Here our true Paschal Lamb we see,
Whom God so freely gave us;
He died on the accursèd tree—
So strong His love—to save us.
See, His blood now marks our door;
Faith points to it; death passes o’er,
And Satan cannot harm us.

God is always doing the same things.

He hasn’t always done them in the same way, but He’s always been doing the same things.

Before His crucifixion, death, resurrection, and ascension, Jesus defines the work of God like this: “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. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:7-8).

God has always been convicting the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment. That’s a perfect summary of everything that God has done, is doing, and will do.

When the Scriptures teach that God is love or that God is slow to anger or merciful—though it may sound strange to our ears—that’s just another way of saying that God convicts the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.

But we must reconcile the fact that those things appear and are received and understood very differently by different people.

God is always doing the same thing.

But not everyone believes or understands it.

We know, from practical experience, that “mercy” doesn’t always mean “nice” and that what is merciful to one may not be merciful to another.

If an animal is suffering terribly, it might be the merciful thing to put it down or have it put down. As stewards of God’s creation, created in God’s image, we tend to what He’s given us.

But if another steward is suffering terribly, it’s merciful to bear with him in his suffering, to remind him of the truth of the love of God.

That may not alleviate the suffering of this life, but it most certainly helps prepare for the life to come.

God is always doing the same thing—He’s always preparing us for the life to come. And you will enter into everlasting life well-prepared—or not. You will enter into everlasting peace—or not.

God works to the end that you would be prepared for the end.

Still, we must reconcile the fact that what God does is received and understood very differently.

Jesus says, “[The Holy Spirit will convict the world] concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged” (John 16:9-11).

In the Inn and House of the Church, in the Ark of the One True Faith, God is saving the world.

He causes the world to be convicted of sin. He melts our hearts of stone by the dirge of His Law.

The contrite bones that God has broken rejoice, and our merciful Lord remembers our sin no more.

The Holy Spirit is at work in the Word of God proclaimed to convict the world concerning sin. Not that the world would be condemned but that—through Christ—the world would be saved.

The Holy Spirit is at work in the Word of God proclaimed to convict the world concerning righteousness.

The Lord is our righteousness, but we occasionally forget our fear of God, take His bountifulness for granted, and lean on our own understanding.

So our God and Lord has taught us to pray: Hallowed be Thy name to remind us all that God’s name is holy.

Your name may be holy in town. It may be written a dozen times in bronze. But it is the cruciform name of God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—that saves.

Not yours.

All other names fail.

The Word of the Lord—His name and His righteousness—endures forever.

And the Holy Spirit is at work in the Word of God proclaimed to convict the world concerning judgment.

The ruler of this world is judged.

We’re not waiting to find out how it all ends. Law and Gospel is not a half-preached two-part sermon.

We know how it ends—that’s why we sometimes take God and the time of our visitation for granted, intentionally sinning a little, now and then, for the enjoyment of it, careful to think, in the back of our minds, that we can always repent later.

That foolish lack of urgency and preparation will surprise you when the watchmen on the heights are crying: “Awake, Jerusalem, arise!”

The ruler of this world is judged, and as soon as the last adult convert to Lutheranism confesses the faith, as soon as the last baby to be baptized receives the sign of the Holy Cross both upon his forehead and upon his heart to mark him as one redeemed by Christ the crucified, as soon as God saves the last name that’s written in the Book of Life, He won’t wait anymore.

Consider, now, the work and Word of God.

He convicts the world concerning sin, righteousness, and judgment.

In the Church, we hear His Word with joy.

We confess our sins, removing the plank from our own eye that we may then help our brother with the splinter in his.

We confess the faith. In our prayers, in hymns, and in daily conversations that may make that one grumpy, grouchy family member of yours a little more grumpy and grouchy.

We hear and believe the Gospel, and we receive both pardon and peace. In this life and in the life to come.

Inside the Church there is life.

But outside the Church, where the Word of God is trampled underfoot and snatched away by birds, where faith is scorched by the sun and choked out by weeds, outside the Church there’s only vanity leading to death.

God will send—into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels—all those who do not believe and live by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Listen to these words again:

Here our true Paschal Lamb we see,
Whom God so freely gave us;
He died on the accursèd tree—
So strong His love—to save us.
See, His blood now marks our door;
Faith points to it; death passes o’er,
And Satan cannot harm us.

Inside the house, the Old Testament Christians eat the lamb that was given for them, and they receive the full benefit and protection of that bloody sacrifice.

Death is swallowed up by death.

But outside the house, in unbelieving Egypt, a few die—but all are in peril.

All are reminded that there is a God who fights for His people.

“The word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18).

God is always doing the same things.

Hear them—receive and believe them as He desires—and you will have peace—now and forever.

So feast on Christ this Easter day.
The Word of Grace has purged away
The old and evil leaven.
And all our souls upon Him feed
Christ is our food and drink indeed!
Faith lives upon no other.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Cantate, 2020
John 16:5-15
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

How many of you have ever been called pessimistic or negative? Are you a Negative Ned and Nancy Nay-sayer? Or a Debbie or Donnie Downer?

Something deep within our fallen pessimism tells us that when Jesus says, “A little while, and you will see me” (John 16:16), it’s like a doctor saying, “This will only hurt a little bit.”

We don’t believe it.

We live in a drive-thru world—buying now and paying later. I’ve forgotten what it’s like to watch commercials.

