Today’s Gospel is one of the most relatable accounts in Holy Scripture. We can sympathize with the difficult situation of the official. He needed something badly. He wanted the reassurance that Jesus heard him, cared, and would do something about his son’s deadly illness. He pleads with Jesus twice to come with him, but He will not. He sends the official home with only a word in his pocket. He doesn’t have Jesus in tow, he does not have an antidote for death. He has only a word. Through this official, Jesus teaches us to have faith in His unfailing Word. He is faithful and He will do what He says.
But that’s a hard lesson to learn, isn’t it? And we never learn it perfectly. Our ability to trust God, to take Him at His Word, has peaks and valleys, good days and bad. It’s part of sanctification, our Christian life growing in the faith. Some days we readily believe God. We trust that everything will work out for our good, just as He has promised us in His faithful Word. But then there are days when we look at God and call Him a liar. You promised me peace, You promised me daily bread, You promised me strength in the face of temptation. You told me not to be anxious about anything. What’s going on? Why are You holding out on me?
We fall into this trap more often than we care to admit because we think something that we’d probably never say out loud. We believe that what Our Lord says is no different and no better than what we say. We think He talks like us—talking to hear Himself talk, rambling in hopes of finding the right words to say, hoping the tone is comforting and consoling to hide the harshness the words convey. And to make matters worse, we convince ourselves that His Word is simply one more opinion, nothing more than another factor to consider, if we consider it at all. And so we do not take up the whole armor of God. We do not live and die in His holy Word. We let “real life” get in the way and God gets to take the back seat.
The result is that we do not receive the full comfort and peace that Our Lord gives. And in addition, we are fully exposed to all the crafts and assaults of the devil. When the fiery darts of the evil one start flying at us, we have no defense. There is nothing that can truly resist the accusations of the devil, nothing that can shield us from temptation, and nothing that can overcome the crosses we bear except the Words of life and peace that Our Lord speaks.
That’s because the Words that come from Jesus’ lips are not ordinary words. His Words are powerful, performative Words. Moses records that in chapter one of Genesis. God speaks and it is. Light, land, vegetation, animal life all spring into existence at His command. So when Jesus says to the official in Capernaum He speaks more than a pious platitude. His sentence “Go your way; your son lives,” it is just as powerful then as it was 4,000 some years prior. The man and his entire household find this out when the son returns to life at the precise moment that Jesus spoke him back to life.
This is the same way Jesus deals with you. When He said to you “I Baptize you,” you were, and you are saved. When He says to you, “Your sins are forgiven,” they are. When He does not answer your prayers for relief with an immediate yes, He essentially says to you “Bear this cross for a little while.” Just as every other Word that proceeds from the mouth of God is good, so is this one, even if it does not seem so. But remember the other Words He has spoken: “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” “Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” “Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved but abides forever.” Those who wait upon the Lord “shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” Your Lord knows what crosses you are bearing, what struggles you have, what temptations plague you. He knows how your own sins and the sins of others weigh you down. He is not a God far away, but a God near at hand. That is why His voice is never silent. He speaks to you constantly in the Scriptures, in the Divine Service, in His Word placed upon the lips of your brothers and sisters in the faith who support and encourage you.
A complete trust in this Word of God, despite how easy it would be to disbelieve, despite the nagging insistence of logic or what you can see with your eyes, is what the official exemplifies in today’s Gospel. He hopes that Jesus will heal his son. And Jesus does not disappoint him. He does not destroy his hope. He will never turn away those who call to Him in faith, even weak faith. He never rejects those who seek Him. Instead He gives His Word, something that we can put in our hearts, something we can repeat to ourselves, something we can speak of with our family and while we go about our daily lives. He gives us His Word as sure and certain confidence. When He speaks, it is so. He has spoken true and certain Words to you that can never disappoint.
This official, this grieving father is an example to all of us. Instead of turning to himself, he put his full confidence in the Word, even though he had no visual cue that he could believe it. This same Word spoken to Him is the Word spoken to you, preached to you in the Word that absolves you, the Word that Baptized you, the Word that feeds and nourishes you in the Lord’s Supper. The Word makes you a child of God; the Word strengthens your weak knees and fearful hearts.
Here in the Lord’s House, at His holy Supper, is where we come to find Him, to lay our requests, our fears, our complaints before Him as the official did. No matter what this past week threw at you, or what this week just begun may bring, Jesus speaks Words that give great gifts: This is My Body; this is My Blood. By those Words combined with humble earthly elements He makes His home inside of you. He dwells in you to keep your faith strong, to give you the ability to trust that His Word does what it says.
So keep this relatable account of Holy Scripture close. When darkness threatens to gain the upper hand, go steadfastly like the official. Go with the Word in your pocket, in your heart, on your lips. He who called you is faithful. His Word is true and He has promised good things to His servant.
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.