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Sermon: John 4:43-52: Go, Your Son Will Live

Reading of God’s Word

“After the two days he departed for Galilee. (For Jesus himself had testified that a prophet has no honor in his own hometown.) 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. 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. 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. So Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” The official said to him, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way. 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.” And he himself believed, and all his household. This was now the second sign that Jesus did when he had come from Judea to Galilee.” (John 4:43–54, ESV)

Introduction

As we study the scriptures together on Sunday mornings I hope you never grow tired of asking the question, what does this text mean? or what was the authors intention as he wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit?

It’s important that we settle down in the text of scripture together – that we immerse ourselves in it – swim in it, wanting nothing more than to know what it means. It is only after we know what it means that we are able to go on making proper application to our lives. This takes work. It takes patience.

Notice that the text before us today is a historical narrative – it is a story (that is the case with the majority of John’s gospel). It’s important to keep this in mind as we approach this passage because narratives are to be interpreted in a particular way.

The narratives (stories) found in scripture and the didactic (teaching) portions of scripture have this in common: they both convey truth. The author, be it Paul or John or some other, had something particular in mind when he wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Paul had something in mind when he wrote his letter to the Romans, for example. But he wrote in a most direct way. Romans is didactic literature. Paul conveyed truth there in the form of a letter. He instructed the Roman church in a most rational, linear, and black and white way.

We should remember, though, that John, like Paul, had something particular to say. There was something on his mind – some truth that he wanted to convey. He wrote, not a letter, but a gospel. He wrote, not in didactic form, but in the form of historical narrative.

I say this today because I think it is common for folks to approach the narrative portions of scripture as if they have no real concrete meaning – as if anything goes – as if the passage is completely open to one’s personal and subjective interpretation. This is not so. John is communicating something specific by telling this story as he does. We must study the passage with care so as to understand the authors intent.

When studying narratives it is important to (among other things) give special attention to the place the author gives to the story in his overall work. Also, we should be mindful of how the author introduces the story; to the things he emphasizes while telling the story, and to the things he does not emphasize. We should give special attention to the characters in the story, the way they are introduced and developed, and to the way they interact with or contrast other characters already introduced.

I would argue that this story in particular is a difficult one to understand if we fail to apply these sound principles of interpretation. The story is confusing, I think, and it looses it’s force if it is considered on it’s own and divorced from the rest of John’s gospel.

What I am saying is that this story is an important one. It has been told for a reason. It’s aim is to move us to an authentic faith in Christ.

Let’s consider it carefully together.

Consider, first of all, the placement of this story in John’s gospel

This story serves as the conclusion to a pronounced section in John.

Chapter 2 begins with the story of Jesus turning water to wine at the wedding in Cana of Galilee. Chapter 4 ends with Jesus back up in Cana of Galilee preforming yet another sign.

John tells us in 2:11 that the turning of water to wine was, “…the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory…” 4:54 reveals that the healing of the officials son “…was now the second sign that Jesus did when he had come from Judea to Galilee.” (John 4:54, ESV)

Clearly this story is connected to what came before it. Jesus has completed a circuit, if you will, having traveled from Cana to Jerusalem to the wilderness of Judea up into Samaria and now back to Cana of Galilee. The first and second miracles preformed in Cana of Galilee serve as brackets, it you will, to this entire section in John.

This is important to recognize. It clues us into the fact that this story is not meant to stand alone. It is a part of something bigger, namely, chapters 2-4 of John, and the gospel of John as a whole.

Consider, secondly, how John introduces this story

Look with me at verses 43-46:

“After the two days he departed for Galilee. (For Jesus himself had testified that a prophet has no honor in his own hometown.) 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. So he came again to Cana in Galilee, where he had made the water wine…” (John 4:43–46, ESV)

There are some things that need to be explained in verses 43-46.

For example, how are we to understand the words, “For Jesus himself had testified that a prophet has no honor in his own hometown.” What does that mean?

We should remember that Jesus was born in the region of Galilee. Specifically, he was born in Nazareth. Nazareth was about 10 miles to the south of Cana where the water was turned to wine and where Jesus spoke healing to the officials son. Capernaum – the city where the official traveled from – was about 15 miles to the east of Cana. So Jesus is about return to his homeland (the word hometown that we see in the ESV can also be translated homeland).

We should also remember that Jesus had just experienced wonderful success in Samaria. Many believed in him in an authentic way in that place. He was largely rejected down in Judea where the Baptist was ministering (he gained a few disciples but had to flee the religious powers), he was received by the Samaritans, and, with that as the context,  we read in verse 43, “After the two days he departed for Galilee. (For Jesus himself had testified that a prophet has no honor in his own hometown.)”

The word “for” is significant. It indicates that there was a purpose behind Jesus leaving Samaria and going to Galilee again. He traveled to Galilee – back to his homeland, back to his fellow Jews, “For… [and here is the reason] Jesus himself had testified that a prophet has no honor in his own hometown [homeland]”.  

The meaning of this is rather straightforward. Jesus left Samaria and traveled back to Galilee because he would not be honored there. This statement is confusing only because we would never do such a thing. It’s hard to understand why Jesus would leave behind success and go on to a place where he knew he would be rejected.

But this was his mission. He was to minister primarily to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. His disciples would be sent to the ends of the earth, but he came to offer himself to his own even though his own would not receive him. They would reject him. They would kill him. But this was the purpose for his coming. 

Consider also another difficulty. In verse 44 we are told that “a prophet has no honor in his own hometown [or homeland]”, but in verse 45 we read, “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.”

John seems to immediately contradict himself:  “a prophet has no honor in his homeland”, but then “the Galileans welcomed him”.

There is no contradiction here when we realize that it is possible to welcome Christ, but for all the wrong reasons. Why did they welcome him? Because they had seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the feast. 

They were interested, not in Jesus as Jesus – but in the signs and wonders that he preformed. There is a way of welcoming Jesus that is all wrong. There is a way of believing in Jesus without believing in him at all.

This is a constant theme in John. In John we see that some reject Jesus outright while others receive him. But among those who receive him are those who reactive him truly, and those who receive him only superficially. There are those who believe, and then there are those who believe.

John 2:23-25:

“Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. 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.” (John 2:23–25, ESV)

And so these introductory remarks are more than just transitional details. They set the stage for what is going to happen in this place. Jesus is leaving fruitful ministry behind amongst, of all people, the Samaritans. He is going back to his own. But he going back knowing that they will reject him. They welcome him, but only superficially.

I wonder, why would the people welcome Jesus in this way?

People love to be associated with power.

People love to root for a hometown boy.

People are greedy for gain.

Consider, Thirdly, the main character in this story.

We are told in verse 46 that there was an official who lived in Capernaum who’s son was ill. When he heard that Jesus was in Cana he urgently traveled the 15 miles up to Cana to seek Jesus’ assistance.

Notice a few things about this man:

One, he was an official. This means that he worked in some capacity for the Roman government. Perhaps he was associated with Herod Antipas, who was a wicked man. This seems significant to me. He would have been viewed by the Jews as a traitor if he was Jewish, and a heathen if he was Greek. He is therefore, like the Samaritans, a most unlikely figure to get it right when it comes to the Messiah.

Two, notice that he is at a place of desperation. His son is ill and at the point of death. We see here a father deeply concerned for his son. This is no trivial thing, but a matter of life and death.

Three, notice that he runs to Jesus thinking that he would be able to help. 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.”

Though this is not the meaning of the text, there is here a beautiful picture of the love that a mother and father ought to have for their children and how we ought to intercede for them.

But notice Jesus’ strange response to this man’s request. Verse 48: “So Jesus said to him, ‘Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.’”

This response should not surprise us to much. Do you remember how Jesus responded to his own mother when she requested that he deal with the problem of the lack of wine? “And Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.’” (John 2:4, ESV) Jesus, as I explained when preaching on that text, resisted at first in order to draw out deeper faith. The same is true here.

Also, it should be recognized that the “you” in verse 48 is plural while the “him” is singular (obviously). This is significant. “Jesus said to him, ’Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.’” It was as if Jesus were talking to the Galileans through the man. It is a criticism of them in general, and not necessarily the man.

But notice that man is undeterred. He continues on expressing his desperation – his legitimate need. Verse 49: “The official said to him, ‘Sir, come down before my child dies.’” Verse 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.” (John 4:50, ESV)

As the story progresses we are told that the man journeyed home on the next day (it was to late to make the journey back home on the same day, though I’m sure he was anxious to return).  As he traveled his servants meet him on the road with good news. His son was recovering. The fever had broken. The man asked when the recovery began. They reported that it because at about 1:00pm the previous day, the same time that Jesus had spoken this word.

The man believed. His whole household, following his lead, believed in Jesus.

The Point of the Story

So what is the point of this story?

John, again and again, is setting examples before us that are meant to compel us to consider Christ deeply and truly, and to welcome him, follow him, believe in him from the heart.

The disciples of John who became the disciples of Jesus are to be imitated. They followed him, listened to his teaching and believed.

Nicodemus is to be imitated. He was one of the few from amongst the Pharisees who came to Jesus inquiring deeply of him.

The woman of Samaria, and fellow townspeople, are to be imitated. They came to Christ and implored him to stay that they might hear more.  John 4:42: “They said to the woman, ‘It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.’”

And now this man is to be imitated. He came to Jesus out of a sense of deep and legitimate need. He came believing, but his faith grew. He came to led his whole household to faith in Christ.

All of these, each of them coming from different sectors of society, are compelling us to do the same thing: to consider the claims of Christ and to believe in his name.

Do not forget John’s concluding remarks in John 20:30-31:

“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:30–31, ESV)

In contrast to these are many others who are interested in Jesus, but for all the wrong reasons.

Some welcomed him or believed in him so long as he showed promise as a politician.

“Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.” (John 6:15, ESV)

“After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.” (John 6:66, ESV)

Some welcomed him so long as he would preformed signs.

“Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. 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.” (John 2:23–25, ESV)

Many were preoccupied with the signs. They were interested in Jesus so long as he would continue to turn water to wine, heal the sick, give sight to the blind, and multiply the bread fish. That was fine by them. Jesus the miracle worker was someone they could believe in.

But, as we will see in John’s gospel, when Jesus begins to suggest that he not interested in being the kind of king that they wanted, the people rejected him. When he begins to suggest that he is not primarily interested in wine and bread, physical sight and physical healing, the people are quick to leave him. When Jesus teaches that these signs are just that – signs which point to something greater – the people abandon him.

A sign is something that points to a greater reality. The miracles of Jesus are just that – signs. The sign is not the main thing – it points to the main thing.

When Jesus turned the water to wine he was not mainly concerned with the wine, but show forth his glory and to say something about how he would provide purification by the shedding of his blood.

When Jesus gave sight to bind man his primary concern was not the blind man (though he was certainly overwhelmed with compassion, but to display is ability to open the eyes of men, spiritually speaking.

I could go on and on. The point is that the people were fixated with the things of this world. They were only interested in Jesus so long as he would benefit them in a worldly way. The gospel of John insisted that we come to Christ ultimately, not for what he can do for us in the here and now, but because of what offers the human soul as it pertains to eternity.

“…these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:30–31, ESV)

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