Husband. Father. Lutheran pastor. Sinfonian.

Fill in the blank.

“Whatever is worth doing is worth doing _______.”

Well.

But it was an 18th century British statesman who wrote that, in a letter to his son on the art of becoming a man. And as good citizens of these United States, we should immediately be skeptical of anything an 18th century British statesman says.

So—is it true? “Whatever is worth doing is worth doing well.” Is that true?

Of course it is.

It’s practical wisdom everybody knows.

You don’t trust the man who sets out to perform a task poorly?

You don’t teach your kids to eat their vegetables poorly, clean their rooms poorly, or brush their teeth poorly.

Because whatever’s worth doing is worth doing well.

Today, Jesus says, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Matthew 6:24).

He also says, “Do not be anxious” (Matthew 6:25).

And finally, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Matthew 6:33).

Those are worth doing.

And worth doing well.

But do you do them well?

Practical wisdom and theology often overlap—but not always. Here, practical wisdom would have us do all things well, but we can’t. We don’t.

We often serve two masters.

We’re often anxious.

And we seek the kingdom of God second or third, in the off-season, when we get back, or oh-if-I-have-to-I-guess.

God commands these things—that we fear, love, and trust in God above all else. That we be not anxious. And that we seek—first—His kingdom.

We all agree that a thing worth doing is worth doing well, but what does it say about us that we don’t follow through?

Certainly we try, but we’re honest about our efforts.

Jesus says, “You must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).

We’re honest about our efforts.

Practical wisdom destroys us, and if we listen to it, in terms of salvation, we’ll abandon all hope.

So—what if we said it this way:

Whatever is worth doing is worth doing poorly.

That’s true.

That’s practical wisdom, too.

You don’t trust the man who sets out to perform a task poorly, that’s true.

But when you’re learning, by experience, if you perform a task poorly enough times, you get better at it.

Sometimes, whatever’s worth doing is worth doing poorly over and over again.

Like kids eating vegetables or brushing their teeth.

You should eat your vegetables poorly—rather than not at all.

You should brush your teeth poorly—rather than not at all.

With both of these, of course there is a better way, but sometimes, whatever is worth doing is worth doing poorly.

Doesn’t that make you feel better about the required perfection of God’s Law?

Just try.

Try long enough, and you’ll get there.

But does Jesus allow that interpretation?

That’s not what He says.

He says, “You cannot serve God and…”

It doesn’t matter what comes after the and, you cannot serve God and.

“You must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).

He doesn’t say, “Do not be anxious on Tuesdays” or “Seek the kingdom of God when convenient, after your chores, if nothing comes up.”

This is what practical wisdom does: it leads you to abandon hope—requiring perfection—that you do all things well—when you can’t and don’t.

Or—practical wisdom teaches you to redefine your way out of trouble. Call a thing what it’s not so you don’t have to worry.

Serving money is what’s happening when a couple is too rich to have kids. All the money from all the income but nothing that matters, nothing that’s real, nothing that lasts.

They’re waiting for their false god to tell them they have enough—and are enough—that it’s okay.

But he never does and never will.

Anxiety, next, takes all forms, but it’s a lack of faith.

Did God not purchase you with His blood?

Did Jesus not take into Himself the due penalty for your sin?

What remains?

For you, a Christian, what end could occur that is not either earthly peace or heavenly glory?

Look at the birds of the air. A bird will fall frozen dead from a bough without having felt sorry for itself.

“Are you [who will be raised to life imperishable] not of more value than they?” (Matthew 6:26).

That’s a rhetorical question, but more and more it needs to be explained. You are certainly of more value than a bird or a dog.

And when Jesus says, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness…” (Matthew 6:33), He gives us what it looks like when we don’t.

It’s when we try to add all these things to our life, first, by our own faculties. Not only are our attempts fleeting—not only do we fail—but we forget the kingdom of God.

“For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” (Matthew 16:26).

Practical wisdom’s great. If anything’s worth doing, it’s worth doing both well and poorly, but that has nothing to do with how a Christian perseveres.

The Christian perseveres by faith in the Lord Jesus.

“You cannot serve God and money,” Jesus says.

With more money, every problem is less of a problem, right?

“Imagine what I could do with…”

One more shift. One more paycheck. One more year. One more long sit in the finance department.

If it’s always one more, with never any contentment, that’s your god, your false god.

Behold, rather, the one, true God who gives you plenty of reasons not to be anxious.

Life is more than food.

God gives both.

The body is more than clothing.

God gives both.

You are more valuable than the birds of the air who neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns and yet are fed by God.

Consider the parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field” (Matthew 13:44).

You are the treasure—the “very good” of God’s creation, and our Father in heaven seeks and finds and goes and sells all that He has to purchase you with the blood of Christ.

Consider the parable: “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great [price], went and sold all that he had and bought it” (Matthew 13:45-46).

You are the fine pearl, found by God, worth buying back, worth redeeming, worth dying for.

For God, whatever was worth doing was worth doing Himself—and He has.

So don’t be anxious. “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31).

Rather, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33).

To seek, first, the kingdom of God and His righteousness is to believe, first, that God has sought you and found you and made you His own.

That He has purchased you, redeemed you in Christ, won you away from sin, death, and satan.

That you are His. And He is thine.

Forever.

Sometimes, you’ll believe and do this well.

Rejoice. God has not abandoned you but proven by His Son that you’re worth it.

And sometimes, you’ll believe and do this poorly.

Rejoice. God has not abandoned you but proven by His Son that you’re worth it.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Trinity 15, 2021
Matthew 6:24-34
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

Today, Jesus rebukes the nine who appear to listen to Him—and He commends the one who, at least at first, doesn’t listen to Him.

Did you catch that?

As He was passing along between Samaria and Galilee, as He entered a village, Jesus was met by ten lepers who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us” (cf. Luke 17:11-13).

And, when Jesus saw them, He said to all of them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.

Each of them. All of them.

But then—one of them—when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he worshipped Jesus and gave Him thanks.

Then, Jesus answered—and here’s the rebuke to the nine—Jesus says: “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”

Then—Jesus said to the one: “Rise and go your way; your faith has saved you” (cf. Luke 17:14-19).

To the nine who apparently did exactly what Jesus said, Jesus speaks a harsh rebuke: “Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”

Then—to the one who, at least at first, apparently did not do exactly what Jesus said—to him, the rebuke of the nine is as a commendation: this one was found, he did return, and he did give praise to God.

So why does Jesus rebuke the nine who appeared to do exactly what He commanded?

And why does Jesus commend the one who seemingly did not do exactly what He commanded?

It might help to ask those questions differently.

So how about this:

In doing exactly what Jesus commands, by the letter, what do the nine not do?

And—in doing seemingly exactly not what Jesus commands, what does the one do?

Jesus gives the answer.

The nine did not return to give praise to God.

The one did.

So what does this mean?

Consider how God cares for you.

He doesn’t just care for you at church one day a week but throughout the week—awake, asleep, whether you’re in a good mood or not.

We pray and confess this in the Fourth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer—“Give us this day our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11).

God gives the bread that we need for this body and life to all, even evil people, but we pray in this petition that God would lead us to realize this and to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving.

So there’s the daily bread and the giving of thanks.

God gives us each day our daily bread.

But how does the Christian give thanks?

How has the Church traditionally, regularly, routinely, habitually—meet, right, and salutarily—thanked God for all His benefits?

The one-hundred and sixteenth psalm has it this way:

“What shall I render to the Lord for all His benefits to me? I will offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving and will call on the name of the Lord. I will take the cup of salvation and will call on the name of the Lord. I will pay my vows to the Lord now in the presence of all His people, in the courts of the Lord’s house, in the midst of you, O Jerusalem” (cf. Psalm 116:12-13, 17-19).

Line by line, how does the psalm teach us to render thanks unto the Lord?

I will offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving, that is, I will set aside time for worship and devote my time to study of His Word. Giving thanks is a sacrifice of your time.

I will take the cup of salvation, that is, as often as I need it, as often as it’s offered for my great need of it, I will seek out the cup of salvation and drink of it all of you.

I will call on the name of the Lord, that is, where the Lord promises to be present for my benefit, there, I will be.

I will pay my vows to the Lord in the presence of all His people, in the courts of the Lord’s house.

That is, after laboring for six days and receiving each day his daily bread, the Christian goes to church.

Or—if we say it the way St. Luke records it:

He turns back to God…

Returns to praise God with a loud voice…

Falls on his face at Jesus’ feet—he worships Jesus…

And gives Him thanks.

