Husband. Father. Lutheran pastor. Sinfonian.

Is Jesus the second person of the Holy Trinity? Is He of the same substance with the Father, by whom all things were made? Is Jesus God? Yes, of course.

Could Jesus have sinned? Be careful. You just said that Jesus is God, of the same substance with the Father.

Can God sin? Could Jesus have sinned? No.

The forgiveness of sins earned by Jesus’ perfect sacrifice was never in doubt. Jesus being God means that He could not sin. He’s perfect.

So when Jesus is tempted by the devil, we don’t have to hold our breath and hope He makes it.

Another way to ask all this is: what’s the opposite of God? The answer is: nothing.

The devil is not the opposite of God—that would mean the devil is as powerful just opposite, as knowledgeable just opposite, applying his all-powerful, all-knowing evil against the goodness of God.

The devil is not that powerful, he doesn’t have that much knowledge.

The all-powerful, all-knowing, and good God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, He fights for you.

Our God promises to deliver us from evil.

Context will help us understand:

“And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” (Matthew 3:16-4:1).

That’s the immediate context of today’s Gospel lesson: Jesus is baptized, God the Father identifies Jesus as His Son, and immediately Jesus is driven into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit to be tempted by the devil.

The same Holy Spirit who descended upon Jesus like a dove, now drives Him into the wilderness to be tempted.

God is strange to us, sometimes. This is Exhibit A.

Right after telling the world that Jesus is His Son, that He loves Him and is well pleased with Him, our Heavenly Father has the Holy Spirit drive Jesus into the wilderness for forty days of fasting and temptation by the devil.

This strangeness only makes sense if you contrast what God is doing (saving the world) with what the devil is doing (accusing the world, filling it with unbelief that it would be condemned with him).

Our Heavenly Father has said, “[Jesus] is my beloved Son,” but “the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” (Matthew 4:3).

And the devil has a point. In His ministry, Jesus performs miracles, feeds the hungry, heals the sick, and raises the dead. In the Old Testament, God fed His people miraculously all the time, bread from heaven, water from the Rock, oil and flour that never run out.

Hunger, to the Creator of all things, is a simple problem. Jesus could very easily speak a single sentence, “Let there be bread,” and the world would have its fill.

The devil knows Jesus is hungry. He knows God wants the world to have food. He knows God promises to provide our daily bread.

But it does not profit the world to fill its stomach today and, tomorrow, lose eternal life.

After the Fall into sin, Man must sweat to eat. By the sweat of your brow you will eat bread. And life became toilsome hardship. Jesus—elsewhere in His ministry—multiplies bread without sweat, undoing the curse of the Fall.

It’s nothing for God to miraculously feed the world.

But Jesus doesn’t have to endure temptation to feed the world. He doesn’t have to bear the sin of the world to cross and death and grave if His goal is to feed the world. But if He has come to save the world, He must.

That’s the first temptation. God wants to feed the world—and does. He gives us the Body and Blood of Jesus.

Jesus came to feed sinners by giving them His flesh to eat and His blood to drink. We don’t hold our breath and hope Jesus passes the test—we rejoice that Jesus chose our everlasting salvation over the eradication of world hunger.

And don’t hear me wrong, the temptation is real: “in every respect [Jesus] has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). But temptation is not sin. You don’t have to sin when tempted. In fact, when you know you’re being tempted, that’s the perfect time to remember that Christians can defeat temptation, and this is how:

Jesus responds with the only tool that always defeats the devil, the written and spoken word of God:

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

Truly this is the Son of God who must suffer and die. By His stripes—the world is fed—and we are healed.

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

The devil proves that his knowledge of Scripture is better than ours. No man wants to die, so satan tries to find a verse that will keep Jesus from death. More than that, the devil’s found a way to convert the world by signs. God wants to save the world. And the world wants signs.

Imagine if Jesus jumped from the temple and angels swooped in to save Him. All those friends of ours demanding signs would get one, and they’d believe.

At least a while.

People who ask for signs don’t really want them. They ask either for what they know won’t happen, so they can continue unabated in their sin or they ask for what they know will happen to falsely confirm their heart’s desire as divine.

We talked about this in Sunday School today. [If you’re reading this online, click here for the handout that was used during Sunday School.]

Everyone wants a sign, but no sign will be given except the sign of the prophet Jonah.

Not as an accusation against any but as a warning for all: what you win them with is what you win them to.

Win a person to your congregation with a dog or a discount, and you’ll lose that person when the dog dies or the discount runs its course.

Win a person to the Gospel, and nothing better can come along.

Jesus’ death and resurrection is the only sign we need.

And get this, the devil quotes Psalm 91, verses 11 and 12: “He will command his angels concerning you” and “On their hands they will bear you up lest you strike your foot against a stone.” But he forgets to quote verses 9, 10, and 13, which say this: “Because you have made the Lord your dwelling place—the Most High, who is my refuge—no evil shall be allowed to befall you, no plague come near your tent…You will tread on the lion and the adder; the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot” (Psalm 91:9-10, 13).

That ancient serpent, the devil, is defeated by his own misquoted Bible verse. The Lord is the dwelling place of the Son—the Most High, His refuge. The evil one scowls fiercely and plagues Him with temptation, but Jesus, the Christ tramples him underfoot.

And there’s more.

The temple, the location for this temptation, was built on Mount Moriah, according to 2 Chronicles chapter three, and Mount Moriah was where Abraham was to sacrifice Isaac, according to Genesis chapter twenty-two.

From there, we read that Abraham called the name of that place “The Lord will provide,” for a ram was provided there in place of Isaac

Well, that’s still true: on the mount of the Lord the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world is provided. Moriah is to Abraham what Golgotha is to God, the place where the Lord provides the unblemished ram for the sacrifice.

The second temptation seeks to remove the Cross from Jesus’ shoulders, but Jesus doesn’t put the Lord His God to the test.

Jesus truly is the Son and Lamb of God who dies in Isaac’s place and ours.

We don’t hold our breath to see if Jesus makes it.

We rejoice—seeing our salvation, Jesus Christ the Lamb of God, destroy death and hell.

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

All men want power. And God teaches us to pray that His kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. Our God made the sea and the dry land, the world and all that’s in it.

I’m sure the devil could make a good show of it, but what he offers to give to Jesus belongs already to God.

The third temptation seeks to divide God, so Jesus responds with the boldness blasphemy deserves.

“Be gone, satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve’” (Mt. 4:10).

And the devil obeyed.

Jesus serves His Father by enduring from the devil temptations that seek to keep the Christ from the Cross.

Jesus wants bread, and God wants us to eat.

Jesus wants life, and God wants us to believe.

Jesus wants His Father’s kingdom established on earth, and God wants to rule on earth as in heaven.

The devil doesn’t mind any of those, so long as Jesus goes against His Father’s will.

But the Word and will of God can’t be broken.

Our Heavenly Father has said of Jesus, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Mt. 3:17).

We’re not holding our breath here.

Jesus obeys, submits, and serves God and us all by putting Himself last. He didn’t come to be served but to serve and to give His life, to lose it, and to buy you back to God our Father.

All this He does in obedience to our Father’s will—to break and hinder the devil—to beat down satan under our feet—to fulfill the Word:

The devil bruises the heel, but Christ crushes the ancient serpent’s head (cf. Gen. 3).

We can never endure temptation as faithfully as Jesus did. But our High Priest has mercy.

Tempted in every respect as we are, yet without sin (cf. Hebrews 4), Jesus has compassion.

When you’re tempted, know that Jesus fights for you and provides the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it (cf. 1 Corinthians 10).

You can. You will.

Even more, God has the last word and silences our accuser forever.

In the crucifixion of Jesus, all sin was crucified.

In the tomb of Jesus, all sin stays buried.

So in the resurrection of Jesus, you and all believers in Christ are raised, too.

The resurrection of Christ muzzles satan forever.

For though you’re tempted, and though you sin, and though you die, Jesus says, yet shall you live.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Invocabit Sermon, 2020
Matthew 4:1-11
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

Jesus said to him, “Recover your sight; your faith has made you well” (Luke 18:42). That’s how it was read a few moments ago, but that’s not quite right.

