Summary: You are to believe! But it’s what you put your faith in, that’s what’s often left unsaid. And when the object of your faith is not clear, then your faith isn’t connected to the Lord.
The Apostle John says in his first Epistle, “This is the victory that has conquered the world: our faith” (1 John 5:4). If so, then it seems that all we have to do is have more faith.
If we believe more, if we have more faith, then faith will destroy our sinful urges. Faith will crush our frustrations and annoyances; it will wipe away our aches and pains. Why, faith would even ease our tensions and solve our financial woes. If we only had more faith, then faith would make life better. For faith overcomes the world.
And so we become convinced not only that we need faith, but that we need a faith that never wavers, a faith that is always on fire. And then what happens? We set out to prove to ourselves and everyone else that we have that faith, that we do, indeed, believe!
And that’s what’s happening in many churches today--they’ve become self-convincing societies. Oh, look at so and so! What faith he has. If only I could believe like he does. If only I was always happy like he’s always happy. If only I was always on fire like him. And yet, if you were to peel away the veneer of his life, you’d see him doing the same thing--trying to prove to himself, and everyone else, that he really does have the faith that overcomes the world.
And then a few years later, you see that same man who was once on fire for God. You knew for some reason that he had quit coming to church. And then you find out why. He gave up trying to live the lie, the charade, of having the unquenchable fire of faith. For his faith was based on feelings. And when he could no longer keep lying to himself, trying to convince himself that his faith was for real, because his feelings told him so, he gave up. He quit believing. For the object of his faith was his feelings--not Jesus!
You gotta have faith! You gotta believe! That’s the world’s motto for success. It’s the creed we repeat so often that we also believe it. So we make faith in faith our goal. Or we make faith in our perceptions of faith, our feelings--instead of Jesus--our goal.
Oh it’s true--you are to believe! Never doubt that! But it’s what you put your faith in, that’s what’s often left unsaid. And when the object of your faith is not clear, then your faith isn’t connected to the Lord. You’re told to believe, but you’re never told what your faith should grasp. And so what happens?
You have faith in, or believe in, a multitude of things. Perhaps, you believe in yourself. Perhaps, your measure of faith is your feelings, for how else would you know if your faith is weak or strong? Or you may believe in your values. Or you may believe in prayer. Or you may believe in whatever you want--as long as you believe in something. But it’s faith in Jesus that overcomes the world--and nothing else.
And so we get to Thomas in our Gospel reading. He believed in something. He believed firmly and sincerely that what he heard the other disciples say about Jesus was not true. Jesus couldn’t be alive! And Thomas wouldn’t believe that until he had a sign. And not just any sign, but the sign that he demanded. Jesus would have to meet Thomas’ own litmus test before he would believe.
Yet, do not doubt this: Thomas didn’t just doubt--he no longer believed in Jesus! That’s why Jesus said to Thomas, “Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Oh, Thomas had faith in something, but it wasn’t Jesus. And so Thomas had fallen away from the faith; he was no longer a Christian; he was an unbeliever.
But notice how difficult it was for Thomas, and for us, to believe. For Jesus calls us to believe what we think is unreasonable. Jesus tells us to throw away what we are so sure is true, and suppress what we feel may be right. That’s what Thomas had to do.
Thomas wasn’t there when Jesus first stood among to His Apostles after He arose from the grave. Later, the other disciples told Thomas, “We have seen the Lord.” But Thomas refused to believe what he heard. Instead, he believed what made sense to him and what felt right in his heart.
But our Lord knows what we are like. He knows that we are often slow to believe, and quick to doubt or even disbelieve. He knows that fear often runs our lives--not His soothing and comforting Word. He knows that our spirit often resists His Spirit. And so our Lord gives us His Holy Spirit, over and over, in every Divine Service, so we would “believe His holy Word and live a godly life, here in time and hereafter in eternity” (Small Catechism).