All ten are healed.

All ten receive their daily bread from God.

But to only the one does Jesus say, “Rise and go your way; your faith has saved you” (cf. Luke 17:19; Greek New Testament).

“Your faith has ‘made you well’” is neither a literal translation nor a good one, because faith may notactually “make you well” if it’s understood only in outer, earthly terms—like being cleansed of leprosy.

The word Jesus uses here is not the word for being made well or being healed. It’s the word for salvation: “Your faith has saved you,” He says.

I don’t mean that the one man is saved because he returns. It’s not his returning, his going, or his accepting that saves him—though His going, returning, and accepting is good.

Jesus says, “Your faith has saved you.”

So—by the grace of Jesus Christ our Lord, through faith in Jesus Christ our Lord, he’s saved.

His victory has been won.

This is true for him—and true for all who will be saved.

“For there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

But look at what this saving faith produces: he cannot but turn from his way, return to God, worship God where God is found for him, and give Him thanks.

So—today—we need to understand this:

Jesus rebukes the nine who appear to do exactly what He says because they lack faith. They’re more interested in how the world views them—what they would gain after showing themselves to the priests and being restored to the community.

And—Jesus commends the one who does not immediately do exactly what He says because of the faith the man has that recognizes Jesus Christ as Lord.

What God says about you is more important than what the whole rest of the world says about you.

The nine receive their daily bread and are content to rejoin society. When the dust of their leprosy settles, they care more about what others say than what God says.

The one receives his daily bread and must—before going back into the world—he must turn from his way, return to God, worship, and give thanks.

The time is coming—and is now here—when you’ll be tempted to care more about what the world says than what God says.

I’m not talking about how many booster shots you’ve had or how many masks you wear when you cross county or state lines.

I’m talking about whether or not the Christian is prepared to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune, to take arms against a whole sea of troubles.

How does our Proverb have it?

“Keep hold of instruction; do not let go; guard her, for she is your life…Incline your ear to my sayings [so writes Solomon]. Keep them within your heart. For they are life to those who find them, and healing to all their flesh. Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from [wisdom of God] flow the springs of life” (cf. Proverbs 4:10-23).

Do you keep hold of instruction? Do you not let go of it? Do you guard instruction as though it is your life?

Or is your time too important, your pride too large, and your heart too hard?

And how writes St. Paul?

“Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh…Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (cf. Galatians 5:16-24).

Do you walk by the Spirit? Or do you gratify the desires of the flesh? Do you know what it is to crucify the flesh? Do you make the attempt?

Or will you tomorrow—the next time—or after you move the goalposts again?

If we speak only in generalities, it can be easy to agree with everything the Bible says.

But when the Word of God, applied in your daily life, requires you to say no to something you’d like to say yes to…

Or when the Word of God, rightly divided, causes a crisis of conscience at which you must choose this day whom you will serve…(cf. Joshua 24:14-15).

Or if your friends or family draw you from the faith—or try to—to fool you into following some cleverly devised myth…

Remember and have as your example not the nine who called out to Jesus, received their bread and what they wanted with joy, but did not turn, return, or give thanks to God.

They have their reward in full, and it’s fleeting.

Rather, remember and have as your example the one who called out to Jesus, received his daily bread with joy, and—against the want and will of the world—turned from his way, returned to the Lord, praised God with a loud voice, worshipped Jesus, and gave thanks.

His reward is forever. 

His victory is won.

And so is yours.

What Jesus says to the one, He says to each and every one of you: “Rise and go your way; your faith has saved you” (Luke 17:19).

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

The Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity, 2021
Luke 17:11-19
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

God bestows mercy and salvation upon humanity.

He has compassion on sinners.

In the parable today, Jesus demonstrates that, but first consider the lawyer who “stood up to put [Jesus] to the test” (Luke 10:25). Consider what he says:

“Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25).

In response, Jesus asks him two questions, and it’s important to notice exactly what He asks.

Because it’s not just, “What is written in the Law?”

It’s not just, “What do the words on the page say?”

Jesus adds, “How do you read it?” (Luke 10:26).

Any fool can tell you what the Bible says.

Unbelievers quote the Bible all the time, right?

Only to call you a hypocrite though, right?

Lately, I’ve heard this quoted: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Mark 12:17).

What they mean is—do whatever the government tells you to do, but they forget that some things—your conscience, for example, or your children—some things don’t belong to Caesar, so render them to God.

Any fool can quote the Bible.

Even the demons do that—and shudder (cf. James 2:19).

But only the believer, only the one who, by faith, is righteous and lives, only he can explain with confidence how a sinner can be and is saved.

Jesus isn’t concerned with merely “What is written?” but  also “How do you read it? How does what you read apply the mercy and salvation of God to you, to the poor, miserable sinner, and to all?”

For his part, the lawyer tries.

He’s read the words on the page: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27; cf. Deuteronomy 6:5).

There isn’t a better answer than that, but the right answer doesn’t help him, because he doesn’t know how to apply them.

He knows the right answer from the catechism, but he doesn’t know what it looks like to live it out.

Jesus says, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live” (Luke 10:28).

That’s not a nice thing to say.

If you think you can love God perfectly, if you think you can love your neighbor perfectly, why don’t you?

Jesus confronts the man with his inability to love God and neighbor.

But, “Desiring to justify himself, [the lawyer] said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’” (Luke 10:29).

He doesn’t ask, “How could I possibly love God perfectly?”

He assumes that he does.

He assumes there’s nothing lacking in his heart with respect to God.

He thinks he needs only to define and redefine “neighbor” so that he can keep that, too.

So Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan.

If you’re a priest, a levite, or the lawyer—this isn’t a nice parable.

Jesus’ words here hurt, just like when the rich young ruler went away sad when Jesus told him to go and sell all that he had and give to the poor (cf. Luke 18:18-30).

These words are Law, spoken to break our self-justifications, so we can know our need for and receive the Gospel.

This is how God bestows mercy on us.

This is how He has compassion on us.

First, the diagnosis. Then, the cure.

And then, the prescription.

“A man was going…from Jerusalem to Jericho and…fell among robbers, who stripped him…beat him and departed, leaving him half dead…A priest was going down that road…and when he saw him he passed by on the other side…Likewise a Levite…[who] passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan…came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion” (Luke 10:30-33).

Jesus then asks, “‘Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?’ [The lawyer] said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘You go, and do likewise’” (Luke 10:36-37).

Forget for a moment that this conversation is between a lawyer who doesn’t get it and Jesus who’s teaching about eternal life.

We can’t hear these words and refuse to help someone in need.

“You go, and do likewise.”

Sometimes, help takes the form of a $5 sandwich, or $50 for groceries, or a meal they didn’t cook, on plates they don’t have to wash, eaten at a table they don’t have to clean up.

Who hasn’t needed that?

And so, Christians help.

But this is true, too:

Sometimes, the help a person needs is an empty stomach that’s had to survive on beans, rice, and lard.

That can be help, exactly the help you need, if—for example—you’re unwilling to work.

St. Paul writes, “If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10).

Help, whether it’s the help you need yourself or the help you need to give, is not always a happy thing. Christians are commanded to help those in need—even and especially if they’re people you don’t like.

Love hurts.

That’s why it’s important that a Samaritan is the good guy in the parable—and the priest and the Levite aren’t. The ones who should help—don’t, and the one you don’t expect to help—does.

Jesus’ words cause some embarrassment here, on purpose, since we like our enemies to suffer and our friends to succeed. But see, Jesus says, “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).

The Good Samaritan helps a man who’s unfit to pay him back and, moreover, the Good Samaritan promises to pay for whatever else is needed to care for the man.

That’s an unattainable standard.

This parable is told to a man who desires to justify himself, and so, this part of the parable must first condemn all.

Everyone knows the Good Samaritan is the good guy.

No one wants to be the priest or levite.

But you aren’t the Good Samaritan, because you have a breaking point, a stopping point, a point at which you have to say, “No more.”

You’ll pay someone else’s bills—to a point, right?

But thank God you can evict him now, right?

You’ll do all the chores, without help and without complaint—for a time. Until you snap.

You’ll even love the unloveable—until your body gives out and you become a wailing, wretched mess.

All it takes is one bad day.

The Good Samaritan has no such limit.

He says, “Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back” (Luke 10:35).

That’s perfect love.

You’re not the Good Samaritan.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t help. The Good Samaritan’s the only one who proved to be a neighbor, showing mercy.

But this lawyer desired to justify himself, and that must be destroyed.

Here, then, is the first way to read this parable: The priest and the Levite are unbelievers and those who claim to be Christians yet justify themselves, glorify themselves, and thank God for themselves.

The Samaritan is Jesus.

And you are the man left for dead, the one Jesus sees, the one upon whom He has compassion. He binds you up, applies oil and wine, carries him to an inn, and takes care of him.

Jesus has done that for each of us.

At one point, each of us had a heartbeat and no faith.

Left for dead in our trespasses and sins, then, our Lord came to deliver.

On us all, He had compassion.

With oil and wine He heals our wounds.

Oil, applied to the baptized or to the sick, is a fragrant remembrance of the work of the Holy Spirit.

Oil, in Scripture, has to do with healing.

We read in James chapter five: “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up” (James 5:14-15).

Our own rites for Holy Baptism have a place for anointing with oil, as do the visitation rites for the sick, distressed, and dying.

The Good Samaritan applies oil, because Jesus sends the Holy Spirit to help, save, comfort, and defend us all.

Regarding wine—we know Jesus took the cup, after supper, and when He had given thanks, that He gave it to them saying, “Drink of it, all of you; this cup is the new testament in My blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins…” (cf. Matthew 26).

Wine gladdens the heart (cf. Psalm 104:15)…

Is good for the stomach (1 Timothy 5:23)…

And was chosen, by God, to be the means by which we receive the all-availing sacrifice of Jesus’ blood—with His body, under the bread—for the forgiveness of our sins.

With these, our Lord “heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” (Psalm 147:3).

Jesus, the Good Samaritan, brings the man left for dead to an inn. The man can’t make the journey himself, so Jesus brings you into the inn of the Church.

And I think this is the best example of what the Office of the Holy Ministry is: you don’t survive off of the innkeeper—your survive off of the Word of the One who promises to make all things right when He returns.

I may plant.

And another may water.

But God gives the growth.

The Good Samaritan takes two denarii, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and tells the inn-keeping pastors, “Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back” (Luke 10:35).

That is the Lord’s bounty.

We may not be sufficient to the task, but He always is.

Jesus, the Good Samaritan, has gone. He’s ascended to His Father, and we see Him no more.

But we wait for Him to return—as He’s promised.

We are the man left for dead.

On our own, we couldn’t get to the inn.

On our own, we have nothing, are nothing, can do nothing.

But upon us, Jesus has compassion.

God’s bestows mercy and salvation upon humanity.

The lawyer must have been heartbroken since he desired to justify himself.

But you can rejoice.

You can’t “do” salvation.

But Jesus, the Good Samaritan, sees you, knows you, has compassion, and takes care of you.

From now unto life everlasting.

Having received His mercy, then, go and do likewise.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

The Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity, 2021
Luke 10:23-37
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

Can creation disobey God?

The storm, the wind, the sea—can they disobey?

We know the answer’s no, because—

In Mark chapter four, “A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that it was filling. But [Jesus] was in the stern, asleep. [The disciples] woke Him and said to Him, ‘Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?’ Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace, be still!’ And the wind ceased and there was a great calm. But He said to them, ‘Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?’ And they feared exceedingly, and said to one another, ‘Who can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey Him!’” (Mark 4:37-41).

Creation can’t disobey God.

If it could, God wouldn’t be Almighty.

But what about the demons?

Can the demons disobey God?

The unclean spirits, Legion, you know, the demons—can they, now, disobey?

We know the answer’s no, because—

In Mark chapter one, “There was a man in their synagogue with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, saying, ‘Let us alone! What have we to do with You, Jesus of Nazareth? Did You come to destroy us? I know who You are—the Holy One of God!’ But Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be quiet, and come out of him!’ And when the unclean spirit had convulsed him and cried out with a loud voice, he came out of him. Then they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, ‘What is this? What new doctrine is this? For with authority He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him’” (Mark 1:23-27).

We know the demon’s can’t disobey because of that and because “at evening, when the sun had set, they brought to [Jesus] all who were sick and those who were demon-possessed.And the whole city was gathered together at the door.Then He healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and He did not allow the demons to speak, because they knew Him” (Mark 1:32-34).

The demons can’t disobey God.

If they could, God wouldn’t be victorious over them.

So what about you? Can you disobey God?

The man, the woman, the child—can you disobey?

We know the answer’s yes, because—

“A leper came to [Jesus], imploring Him, kneeling down to Him and saying to Him, ‘If You are willing, You can make me clean.’ Then Jesus, moved with compassion, stretched out His hand and touched him, and said to him, ‘I am willing; be cleansed.’ As soon as He had spoken, immediately the leprosy left him, and he was cleansed. And [Jesus] strictly warned him and sent him away at once, and said to him, ‘See that you say nothing to anyone; but go your way, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing those things which Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.’ However, he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the matter, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter the city, but was outside in deserted places; and they came to Him from every direction” (Mark 1:40-45).

Today, from Mark chapter seven, “Again, departing from the region of Tyre and Sidon, [Jesus] came through the midst of the region of Decapolis to the Sea of Galilee.Then they brought to Him one who was deaf and had an impediment in his speech, and they begged Him to put His hand on him.And He took him aside from the multitude, and put His fingers in his ears, and He spat and touched his tongue.

Then, looking up to heaven, He sighed, and said to him, ‘Ephphatha,’ that is, ‘Be opened.’Immediately his ears were opened, and the impediment of his tongue was loosed, and he spoke plainly.Then He commanded them that they should tell no one; but the more He commanded them, the more widely they proclaimed it” (Mark 7:31-36).

The rest of Creation can only obey.

The demons, the unclean spirits, can only obey.

But you—we, us—we can and do disobey God, even when we benefit from His work, because we’re fallen—living, every day, between the Fall and final judgment.

Why?

Or—a better question—having this information, what’s next? What does God want for us?

The Gospel according to St. Mark is always, on every page, calling our attention to who Jesus is.

At the Transfiguration, behold, “a cloud came and overshadowed them; and a voice came out of the cloud, saying, ‘This is My beloved Son. Hear Him!’” (Mark 9:7).

So we are to hear Jesus.

And—“After John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, [This is what we’re supposed to hear…] ’The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel’” (Mark 1:14-15).

And from today’s Gospel lesson, this is the Gospel: “[Jesus] has done all things well. He makes both the deaf to hear and the mute to speak” (Mark 7:37).

That is, He is the Christ, the Holy One of Israel and the very little while about which Isaiah wrote in the Old Testament lesson has come to pass.

The exalted will be humiliated, and the humble will be brought up as a fruitful field and forest.

For the deaf hear the words of the good book, and the blind see through darkness obscure to perspicuous light.

The humble increase their joy in the Lord, and the poor, miserable sinners rejoice in the Holy One of Israel, who has come to save them.

For—in Christ—the terrible one is brought to nothing, the scornful one is consumed, and all who watch for iniquity are cut off (cf. Isaiah 29:17-20).

Our temptation is to desire the result of all of this apart from the cost…the resurrection of the dead, the miracle, apart from the salvation earned and given in our crucified Lord and Christ…

Felt needs apart from the will of God—that’s our temptation.

Because eyes are meant to see—and ears to hear.

Legs are meant to leap—and hearts to beat.

But when they don’t any longer, who doesn’t want and wish for the miracles we read on every page of Holy Writ?

Prior to the predictions Jesus makes about His crucifixion—in Mark chapters eight, nine, and ten—Jesus commands silence regarding who He is.

Do you follow?

Before He identifies Himself as the One who will suffer and die and rise—He gives the miracle, but He commands silence.

Because He doesn’t want you to think that He came only unstop the ears of the deaf, only to open the eyes of the blind, only to raise the dead—otherwise, why hasn’t He?

But after He predictions His passion, Jesus commands no silence—because He’s told you what He’s about, what to be mindful of.

In chapter eight, “[Jesus] began to teach [His disciples] that the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He spoke this word openly. Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him. But when He had turned around and looked at His disciples, He rebuked Peter, saying, ‘Get behind Me, Satan! For you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men’” (Mark 8:31-33).

With these words, in chapter eight, Jesus predicts His passion, His death and resurrection, and after these predictions, He commands no silence…

With the sole exception of chapter nine, after He’s transfigured, when, “as they came down from the mountain, [Jesus] commanded [Peter, James, and John] that they should tell no one the things they had seen, till the Son of Man had risen from the dead” (Mark 9:9).

United, then, are the commands to tell no one—what Jesus will and has accomplished in His passion—and you, living every day between the Fall and final judgment.

That’s how we’re supposed to see it.

Why are we the only ones who can disobey?

And having this information, what’s next?

What does God want for us?

Hear the beloved Son.

Repent and believe the Gospel.

Want not for your blind eyes to be opened on earth—only to be closed again in death.

Want not for your ears to be unstopped on earth, only to be closed and clogged again in death.

But rather—see that the Holy One of Israel, Jesus the Christ, has done all things well—for you—that you would  be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity.

This is most certainly true.

The terrible one is brought to nothing—

The scornful one is consumed—

By the Holy One of Israel, Jesus the Christ,

In whom we rejoice.

In whom our joy is increased.

And from whom we receive eyes that see His goodness and ears that delight in His Word—now and forever.

The time is fulfilled.

The kingdom of God is at hand.

Repent and believe the Gospel.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Trinity 12 Sermon, 2021
Mark 7:31-37
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

“The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other” (Luke 18:11-14).

In this parable, no one has a problem identifying right and wrong. The Pharisee is wrong—we know that.

The Sunday School answer, when asked “Who’s wrong?”, is always the Pharisees—or, the disciples, Israel, Job and his friends, the Sadducees, the Chief Priests and principal men…

You get the idea.

We’re not surprised, anymore, by these “usual suspects.”

We know Jesus is right and everyone else is wrong.

We know the arrogant pride of the Pharisee, who prays thanking God that he’s unlike other men, is wrong.

And we know that the poor, miserable tax collector, standing far off, who beats his breast, Mea culpa, saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” (Luke 18:13), we know he’s right.

We know we shouldn’t emulate the Pharisee.

And we know that we should follow the example of the tax collector.

We know this, right?

But we should also know that the parables of Jesus are not always straightforward or obvious.

The Pharisee’s wrong, but—in especially one way—we’re exactly like the Pharisee and in complete opposition to the tax collector.

Consider how you speak.

I don’t mean the cursing, the lies, and the backbiting opinions you have. I don’t mean the obvious ill-speech that should be put away from Christian speech.

I mean—consider how you use the word “pride.”

I’ve mentioned this before, but consider the word and how you hear it used.

Pride is popular.

And since it’s popular, and everyone’s doing it, it can’t be wrong—right?

Pride is a vice.

One of the seven deadly sins, in that tradition.

But how many of you say you’re proud?

How many take pride?

How many of you pride yourselves in something?

Or how many of you have a pride and joy?

How many are bursting with pride?

These are common sayings to everyone.

But pride is a vice—immoral, wrong, and wicked.

Pride is not a virtue—meet, right, and salutary.

I don’t say this because some pastor said so. I don’t say this because some church council said so. Consider the overwhelming evidence from the Word of God.

Uzziah, king of Judah, wrongly offered incense before God. He did what a priest is given to do, and he was afflicted with leprosy until his death because of it. “When he was strong, he grew proud, to his destruction. For he was unfaithful to the Lord his God and entered the temple of the Lord to burn incense on the altar of incense” (2 Chronicles 26:16).

Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian king at the time of Daniel, is described this way: “When his heart was lifted up and his spirit was hardened so that he dealt proudly, he was brought down from his kingly throne, and his glory was taken from him…[and] his mind was made like that of a beast” (Daniel 5:20, 21).

Proverbs speaks this way: “One’s pride will bring him low, but he who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor” (Proverbs 29:23).

And again: “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble [there] is wisdom” (Proverbs 11:2).

And “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18).

The Psalm has it this way, among others: “For the wicked boasts of the desires of his soul, and the one greedy for gain curses and renounces the Lord. In the pride of his face the wicked does not seek him; all his thoughts are, ‘There is no God’” (Psalm 10:3-4).

James and Peter also quote the proverb, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6, 1 Peter 5:5; cf. Proverbs 3:34, cf. Greek).

And St. Mark records the words of our Lord: “From within, out of the heart of man come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness…”

Those stand together.

“…All [those] evil things come from within, and they defile a person” (Mark 7:21-23).

There’s no place for our use of the word “pride” when we consider what thus says the Lord.

Because it’s the pride of the Pharisee that makes him wrong—not his words.

We read the Pharisee’s words, knowing already that he’s wrong because he’s a pharisee, a usual suspect, but there’s a meet, right, and salutary way to pray his words.

The Pharisee prayed thus: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get” (Luke 18:11-12).

Believe me when I say, I don’t criticize the words of your prayers. Even if you don’t “grammar good when pray time,” I thank God that you pray.

So realize that if a man thanks God because he’s unlike others, or if a parent thanks God for keeping his child separated from the multitude of unbelievers, perhaps he observes the unbelieving hypocrites in the world.

In the Rite of Holy Baptism, we pray: “Grant that [this child] be kept safe and secure in the holy ark of the Christian Church, being separated from the multitude of unbelievers and serving Your name at all times with a fervent spirit and a joyful hope, so that, with all believers in Your promise [this child] would be declared worthy of eternal life; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.”

If you’ve been here for the Rite of Holy Baptism, if you said “Amen” when you were given to say “Amen,” you prayed that prayer and agreed with it.

That’s part of what’s called Luther’s flood prayer.

We can thank God for separating us from the multitude of unbelievers. There are, and must be, distinctions between not only believer and unbeliever but even between believers.

St. Paul writes to the Church in Corinth, “When you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized” (1 Corinthians 11:18-19).

So, recognizing that, we can pray the words of the Pharisee—or ones very close to them.

It’s not his words that make him wrong but his pride.

Just so, the tax collector isn’t right because of his words but because the object of his prayer and faith is Jesus.

“God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” (Luke 18:13), prayed by the unbelieving hypocrite, is not a faithful prayer. 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 in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). And the will and work of God is that you believe in the One whom He has sent.

If the words are right, but there is no faith in the Lord Jesus, though the words are right, you’re still wrong.

I mention this a lot—and I need to stop apologizing for it, because it’s the Word of God—but in the book of Job, Bildad, Zophar, and Eliphaz—and even Job—say things that look correct, but their worldview is wrong, the basis of their words are wrong, and so, though the words look right, they’re still wrong.

Because the Living God justifies sinners—and not because of the tax collector’s words—Jesus says, of that tax collector, “This man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:14).

Pride actively exalts the self.

It always compares.

Think about how we use the words.

I’m proud of you.

I take pride in my work.

I pride myself in being honest, or whatever.

You’re my pride and joy.

I’m bursting with pride.

When we say these things, we’re really talking about the unholy trinity of Me, Myself, and I versus everyone we don’t like—or—the people we think aren’t as good.

It’s as if we say, “I’m proud of you. You’ve done something good, but you don’t feel good about doing good, that’s not what I said, I said ‘I’m proud of you.’ You should feel good because of me and how I feel. What makes you feel good is my pride in you.”

And how terrible is that.

I take pride…I pride myself…I’m bursting with pride…you are my pride…

Pride is of the self—exalting the self and standing in opposition to God.

Pride is the vice. The sin. The evil God hates.

Righteousness and humility are the virtues. 

If you recognize an ease with pride and speaking this way, take your inspiration from Job, when he gets it right.

Confronted with all of what thus says the Almighty Lord, Job responds, finally, “I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes”(Job 42:6).

That’s the true climax of the book of Job, right there.

Learn from him.

Despise yourself.

Don’t see yourself as worthless.

You’re not worthless.

You’re the treasure hidden in a field for which our Father in heaven gave all that He owned to buy you back from sin, death, and satan. That’s your worth—God purchased you with His own blood.

I mean—despise yourself such that you don’t desire to add value to Christ.

Despise yourself such that you despise pride.

You didn’t create the world from nothing in six days, resting on the seventh.

You didn’t hang on the cross, forgiving the sins of the world.

You don’t take pride in Jesus’ work—you rejoice that Jesus came not to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom.

You don’t pride yourself in your faith in Jesus—you thank God for creating faith in you, growing it to maturity, and harvesting its fruit for the sake of your neighbor.

You don’t burst with pride about God’s will—you confess, rather, that His will is done even without your prayers, but you pray that it may be done among you also.

And you don’t sing or say that Jesus is your pride and joy.

Rather—He is your joy.

Now, I’ve said all that, and need, also, to say this.

I’ve spoken the wrong way, regarding pride, countless times.

Pride is so common a vice in our nation, one month of every year is devoted to its worship.

Everybody does it—so you can’t disagree with it.

Pride is the way of the world.

But I try, now—and I say this so that you will, too—I try, now, to say what I actually mean.

Instead of I’m proud of you, I try to say, You’ve done a good thing! Well-done! Good job!

That speaks not of pride but of what is truly good.

It speaks not of self, making a comparison, but of the other, the one doing the good thing and even of the God who alone is good.

How strange is this to our ears?

To describe a thing as God-pleasing instead of pride-inducing?

Realize the difference between pride and that which is meet, right, and salutary.

The tax collector isn’t proud but humble, trusting in God who justifies sinners.

Jesus wasn’t proud but obedient, desiring to honor our Father in heaven and save you.

The Christian isn’t proud but humble.

Not selfish but obedient.

This is how we can speak to confess the faith—to give witness to Christ and His work for our salvation.

This is how we can speak—that self may decrease and Christ may increase (cf. John 3:30).

And this is also how we, as Christians, can be examples of humility and faith for others.

St. Paul writes to the Church in Philippi:

“Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself” (Philippians 3:17-21).

“For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:14).

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Trinity 11 Sermon, 2021
Luke 18:9-14
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

The judgment of the Lord is terrifying.

In the Old Testament lesson today, thus says the Lord about His own people: “They hold fast to deceit; they refuse to return. I have paid attention and listened, but they have not spoken rightly; no man relents of his evil, saying, ‘What have I done?’ Everyone turns to his own course, like a horse plunging headlong into battle. Even the stork in the heavens knows her times…but my people know not the [judgment] of the Lord” (Jeremiah 8:5-7).

The English Standard Version has “rules.”

“My people know not the rules of the Lord.”

The King James has “judgment.”

“My people know not the judgment of the Lord.”

And “judgment” is correct.

Because it’s not that the people don’t know or don’t have the rules, the rulings, the sayings, the words of God.

They have them.

But they don’t know the judgment of the Lord.

“Having eyes to see, they do not see. Having ears to hear, they do not hear. For they are a rebellious house” (cf. Ezekiel 12:2).

They say that they’re wise, that the law of the Lord is with them, “but behold, the lying pen of the scribes has made [that] lie…behold, they have rejected the word of the Lord, so what wisdom is in them?” (Jeremiah 8:8-9).

And here is the terrifying judgment of the Lord:

“Therefore I will give their wives to others and their fields to conquerors, because from the least to the greatest everyone is greedy for unjust gain; from prophet to priest, everyone deals falsely. They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace…Therefore they shall fall among the fallen; when I punish them, they shall be overthrown, says the Lord” (Jeremiah 8:10-12).

The judgment of the Lord is terrifying, and it falls on prophet, priest, and all His people.

We will be overthrown, says the Lord.

So what shall we say, then?

St. Paul addresses the same hard-heartedness as did the prophet Jeremiah, so what did he say then?

“That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness…by faith; [or] that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. [And] why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, as it is written, ‘Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame’” (Romans 9:30-33).

So there are these two.

There are those who hear the Gospel, trust that Jesus has buried the terrible judgment of the Lord, and live as God has called them to live, unto eternal life.

And—there are those who hear the Gospel and yet retain some thought in their mind that it’s up to them to make the Gospel work, living—burdened with doubt and failure—for the rest of their life.

There are these two—and in today’s Epistle lesson, they’re named: Gentiles and Israel.

The Gentiles did not pursue righteousness in the style of an à la carte lunch.

Rather, they attained righteousness—St. Paul says—by faith, and my heart’s desire and prayer to God is that each one of you hear the Gospel, trust Jesus, and live as He has called you—unto eternal life.

Because upon Israel the terrifying judgment of God falls.

St. Paul writes, “Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for [Israel] is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own [righteousness], they did not submit to God’s righteousness” (Romans 10:1-3).

The judgment of the Lord is terrifying.

But His people know not the judgment of the Lord.

Today—Jesus draws near to the holy city, Jerusalem, and weeps over it, saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation” (cf. Luke 19:41-44).

That is the terrifying judgment of the Lord.

Jerusalem—the holy city—the city of peace—is destroyed with not one stone left upon another, because they had the Christ but did not know Him.

Hearing all this, we may think ourselves secure.

Because we’re not like them.

Hearing all this, we may wonder why the lessons go to such lengths to terrify us with the just judgment of God.

After all, we’re not like them.

We have the Word of God.

We have the Gospel.

But that’s the point. So did they.

“How can you say, ‘We are wise, and the law of the Lord is with us’?” (Jeremiah 8:8).

They had the Law, the rules, the judgments, “but behold, the lying pen of the scribes has made [that] a lie” (Jeremiah 8:8).

They didn’t know the judgment of the Lord.

And Israel fares no better.

They pursued a law that would lead to righteousness but did not succeed in reaching that law because they did not pursue it by faith. They stumbled over the stone of stumbling, the rock of offense, Jesus the Christ, without whom there is no salvation.

And in the holy city—the chief priests, the scribes, and the principal men beheld God in the flesh—and sought to destroy Him.

God was visiting His people to redeem them, but they knew Him not and so they received Him not.

“God’s people still do not repent and turn back to Him in faith, so His judgment will fall upon them with full force. Possession of the Word couldn’t save them, because their teachers have misrepresented it” (see the footnote for Jeremiah 8:4-17 in TLSB).

The lessons for the Tenth Sunday after Trinity give us the full-sternness of the just and terrifying judgment of the Lord.

Old Testament and New Testament—Israel thought they were God’s chosen people such that they were secure.

The faithful remnant, they thought, would always be their own blood—and not those foreign to their ways.

The faces, they knew, would change—but not the names. 

“Having eyes to see, they did not see. And having ears to hear, they did not hear. For they were a rebellious house” (cf. Ezekiel 12:2).

And so are you.

The Tenth Sunday after Trinity is everyone’s reminder not to overestimate his own importance.

The gates of hell shall not prevail against the Church.

Thanks be to God!

But that’s not referring to a building, or a plot of land, or a city, or a county, or a country.

Jesus has just said in Luke chapter thirteen: “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:2-5).

This is the terrifying judgment of the Lord.

And were it not for Jesus Christ, this judgment would fall upon us with full force.

But we have an advocate with the Father, who was punished in our place.

The stone of stumbling and rock of offense, against whom all others are dashed into pieces.

For Christ is the end of the terrors of the law for everyone who believes (cf. Romans 10:4).

This is our hope: the terrible judgment of the Lord is poured out on Jesus—and we are spared.

Redeemed.

Reconciled to God.

Forgiven.

And—indeed—saved.

More than words on a page, we have the Son of God Himself—His Body and Blood, given and shed for the forgiveness of our sins.

We’ve been taught to fall and rise again—to die and rise with Christ every morning by remembering of our Baptism. And—united with Him in a death like His—we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His (cf. Romans 6:5).

We’ve been taught to believe in Jesus, the Word of God, to hold Him fast and gladly hear Him—and we are not put to shame.

We’ve been taught to submit to the righteousness of God—slaves of sin no more, we serve the Living God and love our neighbor as our self.

We know the time of our visitation.

Sunday School’s at 9. Divine Service is at 10.

Every Sunday morning.

And whether it’s here or elsewhere—at those times or others—with the permission of our benevolent dictators or without—we will gather around the Gospel purely taught and the Sacraments rightly administered.

Because that’s the Church.

And the gates of hell shall not prevail against the Church.

This is the judgment of the Lord, and it is the perfect comfort for all those spared by the shed blood of Jesus Christ.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

The Tenth Sunday after Trinity, 2021
Luke 19:41-48
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

At times, the wicked seem to prosper.

We’ve all seen it.

And we’ve all had our doubts about whether or not and what God is doing about it, because the wicked shouldn’t prosper, right? But sometimes it seems like they do.

Today, Jesus says to His disciples, but it’s important to note that “the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him” (Luke 16:14). Today, Jesus says to His disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions. And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager’” (Luke 16:1-2).

All the parables, including this one, reveal the kingdom of God to us. That’s what parables do, but this one is strange in that the rich man—who is God—seems aloof and deals with a man who is eventually revealed to be not only dishonest but unrighteous or evil.

In this parable, the wicked seems to prosper, and God seems aloof because the charge has to be brought to the rich man.

He doesn’t seek it out.

He doesn’t seem to know ahead of time.

And the charge is that the manager is a waster of the rich man’s possessions.

It’s not that he has wasted his master’s possessions once or even perhaps occasionally.

This is—rather—a habit over time.

The manager is wasteful of the rich man’s possessions.

And the rich man doesn’t notice—which is strange.

You’re not a rich man for very long if you don’t know that your possessions are being wasted?

So how rich do you have to be not to notice?

This rich man is either aloof—cold, distant, and uncaring—or he has an abundance of riches such that he can’t run out.

Remember that.

But the charge is brought, and now—the rich man must act. So he takes away the management.

“And the manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg…” (Luke 16:3).

Jesus’ words here go right into what the manager decides to do—but think through this.

What does he have available to him?

He has no strength with which he could earn a living.

He has great pride, so he won’t eke it out begging.

What’s left?

He has, he realizes, a few moments of management left to him—and so, he has “decided what to do, so that when [he] is removed from management, people may receive [him] into their houses” (Luke 16:4).

“Summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly and write fifty.’ Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty’” (Luke 16:5-7).

He can’t labor.

He won’t beg.

But for the moments left to him, he’ll use his power and influence, wasting his master’s possessions all the more, so that when he’s removed from management, people may receive him into their houses.

And isn’t that how the world works?

To whom do you owe a life debt?

Who’s the one who could call with a no-questions-asked request for which you’d have to act?

Or—how many of you have someone to call when such a request is required?

This is how the world works.

And that’s the shrewdness that’s commended.

Now, it’s bad enough that the wicked seems to prosper, but that Jesus—through the rich man in the parable—commends the unrighteous manager for his shrewdness, that bites against every swell notion we have about who God is and what He does.

We don’t understand it.

We don’t like it.

Because it’s a godly rebuke against the sons of light—and we don’t like being wrong.

We certainly don’t like anyone telling us what to do with our stuff.

Here’s the rebuke:

“The master commended the [unrighteous] manager  for his shrewdness. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light” (Luke 16:8).

If you’re not used to hearing an implied predicate, what He means is: the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light are shrewd in dealing with their own generation.

We’re wrong—we are rebuked—because we don’t take advantage of the rich man’s wealth.

Now, that’s saying it in the way of the sons of this world, so we need to phrase it in the terms of the sons of light:

We’re wrong because we don’t rely on the mercy of God. We’re rebuked because we fail to see past the temporal terms of this world for the true riches of the world to come.

That’s a little bit abstract.

So let’s narrow it down.

God has forgiven all sin in Christ.

That’s the Gospel.

If you believe that, you rejoice to forgive others as you have been forgiven, because you like to boast in the Lord, as St. Paul says (cf. 2 Corinthians 10:17).

You like to forgive others, because it naturally follows that if everyone’s sins are forgiven—yours are too.

Well, God has forgiven all sin in Christ.

And we believe that—but we still rejoice to remember every sin committed against us, every perceived slight.

We mock the faults and foibles of our elders.

We thank God we’re not as pernicious as today’s children.

We all have answers for everyone else’s problems while our own home is in the neat form of shambles.

“Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12).

The wicked seem to prosper—

The unrighteous manager is commended for his shrewdness—

That is—we’ve forgotten the true riches.

As rich as the rich man could be in the parable—

“The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof” (Psalm 24:1).

As merciful as the rich man could be in the parable—

The Lord’s mercy endures forever (cf. Psalm 136).

With shrewdness—with profound judgment—are we to see the world around us.

With shrewdness—having in mind the profound judgment and verdict of Christ’s blood having purchased us from death and hell—with shrewdness are we to see the world around us.

Believe the Gospel. Rely on it fully.

God doesn’t run out of forgiveness.

Consider how He gives it.

In the Parable of the Sower we learn that God causes His Word to be preached—to our eyes—recklessly.

Without fear of running out—without discriminating between soil types—and without blinking when the Word of God is rejected—God sends His Word to plant, cultivate, and grow the faith.

In the Parable of the Sheep, Coins, and Sons we learn that it’s God who seeks, finds, rescues, and redeems.

We learn that we were what was lost, and we rejoice that God has saved us—by no merit or worthiness on our part.

In today’s parable, we’re rebuked in that the unrighteous manager is commended for shrewdness we lack.

The parables reveal to us the kingdom of God.

And this is the kingdom:

God gives according to His mercy—not according to our merit.

God seeks and finds; He rescues and redeems.

He forgives.

Out of an inexhaustible abundance, He forgives.

And we pray and promise to forgive as we have been forgiven.

This is the Kingdom of God.

This is the Gospel.

Believe it.

And live using your wealth and possessions—as one who does not put his trust in them.

Jesus said all these things to His disciples, but remember: “the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him” (Luke 16:14).

For His disciples—against the Pharisees—and for us, immediately after today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus says: “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Luke 16:10-13).

The Pharisees are like the unrighteous manager.

They’re not strong enough to dig.

And they’re ashamed to beg.

But those who sit in Moses’ seat can abuse their power and make friends for themselves by means of unrighteous mammon—until their management is taken from them.

And that’s what they do.

Their shrewdness is commended, because they are faithfully serving their god—their false god.

Their shrewdness is commended, but they are sons of this world.

As a child and son of light, then, believe the Gospel.

Forgive as you have been forgiven—for the time is coming when even your management will be taken away from you—not because of unrighteousness, that’s how the sons of this world are treated—the scribes and Pharisees.

The time of your management will end, rather, because Jesus is coming soon to give eternal life to you and all believers in Christ.

The commended shrewdness recognizes true riches  for what they are and holds fast unto them into the eternal dwellings and unto eternal life.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

The Ninth Sunday after Trinity, 2021
Luke 16:1-9 (10-13)
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

On this Sunday of the Church Year, the Eighth Sunday after Trinity, last year, I made the observation that there aren’t a lot of Gospel-sounding words in the Gospel lesson for today.

I observed, last year, that the false doctrine from false prophets is like rat poison in that false doctrine doesn’t always seem like poison, doesn’t always sound like poison, doesn’t necessarily walk, talk, or quack like poison—but it does, nevertheless, lead away from Jesus and to death.

Why would I do that?

Why would I make such an observation?

Well, on this Sunday of the Church Year, two years ago, I asked the question: “Would you rather hear a sermon preached by Jesus—or—would you rather hear a sermon preached by a false prophet?”

I asked that, because when Jesus began to preach, the first thing He said was, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17).

So, who you’d rather hear from probably depends on the false prophet, whether you like him or not, because no one likes to be called to repentance.

Again, why would I ask such a question?

Why would I do that?

I don’t know if it was ever on this Sunday of the Church Year, but during my early years in Lutheranism, beginning late last century, I would hear phrases like:

“Doctrine divides. Love unites.”

Or, “Doctrine Divides. Faith Unites.”

It was always doctrine that was the problem—because Doctrine was defined as something taught or learned, something unchangeable and necessary, and it was those stodgy Lutherans who insisted upon teaching everyone who showed up.

it was never Love that was the problem—because Love was defined as something felt. It was those loving Lutherans who didn’t care what you believed as long as you showed up.

I remember it this way.

I’m not quoting anyone as far as I can remember, but this is the impression it made on me. In Sunday School, we were asked: would you rather feel loved and go to hell or be disagreed with and go to heaven?

We weren’t scared of this question.

We knew what we were being asked: Would you rather have your pride or possess eternal life?

Point being—God calls sinners to repentance.

Repentance hurts.

And it’s better to feel the shame of sins confessed and the relief of sins forgiven than to avoid the shame and receive no relief.

We all know this to be true.

It’s easier to ignore sin—to go along with the group and the gossip. It’s easier not to disagree with your friends or your spouse when you get together to play cards.

It’s easy to be judgmental—but the rewards there become like ashes in your mouth.

And if they don’t now, they will when Jesus returns and demands from you an account.

It’s much more difficult to be curious, to wonder, to ask, to admit that you might not know—but the reward there is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.

That’s how the proverb reads: “A word fitly spokenis like apples of gold in a setting of silver. Like a gold ring or an ornament of gold is a wise reprover to a listening ear” (Proverbs 25:11-12).

He who has ears to hear, then, let him hear, because at this point I think it’s good to ask—So what?

Why ask all these questions—about rat poison, or hearing sermons preached by Jesus or false prophets, or whether or not our pride will keep us from the pearly gates?

Why would I have you consider these things?

What would I have you know?

I would have you heed the warning.

Jesus says, “Beware false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:15-16).

