In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Ghost.
God may be real, but if He doesn’t give me what I want, when I want it, what difference does He make? This statement may sound like a statement of belief from a non-Christian, or maybe something revealed in the latest round of religious opinion surveys. It certainly is the opinion of the nobleman at the start of today’s Gospel Reading. How often is it your position on God? How often do you approach God only as useful when He’s doling out what you want, when you want it, and a divine meanie the rest of the time?
We try to get around that shocking revelation of our beliefs on God by saying that what we’re asking for is a good thing. Just like the nobleman requesting healing for his son, it’s good to have good health, money to pay the bills, happiness in our families, freedom from temptation, and everything else, right? Of course it is! God wants us to be healthy, to have food and clothing, house and home, and to be free of the crafts and assaults of the devil. But our hope is skewed because we want these things without responsibility and by themselves. We want health and wealth, but we don’t want to go to work or exercise.
We make idols of God’s good gifts and the devil uses them to attack us. In the case of the nobleman, he took the goodness of his son’s life and his love for his son and made it into an idol. It’s the one thing he can’t live without, and if he cannot have the boy, if he doesn’t get the miracle he demands, if God doesn’t pass his test, then he won’t believe. What difference does it make if God exists if He won’t give him the one thing that he thinks he needs? That’s what brings on Jesus’ rebuke: “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will by no means believe.” The idol has turned on him! What the nobleman thought was good, apart from God, was no good. It was for the sake of his faith that God allowed this deadly illness to come, coupled with Jesus’ rebuke.
But the nobleman didn’t like the rebuke. Like all sinners, he thought that emergency trumps what is right. Instead of submitting to Jesus’ rebuke, owning up to the real disease in the family, his deadly lack of faith, the nobleman snaps at Jesus! Underneath his response, “Sir! Come down before my child dies!” is anger. “Who cares if I believe? Who cares about doctrine? This is an emergency! All that matters is that my child live! Come to Capernaum, do my will and then I’ll do Yours. I’ll believe whatever you want me to believe.” It’s easy to give into that temptation to expediency, to setting aside what is right or doing what is evil when we think it serves a higher good. But it’s never good to ignore what God says in order to have our demands met.
For the nobleman, this is what it all comes down to: As long as the boy is alive, there is hope, but if he dies, all hope is lost. Idols always turn on us. He made the boy the most important thing in his life, not God, not trusting in God’s love for the boy and promise that He has the boy’s best interest in mind, which may not necessarily line up with what the father thinks is best. What the nobleman thought was good, apart from God, was not good. In His mercy, God brings the boy to the edge of death to draw the nobleman to Himself, to teach Him where life is.
And that’s why Jesus replies with an intentionally ambiguous statement: “Go your way. Your son lives.” Does he live now, but will be dead by the time the nobleman gets home? Has he been healed? What does this mean? The miracle which that statement revealed wasn’t the boy, but the nobleman. He believed the Word of Jesus. He believed that his son lived, whether in this body and life, healed of his illness, or that he lived in paradise, alive with his Creator. The Word did what it does: it created faith, faith which went on its way trusting in God’s promise never to leave, never to forsake, regardless of what this life may bring.
What about you? How does this speak to your own life? How difficult is it to trust God when He isn’t giving you what you think you need, what you’ve convinced yourself is the good gift He’s withholding from you? Maybe it’s health, or more financial wiggle room, or to be free of the crosses of temptation that plague you. These are all good things, gifts God certainly wants to give you. But have you convinced yourself that the only way you can be happy is to have that one thing, that until God finally gives it to you you’ll live with a chip on your shoulder? That’s the life the devil wants you to live. He wants you to think God is holding out, that He knows the one thing you need and refuses to give it to you. Because then your focus leaves the Giver and focuses on the gift. Instead of fearing, loving, and trusting in God above all things, you fear, love, and trust in the gift above all things. Then you have an idol, not the true God.
Your God knows this, just like He knew that this was the nobleman’s problem, too. He doesn’t cast you off, call you ungrateful, and leave you to your own devices. Instead He continues to speak His Word to you. He shows that He cares for you unconditionally, that He loves you fully. He knows that faith comes by hearing, that the more you hear His Word the more it will take root in you, spring up, and bear abundant fruit. So He speaks to you: I forgive you all your sins. I will not cast you away from My presence or take My Holy Spirit from you. Take, eat; this is My Body. Take, drink; this is My Blood for the forgiveness of sins. I will bless you and keep you; I will make My face shine upon you and be gracious unto you; I will lift up My countenance upon you and give you peace. There may not be 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, and it will not be taken away by persecution, sickness, or even death.
Just as the nobleman’s son lived by the Word of Jesus, so will you. The nobleman went home with only a Word in his pocket, but it was a sure, certain Word that created what it said, just as it did in the beginning when the world was without form and void. The nobleman believed that Jesus told the truth, that his son was alive, one way or another, in this world or the next. It is the same for you. Today, because you are Baptized into Christ, your citizenship is in heaven. You live eternally, even though you are not yet experiencing it. Jesus loves you more than you love yourself. He died for you. He Baptized you into that death and washed away all your sin. And just as sure and certain as that Word, “Your son lives,” is the Word, “Whoever believes in Me will never die.”
The peace of God which passeth all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
Sermons from Mount Olive
Mount Olive follows the historic one-year lectionary (series of readings).