The question of, “What if?” can go off like an alarm in the dead of night. Scenarios play out like a broken record, but each with a different outcome. Two little words create a storm of confusion and doubt.
What if there is a missing piece of the Gospel? What if there is a catch, some fine print I missed or simply brushed over. Surely there has been a mistake. God’s forgiveness is just too wonderful and unconditional to be true. There’s always a catch. Always.
What if I’ve used up God’s forgiveness—he’s given me far too many chances and I’ve blown them all. Maybe his grace is for you but not for me. What if Jesus loved me once, but now regrets everything he’s done for me? What if my sin is too big?
Martin Luther refers to these “what ifs” as the Monster of Uncertainty. This monster is relentless—day and night it growls at my faith.
The monster snarls at us, bringing up our sins. And there’s certainly no shortage of transgressions for this monster to point out.
The roar of the monster echoes even in the ears of the disciples who have seen their risen Lord.
What if Jesus finally decides that enough is enough? What if Jesus remembers we left him in the garden? What if Jesus is giving us one more chance? What if we disappoint him?
"He called out to them, 'Friends, haven’t you any fish?'" (John 21:5)
Friends. The risen Jesus meets them on the lake and calls out to them. That name, however, is more of a misrepresentation than a description of the disciples.
What if Jesus had misspoken?
But, what if he hadn’t misspoken? What if Jesus meant what he said?
The doubts, questions, and insecurities were fading with every loving word from the word with scarred hands and feet.
Jesus does more than just call them friends. He is waiting for them on the shore with breakfast. He is waiting by the water to remind them of their absolution. Jesus is waiting to restore and commission the disciple who had denied him.
Jesus is running after those whom he redeemed to give them peace.
What if what Jesus said is true? What if Jesus meant what he said — what if Jesus calls us, the faithless, his faithful friends? When he says it is finished, it really is finished and complete.
What if I’m approaching this backward — what if the focus isn’t on my work but Christ’s work, for me?
Jesus is bursting with unfathomable, self-sacrificing love for you.
Disappointment is completely absent from our savior. Jesus is unfamiliar with the feeling of regret towards us—remorse is what is missing from the Gospel. Jesus went to his disciples not to reprimand but to comfort them with himself.
What if God is faithful in his baptismal vows to me? He will never leave me or forsake me because I am baptized into Christ.
What if God is faithful even when (especially when) I’m not? When my faith continually wavers, he surrounds me with his devoted love for me in Christ. He keeps me in the waters of my baptism where he wrapped himself around me and took my sins, giving me his righteousness.
What if the Holy Spirit creates and sustains faith in his promises? What if it’s not up to me?
When the roaring lion snarls at us, we can boldly say with the hymnist, Erdmann Neumeister, “Satan, hear this proclamation: I am baptized into Christ! Drop your ugly accusation; I am not so soon enticed.”
God never changes and God never lies. The love that drove Jesus to the cross is the love that holds you. The “what ifs” begin to unravel as faith reaches out as Jesus’ promised love grabs hold of us.
“So when the devil throws your sins in your face and declares that you deserve death and hell, tell him this: “I admit that I deserve death and hell, what of it? For I know One who suffered and made satisfaction on my behalf. His name is Jesus Christ, Son of God, and where He is there I shall be also!” -Martin Luther