The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.
“Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right!” Henry Ford spoke these words over a century ago, and I strongly suspect that they had to do with his innovative and revolutionary ideas pertaining to the assembly line and the mass production of his amazing automobiles. However, as I listen to the words of old “Doubting Thomas” in our Gospel lesson for this morning, I can’t help but think that maybe old Mr. Ford had Thomas on his mind. “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and unless I place my finger into the mark of the nails, and unless I place my hand into his spear-riven side, I will never believe.” In the words of Henry Ford, “You’re right!”
But here’s the thing: How often do we look down our noses at old Doubting Thomas? I don’t know why. After all, it’s not like we don’t have these same conditional moments in our lives. I don’t fault Thomas for saying what he said. I understand the sinful, conditional unbelief that the statement proclaims, and I certainly don’t condone such sinful, conditional unbelief, but…I don’t fault Thomas for making the statement. Why? Because Thomas wanted what everyone else had experienced.
Remember: The other disciples had all beheld Jesus face-to-face. They even had dinner with Him. For whatever reason, Thomas wasn’t around when this happened. Maybe he was still in hiding, trying to avoid the same gruesome fate that he had just witnessed His Lord experience a few days earlier at Golgotha. We don’t know. All we do know is that Thomas wasn’t around when Jesus made His glorious post-resurrection appearance to those disciples on that first Easter Sunday, and Thomas didn’t believe that such a thing was possible unless he could physically verify it with his own personal inspection. He wanted to see with his own eyes. He wanted to feel with his own fingers. He wanted what the other guys had already had a chance at: to behold the wounds of his once-dead, but now risen and victorious Lord and Savior.
As I said a few moments ago, how often we look down our noses at Thomas, as if he’s this foul, unbelieving sinful rube. We would never be like that, would we? Folks: God knows your heart. He knows the truth. He knows your reality better than you know your own rose-colored glasses version of reality. Case in point: How often does this very same conditional reality creep into your daily life? “Unless I see, hear, verify…whatever, I will never accept; I will never believe; I will never condone.” Well…you’re right. Sadly, you’re right. What? Do you not trust in God above all things? Do you not trust that God knows what He’s doing, even if His ways are mysterious to you? What? Does God need to explain Himself first to you before He acts?
Martin Luther was once asked what man contributes to his salvation. After all, surely we must contribute something, right? Time and time again life shows us that there is no such thing as a free lunch. There are always conditions. There are always strings attached. There is always the fine-print. What do we contribute to our salvation? “Sin and resistance.” That’s pretty cut-and-dry, isn’t it? In fact, it’s so simple; so cut-and-dry and no-nonsense that many a Christian rejects it. “No, no, no…this can’t be!” Why? Could it be because such truth hurts?
Folks: This is the cold, hard truth of our side of the salvation scale. This truth rightly hurts too. It attacks and eviscerates our Old Adam selfish desires to want to be like God and be in control and call the shots and have our say. “Unless I do this, that, or the other thing, I will never submit; I will never believe.” You’re right, and that’s the whole problem! We contribute nothing; at least nothing of any good to our salvation. We only bring to the table our sin and our resistance. We bring our dirty soiled rags and our conditional faith, which is nothing more than unbelief when you get down to it. Think about it (and don’t think too hard): “I believe…so long as I can have verifiable proof.” Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.
But here’s the thing: You’re Lord knows you better than you know you. He knows how you and Thomas could easily be mistaken for one another in your daily life of faith. This is precisely why your Lord has mercy on you and forgives you. This is precisely why your God and Lord died for you. He had to! That’s how great and deadly our sin is! Jesus did it all for us precisely because we have nothing to offer in terms of our own salvation. It’s strange to think about rather ironic, but Jesus died for your sins of conditional faith and unbelief, and you are to believe this that you may have life in His name. He died for your sinful control issues and power struggles. He died and rose again as proof that He loves you and forgives you.
And the greatest thing of all? He continues to hold out this amazing proof of love to you this very day in the form of His sacraments. Just as a little catechetical refresher, do you remember the three things that make something a sacrament? 1) A sacrament has the command of God; i.e., “do this, take and eat, take and drink, be baptized.” 2) A sacrament has the Gospel promise of God; i.e., “for the forgiveness of all you sins.” 3) God attaches His command and promise to something real and tangible; something you can physically behold with all your senses; i.e., the water, the bread, the wine. “Take and eat. Take and drink. This is My body. This is My blood, for this forgiveness of all your sin.”
Look right here! Here is your Lord and Savior, physically breaking into your time and space, putting to death the foolish conditional nature of your weak little faith. “You’re absolutely right! You will never believe unless you see, touch, taste, and hear, which is why I’m here. Take and eat. Take and drink. My peace be with you.” Folks: This is catechetical truth that we confess with the words of our creeds. “I believe I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord…, but the Holy Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies me….” Think about that for a moment. God loves you so much; He knows you so well that He sends His own Holy Spirit to work on you and in you; to put to death that blinding, deafening conditional nature of sinful unbelief. God takes the initiative with you, putting to death your sinful unbelief. He Himself breathes His gift of life into your dead soul, resurrecting you into Christ’s victory. “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized have been baptized [by God Himself] into Christ’s death and resurrection?” God Himself, through the working of His Holy Spirit in His very real and tangible means of grace opens your eyes and ears so that you can see and behold the miracle of life taking place in your midst; in your own life, right here and right now.
Folks: I can’t make it any easier or clearer than what it is. Here is Christ Jesus…for you. Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away your sin, and who gives to you His absolutely free and unmerited gifts of forgiveness, everlasting life, and eternal salvation. Here is your peace that surpasses all human understanding, and your Lord is holding it out to you today no different than when He first held it out to Thomas. In fact, He holds it out to you today no different than Thomas because His love for you is no different than for Thomas or anyone else in the world for that matter. God so loved the world—the WHOLE world—that He gave His only-begotten Son to die for it. Here is that Son, risen and victorious and wanting nothing more than to feed and nourish you with His eye-opening, ear-opening, tomb-rending, faith-producing gifts of grace, mercy, and peace.
Lord, I can’t make them believe, but you can, and by your amazing and undeserved grace; by the working of your Holy Spirit in these means of grace, you do. “You’re right!”
May this living and active peace of Christ Jesus be and remain with you now and always.
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