The man is well. Jesus restores his sight. But the actual word that Jesus uses is saved. It could read, “Recover your sight; your faith has saved you.”

The King James has it that way, for what it’s worth.

And here’s why it matters: if faith makes you well, we’ll doubt our faith every flu season.

We’ll think the man was made well because Jesus restored his sight.

That’s wrong because faith doesn’t guarantee good eyesight, otherwise there’d be no blind, deaf, weak, hurting, or sinful Christians.

 Jesus doesn’t say “made well.” He says saved.

Faith in Jesus Christ doesn’t guarantee good health. It doesn’t guarantee eight hours of sleep each night or nine months of ease whenever you need it.

Lots of other false gods promise those things—but not faith in Jesus.

But faith in Jesus does guarantee salvation.

And nothing else does that.

But here’s where it’s most difficult:

In our day-to-day lives, for which do we feel the greater need?

Eyesight? A clean bill of health? Wealth? Ease?

Or salvation?

The Gospel lesson today hits us hard, because it contrasts the seeing (and unbelieving) disciples with the blind (but believing and therefore saved) beggar.

And we should prefer to be the blind beggar.

Though you don’t want to be blind, you really don’t want to be one of the Twelve, because at this point, they don’t understand.

“Taking the twelve [disciples], [Jesus] said to them, ‘See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise’” (Luke 18:31-33).

Jesus could not be more clear. 

Seventeen times prior to these verses in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus refers to the Son of Man.

The disciples know it’s Him.

And yet, St. Luke writes that ”they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said” (Luke 18:34).

In three separate ways, Luke tells us that, seeing, the disciples do not see. Hearing, they do not understand. And having Jesus there, they yet have nothing at all because they lack faith.

And so we read of the blind beggar.

“As [Jesus] drew near to Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. And hearing a crowd going by, he inquired what this meant. They told him, ‘Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.’ And he cried out, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ And those who were in front rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’ And Jesus stopped and commanded him to be brought to him. And when he came near, he asked him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ He said, ‘Lord, let me recover my sight.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Recover your sight; your faith has saved you’” (Luke 18:35-42).

This beggar is the example of faith.

This blind beggar is a perfect illustration of the Christian because he’s blind (which means he believes what he hears) and because he’s a beggar.

We are all beggars. This is true.

Each of us, before God, is an empty cup needing to be filled. Each of us, before God, has nothing to offer God that He needs. We are, arms outstretched and palms up, in need of what He has to give.

And this blind beggar gets it. Literally blind, he hears and believes and trusts.

Having Jesus there, he has everything.

Notice, Jesus is near and the beggar cries out, “Son of David, have mercy!” He knows who David was.

He knows who Jesus is.

So yeah, this beggar gets it. “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy.”

But what happens? This blind beggar and example of the Christian faith cries out to what end?

He’s rebuked by the crowd.

And it at least seems like Jesus is ignoring him.

Jesus, who knows all things, doesn’t answer him immediately—and that’s on purpose.

We should all learn to be like the blind beggar.

He ignores the rebuke of Man out of faithfulness to God.

And he’s got thick skin. He remains faithful and cries out all the more even when it seems that God Himself is silent or uncaring.

Practical wisdom tells us the squeaky wheel gets the grease and the impudent friend what he needs.

But God wants to give you all that you need. So how much more will our Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him (cf. Luke 11:5-13).

Prayers stay the same for years, sometimes.

That God doesn’t give you what you want doesn’t mean He hasn’t given you everything you need.

Maybe you want for yourself what God doesn’t want for you? If that’s the case, it’s not God who should change.

That’s a difficult lesson to learn.

But we’re not alone in having to learn it.

Nor are we supposed to keep our desires to ourselves.

The blind beggar can’t see Jesus, but he trusts that Jesus hears. He trusts that Jesus answers. So when rebuked by Man and seemingly ignored by God—when it would seem that he has all the reasons in the world to stop praying—he cries out all the more, because he knows that God is merciful.

Literally blind, he hears and believes and trusts.

“And Jesus stopped and commanded him to be brought to him…” He commands him to be brought to Him, because by your own reason or strength you cannot believe in Jesus Christ your Lord or come to him.

“…And when he came near, [Jesus] asked him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ He said, ‘Lord, let me recover my sight.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Recover your sight; your faith has saved you.’”

The faith that saves the blind beggar was there before Jesus restored his sight. It was there before he cried out the first time. It was there when he was rebuked, and it was there when it must’ve felt like God was ignoring him and refusing to answer his prayer for mercy.

The faith that saves the blind beggar is there apart from the miracle of sight restored.

And—regardless of his sight—the man is saved.

Jesus heals the blind man for many reasons.

Because the man asked.

Because Jesus is there to give sight to the blind.

But our reason—the reason Jesus did that then but not now—the reason we don’t get our miracles the way they got theirs—is because Jesus wants us to seek and ask for more than eyes that see.

He wants us to believe and be saved.

So that in the resurrection we have all that we ask for and more.

That’s what’s at stake.

Jesus, in healing the blind man, is showing us what the resurrection looks like.

And in telling the blind man that his faith has saved him—Jesus is showing us what is most important.

Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.

And then—in the resurrection—everything else will be added unto you.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Quinquagesima Sermon, 2020
Luke 18:31-43
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

What is it that unbelievers can’t be told that believers must be told?

We usually don’t think of it that way. Usually, we think that believers have all the information—therefore—we go and tell the world.

To Jesus’ disciples—and we can understand that to include all Christians—“It has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables…” (Luke 8:10).

Jesus teaches by means of parables to divide sheep from goats—those who hear the Word of God gladly, living pious lives from those who scorn God’s Word and serve their own flesh.

The unbelievers who have hardened their hearts against God’s Word will not listen, so the Lord turns away from them and hides knowledge from them.

We can look at the Parable of the Sower that way, and that’s a tough one to mess up since Jesus explains it:

“The seed is the word of God. The ones along the path are those who’ve heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away. And as for what fell among the thorns, they’re those who hear, but as they go on their way they’re choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature” (Luke 8:11-14).

We could spend our time examining soil-types, talking about how God cultivates bad soil into good by the work of the Holy Spirit in the proclamation of the Word of God—and that would be helpful.

That’s one necessary part of the parable.

And—it’s necessary today for us to understand that unbelievers don’t and can’t bear fruit with patience.

Jesus and St. Luke want you to know that you’re saved by grace—through faith—not by your works—but by the work of the Holy Spirit—through the proclamation of the Word of God.

And—Jesus and St. Luke want you to know that faith doesn’t stop at hearing the Word of God.

It’s only the good and faithful soil that hears the Word, holds it fast in an honest and good heart, and bears fruit with patience (cf. Luke 8:15).

The Parable of the Sower shows us that there are, ultimately, two responses to hearing the Word of God:

Believing it unto eternal life and obeying it while yet in this earthly life. Actually seeking opportunities to learn and grow in piety and faith and putting off the world.

And…Rejecting the Word of God. Disobeying it. Lazily not caring, thinking yourself secure, and going to hell.

That rejection takes many forms, as the different types of soil show us.

But believing the Word of God always produces fruit. The amount of fruit doesn’t matter—there’s no shame in being a simple Christian or faithfully pursuing a life the world despises.

But bearing fruit with patience is not optional.

Two paragraphs after today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus says, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it” (Luke 8:21).

That’s the proper response to hearing God’s Word. To hear what He says and to do it.

St. Luke makes this point again and again.

Mary, when she finds out she’ll bear the Christ-child, says, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).

She believed the Word of God and acted accordingly.

When Mary visits Elizabeth, Elizabeth exclaims, “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord” (Luke 1:45).

She believed the Word of God and acted accordingly.

In chapter six, Jesus says, “Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he’s like: he’s like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built” (Luke 6:47-48).

To hear and to do is wisdom, Jesus says.

In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus teaches the lawyer—just as the Samaritan showed mercy to the man who fell among robbers—just so—you should “go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37). Not only should you believe what’s true—you should go and do as well.

