Trinity Twenty One Sermon 2001| Rolf D. Preus| October 14, 2001| St. John 4:46-54
Have you ever worried about a sick child? I can’t think of a more helpless kind of worry. It is one thing to be behind in paying bills or to be faced with a difficult job that will take quite a bit of work to compete. You know you face a challenge, but it is within your power to do something about it. But when the fever keeps rising and nothing you can do will stop it you feel a helplessness that is unlike any other. At such times we are reminded that it was not we who chose life for our children. It was God. And we cannot keep our own children from dying. God gave. God can take away. When he does, we are helpless.
It’s not just that we are helpless to stop death from taking his prey, it is even worse than that. We are helpless to understand why our merciful Father would permit such a thing to happen. There is so much we don’t understand about God. There is no good reason why a child should die. What must we think of the God who lets it happen? Does he want to give us pain? Does he not know how we feel? Doesn’t he care? When bad things happen and a good God doesn’t stop them from happening we are left wondering what God is like.
This is the hidden god. He hides himself. He sends us pain without a word of explanation. If the crop fails we grin and bear it. If the child dies we cry and bear it. We bear it, but we don’t really learn anything. I mean, really, what do we learn? Oh, I suppose you could say we learn patience. But face it. Folks become just as bitter as patient. Suffering the loss of what you love won’t necessarily teach you anything at all. It can and often does just leave you angry and wondering and finally giving up on God altogether.
Unless you hear God talk. Unless you hear his word of promise. That is, unless you meet Jesus.
The nobleman in today’s Gospel Lesson met Jesus. He had heard of Jesus. After Jesus changed water into wine people began to spread the story all over the country. Jesus had power that belonged to God. Jesus had revealed his glory. The disciples had seen it. The word had gone out far and wide that Jesus could do the signs that identified him as God’s Son. The creative power of God is what changed ordinary water into good wine. To meet Jesus therefore is to meet God.
The God who hides his face from us and takes away what we love is the same God who reveals his love to us in Jesus. There is only one God. The hidden God and the revealed God are one and the same. However, when we suffer loss and we don’t have any word from God we cannot know why. It appears to us that God is far away and cannot be found.
So it appeared to this nobleman until he met Jesus. He implored Jesus to come to where his son was and to heal him. Jesus responded with what appear to be surprising words – almost as if he were callused to the man’s pain. He said, “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will by no means believe.” Jesus was driving the man to trust more simply and strongly in the word that Jesus would speak. The man obviously thought he knew how Jesus would answer his prayer. He would provide some kind of dramatic display of power. He would go to the man’s home and provide the kind of sign that was expected of him. But Jesus deliberately chose not to go to the man’s home, indeed not even to approach it. Instead he spoke. “Go your way; your son lives.”
Jesus stood in the flesh face to face with the nobleman. He spoke. The words he spoke to the nobleman healed the boy who was miles away. Jesus spoke and by that speaking he brought life to a dying boy. Jesus spoke and by that speaking he brought his gracious presence to a home filled with dread. By his almighty word he brought that nobleman to faith. In fact, he brought his whole family to true faith.
Our text tells us that the nobleman believed Jesus’ word when Jesus spoke it. It also tells us that the man believed Jesus’ word when he saw that Jesus had saved his son’s life. It was the same faith. Jesus’ words bring us to faith and keep us in the faith. Without his words our faith wouldn’t even exist because it would have nothing to live on. We live on the words of promise. Jesus won’t deal with us in any other way than through his word. This is why he chose to heal the man’s son as he did. He wanted to teach them and us that he chooses to be present with us through his word. In this way he teaches us not to seek him out anywhere else than in his word.
Most people are very confused about what faith is. They think that faith is a decision that we make. They think that faith is doing something. That’s not true. Faith is the very opposite of doing. Faith is believing. It is trusting. It is hearing what God says to us and relying on the truth of what he says. “Your son lives.” So says Jesus. Faith says “amen” to what Jesus says. It is very simple.
Was it Jesus who healed the sick boy or was it Jesus’ word that healed him? What a question! Jesus healed the boy by saying the word. Isn’t that so? Faith trusts in the word and in this way it trusts in Jesus. You cannot trust in Jesus without trusting in his word. When you trust in his word you are trusting in him. And when you trust in him, you are trusting in God. The only way to know the Father is through the Son. The only way to know the Son is by the Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit speaks to us only and always through the word Jesus gave him to speak. This is the word written down in the New Testament. It is the word preached from the pulpit of this church. It is the word joined to the water in Holy Baptism. It makes baptism a washing of rebirth that creates and sustains saving faith in our hearts throughout our lives. It is the word that is joined to bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper so that ordinary food becomes the body and the blood of Jesus. It is the word that is spoken in the absolution so that Jesus Christ himself gives here and now today in this place the same forgiveness he won on the cross.
You can seek out the hidden God in your suffering and learn to hate him, or you can listen to the word of God as Jesus gives it and learn to love him. You can rely on your own experiences to understand God’s love. One day you will think God loves you and the next day you will think God hates you. No one ever has learned to fear, love, and trust in the hidden God who takes away our children, our parents, our husbands and wives, our property, and our jobs. This God cannot be loved because he won’t even talk to us. He just gives to take away.
But the God who sent his Son into this world continues to talk to us through this same Son. It is as the Epistle to the Hebrews puts it, “God, who at various times and in different ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son.” (Hebrews 1:1-2a) In the prologue of St. John’s Gospel Jesus is called the Word who was with God in the beginning and who is God. This Word became flesh. He lived among us as a man. But he chose, even as he was walking and talking and doing great and wonderful works, to show us that he wanted to deal with us with his word. The hidden God says not one word, so we don’t know what he’s doing or why. The revealed God speaks to us through Jesus.
Is that enough? Or do you want more? Must God do a miracle for you? Do you resent the fact that God doesn’t conform his gifts to your desires but insists instead that you conform your desires to his gifts? But if we won’t listen to God we cannot know him. If our faith isn’t born from God’s word it isn’t a true faith. In fact, it is nothing but delusion. Those who seek after signs and wonders are seeking after an idol. They praise God for healing, but they have no word from Jesus. They praise God for the gift of speaking in tongues, but they have no word from Jesus. They praise God for miracles, but nowhere can they show that Jesus has promised them healing, tongues, and miracles. They praise Jesus but it isn’t really Jesus they are praising because Jesus has told us plainly that he wants us to listen to his word and to find his gracious presence there in his word.
Jesus said that the only sign his generation would receive would be the sign of Jonah. Just as Jonah was three days in the belly of the whale, so Jesus would be crucified, buried, and on the third day rise from the dead. There is where we should look to find him. In our baptism we are joined to that holy event. In the Supper, the same body that there bore our sins and the same blood that there was shed for us are given to us to eat and to drink and we hear Jesus’ words that this is his body and his blood given and shed for the forgiveness of sins.
Do you believe him? When he says what he says, do you think it is so? Or do you think perhaps that his word doesn’t take? Do you think you can come to church and hear the gospel and it just isn’t so because you don’t feel like you are forgiven? Would you rather that God give you some kind of extra assurance? Perhaps a bit more than mere words spoken through the mouth of a man? Maybe if Jesus would start listening to us as we give him our ideas about how to give out eternal life he would learn that the mere speaking of words doesn’t impress us much!
Well, thank God he doesn’t listen to our foolish notions! He rather tells us to quiet down, pay attention, and listen to him. We don’t know how to find the God who is hidden from us when we suffer pains, losses, and the necessary consequences of being sinners living in a sinful world. But God knows how to find and to help us. He says his word and when he says it that makes it so. Whether it is the little baby being baptized, the penitent being absolved, or the bread and wine being consecrated by the Words of Institution, God’s word always makes it so. The young man’s fever left him at the very hour Jesus said, “Your son lives.” This means that here and now at this very hour your many sins are forgiven. God sees the sins you hide from others. He knows that you have lied, stolen, and lusted after what belonged to another. He knows that these sins of thought, word and deed bring you misery, death, and eternal punishment. He placed all these sins on his dear Son who suffered in your place on the cross. There he removed those sins from you by bearing your punishment fully and finally. Right now he gives you his word that your sins are forgiven. You are free from them. God said it. That settles it. Believe him. He has never lied to you and he never will. Amen.