Christ Rebukes His Disciples Because of Their Lack of Faith
and Because of the Hardness of Their Hearts
Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but
whoever does not believe will be condemned.
The last of the forty days during which their resurrected Lord had so often and in so many ways showed himself to his disciples and had spoken with them concerning the kingdom of God had arrived. He was now ready to ascend to his Father. He was about to take his marvelous departure concerning which his church sings:
Ascended now to heaven on high,
And yet with us is ever nigh.
One last time he was together with his eleven apostles; this time in Jerusalem. They were gathered for a meal, probably in the morning. He rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he had risen.
One might be tempted to ask why the Lord rebuked them now, long after they were certain of his resurrection and were rejoicing in it. Our answer is that this was really the most opportune time to do so for now his rebuke would leave the deepest impression on them. Now their eyes and hearts were open to his words as never before. They now not only were certain that Jesus had risen from the dead, but they recognized that he had to suffer, die and rise from the dead because this is what the Scriptures had prophesied concerning the Messiah. The fact that their Master rebuked their past unbelief and hardness of heart at this time enabled them to recognize how sinful their behavior had been. After all, they had believed neither prophecy of Scripture, nor his own statements in the matter, nor the testimony of witnesses out of their own circle!
One might also wonder why it was necessary that they become so painfully aware of that unbelief and of the hardness of their hearts.
We find an answer to that in the charge that their Lord now gave them. He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well." This was to be their work after he had ascended into heaven. They were to proclaim that Jesus Christ, the Crucified and Risen One, was the only Savior, and this they were to proclaim to all the world. Faith in him, they were to preach, saved men, but rejection of him would bring condemnation. Besides the Lord assured them that he himself would verify and back up their preaching by signs. And nonetheless, how would these few, simple souls fare when they preached the Gospel of Christ to a spiritually dead world that was hostile to God? Would they not meet with hatred, opposition and even persecution? Would not despair again seize on their hearts and their faith be shaken in the face of such hardship and opposition? After all, the human heart is perverse and in trials it soon despairs or might even become defiant.
It was for this reason, dear reader, that the Savior proceeded as he did on this occasion. He wanted to teach them not to rely on their emotions but on their faith in him, their Lord and Savior. They would now best be able to realize how pitifully their human, sinful hearts had led them astray in those hours when Jesus was hanging on the cross and when his lifeless body was lying in the tomb.
There is also a lesson for you, dear reader, in what you have read today. Your heart is certainly not any better than those of the disciples so favored by Jesus. And you have seen how their hearts deceived them. As little as they could rely on their hearts and own thoughts, can you. If you were to be guided by your own thoughts, your faith would soon be subjected to all sorts of trials and temptations and would fail, and if you were to lose your faith your salvation would go with it. Oh, believe me! Don't trust your own heart! Keep watch over it as you would over a dangerous prisoner. Better still, entrust it to the care of your faithful Lord and Savior. Let him keep it for you so that by means of his Word and Holy Spirit he preserve you in true faith until your blessed end. For remember: "Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned."
He that believes and is baptized
Shall see the Lord's salvation;
Baptized into the death of Christ,
He is a new creation.
Through Christ's redemption he shall stand
Among the glorious heavenly band
Of every tribe and nation.