If it were not so, you’d need no warning.

If false prophets didn’t come to you in sheep’s clothing—if they came, instead, holding signs saying, “I teach against what Jesus says. Don’t believe me,” then you don’t need the warning.

But that false prophets come to you in sheep’s clothing—that Jesus says, “Beware…” because you need the warning—be patient with the pastor who warns you.

Be curious—not judgmental—when I tell you that false prophets give you things to do to be saved.

“Just pray about it.”

“Give your heart to Jesus.”

“Just have a personal relationship.”

“Decide for Him.”

“Let go and let God.”

That’s not just bad fruit—that’s evil fruit, because it undermines the glory that belongs to Christ alone and leads the struggling believer into spiritual uncertainty.

For you to be saved—is it at all up to you?

We know it’s not, if you’ve been raised Lutheran, you’ve heard Ephesians chapter two about nine million times.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

We know salvation is God’s gift and not by our works, but false prophets quickly point out the steps you need to take and where to send the check.

Pray about it, give your heart, decide for Jesus, and let go; it’ll lead you nowhere except the arrogance that thinks you’ve done something or the despair that knows you can’t.

You’ll never be certain if salvation is at all up to you.

So—“Thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord. They say continually to those who despise the word of the Lord, “It shall be well with you”; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, “No disaster shall come upon you”’” (Jeremiah 23:16-17).

But the words of false prophets become ashes in your mouth when Jesus returns and demands from you an account.

St. Paul says to the pastors in Ephesus and to all pastors since: “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure (St. Paul says), fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert” (Acts 20:28-31).

I will not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God—not all at once, right now. We’d have to break for lunch eventually. But over time.

You will know the prophet by his fruit.

The fruit of a prophet is his prophecy.

And the fruit of a pastor or preacher or teacher is the content of his teaching.

Lest you think I’m trying to drum up support for myself, let me be clear: I don’t want you to trust me.

I don’t want you to trust synod.

I don’t want you to trust CPH or Crossway or the book you bought at revival when you were a child.

I want you to trust Jesus.

Count the world as lost and throw in with Him.

Forsake your feelings and bind unto yourself this day the strong name of the Trinity, asking:

What does our Lord say?

That’s what I would have you ask.

And that’s what I would have you know.

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. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness’” (Matthew 7:21-23).

Not everyone who says, “Lord, Lord…”

Not everyone who prophesies in His name…

Not everyone who casts out demons or does mighty works in His name…

But the one who does the will of God.

And what is the will of God—and the work of God?

That you believe in Him whom He has sent (cf. John 6:28-29).

“In 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 throne of God.

“Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you would not grow weary or fainthearted…

“Do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord. Heed the warning, and do not be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives” (cf. Hebrews 12:2-6).

“Bind unto yourself this day, the strong name of the Trinity…Of whom all nature has creation, Eternal Father, Spirit, Word. Praise to the Lord of my salvation; Salvation is of Christ the Lord!” (cf. LSB 604:5).

On the Eighth Sunday after Trinity, this year and every year, and on every day the Good Lord gives us, that’s what I would have you know:

Salvation is of Christ the Lord.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Trinity 8, 2021
Matthew 7:15-23
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

I’m really excited about Lutheran theology.

I don’t think that surprises anyone, but I’ve said in bible classes and sermons and conversations—and this may have surprised you—I’ve said that we, Lutherans faithful to the historic, Evangelical Lutheran Church, we actually have the Gospel.

The implication, there, is that other church bodies may not.

Today’s Gospel lesson provides a good example of what I mean.

What’s the point of the miraculous feeding of the four thousand?

Ask around.

This is a quotation from the conclusion to a sermon available on a popular, American Evangelical Christian website, but this is par for the course in terms of getting the gospel wrong: “This miracle reminds us that Jesus is more than sufficient to meet the needs that exist in His people’s lives…He’s able to meet the needs in your life…It doesn’t matter how big your giant; how tall your mountain; how deep your valley; He’s more than sufficient for the need! He’s able to give you comfort through all the storms of life. He’s able to empower you to do His will. He’s able to walk with you every mile of the way. He’s able to be exactly who you need Him to be in all the stages of your life…This miracle teaches us that great things can happen if we just get the need into His hands! A small amount of bread and fish became sufficient for a multitude because they got it into His hands. Do you have a need? Get it into His hands today!”

That’s not the Gospel.

The Gospel doesn’t depend on you getting anything into Jesus’ hands—as though all things are not already His.

The Gospel doesn’t depend on you taking it to the Lord in prayer—as though God doesn’t already know our need and the Holy Spirit intercede for with groanings too deep for words (cf. Romans 8:26).

It’s not the Gospel if it’s conditional.

It’s not the Gospel if God is only able to—but has not already in fact—forgiven all sin in Jesus.

Telling people to “get it into Jesus’ hands” isn’t the Gospel. Understanding the miraculous feeding of the four thousand as a reminder of Jesus’ ability to help is not the Gospel. This miracle doesn’t teach that great things can happen if we just get the need to Jesus.

The sermon I quoted is available on a website that has over seventy-four million hits.

Many people have been taught to think that way—but that’s the Way. That’s not the Gospel.

As nice and friendly as that message sounds, here’s where it fails.

Do you have a need?

Anybody?

Get it into Jesus’ hands today.

If the solution really is as simple as “getting it into Jesus’ hands,” why do your problems persist? Or do you never pray for the same things more than once?

It’s not the Gospel if it depends on you.

And it gets worse.

Let’s ask the question this way:

How many of you want your spouse to be “able” to be faithful to you?

Is that how your vows were written?

“Will you love, honor, and keep [him/her] in sickness and in health, and, forsaking all others, remain united to [her/him] alone, so long as you both shall live? Then say…”

I will—if I’m able to.

You don’t want your spouse to be able to be faithful to you. You want your spouse to be faithful to you.

Likewise, you don’t want God to be able to help.

You want God to help.

From that Gospel-less sermon I quoted moments ago, it said: “[God] is able to give you comfort…Able to empower you…Able to walk with you…Able to be exactly who you need Him to be.”

But is He what you need? Or is He just able to be?

What hope do you have if God is merely able?

Enough with that.

Don’t read the Bible thinking it’s about you.

God destroys Pharaoh and all his hosts, not you.

God kills Goliath, not you.

He uses us as instruments, but the sun doesn’t rise and fall by our say so.

“For every beast of the forest is [His], the cattle on a thousand hills” (Psalm 50:10).

And you’re a sheep in the fold of the Good Shepherd, a face in the great crowd, upon whom Jesus has compassion.

This is the miracle.

This is the Gospel.

Jesus says, “I have compassion on the crowd…”

He’s not just able to.

He has compassion on the crowd.

“…Because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some of them have come from far away” (Mark 8:2-3).

The problem isn’t hunger.

First of all, Jesus didn’t come to eradicate earthly hunger—otherwise we wouldn’t have to subsist, from time to time, on government cheese or questionable meat.

The problem is—Jesus led a crowd of four thousand people into a desolate place without food.

Why?

Why would Jesus do that?

Had I asked, to begin with, if God ever led a group of people into an impossible-to-overcome situation, it’s likely that we would think not.

And I’ve asked the same question this way before: Does God ever lead us into temptation?

The answer is yes.

Consider the Exodus.

“When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near…”

If you look at this on a map, God didn’t have to lead the people through the Red Sea.

But He did…

“…‘Lest the people change their minds when they see war and return to Egypt.’ God led the people around by the way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea…Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Tell the people of Israel to turn back and encamp in front of Pi-hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, in front of Baal-zephon; you shall encamp facing it, by the sea. For Pharaoh will say of the people of Israel, “They are wandering in the land; the wilderness has shut them in.” And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them, and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, and the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord.’ And they did so” (Exodus 13:17-18; 14:1-4).

How many times do we think about the exodus and not realize that God led His people into an impossible-to-overcome situation.

He purposely led them away from safety.

He purposely led Israel between Pharaoh and all his hosts and the Red Sea.

He led them into temptation—not so that they would sin, God tempts no one to sin, but that they would hold fast to Him and remain faithful.

“When Pharaoh drew near, the people of Israel lifted up their eyes, and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them, and they feared greatly. And the people of Israel cried out to the Lord. They said to Moses, ‘Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt?” (Exodus 14:10-11).

Why would God do such a thing?

Why would Jesus lead the crowd into a desolate place?

Why would God allow you to suffer all the slings and arrows of this life?