We like hymns with three stanzas, and, thank the coronavirus, Pastor’s sermons are only one page long.

Godly patience is a virtue that we rarely exhibit.

Joseph was betrayed, jailed, and forgotten.

Job, sinner though he was, endured.

The disciples, with Jesus’ body in the tomb, waited.

Those were all “little whiles.”

For Joseph, years. For Job, months. For the disciples, days. All eternal-feeling “little whiles.”

It may have seemed like God was slow to help Joseph. Slow to speak to Job. And even slow to visit and relieve the disciples, but “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

The Lord remembered Joseph. He—finally—spoke to Job. And Jesus came to His disciples on the evening of that day, as promised.

Despite fear, worries, betrayals, and self-quarantine, Jesus came and stood among them speaking peace into existence as light from darkness.

Since then, the Church endures her “little whiles.”

When are yours? They don’t have to be virus-related.

Slow internet? When you have to repeat yourself? When a child won’t nap?

When do you shut the door, as the disciples did, in fear? From your spouse, from your family, from your friends, from your children? When do you hide?

We usually handle the initial onslaught of evil—the devil, the world, and our flesh—fairly well.

Our faith is trained. We pray and hope. Good!

But when the “while” part of the “little while” settles in, when we realize that we might have to live with this, with suffering, with consequences, limitations, broken trust, and maybe even a sad future, we get scared.

Ask the widows. Ask those in prison.

Ask the parents of hospitalized children.

We experience the broken and dying aspects of life.

But do we know that the world is broken and dying because it is at enmity with God?

Inmates know this. And widows. And the cancer ward.

Joseph—and Job—and the disciples—these all learned to hope in the Word and promises of God.

“Lo, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20), Jesus says.

And it’s as if He says, “I’m with you in the little whiles and the long little whiles. You will see Me again. I’m coming back. I’ll keep My Word. Believe in Me unto life everlasting.”

We know that Jesus says, “…A little while, and you will see me” (John 16:16).

We must wait.

But the only way to wait is to be ready.

“Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” (Psalm 27:14).

He comes to you by means—proclaimed, poured, and given and shed. That you would be comforted.

You (or your children or your spouse) may suffer for the rest of your life. You have peace here and now in the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.

You may lack. You may doubt. You may fear.

But the perfect love of God casts out our fear.

When you sit before the Lord, your cup runneth over.

You have no lack.

St. Paul says it this way: “Suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:3-5) [in Holy Baptism].

So we rejoice. And and endure. And wait in the Lord.

Patience is a gift from God, a fruit of the Spirit that abides in the Christian.

It’s part of the good conscience that God gives His children.

Part of the clean heart that God creates in us.

Wait on the Lord and His promises.

And not yourself.

What Jesus says is true: “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 16:21).

So we pray, “Come Lord Jesus.”

We wait for the Lord.

And we live for our neighbor.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Easter 4 (Jubilate), 2020
John 16:16-22
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

A “good father” may yet be a deadbeat dad. The mother of his children may call him good because he dangles his keys in front of a crying baby twice a month or because his checks arrive on time.

This may fit our definition of “good” but not God’s.

A “good man” may yet be a scoundrel. He may be good for one job and terrible for any other, but for that one job—he’s a good man for it. The right man for that job. This may fit our definition of “good” and “right,” but it doesn’t fit God’s.

A good mother may not mind if you use wire hangers.

A good mother may call you by name and not by “It.”

A good mother—or aunt—may let you have your own room and not stick you in the cupboard under the stairs until you’re eleven.

We may call all of these “good,” but none of them are, by definition, beautiful, ideal, or sublime.

We may call these “good,” but none of them are, by definition, noble.

We may call these good, but God doesn’t.

So when Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11), set aside your definition of “good,” and hear how God defines what is meet, right, and salutary—what and who is truly good.

Jesus says, “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. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep” (John 10:11-15).

This is no metaphor.

Jesus identifies Himself as the good shepherd and then defines His God-given obligation: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep…I lay down my life for the sheep” (cf. John 10:11, 15).

“Glorious now behold Him arise, / King, and God, and Sacrifice” (cf. “We Three Kings,” stz. 5).

This is why Jesus came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary and was made man—to bring that which had Fallen back into the Fold. To reconcile the world to God. To die for the ungodly. To lay down His life for the sheep.

“I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd” (John 10:16).

The sheep versus the wolf isn’t David versus Goliath.

There’s no version of this where the sheep rely on their cunning, pick stones from the brook, sink one into the forehead of the wolf, and win the victory.

If not for the good shepherd, the wolf snatches the sheep and scatters them.

But David versus Goliath is like the good shepherd versus the wolf.

“The Lord saves not with sword and spear” (1 Samuel 17:47).

Desiring the sheep, the wolf strikes the shepherd, but the stone the builders rejected falls and crushes him.

The good shepherd destroyed death by enduring it.

He vanquished hell by descending into it.

Goliath met David but fought against God.

The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep—and death is swallowed up in the victory of Christ (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:54).

The good shepherd is good, because He is in no way selfish. He’s good, noble, beautiful, ideal, sublime—because He doesn’t flee the wolf—He fights the wolf.

He doesn’t save Himself—He saves you.

Would that we’d defend our neighbor,
As we, ourselves, defend.
The Shepherd Good has won the battle,
Laid His life down for His friends.
It was not David, nor Goliath,
Nor wolf, nor hired hand.
But the Shepherd Good who died—is risen!
Eternal life to tend.

