Sunday, April 28, 2013

How Do You Have Access to God?

Fifth Sunday of Easter
April 28, 2013
Pretend for a moment that you’re in an imaginary religion. You love your religion, you think it’s the right one and the one that is best for you. Consequently, you want other people to know about it, so that they can have the benefits of it as you do. What are you going to tell them? How will you persuade them that your religion is not just the way to go for yourself, but also for them? Will you show them all the good things about it? How it has changed your life? Why it is it makes sense?

If they were to ask you what it is like, what would you tell them? If they had no way of understanding what is at the heart of your religion and why it is so great, how could you explain it to them or show them? Imagine if you were to use an analogy; if you were to say to them, “Here is what my religion is like and why I think it’s so great.” You went on to tell them that it’s like being doomed forever. And the God of your religion is like a being that is inaccessible. You are doomed and the God of it is out of reach.

How do you find your way out of this predicament? The God is like a supreme being but it’s as if he has made himself accessible. Since there was no way you could access him, it was as if he came to you. That’s what his love is like. It’s a love that lets you know that he sees you in your doom and doesn’t leave you there, but lets you know he loves you. You can feel as though he is with you rather than being out of reach; inaccessible.

And so you tell your friend, “That’s why I love my religion. Because my God is like that. He loves me as if he were to come to me. If only you knew my God like I do, you would see how great my religion is and why I believe it.”

This analogy, this way of comparing this imaginary religion to something we can relate to, is a great analogy. Most people would resonate with such an analogy. At some level, people of all periods of history and all places have a sense that there is more to life than just what we know in this life. And so they are part of a religion. There are many religions because people want to know that there is meaning to their existence. They realize that things aren’t fully as they should be in this life, and so they look to religion to provide them with meaning and a way to deal with life as it is.

Where this analogy breaks down, though—and all analogies break down at some point—is that it still doesn’t give you concrete hope that this religion is ultimately any different than any other religion or not having any religion at all. If the best you can do is compare the god of the religion to a being who makes himself accessible, then what do you really have? What you have is hope. But it’s not concrete hope. It’s hope that is more of a hoping rather than actual hope in which you have certainty.

Now if you step out of your imaginary religion, and take a look again at Jesus’ words in the Gospel reading, you will see how His religion, Christianity, is far different from religion in which the best you can do is describe what God is like. With His religion, you actually get God. It’s not like He loves you in such a way where He’s accessible. He’s actually accessible. It’s not that you have to come up with a way to show what He’s like. You actually know who He is.

God doesn’t say, “I’m like this…” God actually gives you access to Himself by giving His Son to you. You are doomed, but God comes to you in your doom. Jesus is God but becomes flesh. He becomes a man, just as you are a human being living in this life. The reason your religion—your real religion, Christianity—is true, is because it has this concrete hope. It’s because it doesn’t deal simply in analogies, but rather in the concrete accessibleness of God in His Son Jesus Christ.

And here’s the kicker, just as He makes Himself known to you in His Son; just as His Son comes to you in the flesh; just as you have this concrete hope in Him in Jesus, it is to your advantage that Jesus doesn’t hang around with you. It is better for you if He goes back to heaven to be seated at the right hand of the Father. How is this so? If God has gone through all the trouble to give you access to Him by coming to you in the flesh, why does He then turn around and go on away from you? Why not stay with you? And how is it true, as long as we’re trying to reason this out, that He is with you always, as He says He is?

The answer is not in analogies. It’s in concrete promises. “If I do not go to the Father, then I cannot send you the Holy Spirit. If you don’t get the Holy Spirit, you don’t get Me.” And in this working of God of making Himself accessible to you in His Son, you see that the way God works is that to get Him, you must go through the Son, and the way to get the Son, you must go through the Holy Spirit. And the way you get the Holy Spirit is that the Father sends Him. And the Son sends Him. And the Holy Spirit in turn delivers to you the Son. And He delivers to you what has been given to Him by the Father.

The reason you believe is because Jesus has left. He didn’t stay around walking from place to place as He did when He was born of Mary and engaged in His ministry for three years. He ascended into heaven and then sent His Holy Spirit to come directly to you in your washing of rebirth and renewal. The reason you believe is because God saved you in Baptism and the Holy Spirit gave you faith. God didn’t leave you with analogies of what He’s like, He left you with His Holy Spirit. He didn’t give His Son to you to hang around with you here on earth, but ultimately to take you back to Himself in heaven. As great as it is that Jesus came to earth here among us, it’s even greater that He ascended back into heaven.

To get a handle on your religion—your real, true, actual religion—see how God actually comes to you to do His work of saving you and sustaining you in faith. Jesus said that it is to your advantage that He doesn’t hang around but rather leaves. This is so that He will send the Holy Spirit. When the Holy Spirit comes, this is what He will do: He will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment. This is good news for you. This isn’t some sort of illustration of what He’s like or how much He loves you. This is actually working out in your life His salvation and sustaining you in faith.

When the Holy Spirit convicts the world concerning sin, this is the best thing He could do for you. What does it mean that He convicts the world concerning sin? This is what Jesus says, “concerning sin, because they do not believe in me.” Everyone outside of the religion of Christianity is the world. No one believes in Him outside of the Holy Christian Church. You and I do. Every Christian does. But the world does not. But this doesn’t tell you why the Holy Spirit’s convicting the world concerning sin is good news for you and the best thing He could do for you.

This reason this is to your advantage is because the work of the Spirit of convicting the world concerning sin is how He strips away everything that gets in the way of our having access to God the Father. Look out at the world and you will see a lot of good. There are a lot of decent people out there. Granted, there is a lot of evil and indecency. But the world generally looks favorably upon being kind and decent. And for life in this world, this is a good thing. What’s the problem with it then? Why does it get in the way of access to the Father?

Because, as Jesus says, they do not believe in Me. That’s the problem. Kindness and goodness is really a mask. People think they are good and even want to be good, but deep inside they are existing for themselves. The center of their universe is not something outside of them or higher than them, it is them. The Holy Spirit strips this away. The Holy Spirit says, in plain words, “You do not believe in the eternal Son of God as Lord and Savior.” This is why you have no access to God the Father. If you sit here today and think the Holy Spirit’s work of convicting the world concerning sin applies to all those outside of our true religion, and not to you personally, then you are not hearing what Jesus is saying to you. Apart from His Holy Spirit’s work of convicting you of your sin, you do not believe in Jesus. You come here each week centered in yourself and needing to receive from outside of yourself this work of the Holy Spirit in the same way you received it when you were Baptized.

The second thing the Holy Spirit convicts the world of shows even more so why it’s vital that you hear these words of Jesus as applying to you personally, and not just all those people out there who don’t believe in Him. The second thing the Holy Spirit does is convict the world concerning righteousness; and He tells how and why: “because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer.” Jesus is showing us how He engages in His work of Law and Gospel. He sends His Holy Spirit to convict you of sin to bring you to repentance so that He can give you the righteousness of Christ. In His suffering for the sin of the world and dying on the cross and rising from the grave, Christ has accomplished all that is necessary to lift you from your doom and give you access to the Father. In ascending to the Father He sends His Holy Spirit to bring you in the Gospel and in the Sacraments His righteousness, and you are forgiven of all of your sins.

With all of this it might seem you have everything you need. But there is one more benefit you get from Jesus going away and sending the Holy Spirit to you. The Holy Spirit convicts the world concerning judgment. And why is this? As Jesus says, “because the ruler of this world is judged.” Think about what this means for you. No matter what Satan throws at you, he has been judged. You have the victory, Satan is defeated. Jesus conquered Satan in His suffering, death, and resurrection. You are convicted and brought to repentance. You are forgiven and have concrete hope. You do not stand before God as judged, but Satan does. You have full access to God in Jesus Christ by the work of the Holy Spirit and Satan is defeated.

With the true God you don’t get a message of what He is like. You get Him. You get God Himself and you get Him in His Son. When you get God the Son you get God the Father. The Holy Spirit brings to you Jesus Christ in order to bring you to God the Father. It is to your advantage that Jesus has gone away, so that He may come to you in His Gospel and Sacraments and have Him forever. Amen.


Sunday, April 21, 2013

A Little While

Fourth Sunday of Easter
Commemoration of Anselm of Canterbury, Theologian
April 21, 2013
What do you say when there is no joy to be seen? When sorrow and tragedy and evil overwhelm you? What do you do when God seems to not be in the picture but Satan is having free reign?

