Signs So That You May Believe
Twenty-First Sunday after Trinity
October 21, 2018
The Old Testament reading shows us the world as God created it. It is good. Everything is as it should be. But Adam and Eve chose sin and we also go our own way. So life is not as it should be. It is not perfect as our God intended it. Your life could turn at any moment. You could lose your job. You could lose your home to a disaster. You could be seriously injured.
It’s no less difficult when someone you love is suffering. In the Gospel reading we meet a man who was some sort of official. His young son had a fever and it was getting worse. Perhaps it resulted from a serious infection. There was nothing they could do. He and his wife stayed with him, comforting him, telling him they loved him, praying with him.
The boy’s older siblings were troubled by what was happening to their younger brother. They were able to help out mom and dad with doing little things that needed to be done. They could help take care of their little brothers and sisters who knew their brother was sick and needed rest. But now someone came to the door. This official was told about a man named Jesus who had returned to Galilee from Judea. Jesus had grown up in Galilee, in the small town of Nazareth. Once He began His ministry He had gained a following and some notoriety. People knew of His teaching because it was different from what their religious teachers taught. And they knew of His miraculous acts, healing people and even turning water into wine at a wedding. People knew of Jesus and a good number of people believed in Him.
Jesus had also made His way down to Judea, where Jerusalem and the temple were. He began carrying out His ministry down there but ran into opposition from the religious leaders. So He returned to His home area of Galilee. Now that He was back a friend of this official’s told him Jesus had returned. He and his wife decided that he should make the trek from their home in Capernaum to Cana, where Jesus was. They believed that Jesus could heal their son. As long as he was still alive there was hope.
When the man got to Jesus he pleaded with Him to come down to his home to heal his son, he was about to die. This was the man’s last hope. Jesus responds to him but He speaks to everyone, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” What are we to make of Jesus’ statement? What did He mean about them needing signs and wonders in order to believe? In the Old Testament reading we see the signs and wonders of God’s creation. One of the ways of knowing that God exists is by looking at the universe and seeing that it had to have come about by the power of a supreme being.
As you make your way through the Old Testament you see that God declared His glory and salvation through signs and wonders. He displayed His glory by bringing the people the Red Sea. The prophets did miraculous acts, even raising people from the dead. When you come in to the New Testament you see that signs and wonders accompanied the apostles’ ministry. And there is Jesus, His ministry was characterized by signs and wonders.
The apostle John makes a particular note of expressing the miraculous acts of Jesus as signs. A sign points to something beyond itself. These are acts of Jesus that point to something greater. If the miraculous acts are themselves great, how much more are what they point to. So what does Jesus mean when He’s being implored by this man who’s in need and He says that the people will not believe unless they see signs and wonders?
He’s saying exactly what God uses to create faith. What was it that brought the man to Jesus? He believed that the miracles Jesus had done in Galilee and Judea were of God. He believed Jesus could save his little boy. The way God had worked throughout history, through signs and wonders, and the way He would work through the apostles, He was working through Jesus. Jesus was speaking what plainly is the case, God works through signs and wonders.
The official implored Jesus again: “Lord, come down before my child dies.” And Jesus does not go. Instead, He tells him to return to his child, his child will live. The man believed the word Jesus spoke to him and he began to go. This was about 1:00. It would be dark in about five hours. He would make his way toward home as far as he could before having to spend the night in an inn. The next day as he continued his journey home his servants met him. As soon their child miraculously recovered his wife sent their servants to go tell him so that he would know their son was going to live.
When the servants met him on the way they told him the good news, his son lived. He asked the servants what time he recovered and they told him that the fever left him the day before at 1:00. The man knew that that was the time Jesus had said to him, “Your son lives,” and he believed and when he got home to his happy family and his healthy son his whole family believed.
John began telling this story by making the connection that Jesus made His way back to Cana, the place where He had turned water into wine. When He had done this, John said that that was the first of Jesus’ signs, in which He manifested His glory and the disciples believed in Him. Now at the end of this story he says that this was now the second sign that Jesus did when He came from Judea to Galilee.
Turning water into wine was not simply a miracle. It was a sign. Healing a child with just a word was not just a miracle. It was a sign. Every sign God shows points you to something greater. The greater thing here is life forever. The boy recovered from his illness but eventually ended up dying, as we all will. Sin has brought that upon us. The life God created us with was forever. Sin has brought us into eternal death.
What Jesus did for that little boy points to His greatest act, the greatest miracle. He suffered death. He suffered our sin and our eternal death. If that boy’s fever left him, the sickness that is our sin is taken away in Jesus’ death. If that boy was on the verge of death and lived, we being dead in sin are alive in Christ through His resurrection.
But see now, these things are not all that is given you. God’s people in the Old Testament saw signs and wonders, those in the New Testament, and you in your life. The signs your Lord gives you are the Sacraments. The word of Christ is attached to visible elements of God’s good creation. The early church father Augustine said that the Sacraments are the visible Word. These are the signs your Lord gives so that you may believe. In Baptism and the Lord’s Supper your Lord forgives you and the Holy Spirit gives you faith to believe.
You know that whatever may happen in your life, you are Baptized. You are forgiven. Whatever you face, your Lord gives you His body and blood to strengthen and preserve you in body and soul. And because your Lord gives you signs that you may believe, your life becomes a sign for others. How you live, confident in Christ and His forgiveness and strength, points them to Christ. Just think of all the people that man and his family must have told what Jesus had done for their little boy. Just think of all the people you can tell what Jesus has done for you and how He sustains you in this life and especially forever. Amen.