Thus says the Lord, “I will get glory over [them all]” (Exodus 14:4).

And Moses said, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The Lord [fights] for you. You have only to be silent” (Exodus 14:13-14).

And—Pharaoh and all his host were drowned in the Red Sea.

God led His people into an impossible situation, one they could not overcome.

He did that so He could deliver them from evil.

The Lord fought for them.

They had only to be silent.

The same is true in today’s Gospel lesson.

Jesus led this crowd into temptation.

The disciples, like Israel, were afraid: “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?” (Mark 8:4).

They forgot who the Lord is.

In Mark chapter six, Jesus fed the five thousand. Today’s Gospel lesson is from Mark chapter eight.

They’ve forgotten.

And Jesus has already said—He’s just said—“I have compassion on the crowd” (Mark 8:2).

It’s not “I will have compassion” and it’s certainly not “I am able to have compassion” but simply “I have compassion on the crowd.”

God’s compassion and love are not without action.

God doesn’t love standing still.

He doesn’t love in a few minutes when He’s done scrolling endlessly on His phone.

The love and action of God depends not on you.

Here, loving a hungry crowd, He has compassion on them and feeds them miraculously.

But again, this isn’t about hunger.

It’s not about giving our needs to Jesus.

It’s about God’s love for sinners—giving and providing and doing all that is truly necessary to save the world.

When Jesus teaches us the Lord’s Prayer, we pray it this way, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”

I’m not suggesting we change the words.

But Jesus does want us to understand Him this way: God does lead us into temptation. It happened in the Exodus. It happened in the desolate place. It happens, in our life when we lack, when we need, when we hurt, and when we hate.

The Lord will get glory over all who hate Him.

Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and though you die, yet shall you live, to the glory of God.

He has compassion on the crowd, on you, on us.

God loves the world.

He loves you.

He loves us.

Setting our earthly hunger and satisfaction aside, Jesus “emptied himself, by taking on the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:6-11).

What’s the Gospel?

It’s not your power to pray or give to God.

The Gospel is the power of God for salvation to all who believe in Jesus Christ.

The Lord fights for you.

He loves you.

He has compassion on you.

Israel had only to be silent and wait for God to deliver them.

Now—we rejoice, because the Lord has indeed delivered us from evil.

That’s the Gospel.

And that’s something to be excited about.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Trinity 7 Sermon, 2021
Mark 8:1-9
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

Do you believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? Of course you do, because the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is the Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—and you, a Christian, believe—to your blessed life everlasting—that Jesus is God and Lord.

But what about the Mohammedans? The moslims?

Do the Mohammedans believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? Of course not, because the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is the Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—and the Mohammedans reject—to their unfortunate but just damnation—that Jesus is God and Lord.

And so, what about the Jews?

Do the Jews believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? Of course not. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is the Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—and the Jews reject—to their unfortunate but just damnation—that Jesus is God and Lord.

Every “believer” of every “god” will tell you that what “god” says is vital for your life—having both temporal and eternal consequences.

But even before you can care about all of the things God says, you have to care about who God is.

That’s important today because of both what Jesus says about the Law and that Jesus Himself says it.

Jesus says, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished” (Matthew 5:17-18).

“Israel cannot accept…as the Word of God the utterances of a man who speaks in His own name—not ‘thus says the Lord’ but ‘I say to you.’ This ‘I’ is in itself sufficient to drive Judaism away from the Gospel forever” (A. Ginsberg, Ten Essays on Zionism and Judaism, 232).

If you would say of yourself that you have a heart for mission…

Or—when you realize that there are so many billions of people in the world who don’t believe in the One, True God, but rather a false god—and you legitimately care about the unfortunate but just consequences of that horrifying statistic…

Realize that the problem is—they reject Jesus because Jesus says, “I say to you,” (cf. Matthew 5) and they won’t have that.

He says to us, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17).

And here, it’s necessary for us to understand that to fulfill something means, in part, to transcend it, to be beyond it.

This is not true for us. We can’t do this.

The closest we come are those angry words parents say to their children, following “I brought you into this world, and…”

But here’s another example: World War I wasn’t originally called World War I but what?

The War to End All Wars. So it was thought.

Now, The War to End All Wars is called World War I, because we do not transcend war. We are not beyond it.

You can’t fight and win a victory such that no future battles can be fought.

The point is, Jesus isn’t just some guy talking about the Old Testament.

What He says is remarkable—to the scribes and Pharisees, it’s scandalous—but to us it is the power of God and the wisdom of God to save us sinners because of what is said and who says it.

Jesus comes to fulfill the Law and the Prophets, to fulfill the Word of God—to do what we cannot.

St. Matthew makes this clear in that he records, again and again, that what Jesus does fulfills what was written.

At the birth of Jesus, an angel of the Lord said unto Joseph, “She [that is, Mary] will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).

Jesus means “God saves.”

And so, God in the flesh has come to save sinners.

“All this took place,” St. Matthew writes, “to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us)” (Matthew 1:22-23).

So God in the flesh, God With Us, has come to do what we cannot—to fulfill the Law and the Prophets, the Word of God.

That He can do this tells us who He is: God With Us, God—who has come to save us.

And that He tells us this, that He opens His mouth and teaches us to trust in Him, His Word, and His Work, that is the good news, our hope and comfort.

For our salvation—it’s not enough that God is, that God exists. We must also know Him.

And that we may know Him, He comes to us.

So far—this is all really good news.

But let’s hear exactly what He says:

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire” (Matthew 5:21-22).

For everyone else, an explanation of the Bible includes other verses, other teachers, historical thought, context, something.

But Jesus quotes no other authority, because there is no other authority.

He doesn’t repudiate, revoke, or repeal the Law—really, He restores it.

“You have heard that it was said…but I say to you.”

It’s human nature to make the commandment, “You shall not murder” about only the violent and final act. That way, for most people, you haven’t broken that commandment.

Moses dealt with the punishment of the violent act.

Jesus deals with its prevention.

So He interprets the Law such that everything is excluded from Christian behavior that leads to the violent act.

Name calling, then, is filed under murder not only because it inappropriately gives voice to anger, but it also triggers anger in others.

And—“Whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:19).

“So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go” (Matthew 5:23-24a).

You need to know that’s hyperbole, overstatement.

Do not fear to come to the altar.

Do not fear to leave your tithe.

If you remember, right now, that your friend or family in California has something against you, Jesus doesn’t want you to flee the altar and your Christian responsibilities to drive the twenty-four hours it would take to get there.

Rather—the point is—reconciliation with God is meaningless if you refuse to be reconciled to each other.

As God has forgiven you, you are to forgive each other.

“First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:24b).

Approach God with a good conscience, and He will create in you a clean heart, a new one.

And—Jesus teaches us to pray: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” (Matthew 6:12). We pray and promise to do so.

Now, with these explanations of the Law—hearing that we can’t fulfill it…and nevertheless hearing what we must do…

That Jesus can fulfill it…but that reconciliation with God is impossible if we refuse to be reconciled to each other…

Hearing it said like that, who’s willing to stand before God when that’s how the Law’s understood?

The full sternness of the Law makes us a little hesitant, about the eternal demands of the Law of God, doesn’t it?

Getting the Law right does that.

But we’re not without hope.

That Jesus comes to fulfill the Law—that He’s God and Lord and can fulfill it…that He does fulfill it…

And that He tells us so, not keeping it a secret but revealing to us God’s heart, God’s mercy, God’s love—God’s Word and Work to save us…

We have good news for every day of our life and after.

He’s revealed Himself as God and Lord, and we believe.

He’s told us that He comes to fulfill the Law—to save His people from their sins—to give His life as a ransom for many (cf. Matthew 20:28).

He tells us that and does it.

We believe Him.

We trust Him.

We know that He comes to seek and save us.

We rely on His love, His shed blood, His sacrifice and death.

We hope in Him, with certainty, confessing the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.

Here we stand, steadfast in the faith, with Jesus and unto life everlasting.

This is most certainly true—our righteousness, your righteousness, does exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees, who have no god but their bellies and back pockets, because we all believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—the Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and so, living by faith, you are great in the kingdom of heaven.

To that end, then, let us rejoice in the forgiveness of our sins such that we rejoice to forgive one another, desiring, as God does, not the death of the sinner—or even that they would just leave us alone and not talk all the time—but that they would turn—and we with them—from our evil ways—and live.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Trinity 6 Sermon, 2021
Matthew 5:20-26
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt