43 After the two days he departed for Galilee. 44 (For Jesus himself had testified that a prophet has no honor in his own hometown.) 45 So when he came to Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him, having seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the feast. For they too had gone to the feast.
46 So he came again to Cana in Galilee, where he had made the water wine. And at Capernaum there was an official whose son was ill. 47 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. 48 So Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” 49 The official said to him, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” 50 Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way. 51 As he was going down, his servants met him and told him that his son was recovering. 52 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.” 53 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. 54 This was now the second sign that Jesus did when he had come from Judea to Galilee.
We’re only four chapters into John’s Gospel and we’ve already seen Jesus travel somewhere close to 200 ministry miles. The first time we’re introduced to Jesus in the narrative portion of John’s Gospel is when He was introduced by John the Baptist in town called Bethany (near Jerusalem in the south). From there Jesus traveled north to the region of Galilee. And within Galilee, Jesus went to Cana (where He turned the water into wine) and then to Capernaum to stay with His family and disciples. Then, because it was the time of the Passover, Jesus traveled all the way back down to the south, to Jerusalem in Judea to celebrate. That’s where He cleansed the Temple and met with Nicodemus. While still in Judea, Jesus took the ministry “handoff” (as Pastor Mike called it) from John the Baptist and then headed back up north. On the way He stopped in Samaria to minister to the woman at the well and to “many” other people from her town. “After the two days [in Sychar] He departed for Galilee” (43), again, all the way north. That’s a lot of walking and that’s where we pick up this week.
Throughout Jesus’ 200 miles of trekking, He’d already garnered quite a reputation for His ministry. Picking up on that, our passage describes Jesus’ reception when He returned to Cana (the site of His first miracle) and Capernaum (the site of His second—the healing of an official’s sick son). More significantly still, we’ll see that through this second miracle Jesus healed the souls of the official and his entire family.
The three main things for us to see are: (1) Jesus’ growing reputation, (2) Jesus’ absolute authority and varying stages of belief in it, and (3) Salvation as a result of Jesus entrusting Himself to people. My hope is that this passage and sermon would cause each of us to move one step (or many steps) forward in grasping the infinite glory of Jesus and that as a result, we’d trust in Him and live more fully in light of it. Let’s pray that God might make it so.
JESUS’ GROWING REPUTATION (43-46A)
In a day that long predated Twitter or any type of mass media, being well known throughout a larger region took a bit more than simply fitting 75 marshmallows in your mouth at once or being good at videoing yourself playing a video game. There were a number of ways to do it—like significant criminal activity, a high position in government, or being an exceptional teacher, for instance—but it took something a bit more noteworthy than it seems to today.
Well, even without the benefit of YouTube or Fox News Jesus was developing a reputation for Himself that was spreading from north to south. Among the contributing factors were: He had a spokesman from God whose singular charge was to prepare the way for Him. Jesus had acquired a growing number of followers. He performed a miracle in a very public place. During one of the biggest Jewish celebrations of the year Jesus publically rebuked men approved by the religious leaders, costing them large sums of money, cleared out the Temple, performed signs, and made bold claims. He confounded one of the leaders of the religious leaders. Jesus broke from age-old customs and broke down centuries-old barriers in preaching and teaching among the Samaritans. And, above all, Jesus explicitly claimed to be the Christ.
We see evidence of His growing renown indirectly in v.44 where John recalls Jesus’ teaching on the relationship between prophets and their hometowns. His point was that Jesus’ reputation had grown for good reasons among those it shouldn’t have (the Samaritans) and for bad reasons among those it should have (the Jews).
We also see explicit evidence in v.45, “So when he came to Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him, having seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the feast. For they too had gone to the feast.” And more explicit evidence of Jesus growing reputation in v.46, “So he came again to Cana in Galilee, where he had made the water wine.”
Again, Jesus reputation among the Samaritans was tied to their belief in Him as the Christ—the right kind of growing reputation. But it was growing among His own people, the children of Abraham, mainly as a trouble-maker or as a sign-worker—the wrong (circus performer) kind.
