I need to talk about a term that’s used a lot but is not clearly defined. It means everything and nothing, whatever the user of the term desires, but never just one thing—and so it’s a meaningless phrase.

And the term is “high church” or “low church.”

I’m not judging you for using the term.

Use the term if you wish.

But have a clear definition in mind so that those who don’t understand, people like me, can be easily taught.

We must all become like children and learn together.

From the Proverb: “Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you; reprove a wise man, and he will love you. Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning” (Proverbs 9:8-9).

Let’s begin with today’s Gospel lesson.

There is the kingdom of God, heaven, the faithful life, and the banquet.

And there are the excuses men give when the matter of faith and salvation is put to them: fields, farms, and land—for the first. Oxen, beasts of burden, and possessions—for the second. And a wife, children, and family—for the third.

You’ll be hard pressed to find a man who hasn’t used one of these as an excuse to get out of what God requires for entry into His kingdom—a living faith that hears the Word of God and does it.

After all, it’s God who’s at work in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure (cf. Philippians 2:13).

So there’s God—who’s occupied with His work to save and care for you.

And there’s you—who’s occupied with your work to earn a living or keep it.

Today, notice that what’s wrong in the Gospel lesson is, at first, commendable: each man has a very high view of his work.

If you work the fields, it’s commendable for you to have a high view of that work.

To know the importance of it.

To live as though your work really matters—as it certainly does.

That the first man has such a high view of his work is commendable.

Likewise, the second.

He has five yoke of oxen, integral to his work.

It’s commendable that he has such a high view of his responsibility as both worker in and steward of God’s creation.

And likewise, the third.

Marriage is an institution that survived the Fall.

A man does not leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife as a result of the Fall.

Rather, the two shall become one flesh because God created husband and wife to be fruitful and multiply, to fill the earth and subdue it. That was before the Fall.

Marriage is the highest of institutions, and the man in today’s Gospel lesson should be commended in that he cherishes his wife as he does.

Having a high view of the responsibilities God has given is commendable.

But what’s not commendable is having a low view of the kingdom of God.

This—and I’ll explain it more—this is why I put no stock in terms like “high church” and “low church.”

This is why I don’t use those terms.

God Himself miraculously comes to us, forgiving our sins and cleansing us from all unrighteousness.

He delivers us from death and devil by delivering to us the priceless treasure of Jesus’ Body and Blood.

Is that not the highest experience we can attain?

For God Himself to be with us and for our good?

Or—who has a low view of that?

For that matter, let’s apply the same descriptor to other institutions.

Who among you favor low marriage?

It’s tempting, isn’t it, to make of marriage no serious matter, to do whatever you feel like, to have no rules?

When that happens we’re not surprised at the serious harm that follows in the family, the church, and community.

Does anyone, with their marriage, truly aim low so as to avoid disappointment?

Who among you prefer a low family, with low children, and a low view of work or responsibility?

It’s certainly easier not to care, not to learn, not to teach, and all things are lawful—but not all things are beneficial (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:23).

“High Church” and “Low Church” are meaningless terms, because their definitions are either self-evident or not.

Regardless—perhaps we should think different.

St. Paul writes: “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 about these things” (cf. Philippians 4:8).

And today, I would add, we should have a high view of these things and expectations to match.

Jesus tells the parable of the banquet not because we’re supposed to have a low view of fields, farms, and families—again, it’s commendable that these men have a high view of what God has given them.

But Jesus tells this parable because we’re supposed to have a high view, also, of the kingdom of God.

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is insight” (Proverbs 9:10).

But “How are they to believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching” (cf. Romans 10:14) that “Now in Christ Jesus you who were once far off have been brought near by [that priceless treasure,] the blood of Christ” (cf. Ephesians 2:13)?

You’ve been brought near because you’ve heard—

You’ve heard because someone was preaching—

That the invitation is to all.

“A man once gave a great banquet and invited many [that is, all]. And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’ So the servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house became angry and said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’ And the servant said, ‘Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room’ [because the Master had invited all, and He meant it]. And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet’” (Luke 14:16-24).

If Jesus Himself were a preacher in the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, no one would like Him.

He ends that sermon there—with the condemnation of those who rejected His invitation.

He is not winsome.

The very next thing He says, verse twenty-five, the verse immediately after today’s Gospel lesson, sounds even worse.

Jesus says, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:25).

What’s He saying?

And does He mean it?

Are you His disciple?

Of course it’s commendable for you to care for your land, your field, your property and possessions.

We need more of that—not less.

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

Of course it’s commendable for you to care for the ox, the heifer, the calf, and sometimes on this list even the child.

We need more of that—not less.

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

And of course it’s commendable for you to care for your wife, your husband, your children, your family, your house and home.

You should not have a low view of those things.

They are some of the most marvelous gifts of God.

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

In a parable full of anger, concluding with condemnation, a parable seemingly devoid of any Gospel, there is yet real comfort for us sinners, because the invitation is to all.

Each of the three men had a high view of their responsibilities in life.

That is commendable.

But each of the three men had a low view of God.

They did not take Him seriously, nor His invitation.

They considered neither His anger nor His judgment.

And so, “None of those men who were invited shall taste [the] banquet” (Luke 14:24).

In the parable, the time has passed for them.

But today, for us, there is yet time remaining.

If you’re bound to the land, work the land, and God be praised for all that’s done through you.

But be bound first to Jesus Christ, the Lord.

If you’re bound to the beasts of the earth, care for God’s creatures, and praise God for the bounty of daily bread He gives to all of us through you.

But be bound first to Jesus Christ, the Lord.

And if you’re bound to house and home, child and spouse, consider the million monumental and minuscule tasks you accomplish every day, and rejoice that God has chosen to care for literally every human being through people like you.

But be bound first to Jesus Christ, the Lord.

Because it’s Christ, and Christ alone, who has died for you.

It’s Christ, and Christ alone, who redeems you from death and devil.

It’s Christ, and Christ alone, who feeds you, body and soul, and strengthens you to life everlasting.

Bind yourself to Christ and be brought near by the priceless treasure of the Blood of Christ.

That is the highest experience we can attain.

We should act like it.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Trinity 2, 2021
Luke 14:15-24
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27).

“My peace I give to you,” Jesus says, but what kind of peace did Jesus have?

When He speaks of peace—the peace He has and gives to us—what’s going on around Him?

In Matthew’s account of the Gospel, the word peace is used in three places.

Not three times but in three places, and the context in which peace is used, what’s going on around it, might surprise you.

In Matthew chapter five, Jesus says, “Blessed are the peace-makers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9).

That’s right before He says, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account” (Matthew 5:11).

In chapter ten, when Jesus sends out the twelve, He says, “As you enter the house, greet it. And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town” (Matthew 10:12-15).

And again, from chapter ten, Jesus says, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34).

None of those are how we use the word peace.

When we use the word peace, we don’t have the threat or worry of being reviled hanging over us.

That’s not what peace means when we use it.

We’re not worried about shaking the dust from our feet—or having dust shaken off at us.

When we use the word peace, we’re not thinking of the sword that might be brought down on us instead.

When we speak of peace, we mean quietness or rest. Not anxiety but contentment. Relief.

But, the problem is, more often than not, when the word peace is used in the Bible, the context isn’t at all what and how we’re used to thinking of peace.

Matthew’s use of peace, for example.

