In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Ghost.
Jesus said to him, "Go your way; your son lives."
Martin Luther writes: "In the middle of life, we are surrounded by death on every side." The nobleman in today's Gospel was living these words. You have lived these words, too.
In the middle of life, we are surrounded by death on every side. Our parents die. Our spouses die. Our children die. We ourselves are dying.
In this earthly life, we are surrounded by death on every side, because we are sinners. It all goes back to the curse of man's fall into sin. By one man's disobedience, all men became disobedient. When one man left behind God's Word of life, all men stepped forward to die.
We were born in sin. It's Adam's fault. It's his fault that the nobleman's son in today's Gospel was dying. It's Adam's fault that we, too, are dying.
And yet, it is not only Adam's fault. We ourselves must also shoulder our own share of the blame. We must also confess the truth - that we are dying, because of what we have done, because of what we have left undone. With Adam and Eve and the rest of humanity, we, too, have stepped away from God's Word of life. We, too, have looked at God's command to love God and our neighbor - as more of a guideline or a suggestion - instead of God's absolute expectation. We have found it easier and more appealing to love ourselves more, to step away from God and the good of our neighbor - in thought, word, and deed. We have found it easier and more appealing to go walking in the ways of death.
Because of our sin - our own sin, everywhere that we turn in this earthly life, we are surrounded by death on every side. Everywhere we turn, we see death.
And this was also the situation for that nobleman in today's Gospel. He saw death surrounding him on every side when he looked at his son. His son was gravely ill.
No doubt, being a nobleman, this man was able to turn for help to all sorts of resources. He probably took his son to the best doctors that were available at that time. He probably received all kinds of advice about medicine and treatment for his dying son.
But, in the end, he still found himself surrounded by death. When he looked at his son, he saw the wages of sin were being taken. When he looked at his son's illness, he had to confess - what we also know all too well: There is only so much that earthly help can do for you. There is only so far that you can be taken by doctors and medicine. There comes a point at which diet and exercise and other forms of physical treatment can do you no more good. There comes a point at which all earthly help is finally helpless.
Being surrounded by death on every side, we have a picture that is drawn very clearly into focus for us. The fact that we are dying also shows the fact of our very great need. The fact that we are dying shows us the very greatest need that we have in life!
We need - a life that does not end in death. We need a life - that death cannot take away.
But - who can give you such a life?
While no earthly helper can help you, God has not left you helpless here on earth. God has not abandoned you to perish forever in death. God sent Someone down from heaven to help you. God sent His own Son, so that when you look at Jesus, you see heaven and earth joined together for your good. When you look at Jesus, you see the One who is truly able to help you and to save you from the misery of death.
Everywhere that you look in this earthly life, it seems that you are surrounded by death on every side. But when you look at Jesus, you catch a glimpse of hope. When you hear Jesus, you hear the Word of God - speaking to you in human flesh. You hear Him say that He can help you, that He can give you life. "Though you die, yet you shall live; for, whoever lives and believes in Jesus shall never die" (Jn 11:25-26).
But - just a moment. What is this? What sense do these words make? "Even though you die, you won't die?" What is Jesus talking about?
You might find yourself asking the same question about what Jesus says and does in today's Gospel. What is Jesus doing? What is Jesus talking about?
The nobleman came to Jesus, begging Jesus to give life to the nobleman's dying son. But - Jesus does not go down immediately to chase away the shadows of death. Jesus does not go down quickly and wave His hands over the boy, or touch the boy's feverish head, or stick His fingers in the boy's ears, or spit and touch the boy's tongue. Jesus does not go down to the nobleman's house to do whatever Jesus needs to do in order to make that boy better again.
The nobleman recognized the fact - that he was surrounded by death on every side. And he went to the right Person - when he went to Jesus, asking for life. But what does Jesus do? What does Jesus say? What does Jesus mean - when He answers this man's request for life - by talking instead about faith? Jesus says: "Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will by no means believe." What is the meaning of all this?
Jesus tells the nobleman that he will not get the opportunity to watch Jesus do something. In fact, Jesus is not just speaking to this nobleman. Jesus is not just speaking to the crowd that was gathered there in today's Gospel. Billions upon billions of people in this world have never had the opportunity to see Jesus in the flesh. The vast majority of those who have ever lived - have not been able to see Jesus in the flesh - doing signs and wonders. Billions upon billions of people, together with this nobleman, are simply told: "You're going to have to take Jesus at His Word." Surrounded by death on every side, all that you get from Jesus is a word which He says to you: "Go your way, your son lives."
And like that nobleman, you don't get to see the wonderful effects of this word - right now. That nobleman did not even get verbal confirmation - that what Jesus said was true - until after the sun had gone down and risen again. He would not be able to see and touch the physical evidence - that Jesus knew what He was talking about, that Jesus able to do what Jesus had said - until much later, when his long journey had ended, when he crossed the threshold of his house and saw that his son was alive and well again.
Like that nobleman, you get a word from Jesus. But you don't get see and touch the physical evidence - until much later. You simply have to trust that Jesus knows what He's talking about, that you can take Jesus at His Word - when He speaks to you His Word of life.
And what has Jesus done, to give you such confidence? What has Jesus done, so that you might believe what Jesus says to be true?
Jesus rose again from the dead. God's Son stepped into your world as a true man, so that He Himself should be surrounded by death on every side. And He wasn't just surrounded by dying people. Death closed in on Jesus, too. Jesus was nailed to a cross - where everything that Jesus said was thrown right back into His face. "You are dying, Jesus. Do you still think that You know what You are talking about? Even as You die, Jesus, do You still think that You are really able to do everything that You have said?"
And the answer is: Yes! Jesus Himself rose again from the dead.
We would not receive verbal confirmation of this fact - until after the sun had gone down on Good Friday. The sun would rise and go down once more on Holy Saturday, with Jesus still dead in the grave.
But then - on Easter Sunday, Jesus started appearing to His disciples - alive again. Those eyewitnesses give us the verbal confirmation that Jesus knew what He was talking about, that Jesus is able to do everything that He has said. They tell us - that the stone was rolled away from Jesus' grave. The inside of Jesus' tomb was empty. And then, Jesus Himself stood in the midst of His disciples. They touched His crucified body. They ate with Him. They tell us - that the crucified Jesus has indeed risen again, just as He said.
This word comes to you - carried by Our Lord's Holy Spirit - to create and strengthen faith in you. This Word comes to you - here, in the midst of your earthly life, where you are surrounded by death on every side.
And the Word that you hear is this: "Go your way; Jesus lives! And because Jesus lives, you will live, too" (Jn 14:19).
Go your way; Jesus lives. He does not give you signs or wonders. He gives you something better. He gives you something - that can actually do something for you.
Jesus gives you His Word. Jesus gives you His promise. Jesus gives you something to rub back into God's ear - a Word upon which you can base your prayers and your hope for mercy when you see yourself surrounded by the enemy on every side.
Jesus gives you His Word. It is the same Word that Jesus spoke to that nobleman. It is the Word which says that Jesus has all authority in heaven and on earth, that Jesus even has power over death. Jesus gives you His Gospel. He gives you His means of grace, His sacramental gifts. He gives you His Word connected to water, to bread and to wine.
And the Word of Jesus takes what you physically see and gives you the ability to see something more. You see the reality that Jesus talks about. "Though you die", you see Jesus - taking you through those waters that spell death for sinners; He places you in the safe place of His holy ark, the Church. "Though you die", you see Jesus - feeding you with His own life-giving Body and Blood. Though you be surrounded by death on every side, you see Jesus - joining you to Himself, joining you to His death, joining you to His resurrection from the dead, giving you the life that death cannot take away.
Go your way; Jesus lives! He has gone before you and broken the chains of death, so that you need not be afraid. He has come out of His grave alive again, so that you should go down to your grave with this hope - even though the sun may rise and fall many times between now and the last day. Even though you find yourself surrounded by death on every side, you are not alone. Jesus is with you - here in His Church - in His Word, in His Gospel - to the very end of the age. Go your way; Jesus lives. And because He lives, you also shall live forevermore.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Ghost.