Husband. Father. Lutheran pastor. Sinfonian.

I would like to ask you a question, and—if you’re comfortable with it—I’d like you to answer out loud.

Do you believe…in Santa Clause?

Sometimes, as Christians, we’re tempted to think no further than the word “believe.” So let me ask you a different question:

Do you believe?

See, that time, you expected there to be more to the question—you hesitated.

You know that “believe” can be used in different contexts, that belief—faith—demands an object, something to hold on to, something in which we put our trust. You believe something or you believe in something, and you know that it matters not only that you believe but also in what or in whom you believe.

The official in Capernaum believed but he did not believe. Then, he did believe, him and his entire household.

Here’s what I mean:

“This man heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, so he went to him and asked him to come down and heal his son who was at the point of death.Jesus said to him, ‘Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.’ The man said to him, ‘Sir, come down before my child dies.’Jesus said to him, ‘Go; your son will live.’ The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way” (cf. John 4:47-50).

Jesus says, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe” (John 4:48).

And then He says, “Go; your son will live” (John 4:50), and it’s worth noting that—literally—Jesus says, “Go; your son lives.” Not will live, future tense, but lives, present tense.

Then, “the man believed” (John 4:50).

He believes, but he doesn’t believe.

He doesn’t believe that Jesus Christ is Lord. He doesn’t believe that Jesus is the Son of God. He doesn’t believe that “the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again” (Mark 8:31).

He doesn’t believe that “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).

He doesn’t believe unto life everlasting.

He believes—only—that his son will live.

I say, “only.” It’s a big deal that his son lives. It’s a big deal that this man believes that. How many mothers—how many fathers—would have Jesus say the same thing to them? But this man, in his own view of things, simply asked the guy renown for turning water into wine to come down and heal his son.

He went to a revivalist’s tent meeting—and believed.

He consulted with snake-oil salesmen—and believed.

He read the book about the little boy who “went” to heaven—and believed.

But he doesn’t believe in Jesus.

He has no faith in Christ.

He has no care, no concern, for eternity.

He believes only that his son lives—on earth.

“And [he] went on his way. [And] as he was going down, his servants met him and told him that his son was recovering.So he asked them the hour when he began to get better, and they said to him, ‘Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.’The father knew that was the hour when Jesus had said to him, ‘Your son [lives].’ And he himself believed, and all his household” (John 4:50-53).

For the first time, now, he believes. Now, his faith has something solid to hold on to.

There wasn’t an emotional show.

No cure-all in bottle form.

No fanciful descriptions of fantastical events.

He’s seen nothing and yet believes.

He’s heard and believes.

He asked Jesus to come with him. He didn’t know that He who created the universe in six literal, natural days could command life into existence with only a word.

And that’s the sign. That’s the miracle.

That’s the hope we have, the hope of every mother and father.

Not that we would see signs and wonders and believe, but that we would hear Jesus, His servants, His Word.

That we would hear and believe and live.

It’s not enough that our sons would live—on earth.

It is enough that our sons, with us, would live—in eternity.

Jesus says, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe” (John 4:48).

That’s not a description of the man at the end of the story—he’s seen nothing he’s asked for! He’s heard everything he needs.

But that is a description of the man—and of mankind—prior to belief, prior to faith in the Lord Jesus.

In unbelief, we put God to the test, challenging Him to do a work that would prove to us He is who He says He is.

“Give me this. Answer my prayer. Do what I say.”

“I’ll pay the piper—after I call the tune.”

In John chapter six, a large crowd of Jews says to Jesus, “What sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform?” (John 6:30).

“Unless [they] see signs and wonders [they] will not believe” (John 4:48; cf. Jn. 6:25ff).

That’s not faith.

In John chapter six, that large crowd of Jews numbered in the thousands. Jesus fed them all with five loaves and two fish and collected twelve baskets worth of bread fragments after the fact.

Then—the large crowd asks, “What sign do you do, that we may see and believe you?”

They think signs and wonders will convince them, but even when they see signs and wonders, they don’t believe.

To Thomas and to us all, Jesus says, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:28).

That’s the sign. That’s the miracle.

That’s the hope we have, the hope of every mother and father.

Not that we would see and believe…

But that we would be content with the Word of God.

Content for God to speak.

Content to listen.

Content to hear and do.

Content to trust in the Lord, to lean not on our own understanding (cf. Proverbs 3:5).

Content with the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things unseen (cf. Hebrews 11:1).

“By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible” (Hebrews 11:3).

By faith we hold fast to Christ and the Word of God.

We believe in Him whom He has sent.

We trust that Jesus “was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Romans 4:25).

We have to wait to see eternal life.

We don’t have to wait to hear and to know that we have it.

You have eternal life—you and your household and all who hear the Word of God and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Believe this. It is most certainly true.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Trinity 21 Sermon, 2019
John 4:46-54
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

Jesus begins teaching, in the Gospel according to St. Matthew, with the Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount.

When we think about the Beatitudes, we have to realize, right from the start, that they have a very intentional structure. The first beatitude is “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” with a present tense is. Something that is true right now.

The last beatitude is “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” with a present tense is. It’s true right now.

