Twenty-First Sunday after Trinity
“The Word of God Increases Faith”
Seminarian Paul Norris, Vicar
St. John 4.46-54
24 October 2021
Grace, Mercy, and Peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
There was nothing. No matter or energy of any kind existed. No light, no sound, no atoms or molecules, only deafening silence. A universe that consists of nothing is difficult for our minds to comprehend. It is almost impossible for us to imagine the non-existence of everything we know. Yet this is how the cosmos started, with nothing. Then the piercing voice of God penetrated the nothing, and spoke, “Let there be light.” (Gen 1:3) and light shone forth from the powerful creative word of God. Light came into existence by the word of God on the first day.
And in the following verses as recorded for us in the Genesis account, again and again, the voice, the Word of Christ present at creation, called into existence all we know. Day and Night, water and air, dry land and seas, vegetation, stars, sun and moon, all the living creatures of the earth and man. All were created by God and the power of his word. We have heard the power of the word of God preached time and time again, but nothing gives us such a picture of the almighty power of God’s word as the creation account does.
Yet, despite the display of God’s almighty power, our faith in Christ and his word is not always as sure as it should be. We do not fear and trust in God above all things, we do not trust the word of Christ as we should. Sometimes we even doubt our salvation which was won for us by Christ the Crucified one on the cross.
Faith is not idle, but a living and moving thing which can progress in two directions. It either increases and trusts in the word of God, or it decreases and faith ceases. True faith, which is given by the Holy Spirit, cannot be inactive and it will not stop. Dr. Luther writes,
“This I say for the purpose that no one may be sure, even if he has attained faith, that he now has everything; with this it shall not stop, for it is not sufficient to begin, but one must continually grow and increase, and continue learning to know God better.”
Our Gospel reading gives us a clear picture of the word of God and the nature and character of faith. There was a royal official, perhaps one that worked for Herod Agrippa, and his son was terminally ill. So hopeless is the boy’s condition that the official journeys all the way to Cana to meet Christ. Cana is the very place where Jesus worked his first miracle turning water into wine.The official wants to see Jesus in person to plead with him to journey home with him and heal his son. He knows only a miracle can save the boy’s life. The official has faith, albeit weak faith, as he believes only Jesus can heal his son by going to him and being physically near him. If the official had doubted Jesus’ ability to heal his son then he would not have sought out Jesus.
Jesus tested the official’s weak faith and he said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” (John 4:48) In essence, Jesus’ concern is that so many people would cease to believe in any manner, or would never believe as they once did unless he provided them with miracles and wonders upon which to rest their faith. But faith cannot rest alone on only things which we can see or touch or it is not faith but sight. The unknown author of Hebrews writes, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Heb 11:1) For these people, the signs and wonders of Jesus in his earthly ministry are what is keeping their faith alive, but Jesus wants to raise them higher to a truer and stronger faith. They are still clinging to seeing and feeling the presence of Jesus.
I’m sure the official did not expect this challenge to his weak faith from Jesus. No doubt Satan whispered in the official’s ear, “Go back home, he’s not going to help you, your son is going to die.” At that moment the official’s weak faith could have failed him, but instead, aided by the Holy Spirit, he all the more insists Jesus come with him to his home. “Sir, come down before my child dies.” (John 4:49) His faith was not strong enough to realize the word and will of Christ are not limited by distance. He is implying even Jesus can do nothing to heal his boy if he does not go to him. Yet Jesus does not continue to chide him, but compassionately answers him, “Go; your son will live.” (John 4:50) St. John the Evangelist writes that the man believed and began his journey home to see his healed son. He has been given stronger faith and believes that the powerful words of life spoken by Christ are true, and returns home.
Through this interaction, God elevated the official’s weak faith and it increased. God uses troubles and tribulations in our lives to drive us to find what we need. We know this is the case because the man returned home to go see his son. If he had not had a strengthened faith he would have stayed and insisted all the more Jesus come with him to his home and heal his son. Human reason and even Satan would tell him his son would not be healed. But faith grabs hold to the word of God which Jesus spoke to him. His increased faith did not doubt it and the man knew Jesus had healed his son. This is the definition of true faith, a faith that puts aside all human reason and is secure in the word of God spoken to him.
The story of faith in this reading does not end there. There was much anxiety in the household of the official and the servants ran ahead to meet him. They report to him that his son was healed at the seventh hour, the very hour Jesus had told the official his son would live. No one at the house had seen Jesus because he did not physically travel with the official to heal his son. But they were told of the words of life Jesus had spoken and healed the boy. So powerful was this word of Christ the whole household of the official believed.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, do not be confused. God does not distinguish between weak and strong faith. Faith in Christ is a gift of the Holy Spirit and not something which is created by you or comes from within you.This is how modern faith healers whom we have all seen on television or the internet operate. They will blame their inability to heal you on your lack of faith. It is never the faith healers’ fault. Instead, they blame the sick person for having a lack of faith. Not only are the victims of these charlatans still sick with some serious illness, but they are also blamed as faithless! Modern faith healers are frauds who wickedly mislead people to a corrupted understanding of faith. They exploit both the Bible’s teaching on miracles and faith as well as the many desperate believers who have come to them for healing.
Weak faith in God and his word is faith, and God does not reject it. Instead, God sees faith, and by the Holy Spirit and his word will cause it to increase. We are to welcome those who are weak in faith so they may hear the word of God and become stronger in faith. Jesus said, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matt 17:20) Even if faith is small, it remains.
As we hear this account of the increasing faith of the official, we too should bear in mind Satan is also aware of our weaknesses and is looking for any way to attack faith. This Gospel account reminds and warns us so we may not grow too secure or presumptuous, but remain in the fear of God. Satan prowls around like a roaring lion seeking to devour you, (1 Peter 5:8) and he desires nothing more than to damage your faith and God forbid, cause it to cease.It is for this reason God equips you with the whole armor of God so when you are tested your faith will be strengthened. He has given you the shield of faith so you will be defended when Satan shoots his fiery arrows of doubt at you. Furthermore, he has given you a powerful and awesome offensive weapon, the “sword of the spirit” which is the word of God. (Eph 6:10-17). Be strong in the Lord and the power of his might, Put on all his armor and fight the good fight.
God’s word continues to be heard, the very same word which thundered through the cosmos at creation is still proclaimed and believed by the Church. Our faith looks to the word of God and the cross. With the same voice, Jesus proclaimed his final word from the cross, “it is finished.” Christ the Crucified one suffered and died for you. The king’s ransom, the debt of death which was owed for sin, was paid in full by him. From Jesus’ wounded side flowed water and blood. In the waters of Holy Baptism, combined with God’s word, you were given the gift of faith by the Holy Spirit. You were buried and resurrected with him and received his forgiveness. The blood which flowed from the side of our precious Savior on the cross is now upon the altar. We hear his words, “This is my body… This is my blood”. With Jesus’ words under the bread and the wine, we receive the life-giving gifts of our savior’s true body and blood by faith, a gift of the Holy Spirit.
Therefore we trust in the word of God which was spoken in the days of old by the prophets and has been spoken to us by Jesus himself. We have faith in the Word of God, and our faith is increased like the royal official without wonders and signs. God’s word never fails and by his word your faith is preserved, sustained, and increased.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.