In John’s account of the Gospel, the word peace is also used in three places, but there’s a big difference between the first two and the last one.

The first two begin with today’s Gospel lesson where Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you” (John 14:27).

Jesus says these words after the Supper, shortly before His Passion, and Christians need to wonder what kind of peace this is.

He was about to be betrayed by one of His closest friends.

He was about to be tried in a kangaroo court where the witnesses’ stories don’t corroborate, and the man with the God-given authority to let Him go says, “I find no guilt in Him” three separate times, before sentencing Him to death (John 18:38, 19:4, 6).

He was about to be abandoned by His Father, praying, “My God, my God, why has Thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46).

He was about to be mocked by those who hated Him, on the ground and at His side.

He was about to die.

He knew all of this, ahead of time, and yet He says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.”

What kind of peace is that?

What kind of peace do you have when someone lets you down?

What kind of peace do you have when you’re late for something important?

Or when someone else is late?

What kind of peace do you have when you’re expecting a phone call from the doctor? What kind of peace do you have when the phone rings in the middle of the night?

What kind of peace do you have when you’re betrayed and slandered or abandoned and mocked?

What kind of peace do you have when you’re forced to face the fact that all men must die?

Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you?”

What kind of peace is that?

That’s the first use of peace in John’s account of the Gospel.

The second is two chapters after today’s Gospel reading.

And to me, this is where it starts to make sense.

Jesus says, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

What does Jesus teach us to expect from the world?

From experience?

From His example, we expect betrayal, slander, false accusations, abandonment from even our own family or closest friends, and shameful mocking—all because of fidelity to Christ—all because the servant is not greater than the Master. If the world treated Him that way, they’ll treat you that way.

And Jesus sums this up in just a few words, saying: “In the world you will have tribulation.”

That’s an interesting take on the word peace, then.

The way we use the word, peace is the absence of trouble, the furthest thing from tribulation.

But Jesus, by His life, and in His Word to us, He shows us that in the midst of tribulation and the scowling of the world, even there, we have peace.

In the midst of whatever anxiety accompanied the knowledge that Judas would betray Him, Jesus had peace, because He was faithful to His Father, praying, believing, and living “Thy will be done.”

In that kangaroo court, with liars testifying against Him, Jesus had peace.

Maybe some of those men were among the men of Jerusalem, cut to the heart, when confronted with Peter’s Pentecost sermon. Several times after Peter’s words in today’s second reading, Peter makes it quite clear that “God has made Him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36).

And “those who received [that] word [who believed it] were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls” (Acts 2:41).

The peace that Jesus has isn’t the absence of trouble but the sure and certain way through it.

Knowing that He would be abandoned by His Father, even then, Jesus had peace.

His Father desired to save the world.

Jesus would die.

His Father would hand Him over to a death on the cross, a death that pays for all sin, reconciling the world to God.

Jesus is the sacrificial lamb handed over and given into death, that you would never be taken from Him, that you who believe in Him would never die.

Nothing is able to separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus your Lord (cf. Romans 8:38-39).

By His example, by His Word, we know there is peace even in the midst of tribulation.

The final place in John’s account of the Gospel where the word peace is used is chapter twenty, after the resurrection.

“On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you’” (John 20:19).

There was no lack of tribulation for the disciples that evening. They thought their Lord dead, buried, and gone, never to return. They thought themselves outlaws, soon to be discovered, and soon to be killed.

Into their hopeless world Jesus brings peace that surpasses understanding.

Peace be with you!

The peace that Jesus gives is life to the dead, health to the sick, and joy to the poor, miserable sinner.

A few verses later, He says it again, “Peace be with you,” and here, He sends the apostles to forgive the sins of those who repent.

He gives them peace so they can give you peace.

Again, a few verses later, Thomas being with them now, the doors being locked, Jesus stands among them and says, “Peace be with you” (cf. John 20:26).

Into Thomas’ world of doubt, Jesus speaks peace.

The way the Bible speaks—the way Jesus speaks—the peace He gives isn’t the absence of trouble but the sure and certain way through it.

It’s true—there’s no shortage of tribulation in our lives.

There is no shortage of pain or sickness or worry.

Into our hopeless world, into our doubting and disbelieving hearts, Jesus says: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”

We might hear those words and think that God doesn’t know our pain, our tribulation—“He doesn’t know…”

But He most certainly does.

We know that Jesus suffered greatly.

He was stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.

He bore in His flesh the burden of our sin.

And in His last words on Holy Thursday, Jesus says to us, “You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you before it takes place, so that when it does take place you may believe” (John 14:28-29).

All that—He does…

All that—He says…

All that—He endures…

So that you would believe.

Whatever your anxiety.

Whatever your worries.

Whatever sins burden your conscience.

Jesus means what He says, and He says it to you:

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”

In the world you have tribulation.

But take heart.

On the cross, in your place, for you and all the world, God in the flesh, God With Us, you God, who loves you, died to forgive the world.

And peace with God once more is made!

The Lord has visited His people and relieved them.

You have and know peace that surpasses the world’s understanding.

But not your understanding.

If you understand that your sins are forgiven…

If you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and call upon His name…

If you cling in faith to your crucified God and Lord…

Then the peace that Jesus gives doesn’t surpass your understanding.

You know and have peace, because you know and have Jesus.

Your life isn’t absent of trouble.

But you know the Way—surely, certainly—through it.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Pentecost Sermon, 2021
John 14:23-31; Acts 2:1-21
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

If the task and responsibility of a Christian is to hear and learn the Word of God—not some or part but the full counsel thereof—then some days and chapters and verses will be more difficult than others.

Here’s what I mean.

Thus says the Lord in today’s Old Testament lesson:

“It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came…From all your idols I will cleanse you” (Ezekiel 36:22, 25).

Generally, we’re taught that God is acting for our sake,  for our benefit. So to hear that—in this chapter and verse—He is acting for the sake of His holy name, not for our sake—because we, His people, profaned His holy name, cursing and swearing—that should cause us to think at least a few deep thoughts.

Is God’s name hallowed among us?

Or—do we profane His name still?

Did He—Does He—Will He—ever do the same again?

Act not for our sake—but to vindicate the holiness of His great name?

Some chapters and verses, like this, are more difficult for us to hear—because of the rebuke.

St. Peter writes in today’s Epistle lesson:

“The end of all things is at hand…Do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings” (1 Peter 4:7, 12-13).

The sufferings of Christ are no one’s wishlist items.

Who wants to suffer hatred while confessing the truth?

Who wants to be hated by basically everyone because you have a different idea of who God is and what He’s doing?

But the way St. Peter writes, such suffering is not only possible but eventual for us.

He says, “Don’t be surprised by the fiery trial.”

And that’s difficult to hear, too.

As is what Jesus says in today’s Gospel lesson:

“They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God” (John 16:2).

That hour is coming for all Christians.

And—for some—that hour is here.

We just don’t like to admit it.

If the task and responsibility of the Christian is to hear and learn the Word of God—and it is—then some days and chapters and verses will be more difficult than others.

Here’s what I mean.

Thus far, I’ve selectively quoted from the lessons appointed for today.

Old Testament lesson, Epistle, and Gospel—they’re full of warnings and what we might easily consider to be bad news.

