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Signs

4/27/03

Have you seen the movie "Signs"? I had avoided it because the ads I'd seen emphasized how scary it was. I thought it was a horror movie based on space aliens invading. It wasn't that at all. The real horror in the movie is a clergyman's crisis of faith. His wife has died tragically, and then alien invaders show up. The community still expects him to be the man of faith. He resolutely maintains that he is not. He is angry at God, and worse yet he is convinced that he has a right to be. If you are a person of faith, you can identify with this man's crisis of faith, but did you catch the "gospel" in this movie? Did you catch the profound lengths God went to in this movie to address this man's crisis? Only a God of tremendous grace would go to such trouble to regain a sinner. Only a loving Father would put Himself out so much to regain a pouting child. Do you have such a God as this?

Look at our text. Here is a man having a crisis of faith. You know a man is having a crisis of faith in the God he can't see when he takes matters into his own hands which he can see. That's what we find Thomas doing. On Easter evening the disciples are together with the doors locked because they're afraid of the Jews. As far as they're concerned their Jesus is dead. O some women had reported seeing Him, but what did they know. They were probably just grief stricken. No, Jesus is dead, and the same Jews that killed Him could very well kill them.

So there the disciples sit huddled in their fear, but not Thomas. The text doesn't say one way or the other about him fearing the Jews. It just says that he wasn't there. We know back in John 11 when Mary and Martha had sent for Jesus for their sick brother Lazarus, the disciples had cautioned Jesus. "The Jews were just now seeking to stone You and are You going there again?" The disciples were afraid for Jesus because of the Jews and probably for themselves as well. But listen to what Thomas says on this occasion. He alone seems not to fear the Jews or even death. Thomas says, "Let us also go, that we may die with Him."

Seems Thomas is a pretty brave guy, doesn't it? It seems that Thomas wasn't going to let the death of Jesus cower him in a house. Besides how could all the disciples stay locked in a house? Who would bring them food and drink? Let the others be afraid for their lives. Thomas was going on with his without Jesus in much the same way as Mel Gibson in the movie "Signs" went on with his life without God.

What crises of faith have you been having lately? Jesus seem dead and gone to you? Fear got you locked up somehow? Jesus let you down somehow? Did He let you get sicker than you thought He should? Or did He let something happen to one of your loved ones? Perhaps your prayers have not been answered. You've prayed and prayed and prayed some more; many words have come flying out of your heart and mouth only to fall lifelessly to the ground. You're ready to go on with your life without Jesus too, aren't you? You've tried the way of discipleship, of following, of trusting. What has such faith gotten you? Disappointment; bitter, sour disappointment.

The Lord has compassion on His children caught up in faith crises. He doesn't cast those of feeble faith, flickering faith, or even no faith aside. He comes to get them. He comes to the unbelieving disciples locked up in the house, to these disciples awash in fear, turmoil, and crisis and says to them, "Peace be with you!" Yeah, that's what I say to my kids when they don't believe me, doubt me, or are mad at me for letting them down. I say to them, "Peace be with you!" Nope, I say, "How dare you?" But Jesus even has more love for disciples caught up in a crisis of faith than I do for my children.

You see while I sacrifice and suffer for my children, while I would by God's grace give my life for my children, I have not, cannot, and would not suffer the pains and punishments of hell for them. Jesus did, and He did this when not a one of His kids believed or trusted in Him at all. Can you see then while a problem with our faith is a crisis to us, it's not for Him? If Jesus died for us while we were still ungodly sinners, as Paul asserts He did, then when we retreat to our ungodly, sinful ways that doesn't surprise Him. Second, Jesus went to the cross to suffer and die for the sin of unbelief, doubt, fear, and anger with God. He declared that He finished paying for such sins, and God the Father declared His acceptance of the payment by raising Him from the dead on Easter.

The peace treaty between God and fallen mankind has been signed by God the Father and the God/Man Jesus. God unilaterally established it by the suffering and death of His Son. So God the Son can unilaterally i.e. with no cooperation, help, or even faith on the part of the disciples announce it to the fearful disciples on Easter evening. With great joy the disciples receive their risen Jesus. Their faith crisis is over. Here is Jesus in flesh and blood. All of His promises are still good. He was able to defeat sin, death and the devil like He predicted and promised He would.

Thomas wasn't with the rest of the Church on that Easter evening. For good reason perhaps, he wasn't in the house behind locked doors. But Jesus is still extraordinarily gracious to him in his crisis of faith. Before leaving the house, Jesus left His Spirit. He left the Spirit here for one reason: to forgive sins. Now when we have a crisis of faith, we may think that what we need is this or that miracle, and by the way, this is how the movie "Signs" solved the crisis. We may think we need God to do this or that powerful work, but what we really need is forgiveness.

What is at the bottom of every crisis of faith I've ever had has been my sins. Just like with the disciples, it is my unbelief that makes me fear men; it's my sin of misbelief that makes me think God has let me down by not doing what I want Him to. It's my sins of pride, worry, greed, despair and more at the rock hard bottom of my heart that have led me to every single crisis of faith. And what's the answer to my sin? My trying harder? My doing better? My learning to stay positive so I can avoid crises of faith? No, the only answer to sin is forgiveness which Christ Jesus won on the cross for a world of sinners and left in that house on the first Easter evening.

Jesus left behind His Spirit in the forgiving word of His disciples, and the disciples tell this to Thomas who is still up to his eyeballs in a crisis of faith. The Word does nothing. Actually it seems to make it worse, doesn't it? Thomas responds with a bitter, graphic, visceral oath: "Unless I see the nail marks in His hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe it."

The Word of God from the lips of the ones the Lord commanded to preach it, does nothing to Thomas in a faith crisis of doubt. I've experienced this same thing. In the midst of a crisis of faith, some kind soul has spoken God's life giving, forgiving Word to me too, and how did I respond? With anger, with more doubt, with daring God to do more for me than send me His lousy Word. In other words, this sinner caught up in a crisis of faith responded with even more sinning.

This next part is where Jesus does for Thomas something like God does for Mel Gibson in "Signs." To bring him back to the faith, God invades a whole world with space aliens and then repels them. Now that's pretty cool. God is portrayed as caring so much for one lone sinner that He does earth shaking, yeah, universe shaking things.

What God is portrayed as doing in the movie "Signs" is nothing compared to what He did for Thomas in our text. Jesus gets as visceral, as graphic as incarnational, as flesh and blood as Thomas demanded He be. Jesus comes back to the house where the disciples were. He presents His flesh and blood to Thomas for looking, for holding, for plunging His fingers into. What condescension, what grace, what understanding Jesus shows. The flesh and blood Thomas was not satisfied by Jesus' Spirit-filled Word from the mouths of His disciples. He demanded flesh and blood, and so Jesus in an incredible act of mercy gives Him flesh and blood.

Now let me ask you; has the Lord done less for me? Has He done less for you? Now don't sit there pretending you never have a crisis of faith. Don't pretend you're never bothered by what's going on in your life or the lives of your loved ones. Don't make off like you don't sometimes feel that praying, hoping, and believing are useless, pointless, or meaningless. You do, you have, and you will. I do, I have, I will, and the Lord does for me what He did for Thomas here.

The Lord sends Word to me that He lives, that He reigns, and that He has not left me nor forsaken me. He preaches into these cold, hard ears that He has risen victorious not just over sin in general but over my sins in particular. Even as the unbelief of His disciples did not stop Him from sacrificing His life for them or from being raised from the dead, so the unbelief, doubts, and crises that rage in my heart don't diminish His power over my life. The Spirit of Jesus through the preached Word says to me, "Be of good cheer, son; your sins are all forgiven you. Even though you may forget My Words and My promises, I remember them forever and ever."

What wonderful things to say! What gospel! What certainty! And what do I care in the midst of a crisis of faith? You see you may be too polite when I'm visiting you in the hospital or at home to speak frankly of your faith crisis, but you probably speak and think as bluntly to yourself as I do to myself. And when the wonderful Spirit-driven Gospel hits my ears which are hardened by crisis they bounce off me as they did Thomas.

Does my Lord give up on me? No more than He did on Thomas. As He came to Thomas, so He comes to Me. I am a flesh and blood being. I'm not comforted by a God who comes in a bright, white light. I'm not comforted by a God who comes in tornadic winds or rock breaking earthquakes which could easily separate my blood from my body. If He should come to me that way, it would only cause another crisis. So He comes to me like He came to Thomas in flesh and blood. He comes to me like He has come to His Church since Ascension in the Bread and Wine of Holy Communion. Here is His Body for Me to see, touch, taste, and feel. Just as Jesus came to Thomas in peace, so He comes to this altar in peace. That's why right before the Communion the pastor places His hand on the altar and says, "The peace of the Lord be with you always." He comes today in the peace of the forgiveness of sins even as He came to His Church in our text.

He comes to address our crises of faith even as He came to address the Church's then. He does this by assuring us of His presence. Our sins have not caused Him to abandon us. Our little faith, our lack of faith hasn't locked Him out of our lives. He still comes to us as often as His Word is preached and His Sacraments are administered to strengthen and preserve us in the true faith. His Word and particularly His Supper are the sure signs of His presence even when we are in the midst of a crisis. Amen.

Rev. Paul R. Harris

Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas

Easter II (4-27-03), John 20:19-31