Husband. Father. Lutheran pastor. Sinfonian.

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

True or False—A Christian must—above all else—emphasize works. What do you think?

The immediate, good, Lutheran-sounding answer is, of course, False! Right?

In a way, it’s good to answer “False,” because when we hear the word “works,” we think of our works.

And the church is quite good at teaching that even our good works are like polluted garments (cf. Isaiah 64:6).

We certainly don’t need to emphasize those, we know.

But in response to the question—to Jesus—asked by John the Baptist through his disciples, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (Matthew 11:3), Jesus emphasizes works.

He says, “Go and tell John what you hear and see:the blind receive their sight…the lame walk, lepers are cleansed…the deaf hear…the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. Blessed is he who is not offended by me” (Matthew 11:4-6).

Jesus emphasizes the works of the Christ. His works.

In John’s account of the Gospel, when Jesus is explaining how He and the Father are One, He says: “Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me—or else—believe on account of the works themselves” (John 14:11).

If you won’t admit that Jesus is God, you have to admit, the finger of God is at work. “Believe on account of the works themselves” (John 14:11), He says.

Believe on account of the work of the Christ—of God.

Notice the difference:

A Christian must—above all else—emphasize his own works. Obviously false.

Or, A Christian must—above all else—emphasize the works of Christ. Well, obviously.

Perspective helps.

It’s very telling that when we think of “works” we think of our own and not those of God for us.

Church is like that.

There are churches that talk about worship, what they do on Sunday morning, how well they did or how well it went. Whether they got something out of it or not.

And there are churches that receive from God, by His chosen means, forgiveness, life, and salvation.

When you think of church, don’t think of what you do.

When you think of Sunday morning, remember and rejoice in the works of God, who comes to save you.

The word “worship” derives from Old English. It meant “worthy,” and you would worship what was worth worshipping.

Lutherans called their services Gottestdienst, or God’s-Service-To-Us. In our hymnal, it’s called the Divine Service because here and now God serves the sinner. He comes to us, by His chosen means, delivering to us the forgiveness of sins, everlasting life, and salvation.

It is meet, right, and salutary to emphasize God’s work, God’s service to us.

We know better than to emphasize our polluted works.

The saying “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” may serve well, practically speaking.

But, theologically, it’s a lie from the pit of hell.

My favorite paragraph in the Small Catechism is in the explanation of the Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed:

“I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him. But the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith…”

By my works, I can’t believe in God—I can’t come to Jesus.

But by the work of God…

The Holy Spirit calls me by the Gospel, enlightens me, sanctifies me, and keeps me in the faith.

By the work of God, I am saved.

So if Jesus defines “works”, there’s no problem focusing on Him and what He does.

But if we define “works”, what possible good could come from such filthy things?

So—True or False: A Christian must—above all else—emphasize works.

The answer is True.

Above all else, we emphasize, believe, and hold fast to what our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ has done.

When in trouble, it’s not how strong we are that gets us through anything.

When near death, it’s not our beating hearts to which we pray.

We emphasize, believe in, and hold fast to Jesus.

The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.

That’s who Jesus is. That’s what He does.

We know who we’re dealing with.

We know who’s dealing with us.

John knew. Those works identify Jesus. They also identify what the Kingdom and reign of God look like.

Eyes are made to see, ears to hear, and mouths to confess—Jesus as Lord and Christ.

Blessed is the one who’s not offended by Him.

When Jesus says that, when He says, “Blessed is the one who is not offended by me” (Mt. 11:11), He says it for the sake of John, for all the disciples, and for us.

Jesus quotes Isaiah. Chapter thirty-five: “The eyes of the blind shall be opened…the ears of the deaf unstopped; then…the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy” (Isaiah 35:5-6).

And He quotes chapter sixty one: “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted” (Isaiah 61:1).

Jesus preaches great news.

John would’ve known these verses—He’s the one preparing the way of the Lord.

But John would also know the bit that Jesus leaves out.

According to the rest of the verse in chapter sixty-one, Jesus should also “proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound” (Isaiah 61:1).

That’s important, because John’s in prison.

He hears from behind bars about the deeds of the Christ and sends his disciples to inquire.

If you’re in prison, and you know that the Christ proclaims liberty to the captives and the opening of the prison to those who are bound, those are the verses you want to hear Jesus quote.

But. Instead. Jesus says, “Blessed is he who is not offended by me” (Matthew 11:11).