And in chapter eleven, “a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to [Jesus], ‘Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!’ But [Jesus] said, ‘Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it’” (Luke 11:27-28).

Again, and again, and again—Jesus teaches or Luke shows what discipleship looks like: Hear the word of God. Believe it unto everlasting life. At that point, grafted into the vine, you’re saved.

And then—we hold fast to the Word of God in an honest and good heart, bearing fruit in patient obedience to God and service to neighbor. At that point, grafted into the vine, the branches bear fruit.

Jesus and St. Luke want you to know what discipleship is: you can’t be a Christian by only hearing the Word of God. While hearing the Word of God is how we’re saved—Jesus doesn’t say “Blessed are those who hear the Word of God.” He says, rather, “Blessed…are those who hear the word of God and keep it” (Luke 11:28).

A Christian does both and understands that faith alone saves and that faith is never alone. We hear “the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart and bear fruit with patience” (Luke 8:15).

You need to be aware of this, because there’s a trend in the preaching of the Lutheran Church as though congregations contain no believers, no Christians.

What’s said is true—but not enough gets said.

It’s like this: If either of my sons pick up a brown recluse spider, and upon picking it up if they ask me whether or not it’s poisonous, and I say—No.

What have I just done? I’ve just told them the truth. Brown recluse spiders are not poisonous.

They’re venomous. They’re not poisonous.

In that hypothetical, what I said was true, but it was unhelpful because there was more that needed to be said.

So when you hear that you’re saved apart from works. That’s exactly true.

But if that’s all that’s all you ever hear. If you never hear: “And this is where Scripture teaches us to do good works. Here’s the list, the Ten Commandments, where God reveals His will for a Christian’s daily life. And here’s where Jesus teaches us what discipleship looks like, how we’re to love our neighbor as ourselves.”

If all you ever hear is how you’re saved—if you never hear what the Christian life looks like or how to increase in good works—then something necessary is lacking.

Jesus and St. Luke have a very specific work in mind in the context of the Parable of the Sower. But you would never know it unless you’re comfortable hearing that Christians “bear fruit with patience” (Luke 8:15), that is, they obey God’s Word.

I’ve told you what Jesus said two paragraphs after today’s gospel lesson: “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it” (Luke 8:21).

But here’s what He says one paragraph after today’s gospel lesson: “No one after lighting a lamp covers it with a jar or puts it under a bed, but puts it on a stand, so that those who enter may see the light” (Luke 8:16).

That’s what discipleship looks like.

In the proclamation of the Word of God, by the work of the Holy Spirit, we hear and believe unto life everlasting. That’s God’s Work.

And, “hearing the word, [we] hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience” (Luke 8:15). That’s your responsibility as a Christian.

The Light shines in the darkness.

If you have and know the Light, you don’t cover it with a jar or put it under a bed.

Because, if you believe the Word…

If it’s true…

It’s of infinite importance that you get that Word to others who are in need.

According to C.S. Lewis, “Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.”

You don’t take the most important Word, Jesus, the Light of the World, our salvation, and put it under a jar or a bed where it’s of no use to people walking in darkness.

If it is the most important thing then you live and act differently every day because of it.

You put the Light of the World on a stand, so that those who enter may see the Light and see the world according to the Light.

Jesus has this specific fruit in mind for you to bear:

So that others may see what has been given to you, share the Gospel.

So that those who walk in darkness can see a great light, be a Christian in front of other people.

Since you can hold fast to the Word of God and bear fruit with patience. Do it.

You know more non-Lutheran, non-church-goers than I do.

I’m not telling you to knock on doors and browbeat people into coming to church. That doesn’t work.

I mean, according to your vocation, who already knows you, who already loves you, to whom are you responsible, who do you regularly bump into?

Having heard the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart and bear fruit with patience.

Share the Gospel. Invite someone to church. Bring your husband, your wife, your son, your daughter, your best friend, bring them to Church or Sunday School.

Is what you believe infinitely important or not important? It can’t be moderately important.

The amount of fruit you bear doesn’t matter. And bearing fruit, bearing witness, doesn’t always equate to more butts in the pews.

That’s not why we bear fruit.

That’s why we’re to bear fruit with patience.

You’re a light for those entering the household of God.

Your perseverance in the faith shows the way for those who have not heard, those who do not believe.

So hear the Word of God and believe unto everlasting life. Rejoice!

And bear fruit with patience.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Sexagesima Sermon, 2020
Luke 8:4-15
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

Some worked all day. Some, only an hour. But those who receive their wages receive the same wage—and if we were in the back of that line, we’d’ve hated this.

“When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them [the wage], beginning with the last, up to the first.’ And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat’” (Matthew 20:8-12).

The worker who worked the whole day—with the worker who worked mere moments—both receive the same wage—one denarius.

The parent who agonizes over every puzzle piece in a thousand-piece double-sided puzzle—with the child who places only the last piece in the puzzle—both receive the same wage—one puzzle completed.

The wife who puts all the dishes away but one—with the husband who reminds her about that one dish and puts it away himself—both receive the same wage—the dishes are put away.

Both receive the same wage—but only one bore the burden of the day and the scorching heat.

We know that it’s unfair and unhelpful when a person who can work refuses to and still receives pay.

It’s unfair when you work long hours and put in effort, and one who neither works nor tries still receives pay equal to your own. That it’s equal pay for less work makes it unequal pay.

No business can run that way—not for long.

But Jesus tells this parable to describe, not this world or business as we know it but the reign of God, His Kingdom.

The contrast in today’s Gospel lesson is not between lifetime-Christians and deathbed-Christians, those who’ve borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat and those whose work was only momentary.

If that’s what this is about, that would imply that lifetime-Christians, when they go to heaven, get what they earn and deserve.

And only deathbed-Christians receive the wage of Heaven as a gift from God by love and grace.

And that’s not how it is at all.

We’re saved by grace through faith in Christ our Lord, not by works. And this is, itself, a gift from God, not a paycheck given out of contractual requirement (cf. Eph. 2:8ff) after years of basically faithful service.

In the Church, you don’t get what you deserve, because grace is undeserved.

For a moment, though, consider if each Christian received exactly what they earned.

How terrifying!

The master of the vineyard replies to the grumbling day-laborers, “Take what belongs to you and go” (Matthew 20:14). And could there be a more frightening statement from the Creator of All Things to that which He created?

What belongs to you? And where can you go that’s not what God Himself has made?

We’re stewards, not creators.

It has been given to us, it is not ours.

We are workers of the vineyard. Heirs—not owners.

The contract between you and God isn’t written in your hand and blood but God’s hand and blood.

If today’s Gospel lesson were a contrast between lifetime-Christians and deathbed-Christians, you’d hate God, because He does what we don’t do. He treats the worst like the best: ”[He] shows no partiality” (Romans 2:11).

Don’t think of yourself as one of the all-day-laborers.

You’re not one of them.

To them, remember, the master of the vineyard says “Take what belongs to you and go.”

That’s justice. That’s not grace.

Justice is getting what you’ve earned, what you deserve. But grace, mercy, and the peace of God that is yours in Christ is all gift.

It’s undeserved.

All Christians are deathbed-Christians, whose work is momentary, whose whole life is but an hour in God’s day, who receive the wage of everlasting life out of the master of the vineyard’s overabundant generosity.

When your body is raised from death, and you stand for judgment before Christ, what puts Heaven into your possession isn’t the hours of your Christian service but the hour and service of Jesus the Christ.

Justice requires your death.

Grace puts the nails through Jesus’ hands and feet. The crown on His head. The spear through His side.

You don’t deserve it. That’s grace.

You couldn’t earn it. That’s a gift.

You couldn’t win it. Our salvation was accomplished in the hour of Christ’s death, confirmed in the hour of His resurrection, and distributed to you in this hour by the Word proclaimed, poured, and given.

In the small hour of our lives, we can accomplish so little and yet make endless lists of things to do.

But by God’s grace, during our small hour, God accomplishes so much.

We don’t deserve it. But God desires it.

Thus says the Lord through St. Peter, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). God, in His grace, always desires repentance and faith so that you would believe and live.

