At times, the wicked seem to prosper.

We’ve all seen it.

And we’ve all had our doubts about whether or not and what God is doing about it, because the wicked shouldn’t prosper, right? But sometimes it seems like they do.

Today, Jesus says to His disciples, but it’s important to note that “the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him” (Luke 16:14). Today, Jesus says to His disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions. And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager’” (Luke 16:1-2).

All the parables, including this one, reveal the kingdom of God to us. That’s what parables do, but this one is strange in that the rich man—who is God—seems aloof and deals with a man who is eventually revealed to be not only dishonest but unrighteous or evil.

In this parable, the wicked seems to prosper, and God seems aloof because the charge has to be brought to the rich man.

He doesn’t seek it out.

He doesn’t seem to know ahead of time.

And the charge is that the manager is a waster of the rich man’s possessions.

It’s not that he has wasted his master’s possessions once or even perhaps occasionally.

This is—rather—a habit over time.

The manager is wasteful of the rich man’s possessions.

And the rich man doesn’t notice—which is strange.

You’re not a rich man for very long if you don’t know that your possessions are being wasted?

So how rich do you have to be not to notice?

This rich man is either aloof—cold, distant, and uncaring—or he has an abundance of riches such that he can’t run out.

Remember that.

But the charge is brought, and now—the rich man must act. So he takes away the management.

“And the manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg…” (Luke 16:3).

Jesus’ words here go right into what the manager decides to do—but think through this.

What does he have available to him?

He has no strength with which he could earn a living.

He has great pride, so he won’t eke it out begging.

What’s left?

He has, he realizes, a few moments of management left to him—and so, he has “decided what to do, so that when [he] is removed from management, people may receive [him] into their houses” (Luke 16:4).

“Summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly and write fifty.’ Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty’” (Luke 16:5-7).

He can’t labor.

He won’t beg.

But for the moments left to him, he’ll use his power and influence, wasting his master’s possessions all the more, so that when he’s removed from management, people may receive him into their houses.

And isn’t that how the world works?

To whom do you owe a life debt?

Who’s the one who could call with a no-questions-asked request for which you’d have to act?

Or—how many of you have someone to call when such a request is required?

This is how the world works.

And that’s the shrewdness that’s commended.

Now, it’s bad enough that the wicked seems to prosper, but that Jesus—through the rich man in the parable—commends the unrighteous manager for his shrewdness, that bites against every swell notion we have about who God is and what He does.

We don’t understand it.

We don’t like it.

Because it’s a godly rebuke against the sons of light—and we don’t like being wrong.

We certainly don’t like anyone telling us what to do with our stuff.

Here’s the rebuke:

“The master commended the [unrighteous] manager  for his shrewdness. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light” (Luke 16:8).

If you’re not used to hearing an implied predicate, what He means is: the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light are shrewd in dealing with their own generation.

We’re wrong—we are rebuked—because we don’t take advantage of the rich man’s wealth.

Now, that’s saying it in the way of the sons of this world, so we need to phrase it in the terms of the sons of light:

We’re wrong because we don’t rely on the mercy of God. We’re rebuked because we fail to see past the temporal terms of this world for the true riches of the world to come.

That’s a little bit abstract.

So let’s narrow it down.

God has forgiven all sin in Christ.

That’s the Gospel.

If you believe that, you rejoice to forgive others as you have been forgiven, because you like to boast in the Lord, as St. Paul says (cf. 2 Corinthians 10:17).

You like to forgive others, because it naturally follows that if everyone’s sins are forgiven—yours are too.

Well, God has forgiven all sin in Christ.

And we believe that—but we still rejoice to remember every sin committed against us, every perceived slight.

We mock the faults and foibles of our elders.

We thank God we’re not as pernicious as today’s children.

We all have answers for everyone else’s problems while our own home is in the neat form of shambles.

“Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12).

The wicked seem to prosper—

The unrighteous manager is commended for his shrewdness—

That is—we’ve forgotten the true riches.

As rich as the rich man could be in the parable—

“The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof” (Psalm 24:1).

As merciful as the rich man could be in the parable—

The Lord’s mercy endures forever (cf. Psalm 136).

With shrewdness—with profound judgment—are we to see the world around us.

With shrewdness—having in mind the profound judgment and verdict of Christ’s blood having purchased us from death and hell—with shrewdness are we to see the world around us.

Believe the Gospel. Rely on it fully.

God doesn’t run out of forgiveness.

Consider how He gives it.

In the Parable of the Sower we learn that God causes His Word to be preached—to our eyes—recklessly.

Without fear of running out—without discriminating between soil types—and without blinking when the Word of God is rejected—God sends His Word to plant, cultivate, and grow the faith.

In the Parable of the Sheep, Coins, and Sons we learn that it’s God who seeks, finds, rescues, and redeems.

We learn that we were what was lost, and we rejoice that God has saved us—by no merit or worthiness on our part.

In today’s parable, we’re rebuked in that the unrighteous manager is commended for shrewdness we lack.

The parables reveal to us the kingdom of God.

And this is the kingdom:

God gives according to His mercy—not according to our merit.

God seeks and finds; He rescues and redeems.

He forgives.

Out of an inexhaustible abundance, He forgives.

And we pray and promise to forgive as we have been forgiven.

This is the Kingdom of God.

This is the Gospel.

Believe it.

And live using your wealth and possessions—as one who does not put his trust in them.

Jesus said all these things to His disciples, but remember: “the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him” (Luke 16:14).

For His disciples—against the Pharisees—and for us, immediately after today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus says: “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Luke 16:10-13).

The Pharisees are like the unrighteous manager.

They’re not strong enough to dig.

And they’re ashamed to beg.

But those who sit in Moses’ seat can abuse their power and make friends for themselves by means of unrighteous mammon—until their management is taken from them.

And that’s what they do.

Their shrewdness is commended, because they are faithfully serving their god—their false god.

Their shrewdness is commended, but they are sons of this world.

As a child and son of light, then, believe the Gospel.

Forgive as you have been forgiven—for the time is coming when even your management will be taken away from you—not because of unrighteousness, that’s how the sons of this world are treated—the scribes and Pharisees.

The time of your management will end, rather, because Jesus is coming soon to give eternal life to you and all believers in Christ.

The commended shrewdness recognizes true riches  for what they are and holds fast unto them into the eternal dwellings and unto eternal life.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

The Ninth Sunday after Trinity, 2021
Luke 16:1-9 (10-13)
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

On this Sunday of the Church Year, the Eighth Sunday after Trinity, last year, I made the observation that there aren’t a lot of Gospel-sounding words in the Gospel lesson for today.

I observed, last year, that the false doctrine from false prophets is like rat poison in that false doctrine doesn’t always seem like poison, doesn’t always sound like poison, doesn’t necessarily walk, talk, or quack like poison—but it does, nevertheless, lead away from Jesus and to death.

Why would I do that?

Why would I make such an observation?

Well, on this Sunday of the Church Year, two years ago, I asked the question: “Would you rather hear a sermon preached by Jesus—or—would you rather hear a sermon preached by a false prophet?”

I asked that, because when Jesus began to preach, the first thing He said was, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17).

So, who you’d rather hear from probably depends on the false prophet, whether you like him or not, because no one likes to be called to repentance.

Again, why would I ask such a question?

Why would I do that?

I don’t know if it was ever on this Sunday of the Church Year, but during my early years in Lutheranism, beginning late last century, I would hear phrases like:

“Doctrine divides. Love unites.”

Or, “Doctrine Divides. Faith Unites.”

It was always doctrine that was the problem—because Doctrine was defined as something taught or learned, something unchangeable and necessary, and it was those stodgy Lutherans who insisted upon teaching everyone who showed up.

it was never Love that was the problem—because Love was defined as something felt. It was those loving Lutherans who didn’t care what you believed as long as you showed up.

I remember it this way.

I’m not quoting anyone as far as I can remember, but this is the impression it made on me. In Sunday School, we were asked: would you rather feel loved and go to hell or be disagreed with and go to heaven?

We weren’t scared of this question.

We knew what we were being asked: Would you rather have your pride or possess eternal life?

Point being—God calls sinners to repentance.

Repentance hurts.

And it’s better to feel the shame of sins confessed and the relief of sins forgiven than to avoid the shame and receive no relief.

We all know this to be true.

It’s easier to ignore sin—to go along with the group and the gossip. It’s easier not to disagree with your friends or your spouse when you get together to play cards.

It’s easy to be judgmental—but the rewards there become like ashes in your mouth.

And if they don’t now, they will when Jesus returns and demands from you an account.

It’s much more difficult to be curious, to wonder, to ask, to admit that you might not know—but the reward there is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.

That’s how the proverb reads: “A word fitly spokenis like apples of gold in a setting of silver. Like a gold ring or an ornament of gold is a wise reprover to a listening ear” (Proverbs 25:11-12).

He who has ears to hear, then, let him hear, because at this point I think it’s good to ask—So what?

Why ask all these questions—about rat poison, or hearing sermons preached by Jesus or false prophets, or whether or not our pride will keep us from the pearly gates?

Why would I have you consider these things?

What would I have you know?

I would have you heed the warning.

Jesus says, “Beware false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:15-16).

If it were not so, you’d need no warning.

If false prophets didn’t come to you in sheep’s clothing—if they came, instead, holding signs saying, “I teach against what Jesus says. Don’t believe me,” then you don’t need the warning.

But that false prophets come to you in sheep’s clothing—that Jesus says, “Beware…” because you need the warning—be patient with the pastor who warns you.

Be curious—not judgmental—when I tell you that false prophets give you things to do to be saved.

“Just pray about it.”

“Give your heart to Jesus.”

“Just have a personal relationship.”

“Decide for Him.”

“Let go and let God.”

That’s not just bad fruit—that’s evil fruit, because it undermines the glory that belongs to Christ alone and leads the struggling believer into spiritual uncertainty.

For you to be saved—is it at all up to you?

We know it’s not, if you’ve been raised Lutheran, you’ve heard Ephesians chapter two about nine million times.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

We know salvation is God’s gift and not by our works, but false prophets quickly point out the steps you need to take and where to send the check.

Pray about it, give your heart, decide for Jesus, and let go; it’ll lead you nowhere except the arrogance that thinks you’ve done something or the despair that knows you can’t.

You’ll never be certain if salvation is at all up to you.

So—“Thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord. They say continually to those who despise the word of the Lord, “It shall be well with you”; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, “No disaster shall come upon you”’” (Jeremiah 23:16-17).

But the words of false prophets become ashes in your mouth when Jesus returns and demands from you an account.

St. Paul says to the pastors in Ephesus and to all pastors since: “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure (St. Paul says), fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert” (Acts 20:28-31).

I will not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God—not all at once, right now. We’d have to break for lunch eventually. But over time.

You will know the prophet by his fruit.

The fruit of a prophet is his prophecy.

And the fruit of a pastor or preacher or teacher is the content of his teaching.

Lest you think I’m trying to drum up support for myself, let me be clear: I don’t want you to trust me.

I don’t want you to trust synod.

I don’t want you to trust CPH or Crossway or the book you bought at revival when you were a child.

I want you to trust Jesus.

Count the world as lost and throw in with Him.

Forsake your feelings and bind unto yourself this day the strong name of the Trinity, asking:

What does our Lord say?

That’s what I would have you ask.

And that’s what I would have you know.

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. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness’” (Matthew 7:21-23).

Not everyone who says, “Lord, Lord…”

Not everyone who prophesies in His name…

Not everyone who casts out demons or does mighty works in His name…

But the one who does the will of God.

And what is the will of God—and the work of God?

That you believe in Him whom He has sent (cf. John 6:28-29).

“In Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who, for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of throne of God.

“Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you would not grow weary or fainthearted…

“Do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord. Heed the warning, and do not be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives” (cf. Hebrews 12:2-6).

“Bind unto yourself this day, the strong name of the Trinity…Of whom all nature has creation, Eternal Father, Spirit, Word. Praise to the Lord of my salvation; Salvation is of Christ the Lord!” (cf. LSB 604:5).

On the Eighth Sunday after Trinity, this year and every year, and on every day the Good Lord gives us, that’s what I would have you know:

Salvation is of Christ the Lord.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Trinity 8, 2021
Matthew 7:15-23
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

I’m really excited about Lutheran theology.

I don’t think that surprises anyone, but I’ve said in bible classes and sermons and conversations—and this may have surprised you—I’ve said that we, Lutherans faithful to the historic, Evangelical Lutheran Church, we actually have the Gospel.

The implication, there, is that other church bodies may not.

Today’s Gospel lesson provides a good example of what I mean.

What’s the point of the miraculous feeding of the four thousand?

Ask around.

This is a quotation from the conclusion to a sermon available on a popular, American Evangelical Christian website, but this is par for the course in terms of getting the gospel wrong: “This miracle reminds us that Jesus is more than sufficient to meet the needs that exist in His people’s lives…He’s able to meet the needs in your life…It doesn’t matter how big your giant; how tall your mountain; how deep your valley; He’s more than sufficient for the need! He’s able to give you comfort through all the storms of life. He’s able to empower you to do His will. He’s able to walk with you every mile of the way. He’s able to be exactly who you need Him to be in all the stages of your life…This miracle teaches us that great things can happen if we just get the need into His hands! A small amount of bread and fish became sufficient for a multitude because they got it into His hands. Do you have a need? Get it into His hands today!”

That’s not the Gospel.

The Gospel doesn’t depend on you getting anything into Jesus’ hands—as though all things are not already His.

The Gospel doesn’t depend on you taking it to the Lord in prayer—as though God doesn’t already know our need and the Holy Spirit intercede for with groanings too deep for words (cf. Romans 8:26).

It’s not the Gospel if it’s conditional.

It’s not the Gospel if God is only able to—but has not already in fact—forgiven all sin in Jesus.

Telling people to “get it into Jesus’ hands” isn’t the Gospel. Understanding the miraculous feeding of the four thousand as a reminder of Jesus’ ability to help is not the Gospel. This miracle doesn’t teach that great things can happen if we just get the need to Jesus.

The sermon I quoted is available on a website that has over seventy-four million hits.

Many people have been taught to think that way—but that’s the Way. That’s not the Gospel.

As nice and friendly as that message sounds, here’s where it fails.

Do you have a need?

Anybody?

Get it into Jesus’ hands today.

If the solution really is as simple as “getting it into Jesus’ hands,” why do your problems persist? Or do you never pray for the same things more than once?

It’s not the Gospel if it depends on you.

And it gets worse.

Let’s ask the question this way:

How many of you want your spouse to be “able” to be faithful to you?

Is that how your vows were written?

“Will you love, honor, and keep [him/her] in sickness and in health, and, forsaking all others, remain united to [her/him] alone, so long as you both shall live? Then say…”

I will—if I’m able to.

You don’t want your spouse to be able to be faithful to you. You want your spouse to be faithful to you.

Likewise, you don’t want God to be able to help.

You want God to help.

From that Gospel-less sermon I quoted moments ago, it said: “[God] is able to give you comfort…Able to empower you…Able to walk with you…Able to be exactly who you need Him to be.”

But is He what you need? Or is He just able to be?

What hope do you have if God is merely able?

Enough with that.

Don’t read the Bible thinking it’s about you.

God destroys Pharaoh and all his hosts, not you.

God kills Goliath, not you.

He uses us as instruments, but the sun doesn’t rise and fall by our say so.

“For every beast of the forest is [His], the cattle on a thousand hills” (Psalm 50:10).

And you’re a sheep in the fold of the Good Shepherd, a face in the great crowd, upon whom Jesus has compassion.

This is the miracle.

This is the Gospel.

Jesus says, “I have compassion on the crowd…”

He’s not just able to.

He has compassion on the crowd.

“…Because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some of them have come from far away” (Mark 8:2-3).

The problem isn’t hunger.

First of all, Jesus didn’t come to eradicate earthly hunger—otherwise we wouldn’t have to subsist, from time to time, on government cheese or questionable meat.

The problem is—Jesus led a crowd of four thousand people into a desolate place without food.

Why?

Why would Jesus do that?

Had I asked, to begin with, if God ever led a group of people into an impossible-to-overcome situation, it’s likely that we would think not.

And I’ve asked the same question this way before: Does God ever lead us into temptation?

The answer is yes.

Consider the Exodus.

“When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near…”

If you look at this on a map, God didn’t have to lead the people through the Red Sea.

But He did…

“…‘Lest the people change their minds when they see war and return to Egypt.’ God led the people around by the way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea…Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Tell the people of Israel to turn back and encamp in front of Pi-hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, in front of Baal-zephon; you shall encamp facing it, by the sea. For Pharaoh will say of the people of Israel, “They are wandering in the land; the wilderness has shut them in.” And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them, and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, and the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord.’ And they did so” (Exodus 13:17-18; 14:1-4).

How many times do we think about the exodus and not realize that God led His people into an impossible-to-overcome situation.

He purposely led them away from safety.

He purposely led Israel between Pharaoh and all his hosts and the Red Sea.

He led them into temptation—not so that they would sin, God tempts no one to sin, but that they would hold fast to Him and remain faithful.

“When Pharaoh drew near, the people of Israel lifted up their eyes, and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them, and they feared greatly. And the people of Israel cried out to the Lord. They said to Moses, ‘Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt?” (Exodus 14:10-11).

Why would God do such a thing?

Why would Jesus lead the crowd into a desolate place?

Why would God allow you to suffer all the slings and arrows of this life?

Thus says the Lord, “I will get glory over [them all]” (Exodus 14:4).

And Moses said, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The Lord [fights] for you. You have only to be silent” (Exodus 14:13-14).

And—Pharaoh and all his host were drowned in the Red Sea.

God led His people into an impossible situation, one they could not overcome.

He did that so He could deliver them from evil.

The Lord fought for them.

They had only to be silent.

The same is true in today’s Gospel lesson.

Jesus led this crowd into temptation.

The disciples, like Israel, were afraid: “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?” (Mark 8:4).

They forgot who the Lord is.

In Mark chapter six, Jesus fed the five thousand. Today’s Gospel lesson is from Mark chapter eight.

They’ve forgotten.

And Jesus has already said—He’s just said—“I have compassion on the crowd” (Mark 8:2).

It’s not “I will have compassion” and it’s certainly not “I am able to have compassion” but simply “I have compassion on the crowd.”

God’s compassion and love are not without action.

God doesn’t love standing still.

He doesn’t love in a few minutes when He’s done scrolling endlessly on His phone.

The love and action of God depends not on you.

Here, loving a hungry crowd, He has compassion on them and feeds them miraculously.

But again, this isn’t about hunger.

It’s not about giving our needs to Jesus.

It’s about God’s love for sinners—giving and providing and doing all that is truly necessary to save the world.

When Jesus teaches us the Lord’s Prayer, we pray it this way, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”

I’m not suggesting we change the words.

But Jesus does want us to understand Him this way: God does lead us into temptation. It happened in the Exodus. It happened in the desolate place. It happens, in our life when we lack, when we need, when we hurt, and when we hate.

The Lord will get glory over all who hate Him.

Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and though you die, yet shall you live, to the glory of God.

He has compassion on the crowd, on you, on us.

God loves the world.

He loves you.

He loves us.

Setting our earthly hunger and satisfaction aside, Jesus “emptied himself, by taking on the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:6-11).

What’s the Gospel?

It’s not your power to pray or give to God.

The Gospel is the power of God for salvation to all who believe in Jesus Christ.

The Lord fights for you.

He loves you.

He has compassion on you.

Israel had only to be silent and wait for God to deliver them.

Now—we rejoice, because the Lord has indeed delivered us from evil.

That’s the Gospel.

And that’s something to be excited about.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Trinity 7 Sermon, 2021
Mark 8:1-9
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

Do you believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? Of course you do, because the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is the Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—and you, a Christian, believe—to your blessed life everlasting—that Jesus is God and Lord.

But what about the Mohammedans? The moslims?

Do the Mohammedans believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? Of course not, because the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is the Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—and the Mohammedans reject—to their unfortunate but just damnation—that Jesus is God and Lord.

And so, what about the Jews?

Do the Jews believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? Of course not. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is the Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—and the Jews reject—to their unfortunate but just damnation—that Jesus is God and Lord.

Every “believer” of every “god” will tell you that what “god” says is vital for your life—having both temporal and eternal consequences.

But even before you can care about all of the things God says, you have to care about who God is.

That’s important today because of both what Jesus says about the Law and that Jesus Himself says it.

Jesus says, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished” (Matthew 5:17-18).

“Israel cannot accept…as the Word of God the utterances of a man who speaks in His own name—not ‘thus says the Lord’ but ‘I say to you.’ This ‘I’ is in itself sufficient to drive Judaism away from the Gospel forever” (A. Ginsberg, Ten Essays on Zionism and Judaism, 232).

If you would say of yourself that you have a heart for mission…

Or—when you realize that there are so many billions of people in the world who don’t believe in the One, True God, but rather a false god—and you legitimately care about the unfortunate but just consequences of that horrifying statistic…

Realize that the problem is—they reject Jesus because Jesus says, “I say to you,” (cf. Matthew 5) and they won’t have that.

He says to us, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17).

And here, it’s necessary for us to understand that to fulfill something means, in part, to transcend it, to be beyond it.

This is not true for us. We can’t do this.

The closest we come are those angry words parents say to their children, following “I brought you into this world, and…”

But here’s another example: World War I wasn’t originally called World War I but what?

The War to End All Wars. So it was thought.

Now, The War to End All Wars is called World War I, because we do not transcend war. We are not beyond it.

You can’t fight and win a victory such that no future battles can be fought.

The point is, Jesus isn’t just some guy talking about the Old Testament.

What He says is remarkable—to the scribes and Pharisees, it’s scandalous—but to us it is the power of God and the wisdom of God to save us sinners because of what is said and who says it.

Jesus comes to fulfill the Law and the Prophets, to fulfill the Word of God—to do what we cannot.

St. Matthew makes this clear in that he records, again and again, that what Jesus does fulfills what was written.

At the birth of Jesus, an angel of the Lord said unto Joseph, “She [that is, Mary] will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).

Jesus means “God saves.”

And so, God in the flesh has come to save sinners.

“All this took place,” St. Matthew writes, “to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us)” (Matthew 1:22-23).

So God in the flesh, God With Us, has come to do what we cannot—to fulfill the Law and the Prophets, the Word of God.

That He can do this tells us who He is: God With Us, God—who has come to save us.

And that He tells us this, that He opens His mouth and teaches us to trust in Him, His Word, and His Work, that is the good news, our hope and comfort.

For our salvation—it’s not enough that God is, that God exists. We must also know Him.

And that we may know Him, He comes to us.

So far—this is all really good news.

But let’s hear exactly what 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).

For everyone else, an explanation of the Bible includes other verses, other teachers, historical thought, context, something.

But Jesus quotes no other authority, because there is no other authority.

He doesn’t repudiate, revoke, or repeal the Law—really, He restores it.

“You have heard that it was said…but I say to you.”

It’s human nature to make the commandment, “You shall not murder” about only the violent and final act. That way, for most people, you haven’t broken that commandment.

Moses dealt with the punishment of the violent act.

Jesus deals with its prevention.

So He interprets the Law such that everything is excluded from Christian behavior that leads to the violent act.

Name calling, then, is filed under murder not only because it inappropriately gives voice to anger, but it also triggers anger in others.

And—“Whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:19).

“So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go” (Matthew 5:23-24a).

You need to know that’s hyperbole, overstatement.

Do not fear to come to the altar.

Do not fear to leave your tithe.

If you remember, right now, that your friend or family in California has something against you, Jesus doesn’t want you to flee the altar and your Christian responsibilities to drive the twenty-four hours it would take to get there.

Rather—the point is—reconciliation with God is meaningless if you refuse to be reconciled to each other.

As God has forgiven you, you are to forgive each other.

“First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:24b).

Approach God with a good conscience, and He will create in you a clean heart, a new one.

And—Jesus teaches us to pray: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” (Matthew 6:12). We pray and promise to do so.

Now, with these explanations of the Law—hearing that we can’t fulfill it…and nevertheless hearing what we must do…

That Jesus can fulfill it…but that reconciliation with God is impossible if we refuse to be reconciled to each other…

Hearing it said like that, who’s willing to stand before God when that’s how the Law’s understood?

The full sternness of the Law makes us a little hesitant, about the eternal demands of the Law of God, doesn’t it?

Getting the Law right does that.

But we’re not without hope.

That Jesus comes to fulfill the Law—that He’s God and Lord and can fulfill it…that He does fulfill it…

And that He tells us so, not keeping it a secret but revealing to us God’s heart, God’s mercy, God’s love—God’s Word and Work to save us…

We have good news for every day of our life and after.

He’s revealed Himself as God and Lord, and we believe.

He’s told us that He comes to fulfill the Law—to save His people from their sins—to give His life as a ransom for many (cf. Matthew 20:28).

He tells us that and does it.

We believe Him.

We trust Him.

We know that He comes to seek and save us.

We rely on His love, His shed blood, His sacrifice and death.

We hope in Him, with certainty, confessing the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.

Here we stand, steadfast in the faith, with Jesus and unto life everlasting.

This is most certainly true—our righteousness, your righteousness, does exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees, who have no god but their bellies and back pockets, because we all believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—the Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and so, living by faith, you are great in the kingdom of heaven.

To that end, then, let us rejoice in the forgiveness of our sins such that we rejoice to forgive one another, desiring, as God does, not the death of the sinner—or even that they would just leave us alone and not talk all the time—but that they would turn—and we with them—from our evil ways—and live.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Trinity 6 Sermon, 2021
Matthew 5:20-26
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

Why does God do what He does?

Why does God allow what He allows?

Has anyone had too much rain over the last few weeks? And then, of course, has anyone, anywhere had too little?

Why?

Simon Peter is a fisherman.

He toiled all night and took nothing.

That’s what he says.

That’s how St. Luke records it: “Simon answered, ‘Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets’” (Luke 5:5).

This is the lesson:

When you thank God for the catch—or for the rain or the produce from your garden or the day—thank Him not only for what He does—giving you what you can manage and, ultimately, what’s best for you.

But thank Him, also, for what He does not give you—and for what He does not do—giving you not what you can’t manage or, ultimately, anything that is not best for you.

Jesus teaches us to pray: “Thy will be done” (cf. Matthew 6:10).

And when we call God Father and speak of His great love for us, when we pray for His will to be done, this is what we mean, what we inevitably must conclude.

“The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21).

Because it is, impossible though it seems, for our good, all that the Lord gives and does.

It was good that the fishermen caught nothing.

Not from the fishermen’s perspective, but look how God used that.

For Joseph and all the world, it was good that his brothers left him in a pit.

Not from his perspective, but look how God used that.

These aren’t isolated cases, mere blips on the timeline of God’s interaction with Creation.

This is the routine.

St. Paul writes, “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

And it’s St. Paul who writes, “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:12-13).

So thank God for what He does.

And what He does not do.

And above all—why He does it.

Why does God do what He does?

And allow all that He allows?

Why does God give rain—and more rain?

And why do some places go without?

Why do some fishermen toil all night and take nothing? And why do some labor for an hour and receive the wage in full?

Why does God do this?

Today, we have the answer: that mankind, that we all, would be caught and kept with Jesus.

That we would not fear but follow Him all the days of our lives and dwell with Him forever.

To that end, let us pray:

Gracious God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, we thank You for this day, for all You’ve given us, and for all You’ve kept away from us. Teach us to rejoice in Your love and will—to save sinners by the shed blood of Jesus Christ Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

That man would be caught and kept with Jesus Christ, what has God done?

Well, “In many and various ways, God spoke to the people of old by the prophets” (Hebrews 1:1).

The Lord spoke to Elijah, and it could have been from  within the wind, the earthquake, or the fire, but it wasn’t. To Elijah, the Lord spoke from the sound of a low whisper.

To Job, the Lord spoke from the whirlwind.

To Moses, from the burning bush.

There was a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, when the Lord led His people Israel in the wilderness and into His promises.

“In many and various ways, God spoke to the people of old by the prophets, but now, in these last days, He has spoken to us by His Son” (cf. Hebrews 1:1-2).

What has God done to catch and keep you in Christ?

He has spoken to you by His Son.

“Simon answered, ‘Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets’” (Luke 5:5).

And at His word, the word of the Lord, the catch was greater than Simon Peter could fathom.

What we see in the Church, the Bible, the Old Testament, the New Testament—is God calling people to faith.

God does it.

But there’s some confusion about this in the Church today, regarding the doctrine of election—if you want to talk about it using the proper, theological term.

But the confusion arises in measuring the work:

How many people have you brought to the faith? Not the ice-cream social or even Confirmation but life-long, God-fearing faith?

I’m not saying you should ask these questions.

I’m saying the confusion results from these questions.

How many people are Christians because of you? The ones who wonder things like this don’t mean your children but the children of foreigners.

Or—to ask using the word we’ve talked about in Sunday School—how many people has your testimony brought to the faith? Not your retelling of what Jesus says but rather, your retelling of that special, possibly-Christian, heartfelt moment in your life.

The confusion is this—do you bring people into salvation? Is it up to you? Will there be more people in heaven or fewer because of you?

Do you measure God’s work by your successes and failures?

Or does God through the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and the preaching of the Gospel draw all sinners to Himself?

When the hour had come for the Son of Man to be glorified, Jesus said, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32).

What has God done to catch and keep you in Christ?

He handed His Son over to death, had Him lifted up for all the cursed world to see, that all who believe in Him would not perish but have eternal life.

He has caused His Word to be preached to you.

And the Holy Spirit, who called you by the Gospel, has enlightened you with His gifts.

“Jews demand signs and Greeks seek [pretty sounding] wisdom, but 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” (1 Corinthians 1:21-24) to save sinners.

So—why does God do all this?

To call us to Himself—

That we would not fear now but follow Him all the days of our lives and dwell with Him forever.

“When Simon Peter saw it, he [worshipped Jesus], saying, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.’ For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken…And Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men’” (Luke 5:8-10).

If you’re the fisherman, you’re not done with the fish once you’ve caught them.

If you’re the fish, your life has only just begun getting worse once you’ve been caught.

On our way to Church Triumphant, we are in the Church Militant.

When God brings you into the Church, he’s not done with you. The teachers and pastors of the Church aren’t done with you. All the days of your life, you should keep on learning, growing in faith, and Christian maturity—simply, slowly, faithfully.

But always.

When God brings you into the Church, there is yet a good death for you to die, but even then—He’s not done with you.

“If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:19).

So, “Do not be afraid,” He says.

Fear not.

God brings you into the Church, and He keeps you there—with this end in sight: the resurrection of your body and your life everlasting.

And why—why does God do this?

Because of His love that both gives and takes away.

Simon Peter and the others were afraid because they realized God was present. Who else could close their nets, as it were, and open them?

It’s frightening to discover that it’s God who sends the fish—just as it’s God who sends the rain.

We like to think that we catch the fish or shoot the deer.

And we do—but only after God has kept us alive and put our daily bread within reach.

So in plenty or hunger…

Abundance or need…

Fish or no fish…

Rejoice in your God who gives and keeps away—but always for your good.

Rejoice in your God for what He does—and for what He does not do.

But above all, rejoice in why He does all this.

That you would be caught and kept with Jesus.

That you would be His own and live with Him in His kingdom forever.

Because—“When they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him” (Luke 5:11).

Many today will talk about freedom, and it is meet and right so to do.

But how many who talk about freedom are yet slaves to sin?

As you rejoice together in the freedom God provided through men two-hundred and forty-five years ago…

Rejoice also in the freedom God provided through the one man Jesus Christ two-thousand years ago.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Trinity 5 Sermon, 2021
Luke 5:1-1
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

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

It is God’s good and gracious will to destroy the evil plans and purposes of the world.

And so—today—we pray for God to break, hinder, and destroy the evil that is Critical Race Theory.

Have you heard about this?

Critical Race Theory, because it’s an indefinable thing, is an evil thing, corrupting our language, the way we speak about sin and grace.

Along with that—it’s evil because it finds fault with some not all, using a different standard whenever a different result is needed.

If it were only and always about observing and working to rectify inequities in the law and how the law is applied to people—if that’s what it was and only what it was, every Christian already agrees.

