Have you and your family ever endured a time of trial and affliction? Has there ever been sickness in your home – and I mean the scary stuff like cancer or terminal illness? What about a son or daughter or a sister or brother who has brought grief and heartache into the family circle? Maybe right now, as we speak, you and your loved ones are going through something so troubling it’s hard to see a cheerful end at all.
I’ll tell ya what. I have never found a Christian family in which the cruel hand of sin has not brought some secret sorrow, some pain, some heartache into the Christian home. My family, and all pastor’s families, are no exception to this.
But these family crosses, even though caused by sin, are no mere coincidence or some stroke of bad luck. We Christians believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth. Therefore we confess that these family crosses remain under God’s jurisdiction. These crosses are fashioned and fit for our frames, in the words of St. Paul in Romans, chapter 8, to work together for our good.
The writer to the Hebrews put it this way: “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” Simply put, God trains us, disciplines us, for our good. All so that we would learn to trust only in Him, even when the whole world seems to be coming undone at the seams.
In our Gospel today, we see a family who learned this lesson well, where a family cross is used to bring an entire family to faith in Jesus. There they are crying, kneeling at the bed of a son or brother. The boy is ill, his strength is leaving him, in fact, he is dying. The boy’s father, the official, is rendered helpless and at the brink of despair.
A story was on the loose, however, about a miracle at Cana, a man changing water into wine, whom many said was the Messiah. So when this father heard that Jesus was not far away, his hope revived. He set off on something of a marathon journey from Capernaum to Galilee. And by the time he found Jesus, he was breathless. Perhaps he grabbed Jesus by the arm and started pulling him back to Capernaum, to his dying son and weeping family. He wanted Jesus right at his son’s bedside. He wanted to see a miracle.
But Jesus has some chastening words: “Unless you see signs and wonders, you will not believe.” You see, Jesus didn’t want anyone to come to Him merely because of miracles He performed. It is faith that saves.
“But sir,” cried out the official to Jesus, “Come down before my child dies.” Here we see some weakness of faith. It’s not as though he had no faith. He just didn’t understand whose arm he was pulling on here. This father didn’t comprehend that a mere simple word from the lips of Jesus was more than enough to answer all his prayers.
“Sir, come down before my child dies.” He’s desperate. He’s pleading. He’s holding onto Jesus for dear life. But Jesus doesn’t give him a sign. Doesn’t show him a miracle. And doesn’t agree to journey with him all the way back to Capernaum, as if that was needed at all. Instead Jesus gives him something far more powerful, His very word. “Go your way,” Jesus says, “your son lives!”
There is a reason today that the church in her wisdom wants us to reflect on the Word of God recorded in Genesis chapters 1 and 2. Because there God speaks and things start happening. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. We’re invited to see the connection between the eternal Word of the Father spoken at the dawn of creation and the eternal Word made flesh in the person of Jesus Christ. The church is inviting you to see and believe that the God who said, “Let there be light,” is the same God who said, “Go your way, your son lives.”
The official, the father, believed that. We read that “the man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and he went on his way.” This man was sent home packing with only the words and promises of God. But that was more than enough.
As he journeyed home, his servants ran out to meet him, and told him that his son had revived at the very hour that Jesus had spoken those words, “Your son will live.”
Our text says that he himself, this father, believed, and all his household with him. Though they had suffered, though this family had been gripped by despair, God worked, through the holy cross, for their eternal good, moving them to a faith that relies solely upon the Word of Christ.
The question is, Have you learned to do the same? That is, when we suffer, when our families are afflicted with bitter sadness and loss, when our crosses pile up, are we able to stand firm on the promises of God? Are we able to radically reinterpret all we experience and make it subject to the Word of Christ? When our sin overwhelms us, when sickness grabs hold of a loved one, and when cruel death threatens, where will we turn?
Dear Christians, let me tell you about another Father. He too had a Son. And He too was at the point of death. And He too was burning up with a fever. But this was the fever of God’s wrath, bearing the fiery punishment for sinful man.
But look at Him, trusting in the Father’s love even when all the visible evidence said otherwise – He was cursed, spat upon, abused, and nailed to a cross for our salvation. There He was, trusting in the promises of God even when His eyelids closed in death and He rendered up His spirit – all the while trusting that His Father in heaven would raise Him up from the dead.
He was raised up for our justification and now lives and reigns at the Father’s right hand, bringing forgiveness and healing – life and resurrection.
In His church, the Word of Christ still accomplishes what it says. His Word tells you what He has done for you and what He will do for you. His Word tells you that He bore the cross for you, that He suffered the curse your sins deserved, that He shed his holy precious blood for you, and even now that God forgives you, and in fact loves you. Even working all things, sufferings, trials, and afflictions for your eternal good.
Maybe you don’t see all the evidence for that right now before your very eyes. But you’ve got the words and promises of God. You too can venture everything upon that word, knowing and believing that it accomplishes everything it says.
Like when that word is joined to water that washes you clean in Holy Baptism. Like when that word is joined to bread and wine and declared to be His body and blood given and shed for you.
Again, no family will be spared the holy cross. But in today’s Gospel, on the healing of the official’s son, we see how the family cross will be intended by God for our good. To strengthen and fortify our faith. To trust in God when it’s all we have left to cling to, knowing that Jesus will never disappoint, and that His word alone is enough to bring healing to our homes, secure our happiness, and ultimately bring life out of death. In the name of Jesus. Amen.
May the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
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