But—thus also says the Lord in today’s Old Testament lesson:

“I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you…And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statues and be careful to obey my rules. You shall dwell in the land that I gave your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God” (Ezekiel 36:26, 27-28).

Doesn’t that sound better?

Don’t we like the conclusion a lot better than the action before it?

St. Peter concludes today’s Epistle lesson this way: “If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you” (1 Peter 4:14).

Who doesn’t want to be blessed by God?

Yeah, yeah, he talks about being insulted, but the Spirit of glory and of God rests on us.

Finally—some good news.

And in today’s Gospel, Jesus says, “When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. And you also will bear witness” (John 15:26-27).

Wow.

Every Christian will get to bear witness about Christ, will get to take what the Holy Spirit has delivered and share it with another.

We get to be the instruments God uses to bring people into the faith.

There’s nothing better—nothing more important—nothing nicer than that.

How awesome!

But if the task and responsibility of the Christian is to hear and learn the Word of God, the difficulty is hearing both warning and promise, rebuke and responsibility, and learning to rejoice in the Word of the Living God—who says both.

The proper work of God is to help, save, and comfort.

Not because of who you are but because of who He is.

“The Holy Spirit is called the Comforter, because he is love. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth, because he always speaks the truth. These two things, truth and love, sustain us Christians throughout our lives” (Rev. Andrew Preus).

Thus says the Lord in today’s Old Testament lesson: “It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that [the Lord] is about to act, but for the sake of [His] holy name, which [we] have profaned among the nations…And the nations will know that I am the Lord…when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes. I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you” (cf. Ezekiel 36:22, 23-25).

The Lord your God is not content to leave the world to unbelief—but convicts the world concerning sin, righteousness, judgment—that His name would be kept holy among us—that all who call on the name of the Lord would be saved—that through the seeming folly of what we preach, God’s holiness, and goodness, and lovingkindness, would be vindicated before their eyes.

That is to say, He will create in us a clean heart and renew a right spirit within us. He will sprinkle us with clean water and put His Spirit within us, and cause us to walk in His statutes, and be careful to obey His rules.

He will call us out of darkness and into His marvelous light to be His peculiar people.

And He will be our God.

That’s the full counsel of God for today’s Old Testament lesson.

Well, a summary of the full counsel of God.

But do you see?

“To lecture about sins without mentioning threats is not to teach the Law but to abolish it” (Martin Chemnitz).

And to preach or to know the warning of God apart from the comfort He provides, is to be without the blessing God bestows on all who believe.

St. Peter writes, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you” (1 Peter 4:12-14).

The Lord your God doesn’t abandon you to fiery trials. Rather, you are blessed: the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.

But no one has the Spirit of God and is not tested.

St. Peter also writes: “[And] in this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith…may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:6-7).

That’s the full counsel of God for today’s Epistle lesson.

Or, a summary.

Do you see it?

Nothing strange is going on when you share in Christ’s sufferings or are insulted for the name of Christ.

That is as it is and as it should be for all those redeemed by Jesus Christ the crucified—

Who says, “When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning” (John 15:26-27).

This is specifically about the Apostles, the first pastors of the church, who were literally with Jesus from the beginning.

But this is also, generally, how the Holy Spirit works.

He proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified, who spoke by the prophets and the Apostles.

And, thus speaking, bears witness about Jesus.

And you also will bear witness, because you have received the Light of the World.

No one who has received the Light hides it under a basket—but rather places it at the entrance of His home so that all who enter there may see—and hear, and believe, and be saved by—the Light of the World.

This is the full counsel of God:

Jesus says, “I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me. But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you” (John 16:1-4).

We aren’t surprised at the fiery trial, when it comes upon us.

Nor are we offended that God would act to vindicate His name.

Rather, we rejoice in the full counsel of God.

Who cleanses us of our idols.

Gives us His Holy Spirit.

Blesses us, who call upon His name.

And keeps us from falling away.

Let all the worlds give answer: Amen! So let it be.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Exaudi (Easter 7), 2021
John 15:26—16:4
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

Today, Jesus teaches us to pray.

“Ask, and you will receive” (John 16:24), He says.

But if you’ve ever asked and not received, you’ll wonder whether Jesus is lying or you lack faith.

Because when we say, “Ask, and you will receive,” we mean it as an if/then statement.

If you ask for help, then I will help you.

That’s how we operate.

We don’t just do good to others.

We wait for them to ask.

If/Then.

Thank God that’s not how God operates.

When Jesus says, “Ask, and you will receive,” He doesn’t mean “If you ask, then, you’ll receive.”

And experience has taught us this all our lives.

Ask God for a million dollars. Ask for all the time in the world, for good health, safety, and the hymns you like.

Ask for everything. Anything. And all of it in between.

If you ask, and nothing happens, then we have to answer the question of what, exactly, Jesus means.

Either He’s lying, God is vindictive and sinful, and we lack the faith to speak to Him—or—Jesus means it differently.

We know better than to think Jesus says we get everything we ask for, and yet He plainly says, “Ask, and you will receive.”

If you’re sick, “Ask, and you will receive” at least sometimes sounds like a satanic lie.

To one who constantly hears “No,” “Ask, and you will receive” feels like deliberate unkindness.

To every faithful, cross-bearing Christian who happens to find himself in the midst of sorrow and trouble, “Ask, and you will receive” sounds like God doesn’t listen and doesn’t care.

That we ask, that we need, that we pray, and that God doesn’t always give us what we ask for, makes us wonder why Jesus would say, “Ask, and you will receive.”

It’s obviously not true!

Unless we understand Him correctly.

Jesus doesn’t mean “If you ask, then you’ll receive.”

But He does mean, “When you ask rightly, you will receive, and, indeed, it’s already yours.”

Because Jesus doesn’t teach us only to ask.

He teaches us to ask in His name: “Whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you” (John 16:23).

That’s what He says, and this is something we understand quite well.

Kids ask for things in Mom’s name all the time. They implore Dad on Mom’s behalf saying, “But Mom said…”

And if Mom said it, then, fine.

But moms only say certain things.

To ask for something in Mom’s name is to ask for something that she’s already said.

And to ask for something in Jesus’ name is to remember what God has said and to ask for it.

We do this all the time.

We say, “Jesus says…”

We remember His Word, and we ask Him to fulfill it.

It doesn’t matter what comes after “Jesus says…”

As long as He actually said it, we know He means it for our good.

Even the work of the Holy Spirit to convict the world concerning sin is for our good—because He moves right along to convict us concerning righteousness—that we would bask in the righteousness of Christ.

Like a Mom to her children, Jesus only says certain things.

He doesn’t tell you to trust in money. He doesn’t tell you that you’ll always be happy.

He never promises those things.

Nevertheless, it’s comfort unending for all who believe that anything we ask in Jesus’ name is already ours by faith.

Because when you ask “in Jesus’ name,” you’re asking  “according to the Word of God,” what God has already said.

So what do you ask for? What can you ask for?

What does Scripture say? What does God say?

What does God guarantee? What does He promise?

He doesn’t promise wealth.

Jesus told the rich young ruler to “sell all that you have and give to the poor” (Mark 10:21).

You cannot serve God and mammon.

Jesus attacks Mark’s idolatry, because God demands faith. He doesn’t promise wealth, because wealth isn’t necessary for salvation.

Nor does God promise health.

Health isn’t necessary for salvation.

