to slow down. It’s falling behind the times and getting ahead of itself. And we’re waiting—waiting—waiting for the world to change.

In Matthew chapter eleven, John the Baptist wonders what Jesus is waiting for. He “sent word by his disciples and said to [Jesus], ‘Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?’” (Matthew 11:2-3).

He wondered what Jesus was waiting for, because John had preached repentance to the Pharisees and Sadducees, that brood of vipers, saying, “Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance…Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. [And] every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Matthew 3:7-8, 10).

John thought that was happening—now—with the Christ dwelling among us.

That’s what he expected, but that wasn’t happening.

Rather: “The blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them” (Matthew 11:4-5).

John wasn’t wrong.

He knew that there was one coming who would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire (cf. Matthew 3:11).

“His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat in to the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire” (Matthew 3:12). That’s how John tells of the coming Christ.

But later on, when John sends word by his disciples and asks Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come?” He’s essentially asking Jesus, “What are you waiting for?”

And that’s how it feels sometimes.

What is God waiting for?

What’s He doing?

Why do I have to put up with this or that or him or her?

God can’t possibly want me to spend the next fifty years hating life, right?

So what’s He waiting for?

And really, He’s waiting for you.

I talk a lot about the book of Job, I know, but that book teaches the Christian how to bear the cross, and “relatively few contemporary Christians are prepared to suffer for the faith, because the therapeutic society that formed them denies the purpose of suffering in the first place, and the idea of bearing pain for the sake of the truth seems ridiculous” (Dreher, Live Not By Lies, 13).

In the book of Job, God relents and restores only after Job suffers tragically and for some time, only after Job despises himself, sits in dust and ashes, and repents.

That’s what God was waiting for.

Repentance and faith.

That’s what God is waiting for.

He’s waiting for you, and everyone who will, to repent.

He’s waiting for you, and everyone who will, to believe, trust, hold fast to, and confess Jesus as Lord and God.

But Job teaches this lesson, the harder lesson, first: God doesn’t tell us the duration of our suffering. He only demonstrates that He’s willing to see it through.

What’s He waiting for?

He’s waiting for you.

So hear the Word of God, then. Repent. Hold fast to Jesus Christ. Be willing to lose the world—and your life even—for the sake of the truth.

John wondered what Jesus was waiting for, and Jesus said, “Blessed is the one who is not offended by me” (Matthew 11:6).

So take no offense at the duration of God’s waiting.

He’s waiting for you.

He’s waiting—patiently—bringing you through this ordeal and these tribulations—the sufferings of this present age—so that you would more fully rely on Him and be conformed to the image of His Son who suffered for the truth and endured.

What’s He waiting for?

He’s waiting for you.

But today, Jesus also asks John what He’s waiting for.

“Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. [But] John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’ But Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness’” (Matthew 3:13-15).

So—Jesus said to John, basically, “What are you waiting for?”

And then John relented.

John knew Jesus needed no repentance.

John knew Jesus was without sin, that—behold—this is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

John knew that—eventually—the axe would be laid to the tree, the threshing floor would be cleared, and the chaff would be burned with unquenchable fire.

That’s what he expected, but that wasn’t happening.

Apart from the work of the Holy Spirit none of us can reconcile God’s wrath with God’s mercy.

It makes no sense to John for Jesus to be treated as a sinner, and so it makes perfect sense that John would have prevented this baptism.

But here’s what John didn’t know. Here’s what John was immediately convinced of: you wait for the Lord.

For no one else and no longer.

Wait for the Lord.

John must baptize Jesus because God has worked all of Creation to this moment. Jesus says, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15).

John’s place in the salvation of the world is to treat as a sinner the one who is without sin, to baptize Jesus, the Son of God.

“And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:16-17).

John would have prevented it.

But it’s as if Jesus says, “What are you waiting for? Don’t you know that it’s necessary for me to do this? Unless I’m made to be sin on your behalf, you cannot become the righteousness of God.”

“So God made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:21).

Perhaps it’s a strange thought that we baptize babies because they’re sinful.

And we baptize adults because they’re sinful.

And Jesus was baptized—because we’re sinful.

But unless He takes our place and sits in the lowest seat, unless He who knew no sin is made to be sin, unless He becomes the curse, there is no cure.

Unless He waits on us, there is no salvation.

And unless we wait on Him, there is no hope.

“O Israel, hope in the Lord. For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with Him is plentiful redemption. And He will redeem Israel from all his iniquities” (Psalm 130:7-8).

So if you’re gonna make resolutions this year, don’t set them with yourself in mind, you selfish human.

Rather, what is God waiting for?

What’s His will for you?

For your household and your family?

For your employees and your friends?

What is God’s will for this congregation?

And our community?

And with that in mind, let us all be so resolved to wait on the Lord—and in His word—to hope.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

The Baptism of Our Lord, 2021
Matthew 3:13-17
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

Name a kingdom that existed when Jesus was born that still exists today.

Name an empire that hasn’t turned to dust.

The high and mighty of Jesus’ day are now nothing more than names for children to learn in school.

So impressive, powerful, and wealthy were they, that we remember them with flash cards in 1st grade and forget them all by 5th!

Meanwhile, the kingdom and Church of Jesus Christ stands. The gates of hell have not prevailed, nor will they.

Psalm 2 is being fulfilled as time marches by.

The nations rage, the peoples plot, and the kings of this world are destroyed, while the Infant of Bethlehem reigns.

If the United States had to choose between Jesus, King of the Jews, and Herod, king of the Jews, which would they choose? Jesus or Herod?

Asking the question that way is terrifying, because as for us and our households, we would choose the Lord, but America, reduced to one and representative of the whole, chooses Herod every day.

America has been called a Christian nation, but how many live as Christians?

I don’t mean how many pretend—I mean how many repent, confess their sins, and receive and believe and trust and live out the Absolution?

On a given Sunday, how many Americans go to church and hear the gospel? How many receive the forgiveness of sins earned and given in Jesus Christ alone?

If they’re not in church where are they?

If they’re not hearing the Gospel, what do they hear?

What do they confess? What do they believe?

America has been called a Christian nation, but where’s Rachel?

Why is she not raising her voice in Ramah, weeping for her children?

She’s not weeping—because she has the right to kill her own children and to shed no tears for them at all.

It’s her alleged constitutional right as an American to sacrifice her unborn child on the altar of today’s Moloch, a false god of ancient times reanimated.

The doctrine that a woman has the right to do what she chooses with the fruit of her womb is a hellish lie and a direct attack on God and His Christ.

Those who favor the so-called “right” of a woman to have an abortion have joined sides with Herod against Jesus.

Jesus is for life, and Herod, for death.

Jesus became a little baby, and Herod murdered them.

Jesus loves the little children, and Herod hated them.

Jesus hides the glory of His almighty power under His humble, human nature.

Herod orders the children killed for the sake of his own personal, political power and gain.

He lived by the same rules as our politicians: support the ones who’ll vote for you and kill their children when asked, because dead children don’t vote.

At this, the Church of Christ on earth appears to be ineffective, irrelevant, and hopeless.

Who needs to flee for refuge to the God become flesh when you can get what you want by being offended?

Who needs to bow down before God incarnate, when there’s money to be made and human achievements to celebrate?

Look at America’s power!

She’s as powerful as any nation that’s ever existed, with a higher standard of living and amazing resources. She can impose her will on most other nations in the world, and has frequently done so.

But—name a kingdom that existed when Jesus was born that still exists today.

Name an empire that hasn’t turned to dust.

A virus with an almost 99% survival rate has, in places, crippled us.

People who say 2020 was the worst year lack imagination.

Imagine if God tried to bring us to our knees.

When God became flesh and dwelt among us, a babe in His mother’s arms, that was saying something about children and humanity.

That was saying, “Jesus loves the little children.”

That was saying He comes to them to be their Lord and God.

God doesn’t take kindly to those who kill babies.

God judges.

He’ll punish our nation, because our nation stands by and watches as millions of babies are slaughtered in the name of false gods like “reproductive rights,” “choice,” “sexual freedom” and “women’s rights.”

God punishes.

He punishes those who kill babies and He punishes those who protect and support those who kill babies.

Rachel was avenged in Herod’s death, and she’ll be avenged again.

Nations come and go.

They rise and fall, and God laughs at their foolish attempts to play-act Divinity.

We worship a God who fulfills biblical prophecy to the letter, down to the return of the baby Jesus from Egypt to His home in Nazareth.

Matthew teaches, in the Gospel Lesson for today, that the prophet Hosea was talking about Jesus when he said, “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son” (Hosea 11:1).

From Jesus and His deliverance, we learn that evil men have power and use it to cause pain and suffering and that’s the way it’s gonna be.

But we also learn that these evil men are not really in control but that our gracious God has set a limit to their power.

We learn that God loves the little children and that those who call themselves Christians must love them too, which is why we baptize babies instead of killing them.

And more than anything, we learn that God’s power is not to be found in the glorious appearance of great political might. Rather, God’s power is hidden in weakness, like that of an infant being carried to Egypt.

We find our almighty God in this little one, who seems so weak and small.

But He’s not.

He’s our God and Lord and Christ.

He has come to us and to our children to save us.

And He won’t leave us.

He might destroy the nation we call home.

I don’t say that to shock—I say that because it’s true.

He might destroy the nation we call home.

But He won’t let anything destroy His Church.

He who shed His blood to wash us clean of every sin has come to help, save, comfort, and defend us.

He has given us His Word.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

For those who love the little children—and even for those who have not—God has put away your sin in the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ.

Hold fast to the Savior of the Nations, and He will guard and keep you through every trouble of this world.

When you wander, He calls you back.

When you flee from Him in terror, He invites you to flee to Him for refuge.

There is no sin that Jesus did not bear.

There is no sin that is not now forgiven in Christ.

