Faith in Unexpected Places
Topic: Gospels Passage: John 4:43–4:54
“FAITH IN UNEXPECTED PLACES”
43 After 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 son 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.
Not too long ago it was said that we were living in an “age of wonder.” I question whether that is true any longer. Life is moving at a faster pace than we might ever have imagined. Few of us actually take time to consider how advanced our culture has become within such a relatively short period. We take things for granted and have even grown impatient when we are asked to “wait” for something.
Just a couple of centuries ago, for a letter from home to have reached the Sparks’ family in Mozambique might have taken a couple of months. Today, I can text Harvey and get a reply in a matter of seconds. What’s more he and I are able to speak by phone and even “face time” as clearly as if we were sitting across the kitchen table from one another. For a child of the ‘50s, such as myself, that is truly amazing. For the current generation, it’s not that big of a deal.
Perhaps you saw the cartoon in this morning’s paper where a vacationing family has arrived at a scenic spot. Mom and Dad have stopped the car and gotten out to admire the view, while the kids are much too busy amusing themselves in the backseat by texting or playing video games. The Dad is filming the scene on his cell phone, and says to his wife, “I’m sending a video of this to the kids so they can watch it in the car.” Too true to be funny.
There is no reason to believe that the pace of inventive progress will slow down any time soon. As impressed as we are with each new gadget that comes out, the excitement soon passes. In fact, it wears out pretty quickly. I recently got a new i-phone and spent two days delighting myself by becoming familiar with all of its new features. A week later it had become as much a nuisance as the old one. With every passing day, we lose a little more of our sense of awe, our sense of “wonder.” Very little thrills us any more...at least not for very long.
The danger of losing our sense of “wonder,” is that we tend to lose sight of the One whose name is “Wonderful” (cf. Isaiah 9:6). Oh, we may still want His “wonder-working” activity in our lives, but the dangers comes in wanting the things that He gives to us rather than desiring the Christ who gives them.
It’s not a new problem. Verse 48 of the passage I read for us a moment ago indicates things to have been that way even in Jesus day. Perhaps it is, as Solomon once said, “There is nothing new under the sun” (cf. Ecclesiastes 1:9).
The Gospel of John was written for the purpose of presenting Jesus Christ as God-clothed-in-human flesh (cf. John 1:1-3 and 14). Every miracle Jesus performed and every word that He spoke supported that thesis. Every “sign” bore significance, pointing us to His true identity. There were many who saw those “signs and wonders,” but most missed their significance...just as most continue to miss it today.
As we conclude the 4th chapter of John’s Gospel this morning, we arrive at the end of the first major stage of Jesus’ earthly ministry...the stage that New Testament scholar, Merrill Tenney, has labeled “the period of consideration.” Tenney writes that these first four chapters are so named because they “narrate certain events by means of which Jesus was presented to the public for their consideration and acceptance. These events or appearances of Jesus were selected as representative, in order that His method of appeal to various classes might be plainly seen, and that the reader might be influenced by...them.”
We are still very early in Jesus’ ministry, but already John has highlighted our Lord’s ever-widening circle of attention...attention that would lead to His popularity among some and opposition among others. Along the way, we have seen evidence of faith on the part of some. John the Baptist bore witness to His identity (cf. John 1:29). His first disciples have followed Him (cf. John 1:35-51). He has performed a miracle by turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana (cf. John 2:1-11). He went to the Passover in Jerusalem and chased out those who bought and sold in the Temple, claiming that it was His Father’s house (cf. John 2:13-17).
We have also listened in on His interviews with Nicodemus (cf. John 3:1-15) and the Samaritan woman at the well near Sychar (cf. John 4:1-26). And we have witnessed how many believed in Him at the teaching of His Word (cf. John 4:39-42). And along the way, Jesus has reminded His disciples to keep their eyes on the goal of being about the work of “sowing and reaping the harvest” that He was preparing for them (cf. John 4:31-38).
Now as this section closes, Jesus is going to do something that would defy natural explanation. He would perform a miracle that would demonstrate not only His ability to heal, and to do so by demonstrating His authority over time and space in the process.
Two journeys are described in these verses. The first is the journey that Jesus and His disciples began in Judea and would conclude in Galilee. Along the way, you recall, Jesus “had to pass through Samaria” (cf. John 4:4) because He had a Divine appointment to keep there. After spending two days instructing a group of newly-converted Samaritans, verses 43 bring us to the conclusion of...
The journey from Jerusalem to Cana (4:43-45).
You will notice that verse 44 appears in italics in most of our Bible translations. You will also observe that it begins with the word, “For” (“γαρ”). We have already seen a number of such parenthetical insertions by John. They are given for the purpose of explanation, so that the reader might understand the flow of events more clearly. They appear in every chapter (cf. John 1:15 and 24; 1:42; 2:9; 3:24; 4:2, and 4:9). The word “for” signifies “purpose,” and might just as well be translated “because.” Therefore, we can read verses 43 and 44 this way: “After two days, he departed for Galilee...(because) Jesus himself testified that a prophet has no honor in his hometown.”
Everything that Jesus did was with “purpose,” including the fact that He would be returning to the area in which He was raised and would not receive the “honor” and recognition that He deserved. It is here that the Synoptic writers help us, because all three record an incident that evoked a similar statement Jesus made when He went to His hometown in Nazareth of Galilee. Mark writes of it this way:
“He went away from there and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. And on the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished, saying, ‘Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? Are not his sisters here with us?’ And they took offense at him. And Jesus said to them, ‘A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.’ And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. And he marveled because of their unbelief” (Mark 6:1-6).
We have a saying that “familiarity breeds contempt.” Generally, what that means is that the more acquainted one becomes with a person, the more one knows about his or her shortcomings, and respect for that person is lessened. But that could never legitimately be said about the perfect Son of God. Therefore, the offense that was taken toward Jesus must have been the result of His having struck a “spiritual nerve” with them. How convicted we are when “the real us” is revealed. Whenever our sin is exposed, we tend to be offended, do we not?
At first glance, verse 45 seems to present something of a contradiction. There we read that “When he came to Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him.” That word (“δεχομαι”) means “to receive” or “to accept.” The Galileans’ reception of Jesus, at least initially, was warm and positive. And the rest of the verse tells us why. Many of them had witnessed “all that he had done in Jerusalem at the feast. For they too had gone to the feast.” And if they had not personally seen the working of a miracle, they surely heard about it from others.
But let me take you back to verses 23 through 25 of chapter 2, where that event was first related:
“Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. (Now notice) But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.”
You and I have looked at these verses earlier. How personally penetrating and revealing they are! Jesus is not the least bit fooled or impressed by our “hardy hallelujahs” and “pious amens.” His all-seeing eyes and all-knowing mind pierces through all of our shallow religious expressions. He measures them according to their genuineness and authenticity. The “welcome” He received upon His return to Galilee was based upon the “signs” and not the significance of those signs. These people loved the miracles, but were unwilling to embrace the One who was doing them or to accept His teaching.
Leon Morris captures the meaning of this scene quite well when he writes,
The enthusiasm of the Galileans was not soundly based. It was dependent on the wonder arising from their sight of the signs, not on a realization that Jesus was indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world. Their very acceptance of Him was thus in its way a rejection. They gave Him honor of a sort, but it was not the honor that was due to Him.
The purpose of Jesus’ mission was not to perform miracles, but to call people to repentance. The miracles were never meant to be an end in themselves. Instead they were intended to reveal His Divine authority and to lay the foundation for faith in Him as Savior and Lord.
Oh, there would be a miracle—another “sign”— in Galilee, but it would be out of view of the public eye. And it was beyond what anyone might have expected. We read of it in verses 46 through 54, and we might think of it as...
The journey from hope to faith (4:46-54).
The setting for this miracle is a familiar one. We find a similar but different story recorded by Matthew (8:5-13) and Luke (7:1-10). There are enough variables to demonstrate that those accounts are to be distinguished from this one.
Here in verse 46, we are told that Jesus “came again to Cana in Galilee, where he had made the water wine.” At His command—one given without fanfare or in the presence of many eyewitnesses—clear H20 had been transformed into red wine that was fit for a wedding feast. By now, many had no doubt heard what had happened, and perhaps anticipation was high that His return might mean that He would perform another “sign.” That was certainly the hope as many began to gather in Cana that afternoon.
Reading on in verse 46, we are told that “At Capernaum there was an official whose son was ill.” We cannot be precise in determining the meaning of this man’s title (“βασιλικοs”). It is derived from the word for king, implying that this man was an officer of the royal court. He was probably an emissary of Herod Antipas, who ruled as the tetrarch of Galilee throughout the life and ministry of Jesus. We are not given this man’s name and we know very little about him. He, like many others in that region, had heard about the miracles of Jesus. Hopeful that he could convince Jesus to go and lay hands on his dying son, he had traveled the twenty miles from Capernaum to Cana in order to plead with Him.
John explains in verse 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.” The tense of the verb for “ask” suggests that the “official” repeatedly and persistently implored Jesus to follow him back to Capernaum so that He might bring healing to his young (and perhaps only) son. This father was desperate, his request was urgent, and he saw Jesus as his only hope.
Jesus’ response in verse 48 appears to come off as unfeeling: “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” But what we cannot detect in our English translations is that Jesus employs the plural “you” in His reply. “Unless you (people—all of you) see signs and wonders you will not believe.” What’s more—as if to add further emphasis—Jesus uses a “double negative” (“ου μη”), saying effect in effect, “you will not (no, not ever) believe.”
It was a rebuke intended for everyone, not simply for the man. He was telling them that any “faith” they may have had was resting solely on the “signs and wonders” and not in Him, the “Wonderful One.” To his credit, while the crowds stood around salivating at the prospect of seeing a “side-show miracle,” this man—this courtier to a heathen king—approached Jesus with great hope that He was able to restore life to his critically-ill son.
But “hope,” as they say, “does not pay the bills.” In verse 49, the “official” becomes even more insistent: “Sir, come down before my son dies.” Here the word that is used throughout this passage for “son” (‘“υιοs”) is replaced by another term that means “little child” (“παιδιον”). The father is now pleading for mercy and the young life of his small son.
I cannot say this with certainty, but I can imagine that Jesus’ eyes may have filled with tears as he saw and listened to the man’s earnest cries for help. Surely, now he would make haste and accompany this man to Capernaum, would He not?
He would not. For you see, for this father’s hope to be transformed into faith, Jesus would have to remain where He was and send the man on his way carrying only these words: “Go; your son will live.”
Pause here for a moment and ask yourself how you would have responded under similar circumstances. I feel certain that most of us would have probably doubted, and may have even been offended and put off by Jesus’ remark. Perhaps even now you are going through some overwhelming set of circumstances where you feel as if you need more than merely an affirming word from the Lord. You need the assurance of His very presence.
If so, then let hasten to remind you that “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). Though you and I cannot now see Him, He is with us. He is with us “always” (cf. Matthew 28:20), and He will “never leave or forsake” us (cf. Hebrews 13:5).
The reaction of the man in what follows indicates that his hope was making the journey from hope to faith. Look again at verse 50. Jesus had said, “Go; your son will live.” Now mark this carefully: “The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way.” Faith does not presume all the answers, and nor does it fully comprehend the ways of God. But it does “believe” and trust in the sure Word of the Lord. So what happened? We read...
“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.’”
With hope against hope, this father had traveled to Cana, hoping to retrieve Jesus and bring him to the place where his young son lie at the doorway of death. He had heard that if anyone could do anything at all to help his son, it was Jesus. He knew the odds were small that Jesus would actually travel back to Capernaum with him, but he had nothing to lose and everything to gain if He did. But Jesus did not go with him. What’s more, He offered him no “sign.” All He gave to him was His word: “Go; your son will live.” And it was enough.
What thoughts must have raced through his mind as he retraced his steps back to Capernaum. What assurance did he have that his child would not be dead by the time he got there? Could Jesus actually bridge the chasms of time and distance and bring healing without laying hands on his son or touching him in any way? What must he have felt when he saw his servants running toward him. Would the news that they brought be cause for joy or for grief?
When he heard that his son was recovering and would live, he immediately related to all within his “household” the events that had transpired. And they, like he, we are told, “believed.”
Some may be tempted to say that it was merely a “coincidence” that the son began to recover at the very hour that Jesus had given His word of assurance to the father. The term “coincidence” is defined as “a remarkable concurrence of events or circumstances without apparent causal connection.” We are often amazed when “coincidences” occur, but how often do we attribute them to the direct activity of the sovereign God? There is a definite “causal connection” between the word that Jesus spoke and the outcome of this story. It is because Jesus possesses power and authority over all things...even time and space. He is “the God of coincidences,” who is able to evoke faith from unexpected people in unexpected places.
Verse 54 is an editorial insertion by John, in which we are reminded that “This was now the second sign that Jesus did when he had come from Judea to Galilee.” The first, of course, was when He turned the water into wine. But the end of chapter 2 and the beginning of chapter 3 indicate that there were more...likely several more miracles. John highlights seven specific ones in His Gospel, each intended to demonstrate that Jesus alone is Savior and Lord.
Although this portion of Scripture focuses on the healing of the son, I propose to you that the greater miracle is the one that took place in the heart of the “official.” It was a miracle that produced faith out of hope and resulted in an entire family coming to faith as well. Just as Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman produced a harvest of believers, so did His interaction with this man. In both cases, the outcomes could not have been foreseen. Faith is often born in unexpected places when there is a Divine encounter with Jesus Christ.
As we come to the end of chapter 4, let’s take a moment to trace the journey of this one man from hope to faith.
- It began with a crisis, of which we read in verses 46 and 47. At the point of desperation, this man came to Jesus searching for answers that he believed Jesus alone was able to provide.
- Upon encountering Jesus and confessing his need, he was willing to believe and trust the word that Jesus spoke. So, in verses 48 through 50, his crisis gave way to confidence.
- His confidence in Jesus and the word that Jesus spoke found confirmation when he began walking in the direction to which Jesus pointed. From verses 51 through 53, we discover that before he ever set foot in his home at the end of his journey, it was made clear to him that his son was well. Jesus will always confirm His Word when it is believed.
- And finally, his own personal faith led to contagiousness. He could not keep silent rehearsing—likely many times—the steps that had transpired that day. Others saw his Lord through his faith, and they came to trust Jesus as well.
I believe this is the pattern that the Lord seeks for all of those who are His...including you and me. As a follower of Christ, consider this:
- We each faced a crisis of eternal proportions when we recognized that we were hopelessly and critically lost, “separated from Christ...having no hope and without God in the world” (cf. Ephesians 2:12). Our sin had separated us from God’s mercy and we realized that we were destined only for His wrath.
- And then we met Christ, were confronted by His grace and irresistibly drawn by faith to Him. From that moment on, our confidence lay no longer in ourselves—in our abilities and our will—but in Him and His finished work on our behalf.
- As our trust in Christ grew and continues to grow, we receive confirmation of our salvation and sanctification time and time again. We come to realize that our security rests in His ability to hold onto us so that we might in turn be able to hold onto Him.
- And as we grow in our walk with Christ, our faith becomes more and more contagious.
..or does it? Let’s turn the camera on ourselves for a moment in light of this story.
We are told that the “household” of the “official” came to embrace the Savior who had miraculously healed his dying son. “Household conversions” appear with frequency throughout the New Testament. I have wondered how that was so and why we are not seeing similar experiences with regularity in our day.
Maybe we presume to think that if a miracle was ever done in our family the way it was done in the family of this nobleman, then perhaps we too would see a similar result. That is assuming more than the Scriptures allow us to assume. Besides, a miracle already has taken place in your family that must not be overlooked or taken for granted.
I’m referring to your salvation. That was and is a miracle of grace! Never minimize the great truth found in Ephesians 2:5 and live in the reminder that “Even when we were dead in our trespasses, (God) made us alive together with Christ—by grace (we) have been saved.” If God was able to do that in your life—and you are keenly aware of the wretchedness of your sinful past—then there is no member of your “household” who is beyond His reach. You must believe that.
So, don’t give up on them. Keep praying for those lost family members to be saved, just as this man persistently prayed that Jesus would heal his dying son. Continue living consistently for Christ everyday, and never cease to bear an authentic spoken testimony to His amazing grace.
How wonderful it would be for us as a church family to be regularly sharing testimonies of the members of our “households” who have been brought to faith. I hope that is your desire, and I hope that the Lord is even now prompting you to be used by Him to make that happen. Let us be faithfully praying for that to happen.