Believe on Him, the Shepherd Good
Who died upon that Cross of Wood
To show the Flock from curséd rood
The definition of the Good.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Misericordias Domini (Easter 3) Sermon, 2020
John 10:11-16
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

“For fear of the Jews” (John 20:19), the Eleven were hiding behind closed doors.

Remember—He is not here, He is risen. He’s going before them, and they’ll go and see Him.

But now, they’re hiding. Afraid.

How quickly do we forget the Word and promise of God when we perceive a threat to our life.

“On the evening of the resurrection, the first day of the week…Jesus came and stood among them…Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord” (cf. John 20:19-20).

They were glad—but only after they had seen.

The eye is the organ of reason. They understand and believe only what they see—only what the first century equivalent of bad network news television shows them.

Only after they see Him are they glad, but Thomas, who wasn’t there, said to them, “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).

What Thomas says is both good and bad.

It’s good—in that Thomas requires the crucified, dead, buried, and risen body of Jesus as proof of the resurrection, because “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain”  (1 Corinthian 15:14).

But what he says is also bad—in that he, too, must see. Not a single Christian today sees and believes. Every single Christian today hears and believes.

The eleven are afraid because they believe they’ve been defeated. The death of Jesus felt that way. The threat of death feels that way. If they forget that He is going before them and they are going to Him, all they have is the eventuality of death and the fear that comes with it.

Into this, our world of sadness, Jesus says:

“Peace be with you” (John 20:19).

Perhaps they thought they were glad when they saw, but make no mistake—they heard and were glad.

“Peace be with you” (John 20:21), Jesus says. “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you. Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld” (cf. John 20:21-23).

He who created all things by a word, speaks peace into existence by a word and sends His disciples to spread that peace by the same word: “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”

The Church, the congregation of saints in which the Gospel is rightly taught and the Sacraments are rightly administered (AC VII.1), exists that you may have and know peace—the forgiveness of your sins, eternal life, and salvation.

“Peace be with you,” Jesus says again, now to the eleven—including 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” (John 20:26-27).

We can’t say that Thomas didn’t, but John doesn’t record that he did put his hand in Jesus’ side.

He saw, yes. But he heard, as well: “Do not disbelieve, but believe.”

And Thomas makes a great and perfect confession of who Jesus is: “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28).

The ear is the organ of faith. Thomas and the rest hear the Word of God and believe. “In many and various ways God spoke to the people of old by the prophets, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son” (cf. Hebrews 1:1).

Jesus says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). He doesn’t mean the eleven, the first century disciples. He means you and me and everyone who didn’t see the Body of Christ but nevertheless has it.

Blessed are you who have not seen.

Blessed are you who have heard.

But we must also ask this—Heard what?

“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but 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” (cf. John 20:30-31).

Blessed are you who hear the Gospel—the love of our Lord and God who lived and died and lives again, who speaks peace into our lives, that we who hear and believe in Him will never die.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Quasimodo Geniti (Easter 2), 2020
John 20:19-31
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

“And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. And they were saying to one another, ‘Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?’” (Mark 16:2-3).

They had no one to roll away the stone.

Man was in their way, for it was Joseph of Arimathea who rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb.

But worse than that, “When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint [the dead body of Jesus]” (Mark 16:1).

They expected a dead body.

Death was in their way. Not the death of a body—Jesus lives! But the death of faith, the death of hearing the Word of God but not holding it fast in an honest and good heart, bearing fruit with patience.

In all that they do, they’re trying to be loving and faithful. But since they are not faithful, they are not loving.

It’s not just Man or Death that’s in their way but the God who dies and lives. And they turn from what He has told them.

This isn’t an allegory. There’s no very large stone that you just can’t move that God will just remove if you just pray hard enough.

Rather, there is the Word of the Eternal God.

Law and Gospel. Dirge and lute.

God speaks, and it is so.

The most important words that St. Mark records for us in today’s Gospel lesson might surprise you.

It’s not: “Do not be alarmed” (Mark 16:6).

It’s not: “He has risen; he is not here” (Mark 16:6).

It’s not: “He is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him” (Mark 16:7). It’s none of those.

The most important words St. Mark records for us are these: “Just as he told you” (Mark 16:7).

God speaks, and it is so.

Thus says the Lord, and it’s true.

That’s why and how everything else comforts us.

Jesus said it. It’s true. Therefore…

Just as He told you, do not be alarmed.

It was necessary that the Son of Man suffer many things, be rejected by the elders and chief priests, and be killed—and on the third day rise (cf. Mark 8:31).

He was crucified, but, just as He told you, He has risen; He is not here.

He is going before you, and—just as He told you—you will see Him.

God speaks, and it is so.

Thus says the Lord, and it’s true.

“They went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid” (Mark 16:8).

They have heard—but they do not yet believe.

I’m not being harsh. Jesus rebukes the disciples for the same thing. St. Mark records, Jesus appeared first to Mary Magdalene. She told the disciples, but they wouldn’t believe it. Jesus, then, appeared to two of them. They went and told the others, but they didn’t believe it. Then, Jesus appeared to the eleven, ”and he rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen” (cf. Mark 16:9-14).

They heard, but they did not believe.

They saw and believed.

But blessed are you who have not seen. Blessed are you who hear the Word of God and hear it gladly.

Blessed are you who hold it sacred and learn it.

God speaks and it’s so. Thus says the Lord and it’s true.

Just as He told you. Do not be alarmed.

He is going before you, and there, someday, you’ll see him.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

The Resurrection of our Lord, 2020
Mark 16:1-8
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

When fishes flew and forests walked
And figs grew upon thorn,
Some moment when the moon was blood
Then surely I was born.
With monstrous head and sickening cry
And ears like errant wings,
The devil’s walking parody
On all four-footed things.
The tattered outlaw of the earth,
Of ancient crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,
I keep my secret still.
Fools! For I also had my hour;
One far fierce hour and sweet:
There was a shout about my ears,
And palms before my feet.

“The Donkey” by G.K. Chesterton is a wonderful little poem and yet another example for the Christian of how “the Lord sees not as man sees” (cf. 1 Samuel 16:7). His ways are not our ways. His thoughts are not our thoughts (cf. Isaiah 55:8).

But “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!” (John 12:15).

Donkeys are wonkey, so I’ve read, and ugly.

There is, in American slang, the phrase “donkey ugly” which describes something that is so ugly it could only have been produced by an already ugly donkey.

No one wants to look, sound, act, think, or be like a donkey. 

No loving husband says that his wife reminds him of a donkey.

No loving wife says that her husband’s voice is as soothing and as sweet as the Hee-Haw of a donkey.

They’re ugly.

And yet—one far fierce hour and sweet…

There was a shout about his ears.

And palms before his feet.

The Lord of glory chose to ride upon that which is most ugly as He made His way into Jerusalem.

Briefly, let’s wonder at the seeming contradictions of God: The Eternal God is born in time. Holy, He endures shame, conviction, cross, and death. Lord of all, He serves all. Glorious, He rides upon that which is ugly.

These things don’t make sense to us.

None of what is going on makes sense to us. “This is serious—save lives and stay home.” Or, “This is serious, but if I can go to Costco, I can go to church.”

Fear not, daughter of Zion—all is as it should be.

You don’t understand it all, because you’re not God.

You would never choose a donkey.

You would never choose to endure shame or cross or death. You would never submit.

So God gives you a cross to bear.

You can ignore it and make matters worse.

“A bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench” (Isaiah 42:3). But you can let your worries crush you if you give up hope.

Why are there crosses? Sicknesses? Trials? And tests?

Why are there days like these?

We would never choose this.

Fear not, daughter of Zion—that is as it should be.

You’re not God. He chose a donkey.

The burden of the sin of the world is carried by our Savior. The donkey literally bears the burden of Christ.

The burden of our sin is carried by Jesus to cross and death and grave. There, sin stays dead, but Jesus lives. The Christian bears the burden of Christ—that is, we bear the burden of His name and His Word. The burden of the world’s scorn and the ire of the evil one.

Fear not. This is as it must be.

Never give up. Here is your hope!

There is a shout about your ears and palms before your feet: “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” (John 12:13).

Through cross and death, He rides to resurrection victory.

And we follow.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Palm Sunday, 2020
Matthew 21:1-9
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

Of all the signs as to whether a man is a child of God or a child of the devil, none is more certain than whether or not the Word of God is heard.

Always—and especially now—God is testing our faith. And the devil is tempting us to sin.

Always—and especially now—we all have really good reasons not to hear God’s Word.

Maybe you’re a high risk individual.

Maybe you just don’t like the pastor.

Always—and especially now—you can very easily justify the many and various reasons you have to completely ignore the Word of God.

Such is the doctrine of man.

Because when and where God’s Word is heard, when and where it’s believed and kept, there is eternal life.

But when and where God’s Word is not heard, the doctrines of man break in and steal. There’s no such thing as neutrality with respect to God. You’re either hot or cold or He will spit you out (cf. Revelation 3:15-17).

Where the Word of God is not heard—there’s only idolatry and vain worship that leads to eternal torment.

Jesus says, “Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God” (John 8:46-47).

The Word of God speaks, but the Jews don’t listen. They say, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?… Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, ‘If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death.’ Are you greater than our father Abraham [and the prophets] who died? Who do you make yourself out to be?” (cf. John 8:48-53).

The Pharisees and the Jews don’t believe in God, because they don’t believe in Jesus.

Theirs is vain worship, leading to eternal torment.

Of all the signs as to whether a man is a child of God or a child of the devil, none is more certain than whether or not the Word of God is heard, trusted, kept, and believed.

Always—and especially now—we all have really good reasons not to hear God’s Word.

And—you should step back and observe what God is doing in, with, and under temporal suffering.

He hasn’t taken the Gospel away from you, but He has given you a few weeks where it’s really easy to completely forget about God.

Only a few people at church at a time.

And everything’s on Facebook anyway?

No one will know if I sleep in. If I don’t participate in that strange internet thing.

No one will know if I don’t read my Bible, study the Word of God, pray for the congregation, or help those who’re in need.

No one will know.

That’s the temptation—to think our circumstances so unique and severe that our responsibility to hear the Word of God gladly doesn’t matter.

That’s the vain worship and idolatry.

I say all that to any who would use this current tribulation to avoid God’s Word.

But I also realize there are those who legitimately fear dying.

A defeated enemy, death is still an enemy.

And so I say this to those who’ve been recently reminded that God knows the number of our days and that time marches on.

To comfort those in fear and sadness, unless it’s your last day on earth, all things are in God’s hands and you can meet with no offense.

For those who hear the Word of God and believe, you’ll make it through every single day of your life until you go to be with Jesus.

He who knows all things, He who numbered the hairs on your head, He knows both the end of your earthly torment and the end of your earthly life.

Fear not.

If one end is near, so is the other.

When his dearest beloved suggested that he should curse God and die, Job said, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” (Job 2:9-10).

If you want Christ, you must also take up your own cross and follow Him. If they tried to stone Jesus because of His doctrine, they’ll come for you and yours as well.

So many oppose the Word and will of God!

But what is that to you?

As for the Pharisees in today’s Gospel lesson, so for the Jews in general, Jesus hides Himself.

He withdraws.

As He hid from them once, He is hidden from all blaspheming hearts now. For 2,000 years, the Jews have had no real kingdom, no real priesthood, no real temple.

And that’s a warning to us all.

If we’re ever found to be unfaithful or ungrateful like them, we should expect our Lord to spare us no more than He has spared them.

Worship the Lord your God.

Trust Him, and serve Him only.

Hear Him. Conform your life to the image of Jesus the Christ. Conform your life to His Word.

And He promises to pour out—abundantly—His grace and mercy—His peace.

He promises that you, on the Last Day—on your last day—will enter into eternal life.

Jesus says, “I do not have a demon, but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me. Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is One who seeks it, and he is the judge. Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death…If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word. Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad” (cf. John 8:49-56).

That is, Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness (cf. Genesis 15:6; Romans 4:3).

He heard, and He believed.

By faith, Jesus wasn’t hidden from him like the ram caught in the thicket.

By faith, He knew the sacrifice that was to come.

By faith, Abraham heard, believed, kept the Word of God, and—sins forgiven—entered into eternal life.

Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58).

They picked up stones to throw at him, following their father the devil.

But from them, He was hidden.

Always—and especially now—God is testing our faith. The devil is tempting us to sin.

Always—and especially now—we all have really good reasons not to hear God’s Word.

So many oppose the Word and will of God.

Depending on the state, abortion providers, package stores, and marijuana dispensaries see an ever increasing flow of foot traffic, while church’s are deemed inessential.

But what is that to you?

Will you have Christ the Crucified but not a cross of your own? “Shall [you] receive good from God, and shall [you] not receive evil” (Job 2:10)?

He is not hidden from us.

Church is essential, because Jesus is essential.

His Word is essential.

Of God, we hear the word of God and keep it.

And Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death” (John 8:51).

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Judica (Lent 5) Sermon, 2020
John 8:46-59
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

Jesus looks and acts like somebody special.

If you set aside the fact that you’ve heard your entire life exactly who Jesus is and read but a few chapters of the Gospel according to St. John, you’ll quickly realize that Jesus is somebody special.

And sometimes—that’s actually a problem.

Jesus speaks and acts like He’s God.

He calls God His Father. He heals the sick.

That’s impressive stuff.

But then today He asks a question.

He’s turned water into wine, miraculously.

He’s healed a boy without being there, miraculously.

God is His Father.

He’s equal to God with respect to His divinity.

But He doesn’t know where to buy bread.

That’s a problem.

He acts like God— Talks like God—

Some of the time.

But not on command.

For us, that’s a problem.

John tells us—but the disciples don’t know—that Jesus knew what He would do.

He asked His question to test them.

And they failed.

“Philip answered, ‘Two hundred denarii would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little’” (John 6:7).

“One of [Jesus’] disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, ‘There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?’” (John 6:8-9).

Jesus knew what He would do, but He asked His question to test them.

Jesus is God, but it doesn’t always look like it.

God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—is always working, but we don’t always perceive His work.

But—He Himself knows what He’ll do.

The disciples are caught between God and unbelief.

Between trust and doubt.

Between despair and patient, long-suffering faith.

They’ll either be man-pleasers or servants of Christ.

“Philip answered, ‘Two hundred denarii would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little’” (John 6:7).

He was concerned with the numbers, the cost.

God is with us, present in the flesh—sure, sure—but money is the insurmountable obstacle here.

“Andrew…said to [Jesus], ‘There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?’” (John 6:8-9).

Andrew was concerned with different numbers, the incredible crowd and the measly offerings.

God is with us, present in the flesh—sure, sure—but an impressive amount of impressionable people need to be impressed by how good we look, Jesus—don’t you get it?

All the while—He Himself knew what He would do.

“Have the people sit down,” (John 6:10) Jesus said.

“[And He] took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted. And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, ‘Gather up the fragments, that nothing may be lost.’ So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten” (John 6:11-13).

He knew what He would do, and He did it.

He tested them, held their feet to the fire, so to speak, a little longer than Philip and Andrew liked.

He knows what He’ll do, and He does it.

He tests us, holds our feet to the fire, a little longer than we would like.

He does this—always—that we would lean not on our own understanding, trust not in princes, believe not because we see but because we hear the Word of God and believe.

We’re caught, all the time, in the same tension the disciples found themselves in.

God constantly fails to live up to our expectations.

He doesn’t dance on command. He doesn’t seek to please us but to save us.

Our expectations are wrong.

Not only can we not, we would never choose to feed thousands of people with five barley loaves and two fish.

Five barley loaves and two fish is the equivalent of what’s left on the shelves at Walmart right now.

