January 17, 2021—Saint Matthew Lutheran Church

The wedding at Cana was a dull affair.

That’s not pessimism. I’m just emphasizing what’s true:

They ran out of wine.

Steakhouses always have steak. Burger joints always have burgers. And Walmart has “Low Prices. Always.”

Weddings never run out of wine—so the families involved are poor or wasteful—either way, that’s a problem.

Mary said to Jesus, “They have no wine” (John 2:3).

And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come” (John 2:4).

That is, the hour for the Son of Man to be glorified has not yet come.

It’s not yet time for Him to ascend the Cross and win humanity away from sin, death, and satan.

And He’s right—we’re in John chapter two.

His hour doesn’t come until chapter twelve when Jesus says, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:23-24).

When the hour comes for the Son of Man to receive the wrath of God—in our place—as the due penalty for our sin—Jesus steps right up.

But what has this to do with Him—a wedding reception run dry?

The wedding at Cana is not that hour, but the two have this in common.

God—through them both—provides for our joy.

Wine, at a wedding and in general, provides joy.

Scripture is clear about the earthly joy of wine: God causes the grass and plants to grow, “that [man] may bring forth food from the earth and wine to gladden the heart” (cf. Psalm 104:14-15).

So yes, wine provides joy.

And the crucifixion of Jesus the Christ, the hour of our salvation, is the source and cause of our unending joy.

The most terrible event—by all accounts—yields the most terrific fruit: by His stripes we are healed.

Mary, knowing for what purpose Jesus came into the world, asked Jesus to bring about a little joy.

And Jesus, knowing for what purpose He came into the world, replied that the hour for that joy had not yet come.

So Mary said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5). These are the perfect words of faith, because Mary trusted that God is always working to bring about our joy—sometimes earthly, sometimes not.

“Do whatever he tells you,” because if, today, we shall receive good from God, let there be wine.

But— “Do whatever he tells you,” also, because if, today, there is no wine, if, today, we’re to receive from God adversity, it’s only so that we may be brought—eventually, kicking and and screaming, but finally—to the eternal joy set aside for us.

So— “Do whatever he tells you.”

And not only does the water become wine, it becomes the best wine. Drink up and rejoice.

“This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him” (John 2:11).

As often as you can—but especially when confronted with all that is dull and dark in our world—remember the joy of the Lord.

Our Lord, in all that He does, brings joy.

Eventually.

To each wedding. To each family. To each day.

He brings joy.

Eventually.

And I say “eventually” not to sound pessimistic but to emphasize what’s true. Everything God gives He gives with your salvation and joy in mind.

It’s not that it isn’t there—it’s that it’s not what we want.

He may give the painful joy of learning not to rely on things or dreams or people but rather the God who redeems you in Jesus Christ and promises never to leave you nor forsake you.

Remember—Job doesn’t begin to repent until he puts away his plans and the desires of his heart.

We pray “Thy will” not “my will” be done.

And He may give you the hard-earned, years-spent joy of one good friend, two beers, and three hours of good conversation.

You may have joy in the extreme—but rarely.

Compare that with the false-joy immediately had by much wine and no talk.

God may give the joy (and pain) of children, the incomparable joy of raising a family in the Christian faith.

But of course you know, that joy also comes with the cruciform hardship of living in a world that hates Jesus and all those who believe in Him.

Keep the faith—and rejoice that your names are written in the Book of Life.

God daily and richly gives the joy of the forgiveness of sins, which we receive, again and again—always needed and always relevant.

That is the joy and hour for which Jesus was born into the world—to endure the cross and despise its shame.

To take into Himself in our place and on our behalf the wrath of God, the due penalty of our sin.

To take away the sin of the world.

To save it.

That death would be swallowed up in His life and our resurrection—at the end—guaranteed.

Remember, then, to “lay aside every weight and sin which clings so closely, and…run with endurance the race that is set before [you], looking to Jesus, the [author] and perfecter of the faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising [its] shame, and is [now] seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (cf. Hebrews 12:1-2).

Remember the joy of the Lord and that all our Lord does and says brings joy—eventually.

That’s not pessimism—I’m just emphasizing what’s true. The Christian life is long-suffering faith—to the end.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Epiphany 2 Sermon, 2021
John 2:1-11
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

“What are you waiting for?”

That’s the question, right?

The question we ask other people.

The question we ask ourselves.

The self-help question of New Year’s resolutions.

That’s the question John the Baptist asks in Matthew chapter eleven.

And that’s the question Jesus asks today, essentially.

So—what are you waiting for?

Sometimes you’re just waiting for tomorrow, thinking you know what tomorrow brings or that it’ll at least be better than today.

Or—you’re waiting for next week or next month.

Or next time, the next paycheck, or the next visit.

Whatever it is, sometimes you’re just waiting for the next one, because this one isn’t it.

Or you’re waiting for “them” whoever they are.

Sometimes you wait for them to calm down.

Or you wait for them to realize.

And you’ll even wait for them to apologize.

But you’re always waiting on them and not the other way around.

We’re waiting for the world, too.

The world needs, simultaneously, to catch up and to slow down. It’s falling behind the times and getting ahead of itself. And we’re waiting—waiting—waiting for the world to change.

In Matthew chapter eleven, John the Baptist wonders what Jesus is waiting for. He “sent word by his disciples and said to [Jesus], ‘Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?’” (Matthew 11:2-3).

He wondered what Jesus was waiting for, because John had preached repentance to the Pharisees and Sadducees, that brood of vipers, saying, “Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance…Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. [And] every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Matthew 3:7-8, 10).

John thought that was happening—now—with the Christ dwelling among us.

That’s what he expected, but that wasn’t happening.

Rather: “The blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them” (Matthew 11:4-5).

John wasn’t wrong.

He knew that there was one coming who would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire (cf. Matthew 3:11).

“His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat in to the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire” (Matthew 3:12). That’s how John tells of the coming Christ.

But later on, when John sends word by his disciples and asks Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come?” He’s essentially asking Jesus, “What are you waiting for?”

And that’s how it feels sometimes.

What is God waiting for?

What’s He doing?

Why do I have to put up with this or that or him or her?

God can’t possibly want me to spend the next fifty years hating life, right?

So what’s He waiting for?

And really, He’s waiting for you.

I talk a lot about the book of Job, I know, but that book teaches the Christian how to bear the cross, and “relatively few contemporary Christians are prepared to suffer for the faith, because the therapeutic society that formed them denies the purpose of suffering in the first place, and the idea of bearing pain for the sake of the truth seems ridiculous” (Dreher, Live Not By Lies, 13).

In the book of Job, God relents and restores only after Job suffers tragically and for some time, only after Job despises himself, sits in dust and ashes, and repents.

That’s what God was waiting for.

Repentance and faith.

That’s what God is waiting for.

He’s waiting for you, and everyone who will, to repent.

He’s waiting for you, and everyone who will, to believe, trust, hold fast to, and confess Jesus as Lord and God.

But Job teaches this lesson, the harder lesson, first: God doesn’t tell us the duration of our suffering. He only demonstrates that He’s willing to see it through.

What’s He waiting for?

He’s waiting for you.

So hear the Word of God, then. Repent. Hold fast to Jesus Christ. Be willing to lose the world—and your life even—for the sake of the truth.

John wondered what Jesus was waiting for, and Jesus said, “Blessed is the one who is not offended by me” (Matthew 11:6).

So take no offense at the duration of God’s waiting.

He’s waiting for you.

He’s waiting—patiently—bringing you through this ordeal and these tribulations—the sufferings of this present age—so that you would more fully rely on Him and be conformed to the image of His Son who suffered for the truth and endured.

What’s He waiting for?

He’s waiting for you.

But today, Jesus also asks John what He’s waiting for.

“Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. [But] John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’ But Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness’” (Matthew 3:13-15).

So—Jesus said to John, basically, “What are you waiting for?”

And then John relented.

John knew Jesus needed no repentance.

John knew Jesus was without sin, that—behold—this is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

John knew that—eventually—the axe would be laid to the tree, the threshing floor would be cleared, and the chaff would be burned with unquenchable fire.

That’s what he expected, but that wasn’t happening.

Apart from the work of the Holy Spirit none of us can reconcile God’s wrath with God’s mercy.

It makes no sense to John for Jesus to be treated as a sinner, and so it makes perfect sense that John would have prevented this baptism.

But here’s what John didn’t know. Here’s what John was immediately convinced of: you wait for the Lord.

For no one else and no longer.

Wait for the Lord.

John must baptize Jesus because God has worked all of Creation to this moment. Jesus says, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15).

John’s place in the salvation of the world is to treat as a sinner the one who is without sin, to baptize Jesus, the Son of God.

“And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:16-17).

John would have prevented it.

But it’s as if Jesus says, “What are you waiting for? Don’t you know that it’s necessary for me to do this? Unless I’m made to be sin on your behalf, you cannot become the righteousness of God.”

“So God made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:21).

Perhaps it’s a strange thought that we baptize babies because they’re sinful.

And we baptize adults because they’re sinful.

And Jesus was baptized—because we’re sinful.

But unless He takes our place and sits in the lowest seat, unless He who knew no sin is made to be sin, unless He becomes the curse, there is no cure.

Unless He waits on us, there is no salvation.

And unless we wait on Him, there is no hope.

“O Israel, hope in the Lord. For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with Him is plentiful redemption. And He will redeem Israel from all his iniquities” (Psalm 130:7-8).

So if you’re gonna make resolutions this year, don’t set them with yourself in mind, you selfish human.

Rather, what is God waiting for?

What’s His will for you?

For your household and your family?

For your employees and your friends?

What is God’s will for this congregation?

And our community?

And with that in mind, let us all be so resolved to wait on the Lord—and in His word—to hope.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

The Baptism of Our Lord, 2021
Matthew 3:13-17
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

Name a kingdom that existed when Jesus was born that still exists today.

Name an empire that hasn’t turned to dust.

The high and mighty of Jesus’ day are now nothing more than names for children to learn in school.

So impressive, powerful, and wealthy were they, that we remember them with flash cards in 1st grade and forget them all by 5th!

Meanwhile, the kingdom and Church of Jesus Christ stands. The gates of hell have not prevailed, nor will they.

Psalm 2 is being fulfilled as time marches by.

The nations rage, the peoples plot, and the kings of this world are destroyed, while the Infant of Bethlehem reigns.

If the United States had to choose between Jesus, King of the Jews, and Herod, king of the Jews, which would they choose? Jesus or Herod?

Asking the question that way is terrifying, because as for us and our households, we would choose the Lord, but America, reduced to one and representative of the whole, chooses Herod every day.

America has been called a Christian nation, but how many live as Christians?

I don’t mean how many pretend—I mean how many repent, confess their sins, and receive and believe and trust and live out the Absolution?

On a given Sunday, how many Americans go to church and hear the gospel? How many receive the forgiveness of sins earned and given in Jesus Christ alone?

If they’re not in church where are they?

If they’re not hearing the Gospel, what do they hear?

What do they confess? What do they believe?

America has been called a Christian nation, but where’s Rachel?

Why is she not raising her voice in Ramah, weeping for her children?

She’s not weeping—because she has the right to kill her own children and to shed no tears for them at all.

It’s her alleged constitutional right as an American to sacrifice her unborn child on the altar of today’s Moloch, a false god of ancient times reanimated.

The doctrine that a woman has the right to do what she chooses with the fruit of her womb is a hellish lie and a direct attack on God and His Christ.

Those who favor the so-called “right” of a woman to have an abortion have joined sides with Herod against Jesus.

Jesus is for life, and Herod, for death.

Jesus became a little baby, and Herod murdered them.

Jesus loves the little children, and Herod hated them.

Jesus hides the glory of His almighty power under His humble, human nature.

Herod orders the children killed for the sake of his own personal, political power and gain.

He lived by the same rules as our politicians: support the ones who’ll vote for you and kill their children when asked, because dead children don’t vote.

At this, the Church of Christ on earth appears to be ineffective, irrelevant, and hopeless.

Who needs to flee for refuge to the God become flesh when you can get what you want by being offended?

Who needs to bow down before God incarnate, when there’s money to be made and human achievements to celebrate?

Look at America’s power!

She’s as powerful as any nation that’s ever existed, with a higher standard of living and amazing resources. She can impose her will on most other nations in the world, and has frequently done so.

But—name a kingdom that existed when Jesus was born that still exists today.

Name an empire that hasn’t turned to dust.

A virus with an almost 99% survival rate has, in places, crippled us.

People who say 2020 was the worst year lack imagination.

Imagine if God tried to bring us to our knees.

When God became flesh and dwelt among us, a babe in His mother’s arms, that was saying something about children and humanity.

That was saying, “Jesus loves the little children.”

That was saying He comes to them to be their Lord and God.

God doesn’t take kindly to those who kill babies.

God judges.

He’ll punish our nation, because our nation stands by and watches as millions of babies are slaughtered in the name of false gods like “reproductive rights,” “choice,” “sexual freedom” and “women’s rights.”

God punishes.

He punishes those who kill babies and He punishes those who protect and support those who kill babies.

Rachel was avenged in Herod’s death, and she’ll be avenged again.

Nations come and go.

They rise and fall, and God laughs at their foolish attempts to play-act Divinity.

We worship a God who fulfills biblical prophecy to the letter, down to the return of the baby Jesus from Egypt to His home in Nazareth.

Matthew teaches, in the Gospel Lesson for today, that the prophet Hosea was talking about Jesus when he said, “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son” (Hosea 11:1).

From Jesus and His deliverance, we learn that evil men have power and use it to cause pain and suffering and that’s the way it’s gonna be.

But we also learn that these evil men are not really in control but that our gracious God has set a limit to their power.

We learn that God loves the little children and that those who call themselves Christians must love them too, which is why we baptize babies instead of killing them.

And more than anything, we learn that God’s power is not to be found in the glorious appearance of great political might. Rather, God’s power is hidden in weakness, like that of an infant being carried to Egypt.

We find our almighty God in this little one, who seems so weak and small.

But He’s not.

He’s our God and Lord and Christ.

He has come to us and to our children to save us.

And He won’t leave us.

He might destroy the nation we call home.

I don’t say that to shock—I say that because it’s true.

He might destroy the nation we call home.

But He won’t let anything destroy His Church.

He who shed His blood to wash us clean of every sin has come to help, save, comfort, and defend us.

He has given us His Word.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

For those who love the little children—and even for those who have not—God has put away your sin in the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ.

Hold fast to the Savior of the Nations, and He will guard and keep you through every trouble of this world.

When you wander, He calls you back.

When you flee from Him in terror, He invites you to flee to Him for refuge.

There is no sin that Jesus did not bear.

There is no sin that is not now forgiven in Christ.

That’s how the kingdom of Jesus Christ stands when all others are destroyed.

The blood of Jesus avails for all sinners everywhere and calls out not for your condemnation but for your acquittal.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Christmas 2 Sermon, 2021
Matthew 2:13-23
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

Saint Matthew Lutheran Church

Properly speaking, the Twelve Days of Christmas begin on December 25th and go through and include January 5th.

Properly speaking, the Magi at our manger scenes don’t arrive to worship the Christ child until He’s a toddler—on Epiphany, January 6th.

Properly speaking, one of the most important days in the entire Church Year is completely overlooked because it coincides with the secular New Year.

New Year’s Day is the eighth day of Christmas, the eighth day of Jesus’ newborn life, so to speak, the day on which he was circumcised.

I don’t think that’s a topic Hallmark has considered, but it is the first time Jesus’ blood is shed in and towards fulfilling the Law for us and in our place.

Today, I’d like to redeem three of the Days of Christmas from our tired, tuckered-out mopery.

On December 26th, the Church remembers St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr after the Christ’s ascension.

His confession recalled the stiff-necked, uncircumcised hearts and ears of Judah that would not receive the Righteous One. As he was being stoned to death, “he called out, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them’” (Acts 7:59-60).

In this, Stephen bears witness to the Christ, who also said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

On the second Day of Christmas, our thoughts are already directed to Christ’s atoning death for our salvation—and to Stephen’s vision: Heaven open to us—Christ reigning at God’s right hand—with sin, death, and devil defeated.

That is the day for St. Stephen, first martyr of the Christian Church.

Today, December 27th, is the day for St. John, the Apostle and Evangelist.

St. John put into one verse all our Christmas joy: “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14).

Traditionally, we believe that John was exiled to Patmos and died an old man—not a martyr but still a witness.

He believed and confessed “the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ and to all he saw” (Revelation 1:2).

He was an eyewitness of Christ who who proclaimed to us what he saw and heard concerning “word of life” that was “made manifest” (cf. 1 John 1:1-3).

“And we know that his testimony is true” (John 21:24).

Today, on the third Day of Christmas, we should find joy and gladness with John and all the apostles that “we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” who is “the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (cf. 1 John 2:1-2).

Tomorrow, December 28th, is the day set aside to remember the Holy Innocents.

“A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children;she refused to be comforted, because they are not” (Matthew 2:18; cf. Jeremiah 31:15).

Herod rages and works to kill all the male children two years old and younger, desperate to destroy who he sees as a usurper, the newborn King of Kings.

The Church remembers these victims as martyrs, because they died for the One who came to die for them.

A dark commemoration, perhaps, but a necessary one.

This is a day for the Church to remember and confess concerning the life of children, in utero and out.

A day for mothers who, like Rachel, refuse to be comforted, a day for them to remember the widow, her son, and our God who gave the child back to her, anticipating the resurrection of our dead and the life of the world to come.

This world is full of sin and hatred, but Christ our Lord has sanctified our fragile life even from His conception and birth.

The boy who escaped the slaughter of the Holy Innocents sets His face toward Jerusalem to endure thorns and nails and cross and spear for us.

He is the Lamb whose cruciform name is written with the Father’s on the forehead of His baptized saints (cf. Revelation 14:1).

By His death He has redeemed an inheritance for Himself and brought peace at last by His blood.

On the fourth Day of Christmas, we sing the new song of Jesus Christ the Lamb, the true and perfect Martyr, whose death testifies to our redemption. We “follow the Lamb wherever He goes” (Revelation 14:4), knowing that He will bring our tears to an end.

This is the meaning of Christmas joy.

Not joy over presents, joy over money, joy over jolly jargon or seasonal slang.

Christmas joy is recognizing God’s love for us in Christ.

How infinitesimal we are.

How infinite God is.

And how an infant, God and man, was born to save us all.

“His mother marveled at what was said about him. And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, ‘Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel’” (Luke 2:33-34).

This child, the Christ-child, is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel.

“The proud will be scattered.

“The mighty will be brought down from their thrones.

“And the rich he will send empty away.

“He will exalt those of humble estate.

“He will fill the hungry with good things.

“And He will help His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy, as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham, and to His offspring forever” (cf. Luke 2:51-55).

That’s how Mary sings it in the Magnificat, when her soul magnifies the Lord and her spirit rejoices in God her Savior.

This child, the Christ-child, is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel.

And, dare I say it, for the fall and rising of all.

“For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed” (1 Corinthians 15:52).

We looked forward to His coming.

And, joy to the world, the Lord is come!

But He will come again.

And our joy in Christ, that has no end now, will be perfected and live and reign with Him forever (cf. Revelation 22:5).

With Stephen and John—the Holy Innocents and your children.

Properly speaking, this is our joy during all the days of Christmas: the redemption of Jerusalem, the redemption of the world, is come.

Merry Christmas!

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

The First Sunday after Christmas, 2020
Luke 2:33-40
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

Allusions are remarkable things.

But—like with sarcasm—a lot can be very easily missed.

An allusion expresses something without specifically calling it to mind—usually to make a comparison between something old and something new.

They’re a bit like a Pandora’s Box and a Garden of Eden rolled into one.

See—you have to know what a Pandora’s Box is—and the Garden of Eden—for that to make sense.

Within small communities, allusions become a language all their own, and the Bible is no different.

Allusions are important today because John the Baptizer says that he’s not worthy to touch Jesus’ feet.

The priests and Levites asked John, “Why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie” (John 1:25-27).

When John says this, we know what he means. It’s as if he says, “Christ is so much greater, I am so much less.  Poor sinner that I am, I’m not even worthy to handle dirty, nasty feet.”

The footnote in The Lutheran Study Bible has this for not worthy to untie: “Compared to the Son of God, John was unworthy of even a slave’s task.”

It makes the point that John the Baptizer was unworthy even to serve Jesus.

But that’s not true.

It is the Christian’s duty, honor, privilege, joy, responsibility, job, and concern to serve his neighbor—who is Christ. As we do unto the least of these, we do unto Him. That’s what Jesus says.

So when John says, “[I am not worthy to untie the strap of His sandal],” he’s saying more than, “I’m a poor, miserable sinner.” He’s saying: “I cannot come to God. I cannot begin salvation. If I am to be saved, poor sinner that I am, God must do it. And Jesus Christ is my God and Lord.”

John says exactly that when he mentions Jesus’ sandal.

He was alluding to Ruth chapter four where we learn of a custom in Israel concerning redeeming and exchanging, buying something back from where it should not be:

“To confirm a transaction, the one drew off his sandal and gave it to the other, and this was the manner of attesting in Israel. So when the redeemer said to Boaz, ‘Buy it for yourself,’ he drew off his sandal” (Ruth 4:7-8).

John alludes to this in mentioning Jesus’ sandal.

Because in Ruther chapter four, when the man drew off his sandal, he was telling everyone that Boaz is now the redeemer. Boaz redeems Ruth, they marry and have a son. His name is Obed, the father of Jesse, the father of David.

The man who keeps the sandal is the redeemer.

If John were to untie Jesus’ sandal, he would, in a way, be claiming to be the Christ, the redeemer.

Saying it like that sounds drastic, but it makes sense when you look at the use of “feet” in the New Testament. Even though the events in Ruth occur eleven hundred years before Christ, “feet,” in Jesus’ time, still have to do with redeeming and exchanging.

The word “feet” occurs about thirty-seven times in the Gospels. Every one of them has to do with redemption in some way.

Sometimes, “feet” deals with condemnation, which is the lack of redemption:

“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste…It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet” (Matthew 5:13).

If Christians cease to be different from the world, they become useless and will be trampled under the crushing feet of condemning judgment.

Sometimes, “feet” deals with healing, which is redemption from sin and earthly suffering:

“Great crowds came to [Jesus], bringing with them the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute, and many others, and they put them at his feet, and he healed them” (Matthew 15:30).

Faith knows the place of true healing: at Jesus’ side, at Jesus’ feet. The Blood of Christ was shed just as much from His pierced feet as it was from His hands and side and brow.

And sometimes, “feet” deals with worship.

On Easter Sunday, “Jesus met [the two Mary’s] and said, ‘Greetings!’ And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him” (Matthew 28:9).

Christians don’t worship feet, but we do worship a God Who became flesh and had them.

Of course, the most well known instance of “Jesus” and “feet” is when He washed His disciples’ feet:

Jesus Himself connects feet with redemption. He began to wash His disciples’ feet and came to Simon Peter who said, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus said, “You do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” To this, Doubting Peter said, “You shall never wash my feet.” And Jesus said, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me” (cf. John 13:5-8).

Like Peter, we don’t understand until afterward.

Prior to conversion, we’re at enmity with God, hating Him with a heart that wants to redeem itself.

Unless Jesus washes your feet, unless God works and saves you, you have no inheritance.

Every time “feet” comes up, it deals with Redemption.

So when John the Baptizer mentions a sandal, it’s not just a confession of humility.

We rightly confess to be poor, miserable, sinners.

And anyone who denies that has only to pinch their side and look in the mirror. There are regrets, silent and painful, that stare back at us every day.

Repent.

But not for a moment should you think the answer lies with your effort and ability. By your own reason and strength, you cannot win free from sin.

Rather, you are God’s to redeem, and He redeems you.

He endures the bruising of His own heel, the piercing of His own hands and feet.

He redeems us.

He buys us back.

He exchanges His paradise for our penalty.

And this was the plan all along.

We hear of this plan on Day Seven when God said to the serpent: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15).

That serpent, the devil, attacks our redemption, the foot of Christ. But “the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him” (Matthew 21:44).

That serpent, the devil, did bruise the heel of Christ, but by that bruise, the devil’s own head is crushed.

He redeemed that which He became.

So now, our enmity with God is over.

We are, to God, reconciled.

And all of this from one sandal!

You can’t untie it. You don’t wash His feet.

You cannot, by your own reason or strength, believe in Jesus Christ or come to Him.

You cannot save yourself, but ours is a God who saves.

Redemption is God’s to earn and God’s to give.

He is just and the justifier (cf. Romans 3:26).

Jesus earns our salvation and gives it.

He takes away our sins and gives to us His life.

He has come to His people to redeem them.

“Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).

“God has put all things in subjection under his feet” (1 Corinthians 15:27).

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Advent 4 Sermon, 2020
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt
John 1:19-28

Let’s talk about offensive things.

I would say, and I think we all agree, that we’re not offended by innocuous things—leaves on the ground in fall, for example.

But things hostile to us—those, we might count as offensive.

And, Jesus says, “Blessed is the one who is not offended by me” (Matthew 10:6).

We don’t think of Jesus or the Gospel as offensive—so how could we be offended by Him?

In His Words to John’s disciples, Jesus directs them and us all to His own Word and work.

That’s what you need to keep in mind today: Jesus points you to His Word and His Work, and He adds this beatitude: “Blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”

And these are the works of the Christ:

Thus says the Lord through Isaiah: “the deaf shall hear…[and] the eyes of the blind shall see. The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the Lord, and the poor…shall exult in the Holy One of Israel” (Isaiah 29:18-19).

Isaiah writes, regarding the coming recompense and salvation of God, “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy” (Isaiah 35:5-6).

That will happen, Isaiah writes, because “[the Christ] will bring good news to the poor…bind up the broken hearted…proclaim liberty to the captives…the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God” (cf. Isaiah 61:1-2).

These descriptions of the the day and work of the Christ are clearly fulfilled in Jesus.

The work Jesus does identifies Him as the Christ.

But—again—how is that offensive?

You might say that it’s not, but if, in the secret places of your heart, you ask God for something and you don’t get it—you might think God not only wants you to suffer but to suffer alone, abandoned, and without help.

Today’s Gospel lesson includes the first verses of Matthew chapter eleven. Here’s one of the last verses of chapter ten: “Everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven. Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have no come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:32-34).

These are harsh, difficult words made harder when the dividing line of God’s Word is drawn between family members and friends. When the choice is between being faithful or familial, these verses show us how offensive Jesus is—in that He is hostile to sin.

And “Blessed is the one who is not offended by me” (Matthew 11:6), Jesus says, because God forgives sin. And to have sin forgiven you must first have sin.

That’s the part we don’t like—owning up.

Our bruised-strawberry, offended-by-everything culture can stand by Jesus’ words, “Judge not” (cf. Matthew 7:1), but not by what Jesus means when He says, “Judge not,” because He goes on to say: “First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:5).

So the Christian is to judge—the log in his own eye  first, then the speck in yours—but we’d rather not be judged at all.

Likewise, no one’s offended when Jesus overturns the tables in the temple, because all those hypocritical churchy people had it coming. We never think of them as our tables but always their tables.

Yet how many bristle at Jesus’ words: “whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:33)?

How many flat out ignore Jesus when He says, “I have not come to bring peace [to the earth], but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father…” (Matthew 10:34-35)?

These words offend us because, sometimes, we’d rather offend Jesus than our wife, husband, son, daughter, or friend. We’d rather offend Jesus than be inconvenienced.

If there are 365 days in the year and 52 Sundays, and you go to church every Sunday for one hour, that’s slightly more than half of one percent of your time.

These are our tables, and Jesus overturns them.

Jesus says “Blessed is the one who is not offended by me” (Matthew 11:6), because He is hostile to sin.

We’re happy when the Gospel saves us, but “churches should close to keep people safe.” Casinos, bars, and abortion clinics can peddle their wares, but churches are dangerous. 

When Jonah fled to Tarshish, he closed the doors of the Church to the Ninevites.

But in that case—and today—thank God for the storm.

The Gospel is for all—and—it requires all to forsake all that is not the gospel.

If you have much—or if you think you do—that’s offensive.

And—just as offensive—the gospel—the power of God for salvation to all who believe in Jesus—requires the bloody and dead human body of a crucified God.

Baby Jesus and the Laughing Christ sell more Hallmark cards and ornaments than the bloody, naked, tortured, pierced, and dead crucified God.

But an empty cross isn’t a symbol of the resurrection. Rather, it’s a confession of man’s squeamishness with and offense at the Gospel.

St. Paul writes, “We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles” (1 Corinthians 1:23).

In India, non-Christians despise the Bible because it’s not written eloquently.

And with what disdain do we treat the Word of God!

We have the words of eternal life, but we know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God (cf. Matthew 22:29).

We can list the great houses of Westeros, pronounce Mahomes correctly, quote several decades’ worth of nonsense songs, and tell you where you may and may not sit at church.

But do we know the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the names of the Apostles, or good, Lutheran hymns?

With what disdain do we treat the attempts to teach the faith. It’s too simple / complex. I didn’t learn. I don’t learn that way. It was boring. Too much going on. I don’t like the teacher / the time. There wasn’t any coffee. Good coffee. I don’t like sitting at church, talking about Jesus. If I go every week, I might end up spending about 1% of my time at church, and that’s just too much.

Jesus says, “Whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:33).

If you don’t sing the hymns, if you don’t say “Amen,” if you don’t go to Sunday School, if your children don’t go to church—how do you—and how do they—acknowledge Jesus before men? That’s a real question.

Because Sunday School isn’t a requirement of the Christian faith, but confessing Jesus before men is.

Blessed is he who’s not offended by me.

That’s what Jesus says.

Jesus—who gave sight to the blind, new legs to the lame, clean flesh to the lepers, perfect pitch to the deaf, life to the dead, and good news to the poor—this Jesus, the Christ, the Lamb of God took upon His flesh the penalty for our sin and sacrificed Himself for us—that all who are not offended by Him would be saved.

Confess your sins, Christians, and receive the Christ.

“Blessed is the one who is not offended by me” (Matthew 11:6), He says.

And in this, the poor have had the good news preached to them. The poor, miserable, sinners have heard the Gospel, the power of God unto salvation for all who believe in Jesus.

And blessed are you who believe it.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Advent 3 Sermon, 2020
Matthew 11:2-10
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

Now—you know I waste time watching movies.

I quote from them too often. I watch them too much.

I say that upfront because Jesus says, “Come to terms quickly with your accuser” (Matthew 5:25).

But I love stories—and storytelling.

I love to laugh—even, sometimes, about things that aren’t usually funny.

In the movie Life, with Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence, Murphy’s character, one of the few who can read, reads a letter for a man in his group.

He reads the letter, and it’s full of terrible news.

The man’s second-cousin Bo had died.

And his other cousin Sally had died.

And his sister had died.

And his other sister had died.

And, of course, things have been pretty tough since the crops didn’t come in on account of the frost.

And then, there was the big tornado in which his mom and his dad, both, were killed.

But the dog’s okay—if it gets over the worms, that is.

Murphy’s character reads the letter, and—after reading it—he asks if anybody else has a letter they’d like for him to read.

Everyone else has a letter—but no one wants him to read it. It’s hilarious.

Now, I’ve taken the time to say all of this so I could make this point.

However bad the news—there’s always an end to the letter.

However bad your day—there’s always an end to it.

And—however fleeting the joy—for you and all believers in Christ, there is unending joy to come.

But—would you want someone to read your letter to you?

Would you want the contents of your day, your entire life, spelled out for you? Every bump and break.

And all at once?

Before you say yes, consider that the contents of that letter would include not only your death but the death of your family, friends, and even children.

It would include their judgment. Would you like to know which of your family members reject the faith in their lives now and on their deathbeds?

Everyone would like to know the good things now, sure. Days to look forward to—of course.

But would anyone like to know everything?

I think not.

Consider the words of our Lord. Consider what He tells us and how we are to live and watch:

“’There will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.’

And he told them a parable: ‘Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. As soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourselves and know that the summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all has taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.’

But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day [the great Day of the Lord] come upon you suddenly like a trap. For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:25-36).

The Lord promises an end.

He came in humility once—He promises to come again in glory, but the signs He gives teaches us, basically, to expect bad letters frequently.

Some days, it seems like all the letters have bad news and the letters keep on coming.

Some days, it seems like all the joy on earth is wasted on trivial, worthless nothings that everyone else is head-over-heels in love with.

There’s gonna be days of gain, sure, but we can’t avoid the days of loss.

If only God had given us the when, we’d be able to make sense of things; but He hasn’t given us the when.

Rather, He’s given us these signs.

And they’re clear, if you’ll see it.

“There will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world.”

Jesus says the signs that tell of the end are common things. Signs in the sky—meaning, perhaps, an eclipse, a super moon, or a supermassive black hole.

Those seemingly rare astronomical entities have all occurred or been observed in the last, what, three years?

But that’s common to every generation.

Every generation perceives signs in the sky.

Distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea—how long have the polar ice caps been melting? And before that, for how long have people cried out because of hurricanes and floods, earthquakes and tsunamis?

People fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world.

I think that’s a fair description of things—but it’s always something.

Before COVID was the end of the world, President Trump was. Before him, Obama was the false-messiah.

We are a people and language who choose to know only superlatives.

“Vanity of vanities! All is vanity. There is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:2,9).

And the parable Jesus tells makes this even clearer:

The signs that tell of the end are as common as the seasons changing.

After Jesus’ ascent into Heaven, it’s always been the case that the end could come at any moment.

Rejoice!

The end is coming, and all that you need to meet that end well—your salvation—all you need—has been won.

The Lord came to earth born of the Virgin Mary, to be a Sacrifice in your place and on your behalf.

He made you a son and heir and claimed you, by name, as His own, in Holy Baptism.

He forgave your sins and declared you righteous, holy, and innocent.

He’s risen from the dead to show you the coming, unending joy.

And He’s ascended into heaven to prepare a place for you.

He hasn’t forgotten you.

He is coming soon.

In the meantime, in the midst of all this perplexity and loss, the Lord comes to you as He’s promised—in His Holy Word and Sacrament.

You’re not alone. You have the Lord.

He comes—now—speaking words of warning (that you should heed) and words of comfort (that you should believe).

He comes to feed your body and soul with His Body and Blood to strengthen you for the days to come, that you would have joy, now, while you wait and joy, now, while you bear the burdens He gives you.

Christ, our Lord, is not simply our Lord in the future, at the end of the letter.

He’s our Lord even now, while it’s all being read.

You will escape these things in the end, and more than escape, you will conquer them.

Because His victory is yours—and His peace.

You have the Lord—and that’s enough.

But He has also given you each other. We confess that we believe in the communion of the saints.

God has given you each other—that you would bear all these things together—your sorrows and your joy—waiting for the end of all sorrow and the joy that is to come.

So wait—with each other and on the Lord.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Advent 2 Sermon, 2020
Luke 21:25-36
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

What do you mean your king is coming to you?

Doesn’t God know we’re Americans who have no king? We would never allow a single ruling authority to direct our days by executive fiat. Right?

We’re the land of liberty or death.

Or slaver—safety, right?

Let’s assume for the moment that we are okay with a king. The worst possible scenario would be for his word to be jumbled, mixed up, or misrepresented. Or for his work and our relief to be delayed.

Which is why we don’t do Advent very well at all.

“Behold, your king is coming to you, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden” (Matthew 21:5).

That He is coming means He is not here—which means we have to wait.

And that’s not what we expect. That’s not what we want. And I mean, come on, who cares about a donkey?

Now if it were a parade—with enormous balloon animals—and if Jesus were at the end of it—riding in a big sleigh pulled by magical deer—that would be impressive. If we could stay awake, we’d watch that.

But there’s nothing impressive about a man, riding into town on a donkey, who’s dead five days later.

Not unless what He brings and gives and is is worth waiting for.

We don’t do Advent well—because we’re impatient, preferring to see only our reflection in the water and not our neighbor in the world.

We’re impatient, thinking only of the here and now and how we feel and fret.

But God is bigger than us, praise be.

And the Church in pious patience waits for her Lord who comes to her humbly.

And so—the donkey—seemingly, perhaps, the least important detail in it all—becomes vital.

Today, in the Gospel lesson, on His way to Cross and death, our Lord comes to us on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.

And as the beast carries a burden not its own, so does its rider, our God and King.

“Hosanna” is the song sung now, but that’s not the last song we’ll sing Him. Come Friday, that’ll be replaced with refrains of “Crucify Him!”

They weren’t good with the Advent of the Christ either, but He comes, all the same, while we were yet sinners, to die for us and to save us.

And He does.

Today, into our quiet lives of mask-muffled desperation, Jesus comes to us humbly, speaking again through a donkey, if you will, bearing our burdens, forgiving our sins, and giving us life.

Through simple means, our King comes to us.

To help, save, comfort, and deliver us.

In simple, spoken words and finite bread and wine, the infinite and eternal God is at work, pleased to save those who call on the name of the Lord (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:21).

God is patient—not slow.

He arrives exactly when He means to.

So we should perceive in our Advent waiting the patience of God and a call to repentance—that we would be ready to meet our Lord with joy.

For “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land” (Jeremiah 23:5).

“[And] behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when they shall no longer say, ‘As the Lord lives who brought [us] up out of the land of Egypt,’ but ‘As the Lord lives who brought up and led the offspring of the house of Israel [into what He promised]’” (cf. Jeremiah 23:7-8).

Behold: “The hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand” (Romans 13:11-12).

Let’s be honest: it’s easy to prefer Christmas to Advent.

It’s easy to prefer Thanksgiving dinner to Thanksgiving dinner preparation.

It’s easy to prefer the wedding night to the night before the wedding.

But we wait and hope in the Lord, so that midnight hears the welcome voices, and at the thrilling cry rejoices, to meet the Lord in wisdom pure.

Actually, come to think of it, Lutherans are pretty good at Advent.

Every week, before anything else, we confess our sins and receive the Absolution.

We come to the Lord’s Table prepared.

Every week, we sing the Kyrie and flee for refuge to God’s infinite mercy, trusting that He comes to us in peace and for it.

Every week, we pray the prayer that Jesus teaches, trusting our Father who art in heaven to hear our prayer and work to give us our daily bread.

We trust Him to forgive us our sins—that He has forgiven them in Christ.

We trust Him to deliver us from evil—that He has delivered us in Christ.

We wait—every week—and hope for God to do exactly as He has promised.

And here, today, He’s doing just that:

“Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden” (Matthew 21:5).

Behold, the donkey, the tattered outlaw of the earth, bears the Christ into Jerusalem to shouts of “Hosanna,” “Save us now!”

Behold, the Man, the Christ, our God and King, a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief. He bears the burden of cross and sin and wrath of God to save us now.

And He does.

In His death, God is satisfied, and now, that being the case, so are we.

During Advent, we wait for something we know is coming.

We wait for something we know what is.

We wait because it’s good for us.

You don’t have Christmas before Advent.

You don’t eat Thanksgiving dinner before you prepare it.

You don’t enjoy the wedding night before the wedding day.

You wait, and hope, and in the Lord you renew your strength, satisfied that your King is coming to you.

To save you.

And He does.

Whether you do Advent well or not or not at all, it is the Lord’s Advent, His coming to us, to bear our sin and be our savior.

To draw us to the Father.

To call us to Himself.

To raise us out of death to life.

And He does.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Advent 1 Sermon, 2020
Matthew 21:1-9
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

There’s a distinction to make between the one and the nine. Obviously, we want to be the one and not the nine, but there’s a great difference between the two.

Now, there are a lot of distinctions to make in today’s Gospel lesson, but there’s only one that really matters.

Consider all the distinctions to be made in today’s Gospel lesson:

Jesus has set His face toward Jerusalem, and He goes, uncomplaining forth and in our place, as the sacrifice for sin.

But just as He is on His way to Jerusalem, some would be on the way to Mount Gerizim.

Some are Galileans. And some, Samaritans.

For those who followed Jesus, those are important distinctions. Jews worshiped in Jerusalem, as was right. And those half-breed Samaritans foolishly and falsely worshiped on Mount Gerizim.

They made those distinctions.

Jesus is going along between Samaria and Galilee—here, not choosing a side—because He goes to Jerusalem to be crucified for all.

And there are more distinctions.

There are lepers and—what do you call “not lepers”? Normal people? How rude, right?

There are those who call Jesus “Master” and those who don’t.

There are priests and—what do you call “not priests”? Normal people? How fitting, right?

There are the cleansed and the unclean.

The healed and the sick.

And we read these distinctions with gladness, thanking God that He has made us different from other men.

We thank God that we’re not so foolish as to think that worship must occur at Jerusalem or Gerizim.

No—we’re more likely to think that our last name gives us super powers. The right last names have that quirk everywhere.

We thank God we’re not lepers—how terrible that would be.

But we’re even more glad we’ve not recently tested positive for something as bad for our reputation as COVID.

Because there are COVID positive people and then there are normal people. Now is that rude or fitting?

We thank God that we call Jesus Master.

But we don’t think about that any further lest we realize there are false gods we at least occasionally bow down to. 

It’s Thanksgiving—so I’m trying to retain my normal cheerfulness. But—it’s Thanksgiving, which means everyone’s on edge.

Will the turkey be dry this year?

Did you use the right recipe?

Did mom really say that? Did grandpa?

How many false gods will we tiptoe around this year?

Is it fitting to think that Thanksgiving is about family? Perhaps the nine think so.

Or is it fitting to think that Thanksgiving is and ought to be about God, our very reason to be thankful.

Indeed, the one does.

Or—to avoid all the nonsense—are you following the suggested commands of our glorious overlords, the CDC and having a Thanksgiving-for-One sponsored by HotPocket.

Some thank God they’re priests.

Most thank God they’re not.

80% of the people are happy with that. Or 20%.

It varies.

We don’t argue about being cleansed, I don’t think, and we should thank God for that.

But there are people who meet your expectations—and people who don’t—and that’s about the same.

We don’t argue about who is healed and who isn’t, thanks be to God!

But we take note when yours are and ours aren’t.

I’m not saying that every one of you makes every one of these distinctions, but the shallowness of American Christianity has taught us to think of our day and age as golden, an improvement over those judgmental Jews and Gentiles.

But really, these same distinctions are made among us every day.

And—none of these distinctions are what Jesus commends.

“One of [the lepers], when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus answered, ‘Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’ And he said to him, ‘Rise and go your way; your faith has [saved you]’” (Luke 17:15-19).

And this is the type of faith that saves—

This is the distinction between the one and the nine—

The distinction Jesus wants you to know and believe and live—

There are those who worship God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

There are those who call upon His name in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks.

And there are those who don’t.

There isn’t a Jerusalem or a Gerizim, but there are idolized churches and churches to be scorned.

There isn’t a Samaria and a Galilee, but there is a Home team to root for and an Away team to despise.

And if a sports analogy doesn’t work there for you—there are schools to which you can send your kids and schools to which you should not.

Don’t read into that, I’m just saying that it’s true.

People take sides.

There aren’t really lepers anymore. Now they’re called homeless or addict or Democrat (or Republican—it depends on your family, I guess). They live together, scorned by man, and we love to hate them.

Plenty of Christians call Jesus Master.

So, that’s the same.

But plenty of look-alike Christians do, too.

So, that’s the same.

Cleansed or not—healed or not—priest or not—the distinction Jesus cares about is the broken and contrite heart that renders the sacrifice of thanksgiving to God.

The one ex-leper turned back and praised God with a loud voice. There are those who unabashedly sing the straight truth of God—and there are those who don’t.

The one ex-leper fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving Him thanks.

Posture matters.

Reverence in the presence of God matters.

He humbled himself physically, because he humbled himself period, giving Him thanks.

That the ex-leper is a Samaritan should shock us.

He’s on the wrong side of our distinctions. He’s the half-breed, homeless, addict, Democratic-Republican who worships in the wrong place. He’s not from here, not part of the community, he’s strange and doesn’t belong.

We would hate this guy for who he is.

And we would hate him even more for getting it right.

“Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” (Luke 17:18). Jesus didn’t say that because He was shocked. He said that because we’re shocked that faith can be found in people we don’t like.

That’s the point!

The distinction that matters is the contrite heart that renders the sacrifice of thanksgiving and calls on the name of the Lord.

I keep hearing about how bad a year 2020 has been.

Hearing about the ex-leper who seemed to immediately get everything he wanted from God might grate against our ears.

But Jesus healing the lepers doesn’t teach us to wait for our leprosy to be healed.

Your leprosy—mental, emotional, physical, whatever—may not be healed this side of the resurrection.

This miracle—and all the miracles—rather, shows us who fights for us.

And it is the Living God who fights for you.

When I point out that the distinction that matters is faith which trusts in Jesus—and thanks Him—that might grate against our ears, too.

“Thank Him? For this year?”

You think this year’s been bad?

Imagine if God withdrew His protection.

