Sunday, October 24, 2021

Sermon for the Twenty-first Sunday after Trinity - Jn 4:46-54

                                                                                      Trinity 21

                                                                                Jn 4:46-54



          I will never forget the impression made on me when we brought Timothy, our first child, home from the hospital.  I was struck by the fact that here was this tiny little life that was completely dependent on Amy and me. And along with this came the profound sense that his needs would always come before my own – that I would do anything that I could in order make sure that he was safe and healthy.

          I assume that all parents feel this way about their children. And of course, that feeling doesn’t change as they get older. The same commitment to their health and well being – to doing anything necessary – continues.  Here at Good Shepherd we have experienced a remarkable example of this. When Ryan broke the bones in his lower leg playing football, it did not seem like it was anything serious.  Of course, there was disappointment that his season was ended and concern that it would impact the baseball season.  But people break bones all the time. The doctors set them, they heal, and everything goes on as normal.

          Except in Ryan’s case, nothing turned out to be normal. First there were problems with the alignment of the bones.  Then an infection developed that was related to the metal implants in the bone.  The doctors seemed to be unable to treat the infection.  Ryan had surgery after surgery at St. Louis Children’s Hospital – I think in the end he had twenty one of them. 

          Jay and Dayna made trip after trip after trip to St. Louis for surgeries, doctor’s appointments and physical therapy for Ryan. They were responsible for administering antibiotics on a schedule that basically controlled their lives.  Yet they willingly did all these things because Ryan is their child. And we give thanks to God that in the end the infection was resolved, the bones healed, and Ryan is even playing baseball again.

          In our Gospel lesson this morning, we see the same kind of commitment and love by a father for his sick child.  He goes to Jesus seeking healing.  Jesus doesn’t do what the father wants – and yet in end our Lord provides healing and so much more.

          Our text begins by telling us: “So he came again to Cana in Galilee, where he had made the water wine. And at Capernaum there was an official whose son was ill. When this man heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went to him and asked him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death.”

          Jesus had been in Jerusalem for the Passover.  It is John’s Gospel that tells us of how Jesus made several trips to Jerusalem, including trips for more than one Passover.  It is his Gospel that allows to understand that Jesus’ ministry lasted more than one year.

          Jesus had performed miracles in Jerusalem and in the verse just before our text John says, “So when he came to Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him, having seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the feast. For they too had gone to the feast.”

          A royal official, probably for Herod Antipas, was in Capernaum where his son was sick and near death. When he heard that Jesus was back in Galilee, he made the trip to Cana in order to seek Jesus’ help.  Cana is twenty four miles away from Capernaum – about the same distance from here to Murphysboro. The trip is uphill, because Capernaum is located on the Sea of Galilee at a lower elevation. But the official made the trip to Cana because Jesus was there and he saw in Jesus the one chance to save his son.

          When he arrived the official asked Jesus to come down to Capernaum and heal his son, because he was at the point of death. However, our Lord replied, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” This reply seems rather harsh.  However, there are two things we should note.  First, in Greek one can indicate whether “you” is singular or plural.  Here it is plural, so Jesus expresses this comment to the whole group present with him, and not just to the official.

          And second, in Jesus’ statement we find an evaluation of the man’s motives.  The official had come to see Jesus in Cana because he saw our Lord as a last chance to save his son.  He didn’t come because he had faith in Christ.  He came because he was desperate to save his child, and he would try anything.

          The official could have been put off by Jesus’ statement.  He could have been offended, and left.  But instead he replied, “Sir, come down before my child dies.”  He returned and implored Jesus yet more fervently.

          When our Lord answered, he didn’t do what the official asked of him. The official asked Jesus to come to Capernaum and heal his son.  Instead, Jesus replied, “Go; your son will live.” He told the official to return to Capernaum and declared that his son would live. John tells us, “The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way.”  The man did not receive what he had asked of Jesus.  Instead, he received Jesus’ word – his promise of healing for his son.  We learn that he believed Jesus’ word, and therefore he began his journey back to Capernaum.

          As he was going back down, he was met by his servants who were on their way find the official and share wonderful news: his son was recovering!  He asked them the hour when he began to get better, and they told him that it had occurred the day before at the seventh hour. Then we hear in our text: “The father knew that was the hour when Jesus had said to him, ‘Your son will live.’ And he himself believed, and all his household.”

          The official went to Jesus as someone who saw our Lord as a last chance for his son.  He didn’t receive what he wanted – Jesus didn’t come to Capernaum with him.  But through Jesus’ word he received what he needed … and so much more.  He received the healing of his son. But more importantly, he was drawn to faith in Jesus.  And this didn’t just happen for him. We learn that his whole household also now believed.

          In the official’s experience, we see the manner in which God often deals with us. The official received what seemed like a “no,” as Jesus said to those present, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.”  We know the experience of disappointments, hardships, and challenges. These things in themselves seem to indicate that God does not love us and is not caring for us.  So we pray to God and ask him to do something. And nothing happens. Or perhaps things even get worse.

          The temptation is to conclude that God doesn’t really care, or to get angry with God, or even to begin to give up on God.  But like the official, God deals with us in this way in order to draw us closer to him.  He does so in order to prompt us to grow deeper in faith. He does this because we are fallen people in whom the old Adam is still present, and we need this.

          Although it seemed as if Jesus had rejected the man’s request, the official responded with an even more urgent plea: “Sir, come down before my child dies.” This needs to be our response as well.  We turn to God with yet more fervor. We hold up God’s word and promises before him.  And when we do so, the Holy Spirit is causing us to grow in our trust and faith. The apparent “no” of God is really the “yes” that seeks to draw us closer to him.

          The last statement of our text points us to the reason that we can trust this is so.  There John says: “This was now the second sign that Jesus did when he had come from Judea to Galilee.”  These words call our attention to the fact that Jesus is in Cana.  As the beginning of our text states, it was at Cana that our Lord turned water into wine.  After this miracle John says, “This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.” 

          John is once again telling us that Jesus’ miracles – his signs – reveal his glory. But this glory always points to the cross.  Paradoxically to us, it is in the cross that Jesus’ glory is revealed. During Holy Week Jesus said, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”  Jesus’ glory revealing signs all point to his death.  Our Lord went on to say, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” Then John adds, “He said this to show” – literally, ‘to sign’ – “by what kind of death he was going to die.”

          It is in the cross that Jesus revels his glory because the Word – the Son of God – became flesh to be the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  Jesus was lifted up and died on the cross in order to free you from sin. He was lifted up so that through faith in Jesus we might receive forgiveness and life.  Our Lord told Nicodemus, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”

          Jesus’ glory was revealed by his death on the cross, because the cross and death were not the end.  Our Lord said, “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”  In his resurrection and ascension, Jesus’ glory has continued to be revealed.  Because of the resurrection of Jesus, we see the cross for what it really was – the revelation of God’s saving glory for us.

          This truth – that the cross is not the absence of God, but instead his powerful saving presence – now guides the way we look at our life.  In the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ we receive the confidence to trust and believe in God no matter what is happening in our lives.  When the circumstances of our life seem to be God saying “no” to us, we press on in faith, returning to the Lord yet again, just as the official does today in our text. We do so because in the resurrection of Jesus we have already received God’s great “yes.” 

          You have been born again of water and the Spirit.  God has given you faith in the crucified and risen Lord.  He seeks to cause you to grow yet stronger in this faith and trust.  This occurs as we encounter the cross in our own lives.  But because we know the risen Lord, these circumstances do not turn us away.  Instead, we press on more fervently in faith toward God.  In this way God kills the old Adam in us, so that more and more we can live as those who have been born again.

          In our text today we see a sign.  Jesus does not do what the official asks.  Instead he speaks his word of promise which calls the official to faith, and then also gives him the very thing for which he hoped – the life of his child.  This sign points us to the sign of our Lord’s death and resurrection, in which we have the assurance of forgiveness, eternal life, and the confidence to trust and believe no matter what we encounter.

          John says near the end of this Gospel, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”  We return constantly to God in faith because in the crucified and risen Lord we do have life.  In Jesus we have life – a life that we can be confident carries us through every circumstance as we trust in God’s love, now and forever.



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