“And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women….” It’s amazing what the Holy Spirit can accomplish, isn’t it? In some respects, the Holy Spirit gets the short end of the stick when it comes to the Trinity: God the Father does the creating and God the Son does the work of redemption. The Holy Spirit makes a few prominent appearances, like at the Baptism of Jesus, but otherwise, the Holy Spirit isn’t mentioned a lot, until you get to books like Acts, where the Holy Spirit is seen to be very active.
If you remember from your days in Confirmation, for some it’s more recent than others, you will remember that the work of the Holy Spirit is to create and sustain faith in an individual. We confess with Martin Luther, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.” Luther goes on, but suffice to say, the work of the Holy Spirit is important to the life of a Christian, to your life, and to all those who believe.
But the true work of God is not always popular. At the time of Jesus, we see just that with the Pharisees and Sadducees. In fact, we see that today in our reading from Acts – “But the high priest rose up, and all who were him (that is, the party of the Sadducees), and filled with jealousy they arrested the apostles and put them in the public prison.” Preaching the true Gospel clearly did not sit well with the religious leaders of the day because it weakened their powerbase and popularity. Nonetheless, the apostles were not interested in popularity, but rather of Jesus’ command – “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”
The teaching that we have is what gives us eternal life. It is that teaching that makes us children of God, called by the Holy Spirit, and it is that teaching that keeps us in the true faith. But just as we hold that faith near and dear to us, there are those outside these doors that could care less for this faith; even worse, they will do all that they can to debunk the Christian faith because in their eyes, it is nothing more than rubbish.
What we must remember, each and every one of us, from the youngest to the oldest, is the power of the Word of God. Simon Peter reminds us, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” The important part of what he says comes at the beginning: “You have the words of eternal life…” You will not find any other words of eternal life aside from what God has authored, from what Jesus has done for us.
So, Sadie, since today is all about you, let’s pick on you for a moment. I’m sure that since you are mere moments away from being confirmed in the faith, that must mean you have all the right answers to all the right questions. We’ve covered the Small Catechism twice now, so I’m sure you have it all memorized, right? Looking around the sanctuary this morning, I see many others who have been in your shoes: they have gone through Confirmation, they have learned the Small Catechism, though I hope it’s not too rusty. They have even been confirmed, just like you will be. But for many sitting in the pews, their Confirmation Day was many years ago, and yet here they still sit. Why is that?
The life of a Christian does not end with Confirmation Sunday. The life of a Christian continues all the days of your life. From the moment that baptismal water hits your head, you belong to God, and you will belong to God everyday of your life, even after your heavenly Father calls you home. All of these people know that, and yet here they sit, week after week, as they should, as you should. They come because this is where God said to come, to the place where He is to be found, to the place where He promises to deliver His gifts.
The apostles, after the resurrection, needed these gifts but were fearful of their lives because of what had happened to Jesus. They knew that the same could very well happen to them, and so they hid and locked themselves in a room that no one could get into – no one that is, except Jesus. Jesus comes and stands beside them, saying “Peace be with you.” Jesus comes to them, to assure them that He has risen from the dead as He said He would and that there should be no need of fear.
It’s a great little exchange between Jesus and the apostles, except for one thing: Thomas isn’t there to hear it. And so, when he is told what had happened, he refused to believe: “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” That’s very much the attitude we can have, but it’s one that we shouldn’t have. You and I have not seen Jesus in the flesh, either before or after His resurrection, but that doesn’t change the fact that Christ has lived, Christ has died, and Christ has risen again.
Martin Luther once wrote that the devil’s greatest and deadliest arrow in his evil quiver is the arrow of doubt, which he fires with deadly sniper precision into the hearts of all believers in Christ. Thomas and the disciples were not immune to this. You and I are not immune to this either. Don’t we doubt that God will do what He says He will? Don’t we doubt the gifts that God gives to us in His Sacraments of Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper?
You and I do not have the luxury of gazing upon the resurrected Jesus and believing as did Thomas. Instead, we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit which creates faith in us. It’s one thing to see and believe, but a complete other to believe solely based upon faith and without seeing. That’s us. That’s the Church today. Centuries after Christ’s death, people believed and continue to believe today. They did not have Christ to hold their hands as did the disciples, or to show His wounds to strengthen their weak faith as did Thomas. No, they believed based upon the faith that was granted to them by the Holy Spirit. They were able to confess with Thomas, just as we are: “My Lord and my God!” That is why Sadie, today is a special day for you, but it’s not. While today you will be confirmed in the faith granted to you at your Baptism, it’s just another Sunday for the Christian, another day where we are privileged to come and gather around God’s means of grace for us.
We have been given this wonderful gift of faith, the ability to believe what Christ did for us on Calvary’s cross, and now we see that because of that action, we are given life in His name. To those who believe receive redemption, salvation, and eternal life through Jesus Christ. This comes to us in the gift of Baptism, where we have God’s name placed upon us. This comes to us in the gift of the Lord’s Supper, where we feast upon the body and blood of Jesus and receive His forgiveness. It comes to us each time we hear the words of Absolution pronounced over us. It will come to us again when we leave this world and enter into the heavenly mansion prepared for us.
We have received life and received it abundantly. Given to us so that we may live, one life had to be sacrificed, and that life is Jesus Christ. The peace of Christ is with us. It comes to us when we are forgiven. It comes to us as we believe in Christ and all that He has done for us. New life is given to us, a life that is not deserved, but given to us with nothing done on our part. This new life washes over us and we are made clean by the blood of the Lamb, shed for the sins of the many, including you and me. Dear friends in Christ, “Peace be with you.” Amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.