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Sermon for Trinity 21
Ephesians 6:10-17 + John 4:46-54
Faith. Trust. Believing. Counting on something to happen before it happens, relying on someone to do something, to act in a certain way. We couldn’t live without such “faith.” You counted on the sun to rise this morning. You set your clocks back because you trusted in them to function properly in order for you to show up here on time this morning. You relied on your car to function and on the roads to support your car and on your own sense of direction in order to get you here. And you trusted in me to be here, to have the doors open and the heaters turned on and the service prepared. Faith is an integral part of our life on earth.
There are reasons why we trust in the things and in the people we do, and reasons why, in other cases, we don’t have faith in certain things or in certain people. It’s true, sometimes people believe in things for no reason at all, simply because they want something to be a certain way. But that’s silly, of course. You have to have a reason to have faith in something or someone—a rock solid reason, if it’s something important that you’re counting on.
The Holy Spirit teaches us about faith in today’s Gospel. And as He teaches, He also creates and forms the very faith about which He teaches. He teaches us through the words of St. John what the source of faith is, what the reason is behind faith—behind trusting, behind believing—when it comes to faith in God. It’s the word and promise of Christ alone. Believe in the word now, see the results later.
This is pretty early in Jesus’ ministry. He had turned water into wine at Cana almost immediately after His baptism and temptation in the wilderness. Then He took a trip down to Judea, where He began preaching and teaching and performing many signs and wonders. He talked with Nicodemus about baptismal regeneration and about Himself as the Savior whom God had sent to save the world through faith in Him. Now He’s back in Galilee for a while, back in Cana.
A nobleman from the nearby city of Capernaum has a son who was deathly ill. He comes to Jesus and begs Him to come down to his house to help his son. Why would he do that? Why would he be relying on this man named Jesus, from nearby Nazareth, to receive him? To agree to go with him to his house? To be able to perform a miracle on his son? What was the reason behind his faith? Very simply, he had heard the word about Jesus—that He was kind and merciful and able to heal those who were diseased. That simple word about Christ created faith in his heart, and that word had a promise attached to it: that Jesus will also be merciful to you, if you seek His help.
Jesus’ initial response to the nobleman sounds a little harsh. Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will by no means believe. Believe what? The nobleman already believed Jesus could heal his son. What was he—what were all the people supposed to believe beyond that?
That goes back to that other word, that other report that was floating around about Jesus. John the Baptist had already proclaimed it: Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! Jesus is the very Word of God, sent by God the Father into the world to save mankind from sin, death and the devil. That all have sinned, and therefore the only way to God is by trusting in Jesus for the forgiveness of sins. That’s what Jesus truly came to do, what He truly came to offer, a refuge from our well-deserved condemnation, a promise of everlasting life and reconciliation with God.
So when people come to Jesus looking only for a momentary miracle, it’s like a group of people who are stranded out in the vast ocean in a small lifeboat. A rescue ship arrives to take everyone in the boat to safety. A man calls out from the lifeboat, “Would you please throw us down a loaf of bread? We’re very hungry!” The captain of the rescue ship calls down, “Yes, I have food for you here on my ship. But, I’ve come to rescue you, to take you home!” And the people in the lifeboat reply, “No, we don’t care about that! We don’t believe you! Just, please, toss us a loaf of bread! Then another! Then another! Maybe you’ll eventually convince us that we should go with you! Or maybe you can just keep tossing us some loaves of bread!”
Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will by no means believe. Jesus was criticizing the people for not simply taking Him at His word and the Old Testament prophets at their word. The people were looking at the signs and miracles Jesus was doing as the reason why they should put their faith in Him, and they weren’t yet convinced. But they had it backwards! The signs aren’t the reason to trust in Jesus. The word of God alone—that is what creates faith. That’s the reason for faith.
In his moment of crisis, the nobleman wasn’t really interested in anything Jesus had to offer except healing for his son. Sir, come down before my child dies! We can sympathize with the anxious father. So could Jesus. He gives the man what he wants, but not in the way he wants it. Go your way; your son lives. With that Jesus ends the interaction. The nobleman has been wanting to see Jesus walking with him, to see Jesus step into his house, to see Jesus put His hands on the dying boy, to see the healing take place. But Jesus won’t give him that. He gives him something else, something better. He gives him a word. Your son lives. That’s all. Will a word be enough?
The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him, and he went his way.
See what the word and promise of Christ accomplished! Before, the man had a little faith—a little faith for a little miracle, a little faith that wanted to be strengthened by a sign. Instead of a sign, Jesus gives him a word. And the Holy Spirit took that word and made the man’s faith bigger. Now he had a bigger faith for a little miracle—faith that was based solely on the word of Christ.
And as he journeyed home, he was met by his servants, who told him the good news. Your son lives! That delay between believing and seeing was vital. Believe the word first, see the results later. That was the lesson the nobleman learned. Again, why did he believe he would find his son healthy? Not because he wanted him to be. He had a better reason, a solid reason to believe that he would find his son healed. The word of Jesus was that reason.
And he himself believed, and his whole household. Believed what now? Now they believed in something bigger. A bigger faith for a bigger miracle. Faith in Jesus as the Son of God; faith in Jesus for reconciliation with God, for the forgiveness of sins, for resurrection from the dead, for the life everlasting, none of which can be seen now. Believe the word now, see the results later. That’s how Spirit-worked faith works.
There is so much more that God has promised in His holy word. Baptismal regeneration. The body and blood of Christ in the Lord’s Supper. That sinners receive the status of saints by faith alone in Christ Jesus. Daily bread and all that’s included with daily bread—everything we need for this life. Divine providence and protection, and that all things work together for good to those who love God. That God’s kingdom is being built all around us. That Christ reigns at the right hand of God even as it seems to our eyes that the devil is going to snuff out godliness and the true religion from this world. The full armor of God to stand victorious against the devil. Strength to bear the cross. Joy under the cross and perfect joy on the other side of the cross. That Jesus is coming soon.
All these things are hidden from our eyes now. All we have to go on, all we have as a reason to believe is the word of God. But that word is the mighty sword of the Spirit, as you heard in today’s Epistle. All-powerful. Almighty. It has always been the Spirit’s tool for creating faith and it always will be. May the powerful word of Jesus ring in your ears today and throughout the week, so that, no matter what your eyes see, you take Jesus at his word and believe everything He has said. Trust in Him. Rely on Him. Believe the word now, see the results later. That’s the pattern of faith, and it’s a pattern you can count on. Amen.