Text: John 4:46-54 Theme: In coming to Jesus, the royal official receives healing for his son and eternal life for his entire household.
An astonishing assortment of people encountered Jesus during his ministry. There was Nathanael, a Galilean without guile. There Mary, the mother of Jesus. There was the profiteer in the temple courts. Nicodemus, part of the Jewish council. A Samaritan woman. Each had an up close and personal encounter with Jesus. Don’t you wish you could have been one of them?
Now we come to a royal official. Likely he served under King Herod, the regional ruler for the Roman Empire. The official’s position gave him power. With position/power you can dictate a lot of things: your housing, the food on your table, various comforts, servants to do your bidding.
But position and power can never dictate everything. They cannot guarantee good health. The official had a son who became sick. His condition grew so bad, he was close to death. Local doctors could do nothing more. Few things are worse for a parent.
In the middle of this crisis the royal official heard that Jesus arrived in Cana. Cana was about twenty miles from Capernaum as the crow flies. With winding roads a trip there took the better part of a day. Could Jesus help his boy?
Now, the royal official could have sent a servant to summon Jesus. But he didn’t. He trekked to Cana himself. Maybe he thought a father’s plea would be more persuasive. But one thing is clear: he loved his son so much that he went to any lengths to seek help.
Note: the royal official went to Jesus because he had an urgent need; he was desperate. What if he didn’t have that need? What if his son remained a picture of health? Would the official have come to Jesus? Probably not. Here is a profound spiritual principle: pressing needs often spur people to come to Jesus.
If people urgently need healing, they will come to Jesus. If people urgently feel the need for love and acceptance, they will come to Jesus. If people urgently feel the need to be saved from their sins, they will come to Jesus. As the Heidelberg Catechism notes: we must first know how great our sin and misery are. Obviously this father felt miserable- miserable over his son’s grim condition. So he came.
It seems this is precisely the pitfall for so many around us today. We live in a pleasant, prosperous, relatively privileged country. Many people around us are sitting pretty and feeling fine. They enjoy the Nashville vibe. They don’t feel any urgent need- for body or soul. So, why go and seek Jesus?
But the royal official had a need. So, he made a long day’s journey to come to Jesus. And when he found him, he begged Jesus to come and heal his son. Oh, that people in need would come to Jesus and beg for his help!
How did Jesus respond? Well, his first reaction doesn’t seem too promising. Instead of respond to the father, Jesus speaks to the crowd: Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders, you will never believe.
What’s this all about? Well, Jesus certainly isn’t giving the people a pat on the back. And it doesn’t seem to be a neutral observation. Likely this is a lament- or a rebuke. Jesus detected a skepticism in them that would only yield to dazzling, divine fireworks.
But, Jesus’ doesn’t want his followers to depend on signs and wonders right and left. The perpetual need to be wowed by some divine display is a mark of immaturity. He wanted them to develop a rock-solid faith that simply takes him at his word- period.
Remember Gideon? One day the angel of the Lord came to him and said: Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand.
Did Gideon take God at his word? Hardly. But Lord, how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.
Instead of obeying he asked for a sign. So the angel gave him a sign. Fire flared from a rock and consumed his meat + bread. So Gideon knew it was an angel.
But he still wasn’t ready to trust and obey God. He asked God for another sign + wonder. He asked God to cause the fleece to be wet with dew while the ground around stayed dry. Gideon’s need for all these signs wasn’t a badge of faith. It reflected a lack of trust.
What a contrast to the official! He doesn’t say to Jesus: prove yourself; then I’ll trust you. Unlike Gideon and the crowds in Cana, he doesn’t require a sign or wonder first. He simply says: Sir, come down before my child dies. In response to this faith Jesus says: You may go. Your son will live.
That was hopeful. But its also a surprise! It wasn’t exactly what the father expected. His plan was for Jesus to go with him to attend to his son in person. In person. He thought any healer would need to be there to help his boy.
What was the father’s reaction? Would he protest or plead for Jesus to come along? John records the pivotal reaction: The man took Jesus at his word and departed. What an example of trust in Jesus! Let me ask: Do you simply take Jesus at his word?
When Jesus says: Love your enemies, do you take him at his word and aim to love them? When Jesus says: Flee from sexual immorality, do you take him at his word and flee? When Jesus says: Forgive one another, do you take him at his word and work to forgive? When Jesus says: Don’t neglect to tithe, do you take him at his word and tithe- period? Like the royal official, do you simply take Jesus at his word?
Now, imagine the thoughts of the official as he retraced his steps back home. What was happening with his son? Was he still alive? Had he improved?
Then, at some point, his servants met him along the road. They brought good news! His son’s deadly fever had left him! He was better! Imagine the father’s relief and joy!
Friends: here is a demonstration of Jesus’ great promise in the Sermon on the Mount: Ask + you will receive; seek + you will find; knock + the door will be opened to you. The father sought Jesus out and asked that his son be healed. And Jesus healed him.
But there’s more. The official inquired what time his son got better. The servants said: The fever left him yesterday at one in the afternoon. The official realized that was the exact time Jesus said to him: Your son will live.
The official sought out Jesus as some healer. But now he knew Jesus was more than that. Healers can only help those they can touch. Healers are limited to their own space. Jesus’ power was not bounded by space. He could heal a son twenty miles away!
So the official and all his household believed. In John’s gospel believe is a big word. The background is John 3:16 God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
In this sense the official and his household believed. They believed that Jesus was the divine Son of God, the Savior of the world. The official set out to save his son’s physical life. They all ended up receiving eternal life.
Think Ephesians 3: God is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine. The official asked Jesus to come on a long journey to heal his son. Jesus did better than that: he healed the son instantly. Better yet, in God’s mercy the entire household was saved and received eternal life. In Jesus we find a God of amazing grace. Let’s never stop looking for his grace.
One more point about this encounter. John concludes with this statement: This was the second sign Jesus performed after coming from Judea to Galilee. Again, Jesus wanted his followers to develop a faith that simply takes him at his word. A sturdy faith that doesn’t have to be propped up with signs and wonders right and left.
And yet- and yet: Jesus goes right ahead and provides this miraculous sign for the people! Gideon had his doubts. The crowd had its doubts. We also may have our doubts. Our faith and obedience isn’t always as brisk as that royal official. Yet God graciously stoops to our weakness; he proves his power in the face of our doubts.
He gave signs to Gideon. He gave this great sign and wonder to the crowd. Through Jesus God reaches out to us as we are- even if we are doubting or demanding. Jesus reveals a God who bends over backwards to reach us. God bends over backwards to reach you and me. Let’s never forget that.
When we look around the world, we see many barriers to the gospel. Take the entrenched Jewish culture and beliefs and the wariness about anything Christian. More than a million Jews live in New York City. Not many are coming to believe in Jesus.
But let’s not despair. Here is hope: God bends over backwards to reach skeptical people. God will bend over backwards to reach Jewish people. God will bend over backwards to reach bitter or angry people. God will bend over backwards to reach thoroughly secular people. Amazing grace!
In his desperation, the royal official came to Jesus. What a dramatic encounter! Here we find Jesus is compassionate and powerful and surprising and accommodating. There is simply no-one like him!
In light of this encounter I hope that you are impressed and admire Jesus. I hope that you come to trust him and simply take him at his word. Like the royal official, I hope that you believe in him, in the full sense of the word. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son,