John the Baptist is no fool.

He knows what happened to the Old Testament prophets. He doesn’t expect to get out. He’s not offended by Jesus when Jesus doesn’t specifically mention setting him free.

But John’s disciples still need to learn.

And so do we.

Contrary to the antichrist, the Pope and his papacy, we believe that God does lead us into temptation but that most especially He delivers us from the evil one.

Jesus opened the eyes of the blind—but that’s not the way it always is. To know that God has and can but doesn’t—that is leading us into temptation.

Not that we would despair but that we would trust Him.

The ears of the deaf He unstopped. The deaf remain. The lame leapt like deer when Jesus sent them forth. We have heating pads, Icy Hot, and hot toddies—not always in that order.

The dead He raised up, calling them forth from sleep, while ours, young and old, stay in the ground or on our hearts.

To sit in prison while the one sent to proclaim liberty to the captives does everything but…

To endure the cross, fashioned from the unpretty bits of your life while the God who can do all things seems to do anything but…

These are our daily temptations.

But again—perspective helps.

In Isaiah chapter thirty-five—which Jesus quotes, speaking to John’s disciples—before the lame leap, before the deaf hear, before the blind see, immediately before the words that Jesus quotes, Jesus and John knew that the Lord, through Isaiah, said this:

“Say to those who have an anxious heart, ‘Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you’” (Isaiah 35:4).

That’s the work of Christ. He will come and save you.

That’s the work of Jesus—God’s work for you.

“Blessed is the one who is not offended by me,” (Mt. 11:11) Jesus says. Blessed is the one who’s not offended at being saved. Being helped. Being empty and filled by God—a beggar, served—a sinner, sanctified. Blessed are you.

Jesus preaches the good news to us poor, miserable, sinners, the Gospel, for those with an anxious heart.

Be strong. Fear not. Christ our Lord came with vengeance and the recompense of God.

When Jesus died, sin and satan and the fear of eternal death were destroyed.

The vengeance of God was exacted for your good.

When Jesus died, the debt humanity owed was swallowed up in the sacrifice of Jesus.

God justifies the ungodly, and his faith is counted to him as righteousness (cf. Romans 4:5).

The recompense of God. The work of the Christ.

The work of Jesus. God’s service to you.

Above all else, we must emphasize, believe in, and hold fast to the word and work of God, in Christ.

That’s most certainly true.

For in His work and by His Word, He comes to save us.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Advent 3 Sermon, 2019
Matthew 11:2-11
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

Jesus said: ”There’ll be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations…because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming…For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they’ll see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory…When these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:25-28).

The day of the Lord’s return will burn the wicked and consume the proud with fire with hellfire.

Not only will they suffer terribly, they’ll know a great and mighty terror, because they lived as if they mattered most.

They loved their families.

They loved Thanksgiving and Christmas.

They shopped local, loved America, teared up at parades, and stood for the national anthem.

They loved the Jesus who laughs.

But not the Jesus who warns.

They knew Him not as the Righteous One who preached repentance, who came to suffer for your sin and die. They knew Him not as the one who said, “Take up your cross and follow Me.” They didn’t believe Him when He said, “No one comes to the Father but by Me.”

The wicked and the proud will see the signs (too late) in sun, moon, stars, earth, and sea.

They’ll see them as a gathering of armies on the border, as imminent and painful death, and as the end of all good things.

The End of All Things will be for the wicked and the proud a total loss, complete destruction, everlasting doom.

The justice of God requires repentance from us all, because we’re the wicked.

We’re the ones who forget our place—who forget the God who made all things—who forget that pride is a sin and vice.

What was written in former days has been written for our instruction, yet we live not for harmony and hope but for ourselves.

We think it admirable to love only our families and those who love us, but that’s no different from the wicked or proud.

Loving Christmas and eggnog and feasting, loving presents and decorations and Rudolph doesn’t make you a Christian.

At Judgment, when our works are revealed, everything done apart from faith in Jesus will be consumed as chaff.

That Day is coming, and for some, it will be terrible.

The warning must be given.

And, for those who have joy now in Christ, that day will be pure joy.

The blessing must be given, too.

In the Gospel lesson today, Jesus directs our attention to what’s going on in the world now.

The signs in the sun, moon, and stars, the signs on earth, these are signs that have always been and will always be.

The end has been and is at hand!

This world will not endure; it cannot.

Entropy is the trend of things towards chaos.

Or, you can say it like this, things are always getting worse.

Both are simple but accurate definitions.

That may sound negative or pessimistic, fatalistic or gloomy, but what I mean is, try as it might, try as we might, Creation, mankind, can’t undo the effects of sin.

The wage of sin is death. We can’t stop that.

But Jesus doesn’t say what He does to turn us all into a bunch of namby-pamby worriers.

No, He says, “Straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28).

For you, for all who grieve and mourn—for those who wait with eager expectation the coming of the Lord, your redemption is drawing near. And on That Day, we—and all believers in Christ—will rejoice.

This is most certainly true.

The signs we see teach us to expect the Day of the Lord. To be ready.

Signs in sun and moon and stars—every sunrise and sunset, every full moon and new moon, every twinkle twinkle of every little star should be a sign to you that Jesus is coming soon.

Be ready, and rejoice that the End is coming—the end of pain, the end of grief, the end of waiting.

God, in His Word, the Bible, promises tribulation now.

And, His Word, the Bible, promises the end of all tribulation in Christ.

The enemies of God and the Church, your enemies now, will be no more. God knows their end as well; His will delivers us from evil.

The time of your redemption is drawing near.

When sin loses its appeal and temptation its power.

Where there’s no one to accuse you, no one who can hurt you.

The good work begun in you will, on that Day, be complete. 

Your justification and your sanctification will match.

Who you are—because of what God has said and done—will be also be who you are—in all that you say and do.

In the resurrection, who and how you should be is who and how you will be.

That is, you will be made whole.

And Creation itself will rejoice to see you revealed as a child of God, the People of Zion.

You’ll rejoice. You’ll be glad. The kingdom of God will come to you, and it will never be taken away.

This is most certainly true.

But it is not most certainly easy.

Every day, we have to believe God’s promises and suffer the tribulation of this world.

The Lord is with you now by means of His Word and the Sacraments. And He, Himself, is coming back to raise you up and heal you.

This isn’t the end our sin deserves, but it is the end God promises, the end He’s won for us all.

Jesus says: “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. As soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourselves and know that the summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all has taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (Luke 21:29-33).

When Jesus teaches regarding the fig tree, it was a different season than what we have here and now.

The fig tree, then, was in bloom. Summer was near,  like the kingdom of God.

Our trees aren’t in bloom, but there are still other signs to hear and see and taste.

We receive the body and blood of Christ. We eat and drink and taste and see that the Lord is good.

He comes to you in this, your hour of need, in grace and mercy, as the Lamb slain for your salvation.

We confess that Jesus has ascended to the right hand of the Father—but—He doesn’t abandon you—He abides with you.

The kingdom of God is near—it’s here.

The Kingdom of God comes, now, with the Word of God and the Body and Blood of Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.

Now is the fall, almost winter, of our discontent made glorious summer by the Son of God.

Winter—though it technically hasn’t even started yet—is already at its end.

Our Lord comes to save us.

Straighten up. Lift up your head. And rejoice!

Your redemption is drawing near.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

The Second Sunday in Advent, 2019
Luke 21:25-36
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

Okay, so, this isn’t a sermon, but…one of the treasures of the Evangelical Lutheran church is what we say about vocation.

Vocation isn’t necessarily your job or just your job.

Vocation is like a hat or a mask—if hats and masks are God-given responsibilities that you can’t shirk off with impunity or trade for one more desirable.

Take a look at this comic:

What absurd ignorance! But perhaps that’s the point—perhaps this is intended only as a bad example.

What does it actually show?

Each panel seems to show a mother educating her child on the absolute, life-ruining failure of…

Having a job? Providing for your family? Providing a much-needed service for your community without which everyone would notice within the hour?

Nope. That’s not it.

Mom just doesn’t want her kid to grow up to be the trash man.

How ridiculous it is to assume and assert that the trash man is to be pitied.

How arrogant it is to assume and assert that the one thing lacking in the trash man’s world is your effort after having studied well.

I’d rather my sons eke out a living, work hard, and earn their bread with their sweat (while going to church and raising a family).

I’d rather they not open their veins to obtain such folly.

I certainly don’t want them to think themselves above picking up trash.

Not to mention, “studying well” does not necessarily prepare you for life—let alone the life to come.

Studying what is good—what is meet, right, and salutary—on the other hand, will teach you how to abound and how to be brought low. Studying what is good will prepare you, come what may, for life.

