Twenty-first Sunday after Trinity
November 9, 2014
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO
In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Quite a lot had happened since the first of Jesus’ signs in Cana of Galilee. A Passover had come and gone, Jesus had taught and healed and driven out the money changers from the temple. Nicodemus, the timid Pharisee snuck in to talk to Jesus in the middle of the night and learned of the birth from above by water and the Spirit. An adulterous woman slaked Jesus’ thirst, then herself learned of a water that would forever banish thirst.
Now Jesus was returning to His home country. Galilee—not where He was born, but were He settled as a small Child, where He grew to be a Man. His fame went before Him. Teacher. Healer. Miracle Man.
Then comes a man—a royal official—all the way from Capernaum to Cana to see this miraculous Healer. John makes sure that we remember that Cana was the site of Jesus’ first miraculous sign, where He made wine out of water. This was the sign that His disciples saw, and because of it, they put their faith in Him (Jn 2:11).
But it’s not signs that Jesus has on His mind when He comes to Cana. Then He came again into Cana of Galilee, where He made the water wine. And there was a certain royal official whose son had been sick in Capernaum. When this man heard that Jesus was coming out of Judea into Galilee, he went to Him and was asking for Him to come down and heal his son, for he was about to die. Jesus then said to him, “Unless you all see signs and wonders, you will not believe” (vv 46-48). Harsh words for a distraught man.
The first order of business for Jesus at His Galilean homecoming is to stamp out any theologies of glory. What is a theology of glory? A theology of glory looks for visible manifestations of God’s glory in this life—power, victory, success, health, and wealth. A theologian of glory is a man who’s theology can be summarized into one sentence: Seeing is believing.
Theologies of glory are all around us. They permeate contemporary Christianity like a plague, hacking away at faith one sign at a time, demanding of God to continually prove Himself to be who He is.
The theology of glory was on display just this past week when the daredevil Nik Wallenda walked a tightrope across two skyscrapers in Chicago. Along the way, Nik’s faith was on display as his mic’ed voice said prayers and praises to God to safely bring him across to the other side. As I watched, I couldn’t help but think of Satan bringing Jesus to the top of the temple’s tower and tempting Him to jump into the waiting arms of His guardian angel. Remember Jesus’ response? Don’t put the Lord your God to the test.
Now, it’s not the prayers for safety or the praise of God that is wrong—certainly it was God who prevented Nik from falling to a horrendous and grisly death. But it’s the content of the prayers and the praise that gets faith wrong. Nik had a pastor with him the night he walked between the buildings, a pastor who has made a killing by peddling a theology of glory. Joel Osteen is the picture of a successful Christians. Perfect hair, dazzling teeth, and stadium full of eager listeners. Seldom does Joel mention Jesus, and never His suffering and cross. That’s a stumbling block to someone who seeks a sign. In fact, in place of a cross, his congregation features a spinning globe (you can see who he truly worships).
When some Pharisees sought a sign from Jesus, He responded to them, “And evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and a sign will not be given to it except the sign of Jonah” (Mt 16:4). No sign, Jesus says, except the sign of Jonah. The sign of burial. The sign of death. The theology of glory cannot stand the cross. It’s doesn’t look victorious, it’s certainly not a sign of success.
Luther says this about the theology of the glory: “This is clear: He who does not know Christ does not know God hidden in suffering. Therefore he prefers works to suffering, glory to the cross, strength to weakness, wisdom to folly, and, in general, good to evil. These are the people whom the apostle calls “enemies of the cross of Christ” [Phil. 3:18], for they hate the cross and suffering and love works and the glory of works. Thus they call the good of the cross evil and the evil of a deed good” (AE 31.53).
Jesus’ first sign in Cana of Galilee led the disciples from sight to faith. They believed because they saw. But this second sign in Cana of Galilee went the other way around. The royal official went from faith to sign. The miraculous healing of the official’s boy is only implied by Jesus’ Word: Your son is living. He has no visible evidence, nothing to grasp hold of, nothing to fill his eyes with wonder and hope. This is the greater miracle. The man returned home with only a word in his pocket.
It’s a long walk from Cana to Capernaum. Nearly 20 miles. Time enough to chew on that short, sweet sentence from Jesus. Your son is living. The man believed the word that Jesus said to him and he went (v 50). Did he look back to Cana? Did he think about returning and forcing Jesus to come with him? Did doubts start to plague him on that long journey home? Would he really find his boy living, or walk into funeral preparations?
The only thing the man had was the Word of Jesus. Yet it was this Word that sustained Him on the way. It was because of this Word that he pressed homeward. It was because of this Word that he continued to put one foot in front of the other. He had the promise, the Word of Jesus, and nothing more. The reality of that promise was hidden from him, some 20 miles away in Capernaum. In his mind’s eye he still saw his child lying in bed and dying from a fever. But the Word of Jesus was at work in him—he believed, and so he pressed on toward the goal.
The Word of God is living and active. It is creative and performative, fulfilling the very thing it promises. When Jesus, the Son of God in the flesh, speaks to the royal official, it is His Word that heals a dying boy 20 miles away. Jesus’ Word, Your son is living, isn’t just a statement fact, but the very thing that gives the son life. Then he inquired of them the hour in which he had improvement. They then said to him, “Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.” Then the father knew that it was the hour in which Jesus said to him, “Your son is living.” And he and also his whole house believed (vv 52-53).
Yet, the reality of Jesus’ Word is often a hidden reality. Along the road, the official had no proof, no tangible evidence to go on. His son’s health was hidden from him. The same is true for you. The reality that God’s Word promises is a hidden reality. God’s Word and work is hidden very often under suffering and the cross. Because it’s through suffering and the cross that we most clearly come to know the nature of God and that He is the one who works the thing that He promises.
The Word and promise of God is what began your faith. The implanted Word and the Word alone is the greater miracle in your life. It creates the faith that believes it. Yet the reality that it creates is hidden. Forgiveness is not something that is revealed to the eyes, but to the ears. Even the physical, tangible signs of Baptism and the Supper don’t work because of the outward works that we see with our eyes, but because of the Word that is attached to them. Their benefits are hidden benefits. Baptism buries you with Christ and makes you alive with Him. The Supper feeds you with Christ body that you can’t see, it enlivens you with a life that can’t be measured with medical hardware.
Like the official, you are walking this Way with only a Word in your pocket. The Lord began a good work in you with His Word and it’s this Word that sustains you along the way, that drives you homeward, putting one foot in front of the other, laying the plan and purpose before you—your own life, eternal life, resurrected life.
The official finally saw what Jesus had promised, but only after a long journey. There is a long road between faith and sight, filled with doubts and frustrations and even anger, but
God’s Word Leads You from Faith to Sight
The good work that Lord has begun in you through His Word is hidden, only recognizable by faith. But, He who began a good work in you will finish it in the day of Christ Jesus (Php 1:6). What is hidden from our eyes will be revealed on the day that Jesus returns. On that day the good work of Jesus will be revealed for all eyes to see.
But until that day, you have His Word in your pocket, in your ears, in your heart. It is living and active, creating faith to believe the promises that it delivers.
In + Jesus’ name. Amen.
Rev. Jacob Ehrhard