God desires—and accomplishes—and gives it.

The one-hour workers receive the wage of life everlasting, by the grace of God.

The same is true for you.

Salvation is God’s work, accomplished and given out of grace.

But the workers who received their wages never stopped working. In a manner of speaking, they ran with endurance the race that was set before them (cf. Heb. 12:1). 

St. Paul warns us: “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things…to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).

So, we run the race—we live our lives—trusting God and receiving from Him all that we need for this body and life.

We don’t work so that He’ll take care of us.

He’s our Heavenly Father, loving and gracious. He takes care of us not because of our merit but only out His Fatherly goodness.

We work and move and live and breathe in thanks to Him and in service to those God has given us and all who are in need.

Our Lord chooses to give, even to us, the least of workers, what is promised to the first.

Today is Septuagesima. It means “Seventy Days.” We’re about seventy days away from Easter.

Next week is Sexagesima, “Sixty Days.” And after that is Quinquagesima, “Fifty Days.”

During the “Gesima Sundays,” we rejoice in the solas of the Reformation.

Today, Sola gratia. By grace alone are we saved.

Some work their whole lives.

Some work only an hour.

But all believers are Christians made alive by God.

“Praise the Lord! He is good. God’s love never fails” (Psalm 136:1).

God’s grace never fails.

In the Church, there aren’t different wages—there is only “the wage.” God gives to the least as He gives to the greatest. To the last, as He does the first.

Let us pray:

“By grace I’m saved, grace free and boundless; My soul, believe and doubt it not. Why stagger at this word of promise? Has Scripture ever falsehood taught? No! Then this word must true remain: By grace you too will life obtain.

By grace! On this I’ll rest when dying; In Jesus’ promise I rejoice; For though I know my heart’s condition, I also know my Savior’s voice. My heart is glad, all grief has flown Since I am saved by grace alone” (LSB 566:1,6).

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Septuagesima, 2020
Matthew 20:1-16
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

And faithful hearts are raised on high By this great vision’s mystery, For which in joyful strains we raise The voice of prayer, the hymn of praise (LSB 413:4).

First of all, it’s a mystery to me how sight rhyme ever became an acceptable form of rhyme. Mystery, like symmetry, rhymes neither with high nor eye.

It happens all the time in hymns and poetry—I know that. But I can’t explain it. It’s a mystery.

But if we sing words, we should defend them, give an account of them.

So—the great vision that was the Transfiguration of Jesus, what’s the mystery?

It’s not WHEN—we know Jesus was transfigured six days after Peter confessed Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of the living God.

Six days after Jesus said that He would suffer many things, be killed, and on the third day rise.

Six days after Peter forbid Him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord,” and receiving this rebuke from Jesus: “Get thee behind me satan.”

We know WHEN the Transfiguration happened.

And we know WHERE—it says, “on the mountain.” From, I believe, the third century on, the Church has claimed Mount Tabor as the site of the Transfiguration.

We know WHO’s there—Peter, James, and John see what takes place: Moses and Elijah are with Jesus, and God the Father speaks.

And we know WHAT happens—Jesus is transfigured, μετεμορφώθη, like our word metamorphosis. Peter has a brilliant idea, humanly speaking—and is rebuked by God for it.

We know all these details.

It doesn’t seem like much of a mystery.

Maybe there is no mystery in this great vision of the Transfiguration. Maybe the hymn’s wrong.

Or—perhaps our definition of mystery is wrong.

Someone tell me—what’s a mystery?

A mystery is not something you don’t know.

A mystery is something you know—something you’re completely certain about—that you can’t explain.

If you read mystery novels, you’re not trying to figure out WHAT happened. You know exactly WHAT happened.

In a good mystery novel, you’re trying, the whole book through, to figure out HOW what happened happened.

There are great examples of mysteries in the Church.

We know WHAT the Lord’s Supper is—the true Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ under the bread and wine, instituted by Christ Himself for us Christians to eat and to drink.

HOW is it WHAT it is? Beyond “Jesus says so,” we don’t care to explain. We don’t philosophize as the Romans do, describing the “accident” of bread and the “essence” of body.

Likewise, with Holy Baptism, we know that it’s not just plain water but the water included in God’s command and combined with God’s Word.

We know that all should be baptized, that baptism saves. We confess, in Gospel terms, that baptism is necessary for salvation. We believe, teach, and confess these things, because the Word of God says these things.

But neither the Lord’s Supper nor Holy Baptism have the look of divine activity. Beyond “Jesus says so,” there is no empirical measurement to verify what occurs.

That’s not a problem, because these things are mysteries. We know exactly WHAT. We don’t care to speculate on the HOW.

This side of the resurrection, you can’t explain the mysteries of God—but you must believe, teach, and confess what God says.

So it is with the mystery of that great vision, the Transfiguration.

Let’s look at what we know again.

Matthew records that “after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves” (Matthew 17:1). We know this.

But Luke records that “about eight days after these sayings [Jesus] took with him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray” (Luke 9:28).

Now, for those of you who’re bad at math, you can conclude simply that six is about eight, and you’d be correct.

Sloppy, but correct.

But how about this—instead of asking which one’s right (implying that some of the inerrant Word of God is errant), ask HOW both of them are correct?

Here, that’s a good question to ask.

Matthew and Luke both are making the point that what Jesus came to do only makes sense with the resurrection of the body as an established fact.

Matthew writes so that we understand things in terms what Jesus came to do, to save His people from their sins (cf. Matthew 1:21). It was six days, and six calls to mind man, created on the sixth day, desiring to be like God knowing both good and evil—and, sinning, man dies.

Matthew writes that it was six days (because it was) so that we believe, teach, and confess our great need of salvation—and—Jesus Christ our Savior.

Luke writes to give an orderly account, that we may have certainty concerning the things taught to us (cf. Luke 1:1-4). It was about eight days (because it was about eight days) so that we look to what’s eternal. Eight symbolizes eternity, and from eternity God ordained that His Son would die for you, to win you away from sin and satan.

In Luke, Jesus explains that the Scriptures, all things written by Moses and the Prophets (like Elijah), all those things are about Him.

From eternity, Jesus is our Savior.

It being both six days and about eight days teaches us specifically about the will of God for us.

So yeah—we know WHEN it happened. And HOW it could be both six and about eight days and WHY that’s good to know. And we know WHERE all this happened.

But we should also seek to confess the mystery of WHO is there at the Transfiguration.

“Jesus was transfigured before [Peter, James, and John his brother], and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light” (Matthew 17:2).

If Jesus is only a man, and not God, then we see in the Transfiguration an example of what it would look like if salvation were by works.

Jesus is perfect. Sinless. Not just doing good but being good. You can’t do or be better.

If Jesus is only a man, and not God, then we hear in the Transfiguration a condemnation from God to all of us: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased…” (Matthew 17:5).

If Jesus is only a man, what the Father says to Him is, to us, meaningless at best and damning at worst.

But Jesus is at the same time both God and man.

“He is God, begotten from the substance of the Father before all ages; and He is man, born from the substance of His mother in this age…[And] although He is God and man, He is not two, but one Christ” (Athanasian Creed, 29, 32).

We believe, teach, and confess that Jesus is both God and man. In the Transfiguration, then, we see what it looks like when the Word and work of God saves.

Jesus is perfect. Sinless. Not just doing good but being good. And all this He is and all this He does to save you from your sins, to bring you into everlasting life.

We hear, in the Transfiguration, not a condemnation but exactly HOW the perfect God saves imperfect sinners. He reveals to us Jesus the Christ: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him” (Matthew 17:5).

So hear the Word of the Lord:

Peter has just confessed Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of the living God. “And from that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Matthew 16:21).

Six days later, that fallen man would realize his need to be redeemed, Jesus is transfigured before them.

Luke adds this detail: Moses and Elijah are talking to Jesus about His exodus—not just His departure but also His return.

And afterward He says: “Tell no one the vision until the Son of Man is raised from the dead” (Matthew 17:9).

Another seeming mystery.

Why would God desire no one else to know?

Why would God want to keep information like that from other people?

It may sound strange—But God knows that if you hear of the Transfiguration—apart from the death and burial and resurrection of Jesus—you would be lost.

Suffering and glory, to our eyes and ears, never go together. Victors thanks God. Losers don’t.

But in the cross, victory and loss, suffering and glory are united.

In the death and resurrection of Jesus, we see the God who fights for us and wins. It was a strange and dreadful strife when life and death contented. But the victory remained with life. The reign of death is ended.

Jesus showed His disciples that He would be killed.

Peter forbid him.

Jesus showed His disciples what glory looks like.

Peter wants to keep it there, in a tent.

God knows that if you had your way, you’d fill the world with signs and wonders.

God hears your prayers, and if He acted according to all of them, everyone would have everything they’ve ever wanted—and no one would have need of God.

The mystery of the Transfiguration is this: Jesus shows us that suffering and cross, trial and tribulation, even apparent defeat and loss are not separated from the glory of God—but similar to it.

Before the Resurrection, Peter says, “Far be it from you Lord.”

After the Resurrection, Jesus could say, “See, I told you.”

After the Resurrection, Peter (finally) agrees. He writes, “We were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,’ we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place” (2 Peter 1:16-19).

Peter experienced the majesty of God on the mountaintop of mountaintop experiences.

But the prophetic word is more fully confirmed. More trustworthy. 

Before the Resurrection, ours was a glory-now-or-never world.

After the Resurrection, we can take up our cross gladly.

We know where He went, so we are glad to follow.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

The Transfiguration of our Lord, 2020
Matthew 17:1-9
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

The Feast of St. Titus, according to our hymnal, is to be observed on January 26th.

We remember Titus for a number of reasons, but the lessons given focus on his work as a pastor and bishop.

Missouri Synod Lutheranism is allergic to the word “bishop,” but that’s what ἐπίσκοπος, one of the words St. Paul used when he wrote to Titus, that’s how that word is and should be translated—bishop. 

A bishop, an ἐπίσκοπος, is a pastor to other pastors, present-day District Presidents, Circuit Visitors, or Vicarage Supervisors—though they reject the term.

But allergic or not, the Scriptures speak that way, and so should we.

The other word that Paul uses is πρεσβύτερος, translated—elder. But both refer to pastors.

Paul is pastor to Titus.

Titus is pastor to the pastors in Crete.

These are things that you need to know as a member of the Church, as a Christian.

To Titus, St. Paul writes: “This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders [πρεσβύτερος] in every town as I directed you—if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer [ἐπίσκοπος], as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined” (Titus 1:5-8).

The Feast of St. Titus provides the seldom-afforded opportunity for your pastor to preach and teach the Word of God specifically against himself.

Pastors are to be above reproach, easily defined as being without something to criticize.

I was told the vote to call was unanimous.

But give it time—a month, a year, a handful of voters’ meetings—no pastor is without reproach.

Because no pastor does everything right.

Because every pastor is a sinner.

And no one is surprised by that.

But above reproach doesn’t mean “never does anything wrong.” Above reproach is a qualification of the Office of the Holy Ministry, because when your sinful pastor sins against you, and you do what Jesus says—go to him privately, talk to him privately, and say nothing to anyone else—when you do that, a pastor above reproach will remember the proverb and love you for rebuking him (cf. Proverbs 9:8). The pastor who does that is above reproach.

“Husband of one wife,” the next qualification, means just that.

The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, in practice, ignores that. In applications for seminary and in paperwork in preparation to receive a call, candidates are asked to list and describe all of their marriages.

For husbands whose wives have died, that’s a difficult but helpful question to ask. Professors and congregations want to know how to care for their student or pastor, and that information helps.

But for men whose previous wives are still living, another difficult but helpful question needs to be asked: What are you going to do other than be a pastor?

The qualification assumes the man’s a husband, but it requires that he be the husband of one wife.

In The Lutheran Study Bible, you have to read between the lines, but that’s how the footnote explains it: “Experience in a Christian marriage would prove the ability to maintain successful personal relationships during good times as well as trying times” (TLSB. Footnote of Titus 1:6. Page 2089).

That, of course, implies that experience in Christian marriages would prove the opposite. So, he must be  “the husband of one wife.”

The next qualification is interesting for two reasons—how it’s translated and how it’s footnoted.

The pastor’s children are to be believers and not open to charges of debauchery or insubordination.

That’s what we heard today.

But it’s also translated and explained as though those descriptions apply to the pastor and not necessarily to the pastor’s children.

You can add one comma and make “not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination” the next item in the list of qualifications for a pastor.

Some translations have it and explain it that way.

Some pastors do the same, but Jesus defines the Law in the broadest terms.

So decadence and persistent disobedience is to be excluded from all, a pastor and his children.

But another footnote in The Lutheran Study Bible adds this: “Congregations should anticipate that a pastor’s children will fall into sin, just like anyone else’s children. They may also expect the pastor to apply Law and Gospel to his children, to restore them in God’s love and mercy” (Ibid.).

We shouldn’t need a footnote that says water is wet.

But maybe we do.

That list of qualifications and responsibilities from Paul to Titus ends with Paul saying this: “He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9).

A pastor must be those things—so that he will hold firm to the Word of God as he’s been taught.

A pastor must be those things—so that he may teach others and rebuke those who contradict the Word.

God sets limits and boundaries, qualifications and responsibilities for the shepherds—to protect the sheep.

In 2010, when Matthew Harrison was elected president of our synod, he walked to the podium and said something like, “You’ve kept your perfect record intact of electing a sinner to serve you.”

Those words made an impression on me.

We must confess the Word of God to be true: the πρεσβύτερος and ἐπίσκοπος are to be above reproach—not sinless but faithful.

When we sing the hymn “Chief of sinners though I be…” (LSB 611) I mean it.

But, obviously, we don’t pick one person to sing that hymn when it comes up.

There’s no bulletin announcement that says, “Karen had a really bad week, so she’s singing that one.”

“Chief of sinners though I be…” we all sing it.

And it’s true.

The words πρεσβύτερος and ἐπίσκοπος mean some kind of pastor, that’s true—but they’re also used to describe what we call elders.

The word πρεσβύτερος might sound familiar. The Presbyterian church named itself after its polity—its organizational structure. Elders are the main organizational structure.

Likewise, with ἐπίσκοπος, you might think of the Episcopal church. They, too, named themselves after their polity, being organized around bishops.

The point is, every opportunity to examine the eye of your brother is best begun by examining your own eye.

As steward of the many things God has given you, are you above reproach? Are you arrogant or quick-tempered? A drunkard or violent?

Are you greedy?

Or are you hospitable, loving all good things, self-controlled—not ruled by emotion or base desires.

Are you upright, holy, and disciplined?

It doesn’t matter what list you use—as helpful as lists are, they make us feel awful because we either don’t complete them or we do.

When we don’t complete them we feel bad, and when we do complete them—we could’ve done better.

For the πρεσβύτερος and ἐπίσκοπος, for the pastor and elders, for every Christian, let us “hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught.”

And this is the Word—thus says the Lord through Paul in Titus chapter three: “[Submit to rulers and authorities. Obey. Be ready for every good work. Speak evil of no one. Avoid quarreling. Be gentle. Show perfect courtesy toward all people…]”

And just when you thought he was writing another list to make you feel terrible…

“For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (cf. Titus 3:1-7).

And this is our hope:

“Chief of sinners though I be, Jesus shed His blood for me” (LSB 611:1).

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

The Feast of St. Titus—Sermon, 2020
Acts 20:28-35; Titus 1:1-9; Luke 10:1-9
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come” (John 2:3-4).

They had run out of wine.

They would soon run out of joy.

I’m not talking about the abuse of wine called drunkenness but the right use of wine called joy.

In Psalm 104, it is the Lord who causes the grass to grow, and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth, and wine to gladden his heart (cf. Psalm 104:14-15).

The proper use of God’s creation yields joy.

God gives the growth by means.

Water nourishes thirst and keeps us and the plants alive. That is the right use.

The abuse of water, too much of it, kills—us and the plants.

The right use of words, spoken and sung, written and retold, brings us joy while the abuse kills us on the inside. Sticks and stones do break our bones, and some words hurt us.

Wine, again, gladdens hearts, calms nerves, and settles stomachs. That’s some of what St. Paul has in mind when he encourages Timothy both to “keep [himself] pure” (1 Timothy 5:22) and to “use a little wine for the sake of [his] stomach and [his] frequent ailments” (1 Timothy 5:23).

The proper use of God’s creation yields joy.

The abuse of God’s creation kills.

Eating forbidden fruit brought death into the world for Adam and Eve just as indulging in today’s forbidden fruit brings death into our homes and families.

There’s always a boisterous advocate for what’s forbidden, a peddler of a life apart from suffering. 

“You will not surely die…” says satan. “…You will be like God” (Genesis 3:4,5).

Adam and Eve must have loved hearing that.

And we’re no different.

Consider that Adam and Eve knew only “good.”

They knew God’s Law and were happy in it. But they were enticed away by the devil’s lie.

They were convinced that it was better to know good and evil than it was to know only good.

Knowing only good puts real limits into place.

Knowing good and evil removes those limits.

Knowing only good rejoices in the Lord’s Prayer, for example, when Jesus teaches us to pray “Thy will be done.”

But knowing both good and evil causes us to pray that petition hoping that God falls in line with what we want and expect.

Because each of us would rather pray: “My will be done.” That’s exactly what we want.

And so, today, Mary, the Mother of our Lord, the Mother of God, is, for all of us again, a good example.

She says to the servants: “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5).

His will be done. God’s will be done.

She doesn’t ask for wine.

They’ve run out of wine. But she doesn’t ask for wine.

She simply tells God what’s going on.

He knows. Of course He knows. But she lets Him know that she knows what’s going on.

“Do whatever he tells you.”

Even if He says “No,” do whatever He tells you. If He leaves the wedding dry and joyless, so be it.

Thanks be to God, in fact.

But do whatever He tells you.

That’s amazing faith, rarely seen in the mirror.

And it’s more amazing when we consider the rhetoric Jesus uses.

“What does this have to do with me?” He says. He was testing her, and she passed.

But we might have responded with, “Well…nothing.”

His hour has not yet come, after all.

What difference does it make if this wedding has no wine?

It’s a social faux pas, that’s true.

If the reception has no wine, the people will call you cheap.

But that’s not why Jesus has come. That’s not His hour.

St. John writes: “These [things] are written…that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31).

It may not be immediately apparent to us, but the almost dry wedding in Cana does have to do with Jesus, and this is one of the things that was written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ and have life in His name.

Turning water into wine means so much more than a joyous feast and God’s blessing of marriage, one man and one woman, for the procreation of children, till death us do part.

Though that is what’s going on, there’s more.

“There were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification [and] Jesus said to the servants, ‘Fill the jars with water.’ And they filled them…to the brim. [Jesus] said…’Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.’ So they took it” (John 2:6-8).

These stone jars would have been used prior to the wedding feast.

“For…all the Jews [eat only when] they wash their hands, holding to the tradition of the elders” (Mark 7:3).

With water they wash so that with wine they may drink. Water gets you to the feast, but, at the feast, there’s wine. Water cleanses and prepares, wine strengthens and preserves.

Water and wine, for this Jewish wedding and for the Christian Church, are inseparable.

It’s not okay to have children baptized and then abandon them to the world.

“There is no easier way for parents to merit hell than through their own children, in their own home, when they neglect to teach them [the love of God in Jesus Christ]. To trust in God, believe in him, fear him, and hope in him. To worship God and hear his Word. To learn to despise the kings of this world, to bear misfortune meekly, and not to fear death or to love this life” (Day By Day We Magnify You, 65).

It’s not okay to baptize children and abandon them.

Likewise, it’s not okay to serve wine from the Christian altar without instruction in the Christian faith.

We are to make disciples of all nations, baptizing and teaching (cf. Matthew 28:19).

Water gets you to the feast, and wine keeps you there.

God gives the growth by means.

The Means of Grace. And the means of parents.

What else are the hungry, thirsty, and naked, the prisoners, the sick, and the strangers here but your own children (cf. Matthew 25:35-36)? For their sake, your home is a blessed hospital, that you would tend them, feed them, and bring them up in lives of faith and devotion (cf. ibid.).

“What does this have to do with me?” Jesus says.

This one wedding, this one sign, one miracle, this one day is the history of the world reduced to one.

Mary provides another example of patient, long-suffering, Christian faith.

The water shows us how and why we enter into the feast. The wine shows us how and why we stay.

The miracle, the sign, teaches us that God gives the growth by means of His Son.

It is, after all, water and blood that’s flowing from His pierced side, alleluia.

Water, for the font, that you may enter.

Blood, under the wine, in the cup, that you would be strengthened and preserved unto life everlasting.

That is the right use.

What does this have to do with Jesus? Everything.

He was testing you. And you passed.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

The Second Sunday After Epiphany, 2020
John 2:1-11
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men (Matthew 2:16).

What’s God doing to allow such disaster?

What good can come from such evil?

Or right from such wrong?

As it is easy to thank and praise God when your child is spared, it’s easy to curse God and accuse Him of wrong when your child isn’t.

God is merciful, we’re told.

God is love, we hear.

But even true words become worthless platitudes when mothers and fathers bury their children.

What’s God doing to allow such disaster?

What good can come from such evil?

And make no mistake, it is evil that we’re talking about it. Death is not original to God’s plan. Death is not a part of life. Death is the result of sin and evil.

Herod was evil.

The wisemen had come to worship the one born king of the Jews and Herod—current king of the Jews—didn’t see himself as a lame duck.

He was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him, because he was evil and wouldn’t suffer the little-but-eternal One to come before him.

When he realized he was tricked, he killed them all, because he didn’t want them.

He didn’t want to lose what the one born king of the Jews would force him to lose—his power. His control.

His autonomy.

Herod was evil.

Even if only three-percent of what he did was murder children, Herod was evil.

Now, from here, we could talk about the Herods of today and modern sacrifices to “molech.”

The obvious evil among us is the pervasive lie that women are autonomous.

Ladies, you’re not.

But don’t worry, ladies. Men aren’t autonomous, either.

No one is.

Autonomous combines the words for self (auto) and law (nomos) and can be rendered as self-law or self-rule, expressed in the phrase, “He was a law unto himself.”

But you are not and never a law unto yourself.

There’s never a time when the rules don’t apply.

Never a time when the just decrees of the Living God do not demand your absolute obedience.

“You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13).

It is that simple.

The linguistic, theological, and moral gymnastics needed to assert otherwise is obvious foolishness deserving of public ridicule.

If you hold to such things, you’re foolish.

But if you hold to such things because your conscience condemns you—because your sin is ever before you. If you wet your pillow with tears because know your transgressions and have done what is evil in the sight of God—you need Christ and His forgiveness not Herod and his foolishness.

We could talk about the Herods of today and modern sacrifices to “molech,” but we won’t.

Instead, let’s actually answer the question of what God is doing to allow such disaster—both at the time of Jesus, in the slaughter of the Holy Innocents, and today and any time such obviously evil-looking things occur.

What’s God doing?

I think the book of Job provides an answer.

If you’ve heard me talk about the book of Job before, you know it’s my favorite book of the Bible, but I don’t think Job provides an answer because it’s my favorite book. I think it’s my favorite book because it provides an answer.

The book of Job was written to answer the question: What is God doing?

In chapters one and two, we—but not Job or anyone else—we read of the conversation between God and satan. The Lord says to satan, “Behold, [Job] is in your hand; only spare his life” (Job 2:6). And satan goes from there doing all he can to wreck Job’s faith.

Satan causes Job’s oxen and donkeys to be taken and the servants who tended them to be killed. Job’s sheep are burned up, and the servants who tended them. His camels were taken, and the servants with them were killed. His ten children, sons and daughters, died as the house they were in collapsed on them.

After this, Job said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21).

Then satan took Job’s health.

Loathsome sores from foot to head such that Job scraped himself with a broken piece of pottery.