Every leper cleansed, every Deaf who heard still died.

Lazarus died twice.

Regarding earthly things, Jesus promises nothing except hatred, tribulation, and daily bread.

And about our daily bread we have to be honest.

God could give us all so much less than what we have, and He would still be giving us this day our daily bread.

Jesus says: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy…but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven…For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21).

He says all of this to teach us.

Don’t let it go in one ear and out the other.

Don’t wonder when the sermon will end.

Don’t wonder if you can still get a good deal on Royals tickets, or Cardinals tickets, or Cubs tickets, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Rather—wonder if you believe God.

If you hear Him and do His will.

Jesus says all this to teach us, and out of mercy, to save us.

If you look at Christianity anywhere in the world, you’ll see trouble.

Abroad, Christians are being murdered—simply because they’re Christians.

On April 17th, ISIS published a video of the execution of Nabil Habshi, a Coptic Christian. He was kidnapped in November, and the kidnappers demanded the family pay over $100,000—not as a ransom—but as a tax levied against non-Muslims in states governed by Islamic law.

The Quran teaches Muslims to kill the infidels (that’s me and you) if they won’t convert to Islam or live in humiliating submission, paying such taxes.

Would you convert? Would you pay the tax and submit? Would you keep the faith even unto death—as you confessed you would when you were confirmed?

Since our daily bread doesn’t regularly include an escape route away from the Muslims who seek to kidnap our children and kill us, those are rhetorical questions, impossible questions, but the exercise is a good one.

Does your Christianity stop when you leave church?

That’s what your government wants.

For some of us, our representative to congress tried to pray and failed—attempting to do so in the name of false gods and not knowing how to say, “Amen.”

For all of us, our president tried to speak on the National Day of Prayer and failed to mention God at all—which surprised exactly no one.

But let’s not fool ourselves—they’re as devoutly Christian as a broken doorknob and just as helpful.

The fact is, you won’t always get what you ask for.

If you pray for health, or safety, or a godly politician, you may not get what you ask for.

Take heart—it’s not because God doesn’t love you.

Jesus says: in this world you will endure hatred and tribulation. No one wants that, but you can’t always get what you want.

The fact is, God is very clear about what His will is for you.

The will of God isn’t an uncertain thing.

He desires the world’s salvation.

He desires your salvation.

And in Jesus Christ He has accomplished it.

Thus says the Lord in Matthew chapter six: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness…”

That is, ask for these things in Jesus’ name…

“…And all these [other] things [clothing, food, and shelter] will be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33).

Thus says the Lord in Hebrews chapter thirteen: “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for [the Lord] has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; [for] what can man do to me?’” (Hebrews 13:5-6).

The will of God is clear.

He desires your salvation.

The forgiveness of your sins.

And your life everlasting.

And He has accomplished it in the shed blood of Jesus Christ.

Jesus says: “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

To pray—to ask in Jesus’ name—is nothing more than to trust Jesus—to trust His Word and His Work.

To trust—and know that His blood overcomes sin, death, and satan.

To trust—and know that trust is reckoned to you as righteousness.

“Take heart,” [Jesus says], I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

He says all this that, in Him, you would have peace.

Grace to you all—and peace—from God our Father and the Lord, Jesus Christ.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Rogate (Easter 6) Sermon, 2021
John 16:23-30 (31-33)
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

The Gospel according to St. John has been at the center of many controversies, and they all have something in common.

John chapter three is controversial to some, because Jesus says to Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is ἄνωθεν he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). That’s the Greek word, ἄνωθεν.

Nicodemus takes Jesus to mean “born again,” which is why he asks Jesus about being born a second time, but Jesus means “born from above.”

He means that it’s necessary to be baptized.

From the Augsburg Confession, our churches teach, regarding Holy Baptism, that “It is necessary to salvation, and…through Baptism is offered the grace of God, and…children are to be baptized who, being offered to God through Baptism are received into God’s grace. [We] condemn the Anabaptists, who reject the baptism of children, and say that children are saved without Baptism” (AC IX).

Practically speaking, for children and adults, that means if you’re not baptized, you should be.

That means, there’s no reason for you not to be baptized.

That’s scandalous for some, because of all the “what about” exceptions with which we test the Lord.

But think of it this way: St. Paul writes, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).

Are the Deaf condemned, then, who speak and sing and confess not with their mouths but with their hands?

Or when St. Paul says that faith comes by hearing, are they excluded again, the Deaf, who do not hear?

Of course they’re not excluded.

The Deaf hear with their eyes and confess with their hands and are received with joy by their Savior.

So to say that Baptism is necessary for salvation isn’t scandalous at all—it simply confesses what is practically true: if you’re not baptized, you should be.

There’s no reason for you not to be.

That’s John chapter three.

John chapter six is controversial for some others, because Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (John 6:53).

Some say this refers specifically to the Lord’s Supper, therefore, it would be necessary for the Christian to receive the Lord’s Supper. And some say that it refers only to faith, that is, spiritual eating and drinking.

I’m not smarter than the esteemed theologians who’ve argued this point through the years—and—if you ask any well-catechized child what it means to “eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood,” he’ll quickly tell you that Jesus means the Lord’s Supper.

But the point here is the same as before: if you hear and believe His words, you’ll do them.

There’s no such thing as a Christian who hates Baptism or a Christian who despises the Lord’s Supper.

That said, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper don’t save because we do them. They save because God, at work in His Word combined with water and bread and wine, saves us through them.

Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are two of the means by which it is necessary to be saved.

There can be saving faith apart from Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, but there shouldn’t be—meaning, we don’t hope for that to happen.

That’s the point. That’s the rule, not the exception.

And that’s John chapters three and six.

Today, chapter sixteen, the controversy is a bit different.

Jesus says, “But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’” (John 16:5).

In a manner of speaking, that’s just not true.

On two occasions, in the context of Jesus’ death and departure, a disciple asks Jesus where He’s going.

In John chapter thirteen, on Maundy Thursday, Jesus says, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once. Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come’” (John 13:31-33).

That’s just before Jesus gives the mandatum, the mandate of Maundy Thursday, that we are to love one another as He has loved us.

Peter responds to Jesus by saying, “Lord, where are you going?” (John 13:36).

So—Peter asks.

And a few verses later, in chapter fourteen, Jesus says, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going” (John 14:1-4).

There, Thomas responds with: “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” (John 14:5), and that’s just as good as asking, “Where are you going?”

So—Thomas asks.

Twice, then, a disciple asks Jesus where He’s going.

And yet Jesus says, “Now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’” (John 16:5).

Critical scholars—and I mean professors at universities who will teach your children until they lose their faith and into oblivion—suggest that the chapters are simply out of order. Edited over time, someone just messed up.

But I don’t buy that, and neither should you.

There’s a wonderful similarity in all these supposed controversies that actually clarifies things greatly. 

In every case, Jesus is speaking to those who don’t understand who He is and what He’s about.

Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews, knows that Jesus is a teacher come from God, but in chapter three he balks at everything the Teacher says.

He doesn’t understand who Jesus is.

He doesn’t understand that disciples are made by baptizing the people in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and teaching the people to cherish everything that Jesus has said (cf. Matthew 27).

Pastors are teachers for the very same reason.

In chapter six, the Jews “grumble about [Jesus], because he said, ‘I am the bread that came down from heaven’” (John 6:41). They seek Jesus “not because [they] saw [His] signs, but because [they] ate their fill of the loaves” (John 6:26).

