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).


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

Today, Jesus teaches us to pray.

“Ask, and you will receive” (John 16:24), He says.

But if you’ve ever asked and not received, you’ll wonder whether Jesus is lying or you lack faith.

Because when we say, “Ask, and you will receive,” we mean it as an if/then statement.

If you ask for help, then I will help you.

That’s how we operate.

We don’t just do good to others.

We wait for them to ask.


Thank God that’s not how God operates.

When Jesus says, “Ask, and you will receive,” He doesn’t mean “If you ask, then, you’ll receive.”

And experience has taught us this all our lives.

Ask God for a million dollars. Ask for all the time in the world, for good health, safety, and the hymns you like.

Ask for everything. Anything. And all of it in between.

If you ask, and nothing happens, then we have to answer the question of what, exactly, Jesus means.

Either He’s lying, God is vindictive and sinful, and we lack the faith to speak to Him—or—Jesus means it differently.

We know better than to think Jesus says we get everything we ask for, and yet He plainly says, “Ask, and you will receive.”

If you’re sick, “Ask, and you will receive” at least sometimes sounds like a satanic lie.

To one who constantly hears “No,” “Ask, and you will receive” feels like deliberate unkindness.

To every faithful, cross-bearing Christian who happens to find himself in the midst of sorrow and trouble, “Ask, and you will receive” sounds like God doesn’t listen and doesn’t care.

That we ask, that we need, that we pray, and that God doesn’t always give us what we ask for, makes us wonder why Jesus would say, “Ask, and you will receive.”

It’s obviously not true!

Unless we understand Him correctly.

Jesus doesn’t mean “If you ask, then you’ll receive.”

But He does mean, “When you ask rightly, you will receive, and, indeed, it’s already yours.”

Because Jesus doesn’t teach us only to ask.

He teaches us to ask in His name: “Whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you” (John 16:23).

That’s what He says, and this is something we understand quite well.

Kids ask for things in Mom’s name all the time. They implore Dad on Mom’s behalf saying, “But Mom said…”

And if Mom said it, then, fine.

But moms only say certain things.

To ask for something in Mom’s name is to ask for something that she’s already said.

And to ask for something in Jesus’ name is to remember what God has said and to ask for it.

We do this all the time.

We say, “Jesus says…”

We remember His Word, and we ask Him to fulfill it.

It doesn’t matter what comes after “Jesus says…”

As long as He actually said it, we know He means it for our good.

Even the work of the Holy Spirit to convict the world concerning sin is for our good—because He moves right along to convict us concerning righteousness—that we would bask in the righteousness of Christ.

Like a Mom to her children, Jesus only says certain things.

He doesn’t tell you to trust in money. He doesn’t tell you that you’ll always be happy.

He never promises those things.

Nevertheless, it’s comfort unending for all who believe that anything we ask in Jesus’ name is already ours by faith.

Because when you ask “in Jesus’ name,” you’re asking  “according to the Word of God,” what God has already said.

So what do you ask for? What can you ask for?

What does Scripture say? What does God say?

What does God guarantee? What does He promise?

He doesn’t promise wealth.

Jesus told the rich young ruler to “sell all that you have and give to the poor” (Mark 10:21).

You cannot serve God and mammon.

Jesus attacks Mark’s idolatry, because God demands faith. He doesn’t promise wealth, because wealth isn’t necessary for salvation.

Nor does God promise health.

Health isn’t necessary for salvation.

Every leper cleansed, every Deaf who heard still died.

Lazarus died twice.

Regarding earthly things, Jesus promises nothing except hatred, tribulation, and daily bread.

And about our daily bread we have to be honest.

God could give us all so much less than what we have, and He would still be giving us this day our daily bread.

Jesus says: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy…but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven…For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21).

He says all of this to teach us.

Don’t let it go in one ear and out the other.

Don’t wonder when the sermon will end.

Don’t wonder if you can still get a good deal on Royals tickets, or Cardinals tickets, or Cubs tickets, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Rather—wonder if you believe God.

If you hear Him and do His will.

Jesus says all this to teach us, and out of mercy, to save us.

If you look at Christianity anywhere in the world, you’ll see trouble.

Abroad, Christians are being murdered—simply because they’re Christians.

On April 17th, ISIS published a video of the execution of Nabil Habshi, a Coptic Christian. He was kidnapped in November, and the kidnappers demanded the family pay over $100,000—not as a ransom—but as a tax levied against non-Muslims in states governed by Islamic law.

The Quran teaches Muslims to kill the infidels (that’s me and you) if they won’t convert to Islam or live in humiliating submission, paying such taxes.

Would you convert? Would you pay the tax and submit? Would you keep the faith even unto death—as you confessed you would when you were confirmed?

Since our daily bread doesn’t regularly include an escape route away from the Muslims who seek to kidnap our children and kill us, those are rhetorical questions, impossible questions, but the exercise is a good one.

Does your Christianity stop when you leave church?

That’s what your government wants.

For some of us, our representative to congress tried to pray and failed—attempting to do so in the name of false gods and not knowing how to say, “Amen.”

For all of us, our president tried to speak on the National Day of Prayer and failed to mention God at all—which surprised exactly no one.

But let’s not fool ourselves—they’re as devoutly Christian as a broken doorknob and just as helpful.

The fact is, you won’t always get what you ask for.

If you pray for health, or safety, or a godly politician, you may not get what you ask for.

Take heart—it’s not because God doesn’t love you.

Jesus says: in this world you will endure hatred and tribulation. No one wants that, but you can’t always get what you want.

The fact is, God is very clear about what His will is for you.

The will of God isn’t an uncertain thing.

He desires the world’s salvation.

He desires your salvation.

And in Jesus Christ He has accomplished it.

Thus says the Lord in Matthew chapter six: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness…”

That is, ask for these things in Jesus’ name…

“…And all these [other] things [clothing, food, and shelter] will be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33).

Thus says the Lord in Hebrews chapter thirteen: “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for [the Lord] has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; [for] what can man do to me?’” (Hebrews 13:5-6).

The will of God is clear.

He desires your salvation.

The forgiveness of your sins.

And your life everlasting.

And He has accomplished it in the shed blood of Jesus Christ.

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).

To pray—to ask in Jesus’ name—is nothing more than to trust Jesus—to trust His Word and His Work.

To trust—and know that His blood overcomes sin, death, and satan.

To trust—and know that trust is reckoned to you as righteousness.

“Take heart,” [Jesus says], I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

He says all this that, in Him, you would have peace.

Grace to you all—and peace—from God our Father and the Lord, Jesus Christ.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Rogate (Easter 6) Sermon, 2021
John 16:23-30 (31-33)
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

Saint Matthew Lutheran Church—Ernestville, Missouri

Jesus says, “You will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy” (John 16:20).

What does this mean?

You will weep and lament.

You will be sorrowful.

And the world—not you but the world—will rejoice.

But that is just a little while.

Jesus adds: your sorrow will turn into joy.

The “little while” that’s mentioned is both comfort and warning.

Today’s Gospel lesson anticipates the certain, Christian joy of the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting, but there’s something else here that we need to talk about.

So it’s not just, What does this mean?

But also, Why does it mean that? Or, What else does this mean?

I’ll give you two other examples.

You hear Matthew chapter eighteen quoted a lot. That’s where Jesus says, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matthew 18:20).

If I ask ”What does this mean?” someone will answer that if no one else shows up to church but you and the pastor—you still get Jesus.

And you’re right.

Jesus isn’t a revivalist preacher, a televangelist, or the pastor of some megachurch—which is to say, Jesus still shows up even if more than two or three don’t.

But if I ask “What else does this mean?” what would you say?

In truth, Matthew 18 isn’t even about God’s presence when church attendance is low.

Jesus says, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault. If he listens to you, you’ve gained your brother. But if he doesn’t listen, take one or two others with you, that the charge may be established by two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. If two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (cf. Matthew 18:15-20).

The real context of Jesus’ words there is forgiveness and judgment—how Christians are to deal with sin and each other.

If a Christian, with and by means of the Word of God, calls you to repentance, listen to him.

But if you don’t care…

If those given the care of your soul, through God’s Word, call you to repentance, listen to them.

But if you don’t heed that warning…

If the congregation practices what is historically called “church discipline,” following what Jesus says, of course, turn from your ways and live.

That judgment is as valid as though God Himself has said it—and, speaking through the congregation, He has.

That’s the context of Matthew chapter eighteen, and so we have how we use that verse, and we have the proper context of the verse.

The same words are both comfort and warning.

What it means to us—and what else it means.

I’ll give you another example of this, again, using words with which we’re all familiar.

Job writes, “Oh that my words were written! Oh that they were inscribed in a book! Oh that with an iron pen and lead they were engraved in the rock forever! For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another” (Job 19:23-27).

What does this mean?

Of course Job is confessing his faith in the Redeemer. Of course this is a marvelous confession of the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.

Of course it is.

But what else does this mean?

What does Job say next?

What is the conclusion of everything Job is saying?

No one knows.

Now, you know I’ve studied the book of Job.

I can’t seem to stop talking about it.

But before I studied it, like everyone else, I knew the famous words from chapter nineteen, but I didn’t know the final words from chapter nineteen.

Job adds: “If you say, ‘How we will pursue him!’and, ‘The root of the matter is found in him,’ be afraid of the sword,for wrath brings the punishment of the sword, that you may know there is a judgment” (Job 19:28-29).

Job makes what may be the single most wonderful confession of the resurrection of the body contained in Scripture—but he makes it in the context of warning his friends regarding the coming judgment.

We commonly use those verses at funerals and at Easter.

But Job, himself, uses those verses to confess faith in his Redeemer, certainty regarding the resurrection of the body, and as a call to repentance for his friends who are far from faithful.

The same words are both comfort and warning.

And so there is some urgency here.

From Matthew, from Job, and from Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel lesson, there is some urgency regarding the coming judgment.

There is comfort—and there is warning.

Jesus says, “You will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy” (John 16:20).

As the disciples did when the Lord was crucified, you will weep and lament. You’ll have your share of fear and of foreboding because of what is coming on the world.

You’ll live as exiles, strangers in a strange land.

Hated and misunderstood by those who hate or misunderstand Jesus.

You’ll weep, and you’ll be flummoxed and confounded by the world’s rejoicing. So many appear to do so much and all so much more easily than you.

That’s the warning.

But—you have a Savior, Jesus Christ the Lord.

And so—your sorrow will turn into joy.

That’s the comfort.

Our Lord and Christ bore the sins of our fallen race, heel bruised, in order to beat down satan under even our feet, that we, and all believers in Christ, would be called conquerors.

That’s the great reversal.

And—said elsewhere and throughout Scripture but unspoken in today’s Gospel lesson is the second, implied reversal.

Jesus says, “You will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy” (John 16:20).

And then—what of the world?

Where two or three are gathered, or two or three thousand, if they’re not gathered in Jesus’ name, purely teaching the Gospel and rightly administering the Sacraments, that’s not the Church.

That’s the warning.

With some urgency, then, we should aim to get the message right before we get the message out.

To remove the beam from our own eyes before we help our brother with the speck in his.

“When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she’s delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world” (John 16:21).

So how do you want to say this?

There is but a little while to wait, and that is both warning and comfort.

We all have much to endure, but—

“At the last [your Redeemer] will stand upon the earth. And after [your] skin has been thus destroyed, yet in [your] flesh [shall you] see God” (cf. Job 19:25-26).

If that’s more than poetry…If that’s more than what’s engraved on the rock outside…If that’s more than man’s word alone…

If you love the Lord your God—and your neighbor as yourself…

If God is with you…

And there is a coming judgment…

Then you need to care about what’s meet, right, and salutary…

You need to care about godly things, not worldly things.

Turn off the tv.

Stop fornicating.

You may weep and lament.

And the world may laugh at you.

But your sorrow will turn into joy.

Jesus says, “You have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (John 16:22).

That’s the comfort.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Jubilate (Easter 4) Sermon, 2021
John 16:16-22
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

Maybe he did—and maybe he didn’t—but it’s not necessary for us to say that Thomas actually placed his hand in Jesus’ side.

Thomas said to the disciples, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe” (John 20:25). That’s what he said.

So—Jesus said to Thomas, “‘Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.’

[And] Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’” (John 20:27-28).

The 1983 Thomas Troeger hymn “These Things Did Thomas Count As Real” sings it this way:

“His reasoned certainties denied / That one could live when one had died, / Until his fingers read like Braille / The marking of the spear and nail” (LSB 472:3).

Well before that, though, we have the Baroque painting by Caravaggio, dated 1601 or 1602, entitled “The Incredulity of Saint Thomas.”

That’s the one where Thomas is looking at him whom they had pierced, and his finger is just touching the wound from the spear.

But even before that, Incredulous Thomas—or, Doubting Thomas, as we know it today—had been a theme common in Christian artwork since at least the 5th century.

Scripture doesn’t plainly say that Thomas put his hand into Jesus’ side—but—basically—everyone has always thought so.

This is one of those things that’s fun to talk about but doesn’t actually matter—no one’s gonna get punched in the face for believing that Thomas did or didn’t put his hand in Jesus’ side.

But—there are plenty of things going on around this, in today’s Gospel lesson, that do actually matter.

For conversation’s sake, let’s imagine both that Thomas did and did not put his hand into Jesus’ side.

First the DID NOT.

The exhortation to believe the Gospel is not giving you a work to do.

“Do not disbelieve, but believe” does not give Thomas a To-Do List. Just like you—Thomas cannot by his own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ His Lord.

Or, think of it this way, making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for your starving, famished children, setting it before them, and calmly saying “Eat!” is not giving them a task to accomplish if he likes peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

The imperative is an invitation aimed at everyone, and it’s true and good whether anyone believes it or not.

Thomas didn’t have to put his hand into Jesus’ side because Jesus, the Word of God, spoke faith into existence.

First, Jesus said, “Put out your hand and place it in my side.” But had He first said “Do not disbelieve, but believe,” Thomas would’ve interrupted Him, exclaiming, “My Lord and my God!”

Jesus had taught Thomas and the other disciples what to believe. So when Jesus said, “Do not disbelieve, but believe,” it’s as if He’s speaking to us today:

“Remember the Word taught to you in your youth. Remember all that our Father in heaven has promised and accomplished. But don’t just remember it as facts to be regurgitated.

“Believe His Word. Trust it. Inwardly digest it.

“Do not disbelieve, but believe.” 

That’s how we preach the Gospel today.

We don’t lay the Gospel promises before you and ask you to do something to get them. I’ve used this example before—that’s like taking a Bible, throwing it on the table, and saying, “Go for it.”

We don’t do that.

When we preach the Word of God, we preach Jesus into the very heart of a person. Using a similar image, that’s like taking a Bible and pressing it straight into the heart of a person, saying, “Believe the Word.”

When we preach Law and Gospel, we preach the Law in its full sternness:

“God has made Him both Lord and Christ this Jesus whom you crucified” (cf. Acts 2:36).

The spit from your gossip lashed the Lord of Glory.

God has made Him both Lord and Christ this Jesus whom you betray with your discontented hearts.

That’s the Law in its full sternness.

And as sternly as the Law is preached—as sweetly is the Gospel:

“All are justified by God’s grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus…[which is] to be received by faith” (cf. Romans 3:23ff).

Of course—Thomas knows about sin.

He knows about grace.

He knows that salvation is not by works lest any man boast (cf. Ephesians 2).

He’s heard the most stern Law in Jesus’ own preaching. Thomas heard the sermon on the mount: love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, be merciful (cf. Luke 6).

All those things that are impossible for us—that shame us because we should do but don’t—Thomas heard them first.

And Jesus says, “Do not disbelieve…” 

He names Thomas’s sin, to his face.

“Be not faithless.”

That’s what Jesus says.

The Law has done its work, so Thomas hears the exhortation to remember and believe the Gospel like a hungry, peanut butter and jelly loving kid who hears the invitation to eat.

Which is to say, of course, that he heard it with absolute joy!

Thomas goes to the feast—forgetting to put His hand in Jesus’ side.

Because he doesn’t need to.

He heard and remembered—and believed—the Law.

And he heard and remembered—and believed—the Gospel.

Thomas rejoiced, saying, “My Lord and my God!”

That’s if he DID NOT put his hand in Jesus’ side.

But what if he DID?

It is the case that the disciples are often wrong.

But we don’t call St. Peter “Denying Peter.”

Everyone calls St. Thomas “Doubting Thomas.”

As though Thomas were the only Christian to harbor doubts.

He did doubt.

We know that.

The 1983 Thomas Troeger hymn “These Things Did Thomas Count As Real” sings it this way:

“The vision of his skeptic mind / Was keen enough to make him blind / To any unexpected act / Too large for his small world of fact” (LSB 472:2).

If we’re honest, we have to say that it takes a faithful amount of ridiculousness to believe what the Bible teaches.

Miracles contradict nature, evidence, and experience.

You don’t believe because you’ve seen—you believe because you’ve heard, and blessed are you, Jesus says.

That one could live when one had died seemed like an impossibility because it is an impossibility.

Dead is dead. No one gets up from that.

Or do they, right?

We struggle with that every now and then, I think.

I remember sitting with my mom and dad the evening that my brother had died.

My mom got the phone call informing her that her son had been embalmed.

There are several different times when the realization of death hits you, and that’s one of them.

She hung up the phone and confessed to me and my dad that she now knew that Andy wasn’t going to just wake up. That he wasn’t coming back.

Until that moment, it all could’ve been a terrible misunderstanding.

They were waiting for him to walk through the door.

But then—that moment.

The only answer to death, the only true comfort in the midst of death—the Christian’s sure and certain hope—is the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

My mom didn’t ask this question with these words, but we’ve all been there.

We’ve doubted.

We’ve wondered.

Can the impossible things in the Bible be true?

And even if they are true, what about my sins and failures and doubts, everything I’ve committed since?

Once again, the question of DID Thomas or DID he NOT can help us.

What if he DID?

Well, that would mean, after the spear, three things came out of Jesus’ side:

Water. Blood. And Thomas’s hand.

That shows us all—what God gives—and to whom.

To those who doubt—for the Doubting and Denying amongst us—the water from our Lord’s side has sanctified all the waters of earth—so that when included in God’s command and combined with God’s Word we are washed clean—not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an everlasting appeal to God for a good conscience (cf. 1 Peter 3).

To those who doubt—for all of us—the blood from Jesus’ side, with His flesh, is the medicine of our immortality.

We eat not because our bellies ache but because our souls do.

We’ve heard the Law in its sternness, and we’ve all drawn the same conclusion: “Who shall deliver me from this body of death?…”

But we’ve also heard the Gospel.

And so we have the answer.

“…Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24-25).

He’s given us these means to receive His grace so that whether Thomas DID or DID NOT put his hand in Jesus’ side—it doesn’t matter—we have what we need:

The Word of God proclaimed.

Law and Gospel.

The Means of Grace.

The exhortation to hear and remember and believe and trust the Gospel.

In a manner of speaking, we have our peanut butter and jelly sandwich—and—with joy—we get to eat it, too!

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Easter 2 (Quasimodo Geniti), 2021
John 20:19-31
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

“Oh that my words were written! Oh that they were inscribed in a book! Oh that with an iron pen and lead they were engraved in the rock forever! For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another” (Job 19:23-27).

Job’s words are written.

They are inscribed in a book.

And when you consider that some epitaphs include the words of Job that follow—his words are even inscribed with an iron pen and lead.

But what does it mean to have a Redeemer?

And of what significance is it that He lives?

What does it mean that your skin will be thus destroyed?

And how, after that, will you see God face to face?

These are good questions, and they all have their answer in the resurrection of our Lord.

First, consider the alternatives.

If there were no Redeemer.

That would be like a child with a broken spirit, who’s  learned after much neglect, not to expect good from Mom or Dad.

The hopelessness.

The loneliness.

The seeming insignificance.

It can be no surprise to us—the correlation and causation of godlessness and hedonism.

Or godlessness and all things anti-life.

If there is no redeemer, what is there to redeem?

And so life becomes meaningless—worth only what we say it’s worth, be it a bank balance or whatever other legacy is left.

But if there is a Redeemer, there’s value in your life and being—inherently, a priori. Maybe not in numbers we can measure, but we can measure it—in the love and sacrifice, the lengths to which the Redeemer goes to buy us back and win us away from whatever it is He redeems us.

And look at the purchase price—the holy body and precious blood of the Son of God.

There is nothing worth more—and He gave it all, even His own life—to redeem you. 

That’s what it is to have a Redeemer.

You are never without hope. Never alone in life. And never insignificant, because—

The Lord is your hope—that never fails.

The Lord is with you—until the end and then some.

He gives you and all life significance—in that He first became what He later redeemed.

But He died.

Job didn’t know that his Redeemer must die. He knew only that his Redeemer lives.

But if we are to be redeemed from sin, death, and satan, our Redeemer must die—that’s the purchase price.

But our Redeemer must also live—that’s our future.

To have a Redeemer gives us hope.

To have a Redeemer who died gives us confidence—that nothing is lacking or wanting or unfinished.

But to have a Redeemer who lives gives us life now and forever—for whatever might come our way, it cannot separate us from that love of God and the life to come.