The beatitudes that occur between the first and last, all of these are future tense. They’re statements about what God will do, what will happen, what will be true: they’ll be comforted; they’ll inherit the earth; they’ll be satisfied; they’ll receive mercy; they’ll see God; they’ll be called sons of God.

The present tense statements bracket the future tense statements such that the Beatitudes describe the Christian life in terms of “now” and “not yet.”

Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” but poverty isn’t virtuous to us. We might think to shun those considered poor in spirit, but this isn’t a description of an attitude.

The Beatitudes are not attitudes you are to be.

Instead, Jesus describes the spiritual condition of each Christian. We’re spiritually bankrupt. Spiritually helpless. Spiritually dependent. With no resources of our own.

We’re conceived and born in sin, fallen, and trapped. And yet, Jesus speaks a perfect word of Gospel.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, the helpless, the deficient, the lacking,” which is the same thing as saying “Blessed are those who are saved by grace through faith in Christ alone. Blessed are you.”

You’re blessed, saved, because God reigns. With power to save, the ministry of Christ opens the Word of God unto you. So hear and believe.

You’ve received the reign of God, and, by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, you’re freed from sin and death.

God made you His dear child, marked you as one redeemed by Jesus Christ the crucified, and washed away your sins.

In His mercy, He came to you, the helpless one, and saved you.

This is good news that we need right now, because we’re still living in a world that’s oppressed by sin and suffering.

Jesus says, we’re “persecuted for righteousness’ sake.” Christians face hardships because we believe in the saving work of Jesus. We face opposition if we want to live in ways that are pleasing to God.

We live as people who mourn, because we see the presence of sin in our lives and around us. We act in selfish ways, harming our spouse or children. We react in anger and strike back. We’re jealous, and we covet.

Oppressed by sin, we’re powerless—the meek of the earth.

We hunger and thirst for righteousness, confessing our lack and dependance. We want God to bring the consummation of His reign. We don’t want to keep struggling against sin. We don’t want to see evil around us. We don’t want to see Christians hated and even killed for living their faith.

But that’s the world as it is, and so we mourn.

But on All Saints’ Day we also remember another group of Christians—the saints who’ve died in Christ.

Those who’ve departed and are with Christ.

Those who’ve received the saving reign of Christ through Holy Baptism. Those who’ve been sustained in the faith through the Word of God and the body and blood of Jesus. Those, even, who only heard the promise—because of or in spite of—us.

For these, there is now no struggle against sin.

For these, there is now no mourning.

For these, there is only peace in Christ.

And for these, we give thanks, because we wait with eager expectation to share the same everlasting peace.

St. Paul desired “to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better” (Philippians 1:23).And it is.

But we might need this comfort, too: nothing can separate—away from Christ—those who rest in Christ.

For them, the strife is o’er. The battle, done.

Yet our Lord’s words in the Beatitudes also lead us to recognize that even for them, the final goal hasn’t yet been attained.

The Saints are with Christ. 

The body is in the ground. They are with the Lord.

But it will not always be so. That’s not it. Not the end.

In the Beatitudes, we have this future comfort, a great blessing to those who are with the Lord now, and to us, who live and mourn in this world.

Jesus says, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” We mourn now because of sin. But Jesus makes this promise about the future: we’ll be comforted. Our time of mourning and suffering will end. And it won’t end just because we’ll die and depart and be with Christ. It’ll come to an end, because Jesus will return in glory on the Last Day and put all things right.

He says next, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” The meek, the lowly, the powerless, will inherit the earth. And it’s true! God created us as with a body and a soul to live in the good creation He made. His promise for the future is that He’ll restore the designation “Very good” once again, and this earth, renewed, is where we’ll live.

A few things have to happen first—before that takes place. We hear in the next beatitude, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” Poor, miserable sinners want God to do something about it. We want the Lord to return. We pray, “Come Lord Jesus.” We confess that He will return to judge. Jesus says He will.

We’ll be satisfied, because Jesus will return in glory.

He’ll return for us. To get us. To bring us to Himself.

St. Paul writes: “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 3:20-21).He’ll do this for us. He’ll free and transform His creation. St. Paul told the Romans, “Creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:21).

That’s what we have to look forward to.

In so many ways we have no guarantees about the future. But—as Christians—we have this certain, future comfort in Christ, because that future has already begun. 

Now and not yet.

Our future began on Easter when Jesus rose from the dead. In Him, the resurrection of the Last Day has already begun. Of Jesus’ return, no one knows the day or the hour, but there’s no uncertainty that it’ll happen.

As a reminder, as sustenance, Jesus comes to us every Lord’s Day—present in His body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins. His reign is present, here, according to His Word, sustaining us as the people of God. His people.

By giving us His true body and blood to eat and to drink, He guarantees that our bodies, too, will be raised. 

“Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:54), Jesus says. And He means it.

In this foretaste of the feast to come, He unites us with those who’re with Him now already. With angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven, including all the saints who’ve gone before us, we laud and magnify God’s glorious name, evermore praising Him and singing:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

This is our confidence. Now and forever.

In Jesus’ Name, Amen!

All Saints Day (observed) Sermon, 2019
Matthew 5:1-12
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt