One of the hardest things for us to remember is that we are in God’s gracious care and keeping. We confess in the First Article of the Creed that God graciously gives us clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have. When we pray the Fourth Petition, “Give us this day our daily bread,” it is a confession that God gives us absolutely everything that we need, and He does it even if we fail to ask for it or thank Him for it. But the anxiety still creeps in. Is God really looking out for me? It didn’t feel like He was with me through that trial. If God is really with me, would He let me stare this problem that just keeps getting worse? When Satan tempts us with unbelief, when he asks us “Does God really care,” it’s easy for us to fall into one of the two faithless responses we have seen in tonight’s Readings. But as Paul reassures Timothy: “If we are faithless, [God] remains faithful” (2 Tim 2.13).
The faithless response in tonight’s Gospel is one that appears faithful on the outside. “Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.” In our own language that would be “I just want to make sure You’re really going to do what You said You’ll do” or “I want to make sure You’re really who You say You are.” In an era of product reviews, Internet scams, and too good to be true claims, it only makes sense, right? Make sure you’re getting what you’re supposed to be getting. But consider the One to whom we are making this demand. “God, You who made heaven and earth, who has never sinned, who has never forsaken Your people, prove it. Show me that You’re true.” If that sounds familiar, it should. That’s the same temptation Satan tried on Jesus in His temptation in the wilderness. “If you are the Son of God, throw Yourself down, for it is written, ‘He will command His angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up lest you strike your foot against a stone.’” Test God! Make sure He’ll live up to His Word. And how does Jesus classify this kind of test? He says it is evil and adulterous. It is directly from Satan, seeking to put faith only in that which can be seen and experienced. Faith does not demand signs. Faith responds exactly like the people of Nineveh and the Queen of Sheba—it responds to the Word of God with belief. It trusts what God says and does not put Him to the test, whether testing to see if He will bring good or evil. Do not test God; trust God, no matter how difficult the situation.
The second response, which is probably the greater temptation, is sounding like Elijah: “It is enough! Now, Lord, take my life!” I give up. I’m done. You didn’t make it so I can walk through this life without an ounce of trouble, so I give up. I’m not doing it and You can’t make me. While we generally ascribe temper tantrums to children, adults are just as good at them. When we don’t get our way, when God doesn’t perform as our sinful nature thinks He should, we yell at Him, we put Him in His place. We tell Him that He’s the genie and we’re holding the lamp. But this response is just as bad as the one that demands signs. The response of “I give up on You, God,” is our way of saying “You’re not giving me the signs I want.”
The only response to this trap into which we all fall is repentance and prayer. We have to confess that we have not been faithful, we have not trusted God with all our heart; our actions have not confessed that we believe God is in control. Our thoughts and actions have confessed that we believe God is absent, that we are in control. Like the people of Nineveh, we must confess that our lives and actions are sinful and we have not trusted God to bring us out of our afflictions and our diresses.
When you confess your sin, that confession is met with forgiveness. Christ Jesus was faithful in your place. He prayed, “Not My will, but Yours be done, O Lord.” He endured cross and agony. He endured the worst this life can offer. And through all of it He remained faithful. And that obedience, that faithfulness, is given to you. Along with forgiveness, the total wiping out of your sin, comes the gift of Christ. His righteousness is counted to you. So, even though you were doubting and acted faithlessly, it is counted as if you were perfectly trusting and obedient all your days.
And in addition to that gift of forgiveness, you are given the gift of the Holy Spirit. He makes you like the Queen of Sheba, seeking Christ, the Wisdom of God. He draws you to the Word of God, to the Sacraments, to this place where Christ can be found. And in Christ you see that every one of God’s promises is fulfilled. In the Means of Grace, in this congregation, you, like Elijah are given supernatural food that gives you the strength necessary. The Angel of the Lord says the same thing to you that He said to Elijah: “Arise and eat, the journey is too great for you.” And that is precisely what you have come here to do, to eat, to taste and see that the Lord is good. He never will forsake His flock. He will bring you out of your distresses. He will defend you against all adversities. He will give you perfect remission and forgiveness.
And, at the last, He will send His angels to bear you home. One day you will be removed from this vale of tears, from this life of difficulties and pain. One day your faith will meet its fulfillment as it will be rewarded with sight. You will, in your flesh, see God face to face. The glimpse you get of Him here will give way to perfect vision. He will attend to your prayer, and you will be taken into His eternal kingdom where you will praise Him without end.
Why does the Pastor preach? Scripture explains that the role of preaching the Word of God is how saving faith is created: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17). The Augsburg Confession, seeing this connection between the Preaching Office and saving faith, summarizes Scripture on the Office of the Holy Ministry in this way: “To obtain [saving, justifying] faith, God instituted the Office of Preaching, giving the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC V 1-3). The whole reason the Pastor preaches is so saving faith can be created, so we know that “we have a gracious God” who loves us and has saved us from our sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.