The Jews in chapter six think Jesus is merely Joseph’s son (cf. John 6:42). They don’t understand who Jesus is, and worse, they hate what He says.

Peter, in chapter thirteen, wants to follow after Jesus, but he doesn’t understand what that would mean.

Thomas, in chapter fourteen, wants to know the way, but he must be taught to cherish Jesus as the Way.

The controversy in these verses is that no one understands who Jesus is or what He’s about.

So today, when Jesus says, “But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’” (John 16:5), when He says that, the controversy’s the same as before.

No one understands who Jesus is or what He’s there to do—and so they must be taught.

Peter and Thomas were asking Jesus where He was going as if He were going to the gas station.

Had they known Jesus was going to His Father by way of the cross, had they known why and what that meant, the sorrow in their hearts would’ve been overcome with joy.

They could not yet fully grasp that Jesus was of the same substance of His Father, truly God—and also truly man, having become man to die for the sin of the world as the most pleasing sacrifice, made on our behalf.

They didn’t understand that He was going back to His Father.

They didn’t understand that He would rise, and ascend, and return to give everlasting life to all who believe in Him.

Without understanding—without faith—sorrow filled their hearts.

“Nevertheless,” Jesus says, “I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16:7).

Everything that Jesus does is for our benefit.

Today, it’s good to note that even if what Jesus does brings you sorrow, it’s for your benefit.

We have the Holy Spirit rather than the walking, talking Jesus, and, Jesus says, that’s to our benefit.

We don’t have signs or experiences or dreams or visions, and when people claim them, we put zero stock in them, because we have something better: the Holy Spirit—the Counselor, Advocate, and Paraclete that Jesus promised to send us.

The disciples should’ve asked Jesus: How do you become a Christian? How do remain steadfast in the faith? How are we saved?

And Jesus would’ve told them: by the work of the Holy Spirit whom I will send to you.

We confess 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 truth faith” (SC, II.3). 

It was given to Jesus to earn our salvation.

And it is given to the Holy Spirit to “guide you into all…truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak…He will glorify [Jesus], for he will take what [belongs to Jesus] and declare it to you. All that the Father has [belongs to Jesus]; therefore…he will take what [belongs to Jesus] and declare it to you” (cf. John 16:13-15).

Jesus is the “[author] and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising its shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2).

The Holy Spirit, sent by the Father and the Son, shows you who Jesus is, what He’s done, and what that means for you.

The Holy Spirit calls you by the Gospel, enlightens you with His gifts, sanctifies, and keeps you in the true faith by the Word and the Sacraments, those necessary means of our salvation.

This isn’t done by osmosis, by the way.

It doesn’t just magically happen.

God works by means—Word and Sacrament.

If you absent yourself from those means. If you don’t hear the Word and learn it. If you despise preaching and being taught. If you see the Sacraments as swine to be avoided not pearls to be gathered…

Then I pray God melt your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.

“The words that [Jesus speaks] are spirit and life” (cf. John 6:63). Though we poor sinners deny Him, He lays down His life for us (cf. John 13:36-38). Though we would lose our way, Jesus is Himself the Way, and the Holy Spirit, through the Word, finds us (cf. John 14:5-6).

We know who Jesus is and what He’s about, because the Holy Spirit has given us faith that believes.

In Holy Baptism, “by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior” (Titus 3:5-6) we are heirs of eternal life.

In the Lord’s Supper, we eat and drink the Body and Blood of Jesus and receive the forgiveness of sins, exactly what Jesus says.

That we know all this, that we believe it—is a gift of the Holy Spirit who creates and sustains faith.

Into all truth, the Holy Spirit has guided us by God’s Word.

And by God’s Word, He convicts us concerning sin, righteousness, and judgment.

He declares Jesus to us.

This isn’t controversial, but rather a clear confession of who Jesus is and what He’s about.

We’re born from above, eating and drinking as Jesus bids us to do, living for this day and the Last Day, for our neighbor and for God.

The cross we bear is not for our salvation but for the love we have for God and neighbor.

And so we bear it gladly, thorns and all!

Jesus has prepared a place for us.

By the work of the Holy Spirit, we call on His name for our salvation, and we believe that He will come again, in a little while, to take us to the room He has prepared.

Jesus isn’t walking with us or talking with us.

Not really.

We have something better than that, the promised Holy Spirit, at work in the Word proclaimed.

He takes what belongs to Jesus and declares it to us.

All that the Father has [belongs to Jesus]; therefore…[the Holy Spirit] takes what [belongs to Jesus] and declares it to us.

For all the world, that may be a controversy.

But to us who know Jesus and by Him are known, it is the gospel, the power of God unto salvation, for all who believe.

Believe it—dear Christian friends—and rejoice.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Cantate—Easter 5 Sermon, 2021
John 16:5-15
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

Saint Matthew Lutheran Church—Ernestville, Missouri

Jesus says, “You will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy” (John 16:20).

What does this mean?

You will weep and lament.

You will be sorrowful.

And the world—not you but the world—will rejoice.

But that is just a little while.

Jesus adds: your sorrow will turn into joy.

The “little while” that’s mentioned is both comfort and warning.

Today’s Gospel lesson anticipates the certain, Christian joy of the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting, but there’s something else here that we need to talk about.

So it’s not just, What does this mean?

But also, Why does it mean that? Or, What else does this mean?

I’ll give you two other examples.

You hear Matthew chapter eighteen quoted a lot. That’s where Jesus says, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matthew 18:20).

If I ask ”What does this mean?” someone will answer that if no one else shows up to church but you and the pastor—you still get Jesus.

And you’re right.

Jesus isn’t a revivalist preacher, a televangelist, or the pastor of some megachurch—which is to say, Jesus still shows up even if more than two or three don’t.

But if I ask “What else does this mean?” what would you say?

In truth, Matthew 18 isn’t even about God’s presence when church attendance is low.

Jesus says, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault. If he listens to you, you’ve gained your brother. But if he doesn’t listen, take one or two others with you, that the charge may be established by two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. If two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (cf. Matthew 18:15-20).

The real context of Jesus’ words there is forgiveness and judgment—how Christians are to deal with sin and each other.

If a Christian, with and by means of the Word of God, calls you to repentance, listen to him.

But if you don’t care…

If those given the care of your soul, through God’s Word, call you to repentance, listen to them.

But if you don’t heed that warning…

If the congregation practices what is historically called “church discipline,” following what Jesus says, of course, turn from your ways and live.

That judgment is as valid as though God Himself has said it—and, speaking through the congregation, He has.

That’s the context of Matthew chapter eighteen, and so we have how we use that verse, and we have the proper context of the verse.

The same words are both comfort and warning.

What it means to us—and what else it means.

I’ll give you another example of this, again, using words with which we’re all familiar.

Job writes, “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, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another” (Job 19:23-27).

What does this mean?

Of course Job is confessing his faith in the Redeemer. Of course this is a marvelous confession of the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.

Of course it is.

But what else does this mean?

What does Job say next?

What is the conclusion of everything Job is saying?

No one knows.

Now, you know I’ve studied the book of Job.

I can’t seem to stop talking about it.

But before I studied it, like everyone else, I knew the famous words from chapter nineteen, but I didn’t know the final words from chapter nineteen.