To make matters worse, satan left Job’s wife right by his side. Her sole contribution to the conversation in the book is this one line: “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die” (Job 2:9).

Between chapters three and forty-two, Job talks with three of the worst friends a guy could have, one young zealot, and—from the whirlwind—God Himself.

The climax of Job’s discourse, you might think, is the great confession of the living Redeemer from chapter nineteen, where Job says: “Oh that my words were written! Oh that they were inscribed in a book! Oh that with an iron pen and lead they were engraved in the rock forever! For I know that my Redeemer lives” (Job 19:23-25).

These are important words, but for Job and all who bear such disaster in their lives, and for us all, there’s more hanging in the balance two chapters before.

In chapter seventeen, Job’s heart and spirit break. The seed that grows into his repentance, is this, chapter seventeen verse eleven: Job says: “My days are past; my plans are broken off, the desires of my heart” (Job 17:11).

God allowed satan to destroy Job’s earthly wealth and health. In but a few moments, Job’s life was destroyed.

But Job was a righteous man, that is, faithful.

He knew who God was. All-powerful, All-knowing, All-loving. What’s a moment’s terror or even your family’s death when yours is the Living God?

Job knows God could restore it all, so—“The Lord giveth. The Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

The problem for Job is that he has plans. Wants. Desires. Perhaps he likes the honor due his name in town.

Whatever it is, the problem for Job is that God immediately takes away—but He doesn’t immediately give back.

What’s God doing?

He’s letting Job know that he’s not in control.

Not autonomous. Not a law unto himself.

His days—are past.

His plans—are broken off.

The desires of his heart—are unspoken because if they’re not conformed to the Word and will of God, they’re idolatrous and need to be cast off.

What’s God doing?

He’s saving Job’s life.

What good can come from such evil?

He’s saving your life.

Job repents—that’s the climax of the book. He says to God, “I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:6).

Apart from that, there was no salvation for Job.

God saved his life by all but taking it.

Now, in Matthew, and with Herod, a generation of male toddlers and infants were killed so that Herod could remain in power—for a time.

But his days are past. His plans, broken off. His desires, along with his heart, have melted into the ground.

Apart from repentance, there’s no salvation for Herod.

No purpose of God’s can be thwarted.

But where’s the comfort for those who bear the awful burden of burying their sons?

Don’t ignore the evidence.

Martyrs in deed but not in will, the Holy Innocents died for a cause they couldn’t understand—but certainly benefit from.

Their deaths, and the deaths of millions of others by present-day Herods, are evidence of the evil in the world that our God overcomes.

Greater is He.

Don’t ignore the evidence.

God didn’t cause Jesus’ flight to Egypt to prevent His death.

God caused Jesus’ flight to Egypt that He would die at the right time and for all.

Out of Egypt He called His Son, that the life of His Son, the Righteous Branch, would not be spared but given for the life of the world.

God didn’t save His only-begotten Son from death.

Can Job say he deserves to keep his?

Job made sacrifices for his sons, in case they had sinned (cf. Job 1:5).

God sacrifices His own Son, who did not sin, in the place of sinners who most certainly did.

Don’t ignore the evidence.

What’s God doing to allow such disaster?

What good can come from such evil?

Or right from such wrong?

He’s saving your life.

The Lord giveth His Son. The Lord taketh away your sins. Blessed be the name of the Lord.

There is joy in heaven when one sinner repents.

We deserved nothing—and much worse than that.

And what has God done for us? What’s He doing?

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Christmas 2 Sermon, 2020
Matthew 2:13-23
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

The first album I owned, Dire Straits’ Brothers in Arms, came out four months before I was born. There were several hits: “So Far Away From Me” “Money for Nothing,” “Walk of Life.” Everybody knows those songs, but they were the first songs that I knew.

The last song on the album, however, “Brothers in Arms,” isn’t as well known. It didn’t enjoy the same commercial success. But if you’ve never listened to it, it’s marvelous. It’s completely different in musicality, theme, and maturity. It’s a war song—not pro war or anti war, just the reality of war. It’s amazing.

But it’s lack of popularity and familiarity means, obviously, that hardly anyone knows it.

Give it a listen. It’s worth it.

In today’s Gospel lesson, the words of a familiar song were read, Simeon’s Song.

We sing it every week in the Nunc Dimittis: “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace according to Thy word, for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people, a light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of Thy people Israel.”

We know those words. We know that song.

But we don’t know—nowhere near as well—Simeon’s other  song.

Simeon is a “righteous and devout” man, “waiting for the consolation of Israel,” and “the Holy Spirit was upon him” (Luke 2:25).

”It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ” (Luke 2:26).

Then, Mary and Joseph bring Jesus to the temple “to do for Him according to the custom of the Law” (Luke 2:28), and Simeon takes Jesus into his arms and sings: “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace…”

“Now, Lord,” he says, “I can die in peace, because I’ve seen God in the flesh—God’s plan for my salvation—my salvation in the flesh—I’ve seen it with my own eyes.”

Holding Jesus, that’s his song.

But then, by the Holy Spirit, Simeon blesses them—Mary and Joseph—and sings to Mary, the mother of Jesus, the mother of God, a second song:

“Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed(and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed” (Luke 2:34-35).

That’s not a familiar song.

It seems completely different in theme and maturity.

What was it again? Jesus is appointed (1) For the fall and rising of many in Israel. (2) For a sign that is opposed. (3) That a sword would pierce Mary’s soul, also. And… (4) That thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.

We love to hear and sing the Simeon’s song we know.

“Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace…”

We’ve had communion. Church is over. Let’s go home.

That’s kind of a joke. Communion. Nunc Dimittis. Go home. But there’s truth there, too.

We “experience” the Body and Blood of Jesus. We receive the benefits of the life-giving sacrifice God made for us.

Church can’t get better than that.

So yes—we sing Simeon’s song—and go home.

But we don’t love to hear and sing the blessing Simeon speaks to Mary and to us.

That CD single wouldn’t sell.

It’s ominous: Jesus is appointed for the fall of many. And for the rising of many, too, of course, but it’s an ominous start. Because of Jesus—many will fall. Because of Jesus—many will rise.

Every knee will bow when all flesh is raised.

Mother Mary, hearing Simeon’s second song, hears that her infant son has been appointed for something that sounds terrible.

Some blessing!

The ominousness continues in that Jesus is appointed for a sign that is opposed.

That is, other people oppose Jesus. And Jesus opposes other people.

And then Simeon adds, directly to Mary, “a sword will pierce through your own soul also” (Luke 2:35).

The Roman Catholic Church uses this verse as a proof text for calling Mary coredemptrix.

Using this verse, they honor Mary—too much—in saying that she participates and collaborates with Jesus in redeeming the world.

That’s their—wrong—explanation of the sword that pierces Mary’s soul.

The better—and faithful—explanation of that sword comes in the fourth part of Simeon’s second song.

Jesus was appointed in order that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.

For those who fall, and for those who rise—their hearts will be revealed.

Because Jesus is a sign that is opposed.

For a time, the whole world opposed Jesus.

He doesn’t meet the world’s expectations.

Jesus is the stumbling block—a sign that creates opposition—and in response to all He says and does—the people are divided.

That’s the sword that will pierce Mary’s soul—Jesus’ preaching.

The Word of God pierces all Israel, represented here by Mary alone.

Jesus says, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it” (Luke 8:21). He says this to a crowd, with His mother and disciples nearby.

We know how it feels for our children to push our buttons.

We know how it feels when they don’t choose us.

The thoughts of our hearts are revealed.

“From this moment on, [in Luke,] the preaching of Jesus…will go through Israel, producing total misunderstanding and ignorance by everyone concerning his person and his destiny” (Just, 124).

Until the resurrection.

Only in the death—and resurrection—of Jesus do we understand Simeon’s entire song.

Only after Jesus’ death and resurrection—on the road to Emmaus—does Jesus open up the Scriptures to His disciples.

The glory of the people is the salvation God prepared before the foundation of the world—the Son of God, given and shed—sacrificed—dead and buried—and raised.

Those who hear His Word and do it—His brothers—though they fall and die—yet shall they rise on the Last Day.

