Lessons: Ezekiel 37:1-14:, 1 John 5:4-10, John 20:19-31
Hymns: LSB 478, 468, 470, 465, 597
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
One common belief among Christians is that all Christian churches preach faith in Jesus as the way to eternal salvation. This is, of course, what we want for all churches to do. We want all churches to remain focused on Christ Jesus, who was crucified and risen, who grants the forgiveness of sins to all who believe in Him. We want all churches to rightly acknowledge Jesus as Lord. We want all churches to confess the Holy Trinity as taught in the Bible and confessed in the Creed. We want all churches to rightly administer the Sacraments and believe what God says they are. We want all churches to interpret the Scriptures rightly and believe the entire Bible as God’s divinely inspired Word.
But sadly, not all churches teach what we think they should. Some deny salvation by grace through faith in Jesus. Some exalt the saints or Mary. Some reject the bodily resurrection. Some churches no longer focus on the cross, Christ’s death and resurrection, or even Jesus for that matter. But, as St. John writes in our Epistle, “Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” So, for those Christian churches who no longer find it fashionable to focus on Jesus, they are not leading their congregations to overcome the world, for they are not teaching faith in Jesus.
But what does faith in Jesus mean? What does it look like? Jesus said to Thomas, “Have you believed because you have seen Me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” This means believing involves trusting in that which may not be seen.
What are we to believe if we have not seen it? Are we to believe anything anyone says? Who or what are we to trust? Even in our day, when we have the information superhighway among us, we hear contradictory reports. One news station will put one spin on an event, while another that way. Or look at the trends in nutrition. Some claim the key to health and weight management is to avoid all carbs. Other say all fats. Others simply teach that all food groups are acceptable if they are consumed in moderation. So, what do we believe? Because we hear so much contradiction, what we believe often boils down to what we feel is right. Many times, our convictions become rooted in our limited personal experience as we weigh the varying viewpoints.
Unfortunately, this line of thought often makes its way into churches. Satan tempted Eve to trust her feelings on whether the forbidden fruit should be consumed. He contradicted God’s Word and led her to believe the fruit was pleasing to the eye and good for food. She believed what she saw and felt. Thomas too, wanted to believe what he could see and feel. Even though Jesus told him He would rise, Thomas would not believe the reports of Christ’s resurrection unless he had a way to verify them. Thomas was trusting in what he saw—that Christ Jesus was brutally beaten and crucified. To Thomas, that was the end of the story. For who could rise from the dead, especially after a death like that? Despite Thomas’s doubt, Jesus truly lived.
You would think these examples would serve as sufficient evidence for all Christians ever since the Resurrection of our Lord to learn to distrust their feelings and instead trust the reliable Word of God. But that doesn’t happen everywhere. In fact, there is a school of thought among some Christian churches which teaches that salvation is found in only those who have a feeling of being in God’s grace. They teach that if someone does not have a glorious feeling of grace within himself, then he is no longer numbered among the redeemed. Could this really be? Must we always have a feeling of having Christ’s peace within us in order to truly have it?
When life is going well, we may have a strong feeling of being in God’s grace. But when we find ourselves experiencing anxiety or suffering from any type of misfortune, then we begin to feel that we are far from having the grace or peace of God.
Do you see how dangerous this is? If your confidence and assurance of salvation is rooted in how you feel about the matter, what about those times when you feel sad or helpless? Satan will no doubt pay us a visit saying, “See how numb you feel? Listen to your feelings. God doesn’t love you. Think about all those offenses you’ve caused Him. God won’t forgive you. Deep down, that’s how you feel!” When the Devil comes to you with these satanic lies, resist him. Quote to him 1 John 3:19-20, “By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything.” It’s been said that the heart is the seat of feelings. And often our feelings condemn us. We rejoice in knowing that God is far greater than what we feel.
Look at the disciples who were hiding behind locked doors out of fear. Their feelings indicated to them that they were in grave danger. They probably weren’t experiencing a feeling of God’s grace. They certainly didn’t feel peaceful.
And then suddenly Jesus appears right there in front of them. Before they could even react, Jesus said, “Peace be with you.” He announced to them something they already had but did not feel it. For Jesus, having redeemed them from all their sin and adding them to His family, already had peace with them. They stood in God’s grace. Yet they were hiding! In fear!
When you are experiencing rough times, when you are questioning God’s disposition toward you, simply look at what Jesus said and did to His disciples on Easter evening. He, despite their feelings, said, “Peace be with you.” And then know that Jesus says the same thing to you, for you are baptized into God’s family. You are a member of His Kingdom. And soon, as we are prepare to receive the Lord’s Supper, the Pastor will say almost the same words to you. Holding the host and the chalice, he announces, “The peace of the Lord be with you always.” By saying these words, you are not receiving some sort of empty well-wish. Instead, God is announcing to you that He has peace with you, that you are redeemed by the Blood of the Lamb, and that you are now welcome to receive the Body and Blood of Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.
Once Jesus said “Peace be with you” and the disciples saw our Lord’s hands and side, the disciples were glad to see the Lord. While their feelings had led them to believe something that was not true, now Jesus announced to them His peace, which is always true. And now that they believe that which is true, their feelings now match their beliefs. They are glad. They are pleased to be in God’s presence. All along they loved the Lord, which suggests they had faith in Him, despite all the mixed emotions they were experiencing.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not condemning feelings or emotions. God made us human and that includes having feelings and emotions. The disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Peter, after denying Jesus, went out and wept bitterly with tears of repentance. People rejoice in the Lord. We have feelings of love toward our neighbors and those whom God redeemed. These are all good. It’s part of being human.
But we must not base our faith on our feelings. Instead, believing is based on what Jesus has done for us and for our salvation. You see, faith is not a feeling. Instead, faith trusts in Christ who died in our place and rose victoriously from the dead. In Christ Jesus, we are forgiven.
When we dwell on what Jesus did for us in love, we become better able to set aside whatever negative feelings Satan is trying to conjure up within us. When we claim Christ as our Savior, who rescues us from the very sins our sinful flesh wants to bask in, our hearts and minds are directed not toward fleeting emotions, but toward the solid rock of Christ who is the sure foundation and the author and perfector of faith.
You see, God judges us based on Jesus’ blood and righteousness. Even when we cannot forget something we’ve done in the past or when our consciences want to condemn us, God overrules our feelings and forgives our sins for Jesus’ sake. This is truly grace. It’s a gift. It brings to us a peace which the world cannot give. Therefore, let not your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
In fact, Jesus said to His disciples in the Upper Room on Maundy Thursday, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27). Then Jesus on the day of His resurrection, finds His disciples with troubled hearts and filled fear. He announces to them His peace. Then He goes further. He breathes on them and grants them the Holy Spirit. He sends these men as Apostles to preach the Word with boldness and conviction. They do so, despite the many trials they face from those who reject Christ Jesus.
They serve as good examples of faith. They still had their feelings and emotions, which sometimes matched the faith God worked in them and sometimes did not. Yet God the Holy Spirit continued to work faith in them through the Word and Sacraments.
We heard in our Epistle, “For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith” (1 John 5:4). By Baptism, we are born of God. That means we have overcome the world. The victory is ours. Jesus, who lives, declares that we, too, shall live. Thanks be to God! Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting. Amen