In the feeding of the five-thousand, there were five loaves, two fish, and twelve baskets full of pieces.

Five is Moses’ number—like the Pentateuch.

Two calls to mind the tablets, inscribed with the Ten Commandments by the finger of God that Moses brought down from the mountain.

And twelve is the tribes of Israel.

The feeding of the five-thousand in Mark chapter six was for the Jews.

As St. Paul writes: “[The Gospel is] the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the [Gentile]” (Romans 1:16).

But the feeding of the four-thousand in Mark chapter eight, today’s Gospel lesson, is for you.

Four calls to mind the four winds, the four cardinal directions, the four corners of a map—all of which stand for the entire world.

Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are the four evangelists for this reason: Jesus says, “[As you are going,] make disciples of all nations, baptizing them and teaching them” (cf. Matthew 28:19).

Four accounts of the one gospel proclaim the reconciliation of God to the world redeemed in Christ.

And there were seven loaves—a perfect number.

The people ate and were satisfied such that there were seven baskets full of pieces left over—again, a perfect number. That’s what seven is—perfect and complete.

In six, literal, natural, evening-and-morning, twenty-four hour days did our Lord create the world and all that’s in it. But He rested on the seventh—not because He needed it but because we do, and so, seven is the number for full and complete things, like a week.

A week full of work is not yet complete until it also includes rest and hope. 

That’s true for a week and the life of a Christian. Both work without faith and faith without works is dead.

In feeding the people, Jesus gave thanks and blessed the fish. All that we have is a gift from God—and all that God gives is a blessing, for our good.

Against our flesh we make that confession.

And against the false-god of fallible autonomous human reason, we receive this miracle as God intended it.

Miracles show God’s power and command over nature, His transcendence.

But they also show His mercy, His compassion.

In feeding the hungry, we see that God’s heart is turned to you and all the world, and what He gives doesn’t merely address the problem—it solves it.

They ate and were satisfied with baskets leftover.

“Cast your cares upon the Lord and He will sustain you” (cf. Psalm 55:22), we pray in the Psalms.

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden,” Jesus says, “and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

That’s what we learn from the feeding of the four-thousand, and that is most certainly true.

But—woe to that pastor who fails to tell you that the Christian life is more complicated and more difficult than that.

The Gospel according to St. Mark is always doing a combination of at least three things: 1. Proclaiming Jesus as the Son of God, telling us who Jesus is. 2. Calling sinners to repentance and faith, saying what Jesus says. And 3. Teaching us to take up our cross and follow Jesus, showing us what our lives will look like.

Christian preaching must proclaim Jesus as the Son of God or it’s worthless and unchristian.

Christian preaching must call sinners to repentance and exhort them to a living faith or it’s worthless and unchristian.

And Christian preaching must prepare the saints of God for the tribulation that is being wrought right now.

Cooped up for months, surrounded by constant fear-mongering, with physical death—always nearby-enough to sink our spirits anyway—now, seemingly closer still, how well-prepared are you to take up your cross and follow Jesus?

The pandemic has been good for us, because it’s shattered the illusion that we’re guaranteed a pain-free life. Christianity in general, and Lutheranism specifically, is no longer some box you check by rote memory on a form. It’s the faith you live out at home—at church—and everywhere else—or it’s not.

On every page in the Gospel according to St. Mark, we find the cross.

After the feeding of the four-thousand, St. Mark records that the Pharisees demand a sign.

Of course they do. Jesus has just fed the five-thousand, walked on water, healed the sick, taught with authority, healed a Gentile woman’s daughter, healed a deaf man, and fed the four-thousand.

But the Pharisees seek a sign.

They don’t know who Jesus is or care for what He has to say, but the disciples are no better.

They forget to bring bread with them, having only one loaf. “And [having only one loaf] they began discussing with one another the fact that they had no bread” (Mark 8:16).

Jesus rebukes them for their lack of faith.

“Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember?” (Mark 8:17-18).

At the feeding of the five-thousand there were five loaves and twelve baskets full.

At the feeding of the four-thousand there were seven loaves and seven baskets full.

“Do you not yet understand?” (Mark 8:21).

Jesus, next, heals a blind man and we’ll come right back to that.

Peter, then, confesses Jesus as the Christ—which is great—but then he ruins it by rebuking Jesus for teaching the gospel, that “the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again” (Mark 8:31).

Jesus teaches the Gospel—and Peter rebukes Him.

So consider now the blind man that Jesus healed.

“[Jesus] took the blind man…and when he had spit on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, ‘Do you see anything?’ And he looked up and said, ‘I see men, but they look like trees, walking.’ Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he opened his eyes, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly” (cf. Mark 8:23-25).

That’s not a failed first attempt. That’s two miracles.

St. Mark is always doing a combination of at least three things, one of which is teaching us to take up our cross and follow Jesus.

And in the context of miracles, Pharisees, disciples who don’t get it, and Jesus foretelling His own death and resurrection, we need to know what that might look like.

And, having compassion on us all, Jesus heals the blind man, twice.

He sees men as trees walking.

He sees men carrying their cross, following Jesus.

He sees men struggling to understand or deal with who Jesus is and what He says. But he sees those men following Jesus, walking. They do not depart from Him.

Ten verses after the man sees men as trees walking, Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it” (cf. Mark 8:34-38).

It’s three times in the book of Acts that the cross is called a tree.

St. Paul writes in Galatians: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’” (Galatians 3:13).

And it’s St. Peter, of course, who writes that, “[Christ] himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24).

The tree is known by its fruit, and Christian trees walk, following Jesus.

So take up your cross, and take heart.

Jesus says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

But He adds to that: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:29-30).

Jesus’ burden wasn’t light for Him, but He carried it and completed it out of love. The light burden He gives you to bear is not His heavy burden but the benefit of Him having carried it.

Cast your cares upon the Lord, and He will sustain you. Go to Him, all who labor and are heavy laden, and He will give you rest.

Behold, the Son of Man takes your burdens away and lays on you the benefit of His work: forgiveness, eternal life, and salvation.

Take His yoke upon you, and learn from Him, for He is gentle and lowly in heart. Follow Him, and you will find rest for your souls.

Work the week, but know that it’s not complete without rest and hope.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Trinity 7 Sermon, 2020
Mark 8:1-9
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

It’s not that we disagree when Jesus says, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20).

We agree, sure. That’s the easy part.

Agreeing with Jesus is important, but, Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). Hearing is easy. Doing is harder.

So, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you’ll never enter heaven.

And the Pharisees are men “set apart.”