What you do is what the world does not do. What you say is what the world ultimately is left speechless to say. You say that there is hope in Jesus Christ. What you do is put your hope in Jesus Christ.

At least, that’s what Jesus Himself did. Now that seems a little strange to think of it that way. Perhaps it’s better to say it this way: He knew who He was, why He came, and what He was about to do. His trust, His hope, His focus was all on the Father. His carrying out of His love and salvation was all with His eyes set on the cross.

Thus, we do what He did. We say what He said. We too focus on the cross. We too say that it is in Him that we have our hope and our salvation.

Consider how this is utterly the opposite of the way the world responds to tragedy. The world undergoes tragedy and seeks answers. Not the Church. Not we who are Christians. We see beyond the tragedy. We see, in fact, in the midst of the tragedy something the world cannot see. When tragedy strikes, we see beyond it and see Christ and His cross. Remarkably, we see even in the midst of tragedy Christ and His cross.

It’s never that God’s will is that evil runs free as it did on Monday at the Boston Marathon. It is never our Lord’s will that evil befalls people in such a way. But it is true that our God allows evil and tragedy to strike. And it’s even true that He uses evil and tragedy for good.

To the world this makes no sense. We look at terror like we witnessed on Monday and wonder what makes some people so heinous to cause this kind of harm to others. The world doesn’t believe that the triune God is a good and gracious God who wants nothing more than to save us from our sin. The world looks at events like 9/11 and Boston and tries to make sense of them. The world tries to figure out how God fits into this kind of evil and suffering. It can’t understand how these things fit into believing in a good and all-powerful and loving God. So it determines that God isn’t what He makes Himself out to be.

What actually is the case is that God isn’t what we make Him out to be. God views our life here on earth and the time we spend on it much differently than we do. So He approaches evil and suffering much differently than we do. If we ask questions of Him and try to make sense of them He answers right back, Are you trying to understand Me according to your feeble mind and your limited understanding? Are you trying to make sense of My holy ways when your reason is clouded by your sinful and self-centered ways?

He invites us to peer into His mind, though. He welcomes us to look at His ways. He does so by showing us His Son. Where we see great sorrow and suffering and seemingly endless onslaught of suffering and evil, God sees eternity. And He sees it in His Son. Taking all eternity into account, He gives to us, for a little while, His Son. He becomes a man. He walks the earth. He teaches and meets people in their sorrow and their suffering. He meets one-on-one with people who have experienced evil.

And then He does something remarkable. He chooses evil on Himself. Not one person ran the marathon on Monday wishing for evil to befall them. They ran it to accomplish something. People who entered the World Trade Center on September 11 were just going to work. People stay clear of manifest evil. When it strikes they flee.

Not Christ. He willingly stepped into the heart of evil. The people who were at the starting line didn’t know what would strike four hours later. The people along the route cheering on the runners, enjoying the day, didn’t know terror would hit. Jesus knew. He walked into the heart of darkness willingly. He walked the path of sorrow and suffering and the evil men brought upon Him. He willingly submitted to all sin and guilt being laid on Him as if He were the guilty one; as if He were the sinner.

As He approached it I imagine it was like a marathon. A marathon doesn’t go quickly. Before you even step up to the starting line you prepare. You train, you take care of your body. You log a lot of miles, looking ahead to the day when all the work you’ve put in will come to fruition. When you’re training for it, it seems anything but a little while. When the gun goes off you breeze through the first mile. You tick off the miles and yet you still have twenty-some odd miles to go in that 26.2 mile race. How will you get through it? If you’re already starting to think that it’s taking a long time, how will you feel when you’re at mile 15 and you still have over ten miles to go?

When you’re coming toward the end and your body is ready to quit, your mind is the thing that is getting you through. Playing tricks like, “It’s only a little way to go,” doesn’t help much. It’s more just sheer will. But once it’s over, you look back and see that it really was a little while. When a woman is giving birth, she is ready for it to be over. She is not experiencing joy but pain. Anyone who would tell her that it’s almost over would likely be greeted with daggers from her eyes.

No, it’s not until the marathon is over, and the baby is born, that you experience the joy. That you see that it really was a little while. This is what Jesus knew going in. Not that it was different for Him. Not that it was easy for Him. Not that He wasn’t struggling in His endurance. He needed to be sustained by His Heavenly Father. He needed the angel to minister to Him in the Garden. But He knew. He knew of the joy that was set before Him in order to endure the cross. His eyes were set on the fact that it would indeed be a little while and that the sorrow and suffering and evil would not be never-ending.

He knew that it would come to an end, because He knew the promise of the Father. He knew that He would be suffering and dying for the sins of the world. He knew that the Father would raise Him from the grave. This is how Jesus could speak of all that would transpire as a little while. It’s how He can speak of the suffering and trials and evil we endure as a little while. The world will think we are wishfully thinking when we see beyond the tragedy of a Pearl Harbor or a 9/11 or a Boston and see the cross and our Lord Jesus Christ who suffered there. They will think that we are deluding ourselves when we see all that goes on in this life as getting worse and becoming more and more nonsensical as something that is just for a little while.

Not that we don’t care. Not that we don’t see things for what they are. But we don’t descend into despair as they do. We know how it all turns out. We know that even as Jesus stepped up to the starting line He also crossed the finish line. At some point we will also. We don’t know when. Its seems like it’s taking a long time. But it is a little while.

But you know what? We ourselves will fall into the trap the world does. Since it doesn’t seem like a little while we ourselves will wonder. When enduring suffering we agonize over how it continues instead of coming to an end. You know the only way we can actually believe and know that it’s just a little while? The word of Christ. He has said it, that’s how we know. He went into His suffering and death knowing it, and He held fast to it. He secured the victory. We too go the way of Christ. We go in knowing, even though our sinful nature doubts. We go in with certainty. We go in in all confidence because it rests on the word of Christ, not on how things look, with thousands of ordinary people going to their death in an act of terror, and hundreds of people dying or scarred for life because of evil men.

In a marathon, even some who have youth and strength on their side will stumble and fall. Even some of them will not finish. Even some of them will finish far back in the race, after some who are much older and some who are weaker. Phidippides hadn’t run the first marathon when Isaiah prophesied, as we heard it in the Old Testament reading. But he knew how it works in this life. He knew that we are feeble and suffer and question God in the face of evil.

He knew also this. It lasts only a little while. He knew the same thing we know today, God is the Savior. Isaiah prophesied He would come. Since it happened hundreds of years later, no doubt God’s people thought it was anything but a little while. But in God’s time it was just that. Since our Lord has promised to return again in glory and it’s been two thousand years, we too don’t see it as a little while. But it is. It is because it’s His timing. He doesn’t operate according to our time or timing. He operates according to mercy. That’s why He entered time and willingly suffered. When we suffer in this life this is what we can always know. He has conquered sin and evil and suffering in His suffering, death, and resurrection. In only a little while you will see that in all clarity and joy. God grant you His Peace as you endure in the meantime. Amen.


Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Good Shepherd Is the One Who Lays Down His Life

Third Sunday of Easter
Misericordias Domini
April 14, 2013
The thing about Jesus is that He is the shepherd who lays down His life for the sheep. This is how we learn what it means that we preach Christ crucified. Preaching Christ crucified is not a denial of the resurrection of Christ but an affirmation of it. Extending to the world the Gospel of Jesus laying down His life for the sins of the world is not to the exclusion of Him rising from the grave but a declaration of the thing that must occur in order for Christ to rise from the grave.

Jesus is the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. Think about it. Jesus is the risen one. He is the one who rose from the grave. He is the one who conquered death. But the risen Lord is the one who lays down His life for the sheep. The risen Lord is, always, the one who laid down His life for the sheep. He is the Lord who passes through walls even as He carries the scars of the crucifixion in His hands and His feet and His side. He is, always, Christ crucified for sinners. He is, always, the Great Shepherd who lays down His life for the sheep.

On the cross Jesus died for every single person. The whole world. Everyone who has ever been born. But listen to the way Jesus talks about being the Good Shepherd for the sheep. The hired hand, He says, does not own the sheep, so when trouble comes, he flees. When the wolf comes to snatch and scatter, the hired hand is outta there. The hired hand, He says, does not care for the sheep. He has been hired out, he has no personal stake in the sheep. They are, simply, sheep to him. He flees.

But not Jesus. Not the Good Shepherd. He has a personal stake in the sheep. He cares individually for the sheep. He takes particular concern for each one of the sheep. They are His, He cares for them. This puts a whole new perspective on Jesus’ suffering and dying on the cross. When He laid down His life for the sheep, it was for each person. His care for every person brought Him to lay down His life for each person. There was no fleeing the cross. There was His giving His life for His sheep.

I know My own, and My own know Me, He says. He is not a hired hand. He has a personal and deep investment in each lamb. He knows each one. They know Him. They are His. They do not need to worry or wonder if He will skip out on them. He is there for them. He has committed to them and will love them to the point of laying down His life for them.

What is the impetus for this kind of love? “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.” [ESV] The Father knows Him, and He knows the Father. The Father’s love for Him is the impetus for Jesus’ love for the sheep. His love for the Father is love that is carried out in laying down His life for the sheep. He is the Good Shepherd.

He has “other other sheep that are not of this fold. [He] must bring them also, and they will listen to [His] voice.” [ESV] He is always reaching out, always searching, always seeking out those who have strayed. He is always getting out there, where they are, to rescue them and bring them to safety. He feeds them and strengthens them. He brings them from the despair of their sin and lifts them up to the comfort of peace and salvation.

It’s really a shame when the sheep stray. They have everything they need in the Shepherd providing for them. They hear and receive the Gospel as it is proclaimed to them. They daily in repentance and forgiveness live out their Baptism. They are fed by Him at His holy Table with His very own body and blood. They are loved and cared for and saved by their Lord, their Good Shepherd who lays down His life for them.

But they stray. They take the Gospel for granted. They don’t hunger for it and desire it as the very lifeblood for their sin and struggles against temptation and the flesh. They don’t see that the Lord who laid down His life for them desires to give Himself to them often in His Holy Supper and that in this Meal they are fed and strengthened in body and soul. They don’t see that the Ten Commandments their Lord has declared to them aren’t just a bunch of rules to restrict their enjoyment in life but the very path He has laid out for them which actually enables them to live life in abundance.

They stray. They take for granted. They openly go against their Lord and His commandments.

He? He lays down His life for them. He is the Good Shepherd. The one who is living and reigns forever is the one who lays down His life for the sheep. How does Peter say it in the Epistle reading? “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.” [ESV] He is the Good Shepherd. This is what He does. We must never move beyond the cross and what Christ accomplished there, thinking that there is somehow not enough there for us to have the full and abundant life our Lord would have us have. He lays down His life for the sheep. He is the Good Shepherd. That’s what that means.

Of course, His laying down His life goes hand in hand with His rising from the grave. His rising from the grave is the confirmation of what He accomplished in His suffering and death. We need not pit the two against each other—they are two things that go together and are both essential in our having new and eternal and abundant life.

In the Introit we gave praise to God with these words: “The earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord.” The steadfast love of the Lord is love that never ceases. It never tires. It never does not care. That’s why our Lord is the Good Shepherd, who laid down His life for the sheep. His love is steadfast love. His care and His provision is that which never ends. Think about this. You can never come to a point where you are so weak, or so struggling, or so apathetic, that He gives up on you. He is the Good Shepherd. He lays down His life for you. He feeds you with Himself. The body He laid down His life with is the very body He gives you to eat for your strength and your consolation and your forgiveness. The blood He shed when He laid down His life is what He gives you to drink for your refreshment in body and soul. Even when you stray, He will go after you, always reaching out to you, calling you, granting you His peace and forgiveness.

What about those outside the Church? What about those who do not know His voice and who do not believe in Him as their Savior? Jesus says, “I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” [ESV] He brings them also. He lays down His life for them also. He calls out to them also. He reaches out to them and seeks them out also. We must never forget that the love He loves us with in laying down His life for us is love He loves everyone with and in which He lays down His life for them as well.

That’s why we love others. As Christians we love others in this self-sacrificing way. While we cannot lay down our lives for them in order to accomplish salvation for them, we can draw them to the voice of the Good Shepherd. We can show them the one who has in fact laid down His life for them and desires they be part of His flock so they may receive rest in their weariness and forgiveness in their guilt. There’s no greater or more powerful Lord we can make known to them than the one who is the Good Shepherd; the one who lays down His life for the sheep.

As every Sunday, not just Easter Sunday, is a celebration of the Resurrection of our Lord, every Sunday is also always a proclamation of Christ and Him crucified. We revel in and receive the Lord who lays down His life for us when we hear the Gospel and feed on Him in the Sacrament. He is lowly to come to us in our lowliness. In laying down His life He became weak so that we may know that in our weakness, in our lowliness, we have a Lord who doesn’t come to us with the announcement that He is our Master so we’d better straighten up, but our Lord who is the good Shepherd; the one who lays down His life for the sheep. Amen.


Sunday, April 7, 2013

Jesus Is the Answer to Doubt

Second Sunday of Easter
Quasimodo Geniti
April 7, 2013
Thomas was wrong. We all get that. He’s not known as “Doubting Thomas” for nothing. But it’s too easy to simply think that he was wrong because he doubted. He was wrong, but it’s more important to see how he was wrong. When you do, you might get a better understanding of how it is that you’re wrong. You might come to see not simply that you also doubt your Lord, but why.

The disciples were huddled together. It was the first day of the week. It was Easter Sunday. It was that actual day. Not like the day we celebrated last Sunday, where we rejoiced in what occurred on the first Easter Sunday. This was the actual day, the day Jesus rose from the grave. Where were the disciples? Huddled up, of course. Locked up, afraid the authorities that had come after Jesus would now come after them.

Although they had heard some things. Bits and pieces here and there that Jesus was no longer dead. Peter and John themselves had seen earlier in the day the tomb that had held the body of Jesus now empty. But they had not yet seen Him. Some of the women had. Some of the other followers of Jesus had. But not the Twelve. Not the disciples Jesus would call to be His apostles. They hadn’t seen Him and so they were afraid. Huddled up. Locked inside.

Before we see where Thomas went wrong, perhaps we might be able to see where he was right. While the other disciples were hovering together in fear, Thomas wasn’t. Was he hiding out at home? At a friend’s house? We can’t know where he was, but perhaps he wasn’t afraid as his compadres were. Regardless, when he heard the news, that’s when he refused sound reason. He refused to believe that His Lord made good on His word and rose from the dead.

Yes, he doubted. Don’t we all? Don’t we all have times where we doubt? Doubt can be a tricky thing. It’s easy to club someone over the head for doubt. It’s just as easy to dismiss it as something we all fall into at one time or another. Doubt is a serious thing. But why it is is what we really want to get at today. Thomas doubted, there’s no doubt about that. But why did he doubt? What was at the root of his doubt?

There they were, the Twelve minus Judas and Thomas, and “Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.” [ESV] The first thing Jesus did was come to them and stand among them. That must have been quite a sight. The next thing He did, He who is the Word in the Flesh, was speak to them. “Peace be with you.” You could take this as a sort of blessing. And it certainly is that, “Peace be with you.” But you could also take it as a simple statement of fact. Peace was, in fact, among them, in the flesh. When Jesus was standing among them, Peace had come to them, Peace was in their midst; in the very person of Jesus.

The next thing He did was show them His hands and His side. Jesus of course has no sin in Him, so in a godly and sinless way, this was a sort of, “See, I told you so.” But seriously, all those times Jesus had made known to them that He would incur those scars, that He would suffer those things, and that, yes, He would rise from the dead, showing them His hands and side was a visual speaking to them of reminding them of His promises that were now fulfilled.

So here He was, having come among them, standing before them, speaking to them, granting them peace, and now showing them His hands and side. As if to say, “Go ahead and touch Me. See that I’m real. Feel the actual scars, see for yourself that I’m flesh and blood standing before you.” In other words, “I’ve risen from the dead, you don’t need to fear.” Their reaction wasn’t to touch Him. It was to be glad. They saw Him and heard Him and now they were glad. It was true. They believed.

So now poor Thomas is out in the cold. He hasn’t witnessed this event. At some point during the week they all tell him that they’ve seen Jesus. No, I won’t believe it. Where Jesus was all that week we don’t know. All we know is that a week later they’re all locked up again and thankfully this time Thomas is with them. When Jesus shows up again, Thomas doesn’t have any leg to stand on with his doubts. He sees with his eyes. He hears with his ears. He now believes as the rest of them do.

So where had Thomas gone wrong? We know he doubted, how exactly was it that he doubted? These are his words: “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.” [ESV] First, I have to see it as you say you saw it. You mean to tell me that you would believe me if I had told you that I had seen Him? Second, I have to place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into His side. I have to touch Him to make sure He’s real. You mean to tell me that you would believe without actually getting physical corroboration in touching Him so that you could actually feel Him? Third, I am placing these conditions on my belief. Unless they happen, I will never believe.

And this is where Thomas went wrong. It’s not just that he doubted. This is how he was wrong, he called the shots. Instead of going back to his Lord’s words, he placed the conditions on whether or not he would believe. That’s not how faith works. That’s a lot more serious than just having some doubts or struggling with certain things in your Christian life.

Then comes the great grace and mercy and love of Jesus Christ. He is the answer to doubt. You have doubts about Him, He is the answer. “Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then he 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.’ Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’” [ESV] What did Jesus do first? He came and stood among them. Same as before. What about second? Same thing again, He said, “Peace be with you.”

Then third, He goes to the man of the hour, the man who had set up his conditions, and said, “Okay, Thomas, here you go: Put your finger here, and see My hands; and put out your hand, and place it in My side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” He actually went with Thomas’ conditions he had set up. You want to see Me? Here I am. You want to feel Me, make sure I’m real? Here are My hands, here is My side, put your hands there. Do not disbelieve, but believe.

And there is no sign that Thomas did any of those things. The Gospel reading simply states that Thomas responded, “My Lord and my God!” He saw Jesus, He heard Him, He believed. His serious doubt was answered by the living Lord standing before him. Thomas was wrong not simply because he doubted. He was wrong because he went on his own reason rather than on the word of his Lord. His Lord offered to him nothing other than His Word. He, being the Word in the flesh, was the answer to Thomas’ doubt.

Jesus was his Lord, and his God. Thomas didn’t, after all, need to touch Jesus to see that He was real; that He was alive; that He was his Lord and his God. All he needed was his Lord. All he needed was the Word, the Word made flesh. That’s why Jesus came to the disciples and to Thomas after His resurrection. He had promised He would rise again, and so now here He was showing them that He had.

There aren’t many recorded instances of Jesus hanging out with the disciples, or other of His followers, after His resurrection. But there don’t need to be. Jesus’ words and the apostle John’s words in the Gospel reading tell us all we need to know about our doubts, about our questions, about our faith. Jesus said to Thomas, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” [ESV] John wrote: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” [ESV] Blessed are you. You haven’t seen Him as the disciples did and as Thomas did. But you believe. This is faith that, as John says in the Epistle reading, overcomes the world. If it were simply by sight, even the disciples wouldn’t have much to go on, as Jesus only a short while later ascended into heaven, removed from their sight. No, they continued to believe, even though their risen Lord was now the ascended Lord.

They continued to believe because their Lord was the Word in the flesh. Though He ascended into heaven, He continues to come to us as the Word in the flesh. We don’t see Him, but we believe in Him. We have doubts, but He answers those doubts by giving to us Himself. All our doubt is answered in Him. We don’t see Him, but we hear Him. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of Christ. Seeing is not believing, but hearing is. Our Lord and our God comes to us in the proclamation of the Gospel. Our Lord and our God unites Himself to us in Baptism. Our Lord and our God gives us His very body and His very blood in and with bread and wine. It’s as if He says, in directing our eyes to the bread and wine of His Holy Supper, “See My body that was offered on the cross; see My blood which was poured out of My side when I was dead.” Touch and taste and drink.

When the Gospel is proclaimed into your ear, when the words of Christ were spoken at your Baptism, when you eat and drink the bread and wine of your Lord’s Holy Supper, you don’t see Him with your eyes. You don’t physically touch Him and feel Him. But you believe in Him. He is your Lord and your God. You have doubts, but Jesus is the answer to your doubts. You have questions, you don’t understand it all, but He is the answer to your questions and your limited understanding. He is your Lord and your God. Though you don’t see Him, blessed are you. Amen.