And the life to come.

This comic is evil.

“He’s just a trash man.” That’s the thought that’s represented.

“She’s just a stay-at-home mom.” That gets said, too.

Comparing yourself to others ends with arrogance or despair. Either you will love yourself and hate the other (which is what’s going on here) or you will love the other and hate yourself (that’s what happens to the stay-at-home mom or the trash man who, in listening to the world, hates what is good and simple and faithful about works that don’t appear glorious).

This should not be!

Rather—thank God for all that you have. Live as He has called you to live. As God has provided for you, provide for those that God has given to you. As God, in Christ, has forgiven you your sins, forgive those who sin against you.

Your neighbor doesn’t have to lose for you to win. You can be successful—that is, faithful—even if and when your neighbor is apparently more so.

But the comic has one thing right. There are two types of men:

Jesus said, “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:10-14).

I can’t read your heart, let alone the heart of a comic strip mom. But the trash man in the comic is the real MVP. He’s working hard, probably singing a tune learned from his dad, intentionally-wrong-words and all. He went down to his house justified, rather than the others.

“Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17).

If you’re the trash man, rejoice that God has chosen you for an often thankless job. Rejoice, too, that God didn’t spare His Son from the same.

And if you’re the mom, either of them. Get your house in order. Take out the trash.

There’s a guy for that.

A God who is everywhere is no better than a God who is nowhere, if He isn’t somewhere for you and for your benefit.

God comes to us by means. Always by means.

The Means of Grace.

The Word of God. The Sacraments.

It’s not that God couldn’t come to us in different ways. It’s not that God hasn’t come to His people of old in many and various ways. It’s that God has chosen and promised and proclaimed to all the world that He most certainly comes to us in these ways—these means.

Today, God comes to us in the Gospel, the Word of God proclaimed and preached—and the Sacrament, the Body and Blood of Jesus the Christ, given and shed for you, that you would have the forgiveness His body, given, and His blood, shed, earned for you.

Here and by these means, we know that God is for us.

Here and by these means, we have the hope of everlasting life, because God fights for us.

But where Jesus doesn’t come, there’s no hope. Where He’s not for you, there’s no certainty of salvation.

Jesus comes to us—by means—that we would be certain of our hope, certain of our salvation.

So be comforted, and know that your God comes to you in these ways and for your benefit.

Look—and see—how He comes to Jerusalem.

Jesus comes with knowledge.

Jesus knew where the donkey was and where the colt was. He knew that someone would ask them why they needed them. St. Mark records how the disciples told those who asked that the Lord had need of them, and they immediately let them take the animals.

Jesus knew what was written about Him by the prophet Zechariah, and He knew He had to fulfill it and how.

Zechariah wrote: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, Lowly and riding on a donkey, A colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9).

The eternal Son of God possesses perfect knowledge.

In Proverbs chapter eight, Solomon calls Him wisdom. In John chapter one, St. John calls Him the Word.

He knows everything there is to know.

And for us to know Him is for us to know God.

All that would terrify us if we didn’t know that God is for us. But sometimes we doubt that, too.

How do we know? Is God actually for us?

We expect God to be angry. We’re guilty of all sin, committing all kinds—and the only kind, unbelief.

God knows all.

That God knows could cause everyone of us to despair of all things.

St. Paul writes in Galatians, “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap” (Galatians 6:7).

If we reap what we sow, the coming of the One who knows everything we’ve ever thought, said, or done is a time, not to celebrate, but to avoid.

Jesus really does know when you’re sleeping. And when you’re awake. He knows what you’ve done, what you’ve left undone. What you’ve wanted to do and what you’ve talked about doing.

He knows. And He’s coming soon.

This could cause everyone of us to despair of all things, but look how Jesus comes to us!

He comes with knowledge, yes. But He comes, also, in humility, meekness.

He who will judge the hearts and minds of the entire human race, who knows every sin you’ve ever committed, He comes in humility.

He comes to stand in your place, to die for you.

His ride on the donkey into Jerusalem wasn’t a spontaneous decision. It was deliberate.

The ride on the donkey was a ride unto death.

He comes to Jerusalem to die there. He goes to the place where sacrifices are made, and His blood is shed for the sin of the world. 

He knew He would be rejected.

He knew He would suffer.

He knew He would bear in His own body the sin of the world.

That’s why He came—in humility.

To obey the will of his Father. To fulfill the demands of the Law. To suffer the penalty for the world’s disobedience.

When Jesus came in humility, He embraced what humility required of Him—obedient suffering.

Pride suffers nothing, insisting on its own way.

Pride challenges God’s authority, asserting the word of the world against the Word of God.

Pride scoffs at the benefit of humble obedience, following only the three most important people: me, myself, and I.

Pride sets itself up as a judge of God and neighbor, but “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” (Proverbs 16:18).

But God comes, rescuing us from that destruction.

The Son of God, sharing the majesty and glory and power of His Father, chose to become our brother, to redeem His brothers.

He chose to humble Himself, to become a servant, to be born under the law, to bear the sin and shame of the world to the point of death, even death on a cross.

But there, lifted up and mocked by the world, God obtained the greatest glory.

In the willing obedience and perfect sacrifice of Jesus, God is glorified, and His great love for us and the world is made known.

Why did the crowd worship him? Why did they offer him such a beautiful liturgy of praise, singing “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest” (Matthew 21:9).

Because He loved them.

He loved them, and they knew it.

He didn’t come to judge them or punish them.

He came to rescue them from the peril of their sin.

God comes with knowledge, knowing how to save us.

He comes in humility, serving us and saving us.

God comes to help, save, comfort, and defend us all.

God comes to forgive us our sins, to cleanse us of all unrighteousness.

God comes to us and for us, by means, that we may hear and believe, eat and drink, and have forgiveness.

We come to God burdened by guilt.

He comes to us, covering that guilt and taking away our burdens.

We come, confessing our sins of pride and self-promotion.

He comes to us, knowing perfectly all our sin.

But in knowing us, in knowing our sin, He neither turns away from us in disgust nor against us in anger.

He comes to us in love. Your king comes to you.

Not just to the other Christians who have everything together, who are living good Christian lives.

He comes to you who’ve repeatedly fallen short in your Christian duty and squandered the opportunities God has given you.

He comes to you to forgive you, to restore you to His side, to strengthen you, and keep you in His peace.

We meet Him and—by faith in Him—we worthily receive Him.

God comes to you not that you would be afraid but that you would believe that He is your God, that you would sing “Hosanna” to the Lord!

A blessed Advent to you all!

Jesus is coming—to save us.

Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

The First Sunday in Advent Sermon, 2019 (Ad Te Levavi)
Matthew 21:1-9
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

How many of you have heard someone quote St. Paul: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13)?

Everybody knows this verse.

Everybody’s seen it, heard it, and read it.

It’s everywhere.

But to my eyes and ears, it’s applied in only one way. When someone quotes St. Paul—I can do all things through him who strengthens me—what they mean is, “I can overcome whatever challenge is in front of me. I can do it. If I trust God enough.”

Maybe that’s a bit too broad a summary, but that’s how it’s used. And that’s not what St. Paul means.

For St. Paul, “all things” consists of a very specific list of things: He writes, “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:12-13).

That’s not how that verse is commonly used. Commonly, its use is cliché.

A person will invoke Philippians 4:13 to overcome—that most generic of things—adversity.

If you watch any football over the next few days, count how many times “overcoming adversity” is mentioned.

It goes like this—this is what you might hear or see:Jesus healed the leper who believed in Him. We can’t forget that. Jesus says, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well” (Luke 17:19). We can’t forget Jesus.

St. Paul writes, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). And I believe in Him. I believe in Jesus.

Therefore, I can overcome whatever “leprosy,” whatever adversity I face. I believe in Jesus and can do all things through Him.

That is—commonly—how Philippians 4:13 is applied.

That may not be every person’s logical progression, but the destination’s the same—whatever “adversity” you face is to be gotten rid of.

American Christianity has reduced St. Paul’s all things into just one thing: the appearance of success.

No one ever talks about “overcoming adversity” such that they mean “remaining faithful and losing.”

“Overcoming adversity,” doing “all things,” as St. Paul writes, is always used to mean “eventually winning,” or, at the very least, “eventually getting my way.”

Face the facts.

Not everyone overcomes adversity.

You don’t always win.

You don’t always get a second chance.

What St. Paul means—what “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” means, is this:

In your life—at your table this Thanksgiving—if there’s an abundance—a 2:1 pie to person ratio, for example—you can live and remain faithful to Christ.

Even with an abundance of pie—or money, stuff, whatever—even then, you can enter the kingdom of God. In Christ, you know how to abound.

It’s difficult.

Jesus says, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God” (Luke 18:25).

With great difficulty will a rich man enter heaven; however, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

If your table is full, if every seat is filled, if there’s hardly room to park at your house, don’t let your wealth—your food, your family, your stuff—don’t let that get in the way of your praise and thanks to God.

Thanksgiving is a secular holiday, but we’re not fooled. Many will say that today is about “family.” The next month is about shopping. The next eleven months are about paying off the credit cards. But today—that’s about family.

We’re not fooled.

“This is the day the Lord has made—let us rejoice—and give thanks—and be glad in it” (cf. Psalm 118:24).

All ten lepers were cleansed.

Like the ten virgins, they all looked the part—but only one ex-leper was wise. Only one ex-leper praised God, worshipped Jesus, and gave thanks.

And only that one was saved.

Jesus doesn’t literally say, “Your faith has made you well.” Literally, He says, “Rise and go your way; your faith has saved you” (Luke 17:19).

That’s one half of “all [the] things” we can do through God who gives us strength.

That’s plenty and abundance.

But all things includes any and every circumstance.

All things includes being brought low, hunger, and need.

So, in your life—at your table this Thanksgiving—if you lack anything—if a particular chair is empty, perhaps for the first time—if there should be one more car in the driveway that you know won’t be—if this is your first Thanksgiving without—you can live and remain faithful to Christ—thanking Him for all that you do have.

In Christ, you know how to be brought low.

Yea, though you walk through the valley of the shadow of death, though you lack, though your pastures are far from green, nevertheless, you can enter the kingdom of God.

You can endure all things in patient faith, with love to God and neighbor, waiting for all things to be made new.

Rich or poor.

In plenty or hunger.

With abundance or need.

You can do all things through Christ who gives you strength. The kingdom of God is yours.

That’s what the miracles of Jesus give and teach to us.

The cleansing of the ten lepers—the salvation of the one ex-leper—proves that the outward appearance of things is fleeting.

The appearance of success, it passes away.

Though the ten were cleansed, they all still eventually died.

That the one was saved—rich or poor, in plenty or hunger, with an abundance or a great need—the one can do and endure it all faithfully, because he recognized in Jesus the God of his salvation.

Faith in the Lord Jesus—fear, love, and trust in God above all things—the forgiveness of sins—enables you to bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, and endure all things.

That’s what St. Paul means in Philippians four.

St. John writes: “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:14-17).

We know this.

But in any and every circumstance we need to live it, too.

It won’t always be easy. It won’t always be fun.

But in whatever situation be content (cf. Philippians 4:11).

“Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think [on] these things” (Philippians 4:8).

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6).

Because “[You] can do all things through him who [gives you strength]” (Philippians 4:13).

You can be brought low. You can abound.

You can face plenty and hunger, abundance and need.

Because you recognize in Jesus, the God of your salvation.

Praise God. Worship Jesus. Give thanks.

“And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Thanksgiving Day Sermon, 2019
Luke 17:11-19; Philippians 4:6-20
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

The kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom” (Matthew 25:1).

Who wants to talk about virgins?

There are few questions that make us as uncomfortable as quickly as does that one.

Nevertheless, “the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom.”

And not only are we uncomfortable talking about virgins, virginity, chastity, and self-denial, we’re uncomfortable using that language to describe the Church—Christianity in general and us Christians specifically.

Chastity is, to us, a name of ill-repute.

It should be—and is—a virtue—not a joke.

But the parable of the ten virgins is largely ignored.

It’s no one’s favorite, and when it comes up in the lectionary, pastors often preach on the Old Testament lesson or the Epistle.

It’s not even about virginity, and it makes us uncomfortable—which is exactly why Jesus says that, “the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise” (Matthew 25:1-2).

Jesus needs to unseat us from our comfortable silence, our blissful ignorance.

In opening the kingdom of God to us, by means of a parable, Jesus compares the Church to ten virgins—five wise and five foolish.

Foolishly—we’re uncomfortable with this.

And so we show, already, before a single word of explanation, which group of five we often belong to.

As we seek to understand this parable, we’ll recognize in the moronic virgins our great and many sins.

And, as we seek to understand this parable, we’ll also recognize in the wise virgins, the fact that, in the Church, there’s no such thing as a crisis.

Wouldn’t that be something—no such thing as a crisis.

When was your last crisis?

Most people have an answer, but in the Church, wisdom and oil—faith—prepares you for whatever comes.

“When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them” (Matthew 25:3).

Without oil, they’re woefully unprepared for anything that’s not exactly what they expect.

Maybe you’re a pessimist, expecting sickness before, during, and after the holidays.

Maybe you’re an optimist, expecting your family to get along this year.

Maybe you’re a realist, and have planned, already, your escape route and which friend will call you with an “emergency.”

Regardless, “the Lord—knows the thoughts of man, He knows that they are futile” (cf. Psalm 94:11).

Not a single one of us can plan so perfectly as to negate the possibility of a crisis.

The pessimist’s day can always get worse. He would agree.

The optimist hopes for the best, but his hope is not a certainty but a wish that he maintains.

The realist may seem unaffected, but he, too, has a bottom to hit. He’s not there yet, but when he is, he’ll tell you.

The kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins. Five wise and five foolish. The foolish virgins take no oil with them. But they still look the part.

Dressed the way virgins dress, speaking the way virgins speak, walking the way virgins walk—they’ve been baptized, catechized, and confirmed in the Church.

They’ve been hatched and matched in the Church.

And yet they lack saving faith that fears, loves, and trusts in God above all things.

The oil is the faith, hope, and love given by God in the proclamation of the Word.

The oil is the faith, hope, and love that “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (cf. 1 Corinthians 13:7).

The oil is that which enables you to live in the Lord and that which prepares you to die in the Lord.

That you may be dispatched from the Church to the Lord.

Oil, faith, prepares the Christian for all the unexpected trials and tribulations, tests and temptations, that come our way. It doesn’t make it easy—but it does make you prepared.

Because the Bridegroom is delayed.

We’re drowsy, and we sometimes sleep. We drop our guard. We don’t rule over all temptations, and we sin.

The ten virgins all appear the same. They’re in the Church. All ten fall asleep. The Church is filled only with sinners.

Some are prepared. Some are wise.

And some are not.

“At midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out’” (Matthew 25:6-8).

With oil, a lighted lamp lights the way—you will not dash your foot against a stone (cf. Psalm 91:12).

Wise Christians know no such thing as crisis, because faith prepares them to endure all things.

Christians know crosses, and they bear them. In sadness, in misery, and in patience, and faith.

Without oil, there is no light in you. And “If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness” (Matthew 6:23).

Foolish Christians are unprepared. They know not rest but crisis. A crisis for every day and every day a crisis.

“Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out,” they say.

But the oil of faith is not a commodity for which you trade. It’s not stocked on the shelves for you to buy.

If it is not given—you don’t have it.

“The wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves’” (Matthew 25:9).

They don’t say this because it’s possible.

The cry went up at midnight. The dealers aren’t there. There is no 24-hour Walmart in Jesus’ parable.

The foolish virgins weren’t prepared.

To them, when they try to enter the feast, they will call out, “Lord, lord, open to us!” But the Lord will answer: “I do not know you” (cf. Matthew 25:11-12).

The unwise virgins in the Church look the part but lack faith. They attend and receive but do not hear and believe. They cover their own shame and display the shame of their neighbor. Out of the same mouth flows blessing and curse. With these, there’s love of money, not God. Love of self, not neighbor.

To them, the door is shut.

For them, it’s too late.

Because they lacked oil.

They weren’t prepared.

They were in the Church but not of the Church.

And when their final crisis comes, they won’t be ready.

“Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (Matthew 25:13).

That last part Jesus says to us all—to foolish virgins and to wise—to all the Church.

Faith sets a watch, waiting patiently for the Lord.

But even the faithful become drowsy and sleep. Our attention is at least occasionally turned to the cares and worries of this life. But faith reminds us of and directs us to the Light of the world, the Light no darkness can overcome.

We’re prepared for whatever comes.

We have a hope, a certainty, a promise, and a God who lives and reigns to eternity.

We’re ready.

Confident and trusting—with a certain hope—we know that when trials and tribulations, tests and temptations come our way, God will sustain us, to the end, that by His grace we may come to everlasting life.

“Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”

Watch. Listen. Hear. Behold.

The Bridegroom comes—to live, to die, to rise.

To save all who believe in Him.

Watch. Listen. Hear. And behold.

Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will know no such thing as a crisis.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

The Last Sunday of the Church Year, 2019
Matthew 25:1-13
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

Chief of sinners though I be / Christ is all in all to me; / All my wants to Him are known, / All my sorrows are His own. / He sustains the hidden life / Safe with Him from earthly strife (Lutheran Service Book, 611:4).

“Safe with Him from earthly strife”?

Doesn’t quite feel like it, does it?

What is the Christian life if it’s not the constant struggle against sin and death, hate and fear, cowardice and anger? And the already and inevitable victory of Christ?

That’s a bit too abstract, though.

If I say that the Christian life is a constant struggle against sin and death, you might think: “Yes, it must be terrible for those who struggle against sin. I wonder which pew they sit in.”

If I say that the Christian life is a constant struggle against hate and fear, you might excuse yourself because you only “dislike strongly;” you don’t hate. You might think you have nothing to be afraid of because of your last name and the county you live in, or because you’re wealthy, or because you’ve spent a lifetime collecting gossip, like grenades, ready to be hurled at your enemies.

If I say that the Christian life is a constant struggle against cowardice and anger, you might retreat into a hollow, puffed-out chest and raise your voice, but posture and tone do not necessarily connote strength.

A puffed-out chest and loudness can signify cowardice.

I don’t mean to speak in abstract ways.

I don’t know exactly what the author meant when he wrote that we are safe with Jesus from earthly strife, because it never seems that we are.

Earthly strife has many forms. Here are a few:

Every one of you is a sinner, a poor sinner, a miserable sinner. And every one of you will die.

Every one of you fails to love his neighbor as himself. You know—your neighbor—the family with small children who annoy you, the loud-mouth, the drunkard, the know-it-all, and the poor visitor who didn’t know that your pew was reserved.

Do you patiently endure these tests of faith?

Do you love your neighbor as yourself?

Or do you love yourself as you would have your neighbor love you?

Sinners all—this is what earthly strife can look like.

And worse—our sins have consequences.

When you roll your eyes at the mother of small children, when you “comfort” her by saying that maybe someday her kids will be like someone else’s kids, when you have conversations about how other parents parent and how no one parents like you parent, when you make yourself feel better by comparing your embellished best day with someone else’s hastily-misunderstood worst day—when you do these things, you scandalize your brothers and sisters in Christ, your congregation, your family—and when you hide behind anonymous complaints, you make it much, much worse.

Sinners sin and are sinned against.

Hurting people hurt people.

None are spared from earthly strife.

So Jesus says to Peter: “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:22).

Not once—but always—you forgive.

Because once—for always—you have been forgiven.

“Forgive us our [trespasses] as we forgive those who [trespass] against us” (Matthew 6:12).

For those who’re sinned against, there’s never a time when you can refuse to forgive, because there’s never a time when the Blood of Christ does not avail for all sinners everywhere.

Believe that you’re forgiven.

Forgive as you have been forgiven—because you have been forgiven.

And for those who sin—for you all—for us all—for sinners—poor sinners—poor, miserable sinners: let what parents say to children be said to you all: you are not the most important person in the world.

To you, Jesus tells this parable:

A king wished to settle accounts.

One servant owed him ten-thousand talents, an absurd, impossible debt. This servant begged for the time required to pay back the debt—an impossible task. But the king pitied him and forgave the debt, all of it.

Then, that forgiven servant sought out one who owed him one-hundred denarii—a real, but reasonable debt. And when this servant couldn’t pay, the forgiven servant put him in prison. Enter the king.

“‘Vengeance is mine,’ sayeth the Lord” (cf. Romans 12:19).

“God is not mocked” (Galatians 6:7).

The king came down, in force, and bound up the first servant and held him accountable for every penny of the un-payable debt.

Jesus says, “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart” (Matthew 18:35).

You are not the most important person in the world.

When you, even you, are sinned against—you must forgive.

In Christ, God has reconciled the world to Himself (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:19).

In Christ, by the Blood of God, you have been purchased and won from sin and death, hate and fear, cowardice and anger.

It’s impossible for a Christian to believe that he is forgiven but not his neighbor.

It’s impossible for you to believe that you’re forgiven but not your neighbor. Act like it.

In the forgiveness of sins—in the consolation of Christ and each other—our Lord Jesus Christ sustains us. He keeps us safe from earthly strife.

I think that’s what he meant.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Trinity 22, 2019
Matthew 18:21-35
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

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