How can a person be sure that God is with him?
Many pray without certainty that He even listens.
How can a person know that death will not be the end of him?
That it’s not goodbye forever to your loved ones?
Many hope it’s not so, but don’t have full certainty.
The writer to the Hebrews gives the Bible’s definition of faith:
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for,
the evidence of things not seen. (Heb. 11:1, NKJV)
And another translation used these words:
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for,
the conviction of things not seen. (ESV)
Our text today shows what must take place
for you to have the certainty of faith:
that God is with you;
that God will provide for you, forever.
This is what the Church wants for our neighbors too.
As I read the text again, listen for the word “believe.”
It’s used more than once, with somewhat different meanings.
Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved!
Take Him at His Word, and you will be given faith.
He will rescue you from the terror of death.
So Jesus came again to Cana of Galilee where He had made the water wine. And there was a certain nobleman whose son was sick at Capernaum. When he heard that Jesus had come out of Judea into Galilee, he went to Him and implored Him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death.
Then Jesus said to him, “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will by no means believe.”
The nobleman said to Him, “Sir, come down before my child dies!”
Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your son lives.” So the man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him, and he went his way.
And as he was now going down, his servants met him and told him, saying, “Your son lives!” Then he inquired of them the hour when he got better. And they said to him, “Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.”
So the father knew that it was at the same hour in which Jesus said to him, “Your son lives.” And he himself believed, and his whole household. This again is the second sign Jesus did when He had come out of Judea into Galilee.
“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.”
This is what the apostles said to a fearful man in Acts 16.
He had been ready to take his own life for honor and despair,
ready to end it in a desperate attempt to keep his dignity.
When he asked, Sirs, what must I do to be saved?
Their answer is our theme:
“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.”
But what does it mean to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ?
Our text mentions belief three different times.
First, Jesus said, “Unless you see signs and wonders,
you will not believe.”
Then, seemingly in contradiction to that, it says,
The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him.
And finally at the end it says,
And he himself believed, and all his household.
This nobleman from the chief town of the area was desperate.
He believed his child was at death’s door,
so hearing that this prophet was back at Cana,
he went to ask Jesus for help.
Jesus was famous because of the first sign he had performed:
turning the water into wine at the same village of Cana.
He was known for teaching and preaching,
but his fame had not yet reached its height.
The nobleman was in great need of God’s help,
because there was nothing he could do for his dear child.
Did the nobleman believe in Jesus? We might say no.
He hoped, in the sense of “maybe,” or “perhaps.”
He was aware of Jesus’ reputation, and maybe His teaching.
But that’s the extent of this man’s faith at this time.
He was probably there in Cana for Jesus’ first miracle in Galilee:
turning water into wine.
But even if he was amazed at that miracle,
he was guarding his expectations when he came to Jesus this time.
Are you also aware of Jesus’ reputation? Do you know His teaching?
Does that mean that you believe in Jesus? That you have faith?
Just as with the nobleman, that alone is not saving faith.
“Maybe, perhaps Jesus can help me.”
Like saying “perhaps the economy will improve next month.”
Or “Maybe we will have lots of snow this winter.”
It’s not the same as trusting firmly in what Jesus says,
that He is the Son of God Who can and will always help.
Don’t find your assurance of God’s mercy in whether you believe.
That turns your faith from certainty into maybe and perhaps.
It makes you into your own savior for a supposed act of faith.
And without the true Savior, you are left in judgment.
Instead of looking at your faith, come see Jesus like the nobleman.
That thin hope of the nobleman was enough to bring him to Jesus.
Our text says, …he went to Him
and implored Him to come down and heal his son,
for he was at the point of death.
The poor father in his desperation was telling Jesus how to do it.
He must come to Capernaum to do this thing.
He must come now, while the child was yet living.
In the weakness of his faith, he didn’t believe
that Jesus could grant this prayer from a distance,
or that Jesus knew the best time to do something about it,
or even that Jesus could help past the point of death.
So instead of answering immediately,
Jesus chided him for the weakness of his faith.
“Unless you people see signs and wonders,
you will by no means believe.”
This was spoken not only about the nobleman, but all people.
It’s the nature of worldly knowledge to believe what you see.
To our shame, we often follow that practice.
But it’s the nature of spiritual truth to require faith first,
so that the one who believes may know and see later on.
As Jesus also said to Thomas the week after Easter (John 20:29),
“Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed.
Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
Sometimes the way God works to increase our faith seems cruel.
He was answering the man’s desperation with a rebuke.
In a similar way, God often permits you to endure suffering,
so that your faith may grow and cling more strongly to His Word.
This man’s prayer was intensified,
Come down before my child dies!
But Jesus did not do that. Instead, He did something unexpected.
He gave the man a word to believe, and so increased his faith.
“Go your way; your son lives.”
And the man believed it.
Cana is only about five miles from Capernaum.
It’s a walk of only a few hours at the most.
But it wasn’t until the next day that the man met his servant,
learning that the fever left his son when Jesus spoke those words.
Why didn’t he hurry home immediately upon hearing Jesus?
Because he trusted what Jesus had told him.
Because he had received the promise,
and with the promise, he had received faith that it was true.
According to Hebrews 11, faith is an assurance, a conviction.
It’s based upon what God says, in particular, what He promises.
For you to have the kind of faith that you need,
Jesus must come to you, where you can hear His Word to you.
He does that in the Divine Service from week to week.
And I bet His Word is also available every day in your house,
because we live in a time when books are printed cheaply,
and the Internet makes much available at your fingertips.
But you must actually hear that Word and promise of Christ.
So God, who wants to give and increase faith in you,
permits you to suffer in various ways.
He allows you to experience pain and mortality.
And your suffering intensifies your need for God’s Word,
so that you may pray even in weakness, like the nobleman.
When this man received Jesus’ promise, “Your son lives,”
he immediately had peace, because he believed it.
The Holy Spirit works this faith and peace through the Word itself,
as we also confess in the Catechism on the Third Article:
“I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength
believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him.
But the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel,
enlightened me with His gifts,
sanctified and kept me in the true faith…”
When you receive this gift of the Spirit through the Word of Jesus,
then you no longer rely only upon what you can see and feel.
Then you may rely instead upon what God has said,
and even the testimony of a miracle becomes secondary.
It merely confirms what God has already told you.
So the next day, as the nobleman was making his way homeward,
he met a servant on the way who told him when his son was healed.
Do you think he was surprised? Our text says:
So the father knew that it was at the same hour
in which Jesus said to him, “Your son lives.”
That’s not surprise. It’s a confirmation of what he already knew.
The same is true of all articles of faith.
The Scripture addresses many things about our lives on Earth:
How this world came to be as it is now,
how long it will last,
its purpose, and our purpose as human beings,
the nature and purpose of earthly government,
the ordering of nature and the dominion of man,
the divine origin, definition, and purpose of marriage,
the natural value of all human life,
and the innate dignity and human rights that belong to man.
When you believe what God’s Word teaches about such things,
the unbelieving world remains ignorant, and even contradicts you.
Some people may think you’re dabbling in politics,
when in fact it’s some politicians who corrupt the truth.
But someone who believes what God says has enough.
We don’t need to see or experience some earthly confirmation of it.
We don’t need scientific evidence to support what God has said.
As it happens, there’s plenty of evidence for those who believe,
but it’s like the miracle in our text:
the nobleman first believed the Word,
and the message from his servant only confirmed what he knew.
So we confess our faith in the words of the Creeds,
and those articles of faith are founded on God’s Word alone.
Yes, it’s interesting and exciting to think of Noah’s ark,
which probably still sits on the slopes of Mt. Ararat.
Yes, it’s useful to be able to pick apart false theories,
showing evidence contrary to evolution,
or weaknesses in the way the age of the earth is taught,
or demolishing the claim that Scripture is a poor witness.
But our faith does not depend upon such things.
It depends upon what God actually says, no more.
So when the nobleman made his way home to Capernaum,
he was able to live out more of his days with his family,
even enjoying the company of his son.
He had been terrified by the specter of death, as all are.
But no more!
There was something stronger in their lives:
the Word and promise of Jesus Christ.
You have the same Word and promise.
You have the same strength, even against the threat of death.
And he himself believed, and his whole household.
This Word is stronger than death,
as God Himself teaches in our Old Testament lesson.
This Promise will see you through your short time on Earth,
and will raise up your body for eternal life.
Nothing can prevent it,
because through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ,
your sins are all forgiven. You have God’s Word and promise.
Soli Deo Gloria