This is what it is to have a Redeemer who lives.

But Job says that his skin will be thus destroyed.

In this moment, he knows that at some point he will die.

We all come to terms with that.

More and more as the days go on—we see, in our flesh, the evidence of our mortality—or we’re reminded of it in what we see in the world.

Our flesh will one day be destroyed.

Where then is our hope?

Where then is our Redeemer and redemption?

David writes in the psalm: “My heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure. For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption” (Psalm 16:9-10).

Both amidst sheep and men, David was familiar with death. Like Job, he knew the inevitability of it.

But his heart was glad, and his whole being rejoiced.

Contrary to what may seem logical—his flesh dwelt secure.

Though he would go the way of all flesh, he would not be abandoned to death and hell.

For the Holy One will not see corruption.

Our Redeemer—who died—His flesh will not be corrupted.

Such is the life of God—that death can’t touch it.

Such is the life of Jesus—that death and grave can’t stomach it.

As Jonah was vomited out of the fish and onto dry ground—that’s the word for it—so Jesus was vomited out of death, for the victory remains with life.

Though everyone of us will go with way of all flesh, our skin will be thus destroyed, yet in our flesh we will see God.

He did not abandon His Holy One to corruption.

Neither will he abandon us to death and hell—but raise us on the Last Day that we would behold Him and not another.

This is what it means to have a Redeemer.

What it means to have a Redeemer who lives.

This is what it means that our skin will be thus destroyed.

But this is what it means that we will see God face to face.

The words are written!

Inscribed in a book!

With an iron pen and lead they are engraved in the rock forever!

It is as though we write the epitaph ourselves: “I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.”

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Easter Day, 2021
Job 19:23-27; Mark 16:1-8
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

“Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb” (John 20:1).

It’s an important detail—it should be recalled every year—that the stone had been taken away—not because Jesus needed it rolled away—but we did.

As death no longer has dominion over Jesus, just so, neither do doors.

He no longer hides his divinity—as He did in His humiliation, all the times when He did not fully use His divine power.

So—He doesn’t need to use a door to be where He wants to be.

“On the evening of that [Easter] 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).

A stone across the tomb can’t hold Him in.

And a closed and locked door can’t keep Him out.

Just so—salvation doesn’t rely on the dead thing to choose Jesus.

It can’t. That door is dead and locked.

But here is the Lord of Life who stands among the disciples in spite of their fear—and to remove it.

And here is the Lord of Life who causes His Word to be preached among us—in spite of our sin and to remove it.

Neither the dead heart, the locked door, nor the rolled stone can bar His entry.

And so the stone that has been rolled away is not for Him but for us.

As proof. To us.

Proof of death’s destruction—for what else stood in His way?

Proof of the forgiveness of sins—for how else could He be raised than if there were no sin in Him?

Proof that when Jesus calls bread and wine His Body and Blood, He means it—for if He needs no doors, He certainly knows more than one way of being present at a time. He can be in Heaven and on Earth, and in bread and wine. He can descend into Hell and preach to the souls in prison. And He can be here, with us, now, for our good, according to His Word and divine power.

And the stone is rolled away as proof to us of the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting—for what else does it mean for those who are united to His death and resurrection than that they will be raised—and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness?

This is most certainly true.

Death no longer has dominion over Him.

Death—our enemy—is our enemy defeated.

There is no more terrible, unnatural, and agonizing thing than death—but the stone is rolled away so that we’ll see—that death is only temporary.

“For in [Christ Jesus] the whole fulness of [God] dwells bodily” (Colossians 2:9).

That’s how and why we have this moment with Jesus and Mary who “stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him’” (John 20:11-13).

For she did not yet know that death had been defeated.

“Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary’” (John 20:14-16).

And she saw—and believed—and rejoiced not only that He was there—but what it meant that He was there.

This isn’t like when you’ve lost your keys and rejoice to find them.

Everyone of us has lost something and not really worried about it because we basically knew where it was, that it would turn up.

This isn’t that.

“As yet [Mary and the others] did not understand the Scripture, that [Jesus] must rise from the dead” (John 20:9).

Mary expected a dead body.

Mark says it this way: “When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him” (Mark 16:1).

He means—they intended to anoint his dead body as they would’ve done before His burial, had it not been rushed and on a high feast day.

For Mary, the stone is rolled away to break her expectations regarding death. So that she would see and wonder and ask and hear that what she was not expecting is true—Jesus lives.

And for us, the stone is rolled away to show us another of God’s great reversals:

As the stone and Christ that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone, so the stone the builders chose, to roll in front of death and tomb, God has rejected—so that we will see that death is our enemy destroyed.

And hell is emptied of its power.

That sins are forgiven—the sacrifice is applied to you, credited to your account.

That God is with us now—for our good—that we would taste and see that the Lord is good.

And that all those in Christ can hope with certainty and wait with faith that will not be put to shame for the resurrection of the body—reunion with Christ and all the faithful—and life everlasting.

Jesus didn’t need the stone rolled away.

We did.

So God moved it.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Easter Dawn Sermon, 2021
John 20:1-18
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

Are there any devout lovers of God?

Let them enjoy this beautiful and bright festival!

Are there any grateful servants?

Let them rejoice and enter into the joy of their Lord and Savior!

Are there any weary with fasting?

Receive your wages!

Have any toiled from the first hour?

Receive the reward that’s due.

Did any come after the third hour?

With gratitude, join in the Feast!

Did you arrive after the sixth hour?

Do not doubt. You shall sustain no loss.

Are there any who delayed until the ninth hour?

Do not hesitate. The Lord welcomes you.

And if you arrived at the eleventh hour, have no fear.

The Lord is gracious and receives the last even as He receives the first.

He gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour and rest to him that toiled from the first.

Let us all enter into the joy of the Lord!

First and last alike, receive your reward.

Rich and poor alike, rejoice together!

Sober and slothful, today is the day to celebrate!

You who have kept the fast, and you who have not, rejoice today—for the Table is richly laden!

Feast royally on it, for the calf was a fat one.

Let no one go away hungry.

Partake, all, of the cup of faith, which runneth over.

Enjoy the riches of God’s goodness!

Let no one grieve at his poverty, for the Kingdom of God has been revealed.

Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again; for forgiveness has risen from the grave.

Let no one fear Death, for the death of our Savior has set us free.

He destroyed it by enduring it.

He destroyed Hell when He descended into it.

He put it into an uproar when it tasted of His flesh.

Isaiah foretold this when he said,

“Sheol beneath is stirred up to meet you when you come” (cf. Isaiah 14:9).

Hell was in an uproar because it was done away with.

It was in an uproar because it was mocked.

It was in an uproar, because it was destroyed.

It is in an uproar, because it is now made captive.

Hell took a body and discovered God.

It took earth and encountered Heaven.

It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see.

O death, where is thy sting? O Hell, thy victory?

Christ is Risen, and you, O death, are defeated!

Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down!

Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice!

Christ is Risen, and life is liberated!

Christ is Risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead; for Christ having risen from the dead, is become the first-fruits of them that sleep (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:20).

To Him be Glory and Power forever and ever.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

The Vigil of Easter, 2021
The Paschal Homily of St. John Chrysostom
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

“So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, ‘Behold the man!’ When the chief priests and the officers saw him, they cried out, ‘Crucify him, crucify him!’ Pilate said to them, ‘Take him yourselves and crucify him, for I find no guilt in him.’ The Jews answered him, ‘We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has made himself the Son of God.’ When Pilate heard this statement, he was even more afraid. He entered his headquarters again and said to Jesus, ‘Where are you from?’ But Jesus gave him no answer. So Pilate said to him, ‘You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to to release you and authority to crucify you?’ Jesus answered him, ‘You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin’” (John 19:5-11).

All sin is the same in that the wages of sin is death (cf. Romans 6:23).

And James writes, “Whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it” (James 2:10).

So all sin is the same.

And—every sin is different in that there are different consequences on earth.

Moses writes, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image” (Genesis 9:6).

But your blood shall not be shed if you bootleg an album, or download music illegally, or break copyright so a congregation can sing a hymn.

Some publishing houses may disagree with me on that, but the point is, we know both that all sins are the same and that every sin is different.

That’s a paradox.

It sounds contradictory, but you know it to be true.

Well—tonight, let’s add this to our understanding:

“Jesus answered [Pilate], ‘You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin’” (John 19:11).

We know that Judas sinned—that’s the “he who delivered me over to you.”

And perhaps that also includes the band of soldiers and their captain and the officers of the Jews and Annas and Caiaphas (cf. John 18).

They are the ones who delivered Jesus over to Pilate.

But that they have the greater sin does not mean that Pilate is without sin.

Jesus calls it less, but He doesn’t call it better.

While these sins are different—they are yet the same in that they earn the same wage before God.

Talking about sin like this can be confusing, so it’s helpful for us to realize that there is nothing that we do that isn’t soiled, stained, or tainted with sin.

Ask the question: “Am I sinning when I ________?”

Whatever you put in the blank, the answer is Yes.

Even if you realize the question for what it is and ask “Am I sinning when I am not sinning?” Even then, the answer is Yes.

Are you a child of Adam after the Fall?

Sin is not just what you do—it is what you are.

We confess that we are—by nature—sinful and unclean. God did not create us sinful, but our nature after the Fall is sinful—corrupted by sin.

Even at our best—we could be better.

If we’re honest, we recognize this even in practical things.

Our good works are like filthy rags, Isaiah writes (cf. Isaiah 64:6).

Even at our best—we could do better.

This is the war in our members—the daily struggle of the Christian between the Old Adam who enjoys making those critical comments behind backs—and the New Man who guards his tongue so that praise and pernicious speech are never mixed.

Understanding sin this way—that there is no escape—is the inevitable conclusion of all Law/Gospel preaching.

But I don’t want you to be uninformed.

Some pastors don’t preach against sin—your sin.

They’ll preach against the disciples.

And they’ll preach against the world.

But they won’t preach against you.

But I’m not called to preach to the disciples.

Nor am I called to teach the world.

Rather—my call is here, to serve you.

If your doctor fails to diagnose your disease, or if he succeeds only in diagnosing someone else’s, then he’s failed you.

If the pharmacist who prepares your medicine prepares it for someone else, he has failed you.

I’m not interested in identifying greater sins and lesser ones—talking about sin like that can be confusing.

But I am interested in talking about sins that lead to eternal death and sins that don’t.

That is—I’m interested in calling sinners to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ—and rejoicing in forgiveness, life, and salvation.

Who shall save us from this body of death?

It’s certainly not me.

But it certainly is a body of death.

So thanks be to God for our Lord, Jesus Christ.

On Good Friday we do well to remember that there is no one good but God—and He reconciles the world to Himself in the death of His dear Son.

From the greatest to the least, all sin is paid for in the shed blood of Jesus, and you can rest and know for sure that all sin includes your sin, from the greatest to the least.

Behold—the Lamb of God has taken away the sin of the world (cf. John 1:29).

All of it—the committed act and the condition.

Paid for in the shed blood of Jesus Christ.

Do you know what that means?

It means we have an advocate with the Father.

It means we do not fear the wrath of God.

It means God stands between us and the danger—not that we will never face danger, but that we will never face it alone.

It means we don’t have to wonder at forgiveness.

I met a man once who was taught that if he sinned in the car ride home from church he would go to hell.

He was told, “If you can’t keep it together for longer than that, you must not have believed in the first place.”

He was told, “If you don’t ask for forgiveness, you cannot be saved” which sounds right—but what was meant was, “If you sin twenty times, you need to ask forgiveness twenty times.”

But “Who can discern his errors?” (Psalm 19:12).

And “If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared” (Psalm 130:3-4).

The whole life of a Christian is one of repentance.

If there are sins that weigh on your heart and mind, confess them. Not as a task to accomplish your own salvation, but to fulfill God’s will—that the disease be diagnosed, the cure found, and the medicine applied.

The disease is sin.

The cure is the suffering, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ—that put the world to right and redeemed you from death and hell.

And the medicine is this—that you hear and believe the love of God, the Gospel.

Your sins are forgiven—by a loving God—who loves you to the end.

Let us pray:

“What Thou, my Lord, hast suffered / Was all for sinners’ gain; / Mine, mine was the transgression, / But Thine the deadly pain. / Lo, here I fall, my Savior! / ’Tis I deserve Thy place; / Look on me with Thy favor, / And grant to my Thy grace” (LSB 450:3).

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Good Friday Sermon, 2021
John 19:5-11
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

Why—in the Service of the Sacrament—are the bread and wine the Body and Blood of Jesus?

What is it that makes them so?

While you think about that, I’ll say this:

Sacerdotalism is a belief emphasizing the role and powers of priests or pastors as essential mediators between God and man.

This manifests in different ways, usually in the form of an abuse of some kind.

If the pastor charges you for the privilege of the sacraments—that’s an obvious abuse—but historically, Christians have paid the price in fear that the priest, who stands in the stead of Christ, might condemn them.

That’s obviously wrong, and none of you will ever be duped into thinking that, right?


In some places, the pastor was treated like a little lord and given the German title Herr, which does mean Mister but is also the word for Lord as in Herr Gott, Lord God.

We’re not that far removed from this, if it’s even gone away. Talk to a nurse who worked at a Roman Catholic hospital. She’ll tell you how the priests were never wrong—how they went wherever and did whatever they wanted to—and you didn’t want to get in the way of God.

Your mileage may vary, but that’s what I’ve heard.

Another example, just to make the point, is to ask this question: If you sin, must you get forgiveness from the pastor?

And a good answer is: “No. Not must.”

Can—certainly. And perhaps we can hypothesize a “should.” But never must, right?

So—what’s the difference? Or—is there a difference?

If there is a difference, is that difference found in the ordination of the man? The laying on of hands?

Something else?

And, of course, if there isn’t a difference, why do we have pastors?

In the history of the Church, the sacerdotalists have insisting not only that there is a difference between the forgiveness from your pastor and the forgiveness from anyone else—but that unless you confess your sins to the pastor and receive absolution from him—you can’t be sure of your own salvation.

You know that’s not true, so you might think that you’ve been able to dodge the sacerdotal tendency to think more of your pastor than you should, but let me ask you again:

Why—in the Service of the Sacrament—are the bread and wine the Body and Blood of Jesus?

What is it that makes them so?

It’s not because the pastor consecrates them.

It’s not because the pastor says the words.

From the Formula of Concord—what Lutheran pastors believe, teach, and confess: “About the consecration, we believe, teach, and confess that no work of man or recitation of the minister produces this presence of Christ’s body and blood in the Holy Supper. Instead, this presence is to be credited only and alone to the almighty power of our Lord Jesus Christ.

“At the same time we also believe, teach, and confess unanimously that in the use of the Holy Supper the words of Christ’s institution should in no way be left out. Instead, they should be publicly recited, as it is written in 1 Corinthians 10:16, ‘The cup of blessing that we bless’ and so forth. This blessing occurs through the reciting of Christ’s words” (Epitome, VII.8-9).

So—why, in the Service of the Sacrament, are the bread and wine the Body and Blood of Jesus?

What is it that makes them so?

And the answer—for the sacerdotalist—is the priest or pastor and the recitation of the Words of Institution.

But for us Bible-believing Christians, “it is credited only and alone to the almighty power of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Now—that’s all well and good, but let me tell you why we’re talking about this.

One good reason is so that pastors don’t think themselves irreplaceable or even necessary to the goings on of the church.

I should not overestimate my own importance.

And—one other good reason to talk about this is—some of you got it wrong.

You attributed to me the power to turn bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus.

I’m flattered.

Thank you very much.

But that power belongs only and alone to the almighty power of our Lord Jesus Christ—as we Lutherans have always believed, taught, and confessed.

The real question at the heart of the matter is why do we have pastors?

And that is—so you would have confidence.

So you would have certainty concerning your own salvation.

You can’t forgive yourself.

Your confidence in your own salvation should never—can never rest in your self.

So—God has placed a man here, your pastor, to pronounce forgiveness in order to fulfill God’s will.

There may be a day—or several—when your own sins weight you down.

In that moment—you need to be sure of God’s will for you and your life.

You need to be sure that you possess faith that leads to salvation.

Faith that God counts as righteousness in His sight.

And—“So that we may obtain this faith, the ministry of teaching the gospel and administering the sacraments was instituted” (cf. AC V).

For your certainty, for your comfort, God has given you a pastor so that you may know the certain will of God—to save sinners, even if you are the foremost.

So, tonight, rejoice—not in the non-existent “indelible character” of your pastor—but in the power of God and the mercy of God—to save.

“For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

“Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world” (1 Corinthians 11:23-32).

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Maundy Thursday, 2021
John 13:1-15, 34-35
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:31-32).

It is certainly the case that had Jesus not prayed for Peter, the temptations by which Peter denied Jesus would have overcome him completely.

Of Jesus, the chosen servant of the Lord, this is what it means when the prophet Isaiah writes that “a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench” (Isaiah 42:3).

Or—as Jesus says in the gospel according to St. John, “While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled” (John 17:12).

And with that, you might think to ask about Judas.

Why did Jesus not pray for Judas as He did Peter?

It’s not comforting, but it’s true—Judas belonged to Satan.

It’s not that Jesus lost him—it’s that Judas rejected God.

Or—to say it another way—Judas feared the people. He did not fear God.

So where does that put you?

And what I mean is—would you want Jesus to pray for you as He did Peter?

Would you want Him to say, “Behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail.”

I think we would all want that—until, at least, we remember what happened to St. Peter, who was crucified upside down.

His faith didn’t fail—we all want that.

But he was crucified upside down because of his faith—and we’d rather not.

It’s true that we ought to be prepared to suffer for the sake of the gospel, but that doesn’t mean we look for suffering.

As you bear not the cross you choose but the cross God gives you, just so, you do not choose martyrdom.

The cross chooses the Christian, I guess, if you want to say it like that.

My point is, we actually should pray as Jesus does.

For others—that they may bear their crosses such that their faith does not fail.

And—we need to realize that that means we sometimes pray against our own body, mind, and strength.

Imagine if you prayed for your parents or your in-laws the way Jesus prayed for Peter.

“Behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail.”

That’s not a troublesome prayer when your parents are healthy and far away.

That’s not a troublesome prayer when your in-laws are choosing things you like.

But what if you prayed for their faith not to fail—and they must confess the faith against your idols?

Let’s not naively think that we are always right and others are always wrong.

We should pray for them—as Jesus did—that their faith would not fail.

And—when we do, we’re praying—perhaps—against our own idols, against our own desires, and against our own body.

And—if that’s the case—that’s good.

Praying for something is always also praying against something else.

Praying for God to destroy evil is also praying against yourself—when you sin in thought, word, or deed.

From the Small Catechism: The good and gracious will of God is done “When God 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.”

So when you pray for your parents—that their faith may not fail, remember, when they ask you to go to Sunday School with them, that you asked God for this.

And again, imagine if you prayed for your spouse the way Jesus prayed for Peter.

“Behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail.”

That’s not a troublesome prayer when your spouse lets you choose what to watch on tv, what’s for dinner, or which and how many chores you’ll do.

But praying for the faith of your spouse is also praying against your own body—against your own wants.

What one needs, the other may not, and that’s a two-way street.

When you pray for the faith of your spouse, you might be praying, against yourself, that he would have the patience required to win an argument.

You might be praying that she would have the strength to tell you what you need to hear—not what you want.

Praying for something is always also praying against something else.

When you pray for your friends—that God would guard them in all their endeavors, keep them steadfast in the midst of danger, and comfort them when assaulted by the devil and the world—you are also, at least potentially, praying against yourself—when you sin in thought, word, or deed against those for whom you pray.

This is good to keep in mind.

Because you are to pray for good things.

You are to pray for your friends—your family—your husband, wife, and children.

But don’t be naive.

If you pray for your pastor to be unfaithful—who has entered into you and to whom do you belong?

And why should anyone listen to you?

And if you pray for your pastor to be faithful—realize what that means.

He may preach against your false gods.

And he will.

That might hurt. It might not be nice. But it’s good.

He may chant and sing against what’s popular.

And if he sings Lutheran hymns—he will.

That might hurt. You might not like it. But it’s good.

He may tap dance on the ashes of your idols.

Like Moses, he may grind them up, scatter them on the water, gather everyone around for a drink, and wait for them to be expelled.

It’s not a troublesome prayer when your pastor does exactly what everyone else has always done forever.

But that’s not what you’re praying for when you pray for your pastor’s faith not to fail.

For that matter, when your pastor prays for you, that your faith may not fail, he knows that comes with the cross and burden of questions.

Ask them. Test the spirits. Test the fruit.

And rejoice together in the God who has called all to repentance and had mercy on all—in the passion of our Lord Jesus Christ.


Jesus prayed for Peter: “Behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:31-32).

It is certainly the case that had Jesus not prayed for Peter, the temptations by which Peter denied Jesus would have overcome him completely.

But Jesus added this: “And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:32).

Fear God—not the people.

Confess your sin, and God, who is faithful and just, will forgive you your sin and cleanse you from all unrighteousness (cf. 1 John 1:8-9).

Let us pray:

“Behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

The Wednesday of Holy Week, 2021
Luke 22-23
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt