Pastor Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church – Dyer, Indiana
24. October 2010
Twenty-First Sunday after Trinity
Genesis 1:1-2:3; Ephesians 6:10-17; John 4:46-54
“Our Lord’s Faith-building Exercise”
St. Paul says, “For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Corinthians 1:22-25).
Today’s Gospel comes at the beginning of his ministry. St. John wisely records the history of our Savior according to seven signs. Previously, St. John told of Christ’s turning the water into wine at the wedding feast of Cana. Today we hear Christ’s second sign which he did when he had come from Judea to Galilee. Certainly the Jews sought these signs to testify that Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One. Through these seven signs, Jesus perfectly demonstrated his divinity before the Jews, the Gentiles, and before you. When you hear the eyewitness testimony of St. John, you can believe it is trustworthy. It is not merely a story or a tall tale but it is history.
Thus, when you hear about Christ’s seven miraculous signs, you know that Jesus is testifying before your eyes and ears that He is who he says He is. These signs bear witness to his being born of God. He was born by the power of the Holy Spirit of the virgin’s womb. St. John testifies that Jesus is the Word who has been from before the foundation of the world. He was spoken by the Father into the darkness to create the heavens and the earth and all therein. Christ incarnate exercised this divine power and majesty in human flesh, healing the blind, the lame, the deaf, and the mute. The sick are healed and the dead are raised.
The world thinks it foolish that we trust in this testimony. How could these reports be true? How could one man do such great things? This Christ is a stumbling block, a rock of offense. And so, they demand further signs that Jesus is who He says He is. Show us your majesty today. Do what we tell you and how we tell you. If you are God, heal my broken marriage. If you are God, restore my children to me. If you are God, give me gainful employment. If you are God, heal me of my cancer. All the while, you come to church and hear about your sin and Christ’s all-atoning forgiveness in his shed blood from the cross. How does that fix my problems? Show me signs.
So it was for the nobleman, the official, whose son was ill. He heard the reports of this Jesus, the one who turned water into wine. Maybe he was even there to witness it with his own eyes. So, he sought out Jesus and asked him to come down to Capernaum to heal his son, for he was at the point of death. What faith, to seek out healing where it can be found? Can man heal sickness and even terminal illness? Certainly so says the nobleman. Jesus can do such a thing if only he comes down to my house.
Yet, Jesus tells us this man’s faith is weak. He believes in Jesus, to be sure, but only as a miracle worker, a miraculous physician, a magician of notoriety. Jesus says to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe” (John 4:48). Belief in a miracle-worker Jesus isn’t good enough. No, Jesus wants more faith of you than that. Show me signs, you say. He says, hear my Word. You say, if only Jesus were here right now. Jesus says, “Behold, I am with you always even until the close of the age.” You say, “I believe, help my unbelief.” He says, I am with you wherever my Word is read, taught, or preached. I am with you whenever the holy things are given to you according to my Word.
Those harsh words from Christ to the official “unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe,” Christ now says to you. You are not a Jew who seeks signs to prove your faith. Nor are you a Greek who seeks a rational faith. You are a Christian who believes in Christ crucified for the forgiveness of sins. There is no stronger sign and no more wise act than God sending His son for your forgiveness.
To help us trust in Lord where He has promised to be found, the Father allows crosses to afflict us. For the official, it was the deathly illness of his son. For you, maybe your spouse abuses you or has left you? Maybe your children spite you? Maybe you have lost your job? Maybe you are mocked for your Christian faith? Maybe you have suffered at the hands of thieves or even murderers?
Or maybe, your cross is in your own heart or flesh? Maybe you struggle each Sunday to get out of bed to hear God’s Word? Maybe you hate your parents? Maybe you continually steal from family, friends, or government? Maybe you have considered violence towards others? Maybe you desire a spouse other than your own? Maybe you desire what is not your own and will do nearly anything to get it? Maybe you struggle with addiction to chemical or pornography?
You see, you are like the official. Your faith is weak. You need far more than an earthly sign to heal your deathly ill son. You need the power to heed God’s Word in all its wisdom. You are not strong. Your son may be ill but so are you. You do not abide by all God’s commands, doing them all your days. On examination of your soul, you quickly discover that you need far more than a sign. You need the Holy Spirit to guide you in all your ways. You need faith that trusts the Sanctifier’s work in you and so desire to do better in your life.
Notice though how Jesus takes the little spark of faith of the nobleman and whips it into flame. Jesus responds harshly to the official but this does not destroy His faith. No, quite the opposite. The man’s faith grows and he desires all the more that child be healed by the Lord. He keeps demanding what the Lord has promised.
So also, you demand of our Lord relief from your crosses. The weight of your ruined life is too much to bear. Too often, our Lord often says, “Sorry, Charlie, you will only believe if I give you a sign.” But your faith is greater than the nobleman’s. You keep asking in prayer for relief from your burdens. You continually demand from our Lord what He has promised. You call upon Him in every trouble, with praise, and with thanksgiving.
This is the kind of faith our Lord wants. He wants a faith that can withstand trial by fire, the test of time, the crosses of the faith. This is why He continually challenges our faith with sorrows and burdens. He does not aim to destroy faith. No, he wants the opposite. He wants faith grater than the nobleman. He wants the Evangelist to say of us, “The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way.” He does not want you to trust in miracles or wisdom. These things are good, to be sure. Yet, how easy it would be for us to trust in them. Ooh, we say, our life is so easy, praise the Lord. Then shortly thereafter we would forget about God and glorify ourselves.
Our Lord wants you to trust in Him. He wants faith that calls upon Him in every trouble. He wants faith that seeks Him in every need. He wants faith that desires forgiveness for every ill with body and soul. He wants faith that trusts that He is the great physician who can heal our broken marriages, our hateful tongue, our shameful desires, and our wicked intents. He wants us to receive his shed blood in our mouths to our benefit, healing us and restoring us to new life. He wants us to pray His Word back to Him, to hold Jesus to His promises.
Consider how our Lord Jesus works: He speaks to us and changes us. Sometimes we need the harsh word. We need our Lord to wound us with His Word, exposing in us our sinful nature. He doesn’t do this to kill us. No, his wounds upon us remind us of His Law. When he allows us to suffer ill, we are taught how He really feels about our sin. We chafe under this burden, squirming because we have offended our Father in heaven so severely.
But this is only part of the proclamation of Christ. While John the Baptist preached confession and repentance, Jesus doesn’t end it there. Jesus preaches good news to us in his Word. This Word speaks to us and changes us. He doesn’t want us to live our lives of adultery, murder, theft, hatred, and coveting. He speaks His Word saying, “Go; your son will live.” He speaks to us in the midst of our crosses and trials saying, “Go, I have healed you and sin no more.” Just as the nobleman’s son was healed in the seventh hour, we are healed on the seventh day. Each Sabbath, our Lord says to us from the holy office, “I therefore forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Here, true healing is proclaimed, healing that restores our whole lives to live according to His will.
Our Lord exercises our faith so that we trust in His Word, not in the world, with its wisdom, signs, and wonders. He tests our faith so that we stop looking inward for strength but turn towards Him and the power of His Word. He equips us with armor of His Word for this battle with trial, temptation, and the evil one.
He places on us the heavy weight of the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, and the helmet of salvation. The Holy Spirit works in us increasing faith as we do battle against the rulers, the authorities, the cosmic powers over this present darkness, the spiritual forces of evil. We are equipped with the whole armor of God, the whole witness of His Word.
How greatly we benefit from this faith-building exercise! How greatly the nobleman benefited from our Lord’s test of faith. “The father knew that was the hour when Jesus had said to him, ‘Your son will live.’ And he himself believed, and all his household” (John 4:53). Our lives are transformed to serve him in greater obedience and trust. But this dwelling of Christ in us doesn’t end with just us keeping the faith. Our Lord works faith in others through us.
When we are joined together as one body of baptized believers, our Lord works faith in us. He sends His Spirit to give us boldness and confidence. We are equipped to go home and tell others of our Lord’s powerful Word. We are equipped to pray and care for our needy, to heal those suffering from fever, sickness, or stroke. We cast our burdens, the burdens of this congregation, and the burdens of our world on the Lord. Our faith is made great to love God and to love others just as Christ himself loved us, laying His life down for His friends.
We don’t need signs and wonders. We have the testimony of the beloved apostle, brought down through the ages by the power of the Holy Spirit. This testimony says, “You will live.” You may suffer trials and other crosses but our Lord has triumphed. He has endowed you with great faith that trusts His Word in all trials and crosses. He has overcome all our foes and you will never fall again. Remain in this faith of Christ and you will never die again. Amen.