Considering all we know—we might reminisce next year about how great we had it this year.

You think you’re innocent of taking God’s love for granted?

How many of you are at all anxious about today?

Why? Does God love you less than He did?

No.

In fact, He stands immovable in love.

Protecting you from worse. And giving you His best, His only-begotten.

What stands between the one and the nine is Jesus the Christ.

The nine get what they want and get out, and we’re always tempted to do the same.

The one gets what he wants—but his entire life is put on hold for one moment.

And in that one moment, he realizes that the Lord gives and the Lord takes away.

God kills. And God makes alive.

And this God stands between you and sin, death, and satan and says to all evil, “Thus far shall you come and no farther.”

There will never be a better year, a better day, than this one, because the Lord made it and used it to call you to Himself.

Praise to the Lord, who has fearfully, wondrously, made you, / Health has bestowed and, when heedlessly falling, has stayed you. / What need or grief / Ever has failed of relief? / Wings of His mercy did shade you.

Happy Thanksgiving.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Thanksgiving Day, 2020
Luke 17:11-19
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

When driving, if you see a sign that informs you that the exit you need is in one mile—or, if you hear, “In one mile, turn right,” what does that mean? 

It means slow down, right? Your turn’s coming up.

Pretty simple.

But on my way to an appointment with the eye doctor, I heard, “In one mile, turn right.” And what did I do?

I heard the announcement. I wanted to listen.

I wanted to do as I knew I should.

But—when the cry went up, “Turn right,” it was too late. Like so many, I had received the warning, but I did not heed it with care. I was distracted from the way.

In a car, this is no big deal. You slow down, turn around, and make the correct turn. Or—you can do what I did and slam on your breaks and make the turn at the last possible moment.

If you never want to ride with me—I’ll understand.

But the point is, we see and hear the warning—we want to heed it—and we get distracted.

Repent!

I’m not talking about you missing the exit on the way to the doctor, the restaurant, or the shop.

I’m talking about the doctors and nurses, the business owners and employees, and the consumers who are on the Way but may miss the Exit.

Or, to say it this way: live as though you believe Jesus who says, “Behold, I am coming soon” (Revelation 22:12).

In a car, when someone tells you the turn is coming, you drive very strangely: you sit forward, open you eyes, turn the radio down (all the better to see with), and look back and forth.

Jesus says, “The kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five were foolish, and five wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (Matthew 25:1-13).

Are you ready to meet Jesus?

Because the hour is coming.

The bridegroom is on His way.

We know he’s on his way.

We don’t know when exactly He’ll arrive.

We simply have to be ready. Prepared.

And all of them fall asleep.

Preparedness is not perfection but faithfulness.

It is enough that they are awoken and alerted by a cry.

But after the cry—it’s too late.

Are you familiar with the phrase “it’s all over but the shoutin’”?

I knew the phrase growing up—and I discovered it again in one of my favorite Southern authors. It means the conclusion is known—but mom and dad or whoever just have to shout about it.

Today, I mean that when the cry goes up, it’s no longer possible to prepare. Now, the only thing that’s left is the “shoutin’”—the wedding feast, the shut door, and the judgment.

Because it’s impossible to share oil.

It’s impossible for your faith to win another to Christ.

Don’t make the mistake of comparing this parable to the golden rule, thinking that the wise should have shared with the foolish.

But this parable isn’t a comparison to the golden rule, it’s an allegory for end time equipment.

It’s not that the wise should share with the foolish; but that the foolish should not be so.

The weaker brother argument doesn’t work here.

What separates wise from foolish is hearing and heeding the warning to be ready for the bridegroom.

“For those who were ready went in with Him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut” (cf. Matthew 25:10).

The wise enter in, the foolish are left without, and the door is shut in such a way and by such a one that it is not reopened.

When the cry went up, it was all over but the shoutin’.

And the shoutin’ is what Jesus says to the foolish who know the right words but apart from and without faith that trusted them: ”’Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you’” (Matthew 25:11-12).

He doesn’t say, “I didn’t know you” or “I didn’t want to know you.” He doesn’t say, “I never knew you” or “Never wanted to.”

They were included. They heard. They knew.

But they did not prepare. They were not ready.

So many parables seem to contrast obvious differences: sheep and goat. Lost and found. Good soil and bad. But here—the contrast isn’t in appearances.

They all look like church-going Christians.

They’re all virgins, that is, they know the Bridegroom.

The Word of God is the lamp for their feet (Psalm 119:105).

They’re in the right place at the right time—initially.

You can’t always look around and tell, because you can’t look around and see the heart that God will judge.

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

Because when the cry goes up, it’s all over but the shoutin’.

The difference between wise and foolish, the oil necessary for the watch, is faith that submits to Christ:

Vigilance, not a passive watching and waiting, but  active and responsible service.

I don’t mean good works get you to heaven.

I mean faith is active in love.

The faithful and wise servants who hear God’s Word and do it need not worry about when Jesus returns.

But we learn in this parable that the required oil, the faith necessary for salvation, can’t be purchased or borrowed or stolen.

God gives it freely in the proclamation of His Word, but there is an end to His patience.

God gives the faith required for salvation freely.

What Jesus earned on the Cross—forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation—God gives to us by means.

But there is an end to His patience.

He commands that we be ready, because He is coming soon.

He commands that we watch. That our faith be active in love, sharing with others what we have first received.

Because when the cry goes up, it’s all over but the shoutin’.

Your exit is coming.

No U-Turns. No round-the-blocks or “I’ll just take the next one.”

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

And I’ll add this—and this is glorious.

Though judgment and the finality of the End can weigh heavily on us and sometimes seem like a drag, this is how the greatest hymn ever written has us sing it:

“Zion hears the watchmen singing, / And all her heart with joy is springing; / She wakes, she rises from her gloom.”

The church hears her pastor’s call for repentance and faith, and her heart, with joy, wakes from the gloom of sinful complacency and repents.

Of course she repents! She knows what’s coming.

“For her Lord comes down all-glorious, / The strong in grace, in truth victorious; / Her star is ris’n, her light is come.”

Jesus says, “Behold, I am coming soon” (Revelation 22:12).

“Now come, Thou Blessèd One, / Lord Jesus, God’s own Son, / Hail! Hosanna! / We enter all / The wedding hall / To eat the Supper at Thy call” (“Wake, Awake, For Night is Flying,” LSB 516:2).

We rejoice in all that we have now—thanks be to God.

And—Come Lord Jesus—we rejoice that we are prepared to eat the Supper at His call.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Last Sunday of the Church Year, 2020
Matthew 25:1-13
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt