Saint Matthew Lutheran Church

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A dark commemoration, perhaps, but a necessary one.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is the meaning of Christmas joy.

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

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

How infinitesimal we are.

How infinite God is.

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

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

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

“The proud will be scattered.

“The mighty will be brought down from their thrones.

“And the rich he will send empty away.

“He will exalt those of humble estate.

“He will fill the hungry with good things.

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

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

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

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

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

We looked forward to His coming.

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

But He will come again.

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

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

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

Merry Christmas!

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

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

Let’s talk about offensive things.

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

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

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

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

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

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

And these are the works of the Christ:

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

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

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

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

The work Jesus does identifies Him as the Christ.

But—again—how is that offensive?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These are our tables, and Jesus overturns them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blessed is he who’s not offended by me.

That’s what Jesus says.

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

Confess your sins, Christians, and receive the Christ.

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

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

And blessed are you who believe it.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

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

Now—you know I waste time watching movies.

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

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

But I love stories—and storytelling.

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

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

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

The man’s second-cousin Bo had died.

And his other cousin Sally had died.

And his sister had died.

And his other sister had died.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And all at once?

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

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

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

But would anyone like to know everything?

I think not.

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

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

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

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

The Lord promises an end.

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

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

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

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

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

Rather, He’s given us these signs.

And they’re clear, if you’ll see it.

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

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

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

But that’s common to every generation.

Every generation perceives signs in the sky.

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the parable Jesus tells makes this even clearer:

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

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

Rejoice!

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

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

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

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

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

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

He hasn’t forgotten you.

He is coming soon.

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

You’re not alone. You have the Lord.

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

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

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

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

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

Because His victory is yours—and His peace.

You have the Lord—and that’s enough.

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

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

So wait—with each other and on the Lord.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

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

What do you mean your king is coming to you?

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

We’re the land of liberty or death.

Or slaver—safety, right?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But God is bigger than us, praise be.

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

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

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

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

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

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

And He does.

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

Through simple means, our King comes to us.

To help, save, comfort, and deliver us.

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

God is patient—not slow.

He arrives exactly when He means to.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We come to the Lord’s Table prepared.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And He does.

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

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

We wait for something we know what is.

We wait because it’s good for us.

You don’t have Christmas before Advent.

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

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

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

To save you.

And He does.

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

To draw us to the Father.

To call us to Himself.

To raise us out of death to life.

And He does.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some are Galileans. And some, Samaritans.

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

They made those distinctions.

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

And there are more distinctions.

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

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

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

There are the cleansed and the unclean.

The healed and the sick.

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

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

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

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

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

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

We thank God that we call Jesus Master.

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

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

Will the turkey be dry this year?

Did you use the right recipe?

Did mom really say that? Did grandpa?

How many false gods will we tiptoe around this year?

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

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

Indeed, the one does.

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

Some thank God they’re priests.

Most thank God they’re not.

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

It varies.

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

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

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

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

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

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

And—none of these distinctions are what Jesus commends.

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

And this is the type of faith that saves—

This is the distinction between the one and the nine—

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

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

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

And there are those who don’t.

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

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

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

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

People take sides.

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

Plenty of Christians call Jesus Master.

So, that’s the same.

But plenty of look-alike Christians do, too.

So, that’s the same.

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

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

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

Posture matters.

Reverence in the presence of God matters.

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

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

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

We would hate this guy for who he is.

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

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

That’s the point!

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

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

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

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

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

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

And it is the Living God who fights for you.

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

“Thank Him? For this year?”

You think this year’s been bad?

Imagine if God withdrew His protection.

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

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

How many of you are at all anxious about today?

Why? Does God love you less than He did?

No.

In fact, He stands immovable in love.

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

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

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

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

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

God kills. And God makes alive.

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

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

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

Happy Thanksgiving.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

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

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

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

Pretty simple.

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

I heard the announcement. I wanted to listen.

I wanted to do as I knew I should.

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

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

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

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

Repent!

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

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

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

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

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

Are you ready to meet Jesus?

Because the hour is coming.

The bridegroom is on His way.

We know he’s on his way.

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

We simply have to be ready. Prepared.

And all of them fall asleep.

Preparedness is not perfection but faithfulness.

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

But after the cry—it’s too late.

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

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

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

Because it’s impossible to share oil.

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

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

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

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

The weaker brother argument doesn’t work here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

They were included. They heard. They knew.

But they did not prepare. They were not ready.

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

They all look like church-going Christians.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I mean faith is active in love.

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

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

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

God gives the faith required for salvation freely.

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

But there is an end to His patience.

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

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

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

Your exit is coming.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

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

I’ve been in a courtroom only a handful of times, and it was never very interesting—no spontaneous applause, no hilarious banter between country judge and city attorney, no climactic “It was him!” shouted from the witness stand.

Mostly, it was boring, almost-unintelligible back-and-forths about how to file paperwork correctly.

Far from that picture is the one painted by Jesus in today’s Gospel lesson.

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats” (Matthew 25:31-32).

Do our judges think of themselves as separating sheep from goats? I wonder—when it’s up to the judge alone—what those few moments are like after he’s made his decision but before he’s proclaimed it to all the world.

When he knows the verdict—but he must wait for it.

Today, that’s the difference we need to understand, the distinction that must be made.

As a judge knows the verdict before it’s read out loud, salvation is a question asked and answered before even one sheep is separated from the many goats.

There’s a lot going on here.

Jesus says, “He will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 25:33-34).

The sheep on His right are blessed by God the Father. They’re called to inherit was was prepared—for them—from the foundation of the world.

Which is great—and we don’t have a problem confessing salvation by grace or a judgment by works.

Our problem is the waiting. The daily grind.

The doctor’s appointments.

I made the joke recently that all the overreacting about COVID was a ploy by doctors’ offices to get people to be happy to wait in the lobby again.

Would you be happier if you could wait inside?

Don’t you look forward to waiting inside again for your doctor’s appointment? “Oh, this is nice!”

Or—rather—do you look forward to having no need of the earthly healing arts?

We believe in and confess the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.

So why doesn’t God just hurry it up already?

Maybe He, too, wants you to be happy to wait in the lobby, so to speak?

My point is, the waiting isn’t necessary for God.

“With the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years [is] as one day” (2 Peter 3:8).

He waits if He wants to. For Him, it is when He says it is. So, the waiting is for us.

For the Last Day and the Final Victory, that we have to wait at all emphasizes the “not yet” part of our “now and not yet.”

We have these things now: forgiveness, eternal life, and salvation. We have them because the Holy Spirit has given them to us. And we have them truly.

“But—“ that voice will say, “Do we really?”

“Do you feel like you have them?”

“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face” (1 Corinthians 13:12). We have those things now and truly. And—we must also say that we do not have them now like we will have them then.

The waiting is a race of endurance, a test of faith.

That the waiting seems prolonged, though, that goes against our common wisdom, doesn’t it?

Does anyone actually prefer to rip the Band-Aid off slowly, drawing it out, one hair at a time, one fleck of scab at a time?

Potential bad news aside, does anyone actually prefer the waiting room and lobby to the exam room?

There’s nothing worse for anyone than being told by an important person, “I need to talk to you…tomorrow.”

The prophet Tom Petty was right: the waiting is the hardest part.

There’s a lot going on here, but—so far—that’s just our side of the argument.

So, thus says the Lord: The waiting is for us.

Not a single one of us enjoyed waiting inside the lobby at the doctor’s office, but all that changed when our freedom to sit inside and wait was taken from us.

None of us like waiting for the Lord to fulfill His promises. But there are imposters of the faith among us.

We don’t know who they are. God does.

We can’t see them. God does.

We may not even care. God does.

So learn the lesson. Obey the rule.

God sees the general lack of contentment in your life: the comparisons, the gripes, the lists, the not-so-subtle suggestions.

For the sake of those who are still on the fence about this whole “salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone” thing, He waits because He wants to.

And the waiting is for us.

He could take it all away, and when He does, we notice. He’s drawing us to Himself.

So learn the lesson. Obey the rule.

“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).

And more than that—He waits because verdicts, by their very nature, are public.

You’re wrong if you think victory is enough.

It must also be proclaimed.

Made manifest.

Revealed to all.

Thus says the Lord, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies” (Psalm 23:5).

But why would I want to eat in front of them?

Everyone knows this.

Victory isn’t enough. You have to show the losers.

It has to be published in the paper, with pictures.

The winning team must parade through town.

It has to be posted to Facebook—or it’s not real.

That’s what Judgment Day is.

We know the verdict. We have it and live it every day.

The verdict was known from before the foundation of the world. It was promised and prophesied the full four-thousand years before Christ. It was fulfilled finally, in Christ, at His crucifixion, death, resurrection, and ascension to the Father.

We’re not the Judge, but we know the verdict.

We’re waiting for the verdict to be enforced.

It’s true now. We know.

Thus says the Lord: “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 25:34).

Enter into eternal life (cf. Matthew 25:46), for you loved Jesus, the Christ, the Son of the Living God.

You saw Him hungry and fed Him, naked and clothed Him, sick and you visited Him.

We know the verdict.

We’re just waiting for it to be enforced.

Which means now, right now, is the worst we’ll ever have it, the worst we’ll ever endure.

We have the victory—but it hasn’t been shown to the losers.

Learn the lesson. Obey the rule.

In love for all who’ve lost, our Lord delays, desiring that all should reach repentance.

There’s time.

For your son, your daughter, your friend.

There’s time.

For my dad, your neighbor, your wife, your husband.

There’s time.

But not much.

That day will come like a thief, and all our works will be exposed (cf. 2 Peter 3:10).

This, then, is the lesson. And this, the rule.

Learn contentment. Practice the faith. Grow in maturity as Lutherans. Rejoice in God’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom (cf. Luke 12:32).

Wait patiently—in your car, in the lobby, and wherever else God wills it.

He desires that all should reach repentance.

You know the verdict: “There is salvation in no one else [but Jesus], for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

Wait for it.

He is coming soon.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Second to Last Sunday, 2020
Matthew 25:31-46
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

“With what shall I come before the Lord? Shall I come with burnt offerings or year old calves? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (cf. Micah 6:6-8).

“Yeah pastor, ” someone might say, “but that’s in the Old Testament. Now—with the New Testament—we’re saved by grace and not by works. We don’t have to do anything, we just have to believe.”

You haven’t said that, but that is something that gets said. “Yeah, but that’s in the Old Testament…” means, “Stop making me feel bad. I don’t want to believe that. I don’t want to do that. So I’m not gonna.”

Understood rightly, the Old Testament teaches Law and Gospel perfectly, but what do you say to someone who rejects the teaching of half the Bible?

Let’s humor him.

Okay, you might say, how about this, from St. Paul:

“It is my prayer that your love may abound more and more…so that you may approve what is excellent [and not mediocre], and so be pure and blameless [and not grudge-holding revilers of the Truth], filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:9-11).

In a lot of ways, that’s the same as “Do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God.”

See—even the New Testament has it.

But even to that, someone might say, “Yeah, but St. Paul was a bigot.”

Have you heard that before?

That’s what they say, the ones God gave up to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies, because they exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshiped and served the creation rather than the Creator (Romans 1:24-25).

St. Paul’s a bigot, they say, because he says such true things as “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet” (Timothy 2:12).

The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod is full of bigots, then, because we ordain men as pastors.

This is how the world sees it.

Pick a dictionary. Bigot is defined as simply as: “a person who is obstinately or unreasonably attached to a belief.”

Every faithful Lutheran is obstinately and unreasonably attached to the Gospel.

Are you prepared to bear the cross of the label bigot?

First, they came for the Old Testament.

And then they came for what St. Paul wrote.

The world came for Jesus 2,000 years ago, nothing will stop it from coming after His Word today.

To Timothy, to all pastors, and for the Church, St. Paul writes:

“For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (2 Timothy 4:3-5).

And to His disciples, Jesus says, “I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me. But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you” (John 16:1-4).

With that in mind, for those who are being saved, today’s Gospel lesson comforts us greatly when Jesus says, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants” (Matthew 18:23).

To those who are perishing, nothing will be more terrifying than the judgment of God.

And, to those who are being saved, to the faithful who do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God, nothing will be more satisfying than the judgment of God.

God desires to settle accounts.

To me, that is every reason to keep the faith, every reason to persist in the truth.

None of this is for naught, in vain, or without backing.

The time and hour is coming when being called a “bigot” will be par for the Christian course.

I’m saying this to you to keep you from falling away.

So that you will heed the truth and not the myth.

Your name is written in the Book of Life, and God desires to settle accounts, so, you won’t be lost to Him.

Blessed are you—for you will be satisfied.

And—attached to all this—there’s the parable of the unforgiving servant.

This, too, comforts greatly, because it shows the manner by which God has already settled our account.

“How often should we forgive our brother?” St. Peter asks. “Seven times?”

And Jesus says, “Always.” That’s not exactly what He says, but that’s exactly what He says.

Always forgive, because the blood of Christ always avails for you before God.

This is—simultaneously—how we are comforted in the midst of all sadness—and—how we are to live bearing the cross God gives us.

The man owed his master an impossible debt.

The penalty—for him and everyone under him—was prison, hell, and eternal death.

The man implored his master, saying “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything” (Matthew 18:26), and, in my mind, I always paraphrase that as “Have mercy, and I’ll pay you everything” but that’s not mercy.

The man thinks he can pay the debt.

He asks for more time to do so.

The master knows better.

He doesn’t want to let the man try (and fail) to pay off the impossible debt. Rather, “Out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt” (Matthew 18:27).

That’s mercy.

When we pray that petition, “Forgive us our trespasses,” the words of Jesus in Matthew chapter six are, “forgive us our debts” (Matthew 6:12).

Ours was an impossible debt.

The only way we know to operate is to work it off over time. Give us enough time, and we can accomplish anything, pay off any debt.

There can be a lot of practical sense to that, but that  fails utterly before God.

So that we would be saved, out of pity for us, God released us and forgave the debt.

But consider what that means.

The debt, impossible as it sounds, was somehow real.

It didn’t vanish. It wasn’t erased. Rather, the Master swallowed it, took it upon Himself.

All sin, all debt, is outweighed in the balance by the Holy, precious blood and the innocent suffering and death of God’s beloved Son, Jesus Christ.

He settled accounts. That’s mercy.

What follows is a negative example: the one forgiven refuses to forgive, and so the whole debt falls upon him, crushing him.

“Have you never read in the Scriptures, ‘The stone that the builders rejected as become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?” (Matthew 21:42).

And, “And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him” (Matthew 21:44).

“So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother your from your heart” (Matthew 18:35).

That’s justice. He settles accounts.

To forgive another person, then, is to believe that God has forgiven you.

Jesus teaches us to pray: “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12).

Old Testament, New Testament, St. Paul, and Jesus—this is what God wants us to believe and how God wants us to live.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Third to Last Sunday (Trinity 22), 2020
Matthew 18:21-35
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

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