I am trying to follow Jesus’ ministry chronologically so that we can watch the process by which the twelve disciples came to faith and came to experience God. Sorting out the sequence of events is not easy. The different gospel include different material and sometimes in a different order. However, other people have done the hard work on this and I am simply reaping the benefits of their labours. Hopefully they have got it pretty much right.
I don’t know if you have noticed That John tells us where things happened. Today’s reading started by saying, “After the two days (that is the two days that Jesus stayed in Sychar, the town of the Samaritan woman) He left for Galilee.”
Do you know where Galilee is? Let’s just look at Jesus’ movements.
|Contact with John the Baptist||Bethany (across the river) 1:28|
|Wedding wine||Cana, Galilee (2:1)|
|Few days||Capernaum, Galilee (2:12)|
|Clearing temple||Jerusalem (2:13)|
|Baptising disciples||Judean countryside (3:22)|
|Pharisaic opposition||Return to Galilee (4:3)|
|Woman at well||Sychar, Samaria (4:4)|
|Resumed journey||Galilee (4:43-45)|
|Healed official’s son||Cana, Galilee (4:460||Official son was in Capernaum (4:46)|
Is that important? John thought it important enough to mention and maybe it gives us a better impression of what Jesus was doing.
There are a few surprising things in today’s story. Firstly, in v.44 Jesus is reported as having said that a prophet has no honour in his own country. And yet, in the very next verse, we are told that the people of Galilee welcomed Jesus – and Galilee was His own area. He had grown up in Nazareth.
Was John so stupid that he didn’t notice that he had put two contradictory things side-by-side? Was Jesus wrong? He said one thing but the opposite happened? What is going on here?
Then the royal official came from Capernaum to Cana because he heard Jesus was there and he was desperately anxious about his son who was sick and close to death. He begged Jesus for help. Doesn’t it seem that a) the father demonstrates genuine compassion and b) he seems to have genuine faith? He obviously believes that Jesus can heal his son and he is desperate for Jesus to do so. And think about this. We are taking a chronological look at Jesus’ ministry and this would be the first healing. There was no precedent for it and yet this man believes that Jesus can heal.
But then Jesus rebuked him for not believing and needing signs and wonders to believe.
And then the royal official orders Jesus to come and do it. “Sir, come down before my child dies.” Grammatically, this is not a request; it is a command. This official seems to think that he can throw his weight around a little.
And then Jesus complied. In fact, He responded by giving the man a command: “Go. Your son will live.” So despite criticising him for not believing without signs and wonders and despite having been bossed around, Jesus healed the son. He criticised them for wanting signs and then He performed a sign!
And then the father takes Jesus at His word and heads off. This is extraordinary! He had been emphatic that Jesus had needed to go down to Capernaum. And note that it is literally “down”. Cana was in the hills. Capernaum was on the lake shore. It was a journey of about 32 kilometres with hills in between. The father had insisted that Jesus needed to come to perform this miracle, and yet, when Jesus simply says, ‘Your son will live” (i.e. Jesus claims to do the healing remotely) the man accepts that and leaves.
And then the next day, he met his servants and they talked about the timing of the healing and realised it had happened exactly when Jesus had spoken and the man and his household (his family and his servants) believed. Hadn’t he already believed? Wasn’t his request an indication of belief? Wasn’t his acceptance of Jesus’ words an indication of belief?
A key to understanding this is the question: Do you want healing or do you want Jesus?
Jesus said that a prophet is not honoured in his own country and later events would show that to be true. He was rejected in his own town: Nazareth. He was rejected by the people of the region: Galilee. He was rejected by His own people: the Jews. The world has rejected Him. As John says at the beginning of his gospel, “He was in the world, and though the world was made through Him, the world did not recognise Him. He came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive Him.” (1:10-11) Then, of course there is the good news: “yet to all who did receive Him, to those who believed in His name, he gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” (v.12)
Jesus’ words were correct so why did John immediately then say that the people of Galilee welcomed Him? There is a huge difference between welcoming someone and honouring him. And notice what John says: they welcomed Him because of what He had done in Jerusalem. Nicodemus had referred to the signs that Jesus was doing. The Galileans possibly also liked who stood up to the abuses in the Temple. All of that was pretty exciting. But did they honour Jesus as the Messiah? Did they put their faith in Him? Did they submit to Him? Did they follow Him?
That is the difference. Were they interested in the spectacles or were they believing in Jesus? In other words, it seems that John states that they welcomed Him with considerable irony. Oh yes, they welcomed Him but only because they were interested in the signs and wonders.
Why did Jesus rebuke the father (and actually He was rebuking the crowds at the same time. It is “you people (plural)” need signs and wonders before you will believe)? For the same reason.
There is no doubting the man’s genuine concern for his son. That is not in question. People can go to faith-healers (Christians with a spiritual gift of healing) today hoping for a healing but with no intention of following Jesus. Jesus is just someone who can give me what I want. Jesus is being used for my convenience when His mission really is to seek and to save the lost – to bring people back into a relationship with God. Jesus had a growing reputation as a miracle-worker. Maybe I can benefit from this.
Plus people can demand sign after sign, saying they will believe when God proves Himself. There had already been many signs. These people had been in Jerusalem and seen what Jesus had done there. How come they want more signs? How come they think they can demand that God satisfy them? People today have the full biblical record of what God has done since the creation of the world, including the story of the gift of His Son and Jesus’ death on the cross. They can hear the stories of Christians, and they can still say, “I’ll believe it when I see it.” It is us calling the shots. It is us telling God what He must do if He wants our belief – just like the father thinking he could tell Jesus what to do.
The next surprise is that Jesus did what was asked of Him. He did heal the boy. Sometimes, when people go to Christian healing meetings no intention of following Jesus, God does heal them. That is just the goodness and the generosity of God. That is the grace of God. Even when we misbehave, God is still good to us. Why? Because signs can be powerful, life-changing events. Even though our motives might have been wrong, God might still act miraculously to get our attention.
It doesn’t always work. It is risky on God’s part. I read this story about a young pastor.
“A young woman had become critically ill and her prognosis was grim; she would likely die within the year. Her family had a nominal “Easter and Christmas Eve” commitment to the church, so the discussions in the hospital between this young pastor and this family always ploughed new ground. The woman challenged him: If Jesus healed in the Bible, he should be able to heal me today. If not, what use was he? So she prayed. The pastor prayed. The whole family prayed— and pleaded and begged and bargained. If God would only show mercy, the family urged, they would completely recommit themselves and come to church every Sunday. This earnest young pastor prayed with all his heart. He refused to join the ranks of those who said, “If it is thy will.” It was God’s will that she be healed, he concluded.
Then to his amazement, God healed her— completely. And with the physicians shaking their heads, she was sent home from the hospital. Next Sunday, the entire family was there in the front pew, dressed and sparkling. The young woman gave her testimony, praising God for his goodness. The following Sunday, the family was there again. In four weeks, it was only the woman and her husband. And after that, attendance was sporadic until they dropped into their previous pattern. Before long, the woman rationalized the entire incident. She had experienced the most dramatic sign God could give her: healing, bathed in prayer and surrounded by the church. But after only two months, its power dimmed to nothing.” (Burge, John, NIVAC, p.116) Do you want healing or Jesus?
Sometimes people will not believe despite the most extraordinary experiences of God. Many people in Jesus’ day saw miracles with their own eyes and, amazingly, didn’t believe. Nevertheless, signs and wonders are a way of people experiencing God and coming to believe. That is what happened with this father in John 4. It seems that it was not so much the healing as the timing that convinced Him. He and his household moved way beyond hoping to gain from an itinerant miracle-worker. They now believed in Jesus. Remember that biblical belief is not only about knowledge but also about conviction that becomes action. This family became believers who would live out their faith in Jesus. That is why God graciously does give signs and wonders.
Last week I laboured the point that God is most at work in the mission field. Maybe I should also say that God is at work in ministry. I am using “mission” to mean our calling to make disciples of Jesus Christ – bringing people to faith in Jesus and to maturity in Jesus. “Ministry” means serving; meeting people’s needs. Sometimes God just meets needs. He heals, or He delivers someone of a demon, or He brings miraculous peace, or He intervenes in someone’s life and circumstances change miraculously. If we want to experience God, the best way is to actually be involved in ministry or mission. But, is this story about ministry or mission? Yes, God has compassion and wants to meet people’s needs but He has a much bigger goal than that. What is the point of meeting physical or psychological needs when the person is still destined for hell? If God performs a miracle, it is not simply to meet someone’s need. It is to grow their faith. And God will do miracles to do that.
Some of us had a really good discussion at the Missional Community this week. I think sign and wonders in the Bible were normal. But we recognised that we often don’t have the confidence that God will answer our prayers and so we retreat from praying with people. We fear that we will look silly and that they will be disappointed with God. We recognised that we lack the power of the Holy Spirit that was so apparent in the early church. Oh Lord, fill us with your Spirit. God graciously is willing to do all sorts of amazing things in order to get people’ attention. What might God want to do if we were more willing to trust Him? Is God waiting to do miracles for people in Mornington, Maryhill, and Kenmure?
There is the potential for us to operate just like Jesus in this account. God still wants to heal the sons of desperate fathers and so win them to faith. God can break into people’s lives through miracles. Oh Lord, fill us with Your Spirit. Help us to be people who believe. May we experience You and may others experience You because of us.
But what are our motives: Do we want the miracles or do we want the relationship with Jesus?