The 6th Sunday of Easter (May 22, 2022)
It used to be that if the subject of Christian preaching and teaching was brought up, you would immediately think of hearing about Jesus Christ. But that’s not always the case these days. Now all proclamation and discussion seems not to be centered upon Jesus but on your faith. You hear things like: “You don’t have because you don’t believe… Your life is a shambles because you are not trusting in God hard enough… Just have faith and you will be blessed, you will be healed, you will have peace in your life….Just pray this commitment prayer and you will be saved!”
Is your personal faith in Jesus the cause of your comfort and salvation? Where was your faith when Jesus died on the cross for you? Does Jesus heal you because you have faith in Him? What about the patient in the hospital bed next to you, who from your conversation with him you determined is not a Christian, and yet, he goes home with a clean bill of health and you are told there is no a cure for what you have? Does your faith really do anything? What was the last thing you created or caused to happen simply by your faith?
The Bible is certainly clear that faith is essential to our salvation. Jesus said, “Whoever believes in Me shall be saved” (Jn 3:16). But is that faith the cause of such salvation? Holy Scripture is clear that our saving is brought about solely on account of God’s love and His grace toward us. It is procured for us by God’s Son, Jesus Christ, who willingly gave up His life to purchase us that salvation. Our faith does not cause or create anything. For example, it was not our faith that created our universe. As Holy Scripture 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” (Heb. 11:3). By the same token, our personal faith in Jesus does not move God to declare us righteous in His sight. Our faith in Jesus does not produce peace in our life or peace with God. Faith merely receives what God in His grace has already predetermined to give us or do for us. The Holy apostle of the Lord writes: (We) “are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith…” (Ro. 3:24, 25)
So, dear Christian, is your present and eternal security, or peace, in this world dependent upon the strength or character of your personal faith in Jesus or is it dependent upon Jesus Himself and what He graciously does and gives to you?
Let’s listen in on Jesus’ conversation about faith with His chosen twelve on the very night of His betrayal. They are on their way to the garden of Gethsemane. In response to various things that Jesus had been teaching them along the way, most especially the fact that He was shortly going away from them, the apostles confidently said to Jesus, “We believe that you have come from God.”
Well, I must say, after spending three years up close and personal with Jesus, one would hope that they would by this point most definitely have some conviction about Jesus’ identity! But was Jesus supposed to be impressed with what they expressed was their faith? Is Jesus supposed to be impressed with our expressions of what we believe about Him? What is there to impress Him about our faith?
Funny, but Jesus does not respond to His disciples glowing confession with joy and a feeling of relief. He doesn’t say, “Right on, brothers! You don’t know how good that makes me feel!” Rather, Jesus says quite sarcastically, “ Now, you believe!” “Now!.. Now that I have been with you all this time…Now that you’ve seen all my miracles… Now that you have even heard the Father’s own voice proclaim that I am His beloved Son… Now that I am leaving you. Now you are telling me you believe that I have come from the Father! Wow, that’s swell guys! I’ve labored all this time and now I’m supposed to be somehow elated that you are with Me?”
Come on! Let’s get real! Look how often our human arrogance tries to hijack our relationship with Jesus! We think that just because we have an epiphany and conclude that Jesus and His Word are right after all, Jesus must surely be happy in us and will bless us. We act as though our faith is somehow a favor to Him. Don’t we have things a bit backwards? Who is dependent upon whom for favor?
Jesus takes the apostles and us to the mat and throws us down with a full body slam. “Feel pretty good about your faith, do you?” Jesus says, “The hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will leave me alone.”
Boy, Jesus could have used a little sensitivity training, don’t you think? Here His apostles were actually paying a compliment to Him, perhaps even trying to encourage Him for what He had already told them was going to be coming His way, and Jesus almost derides their confession of faith: “You will all abandon me!” Isn’t this a bit cruel?
Or is it tough love? You see, these apostles were well beyond simply being naïve. There was some true self-deception going on. Jesus was not being fooled by their bravado. They needed a wakeup call. What sort of faith did they have anyway, if at the first sign of difficulty they all were ready to scatter and abandon Jesus to His fate? So much for the conviction of their faith! Some friends of Jesus they were! “We’ve got your back, Jesus.” Yea, they were backing Jesus, alright! Way back!
Here’s the bottom line, fellow disciples of Jesus. Your personal faith … my personal faith in Jesus…is not enough. It’s not going to bring us the peace we will need. Talk about faith is cheap. But what is the depth of our faith when the chips are down? Jesus continues with this warning to every one of us: “In the world you will have tribulation.”
It is almost as if Jesus is saying to those of us who profess faith in Him, “Hey, that’s good that you have faith. You’re going to need it. In fact, you’re going to need more than such faith. You live in a hostile environment. The world… this “cosmos”’ is not your friend. It’s full of the effects of sin. It’s chalked full of unbelievers. It’s ruled by the Enemy…Satan… the Tempter. Do you think that just because you managed to escape arrest when my enemies grabbed me and then murdered me, that you’re safe? Then think again. If they persecuted me they will persecute you. The only way you can be assured that the world will leave you alone is if you leave me alone… that is, abandon me and my Word and become one with the world. The world only loves its own. But if you remain in that faith you say you have in Me, then this world will see to it that you will be opposed at every turn… that you will be challenged to defend your faith… that you will be tempted to forsake me…that you will be pressured to compromise My Word. Even in the pains and suffering common to all people in this world, Your suffering will be more intense, because you will be tempted to think that I have abandoned you or have not kept my promise to deliver you. Tribulation, oh yeah! You will know tribulation, especially for my name’s sake. Do you still want to believe in me?”
“Well, on second thought,” we might think to ourselves, “if Jesus puts it that way, maybe I better rethink this faith in Jesus business? I already have enough trouble!”
Whether we abandon Jesus or not, Jesus carries on. He says, “I am not alone because the Father is with me.” The world was certainly no friend to Jesus, but then, neither did His own chosen disciples prove to be. Jesus let His disciples in on a little secret. He was never depending upon His disciples for anything. He didn’t need them, He had God the Father to comfort and help Him.
Does it frustrate you that Jesus is not dependent upon you or your faith? It shouldn’t. After all, Jesus has already quite convincingly proven how undependable you and I and all His followers can be.
Jesus would have truly been in even more danger if He had counted on His followers to bail Him out… defend Him… or even speak up for Him. No one in the world was closer to Him… knew Him better… or had been allowed to witness first hand His true identity than The Twelve.
But look how these “believers” actually behaved. One betrayed Him into the hands of His enemies. One denied Him even within earshot of Jesus and with an oath, not just once but three times. When Jesus’ enemies came to arrest him, the rest fled from Him to save their own skins.
So, no, Jesus did not need Peter or John nor does He need you or me. Does that frustrate you that Jesus is not dependent upon you or your faith. It shouldn’t for He has the Eternal Father, who is totally trustworthy… totally capable… and totally committed to Him.
Here’s the thing, though, dear confessor of Jesus: Don’t beat yourself up over the fact that Jesus does not need or depend upon you and your faith. Don’t get all anxiety ridden about the fact that Jesus sees through your bravado. Be truthful with yourself. Confess your weaknesses and your failures to be faithful to Jesus. Understand that your relationship with Jesus is not for Him anyway. It’s for you. The Son of God did not come into the world from the Father…in your flesh… enduring your weaknesses…to suffer tribulation so that you could help Him out. He came to help you out, and more than help you, He came to give you victory over this world that seeks to afflict you, destroy you, and keep you from God. Jesus says: “Take heart, I have said all these things to you, that in me you may have peace, for I have overcome the world.”
Dear, well-meaning but fledgling disciple of Jesus, here’s your comfort, here’s your peace of mind. With the Father’s dependable and loving help, Jesus willingly suffered the pains of the cross in punishment for all your failures, all your weaknesses, and all your sins to win you full and complete pardon.
By His resurrection He has proven to you that totally apart from your faith or lack of faith He has won you an eternal victory that no one can take away from you. Therefore, don’t look at your faith but joyfully and confidently look at Jesus! He says to you, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27)
Be of good courage, then, in your own tribulation. Jesus, your Victor, has given you the Heavenly Father’s attentive ear. Jesus has given you the privilege to appeal to the Father in prayer anytime, anywhere, and under any circumstance. Pray to the Father in His name! He has already won the war for you. He is also assuring you, the Father intimately loves you, not the world… not those who merely wear the moniker of Christian, but you who love Him and believe in Him that He has come from the Father (v. 27). He promises you that He Himself is your intercessor with the Father and that He will ask the Father for you (v. 26). In fact, immediately following His little discourse with His disciples here, Jesus takes up that very mantle of intercessor for those who are His and prays to His Father and their Father for them. That prayer encompasses the whole of chapter 17.
Dear, fellow sufferer under the trials and tribulations of this world, don’t lose heart by focusing on your wavering faith. It’s not about your faith. Your faith is a gift from the Holy Spirit anyway as He works it and sustains it in you through His Word and Sacraments. Through His Means of Grace He will always give you what you need, when you need it. In the face of whatever tribulation might come your way, He will give you courage, faith and hope. God’s love for you is secure in Jesus. Jesus’ completed victory for you. As the Lord’s apostle reminds you, Jesus ascended to the right hand of the Father to always intercede for you (Rom. 8:34). He has already proven His absolute faithfulness to you. He assures you, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, He will give it to you….Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full” (vs 23,24).