Grace, it’s important for us to recognize that much of what people thought of Jesus flowed directly out of their view of His nature. Some people believed the things Jesus said and did were from the devil, some believed they were because He was a prophet, others because He was a heretic and a blasphemer, others still because He was the Christ, the Savior of the world. Consequently, Jesus had many different reputations among different people.
In this we see an important principle: We can’t always control what others think about us, what they choose to focus on, or how they interpret the things they see and hear from us. Most people who knew of Jesus by reputation probably didn’t understand it, but Jesus was actually known for one thing. That is, He had a singular motivation for everything He did. All of the things that Jesus said and did, all of the things that led to Jesus’ varying reputations, flowed out of the same, singular place. Do you know what it is?
Again, many mistakenly explained it differently (just as many still do), but in reality Jesus’ reputation was entirely owing to His perfect and unwavering commitment to doing the will of His Father, for the pleasure of His Father. The healing people loved and the teaching they hated both were the product of His perfect obedience. The love He had for the lowest of the low and the inability to be impressed by the highest of the high also came out of the same relentless commitment. The claims He made about Himself that inspired many but caused Pharisees to tear their cloths came from the same place as well. Jesus’ reputation should have come entirely from wonder at His perfect submission to the Father, but instead it often came from the preconceived framework of those who encountered them.
Before we move onto the next main point of the passage, let’s settle on two practical things. First, let’s make sure we are not doing to Jesus what so many in His day did. That is, let’s make sure that we know what He actually said and did and why He said and did it. That is, let’s make sure that we are not projecting our own sensibilities onto Jesus, but are allowing Him to completely reshape ours. Let’s make sure that our understanding of Jesus is tied to who He really is, not who we’ve falsely imagined Him to be.
And to help explain the second practical admonition, I’d like to ask you a simple question: What are you known for? What is your reputation? While not everyone is well known, everyone has a reputation. That is, everyone is known by others for (or as) something. At work, among family, on extracurricular teams, at school, at church, or wherever you gather regularly with others, you are known for something in particular. Maybe it’s that you’re kind or smart or athletic or rich or prideful or temperamental or selfish or good looking or whatever. Regardless of what it is, we all have a reputation of some sort with the people we know. It may result from a careful, accurate character assessment on their part or a complete misinterpretation, but we all have a reputation.
Again, we can’t necessarily control how people think about us, but we can control what drives us. This passage, along with all of Jesus’ life, is a charge to join Him in doing all you do in obedience to the Father. People will interpret that in all kinds of ways, but that doesn’t change the rightness of following Jesus wherever He leads and whatever it costs. Let people say what they will about you as long as it’s in response to your genuine love for God and obedience to His commands.
Word was spreading that there was something special about Jesus of Nazareth. He was no ordinary teacher and He was able to do extraordinary things. Jesus’ time had not yet come, so He had not yet fully revealed Himself, His power, or His mission, but even a partial revelation of those things was more than anyone could imagine. And it is largely for this reason that the official mentioned in v.46 knew to come to Him. And that leads us to the second main thing I want you to see: the absolute authority of Jesus put on display in vs.46-53 along with the officials varying stages of belief in it.
VARYING STAGES OF BELIEF AND ABSOLUTE AUTHORITY (46B-53A)
If you’ve ever had a child who suffered from some type of significant illness, you know how scary it can be and how desperate you can feel. If your child’s life has ever hung in the balance, you know how much you’d do to help them get better. Gerri and I went through that with two of our five kids. Likewise, when I was a young boy and my parents found out that I would lose my thumb, my dad offered to donate his. I know many of you have similar experiences. One of the hardest things in the world to go through is the suffering of your children.
The bulk of our text centers around a grieving father’s longing for his sick son to be healed. And it is because of Jesus’ growing reputation for being extraordinary that the father knew/thought to go to Jesus. Look at v.46.
And at Capernaum there was an official whose son was ill. 47 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.
This request necessarily raised a couple of questions for Jesus. First, it was a test of the limits of Jesus’ power and authority. Was He even able to heal the dying? Turning water into wine, teaching with authority, and knowing people’s hearts are one thing, but was He able to heal the sick? Of course, you and I already know the answer, but at that time in Jesus’ ministry, the people around Him were still trying to figure all of that out.
And second, it put some aspect of Jesus’ heart to the test as well. Would He ignore a father’s desperate plea for the life of his son? Certainly, Jesus had the ability to heal the boy, but would He? What kind of a savior of the world was He?
Likewise, the official’s request raised a significant question for him as well. What was behind his coming to Jesus? Did he have genuine faith in Jesus or was he simply desperate enough to try anything—as many of us might be in his shoes?
The answers to those questions will quickly become clear. And in the process, we will see in Jesus absolute authority over all creation in His act of great mercy. We’ll also see various stages of belief in the sick boy’s father.
As the to the question of the nature of the belief that first brought the official to Jesus, Jesus’ reply cut straight to the chase. 48 So Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.”
That’s curious, isn’t it? The man must have believed on some level, right? If he didn’t believe Jesus could heal his son, why would he have gone to Jesus in the first place? He didn’t go to the local grocer or farmer; he traveled for an entire day to get to Jesus. At the very least, the official believed that Jesus might be able to heal his son in a way others couldn’t. But Jesus question clearly indicates that this wasn’t genuine belief.
There are a couple of things going on in Jesus words that are not easy to see, but will help us understand the man’s heart more clearly. First, the “you” in “Unless you see signs…” is plural. Recognizing that the man was more desperate than faithful (“for he himself knew what was in man.”), it’s as if Jesus spoke through and beyond him to all of Capernaum (and really, to all of Israel), in pointing out their unbelief. He’d just come from Samaria (the land of Israel’s enemies and those who had rejected God) where they didn’t need miracles to believe. But as God’s own people, hearing the very words of God and seeing the exact imprint of His nature standing in front of them, wasn’t enough. They believed they needed to see signs and wonders in addition to THE Sign and Wonder in their presence. We’re meant to hear a sigh in Jesus’ words here. He was grieved by the unbelief of the man, which was a microcosm of the whole of the people to which he belonged.
This mild rebuke seems to have completely gone over the official’s head—another sign of desperation rather than genuine trust—as he simply pressed on.
49 The official said to him, “Sir, come down before my child dies.”
In other words, it’s as if he said, “OK, whatever Jesus. Just come heal my son if you’re able. He’s near death. I don’t understand and I really don’t care about what you’re trying to say. Please, just do your tricks and fix my boy.”
Despite the man’s superficial belief, 50 Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live.”
We’re not told explicitly what motivated Jesus to do this. We do know that He had a special love for children and all who were vulnerable. We know that He came to seek and save the lost. And we know that His signs validated His spectacular claims. Whatever the highest motivation (or maybe all at once), Jesus mercifully promised this desperate, deficiently-believing father that his son would live.
And at that, the man came to another level of belief. 50 The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way. With Jesus promise, the man went from desperate, but skeptical belief that Jesus might be able to heal his son, to belief that He could and would. That’s a fuller kind of belief. In some ways, it’s a better kind of belief. But as vs.51-52 help us see, it was still a deficient kind of belief.
51 As he was going down, his servants met him and told him that his son was recovering. 52 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.” 53 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.
The man might have believed he believed when he first came to Jesus. He almost certainly believed he believed after receiving Jesus’ healing promise. But it seems that he only truly believed when he learned that his son was healed at the exact moment Jesus promised it would be so. He came as an unbelieving believer and left as a genuine believer.
As important as all of that is, more important still is the fact that the man’s varying stages of belief were seen through the revelation that Jesus has absolute authority over all creation. Jesus’ only recorded words were “Go; your son will live.” And there are no recorded actions—no prayer, no waiving His hand, no lifting His hands to heaven, He didn’t even need to go to the boy to heal him. He simply spoke the words and it was so. Jesus has absolute authority from the Father.
I’d like to briefly suggest a few simple applications to this.
- Be amazed. This is a Jesus worth worshiping. This is a Jesus that is better than whatever is competing for first place in your heart. Fight to treasure Jesus above all, as He is the greatest treasure.
- Surrender wholly. What sense does it make to attempt to withhold anything from the one who controls all things? With God’s help, root out the areas of your life that you are still futilely attempting to retain control over. He’s a better king of you than you are.
- In your trials, go to Jesus first, not as a last resort. Our initial impulse in every hardship should be to go to God who alone has the power to rescue and restore—whether through police, Drs., medicine, counselors, or miracles. To fully apply this passage of John’s Gospel is to see the absolutely unique ability of Jesus help.
- Trust that Jesus is entirely able to grant your requests. There is no prayer request you will ever bring before God that He will not hear or that He is not powerful enough to answer. He hears you and He is able.
- When Jesus does as you ask, it is for your greatest good. And when He doesn’t do what you ask, it is also for your greatest good. This is hard, but comforting beyond measure when the Spirit truly grants us belief in this. Do not grow weary of taking your requests to God when it seems as if He isn’t answering. There’s another healing story in Mark 5 where Jesus didn’t respond in time to heal the man’s child…and then He raised her from the dead! Jesus’ response to your prayers is perfect every time. Believe that.
All of that leads to the final point and the true source of genuine belief in Jesus.
SALVATION AS A RESULT OF JESUS ENTRUSTING HIMSELF TO PEOPLE (53B-54)
John tells us that God used Jesus’ miraculous healing in such a way that the official “himself believed, and all his household.” And yet, as we’ve seen several times already in John’s Gospel, signs, wonders, and miracles don’t always lead to genuine belief. In fact, throughout the Gospel we’ll see that they rarely do. That’s kind of crazy and definitely different than what most people imagine, isn’t it? Even witnessing an actual miracle is not enough to make people believe. It also means that something else is needed and much of John’s Gospel speaks of what that is.
As we’ve seen and will continue to see in John, even as we see and will continue to see in our own lives, there are varying kinds of believers, believing varying kinds of things, in varying stages of belief. And John tells story after story of the discouraging and ultimately impotent effects of all but one kind of belief. Let me urge you to consider this carefully. What kind of belief do you have? What kind do your kids have? What kind do your neighbors have? Is it belief that Jesus might be able to save you? Is it that He is able to save you? Or is it actual belief in Jesus to save you? And, again, where does that last kind come from? Our world is filled with people who “believe” in God but are sprinting towards hell. It was Jesus’ mission, even as it is now our commission, to help people understand the true nature or saving belief and where it comes from.
The one kind of belief that God has chosen to use as a conduit of saving grace is the kind that trusts wholly in Jesus as the Christ. It is the kind that believes that there is a God, that we’ve all sinned and deserve death, and that Jesus died to pay the death we deserve. But it is also the kind that causes the believer to be cut to the heart by the realization that they have sinned against a holy God, the kind that causes the believer to taste and see that God is greater than they could ever imagine, it is the kind that causes the believer to increasingly grasp the amazing love and grace of God in Jesus, and it is the kind that causes the believer to irresistibly fling themselves before God for mercy. True belief goes beyond mere intellectual assent to the truths of God, to genuine trembling at the majesty of God, conviction of sin, and hope bursting forth at the good news of Jesus’ rescue.
That is the one kind of belief through which God saves and—and here’s the key, Grace—that kind of belief comes only through Jesus entrusting Himself to us. All of that will become increasingly clear as we continue through John’s Gospel. One of the clearest passages comes in chapter 10.
John 10:24-28 So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” 25 Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, 26 but you do not believe because you are not part of my flock. 27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.
Let’s pray now that Jesus would entrust Himself to us and our family and friends and neighbors that we might truly trust in Him.