That’s what “Pharisee” means: “one who is set apart.”

They didn’t commit crimes. They paid their taxes on time, every year, pandemic or not.

They gave a tenth of everything they owned to support the work of the church and to help the poor.

They didn’t commit adultery or steal.

They weren’t violent.

They lived clean, decent lives.

We cast the Pharisees in caricature, singing, “because they’re not fair you see”—and the Sadducees with them—“because they’re so sad you see.”

The scribes and Pharisees did think themselves righteous—and they are wrong—but looking at their lives, we can understand why they thought that.

If our nation were filled with men like the scribes and Pharisees, in some ways it would be a more pleasant place to live.

Judging by appearances, the scribes and Pharisees were righteous men.

And Jesus says, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20).

Righteousness that saves must exceed that of the Pharisees.

In a way, that’s not good news, because—outwardly—the scribes and Pharisees were the most righteous men around.

In today’s Gospel lesson—which seems devoid of any Gospel, what with Jesus telling us what to do and all that—Jesus preaches the Law in such a way as to break and hinder all the false-righteousness of the Pharisees and us.

He says, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire” (Matthew 5:21-22).

A Pharisee considers himself without sin, righteous, and needing no repentance. When a Pharisee sits in the pew on Sunday morning, he thanks God that he’s not like other people and wonders how they all got it so wrong.

But Jesus teaches the Law in simple terms that condemn us all. Unless you’re going to say you’ve never been angry, never called someone a fool, never invoked a curse, never—even momentarily—hated your brother in your heart—you are a murderer under Jesus’ teaching.

Murder, Jesus says, is manifested hatred. So heartfelt hatred, which leads to murder, must be excluded.

Jesus says, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness” (Matthew 23:27).

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is teaching His disciples for the first time, and He needs to show them what true righteousness is.

In terms of salvation, the Pharisees aren’t righteous at all, because their righteousness is whitewashed, puffed up, and perfumed. It hides death.

When Jesus says, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees…” He doesn’t mean that righteousness is on a sliding scale and you have to worry about doing enough.

That’s not it.

God wants you to hear and do. Labor and hope.

Hope with certainty that the Lord and His Work saves.

Labor with compassion that you would help your neighbor and not hurt him.

True righteousness is an either/or. A yes or no.

And you can be certain which one you are.

Either your God is the Lord and you’ll enter into Paradise, or your god is not the Lord and you won’t.

Do you believe in God the Father Almighty? And in Jesus Christ His Son? Do you believe in the Holy Spirit? Do you renounce the devil and all his works and all his ways? If so, you can be certain that God has redeemed you, a lost and condemned creature.

He has declared you righteous by faith in Jesus the Christ.

If your righteousness is false, if you fear, love, and trust  the man-made process and not the God who made man, if you carry your sin for the world to see how uniquely individualistic you are, if you try to forgive yourself, you’ll never run out of accusations, you’ll never run out of anger, and you’ll never get out of the prison of hell.

But—if the blood of Christ avails for you before God—and it most certainly does—then the accuser and all accusations are silenced, and—though you’ve murdered, been angry, and cursed—the Christ, whom you crucified, intercedes for you, praying: “Father, forgive them.”

In the Apostles’ Creed, we confess that Jesus descended into hell, a marvelously comforting doctrine.

He ran that victory lap to tell the devil you won’t be showing up.

The self-righteous scribes and Pharisees will be there.

But not you.

Your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees because you have been claimed by the mercy of God. The Lord is your righteousness, who lived and died and lives again, who calls you by name, and is coming soon.

Faith that hears the Word of God and does it exceeds the false-righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees.

We want to find a way to compliment our unbelieving and non-practicing friends and family. We want to find their whitewashed works. We want to say that they’re good people, doing good works, serving their neighbor.

But St. Paul writes: “Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23).

And in Hebrews, it is written that “without faith it is impossible to please [God], for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6).

It’s either/or. Yes or no.

The one who rejects Jesus in thought, word, and/or deed, rejects the righteousness that comes by faith, the righteousness required for entry into the kingdom of heaven.

Your righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees.

So, believe in Jesus and live as one who does.

Hear His Word and do it.

Confess your sins—your anger, your hatred, your cursing. Jesus calls all of those murder.

Confess them—flee from them—overcome those particular sins, even.

Because sins cannot and do not rule over a Christian.

Of course we agree with Jesus. That’s the easy part.

But do we understand Him?

The Lord is our righteousness.

We will enter into the kingdom.

So yes—we do.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Trinity 6 Sermon, 2020
Matthew 5:20-26
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

God commands that you labor and hope.

And Peter’s exasperated: “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing!” (Luke 5:5). He has nothing to show for his efforts, and worse, he still has to clean up. Simon Peter’s first words emphasize his own work and failure.

He does call Jesus “Master,” but he expresses the doubt that plagues us all: that our works, our toilsome labors, our struggles, bring nothing.

Peter, James, and John have to show from their night of toilsome labor.

They’re fishermen who don’t catch fish, which is to say, they’re useless.

But what do you have to show for all of your years of labor?

Do you have enough money that you’ll never run out?

Do you know for certain that your children will grow up and be there to take care of you when your turn comes?

And even if they grow up, will they want to?

Will your eyes always be able to see the TV or the road or the book? And what of your ears, your legs?

We know the answer.

We know one day we’ll cease to breathe. We know that at the end of our days, we’ll come face to face with the truth of Simon Peter’s words: “We toiled all night,” that is, “We worked our whole lives,” and “we took nothing” (Luke 5:5).

On a long enough timeline, on a large enough scale, everyone’s average contribution to life falls to zero, and worse, if we call Jesus “Master,” if we “obey” Jesus’ Words, and if we still emphasize our works, there’s no hope for us. Only doubt, arrogance, and, at the last, despair. How’s that for a wet blanket?

Only Simon Peter recognized Jesus as God.

Nothing is said of how the crowd that was pressing in on Jesus responded, except, perhaps, that they were astonished like James and John.

Surely there were those present who attributed the miraculous catch of fish to luck or coincidence or the skill of the fishermen instead of God’s presence?

There are people today who pray only on their last dime and attribute their still beating hearts to their own perseverance and strength.

How arrogant we are to do anything but thank God when things go our way. And how arrogant we are to do anything but thank God even when they don’t.

The miraculous catch isn’t a divine promise that things will go our way with God “if you just obey Him.”

The point in today’s Gospel lesson isn’t even that “all things are possible.”

The point is, only God can do this thing.

And Jesus does this thing.

So Jesus is God. And He’s with us. In our midst.

Peter recognizes this, and he makes his first great confession: “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Luke 5:8).

He gets to the heart of things. He knows what standing a sinner has before God.

This is why we are fear God and why the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

That phrase occurs three times in Scripture, each time with a slightly nuanced meaning.

Psalm 110:10, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding.”

Proverbs 1:7, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.”

And Proverbs 9:10, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.”

In this case, Simon Peter fears God, because the Holy One is right there. And consider this: the Holy One is there, because Peter is a sinful man.

 Peter is familiar with only one way that’s true.

He knows that God will destroy sin. A sinner, Peter fears judgment. He knows there’ll be a reckoning. We know Jesus will come again to judge the quick and the dead. The Holy One is there, because Peter is a sinful man, and so, Peter fears God saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”

Jesus says, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both [body and soul] in hell” (Matthew 10:28).

What Peter doesn’t know, and what no one can know apart from the Son of Man revealing it to him, is that the Holy One is there, because he is sinful, meaning, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).

We should fear God, because He could destroy both body and soul in hell.

And—God has chosen to hand over His own Body and Blood, to breathe His last, and to give up the Ghost, that you, and all believers in Christ, would be saved.

“We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ [is] the power of God and the wisdom of God” (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:23).

So your toilsome labor and burden-filled suffering amount to very little in your life… So you have nothing to show for your effort with goods, fame, child, or wife…

Though these all be gone, our victory has been won.

The Kingdom ours remaineth.

God is faithful.

Today, a sinner asks God to depart from Him, and, knowing better, God doesn’t do it.

He has come to save sinners.

Peter’s own work failed: “We toiled all night and took nothing,” but the Word of God reveals the truth: “The foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Corinthians 1:25).

Jesus says, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch” (Luke 5:4).

This shows us how to preach the Gospel and to whom: when and where Jesus says so—even if it’s foolishness to us.

We think we know where to fish for men and how.

Start two churches. One in a poverty stricken ghetto where no families are intact because Black Lives Matter has had its way with them. And one in an upperclass suburb. Which will do better?

Start two churches. One in the country, where the cows outnumber the people. And one in town. Which will have more to show?

How dare we, in arrogance, ignorance, and pride think that the church grows because of man.

Or that success in the church is defined as “Do whatever feels good and say whatever you please as long we have enough credit and a lot of people.”

We think we know best.

There are people we want sitting here, and there are people we don’t.

And that should shame us.

Jesus tells fishermen who know better to do exactly what they know didn’t work.

And the result is this—you hear the Gospel and are saved, a miraculous catch.

Because if the gospel were preached only to the righteous, or only to those who deserve to hear it, or those who’ve earned it, or only the ones we wanted saved, then no one would hear it.

Jesus calls sinners to repentance. And so we hear the Word of God and are saved.

Jesus says, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men” (Lk. 5:10).

Don’t be afraid.

Whatever you have in this body and life, whatever suffering you’ve endured, whatever suffering is around the corner for us all: “The sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18).

Don’t be afraid. God did not send His Son into the world in order to condemn the world, but that the world would be saved through Him. Don’t be afraid.

And, you’ll be catching men, Jesus says.

This is said specifically to the first pastors of the church, not to the congregation. So, in the Church, it is the responsibility of pastors to publicly cast the net of God’s Word into the deep and—at God’s command and to His glory!—pull into the ship of the Church as many repentant sinners as possible.

Pastors plant and water, but God gives the growth.

And where human wisdom and methods fail daily, the net of the Word of God endures forever.

It doesn’t change with the fish and the times.

It doesn’t need to be washed.

We preach the Word, and we pray for our friends and enemies.

As God gives you the opportunity to do so, share your faith with the unchurched who know not Jesus. For that matter, share your faith with the churched who know not well Jesus.

Many Christians think they know what the Gospel is. Many Christians don’t.

Do not fear.

In the preached Word of God, God Himself is in your midst, calling sinners to repentance and raising them to life.

Do not fear.

God commands that you labor and hope.

The catch of fish doesn’t depend on you.

God gives the growth.

And whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s (cf. Romans 14:8).

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

The Fifth Sunday After Trinity, 2020
Luke 5:1-11
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

“Judge not, and you will not be judged” (Luke 6:37). That’s the way of the faith—the way of Christ.

But this is the way of the world right now: if you are a certain way, you’re not to judge but relearn. You’re not to condemn but praise. You’re not to forgive—because there’s nothing to forgive in the first place.

You are not to judge.

But if you do, and if your judgment runs afoul of the Do-Not-Judge mob, the judgment with which they judge you will be swift and terrible.

And of course, their judgment isn’t wrong, because Pharisees and hypocrites are never wrong.

I’m not describing just one side of things.

We’ve all been on the receiving end of hypocritical judgment.

We’ve all also ignored the beam in our eye for the speck in our brother’s.

Black, White, Young, Old, American, or not—that’s the way of the world.

Everyone judges everyone else.

Who hasn’t judged their neighbor for walking the wrong way down the aisle at the store? What was never a problem is now a problem, because the stores want to remain open. They can’t trust your judgment—so they have to tell you which direction to walk up the aisle.

And who hasn’t walked the wrong way down the aisle? No one’s in this aisle anyway, right? That’s only for when it’s crowded. They can’t tell me which way to walk.

Everyone judges everyone else, and so, all are judged.

But when Jesus says, “Judge not, and you will not be judged” (Luke 6:37), He actually means, “Rely not on your own judgments, condemnations, forgiveness, and gifts.

Your judgments are uncertain. You lack objectivity.

Your condemnations are fluid. As much as we want things to stay the same, we don’t want them to be like they were. We’re cynical about how things are, and we’re naive about how things were.

This is the way of the world: what is popular is right, and what is right is popular.

For the world, it has to be that easy, or the sheep without the Shepherd wouldn’t know what to protest or who to give bravery awards to.

This is the way of the world: what has always been true, isn’t true anymore because we want to be liked and we want to be paid.

So Jesus says, “Judge not, and you will not be judged” (Luke 6:37), so that we would lean not on our own understanding and judgment—but on the wisdom and judgment of God.

It sounds so obvious—trust the wisdom and judgment of God. But, oh my, how that breaks our hearts.

Consider your place in life according to the Ten Commandments. Have you been disobedient, unfaithful, or lazy? Have you been hot-tempered, rude, or quarrelsome? Have you hurt someone by your words or deeds? Have you stolen, been negligent, wasted anything, or done any harm?

Do you hear and learn the Word of God gladly?

Or do you spurn the proclamation of God’s Word by retreating from any understanding of it that isn’t the size of a bumper sticker on a Ford Fiesta.

If you want to be able to make a good confession, you must study and learn good theology. Start by going to your pastor’s Bible study. He’s there to help you.

It’s optional for you to teach your children how to kick or throw a ball well, how to root for the home team, and how to bake chocolate chip cookies for your pastor—would that it were not so, but those things aren’t necessary. They’re optional.

But it’s not optional for you as a parent to teach your children about Christ. You can say that it’s someone else’s responsibility—pastor, Sunday school teacher, day school teacher, or the tv—but it’s your responsibility, Mom and Dad.

So it’s not optional for you to ignore the preached Word of God, to refuse to gather around Word and Sacrament with your congregation.

The Lord’s Supper is never virtual.

You may be able to pull up your preferred preacher online, but do you still dress for church, and sit and stand, and bow your heads, and sing with gusto?

Or do you change the channel until the voice speaking says the things that you want to hear?

À la carte Christianity is not Christianity.

You don’t get to pick and choose what you believe.

It’s not a buffet, and it’s not a swap meet.

It’s not a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure novel.

And that is the wisdom and judgment of God.

Your judgments are often myopic or simply wrong.

So, “Judge not, and you will not be judged” (Luke 6:37). Rely on the certain and final judgement of God.

Admittedly, at first, that sounds like a terrible idea.

Who hasn’t God broken apart, with breach upon breach? Whose face has not been red with weeping? Whose eyelids have not dipped into deep darkness?

If our adversary is the Almighty God, to rely on His certain and final judgment might seem to doom us all.

But that’s not who God is. That’s not what Jesus says.

“Judge not, and you will not be judged” (Luke 6:37).

Rely on God’s judgment.

Or, as He also says, “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36).

All of these commands have a promise attached to them, and in the promises of God, we trust.

Your Father in heaven is merciful.

He judges you—not according to His wrath, that was poured out and extinguished on Christ who sat in the place of sinners and was crucified.

God judges you according to His mercy.

He condemns not those who trust in His mercy.

He forgives those who believe their sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake.

He gives to those who give to others what God first gave to them.

That means the mercy of God is greater than your sin. Greater than our adversary, the devil. Greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.

So rely on the judgment of God that crucified the Lord of Glory, out of love, to save sinners, even Pharisees and hypocrites.

These promises of God are where we begin.

Your Father in heaven is merciful. Trust in His mercy.

You will not be judged. You will not be condemned. You will be forgiven. And it will be given unto you.

Because your Father in heaven is merciful, because you trust in His mercy, His judgment, His forgiveness, His gifts, and His condemnation and destruction of evil—“Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord” (Romans 12:19).

He promises, and with these promises in mind, we remove the log from our own eye: I am a poor, miserable sinner, but I flee for refuge to God’s infinite mercy. And your Father in heaven is merciful.

Remove the log and confess the mercy of God in Christ.

Then, you can see clearly to help your brother with the speck that’s in his own eye.

That is the way of the faithful—the way of Christ, who had no sins of His own that He must be forgiven, yet He humbled Himself, taking the form of your servant, being obedient to the point of death, even death upon the cross, that you and all the world would be reconciled to God.

“The measure you use shall be measured back to you” (cf. Luke 6:38).

And our Father in Heaven is merciful.

Trust in His mercy. Trust in His judgment.

Lean not upon your own understanding, and rejoice that it’s God’s will and pleasure to destroy evil.

We see this plainly with Joseph, I think.

The brothers lie to Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this command before he died, ‘Say to Joseph, “Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin because they did evil to you”’” (Genesis 50:16-17).

I say that’s a lie, because it’s not recorded that Israel commanded his sons to say to Joseph.

So they lie—right before they ask for forgiveness: “And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father” (Genesis 50:17).

But the brothers thought the son’s forgiveness was due only to the father’s presence—not so.

“Joseph wept when they spoke to him. His brothers came and fell down before him and said, ‘Behold, we are your servants.’ But Joseph said to them, ‘Do not fear. Am I in the place of God? You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones’” (cf. Genesis 50:17-21).

Joseph takes no umbrage with either his father or his brothers. He’s content that God has used it all to save the many.

The Son loves His brothers not because of the Father’s command—but He himself loves them and provides for them and comforts them.

And—“Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”

Jesus Himself loves you, calls you friend, and lays down His life for you.

Black, White, young, old, American, or not—that’s the way of Christ.

The wisdom and judgment of God, in whom we trust.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Trinity 4 Sermon, 2020
Luke 6:36-42
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

When Jesus tells a parable, to understand Him rightly, you have to know where you fit in.

In the parable today, you’re not the one who’s lost something. Think about that. If that’s what Jesus means, that our primary understanding of Christian life is that we are responsible for finding what is lost, then He condemns us all, placing the burden of finding the lost on our shoulders.

The vocation of husband, wife, child or worker may not include “finding the lost” as one of its God-given responsibilities. You may encounter the lost along the way, but they don’t then become a box to be checked on your “To Save” list.

No one is saved because of your effort.

St. Paul writes, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:6-7).

This is one reason for small churches to endure, by the way. The seed of God’s Word is scattered everywhere, though it makes no sense to do so, and God gives the growth.

If it were man’s work and man’s ways that manifested Christians, then only the biggest, most worldly-successful-looking churches should keep their doors open—but no! God gives the growth.

In the parable, you are that which is lost—or you were, before God found and saved you.

So you’re not the one with a hundred sheep.

You’re not the woman with ten silver coins.

You are a sheep. A coin.

And what do you know about them?

Sheep can be like wayward teenagers, actively finding the worst possible spot, making it worse by trying to fix it, and then sheepishly seeking guidance—all while letting you know how harsh you are.

There was a viral video a few years ago of a sheep that got stuck in a tire swing. It sort of wanted help, and it sort of didn’t. It sort of really liked it, and it sort of really didn’t. Sheep are like that sometimes.

And sheep are hunted. That I’m aware of, there are no National Geographic documentaries about sheep outrunning wolves. If left alone, in the open country, they’ll be devoured.

Regardless, in one way or another, all sheep eventually go into meat production.

And so, what do you know about coins? Money?

Money is a tool to be used for a good purpose, right?

But it also wants to be spent, right?

If a man foolishly spends his money, and quickly, you might say it’s burning a hole in his pocket.

And when you feel wonderful, you might say you feel like a million bucks.

So coins or money is a thing to be used to care for your neighbor, and, so it may seem, money has thoughts and feelings of its own. Money wants to be spent.

Regardless, you can’t take it with you. All of it’s eventually spent. Transitory. Going in to meat production.

So Jesus tells a parable, and in that parable, you are the sheep and coin, and that’s what you know about sheep and coins.

“The Pharisees and their scribes grumbled…saying, ‘Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?’ And Jesus answered them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance’” (Luke 5:30-32).

You are neither the shepherd nor the woman.

You are lost like the sheep or the coin.

Or you were, before God found and saved you.

“He seeks the lost and brings back the strayed. He binds up the injured and strengthens the weak” (cf. Ezekiel 34:16).

From today’s Old Testament lesson: “Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love. He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. You will show faithfulness to Jacob and steadfast love to Abraham” (cf. Micah 7:18-20).

God forgives sin. He shows compassion.

He remembers His promises and acts on them.

And from today’s Epistle lesson: “This saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (cf. 1 Timothy 1:15), even the chief of sinners.

And from today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus says: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it?” (Luke 15:4).

“Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it?” (Luke 15:8).

Jesus doesn’t ask, “Which of you do this?” He asks, “Which of you do not do this?” He implies, rhetorically, that this is the obvious thing to do.

It’s the thing that God does, but it’s not obvious.

Man, the world, and you all are quite happy just knowing that the coin is somewhere in the house.

“It’ll turn up,” you say. You’ll look after dinner, after chores, after ‘while, but it’ll turn up.

No one stops everything and searches everywhere, to find what’s not—right now—needed.

You don’t leave the ninety-nine in the open country, the desert, the wilderness. You don’t leave the prey in the domain of its predator for the sake of the one.

You don’t do that.

But that’s the wisdom and steadfast love of God.

He’s not content to save some of the world or most of it. Rather, He would seek and find and save it all.

The sheep that cries out for its shepherd, the child that cries out for Mom, has been humbled. He has repented.

God may seem to leave you in a dangerous place, but in these parables there are only two possibilities: 1) your salvation is not in doubt, or 2) your salvation is in doubt.

For the ninety-nine, God leaving them to find the one may seem like a raw deal. But they have nothing to fear: for them, “to live is Christ, to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21), and “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints” (Psalm 116:15).

These are the repentant faithful.

God promises that you will bear a cross, and He gives it that you would bear it faithfully—so the unbelieving world would see your hope and the reason for it.

For the one, God leaving the ninety-nine is God’s grace and mercy defined.

God desires not the death of the sinner but that He turn from his evil ways and live (cf. Ezekiel 18:23).

Jesus receives sinners and eats with them, not just once but every Sunday.

You’re still sinners, but you’ve been sought, found, brought back, bound up, and made strong.

You’ve heard the Word of God and believe it.

You fear, love, and trust in God above all things.

You’re a repentant sinner. A found sheep. A found coin. This is what God has done, and there is much rejoicing.

“The tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him” (Luke 15:1), but the Pharisees perceived no such need.

They didn’t know the voice of their shepherd.

Jesus tells this parable to teach us to rejoice in sins forgiven—whoever’s sins they are.

Because Christ died for all, and the shed blood of Jesus Christ avails for all sinners everywhere.

Rejoice—even today, “This man [your God and Lord] receives sinners and eats with them” (Luke 15:2).

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Trinity 3 Sermon, 2020
Luke 15:1-10
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

They’re all invited, but not all of them come.

They’re all invited, but this great banquet doesn’t seem to improve their appearance or station.

That’s what’s going on.

You can’t climb the social ladder by accepting invites from unpopular, unloving and unloved people.

So all are invited, but not all of them come.

They don’t claim to be hostile to God, but neither do they rejoice to hear Jesus say, “For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet” (Luke 14:24).

Everyone is invited to learn—to be baptized—to receive the Body and Blood of Jesus—and—we do so according to our Lord’s invitation.

It may not seem like the world loves satan.

But Sunday’s the only day to sleep in, or…

A bad experience—had once—and years ago—with a pushy lady in church—or a rude old man—and now, church-going’s ruined forever…

Or god is worshiped when it’s convenient or immediately prudent to do so, as is done by the busy worker who has no time for God but all the time for family, friends, and fleeting fun.

It may not seem like the world loves satan, but all of that is hatred of God.

It’s difficult to know how to respond to such excuses, other than to describe what excuses are like and admit that everyone has them.

We’re all at ease ignoring sin and letting everyone do as they will so long as we have the appearance of peace.

“An enormous amount of calm can be assumed,” says the actually naked emperor.

In today’s Gospel lesson—in the good news for today—we don’t, at first, have the appearance of peace but the stern Law of God preached fully.

God is angry.

None of those who rejected the invitation will ever taste the banquet.

None of those who want their name on the rolls but not their butt in the pews and their heart for their neighbor—none of them—will enter.

They’ll be cast into the abyss where there’s weeping and gnashing of teeth.

The invitation to hear and believe and learn and rejoice is extended, and, week after week, it’s rejected.

You need to know that a tacit rejection of the truth is  still a rejection of the truth.

And we’re all guilty of this.

Bad choices made. Wrong choices made. Non-Christian choices made. Ungodly choices made. And we say, “But I still love ‘em.” And what we mean is, “I’ve decided to completely ignore their sin and my own so as to maintain the appearance of peace.”

We act as though excuses permit sin.

That’s a far more comfortable way to proceed, I agree, but that’s the Neville Chamberlain way of dealing with the devil.

To refuse the invitation to hear, learn, believe, and rejoice is to love satan. And to water down the expectations of God so that more people think themselves at peace and safe actually endangers the souls of all those nearby enough to hear what’s said.

You have not peace—if you have false peace.

So we won’t do that. We don’t give that away.

But—true as that is, that’s not the main point of the parable.

The main point is this: we like being busy—we don’t like being faithful.

The invitation goes to the wealthy—a landowner, a grazier, and a newlywed.

It is the height of arrogance and pride—when invited to a party—to see who all’s been invited first before deciding whether or not to go.

That’s basically what’s going on.

No one’s opposed to attending a party.

No one’s opposed to attending a church.

It just depends on your definition of party and church.

That’s why the Lord is angry.

The Lord’s definition of “party” or “banquet” and “church” is the last thing the world wants to give its time to.

But—it’s the only thing worth your time.

And—it’s the only thing enabling you to spend All Time rejoicing.

Those who think themselves wise and wealthy reject the invitation.

So the Lord sends the invitation out to the poor, the lame, and the blind.

