November 10, 2019 A+D
John 4: 46-54
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Jesus returns to the scene of the crime, the place where His public Ministry began, to Cana, where He had made water into wine. Along comes a nobleman from Capernaum but the wine is long gone. He is looking for more than a sign or wonders. He is looking for real aid, not proof that Jesus is the Messiah, but a miracle that will allow his son to live.
For this, he is rebuked. It sounds quite harsh to us. He wasn’t asking for money or fame. If Jesus has enough compassion to give wine to those who are already well-drunk, surely He can help a man who is mourning for his young son.
But what, again., is the first commandment? “You shall have no other gods.” And what does this mean? “We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.” What do men make idols and false gods of? Of wood and stone and precious metal, in the forms of calves and men and monsters. Eyes have such idols, but they see not. We scoff at such things. Who would worship a statue made by the hands of men and think it God?
But what else might men use to make idols? A career or popularity or a child. That which you fear, love, or trust more than God, that which you think you cannot live without, that which you think controls you or which you dare not offend, that which love above God, that becomes your idol. The Lord our God is a jealous God. He will not share. He will not share you even with your children. You are His and you are His alone. You shall have no other gods. Thus the nobleman is rebuked and with him, all of us. Repent.
He came to Cana seeking a miracle worker not a God. He had a god back in Capernaum: his son. He is desperate, afraid, and broken. He does not yet have saving faith. In loving his son, he loved a good thing, but he loved him disproportionately. He loved him as though it were only this life that mattered and as though death were the worst thing that could happen and as though Jesus did not come to die and transform death into a passage for His children.
What the boy and father both needed, long term, was not more time on earth, more time to create memories, more time to cross things off their bucket lists. They did not need more time to live in this living death, to make more money, to meet their grandchildren, to make their marks. What they needed was the God of life and death who gives the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation by grace through faith. The man came to the right Man but for the wrong reasons. One way or another, at that time or later, both this boy and this dad will die. They’re both dead now. The real question for all fathers is not “Will our sons live for the moment?” but “Will they live forever?” “Who is our God?”
Thus Jesus does not conform to the man’s request. He does not go with him to Capernaum. He sends him away and says, “Your son lives.”
Our translation translates this as a future tense. It has Jesus say “Your son will live.” That makes it nice. It becomes a promise, something the man can hold on to as he returns to Capernaum.
But it is not a future tense in Greek. Language is complicated and tenses have various nuances. It is possible in Greek that in some instances a present tense verb can be used to imply future realities. It is possible in English to do a similar thing. A simple present in English often indicates a habitual, on-going action. If I say “I swim” I don’t mean that I am swimming right now. I mean, rather, that swimming is part of what I do regularly. I am a swimmer. Presumably, then, I will keep on swimming and will swim in the future. Maybe this is what Jesus meant when He says “Your son lives.” He means that the son is alive at the moment and this status will not change. But it is deliberately ambiguous. The father is not told what will happen in the future.
Jesus could have made this crystal clear by using a future tense verb and adding a vow. He could have said, “Amen, Amen. Do not be afraid. Your son will live.” But He didn’t. Contrary to the way that Jesus is commonly portrayed, He is rarely interested in being nice or even in comforting people the way we think of comfort. He is not concerned with avoiding conflict. He is not interested in maintaining the status quo. He is not trying to keep everyone comfortable or protect feelings. In fact, Jesus likes to disrupt and shock sinners out of their lethargy. He wants to upset pagans who don’t know they are pagans and drive the money changers in us out of us so that we would cease our idolatry. What He cares about, is interested in, is faith and eternity.
When He tells the man that his son lives, He makes no promise about the future. It is deliberately vague. It is not a sign or a wonder. The command “go” implies some urgency. The man should go because his son lives and he does not know how long it will last.
This is a call to faith. The real miracle is that the man believes. Before this, he had faith that acknowledged that Jesus had power and that what He said and did would come true. He recognized that Jesus was the sort of person who could turn water into wine and heal the sick. That is why he wanted Him to come to Capernaum. The devil also knows this. He knows that God is real, that God keeps His Word, but he does not believe in Him.
The nobleman had to learn to believe in Jesus, not just stuff about Him, but to believe in Him. He doesn’t get a promise about this life or a miracle. He believes that come what may, Jesus is good and Jesus has authority over life and death, and Jesus will take care of it. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. There are many rooms in His Father’s house and He goes there to prepare a place for us. The nobleman had to learn to accept death. If Jesus died and rose again, than we can follow Him even there. And if we die, we do not die. Jesus lives. And all those who trust in Him, who live by Him, who wait upon Him, live. The son of the nobleman lives. You live. I live. We live. We live because we are Baptized into Christ and we belong to Him. We do not belong to this world or to the devil or to our dying bodies. We do not belong to ourselves or to our families. We are not slaves. We are sons. The sons stay in the house. They live. This living death is not our life. We are only passing through. Jesus is our way, truth, and life. We belong to Him and He lives.
For us, to live is Christ. To die is gain. If we live in the flesh, it means fruitful labor. We continue in the good works which Christ prepared for us. We serve another. We love our fathers and mothers and brothers and sisters and children. We sing God’s praise. If we die, we go to Christ and are free of these burdens and will have our loved ones who are with us in the faith forever. We were made for eternity. There are far worse things than sickness and death.
If we stay alive in this life, if we have to walk back to Capernaum without a miracle, it is no longer we who live. We have been crucified with Christ who lives in us. The lives we now live, while we are dying, we live by faith in the Son of God who loves us and gave Himself for us. Whether we live or we die, we are the Lord’s. He will bring us through.
There are no signs and wonders for us, at least not in the sense of that which the eyes can behold. The perfect has come. We have the Holy Scriptures. The partial, the speaking in tongues, the prophecies, the miracles have passed away. We don’t get water turned into wine. We don’t have people speaking in unlearned languages or walking on water or raising the dead. Our sick use medicine and doctors. No one multiplies flour or bread or makes ax heads float. Could God perform a miracle outside of means? Sure. But that is not what is promised and His omnipotence isn’t grounds for speculation. We have the Word of God. He speaks. On the way back to Capernaum, where the immediate future is unknown and surely full of sorrow, we cling to the Word: “Your son lives.” Whether that is for a minute or for 80 years, whether those years are good or bad, whether our sons love us or not, does not matter. We have God’s Word. We have the Bible. We have a God who is the Lord of life. We hold to that and by that to Him.
So don’t go to Cana looking for miracles, for water into wine. Come to the Supper. Look there for what Jesus has said. There is Blood that can’t be seen. It is not a sign or wonder because it cannot be observed. It is a matter of faith. Your tongue tastes wine, but the believing heart receives the Blood of the risen Christ that forgives sins and bestows life in the midst of death. Forsake all others. Cling to this God, the living God, Jesus Christ, the God who bled and died and rose. He is the God of life who brings His children through death to Himself.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.