No longer in opposition to God but in perfect love of God, to life everlasting.

Simeon’s second song is one to remember.

When the Word of Truth pierces your own soul—when your sin is ever before you—rejoice in this song and blessing of Simeon.

The child, the babe in his arms, is the Savior of the world.

He’s appointed that we would die and rise with Him.

That we would be opposed—by the world—with Him.

Pierced—by His Word.

That we would believe and be saved.

This doesn’t sound like a song and blessing we’d choose for ourselves.

But God has given this cross to all His children to bear.

So bear it faithfully, and pray these familiar words, this familiar song:

“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit” (Psalm 51:10-12).

Like Simeon’s song—those are familiar words to us.

And like Simeon’s song—we should remember also the unfamiliar words that come later: 

“Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you. Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness. O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Psalm 51:13-17).

These words are a song and a blessing—if we have  ears to hear and eyes to see God’s salvation in Jesus Christ, like Simeon.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Christmas 1 Sermon, 2019
Luke 2:(22-32) 33-40
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

Feet are important.

If you’ve read The Good Earth, you’ve come across two different schools of thought regarding the feet of women: either they should not be bound, so they can work, get pregnant, give birth in the rice field, and go back to work. Or, you should break the bones of a little girl’s feet, bind them up, and make it so that her feet are forever tiny, so she can’t walk, can’t work, and must be tended to for her entire life.

Culturally, in China, a wife with bound feet was greatly prized, because it meant the husband was successful enough to afford such a thing. Every working mother wanted her daughter to grow up with bound feet to save her from the shame of being poor.

Feet are that important.

Modern foot binding, if I may be so bold to say, is not that dissimilar. Ladies, how many of you have or have ever had a pair of needlessly uncomfortable shoes only because they look good.

If feet are important, shoes are, too.

Scripture speaks to this as well—not to foot binding—but to the importance of feet and even shoes.

In Exodus, Moses approached the Lord who had appeared to Him in the burning bush and was told, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground” (Exodus 3:5).

I used to think that Moses had to take his shoes off because you’re not supposed to track mud across God’s nice, new floors. That’s how I thought of it.

But there’s more to it than that.

How could sandals be offensive to God? Why should you remove them? The only way sandals are offensive to God is if they distract, if they get in the way of what He’s there to do, and God is there to redeem the world.

So what do sandals have to do with the redemption of the world?

And the answer is, “Potentially a lot.”

John the Baptizer says, regarding the Christ, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie” (John 1:26-27).

The obvious thought that comes to mind is that John humbles himself such that he refuses, even, to be allowed the privilege to serve the Savior of the World.

Is that how you read it? Is John being humble?

He considers himself so low and Christ so great that he won’t ascend to the role of dirty sandal cleaner. He’s in the presence of greatness, so he can’t do anything.

But that makes no sense. You can’t excuse yourself from love and service to your neighbor by claiming you’re too terrible to help. You can’t grow in the faith if you don’t practice your faith.

Or, if you have $5 but you owe $6 or $600, you still pay the $5 that you have.

It’s pride, that beloved vice of ours, that refuses to pay back what is owed only because you can’t pay it all right now.

John is being humble.

He can’t and shouldn’t touch Jesus’ sandals.

But it’s not out of false-piety. It’s not a humble-brag where he’s showing you how holy he is by making a big deal out of a sandal.

 John says what he does because he knows that God is there to redeem the world. That’s the concern. He doesn’t want to get in the way of what God is there to do.

The sandals of our Lord are that important.

Biblically, feet and sandals have to do with redemption, and John knows better than most that that’s Jesus’ job—not ours. Let me explain…

In Ruth, we read of Naomi and Elimelech and their two sons, Mahlon and Chilion. All go into the land of Moab, and the sons marry Moabites. Ruth is the wife of one of Naomi’s sons.

Elimelech, Naomi’s husband, dies, and, after ten years, the two sons die; so Naomi is left without a husband or children.

With nothing to offer them, she then implores her son’s wives to leave her, to go back to their mother’s houses, and one does—but not Ruth.

This is a big deal, because, culturally, the expectation would be for someone in the family to marry Ruth in order to continue the family’s line and inheritance.

Those men are called redeemers; they take responsibility for the family and provide for whatever needs there are.

They redeem them from the public shame of having to eke out, work and beg for their living.

With slim prospects and the possibility of suffering before her, Ruth says, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God” (Ruth 1:16). Ruth is wonderful.

Fast forward a bit, and it comes to this:

Naomi and Ruth have two redeemers. Number one is unnamed. Number two is Boaz.

Boaz goes to this unnamed redeemer and says, basically, that Naomi has this bit of land, and he should redeem her, and take possession of it. Boaz convinces this guy to do this thing and benefit from it.

And the unnamed redeemer thinks it a great idea and says, “You bet.”

But clever Boaz adds, “By the way, when you take possession of the land, you’ll also take Ruth as your wife, to continue the line and inheritance of her husband.”

That part, the unnamed redeemer doesn’t like. That would mean he would forfeit his own plans and inheritance in order to continue someone else’s.

It’s like cultural suicide.

So he refuses and tells Boaz to buy it for himself.

And so we come to this: Ruth chapter four, starting at verse seven: “This was the custom in former times in Israel concerning redeeming and exchanging: to confirm a transaction, the one drew off his sandal and gave it to the other, and this was the manner of attesting in Israel. So when the redeemer said to Boaz, ‘Buy it for yourself,’ he drew off his sandal.Then Boaz said to the elders and all the people, ‘You are witnesses this day that I have bought from the hand of Naomi all that belonged to Elimelech and all that belonged to Chilion and to Mahlon.Also Ruth the Moabite, the widow of Mahlon, I have bought to be my wife, to perpetuate the name of the dead in his inheritance, that the name of the dead may not be cut off from among his brothers and from the gate of his native place. You are witnesses this day’” (Ruth 4:7-10).

Sandals are that important.

Exchanging a sandal, untying someone’s sandal, even, could have to do with redeeming something, and John won’t stand between Jesus and the world’s redemption.

Remember, “when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask [John], ‘Who are you?’ he confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, ‘I am not the Christ.’ And they asked him, ‘What then? Are you Elijah?’ He said, ‘I am not.’ ‘Are you the Prophet?’ And he answered, ‘No.’ So they said to him, ‘Who are you…?’ He said, ‘I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, “Make straight the way of the Lord,” as the prophet Isaiah said’ (John 1:19-23).

John’s role was to identify the Christ.

He does that very well, saying, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).

But the bit about not untying Jesus’ sandals is important. What he means is, God alone saves.

God alone redeems the world.

God alone dies for sin and removes it.

He won’t touch Jesus’ sandal because you could then make an argument that John had something to do with redeeming things, and he wants there to be zero confusion.

In the Church, divine monergism is the term used to describe God’s work in the salvation of man.

“Monergism” combines the words for “alone” and “work” to teach us that God alone works our salvation.

“Synergism” combines the words for “together” and “work” to teach that man cooperates with God in salvation.

You don’t save yourself. You don’t help save yourself.

You don’t. And you can’t.

God accomplishes salvation and gives it.

Our Heavenly Father sent His Son to earn salvation, and, with the Son, He sends the Holy Spirit to convict the world concerning sin, righteousness, and judgment—to bring the world to repentance and faith.

That’s what God has done.

See, God doesn’t lay salvation before you and ask that you go and get it.

It’s not that God is “willing to save if…”

Rather, God desires the salvation of the world and has accomplished it in Christ.

God has redeemed the world.

No one touched His sandals.

Sandals were forbidden on the holy ground of God.

John’s message, then, his words regarding being unfit to untie Jesus’ sandals, points not to John’s piety but to Christ Himself. To Jesus’ work in redeeming the world. To the cross and an empty grave. To the sacrifice. To the gift. To the love of God and our redemption.

There is one among us, who we know, Jesus the Christ. We’re not worthy to untie His sandals.

Because He redeems us. He saves us.

Feet and sandals are that important.

And how beautiful that they’ve brought such good news.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Advent 4 Sermon, 2019
John 1:19-28
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt