This morning, we continue in our study of the gospel of John. As you may recall, John told us his reason for writing this gospel. He said, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:30-31).
This morning, we’re going to be looking at one of those signs, or miracles, that Jesus did. We’ll be in John chapter 4 and in just a moment, we’ll get to that text.
Sueanne and I were blessed to have three children who grew up relatively healthy. When our youngest, Joshua, was born, he did have a respiratory issue that put him in intensive care for about a week, but other than that, we’ve never had any serious issues with any of our children. And so, I can only imagine what it’s like to be told that your child has some terrible disease that will cause them a lifetime of suffering. Or to have a child who is dying.
But I know that mothers and fathers who go through that, experience a feeling of helplessness — a sense of desperation — that will lead them to do just about anything if there is even a sliver of a chance to restore their child to health. Parents will go from doctor to doctor and spend tens of thousands of dollars.
In desperation, parents who know better will even go to someone who plays on people’s desperation…people who use that desperation to take advantage of them…and get their money. And as much as it hurts us to see that happen, we understand. Because we know that parents will go to any lengths to help their children — especially us dads.
Because, more than anything else, we consider ourselves to be “fixers”. We may not be very good at talking or expressing our feelings, but we’re pretty good at fixing things. So, when we are faced with a situation that we can’t fix, we feel helpless. And in our sense of helplessness, we often become desperate. And when we become desperate, we sometimes try things that we know aren’t likely to work. Because, when you’re desperate, sometimes you feel better at least doing something than doing nothing.
And I think all of that helps us to understand our text this morning because in the last part of chapter 4, we are introduced to a father who faced a helpless situation similar to what I have described. His little boy was dying. And this father had done everything in his power to help his son. But nothing had worked. And, like the rest of us dads, he was a “fixer”, so he felt like he needed to do something. And God, in His grace, led him to Jesus.
Let’s watch this video together. If you want to follow along in your Bible, we’ll be in John chapter 4, beginning with verse 43.
So, according to verse 43, Jesus spent two days in Samaria, and then he left to go to Galilee. His time spent in Samaria was very successful. It appears that the whole town of Sychar had turned to Jesus as the Messiah and the Savior of the world. As far as we know, Jesus didn’t do any miracles there. He simply talked with the people.
In verse 42, the Samaritans said, “we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.” (John 4:42). Which is actually quite surprising, because that’s a better response than Jesus usually got among his own Jewish people.
But, from there, Jesus went to Galilee. Now, Galilee is where Jesus grew up. Nazareth was in Galilee. About 10 miles north of Nazareth was Cana, which is where Jesus turned the water to wine (back in chapter 2). And about 15 miles east of Cana was Capernaum where the official with the sick son lived. So, all of this area, Galilee, was Jesus’ homeland. When he left Samaria, he returned to what we might call his old “stomping grounds”.
Now, there are a few things in this passage that need a little bit of explanation. In verse 43, “After the two days he departed for Galilee. (For Jesus himself had testified that a prophet has no honor in his own hometown.)” (John 4:43-44)
John seems to be saying that Jesus intentionally went back to where he knew he wasn’t welcome. He left Samaria where they recognized him as the Savior of the world, and he went back to his own people knowing that they wouldn’t understand or appreciate who he really was.
And that’s not anything new. In fact, John told us all the way back in chapter 1, “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.” (John 1:11).
So, it seems rather strange. Why would Jesus go to a place knowing that they’re going to misunderstand him and reject him? And I think maybe the answer is found in what I said earlier. Parents will do everything in their power to save their children. And, in a sense, these are Jesus’ children. This is his family, in a very literal way. And I think Jesus was willing to do everything possible to try to save them, even if it meant that most of them would reject him.
So, John tells us that Jesus went to Galilee, his own people, knowing that he would receive no honor there. But then, in verse 45, “So when he came to Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him…” (John 4:45).
Which is not what you would expect it to say. In verse 44, we’re told that Jesus knew these people were going to dishonor him. So, why would they “welcome” him when he arrived?
And I think the answer is that the “welcome” — the reception — that Jesus received was not exactly what we would consider to be a “warm” welcome. These people were not welcoming Jesus because he was the Messiah. They were welcoming him because they were fascinated by his miracles.
And, again, this isn’t anything new in John’s gospel. Back in John 2, “Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them…” (John 2:23-24).
John tells us that those people “believed”, but it wasn’t the kind of faith that led to a close relationship with Jesus. It was simply an excitement because of his miracles. They were fascinated with what Jesus was able to do, but they had no interest at all in what those miracles pointed to, namely, the fact that he was the Son of God, the Messiah, the Savior of the World — all those things that the Samaritans recognized, even though Jesus didn’t do any miracles there
And I think that’s what’s going on here in chapter 4. The people in Galilee “welcomed” Jesus. But then it says, “Having seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the feast. For they too had gone to the feast.” (John 4:45). John tells us the reason they welcomed Jesus because they had seen him perform all of these miracles in Jerusalem. This is the miracle man that everyone was talking about.
Jesus was popular. And we like to be connected with someone popular. If you can say, “Did you know I went to high school with Oprah Winfrey?”, or “I used to live in the same neighborhood as Tom Cruise”, it makes you feel important.
These people in Galilee could say that this great miracle-worker grew up in their town. And that made them want Jesus to do all of his miracles for them once he got back home. Give us our own private showing. So, they “welcomed” him, but it was only because of his miracles.
Now, after all of this set-up of how the people in Galilee were impressed with Jesus’ miracles, but they didn’t really accept him for who he truly was, we are now introduced to the father in our story.
“And at Capernaum there was an official whose son was ill.” (John 4:46).
We’re told that this man was an official. The Greek word literally means “an official of the king”, which means that he was probably serving in some capacity in the royal court of Herod Antipas, the wicked man who ruled over Galilee. You may recall, he was the one who put John the Baptist to death for criticizing his marriage to his brother’s wife.
Because this man was a royal official, that means he was a man of influence, a man of wealth, a man of privilege, a man with significant authority. When he spoke, people listened. But, it doesn’t matter how much power and influence you have in this world, when something happens to your child, you feel helpless. And helplessness wasn’t something this man was used to feeling — which I’m sure added to his sense of desperation.
“When this man heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went to him and asked him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death.” (John 4:47)
I think most of the translations have it more accurate when they say that he “begged” Jesus to come heal his son. Which gives us an idea of just how desperate this man was. My guess is that he had never begged for anything before in his life. And now, he comes to this village carpenter turned traveling preacher and begs him for help.
Because, not only was this man an important and influential royal official, he was also a dad. And as that dad, he had knelt by the side of his boy’s bed and felt so helpless. As the boy’s fever continued to rise and he moaned in pain, this father had tried to fix things but nothing he tried worked. I’m sure he mustered all of his influence and resources to bring in the very best doctors money could buy. I’m sure he tried every home remedy and potion known to man, but nothing helped. His son’s fever only got higher. His pain only got worse, and so did this father’s feeling of helplessness. He got to the point where he had to do something.
He had heard the gossip about this man — Jesus — who had been going around healing people and doing miracles. He had heard about what Jesus did at a wedding feast a few months earlier — changing water into wine. And as he heard all of these stories, he thought, “There must be something to all these things I’m hearing.”
And so, as he sat by his son’s bed, there came a moment when he had to do something more than just sit there. He had to try to “fix” things. So, one day, he headed up the long, steep road that led from his home in Capernaum to Cana to see this miracle worker for himself. I don’t know if he really expected Jesus to be able to do anything, but he was desperate. He had to try. And so, “he went to him and asked him to come down and heal his son.”
But all Jesus said in return was, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” (John 4:48). Which is not at all what we would expect from Jesus. There doesn’t seem to be any compassion here. This man’s son is dying, he’s begging for help, and all Jesus can say is, “I guess you’re not going to be happy unless you see a miracle.”
But what appears to be rude and insensitive is actually not addressed to this man at all. The word for “you” in this verse is actually plural. The NET Bible does a better job of capturing the sense of what Jesus said, “Unless you people see signs and wonders you will never believe!”
Jesus was rebuking the attitude of the crowd…those people who had followed along with this official when he got to town with the expectation that they would all get to see a miracle. They were interested only in seeing something spectacular and not the least bit interested in what those spectacular miracles were pointing to. They just wanted to see a show. And so, Jesus said to them, “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will never believe.”
Jesus was saying, “You people refuse to believe in who I am. All you want is to see signs and wonders…magic tricks. You want me to fix your bodies up, but you don’t want me to fix your heart. You want me to fill your stomachs, but you don’t want me to fill your life. You want to tell me what to do instead of letting me sit on the throne of your life.” “Unless you people see signs and wonders you will never believe.”
But what about the royal official? Was he part of that crowd of people who welcomed Jesus but didn’t really believe? Was he like all the rest – someone who saw Jesus as a miracle-man, but not as the Son of God, not as a Savior? Was he someone who loved Jesus’ power, but didn’t not love who he really was?
And it seems to me that Jesus was testing this man. This father was asking for a miracle in a place where people loved to see miracles. And he seems to be asking for the same thing that everybody else is.
I think Jesus is doing the same thing here that he did with the Syrophoenician woman in Mark 7 who pleaded for Jesus to help her daughter. Jesus said, in essence, “I didn’t come for you people, I came for the Jews. You don’t let the dog eat food at the table.” But she said, “Even the dogs get to eat some of the scraps”, and then Jesus healed her daughter. What Jesus said may have sounded unkind, but it was basically to see how deep her faith was.
And I think the same thing is going on with this royal official. Jesus said, “All you people are just here to see a spectacular miracle.” But this father is not about to let his son die, and he knows that Jesus is his last hope. It may be that his faith is weak, but he does believe that Jesus is able to heal his son, and so he persists with his request.
He says again in verse 49, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” And this time, Jesus says, “Go, your son will live.” (John 4:50)
At this point, the father had a choice. If all he wanted was just to see a spectacular miracle, he could have continued to beg Jesus to come down to Capernaum and put on a show. Or he could take Jesus at His word. He could simply trust Jesus and believe – without seeing anything. And John tells us that’s what he did. Without any proof, he believed that what Jesus promised was true, that his sick little boy was now well.
John tells us, “The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way.” (John 6:50). He didn’t insist on seeing the miracle for himself. He didn’t complain that Jesus wouldn’t come with him. And perhaps, most surprising of all, he left believing. And I truly believe that, in that moment, this royal official saw something more in Jesus than just a miracle-worker.
We find out what happened the next day. “As he was going down, his servants met him and told him that his son was recovering. So he asked them the hour when he began to get better, and they said to him, ‘Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.’ The father knew that was the hour when Jesus had said to him, ‘Your son will live.’ And he himself believed, and all his household.” (John 4:51–53)
So, what is John’s point in telling this story? First of all, he’s doing the same thing that he does over and over throughout his gospel. He is trying to show us the greatness of Christ by this amazing miracle.
But I also think John is trying to help us realize that there are some things that keep us from seeing the true glory of Jesus Christ. And I think what he does here in this story is to compare the majority of the people in Galilee who didn’t appreciate who Jesus really was, with this royal official who did.
For just a few moments, I want us to look first at some of the things that tend to keep us from seeing and appreciating the glory of Christ. And then secondly, I want to take a closer look at the miracle that Jesus did and what it tells us about him.
What Keeps Us from Seeing Jesus’ Glory?
When you look at the people of Galilee, it basically boiled down to one thing, which is what Jesus said — “A prophet has no honor in his own hometown.” There was something about being a part of Jesus’ hometown that hindered their faith. Now, I’m pretty sure that no one in this room is from Jesus’ hometown. None of us live in Galilee. And so, you might be tempted to think that John’s point doesn’t really apply to us. But I think there were a couple of things that made it difficult for his own people to receive him and honor him, things that we tend to struggle with as well.
1) A Sense of Entitlement
I think one of the things that motivated the people of Galilee was a sense of entitlement. There seems to have been this idea, that if Jesus is from our town, then we get first dibs, or at least, special dibs. He owes us. He grew up here.
And we can still be tempted to think the same way. We can be tempted to think that, just because we’re Christians, we have a sense of entitlement. We’re tempted to think that Jesus somehow owes us. He owes us for all of the hard work we put in. He owes us for the fact that we’ve been going to church for the past 50 years. He owes us for all of our sacrifices.
But, if we ever begin to feel entitled to the blessings of Christ, we’re going to fall away from grace. Because we won’t see the need for grace anymore. And if we don’t appreciate the grace of Jesus Christ, then we don’t really know him for who he really is.
2) Over-Familiarity with Jesus
The second thing that can happen is a sense of over-familiarity with Jesus. I can only imagine that the people of Nazareth had the attitude, “This man is one of us. We know his mother and his brothers. He’s always been so ordinary. How can he possibly be what he claims to be?” And because Jesus was so familiar, they couldn’t imagine that he was anything special.
And it’s possible for us to make the same mistake. We can get so familiar with the Bible, and with Jesus, that he doesn’t surprise us. He doesn’t shock us. Jesus heals lepers and he raises the dead. What’s the big deal? It’s just a cute little flannelgraph story, and we’ve heard it countless times from the time we were in pre-school.
But when we get so familiar with Jesus, we find it hard to imagine that he could actually do something shocking today. He can’t do anything really mind-blowingly powerful because he’s too familiar.
And so, we need to guard against both of these impulses. If we have a sense of entitlement, a feeling that we deserve what Christ has to offer, that minimizes his grace. And if Jesus becomes over-familiar to us, it minimizes his power.
And I think that’s exactly what John wants us to see in this healing of the official’s son. He wants to help us overcome those two tendencies in our lives, and see the grace and the power — the mercy and the might — of Jesus.
1) Jesus’ Grace
First of all, notice the grace in this story. Jesus healed this child in a very unbelieving atmosphere. The first thing he said to the official when he begged for his son was, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe” (verse 48). Jesus seemed to be rather provoked at the excitement of miracles that was so prominent in Galilee. And yet, even in that setting, Jesus gave the gift of healing.
And he gave this gift to a man he had never met, a man who had attachments in some way probably with wicked Herod Antipas. A man who expressed no faith in who Jesus was. He just wanted Jesus to come do a miracle.
In other words, when Jesus decided to heal this boy, he did it on the basis of nothing but grace. He didn’t do it because somebody deserved it. He didn’t do it because somebody was special. It was a gift. John wrote in chapter 1, “We have seen his glory…full of grace and truth…and from his fullness we have received grace upon grace.” (John 1:14,16). But, if we have a sense of entitlement, we will never be able to appreciate his grace.
2) Jesus’ Power
Secondly, John not only wants us to see the grace in this healing, he wants us to see the power of it. This boy was dying of a fever. The power of Jesus to heal is seen in the fact that he did it with a mere word. He simply said, “Go, your son will live” (verse 50). And with that one sentence, the boy was healed.
Distance was not a factor. The boy was 15 miles away. But he could have been 15,000 miles away, and it wouldn’t have made any difference. When Jesus speaks with authority, there are no limits to his power.
And the power of his healing is also seen in the fact that it was immediate. John draws special attention to that. The servants tell the official that his son recovered at 1:00 the day before, and then John says in verse 53, “The father knew that was the hour when Jesus had said to him, ‘Your son will live.’” At the very moment Jesus spoke, it was done. If that doesn’t amaze you, then maybe it’s because overly-familiar with Jesus
A dying boy healed with just a spoken word, from miles away, immediately. Such is the power of Jesus. Grace and power. Mercy and might.
As John said, we beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father. And from his fullness we have all received grace upon grace.
May God remove from our lives all pride, all entitlement, all familiarity, and reveal to us the glory of the grace and power of Jesus Christ.