Husband. Father. Lutheran pastor. Sinfonian.

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

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

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

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

Some of the scribes understand Jesus wrongly.

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

But how? We need to ask how.

How is forgiving sins blaspheming?

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus does two things here.

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

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

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

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

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

The scribes believe man can’t do that.

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

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

The scribes believe man can’t do that either.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We all like the Gospel.

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

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

And then—it’s no thanks.

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

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

Our preaching should be the same, not different.

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

Our preaching should be the same, not different.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I think you should expect to be forgiven.

And I think you should expect to forgive.

Do you know what that means?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do not think evil in your hearts.

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

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

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

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And so they put Him to the test.

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

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

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

God wants me to be happy.

God’s “No” makes me unhappy.

Therefore—there must be something wrong with God.

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

So how does Jesus respond?

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

He’s quoting Deuteronomy chapter six, again.

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

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

Because they do as satan did.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Pharisees have the Word of God.

They know it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because Jesus responds perfectly: Love fulfills the Law.

The Word of God is not a contradiction.

The First Commandment includes all the others.

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

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

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

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

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

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

God’s not wrong.

There’s nothing wrong with the Law.

There’s something wrong with us.

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

We know that’s not always us.

And we know it should be.

So what happens next?

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

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

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

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

God wants me to be happy.

God’s “No” makes me unhappy.

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

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

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

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

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

But why does Jesus ask?

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

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

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

He is of His Father, who loves us.

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

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

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

The Pharisees put the Lord to the test.

They rejected the Word of God.

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

But not you.

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

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

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

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

In many and various ways, the disease—to us—is worth it—or we make it seem that way.

Today, we call dropsy edema, and we go no further. But then—dropsy was the rich man’s disease, a swelling of the body that included insatiable thirst.

The ones who suffered from dropsy, so it seemed, were the ones who could afford to fill their body to the brim. The only ones who could treat the ailment were the ones who could afford to fill it up again and again.

There was the disease—in this case, the man-made ailment that would eventually consume everything—food, drink, time, money—the body and your life—but it was worth it—it was made to seem worth it—because it was the rich man’s disease.

That’s why he’s present at the house of one of the rulers of the Pharisees. He was one you’d want to invite, one you’d want to show up.

They don’t think of it as being in the presence of disease. They think of it as someone important showing up to the party, their status is improved by him being there, he being a great and rich man.

The disease is worth it—if you get to be rich.

This is why Jesus speaks as He does.

In verse thirty-three of the same chapter He says, “Whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:33).

And in Matthew chapter nineteen, Jesus says: “Only with difficulty will a rich man enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:23).

The disease—to us—seems worth it.

Maybe you think I’m being extreme, making the man with dropsy into an unrealistic example, but consider your station and life.

I’ll consider mine.

During Street Fair, I worked a shift.

Afterwards, I enjoyed a cheeseburger.

Who wouldn’t?

And since it was right next door, I also bought a cup of ice cream.

With the heat as oppressive as it was, who’ll cast the first stone?

But then—I think it was forty-five actual seconds later, I received a message on my phone—and what do you think that message was about?

It was exercise, a workout, of course it was.

That’s how God works, it seems, from time to time.

It was a workout that anyone could do anywhere—unless, of course, you’re holding a cup of ice cream.

The disease—that is, the sin, the long list of bad decisions in succession—isn’t worth it, but we make it seem that way until some catastrophe occurs.

Now, because of where I’ve served as a pastor and because of where I grew up—I’ve spent a number of hours talking to addicts—drugs, alcohol, pornography, whatever.

Universally, they hate and love what they do.

It’s the worst thing imaginable—wouldn’t wish it on anyone—and—it’s the only fleeting comfort available—do you wanna do it, too?

It consumes everything—time, money, body, and life—leaving an anxious, skulking, empty shadow of once vibrant, thriving life.

Again and again, the disease isn’t worth it, but we make it seem that way until some catastrophe occurs.

The proverb has it this way: “Like a dog that returns to his vomit is a fool who repeats his folly” (Proverbs 26:11).

