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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First the DID NOT.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do not disbelieve, but believe.” 

That’s how we preach the Gospel today.

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

We don’t do that.

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

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

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

The spit from your gossip lashed the Lord of Glory.

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

That’s the Law in its full sternness.

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

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

Of course—Thomas knows about sin.

He knows about grace.

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

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

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

And Jesus says, “Do not disbelieve…” 

He names Thomas’s sin, to his face.

“Be not faithless.”

That’s what Jesus says.

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

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

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

Because he doesn’t need to.

He heard and remembered—and believed—the Law.

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

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

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

But what if he DID?

It is the case that the disciples are often wrong.

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

Everyone calls St. Thomas “Doubting Thomas.”

As though Thomas were the only Christian to harbor doubts.

He did doubt.

We know that.

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

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

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

Miracles contradict nature, evidence, and experience.

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

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

Dead is dead. No one gets up from that.

Or do they, right?

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

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

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

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

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

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

They were waiting for him to walk through the door.

But then—that moment.

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

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

We’ve doubted.

We’ve wondered.

Can the impossible things in the Bible be true?

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

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

What if he DID?

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

Water. Blood. And Thomas’s hand.

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

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

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

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

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

But we’ve also heard the Gospel.

And so we have the answer.

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

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

The Word of God proclaimed.

Law and Gospel.

The Means of Grace.

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

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

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

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

“Oh that my words were written! Oh that they were inscribed in a book! Oh that with an iron pen and lead they were engraved in the rock forever! For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another” (Job 19:23-27).

Job’s words are written.

They are inscribed in a book.

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

But what does it mean to have a Redeemer?

And of what significance is it that He lives?

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

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

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

First, consider the alternatives.

If there were no Redeemer.

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

The hopelessness.

The loneliness.

The seeming insignificance.

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

Or godlessness and all things anti-life.

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

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

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

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

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

That’s what it is to have a Redeemer.

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

The Lord is your hope—that never fails.

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

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

But He died.

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

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

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

To have a Redeemer gives us hope.

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

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

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

But Job says that his skin will be thus destroyed.

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

We all come to terms with that.

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

Our flesh will one day be destroyed.

Where then is our hope?

Where then is our Redeemer and redemption?

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

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

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

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

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

For the Holy One will not see corruption.

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

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

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

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

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

He did not abandon His Holy One to corruption.

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

This is what it means to have a Redeemer.

What it means to have a Redeemer who lives.

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

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

The words are written!

Inscribed in a book!

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

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

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As proof. To us.

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

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

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

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

This is most certainly true.

Death no longer has dominion over Him.

Death—our enemy—is our enemy defeated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This isn’t that.

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

Mary expected a dead body.

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

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

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

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

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

And hell is emptied of its power.

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

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

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

Jesus didn’t need the stone rolled away.

We did.

So God moved it.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

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

Are there any devout lovers of God?

Let them enjoy this beautiful and bright festival!

Are there any grateful servants?

Let them rejoice and enter into the joy of their Lord and Savior!

Are there any weary with fasting?

Receive your wages!

Have any toiled from the first hour?

Receive the reward that’s due.

Did any come after the third hour?

With gratitude, join in the Feast!

Did you arrive after the sixth hour?

Do not doubt. You shall sustain no loss.

Are there any who delayed until the ninth hour?

Do not hesitate. The Lord welcomes you.

And if you arrived at the eleventh hour, have no fear.

The Lord is gracious and receives the last even as He receives the first.

He gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour and rest to him that toiled from the first.

Let us all enter into the joy of the Lord!

First and last alike, receive your reward.

Rich and poor alike, rejoice together!

Sober and slothful, today is the day to celebrate!

You who have kept the fast, and you who have not, rejoice today—for the Table is richly laden!

Feast royally on it, for the calf was a fat one.

Let no one go away hungry.

Partake, all, of the cup of faith, which runneth over.

Enjoy the riches of God’s goodness!

Let no one grieve at his poverty, for the Kingdom of God has been revealed.

Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again; for forgiveness has risen from the grave.

Let no one fear Death, for the death of our Savior has set us free.

He destroyed it by enduring it.

He destroyed Hell when He descended into it.

He put it into an uproar when it tasted of His flesh.

Isaiah foretold this when he said,

“Sheol beneath is stirred up to meet you when you come” (cf. Isaiah 14:9).

Hell was in an uproar because it was done away with.

It was in an uproar because it was mocked.

It was in an uproar, because it was destroyed.

It is in an uproar, because it is now made captive.

Hell took a body and discovered God.

It took earth and encountered Heaven.

It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see.

O death, where is thy sting? O Hell, thy victory?

Christ is Risen, and you, O death, are defeated!

Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down!

Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice!

Christ is Risen, and life is liberated!

Christ is Risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead; for Christ having risen from the dead, is become the first-fruits of them that sleep (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:20).

To Him be Glory and Power forever and ever.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

The Vigil of Easter, 2021
The Paschal Homily of St. John Chrysostom
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

“So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, ‘Behold the man!’ When the chief priests and the officers saw him, they cried out, ‘Crucify him, crucify him!’ Pilate said to them, ‘Take him yourselves and crucify him, for I find no guilt in him.’ The Jews answered him, ‘We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has made himself the Son of God.’ When Pilate heard this statement, he was even more afraid. He entered his headquarters again and said to Jesus, ‘Where are you from?’ But Jesus gave him no answer. So Pilate said to him, ‘You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to to release you and authority to crucify you?’ Jesus answered him, ‘You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin’” (John 19:5-11).

All sin is the same in that the wages of sin is death (cf. Romans 6:23).

And James writes, “Whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it” (James 2:10).

So all sin is the same.

And—every sin is different in that there are different consequences on earth.

Moses writes, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image” (Genesis 9:6).

But your blood shall not be shed if you bootleg an album, or download music illegally, or break copyright so a congregation can sing a hymn.

Some publishing houses may disagree with me on that, but the point is, we know both that all sins are the same and that every sin is different.

That’s a paradox.

It sounds contradictory, but you know it to be true.

Well—tonight, let’s add this to our understanding:

“Jesus answered [Pilate], ‘You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin’” (John 19:11).

We know that Judas sinned—that’s the “he who delivered me over to you.”

And perhaps that also includes the band of soldiers and their captain and the officers of the Jews and Annas and Caiaphas (cf. John 18).

They are the ones who delivered Jesus over to Pilate.

But that they have the greater sin does not mean that Pilate is without sin.

Jesus calls it less, but He doesn’t call it better.

While these sins are different—they are yet the same in that they earn the same wage before God.

Talking about sin like this can be confusing, so it’s helpful for us to realize that there is nothing that we do that isn’t soiled, stained, or tainted with sin.

Ask the question: “Am I sinning when I ________?”

Whatever you put in the blank, the answer is Yes.

Even if you realize the question for what it is and ask “Am I sinning when I am not sinning?” Even then, the answer is Yes.

Are you a child of Adam after the Fall?

Sin is not just what you do—it is what you are.

We confess that we are—by nature—sinful and unclean. God did not create us sinful, but our nature after the Fall is sinful—corrupted by sin.

Even at our best—we could be better.

If we’re honest, we recognize this even in practical things.

Our good works are like filthy rags, Isaiah writes (cf. Isaiah 64:6).

Even at our best—we could do better.

This is the war in our members—the daily struggle of the Christian between the Old Adam who enjoys making those critical comments behind backs—and the New Man who guards his tongue so that praise and pernicious speech are never mixed.

Understanding sin this way—that there is no escape—is the inevitable conclusion of all Law/Gospel preaching.

But I don’t want you to be uninformed.

Some pastors don’t preach against sin—your sin.

They’ll preach against the disciples.

And they’ll preach against the world.

But they won’t preach against you.

But I’m not called to preach to the disciples.

Nor am I called to teach the world.

Rather—my call is here, to serve you.

If your doctor fails to diagnose your disease, or if he succeeds only in diagnosing someone else’s, then he’s failed you.

If the pharmacist who prepares your medicine prepares it for someone else, he has failed you.

I’m not interested in identifying greater sins and lesser ones—talking about sin like that can be confusing.

But I am interested in talking about sins that lead to eternal death and sins that don’t.

That is—I’m interested in calling sinners to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ—and rejoicing in forgiveness, life, and salvation.

Who shall save us from this body of death?

It’s certainly not me.

But it certainly is a body of death.

So thanks be to God for our Lord, Jesus Christ.

On Good Friday we do well to remember that there is no one good but God—and He reconciles the world to Himself in the death of His dear Son.

From the greatest to the least, all sin is paid for in the shed blood of Jesus, and you can rest and know for sure that all sin includes your sin, from the greatest to the least.

Behold—the Lamb of God has taken away the sin of the world (cf. John 1:29).

All of it—the committed act and the condition.

Paid for in the shed blood of Jesus Christ.

Do you know what that means?

It means we have an advocate with the Father.

It means we do not fear the wrath of God.

It means God stands between us and the danger—not that we will never face danger, but that we will never face it alone.

It means we don’t have to wonder at forgiveness.

I met a man once who was taught that if he sinned in the car ride home from church he would go to hell.

He was told, “If you can’t keep it together for longer than that, you must not have believed in the first place.”

He was told, “If you don’t ask for forgiveness, you cannot be saved” which sounds right—but what was meant was, “If you sin twenty times, you need to ask forgiveness twenty times.”

But “Who can discern his errors?” (Psalm 19:12).

And “If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared” (Psalm 130:3-4).

The whole life of a Christian is one of repentance.

If there are sins that weigh on your heart and mind, confess them. Not as a task to accomplish your own salvation, but to fulfill God’s will—that the disease be diagnosed, the cure found, and the medicine applied.

The disease is sin.

The cure is the suffering, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ—that put the world to right and redeemed you from death and hell.

And the medicine is this—that you hear and believe the love of God, the Gospel.

Your sins are forgiven—by a loving God—who loves you to the end.

Let us pray:

“What Thou, my Lord, hast suffered / Was all for sinners’ gain; / Mine, mine was the transgression, / But Thine the deadly pain. / Lo, here I fall, my Savior! / ’Tis I deserve Thy place; / Look on me with Thy favor, / And grant to my Thy grace” (LSB 450:3).

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Good Friday Sermon, 2021
John 19:5-11
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

Why—in the Service of the Sacrament—are the bread and wine the Body and Blood of Jesus?

What is it that makes them so?

While you think about that, I’ll say this:

Sacerdotalism is a belief emphasizing the role and powers of priests or pastors as essential mediators between God and man.

This manifests in different ways, usually in the form of an abuse of some kind.

If the pastor charges you for the privilege of the sacraments—that’s an obvious abuse—but historically, Christians have paid the price in fear that the priest, who stands in the stead of Christ, might condemn them.

That’s obviously wrong, and none of you will ever be duped into thinking that, right?

Good.

In some places, the pastor was treated like a little lord and given the German title Herr, which does mean Mister but is also the word for Lord as in Herr Gott, Lord God.

We’re not that far removed from this, if it’s even gone away. Talk to a nurse who worked at a Roman Catholic hospital. She’ll tell you how the priests were never wrong—how they went wherever and did whatever they wanted to—and you didn’t want to get in the way of God.

Your mileage may vary, but that’s what I’ve heard.

Another example, just to make the point, is to ask this question: If you sin, must you get forgiveness from the pastor?

And a good answer is: “No. Not must.”

Can—certainly. And perhaps we can hypothesize a “should.” But never must, right?

So—what’s the difference? Or—is there a difference?

If there is a difference, is that difference found in the ordination of the man? The laying on of hands?

Something else?

And, of course, if there isn’t a difference, why do we have pastors?

In the history of the Church, the sacerdotalists have insisting not only that there is a difference between the forgiveness from your pastor and the forgiveness from anyone else—but that unless you confess your sins to the pastor and receive absolution from him—you can’t be sure of your own salvation.

You know that’s not true, so you might think that you’ve been able to dodge the sacerdotal tendency to think more of your pastor than you should, but let me ask you again:

Why—in the Service of the Sacrament—are the bread and wine the Body and Blood of Jesus?

What is it that makes them so?

It’s not because the pastor consecrates them.

It’s not because the pastor says the words.

From the Formula of Concord—what Lutheran pastors believe, teach, and confess: “About the consecration, we believe, teach, and confess that no work of man or recitation of the minister produces this presence of Christ’s body and blood in the Holy Supper. Instead, this presence is to be credited only and alone to the almighty power of our Lord Jesus Christ.

“At the same time we also believe, teach, and confess unanimously that in the use of the Holy Supper the words of Christ’s institution should in no way be left out. Instead, they should be publicly recited, as it is written in 1 Corinthians 10:16, ‘The cup of blessing that we bless’ and so forth. This blessing occurs through the reciting of Christ’s words” (Epitome, VII.8-9).

So—why, in the Service of the Sacrament, are the bread and wine the Body and Blood of Jesus?

What is it that makes them so?

And the answer—for the sacerdotalist—is the priest or pastor and the recitation of the Words of Institution.

But for us Bible-believing Christians, “it is credited only and alone to the almighty power of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Now—that’s all well and good, but let me tell you why we’re talking about this.

One good reason is so that pastors don’t think themselves irreplaceable or even necessary to the goings on of the church.

I should not overestimate my own importance.

And—one other good reason to talk about this is—some of you got it wrong.

You attributed to me the power to turn bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus.

I’m flattered.

Thank you very much.

But that power belongs only and alone to the almighty power of our Lord Jesus Christ—as we Lutherans have always believed, taught, and confessed.

The real question at the heart of the matter is why do we have pastors?

And that is—so you would have confidence.

So you would have certainty concerning your own salvation.

You can’t forgive yourself.

Your confidence in your own salvation should never—can never rest in your self.

So—God has placed a man here, your pastor, to pronounce forgiveness in order to fulfill God’s will.

There may be a day—or several—when your own sins weight you down.

In that moment—you need to be sure of God’s will for you and your life.

You need to be sure that you possess faith that leads to salvation.

Faith that God counts as righteousness in His sight.

And—“So that we may obtain this faith, the ministry of teaching the gospel and administering the sacraments was instituted” (cf. AC V).

For your certainty, for your comfort, God has given you a pastor so that you may know the certain will of God—to save sinners, even if you are the foremost.

So, tonight, rejoice—not in the non-existent “indelible character” of your pastor—but in the power of God and the mercy of God—to save.

“For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

“Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world” (1 Corinthians 11:23-32).

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Maundy Thursday, 2021
John 13:1-15, 34-35
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:31-32).

It is certainly the case that had Jesus not prayed for Peter, the temptations by which Peter denied Jesus would have overcome him completely.

Of Jesus, the chosen servant of the Lord, this is what it means when the prophet Isaiah writes that “a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench” (Isaiah 42:3).

Or—as Jesus says in the gospel according to St. John, “While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled” (John 17:12).

And with that, you might think to ask about Judas.

Why did Jesus not pray for Judas as He did Peter?

It’s not comforting, but it’s true—Judas belonged to Satan.

It’s not that Jesus lost him—it’s that Judas rejected God.

Or—to say it another way—Judas feared the people. He did not fear God.

So where does that put you?

And what I mean is—would you want Jesus to pray for you as He did Peter?

Would you want Him to say, “Behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail.”

I think we would all want that—until, at least, we remember what happened to St. Peter, who was crucified upside down.

His faith didn’t fail—we all want that.

But he was crucified upside down because of his faith—and we’d rather not.

It’s true that we ought to be prepared to suffer for the sake of the gospel, but that doesn’t mean we look for suffering.

As you bear not the cross you choose but the cross God gives you, just so, you do not choose martyrdom.

The cross chooses the Christian, I guess, if you want to say it like that.

My point is, we actually should pray as Jesus does.

For others—that they may bear their crosses such that their faith does not fail.

And—we need to realize that that means we sometimes pray against our own body, mind, and strength.

Imagine if you prayed for your parents or your in-laws the way Jesus prayed for Peter.

“Behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail.”

That’s not a troublesome prayer when your parents are healthy and far away.

That’s not a troublesome prayer when your in-laws are choosing things you like.

But what if you prayed for their faith not to fail—and they must confess the faith against your idols?

Let’s not naively think that we are always right and others are always wrong.

We should pray for them—as Jesus did—that their faith would not fail.

And—when we do, we’re praying—perhaps—against our own idols, against our own desires, and against our own body.

And—if that’s the case—that’s good.

Praying for something is always also praying against something else.

Praying for God to destroy evil is also praying against yourself—when you sin in thought, word, or deed.

From the Small Catechism: The good and gracious will of God is done “When God breaks and hinders every evil plan and purpose of the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh which do not want us to hallow God’s name or let His kingdom come; and when He strengthens and keeps us firm in His Word and faith until we die.”

So when you pray for your parents—that their faith may not fail, remember, when they ask you to go to Sunday School with them, that you asked God for this.

And again, imagine if you prayed for your spouse the way Jesus prayed for Peter.

“Behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail.”

That’s not a troublesome prayer when your spouse lets you choose what to watch on tv, what’s for dinner, or which and how many chores you’ll do.

But praying for the faith of your spouse is also praying against your own body—against your own wants.

What one needs, the other may not, and that’s a two-way street.

When you pray for the faith of your spouse, you might be praying, against yourself, that he would have the patience required to win an argument.

You might be praying that she would have the strength to tell you what you need to hear—not what you want.

Praying for something is always also praying against something else.

When you pray for your friends—that God would guard them in all their endeavors, keep them steadfast in the midst of danger, and comfort them when assaulted by the devil and the world—you are also, at least potentially, praying against yourself—when you sin in thought, word, or deed against those for whom you pray.

This is good to keep in mind.

Because you are to pray for good things.

You are to pray for your friends—your family—your husband, wife, and children.

But don’t be naive.

If you pray for your pastor to be unfaithful—who has entered into you and to whom do you belong?

And why should anyone listen to you?

And if you pray for your pastor to be faithful—realize what that means.

He may preach against your false gods.

And he will.

That might hurt. It might not be nice. But it’s good.

He may chant and sing against what’s popular.

And if he sings Lutheran hymns—he will.

That might hurt. You might not like it. But it’s good.

He may tap dance on the ashes of your idols.

Like Moses, he may grind them up, scatter them on the water, gather everyone around for a drink, and wait for them to be expelled.

It’s not a troublesome prayer when your pastor does exactly what everyone else has always done forever.

But that’s not what you’re praying for when you pray for your pastor’s faith not to fail.

For that matter, when your pastor prays for you, that your faith may not fail, he knows that comes with the cross and burden of questions.

Ask them. Test the spirits. Test the fruit.

And rejoice together in the God who has called all to repentance and had mercy on all—in the passion of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Remember:

Jesus prayed for Peter: “Behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:31-32).

It is certainly the case that had Jesus not prayed for Peter, the temptations by which Peter denied Jesus would have overcome him completely.

But Jesus added this: “And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:32).

Fear God—not the people.

Confess your sin, and God, who is faithful and just, will forgive you your sin and cleanse you from all unrighteousness (cf. 1 John 1:8-9).

Let us pray:

“Behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

The Wednesday of Holy Week, 2021
Luke 22-23
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

Saint Matthew Lutheran Church—Ernestville, Missouri

There is the word catastrophe—which no one needs to have defined for them.

And there is the word eucatastrophe, and perhaps we need some help with that.

JRR Tolkien coined the term in 1944, meaning it as a sort of reversal of catastrophe, to describe the sudden, blessed turn in a story which pierces you with joy and brings you to tears.

He was referring to what he thought of as the highest function of fantasy storytelling when, from out of terror, there comes forth strength and life.

But we have to be taught to see this.

When a terrible, awful thing happens, what do you do?

We’re tempted, certainly, to look away from the terrible thing and to concentrate on the peace that we believe will come later.

I don’t want to give the wrong impression—that is the right thing to do.

The suffering or death of a Christian is not the end.

God is merciful.

You’ll either make it—or see Christ face to face.

It’s the waiting that’s the hardest part.

But it is meet, right, and salutary to look forward to the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.

Of course.

And, mature faith can also recognize eucatastrophe.

What good comes out of the death of a Christian?

Well, we just said, the death of a Christian is not the end. God has promised eternal life to all who believe in Jesus, so we rejoice in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.

Of course.

But I mean—what good can come out of the death of a friend—right now?

This is a difficult lesson, but—once learned—you become, in a way, immovable. Steadfast. Long-suffering.

Hopeful. And not put to shame.

In Luke chapter thirteen, Jesus uses two catastrophes to teach this point.

First, “There were some present at that very time who told [Jesus] about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, ‘Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners that all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish’” (Luke 13:1-3).

What good can come out of the death of a Christian?

Certainly you know someone who closed his eyes, and ears, and heart to God only to be woken up violently by the sudden death or disaster of a close friend.

We don’t pray for people to die.

We don’t ask for bad things to happen to people.

But if, in the midst of catastrophe, the fear of God finds you—you can rejoice in God’s patience with you.

The second example in Luke chapter thirteen makes the same point: “Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:4-5).

That section of Luke 13 is no one’s confirmation verse, I’m sure. No one has a bumper sticker with “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

Those are catastrophic words—we don’t choose them.

But these are catastrophic times.

The End Times. The Last Days.

And Jesus is coming soon. So perhaps we should.

We might be tempted to look past these days and all the terrible, awful things experience teaches.

We may want to look to the peace that is to come.

That’s right thing to do, but that’s not all there is to do.

We may not want to look at the crucifixion, for example. Or hear the full account of the crucifixion read during church.

Maybe it takes too long.

Or maybe it seems like all bad news.

It may seem silly to use this as a litmus test the way I do, but no one’s confirmation verse comes from the account of the crucifixion, and no one has a bumper sticker that quotes today’s Gospel lesson.

We don’t choose these words or dwell in catastrophe.

My whole point is—perhaps we should dwell for a moment in what we can call eucatastrophe.

“When [Jesus] was accused by the chief priests and elders, he gave no answer” (Matthew 27:12).

What good can come out of false accusations and lies?

Here, even Jesus’ silence fulfills the word of God.

Thus says the Lord through the prophet Isaiah: “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth” (Isaiah 53:7).

God is not a liar. The Word of God is fulfilled.

And if He’s not a liar here, he’s not a liar anywhere. Believe Him when He says He loves you, even when the terrible and awful days are among us.

And “when Pilate saw that he was gaining nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning [over Barabbas], he took water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, ‘I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.’ And all the people answered, ‘His blood be on us and on our children!’ Then he released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, delivered him to be crucified” (Matthew 27:24-26).

What good can come out of such evil?

Consider the reversals at hand.

See this as the eucatastrophe that it is.

It is impossible for us to hear that Pilate uses water to declare himself free of the blood of Christ and not also consider how God uses water to declare us free because of the blood of Christ.

Pilate’s baptism is a political one, but God saves sinners.

And then—what do the Jews say?

“His blood be on us and on our children!” (Matthew 27:25).

Their words are a mocking betrayal of the God who became flesh and purchased us with His own blood.

But what is, for them, sarcasm is, for us, the good and godly refrain of the one true faith:

“His blood be on us and on our children.”

“Abel’s blood for vengeance / Pleaded to the skies; / But the blood of Jesus / For our pardon cries” (LSB 433:4).

“And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many” (Matthew 27:51-53).

The curtain tore in two, God rending His own garment at the death of His Son.

What good can come out of such sacrifice?

The wrath of God is appeased.

The debt is paid.

You have standing with God, now and forever, because of the sacrifice made on your behalf.

The scales are tipped forever in your favor, because God did not withhold His Son, His only Son, from you.

And the dead are raised because death no longer has dominion.

“When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, ‘Truly this was the Son of God!’” (Matthew 27:54).

For all time let the example and confession of the centurion remain with us.

The curtain tore in two, and the earth shook.

The rocks were split, and the tombs opened.

Terror and catastrophe were all around, but he abandoned not his post—or the Lord Jesus.

Rather, he saw and confessed the eucatastrophe of it all:

“Truly this was the Son of God!”

May each one of us do the same every day this week and whenever our turn comes.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Palm Sunday, 2021
Matthew 27:11-54
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

Saint Matthew Lutheran Church—Ernestville, Missouri

Today Jesus says something that sounds absurd.

He says, “Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58).

It’s impossible for us to speak this way, because it’s never true. In American English, the closest we can come is to say, “Before you were, I was (or wasn’t).”

It makes no sense to say, “Before/after (something), I am.”

“I was” or “I will” makes sense—but not “I am.”

What Jesus says is baffling, because He’s defining Himself as not being bound by space and time.

We’ve heard these words all our Christian lives, so we hardly attempt to understand the depth of what “I am” means.

For it to be true that Jesus is “I am” even during past events, it must be true that He’s outside time.

This is what we mean when we say that God is eternal.

God is not “past tense,” because He always is.

I’m not 100% at doing this, but maybe you’ve picked up on this. Most of the time, when quoting Scripture, I’ll say, “Jesus says…” not “Jesus said…” He said it—but He’s the same yesterday, today, and forever. What He said still matters—it still applies. So—even today—Thus  says the Lord…

He’s immutable, unchangeable, always the same.

He is.

And that’s remarkable, because at this point in the Gospel of John, Jesus is thirty-ish years old.

And—He’s been around literally forever.

“Before Abraham was,” Jesus says, “I am.”

There’s three things that we have to say about that.

First, “I am” is a title for God. The Jews present show how seriously they take God’s name when they pick up stones to throw at Jesus. He just identified Himself as being God, and the Jews act as though He has blasphemed.

God’s name being “I am” comes from the book of Exodus, when God speaks to Moses out of the burning bush, saying: “I have…seen the affliction of my people…and I have come…to deliver them…and to bring them up…[to a land flowing with milk and honey]” (Exodus 3:7-8).

God’s plan is to save His people.

But Moses says to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” (Exodus 3:13).

Moses wants the people to believe the message of salvation, the Gospel, so he has to speak with authority to match, authority greater than his own.

Who cares if only Moses said it…or Pastor Holt for that matter. But if “Thus says the Lord…”

Then—the Word has power to save, and we need to hear and do.

Moses knew that if God put His name to it, then the salvation, help, and comfort of the people was certain.

So, then, thus said the Lord, “I am who I am…Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I am has sent me to you’” (Exodus 3:14).

When Jesus says, “I am,” it’s as if his name tag says, “Hello, my name is God.” So when Jesus says, “Before Abraham was, I am,” He’s identifying Himself as God in the Flesh. Here to help, save, comfort, and redeem us.

Second, and at this point, this is just a reminder, calling Himself “I am” is defining Jesus as eternal.

Always present tense.

If you’re always present tense, if you’re eternal, you never change. God’s immutability means also that He’s unable to be changed. The author of the book of Hebrews says it this way: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).

He is.

Along those lines, the third thing is this:

If Jesus has ever cared for you—if He’s ever desired your salvation—if He’s ever asked His Father to forgive you—if He’s ever said that no one will be able to snatch you from His hand—if Jesus ever loved you—then He still thinks those things and has and will forever.

Jesus doesn’t change.

Consider what that means:

God’s promise, God’s Word, is always true.

Have you been baptized?

That’s where God’s Word was applied to you, saving you according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, poured out on you richly through Jesus Christ our savior (cf. Titus 3).

Logically, Holy Baptism doesn’t look like much, but when God put His name on you and marked you as one redeemed by Christ, He claimed you there and then as His own.

He stands behind His Word and promise for all time.

As much as we change in our lives, as often as we unfortunately lie and deceive with our words, God remains true to what He says.

If God puts His name on it—it’s certain.

Consider, also, the Sacrament of the Altar, the eating and drinking of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.

Reason tastes bread and wine, there’s no bloody, iron aftertaste. Nor is there the taste of fingernails or flesh.

But Jesus says, “Take, eat; this is my body…Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:26-28).

He said it once, and He still means it. Not simply so He can be right—but so that even we can be justified.

As often as we say one thing and mean another—God speaks—and He is true to His word forever.

What He says once applies always.

“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly…[and] God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6, 8).

Inconceivably, for us to have life eternal requires a dead Messiah who, three days later, lives again.

But that was God’s plan all along.

Since Jesus was thirty-ish—and since God never changes—that was the plan all along.

In Revelation, Jesus is called the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world (cf. Revelation 13:8).

And in Exodus chapter three, thus says the Lord: “I have…seen the affliction of my people…and I have come…to deliver them” (Exodus 3:7-8).

God has used time to His advantage.

He is faithful and merciful. He is our comfort and our deliverance.

Because He is.

That’s not circular reasoning.

That’s a statement regarding God’s eternal love.

“Before Abraham was, I am,” Jesus says.

That’s utterly inconceivable to our ears and impossible for anyone to say of himself.

But there’s no more comforting a thought than that Jesus knows every trial and tribulation that we’ll face, that he’s already there, in love, destroying evil—that we’re never alone. Never forgotten.

That God, even knowing our every sin, is yet merciful and forgiving. Never vindictive. But always vindicating.

That when we sin, when we hurt, when we’re afraid, or just mad, when we confess our sins, God, who is faithful and just, forgives us sins and cleanses us from all unrighteousness (cf. 1 John 1).

All because He is.

Merciful. Forgiving. Loving. Present.

Eternally. To win us away from death and hell.

To bring us with Him into eternal life.

He sees our affliction and hears our cries.

He knows our sufferings, and He’s with us every step of the way.

And not only that—He comes to deliver us and bring us up to a land flowing with milk and honey.

When Jesus says, “I am,” we know that He is for us always and we are His forever.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Judica (Lent 5), 2021
John 8:42-58
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

“A large crowd was following [Jesus], because they saw the signs that He was doing on the sick” (John 6:2). It’s important, today, to begin with that verse, because a large crowd was following Him—because—of the signs He was doing on the sick.

It wasn’t that they hoped He’d perform signs and miracles.

It wasn’t that they had heard rumors about Jesus having done signs or miracles at some point.

Rather—a large crowd was following Him, because they saw the signs that He was doing on the sick.

It’s important to start there and to have that repeated in our hearing, because the disciples believe only what they can see.

“Jesus said to Philip, ‘Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?’ He said this to test him, for He Himself knew what He would do. Philip answered Him, ‘Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.’ [And] one of His 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 6:5-9).

One thinks of cash.

The other thinks to count.

But both think of numbers, and thinking in terms of numbers is where the faith goes to die.

The crowd follows the signs, and in this case, that’s exactly what they should be doing. Signs give information, and the signs that Jesus is doing proclaim liberty to the captives, the Truth of the Word of God, that which sets you free from sin, death, and devil.

It’s true that numbers never lie, and if there were five-hundred people in attendance today or this past Wednesday, do you know what that would mean?

That would mean that five-hundred people were in attendance.

And if there were only five people in attendance, today or this past Wednesday, do you know what that would mean?

That would mean that five people were in attendance.

You must—for the sake of your own salvation and the well-being of this congregation—stop right now thinking that successful churches are the ones that are full.

Successful churches are faithful churches.

And that has nothing to do with numbers.

It is a failure of the disciples to see the signs that Jesus is doing on the sick and to yet be blinded to the reality of who He is on account of how many people are present.

One thinks of cash, of course he does.

And a lot of people eat a lot of bread.

In their case, if only there were fewer people, then we could feed them all. We certainly don’t want to leave it to God to provide daily bread like He promises.

In our case, if only there were more people, then we’d have more money. It’s certainly not the case that we hoard wealth claiming poverty so the scale never requires us to pay full price.

We certainly don’t want to leave it to God to provide daily bread like He promises.

On Tuesday, I opened my Bible and I read the Gospel lesson appointed for today, and then, confining myself to those two pages, I looked at what the disciples would have known, what they would have seen and heard.

There was the sick man, afflicted for thirty-eight years. Jesus said to him, “‘Rise, take up your bed and walk.’ And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked” (John 5:8-9).

After that, Jesus calls God His Father, saying, “My Father is working until now, and I am working” (John 5:17).

And after that, Jesus says, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify of me, yet you are not willing to come to me that you may have life” (cf. John 5:39-40).

So get this—Jesus heals a man who was afflicted for thirty-eight years.

He calls God His Father and states that both are working now.

He says that the Old Testament testifies of Him and implies that if we follow Him we have eternal life.

Then—today—Jesus feeds the five thousand, but faith dies when the numbers are most important thing.

After today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus walks on water, and when He walks out to them He speaks pure comfort to those who believe only what they count and see.

In a rough sea, walking on water, Jesus says, “It is I; do not be afraid” (John 6:20).

It’s just Him—and that’s enough.

If there are five-hundred people present, don’t rejoice only that there are five-hundred present.

And if there are five people present, do not be dismayed only in that there are five present.

Rather—rejoice that Jesus is there, if He is.

And if He’s not—flee.

Martin Luther likened the pure teaching of the Gospel to rain that was here one minute and gone the next.

He said, “Let us remember our former misery, and the darkness in which we dwelt. Germany, I am sure, has never before heard so much of God’s word as it is hearing today; certainly we read nothing of it in history. If we let it just slip by without thanks and honor, I fear we shall suffer a still more dreadful darkness and plague. O my beloved Germans, buy while the market is at your door; gather in the harvest while there is sunshine and fair weather; make use of God’s grace and word while it is there! For you should know that God’s word and grace is like a passing shower of rain which does not return where it has once been. It has been with the Jews, but when it’s gone it’s gone, and now they have nothing. Paul brought it to the Greeks; but again when it’s gone it’s gone, and now they have the Turk. Rome and the Latins also had it; but when it’s gone it’s gone, and now they have the pope. And you Germans need not think that you will have it forever, for ingratitude and contempt will not make it stay. Therefore, seize it and hold it fast, whoever can; for lazy hands are bound to have a lean year” (LW 45:352).

“Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little” (John 6:7).

“There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?” (John 6:9).

As though God, who created out of nothing all things that are by speaking simple words, who is at work here and now, as though God can’t buy without silver.

As though God can’t feed without already having an abundance.

Let me tell you, God bought the world away from Beelzebul, the prince of demons, and He did it not with gold or silver but with the holy, precious blood and the innocent suffering and death of Jesus Christ His Son.

What’s two hundred denarii, or two hundred thousand, to that?

And let me tell you, God needs no impressive amount of bread and fish to feed the world.

Stale, tasteless, three-quarter inch pieces of bread and dollar-per-gallon wine are His body and blood because He says they are—and they forgive sin and strengthen and preserve you in body and soul to life everlasting.

God needs no impressive materials to convey salvation. Thanks be to God!

Today—He used water and the spoken word to claim my daughter as His own, and I rejoice to have it so.

The Lord has given—who knows if He will take away?

She abides in Him—and He in her.

And though the devil and a thousand worlds be against them both, the victory remains with life.

Jesus says, “It is I; do not be afraid” (John 6:20).

Faith holds to Jesus alone—not numbers.

And Jesus is enough.

Amen.

Laetare (Lent 4), 2021
The Baptism of Vivian Elise Holt
John 6:1-15
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt