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

They had no one to roll away the stone.

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

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

They expected a dead body.

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

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

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

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

Rather, there is the Word of the Eternal God.

Law and Gospel. Dirge and lute.

God speaks, and it is so.

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

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

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

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

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

God speaks, and it is so.

Thus says the Lord, and it’s true.

That’s why and how everything else comforts us.

Jesus said it. It’s true. Therefore…

Just as He told you, do not be alarmed.

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

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

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

God speaks, and it is so.

Thus says the Lord, and it’s true.

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

They have heard—but they do not yet believe.

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

They heard, but they did not believe.

They saw and believed.

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

Blessed are you who hold it sacred and learn it.

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

Just as He told you. Do not be alarmed.

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

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They’re ugly.

And yet—one far fierce hour and sweet…

There was a shout about his ears.

And palms before his feet.

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

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

These things don’t make sense to us.

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

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

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

You would never choose a donkey.

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

So God gives you a cross to bear.

You can ignore it and make matters worse.

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

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

Why are there days like these?

We would never choose this.

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

You’re not God. He chose a donkey.

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

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

Fear not. This is as it must be.

Never give up. Here is your hope!

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

Through cross and death, He rides to resurrection victory.

And we follow.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

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

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

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

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

Maybe you’re a high risk individual.

Maybe you just don’t like the pastor.

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

Such is the doctrine of man.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Theirs is vain worship, leading to eternal torment.

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

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

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

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

Only a few people at church at a time.

And everything’s on Facebook anyway?

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

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

No one will know.

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

That’s the vain worship and idolatry.

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

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

A defeated enemy, death is still an enemy.

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

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

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

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

Fear not.

If one end is near, so is the other.

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

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

So many oppose the Word and will of God!

But what is that to you?

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

He withdraws.

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

And that’s a warning to us all.

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

Worship the Lord your God.

Trust Him, and serve Him only.

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

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

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

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

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

He heard, and He believed.

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

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

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

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

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

But from them, He was hidden.

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

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

So many oppose the Word and will of God.

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

But what is that to you?

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

He is not hidden from us.

Church is essential, because Jesus is essential.

His Word is essential.

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

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

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

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

Jesus looks and acts like somebody special.

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

And sometimes—that’s actually a problem.

Jesus speaks and acts like He’s God.

He calls God His Father. He heals the sick.

That’s impressive stuff.

But then today He asks a question.

He’s turned water into wine, miraculously.

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

God is His Father.

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

But He doesn’t know where to buy bread.

That’s a problem.

He acts like God— Talks like God—

Some of the time.

But not on command.

For us, that’s a problem.

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

He asked His question to test them.

And they failed.

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

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

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

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

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

But—He Himself knows what He’ll do.

The disciples are caught between God and unbelief.

Between trust and doubt.

Between despair and patient, long-suffering faith.

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

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

He was concerned with the numbers, the cost.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God constantly fails to live up to our expectations.

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

Our expectations are wrong.

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

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

Nobody wants that stuff.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We don’t expect humility, but behold!

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

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

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

Behold our God—who died.

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

But the Church does that weekly, or better.

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

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

It’s not impressive looking bread.

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

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

We could never expect that—but God gives it.

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

But the Church does that weekly, or better.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But He Himself knows what He will do.

God is at work.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

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

Jesus Christ is the Light of the world.

But not everything Jesus says is meant to comfort.

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

Jesus says, for example:

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

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

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

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

Jesus means to say that it won’t. 

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

More cold logic.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God might use that virus to bring you before Him.

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

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

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

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

Who is the strong man?

It’s not Jesus.

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

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

The strong man is not at all comforting.

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

Even this is not immediately helpful.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why is there urgency now?

To make matters worse, Jesus says this next:

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s neither helpful nor comforting.

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

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

But that doesn’t help.

Would you want that said to you?

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

Does anyone want to hear that?

Could anyone be comforted by that?

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

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

Sin divides us from God.

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

But Christ unites Himself to all who repent.

He will not and cannot unite Himself to impenitence.

God doesn’t ignore sin, He forgives it.

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

The same is true today.

Plagues will run their course.

If it’s not COVID-19 it’s H1N1.

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

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

Hardheartedness is destroyed by sins confessed and forgiven.

Lost, Jesus finds us.

Broken, He heals.

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

Faithful, He forgives all our sins.

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

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

But Jesus’ words today don’t end there.

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

You are safe with God.

You are saved by God.

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He ignores her.

Is there any reason why He should?

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

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

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

So imagine that you’re one of the disciples.

Jesus ignores this woman and calls her a dog.

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

Well of course you’d hate her.

She’s not on your side.

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

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

This woman shouldn’t exist.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus isn’t only testing the Canaanite woman.

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

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

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

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

But God’s mercy is hidden under His wrath.

His righteousness under sin.

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

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

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

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

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

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

This Canaanite is a Christian.

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

And that’s great faith.

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

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

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

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

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

He has every right to ignore you completely.

But He doesn’t.

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

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

But He doesn’t.

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

God has every right to call you a dog.

But faith beats Him to the punch.

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

We plead guilty before God of all sin.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To strengthen and preserve you in body and soul.

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

And share it with others.

It’s not WWJD? “What Would Jesus Do?”

We know the answer to that one.

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

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

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

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

Is Jesus the second person of the Holy Trinity? Is He of the same substance with the Father, by whom all things were made? Is Jesus God? Yes, of course.

Could Jesus have sinned? Be careful. You just said that Jesus is God, of the same substance with the Father.

Can God sin? Could Jesus have sinned? No.

The forgiveness of sins earned by Jesus’ perfect sacrifice was never in doubt. Jesus being God means that He could not sin. He’s perfect.

So when Jesus is tempted by the devil, we don’t have to hold our breath and hope He makes it.

Another way to ask all this is: what’s the opposite of God? The answer is: nothing.

The devil is not the opposite of God—that would mean the devil is as powerful just opposite, as knowledgeable just opposite, applying his all-powerful, all-knowing evil against the goodness of God.

The devil is not that powerful, he doesn’t have that much knowledge.

The all-powerful, all-knowing, and good God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, He fights for you.

Our God promises to deliver us from evil.

Context will help us understand:

“And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” (Matthew 3:16-4:1).

That’s the immediate context of today’s Gospel lesson: Jesus is baptized, God the Father identifies Jesus as His Son, and immediately Jesus is driven into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit to be tempted by the devil.

The same Holy Spirit who descended upon Jesus like a dove, now drives Him into the wilderness to be tempted.

God is strange to us, sometimes. This is Exhibit A.

Right after telling the world that Jesus is His Son, that He loves Him and is well pleased with Him, our Heavenly Father has the Holy Spirit drive Jesus into the wilderness for forty days of fasting and temptation by the devil.

This strangeness only makes sense if you contrast what God is doing (saving the world) with what the devil is doing (accusing the world, filling it with unbelief that it would be condemned with him).

Our Heavenly Father has said, “[Jesus] is my beloved Son,” but “the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” (Matthew 4:3).

And the devil has a point. In His ministry, Jesus performs miracles, feeds the hungry, heals the sick, and raises the dead. In the Old Testament, God fed His people miraculously all the time, bread from heaven, water from the Rock, oil and flour that never run out.

Hunger, to the Creator of all things, is a simple problem. Jesus could very easily speak a single sentence, “Let there be bread,” and the world would have its fill.

The devil knows Jesus is hungry. He knows God wants the world to have food. He knows God promises to provide our daily bread.

But it does not profit the world to fill its stomach today and, tomorrow, lose eternal life.

After the Fall into sin, Man must sweat to eat. By the sweat of your brow you will eat bread. And life became toilsome hardship. Jesus—elsewhere in His ministry—multiplies bread without sweat, undoing the curse of the Fall.

It’s nothing for God to miraculously feed the world.

But Jesus doesn’t have to endure temptation to feed the world. He doesn’t have to bear the sin of the world to cross and death and grave if His goal is to feed the world. But if He has come to save the world, He must.

That’s the first temptation. God wants to feed the world—and does. He gives us the Body and Blood of Jesus.

Jesus came to feed sinners by giving them His flesh to eat and His blood to drink. We don’t hold our breath and hope Jesus passes the test—we rejoice that Jesus chose our everlasting salvation over the eradication of world hunger.

And don’t hear me wrong, the temptation is real: “in every respect [Jesus] has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). But temptation is not sin. You don’t have to sin when tempted. In fact, when you know you’re being tempted, that’s the perfect time to remember that Christians can defeat temptation, and this is how:

Jesus responds with the only tool that always defeats the devil, the written and spoken word of God:

“Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).

Truly this is the Son of God who must suffer and die. By His stripes—the world is fed—and we are healed.

“Then the devil took [Jesus] to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone’” (Matthew 4:5-6).

The devil proves that his knowledge of Scripture is better than ours. No man wants to die, so satan tries to find a verse that will keep Jesus from death. More than that, the devil’s found a way to convert the world by signs. God wants to save the world. And the world wants signs.

Imagine if Jesus jumped from the temple and angels swooped in to save Him. All those friends of ours demanding signs would get one, and they’d believe.

At least a while.

People who ask for signs don’t really want them. They ask either for what they know won’t happen, so they can continue unabated in their sin or they ask for what they know will happen to falsely confirm their heart’s desire as divine.

We talked about this in Sunday School today. [If you’re reading this online, click here for the handout that was used during Sunday School.]

Everyone wants a sign, but no sign will be given except the sign of the prophet Jonah.

Not as an accusation against any but as a warning for all: what you win them with is what you win them to.

Win a person to your congregation with a dog or a discount, and you’ll lose that person when the dog dies or the discount runs its course.

Win a person to the Gospel, and nothing better can come along.

Jesus’ death and resurrection is the only sign we need.

And get this, the devil quotes Psalm 91, verses 11 and 12: “He will command his angels concerning you” and “On their hands they will bear you up lest you strike your foot against a stone.” But he forgets to quote verses 9, 10, and 13, which say this: “Because you have made the Lord your dwelling place—the Most High, who is my refuge—no evil shall be allowed to befall you, no plague come near your tent…You will tread on the lion and the adder; the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot” (Psalm 91:9-10, 13).

That ancient serpent, the devil, is defeated by his own misquoted Bible verse. The Lord is the dwelling place of the Son—the Most High, His refuge. The evil one scowls fiercely and plagues Him with temptation, but Jesus, the Christ tramples him underfoot.

And there’s more.

The temple, the location for this temptation, was built on Mount Moriah, according to 2 Chronicles chapter three, and Mount Moriah was where Abraham was to sacrifice Isaac, according to Genesis chapter twenty-two.

From there, we read that Abraham called the name of that place “The Lord will provide,” for a ram was provided there in place of Isaac

Well, that’s still true: on the mount of the Lord the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world is provided. Moriah is to Abraham what Golgotha is to God, the place where the Lord provides the unblemished ram for the sacrifice.

The second temptation seeks to remove the Cross from Jesus’ shoulders, but Jesus doesn’t put the Lord His God to the test.

Jesus truly is the Son and Lamb of God who dies in Isaac’s place and ours.

We don’t hold our breath to see if Jesus makes it.

We rejoice—seeing our salvation, Jesus Christ the Lamb of God, destroy death and hell.

And: “Again, the devil took [Jesus] to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me’” (Matthew 4:8-9).

All men want power. And God teaches us to pray that His kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. Our God made the sea and the dry land, the world and all that’s in it.

I’m sure the devil could make a good show of it, but what he offers to give to Jesus belongs already to God.

The third temptation seeks to divide God, so Jesus responds with the boldness blasphemy deserves.

“Be gone, satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve’” (Mt. 4:10).

And the devil obeyed.

Jesus serves His Father by enduring from the devil temptations that seek to keep the Christ from the Cross.

Jesus wants bread, and God wants us to eat.

Jesus wants life, and God wants us to believe.

Jesus wants His Father’s kingdom established on earth, and God wants to rule on earth as in heaven.

The devil doesn’t mind any of those, so long as Jesus goes against His Father’s will.

But the Word and will of God can’t be broken.

Our Heavenly Father has said of Jesus, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Mt. 3:17).

We’re not holding our breath here.

Jesus obeys, submits, and serves God and us all by putting Himself last. He didn’t come to be served but to serve and to give His life, to lose it, and to buy you back to God our Father.

All this He does in obedience to our Father’s will—to break and hinder the devil—to beat down satan under our feet—to fulfill the Word:

The devil bruises the heel, but Christ crushes the ancient serpent’s head (cf. Gen. 3).

We can never endure temptation as faithfully as Jesus did. But our High Priest has mercy.

Tempted in every respect as we are, yet without sin (cf. Hebrews 4), Jesus has compassion.

When you’re tempted, know that Jesus fights for you and provides the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it (cf. 1 Corinthians 10).

You can. You will.

Even more, God has the last word and silences our accuser forever.

In the crucifixion of Jesus, all sin was crucified.

In the tomb of Jesus, all sin stays buried.

So in the resurrection of Jesus, you and all believers in Christ are raised, too.

The resurrection of Christ muzzles satan forever.

For though you’re tempted, and though you sin, and though you die, Jesus says, yet shall you live.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Invocabit Sermon, 2020
Matthew 4:1-11
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

Jesus said to him, “Recover your sight; your faith has made you well” (Luke 18:42). That’s how it was read a few moments ago, but that’s not quite right.

The man is well. Jesus restores his sight. But the actual word that Jesus uses is saved. It could read, “Recover your sight; your faith has saved you.”

The King James has it that way, for what it’s worth.

And here’s why it matters: if faith makes you well, we’ll doubt our faith every flu season.

We’ll think the man was made well because Jesus restored his sight.

That’s wrong because faith doesn’t guarantee good eyesight, otherwise there’d be no blind, deaf, weak, hurting, or sinful Christians.

 Jesus doesn’t say “made well.” He says saved.

Faith in Jesus Christ doesn’t guarantee good health. It doesn’t guarantee eight hours of sleep each night or nine months of ease whenever you need it.

Lots of other false gods promise those things—but not faith in Jesus.

But faith in Jesus does guarantee salvation.

And nothing else does that.

But here’s where it’s most difficult:

In our day-to-day lives, for which do we feel the greater need?

Eyesight? A clean bill of health? Wealth? Ease?

Or salvation?

The Gospel lesson today hits us hard, because it contrasts the seeing (and unbelieving) disciples with the blind (but believing and therefore saved) beggar.

And we should prefer to be the blind beggar.

Though you don’t want to be blind, you really don’t want to be one of the Twelve, because at this point, they don’t understand.

“Taking the twelve [disciples], [Jesus] said to them, ‘See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise’” (Luke 18:31-33).

Jesus could not be more clear. 

Seventeen times prior to these verses in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus refers to the Son of Man.

The disciples know it’s Him.

And yet, St. Luke writes that ”they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said” (Luke 18:34).

In three separate ways, Luke tells us that, seeing, the disciples do not see. Hearing, they do not understand. And having Jesus there, they yet have nothing at all because they lack faith.

And so we read of the blind beggar.

“As [Jesus] drew near to Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. And hearing a crowd going by, he inquired what this meant. They told him, ‘Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.’ And he cried out, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ And those who were in front rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’ And Jesus stopped and commanded him to be brought to him. And when he came near, he asked him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ He said, ‘Lord, let me recover my sight.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Recover your sight; your faith has saved you’” (Luke 18:35-42).

This beggar is the example of faith.

This blind beggar is a perfect illustration of the Christian because he’s blind (which means he believes what he hears) and because he’s a beggar.

We are all beggars. This is true.

Each of us, before God, is an empty cup needing to be filled. Each of us, before God, has nothing to offer God that He needs. We are, arms outstretched and palms up, in need of what He has to give.

And this blind beggar gets it. Literally blind, he hears and believes and trusts.

Having Jesus there, he has everything.

Notice, Jesus is near and the beggar cries out, “Son of David, have mercy!” He knows who David was.

He knows who Jesus is.

So yeah, this beggar gets it. “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy.”

But what happens? This blind beggar and example of the Christian faith cries out to what end?

He’s rebuked by the crowd.

And it at least seems like Jesus is ignoring him.

Jesus, who knows all things, doesn’t answer him immediately—and that’s on purpose.

We should all learn to be like the blind beggar.

He ignores the rebuke of Man out of faithfulness to God.

And he’s got thick skin. He remains faithful and cries out all the more even when it seems that God Himself is silent or uncaring.

Practical wisdom tells us the squeaky wheel gets the grease and the impudent friend what he needs.

But God wants to give you all that you need. So how much more will our Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him (cf. Luke 11:5-13).

Prayers stay the same for years, sometimes.

That God doesn’t give you what you want doesn’t mean He hasn’t given you everything you need.

Maybe you want for yourself what God doesn’t want for you? If that’s the case, it’s not God who should change.

That’s a difficult lesson to learn.

But we’re not alone in having to learn it.

Nor are we supposed to keep our desires to ourselves.

The blind beggar can’t see Jesus, but he trusts that Jesus hears. He trusts that Jesus answers. So when rebuked by Man and seemingly ignored by God—when it would seem that he has all the reasons in the world to stop praying—he cries out all the more, because he knows that God is merciful.

Literally blind, he hears and believes and trusts.

“And Jesus stopped and commanded him to be brought to him…” He commands him to be brought to Him, because by your own reason or strength you cannot believe in Jesus Christ your Lord or come to him.

“…And when he came near, [Jesus] asked him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ He said, ‘Lord, let me recover my sight.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Recover your sight; your faith has saved you.’”

The faith that saves the blind beggar was there before Jesus restored his sight. It was there before he cried out the first time. It was there when he was rebuked, and it was there when it must’ve felt like God was ignoring him and refusing to answer his prayer for mercy.

The faith that saves the blind beggar is there apart from the miracle of sight restored.

And—regardless of his sight—the man is saved.

Jesus heals the blind man for many reasons.

Because the man asked.

Because Jesus is there to give sight to the blind.

But our reason—the reason Jesus did that then but not now—the reason we don’t get our miracles the way they got theirs—is because Jesus wants us to seek and ask for more than eyes that see.

He wants us to believe and be saved.

So that in the resurrection we have all that we ask for and more.

That’s what’s at stake.

Jesus, in healing the blind man, is showing us what the resurrection looks like.

And in telling the blind man that his faith has saved him—Jesus is showing us what is most important.

Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.

And then—in the resurrection—everything else will be added unto you.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Quinquagesima Sermon, 2020
Luke 18:31-43
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

What is it that unbelievers can’t be told that believers must be told?

We usually don’t think of it that way. Usually, we think that believers have all the information—therefore—we go and tell the world.

To Jesus’ disciples—and we can understand that to include all Christians—“It has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables…” (Luke 8:10).

Jesus teaches by means of parables to divide sheep from goats—those who hear the Word of God gladly, living pious lives from those who scorn God’s Word and serve their own flesh.

The unbelievers who have hardened their hearts against God’s Word will not listen, so the Lord turns away from them and hides knowledge from them.

We can look at the Parable of the Sower that way, and that’s a tough one to mess up since Jesus explains it:

“The seed is the word of God. The ones along the path are those who’ve heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away. And as for what fell among the thorns, they’re those who hear, but as they go on their way they’re choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature” (Luke 8:11-14).

We could spend our time examining soil-types, talking about how God cultivates bad soil into good by the work of the Holy Spirit in the proclamation of the Word of God—and that would be helpful.

That’s one necessary part of the parable.

And—it’s necessary today for us to understand that unbelievers don’t and can’t bear fruit with patience.

Jesus and St. Luke want you to know that you’re saved by grace—through faith—not by your works—but by the work of the Holy Spirit—through the proclamation of the Word of God.

And—Jesus and St. Luke want you to know that faith doesn’t stop at hearing the Word of God.

It’s only the good and faithful soil that hears the Word, holds it fast in an honest and good heart, and bears fruit with patience (cf. Luke 8:15).

The Parable of the Sower shows us that there are, ultimately, two responses to hearing the Word of God:

Believing it unto eternal life and obeying it while yet in this earthly life. Actually seeking opportunities to learn and grow in piety and faith and putting off the world.

And…Rejecting the Word of God. Disobeying it. Lazily not caring, thinking yourself secure, and going to hell.

That rejection takes many forms, as the different types of soil show us.

But believing the Word of God always produces fruit. The amount of fruit doesn’t matter—there’s no shame in being a simple Christian or faithfully pursuing a life the world despises.

But bearing fruit with patience is not optional.

Two paragraphs after today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus says, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it” (Luke 8:21).

That’s the proper response to hearing God’s Word. To hear what He says and to do it.

St. Luke makes this point again and again.

Mary, when she finds out she’ll bear the Christ-child, says, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).

She believed the Word of God and acted accordingly.

When Mary visits Elizabeth, Elizabeth exclaims, “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord” (Luke 1:45).

She believed the Word of God and acted accordingly.

In chapter six, Jesus says, “Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he’s like: he’s like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built” (Luke 6:47-48).

To hear and to do is wisdom, Jesus says.

In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus teaches the lawyer—just as the Samaritan showed mercy to the man who fell among robbers—just so—you should “go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37). Not only should you believe what’s true—you should go and do as well.

And in chapter eleven, “a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to [Jesus], ‘Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!’ But [Jesus] said, ‘Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it’” (Luke 11:27-28).

Again, and again, and again—Jesus teaches or Luke shows what discipleship looks like: Hear the word of God. Believe it unto everlasting life. At that point, grafted into the vine, you’re saved.

And then—we hold fast to the Word of God in an honest and good heart, bearing fruit in patient obedience to God and service to neighbor. At that point, grafted into the vine, the branches bear fruit.

Jesus and St. Luke want you to know what discipleship is: you can’t be a Christian by only hearing the Word of God. While hearing the Word of God is how we’re saved—Jesus doesn’t say “Blessed are those who hear the Word of God.” He says, rather, “Blessed…are those who hear the word of God and keep it” (Luke 11:28).

A Christian does both and understands that faith alone saves and that faith is never alone. We hear “the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart and bear fruit with patience” (Luke 8:15).

You need to be aware of this, because there’s a trend in the preaching of the Lutheran Church as though congregations contain no believers, no Christians.

What’s said is true—but not enough gets said.

It’s like this: If either of my sons pick up a brown recluse spider, and upon picking it up if they ask me whether or not it’s poisonous, and I say—No.

What have I just done? I’ve just told them the truth. Brown recluse spiders are not poisonous.

They’re venomous. They’re not poisonous.

In that hypothetical, what I said was true, but it was unhelpful because there was more that needed to be said.

So when you hear that you’re saved apart from works. That’s exactly true.

But if that’s all that’s all you ever hear. If you never hear: “And this is where Scripture teaches us to do good works. Here’s the list, the Ten Commandments, where God reveals His will for a Christian’s daily life. And here’s where Jesus teaches us what discipleship looks like, how we’re to love our neighbor as ourselves.”

If all you ever hear is how you’re saved—if you never hear what the Christian life looks like or how to increase in good works—then something necessary is lacking.

Jesus and St. Luke have a very specific work in mind in the context of the Parable of the Sower. But you would never know it unless you’re comfortable hearing that Christians “bear fruit with patience” (Luke 8:15), that is, they obey God’s Word.

I’ve told you what Jesus said two paragraphs after today’s gospel lesson: “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it” (Luke 8:21).

But here’s what He says one paragraph after today’s gospel lesson: “No one after lighting a lamp covers it with a jar or puts it under a bed, but puts it on a stand, so that those who enter may see the light” (Luke 8:16).

That’s what discipleship looks like.

In the proclamation of the Word of God, by the work of the Holy Spirit, we hear and believe unto life everlasting. That’s God’s Work.

And, “hearing the word, [we] hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience” (Luke 8:15). That’s your responsibility as a Christian.

The Light shines in the darkness.

If you have and know the Light, you don’t cover it with a jar or put it under a bed.

Because, if you believe the Word…

If it’s true…

It’s of infinite importance that you get that Word to others who are in need.

According to C.S. Lewis, “Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.”

You don’t take the most important Word, Jesus, the Light of the World, our salvation, and put it under a jar or a bed where it’s of no use to people walking in darkness.

If it is the most important thing then you live and act differently every day because of it.

You put the Light of the World on a stand, so that those who enter may see the Light and see the world according to the Light.

Jesus has this specific fruit in mind for you to bear:

So that others may see what has been given to you, share the Gospel.

So that those who walk in darkness can see a great light, be a Christian in front of other people.

Since you can hold fast to the Word of God and bear fruit with patience. Do it.

You know more non-Lutheran, non-church-goers than I do.

I’m not telling you to knock on doors and browbeat people into coming to church. That doesn’t work.

I mean, according to your vocation, who already knows you, who already loves you, to whom are you responsible, who do you regularly bump into?

Having heard the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart and bear fruit with patience.

Share the Gospel. Invite someone to church. Bring your husband, your wife, your son, your daughter, your best friend, bring them to Church or Sunday School.

Is what you believe infinitely important or not important? It can’t be moderately important.

The amount of fruit you bear doesn’t matter. And bearing fruit, bearing witness, doesn’t always equate to more butts in the pews.

That’s not why we bear fruit.

That’s why we’re to bear fruit with patience.

You’re a light for those entering the household of God.

Your perseverance in the faith shows the way for those who have not heard, those who do not believe.

So hear the Word of God and believe unto everlasting life. Rejoice!

And bear fruit with patience.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Sexagesima Sermon, 2020
Luke 8:4-15
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

Some worked all day. Some, only an hour. But those who receive their wages receive the same wage—and if we were in the back of that line, we’d’ve hated this.

“When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them [the wage], beginning with the last, up to the first.’ And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat’” (Matthew 20:8-12).

The worker who worked the whole day—with the worker who worked mere moments—both receive the same wage—one denarius.

The parent who agonizes over every puzzle piece in a thousand-piece double-sided puzzle—with the child who places only the last piece in the puzzle—both receive the same wage—one puzzle completed.

The wife who puts all the dishes away but one—with the husband who reminds her about that one dish and puts it away himself—both receive the same wage—the dishes are put away.

Both receive the same wage—but only one bore the burden of the day and the scorching heat.

We know that it’s unfair and unhelpful when a person who can work refuses to and still receives pay.

It’s unfair when you work long hours and put in effort, and one who neither works nor tries still receives pay equal to your own. That it’s equal pay for less work makes it unequal pay.

No business can run that way—not for long.

But Jesus tells this parable to describe, not this world or business as we know it but the reign of God, His Kingdom.

The contrast in today’s Gospel lesson is not between lifetime-Christians and deathbed-Christians, those who’ve borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat and those whose work was only momentary.

If that’s what this is about, that would imply that lifetime-Christians, when they go to heaven, get what they earn and deserve.

And only deathbed-Christians receive the wage of Heaven as a gift from God by love and grace.

And that’s not how it is at all.

We’re saved by grace through faith in Christ our Lord, not by works. And this is, itself, a gift from God, not a paycheck given out of contractual requirement (cf. Eph. 2:8ff) after years of basically faithful service.

In the Church, you don’t get what you deserve, because grace is undeserved.

For a moment, though, consider if each Christian received exactly what they earned.

How terrifying!

The master of the vineyard replies to the grumbling day-laborers, “Take what belongs to you and go” (Matthew 20:14). And could there be a more frightening statement from the Creator of All Things to that which He created?

What belongs to you? And where can you go that’s not what God Himself has made?

We’re stewards, not creators.

It has been given to us, it is not ours.

We are workers of the vineyard. Heirs—not owners.

The contract between you and God isn’t written in your hand and blood but God’s hand and blood.

If today’s Gospel lesson were a contrast between lifetime-Christians and deathbed-Christians, you’d hate God, because He does what we don’t do. He treats the worst like the best: ”[He] shows no partiality” (Romans 2:11).

Don’t think of yourself as one of the all-day-laborers.

You’re not one of them.

To them, remember, the master of the vineyard says “Take what belongs to you and go.”

That’s justice. That’s not grace.

Justice is getting what you’ve earned, what you deserve. But grace, mercy, and the peace of God that is yours in Christ is all gift.

It’s undeserved.

All Christians are deathbed-Christians, whose work is momentary, whose whole life is but an hour in God’s day, who receive the wage of everlasting life out of the master of the vineyard’s overabundant generosity.

When your body is raised from death, and you stand for judgment before Christ, what puts Heaven into your possession isn’t the hours of your Christian service but the hour and service of Jesus the Christ.

Justice requires your death.

Grace puts the nails through Jesus’ hands and feet. The crown on His head. The spear through His side.

You don’t deserve it. That’s grace.

You couldn’t earn it. That’s a gift.

You couldn’t win it. Our salvation was accomplished in the hour of Christ’s death, confirmed in the hour of His resurrection, and distributed to you in this hour by the Word proclaimed, poured, and given.

In the small hour of our lives, we can accomplish so little and yet make endless lists of things to do.

But by God’s grace, during our small hour, God accomplishes so much.

We don’t deserve it. But God desires it.

Thus says the Lord through St. Peter, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). God, in His grace, always desires repentance and faith so that you would believe and live.

God desires—and accomplishes—and gives it.

The one-hour workers receive the wage of life everlasting, by the grace of God.

The same is true for you.

Salvation is God’s work, accomplished and given out of grace.

But the workers who received their wages never stopped working. In a manner of speaking, they ran with endurance the race that was set before them (cf. Heb. 12:1). 

St. Paul warns us: “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things…to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).

So, we run the race—we live our lives—trusting God and receiving from Him all that we need for this body and life.

We don’t work so that He’ll take care of us.

He’s our Heavenly Father, loving and gracious. He takes care of us not because of our merit but only out His Fatherly goodness.

We work and move and live and breathe in thanks to Him and in service to those God has given us and all who are in need.

Our Lord chooses to give, even to us, the least of workers, what is promised to the first.

Today is Septuagesima. It means “Seventy Days.” We’re about seventy days away from Easter.

Next week is Sexagesima, “Sixty Days.” And after that is Quinquagesima, “Fifty Days.”

During the “Gesima Sundays,” we rejoice in the solas of the Reformation.

Today, Sola gratia. By grace alone are we saved.

Some work their whole lives.

Some work only an hour.

But all believers are Christians made alive by God.

“Praise the Lord! He is good. God’s love never fails” (Psalm 136:1).

God’s grace never fails.

In the Church, there aren’t different wages—there is only “the wage.” God gives to the least as He gives to the greatest. To the last, as He does the first.

Let us pray:

“By grace I’m saved, grace free and boundless; My soul, believe and doubt it not. Why stagger at this word of promise? Has Scripture ever falsehood taught? No! Then this word must true remain: By grace you too will life obtain.

By grace! On this I’ll rest when dying; In Jesus’ promise I rejoice; For though I know my heart’s condition, I also know my Savior’s voice. My heart is glad, all grief has flown Since I am saved by grace alone” (LSB 566:1,6).

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Septuagesima, 2020
Matthew 20:1-16
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt