Sermon for the Twenty-First Sunday after Trinity, AD 2021

John 4:46-54; Genesis 1:1-2:3

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The world was formless, empty, and dark. God the Father, the God the Son who is the Word, and the Holy Spirit who hovered over the waters formed, filled, and enlightened to the world. God by his Word created light, and gave it form as He separated it from darkness. He separated the waters of heaven and earth by the sky, giving them form, and then the land from the waters, giving form to seas, continents, and islands and it was good.

Then he filled the land with vegetation and created the Sun, moon, planets and stars to fill and govern the sky and give form to times and seasons and it was good. He created swimming and flying creatures to fill the seas and the sky, and creeping things and beasts of land to fill the land and it was good.

Then God created man – his highest creation. He formed him especially in His image – male and female – to be able to know God, serve, and love God. He gave man dominion over everything on earth. And with man in His image as the crown of all creation, God saw everything He made, and that it was very good. All this he did in six days, and on the seventh he rested.

How wonderful that primeval earth must have been. Unlike common popular depictions of the early earth showing fierce destruction, turmoil, and death, the Earth when first created by God was very good. And you are not an invader to it, but the most important creation. All creation was made by God to be used for the good of mankind. Adam and Eve, the first humans, were put in the Garden of Eden, but the whole world at the time was unspoiled, lovely, and without any decay or corruption.

The more you hear about the world as God made it, and the more you experience life in the world now, the more you would like to go back there. To live on the Earth without pain, disease, war, even hard work – isn’t this everyone’s dream? Does not everyone through various means try to achieve this state? Every medicine, labor-saving device, retirement plan, and college recruiter promises to bring you back to the original paradise. A small down-payment and that world is waiting for you.

Man’s religions all exist to promise this same thing, though they may approach it in different ways. Judaism says follow these rules, become one of these people, and you will have paradise. Buddhism says turn in on yourself to escape these troubles and you will reach nirvana. The cultural Marxism of our day says to get rid of these oppressors – the rich, white people, men, heterosexuals, Christians – and we will have heaven on earth. Even groups which call themselves Christian can promise a life of ease if you just donate money and buy their self-affirming books.

In comes Jesus – and he doesn’t do things the way anyone wants. In our gospel lesson, an official, probably one of Herod’s lackeys, comes to Jesus asking for Him to heal his son. For this official, as is often true, getting back to Eden isn’t even on his radar right now. Yet he wants to get back. To return to the time when his son wasn’t sick. Maybe that’s your desire right now too. Jesus, bring me back to when I wasn’t sick, or my relative wasn’t sick. Bring me back to when I didn’t have all these worries. Restore me to the time in my life when I was happy. And here, as you often experience, Jesus doesn’t just go – boom, ok, all your troubles are gone.

What is Jesus concerned about here? “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” The official comes to Jesus in faith – weak faith – at least that Jesus can heal his son. Maybe he has tried doctors and everything else and Jesus is his last-ditch effort. His main concern is for the well-being of his son, to return his son to health. Jesus has another priority. In what circumstance will this man believe? This official of Herod is worried about his son’s physical health, but what has he done for his son’s soul? Does he know Jesus has an eternal cure?

For even if the son is healed now, he will someday die. He can escape his circumstance, but he cannot escape death. This is true for all people. Therefore, all these promises of Eden fall flat. Even with the right strategies, the right mindset, the right people, with billions in resources, your sinful flesh accompanies you. God put the angel with the flaming sword at the gate of Eden because no man with the corruption of sin and death can ever return. No man, no matter how mighty, can pass that angel. Look at the terrors of the French Revolution, the Communist revolution in Russia and China – bringing heaven on earth with millions dead. Eden with sinful man becomes a living hell.

Jesus says, Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe. Signs and wonders are there to reinforce trust in the Word of God. These signs and wonders are the beginning of the restoration of the world. Every sign and wonder of Jesus works against death and decay, but ultimately is there to create faith in Jesus, and eternal life. Faith does not need to be strong to be saving. Even the smallest, weakest trust in Jesus saves You are not saved by the amount of faith, but the object of your faith. Just like the official, who barely knowing what to respond says, “Sir, just come down before my little boy dies.”

Jesus says, “Go; your son lives.” Jesus knows the official will now believe. He does believe. He returns home and his servants report the same words: “Your son lives.” The official reports to them everything Jesus said, and what Jesus has done. The entire household believes. The son is not just saved from the sickness. The whole family is preserved unto eternal life.

You may say that Jesus does not do such miraculous works in your life, that such things seem to be few and far between. Yet you receive many blessings from God. If you believe His Word you know that every breath, every moment is a gift from Him. For He created you in His image to know Him, love Him, and serve Him. Even though in your sin you have been separated from Him, He did His greatest work of all through His Son, Jesus. Jesus died for your sin, He took on the pain, corruption, disease and decay and suffered it all, even death, for you. Then the greatest sign and wonder of all – Jesus rose from the dead.

Since you can only bring death along to Eden, Jesus brought a greater Eden, a greater Life, and destroyed death. This life He gives to you in your baptism, where the Holy Spirit kills the old sinful Adam and raises you as a new man. As a new man, you have the promise of the New Eden – the new heavens and the earth greater than the first. Your death is now just a portal to that paradise and life with God.

Now the Christian life is this – will you trust the Word of God for the New Eden – or will you keep trying to get past the angel with the flaming sword to the old one? Your sinful old Adam is drowned in baptism, but still clings to you, and he must be re-drowned every day. This is done in repentance. God the Holy Spirit forms, fills, and enlightens you as a new creation. Every day realize the sin you commit which seeks a paradise for yourself apart from God. Confess to God and be forgiven. You have no need to beg, borrow, or steal your own paradise when one is promised to you.

As St. Paul says, Be strong in the Lord and the strength of His might. The devil will work with your flesh to develop many schemes to take your eyes off the true paradise. He will do his own signs and wonders, promising everything as long as you abandon God’s Word. It is the spiritual forces of evil who are your true enemy, but you have no need to fear them. Stand firm with the armor that God supplies. The belt of truth – knowing that all other words are lies. The breastplate of righteousness – that obeying the commandments is protection, not vulnerability. The shoes of the gospel of peace – that you walk knowing that God has cared to make peace with you by giving His own Son. The shield of faith – that when the devil attacks you as a sinner, you can say, “Yes, but I am baptized!” The helmet of salvation – assurance of that New Eden. And the sword of the Spirit – the Word of God, which is the only thing which can overcome the evil one.

That word Jesus gives is “You will live.” You will live trusting Him. He is not going to bring you into the primeval paradise. Instead he has formed, filled, and enlightened you for a new heavens and a new earth. With the new life in baptism, and in the armor of God, you are being made strong for that end. Be strong in the Lord and he will bring you through this life to its fulfillment in the resurrection of the dead. There in perfect fellowship with God you shall see him face to face and share in that wonderful seventh-day rest. Amen.

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