Jesus speaks to us today, saying,
“‘Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?’”
Jesus clarifies what it means to fall when He talks about those who are dead. As He says of all the fathers’ sons and daughters He has raised, “He is not dead, but has fallen asleep”.
Indeed, this is what happens to a son or an ox that falls into a well. Jesus says in Exodus 21, that if this happens to one of your wells you dug, you must pay for the dead beast (21:33), implying that the survival rate of the fall is zero.
You must ask, then, what kind of well is being dug that Jesus says you can survive? Or even, what kind of well do you fall in and die? While we probably won’t be able to answer those with great clarity, in this sermon, it will be advantageous to note two famous, Old Testament wells.
The first well is Joseph’s. You remember, the well his brothers threw him into and then pretended he died? A second well worthy of remembrance is Daniel and the lion’s pit. He also was thrown in and the hope of his enemies was that he get eaten.
So, on the surface, it would be nice if our sons and oxen survived the fall, but dig another layer down into what Jesus is saying and we come at a much more serious picture of where Jesus is going in this conversation.
If your son falls into a well and survives, well then you just get Batman learning a life lesson as his father comes to retrieve him. Likewise, if the Sabbath is simply about not doing work or avoiding certain kids of work, then the lesson is over and we can turn to any other number of teachers and philosophers who have similar pithy sayings in their repertoire.
But, this is life and death. You fall into a well, you die. If, by some miracle, you don’t die, you can’t get out. Even if someone were to be passing by, he would have to jump in the well and boost you out. Then who would save him?
Likewise, when you fall into your seat at the Wedding feast make sure you fall in the lowest place possible, for if you are already as exalted as you can be, He Who invited you will have nothing to do with you except to cast you out.
Repent! Maybe if you know who’s ox it is, you will get it out of the well. Maybe if there is a camera watching you, you will help. Maybe if it is following God’s commands and you can show others, you will dare to lift a finger. However, if you think you are doing God’s will, you are more likely to boost your own ego, than to help your neighbor.
The best you can hope to do, in your sin, is fall in and die alongside your neighbor. You do not have a greater understanding than anyone else about good works and faith. You are not transcendent and you certainly have no greater grasp over the Word. In fact, it is not you who is out of the well, able and ready to help, but it is you who is in it.
Benjamin has given you the opportunity to once again remind yourself how and in what way all of this is accomplished. Since a death is required, Benjamin was caused to fall into the well of baptism, in which he has no hope of getting out before he is drowned. The father allows his son to fall into a well.
And this is what Jesus reveals to us: you must fall. You must fall into the very last place, the place of death, in order that the Lord of Life would find you. Jesus does not go to those who “get it”, those who “have it”, nor does He go to those who “know better”. Jesus has come for dead, fallen, sinners.
Our heavenly Father watches and even encourages His only-begotten Son to fall. He commands that Jesus be born of a virgin, falling from heaven like lightning, so to speak, in order to suffer and die in the pit of despair and death. Upon the cross, we see what taking the lowest place really means: death.
Our heavenly Father pushes His Son into the Pit for you. Jesus falls and is not rescued from death, for you and your good works. Jesus takes the lowest seat in the pit, raises you from that place, in Baptism, and exalts you in His Place.
Dear Christians: you are not hearing a treaty on good works or even holy works. You are not hearing about yourself at all. You are hearing of Jesus dying, rising to new life, and pulling your dead, sinful self out of the pit.
You must fall into the pit. Jesus commands it in order that He, not your self-righteous transcendence, would give you His Life.
Benjamin, my son. I have failed you. I have brought you into a world of hate and death. A very difficult future exists for you here with little hope of comfort and peace, in this life. I have pushed you into the pit.
But Jesus draws you out. In baptism, Christ has lifted the curse of sin and death from you forever. Being raised from that drowning, you are now Christ’s. Where you were conceived by your parents in death, Jesus causes your rebirth into salvation. It is baptism that saves you. It is this washing of rebirth and regeneration that is the key to faith.
Indeed, no greater faith can a man have except to remember his baptism. One of the holiest and godly things you do is cross yourself, thereby reminding yourself that you are baptized into Christ. That, at this future moment, you are saved by faith, through grace. Nothing you have done, but everything Christ has done for you.
The well our heavenly Father and His Son throws us into is certainly a well of death, but they do not leave you in it. Only one has returned from the well alive and that one, Jesus, remains there to continue and boost you out each and every single day, to forgive sins.
Baptism now saves you. The water and the Word now saves you, because the Word is not high and lifted up, but down in the pit; preaching, teaching, and forgiving. This is the day the Lord has made for Benjamin’s salvation. This is the day the Lord has made for you to remember your own salvation in baptism.
This is the day the Lord has made for you to hear the Gospel and repent of your sins once more, so that you may receive forgiveness of sins from the hand of Christ’s pastor. This is why you rejoice and are glad in it.
Is it lawful to preach the forgiveness of sins and salvation without works on a Sabbath? Is it lawful to hear that Christ is the end of the Law and that our good works are filthy rags, on the Sabbath? Is it lawful to say that the holy commands of God do not save on the Sabbath?
If the Son says so; If the Son sets you free, you are free indeed. If Jesus promises salvation in water and the Word, combined in baptism, then I believe, Benjamin believes, and you all believe, for this is the Gospel of the Lord.