A Father’s Choice, John 4:43—54

Jesus had spent a couple of days ministering in and around Samaria, where He found the people to be more than open to His message, thanks in large part to the personal evangelism of the woman Jesus spoke to at the well.  There is no better advertisement for the power of God than a transformed life!

1.   A change in itinerary?  Verses 43—45

After the two days he left for Galilee. (Now Jesus himself had pointed out that a prophet has no honor in his own country.)  When he arrived in Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him. They had seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, for they also had been there.

Verse 2 is kind of footnote containing a pithy saying which is also mentioned in Matthew 13:57 and Mark 6:4.  In both of those instances, Jesus was referring to the negative reaction He received from the people of Nazareth in Galilee to His ministry there.  But here, was Jesus referring to Galilee?  Or was He referring to Judea?  The immediate context suggests that Jesus may have been referring to a previous bad experience He had in Judea, although there is no evidence in the New Testament that the Judeans treated our Lord any worse or any better than anybody else.

One thing Jesus understood well was that people could be very fickle.  Those who loved Him once wanted to see Him crucified later.  Verse 45 indicates that Jesus was welcomed in Galilee because the people there had seen His miracles.  To find miracles interesting or to have one’s curiosity piqued by them is not the same thing as “honor.”  In fact, outward enthusiasm is often selfish and has more to do with someone wanting something rather than paying someone honor.  It seems clear from this passage that the Galileans had hoped that this “miracle worker” had returned to the scene of His first miracle to do some more.  These people were no more interested in Christ’s mission than they were of helping a lost Samaritan traveler.

It is also becoming clear that Jesus’ itinerary was determined by a number of factors, yet no matter the external reasons for His visiting the towns He visited, one thing should be noted:  by this point in Jesus’ ministry, the Son of God is slowly revealing Himself to more and more people, which was exactly what God the Father wanted.

On the matter of a “prophet is without honor in his own country,” Westcott made this observation:

The Lord had not been received with due honor in Jerusalem.  His Messianic claim had not been welcomed.  He did not trust Himself to the Jews there.  He was forced to retire.  If many followed Him, they were not the representatives of the people, and their faith reposed on miracles.

Miracles, it seems, were a double-edged sword that served more than one purpose.  On the one hand, they revealed the divinity of Jesus, thus drawing people to Himself.  Yet on the other hand they served to reveal the hearts of people.

At any rate, Jesus’ Galilean ministry finds its beginning here.  Our Lord would labor in this area for some 16 months, from the end of 27 AD to April 29 AD.

2.  Return to Cana, verses 46—48

Once more he visited Cana in Galilee, where he had turned the water into wine. And there was a certain royal official whose son lay sick at Capernaum. When this man heard that Jesus had arrived in Galilee from Judea, he went to him and begged him to come and heal his son, who was close to death.  “Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders,” Jesus told him, “you will never believe.”

Cana was the scene of a most astounding miracle, though the young boy who was healed was not in Cana but some distance away, back in Capernaum.   In a sense, there were two miracles that day; the healing of the boy but also the fact that Jesus was able to accomplish that amazing feat without coming into contact with the boy.  This teaches us the simple truth all those with unmet needs should make special note of.  Jesus is close to the point of our need only in proportion to the faith we have.

In introducing the setting of this event, John mentions Jesus’ first miracle; turning water into wine.  If we compare the two miracles, though completely different, they do bear a remarkable resemblance.  In the first instance water was turned into wine; in this instance, near-death was turned into life.  The first time, the miracle hinged on the faith of Jesus’ mother; here it was the faith of the royal official.  At the wedding feast, the servants carried the water that was turned into wine; here servants carried the good news of life.  In both stories, sorrow and despair were turned into joy.  And in both occasions, the miracles caused others to believe—at the wedding feast it was the disciples, here the royal official and his whole house.

This “royal officer,” whose name remains unknown, was probably one of the courtiers of the tetrarch Herod Antipas.   Apparently his son had been sick for some time, and rather than recover, the boy had gotten steadily worse.   Some scholars have suggested that this man was a Gentile.  If this is the case, we see an interesting and deliberate course of action on the part of Jesus.  The three miracles Jesus performed in this very early part of His ministry impacted the world He came to save:  first the Jews, then the Samaritans, and finally the Gentiles.  Jesus demonstrated the kind of evangelism He would later demand of His disciples.

This father was obviously desperate.  He had probably heard about Jesus’ works in Jerusalem, and so concluded that Jesus was his son’s last hope to survive.  The man was persistent; the word “begged” is in the imperfect tense, meaning a repeated and continual asking.  His faith was great for his need was desperate.

At first reading, Jesus’ brusque answer to this man seems like a refusal at best and cold rebuke at worst!   It is as though Jesus had lumped this royal official in with all the rest of the “thrill seekers,” looking for a miracle side show.   In reality, this poor father had expressed a measure of faith comparable to standing on the bottom rung of a ladder.  His confidence in Christ, like that of so many today, needed to be fed by signs and wonders—things he could see and experience.  People like him do not necessarily believe in the person of Jesus Christ, or even His word unless they “feel” or “see” something.  Fortunately for this man, Jesus was willing to work with him and not just dismiss him.

3.  Persistence pays off, verses 49—50

The royal official said, “Sir, come down before my child dies.”  Jesus replied, “You may go. Your son will live.”  The man took Jesus at his word and departed.

The fathers’ renewed plea for Jesus to come with him shows that our Lord’s tact was working.  This man did not give up after what Jesus had said; he kept on asking.  The royal official was climbing his ladder of faith.  How far will the man have to go?  According to Jesus, he would have to all the way back home, alone, without Jesus, and therefore without any guarantee that his boy was healed.  The ladder of faith is certainly not an easy ladder to climb.

But, Jesus is intent not only on healing the boy’s body, but also the father’s soul.  The phrase “Your son will live” is somewhat misleading.  In essence, what the Lord told the man was “Your son lives.”  Those are telling words.  They indicate that omniscience and omnipotence worked together that day so that at that very moment the boy was healed and enjoying complete health!  All the father had to do was go home to see him.

Nevertheless, this royal official now had a tough choice to make.  Should he take the chance of leaving Jesus, maybe never to find Him again, to return home?  Would his son really be healed?  What if he wasn’t?  Should he stay and keep asking for some kind of evidence that his son was better?  Would this devoted father take one more step up his ladder of faith?

We know that he did, of course, but it must have been difficult.  Imagine leaving the presence of Jesus on a wing and a prayer on the off chance that prayer might have been answered.  What’s worse, this father had a long trip back to think about it.

4.  No coincidence, verses 51—53

While he was still on the way, his servants met him with the news that his boy was living.  When he inquired as to the time when his son got better, they said to him, “The fever left him yesterday at the seventh hour.”  Then the father realized that this was the exact time at which Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” So he and all his household believed.

Coincidences amaze people, but most people don’t attribute a coincidence to the working of God.  These verses, while really just an epilogue, are powerful.  The report of the servants was literally, “his child is living.”  What Jesus had promised the father had come pass exactly as He promised.

Jesus had pressed the father twice in order to cause his faith to grow, and now, standing on the top rung of the ladder, the father’s faith was vindicated.  Not only was the child alive and healthy, but he had recovered some time earlier, about the time the Jesus said he would.

The last verse illustrates the whole purposes of both faith and a miracle.  Miracles should always point to God and Christ should be glorified when a need is met; the fact that we benefit purely secondary.

Faith is a remarkable thing.  It can move mountains, and a person doesn’t need much.  And a person’s faith is like a seed; when it is used it can lead to the salvation of others.  This father’s whole household came to believe in Christ on the basis of the miracle and the father’s faith.

(c)  2010 Witzend

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