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BelieveNow Thomas, called the Twin, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore said to him, “We have seen the Lord.” So he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, “Peace to you!” Then He said to Thomas, “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.” And Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:24-29)

 

In the Name of Jesus.  Amen.

 

Like Thomas, we too want signs, proof, evidence of claims made by others.  Skeptics demand such things.  Thomas was such a skeptic.  He wanted verification that what the disciples were telling him was actually true.  And by God’s grace, Jesus gave such verification.  Jesus appeared to Thomas, showing His hands and side.  He said, “Do not be unbelieving, but believing.”  And at Jesus’ Word, Thomas believed.  Christians do the same, not because they see with their eyes or experience this or that, but because God gives His Word.  And so it is.  Thus, we believe that Christ rose bodily from the dead.  We believe that God created the world in six days, that Jonah was swallowed by a fish, that Jesus healed and raised the dead, that He was born of a virgin, that He suffered and died, rose again the third day, ascended into heaven, and will return in all of His glory.  We believe this because God has revealed it in His Word.  And through that Word, God creates (Romans 10:17) and sustains faith (John 8:31-32).  We believe that before God, all is well, that we have peace, that we have life, and that we live in His good favor, all because of Christ.

We don’t have to see to know that these are true, because God has given us His Word.  This we trust, for His Word makes Christ known, your Savior and your Redeemer, who is risen from the dead.  In Him, all doubt is cast aside.  In Him, we have all the confidence that we need.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

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The Prayer of the Christian

    [23] And Jesus said to him, “If you can! All things are possible for one who believes.”  [24] Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!”

Mark 9:23-24 (ESV)

The life of the Christian is one of prayer, prayer to Him who alone hears, answers, and gives according to His good and gracious will.  This One who hears is none other than the Triune God-Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  All other so called ‘gods’ are false gods, and not the true God.  And false gods are only idols, the work of men’s hands.  And as the Psalmist says, They have ears, but they do not hear and those who make them are like them; So is everyone who trusts in them (Psalm 115:6, 8).  They cannot nor do they deliver in times of trouble.  But the true God, the God who graciously saves, abundantly delivers, and readily hears, this One does, as our Lord declares through the Psalmist, Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me (Psalm 50:15).

To this One do we pray.  And our prayers He hears, for the sake of His Son.  The God who delivers in the day of trouble, this is our God, He who sent His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life (John 3:16).  This is He who says, Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28).  To He alone do we offer our petitions, ‘praise, and give thanks’ (Small Catechism, Explanation to 3rd Commandment), for by His grace, we have come to know Him for who He is – our Savior who delivers from sin and gives unto us eternal life.  We have come to know that even though He seems to be silent to our prayers and our requests, He yet hears every word.  With confidence does the Christian pray, confidence in the Lord’s promise that He will hear, and that He will answer, in His own time and in His own way.  Thus does the Christian pray to the Lord, Thy will be done, Thy will and not mine.

According to God’s Holy Word, the prayer which is prayed in faith will be heard.  Jesus says, Ask and it will be given to you (Matthew 7:7).  In another place, He says, What man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone?  “Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent?  “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him! (Matthew 7:9-11).

Yes indeed!  How much more does our Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him.  Much more does He give, because of who He is.  He promises to hear His people because He promises to do so.  And in His promise, His people place their confidence, hope, and trust, and not in their own righteousness, goodness, or piety.

In pride and self-glory we do not come before God.  Those in their arrogance who come before God He does not hear.  They come in their own righteousness.  God’s help they do not truly seek, for if they truly sought help from the Lord, they would not demand from God, but humbly ask of Him, leaving the outcome and the answer to Him.

They who ask of God, dependent on God’s reply and answer, trusting not in themselves or the worthiness of their prayer, but entrusting themselves into God’s care, believing His Holy Word and in Christ His Son, these He certainly does and will hear.  But this kind of faith and commendation into the Lord’s hands and will is not inborn within us or natural to us.  It is God given, not according to our nature, but according to His gift.  By the hearing of His Holy Word, God gives this kind of faith (Romans 10:17).  And by the hearing of His Holy Word do we battle within ourselves against doubt and unbelief in God’s promises, that we not demand of God according to our will, but that He answer according to His.

Concerning wisdom, St. James writes, If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.  But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind.  For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways (James 1:5-8).

This word certainly applies for asking in prayer for wisdom.  But also does it apply concerning prayer in general.  The prayer of doubt is not really prayer at all.  Thus do we not pray in such a way that we say, ‘Lord, if you hear’ or ‘Lord, if you help’ or ‘Lord, if you answer.’  This is not prayer.  It’s a wish, a wish that demonstrates little confidence and assurance in God and His Word at all, but is really a sign of unbelief.

God’ Word is not uncertain.  His promises are not a possibility, probability, or accidental.  God’s promises are certain and true because it is God who gives them.  Adding an ‘if’ to what God promises is to disbelieve God.  But the confidence God gives unto us that He hears the prayer of faith is His Holy Word.  Throughout the Holy Scriptures, example after example abounds of God answering prayer, that we believe and have confidence in God, who for Christ’s sake, hears our prayers.

The man in today’s Gospel reading from St. Mark is such an example.  So is the woman who asked the Lord to cast the demon out of her daughter, even when Jesus had replied, It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs (Mark 7:27).  But to Him the woman replied, Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs under the table eat from the children’s crumbs (Mark 7:28).  In agreement with the Lord, she confessed the same and was willing to take what the Lord would give.  She trusted in His kindness and believed His Word, and her daughter was delivered.

So also did blind men receive their sight; the lame walked, lepers were cleansed (Luke 7:22).  These had asked our Lord in faith for help, to have mercy upon them, and to hear them, and He did.  And so also does our Lord help us in our needs, giving faith to trust in Him and confidence in His Holy Word, leaving the outcome to Him and waiting on Him for answer.

The Bible says that The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much (James 5:16).  This is true.  And one is a righteous man who believes in Christ, in Christ whose righteousness covers his own unrighteousness. It is this way with us.  Christ’s righteousness covers our own unrighteousness.  His sinless life covers our sinful life.    Through Christ, therefore, does the Christian pray.  And that prayer is heard.

Therefore are our prayers not in vain.  Nor are they useless.  Prayer is not a worthless activity.  It is the diligent and continual exercise of God’s people, God’s people who live by faith in God’s Son.  Prayer is spoken with the mouth, but is also prayed within the heart that trusts in Christ for help and deliverance and gives Him the glory.

It is on account of Christ that our prayers are heard.  This is because our boldness and confidence to ask of God is not founded on the one who asks, but on Him who is prayed to; on Him who commands us to pray and who promises to hear.  According to His Word do we pray and according to His Word do we believe He hears and answers.

Note how the writer to the Hebrews prefaces these words, Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:16).  Just before he speaks of Jesus when he writes, Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.  For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:14-15).

Jesus, though tempted as we are, was without sin.  He sympathizes with our weakness and is able to aid those who are tempted (Hebrews 2:18).  He is our High Priest who offered Himself once and for all on the cross as the sacrifice for our sins (Hebrews 7:27; 10:10).  And because He has, Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.  And in Christ is where God’s mercy is found.

In yet another place, the writer to the Hebrews speaks of having a boldness by the blood of Jesus, our High Priest, saying, Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.  Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful (Hebrews 10:22-23).

This is how we know that God hears and answers our prayer – on account of Christ.  Believing in Him for forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation is faith, a faith not born of man, but the faith born of water and Word, God’s Word, the faith which trusts not in one’s own piety, strength, or worthiness to come to God in prayer for help in time of need, but trusts in Him who, by His grace, for Christ’s sake, promises to hear and answer.

Thus do we see the father in the Gospel text this morning, praying in such a way that even in his own faith he does not trust, but in Him to whom He asks for His son’s deliverance.  Therefore, did the father pray, I believe; help my unbelief!

Oh for such a faith as this, that takes no confidence and assurance in the strength of one’s faith, but even acknowledges its disbelief and doubt before God who alone can help.  This is true despair of oneself, that one throw himself fully upon God’s mercy, resting upon nothing within, but hoping on everything from without, upon Christ.

And to this one, Christ and God hears and answers.  Thus, do we also pray, with Christ’s disciples elsewhere, Increase our faith (Luke 17:5).  And He does.  Forgiveness into our ears does He proclaim.  Christ’s body and blood does the Lord give in bread and wine.  And to our Baptism does our Lord direct us, For as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?  Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life (Romans 6:3-4).

This newness of life is one born of water and the spirit (John 3:5-6).  It is the life of faith, faith in God’s Word and trust in His promises.  For Christ’s sake does God our Father hear us.  And increase our faith He does.  Ourselves we do not trust, neither the strength of our faith or the greatness of our prayer

 

 

 

The Substance of our Faith

19On the evening of that 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.” 20When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” 22And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld.”

      24Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “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.”

      26Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27Then 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.” 28Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

      30Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31but 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.  [John 20:19-31 (ESV) ]

1 What unbelief, not just doubt, looks like

The devil, the world, and our sinful flesh are mighty foes indeed to faith.  Truly, unbelief is an easy thing.  It comes natural to all of us.  As the Psalmist says, Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me (Psalm 51:5).  From birth man is cursed with an unbelieving heart.  Of ourselves and by ourselves, we do not know what it is to truly have faith in the Lord Jesus, for of ourselves and by ourselves, we are not able to receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to natural man, nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned, as God reveals through the hand of St. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 2:14).

It is a result of sin that natural man does not believe the promises of God or the Holy Word of God.  To remedy this state which man is in naturally, help must come from the outside, not from within.  Thus did God the Father send His Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved (John 3:17).

Man must be born anew and not remain in his first birth of sin and death.  Therefore does God give His Holy Word and Baptism, Word and water, by which your are washed of your sins and made clean, declared His child, and birthed anew of water and the Spirit (John 3:5).  Through the waters of your Baptism, God makes you new creatures.  The old has passed.  The new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17).  Through Baptism, God gives faith, the faith given by means of the Word.  It is that Word, God’s Word, ‘in, with, and under’ the water, that gives new life.  Baptism is not water only.  It is water and God’s Word applied to the one who is Baptized.  God does the doing.  And God doing the doing means that it is done.

Faith takes this to be so.  Unbelief does not.  Unbelief wants proof, evidence, and verifiability.  It wants to see and know for itself with tangible kinds of evidence that can be handled, felt, and experienced. It doesn’t go on what another says.  It goes by what is felt in the heart, seen with the eyes, and known in the mind according to reason.  Such was the case with Thomas.  Whereas unbelief trusts what it knows according to the senses, faith in God rests in God and His Word, hoping for what it does not see and resting in another’s Word and Promise and not its own (Romans 8:24-25).

Thomas, called Didymus, one of the twelve disciples of our Lord, was a man with a nature such as we too are born with.  This one was not with the other disciples when the risen Lord Jesus Christ had first appeared unto to them on that first day of the week called Easter, the Resurrection of our Lord.  Though the others had certainly told Him the good news that Christ Jesus was alive and no longer dead, this news and their words fell on deaf ears.  Thomas did not believe them.  With hard-headedness and in unbelief did Thomas, one of the Lord’s chosen disciples, say that he would not believe that the Lord had risen form the dead, unless he would see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place his finger into the mark of the nails, and place his hand into his side (John 20:25).

This is a sure sign, not of doubt, but of stubborn unbelief, unbelief that denies the word of not only one voice, but several voices testifying to what had indeed been seen.  So much for the picture of a Holy Saint Thomas who believed what was told him and had not a thread of sinning unbelief yet in his heart!  But what of St. Peter, who dared rebuke the Lord Jesus for speaking the truth of what was to be, that Jesus was to suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day (Matthew 16:21)?  What of him who also denied the Lord three times and all who scattered like sheep when their shepherd Jesus was struck and arrested (Matthew 26:31, 56)?

Holy Scripture reveals such testimony of God’s people, and even His disciples, as sinners, sinners to whom God is gracious and kind, yet sinners who remain sinners, sinners with failings and weaknesses, sinners who doubt and even disbelieve God’s Word and promise.  This is given for your comfort and for help, for you, like the examples of God’s people in the Testaments, both Old and New, are of the same flesh and blood.  You too do not believe as you ought.  You have been given the witness of Christ risen from the dead, but you still at times fear.  You are at times uncertain.  You at times give in to temptation. Though you have God’s Word placed before you, it is not always evident that you are full of confidence and have complete trust in God’s Word alone all times and in all places.

 

2 The grace of God and the blessing of faith given from Him through His Son

But you, like Thomas and others throughout the Bible, are not left without help.  Yur Lord is compassionate to the troubled, kind to the meek, and gentle to the lowly (Matthew 11:29).  The stubborn He reproves and the exalted He humbles (Mathew 23:12).  Our Lord did not leave Thomas in unbelief, for Jesus had surely known what state Thomas was in on that eighth day when He appeared unto him an declared, Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe (John 20:27).  But these were not Jesus’ first words to Thomas and the disciples on that day.  Jesus’ first words were as the week before, but now Thomas also heard for himself and with His own ears that word which first proceeded out of the mouth of the Lord (Deuteronomy 8:3; Matthew 4:4).  That word was peace.

Peace unto you, Jesus said, who also stood in their midst, not as one dead, but as one who had died and was now risen from the dead (John 20:26).  With these words, Jesus calmed their fears and put to rest their anxieties.  Also for Thomas.  And also for you.

The Resurrection of the Lord Jesus from the dead is no myth, untrue event, or merely a teaching of what some had believed to have happened, but with no basis in reality.  Thomas and the other disciples had seen the Lord with their own eyes.  Thus does John write in his first letter,  That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life — the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us — that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1:1-3).

The Word of life that John speaks of is none other than Christ, the crucified Christ, the risen from the dead Christ. Jesus who once was dead has burst forth from His three day prison.  If it had not been so, utterly vain and futile would our faith in a dead savior truly be, and more pitiable than all men would we be.  But now Christ is risen from the dead! (1 Corinthians 15:14, 17, 20)

No longer are you in our sins.  Christ has conquered death.   This means your life.  The Good News is true.  Fear and anxiety is cast aside in the resurrected glory of Christ who has overcome death and the grave and through whom you too overcome death and the grave.  Christ’s bodily resurrection from the dead means your bodily resurrection from the dead, which means that you need not fear death and the fear of death, for these Christ has overcome and swallowed up in His victory (1 Corinthians 15:54).

Holy Scripture testifies to the Good News of Christ’s resurrection from the dead and that peace with God through Jesus which the world cannot give and which passes all human understanding.  And through God’s Word preached and proclaimed, Christ speaks peace to your heart, blesses you with confidence before God in Jesus Christ, and gives you His grace and favor.  Unbelief is replaced by faith in God’s Son for your salvation, not because you see, but by God bringing about that faith in you through His mighty and effective spirit and life Word (John 6:63).  By means of that Word, God creates faith within your heart that you believe what you have not seen and trust alone in His promise through Jesus Christ our Lord.

God does not leave you on our own.  He does not abandon you to unbelief.  Rather does He, by means of His Holy Word, call you to the truth.  In His Word, you know that Christ is for you and not against you, Christ dying your death and Christ in the grave no longer.  But go not by His Word, and on your own and in your sin you will continue to be.  But thanks be to God!  God  has revealed His Son that you not remain in sin, but have eternal life.  Christ comes to you, revealing Himself as your risen Savior.  In Him is true confidence of a loving God and sure hope of the life to come.

3 The purpose for the Gospel of St. John, indeed, for all of the Holy Scriptures generally

The Thomas in our text did not believe until the Lord showed Himself to him.  But the Lord was kind and gentle to the troubled Thomas who trusted not in the word of others but only the self-seeking evidence of his own heart.  Jesus appeared to Thomas, nail prints, spear mark, and all.  And then did Thomas confess with his mouth what certainly was believed in His heart of Jesus, My Lord and My God! (John 20:28).  He confessed what was right and true because the Lord revealed to Him what was so. He denied it not any longer.

And that you may continue in the confession of Thomas, saying with him, My Lord and My God unto Jesus Christ, Jesus reveals Himself to you, too.  By means of His Word, even the testimony of the Apostles and prophets, God makes known unto you that we are indeed sinners, but sinners for whom Christ died.  These things, writes St. John, are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing, you have life in His Name (John 20:31).  You stumble and fall, but your Lord who comes unto you is gentle and kind.  He speaks to you the word of peace; peace with God, sins forgiven, and life everlasting in Christ Jesus.  He gives you His Word, that you hold to it and believe it, trusting His promises.  And thereby does He give you certainty of His favor and mercy.  Amen.

The peace that passes all human understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Amen.

“The Word of God and the Work of the Pastor”

In a recent survey, entitled, “US Religious Knowledge Survey” from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, several revealing findings surfaced. Although the findings might not be surprising in the current zeitgeist (spirit) of the times, they do give a jarring dose of reality to any who would consider Christendom, and Christians in general, to be as healthy and strong as they might think themselves to be.

The sampling of the survey was only over 3400. It’s findings, of course, are limited. But at the same time, these can be helpful for us, not only for indicating where Christendom as a whole might be. They can also impress upon us the need for self-reflection and self-evaluation of where we stand, and why.

One editor in the Wisconsin State Journal began his column about the survey with these words, “Say this about American Christians: We hold our beliefs dear and will defend them to the death. Now, if only someone would tell us what they are”(Wed, Oct 6, 2010).

The same editor had also written that, “Pew research has found about 60 percent of American adults say religion is “very important” in their lives.” Then he comments, “But not important enough to learn much about, apparently.” In addition, he also wrote, “If only American Christians would spend as much time researching religion as they do spouting off their opinions about it.”

Generally speaking, I think this editor is quite correct in at least these comments. Americans, as a whole, talk a lot about religion (and an increasing amount about spirituality), but they talk a lot about what they seem to know little about.

For the most part, it seems, quite a few are just plain ignorant (they just don’t know, or care) about the teachings of the Bible, let alone the teachings of the particular Christian denomination they claim to be a member of…

2Tim3.14-4.5, Pentecost 21, 2010C.pdf

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