“For the measure you use will be measured back to you” (cf. Luke 6:38), Jesus says.

It is, of course, meet, right, and salutary for pastors—today—to preach against sin.

That’s what Joseph did, for his brothers, saying, “As for you, you meant evil against me…” (Genesis 50:20).

That’s what St. Paul did, for the church in Rome, saying in chapter two, “There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil…” (Romans 2:9).

That’s what Nathan and the prophets did.

That’s what John the Baptist did.

And that’s what pastors do, today.

Because—for all of them—that’s what God did and commands, then and today.

That’s what Jesus does, Himself, saying, “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye” (Luke 6:42).

So—clearly—to preach and teach against sin is meet, right, and salutary.

It’s good to do so. Right to do so. And for our soul’s good to do so.

But notice that this preaching and teaching is against actual sins that have been committed.

Joseph’s brothers meant evil against him in that they actually did conspire to—at first—kill him—but then—sell him into slavery.

The church in Rome was practicing evil—and still are—so they are without excuse. That’s how St. Paul says it:

“You have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same [evil] things” (Romans 2:1).

We don’t preach and teach against hypothetical sins or imagined sins that may send us to hell.

We preach and teach against actual sins, committed in our thoughts, words, and deeds that—apart from repentance and faith in the Lord, Christ—do indeed condemn us to hell.

Does that make sense?

Joseph’s brothers actually sinned. It’s not helpful to them if Joseph doesn’t name their sin and forgive it.

The church in Rome actually sinned. It’s not helpful to them if St. Paul doesn’t name their sin, so that they would hear the Law, flee to God for forgiveness, and receive it.

And I know it’s no fun to talk about, but you actually sin, too. It’s no help to you for sin to be generally despised but not specifically.

I don’t mean naming the sinner. I mean naming the sin.

So that you would hear, and flee to God, and be forgiven.

When I say that it’s meet, right, and salutary for pastors to preach against specific sins, I mean that for your own soul’s good—you remove the log out of your own eye.

And we do that, we confess actual sins, in repentance and faith, to receive forgiveness, to be certain of our salvation, and then yes, to help our brother with the speck in his eye.

This kind of preaching and teaching against actual sins committed by people here and close to us is necessary.

Today—it’s necessary for me to warn you against the increasing evil of Critical Race Theory.

Critical Race Theory is an increasing evil in the world, if for no other reason than that it’s an indefinable thing.

Basically, according to this theory, race is the only thing that matters.

Not your behavior. Not your values.

Not your environment.

But race—that’s the only card you can play.

Push back, though, and ask for a definition.

What is “Critical Race Theory”?

And here’s where the fun begins.

Critical Race Theory is a theoretical framework and set of perspectives and academic principles by which structural and institutional racism may be examined.

That’s it. That’s the practically useless definition.

What if I use the same definition for God?

Listen to this nonsense:

“The Holy Trinity is a theoretical framework and set of perspectives and academic principles by which structural and institutional [God] may be examined.”

Big words next to complicated words.

Throw in “theoretical” and “academic.”

And you sound like a Harvard professor.

Critical Race Theory, because it’s an indefinable thing, is an evil thing, because it corrupts our language, the way we speak about sin and grace, God, man, forgiveness, judgment, and everlasting life.

Along with that—it’s evil because it finds fault with some not all and rewards some not all, using a different standard whenever a different result is needed.

If it were only and always about observing and working to rectify inequities in the law and how the law is applied to people—if that’s what it was and only what it was, every Christian already agrees.

“For the measure you use will be measured back to you” (cf. Luke 6:38), Jesus says.

Equal treatment under God’s law is usually the first or second thing you cover when catechizing children.

But “when people get used to preferential treatment, equal treatment seems like discrimination” (Thomas Sowell).

The Lutherans dealt with this in Article II of the Augsburg Confession, “On Original Sin,” and said: “Our churches teach that since the fall of Adam, all who are naturally born are born with sin, that is, without the fear of God, without trust in God, and with the inclination to sin, called concupiscence. Concupiscence is a disease and original vice that is truly sin. It damns and brings eternal death on those who are not born anew through Baptism and the Holy Spirit” (AC II.1-2).

The first article defines God as good.

The second article defines all who are naturally born as being born with sin.

That’s how the Lutherans confessed it, and we still do.

St. Paul says it this way: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:23-24).

And it’s St. Peter who says in Acts, that “God shows no partiality [literally: that God is no respecter of persons], but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him” (Acts 10:34-35).

If Critical Race Theory had only to do with treating every human being equally under the law—we’d have to agree.

But in practice that’s not what it does.

On paper, it does nothing, because it’s an indefinable thing. It’s harmless, but it dies the death of a thousand qualifications.

In practice, though, it doesn’t treat everyone equally.

Every parent and every person will need to know how to speak and how to teach this correctly—especially when the world seems hell bent on making every single conversation about race.

If you’ve never heard this from me before, hear it now: There is the one human race, and we’re all in this together—poor, miserable sinners, redeemed by Christ the Crucified, in need of the Grace of God.

But about Critical Race Theory, here’s what I mean.

It’ll be taught to your children or grandchildren.

It’s probably already been taught to them and you.

Officially in school, unofficially on tv, or by means of peer pressure on social media and interactions with the world, they’ll be taught to hate and blame themselves for everything.

They’ll be taught to hate America.

And you’ll need to be able to teach against this.

One hour of church each week with a twenty-minute sermon won’t cut it—let’s not fool ourselves—when an eight hour school day and every show and commercial break is working to produce cogs for the machine and not children of God.

I read this recently—it was a comparison between Critical Race Theory and original sin.

Original sin, as you know, is the consequence we carry in our flesh for a sin not committed by us.

Critical Race Theory teaches the same thing—so it was suggested—that you carry the guilt and burden of sins committed by your forbears.

Where I was reading this, the Christians had no answer, no response.

So they agreed.

But see—original sin is true for all.

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

And all who are naturally born are born with sin.

Not just some.

Not just the majority. Not just the minority. All.

When the world and worldly men want to speak in practically useless ways, insist upon the words of Jesus.

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

Today—let it be enough for us to hear and understand Jesus, who says, “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36).

There’s no qualification there; it’s spoken to all.

Hear it from the perspective of having been forgiven; hear it from the perspective of God’s mercy.

Without help from you, in Christ, God has forgiven all sin and raises unto eternal life all who believe in Jesus.

Your Father is merciful—to you and to all.

Be merciful to others—everyone of them.

Who are you to judge, condemn, or withhold forgiveness?

And for that matter—who has God called you to be?

“Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you” (Luke 6:36-38).

There’s always a way to cheat the scale.

To make it heavier when you sell and lighter when you buy. Or heavier when you need to show how healthy you are and lighter when you know you’re not.

You like it when the bank finds an error in your favor. You hate it when you’re found to owe a dollar more.

Insist upon the words of Jesus.

And the measure of His mercy.

There was no sin in Him—no log or speck.

His beam was cross-shaped.

And He carried His to cross and death—so that you would not—so that you would be preserved from hell and pit.

To be merciful to all—especially you.

To call all—especially you—to be His children.

This is the good and gracious will of God.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Trinity 4 Sermon, 2021
Luke 6:36-42
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

I’d like to begin with a simple question.

Who—or what—is the Bible about?

We ask questions like this all the time: What’s that book about? That movie? Or we say, “Tell me about the game, your day, or your family.”

Those are straightforward questions, and—most of the time—they have straightforward answers.

But you might say that the question about the Bible, what the Bible’s about, has a less than straightforward answer.

Here’s why.

The Bible is primarily about God.

And then—after it’s about God—it’s about you.

I’ll show you what I mean.

Jonah’s a good example.

If you think the Bible is primarily about you, you might hear of Jonah and come to think that every breath of wind is a call from God for you to go and do some amazing or outrageous thing.

If the Bible’s about you—and you’re Jonah—you need to be less reluctant to the call of God.

That would be the lesson.

But if it’s about God—ask the question:

What is God doing?

And in Jonah, God—through a disgruntled prophet—is saving many.

The one man is cast into what would be considered certain death, but since the lot fell on Jonah, it doesn’t fall on the mariners.

And so the rough, tempestuous sea is muzzled, and the men make vows to God.

You’re not Jonah, with a tough choice to make.

You’re the mariners, or the men of Nineveh, who hear and believe because of the one sent to them.

Before you even open the book, you have to ask: what’s the Bible about?

And you have to have the answer—the Bible is primarily about God.

I’ll give you one more obvious example.

David and Goliath.

I’ve talked about this before, but it’s worth saying again because David and Goliath is so misused.

If the Bible is primarily about you, you might think that David and Goliath is about you overcoming giants.

Read popular opinions about this.

David will be a stand-in for an addict and Goliath, the addiction.

I’m sure you’ve heard David and Goliath referenced when some untalented sports team is playing against one really talented sports team.

So David is boiled down to you, and Goliath is whatever you want to overcome in the world.

But David and Goliath can’t possibly be about those things, because not every addict overcomes his addiction. The underdogs don’t always win.

But David never loses.

As often as I’ve heard the story, David always wins.

So what’s the Bible about?

Is the Bible about you—and what you must do—you Jonahs and Davids?

Or is the Bible about God—and what God has done for you in Christ? And so no matter what your life may look like, you have a God who fights for you.

Asking it that way makes the answer obvious—of course the Bible’s about God and what God has done for me in Christ. Of course!

But the parables in Luke put this to the test.

Today’s Gospel lesson is known, the world over, as the parable of the Prodigal Son.

It’s known as the third parable in a sequence of parables in Luke chapter fifteen, beginning with the parable of the Lost Sheep and the parable of the Lost Coin.

Interestingly, however, St. Luke writes that “[Jesus] told them this parable…” (Luke 15:3).

He doesn’t say “these parables,” plural.

He says “this parable,” singular.

But three stories follow.

And—as parables do—these stories reveal to us the kingdom of God—who God is, what He’s doing, and what that means for us and for our salvation.

And—as parables do—these stories offer some degree of shock, because they don’t make a lick of worldly sense.

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).

Jesus asks some men a question.

He says, “What man of you…does not…”

And if the Bible’s about us, primarily, we’ll hear Jesus and think that we should be like the man in the parable who leaves ninety-nine percent of his flock in the wilderness, the desolate place, the place deprived of protection and aid—that’s what “open country” means.

It’s the same word as “desert.”

If the Bible’s primarily about us, we’ll hear Jesus and gladly leave the ninety-nine for the sake of the one.

But see, we never do.

We’re concerned about preventing loss, that’s true.

But we’re not so concerned with loss prevention that we don’t rejoice when we’ve been 99% successful.

We don’t leave the ninety-nine.

In the parable, you’re not the one who’s looking, you’re the one who’s lost.

This is not primarily about you and what you must do to find what’s lost.

This is primarily about God—who He is and what He is doing to seek and find and save the lost.

And this is the Kingdom of God.

If there are ninety-nine “found” sheep—and one “lost” sheep—God is not content to let the lost perish.

He desires not the death of the wicked but that he turn from his evil ways and live (cf. Ezekiel 33:11).

If you’ve ever wondered why bad things happen to good people, why—as a Christian—you must take up your cross and follow Jesus, consider that He would leave the “found” sheep, who belong to Him, who know His voice, who’ll be raised on the last day to everlasting life—He’s content to leave them in the open country—so He can find and save and bring back the one.

As part of the ninety-nine, that’s difficult to hear.

But if you’re the one—or if your son is, or your daughter, your friend, your neighbor, your dad—then it is the love and power of God at work.

And—“There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15:7).

Then, Jesus says, “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).

If the Bible is primarily about you, you’re the woman. And if anything of value is lost, the world stops until you find it.

Right?

That’s how everyone operates, right?

Of course not.

We’re content to let a lot of things remain lost, so long as we have some vague idea of where they might be.

It’s in the house—that’s good enough.

But in the parable, you’re not the one looking.

You’re the one lost.

And God seeks diligently, to find you.

This should be a source of profound relief for all of us.

Your salvation doesn’t rest on your not resting.

You’re not saved because you seek diligently.

God seeks. God finds. God saves.

And then, “There is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:10).

Which then brings us to the Prodigal.

Knowing what the Bible’s about, consider all that our God and Father endures and does out of love for you:

The lost son says to his father, “Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me” (Luke 15:12).

He asks for his inheritance, that’s how we might say that, but when is an inheritance given?

After a death, right?

So it is as though the younger says to his father, “Father, please die, so I can get what’s coming to me.”

Those of you who stand to inherit much from your family, have you never thought the same?

Secretly, privately, have you daydreamed what you’ll do—with the house, the car, the money, the land.

These things tear families apart.

Nevertheless, the father divided his property (cf. Luke 15:12).

The younger son soon left and “squandered his property in reckless living. And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything” (Luke 15:13-16).

As God endures our wretchedness with long-suffering patience, desiring for His love to outlast our pride—

So also does God send the whirlwind to break and hinder the plans and purposes of the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh.

God made sure to destroy the younger son’s false god of money.

But at least he had his health, right?

So God sent a famine, and now the boy’s in need.

Spiritually speaking, being in need is one of the most helpful things, because it teaches you to hallow God’s name, not your own.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, after all.

And this poor boy fed pigs, because God brought him low.

He can no longer rely on money.

He can no longer rely on his own strength.

Feeding unclean pigs, he can’t even claim to be clean, and his lack is such that he longs to eat pig food.

God made sure that no one gave him anything.

So where else can he go—but home?

Perhaps the most important detail in the parable is the reasoning of the son and the reaction of the father.

The younger wants to trade.

He wants to confess his sin, but he wants to trade his sonship for earthly security, the promise and blessing of God, for a bowl of stew.

And the father will have none of it.

“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son’” (Luke 15:21).

“But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found’” (Luke 15:22-24).

Such is the love of God for you.

While He may be found, so to speak, God will endure our wretchedness with patient long-suffering.

But He’ll also send the whirlwind our way.

In the parable, you are not the one who searches.

You are the one who was lost and is now found.

The Bible isn’t primarily about you—and that’s good news.

The Bible is primarily about God—who seeks, finds, binds up, strengthens, and restores you to the Kingdom of God.

And there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Trinity 3, 2021
Luke 15: (1-10) 11-32
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

I need to talk about a term that’s used a lot but is not clearly defined. It means everything and nothing, whatever the user of the term desires, but never just one thing—and so it’s a meaningless phrase.

And the term is “high church” or “low church.”

I’m not judging you for using the term.

Use the term if you wish.

But have a clear definition in mind so that those who don’t understand, people like me, can be easily taught.

We must all become like children and learn together.

From the Proverb: “Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you; reprove a wise man, and he will love you. Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning” (Proverbs 9:8-9).

Let’s begin with today’s Gospel lesson.

There is the kingdom of God, heaven, the faithful life, and the banquet.

And there are the excuses men give when the matter of faith and salvation is put to them: fields, farms, and land—for the first. Oxen, beasts of burden, and possessions—for the second. And a wife, children, and family—for the third.

You’ll be hard pressed to find a man who hasn’t used one of these as an excuse to get out of what God requires for entry into His kingdom—a living faith that hears the Word of God and does it.

After all, it’s God who’s at work in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure (cf. Philippians 2:13).

So there’s God—who’s occupied with His work to save and care for you.

And there’s you—who’s occupied with your work to earn a living or keep it.

Today, notice that what’s wrong in the Gospel lesson is, at first, commendable: each man has a very high view of his work.

If you work the fields, it’s commendable for you to have a high view of that work.

To know the importance of it.

To live as though your work really matters—as it certainly does.

That the first man has such a high view of his work is commendable.

Likewise, the second.

He has five yoke of oxen, integral to his work.

It’s commendable that he has such a high view of his responsibility as both worker in and steward of God’s creation.

And likewise, the third.

Marriage is an institution that survived the Fall.

A man does not leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife as a result of the Fall.

Rather, the two shall become one flesh because God created husband and wife to be fruitful and multiply, to fill the earth and subdue it. That was before the Fall.

Marriage is the highest of institutions, and the man in today’s Gospel lesson should be commended in that he cherishes his wife as he does.

Having a high view of the responsibilities God has given is commendable.

But what’s not commendable is having a low view of the kingdom of God.

This—and I’ll explain it more—this is why I put no stock in terms like “high church” and “low church.”

This is why I don’t use those terms.

God Himself miraculously comes to us, forgiving our sins and cleansing us from all unrighteousness.

He delivers us from death and devil by delivering to us the priceless treasure of Jesus’ Body and Blood.

Is that not the highest experience we can attain?

For God Himself to be with us and for our good?

Or—who has a low view of that?

For that matter, let’s apply the same descriptor to other institutions.

Who among you favor low marriage?

It’s tempting, isn’t it, to make of marriage no serious matter, to do whatever you feel like, to have no rules?

When that happens we’re not surprised at the serious harm that follows in the family, the church, and community.

Does anyone, with their marriage, truly aim low so as to avoid disappointment?

Who among you prefer a low family, with low children, and a low view of work or responsibility?

It’s certainly easier not to care, not to learn, not to teach, and all things are lawful—but not all things are beneficial (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:23).

“High Church” and “Low Church” are meaningless terms, because their definitions are either self-evident or not.

Regardless—perhaps we should think different.

St. Paul writes: “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (cf. Philippians 4:8).

And today, I would add, we should have a high view of these things and expectations to match.

Jesus tells the parable of the banquet not because we’re supposed to have a low view of fields, farms, and families—again, it’s commendable that these men have a high view of what God has given them.

But Jesus tells this parable because we’re supposed to have a high view, also, of the kingdom of God.

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

But “How are they to believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching” (cf. Romans 10:14) that “Now in Christ Jesus you who were once far off have been brought near by [that priceless treasure,] the blood of Christ” (cf. Ephesians 2:13)?

You’ve been brought near because you’ve heard—

You’ve heard because someone was preaching—

That the invitation is to all.

“A man once gave a great banquet and invited many [that is, all]. And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’ So the servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house became angry and said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’ And the servant said, ‘Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room’ [because the Master had invited all, and He meant it]. And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet’” (Luke 14:16-24).

If Jesus Himself were a preacher in the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, no one would like Him.

He ends that sermon there—with the condemnation of those who rejected His invitation.

He is not winsome.

The very next thing He says, verse twenty-five, the verse immediately after today’s Gospel lesson, sounds even worse.

Jesus says, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:25).

What’s He saying?

And does He mean it?

Are you His disciple?

Of course it’s commendable for you to care for your land, your field, your property and possessions.

We need more of that—not less.

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

Of course it’s commendable for you to care for the ox, the heifer, the calf, and sometimes on this list even the child.

We need more of that—not less.

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

And of course it’s commendable for you to care for your wife, your husband, your children, your family, your house and home.

You should not have a low view of those things.

They are some of the most marvelous gifts of God.

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

In a parable full of anger, concluding with condemnation, a parable seemingly devoid of any Gospel, there is yet real comfort for us sinners, because the invitation is to all.

Each of the three men had a high view of their responsibilities in life.

That is commendable.

But each of the three men had a low view of God.

They did not take Him seriously, nor His invitation.

They considered neither His anger nor His judgment.

And so, “None of those men who were invited shall taste [the] banquet” (Luke 14:24).

In the parable, the time has passed for them.

But today, for us, there is yet time remaining.

If you’re bound to the land, work the land, and God be praised for all that’s done through you.

But be bound first to Jesus Christ, the Lord.

If you’re bound to the beasts of the earth, care for God’s creatures, and praise God for the bounty of daily bread He gives to all of us through you.

But be bound first to Jesus Christ, the Lord.

And if you’re bound to house and home, child and spouse, consider the million monumental and minuscule tasks you accomplish every day, and rejoice that God has chosen to care for literally every human being through people like you.

But be bound first to Jesus Christ, the Lord.

Because it’s Christ, and Christ alone, who has died for you.

It’s Christ, and Christ alone, who redeems you from death and devil.

It’s Christ, and Christ alone, who feeds you, body and soul, and strengthens you to life everlasting.

Bind yourself to Christ and be brought near by the priceless treasure of the Blood of Christ.

That is the highest experience we can attain.

We should act like it.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Trinity 2, 2021
Luke 14:15-24
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27).

“My peace I give to you,” Jesus says, but what kind of peace did Jesus have?

When He speaks of peace—the peace He has and gives to us—what’s going on around Him?

In Matthew’s account of the Gospel, the word peace is used in three places.

Not three times but in three places, and the context in which peace is used, what’s going on around it, might surprise you.

In Matthew chapter five, Jesus says, “Blessed are the peace-makers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9).

That’s right before He says, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account” (Matthew 5:11).

In chapter ten, when Jesus sends out the twelve, He says, “As you enter the house, greet it. And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town” (Matthew 10:12-15).

And again, from chapter ten, Jesus says, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34).

None of those are how we use the word peace.

When we use the word peace, we don’t have the threat or worry of being reviled hanging over us.

That’s not what peace means when we use it.

We’re not worried about shaking the dust from our feet—or having dust shaken off at us.

When we use the word peace, we’re not thinking of the sword that might be brought down on us instead.

When we speak of peace, we mean quietness or rest. Not anxiety but contentment. Relief.

But, the problem is, more often than not, when the word peace is used in the Bible, the context isn’t at all what and how we’re used to thinking of peace.

Matthew’s use of peace, for example.

In John’s account of the Gospel, the word peace is also used in three places, but there’s a big difference between the first two and the last one.

The first two begin with today’s Gospel lesson where Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you” (John 14:27).

Jesus says these words after the Supper, shortly before His Passion, and Christians need to wonder what kind of peace this is.

He was about to be betrayed by one of His closest friends.

He was about to be tried in a kangaroo court where the witnesses’ stories don’t corroborate, and the man with the God-given authority to let Him go says, “I find no guilt in Him” three separate times, before sentencing Him to death (John 18:38, 19:4, 6).

He was about to be abandoned by His Father, praying, “My God, my God, why has Thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46).

He was about to be mocked by those who hated Him, on the ground and at His side.

He was about to die.

He knew all of this, ahead of time, and yet He says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.”

What kind of peace is that?

What kind of peace do you have when someone lets you down?

What kind of peace do you have when you’re late for something important?

Or when someone else is late?

What kind of peace do you have when you’re expecting a phone call from the doctor? What kind of peace do you have when the phone rings in the middle of the night?

What kind of peace do you have when you’re betrayed and slandered or abandoned and mocked?

What kind of peace do you have when you’re forced to face the fact that all men must die?

Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you?”

What kind of peace is that?

That’s the first use of peace in John’s account of the Gospel.

The second is two chapters after today’s Gospel reading.

And to me, this is where it starts to make sense.

Jesus says, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

What does Jesus teach us to expect from the world?

From experience?

From His example, we expect betrayal, slander, false accusations, abandonment from even our own family or closest friends, and shameful mocking—all because of fidelity to Christ—all because the servant is not greater than the Master. If the world treated Him that way, they’ll treat you that way.

And Jesus sums this up in just a few words, saying: “In the world you will have tribulation.”

That’s an interesting take on the word peace, then.

The way we use the word, peace is the absence of trouble, the furthest thing from tribulation.

But Jesus, by His life, and in His Word to us, He shows us that in the midst of tribulation and the scowling of the world, even there, we have peace.

In the midst of whatever anxiety accompanied the knowledge that Judas would betray Him, Jesus had peace, because He was faithful to His Father, praying, believing, and living “Thy will be done.”

In that kangaroo court, with liars testifying against Him, Jesus had peace.

Maybe some of those men were among the men of Jerusalem, cut to the heart, when confronted with Peter’s Pentecost sermon. Several times after Peter’s words in today’s second reading, Peter makes it quite clear that “God has made Him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36).

And “those who received [that] word [who believed it] were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls” (Acts 2:41).

The peace that Jesus has isn’t the absence of trouble but the sure and certain way through it.

Knowing that He would be abandoned by His Father, even then, Jesus had peace.

His Father desired to save the world.

Jesus would die.

His Father would hand Him over to a death on the cross, a death that pays for all sin, reconciling the world to God.

Jesus is the sacrificial lamb handed over and given into death, that you would never be taken from Him, that you who believe in Him would never die.

Nothing is able to separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus your Lord (cf. Romans 8:38-39).

By His example, by His Word, we know there is peace even in the midst of tribulation.

The final place in John’s account of the Gospel where the word peace is used is chapter twenty, after the resurrection.

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

There was no lack of tribulation for the disciples that evening. They thought their Lord dead, buried, and gone, never to return. They thought themselves outlaws, soon to be discovered, and soon to be killed.

Into their hopeless world Jesus brings peace that surpasses understanding.

Peace be with you!

The peace that Jesus gives is life to the dead, health to the sick, and joy to the poor, miserable sinner.

A few verses later, He says it again, “Peace be with you,” and here, He sends the apostles to forgive the sins of those who repent.

He gives them peace so they can give you peace.

Again, a few verses later, Thomas being with them now, the doors being locked, Jesus stands among them and says, “Peace be with you” (cf. John 20:26).

Into Thomas’ world of doubt, Jesus speaks peace.

The way the Bible speaks—the way Jesus speaks—the peace He gives isn’t the absence of trouble but the sure and certain way through it.

It’s true—there’s no shortage of tribulation in our lives.

There is no shortage of pain or sickness or worry.

Into our hopeless world, into our doubting and disbelieving hearts, Jesus says: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”

We might hear those words and think that God doesn’t know our pain, our tribulation—“He doesn’t know…”

But He most certainly does.

We know that Jesus suffered greatly.

He was stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.

He bore in His flesh the burden of our sin.

And in His last words on Holy Thursday, Jesus says to us, “You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you before it takes place, so that when it does take place you may believe” (John 14:28-29).

All that—He does…

All that—He says…

All that—He endures…

So that you would believe.

Whatever your anxiety.

Whatever your worries.

Whatever sins burden your conscience.

Jesus means what He says, and He says it to you:

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”

In the world you have tribulation.

But take heart.

On the cross, in your place, for you and all the world, God in the flesh, God With Us, you God, who loves you, died to forgive the world.

And peace with God once more is made!

The Lord has visited His people and relieved them.

You have and know peace that surpasses the world’s understanding.

But not your understanding.

If you understand that your sins are forgiven…

If you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and call upon His name…

If you cling in faith to your crucified God and Lord…

Then the peace that Jesus gives doesn’t surpass your understanding.

You know and have peace, because you know and have Jesus.

Your life isn’t absent of trouble.

But you know the Way—surely, certainly—through it.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Pentecost Sermon, 2021
John 14:23-31; Acts 2:1-21
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

If the task and responsibility of a Christian is to hear and learn the Word of God—not some or part but the full counsel thereof—then some days and chapters and verses will be more difficult than others.

Here’s what I mean.

Thus says the Lord in today’s Old Testament lesson:

“It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came…From all your idols I will cleanse you” (Ezekiel 36:22, 25).

Generally, we’re taught that God is acting for our sake,  for our benefit. So to hear that—in this chapter and verse—He is acting for the sake of His holy name, not for our sake—because we, His people, profaned His holy name, cursing and swearing—that should cause us to think at least a few deep thoughts.

Is God’s name hallowed among us?

Or—do we profane His name still?

Did He—Does He—Will He—ever do the same again?

Act not for our sake—but to vindicate the holiness of His great name?

Some chapters and verses, like this, are more difficult for us to hear—because of the rebuke.

St. Peter writes in today’s Epistle lesson:

“The end of all things is at hand…Do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings” (1 Peter 4:7, 12-13).

The sufferings of Christ are no one’s wishlist items.

Who wants to suffer hatred while confessing the truth?

Who wants to be hated by basically everyone because you have a different idea of who God is and what He’s doing?

But the way St. Peter writes, such suffering is not only possible but eventual for us.

He says, “Don’t be surprised by the fiery trial.”

And that’s difficult to hear, too.

As is what Jesus says in today’s Gospel lesson:

“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” (John 16:2).

That hour is coming for all Christians.

And—for some—that hour is here.

We just don’t like to admit it.

If the task and responsibility of the Christian is to hear and learn the Word of God—and it is—then some days and chapters and verses will be more difficult than others.

Here’s what I mean.

Thus far, I’ve selectively quoted from the lessons appointed for today.

Old Testament lesson, Epistle, and Gospel—they’re full of warnings and what we might easily consider to be bad news.

But—thus also says the Lord in today’s Old Testament lesson:

“I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you…And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statues and be careful to obey my rules. You shall dwell in the land that I gave your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God” (Ezekiel 36:26, 27-28).

Doesn’t that sound better?

Don’t we like the conclusion a lot better than the action before it?

St. Peter concludes today’s Epistle lesson this way: “If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you” (1 Peter 4:14).

Who doesn’t want to be blessed by God?

Yeah, yeah, he talks about being insulted, but the Spirit of glory and of God rests on us.

Finally—some good news.

And in today’s Gospel, Jesus says, “When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. And you also will bear witness” (John 15:26-27).

Wow.

Every Christian will get to bear witness about Christ, will get to take what the Holy Spirit has delivered and share it with another.

We get to be the instruments God uses to bring people into the faith.

There’s nothing better—nothing more important—nothing nicer than that.

How awesome!

But if the task and responsibility of the Christian is to hear and learn the Word of God, the difficulty is hearing both warning and promise, rebuke and responsibility, and learning to rejoice in the Word of the Living God—who says both.

The proper work of God is to help, save, and comfort.

Not because of who you are but because of who He is.

“The Holy Spirit is called the Comforter, because he is love. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth, because he always speaks the truth. These two things, truth and love, sustain us Christians throughout our lives” (Rev. Andrew Preus).

Thus says the Lord in today’s Old Testament lesson: “It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that [the Lord] is about to act, but for the sake of [His] holy name, which [we] have profaned among the nations…And the nations will know that I am the Lord…when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes. I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you” (cf. Ezekiel 36:22, 23-25).

The Lord your God is not content to leave the world to unbelief—but convicts the world concerning sin, righteousness, judgment—that His name would be kept holy among us—that all who call on the name of the Lord would be saved—that through the seeming folly of what we preach, God’s holiness, and goodness, and lovingkindness, would be vindicated before their eyes.

That is to say, He will create in us a clean heart and renew a right spirit within us. He will sprinkle us with clean water and put His Spirit within us, and cause us to walk in His statutes, and be careful to obey His rules.

He will call us out of darkness and into His marvelous light to be His peculiar people.

And He will be our God.

That’s the full counsel of God for today’s Old Testament lesson.

Well, a summary of the full counsel of God.

But do you see?

“To lecture about sins without mentioning threats is not to teach the Law but to abolish it” (Martin Chemnitz).

And to preach or to know the warning of God apart from the comfort He provides, is to be without the blessing God bestows on all who believe.

St. Peter writes, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you” (1 Peter 4:12-14).

The Lord your God doesn’t abandon you to fiery trials. Rather, you are blessed: the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.

But no one has the Spirit of God and is not tested.

St. Peter also writes: “[And] in this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith…may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:6-7).

That’s the full counsel of God for today’s Epistle lesson.

Or, a summary.

Do you see it?

Nothing strange is going on when you share in Christ’s sufferings or are insulted for the name of Christ.

That is as it is and as it should be for all those redeemed by Jesus Christ the crucified—

Who says, “When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning” (John 15:26-27).

This is specifically about the Apostles, the first pastors of the church, who were literally with Jesus from the beginning.

But this is also, generally, how the Holy Spirit works.

He proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified, who spoke by the prophets and the Apostles.

And, thus speaking, bears witness about Jesus.

And you also will bear witness, because you have received the Light of the World.

No one who has received the Light hides it under a basket—but rather places it at the entrance of His home so that all who enter there may see—and hear, and believe, and be saved by—the Light of the World.

This is the full counsel of God:

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).

We aren’t surprised at the fiery trial, when it comes upon us.

Nor are we offended that God would act to vindicate His name.

Rather, we rejoice in the full counsel of God.

Who cleanses us of our idols.

Gives us His Holy Spirit.

Blesses us, who call upon His name.

And keeps us from falling away.

Let all the worlds give answer: Amen! So let it be.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Exaudi (Easter 7), 2021
John 15:26—16:4
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt