The nobleman had faith, for “when he heard that Jesus had come out of Judea into Galilee, he went to him and implored him to come and heal his son.” But his was a weak faith, as it demanded that Jesus actually go to his house to do so.
Such is the struggle of every Christian due to sin. He believes, yet he waivers. He prays, yet he is filled with doubts. He knows God’s promises, which is why he prays, yet he will not be fully convinced until he actually sees God fulfill them in his life.
It’s a dangerous game to play with God. For we don’t always see. In fact, what we do see is often the very opposite of what is true. Thus our Resurrected Lord told St. Thomas, “Because you have seen me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have believed.”
But sight is the one sense on which we rely more than all the others. So we find it hard to ignore what we see. People saw Jesus arrested, tried, crucified, then buried. What they never saw was a dead person raise himself. So the women came out to the tomb on Sunday morning with embalming spices in their hands. The disciples refused to believe their report that he had risen. And Thomas demanded to see and also touch Jesus’ wounds.
Why, then, should we be surprised that the Children of Israel panicked, when they heard how powerful some of the Canaanites were and how strong their fortified cities? Or that this nobleman demanded that Jesus come down to his house, so that he could actually see him heal his son?
But Jesus rebuked this nobleman for that. “Unless you people see signs and wonders,” he told him, “you will by no means believe.” At another time he had this to say to some of the scribes and Pharisees who demand from him a sign to prove his Messiahship, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given it except the sign of Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three night in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the belly of the earth.’
Interestingly enough, Jesus did give these unbelievers a sign, a very clear and powerful sign. They knew the story of Jonah. They knew it not to be a myth, but historical fact. What they didn’t know because of their refusal to interpret the Scriptures Christologically - a refusal many church bodies still show - is that Jonah was an image of Jesus. Therefore, the sign for faith, the only one it needs to believe in Jesus as the world’s Savior, is the sign Jonah gave centuries before Christ, which pointed ahead to Jesus’ Death, Burial and Resurrection.
We didn’t see that sign of course, at least not with our physical eyes. We never even saw Jesus. And if we had, we no doubt would have been just as offended as were the Jews of old. For in the words of the Prophet, “He had no form or comeliness; nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.”
So why did anyone believe in him? There was only one reason then, and it’s the same reason people do so today. “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God. So our Lord first spoke a word of rebuke to this nobleman and then this word of promise,“Go your way; your son lives.” And it worked. No longer did he demand that Jesus come with him. He simply went, and as he went, he heard the good news, “Your son lives!”
It’s not directly from Jesus’ mouth, I grant you. But you have this same Word preached to you here, in every Service. And because it is the Word of your almighty God, it needs neither a wordsmith who can turn a clever phrase nor a charismatic preacher who can make even the mundane sound interesting to be effective. God’s Word, because it is the Word of your almighty God, does what it says. When Jesus said, “Go,” this nobleman went in faith. When he said, “Your son lives,” his son was healed that very hour.
And nothing has changed in this regard today. All that is needed for you to believe and be saved is a mouth to preach God’s Word, which is why Christ Jesus instituted the Office of the Holy Ministry, and ears to hear it.
But the ears of the sinner are often plugged by the lies of Satan, which brings us back to this nobleman. Had his son not been deathly ill, he never would have come to Jesus. Had he not come to Jesus, he never would have heard his Word of promise. Had he not heard that Word, his faith would have remained weak and reliant on sight.
And now you know what the hymnist meant when he confessed, “What God ordains is always good. / His loving thought attends me. / No poison can be in the cup that my physician sends me. / My God is true, Each morn anew / I’ll trust his grace unending, / My life to him commending.”
What God ordains is good, even if it is a cross. For the cross drives us to his promises of deliverance. And as we see here, those promises strengthen faith, so that rather than in our own efforts, which in the face of adversity always seem to fall short, we trust solely in our Lord to deliver us from evil both in this life and also in the life to come.
Dear Christian, it is this faith, given to you by grace alone, that brought you to God’s House today, this faith that earlier received his Absolution, this faith that is presently listening to his Word, this faith that will soon lead you up to this Altar to eat his Body under Blessed Bread and to drink his Blood under Blessed Wine, for the forgiveness of your sins. And it is this very faith that will now move you to sing: “What God ordains is always good. / Though I the cup am drinking / which savors now of bitterness, / I take it without shrinking. / For after grief, God grants relief, / My heart with comfort filling / And all my sorrows stilling.”
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Sunday, October 14, 2018
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