Today, Jesus comforts the paralytic—and us all—by saying, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven” (Matthew 9:2).

He shows us the perfect will of God: to comfort each of us—take heart, He says—and to forgive our sins.

That’s why His name is Jesus: He will save His people from their sins (cf. Matthew 1:21).

But this detail might make us uncomfortable: Jesus doesn’t heal the man first, He forgives him.

“Behold, some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said” something that didn’t immediately produce measurable results (cf. Matthew 9:2).

It produced results—his sins were forgiven—but that’s not the kind of results people like and can measure.

His sins were forgiven—but he was still a paralytic.

As good as the forgiveness of sins is and must be, we still prefer measurable results.

Jesus forgives the man. That’s good, but we can’t see that, we can’t scan it, we can’t count it, so it feels cheap.

Hearing this, “Behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, ‘This man is blaspheming.’ But Jesus, knowing their thoughts [and ours], said, ‘Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, “Your sins are forgiven,” or to say, “Rise and walk”?’” (Matthew 9:3-5).

Today, it’s easier to say “Your sins are forgiven” than it is to say “Rise and walk” because people can fake being Christian, but you can’t fake walking.

Jesus does the more difficult of the two to prove that He can do the more important.

And the forgiveness of sins is more important than the healing of the body because healing without forgiveness will turn to ashes in your mouth, but forgiveness—even apart from earthly healing—still has the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting to look forward to.

That’s why Jesus forgives the man before He heals him, to make this point:

God would rather you be forgiven and suffer as a paralytic than leap like a deer and go to hell.

In the Church, you have to be content with some “unmeasurables.” 

You have to disassociate numbers and faithfulness.

Attendance and success.

See, we don’t like that, because we prioritize felt needs. Honestly, we’d rather have both. We’d rather Jesus tack on the forgiveness of sins to a spectacular and miraculous healing.

We feel that would be more impressive.

Maybe you agree with me, and maybe you don’t, but here are some observations.

If you describe church—in any way—as “It would be great if…” you’re missing the point.

“It’d be great if there were more people.”

Not if they don’t vote like you.

“It’d be great if pastor picked hymns I like.”

There are no hymns that literally everyone likes, and every time I pick a hymn you like—that’s also a hymn someone else doesn’t like.

Ultimately, “It’d be great if…” fails to recognize what we have every week.

The Body and Blood of God for the forgiveness of our sins.

Is that not great?

It’s true that where two or three are gathered there He is among us, but we’d rather it not.

Have we so cheapened the forgiveness of sins and the truly miraculous that we’re no longer content to hear God’s Word, believe it unto eternal life, and rejoice together—whether there’s five or fifty?

This is exactly why Jesus forgives the man’s sins first.

Prioritize forgiveness.

And realize that the perfect will of God does include the healing of the body.

You may just have to wait.

Jesus knows what’s in man (cf. John 2:24-25). He knows how the paralytic feels, what he’s thought.

In varying degrees, we all know what it is to be paralyzed, trapped, and restricted.

Some are trapped in their minds.

Some, their bodies.

Some, right now, their homes.

It’s careless and callous to think that God can’t or doesn’t want to care for these people—for us.

But it’s foolish to think that a healed body is what would solve our problems.

Jesus knows what’s in man. He knows how the paralytic feels, what he’s thought.

He knows what it is to be trapped, stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. He was nailed to the cross in grief and shame—but for our pardon and peace.

The crucified, dead, buried, and raised body of Christ solves all our problems.

Forgiveness is most important.

Jesus forgives the man first to train our hurting bodies to rely on Him for what is most important.

But take heart.

As Christians, we know to prioritize forgiveness, but it’s not a “choose only one” kind of scenario.

There is—for every Christian—only a finite amount of time between forgiveness and perfect restoration.

Jesus does heal the man.

“‘[So] that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’—he then said to the paralytic—‘Rise, pick up your bed and go home.’ And he rose and went home” (Matthew 9:6-7).

In the Apostles’ Creed, we confess that we believe in the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.

But we don’t wait for those things as though we are without them.

We have the forgiveness of sins here and now.

“When the crowds saw [what had happened], they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men” (Matthew 9:8).

All your sins are forgiven in Christ.

And—you have the responsibility, you’ve promised God, that you will forgive the sins of those who’ve sinned against you.

Every time you pray the Lord’s Prayer, you promise God that you will forgive others.

The Fifth Petition: Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.

What you have, you share with others.

What’s been given to you, you don’t withhold.

Forgive—as you have been forgiven.

We have the promise of the resurrection here and now: “We were buried therefore with [Jesus] by baptism into death, in order that, just as [He] was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too [will] walk in newness of life” (cf. Romans 6:4).

We will be raised. We aren’t unsure about it.

And—we have the medicine of immortality, the Body and Blood of Jesus.

Some of my favorite words in the liturgy are in the Dismissal: “The body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ strengthen and preserve you in body and soul to life everlasting. Depart in peace.”

This is what we believe, but we don’t wait for these things as though we are without them.

Jesus forgives the man’s sins first on purpose—to check our priorities, to teach us to rely on Him, and to cause us to rejoice in sins forgiven.

For this body and life—and for our life in the world to come—God has given us what we need.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Trinity 19 Sermon, 2020
Matthew 9:1-8
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

“When the Pharisees heard that [Jesus] had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” (Matthew 22:34-36).

This man doesn’t necessarily have Scripture in mind as the answer to his question. Though well trained in the Torah—the words, commands, and promises of God—he would also be well trained in the various, man-made traditions which can be good or bad, beneficial or harmful, precise or imprecise—but always subject to the Word of God.

In Judaism, there are commandments requiring hand washing, which may not be a surprise, but upon waking, you are to wash your hands and say a prayer that thanks God for allowing you to wake up, which isn’t a bad idea.

But—the Modeh Ani prayer is one that’s prayed while washing your hands and before you’ve walked the length of four cubits, about six feet.

So unless your sink is less than six feet from your pillow, you need to set out a bowl of water the night before.

When you wake up, you must wash your hands and say a prayer. You can’t walk more than six feet before doing so. And you can’t just splash some water, you have to be careful to do it the right way. You can’t dip your fingers in first or the water becomes unclean.

And you can’t touch anything beforehand: eyes, nose, mouth, clothing, food—nothing.

Just water—and your fingers can’t go first.

If you follow this commandment, even if you wake up in the middle of the night, you still have to get up and wash your hands.

Some allow you to skip the hand washing if you know you’ll fall back asleep—but not everyone is so lenient.

If you read about things like this, inevitably you’ll come across a comment about how much clearer the Law is now that a person has read this article or book.

That’s what it is to live under the Law, without the Gospel. To think that you are doing salvation. To think that somehow, even in the smallest way, salvation depends on you.

In today’s Gospel lesson, the lawyer could have expected this type of discussion—which of the man-made commandments are greatest?—but Jesus responds with the Word of God.

He’s very clear: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40).

He doesn’t respond with trivial minutia.

He responds with the very words God gave to Moses to teach the people.

Here’s a contemporary Christian example. I’ve heard this question many times: “What’s the most important thing in the life of a Christian?” Or it might be asked this way: “What does God really want me to do with my life?”

A common answer is: “Most important is having a personal relationship with Jesus.” 

But that’s actually a very imprecise way of speaking.

For one, everyone, believer or not, already has an extremely personal relationship with Jesus: He created the world you live in, with you in mind, He knit you together in your mother’s womb, He became flesh like yours, He was lifted up, hands and feet nailed to the Cross, for all the world to see.

He “was [put to death] for our trespasses and He was raised for our justification” (cf. Romans 4:25).

Everyone has that relationship with Jesus.

So the difference between believer and the unbeliever isn’t having a personal relationship with Jesus or not but faith that fears, loves, and trusts in God above all things.

Faith that is active in love toward God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—and neighbor.

Faith that is the gift of God.

Faith that comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ.

That’s God’s will for your life—salvation by grace, through faith, in Christ alone—and then—love, to God and neighbor.

The phrase “personal relationship” is how some men have chosen to speak, but those aren’t the words God has revealed.

We’re more comfortable, we’re more familiar with fads and bumper sticker theology than we are with the sound words of Jesus.

It should not be!

You put God to the test when you do not hold His Word sacred and gladly hear and learn it. Even when God’s Word contradicts you, or your family, or what you really, really like, you should still hear and learn it, believe it, rejoice in it, and do it.

But in further response to the lawyer’s test, Jesus asks a question. He says: “‘What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is He?’ They said to him, ‘The Son of David.’ He said to them, ‘How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying, “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet’”? If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?’ And no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions” (Matthew 22:42-46).

Jesus’ question doesn’t force us to deal with the minutia of man-made laws.

He quotes a psalm and so requires us to know and hear the Word of God.

He asks probably the most important question: Who is the Christ?

And if He’s David’s son, less than David in a way, how could He also be David’s Lord, and thus, greater than David? This seems to contradict.

The Pharisees don’t have an answer, because when they read the Word of God they see themselves, not Jesus.

But on the road to Emmaus, thus says the Lord through St. Luke, “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, [Jesus] interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). 

Jesus says, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me” (John 5:39).

Jesus is the wonderful mystery the Scriptures reveal.

Jesus is God, begotten of His Father before all worlds, Who with the Father and the Holy Spirit is worshiped and glorified. And Jesus is true man, born of the Virgin, descended from David.

He is the Christ—David’s Lord and David’s son.

But the quoted psalm speaks to so much more than Jesus’ lineage and divinity.

“The Lord, said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet’” (cf. Matthew 22:44; Psalm 110:1).

Prior to the incarnation, Jesus has no flesh. But He still exists. We see types of Him throughout the Old Testament: He’s the animal slaughtered for Adam and Eve’s clothing; He’s the ram that God provided in Isaac’s place; He’s the scapegoat on the Day of Atonement and the goat given to slaughter.

Jesus is the Word spoken at creation and the fourth man in the furnace with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.

King Nebuchadnezzar says that the fourth man’s appearance is “like a son of the gods” (Daniel 3:25).

He was closer than he knew.

Prior to His incarnation, Jesus wasn’t humbled in human form. He sat at God’s right hand until the proper time, when His Father put His enemies under His feet.

Jesus became flesh like yours and was lifted up, His hands and feet nailed to the Cross for all the world to see, and, with all the world, literally under His feet, He died for them.

For you—and all at enmity with God.

But that verse from Psalm 110 speaks even more.

“When Christ…offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet” (Hebrews 10:12-13).

Forty days after His resurrection, Jesus ascended into Heaven. And there He sits at the right hand of His Father until the time comes again to judge all flesh.

Then, His enemies will be put under His feet like dust, while His friends are placed at His side.

All of that from one Psalm—from one verse.

From one question Jesus asked one lawyer.

But He asked—so that we would know:

Faith clings to God who justifies the ungodly (cf. Romans 4:5), who saves those who were His enemies.

That’s how we love our neighbors, even our enemies. To be Christ-like doesn’t mean to be popular, or liked, or safe, or even nice.

To be Christ-like means to be good.

To put even those who hate you under your care and provision, as Christ put you under His feet as He received into His flesh the due penalty for our sin.

Love, pray, and serve your neighbor and your enemies: those you love and those who hate and persecute you.

Faith clings to Christ who lays down his life for His friends and dies for the ungodly—desiring to save them all.

That faith, then, serves the neighbor—whoever he is.

This is God’s will for your life:

Salvation by grace, through faith, in Jesus Christ alone.

And love—to God and neighbor.

In other words: ”Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. And—love your neighbor as yourself” (cf. Matthew 22:37, 39).

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Trinity 18 Sermon, 2020
Matthew 22:34-46
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

I’d like to look specifically at the first half of today’s Gospel lesson—where Jesus heals the man with dropsy, which is, today, called edema.

At the heart of today’s Gospel lesson is the proper understanding of the Third Commandment: Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Or you might remember the older translation: Thou shalt sanctify the holy-day.

So what’s the holy-day? Or the Sabbath?

How do we sanctify it? And how different is that from remembering it and keeping it holy?

“Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?” (Luke 14:3). Or—perhaps we should ask it this way—“At what point does working on Sunday become despising the Sabbath?”

Legalism does not provide the answer.

There isn’t a list. There isn’t a step-count threshold not to be stepped past, or some golden circle that lets you know when you’re in or out.

That would be legalism.

That would be modern-day Judaism.

This came up in Sunday School not long ago, but the modern, Jewish understanding of the Sabbath is this: you are to do no work. You may not socialize. You may not carry your children in public.

It’s considered work to turn the oven on, so meals are served cold. It’s considered work to turn the lights on, so you sit in the dark or by a window. You can’t carry anything—books from the library, groceries from the store, your own children from the park. That’s work.

So—let’s sum up—on the Sabbath—sit there, in the dark, do nothing, eat cold or room temperature food, talk to nobody, and—enjoy it. That’s the Sabbath.

Nobody’s gonna do that, which is failure enough, but here’s where legalism truly fails. Since no one wants to do any of that, exceptions are made.

You can set everything up with an electric timer.

It’s not considered work to open the oven and close it, only to turn it on.

That’s a bit of a hassle, though, because not everyone knows how to set an electric timer.

So, you could have a non-Jew turn your oven on for you, carry your kids, whatever you need.

He would be called a “Shabbat goy,” a non-Jew Sabbath worker, but that has its own hassle, because it breaks the Sabbath to pay someone on the Sabbath to do work on the Sabbath.

It would all have to be pre-arranged, pre-paid.

So to get around the hassle of their understanding of God, in Manhattan—and in other cities—certain Jews have installed what’s called an eruv.

An eruv is an unbroken wire, suspended off the ground like a power line. In Manhattan, it’s eighteen miles long, it’s checked every Thursday, and costs $100,000 a year to maintain.

But if you live within this magical circuit, you get to treat the inside of it as a private space, like your own home—where you can use a cane or a walker, carry your house keys, tissues, medication.

Otherwise, doing any of that breaks the Sabbath.

That’s legalism.

Excuses for self. Judgment for everyone else.

So…“‘Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?’ [The lawyers and Pharisees] remained silent” (cf. Luke 14:3-4).

The Pharisees were watching Jesus because it was the Sabbath, and no work was to be done on the Sabbath.

St. Luke writes, in chapters four, six, and thirteen, all prior to today’s Gospel lesson, that Jesus heals on the Sabbath, so the Pharisees know to watch Him carefully.

They want to say you can’t do work on the Sabbath.

But they also want to eat hot food.

They don’t want to agree with Jesus about anything.

But they would want to be healed.

“Then [Jesus] took [the man with dropsy] and healed him and sent him away. And he said to them, ‘Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?’ And they could not reply to these things” (Luke 14:4-6).

The Pharisees and lawyers couldn’t respond to these things, because Jesus summarizes the Law. From Deuteronomy chapter twenty-two, thus says the Lord: “You shall not see your brother’s donkey or his ox fallen down by the way and ignore them. You shall help him to lift them up again” (Deuteronomy 22:4).

But even before that, thus says the Lord: “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18).

They could not reply to these things, because they knew neither the Scriptures nor the power of God (cf. Mark 12:24).

Sanctify the Sabbath day. Remember it and keep it holy.

Pharisees and lawyers know the commandments. That is, they know how to find them, what page they’re on, maybe even how they’re numbered, but they can’t answer, in any way, What does this mean?

Jesus says, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27), “For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:8).

The Sabbath isn’t about doing work or not doing work. Jesus does work on the Sabbath and quotes the Scriptures and the power of God that teaches us to help our neighbor and to love him as ourself.

Rather, the Sabbath is about who we are, who God is, what we need, and what God provides.

We don’t define the Third Commandment in terms of “Thou shalt always go to church and never enjoy Sundays at all ever or thou shalt burn in hell.”

But we do define the Third Commandment in terms of fearing and loving God so that we do not despise preaching and God’s Word but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.

To despise preaching is not simply to disagree with what is preached. Disagreement alone doesn’t mean you despise preaching.

To despise preaching is a matter of the heart, to harden your heart against what God says.

If you ignore the advice of your oncologist or the police officer in riot gear, you do so at your own risk.

It doesn’t matter what I say.

It doesn’t matter what you say.

It matters what “Thus says the Lord…”

Have you hardened your heart against the Word of God? Do you know it well enough to have hardened your heart against it? Do you ask what God says and do you demand to know?

Asking it that way, the Sabbath isn’t about working or not working, it’s about the heart—what you need and what God gives and whether or not you know it.

To despise God’s Word is to fain tearing from off His throne, Christ Jesus God’s beloved Son (cf. LSB 655:1).

God has given us our reason and our senses, true. But they are to be put in place and kept in check. The Word of God is the only rule and norm of faith and practice.

To hold the Word of God and its proclamation as sacred is to recognize it as the set apart thing it is.

No other book contains the Word of God.

No other God desires to save apart from works done by us in righteousness.

There is no other righteousness but Jesus Christ, our God and Lord, who died to sin and lives to God, our righteousness.

These are matters of the heart. Matters of faith.

If you have to work on Sunday, work on Sunday, but don’t presume to tell us that you don’t need what God provides or that always working on Sunday doesn’t also invite the temptation to believe that your life is in your hands. Don’t presume to tell us that what you need is not what God gives—here and now, every week.

God desires to forgive the world.

In Christ, He has forgiven it.

He will, one day, require of you your soul, and you don’t know what day that’ll be.

So hear the Word of God and its proclamation.

Hold it sacred.

Hear and have the forgiveness of sins—preached, poured out, and given and shed for you.

Gladly hear and learn it.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind.

And love your neighbor as yourself.

This is the Word of the Lord.

Thanks be to God.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Trinity 17, 2020
Luke 14:1-11
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

After the Fall, Man’s response to sin is fleeting—a half measure.

When the serpent deceived Eve, and she ate—when Adam listened to the voice of his wife, and he ate: “The eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths” (cf. Genesis 3:7).

Fig leaves don’t last, and neither do Man’s attempts to cover sin.

Then, God intervenes.

He speaks to the serpent, promising to crush its head. He speaks to the woman and to the man, informing them of what life will be like now that sin had entered the world. And then: “The Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them” (Genesis 3:21). Animal skins last, but notice—God didn’t make them out of nothing, like He did the rest of Creation. He made them garments—of skins—from skins—from one of the animals.

This first bloodshed and first sacrifice foreshadows the day when the Seed of the woman crushes the serpent’s head as He sheds His blood and covers the sin and wretchedness of Man—not in a fleeting way and not a half measure but once and for all.

Man would make the bad thing go away.

Out of sight is out of mind, but that’s not peace.

God forgives the iniquity and remembers the sin no more (cf. Isaiah 43:25), and what God does lasts.

In the 1928 folk song, “Big Rock Candy Mountain,” the hobo’s idea of paradise is a great example of Man’s attempt to ignore sin without having it forgiven.

“In the Big Rock Candy Mountains / All the cops have wooden legs / And the bulldogs all have rubber teeth / And the hens lay soft-boiled eggs…

“In the Big Rock Candy Mountains, / The jails are made of tin / And you can walk right out again, / As soon as you are in / There ain’t no short-handled shovels, / No axes, saws or picks, / I’ma goin’ to stay / Where you sleep all day, / Where they hung the jerk / That invented work / In the Big Rock Candy Mountains.”

That’s the hobo’s idea of paradise, but he aims too low.

Paradise wouldn’t have cops, because no one would want to break the law—ever.

That sounds great as it is, but imagine not wanting to speed while driving. Imagine not being in a rush or pressed for time. Imagine rejoicing in what is—not would was or might be if…

Bulldogs wouldn’t have to have rubber teeth, because we would have no fear of animals, and they would have no fear or dread of us.

Paradise wouldn’t have jails.

We won’t want to sin against God and get away with it—we’ll serve God gladly and rejoice in the Lord always.

The hobo aims too low—just like Adam and Eve.

But that’s all that Man understands—temporal solutions to everlasting problems.

Now, I say all of that so I can say this:

In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus raises the only son of a widow and gave him back to his mother.

In 2016, this was the Gospel lesson appointed for the day after my brother died—and so—it’s important for me, the other son of my mother, to do with this miracle as I ought for all of the miracles, to teach what Jesus is saying—as well as what He’s not.

What Jesus is promising—as well as what He’s not.

Miracles are not promises for what to expect in your daily life.

What mother doesn’t want to see and hear and feel her child again?

But this miracle is not a promise that Jesus will stop our funeral processions on the way.

Experience has taught us this.

But a mother’s grief is ignorant of the world and knows only her child.

You need to know—the grieving mother needs to know—that this miracle isn’t wonderful because God gave this one son back to this one mother.

This miracle is wonderful because God has power over death—Jesus is the Christ, the promised Seed, who will be bruised—and in being bruised, He will crush the head of that ancient serpent, the devil.

Man is always looking for a temporal solution to everlasting problems.

Receiving her boy back to her is still a temporal solution. He might die again. He did die again—maybe even before her.

We know Jesus knew this woman. “He knows all people and needs no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knows what is in man” (cf. John 2:24-25).

“When the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, ‘Do not weep’” (Luke 7:13).

He’s not saying, “Stop crying, you ridiculous, emotional woman.”

I’ve heard people say, at funerals, “You’ll get over it. It’s okay. Give it time.” Jesus isn’t saying that.

He’s saying, “I will wipe away every tear from your eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore” (cf. Revelation 21:4).

Not because of temporal solutions thought up by man, but because of eternal solutions put in place and proclaimed by God.

The comfort of this miracle is that “[Jesus] came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, ‘Young man, I say to you, arise.’ And the dead man sat up and began to speak” (Luke 7:14-15).

With simple words, “Young man, I say to you, arise,” Jesus makes the enemy, Death, look foolish, not fearsome.

That’s your God.

“He’s by our side upon the plain / With His good gifts and Spirit. / And take they our life, Goods, fame, child, and wife, / Though these all be gone, / Our vict’ry has been won; / The Kingdom ours remaineth” (LSB 656:4).

One little word fells the devil and calls forth life where there was just death.

That’s your God.

He touched the bier.

The coffin.

The casket.

The death shroud.

The tomb.

Our phrase is to say that He wasn’t afraid to get His hands dirty, but it’s more than that.

Jesus says, “No one takes [my life] from me. I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father” (cf. John 10:18).

For this charge and responsibility, for this task and time, for this purpose Jesus has come to this hour (cf. John 12:27).

To stop the procession of death where it is.

To say to death, “Thus far have you gone, but no further.”

That’s your God.

Who laid down His life on the cross—and took it up again on the Third Day.

That’s Your God, the Seed of the Woman, the Child of Eve, the Lord, who crushed the head of the serpent, and with His blood and sacrifice covers the sin and wretchedness of Man—not in a fleeting way, not as a half measure, but once and for all.

In Christ, God forgives the iniquity and remembers the sin no more.

In Christ, Death is swallowed up by death, and on the Last Day He will raise me and all the dead and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ.

Mother and child included.

This is most certainly true.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Trinity 16 Sermon, 2020
Luke 7:11-17
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

When you study Creation and the Garden of Eden, a good question to ask is: “Why did God plant the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil?”

The answer is this: faith in the Triune God is a tried and tested thing.

Do you confess the truth of the Word of God in what you say and do—or not?

Do you bear the weight of the cross God gives you in patient faith—or not?

God taught Adam. Adam taught Eve. Eve was deceived and gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.

The fault wasn’t with God or His Word. The fault was Man’s failure to hear the Word of God and do it.

Today, Jesus says, “Do not be anxious” (Matthew 6:25).

And today, six feet away from everyone else, behind masks and piles of Clorox wipes, we say, “Yes Lord.”

“Do not be anxious,” and we say, “Yeah right.”

Context will help us.

Matthew chapter six is the middle of the Sermon on the Mount. In chapter five, Jesus establishes His authority as a teacher, repeating the phrase, “But I say to you” six times (cf. Matthew 5:22, 28, 32, 34, 39, 44). “You have heard that it was said…but I say to you.”

Jesus speaks with authority, establishing both who He is and what the Law of God is: commands not suggestions—deserving the wrath of God and not a slap-on-the-wrist.

And just so we all know exactly how high the bar has been set, Jesus says, in the last verse of chapter five: “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).

Then, in Matthew chapter six, Jesus shows some of what that looks like.

He says, “When you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you” (Matthew 6:2).

He excludes from perfection the trumpeting of your own achievements. God doesn’t share glory, and we shouldn’t want Him to.

Then Jesus says, “When you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues…that they may be seen by others” (Matthew 6:5).

So we pray in our rooms, door shut, to our Father who sees what is done in secret, will rewards us.

And we pray outside our rooms, doors open, that all the world would one day see God face to face—whether anyone ever sees us or not.

“And when you fast,” Jesus says, “do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others” (Matthew 6:16). So we mix our fasting with joy, that the practice of our faith is not a burden to others.

And, finally, Jesus says, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth” (Matthew 6:19).

It’s all fleeting. It’s all vanity. It’s all for naught.

Buy the new iPad if you want. Or rejoice that you live in the house your grandfather built. And—to you—both of those things will be meaningless in either a thousand years or tomorrow, if that’s when Jesus comes.

There’s nothing wrong with owning a new iPad. There’s nothing wrong with being humbled by and thankful for living in the house your grandfather built. But those are not the treasures Jesus tells us to lay up.

“Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven,” Jesus says. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (cf. Matthew 6:20-21).

Only now do we come to the first verse of today’s Gospel lesson: “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and [mammon]” (Matthew 6:24).

And mammon is the better word.

It’s the word Jesus actually said, for one, and it conveys more than currency, which is the point.

There are two ways: the way of life and the way of death. You can follow both God and mammon as easily as you can follow a road that forks.

It’s either/or. God is neither fooled nor mocked.

So after all of that, Jesus dares to say to us, “Do not be anxious.”

From our perspective, it’s like He doesn’t remember anything He just said.

The command to be perfect followed by commands that are already nigh impossible, and Jesus tacks on, “Do not be anxious”?

Again—as it was in the Garden—the fault’s not in the Word but in our failure to hear the Word rightly.

Telling a child the rules is a completely different thing from telling a child to obey the rules.

Any child can learn the Fourth Commandment, “Honor your father and your mother” (Exodus 20:12). But no child naturally does.

Any child can learn Ephesians 6:1, “Children obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” But no child naturally does.

In whatever vocation God has given you, you must learn the rules—and do them. What an obvious thing!

It’s not enough for the Christian to know he must give to those in need, friend or foe, sharing the bounty God provides.

He must also do it.

It’s not enough for the Christian to know he needs to pray about it, he must also pray about it, humbling himself under the holy name of God, hoping for God’s will to be done and trusting that it is.

It’s not enough for the Christian to think that fasting is okay—if you’re in to that sort of thing. Rather, Christians are in the habit of setting aside the wants of the body for the needs of the soul, storing up treasures in heaven and not on earth.

It’s not enough for the Christian to hear the Word of God. He must also do it.

James writes, “Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:22).

And Jesus says, “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock” (Matthew 7:24).

But when Jesus says, “Do not be anxious,” we are, at first, anything but comforted.

Keep reading.

He doesn’t leave us with those words and the demands of the Law. He argues, from least to greatest, so we would be comforted.

“Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?…Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?…Therefore, do not be anxious” (cf. Matthew 6:26-31).

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

The wrong way to say that is to say, “God is out there, go find Him.” Or, the popular variants of that, “It’s up to you. Just decide. Just pray about it. Let go and Let God.”

The right way to say that is: “Look at the birds of the air: they do nothing, yet our Father in heaven feeds them. And the lilies, how they grow. They don’t work, yet glorious Solomon was not arrayed like even one. You are worth more than the birds. You are worth more than the fuel for our fires” (cf. Matthew 6:26-31).

“Therefore, do not be anxious.”

“Seek ye first the kingdom of God and HIs righteousness, and all this will be added unto you.”

And to seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness is to call a thing what it is.

It is God who seeks, brings back, binds up, strengthens, and feeds—not you.

You are the poor, miserable sinner who was lost and is now found. Who was dead and buried and found, covered, purchased, won, raised up, and forgiven.

In the Parable of the Buried Treasure, Jesus says: “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field” (Matthew 13:44).

God searched the earth. He found you, precious in the sight of the Lord, made in the image of His Son.

He covered you. Gave all that He had—His Son, His only Son—and in joy—purchased and won you away from sin, death, and satan.

“Do not be anxious,” Jesus says.

It is God who seeks, brings back, binds up, covers, buys, and raises up.

It was you who was lost and is now found.

Do not be anxious.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Trinity 15 Sermon, 2020
Matthew 6:24-34
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

I’m not a doctor, but yesterday I did read most of an article from the CDC’s website. I’ll leave it up to you what lesson you can learn from that, but the recent outbreak shouldn’t surprise us, given the statistics.

And the fear—that’s expected, too.

Infection can damage the respiratory tract, we know that, but I’ve read, now, that it can damage nerves and even skin and eyes.

Extensive contact is necessary for it to spread from person to person, but that doesn’t make us feel more safe.

What is “extensive contact,” anyway?

One cough, one mucosal particle from the nose, that’s all it takes.

Or one dead armadillo.

I’m talking about leprosy, of course.

And some armadillos are naturally infected with the bacteria that cause leprosy in people, so, last week, when I saw a dead armadillo in the road about a mile north of the church, I prepared myself for the inevitable leprosy outbreak.

Okay, no I didn’t. But it’s not a new thing for an entire people to worry about clean and unclean, the spread of disease, and the fear of God.

Who isn’t tired of hearing all this bad news about fear. I’m sure everyone would rather hear all the bad news about politics. And we’re all tired of the bad news about disease.

So hear the Good News of the Gospel:

Jesus is God and Lord.

Faith in Jesus saves.

And the Living God is a God who loves even the poor, miserable, diseased lepers.

With that in mind, recall the Ten Lepers and the Good News of Jesus Christ:

“On the way to Jerusalem [Jesus] was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.’ When he saw them he said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went they were cleansed. Then one of them, 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 made you well’” (Luke 17:11-19).

What’s the lesson here?

If the Bible is merely Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth, if we strip the intent of God to save the world from sin, death, and the fear of satan, and if we reduce the Word of God to morality tales as told by cartoon vegetables, the lesson’s simple: be thankful.

But do you see how that fails?

If you reduce the Gospel to “Be thankful,” are you comforted?

It’s not the Gospel if it tells you how to be, what you must do.

It is the Gospel if it tells you who you are by faith in Jesus Christ, what God has done to win you away from sin, death, and the fear of satan.

We are to be thankful.

These verses from St. Luke’s account of the Gospel are also appointed for Thanksgiving Day, so yes, we are to give thanks, but that’s only part of what goes on here.

What’s the lesson?

A lesson could be made out of what Jesus says: “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well” (Luke 17:19), because faith doesn’t always make you well.

Prayer doesn’t always yield, in an apparent way, that for which you ask.

Or have you not prayed for anything you didn’t get?

It’s an important distinction for us to make, to know that Jesus literally says, “Rise and go your way; your faith has saved you” (Luke 17:19, The UBS Greek New Testament).

The word isn’t θεραπεύω as in therapeutic or therapy that might make you well. The word is σώζω as in soteriology and salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone.

That’s a big difference.

Faith may not make you well, temporally speaking. 

But faith that trusts in Jesus for salvation saves always, whether it’s small like a mustard seed, immature, O you of little faith, or brand new.

If faith makes you well, there are a lot of sick Christians who must now doubt their faith.

But if faith that trusts in Jesus saves, then we are comforted in the midst of any affliction.

We can abound, of course. It’s easy to rejoice when everyone’s healthy, your team is winning, and you just cashed a check.

But the peace that Jesus gives teaches us, even, to be brought low and yet rejoice in our Lord Jesus Christ (cf. Philippians 4:12). To thank God for our daily bread, even in the midst of what talking-heads call “unprecedented times.”

Faith in Jesus Christ saves, that may well be the lesson, but briefly, I’d like to share this with you as well.

All ten were lepers.

All ten “stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us’” (Luke 17:13)

All ten were cleansed.

But only “one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice” (Luke 17:15).

What does this mean?

All ten were lepers.

Desiring not the death of the sinner but that he turn from his evil ways and live, leprosy was the cross God gave to these men, that they would draw near to Him.

That’s what God is doing every moment of every day since Creation—calling you to repentance and teaching you to rely on Him.

All ten called out, and God, in the flesh, literally drew near to them.

But only one believed that God breathed into him the breath of life. Only one turned back, praising God, worshiping Jesus, giving Him thanks.

Only one recognized Jesus as the High Priest He is, who would offer the sacrifice of His own Body and Blood on the tree of the cross to justify the world.

Only one trusted in Jesus for salvation.

Only one saw the cross he bore in his flesh as a call to repentance and faith. Only one received his daily bread of renewed health in faith that looks to God for all good things.

With only that one did Jesus dwell.

To only that one did God draw near.

To that one alone did Jesus say, “Your faith has saved you” (cf. Luke 17:19).

So what does this mean?

God has given us all a cross to bear.

Great and small. Acute and chronic. Colorful and bland. The size and shape and individual weight of each cross is different, yet we’re all the same.

God is patient, desiring that all should reach repentance (cf. 2 Peter 3:9).

“Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you” (James 4:8).

Hear the Word of God, believe it, and He will raise you unto life everlasting.

Rejoice in the Good News of the Gospel, the power of God for salvation to all who believe in the Lord, and you will know how to abound and how to be brought low, how to do all things.

Rejoice in this Good News:

Jesus is God and Lord.

He speaks life into existence, doing all things well.

He knit you into existence, that you would live with Him forever.

Jesus is God and Lord.

That’s the Good News.

And faith in Jesus Christ saves.

Not your struggles, not your works, not your effort or your prayers, but “[Jesus] himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24).

I see it every year, around the eleventh of September, the claim that everyone who dies tragically is somehow an angel or otherwise with God.

It’s not true.

Whether your life is a Tragedy or a Comedy, it makes no difference, you were purchased and won from sin, death, and satan in the History of Jesus Christ.

Faith in Jesus Christ alone saves.

That’s the Good News.

And the Living God is a God who loves the leper, the infant, and the poor, miserable sinner.

He gives us all a cross to bear, out of love, that we would  draw near to Him and bear it faithfully.

He gives us His Son, that we would cast our cares upon Him. He draws near to us, removes our burdens, comforts us with Absolution, and speaks peace into our hearts.

May we all hear this Good News, recognize Jesus for who He is, and follow Him like the one, Samaritan ex-leper who returned, praising God, worshipping Jesus, and giving thanks.

That’s the lesson.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Trinity 14 Sermon, 2020
Luke 17:11-19
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

Does Jesus ever lie?

Of course not.

But when Jesus says, “Do this, and you will live” (Luke 10:28), does He mean what He says? If the lawyer “does this,” if he loves God and neighbor, will he inherit eternal life—is that what Jesus means?

Actually, yes.

What Jesus says is, of course, true. Keep the Law in its totality, and you will live eternally.

But St. Paul writes, and this is also true, that “If a law had been given that could give life, righteousness would indeed be by the law” (cf. Galatians 3:21).

That is to say, there’s no law given that can give us life.

It’s impossible for us to keep the Law unto eternal life, and yet—we’re commanded to do so.

“Do this, and you will live” is law and promise.

The Law is good.

It’s God’s word, God’s will.

The dynamic in Lutheranism of Law and Gospel sometimes—and inadvertently—teaches us to pit the Word of God against itself.

Law, bad.

Gospel, good.

Law, damnation.

Gospel, salvation.

Law, death.

Gospel, life.

But Jesus says, “Do this, and you will live.”

That’s law, a command, a perfect summary of the Ten Commandments. Do this law, and this promise is added: “…you will live.”

The Law is good. It promises salvation—just like the gospel does, but it requires unattainable perfection.

That doesn’t mean the Law is bad—that means we are no longer very good, as God created us.

St. Paul makes it clear—there’s no law that can give us life. He writes that “the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe” (Galatians 3:22).

So—the Law is good. The Law promises salvation.

But not to anyone who does not keep it perfectly, which is to say, not to you.

Jesus says what He does, because the lawyer’s putting Jesus to the test, desiring to justify himself.

He doesn’t desire to justify God, which is right.

He doesn’t desire to be justified by God, which is necessary.

He desires to justify himself, which is impossible.

The Law does promise life and salvation. Jesus says so.

But—and we all know this—salvation by the Law is impossible.

The parable of the Good Samaritan answers two questions specifically: 1) Can the Law save?

It answers this question practically, with a clear—no.

The second question is: who is the Good Samaritan? And the answer to that is also clear.

Thus says the Lord: “‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, “Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.” Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among robbers?’ He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘You go, and do likewise'” (Luke 10:30-37).

Can the Law save you?

Clearly, no.

You are the man, beaten and left for dead. The priest and Levite, servants of the Law, pass you by.

They offer no help to one who is dead in sin, because the Law offers no help to one who is dead in sin.

But something unexpectedly good has come out of Nazareth—the plan of God from before the foundation of the world—the truly Good Samaritan—Jesus the Christ.

He applies the medicine of immortality to the one who is dead in his trespasses and sins, which is to say—you.

He gives water and bread and wine, simple things to which God has attached the promise of life eternal.

He brings you to the inn, the Church, He pays for your care, and provides an inn-keeping Pastor for you, that the medicine may be applied as needed.

And He promises to return. To settle accounts.

To make things right.

The Law cannot save you, but the Good Samaritan, Jesus the Christ, can and does.

That seems to answer the second question, right.

Jesus is the Good Samaritan who finds the beaten, half-dead man, binding up his wounds, whether that man’s in the parable or in the pew.

Jesus is the Good Samaritan who found you by the side of the road, dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, who applied the water of Holy Baptism to you and fed you with simple temporal, bread and wine, and eternal things, His Body and Blood, for the forgiveness of your sins.

Jesus is the Good Samaritan.

That’s the first part of the answer to our second question, but Jesus has a bit more to say.

The Law is good.

It’s true, primarily, the Law shows us our sin.

It’s true that, hearing the gospel, we hear the words, “Do this and you will live,” and we know we can’t “Do this…” perfectly.

We hear Jesus say, “You go, and do likewise,” and we say, “Yes Lord, but I’m the one who needs the help.”

And I don’t mean that falsely.

It’s the prayer of faith that flees to God for refuge and strength: “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner!”

But here is where you must realize the help that God has provided.

He sent His Son, the Good Samaritan, to seek and find you, to bind you up, to feed and clothe you, to help you in time of need, to give you life when all you had was death.

What is there that cannot be endured if life is waiting for you, come what may?

I’m not saying that’s easy. But I am saying that’s true.

You—the Christian—need to hear this parable as God’s plan for your salvation.

You were lost and dead.

Christ finds you and gives you life.

That’s the way of it.

But you—the Christian—also need to hear this parable as an exhortation to live and practice the Christian faith.

First, Jesus is the Good Samaritan.

And then, once you realize how you have been saved and by whom, then, you are free to be the Good Samaritan that your neighbor needs.

Saved, now, not by works of the Law but through faith in Jesus Christ (cf. Galatians 2:16), you bind up the wounds of the sick, poor, and dying, and you bring them to the same inn where God serves and saves you.

And now, you—the Christian—recognize the Law for the good and godly guide it is.

Do this, and you will live—not because you can save yourself—you’ve been carried by Christ to Church and washed and fed. He keeps you.

Jesus says, “You go, and do likewise” (Luke 10:37) so your neighbor, left for dead on the side of the road, in need of help the world cannot provide, would rejoice, with you, in the truly Good Samaritan.

Like the lawyer, you can’t justify yourself.

But the Lord our God is just.

He sent His Son into our flesh to bear our sin and be our savior.

He justifies sinners and sends them out to serve.

Believe this, and you will live.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Trinity 13 Sermon, 2020
Luke 10:23-37
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

“They brought to [Jesus] a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged him to lay his hand on him” (Mark 7:32).

You can’t do that today—or, you shouldn’t, because it’s not politically correct to assert that there’s something wrong with being deaf—or blind or mute or pro-choice or homosexual.

To assert that ears hear, eyes see, and tongues confess, offends people whose ears, eyes, and tongues don’t hear, see, and confess.

And to assert that what God says is true offends people who are inconvenienced by it.

Maybe you know someone who’s deaf—or blind or mute. Maybe you know someone who’s had an abortion or foolishly and blasphemously thinks women should be able to choose. Maybe you’ve voted for someone who supports what are called women’s rights (unless they’re unborn-and-therefore-non-voting women).

Maybe you don’t like some of the things that God says or the Church teaches.

To assert—therefore—that there’s something wrong with your identity—who you are, what you think, and even the way you live your life—that’s offensive.

Jesus doesn’t care.

The good friends of the deaf man don’t care.

They bring the deaf man to Jesus, because they know ears are meant to hear and tongues, confess.

It may be very offensive to tell the truth, but lies certainly don’t help.

Lies might make you feel good, and the truth might hurt your feelings; but if your feelings are wrong, they need to be burned with fire, ground to powder, scattered on the water, and drunk (cf. Exodus 32:19-20).

That’s what God thinks of our false gods.

Now, recently, I baptized a baby. I was told by a hospital worker that it wasn’t needed, that there was nothing medically wrong with the child.

It was, to this person, as though the Lord sees as man sees, judging on the outer appearance and not the heart (cf. 1 Samuel 16:7).

It’s offensive to assert that a newborn child has inherited sin from mom and dad and commits his own sin and is therefore at enmity with God.

It’s offensive to assert that there’s something wrong with the deaf man.

But only sinners go to heaven.

I don’t say that to shock—I say that, because there’s more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than the ninety-nine who break the heart of God by claiming they need no repentance (cf. Luke 15:7, 10).

Only forgiven sinners go to heaven.

Taking [the deaf man] aside from the crowd privately, [Jesus] put his fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue.

And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, ‘Ephphatha,’ that is, ‘Be opened.’ And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly” (Mark 7:33-35).

It wasn’t this man’s sin that caused him to be deaf, though temporal consequences do sometimes follow certain sins.

“It wasn’t that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him” (cf. John 9:3).

And the work of God is this: “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh” (2 Corinthians 4:8-11).

This is the work of God: The deaf hear. The blind see. The meek obtain fresh joy in the Lord, and the poor exult in God (cf. Isaiah 29:18-19).

“This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent” (John 6:29).

Miracles are interesting.

Who hasn’t prayed for a miracle.

But miracles are never the goal, the end, the point.

So the once-deaf man’s ears were opened.

So his tongue was released.

In the end, he still died and was buried.

The widow’s son at Nain, the little girl, and Lazarus—Jesus miraculously raised them all from the dead, but in the end, they were yet dead and buried.

Miracles are supernatural wonders, marvelous to behold—but, though they may last for the rest of your life, they will still end.

Saint Peter, who stood on the mountain and saw our Lord’s transfiguration and heard the voice from God the Father, he still considered that testimony less sure than what every Christian here today has and hears: the prophetic Word of God, the Bible.

Saint Peter writes: “For when [Jesus] received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,’ we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. [But] we have the prophetic word [which is] more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place” (2 Peter 1:17-19).

He had the miracles, the mountaintop, and the mighty works of God, but he preferred the prophetic Word.

Miracles aren’t the point; rather, they point to Jesus the Christ, our God and Lord.

Miracles identify who Jesus is.

After Jesus opened the ears of the deaf man, “[He] charged them to tell no one. But the more he charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, ‘He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak’” (Mark 7:36-37).

When God created the world, “[He] saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31).

God is good. And He does all things well.

This is the work of God: when the deaf hear and the mute confess, when He does good things and those, things, well, our eyes are opened and tongues released, and we speak the straight, doxological truth of God’s Word: truly, this is the Son of God.

We didn’t need to see it happen.

We don’t see it happen.

But we hear and believe.

God defines what is meet, right, and salutary, and that definition might offend us or hurt our feelings.

Good.

The friends of the once-deaf man have it right.

Jesus does all things well.

He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.

He doesn’t promise to remove every hardship, He doesn’t promise to provide a life of ease, and the miracles He did perform seem to be with us no longer.

Who hasn’t prayed for a miracle?

But we have something better.

Thus says the Lord: “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh” (2 Corinthians 4:8-11).

We have something better.

He gives us life in His name.

This is the work of God: He who sighed and breathed His last for us upon the cross has opened our ears to believe in Him and has released our tongues to confess that Jesus is Lord and Christ.

So we hear and believe and rejoice.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Trinity 12, 2020
Mark 7:31-37
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

Jesus says, “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:14).

The most obvious way that a man exalts himself is to boast like the Pharisee in the Temple. “I fast twice a week. I give tithes of all that I get.” Such shallow attempts to make oneself righteous must be denounced, even ridiculed.

“For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20).

Because— “We know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified” (Galatians 2:16).

“Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?” (Galatians 3:2).

“For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them’” (Galatians 3:10).

The problem with the Pharisee wasn’t his fasting or tithing, Christians are to fast and tithe.

The problem wasn’t his strength of will to resist adultery or extortion. It’s not a problem that he didn’t take advantage of his neighbors or give in to greed.

God commands all of that.

The problem was, the Pharisee thought he was righteous enough from how hard he worked, that his simplicity was enough to earn God’s favor, and that whatever failings he had were insignificant compared to other people, so—therefore—he was the one to be loved by God.

In fact—the Pharisee was living what the Bible calls the good life. Quoting Psalm 34, St. Peter writes: 

“Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil” (1 Peter 3:10–12).

In avoiding evil and doing good, giving away his material possessions, and training his flesh for hardship, the Pharisee enjoyed a life of peace and health.

There’s no real or lasting pleasure in sin, even for sinners. If you don’t believe me, pick a rock star who lived long enough to have a biography written about himself, and read his biography.

Debauchery does not lead to happiness.

The good life is not found in what the world counts as pleasure.

Even Oprah—who denies that Jesus Christ is Lord—knows, deep down, that to be happy you must make other people happy. She knows you must give your life and your stuff to others.

If you get to choose what sort of an unbeliever to be: either the Pharisee who lived in poverty and service to others but was heading to Hell, or the Tax-Collector who lived in luxury and sought to maximize pleasure at every turn but was also headed to Hell—if you must choose between the two—pick the Pharisee.

Blesséd, in a sense, is the man who doesn’t know what a hangover feels like, who’s never had to worry if the girl was pregnant, or if he had aids. Blesséd is the man who’s never been beaten up in the back alley of some bar, or arrested, or vomited on himself.

Blesséd is he—but, of course—that’s not true blessedness. True blessedness isn’t simply the good life promised by the Law. True blessedness is the righteousness bestowed by Christ on sinners.

If you get to pick what sort of a man to be, either the Pharisee, greatly honored in the community with a steady job, or the Tax Collector, hated by all, pick the Tax Collector who prayed, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” (Luke 18:13).

He went down to his house justified.

He confessed His sins before the mercy seat.

He trusted in God to cover him and to receive him by grace, to forgive him. And God did and does.

That’s what the Temple was for and that’s why the Temple veil is destroyed at the death of Christ (cf. Mark 15:38).

Nothing separates us from the love of God and His mercy. It’s open to women and Gentiles, to tax collectors, prostitutes, and pimps. It’s open, even, to Pharisees and life-long Lutherans.

The Church has deliberately chosen the Tax Collector as her model of prayer. His actions in the parable are precisely why we bow our heads and close our eyes and fold our hands in prayer.

Years ago, Lutheran confirmands were taught to beat their breast when they confessed sin or received the Sacrament.

Mea culpa. Mea culpa. Mea maxima culpa.

My fault. My fault. My own most grievous fault.

We come before God as sinners in need of mercy.

We want to go home justified.

We don’t trust in ourselves or our works.

If we are righteous, it’s not our righteousness but the righteousness of Christ that’s been bestowed on us as a gift through His Word.

We want to be the tax collector in his penitence and piety not in any of his previous perversion.

That he goes home justified means more than that he was let off the hook for all the bad stuff.

More than that, he went home changed, the new man.

In an outward way, we expect that he began from that point forward to look like the Pharisee. To fast, training his body. And to tithe, training his heart and providing for the poor. Resisting evil. And doing good.

Luke records this parable in chapter 18, and in chapter 19 he tells us about another tax collector convert: Zacchaeus, that wee little man who climbed a sycamore tree. When Jesus came to his house, Zacchaeus receive him joyfully, and, in the freedom of the Gospel, pledged to give half of all his goods to the poor and to restore ill-gotten gains fourfold.

Jesus said to Him “Today salvation has come to this house” (Luke 19:9).

Yes, because Jesus is there.

And yes, because Zacchaeus loved Him.

The Gospel changes both tax collectors.

It delivers not only the outward peace and satisfaction of the good life, but it also gives an abundant life, a life lived with God, by His Law, in repentance and faith, in service to neighbor, and with joy.

Lutherans confess: “When a person is born anew by God’s Spirit, liberated from the Law…and led by Christ’s Spirit, he lives according to God’s unchangeable will revealed in the Law. Since he is born anew, he does everything from a free, cheerful spirit” (FC SD VI.17).

That’s what is true. That’s what we believe. But there’s a caveat. On this side of glory, we struggle.

Lutherans also confess: “Believers are not completely renewed in this world. The old Adam clings to them right up to the grave. Therefore, the struggle between the spirit and the flesh remains in them. They delight in God’s Law according to the inner man, but the law in their members struggles against the law in their mind. Therefore, they are never without the Law. Nevertheless, they are not under, but in the Law. They live and walk in the Law of the Lord, and yet do nothing in the Law because of force” (FC SD VI.17).

The Law does little good for the unrepentant.

The Pharisee’s obedience only gave him a good life here on earth.

But the Law does great good for the Baptized. We confess: “This doctrine of the Law is needed by believers in order that they may not make up a holiness and devotion of their own. Using God’s Spirit as an excuse, they must not set up a self-chosen worship, without God’s Word and command” (FC SD VI.20).

Lest we make up our own standards and turn ourselves into libertine hedonists, Christians-in-name-only, inventing an entirely new and perverse form of self-worship and self-righteousness that brags in the un-faith of not doing works, loving God and neighbor, lest we follow our heart and lose our faith, God gives us His Law.

But it’s also true that our good works, done in faith, become pleasing to God as they obey the actual Law in an outward way. We are not under the law. We are under grace, forgiven, free from the curse and condemnation of the law through faith in Christ.

Our good works, though imperfect and impure, are pleasing to God through Christ. We act in God-pleasing ways—not because of the compulsion of the law but because of the renewal of the Holy Spirit—without coercion and from a willing heart, as baptized, justified, and saved Christians.

Yes, there’s a war in your members.

Your struggle and sin.

But you fight the Old Adam as a son, not a slave.

You fight as one redeemed by Christ the crucified, not as a worrier.

You fight as one to whom the victory has been given, not the one who would earn the victory himself.

You fight as one who goes down to his house justified, prepared to live in this world and the world to come.

 Yes, we struggle.

But we struggle as one who has conquered by faith in Jesus Christ.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Trinity 11 Sermon, 2020
Luke 18:9-14
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

”When [Jesus] drew near and saw [Jerusalem], he wept over it…” (Luke 19:41).

But when Jesus weeps, we more readily remember Lazarus, who died, and the shortest verse of the Bible, “Jesus wept” (John 11:35).

Today, Jesus weeps, but it’s not the same.

He weeps because of death, that’s the same, but today Jesus weeps for those who had the word of God and abandoned it.

Over Lazarus, Jesus wept, knowing that he would be raised, on the Last Day, to life eternal.

But over Jerusalem, Jesus wept, knowing that city and those dwelling in it would reject the Christ, the Son of the Living God.

It sounds most unLutheran to say it, but this is true: not everyone who’s baptized will be saved. Hitler was baptized. And Stalin. And Judas. Caiaphas and all the Sadducees were circumcised. It’s possible they were believers at some point, but we must say it’s also possible to deny the faith, to turn away, either in a conscious choice for power and evil, or by the slow descent into sin and an unrepentant, irreverent approach to faith.

An unbeliever cannot choose to believe in God.

And a believer can choose to reject God.

Just because every Christian currently has the 10 Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Apostles’ Creed memorized, doesn’t mean that every Christian is currently in the club, so to speak.

Confirmed Christians have vowed to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from the faith.

We vainly think, “I would die for God, for the Truth. I would never deny the Lord or burn incense to Caesar…”

“Just don’t ask me to give up the desires of my heart. Don’t expect me to be slightly inconvenienced.”

Because Jesus never wants us to be inconvenienced, right? He wants everyone to get everything they want, right? Jesus doesn’t want anyone to suffer.

But see, he does.

Look at stanza five of the Christmas hymn, “O Jesus Christ, Thy Manger Is” (LSB 372).

“The Lord prepared thee for all earthly sadness.”

Did you know that God prepared you for all earthly sadness? Do you know what that looks like?

It’s a cross-shaped sadness that God gives each Christian to bear—that you would bear it faithfully.

“The angel host can never boast of greater glory, greater bliss, or gladness.”

We incorrectly think of angels as something to aspire to, but they can’t bear a cross in patient, quietness like you can.

Jesus does want us to suffer the cross God gives us, as we follow Him.

His grace is sufficient for us.

And St. Paul writes: “we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance character, and character hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:3-5).

Jesus would rather see us inconvenienced and faithful than “convenienced” and unfaithful.

If Jesus drew near to our city, he would weep over it, too, saying: “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation” (Luke 19:42-44).

Jesus speaks these words first to Jerusalem.

In fewer than forty years from the day Jesus speaks these words, Rome wars against Jerusalem, walls are torn to the ground, and men, women, and children are dashed to pieces against the stones.

It was hell on earth.

On this Sunday, the Tenth Sunday after Trinity, the account of the Destruction of Jerusalem has historically been read so that Christians don’t make a name for themselves and rebuild Babel.

The Destruction of Jerusalem was hell on earth.

But the hell in hell is worse.

So, while Jesus speaks these words first to Jerusalem, they fall on our ears, too.

We don’t know the time of our visitation, and yet we’re complacent with all manner of sin.

If somebody sins against us, if we’re inconvenienced, or made to feel the slightest bit uneasy, we get grouchy and kick and stomp until somebody pays us attention.

That’s human nature, and it’s true for everyone.

But when your sin is mentioned by name, how quickly does it become no big deal? Or how quickly do you play the 8th Commandment, Pharisee, All Law, and That’s-How-We’ve-Always-Done-It cards?

That’s human nature, and it’s true for everyone.

When it’s your sin, you cover it up.

But when someone sins against you, you paint the town with their blood. You gossip and slander and lie.

You make assumptions.

Why ask questions when you can just assume?

That’s human nature, and it’s true for everyone. Repent.

Now is the time of your visitation. The great day of the Lord is coming, and every knee will bow.

Jerusalem was a warning that we should heed.

Had Jesus found a house of prayer instead of a den or robbers, He wouldn’t have had to drive anyone out. But, as “[Jesus] entered the temple [He] began to drive out those who sold, saying to them, ‘It is written, “My house shall be a house of prayer,” but you have made it a den of robbers’”  (Luke 19:45-46).

When considering what is Christ-like, remember that He made a whip of cords and drove the people out of the temple with the sheep and oxen (cf. John 2:13-17).

But it’s not just the buying and selling of animals for sacrifice that requires Jesus to do and say these things.

If that were the case, Jesus’ words would be pointless for us.

No one, that I know of, tries to sell animals—for sacrifice—before, during, or after church.

Harvesting beef is one thing, animal sacrifice another.

If the congregation and her Christians are more concerned with making money, preserving a building, and selfishly being seen, then they’re not concerned with God, Forgiveness, Jesus, Heaven, Grace, and Peace.

What Jerusalem needed is what we, ourselves, so often need but don’t want to hear—though we would never say we don’t want to hear it: Jesus’ words.

Because ”[Jesus] was teaching daily in the temple. The chief priests and the scribes and the principal men of the people were seeking to destroy him, but they did not find anything they could do, for all the people were hanging on his words” (Luke 19:47-48).

You can’t defeat the Word of God. You can disagree with it, ignore it, or refuse to preach it.

You can teach as commandments the doctrines of men and plug your ears to the Gospel, but the Word of the Lord endures forever.

The Words of Christ endure forever.

And teach. And Save. Forever.

We know what Jerusalem forgot.

We know what makes for peace:

Jesus, the Word. Jesus, the Christ, the Crucified.

A stumbling block to Jews, because God died a real death and rose again.

And foolishness to Gentiles, because we worship one God alone—not a pantheon or stadium full.

“Even were a Greek disposed to love Zeus—not honor, admire, or beseech, but love—he could never love Zeus alone, without rousing envy among Poseidon, Apollo, and the rest. And he did not want to do so” (cf. Tony Esolen on Facebook. August, 14, 2020).

If you consider all beliefs held by all the peoples of all times and places, it is perfectly unique to Christianity to love one God alone—who lives and dies for you and lives again.

The Jews and Greeks thought one dead Savior couldn’t help them. They miss the point.

But we know the things that make for peace.

The death of Christ, His shed blood, and the proclamation of the Gospel bleach the stain of our sins away.

We know the things that make for peace. The flood of water poured upon us in Holy Baptism, that inoculation against the devil. Less a membership card and more a war that’s already been fought and won for us.

We are the army when David fought Goliath. We simply receive the victory and rejoice in it.

We know the things that make for peace. The Body and Blood of Jesus Christ given and shed for the forgiveness of our sins.

If you are what you eat, Christians literally eat and drink peace with God and with each other.

Our cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow us all the days of our lives, and we shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, the Lord is with us.

We know what Jerusalem forgot: God’s house is a house of prayer. And Jesus teaches us to pray:

God is our Heavenly Father.

We give thanks for all He gives us.

We ask, boldly, for all we need.

We pray for forgiveness.

We pray His will be done and evil defeated.

We pray—knowing our Father in heaven hears our prayers and gives us all that we need for this body and life.

We pray in Jesus’ name, because “there is salvation in no one else…there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

Jesus wept, because so many who knew that forgot it.

But we remember, and at that, there is joy in heaven.

The chief priests and scribes and the principal men of the people—they still exist today. Who feign would tear from off Thy throne, Christ Jesus Thy beloved Son.

But the Word of the Lord endures forever.

We hang on to that Word, we cling to it.

We believe. We trust. We wait for Jesus and hope in Him.

And weeping is turned to joy.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Trinity 10 Sermon, 2020
Luke 19:41-48
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt