Last Sunday, we looked at a conversation that a mother, Mrs. Zebedee, had with Jesus. This morning, I want us to take a look at a conversation that a father had with Jesus. Now, I think it’s safe that mothers and fathers are very different and they have totally different parenting styles. Those of you who are mothers who have left your children alone with their father for more than an hour probably have some stories you could share with us all.
But, as different as mothers and fathers may be, there’s one thing that all godly parents have in common and that is that they love their children very much. We saw this last week as Mrs. Zebedee’s love for her two boys led her to go to Jesus and make an audacious request.
And we’re going to see the same thing this morning as an unnamed father, a royal official, comes to Jesus on behalf of his son. And his request of Jesus may have been even more audacious.
We pick up this morning in John chapter 4, verse 46:
“So Jesus came again to Cana of Galilee where He had made the water wine. And there was a certain nobleman whose son was sick at Capernaum. When he heard that Jesus had come out of Judea into Galilee, he went to Him and implored Him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death. Then Jesus said to him, ‘Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will by no means believe.’ The nobleman said to Him, ‘Sir, come down before my child dies!’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go your way; your son lives.’
So the man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him, and he went his way. And as he was now going down, his servants met him and told him, saying, ‘Your son lives!’ Then he inquired of them the hour when he got better. And they said to him, ‘Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.’ So the father knew that it was at the same hour in which Jesus said to him, ‘Your son lives.’ And he himself believed, and his whole household.” (John 4:46-52)
John introduces to us a gentleman whom he calls a basilikos. This is a Greek word that is connected with the idea of royalty (the Greek word for king is basileus), and in fact there are some commentators who believe that the word basilikos here means someone of royal blood, a member of the royal family. And that may be possible, but there’s really nothing in this story that points to someone quite that significant, so it seems more likely that it means someone in the royal service.
This man is likely one of Herod’s most trusted officials. He resides in the town of Capernaum, probably in a beautiful house on a cliff overlooking the sparkling blue water of the Sea of Galilee. His life is a comfortable life with servants around the estate to take care of his every need. This man has wealth and rank and privilege. But none of those things can help him now. Not even Herod, with all his power, can help.
Because his little boy is sick. He’s running a high temperature, he has a fever. This boy, who once was a bundle of energy, running around the house, playing and laughing, has been reduced to a limp rag doll, burning up under the bedsheets.
This man’s service to Herod has rewarded him well. He has a beautiful home. A house full of ornate furniture. The finest food that anyone could possibly want. Clothes suitable for the king’s most elaborate parties. Make no mistake about it, this is a wealthy man.
And I would imagine that, when his son fell sick, his wealth was the first thing he turned to. He would have hired the best physicians money could buy. But there was nothing they do. Perhaps this father exhausted everything from exotic medicines prescribed by professionals to folk remedies suggested by his servants, but his son didn’t show any improvement. And he would try anything now. He’s desperate. The most precious thing in the world to him is slipping away before his very eyes.
I can picture the scene – this official and his wife staying up all night hovering over the boy, sponging down his hot body. Servants shuffle in and out to change the sheets, to bring dry towels and fresh basins of water and a few words of comfort. But now, there’s nothing more that can be done. Except to wait. And to hope and pray for a miracle.
I can envision this official sitting on his terrace, staring out over the Sea of Galilee. His eyes are puffy from being up all night long, his body worn out; his heart aching. And he thinks to himself, “What difference would all of his success mean if he loses his boy? What would his job matter? Or his beautiful home? Or anything?
In a moment of truth, he realizes that all of his wealth, all of his rank, all of his privilege means nothing. He would gladly exchange them all for the life of his son. But that’s one thing his money can’t buy.
What would it be like without his son playing in the yard? What would it be like without him scampering through the house, laughing and playing? What would it be like not setting a place for him at the dinner table?
The father buries his face in his hands and weeps for his son—the little boy he may never again tuck into bed…the eager little ears he may never again tell bedtime stories to. Never again.
Maybe the official even begins to have some regrets. For working too hard. For being gone too much. For missing out on so many of the priceless moments in his little boy’s childhood. Moments he could never buy back, regardless of his wealth, rank, or privilege.
But, as he sits there in tears, one of his servants comes to him to tell him about Jesus— about the incredible things people were saying about him . . . about this miraculous power he had to heal the sick . . . and maybe, just maybe he could talk Jesus into coming to see his son . . .
No sooner is the suggestion made than the official readies himself for the 20-mile journey to Cana, where Jesus is staying. He arrives at the village in a frantic search for this miracle worker, because Jesus is his last hope.
Finding him, he does something very uncharacteristic for a man of his position—he begs. He begs for the life of his little boy—the little boy he will never hug again, never see grow up, if Jesus doesn’t come to his bedside.
Strangely enough, Jesus doesn’t respond with the compassion that is so characteristic of him. Instead, he seems to rebuke the man, “Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders, you will never believe.”
You see, Jesus had been front-page news in Palestine. But the newspaper mostly likely to cover him would have been the National Enquirer, because all the news making the rounds was sensational. And the atmosphere surrounding Christ was fast becoming that of a circus—”Step right up and see signs and wonders performed before your very eyes! Come one, come all! See the Miracle Worker in action!”
But that’s not what Jesus wanted. He didn’t want to become a side-show attraction. He didn’t want the kingdom of God to be an experience that would excite people one day only to have them disappear the next.
But, with his hands clutching Jesus’ robe, the royal official falls to his knees, pleading, begging, imploring. “Sir, please come to my house before my child dies.” His voice cracks as tears make their way down his cheeks.
And then Jesus says, “You may go. Your son will live.” And when the official gets home, he finds that Jesus had done just what he said he would. And he, and all his house, believed.
I want to talk twith you a little bit this morning about faith. Because in this story, we find a man who believes in Jesus, but it’s a faith that grows. It’s a different kind of faith after this encounter with Jesus than it was before.
It’s a faith which begins as a…
I. Tentative Faith
It’s a tentative faith born out of desperation. It’s sad that the beginning of most people’s faith is a sense of desperation, but that’s the way it often is. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the one thing that keeps most people from putting their faith in Jesus Christ is a lack of need. Because as long as everything is going well in people’s lives, they simply don’t think they need Jesus. But desperation has a way of changing that. When we realize how helpless we are to deal with a problem in our lives, we find ourselves reacting like the royal official and turning to Jesus.
Desperation does something else – it breaks down our foolish pride. Think about it — this royal official had rank and status in a culture where rank and status meant everything and here we find him traveling 20 miles to beg help from a simple carpenter from Nazareth. Before this, he would not have even considered lowering himself to do such a thing. In fact, this same official may very well have laughed and made jokes with some of his country club buddies about those people following Jesus of Nazareth, but oh, how a desperate situation changes things.
And so he goes to Jesus because he believes that maybe, just maybe, all the things people were saying about Jesus might be true. It was a faith, but it was a tentative faith.
Sometimes you’ll hear people say, “I don’t believe in living by faith!” That’s nonsense. Everyone lives by faith. Faith is an essential part of all of our lives. For example, if I tell you that there’s a city in India called Agra and it has this building called the Taj Mahal, would you believe me? Now, you’ve never seen it for yourself (at least I’m assuming that most of you haven’t), but I’m guessing that you believe there is such a place, because you believe the testimony of those who have been there.
C.S. Lewis once wrote, “I have to believe that Jesus was (and is) God. And…I believe it on His authority. Ninety-nine percent of the things you believe are believed on authority… The ordinary person believes in the solar system, atoms, and the circulation of the blood on authority–because the scientists say so. Every historical statement is believed on authority. None of us has seen the Norman Conquest or the defeat of the Spanish Armada. But we believe them simply because people who did see them have left writings that tell us about them.” (C.S. Lewis “A Grief Observed”)
And that’s where the faith of the royal official begins. When he goes to Jesus, all this man knows is that people have said that Jesus has worked miracles. He obviously believes what others have been saying, but it’s a tentative faith. It’s almost as if he’s believing in Jesus out of desperation, because there’s no other hope.
There’s an old story about a traveler in the early days of the west. When this traveler came to a large river, he discovered there was no bridge. Fortunately it was winter and the river was covered over with ice. But this traveler was afraid to trust the ice, not knowing how thick it was. But finally, because there was nothing else he could do, he crept out onto the ice with great caution on his hands and knees. He managed to get halfway across the river when he heard a loud noise behind him. Along came another traveler, but this one was driving a wagon-load of coal driven by four horses across the ice!
There’s no doubt but that Jesus is solid enough to carry our whole weight. But I think the picture of the first traveler in this story is the picture we get of the royal official in this passage — he’s out there on the ice, but he’s on his hands and knees. He’s not quite ready to rest his full weight on it. And it’s clear that Jesus understands that this is not someone who’s coming to him to put his trust in him as Messiah and Savior — but that’s OK, Jesus takes him where he’s at in his faith.
And this picture of the man out on the ice on his hands and knees may also describe the stage of faith that some of you are at right now. Maybe you haven’t yet come to acknowledge Jesus as the Son of God, but you’ve come to him (or you wouldn’t be here right now). It may even be that you’ve turned to Jesus out of desperation – maybe because of sickness in your life, or financial difficulties, or broken relationships. You’ve tried to find comfort in other places, but there’s no comfort to be found. You’ve heard people talk about Jesus and how he’s helped them, so you’ve come to find out about Jesus for yourself, like the royal official — trembling, hurting, not knowing, not understanding, but hoping.
And Jesus takes us where we’re at in our walk of faith. But, thank God he doesn’t leave us where we’re at. Jesus wants to take us a step further to…
II. Limited Faith
When Jesus said the royal official, “You may go. Your son will live.”, we read that the man “believed the word that Jesus spoke to him, and he went on his way.”
Is this man trusting in Jesus at this point? Yes, but not fully. He believes in him for one thing and one thing only – he trusts that Jesus has the ability to heal his son. Now, we know that he doesn’t yet have a full faith because a few verses later, the text will tell us that he began to “believe” after the healing was confirmed. But at this point, he’s at least trusting in Jesus for this one thing.
And this is what I refer to a limited faith. Trusting the Lord to help us with the things of this life. Anyone who’s ever taken a test they haven’t studied for knows this kind of faith – “Lord, help me not to fail this test! I know you can do it!”
But, there are a couple of problems with this kind of faith. First of all, when the crisis has passed, very often the need for faith goes away. It’s like the story I heard about a businessman who had never flown before. He was forced by circumstances to fly, and sure enough, the plane hit some rough weather. Lightning flashed all around, and the plane bounced so much that stuff fell out of the overhead bins. The man, scared out of his wits, prayed out loud, “Lord, let us land safely and I’ll give you half of everything I own.”
The bad weather passed, and the plane landed safely. As the businessman was getting off the plane, a preacher who had been sitting behind him tapped him on the shoulder and said, “Brother, I heard you say if you got down safely you’d give the Lord half of everything you own, and I know you want you to keep that promise.”
The businessman said, “No, I made a better deal with the Lord. I told him that I’d go ahead and keep it all for now, but I promise that if I ever get on another plane again, I’ll give him all of it.”
The point is, we’re all quick to believe as long as God is meeting a need in our lives. But once the crisis has passed, very often the need for faith goes away. And also, if the Lord doesn’t answer our request the way we think he ought to answer it, we can lose our faith.
Many of you are familiar with Ted Turner, who was the founder of CNN, TBS, TNT and various other enterprises. You may also be familiar with him as an enemy of the Christian community. In 1990, Turner described Christianity as “a religion for losers.” At an event in 1999, he said that the Ten Commandments should be re-written to eliminate the prohibition against adultery. He has characterized Christians who oppose abortion as “bozos.”
But what you may not know about Ted Turner is that he wasn’t always so anti-Christian. In fact, he was raised up going to church. And he revealed in an interview with the New Yorker magazine in 2001 that he had once planned to become a missionary, but he turned his back on Christianity after watching his younger sister die a slow and painful death when he was a teenager. He said, “I couldn’t understand how someone so innocent should be made or allowed to suffer so.” (Mark Riley, Sydney Morning Herald, Aug. 25, 2001)
But, you see, that’s the problem with a limited faith. It’s a faith that says, “God, I will believe in you as long as you are always there for me when I need you. If you will heal me when I’m sick, I’ll believe in you. If you’ll provide me with a comfortable life with no problems, I’ll believe in you.”
But that kind of faith is dependent upon “what have you done for me lately” and it’s not the kind of faith that Christ ultimately wants in our lives. He doesn’t want us to trust in him just for the things of life — He wants us to trust him with our lives. That’s the point of Jesus’ statement that “Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders, you will never believe.” It’s not so much a rebuke as it is an acknowledgment of reality – “You will only have faith in me as long as long I’m doing everything for you that you want me to do.” But Jesus makes it clear that he wants something more for us.
He wants us to experience…
III. Full Faith
Notice again, beginning in verse 51, “And as he was now going down, his servants met him and told him, saying, ‘Your son lives!’ Then he inquired of them the hour when he got better. And they said to him, ‘Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.’ So the father knew that it was at the same hour in which Jesus said to him, ‘Your son lives.’ And he himself believed, and his whole household.”
Earlier, the text said that this official had taken Jesus at his word. Now it says that he and his household believed. What’s the difference? Well, now it’s not just a belief that the boy will be healed – in fact, that no longer requires faith, it’s reality. Now this man has become a believer. He believes that Jesus was who he claimed to be — the Messiah, the Savior. It’s no longer just about the health of his son; it’s about being a disciple of Jesus Christ.
I’m sure you’re familiar with the story of Charles Blondin, who was the first tightrope walker to cross Niagara Falls. He would do all sorts of tricks on that rope – crossing blindfolded, walking on stilts, pushing a wheelbarrow. He would sometimes sit down on the rope in the center and cook and eat an omelet. On occasion, he would even carry his manager Harry Colcord, across on his back.
That, to me, is the definition of absolute faith. That manager didn’t just believe that Blondin could make the trip across the rope, he actually entrusted his life to him.
We need to understand that Jesus isn’t asking us just to hand him the things of our lives over to him so he can carry them across in a wheelbarrow. Rather, he invites us to climb up on his back, to trust him with our very lives. Anything less than that is not sufficient.
You see, Jesus cares about all the things of your life — your health, your family, your job, school, relationships. In our text this story, Jesus demonstrated his concern for the royal official’s need by healing his son. But Jesus is interested in so much more. He wants you to believe in him to the point that you are willing to fully commit your life to following him.
The truth is, the comforts of this world often insulate us from the reality of how much we need God. May we come to see that the difficulties of life are not stones thrown to hurt us but stones that serve to get our attention — to tap on the windows of our comfortable homes and remind us that this world is not our home.
Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”
I don’t know where you are in your walk of faith, but I can tell you that God wants you to grow in that faith. Some of you are here this morning because you have a tentative faith – you’re not sure what Jesus can do for you, but you’ve run out of options and you’re here hoping, praying that Jesus can do something for you.
Some of you are here with a limited faith – you trust Jesus because of what he’s done for you. He’s been good to you and you trust that he will continue to bless your life.
But, this morning, I’m asking you to move to a full faith – to a faith that says whether my life is filled with good things or not, I will make a commitment to follow Jesus because I believe that he is who he claimed to be, the Son of God.