Pray According to God’s Word
The 21st Sunday after Trinity| Rev. Rolf D. Preus| October 24, 1999| John 4:46-54
So Jesus came again to Cana of Galilee where He had made the water wine. And there was a certain nobleman whose son was sick at Capernaum. When he heard that Jesus had come out of Judea into Galilee, he went to Him and implored Him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death. Then Jesus said to him, “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will by no means believe.” The nobleman said to Him, “Sir, come down before my child dies!” Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your son lives.” So the man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him, and he went his way. And as he was now going down, his servants met him and told him, saying, “Your son lives!” Then he inquired of them the hour when he got better. And they said to him, “Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.” So the father knew that it was at the same hour in which Jesus said to him, “Your son lives.” And he himself believed, and his whole household. This again is the second sign Jesus did when He had come out of Judea into Galilee.
The Gospel lesson for today recounts for us the second miracle that Jesus did. The first was changing water into wine at a wedding in Cana. The second miracle, also done in Cana, was healing a nobleman’s son. He had a fever and was close to death. Jesus healed him. He simply said to the nobleman, “Your son lives.” That made it so. That’s the way it is with Jesus. When he says something, it is so. Always. Never does Jesus say something that is not so.
This isn’t just because Jesus always speaks the truth. Of course he does. But it is more than that. When Jesus speaks, what he says becomes true. He was there in the beginning. Long before he was conceived by the Holy Ghost and born of the Virgin Mary, he was there. St. John calls Jesus the Word because it was through him that God made everything. “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” (Genesis 1:3) God speaks. What he speaks is his word. His word is almighty. St. Paul calls it the “sword of the Spirit” because it attacks and destroys every lie of the devil. In the long list of weapons that St. Paul mentions in our battle against the devil and his angels, the word of God is the only offensive weapon he names. It is the only weapon we need. It is God himself in action. The word of God reveals God, it shows us who and how God is. This is why St. John calls Jesus the Word. The early church frequently referred to Jesus as the Word. In the Creed we say concerning Jesus, “by whom all things were made.” There at the beginning, as God the Father planned and created all that exists, God the Son, the eternal Word, was there with him. So St. John can write, “By him all things were made and without him nothing was made.” (John 1:3) Every time the Bible speaks of God’s word we are to think of Jesus because he is the Word of God made flesh. He shows us God. And when Jesus speaks, it is so. It is so because Jesus says so.
How did Jesus choose to heal the nobleman’s son? The nobleman wanted Jesus personally to go to his home. He thought that was the way Jesus would heal his boy. But Jesus chose not to go to the man’s home. He chose to heal the boy by saying the words. That’s how Jesus gets things done. He, who is the Word in the flesh, speaks. That is what gets the job done.
Now I must say that it doesn’t work that way for me. I say all sorts of things that don’t get done. If I say to the kids to clean up their room, will their room get cleaned up? That depends. Am I going to be there in the house? If I am not physically present, they might forget who told them and what he told them. Even if I remain in the house, I will have to remind them to keep at it. And, of course, it will take some time. Other things will interfere with my words. The kids will find a toy they haven’t seen in a while, they’ll get into a discussion that will turn into an argument, and, well, you know how it is. One thing is for sure. Dad’s word is not an almighty word.
But consider how it happens when Jesus says something. The nobleman asked his servants when his son was healed. It was when Jesus spoke the words. His speaking makes it so. And it makes it so immediately.
This is why we must learn to depend solely on what Jesus says. When we pray, we must always pray in confidence that what Jesus says is true. Only then, when his words are inside of us, can we really pray with any confidence at all. The nobleman’s experience with Jesus illustrates for us the relationship between God’s word and prayer. The nobleman had heard God’s word about Jesus. How much he knew we don’t know. He knew enough to ask Jesus to heal his son. He knew enough to know that Jesus could do a great miracle. He must have heard of how Jesus had changed water into wine at a wedding. It was what the man knew about Jesus that gave him hope that Jesus could and would help his son who was at the point of death.
The man assumed that Jesus could help him. He also assumed that Jesus would come personally to heal his son. But Jesus didn’t do that. He simply said, “Go your way; your son lives.” The nobleman’s son was healed at the same time that Jesus spoke. The word of Jesus had the power to heal. When Jesus says something, that makes it so.
Jesus wanted the man to learn how to focus his prayers. When Jesus said, “Unless you see signs and wonders, you will be no means believe,” it almost seemed as if he was being cruel to the poor man who was at his wits end. All he wanted was Jesus to help him. The man wasn’t looking for a sign. He was looking for Jesus to save his son’s life. Why should Jesus treat him so harshly? But Jesus isn’t treating him harshly. He is rather acting as the master physician, the doctor of the soul. “Listen, man,” he is saying. “In what do you trust? Can you learn to trust every single word I say? Now, you look for a wonderful proof that I am your God and helper. What about hereafter? Will you learn to trust what I say when I give you no proof? Will my word be sufficient for you? Or will you need more signs, wonders, and miracles?
Jesus wants the nobleman (and us) to learn how to rely solely on his word. He speaks and so it is. Do we know that? Have we learned that?
Faith is nothing more or less than believing what Jesus says. This is why we gather to hear what he says. This is especially important when we face challenges to our faith: events, problems, and tragedies that test our faith. We pray for help. We pray for proof that God will help us right now. Show me! Prove it to me! But Jesus says, no, you don’t always get the sign. Or, rather, you don’t get to choose the sign. That is always up to God.
Faith lives on God’s word. Faith is exercised by prayer. The word of God comes into you. That’s what faith is. Faith is how God’s word comes inside of you. Without faith, the word of God is outside of you. Now God’s word remains true, and faithful, and powerful whether or not you believe it. But only when you believe God’s word does it come inside of you. Only then can you pray. Jesus said, “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you want, and it will be done for you.” (John 15:7) Faith must pray. Faith that doesn’t pray isn’t faith at all. It is dead. Faith is always asking God for the things that God has promised. And faith knows what God has promised because faith simply takes God at his word. So these two things: God’s word and our prayer go together and can never be separated.
This is what Jesus was teaching that nobleman. He was teaching him how to pray correctly. There is a right and a wrong way to pray. The wrong way to pray is to pray without listening to God’s word. How can we learn how to ask for God’s promises if we don’t listen to God speak to us and tell us what his promises are? The right way to pray is to join our prayers to God’s word. So the best prayer to pray is the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus himself taught us this prayer. This is how we can be sure that it is a prayer after God’s own heart.
This account teaches us to join the word of God to our prayer. Jesus exercised the man’s faith, requiring him to cry out again for Jesus’ help. This was not unkindness on Jesus’ part. Far from it! When Jesus drove the man to trust solely in his word, he was strengthening the man’s faith. But never is any instance recorded for us in the Bible, do we have Jesus’ denying a request for mercy. He simply won’t deny us. Why not? Because he’s full of mercy!
This is what faith must learn. Not only is God’s word always effective, always powerful, always doing what God is saying, but God’s word is also always merciful and gracious.
We who call ourselves Bible believers must never forget what it is the Bible teaches most clearly. We who emphasize the power of God’s word, ought never forget what God’s word has the power to do. What does it really mean to believe the Bible? It means to trust in Jesus. This is what Jesus was teaching the nobleman to do. To trust in Jesus is to trust in what he says. To trust in what Jesus says is to trust in the very words of the Bible. We were taught correctly as little children when we learned the song, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” This means that Jesus’ words actually impart to me God’s love and my own personal salvation. I cannot know God’s love apart from Jesus and I cannot know Jesus apart from the words of the Bible, which are the very words of the Holy Spirit.
Listen to these words. They bring Jesus to you. For, you see, when Jesus said to the nobleman, “Your son lives,” Jesus himself was present with his son, healing him. Jesus’ word makes Jesus present. Jesus’ words to us, in gospel and sacraments, take us to the place where Jesus suffered for us all, to the cross on which he died. There the blessed exchange takes place, as our sins are laid on Jesus, and his righteousness is placed over us. And Jesus continues to provide signs and wonders to which he attaches his gracious word. The sign of water is joined to God’s name, so baptism makes us children of God. The sign of bread and wine is joined to Christ’s body and blood, so the Lord’s Supper gives us forgiveness and eternal life. As we pray to God through Jesus, we learn to listen to God’s answer in these blessed signs. God teaches us to love them and to cherish them, for these sacraments are Christ living among us, and in us.
So we always look for God in Jesus and we always look for Jesus in the word and sacraments he gives us. Then we learn that our sins cannot separate us from God’s love. We learn that when we come back to his holy word after disgracing ourselves, and as we are filled with self-loathing, the words of Jesus, spoken to us, will always speak God’s pardon. This is what we pray for most of all. This prayer is always answered for the sake of Jesus who has taught us to pray.