[Picture: The Healing of the Officer’s Son (La Guérison du fils de l’officier), by James Tissot]
Pastor Hopkins preached this sermon on the Twenty-first Sunday After Trinity, 10/20/2019. The texts for the sermon were the day’s gospel and Old Testament lessons. To read the Bible texts for the Twenty-first Sunday After Trinity, click here.
The official from Capernaum should be commended. He knows that he needs Jesus; he knows where to find Him, he makes a remarkably difficult trip to get there, and upon arriving, sincerely prays to Jesus in his need.
All of this makes the official a brilliant example for us to imitate, save one thing. There is one thing that he does not yet understand, and it makes an important difference.
The official comes to Jesus, but he does not really know who He is yet. Last time Jesus was in town He turned water into wine at the wedding in Cana, showing Himself to be the promised Messiah, and His disciples believed in Him John 2:11.
But all of that is not clear to the official with the sick son. He knows Jesus is a miracle worker, and that He has great power. He even suspects that Jesus must be merciful, or else why bother asking? But there is something missing. The official does not know Jesus the way John introduces Him in this very Gospel:
In the beginning was the Word, and Word was with God, and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him,
and without Him was not anything made that was made…” John 1:1-3
This man does not know Jesus as the One who was there in the beginning, in Genesis 1, Who spoke creation into being, Who uttered the very ground this man walked on and the air he breathed. But it doesn’t really matter at the moment.
He is dealing with life and death. It isn’t important who Jesus is. The man didn’t come 20 miles on foot for a theological discussion or to quibble about doctrine. He came for the real stuff, the stuff that matters.
For all that, Jesus must have come off as a bit insensitive. Imagine rushing to Mass Gen, breaking past the nurses’ station, throwing yourself down on the ground before the head of Pediatrics, and begging him to see your child who is on the very verge of death…
But after scolding you for wanting some special procedure, he tells you to go home – “He’s fine.”
After the police drag you out, you’ll go home, but you won’t go home believing. Well, you’ll believe some things: you’ll believe that doctor is uncaring, unworthy of his position, and maybe even responsible for the death of your child; because by the time you get home, time will have run out.
There is every good chance that the man will feel this way about Jesus. His rebuke is no less severe.
Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe. verse 48
“You think your son is running out of time. You think that I have to come all the way to Capernaum Myself. But you weren’t minding the details at the wedding feast in Cana. If you had, then you would see.
I don’t need to come there, and there’s no need to rush. Hear now the living voice that upholds the cosmos: ‘Go, your son lives.’”
The ESV translates it as a future tense: “Your son will live.” But it shouldn’t. Jesus speaks in the present tense because it is a present and ongoing reality.
The son lives, and so he will always live. After all, when the man gets home, he believes in Jesus as the Christ – he and his entire household; and so, quite simply, they all get to live forever – present tense.
They believe that this Jesus can speak them to life just as he spoke everything else to life. They believe that it is this Jesus’ whose voice sustains creation, Who was happy to speak reality into being before there was anyone to hear it.
They believe that one day when their son does die, that he is still within Jesus’ reach. They believe that when they die, Jesus will still speak in the present tense. “Your son lives. You live. I am the Lord of Life, for I have conquered death.”
These words can sound hollow in the face of cancer, depression, and loneliness. And so they would be if Jesus were still in the grave. If Jesus were not raised from the dead, all these promises would actually be in vain.
So you can imagine how these things sound to someone outside the Church. These words sound audacious in the face of the evidence. Someone can hear them and think of Jesus like that insensitive doctor: uncaring, distant, or maybe even powerless.
And that’s not a new thing, really. In fact, it’s completely consistent with the way God has revealed Himself in Christ.
The Baby in the manger just looks like a baby, and certainly not the Son of God. That same Baby, all grown up, hanging on a cross, looks like a pitiful criminal, and not our King.
What’s more is that Jesus is happy to continue to work the same way through His Church. Jesus is pleased to work in ways that appear weak, and not up to the task they claim, and yet He boldly brings about exactly what He says, present tense.
Water looks just like water, and so it is. But Jesus says, “I baptize you in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Jesus puts water and Word together, just like He did in the beginning, and says, “You live.”
I look like just some guy, and so I am. But Jesus opens my lips, and throws His life-giving voice through them, and says: “I forgive you all your sins. You live.”
Bread and wine look like bread and wine. But Jesus says, “Take, eat, this is My Body…Take, drink, this is My Blood. You live.”
God spoke in creation, and what He said came into being. God spoke in Galilee, and what He said was immediately true. This is what the official learned when he asked his servants what time his son got better.
Know, then, what God does when He speaks now: to the water in the font, to the bread and the wine on the altar, to you:
That you are forgiven, free, and alive – and come what may, this you are forever.