He came therefore again to Cana of Galilee where He had made the water wine. And there was a certain royal official, whose son was sick at Capernaum. When he heard that Jesus had come out of Judea into Galilee, he went to Him, and was requesting Him to come down and heal his son; for he was at the point of death. Jesus therefore said to him, "Unless you people see signs and wonders, you simply will not believe." The royal official said to Him, "Sir, come down before my child dies." Jesus said to him, "Go your way; your son lives." The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him, and he started off. And as he was now going down, his slaves met him, saying that his son was living. So he inquired of them the hour when he began to get better. They said therefore to him, "Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him." So the father knew that it was at that hour in which Jesus said to him, "Your son lives"; and he himself believed, and his whole household. This is again a second sign that Jesus performed, when He had come out of Judea into Galilee.
Signs and Wonders
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
There is believing -- and then there is believing. I can say that because the official, whose son was healed in our Gospel lesson, discovered several different ways of believing. Jesus addresses the royal official, and I suspect, all of us, with the issue of proof required to believe. Now, the believing Jesus was speaking of is saving faith, because there are different ways of believing. Taking off from what Jesus said, our theme this morning is Signs and Wonders.
In our Gospel this morning, an official comes down to Cana from Capernaum. He is called a royal official, which tells us little. Some have speculated that he was the Centurion mentioned in Matthew 8 and Luke 7. The details of the various accounts are too diverse for them to seem to be about this same man. In both of those accounts it was reported that a servant was sick, and here, in John, it is the son of the man. In Matthew, Jesus headed off to go to the man's house, and was restrained by the man, and here Jesus doesn't attempt to go. In Luke, the account happens in Capernaum, not Cana, and Jesus praises the faith of the Centurion broadly and publicly, but in our Gospel this morning He seems to be critical of the man's need to see a sign in order to have faith, a faith which He also praises in Matthew. To be fair, Jesus did not just criticize the man in our Gospel, but the people of Israel in general. This official was probably connected to the Roman government, and would then be a Gentile, although Jesus' comment seems more to be aimed at the Jews in general.
This Official's son was sick. We don't know what illness he may have had, but it appears to have been potentially fatal, and that it was expected to end the life of the child. The official appeared to be completely out of options, so he went to see the local miracle worker. He had undoubtedly heard things about this Jesus-Rabbi, and so he came to where Jesus was - in desperation. How do I know this? Jesus looked into the man and saw that there was no real, saving faith yet, just primarily desperation. "Unless you see signs and wonders, You will not believe." Clearly, the man did not yet believe as Jesus would have us believe - although he believed enough to come to seek out Jesus. He was desperate, and little more, "Sir, come down before my child dies." The man did not say, "Come down or else my son will die," but "Sir, come down before my child dies." He clearly expected the boy to die from this illness.
Then Jesus said, "It's taken care of." What He actually said was, "Go your way, your son lives." No waving of the arms. No mysterious chants. No potions. No signs and wonders. Just the Word of God, "Go your way, your son lives." And John writes that the man believed the word which Jesus spoke to him, and started off. There is believing. He heard, and he took Jesus at His word and headed home. What faith!
On his way home, his servants met him. Cana is twenty, maybe thirty miles from Capernaum. Since they did not yet have cars, and even with a horse (if they had one) thirty miles is a long way, it took the man the rest of the day - with an evening resting under the stars or at some inn somewhere - and part of the next day to get home. Before he made it all of the way, however, he was met by his slaves coming to meet him with the happy news that his son was now better. He asked at what time the boy began to mend, and they said it was about 1:00 P.M. - the seventh hour (since they started their daily hours at about 6:00 A.M.). The man recognized that it was just about at that time that Jesus had said that his son was going to live. Then John writes the most peculiar thing - ". . . and he himself believed, and his whole household."
It may have been that the man had believed in the first place, but Jesus saw that it was not real faith but more a sort of desperation. Then Jesus promised that his son would live and the man headed home, with John writing that the man believed. And now, all of a sudden, having heard that his son is recovering, the man believes. Apparently, there is believing, and then there's believing. What we are seeing is different kinds of faith. First is the half-believing, half-disbelieving, skeptical but desperate kind of thing that brought the man to travel for two days to get to Jesus. Next we see a faith that kinda-sorta believes. He took Jesus at His word, but it still appeared to be a wait-and-see kind of thing. He had something like what we call an historical faith. He accepted the proposition that his son was going to get better, but he seems to have been far from convinced. He got what he could, and went home with hope, and not much else. How do I know? Because when he heard that his son had recovered, he had to ask when he started to get better. Even with the news that his son was well, he couldn't quite believe that Jesus was responsible for it. He had to double-check. He had to ask.
Then he really believed. He discovered that the fever broke at the moment Jesus said that his son would recover. Now there was no doubt. He trusted. Sure, he had what he wanted for the moment, but now he trusted Jesus for far more than just this healing. Now he understood who Jesus was and what that meant for his life.
Our experience of faith in Jesus Christ is often similar. The Holy Spirit creates faith in us by the Word of God. That is instantaneous and complete by God's power, but our experience of it, our consciousness of it often feels much like this man's path. We start with a need and a wish and not much else - and then we try God. We believe the Word of God, sort-of, when it tells us of the love of God, and we put God to the test. We don't really expect God to keep His promises, but we try Him out in situations where we don't have too many other options anyhow. When God proved Himself to us, then we believe.
Many Christians, so-called, have that historical faith. That is faith like the Bible says demons have: "You believe that God is one. You do well. The demons also believe, and shudder." These so-called Christians believe that a man named Jesus lived and died, and they accept that He rose from the grave. They talk about the forgiveness of sins, and accept it in some sort of academic way, but it never reaches into their hearts. They never learn to trust God. This is the faith which one professor of mine once said was nothing more than the intellectual assent to propositions of low probability. You know, it isn't likely, and I have never seen anything like it, but, what the heck, if the Bible says it, I will agree with it.
What is missing from such faith is trust. God has forgiven you all of your sins. He paid the cost of your sins by killing His Son of the cross instead if you. He made Jesus bear your pains and your guilt and your shame. Jesus died for you, and, as a result, God has forgiven you every sin. He demonstrated the sufficiency of the death of Jesus for your redemption by raising Jesus from the dead. Saying that this is forgiveness so is one thing. Trusting it is another.
What does it mean to trust in God? It means more than simply saying that the Word of God is accurate or factually true. It means living in confidence about God and in God. It means answering your fears with God's promises and with the knowledge that God loves you. It means doing what you know to be right even if it doesn't seem safe or practical or popular. It means that you force yourself to stop listening to the devil accuse you about anything and you start giving thanks instead for the forgiveness of your sins.. It means that you calculate the forgiveness of sins by its cost - the very life blood of the Son of God, and that you measure the seriousness of sin by that cost. Doing that would mean that you judge your willingness to sin, or to be unconcerned about sin, by the cost of your salvation, not by the comfort of the next moment or by the pleasure offered by the next temptation. It is all part of believing.
Do you believe? Then you forgive, as He has told you He would have you do. Then you set your priorities as you know God would have you set them, and not as they appeal to you, necessarily. Then you put first things - God's things - first. Do you trust God enough to risk looking unusually religious? Do you trust God enough to find contentment in His will and His love for you, no matter how painful or troubling you may find life to be?
Do you really believe? The official came to pray to Jesus, but he clearly was prepared to go home without what he asked for. He didn't really expect that Jesus could heal his son, or that Jesus would, so when he prayed to Jesus, he was doing what I call and "just in case" prayer. You know, just in case God is listening, and just in case He is interested, and just in case He wants to help, I will pray. Do you pray like that, or do you pray with confidence that God will answer? The story is told about a time during a drought when an entire farming congregation went out to their fields pray for rain - and only two members of the congregation brought umbrellas. The rest apparently did not expect God to answer - and, in this case we are told, they got soaked.
Do you pray like those wet ones, or do you pray expecting God is going to take care of things? I know God does not always give us what we want, but if we ask for His will to be done, then we ALWAYS get what we pray for! That's believing.
Our economy today provides us with the perfect illustration of the opportunity for faith. Things seem spooky. Most people's investments are suffering. Our world seems to spinning into dangerous behaviors. Our lives are not working out the way we have planned, in some cases. Do we place our trust in God, or do we frantically search for the way to fix everything? Do we look for signs and wonders before we trust God to loves us and take care of us and bring to Himself in heaven, or do we find peace in forgiveness and in His promises, and simply take God at His Word and trust in Him, expecting that we will be cared for after all?
Looking for signs and wonders is a theology of glory, not faith in God. Nowhere has God promised what such a faith expects and looks for, but there are a lot of teachers and preachers selling that sort of doctrine.
Faith built on trust responds to life as though God is in charge, and will do everything He promised, not just the 'go to heaven' stuff that you cannot see oruse in your day to day living. Look at the Supper on the Altar this morning. What is it? Does your hunger for it reflect a casual human sense that this is a fine ritual of the church, or does it reflect the faith that here is forgiveness, and that Christ is coming to you personally to transform you and give you eternal life? Is this Sacrament the medicine of immortality to you, or just something religious that we do? Do you count it as precious and hunger to receive it as often as you may, finding strength and refreshment for your soul here, or are you content to 'catch as catch can', and receiving this Supper now and then seems sufficient?
You see what I mean? There is the faith that looks for signs and wonders, and then there is a true faith, a confident trust in God to be God and do all that He has promsied. Simply saying that the truth is the truth is not the same as trusting in God.
Now, does God demand that every Christian be a radical Christian - that is, to trust Him completely? YES.
"Radical" means "to the root". We are to be rooted in Christ and hoping in Christ, not in this world or our experience of it from moment to moment. We are to lean on God and trust in Him and not trust our own wisdom, or strength or understanding. If we do, we will live that faith out by doing everything in the light of that faith, ruling our actions and our words and our attitudes by our trust in God and our hope in forgiveness and the confident expectation that we will rise from the grave to live forever.
The man in the Gospel saw Jesus in action, and understood that He was God — and that He cared for him and his family. He trusted from that moment on that Jesus could and would take care of him, his family, and his needs. You, too, can let every pain, every crisis, every need rest in the hands of Jesus. You can trust Him to love you, keep you, and save you, and raise you from the dead to everlasting life at the last. This faith is more than just believing that it is true, it is believing that it is for you, and that God counts you precious to Himself and watches over you, and will bring you through all things safely.
And when you trust God, you won't need signs and wonders, just the Word and promises of God!
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)
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