As Newborn Babes: A Sermon for Quasimodo Geniti on St. John 20:19-31

Doubting Thomas icon

All of the sudden, one day, every child decides he or she is all grown up. And they’ll let you know it: “I’m not a baby.” “I don’t want to hold your hand, mom.” “Dad, I don’t need your help.” And with these words, children assert their independence and break their parents’ hearts.

Why does this hurt every parent so badly? For one, we know they’re still children and they still need our help. They might think they’re ready to take on the big bad world, but they’re not. And the truth is, we need help too, even as adults. How many times have you wished you could hold the hand of your mom or dad, but couldn’t?

This is why the apostle says: “Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk of the Word.” If there’s one thing children hate, it’s being called a baby. You wouldn’t get a very nice response if you called a 3-year-old a baby. They know what babies are, and it’s not them! If children don’t like being called a baby, how much less so adults?

We do everything we can to avoid been seen as weak or infantile. We do everything we can to put on a strong face. We want to be seen as strong, self-sufficient. Independent. Even to a fault. When I was a kid I once bought a magnet for my dad that said, “I don’t need no stinkin’ maps.” We’d rather drive around lost than admit we need help!

And like children, we need explanations for everything. We hate being told “no” or “because I said so.” “Obedience” is a bad word in most of our dictionaries. But it’s not in God’s. The fourth commandment reminds us that we should obey the authorities God has put into our lives, not despise or anger them.

These authorities include our fathers at home, fathers of the workplace, fathers of the church, and fathers of the state. But it’s not satisfying when our parents, pastors, teachers, or the leaders of our country tell us to do something. We want to know why. But in reality, most of the time our “why” isn’t a genuine effort to understand the reason for something. It’s our way of protesting, of saying we have a better way. We don’t like proclamations, not unless they’re our own.

Thomas wasn’t satisfied with hearing the proclamation that the Lord was alive. “We have seen the Lord” might have been enough to convince a 3-yeard old, but not Thomas. So he protested: “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.”

It’s easy for us to get down on Thomas, but we’re no different. We want answers. We want to do things our way. We doubt. We want explanations, not proclamations. But still our Loving Father cares for His stubborn and rebellious children. When Adam and Eve did the one thing God said not to do, still He came to them. Even though punishment was in order, He also brought them the greatest message of good news ever, that one day the seed of woman would crush the serpent’s head (Genesis 3:15).

Jesus is compassionate to His stubborn children. It’s no small thing that the disciples all fled Jesus in his time of greatest need, or that they still have so little faith even after His resurrection. They did things their own way, and look where it got them! Locked up and in a panic behind closed doors. But Jesus couldn’t have come to them in a more compassionate way. They tried to keep everyone out. You couldn’t have blamed Jesus for saying, “Oh well, I tried. I guess they don’t want me.” No. He came through the locked doors, stood in their midst, and said, “Peace be with you.”

Instead of chastise them, Jesus sends them out as His representatives with a message of peace for the whole word, peace that is found in the forgiveness of sins. He obliges Thomas: “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.”

In like manner, your Lord comes to you, bringing the very same peace to you. This despite the fact that we, like stubborn children, often assert our independence from God. We don’t want our hand held. We like doing things our own way. “Who needs the Ten Commandments?” we think, and so we ignore them and reject them. This breaks God’s heart, and it never goes well for us. But still, your gracious Lord comes to you. He has adopted you into His family in Holy Baptism. He hears your confession. “I forgive you all your sins,” He says. “Peace be with you.” “Take, eat and drink: these are my gifts, given for you for the forgiveness of sins.”

And then Jesus does the unexpected. He doesn’t give sin a pass. He paid the high price of sin Himself so that He might forgive it. Jesus died on the cross for you. Life is found in His death. Strength is found in weakness. According to Jesus, the strongest faith is a faith that’s helpless, needy, and dependent. “As newborn babes, long for the pure spiritual milk of the Word,” (1 Pet 2:2). The strongest faith is one that receives His grace passively, just like a newborn babe.

It’s not by accident that Jesus took a child and set him in the midst of the disciples, saying, “unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven,” (Matthew 18:2-3). St. Paul boasted in his weaknesses, “so that the power of Christ may rest upon me,” he said (2 Cor 12:9). It’s as if he said, “I delight in being a helpless little child before the Lord. For apart from Him, I can do nothing,” (cf. John 15:5).

The strongest faith is the faith of a newborn baby. It’s one that’s totally helpless, needy, and trusting. “As newborn babes, long for the pure spiritual milk of the Word,” the apostle writes. This is the example Jesus set. He wasn’t too proud to weep publically (John 11:35). He didn’t demand explanations in Gethsemane. “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me. Nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will,” (Matthew 26:39). Jesus held the Hand of His heavenly Father, even as that Hand led Him to the cross. He trusted in His Heavenly Father even though this time, no substitute sacrificial Lamb would be provided as it was for Isaac (Gen 22:13). Jesus continued to trust in the One who deserted Him, His last words being: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” (Luke 23:46).

Jesus held fast to His Heavenly Father’s Hand, even as He continues to hold fast to yours. Seek the Lord while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near (Isa 55:6). For now, we walk by faith, trusting in His promises (2 Cor 5:7). But in a little while, you will see Him, even as Thomas did (John 16:16). In the words of St. Augustine: “You desire to see, and so do I. Let us together believe, and together we shall see.”

Soli Deo Gloria

+ Rev. Eric Andersen
John 20:19–31
Quasimodo Geniti (The Octave of Easter), 2014

Categories: Sermons

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