That’s how the kingdom of Jesus Christ stands when all others are destroyed.

The blood of Jesus avails for all sinners everywhere and calls out not for your condemnation but for your acquittal.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Christmas 2 Sermon, 2021
Matthew 2:13-23
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

Saint Matthew Lutheran Church

Properly speaking, the Twelve Days of Christmas begin on December 25th and go through and include January 5th.

Properly speaking, the Magi at our manger scenes don’t arrive to worship the Christ child until He’s a toddler—on Epiphany, January 6th.

Properly speaking, one of the most important days in the entire Church Year is completely overlooked because it coincides with the secular New Year.

New Year’s Day is the eighth day of Christmas, the eighth day of Jesus’ newborn life, so to speak, the day on which he was circumcised.

I don’t think that’s a topic Hallmark has considered, but it is the first time Jesus’ blood is shed in and towards fulfilling the Law for us and in our place.

Today, I’d like to redeem three of the Days of Christmas from our tired, tuckered-out mopery.

On December 26th, the Church remembers St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr after the Christ’s ascension.

His confession recalled the stiff-necked, uncircumcised hearts and ears of Judah that would not receive the Righteous One. As he was being stoned to death, “he called out, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them’” (Acts 7:59-60).

In this, Stephen bears witness to the Christ, who also said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

On the second Day of Christmas, our thoughts are already directed to Christ’s atoning death for our salvation—and to Stephen’s vision: Heaven open to us—Christ reigning at God’s right hand—with sin, death, and devil defeated.

That is the day for St. Stephen, first martyr of the Christian Church.

Today, December 27th, is the day for St. John, the Apostle and Evangelist.

St. John put into one verse all our Christmas joy: “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14).

Traditionally, we believe that John was exiled to Patmos and died an old man—not a martyr but still a witness.

He believed and confessed “the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ and to all he saw” (Revelation 1:2).

He was an eyewitness of Christ who who proclaimed to us what he saw and heard concerning “word of life” that was “made manifest” (cf. 1 John 1:1-3).

“And we know that his testimony is true” (John 21:24).

Today, on the third Day of Christmas, we should find joy and gladness with John and all the apostles that “we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” who is “the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (cf. 1 John 2:1-2).

Tomorrow, December 28th, is the day set aside to remember the Holy Innocents.

“A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children;she refused to be comforted, because they are not” (Matthew 2:18; cf. Jeremiah 31:15).

Herod rages and works to kill all the male children two years old and younger, desperate to destroy who he sees as a usurper, the newborn King of Kings.

The Church remembers these victims as martyrs, because they died for the One who came to die for them.

A dark commemoration, perhaps, but a necessary one.

This is a day for the Church to remember and confess concerning the life of children, in utero and out.

A day for mothers who, like Rachel, refuse to be comforted, a day for them to remember the widow, her son, and our God who gave the child back to her, anticipating the resurrection of our dead and the life of the world to come.

This world is full of sin and hatred, but Christ our Lord has sanctified our fragile life even from His conception and birth.

The boy who escaped the slaughter of the Holy Innocents sets His face toward Jerusalem to endure thorns and nails and cross and spear for us.

He is the Lamb whose cruciform name is written with the Father’s on the forehead of His baptized saints (cf. Revelation 14:1).

By His death He has redeemed an inheritance for Himself and brought peace at last by His blood.

On the fourth Day of Christmas, we sing the new song of Jesus Christ the Lamb, the true and perfect Martyr, whose death testifies to our redemption. We “follow the Lamb wherever He goes” (Revelation 14:4), knowing that He will bring our tears to an end.

This is the meaning of Christmas joy.

Not joy over presents, joy over money, joy over jolly jargon or seasonal slang.

Christmas joy is recognizing God’s love for us in Christ.

How infinitesimal we are.

How infinite God is.

And how an infant, God and man, was born to save us all.

“His mother marveled at what was said about him. And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, ‘Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel’” (Luke 2:33-34).

This child, the Christ-child, is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel.

“The proud will be scattered.

“The mighty will be brought down from their thrones.

“And the rich he will send empty away.

“He will exalt those of humble estate.

“He will fill the hungry with good things.

“And He will help His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy, as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham, and to His offspring forever” (cf. Luke 2:51-55).

That’s how Mary sings it in the Magnificat, when her soul magnifies the Lord and her spirit rejoices in God her Savior.

This child, the Christ-child, is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel.

And, dare I say it, for the fall and rising of all.

“For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed” (1 Corinthians 15:52).

We looked forward to His coming.

And, joy to the world, the Lord is come!

But He will come again.

And our joy in Christ, that has no end now, will be perfected and live and reign with Him forever (cf. Revelation 22:5).

With Stephen and John—the Holy Innocents and your children.

Properly speaking, this is our joy during all the days of Christmas: the redemption of Jerusalem, the redemption of the world, is come.

Merry Christmas!

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

The First Sunday after Christmas, 2020
Luke 2:33-40
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt