Trinity XXI - St. John 4:46b-54 - October 11, 2015

Order of Service - Pg. 15
Hymn # 329 From depths of woe I cry to Thee
Hymn # 447 Fight the Good Fight
Hymn # 429 Lord, Thee I Love with All My Heart
Hosea 13:14
Ephesians 6:10-17
St. John 4:46b-54

Collect for the 21st Sunday after Trinity
Lord, we beseech Thee to keep Thy household, the Church, in continual godliness, that through Thy protection she may be free from all adversities and devoutly given to serve Thee in good works , to the glory of Thy Name; through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

Sermon on the Holy Gospel

1)         Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will by no means believe. Everyone seeks a sign. Everybody wants a wonder. So many imagine that if God were to plop down an obvious blessing into their lap that then they could trust Him. So many seek a sign of God’s favor in the material things of their lives that they imagine that if God were to fill one specific void, and fill it in such a majestic way, then they would believe all the more firmly in Him. But signs and wonders are objects of faith that are not worthy of trust because they come in an instant and then are gone. The reliance upon signs and wonders for one’s faith is akin to the Hydra that Hercules fought against. If one sign is given, the desire for two more appear in its place so that the desire for signs and wonders is never fulfilled. Later in St. John’s gospel, in the sixth chapter, Jesus will feed a throng of five thousand men with only five barley loves and two small fish. Jesus’ creative word causes that small amount to feed the multitude to satisfaction and still have leftovers, twelve baskets full. Yet the next day as Jesus begins teaching, comparing Himself to the bread from heaven which Moses gave to Israel in the wilderness, they will not accept His Word. They have the gall to ask Him, What sign will you perform then, that we may see it and believe you? What work will you do? The day before their desire for a sign was fulfilled in a miraculous way that is reminiscent of the prophets Elijah and Elisha. But that one desire fulfilled only gives rise to the desire for more signs and wonders. These men prove the words of Jesus to be true, Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will by no means believe. Signs and wonders and miracles are eye-catching and mouth-stopping. But they do not cause sinful men to believe. The desire for signs and wonders is never satisfied because signs and wonders are unworthy objects of faith.

2)         This is true throughout the course of Israel’s history. The generation which Moses and Aaron led out of Egypt as a flock saw more signs and wonders than any generation except for Jesus’ own. Those Israelites witnessed ten plagues of might and power, devastations which turned the Nile into blood, and darkness cover the entire land. The plagues were physical signs but theological signs as well because they each struck at an alleged power of the Egyptians false gods, proving them to be nothing but marble and stone. That generation of the sons of Israel walked through the Red Sea, in between two walls of water, on dry ground, feeling with their feet the goodness of God. Those that were baptized into Moses in the Red Sea saw with their own eyes the pillar of fire which held Pharaoh’s forces at bay. Yet immediately after the defeat of Egypt they complain that the Lord had brought them into the desert to die of thirst. The Lord provided an oasis, then manna and quail from the sky to feed them, and He even commanded Moses to strike a rock with his staff to open a gushing fountain to quench their desert thirst. That generation saw all those signs and wonders and yet because of their great hardness of heart and unbelief they disqualified themselves from entering the rest given in the Promised Land. Signs and wonders cannot create a true, lasting faith. Reliance upon signs and wonders for one’s faith places one’s trust in objects not worthy of true faith.

3)         This is true in our day as well. We see signs of God’s favor all around us yet those signs do not cause a true, enduring faith. We complain about the drought and the drab green and brown landscape from a lack of rain. The Lord sends rain, as He did on Friday, and within days to weeks we are again complaining of how much we need more rain. We see great blessings bestowed upon us, blessings of a 1st Article of the Creed type, shelter, daily bread, loving family, and more, and yet we turn our eyes to the future and take tomorrow’s trouble upon ourselves so easily. We gather here to worship God in spirit and truth, receiving His good gifts in His Word purely taught and His Sacraments administered as Christ instituted them for our salvation. We see others, friends or family members, who worship at other churches who do not get the Gospel but are loaded down demands of the Law, so they think that they can please God apart from faith. We have the pure doctrine in this place, close by, while others would literally have to cross an ocean to hear it or drive great distances. Yet these three blessings, which are great signs of God’s favor, are easily taken for granted and cast aside for the important matters of business and the care of this world.  Still more, we see terrible wonders in the lives of those around us, which ought to serve as warnings, and often we do not repent. We see friends and family member reaping what they sowed in selfishness and desire, yet we so often fail to see those terrible judgments in their lives and repent of our own sins and striving against our own sin. Signs and wonders, no matter how great they are, or how routine they are, are not enough to create the trust, love, and fear of God in our hearts. Jesus says so.

4)         Paul writes in Hebrews 4:2 about the Israelites who died in the desert as punishment for their reliance upon signs and wonders, For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it. Israel, in Moses time and in Jesus’ day, was given something far better than signs in which to place their faith. We, in our age, are given something much more trustworthy and lasting than wonders and miracles in which to put our trust that God is favorable to us. For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them. Israel was given the Gospel. They witnessed it in the plagues and the Red Sea and in the Manna and Quail. Yet the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it. They did not believe God’s promises of protection and provision. They did not place their faith in God’s promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, promises of which they were witnesses of the fulfillment. They wanted inadequate signs and wonders which would wane with the course of time. They wanted the visible, the earthly, the temporal instead of the invisible, the heavenly, and the eternal. The same was true in Jesus’ day. So many wanted signs. Not just one but one more, then one more after that. Yet Jesus’ Word, His doctrine, His teaching, they did not receive. Jesus taught them the Word of the Gospel yet they did not mix it with faith, to use Paul’s language.

5)         But this nobleman from Capernaum was different. He wanted the sign alright, but not for his own sake. He went to Him and implored Him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death. The man demonstrates faith from the beginning, that he would go to Jesus himself and not send a servant to fetch Jesus. The nobleman knew that Jesus could not be ordered about, but would respond to ardent faith. After this request, that is when Jesus says, Unless you see signs and wonders, you will by no means believe. Jesus is always wanted to strengthen our faith. He never wants to leave it be. If left alone without exercise, faith will atrophy and die. So Jesus seeks to exercise this man’s faith. And the nobleman responds still in faith, Sir, come down before my child dies. To this certain nobleman, this is not a matter of testing Jesus. It is not as if he were saying, “I’d like to believe, but I can only believe if you do this one small thing for me. Then I will trust you.” Quite the opposite. This nobleman comes in faith. He knows that Jesus will give good things, no matter what the crowd may think of Him. This nobleman demonstrates true faith in approaching Jesus as He does. And his faith is rewarded with a word. Not what the man expected. No great healing. No great miracle that can seen. Jesus will not go to Capernaum with him. He gives only the word, Go your way. Your son lives. The man came to fetch Jesus. He goes back to his house with only a word. But faith knows that the Word of Jesus is a good as having Jesus Himself, in fact, they are one and the same.

6)         Christ healed the nobleman’s dying son with that Word, though He was not physically present in the dying boy’s room. Even in this Jesus is exercising the man’s faith. The servant tells the nobleman that the fever left the boy at the seventh hour. The father knew that is was at the same hour in which Jesus said to him, “Your son lives.” And he himself believed and his whole household. This is not a belief that was not there before he heard the news. This news confirmed the same faith which had driven him to seek out Jesus in the first place. Jesus exercises faith so that He may strengthen it and reward it. This nobleman believed the Word about Jesus, the Gospel which He had heard from others, perhaps even from Jesus’ own teaching while in Capernaum. Then he confidently trusted Jesus’ word that Jesus had given him as well. The nobleman believed the Gospel. He mixed it with faith.

7)         So Jesus teaches us here that we are not to seek signs and wonders, nor are we to make them the object and source of our faith. Signs come and go. Wonders wax and wane. They are temporary blessings. But our faith is to place in the only sure and certain object of faith, the Word of God, the Gospel of Christ Jesus our Lord. The grass withers, the flower fades, But the word of our God stands forever. (Isaiah 40:8) Do not put your faith in the things you can see with your eyes. Neither let your faith be dimmed by what you hear on the news or the wickedness you see in our age. Do not trust in the blessings God gives you as signs of His divine favor, for they last but a season. Instead, cherish the Word which Christ gives you, the promises He makes to you in the Scriptures. Those are more sure and certain than any sign. Treasure the word He spoke to you at your baptism, for that Word did more for you than any terrible wonder could. Hold the absolving Word of Christ sacred and let no one trample on it, for it is God’s Word spoken directly to you in your ear. These words of Gospel belong to you. They are objects worthy of your faith because while everything else fades and withers, they remain steadfast, true, and available to you all today and everyday into eternity. Amen.

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