in Sermons

16. October 2011
Trinity 21
John 4:46-54

St. John the Evangelist records three expressions of faith in the official nobleman of today’s Gospel. First, the official comes to Jesus after hearing “that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, and he went to Him and asked Him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death.” This is the first expression of the official’s faith by coming to Jesus for healing for his son.

Second, after Jesus tested him and received the good confession, the man demanded in yet stronger faith: Sir, come down before my child dies. Jesus spoke these words: “Go; your son will live.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way. Once again, the man expressed his faith, this time hearing and trusting in the Word of Jesus.

Third, after recognizing the healing promised by Jesus at the seventh hour of 1 pm,  the official confessed all the more boldly what he had received. This time he himself believed, and all his household.

From these three expressions, we see how Jesus takes our weak faith that is barely a glowing ember and tends it by His Word of promise until it is a glowing flame, in order that the household and the world will see. It begins with simple faith: a belief that Jesus is the source of God’s gifts. Then Jesus will take the hungry heart of faith challenges it with trial and quickens it by the Word and Spirit. The believer who once sought only benefits in Jesus Christ now finds his every hope in Jesus. This living faith burns hot and bright until it cannot be contained and shines forth to household and neighbor.

This is precisely how God works, most evident in the precious Gospel. After hearing one sermon, likely second-hand, and witnessing one miracle at the wedding at Cana, the certain nobleman and official for King Herod seeks after Christ. Every earthly solution for his son’s sickness had availed him nothing. Now, he must act in faith. Having heard of Christ and his benefits and feeling need that cannot be met by the gifts of this world, he seeks after the bread of life come down from heaven. His faith is weak, for he demands that Jesus must “come down and heal his son.” We know such a demand of the Lord of the universe is utterly unnecessary. Like the centurion, we know that for Jesus, speak the Word only and my servant will be healed.

Therefore, Jesus knows this man’s faith is weak. But rather than stoke it with platitudes or a journey to this man’s house, He instead rebukes him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” No doubt, the man’s heart was set on miracles from Christ. But his faith needed suffering, a cross, to kindle it into a flame. Isaiah says, “A bruised reed He will not break, And smoking flax He will not quench” (Isaiah 42:3). Surely such a rebuke would destroy this man and cause him to despair?

Our instinct is wrong. Jesus doesn’t want faith that weakly holds onto him as long as things go well. He wants a faith that is firmly grounded on Him and in His Word. He sends suffering, trials, and crosses your way not to snuff out the flickering flame but to cause it to burn bright. The Lutherans used to call this anfechtung. God sends trials our way, allows the devils to haunt us, and even permits Satan to torment us, just like Job.

This seems utterly stupid. God the Father is out of his mind. Or so it would seem, if not for Jesus. When the going gets rough, the rough get going… in faith in Christ. When you suffer under crosses that try your faith, run to the cross of Christ. When your lives seem beaten and broken, run to the one who was beaten and broken for you. When it seems your blood is being spilled all day long, run to the Divine Service, where Christ’s blood is poured out for you and in you. We have a reason to hope.

… Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:1-2).

When the light of faith wanes, the Father applies a cross to us, to kindle it, brighter and brighter. We don’t need to look far to see that this is how God acts, whether in our own lives, the lives of this church, the lives of the apostles, or the lives of the patriarchs. When the faithfulness of God’s people wanes, he burdens them with trials, exile, destructing, and even great suffering and death.

By means of our crosses, He means to teach us about how dark reality is apart from Him. Our flesh and blood hates Him and and His Word. Our reason opposes faith in that which is not seen. Our heart is full of dark evil and malice. Our desires are for wickedness all the day long.

When we fail to trust in our LORD completely for redemption, when we fail to call upon Him in every trial and need, when we act as though we don’t need a gracious God in our worship, our work, or our play, that’s when we allow the darkness in. Our flesh wants it and loves the dark. Our loving Father even allows us to suffer it. He wants us to know the darkness, to despair of it, and to turn to Him (Ephesians 4:18).

Jesus is the light who shines into darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it. He is the voice of creation, begotten of the Father from eternity, spoken to create life, the universe, and everything where there was once nothing (Genesis 1:1ff). Just as then, it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor 4:6).

Weakness of faith is nothing for Jesus. That’s why weak faith is no barrier to fellowship. St. Paul even stipulated that the church in Rome Receive one who is weak in the faith (Romans 14:1). Why? Because no one becomes a Christian, instantly burning bright. First, the witness and their need compels them to seek Christ where He is found. Then, He kindles this flame with His Word and trials. Faith must rely upon Jesus, even in the midst of the worst of times. Only then does faith give hope and hope give way to trust. Faith does not trust feelings or thoughts or even the eyes. Faith trusts the ears which receive the Word of salvation.

Those who dwell in darkness and in the shadow of death have seen a great light. The darkened vision of our lives and our future are a result of sin. Clarity comes from light and the light is Christ. Clarity comes by faith through the hearing of the WORD.

Consider the Word of the sacraments. In Holy Baptism., you see plain water but the Word attached to the water makes it a washing of rebirth in the Holy Spirit. In Holy Absolution, you see only a man dressed in silly robes but the Word of promise is that his voice declares forgiveness as from God himself. In the Holy Supper, you see mere bread and wine but the Word of Promise declares: This is my body… this is My blood… for the forgiveness of sins.

Our LORD keeps his promises. We have heard them. Our hope is in them. Our trust remains on Jesus until our dying day. Don’t let go of the promise and until you receive the blessing. It is true, the LORD visits His people with chastisement and discipline, crushing your ego and your will until you utterly despair of yourself. It is also true, the LORD visits His people with mercy and grace, founded in Jesus, testified in the Word, and believed in Holy Spirit-inspired faith.

This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. 6 If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:5-7).

Build upon this foundation. Trust not your eyes but trust your ears. Diligently hear the Word, meditate upon it day and night, apply it to your daily life, and let it bring you the joy it promises. This light shines into even the darkest place, kindling your smoldering wick into a bright burning flame. The Word calls you to repentance and grants you faith, transforming you from death to life, from darkness to the brilliance of the Son of God.

Your sorrow has been turned into joy. The good work of faith has been given to you in Baptism, renewed in Absolution, and strengthened in the blessed Communion. Be like the nobleman, the official of Herod. Having heard the Word of Good News, confess with your mouth, believe both you and your household. Do not wait to feel the joy. Hear, know, believe, and trust that peace with God is once more made for you.

Having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3 And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; 4 and perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us (Romans 5:1-4).

Persevere in God’s gracious promise, so that whether you live or die. Hold tight to him and never let go. God has justified you and will save you.Even when he sends trial, he will help you in every need, never leaving you or forsaking you, but stoking you still small flame until it burns bright in him.

Jesus said: You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven (Matthew 5:14-16).

In Name of the Father, + Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church
Dyer, Indiana