Job adds: “If you say, ‘How we will pursue him!’and, ‘The root of the matter is found in him,’ be afraid of the sword,for wrath brings the punishment of the sword, that you may know there is a judgment” (Job 19:28-29).

Job makes what may be the single most wonderful confession of the resurrection of the body contained in Scripture—but he makes it in the context of warning his friends regarding the coming judgment.

We commonly use those verses at funerals and at Easter.

But Job, himself, uses those verses to confess faith in his Redeemer, certainty regarding the resurrection of the body, and as a call to repentance for his friends who are far from faithful.

The same words are both comfort and warning.

And so there is some urgency here.

From Matthew, from Job, and from Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel lesson, there is some urgency regarding the coming judgment.

There is comfort—and there is warning.

Jesus says, “You will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy” (John 16:20).

As the disciples did when the Lord was crucified, you will weep and lament. You’ll have your share of fear and of foreboding because of what is coming on the world.

You’ll live as exiles, strangers in a strange land.

Hated and misunderstood by those who hate or misunderstand Jesus.

You’ll weep, and you’ll be flummoxed and confounded by the world’s rejoicing. So many appear to do so much and all so much more easily than you.

That’s the warning.

But—you have a Savior, Jesus Christ the Lord.

And so—your sorrow will turn into joy.

That’s the comfort.

Our Lord and Christ bore the sins of our fallen race, heel bruised, in order to beat down satan under even our feet, that we, and all believers in Christ, would be called conquerors.

That’s the great reversal.

And—said elsewhere and throughout Scripture but unspoken in today’s Gospel lesson is the second, implied reversal.

Jesus says, “You will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy” (John 16:20).

And then—what of the world?

Where two or three are gathered, or two or three thousand, if they’re not gathered in Jesus’ name, purely teaching the Gospel and rightly administering the Sacraments, that’s not the Church.

That’s the warning.

With some urgency, then, we should aim to get the message right before we get the message out.

To remove the beam from our own eyes before we help our brother with the speck in his.

“When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she’s delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world” (John 16:21).

So how do you want to say this?

There is but a little while to wait, and that is both warning and comfort.

We all have much to endure, but—

“At the last [your Redeemer] will stand upon the earth. And after [your] skin has been thus destroyed, yet in [your] flesh [shall you] see God” (cf. Job 19:25-26).

If that’s more than poetry…If that’s more than what’s engraved on the rock outside…If that’s more than man’s word alone…

If you love the Lord your God—and your neighbor as yourself…

If God is with you…

And there is a coming judgment…

Then you need to care about what’s meet, right, and salutary…

You need to care about godly things, not worldly things.

Turn off the tv.

Stop fornicating.

You may weep and lament.

And the world may laugh at you.

But your sorrow will turn into joy.

Jesus says, “You have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (John 16:22).

That’s the comfort.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Jubilate (Easter 4) Sermon, 2021
John 16:16-22
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

Saint Matthew Lutheran Church—Ernestville, Missouri

Having been asked to recant his books and the so-called errors in them, it was on April 18th, 1521, a Monday, that Martin Luther responded with the now famous, “Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me.”

He said, “Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I trust neither in the pope nor in councils alone, since it’s well known that they’ve often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen.”

That’s what he said on Monday.

But—interestingly, for us today—that was the Monday after the Third Sunday of Easter—the Monday after today—and so Luther and any church-goers present would’ve had in their minds these words of Jesus from today’s Gospel lesson:

“I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them” (John 10:11-12).

These words are axiomatic.

They’re particularly true—uniquely true—and obviously true of the Good Shepherd and His self-sacrificial love.

The normal shepherds aren’t this way.

And neither are bad shepherds.

The hired hand, the wage worker, the money maker, he cares only for himself and nothing for the sheep.

But the Good Shepherd loves you.

There’s only one who’s Good—and that’s God.

There is only one Good Shepherd—and that’s Jesus.

We’ve been celebrating every possible Reformation-related anniversary for the last several years—and that’s good and right to do, and we’ll continue to do so, I’m sure—but for the sake of your inquisitive, non-Lutheran friends, let’s be sure to say both of these:

1. Luther wasn’t the Good Shepherd.

2. Nevertheless—he followed the example of Jesus—who is an example for us.

That’s how St. Peter writes: “For to this you have been called…” (1 Peter 2:21).

And here, Peter means that we’ve been called to endure sorrows for the sake of what is good and right, to suffer unjustly and remain faithful to God.

“To this you have been called,” Peter writes, “because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:21-23).

We are not the Good Shepherd.

And—we occasionally have opportunity to follow the example He left—to emulate the Good Shepherd—to make His confession our own.

Knowing what was to come, Jesus entrusted Himself to the will of His Father and our Father, God Almighty.

And at the appointed time, when He would confess the truth of the Word of God—or deny it—when He would die for the sins of the world—or live and let die—Jesus was asked by the High Priest: “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” (Mark 14:61).

And Jesus said, “I am. And you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, coming with the clouds of heaven” (Mark 14:62).

Knowing that it meant His death, He confessed the truth of the Word of God. He could do no other.

So He bore His cross—and bore it well—to win the world away from sin, death, and satan.

“Here I am,” said Jesus.

And “Here I stand,” said Luther, and I wonder if he considered Jesus’ words, that the hired hand, who’s “not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, [who] sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, [such that] the wolf snatches them and scatters them” (John 10:12-13), having heard the Gospel, I wonder if Luther considered how Jesus didn’t flee the wolf.

That—in fact—the wolf and death itself have been swallowed up by death—when God reconciled the world to Himself in the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ His Son.

The hired hand flees because he’s a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.

He’s not in Christ, and there’s no truth in him.

But Jesus doesn’t flee—because He is the Good Shepherd—because He gives all that He has to redeem the sheep, to redeem you.

And if He’s given all that He has to redeem the sheep, the world, and you and me—and if He calls us forth to carry our own cross and follow Him, if He has left us an example, how could we abandon Him with our lips or life?

Jesus says, “Everyone who acknowledges me publicly here on earth, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:32-33).

Right now, generally, wherever you live—it’s easy to say you believe the Bible.

You just hope no one asks you what it says.

Right now, generally, wherever you live—it’s easy to say you believe in God.

You just hope no one asks you which one.

It’s easy to surround yourself with Christian symbols, Christian slogans, Christian music, Christian flair, Christian t-shirts, and Christian accessories.

You just hope no one asks you what it means.

It’s easy to say that unborn babies are more than a clump of cells, but it’s quite difficult to live your life caring even about the use of fetal stem cells.

It’s easy to say that marriage is between one man and one woman, for the procreation of children, for life, but let me make a mental list of all the exceptions and exemptions for my friends.

It’s easy to say that you care about the education of your children, but what—exactly—are your children learning?

Other than myself sometimes, I have no particular person or place in mind when I say these things.

This is just true of Christianity as it exists today.

Like hired hands we’re quite willing to look the part when it’s easy and to flee the wolf when the going gets tough.

Martin Luther is, sometimes, a really good example for us to follow, and on April 18th, 1521 his example was perfect. He could do no other.

Even so, Jesus Christ is always a better example.

As He did, entrust your days and burdens to Him who judges justly and even to the Righteous Judge Himself, Jesus Christ.

“He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (1 Peter 2:24-25).

