Sermon for Trinity 21 - John 4:46-54 - October 12, 2014
The Lord Jesus is always wanting to strengthen our faith. He is not content to give us a degree of faith and let it be. We see this in today’s Gospel lesson. A nobleman from Capernaum approaches Jesus in faith. Capernaum was close to Cana in Galilee where Jesus performed His first miraculous sign, turning water into wine. Having heard of this miracle and the preaching of Jesus, this man makes straightway for Jesus. His plight? His son lies at home sick, at the point death. Most parents would have rather stayed at the bedside with their dying child. But this man’s faith is such that he must approach Jesus. He believes that Jesus, who has at this point in his ministry only turned water to wine, has power over death. This man is confident that Jesus has the ability to heal his son and the desire to heal his son. This man has great faith, for faith alone approaches Jesus. He implores Jesus to “come down and heal his son.” The man’s request is one but it has two parts. He wants Jesus to heal his boy but he wants Jesus to “come down” to his house to perform the miracle. The nobleman wants to see the healing happen with his own two eyes. He wants to be present for the healing. It is in this request that Jesus finds his faith deficient. And Jesus chides the nobleman for this deficiency. “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will by no means believe.” Jesus isn’t being mean or cold hearted toward the man and his boy. Jesus is always teaching the nature of faith so that He might strengthen the nobleman’s faith and increase His faith through this trial.
The nobleman continues, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” He wants a sign. He needs a miracle. He needs more than talk because he is a man and knows from his dealing with other men that talk is cheap. This is exactly the belief that Jesus wants to correct in the man’s faith. With Jesus, who is THE Word of God incarnate, talk is not cheap or hollow. With Jesus, the Word is everything. So Jesus tells him, “Go your way, your son lives.” And the man believes the word of Jesus. He realizes he will get no sign. He won’t get the miracle on his own terms. He doesn’t get to bring Jesus back to his house. Jesus only gives him a word. But with Jesus a word is enough. With Jesus a word of promise is everything because Jesus’ word is not the word of man, it is the Word of God which is always efficacious. Jesus’ word accomplishes that which is says. His word heals the nobleman’s son from miles away and it accomplishes the healing instantaneously. The nobleman figures this own when his servants meet him on the road home and told him, “Your son lives.” The nobleman does the math to see that Jesus’ word did exactly what it said exactly when He said it. The nobleman did not need a visible sign or a miraculous wonder after all. He needed the Word of Jesus because the Word of Jesus accomplishes what it says immediately. That small word of promise, “Go your way, your son lives,” was enough for faith after all.
With this Jesus teaches this man the true nature of faith. Faith is not based on signs, miracles, coincidences, feelings, reason or satisfaction. Faith holds onto Jesus’ word alone. The reason Jesus wants to teach this man the nature of faith is that faith is our only shield against the attacks of the Devil. This man was attacked through his son’s illness. Through his son’s illness the Devil is firing fiery darts at the nobleman. “Is God really favorable and loving if He allows young children to suffer and die? Does God really hear your prayers to heal your son? Perhaps God is set against you or He is punishing you for some awful thing you have thought or done.” Such are the attacks of the Devil against the Christian. They may very well be physical, a disease, a diagnosis, a terrible loss. But these are not his chief weapon. His chief weapon against you is temptation to sin and temptation to despair of God’s mercy, which is unbelief. This is why St. Paul writes, “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rules of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12) The Devil portrayed in modern horror movies is so far afield from the way he actually works. He appears to us as an “angel of light.” (2 Corinthians 11:14) His temptations make sense to human reason and thinking. His temptations jive with what we see with our eyes and feel in our guts. His goal is to destroy faith. The chief way he does this is to try to make your faith dependent on signs and wonders, feelings and emotions. If the Devil can bring your eyes to look for these things, then you are not relying upon the Word of Jesus, but are looking for Jesus to “come down” when all He gives is a word.
We see the Devil’s schemes in our own lives. The Lord gives us His Word to be believed and treasured but the Devil is always there as a bird of prey to snatch up the seed of the Word. The Lord gives us many great and precious promises in Holy Baptism and these promises given by God remain forever. The promises He gives to you in Baptism are good every day of your life. In baptism He forgives the guilt of your sin which you have inherited from Adam. He transfers you from the belonging to the kingdom of the Devil to the kingdom of heaven. Christ claims you as a child of the heavenly Father and as His brother and co-heir in all His heavenly blessings. He forgives all you all your sins and makes you into a new creation because the Word of Baptism regenerates the sinner who is “dead in trespasses and sin.” (Ephesians 2:1) This allows the Christian to rejoice in their baptism every day of their lives and live by those promises of God through all situations. But along comes the Devil to cast doubt on our baptisms, making it an issue of how much water is used, “If it isn’t immersion then it doesn’t count.” The Devil fires his fiery dart of disbelief at us that says, “Sure you may have been baptized but you have sinned so many times since then that it certainly can’t amount to anything now.”
We see the devil’s scheme as we confess our sins on a daily basis. God gives us His word, a small but effective word, in absolution. That word of absolution truly forgives sins because Jesus has instituted the absolution be given. He has even given us the Office of the Holy Ministry so that we can know with certainty that it is truly the word of Christ, for Christ has attached this promise to the Office of the Ministry, “He who hears you hears Me.” (Luke 10:16) He also promised the apostles, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (John 20:23) So we ought to believe the word from our pastor whom Christ has given us, that that word of absolution is Christ’s Word that truly forgives our sins before God in heaven and removes our sins “as far as the east is from the west.” (Psalm 103:12) Yet the Devil sits in the pew next to us, whispering doubts into our ears, telling us truths about our unworthiness and the depth of our sinfulness, but mixing that truth with lies about the limits of God’s mercy, that 70x7 doesn’t apply to you, and that those sins are still out there somewhere to be dredged up in the future, not to mention lies about the Office of the Ministry, claiming that it has no power to truly forgive sins.
We see the lies of the Devil at work as the Lord promises to care for our needs of the body as well. Christ gives us a word of promise, that our heavenly Father knows our needs and will provide them since He cares for the lilies of the valley and the birds of the air. But again Satan rushes in to divert our faith away from Christ’s word of promise to our bellies, our pocketbooks, our dinner tables, or our savings accounts. In all of these things and more, the Devil wants us to put our faith in what we see. He wants us to put our faith in signs and miracles that are never promised. That’s his only tactic, to tempt us to put our faith in things we can see but things that are never promised. Faith in things that are seen or felt is not faith all, for “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1) Abraham, the ‘father of faith,’ shows us what true faith is. St. Paul writes that “He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform.” (Romans 4:20-21)
Faith is that confidence that God is true to His word and will perform what He has promised. This is the faith to which Jesus leads the nobleman from Capernaum. It is faith that is content with a word, and a small word at that, simply because it is the word of Jesus. Jesus moved the nobleman to that stronger, more confident faith in the Word of God. He is always wanting to do the same with us. Just as Christ used the trial of the nobleman’s son to strengthen the nobleman’s faith, Christ uses the trials we undergo to teach us to cling solely to the promises of His word in spite of what the situation looks like. He continually reminds us of His baptismal promises. He weekly gives you His absolving word so that you might cling to these words no matter what your conscience or the world around you says. He doesn’t give you a sign. He probably won’t give you a miracle because He doesn’t want your faith to be based on these things. He wants to strengthen your faith and increase it so that you endure until the end, and by enduring in faith in Christ, enter into paradise at your last breath. This man we hear about today, he hears the Word of Jesus and goes on his way, believing. Let us do the same with the word and promise that the same Lord gives us today. Amen.