That’s some folly, but maybe you’re not an addict.

Or a glutton.

Or a rich man.

Maybe you’ve stopped sinning. Maybe you need no help. Maybe you learned everything a long time ago, and that’s good enough—thank you very much. Maybe everything would be better if it were done your way, because maybe you know better. Maybe you know best.

And—maybe you’re hateful and proud and well on your way down the wide road that leads to destruction. You’re never alone, because those who enter by it are many (cf. Matthew 7:13).

The disease seems worth it—especially to those who deny the disease.

Like satan and his children. They all believe the lies and want you to believe them, too.

He heard the first promise of a savior: “He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel” (Genesis 3:15), but he had it in his hardened heart that he might yet win the world to himself.

It’s as if satan says—and blasphemously—“A world who would not purchase for a bruise?”

As though the world was his to win.

Unbelievably to us—to satan, it’s worth it.

That’s the bargain—his bargain. And ours.

And it’s terrible.

With food, drugs, sex, laziness, hatred, and all else.

We tell ourselves:

Whatever’s good—it isn’t good.

Whatever’s necessary—it isn’t needed.

Whatever’s true, honorable, just, pure, or lovely—don’t even think about it (cf. Philippians 4:8).

“Let evil now become my good.”

That’s what we say whenever we prefer disease to cure.

“A world who would not purchase for a bruise?”

That’s what the devil says—and blasphemously—when he believes his lie, that he could win.

And—in perfect faith—that’s what Jesus says when He considers us and what it take to win the world—us included—from sin, death, and satan.

“A world who would not purchase for a bruise?”

“Though He was in the form of God, He did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking on the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to [bruise and] death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6-8).

For Himself He chose the lowest seat. And for us.

For Himself He chose the greatest scorn. And for us.

“A world who would not purchase for a bruise?”

So—“For our transgressions, He was pierced. For our iniquities, He was crushed. Upon him was put the chastisement that brought us peace, and by his wounds are we healed” (cf. Isaiah 53:5).

The world is purchased and won in the bruise and blood of Jesus Christ our Lord, who—today—sends the man He healed away because gaining the grace of God is worth losing status in the eyes of Pharisees and principalities and powers.

Rich man or not—he no longer needs the Pharisees, for he has all things in Christ.

Jesus doesn’t forgive your sins and free you from satan so that you’d choose to return to sin and satan.

Jesus forgives you and frees you from sin and satan that you would return, again and again, to Him.

The Pharisees aren’t needed. Satan is conquered.

The disease isn’t worth it—and never was.

Now we see what means we have—the means that God provides—for sin and death and satan to be overcome, not just finally and forever but even here today.

This side of the resurrection you can’t stop sinning.

Return, again and again, to the Lord your God, and He will sustain you.

And—by the grace of God, this side of the resurrection you can, with the Holy Spirit, overcome the rich man’s disease, the glutton’s appetite, the addict’s folly, and satan’s lie.

You are not bound but freed.

You are not proud but humble and faithful.

You are not dead but made alive in Christ who chose the lowest seat for Himself and was exalted by the Father—so that all who belong to Him would live, and live forever.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Trinity 17, 2021
Luke 14:1-11
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

“As [Jesus] drew near to the gate of the town, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow, and a considerable crowd from the town was with her. And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, ‘Do not weep.’ Then he came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, ‘Young man, I say to you, arise.’ And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother” (Luke 7:12-15).

Today, Jesus raises the widow’s son and gives the child back to his mother, and we can think of nothing greater, because we lack imagination.

Please don’t hear me wrong.

There’s nothing lacking in what Jesus does.

He sees the boy, who was dead.

He sees the mother, who grieves.

And He has compassion on her.

For the mother who grieves the death of her child, to have that child again, alive and well, in her arms—there’s nothing greater.

In one sense, that’s true.

Sin takes its toll on the body, and the mind, and the spirit.

So does death.

Some of us know how this mother feels.

None of us want to.

But for the boy to get back up—and to speak.

For Mom, again or for the first time, to hear his voice—we can think of nothing greater.

