TAKING JESUS AT HIS WORD
Sermon by Pastor Edward Brockwell
Based onJohn 4:46-54
The Twenty-first Sunday After Trinity
The Confessional Lutheran Church of Finland
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So Jesus came again to Cana of Galilee where He had made the water wine. And there was a certain nobleman whose son was sick at Capernaum. When he heard that Jesus had come out of Judea into Galilee, he went to Him and implored Him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death. Then Jesus said to him, "Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will by no means believe." The nobleman said to Him, "Sir, come down before my child dies!" Jesus said to him, "Go your way; your son lives." So the man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him, and he went his way. And as he was now going down, his servants met him and told him, saying, "Your son lives!" Then he inquired of them the hour when he got better. And they said to him, "Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him." So the father knew that it was at the same hour in which Jesus said to him, "Your son lives." And he himself believed, and his whole household. This again is the second sign Jesus did when He had come out of Judea into Galilee.
John 4:46-54 NKJV
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 1:7). Amen.
Today's Gospel pictures to us a remarkable example of faith. By means of the Word, faith fully brings the Lord Jesus with all his riches home to every man. Luther wrote that, "one Christian has just as much as another, and the child baptized today has not less than St. Peter and all the saints in heaven. We are all equal and alike in reference to faith, and one person has his treasure just as full and complete as another" (Luther).
The point that our Gospel lesson speaks of is that "although faith fully possesses Christ and all His riches, yet it must nevertheless be continually kept in motion and exercised, so that it may have assurance, and firmly retain its treasures. There is a difference between having a thing and firmly keeping hold of it, between a strong and a weak faith. Such a great treasure should be firmly seized and well guarded, so that it may not be easily lost or taken from us. I may have it indeed in its entirety, although I hold it only in a paper sack, but it is not so well preserved as if I had it locked in an iron chest" (Luther). St. John carefully notes at three different times that the nobleman believed. What we learn from the text is how his faith was be exercised, tested if you will. Jesus was strengthening the nobleman’s faith. Instead of a faith that rested on signs and miracles, it became a strong faith, one that took Jesus at His Word.
In the same way, Jesus leads us to strive to lay hold of the treasure of faith more and more firmly and securely from day to day. We must see to it how faith may grow and become stronger. If our faith is not continually kept in motion and exercised, it will weaken and decrease, in fact, it can even vanish. Sadly, we do not see nor feel this weakness ourselves, except when we are in need, go through difficult times, or struggle with temptation; when unbelief rages too strongly. And yet for this very reason faith must have struggles and temptations in which it may exercise and grow.
There was a certain nobleman, whose son was critically ill and about to die. He had heard about Jesus, a Prophet whose powerful teaching was backed up by miraculous works, such as the turning of water into wine. When the nobleman heard that Jesus had come to Cana, which was in the same general region, he went to Him there to implore His help. From this, we can see that the nobleman had faith in Jesus. It may have been faith that had a long way to grow in terms of perceiving the fullness of who Jesus was, but it was faith nonetheless.
The faith of the nobleman looked to Jesus for help. He traveled a very long distance, even while his son was close to death. Cana was about eighteen miles away from Capernaum, easily a day's journey on dirt roads. That meant that he would have to be away from his dying son for at least two days, traveling to Cana and back. How could this man leave the bedside of his child for such a long time, unless he believed that Jesus could really help? Indeed, the nobleman had faith in Christ. He traveled those eighteen lonely miles until he came to Jesus to plead for His help.
You are not unlike this nobleman. You are here today because you have faith in Christ. You are here by God's grace to seek the help that only He can give. You believe that Jesus can do for you what no one else can do, namely, forgive your sins, restore your life from whatever is troubling you, and give you the assurance of eternal life as you dwell in these bodies of "sin and death."
In our text, Jesus answers the nobleman but in way he wouldn’t expect of Jesus. Jesus said to him, "Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will by no means believe" (verse 48). Jesus' reply to him, though sharp, was necessary. A faith built only on miraculous signs is not a complete faith. Many people hesitate to believe in Jesus apart from seeing miraculous signs and wonders. The nobleman wasn’t even asking for a sign. Why would Jesus respond to him that way?
First, I believe that Jesus was testing the nobleman’s faith with the sole purpose of making it stronger. Would the nobleman continue to seek the Lord’s help after his rebuke? Or, would the nobleman give in to doubt and despair? Not all believers have a strong faith. The nobleman had faith, but his faith was not yet strong enough. Jesus, who knows men’s hearts better than they do, surely saw the true needs of the nobleman. The nobleman was genuinely concerned about his dying child, but Jesus could see clearly that it was not only the dying child that needed help. The situation did not need a "quick fix." Jesus wanted to give something that was needed and would continue after His miraculous healing of the nobleman's son. Jesus gave the nobleman a strengthened and lasting faith.
I am sure that Jesus could see how the nobleman was clinging only to the seeing and the experience of the Lord’s bodily presence. The nobleman's faith was quite different to that of the centurion in Matthew, chapter 8, who said to Jesus: "Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof. But only speak a word, and my servant will be healed" (verse 8). Jesus' response to the centurion was quite different also. He said, "Assuredly, I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!"
And, it wasn’t only the nobleman who struggled with a weak faith. The Disciples, who were with Jesus for three years, day in and day out, at times Jesus rebuked them for their weak faith. At times, their faith clung to what only they saw and could experience. For example, Jesus chastised the disciples in the boat, when a terrible storm came and He said to them: "Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?" (Matthew 8:26). It was as if to say, "Where is your faith now? Therefore, however good and genuine faith may be, it falls back when it comes to a battle, unless it has been well disciplined and has grown strong" (Luther).
What are we to learn from this? First, we should never think that it is enough that we be begun to believe, or have that we have believed all our lives. We must diligently watch that our faith is strengthened and remains firm or our faith will vanish. Luther reminds us that "you are to see how you may retain this treasure you have embraced, [namely our faith]; for Satan concentrates all his skill and strength on how to tear it out of your heart. Therefore, the growth of your faith is truly as necessary as its beginning and indeed more so; but all is the work of God" (Luther). We learn that Faith in Jesus is absolutely necessary, no matter what trials and tribulations touch our lives, or the lives of others. It is hard to persuade ourselves that distance of time and place are no obstructions to the knowledge and power of our Lord Jesus. Our faith then must always rest in Jesus and not in any signs, wonders, feelings or experiences!
The nobleman was in no position emotionally to argue his case theologically. All he could plead for was mercy, "Sir, come down before my child dies!" (Verse 49). Jesus' calm reply to the official’s desperate request created a crisis. Jesus announced, "Go your way; your son lives" (verse 50). If the official really believed that Jesus could make a difference in Capernaum, he must also believe Him now in Cana. The nobleman took Jesus at His word, "he believed the word that Jesus spoke to him." Again, Luther writes, "By means of this faith he saved his son's life. So indeed every person approaching God should believe that he will receive what he requests, or he will not receive it."
On his journey home, the nobleman must have pondered Jesus' promise all throughout his long journey home. Instead of holding on to signs and wonders, he believed the words that Jesus spoke to him. The nobleman was changed from merely seeking signs to faith in Jesus' Word. In our text we read how his servants met him with good news. His boy was living. The nobleman asked when his son recovered. They told him that it was at the seventh hour. The healing was no accident, for it occurred at the exact moment Jesus made His promise to him. The nobleman’s faith continued to grow, "he himself believed, and his whole household" (verse 53).
Jesus wants to do the same with each and every one of us. Perhaps you do not have a loved one at home dying, but perhaps there is a different kind of struggle going on in your life. Perhaps there is a sickness in the family, or a wayward son or daughter, perhaps you are undergoing a financial burden, or you are struggling with temptation. Alas, perhaps you have been struggling with difficult losses and crosses, leaving you very discouraged and your faith at very low ebb. Whatever the problem is, it is too difficult for you to handle. Yet you are much like the nobleman, you are looking to Jesus for help. But instead of asking Jesus to your home to perform a certain miracle, perhaps your prayers request that Jesus do something special or specific, rather than simply leaving all your needs and requests with Him, trusting in His good and gracious will.
Like the nobleman, we have God’s Word. In fact we have all of God’s Word that He has chosen to reveal to us in the Bible. God knows that our faith needs to be exercised and even tested, but this is only so that our faith will be approved. In the epistle of James, chapter 1, we read: "My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. 6But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind." This powerful text tells you that whatever difficulty you are going through in your life, God wants to use this to strengthen your faith, making you " perfect and complete, lacking nothing." He doesn’t want your faith to be “tossed by the wind”, or even to dwindle and die. This is why every one of us is in need of having our faith strengthened.
But, how can our faith be strengthened unless we have Jesus words to take hold of? We are in constant need of hearing God’s Word. "So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Romans 10:17). Jesus simply told the nobleman to return home, his son lives. Contrary to his thoughts, his feelings, what he saw or didn’t see, the nobleman took Jesus at His word. He held Jesus' words above all that he saw, felt or could understand. Jesus' words, His simple promises, guided the thoughts and actions of the nobleman. Jesus didn’t consent to the nobleman’s request to go with him to heal his son. Jesus simply gave him His word which were enough. His Word is powerful. Just as God spoke and by the power of His Word He created the world out of nothing, so Jesus, God in human flesh gave his powerful words to the nobleman. Jesus has given you His Word, His same powerful and efficacious Word. These very words will help you in your struggle, no matter what it is. Hold these words before you, before your reason and feelings, and look only upon God’s Word. And so count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith will lead to a stronger faith, a faith that takes Jesus at His Word!
Dear friends in Christ! "Wondrous things are found in Christ’s Gospel, wondrous things which are so great, no heart and no one’s faith can fully comprehend them! (Phil. 3:12). For what can be a greater wonder than this: The holy and just God loves the sinful and godless world? And He does not love it just moderately, but with such a great and fervent love that he gives His one dear Son over to shame, derision, suffering, intense agony and death on a cross for the redemption and salvation of the sinners of the world! Through this dear Son whom He has raised from the dead and set at His right hand in heaven, He wishes to bless and pardon us and to adopt us as His children and save us slaves of sins, death and Satan from all our sins, "that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies might serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him, all the days of our life" (Luke 1:74, 75)."
Faith, and only faith, makes us rich with the treasures of salvation that are in Christ and totally translates us onto a heavenly course. Faith brings us into genuine participation in God’s merciful and fatherly love. It loosens our tight lips and ignites our cold hearts to give praise and thanks to God for His good works and as Luther says, "it makes altogether different men, in heart and spirit and mind and powers, and it brings with it the Holy Ghost."
So, dear friends, whatever is happening in your life, take Christ at His Word. Live your life only in the light of His promises and grace. The trial, pain and struggle you are going through, is only because your faith is being exercised, developed and strengthened. Take God at His Word. He has closely bound Himself, His presence and grace, to the Word. Like heat and light are united in fire, so that you cannot take one from the other, then know that God is with you through His Word. Thus you not only have God's Word, but He is present with you through the Word. You are not alone.
"Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us" (Ephesians 3:20). "Go your way,” (John 4:20), "for the LORD is with you." (2 Chron. 20:17). Amen.