October 21, 2018
“Jesus said to him, ‘Go; your son will live.’ The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way.”
Jesus spoke. The man believed what Jesus spoke. And then the man saw that what Jesus spoke was true. This is not the way we normally operate in this world. “I’ll believe it when I see it” is not only an old adage, but it is generally a good rule of thumb. Yet, this is not the way with faith! “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1) And Jesus spoke to Thomas after he was raised from the dead, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29) In the kingdom of heaven, you believe it before you see it!
Now this can be greatly misunderstood. Faith is not simply blind optimism; you believe that everything will work out for the best. Rather, Jesus spoke and the man believed the word that Jesus spoke. Faith is grounded in the word of God. Faith doesn’t believe what it sees. Rather, faith believes what it hears. It believes before it sees. True faith comes from hearing the word of Christ. And it is on this word that faith trusts, even before seeing.
You cannot have faith apart from the word of God. It is through the proclamation of the Gospel that God creates faith in your heart. Apart from God’s word, you have nothing to rest your faith on. This is important to mark, because God both reveals himself and he hides himself. God reveals himself in his word, where he tells us that he loves us so that he sent his Son to die for our sins and raised him to give us new life. Yet, God also hides himself. We don’t always know what the will of God is. Why is my child sick and at the point of death? Why did my husband have to die? Why is my mother stricken with cancer? How could God let her children be taken from her at such a young age? Why did God let a hurricane destroy the panhandle of Florida, etc. We don’t know. And there are many other things hidden in the mind of God, which are beyond our knowledge and beyond our business.
Satan wants us to seek the hidden God through speculation and seeking signs and wonders. This leads us to casting judgment on God or making for ourselves a god out of our own image. But when God hides himself, like at times of immense suffering, he does not want you to seek him where he is hidden, but to seek him where he reveals himself. God reveals himself in his word. In his word God gives you answers that your eyes will never find elsewhere no matter how hard you look. In his word God gives you assurance of invisible things that can only be hoped for.
Through the word of God you find purpose in your suffering. It brings you to repent of your sins and to have faith with patience. It teaches you to trust in God and to look to his promises for comfort.
Faith must be grounded in God’s word. Otherwise, it is a false faith. Faith does not make anything true. God’s word is not true, because you believe it. It’s true, because it is God’s word. If you believe something false with all your heart, it does not make it true. It just means that you are believing a lie. And this can be frightfully dangerous, if you are believing a lie about God or salvation.
We use the word faith in two ways: how one believes and what one believes. If I say, “I have a strong faith.” I could mean that I believe very strongly, or I could mean that the faith I believe in is trustworthy. If the faith in which you believe is not true, then it doesn’t matter how strongly you believe. You want both to believe strongly and to have what you believe be true.
Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead whether you believe it or not. Yet, it is those who believe it that receive the benefits of Christ’s sacrifice, namely, the forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. Likewise, the bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper is Christ’s body and blood whether you believe it or not. Because Jesus said, “This is my body” and “This cup is the New Testament in my blood.” It doesn’t become Christ’s body and blood when you believe that it is, even as Jesus’ death and resurrection did not become true when you believed it. Yet, when you believe the words of Christ, you receive the benefits of what Christ gives you.
Yet, if you were to go to a church, which denies the bodily presence of Christ in the Supper or changes the words of Jesus, so that they mean something different than what Jesus said, you couldn’t make it Christ’s body and blood by believing really hard. It is Christ’s body and blood, because of the word. But without the word it is not Christ’s body and blood no matter how hard you believe.
Likewise, if someone were to doubt that the Supper were Christ’s true body and blood where Jesus’ words remain, that would not make it just plain bread and wine. It would remain Christ’s body and blood even if an unbeliever were to eat it. That is why St. Paul warns, “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself.” (1 Corinthians 11:27-29)
Your faith does not make anything true or false. Rather, your faith can receive what is true, if it is a true faith. If it receives what is false, it is a false faith. When you believe the words of Jesus, “given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins” then you receive the Supper of the Lord to your own benefit with the forgiveness of sins, life and salvation, an increase of faith toward God and of love toward your fellow Christian. Faith does not make God’s word true, but it does receive the power and benefit of God’s word.
We believe a lot of things we have not seen. We believe that God the Father almighty made the heavens and the earth. None of us were there when he did it, but Hebrews 11:3 states, “By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.” By the power of the same word, which created the universe out of nothing we believe this truth, although we did not see it. We believe that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, crucified, died and was buried, rose again on the third day and ascended into heaven. None of us have seen any of that! Yet, we all believe it, because God’s word says it is true.
Furthermore, we believe in a Holy Spirit we have never seen. We believe in the Holy Christian Church, that is, the Communion of Saints. Is that what we see? Is the church holy? It seems rather that Christians mingle with the unbelieving world so much, they are indistinguishable from it. They don’t live exceptionally holy lives nor keep themselves from sin. Christians are supposed to love each other, yet, the love of many has grown cold. The Communion of Saints implies that we are actually united in fellowship, yet the Christian church is scattered throughout the world, divided into sects and various denominations. Even the Lutherans, who believe the Bible is God’s word, are not united in doctrine and practice on all fronts. Yet, day after day, week after week we confess the one, holy Christian Church. Because we believe the word of God that he has washed us with the water and the word and presented us holy as Christ’s spotless bride. So, despite our sins and schisms, God has united his own invisible church around his holy word and Sacraments through faith.
We believe in the forgiveness of sins; just think about that. God, who knows your every secret. He knows the sins you haven’t told your wife or husband. Everything that shames you, that causes your conscience fear and pain, even the sins you’ve forgotten about God knows them full well. And yet, we confess that God forgives all these sins. Because God says so. We are like the father walking home with no evidence that his dying son has recovered, except the word of Jesus, and so do we walk to our deaths confident that we will stand sinless before the throne of God.
We believe in the resurrection of the dead and the life everlasting, even though none of us has ever seen a single dead person rise from the dead, nor have we known someone who continues to live without aging. For all of us it’s just a matter of time before we die. Yet, based on God’s word alone, we believe what we have not seen.
Now the word of God is no fairy tale or compilation of unverifiable events like the Book of Mormon or the visions of Mohamad, which are uncorroborated, baseless claims made up out of thin air. The Bible is not this way. The four Gospels are complementary and corroborating accounts of the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus written by men, who saw Jesus in person. Hundreds of people witnessed Jesus alive after his resurrection. The apostles faced beatings, prisons, and death confessing the life and resurrection of Christ with nothing material to gain by it. And the writing of the New Testament, written by ten different individuals are historical proofs of the Scripture’s legitimacy. And there are several writings outside of the bible along with other archeological evidence that supports what both the New and the Old Testaments claim.
Yet, this is not why we believe that the Bible is true. We believe the Bible is true, because the Holy Spirit caused the Bible to be written and continues to work through the Bible to create faith. The power of the Bible is not that it can be verified by multiple human witnesses, but that it is indeed the word of God. St. Paul writes, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” (2 Timothy 3:16) God’s word is uniquely powerful to create faith, which we ourselves can see evidence of as millions of people throughout the world and throughout generations continue to confess this same Gospel. And some confess it even in the face of persecution and death!
St. Paul writes that the Gospel is the power of God to salvation to all who believe. And so, we should continue to hear this word of God, so that our faith becomes stronger. Consider the official in our lesson. He already had faith in Jesus. That is why he went to him for help. Yet, when he heard Jesus’ words his faith increased. The word of God continues to increase your faith even after you believe, so that you not only have a faith that is trustworthy, but have a faith that believes strongly.
This is why we continue to hear Jesus’ word and receive his pledge of forgiveness from his body and blood given to us. It is so our faith would continue to grow, so that we might believe with confidence those things, which our eyes do not yet see. And by God’s grace we will see what our faith holds dear, as St. John says, “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” (1 John 3:2) Amen.