But for the mother, and for us all, the Last Day will be greater than this day, because—today—Jesus doesn’t give the husband back to his wife—she was a widow, remember—only the son back to his mother.

In one sense, only an earthly sense, there’s nothing greater.

And, with things eternal in mind, there is.

This miracle, while full and complete and comforting to the mother, is yet best understood not in terms of our daily bread but of our deliverance from evil—who Jesus is and what He’s come to accomplish.

Miracles are like that.

They’re not promises for our day.

They’re illustrations of the God who has visited His people to redeem them.

The Christian’s hope is not the happy reunion of some of those we’ve lost.

Some who’ve gone before us.

Of course the mother wants her son returned to her, and she rejoices to receive him back.

But this is neither a picture of what God promises for our day nor even a picture of what heaven is like—since the widow also wishes for her husband.

Of course she does.

The years have multiplied her grief, and while some grief is divided out in receiving her son—some remains.

Some of us know how she feels.

None of us want to.

For all who grieve, there are those we would call and bring back to us and have and hold again.

But this miracle teaches that one does not come back from death unless one goes forward in our place.

This scene is so similar to what Jesus will endure.

And Jesus alone must endure it.

He is the only-begotten Son of God—Mary’s son and Mary’s Lord.

It’s His burden to see His mother weeping for Him.

His burden for the considerable crowd to see Him carry death, our death, in His own flesh.

It’s His burden to die.

It’s not this boy’s cross to bear to die for the sin of the world.

It’s not this mother’s cross to bear to see her son carry our death in his flesh.

Jesus knows His passion and death are coming.

He knows His cross to bear is His and His alone.

He has compassion on the widow, the mother, because He goes to Jerusalem to die in the boy’s place, in the mother’s place, in your place, and mine.

The types of Christ are similar to Jesus in most ways—but they do not die or stay dead for long.

Consider Isaac—and Abraham who stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. The Angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven saying, “Abraham! Abraham!”, staying the knife (cf. Genesis 22:10-11).

Isaac was the son of the promise.

The only son.

The command had come for the only son to die at the hand of his father, and though he bore on his back the wood of the sacrifice, it wasn’t a cross he carried but Abraham’s test.

Then—the ram the Lord provided died in Isaac’s place so that there’d be no question as to who was the Christ. 

Today—the Lamb the Lord provides stays the procession and hand of death, raises the boy to life, and journeys to Jerusalem to die in his place—so that there is no question as to who is the Christ.

The types of Christ are similar to Jesus in most ways—but they do not die or stay dead for long.

This side of the resurrection, we don’t receive our children back from death—and yet—Jesus gives us all a reason not to weep.

As He spared the woman her grief, he doesn’t spare His own.

As He stayed the procession and hand of death and brought back the boy to life, Jesus sets His face toward Jerusalem and marches on—to cross and death and passion—and to our peace.

What He spares them—and us—He endures.

That we would see and receive and rejoice with all those we’ve lost—Jesus goes to cross and death for us.

Not that we would be spared grief and death on earth but that we and all believers in Christ would be reunited, found together, with son, daughter, husband, wife, and brother—in heaven.

This is the Christian’s hope.

Not things temporal but things eternal.

This is the Christian’s hope.

That Christ our Lord will sustain us all until and through the Last Day unto eternal life.

This is my hope.

The gift and sweet exchange that God has made for us. At Nain and at Calvary.

Because on the Last Day, Jesus will not say, only, “Young man, I say to you arise” (Luke 7:14).

On the Last Day, He will raise me—and you—and all the dead, and give eternal life to me—and you—and all believers in Christ.

This is most certainly true.

On the Last Day He will say to all—“Arise.”

And we will. Brother. Sister. Husband. Father. Wife. Mother. Son. Daughter.

Together.

Again.

And forever.

This is the Gospel—the report—that is to be spread about Him through the whole of Judea, all the surrounding country, and all the world.

That all would know what we know—and rejoice.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Trinity 16 Sermon, 2021
Luke 7:11-17
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

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