He knows His own, and His own know Him.

The sheep know the voice of the Good Shepherd.

And blessed are those who hear His words, do them, and can do no other.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Misericordias Domini (Easter 3), 2021
John 10:11-16
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

Maybe he did—and maybe he didn’t—but it’s not necessary for us to say that Thomas actually placed his hand in Jesus’ side.

Thomas said to the disciples, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe” (John 20:25). That’s what he said.

So—Jesus said to Thomas, “‘Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.’

[And] Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’” (John 20:27-28).

The 1983 Thomas Troeger hymn “These Things Did Thomas Count As Real” sings it this way:

“His reasoned certainties denied / That one could live when one had died, / Until his fingers read like Braille / The marking of the spear and nail” (LSB 472:3).

Well before that, though, we have the Baroque painting by Caravaggio, dated 1601 or 1602, entitled “The Incredulity of Saint Thomas.”

That’s the one where Thomas is looking at him whom they had pierced, and his finger is just touching the wound from the spear.

But even before that, Incredulous Thomas—or, Doubting Thomas, as we know it today—had been a theme common in Christian artwork since at least the 5th century.

Scripture doesn’t plainly say that Thomas put his hand into Jesus’ side—but—basically—everyone has always thought so.

This is one of those things that’s fun to talk about but doesn’t actually matter—no one’s gonna get punched in the face for believing that Thomas did or didn’t put his hand in Jesus’ side.

But—there are plenty of things going on around this, in today’s Gospel lesson, that do actually matter.

For conversation’s sake, let’s imagine both that Thomas did and did not put his hand into Jesus’ side.

First the DID NOT.

The exhortation to believe the Gospel is not giving you a work to do.

“Do not disbelieve, but believe” does not give Thomas a To-Do List. Just like you—Thomas cannot by his own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ His Lord.

Or, think of it this way, making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for your starving, famished children, setting it before them, and calmly saying “Eat!” is not giving them a task to accomplish if he likes peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

The imperative is an invitation aimed at everyone, and it’s true and good whether anyone believes it or not.

Thomas didn’t have to put his hand into Jesus’ side because Jesus, the Word of God, spoke faith into existence.

First, Jesus said, “Put out your hand and place it in my side.” But had He first said “Do not disbelieve, but believe,” Thomas would’ve interrupted Him, exclaiming, “My Lord and my God!”

Jesus had taught Thomas and the other disciples what to believe. So when Jesus said, “Do not disbelieve, but believe,” it’s as if He’s speaking to us today:

“Remember the Word taught to you in your youth. Remember all that our Father in heaven has promised and accomplished. But don’t just remember it as facts to be regurgitated.

“Believe His Word. Trust it. Inwardly digest it.

“Do not disbelieve, but believe.” 

That’s how we preach the Gospel today.

We don’t lay the Gospel promises before you and ask you to do something to get them. I’ve used this example before—that’s like taking a Bible, throwing it on the table, and saying, “Go for it.”

We don’t do that.

When we preach the Word of God, we preach Jesus into the very heart of a person. Using a similar image, that’s like taking a Bible and pressing it straight into the heart of a person, saying, “Believe the Word.”

When we preach Law and Gospel, we preach the Law in its full sternness:

“God has made Him both Lord and Christ this Jesus whom you crucified” (cf. Acts 2:36).

The spit from your gossip lashed the Lord of Glory.

God has made Him both Lord and Christ this Jesus whom you betray with your discontented hearts.

That’s the Law in its full sternness.

And as sternly as the Law is preached—as sweetly is the Gospel:

“All are justified by God’s grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus…[which is] to be received by faith” (cf. Romans 3:23ff).

Of course—Thomas knows about sin.

He knows about grace.

He knows that salvation is not by works lest any man boast (cf. Ephesians 2).

He’s heard the most stern Law in Jesus’ own preaching. Thomas heard the sermon on the mount: love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, be merciful (cf. Luke 6).

All those things that are impossible for us—that shame us because we should do but don’t—Thomas heard them first.

And Jesus says, “Do not disbelieve…” 

He names Thomas’s sin, to his face.

“Be not faithless.”

That’s what Jesus says.

The Law has done its work, so Thomas hears the exhortation to remember and believe the Gospel like a hungry, peanut butter and jelly loving kid who hears the invitation to eat.

Which is to say, of course, that he heard it with absolute joy!

Thomas goes to the feast—forgetting to put His hand in Jesus’ side.

Because he doesn’t need to.

He heard and remembered—and believed—the Law.

And he heard and remembered—and believed—the Gospel.

Thomas rejoiced, saying, “My Lord and my God!”

That’s if he DID NOT put his hand in Jesus’ side.

But what if he DID?

It is the case that the disciples are often wrong.

But we don’t call St. Peter “Denying Peter.”

Everyone calls St. Thomas “Doubting Thomas.”

As though Thomas were the only Christian to harbor doubts.

He did doubt.

We know that.

The 1983 Thomas Troeger hymn “These Things Did Thomas Count As Real” sings it this way:

“The vision of his skeptic mind / Was keen enough to make him blind / To any unexpected act / Too large for his small world of fact” (LSB 472:2).

If we’re honest, we have to say that it takes a faithful amount of ridiculousness to believe what the Bible teaches.

Miracles contradict nature, evidence, and experience.

You don’t believe because you’ve seen—you believe because you’ve heard, and blessed are you, Jesus says.

That one could live when one had died seemed like an impossibility because it is an impossibility.

Dead is dead. No one gets up from that.

Or do they, right?

We struggle with that every now and then, I think.

I remember sitting with my mom and dad the evening that my brother had died.

My mom got the phone call informing her that her son had been embalmed.

There are several different times when the realization of death hits you, and that’s one of them.

She hung up the phone and confessed to me and my dad that she now knew that Andy wasn’t going to just wake up. That he wasn’t coming back.

Until that moment, it all could’ve been a terrible misunderstanding.

They were waiting for him to walk through the door.

But then—that moment.

The only answer to death, the only true comfort in the midst of death—the Christian’s sure and certain hope—is the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

My mom didn’t ask this question with these words, but we’ve all been there.

We’ve doubted.

We’ve wondered.

Can the impossible things in the Bible be true?

And even if they are true, what about my sins and failures and doubts, everything I’ve committed since?

Once again, the question of DID Thomas or DID he NOT can help us.

What if he DID?

Well, that would mean, after the spear, three things came out of Jesus’ side:

Water. Blood. And Thomas’s hand.

That shows us all—what God gives—and to whom.

To those who doubt—for the Doubting and Denying amongst us—the water from our Lord’s side has sanctified all the waters of earth—so that when included in God’s command and combined with God’s Word we are washed clean—not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an everlasting appeal to God for a good conscience (cf. 1 Peter 3).

To those who doubt—for all of us—the blood from Jesus’ side, with His flesh, is the medicine of our immortality.

We eat not because our bellies ache but because our souls do.

We’ve heard the Law in its sternness, and we’ve all drawn the same conclusion: “Who shall deliver me from this body of death?…”

But we’ve also heard the Gospel.

And so we have the answer.

“…Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24-25).

He’s given us these means to receive His grace so that whether Thomas DID or DID NOT put his hand in Jesus’ side—it doesn’t matter—we have what we need:

The Word of God proclaimed.

Law and Gospel.

