Martin franzmann, the author of this morning’s first hymn and a long-time professor in our Synod, called the man in today’s Gospel “the man who went home with only a word in his pocket.” I think this does more to help us understand today’s Gospel and its importance than anything else. The nobleman is a reminder to us, an encouragement to us, to live by faith alone, faith in the strong Word of God. He went home with only the Word, only a promise. His faith was rewarded with fulfillment. May God grant us all such a faith that endures all things, content with only a Word in our pocket and nothing more!
The situation in which the nobleman finds himself is not unfamiliar to us. We have seen sick, and even deceased, children in Scripture whose parents have come to Jesus for help and healing. We have seen people who needed healing themselves. In all of those cases, Jesus gave help that was immediate and was visible. There was one exception, and that was the centurion whose son was dying. Jesus offered to come to the man’s house, but he had faith that Jesus could heal from a distance and was content with that. Faith that Jesus’ Word was powerful was not needed for a long-distance journey home. They had faith, certainly, but it didn’t have to sustain them as long before their desired outcome became a reality.
For this man, it’s different. The journey from Capernaum to Cana is about 17 miles, about a day and half walk. He has to walk a day and a half worried about his dying son. Then he finds Jesus, begs Him to come with him to heal his son, and hears the rebuke: “Unless you see signs and wonders you will by no means believe.” In other words, the only way you’ll believe is with signs and wonders, not the Word. But Jesus teaches him a great lesson, that all that matters, all that gets us through is faith, not miracles. So, he is sent home with just a promise: “Go your way, your son lives.” So now he repeats his journey, alone again. This was not supposed to be a solo trip of three days! A day and a half was supposed to be spent with Jesus encouraging him, telling him everything was going to be okay. But he doesn’t get that word in his ear. He only has that word in his pocket. He has to repeat it in his head for himself. And we all know how easy it is to be led astray by the devil when you are seemingly alone.
But herein lies the true miracle of this Gospel account! The nobleman believes. He walks the 17 miles in trust and faith. He had no sign, no miracle. But this produces a greater faith. His faith is not tied to one incident, one deed. He has a faith that sees Christ in His Word, that sees Him not as just a means to an end, but the One who does all things well. He has the God-given strength to rely only on Christ and His Word. He has not yet had that faith met with sight. But he learns in that day and a half return journey that He can trust Christ at His Word. And that faith not only lifts him up, but moves out and draws up others in its gratitude. Hearing the Word repeated by this man, the whole household believes.
Before this, the man’s faith was not in the strong Word of Jesus, but in signs. What led him to seek out Jesus? The previous miracle at Cana’s wedding where water was made wine. The outcome was right: he trusted that Jesus could do anything, and things that defied the laws of nature. But what got him to that point was faulty. If that’s the only source of his faith, it can and will be crushed the first time Jesus doesn’t perform as demanded. So Jesus gives the nobleman’s faith, and his household’s faith, a firm foundation. He gives him something to trust when dark his road. He teaches him that the Word avails, even when sight fails. Jesus gave him a great treasure to cling to when it looks like everything is going wrong. The promises of the Word, the promise that those who die in the faith will rise, the promise that in the resurrection the body will be raised perfected, the promise that every cross of this life will one day be no more, is all in the Word, and that Word endures even when it seems like a lie.
What the nobleman wanted, and what Jesus knew he needed corrected, is the same desire and error we all have. We want everything wonderful always. We want signs and wonders. We want problems done away with at the snap of a finger or the wiggle of a divine nose. We don’t want to go 17 miles with only a Word in our pocket. We want the joy and delight of the mountaintop, not the tedious slog of the valley. But Jesus gives us the same remedy, the same miracle we know today. Go your way; My Word is sufficient for you. My Word will not depart from you. My Word will not return to Me void, but it will accomplish the purpose for which I sent it.
And think of how much richer a Word Jesus has given you than the nobleman! The nobleman knew only about water become wine. You have the Word about the One who was with God and is God, the One through whom all was made that is made. You have the Word who is Light shining invincibly in the darkness. You have the Word of the One whose Blood made you a child of God. You have the Word of the one who took on flesh and dwelt among us. You have the Word of God who is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. You have the Word of the Son of Man who was lifted up in the wilderness for the salvation of a mankind that deserved only the wrath of God. You have the Word of the Savior of the world.
So, just as the Father declared at the Baptism and the Transfiguration: “Listen to Him!” Listen for His Word of forgiveness and promise and comfort in every portion of your life, especially on those days when you feel like you are in the depths of hell. As mustard seed-like as your faith may feel, hear Jesus’ Word. You live!
You may have to go 17 miles or 34 or 51 or more with only a word in your pocket before faith is rewarded with sight. But no matter how dark, how long, or how difficult the road, do not despair. Take that Word at face value. You are mine. Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.
Why does the Pastor preach? Scripture explains that the role of preaching the Word of God is how saving faith is created: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17). The Augsburg Confession, seeing this connection between the Preaching Office and saving faith, summarizes Scripture on the Office of the Holy Ministry in this way: “To obtain [saving, justifying] faith, God instituted the Office of Preaching, giving the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC V 1-3). The whole reason the Pastor preaches is so saving faith can be created, so we know that “we have a gracious God” who loves us and has saved us from our sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.