The invitation goes out to beggars who won’t turn down a free meal, who need all that the Lord offers.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matthew 5:6). “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and [all that you need for this body and life] will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33).

May God, in His mercy, plant this hunger in all of us and our children!

May God, in His mercy, teach us to be beggars.

God gathers His people from the poor, the lame, and the blind (cf. Luke 14:13).

We bring nothing to the Kingdom.

We’re all beggars. This is true.

Wir Sind Alle Bettler. Hoc Est Verum.

The party isn’t more interesting because of our arrival.

In fact, we’re a drain on the Kingdom’s resources.

We’re neither morally nor ceremonially pure. We’re not ethnically clean. We weren’t born of the right mother. We don’t belong in any king’s house, let alone the house of the King, the Lord of Hosts.

We’re beggars: poor, lame, and blind.

But we’re invited. All are invited.

Our Heavenly Father delights in your presence.

The fattened calf is fit for the sacrifice.

The Son of God has set His face toward Jerusalem, and He goes to cross and death to atone for us and all the world, to shed His blood and bring the forgiveness of sins—actual peace—to all who come to Him and hear and believe.

Roasted on the fire of the Father’s wrath, Jesus is forsaken to save us.

Washed in the blood of God, in Holy Baptism, for us, the Spirit intercedes before the Father.

Naked and helpless—with nothing to offer—beggars all—God seeks and finds and claims us as His own.

He took us by the ear to Baptism.

He scoured the world, the highways and hedges, for the weak, weary, and heavy laden.

He brought us all before the throne—to crown us with honor—to unite us, forever, to Christ.

As ugly and as dirty as our sins could be, God paid the bridal price and redeemed us out of death and hell.

And now, He has made us heirs with Christ.

All are invited. Called. And loved.

We are beggars, but God declares us to be His own children, His own people, the pure and holy Bride for His pure and holy Son.

And so we beg—and God is merciful.

We’re sick—and God is our Physician.

We’re afraid—and God is Almighty.

We sin—and while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

God’s majesty won’t be robbed.

He won’t share you with other gods, being merely the best or highest in the pantheon of world religions and fake-peace.

Our God is the Lord.

He won’t share His place or power.

No one saves himself. No one forgives himself. No one helps God. His is a Kingdom for beggars.

But…we don’t want to beg.

That’s beneath us!

What’s wrong with our fallen ears that obeying God seems wrong?

I say it’s pride.

We want our part. We want control. We want honor.

That’s the problem.

A proud man will stomp and yell, slam doors, and demand his due.

A beggar will sit in shame, wanting help, having forgotten the honor of man long ago.

To be a beggar, to have nothing, and to receive God’s free gift of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus, is the greatest joy on earth and in heaven.

And it’s the only thing that makes for peace.

May God in His mercy preserve this doctrine and joy in all of us.

Today, as you come to this altar to beg of God the Body and Blood of Jesus, remember that you don’t deserve it.

You don’t earn it.

And it looks like nothing of value.

But Jesus calls it what it is: His Body and Blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins.

I desire everyone to receive it—rightly—worthily—as Jesus commands.

We are the beggars who we would never invite to a party.

But God invites us all—to church—to hear and learn. To believe. And to rejoice—in the forgiveness of sins and life everlasting. Amen.

That is the love of God to each of us. And that should be our love to each other and to all.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

The Second Sunday After Trinity, 2020
Luke 14:15-24
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

“We know and believe the love that God has for us. God is love. Whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this we have confidence for the day of judgment. Love is being perfected in us. As He is so also are we in this world. That is, there is no fear in love, because perfect love casts out fear. Fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother” (cf. 1 John 4:16-21).

I don’t know how often you deal with sins against the Fifth Commandment, murder, summarized by Jesus as anger towards or hatred of brother.

I don’t know how often you deal with these sins, summarized even further, in the last few weeks, by basically everyone on the planet, into the one word “racism.”

I don’t know how often you deal with the heartfelt hatred of man, but the world has no clue how to cure anger, hatred, or racism, because the world—and, in general, even Christians, Lutherans, the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, you name it, we fail to assert the truth of the word of God: that racism—like murder and hateful speech—is a symptom of the first problem of unbelief.

“If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar” (1 John 4:20). He doesn’t love God. No one should hate his brother, that’s true, but the first problem is unbelief.

If you want to fix racism, anger, hatred, coarse speech, and the like, stop hating your brother.

If you want to stop hating your brother, love him.

If you want to love your brother, forgive him.

And that’s why the world is completely incapable of fixing anything. That’s why the world is dazed, lost, damned, and confused—they think there’s such a thing as love apart from faith in the One True God.

And there’s not.

“We know and believe the love that God has for us. God is love. Whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him” (1 John 4:16).

Love, true love, exists only in, with, and under Jesus.

“We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

And this is the love of God: “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

His love forms and informs ours.

Love gives of and from self.

It hurts.

It takes what’s dear to us and gives it to another.

But it goes to help our brother, our neighbor, our friends—and even those who hate us.

The rich man did not love Lazarus.

That’s clear because the rich man goes to hell.

He may have known Father Abraham, but he disagrees with him.

The rich man spoke with the parabolic representation of the presence of God—and said, “No.”

In his life, I’m sure the rich man, at his sumptuous feasts, would boast of his love of God, but he had no love for his neighbor—so he had no love of God.

Nor did he know the self-effacing, self-sacrificial love God has for us in Christ.

The rich man was a liar. The truth was not in him.

He was of his father the devil, and deceit was his mother-tongue.

Jesus tells us of the rich man and Lazarus so that we would be warned against the first problem, unbelief.

So that we would know that apart from faith in Christ, apart from the Gospel, apart from the forgiveness of sins earned for all in the crucifixion of Jesus and given to you in, with, and under the Word of God proclaimed, apart from God coming to you, helping you, making you His own child, feeding you from His own side, apart from the work God accomplishes in you, to save you, there is no hope, only hatred.

The rich man loved not Lazarus, because he loved not God, and he went to hell for it.

But Jesus tells us of the rich man and Lazarus—also—that we would hear the Word of God, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.

That we would hear and know and believe the love God has for us in Christ and have confidence for the day of judgment, which is coming.

Lazarus died at the rich man’s door, but he held no hatred in his heart—for the rich man or, if we can assume, the activists that supported him but did nothing or worse.

We know Lazarus held no grudge because Jesus says, in the Parable of the Wicked Servant, that the master summoned the wicked servant and said to him: “‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me.And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. [Then Jesus concludes:] So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart” (Matthew 18:32-35).

You want to fix racism? Stop hating your brother, your sister, your mother, your father, your friends, your Facebook friends, and the poor man at your door.

You want to stop hating your brother? Love him.

You want to love your brother? Forgive him.

As you believe that God has forgiven you in Christ, believe that God has forgiven your brother.

As you know all the sins that everyone else commits, all the foibles, all the failures, all the faults in everyone else’s family, so you also know, sinner, that among them, you are chief.

And God has forgiven even a wretch like you.

Lazarus means “One Whom God Helps.”

It’s a beautifully faithful name, because it confesses the complete inadequacy of the individual before God—and it confesses a merciful, helpful God.

Whether you think you can or you think you can’t—you can’t. But our gracious God comes to help, save, comfort, and defend you.

Fix the first problem.

Believe in the Lord, Jesus Christ.

Teach others to do the same.

Know and believe the love God has for you.

Abide in the love of God, the Gospel, the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.

And He abides in you—unto life everlasting.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Trinity 1 Sermon, 2020
Luke 16:19-31
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

Thus said the Lord through Isaiah almost three thousand years ago—“Woe is me! For I am lost! For I am a man of unclean lips and I live in the midst of a people of unclean lips” (Isaiah 6:5)—and the same is true for us.

Ours lips have uttered falsehoods and slandered friends, neighbors, and family.

Our lips have kissed the idols of social justice, power, popularity, and pride.

Our lips have whispered adulteries into unwed ears, and that’s not to mention our eyes or our hearts.

Our lips have pursed in wrathful hate.

And with lips, hands, and feet, body, soul, and mind, we have so often embraced sin.

All are unclean. Repent.

If these are the words and thoughts of the Prophet Isaiah, what hope is there for you to stand in the presence of the Holy Trinity?

And St. Paul reminds us: “Who has given a gift to [God] that he might be repaid?” (Romans 11:34).

God owes us nothing.

The Creator can’t be in debt to His creation, and there’s no one righteous, no not one.

If we dare to pull back the veil, all must stand as Isaiah did: unclean, trembling, and fearful.

But the love of our Holy, Holy, Holy God is this: He sends His Son into the world not to condemn the world, but in order that the world would be saved through Him (cf. John 3:17).

A messenger of God, one of the seraphim, brings the burning coal to Isaiah, touches it to his lips, and says, “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for” (Isaiah 6:7).

Brought to you, today, by a different messenger of God, the burning coal is none other than the Light of the world, the pure and Holy Second Person of the Trinity, who took up flesh like Isaiah’s that he might cleanse him and the world and you.

The love of the Holy Trinity isn’t a dull thing but overflows into Creation.

“God is love” doesn’t mean that God waits, watching His creation fester into a weeping sore, unconcerned about sin and excusing it. Love does not rejoice at wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth (cf. 1 Corinthians 13:6).

And this is the Father’s love: He sends out His only-begotten Son, God of God, Light of Light, to take on human flesh, to cleanse humanity from head and lips to toe.

The Father sends His Son to join us in our weakness, to raise us out of darkness and into His marvelous light.

The Father lays upon His Son the sins of the world, that He bear them in His body on the tree of the cross.

So must the Son of Man be lifted up, that we, poisoned by that ancient serpent the devil, would look to the bloody, dead, and hanging body of Jesus and see the love that God has for the world.

No one enters the kingdom of God with unclean lips.

No one enters the kingdom of God with any uncleanness at all.

You must be remade from head to toe.

Born from above. Made new. Baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, a new creation.

It’s not enough to merely gaze with earthly eyes at the Father’s Son upon the cross. Pharisees and demons have that factual knowledge, and they shudder.

Jesus must be brought to you and touch you and cleanse you, just like Isaiah.

But I don’t mean touch you like some heart-felt atrocity, I mean touch you by means of Word and Sacrament—the way God promises to come to us.

There, in the inscrutable, upside-down mercy of God, Christ is judged as the sin of the world, receiving our condemnation, and you’re baptized into His righteousness, receiving His innocence.

Yes, you struggle in this decaying world of sin and frailty. The Holy Spirit has begun His work, not completed it.

You sojourn here on earth. And trudge.

But the Holy Trinity has won the victory.

The Father loves you and sent His Son to die for you, and now gives His Holy Spirit to seal your hope: the resurrection of the dead, eternal life with Christ.

If that’s your destiny in Christ, then nothing in this world can harm you—not sickness, not even death.

There’s never a day without risk, that’s true, but for the Christian, your hope is never at risk.

God lives! And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, you too will walk in newness life (cf. Romans 6:4).

So come—all you with unclean lips—and have them cleansed.

Here, the Light of the World, the Word of God burns new words onto them, God’s Words, the Words the Seraphim sing in ceaseless praise: Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord, God of Sabaoth.

Sabaoth is very different from Sabbath. Sabbath is the day of rest. Sabaoth means “heavenly hosts,” the “victorious heavenly armies.” Rank upon rank of the angels singing praise to God, and you join the song!

Come—have the Word made flesh touch your lips and singe you clean.

For the Body of our Lord is a purer, more substantial heat and a more refining fire than any shadowed coal of temple incense.

He places it on your lips and you’re forgiven, sin is removed, and you’re made clean.

This is the Love of God.

And this is the catholic faith: we worship One God in Three Persons and Three Persons in One God by receiving the gift of the forgiveness of our sins brought to us in the salvation of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

The Feast of the Holy Trinity
John 3:1-17
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

Here our true Paschal Lamb we see,
Whom God so freely gave us;
He died on the accursèd tree—
So strong His love—to save us.
See, His blood now marks our door;
Faith points to it; death passes o’er,
And Satan cannot harm us.

God is always doing the same things.

He hasn’t always done them in the same way, but He’s always been doing the same things.

Before His crucifixion, death, resurrection, and ascension, Jesus defines the work of God like this: “It is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:7-8).

God has always been convicting the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment. That’s a perfect summary of everything that God has done, is doing, and will do.

When the Scriptures teach that God is love or that God is slow to anger or merciful—though it may sound strange to our ears—that’s just another way of saying that God convicts the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.

But we must reconcile the fact that those things appear and are received and understood very differently by different people.

God is always doing the same thing.

But not everyone believes or understands it.

We know, from practical experience, that “mercy” doesn’t always mean “nice” and that what is merciful to one may not be merciful to another.

If an animal is suffering terribly, it might be the merciful thing to put it down or have it put down. As stewards of God’s creation, created in God’s image, we tend to what He’s given us.

But if another steward is suffering terribly, it’s merciful to bear with him in his suffering, to remind him of the truth of the love of God.

That may not alleviate the suffering of this life, but it most certainly helps prepare for the life to come.

God is always doing the same thing—He’s always preparing us for the life to come. And you will enter into everlasting life well-prepared—or not. You will enter into everlasting peace—or not.

God works to the end that you would be prepared for the end.

Still, we must reconcile the fact that what God does is received and understood very differently.

Jesus says, “[The Holy Spirit will convict the world] concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged” (John 16:9-11).

In the Inn and House of the Church, in the Ark of the One True Faith, God is saving the world.

He causes the world to be convicted of sin. He melts our hearts of stone by the dirge of His Law.

The contrite bones that God has broken rejoice, and our merciful Lord remembers our sin no more.

The Holy Spirit is at work in the Word of God proclaimed to convict the world concerning sin. Not that the world would be condemned but that—through Christ—the world would be saved.

The Holy Spirit is at work in the Word of God proclaimed to convict the world concerning righteousness.

The Lord is our righteousness, but we occasionally forget our fear of God, take His bountifulness for granted, and lean on our own understanding.

So our God and Lord has taught us to pray: Hallowed be Thy name to remind us all that God’s name is holy.

Your name may be holy in town. It may be written a dozen times in bronze. But it is the cruciform name of God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—that saves.

Not yours.

All other names fail.

The Word of the Lord—His name and His righteousness—endures forever.

And the Holy Spirit is at work in the Word of God proclaimed to convict the world concerning judgment.

The ruler of this world is judged.

We’re not waiting to find out how it all ends. Law and Gospel is not a half-preached two-part sermon.

We know how it ends—that’s why we sometimes take God and the time of our visitation for granted, intentionally sinning a little, now and then, for the enjoyment of it, careful to think, in the back of our minds, that we can always repent later.

That foolish lack of urgency and preparation will surprise you when the watchmen on the heights are crying: “Awake, Jerusalem, arise!”

The ruler of this world is judged, and as soon as the last adult convert to Lutheranism confesses the faith, as soon as the last baby to be baptized receives the sign of the Holy Cross both upon his forehead and upon his heart to mark him as one redeemed by Christ the crucified, as soon as God saves the last name that’s written in the Book of Life, He won’t wait anymore.

Consider, now, the work and Word of God.

He convicts the world concerning sin, righteousness, and judgment.

In the Church, we hear His Word with joy.

We confess our sins, removing the plank from our own eye that we may then help our brother with the splinter in his.

We confess the faith. In our prayers, in hymns, and in daily conversations that may make that one grumpy, grouchy family member of yours a little more grumpy and grouchy.

We hear and believe the Gospel, and we receive both pardon and peace. In this life and in the life to come.

Inside the Church there is life.

But outside the Church, where the Word of God is trampled underfoot and snatched away by birds, where faith is scorched by the sun and choked out by weeds, outside the Church there’s only vanity leading to death.

God will send—into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels—all those who do not believe and live by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Listen to these words again:

Here our true Paschal Lamb we see,
Whom God so freely gave us;
He died on the accursèd tree—
So strong His love—to save us.
See, His blood now marks our door;
Faith points to it; death passes o’er,
And Satan cannot harm us.

Inside the house, the Old Testament Christians eat the lamb that was given for them, and they receive the full benefit and protection of that bloody sacrifice.

Death is swallowed up by death.

But outside the house, in unbelieving Egypt, a few die—but all are in peril.

All are reminded that there is a God who fights for His people.

“The word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18).

God is always doing the same things.

Hear them—receive and believe them as He desires—and you will have peace—now and forever.

So feast on Christ this Easter day.
The Word of Grace has purged away
The old and evil leaven.
And all our souls upon Him feed
Christ is our food and drink indeed!
Faith lives upon no other.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Cantate, 2020
John 16:5-15
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

A “good father” may yet be a deadbeat dad. The mother of his children may call him good because he dangles his keys in front of a crying baby twice a month or because his checks arrive on time.

This may fit our definition of “good” but not God’s.

A “good man” may yet be a scoundrel. He may be good for one job and terrible for any other, but for that one job—he’s a good man for it. The right man for that job. This may fit our definition of “good” and “right,” but it doesn’t fit God’s.

A good mother may not mind if you use wire hangers.

A good mother may call you by name and not by “It.”

A good mother—or aunt—may let you have your own room and not stick you in the cupboard under the stairs until you’re eleven.

We may call all of these “good,” but none of them are, by definition, beautiful, ideal, or sublime.

We may call these “good,” but none of them are, by definition, noble.

We may call these good, but God doesn’t.

So when Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11), set aside your definition of “good,” and hear how God defines what is meet, right, and salutary—what and who is truly good.

Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep” (John 10:11-15).

This is no metaphor.

Jesus identifies Himself as the good shepherd and then defines His God-given obligation: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep…I lay down my life for the sheep” (cf. John 10:11, 15).

“Glorious now behold Him arise, / King, and God, and Sacrifice” (cf. “We Three Kings,” stz. 5).

This is why Jesus came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary and was made man—to bring that which had Fallen back into the Fold. To reconcile the world to God. To die for the ungodly. To lay down His life for the sheep.

“I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd” (John 10:16).

The sheep versus the wolf isn’t David versus Goliath.

There’s no version of this where the sheep rely on their cunning, pick stones from the brook, sink one into the forehead of the wolf, and win the victory.

If not for the good shepherd, the wolf snatches the sheep and scatters them.

But David versus Goliath is like the good shepherd versus the wolf.

“The Lord saves not with sword and spear” (1 Samuel 17:47).

Desiring the sheep, the wolf strikes the shepherd, but the stone the builders rejected falls and crushes him.

The good shepherd destroyed death by enduring it.

He vanquished hell by descending into it.

Goliath met David but fought against God.

The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep—and death is swallowed up in the victory of Christ (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:54).

The good shepherd is good, because He is in no way selfish. He’s good, noble, beautiful, ideal, sublime—because He doesn’t flee the wolf—He fights the wolf.

He doesn’t save Himself—He saves you.

Would that we’d defend our neighbor,
As we, ourselves, defend.
The Shepherd Good has won the battle,
Laid His life down for His friends.
It was not David, nor Goliath,
Nor wolf, nor hired hand.
But the Shepherd Good who died—is risen!
Eternal life to tend.

Believe on Him, the Shepherd Good
Who died upon that Cross of Wood
To show the Flock from curséd rood
The definition of the Good.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Misericordias Domini (Easter 3) Sermon, 2020
John 10:11-16
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt