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Provisos, Promises, and Peace

John 4:46-54

Pastor Jason Zirbel

21st Sunday after Trinity
Grace Lutheran Church  
Greenwood, AR

View Associated File

Sun, Oct 21, 2018 

The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.

As most of you well-know, there are times that I’m not necessarily a fan of the translation set before us.  Today is one of those times.  However, you’re in for a bit of a surprise.  Normally I would scorn the English in favor of the original Greek when a translational issue arises.  Today, however, I would prefer English…just not any English translation of Scripture that is currently in use.  Looking over the text for today, particularly those words that Jesus spoke to King Herod’s royal official regarding his dying son, I wish we had a “Southern Version.” It’s true!  The reason is simple: You southerners know the difference between the second person singular and second person plural.  There’s “y’all” (singular) and then there’s “all y’all” (plural).  It’s simple.  There’s no confusion.  Even a Yankee like me can immediately tell if you’re talking only to me or to a group in general. 

“Unless you see signs and wonders, you will not believe.” Knowing that Jesus is speaking these words in response to one of wicked King Herod’s servants, it’s easy to assume that Jesus is responding in the second-person singular.  “You, O wicked servant of King Herod, you won’t believe in Me unless I do a trick for you.” But…that’s not what Jesus is saying here!  Believe it or not, but the original Greek makes clear that Jesus is speaking these harsh words to EVERYONE in the city of Cana.  “Unless all y’all see signs and wonders, all y’all won’t believe.”

Why such a broad-brush condemnation of the Jews in Cana?  It’s not like the folks in His hometown of Nazareth, who would NOT believe that the son of the local carpenter and his “virgin” wife was anything special.  Jesus had been in Cana just a few weeks/months earlier at a wedding.  It was there that He performed His first miracle, turning water into wine.  It was in this very first public miracle that Jesus manifest His divinity/glory.  He gave people a glimpse of who He was, and no one rioted or rebelled or caused trouble.  In fact, John tells us very plainly, “this was the first of His signs/miracles, which He did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested His glory.  And His disciples believed in Him.” Sounds good, right?

Fast-forward a few weeks, and Jesus comes into town again, and John tells us in verse 45 that the townsfolk welcomed Jesus into their midst, not as a crowd of faithful ones welcoming their God and Lord, but simply because they had witnessed the big commotion He had caused at the Temple a couple weeks earlier when He flipped tables and chased the wicked vendors out of the sanctuary.  They liked that Jesus.  They liked wine-making Jesus, but they liked the revolutionary, anti-fascist Jesus more.  They really liked the Jesus who was willing to start a fight with those holier-than-thou establishment folks in Jerusalem.  That’s all they saw in Jesus.  That’s all they wanted to see.  That’s all they cared about.  They wanted Jesus to come back and perform more of those sorts of powerful signs and wonders.  “Unless all y’all see signs and wonders, all y’all won’t believe.”

Now, was Jesus also specifically addressing this servant of Herod?  Yes.  It’s not like this guy just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.  “Will you heal my son?” It’s almost for certain that this guy was coming to Jesus only as the ultimate last chance/last resort/last ditch effort.  He had tried EVERYTHING else, and nothing had worked.  “May as well give Jesus a shot.  What have I got to lose?” *Is that faith?  I don’t think anyone here would be so bold as to call it “saving faith,” but then again…we can’t see the heart.  Remember: The faith that is as small as a mustard seed is mighty and powerful in God’s eyes. 

What did your Lord see when He looked at this man’s heart?  I wouldn’t be so quick to render a verdict!  Did Jesus see saving faith?  I don’t know.  I think so, although it would be a very small and fragile little ember of faith.  It wouldn’t take much to snuff that faith out.  Still, though, he did come to Jesus seeking healing for his sick son.  Remember: Jesus hadn’t healed anyone yet!  His only other public miracle up to this point was turning water into wine.  How, then, did this guy know to go to Jesus for something as drastic and powerful as reversal from terminal illness and death to healing and life?  He must’ve heard something; something that produced a tiny spark/ember of faith.  Faith comes how…? 

With this in mind, it is safe to say that this worried father had faith in Jesus.  Yes, it was a very small faith that was no doubt wrought with flaws and imperfections…probably a lot like our faith at times, if we’re bold enough to confess the truth.  But this is precisely why Jesus spoke these particular words to him.  Jesus didn’t dismiss him because his faith wasn’t “good enough” or up to snuff.  He also didn’t bless (or even condone) such poor, weak faith.  Jesus didn’t give the false impression that He was fine with the bare minimums.  This is why He spoke these words.  He was strengthening this man in his faith. 

The man responded.  He didn’t get mad at Jesus.  He didn’t shrug his shoulders and walk away.  “Oh well…I tried.” No.  He stayed on.  He pressed the issue.  He clung to Jesus even more.  “Kyrie (which is Greek for “lord”), please!  Come before my child dies!” This guy still had some flaws in his faith.  It’s obvious from his plea that he held to a very common pagan belief that gods were territorial, restricted by geography.  Jesus had to come and be in this kid’s presence in order for any sort of miracle to take place.  Yes, he refers to Jesus as “Lord,” which is better than anyone else has been doing up to this point.  But still…there are some flaws and imperfections in this guy’s faith.

But do you notice something?  Jesus lets it go…for now.  He doesn’t press it any further.  He knows what He’s dealing with.  “Go; your son will live.” Jesus promises life, right then and there.  He doesn’t have to be in a particular location for His “power” to be effective.  He’s the Lord of Life!  He speaks, and it is so (cf. the performative Word that created the heavens and the earth in six days).  He speaks, and this frantic dad is given peace.  Dad hears and he believes.  He departs in peace; an uneasy and imperfect peace (matching his imperfect faith), but still…he hears and leaves, trusting the promise of Christ. 

The next day, as he’s drawing near to home, one of his servants rushes out to meet him with the good news.  “Your son is getting better!” “When did this happen?  When did he make the turn from death to life?” “Yesterday, out of the blue, about 1pm.” This is when the guy realizes that this was the exact time that Jesus promised “your son will live.” John proceeds to tell us that this guy now truly believed, along with all his household.  That’s baptismal language!  An entire household was brought to rock-solid, Christ-centered faith.  John ends this account with a little narrative.  “This was the second sign/miracle that Jesus did when He came from Judea to Galilee.” This always gets me thinking: Is John pointing us to the miracle of physical healing, or is he pointing us to the greater miracle; the miracle of faith; the miracle of an entire household coming to faith and everlasting life in the Lord of Life?  How’s about we content ourselves with “both.”

What about you?  That’s why you’re here today, right?  No one came out today for a mere history lesson.  No one came here for story time.  What about you?  Can the same be said of you?  Unless you signs/wonders, will you not believe?  Don’t be too quick to answer!  We turn our backs on God for a whole lot less, simply because we don’t see the signs, wonders, and miracles that we want Him to do for us.  The genie in the lamp that we dare to call “Savior” or “Father” doesn’t always come through the way we want, and that’s when our little ember of faith comes dangerously close to blowing out.  The winds of worry dust up; the cool breeze of ease and contentment turns dry and arid.  It chafes and burns, and that’s when we struggle in our faith. 

But here’s the thing: Everyone is different.  Some folks, when faced with struggle, turn and flee.  Some get angry.  They resent the fact that God would dare to bring them into struggle.  “Don’t you know who I am?  Why me?!” Others, however, hold fast to Him.  They drop all the pride and pretense.  They know the truth; the truth of their sin and the truth of their Savior.  They know what they justly deserve, and they know that their Savior’s gracious promise that He is working all things for the good of those who love Him is absolutely true.  They trust Him.  They hold fast to Him and His performative, creative, restorative Word, in spite of what they may or may not see. 

Dearly beloved: Here’s some beautiful irony.  Look here!  Your Lord knows the frailty of your faith.  This is precisely why He gives you something to see; something to lock your faith onto.  He gives you the very real and tangible elements of His Word, His promise, His love, and His presence.  Behold the miracle of God’s love for you in your very presence!  Think about that for a moment.  The Lord of heaven and earth comes to you.  He kneels down to you, not because He needs to, but because He wants to.  Here is the sign/miracle of unmerited Divine love, staring you in the face! 

And take careful note: “Sign” does NOT mean “symbol.” None of this is mere symbolism.  None of this represents an absent Jesus.  This is Jesus!  He says so Himself.  “I am with you always.” Here He is, right where He promises to be; right where He tells you to look.  This, my friends, is where faith flees to.  This is where faith cleaves and holds fast, even as the frightening winds of sin, worry, and despair howl all around us.  Here is Christ. 

May this real presence of your real and present Lord and Savior give you peace.  In fact, His Word is performative.  It does what He says it does.  That means that He gives you His peace, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  In sickness, in health, for richer or poorer, for better or worse, may this unfailing Word and promise continue to strengthen you in your faith as you hold fast to Him and His peace. 

In His holy name...AMEN.

Feel free to use any or all of this sermon for the edification of God's people. It is NOT necessary to ask my permission for any of it! In fact, you don't have to mention me at all. (I think it's highly problematic when pastors seek credit/glory for sermons inspired by the Holy Spirit!) Give praise to God for the fact that He continues to provide for His people.

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