The Means of Grace.

The exhortation to hear and remember and believe and trust the Gospel.

In a manner of speaking, we have our peanut butter and jelly sandwich—and—with joy—we get to eat it, too!

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Easter 2 (Quasimodo Geniti), 2021
John 20:19-31
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

“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, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another” (Job 19:23-27).

Job’s words are written.

They are inscribed in a book.

And when you consider that some epitaphs include the words of Job that follow—his words are even inscribed with an iron pen and lead.

But what does it mean to have a Redeemer?

And of what significance is it that He lives?

What does it mean that your skin will be thus destroyed?

And how, after that, will you see God face to face?

These are good questions, and they all have their answer in the resurrection of our Lord.

First, consider the alternatives.

If there were no Redeemer.

That would be like a child with a broken spirit, who’s  learned after much neglect, not to expect good from Mom or Dad.

The hopelessness.

The loneliness.

The seeming insignificance.

It can be no surprise to us—the correlation and causation of godlessness and hedonism.

Or godlessness and all things anti-life.

If there is no redeemer, what is there to redeem?

And so life becomes meaningless—worth only what we say it’s worth, be it a bank balance or whatever other legacy is left.

But if there is a Redeemer, there’s value in your life and being—inherently, a priori. Maybe not in numbers we can measure, but we can measure it—in the love and sacrifice, the lengths to which the Redeemer goes to buy us back and win us away from whatever it is He redeems us.

And look at the purchase price—the holy body and precious blood of the Son of God.

There is nothing worth more—and He gave it all, even His own life—to redeem you. 

That’s what it is to have a Redeemer.

You are never without hope. Never alone in life. And never insignificant, because—

The Lord is your hope—that never fails.

The Lord is with you—until the end and then some.

He gives you and all life significance—in that He first became what He later redeemed.

But He died.

Job didn’t know that his Redeemer must die. He knew only that his Redeemer lives.

But if we are to be redeemed from sin, death, and satan, our Redeemer must die—that’s the purchase price.

But our Redeemer must also live—that’s our future.

To have a Redeemer gives us hope.

To have a Redeemer who died gives us confidence—that nothing is lacking or wanting or unfinished.

But to have a Redeemer who lives gives us life now and forever—for whatever might come our way, it cannot separate us from that love of God and the life to come.

This is what it is to have a Redeemer who lives.

But Job says that his skin will be thus destroyed.

In this moment, he knows that at some point he will die.

We all come to terms with that.

More and more as the days go on—we see, in our flesh, the evidence of our mortality—or we’re reminded of it in what we see in the world.

Our flesh will one day be destroyed.

Where then is our hope?

Where then is our Redeemer and redemption?

David writes in the psalm: “My heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure. For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption” (Psalm 16:9-10).

Both amidst sheep and men, David was familiar with death. Like Job, he knew the inevitability of it.

But his heart was glad, and his whole being rejoiced.

Contrary to what may seem logical—his flesh dwelt secure.

Though he would go the way of all flesh, he would not be abandoned to death and hell.

For the Holy One will not see corruption.

Our Redeemer—who died—His flesh will not be corrupted.

Such is the life of God—that death can’t touch it.

Such is the life of Jesus—that death and grave can’t stomach it.

As Jonah was vomited out of the fish and onto dry ground—that’s the word for it—so Jesus was vomited out of death, for the victory remains with life.

Though everyone of us will go with way of all flesh, our skin will be thus destroyed, yet in our flesh we will see God.

He did not abandon His Holy One to corruption.

Neither will he abandon us to death and hell—but raise us on the Last Day that we would behold Him and not another.

This is what it means to have a Redeemer.

What it means to have a Redeemer who lives.

This is what it means that our skin will be thus destroyed.

But this is what it means that we will see God face to face.

The words are written!

Inscribed in a book!

With an iron pen and lead they are engraved in the rock forever!

It is as though we write the epitaph ourselves: “I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.”

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Easter Day, 2021
Job 19:23-27; Mark 16:1-8
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

“Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb” (John 20:1).

It’s an important detail—it should be recalled every year—that the stone had been taken away—not because Jesus needed it rolled away—but we did.

As death no longer has dominion over Jesus, just so, neither do doors.

He no longer hides his divinity—as He did in His humiliation, all the times when He did not fully use His divine power.

So—He doesn’t need to use a door to be where He wants to be.

“On the evening of that [Easter] day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you’” (John 20:19).

A stone across the tomb can’t hold Him in.

And a closed and locked door can’t keep Him out.

Just so—salvation doesn’t rely on the dead thing to choose Jesus.

It can’t. That door is dead and locked.

But here is the Lord of Life who stands among the disciples in spite of their fear—and to remove it.

And here is the Lord of Life who causes His Word to be preached among us—in spite of our sin and to remove it.

Neither the dead heart, the locked door, nor the rolled stone can bar His entry.

And so the stone that has been rolled away is not for Him but for us.

As proof. To us.

Proof of death’s destruction—for what else stood in His way?

Proof of the forgiveness of sins—for how else could He be raised than if there were no sin in Him?

Proof that when Jesus calls bread and wine His Body and Blood, He means it—for if He needs no doors, He certainly knows more than one way of being present at a time. He can be in Heaven and on Earth, and in bread and wine. He can descend into Hell and preach to the souls in prison. And He can be here, with us, now, for our good, according to His Word and divine power.

And the stone is rolled away as proof to us of the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting—for what else does it mean for those who are united to His death and resurrection than that they will be raised—and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness?

This is most certainly true.

Death no longer has dominion over Him.

Death—our enemy—is our enemy defeated.

There is no more terrible, unnatural, and agonizing thing than death—but the stone is rolled away so that we’ll see—that death is only temporary.

“For in [Christ Jesus] the whole fulness of [God] dwells bodily” (Colossians 2:9).

That’s how and why we have this moment with Jesus and Mary who “stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him’” (John 20:11-13).

For she did not yet know that death had been defeated.

“Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary’” (John 20:14-16).

And she saw—and believed—and rejoiced not only that He was there—but what it meant that He was there.

This isn’t like when you’ve lost your keys and rejoice to find them.

Everyone of us has lost something and not really worried about it because we basically knew where it was, that it would turn up.

This isn’t that.

“As yet [Mary and the others] did not understand the Scripture, that [Jesus] must rise from the dead” (John 20:9).

Mary expected a dead body.

Mark says it this way: “When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him” (Mark 16:1).

He means—they intended to anoint his dead body as they would’ve done before His burial, had it not been rushed and on a high feast day.

For Mary, the stone is rolled away to break her expectations regarding death. So that she would see and wonder and ask and hear that what she was not expecting is true—Jesus lives.

And for us, the stone is rolled away to show us another of God’s great reversals:

As the stone and Christ that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone, so the stone the builders chose, to roll in front of death and tomb, God has rejected—so that we will see that death is our enemy destroyed.

And hell is emptied of its power.

That sins are forgiven—the sacrifice is applied to you, credited to your account.

That God is with us now—for our good—that we would taste and see that the Lord is good.

And that all those in Christ can hope with certainty and wait with faith that will not be put to shame for the resurrection of the body—reunion with Christ and all the faithful—and life everlasting.

Jesus didn’t need the stone rolled away.

We did.

So God moved it.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Easter Dawn Sermon, 2021
John 20:1-18
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt