24. April 2022
“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.”
In Name of the + Jesus. Amen.
How can you know what is real? You think that it’s your five senses. But why, then, do we have words like mirage, illusion, hallucination, and figment of the imagination? Why do we use expressions like “my eyes played tricks on me,” “it tasted good at the time,” or “you heard that wrong?” How reliable are your senses?
How can you know what is real? You think that you’re sane. You think therefore you are. Yet, why do we have words like misled, deceived, tricked, and confused? Why do we use expressions like “cult of personality,” “not in their right mind,” “my mind played tricks on me,” or “he’s got the devil in him?” How reliable is your mind?
Reality is far less obvious than you think. You think you know someone after months of conversation on the internet, only to find out that they’re very different in person. When inflamed with desire, you pursue someone for marriage, only to find out later that you were blinded from who they really are. You listen to authorities uncritically, ignoring your instinct and experience, only to discover that they led you down the primrose path to catastrophe. And perhaps you were once held captive to preachers who scratched your itchy ears, but whose lies, misrepresentations, or idealism did not give you the comfort of Christ Jesus’ forgiveness and life, but kept you captive to your sin.
You can’t trust your senses or your reason because you can’t trust your heart. You will never know what is real as long as your heart is captive to its pursuits of pleasure, wealth, and power. Since the original corruption of Adam, you along with all mankind have been enslaved by nature to their passions, lusts, and desires. It doesn’t matter if it’s good for you. It doesn’t matter if it’s true. It doesn’t matter if it’s beautiful. As long as it’s what you want, what you need, or what you call good, then you will call it real and true.
Your heart is enslaved to sin. It does not care about what is real. The selfish heart wants what it wants. And your mind and sensory perception follow. You’ll see what you want to see. You’ll hear what you want to hear. You’ll feel what you want to feel. You’ll tell whatever lies are necessary to live the lie you want.
Even worse, you will fear, worry, and be anxious about the wrong things. You’ll fear the one who can destroy the body, rather than the one who can lead both body and soul into hell. You’ll worry about tomorrow rather than be attentive to today. You’ll spend your life in pursuit of more and more stuff but not pursue what leads to a hopeful future and life eternal.
You’re the most skilled liar of all, “the chief of sinners,” deceiving yourself because the truth is not in you. You’ll follow that flowery path that leads to destruction, rather than go on the steep, narrow, thorny, and uphill path that is trust in another. As Jesus said, “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Mt. 7:13-14) It’s difficult, no, impossible to believe in Jesus Christ or come to Him. Your heart won’t and can’t, and you’ll create a whole artificial reality around you to justify your unbelief.
But Jesus today comes and stands in your midst to speak actual reality into being. Your selfish heart demands you live in fear and worry. But Jesus says to you, “Peace be with you!” And He shows you the only source of peace and hope: the wounds inflicted by His crucifixion and death. Everything for faith and life depends on those wounds. If Christ is not raised from the dead, then our faith is vanity and nothing is real.
Without Jesus’s death and resurrection, you’d still be in your trespasses and sins. Without Jesus speaking to you those sweet words of forgiveness into your ears, you’d continue in the lies of your sinful heart, despairing of life and hardened in unbelief, living in its virtual reality. As much as the disciples feared the Jews, they were even more troubled by their sin which had rejected and abandoned Jesus. They did not yet believe that they could be forgiven. “Peace be with you” are the words of Holy Absolution spoken to those friends of Jesus, huddled behind closed doors for fear.
Hearing those words of forgiveness and seeing those wounds restored them. But that alone is not enough. Maybe His resurrection was only for them? Maybe it was a one-off forgiveness? So, Jesus breathes on the fallen disciples with the breath of life, not only to forgive them, but to commission them to go into the world proclaiming Christ’s forgiveness to you! Jesus doesn’t just restore his unbelieving disciples to faith, He desires to restore all of fallen creation by His Word of forgiveness and life-giving breath! He’s breathing into His fallen world to remake that world, just as by the breath of His mouth all things were originally made!
Jesus hasn’t stopped breathing the Spirit upon all of selfish, rebellious humanity. He breathed the Spirit upon you in your Baptism. The Spirit continues to breathe on you, the once slain but now alive army of God. The Spirit gives you to listen to Jesus, to hear His Word, and receive the gifts that Word gives. Jesus tells you to touch His flesh in the Holy Sacrament. He gives you to hunger and thirst for His righteousness, drinking deeply from the well of His forgiveness. “Peace be with you” is proclaimed to you in the forgiveness of sins in His body and blood of His Supper.
The disciples and Thomas were given to be eyewitnesses of the resurrected Jesus. They saw and believed. It really happened. Their eyes weren’t deceiving them. Their ears didn’t hear it wrong. You, too, will see Jesus face-to-face in your body in the resurrection. Jesus has risen, alleluia! Those disciples-turned-apostles testify to you of what they saw and heard and their testimony is real. “Do not be unbelieving, but believing.”
How can you be sure? How do you know it is real? Perhaps it’s all a myth, a joke, an idle tale? You can’t know by your fallen senses or your reason! “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” But you know and believe by the Spirit speaking through the Word Jesus and through the Word’s gifts. Those words recreate in you a new heart that lives in Jesus’ forgiveness. And as forgiveness overflows into your life, it restores others to the reality of fear, love, and trust in God the Holy Trinity. As you go forgiving in Jesus’s name, you’ll see a new reality breaking out into your family, your congregation, and your community. Behold, Jesus is making all things new! You can’t be sure that anything else in this life is real. But you know this to be really real: You are forgiven, go in peace!
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amen.
Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
St. John Ev. Lutheran Church & School – Sherman Center
Random Lake, Wisconsin