10-24-21 Trinity 21

October 24, 2021
Passage: John 4:46-54
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The request of the royal official was for Jesus to come down to Capernaum and heal his son. And Jesus refuses his request. He doesn’t go down to Capernaum to heal the man’s son. Jesus makes it very clear, in fact, that He is annoyed at the man’s request – “Unless you see signs and wonders, you will by no means believe.” The key word there is not “signs and wonders” but the word “see.” This is what so upsets Jesus. And it’s not just with this poor man who’s come to beg Jesus to travel the twenty miles to Capernaum, it’s with everyone in Galilee, His home country – as He said, “A prophet has no honor in his own country.” They all – it’s plural – they all want to see signs and wonders. And they will not believe unless they see them. It’s extremely dangerous to think this way about God, to put sight above hearing, to demand to see before you will believe His word. Faith comes from hearing and hearing from the Word of God. Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. So Jesus doesn’t allow anyone to see this miracle, least of all the father, at least not until he gets home, and Capernaum is a good two days away from Cana. Instead, he makes the man’s faith depend entirely on His word. It is only by Jesus’ word, that the man trusts a miracle has happened and it is only by Jesus’ word that he understands just how much Jesus has done for him and his entire family.

Faith is not against sight. Not at all. Faith is based on fact, fact that was seen by faithful men and women, eyewitnesses, and then written down for our learning. The apostles saw the Lord Jesus’ miracles, they saw Him tortured and dead on a cross, they saw the empty grave, they saw Him risen from the dead, they saw the wounds in His side and in His hands. St. John says, “He who saw it has borne witness – his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth – that you also may believe.” St. Paul tells the Corinthians that the Gospel he preaches to them includes the good news that Peter, John, James, all the apostles, hundreds of disciples, and Paul himself saw Jesus raised from the dead. Faith is not against sight.

How could it be, when faith will end in sight. It will. The confession of Job is ours,

“For I know that my Redeemer lives,
And He shall stand at last on the earth;
And after my skin is destroyed, this I know,
That in my flesh I shall see God,
Whom I shall see for myself,
And my eyes shall behold, and not another.
How my heart yearns within me!”

We will see. This is what we sing, “And then from death awaken me, that these mine eyes with joy may see O Son of God thy glorious face, my Savior and my Fount of grace.” This is what we call the “end of faith” in that great hymn, “I Know my Faith is Founded:” “And then at my departure, Lord take me home to you, your riches to inherit, as all you said holds true. In life and death Lord keep me, until your heaven I gain, where I by your great mercy the end of faith obtain.” Where we will see, not dimly, but face to face. Where we will know as we have been known.

And not only will faith end in sight, but we get glimpses, we get sights, of our Lord’s wonders in this world because of faith. This is again what we sing, “For in all things I see traces of His tender love for Me.” In all things. Just look at the difference between a Christian’s view of an unborn baby and the world’s view. We look and we see a child as it really is, God’s gift, created in His image, made for eternity, a wonder of God’s grace. They see a blob of tissue that can be dispensed with at will. What they see is false and ugly. What we see is true and beautiful – it’s what God sees. Look at our view of marriage and the world’s view. They see it as a human contract that can be broken for any and no reason at all, a contract that can be between a man and a woman or a woman and a woman or a man and a man, and God knows what else they’ll come up with next; we see it as it really is, the life-long union of a man with his wife, in mutual love, to bring up children for God, and to reflect the beautiful union of Christ with His Church. It is by faith that we see what is beautiful, even in this world of sin.

But we can’t base our faith on sight. We see after we believe. This was even true of the apostles. Yes, they saw the resurrected Jesus, but they didn’t know what it meant until Jesus spoke to them, and they were prepared to see what they saw precisely because Jesus spoke to them. Jesus’ rebuke of Thomas was not because Thomas wanted to see Jesus with his own eyes – that’s a wonderful thing to want, a necessary thing, what we want for ourselves too, what we will see in God’s good time – no, Jesus reproaches Thomas because Thomas wanted to see before he believed Jesus’ word, the apostolic word. Blessed are they who have not seen, yet believe. And so it is this beautiful lesson Jesus teaches this desperate father from Capernaum and it is the lesson He teaches us as we consider our Gospel this morning.

Jesus can seem callous when He tests faith. But Jesus tests faith to make it stronger. He will not extinguish the smoking wick. This man has heard that Jesus heals the sick. It’s the talk of Galilee. This is what St. John tells us in the preceding verse, “Therefore when Jesus came to Galilee, the Galileans welcomed Him because they had seen all He did in Jerusalem at the Feast, for they too had gone to the Feast.” Note this. They welcome him because they’ve seen the wonders he’s done. But this man hasn’t seen. He’s heard. And when this man comes to Jesus, after traveling some 20 miles, all the while praying his son doesn’t die and praying he can reach Jesus in time, already having his faith tested by hours and hours of wondering whether Jesus will come back with him, the first words he hears are a rebuke from Jesus, a complaint, that all around Him want to see signs and wonders or they won’t believe.

The man asked Jesus to come down to Capernaum. He requested to see it. This is the opposite of the centurion’s request, who tells Jesus – you’ll remember –not to come to his house, that he’s unworthy to have Jesus come under his roof, that he has no need to see the miracle with his own eyes, but only that Jesus say the word, and that will be enough. It is characteristic of God to speak and it happens. That’s why we heard the creation account from Genesis this morning. God created by the voice of His mouth. “And God said, ‘Let there be light.’” It is by His Word that all things were made. This is how John begins his Gospel, how He describes Jesus the Son of God, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that has been made.” And this is why we are told that this man comes to Jesus in Cana of Galilee, where Jesus had turned water into wine. Jesus is the God who speaks creation into being. The God who owns the elements of the world. Who speaks to end death and sin and sickness and disease. And it is this that Jesus wants this man and his boy and his whole household to know. This is why he tests his faith.

The man receives a rebuke from Jesus. You want to see a miracle? You want me to travel down to Capernaum? You have to see before you will believe? And the man takes the rebuke. That’s what faith does. It’s happy to be corrected by Jesus. When God sends trial and pain and seeming rejection, faith holds still more firmly to His Word, holds Him to His promises. So the man appeals to Jesus’ mercy. What is not made clear in our translation but is so beautifully expressed in the Greek, is the urgency of the man’s response to Jesus, “Lord,” he says, not “sir,” but “Lord, come down before my little boy dies.” He appeals to Jesus as Lord and then he calls his son his little boy, paidion. This is to say, “Yes, Lord, I believe, but help my unbelief – I can point only to your pity, to your mercy, to your love for my little boy.”

Jesus still refuses to go down with the man. He refuses this part of his prayer. And this should teach us plenty about prayer. It would be ridiculous to say that Jesus didn’t answer the man’s prayer. Of course He did. He saved his son from death. But He did it in His own way and in His own time, in a way far better than the man asked for. He answered the prayer by denying one of the requests. And this for the father’s good, the boy’s good, the family’s good, the world’s good. Because not only does He give the boy his health, He makes the father’s faith depend not on seeing things, but on the words of Jesus. He gives the man a faith that can endure, that doesn’t demand to see immediate results or complain if God doesn’t give exactly what we demand, a faith that can say, “Thy will be done,” and know that God wishes to do even more than we ask in His own time and in His own way. Go, your son lives.

What’s the result? The man sees only after he believes. And then the man preaches Jesus to his family, tells them of His great power and mercy, teaches them that faith doesn’t depend on sight, but sees when it believes. This is what faith that has been tested does. I believed therefore I spoke, the psalmist says. A love for children, for family, for our households, is not simply to care for their bodily health, but to care for their salvation. The love this father had for his little boy, that pushed him to run to Jesus to save his boy’s life, burns with far greater tenacity and urgency to run back now to his little child and teach Him about Jesus. There is no greater task a man could have, no greater love for children could possibly be shown, than we see in this father, not only to care for their bodies, but to give them Jesus who created their bodies and has redeemed them with His precious blood. So fathers and mothers make this your top priority. Raise your children for heaven. Pray for their health but much more for their salvation. Talk about Jesus with them. Bring them to church. Read the Bible to them. Sing hymns with them. Just as you would happily walk 20 miles to get them the medicine that would save their lives, do the happy work of making your home a Christian home and giving your household the medicine that heals both body and soul forever.

You can’t see this salvation. You can see money, you can see earthly success, you can see health. But you can’t see salvation. Not yet. No, you see bread and wine, but Jesus’ words says, This is my body, this is my blood, and faith sees it for what it really is and so will see Jesus’ in the flesh on the last day. You see water poured on the head, but Jesus says, “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” and faith sees children of God, a thing our eyes will see when the Lord Jesus calls us His coheirs and puts us at His Father’s right hand. We see sin in ourselves, but Jesus says, “Peace I give to you, whosoever sins you forgive they are forgiven them,” and faith sees in the wounded side of our Savior the assurance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen, until we look on those glorious scars in the land of the living. We see disease and death and corruption all around, but Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice and I know them and they follow me and I give them eternal life and they will never perish, neither will anyone snatch them from my hands,” and faith sees Christ the life of all the living, Christ the death of death our foe. The enemies of the Gospel sneer and say, Where is your God? We can’t see him. And faith points to the cross and says, There he is, my Savior, who refused to respond to the taunts of those who told him to come down from the cross, when the weight of my sin was upon him, who bore my guilt and my death, because He so loves me, to save me and to comfort me in all distress.” So faith sees glory in the cross, and that includes our own crosses, whatever our Lord Jesus puts on us, because we know in good time He will give us to see His glorious face, as all questions and doubts are answered at last.

We don’t seek to see signs and wonders. But we trust in Christ and so we know the time will come when we will see them. Faith comes by hearing. And the end of faith is sight. Long ago, Jesus spoke the words, “Go, your son lives,” and the man heard these words confirmed by the servants who came to meet him and then saw them confirmed with his own eyes. So now Jesus speaks a better Word to you, He lives and because He lives you will live also, and this word you hear confirmed by those who saw Him risen from the dead, and you will see them confirmed with your own eyes on that glorious day. Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly. Amen.

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