9 November 2014
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The nobleman is suffering. He is desperate. His son is at the point of death. So he has come the 20 miles from Capernaum to Cana, to the place where Christ changed water into wine, with the hope that Christ might change sickness to health, sadness to joy, and death to life. It is not a wrong hope, but it is skewed.
We skew hope like this all the time. We want the good that God has given but we want it by itself, apart from where He gives it and without responsibility. We want the pleasure of marital intimacy but we don’t want to take out the garbage or to be limited to one woman. We want unity in the Church but we don’t want Church discipline and the hard work of theology. We want peace but we don’t want compromise. We want wealth and health, but we don’t want work or exercise. Repent. Idols are rarely fashioned out of stone but they are always carved in our own image.
What little faith the nobleman has is under demonic attack and he doesn’t even know it. The demons aren’t attacking by means of the boy’s sickness, but by the boy’s life. For the nobleman has taken the goodness of the boy’s life and his love for the boy and made it into an idol. It is the one thing he can’t live without and if he cannot have the boy, if he doesn’t get the miracle that he has determined is the one that really matters, if God doesn’t pass his test, then he won’t believe because even if God is real what does God matter if He doesn’t give the nobleman the one thing that he needs?
Thus he is rebuked and the crowd with him. The Lord says “You people will not believe unless you see signs and wonders.” The nobleman shows the darkness of his heart in his response. He exclaims, “Come do a miracle in Capernaum before my son dies,” which is to say: “Who cares if I believe, who cares about doctrine, this is an emergency. All that matters is that my child live. Come to Capernaum and save my child and I will believe anything you want.”
The idea that emergencies exempt us from responsibility or allow us to do evil things, that there are things that matter more than the Truth, is a tempting heresy yet even when it seems to honor life and fatherhood it leads to death.
Here is the essence of the problem: the nobleman thinks that while the boy is alive there is hope, but if he dies then all hope will be lost. Idols have a way of turning on us. If the nobleman says the most important thing in my life is that boy, then he makes it an idol and God, in His mercym takes the idol away lest both the father and the son be lost. What the nobleman thought was good, apart from God, is not good. In His mercy, God takes the boy’s life to draw the nobleman to Himself, to teach him where life is. The demons want to keep the nobleman comfortable, sleepy. God jolts him awake with pain. We can ignore pleasure. We can take life for granted. “But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” (C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain.” God is shouting at the nobleman and the nobleman can’t ignore him.
Jesus says to his unbelief: “Go away. Your son lives.” The ESV translates this as a future, “your son will live” but it shouldn’t. It is a present tense verb. The Lord’s statement is deliberately ambiguous. It only promises life on earth for the moment. By the time the nobleman gets home, the boy could be dead.
Here the real miracle, greater than any sign or wonder: the man believed the word of Jesus. He believed that his son, whether dead and buried in Capernaum while he was in Cana or on the mend, that his son lives, present-tense, and that even if he did die, he would live, that death is a farce, already undone in the coming of the Messiah, in the promise of God to make atonement for sinful men.
Thus, at the Word of Jesus, the nobleman had a change of heart, the birth and growth of faith. It wasn’t that he had become convinced by a miracle. There was no miracle. There was only a statement of fact: “Go home. At the moment, your son lives.” And it seems from his encounter with his servants on the way home, that he did not know what to expect. When Jesus said, “Your son lives,” he believed it. He believed that Jesus told the Truth, that his son was alive, one way or another, in this world or the next. Jesus said, “Your son lives” so he must. He must live and he must always live. That confidence takes away his panic. It reliefs him of the imaginary need to set aside doctrine. He doesn’t need miracles. He needs faith. Christ gave it in His Word.
Jesus tells the truth. The son lives. The flaming arrows of the evil one are extinguished – not just the false faith that demanded a sign, but also the false idea that this life is what really matters. This faith did not arise from signs and wonders, with evidence and proofs, but from the Word of God. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God. If they will not believe Moses and the prophets, they will not believe even if one comes back from the dead. Man lives by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God. The water turned to wine in Cana is long gone but the Word of God endures forever.
To the nobleman, Jesus said, “Your son lives.” To you, He says: “Your sins are forgiven. You are Mine” and “Take, eat. This is My Body.” There is no physical proof of these things, no evidence, signs or wonders. But Jesus has said it so it must be so. You live by this Word and promise. It will not end or be taken away with persecution, sickness, or death. Your son lives.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.