Nobody wants that stuff.

For that matter, we’d never choose for the Eternal Son of God to be born of a virgin and placed into a feeding trough. That doesn’t impress us.

We’d never choose for Him to suffer—that’s for bad people.

And He’d never have to be raised, because we’d never choose for Him to die.

If God lived up to our expectations, all the people we hate would have high-grade fevers right now, and we’d be able to spare a square but we wouldn’t.

Our expectations are wrong—because we are all poor, miserable sinners.

“When the people saw the sign that [Jesus] had done, they said, ‘This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!’ [But] perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself” (John 6:14-15).

We don’t expect humility, because God has given us a constant excess.

We don’t expect humility, but behold!

Our king comes to us, the Eternal Son of God, “born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law” (Galatians 4:4-5).

“Behold our king comes to us humble, and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden” (cf. Matthew 21:5).

“Behold the man” (John 19:5) who was crucified.

Behold our God—who died.

All the world, in its combined wisdom and power, could never multiply five barley loaves and two fish, by a word, without sweat, into a miraculous meal.

But the Church does that weekly, or better.

We don’t expect humility, because our expectations are wrong.

But as He did, He does. “Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night when He was betrayed, took bread.”

It’s not impressive looking bread.

If Walmart sold communion bread, it’d still be on the shelves.

But by His Word, without our sweat, it is what Jesus says it is: His Body, His Blood, given and shed for us for the forgiveness of our sins.

We could never expect that—but God gives it.

All the world, in its combined wisdom and power, would never settle for something that looks so unimpressive.

But the Church does that weekly, or better.

Today, unimpressive pastors in unimpressive churches preaching unimpressive sermons, broadcast on unimpressive websites achieve—in the right proclamation of the Gospel—what the world cannot understand and will never accomplish itself.

By simple means—the spoken word, God’s Word.

By bread and wine—and the command and Word of God.

We have exactly what He says—the forgiveness of sins.

I won’t tell you to Keep Calm and Carry On, but you should.

I will tell you to worship God, and you should.

God is using this time to check our expectations, to test us.

But He Himself knows what He will do.

God is at work.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Laetare (Lent 4) Sermon, 2020
John 6:1-15
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

Jesus Christ is the Light of the world.

But not everything Jesus says is meant to comfort.

Today, none of the words Jesus says are words you want to hear on on a plain Sunday morning let alone a Sunday morning where the nation is seemingly ravaged by fear.

Jesus says, for example:

“Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls” (Luke 11:17).

Jesus doesn’t speak these words with the immediate intent of bringing comfort.

People accused Jesus of casting out demons in the name of satan—that’s what’s going on—and Jesus responds with dead and cold logic: the devil doesn’t seek his own destruction. A divided kingdom falls.

“…If Satan…is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand?” (Luke 11:18).

Jesus means to say that it won’t. 

He goes on: “And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore, they will be your judges” (Luke 11:19).

More cold logic.

It’s not that these people have a problem with demons being cast out.

In the previous chapter, Jesus “appointed seventy-two others and sent them on” to heal the sick (Luke 10:1). When they return, they say, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name” (Luke 10:17).

The people critiquing Jesus in chapter eleven are happy about demons being cast out in chapter ten. Friends of the family can do no wrong.

But the crowd is unhappy when Jesus does it, because Jesus unapologetically calls people to repentance.

It’s as if Jesus says, “Unless you repent you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3).

They’re not words we post on our walls—at home or on Facebook, but Jesus does say those exact words in Luke chapter thirteen, in context, not far from today’s lesson.

Today, Jesus says this next: “But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Luke 11:20).

That sounds good—until you remember the other places in Scripture where God’s fingers do work.

If the finger of God and His Kingdom is upon you, in the Bible, that’s not immediately good.

It was the finger of God that afflicted Egypt with the plagues in Exodus chapter eight.

It was the finger of God that wrote the testimony of God, the Ten Commandments, on stone tablets (cf. Ex. 31, Deut. 8).

It was the very fingers of God that set the moon and stars and all the heavens in place. That’s Psalm 8, where David then prays, “What is man that you are mindful of him?” (Psalm 8:4).

To those who know the Word of God, the finger of God is not immediately comforting. If Jesus says the finger and Kingdom of God is upon you, there is, at least, in the back of your head, a little voice that must ask, “What if I’m the one that’s wrong? What if now’s the time God has set to deal with me?”

God might use that virus to bring you before Him.

There’s no comfort for the man on death-row if the judge and executioner visits.

You don’t comfort a sinner with the finger of God.

Then Jesus says: “When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are safe…”

That’s the most comforting thing Jesus has said yet.

Who is the strong man?

It’s not Jesus.

That’s the most comforting thing Jesus has said yet until you realize He’s talking about satan.

The devil is the strong man who guards unbelievers like a miser his money.

The strong man is not at all comforting.

Jesus goes on: “…but when one stronger than he attacks him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his spoil” (Lk. 11:21-22).

Even this is not immediately helpful.

That Jesus is stronger than the devil is only comforting if Jesus actually binds the devil.

We see the work of the devil all over the place.

Viruses, sicknesses, diseases, and death are the purpose and playground of the devil.

But why don’t you fear God as much as you do being without toilet paper?

The unlikely potential of being sick causes you to prepare for the next month as though it could be your last.

But it’s always been the case that it could be your last.

Why is there urgency now?

To make matters worse, Jesus says this next:

“Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters” (Luke 11:23).

You can’t use those words to comfort any ailing soul. Here, Jesus is speaking only Law, and while there are many who have valid reasons to avoid mass gatherings of people, there are others who will use any conscience issue as a free pass from obligation.

As a warning, I say, you will fear God if you don’t.

Jesus adds to it. It’s worse before it’s better. He says: “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and finding none it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds the house swept and put in order. Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there. And the last state of that person is worse than the first” (Luke 11:24-26).

So, casting out demons is good, but the demon came back the very next day.

Thought he was a goner but he wouldn’t stay away.

That’s neither helpful nor comforting.

“As [Jesus] said these things, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, ‘Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!’” (Luke 11:27).

But even this Jesus corrects: “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (Luke 11:28).

But that doesn’t help.

Would you want that said to you?

Dying of coronavirus, your pastor visits you, in a hazmat suit, and says, “If you’ve kept the Word, you’re blessed.”

Does anyone want to hear that?

Could anyone be comforted by that?

But Jesus doesn’t say these things to comfort us.

He warns us, scares us, rebukes us, calls us to repentance—so that our pride is defeated.

Sin divides us from God.

There are no victimless sins. There are no sins without repercussions and fallout.

But Christ unites Himself to all who repent.

He will not and cannot unite Himself to impenitence.

God doesn’t ignore sin, He forgives it.

The finger of God works powerful signs, showing our fragility and God’s marvelousness. The plagues and the Red Sea preserved Israel and destroyed hardhearted Pharaoh and all his host.

The same is true today.

Plagues will run their course.

If it’s not COVID-19 it’s H1N1.

God preserves the faithful in the faith—that doesn’t mean Christians never die. That means God never loses any who are His.

God’s Word shows us our sin and calls us to repentance. God’s Word shows us our savior and creates in us a clean heart.

Hardheartedness is destroyed by sins confessed and forgiven.

Lost, Jesus finds us.

Broken, He heals.

Sick, He feeds us His own Flesh and Blood, making us well.

Faithful, He forgives all our sins.

Silent, Jesus casts out our demons so that we speak the orthodox truth: Jesus is Lord. He was handed over unto death, and God raised Him from death for our justification (cf. Rom. 10:9; 4:25).

What Jesus says today calls us to repentance and teaches us to fear, love, and trust the Living God above all things.

But Jesus’ words today don’t end there.

Jesus is the stronger man who bound death and satan with the Cross.

You are safe with God.

You are saved by God.

The Finger of God is at work in Christ Who separates you from death and hell, draws a line in the sand, and pulls you into salvation and keeps you in the one, true faith.

Hear His Word and do it—confess your sins, receive the absolution, and rejoice that—in Christ—all sin is forgiven.

Blessed are you who hear the Word of God and keep it.

Blessed are you who have heard the Word of God and are kept by It.

“O little flock, fear not the foe Who madly seeks your overthrow; Dread not his rage and pow’r. And though your courage sometimes faints, His seeming triumph o’er God’s saints Lasts but a little hour.

As true as God’s own Word is true, Not earth nor hell’s satanic crew Against us shall prevail. Their might? A joke, a mere façade! God is with us and we with God— Our vict’ry cannot fail” (LSB 666:1,3).

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Oculi (Lent 3) Sermon, 2020
Luke 11:14-28
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

Today is one of my favorite days in the Church Year, because if you remember the What Would Jesus Do? fad of the ’90’s, today’s Gospel lesson, in many ways, provides an example of what Jesus can, should, and did do—that we absolutely cannot.

Do you remember the WWJD? bracelets? They were supposed to encourage Christians to consider what Jesus would do in their situation and act accordingly.

In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus insults a woman by calling her a dog after ignoring her and letting her be rebuked by His disciples.

The only good answer to WWJD? is the answer also to “What did Jesus do?”

Begotten of His Father from eternity, Jesus’ incarnation and birth were prophesied from the Garden, He’d be born of a Virgin, live a perfect life, heal the sick, raise the dead, speak with perfect authority, suffer innocently in the place of and for sinful mankind, be crucified, die, rise on the third day, breathe the Holy Spirit upon the apostles, ascend to His Father in heaven, and, there, be seated at His right hand until He comes again in glory to judge both the quick and the dead.

Asking WWJD means well but we’re better off remembering what Jesus actually did.

Today, I can’t imagine doing what Jesus did—intentionally ignoring a woman who cried out, “Have mercy on me…my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon” (Matthew 15:22).

“But [Jesus] did not answer her a word” (Matthew 15:23).

I can’t imagine doing what Jesus did, allowing His students, the disciples, to rebuke this woman. They say, “Send her away, for she’s crying out after us” (Matthew 15:23).

That’s not how we teach compassion in confirmation class.

And then, Jesus responds, not to the woman but to His disciples: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 15:24).

Given the choice, I’d rather be ignored than singled out like that.

“But [this woman] came and knelt before [Jesus], saying, ‘Lord, help me’” (Matthew 15:25).

How would you like it if you prayed that simple prayer to God and He responded as Jesus did: “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs” (Matthew 15:26)?

Too often, we jump to the conclusion—that Jesus is testing this Canaanite woman’s faith—He only seemingly ignores her—He only seemingly allows the disciples to rebuke her—and Jesus calls her a dog but He meant it as a compliment.

Ladies—can any good come from you being compared to a dog?

With today’s Gospel lesson, we generally jump to the conclusion too soon. We should first ask if there’s any merit, any truth, to what Jesus does and says.

He ignores her.

Is there any reason why He should?

Jews hated Canaanites, because they weren’t Jews. I haven’t learned all the local rivalries yet, but we all know how this goes. There are rivalries between families, factions, even, in every congregation. Arguments over money. Arguments over children. What to do with the money. What to do with the children.

We think in terms of sides, whose side you’re on.

If you’re on one side, you hate the other.

So imagine that you’re one of the disciples.

Jesus ignores this woman and calls her a dog.

He’s given you every indication that she’s on that side and He hates her—just as one on this side should.

Well of course you’d hate her.

She’s not on your side.

So if Jesus is testing her, if all of this is a matter of faith, what’s the point? Why ignore a Canaanite woman who cries out for mercy?

And the answer is: She shouldn’t be there.

This woman shouldn’t exist.

In Deuteronomy 20, God describes how Israel is to make war. When you go to a city, offer peace. Only if they make war against you shall you besiege the city.

But then, thus says the Lord: “But in the cities of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes…you shall devote them to complete destruction, the Hittites…the Amorites, the Canaanites…the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, as the Lord your God has commanded, that they may not teach you to do according to all their abominable practices that they have done for their gods, and so you sin against the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 20:16-18, cf. ch. 20).

The Canaanites were to be destroyed, because the Canaanites would teach the Jews to do according to their abominable practices.

Had Israel remained faithful, there’d be no Canaanites. This woman wouldn’t be there.

By ignoring the Canaanite woman, Jesus reminds her that she doesn’t deserve the air she’s breathing.

But it doesn’t stop with her. Perhaps you’re here because the Jews ignored God’s command.

Are any of your long lost ancestors included in the peoples that were to be utterly destroyed?

Can you say that you deserve the air you’re breathing?

Jesus isn’t only testing the Canaanite woman.

He’s teaching her. He’s teaching us, that “God hides his eternal goodness and mercy under eternal wrath, his righteousness under [sin]. [And] the highest degree of faith [is] to believe [God] merciful when he [seemingly] saves so few and damns so many, and to believe him righteous when by his own will he makes us necessarily damnable…” (Luther, Bondage of the Will, AE 33:62-63).

“It seems that God delights in our misery and is worthy of hatred rather than love” (par. Ibid.).

The Canaanites were to be destroyed, because the Canaanites would teach the Jews to do according to their abominable practices.

The great irony, of course, is that if the Jews had the faith of this Canaanite, they would all be saved.

But God’s mercy is hidden under His wrath.

His righteousness under sin.

God used the sin and rebellion of the Jews to bring His Word to this Canaanite woman—and us all.

She prays, simply, “Lord, help me” (Matthew 15:25).

She trusts that God is merciful (cf. Lk. 6:36).

She knows He desires mercy not sacrifice (cf. Hos. 6:6).

She has heard that God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but desires the wicked to turn from his evil way and live (cf. Ez. 33:11).

This woman knows that God is patient, desiring that all should reach repentance (cf. 2 Pt. 3:9).

This Canaanite is a Christian.

When everything around her suggests otherwise, she knows the truth—God is merciful.

And that’s great faith.

When your day comes and you play the part of the Canaanite woman, don’t ask WWJD?

Instead, remember and confess what God has done in Christ—what God is doing by His Word.

Hidden under the wrath poured out at the Cross is the goodness and mercy of God who saves sinners.

Hidden under the sin of the world that dies on the Cross is the righteousness of God, the Lord, our righteousness.

When your day comes, when your prayers aren’t immediately answered—when your health fails—when everything goes wrong—when you suffer and your suffering seems only to increase—when there’s too much weight on your shoulders, too much darkness in your life, too much, remember what God has done and is doing:

He has every right to ignore you completely.

But He doesn’t.

Jesus says, “I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20).

God has every right to command His servants to send you away.

But He doesn’t.

He sends His servants to you to speak grace, mercy, and peace into your life for the sake of Christ.

God has every right to call you a dog.

But faith beats Him to the punch.

O almighty God, merciful Father, I, a poor, miserable sinner, confess unto You all my sins and iniquities…

We plead guilty before God of all sin.

And if we confess our sin, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sin and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (cf. 1 Jn. 1:8-9).

It sounds like a raw deal: to remain steadfast in the faith when God tests us and leads us into temptation.

But fix your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of the faith (cf. Heb. 12:2).

Perfect and without sin, He loved us to the end.

He was handed over by His Father unto torture and shame, crucifixion and death.

Treated like the worst sinner, deserving none of it, He endured His Father’s wrath for the sake of the world.

That’s what Jesus would do, because that’s what He did.

And all He did He did to save us, the dogs begging for crumbs from the Master’s Table.

Infinitely more than crumbs, He gives us His body to eat and His blood to drink.

To strengthen and preserve you in body and soul.

That you’d receive what you can’t deserve but what God gives freely, the forgiveness of sins.

And share it with others.

It’s not WWJD? “What Would Jesus Do?”

We know the answer to that one.

Rather, it’s TGFATJHD “Thank God for all that Jesus has done!”

That won’t sell many bracelets, but it is the Gospel—the power of God for salvation to all who believe.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Reminiscere (Lent 2) Sermon, 2020
Matthew 15:21-28
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt