After the two days he departed for Galilee. (John 4:43)
The “two days” are a reference to the two days Jesus spent in the Samaritan town of Sychar, where there had been a remarkable spiritual movement in a place where you would least expect it. “Many Samaritans…believed in him. They asked him to stay…and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word” (4:39, 40, 41).
And those who believed made a marvelously clear profession of faith: “We know that this is indeed the Savior of the world” (4:42). You can’t get a clearer confession of faith than that. So now after these two marvelous days in which Jesus had seen a great spiritual harvest, our Lord left Sychar and continued his journey north to Galilee.
Christ was back among his own people. John tells us that the people of Galilee “welcomed him,” but then he adds: “having seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the feast. For they too had gone to the feast” (4:45).
Jesus did not perform any miracles in Samaria, and yet there was a spiritual harvest of many people who “believed because of his word” (4:41). But when our Lord came to Galilee, he was welcomed by people who knew about the miracles he had performed in Jerusalem. So they had an expectation that he would do the same in Galilee.
John records seven miracles of Jesus, which he calls ‘signs.’ Turning water into wine was the first sign (John 2:11). “He came again to Cana in Galilee where he had made the water wine” (4:46). And the story we are following today was the second sign (4:54).
The Man from Capernaum
So Jesus was in Cana, and John tells us that “at Capernaum [about 20 miles away] there was an official whose son was ill” (4:46).
The word translated ‘official’ in verse 46 is important here. The Greek word for a king was basileus. This man is described as a basilikos [literally, a little king!]. Someone who served the king, or we might say, “a member of the royal household.”
This man walked the corridors of power. Some have suggested that this might have been Herod’s household manager, a man named Chuza. In Luke 8:3 we read of “Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s household manager… who provided for them [Jesus and the disciples] out of their means.” This same Joanna was among the women who went to anoint the body of Jesus with spices and found that the tomb was empty (Luke 24:10).
We don’t know if this is the story of how Chuza and Joanna came to faith in Christ, but it is the story of a royal person, a member of the King’s household who, along with his entire family (4:53), came to believe in Jesus.
So here we have a man who could be described as a little king! He lives a life of privilege. He walks the corridors of power. He has his own servants (plural; 4:51), and with all of his responsibility, he is rewarded with a handsome salary.
But this man carried a great burden – his son was ill (4:46). Suffering comes to the rich as well as the poor, and for all his power and wealth, the Royal Official had not been able to help his own son. Worse than that, his son was at the point of death (4:47).
So, this is the story of a desperate father and a dying son. Everyone who has lost a son or daughter will resonate with this story. You know what this father felt – the fear, the pain, and the sense of helplessness.
His interaction with Jesus
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. (John 4:47)
The Royal Official would have known very little about Jesus. But word had got around in Galilee, from locals who had gone to the feast in Jerusalem, that a person by the name of Jesus had performed miracles.
Apparently, these stories had reached the palace, and when the Royal Official heard that Jesus was in Cana, he left his home in Capernaum and traveled the 20 miles to ask if Jesus would come to his home and heal his son.
I think it says a lot for this man that with his son near the point of death, he would leave his home, his wife and the sick boy and travel 20 miles to find Jesus. But when he arrives and makes his request, the first word he hears from Jesus is not encouraging. “Jesus said to him, ‘Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe’” (4:48).
This seems to be a word of rebuke: “If you could find any other cure for your son’s condition you would not have come to me.” And, of course, that was probably true. The Royal Official did not come to Cana because he had a special interest in Jesus. He came simply because he was desperate.
God uses all kinds of circumstances to begin a work of grace in a person’s life. Many of you know this from your own experience. You did not come to Jesus with the highest of motives. You came because you were desperate, and that was the beginning of you seeking after and then following Jesus Christ.
To the Royal Official’s credit, he refuses to be put off. He repeats his request. “Sir, come down before my child dies” (4:49).
The Royal Official thought that for his son to be healed, he needed to persuade Jesus to travel 20 miles and come to his house. But Jesus does not need to travel 20 miles to heal the boy.
Jesus says to him, “Go; your son will live” (4:50).
This tells us something very wonderful about the authority of Jesus. What Jesus says happens. If he says, “Your sins are forgiven,” your sins are forgiven. If he says, “Your son will live,” your son will live.
If Jesus stands at a graveside and says, “Lazarus, come forth,” Lazarus will come forth. And when he calls out “Rise!” on the last day, every grave will be emptied. It follows, of course, that if on the last day, Christ should say to any of us, “You are condemned,” we would be condemned. He is the sovereign Lord and no one resists his will.
Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Mat. 28:18). Having been raised by the Father from the dead, Jesus has been given the name that is above all names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow (Phil. 2:9-10). Here Jesus speaks these wonderful words of grace: “Your son will live.”
Taking Jesus at His Word
The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way. (John 4:50)
Now we learn later (4:53), that when Jesus said this, the fever left the boy who was lying in his bed 20 miles away. Imagine the scene of wonder, astonishment, and joy in the home. The boy has been languishing in bed. His temperature keeps rising and they can’t get it to go down. Then at around one o’clock, suddenly, the boy feels better.
He shouts to his mother who feels his forehead, and sure enough, his temperature has returned to normal. The boy gets up and puts on his clothes. The servants don’t know what to say. Everyone in the household is rejoicing! But they have no idea of how or why this has happened!
The boy’s father is 20 miles from home in Cana. He doesn’t have a cell phone! His wife cannot text him with the news! All the Father has is the bare word of Jesus, which he believes: “Your son will live.” Faith trusts Christ by resting on his word. That is how the Samaritans came to faith. That’s what faith is – resting on the Word of God.
The Royal Official gives us a marvelous picture of the Christian life. We walk by faith, not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7). We rest on the word and promise of Jesus. He says that he is with us, and that he will never leave us or forsake us (Heb. 13:5). He says that his grace is sufficient (2 Cor. 12:9). He says that there is no condemnation for those who are in him (Rom. 8:1). He says that he has prepared a place for us (John 14:3). Faith trusts Christ by resting on his word.
The Royal Official had to do this for some time. Notice that when the servants finally reach him with the wonderful news that the boy is well, the father asks when this happened. The servants say, “Yesterday at the seventh hour” (4:52). So presumably the Royal Official stayed overnight in Cana, and then made the journey home the following day.
I wonder how he slept that night? When he left his home, his son was dying. Jesus said, “Your boy will live.” All he had was the word of Jesus. That’s faith: Faith trusts Christ by resting on his word.
What a moment it must have been for the Royal Official the following day when his servants met him on the road with the good news! “As he was going down, his servants met him and told him that his son was recovering” (4:51). Literally translated, they said, “Your son lives!”
Notice that the father asks them “the hour when he began to get better” (4:52). He assumes that this was a process. When did it begin? The servants say, “Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him” (4:52). It was instantaneous! When Jesus spoke the word in Cana, the fever left in Capernaum!
We read, “The father knew that was the hour when Jesus had said to him, ‘Your son will live.’ And he himself believed” (4:53). Had he not believed already? Yes, but now his faith is turning to sight, and he is seeing that his trust in Jesus was not misplaced.
Here is what the journey of faith looks like. Faith often begins when knowing very little, but being deeply aware of our need, we come to Jesus. Faith grows as we learn to trust him by resting on his word. One day, faith will be turned to sight. Faith will be vindicated and all that you have taken on trust will be yours to enjoy forever.
The whole family believed
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. (John 4:53)
The servants believed. The boy who had been at the point of death believed. If there were other siblings, they believed. The boy’s mother believed. And there’s only one way that all of these folks could have come to faith in Jesus – through the testimony that the Royal Official gave to his own family!
Imagine the scene when the Royal Official finally gets home. His wife comes running out to meet him and flings her arms around him. “The most wonderful thing has happened! The fever has gone! It left him in an instant! I don’t know how in the world it happened!”
“Well,” says the official to his wife, “I know how it happened.” Jesus said to me, ‘Your son will live,’ and at that very hour the fever left him.” So a story that began with a boy at the point of death ends with an entire household receiving the gift of eternal life!
The Significance of This Story
This is a marvelous story. But what is its significance for us? I want to give you two applications, but first I want us to be clear about what the application is not.
- This story is not about you having enough faith for a miracle
The application is not that if we had enough faith we would all see our loved ones healed. I have no doubt that God can and does grant miracles today. But miracles are miracles. By definition, that means they are not what normally happens. Why then are these miraculous stories here in the Gospels if this is not what normally happens?
- This story was written so that you may believe
This miracle, John tells us, was a sign: “This was now the second sign that Jesus did when he had come from Judea to Galilee” (4:54). A sign of what? John tells us why the signs were given: “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 20:31).
The whole of John’s Gospel, the signs and everything else, were written so that you would know that Jesus is the supreme Lord of heaven and earth, that he is God with us, that whatever he says happens, and that by believing in him you may have life in his name.
- This story was written so you can learn why grace is better than law
But there’s something else here that I think is very wonderful, and I want you to know where I learned this. In the summer of last year, I spoke at a conference in Iowa. During that time, I had breakfast with a pastor by the name of Brian Janssen.
Brian is a graduate of Wheaton College and of Trinity seminary. For more than 30 years he has served as pastor of a church in rural Iowa. Brian made a study of the seven signs in John’s Gospel, which he shared with me, and from I which draw from with his permission.
At the beginning of his Gospel, John makes this remarkable statement: “The law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). So we should expect that in this Gospel, we will learn why grace is better than law and why Jesus is better than Moses. Brian picked up on this in relation to the seven signs in John’s Gospel.
John tells us about the ‘signs’ Jesus gave. But Moses also performed signs. God said to Pharaoh: “Let my people go!” Pharaoh hardened his heart and said, “I will not let them go.”
So God said, “I [will] multiply my signs and wonders in the land of Egypt” (Ex. 7:3). These signs, performed through Moses, were signs of judgment, and we know them as the ten plagues. The first of these signs was that the river Nile was turned to blood. Moses turned water into blood. What was the first sign performed by Jesus? He turned water into wine!
When Moses turned water into blood everything in the river died! When Jesus turned water into wine, everyone was filled with joy! Jesus brought a better sign than Moses. Moses brought the signs of judgment; Jesus brought the signs of grace.
Now what was the last of Moses’ signs? The tenth plague was the death of the firstborn son. God had commanded Pharaoh, “Let my people go!” but Pharaoh had refused. Nine plagues had come and gone and Pharaoh had not moved an inch. Every day the cruelty and oppression of the slave drivers in the labor camps continued. And God’s people cried out to him to deliver them from their suffering.
Scripture tells us about “the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on the throne” (Ex. 12:29). This indicates that Pharaoh’s son was part of the regime, a “little king” in his own right. He would have been an enforcer of the terrible cruelty and oppression that Pharaoh’s royal house carried out on God’s people.
You know the story: God told his people to sacrifice a lamb and to paint its blood on the doorposts of their houses. God said, “When I see the blood, I will pass over you” (Ex. 12:13). This is such a magnificent statement, pointing forward to how the blood of Christ so wonderfully delivers us from the judgment of God.
On that night, God brought judgment on his enemies. Think about what that was like for the royal son, the firstborn of Pharaoh, who sat on his throne. He knew the commandment of God, “Let my people go.” He knew that the judgment of God had been announced from heaven. But, like his father, he had taken no notice. No doubt he would have thought, as many do today, “This is not a god that my culture believes in.”
So he gets up in the morning, feels great, works out and then goes through his day driving his slaves, cursing their God, bringing misery and pain to everyone around him. At the end of the day, he comes back to the palace. “A good day, son?” the Pharaoh asks him.
“Yes, I really stuck it to them today.”
“How was your day, Dad?”
“O, Moses was back here again. I’ve never seen him so angry” (Ex. 11:8).
“What was he saying this time, Dad?”
“O, nothing you need worry about, son… sleep well.” So the ‘little king’ went to bed. And at midnight he was gone.
What does this fearful story from the Bible say to us? Surely this: That we live in a world that is in rebellion against God, that this world is under God’s judgment, and that “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23).
The law came by Moses, and if God were to judge us by his law today, none of us would live! We would all be under the sentence of death: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23).
The sign of Moses was that a royal son, in the prime of life, dies. The sign of Jesus is that a royal son, at the point of death, lives!
When you speak to people about your faith in Jesus, people who do not yet believe, they will assume that you want to talk to them about law. “You have come to tell me what I cannot do. You have come to tell me that God hates me, and that God is against me, and that he is going to get me.”
That could not be further from the truth! Here is the message: The God whose laws we have broken, and whose judgment we deserve, sent his Son into the world not so that we who are in the prime of life should die, but that we, who are on the brink of death, should live!
That is precisely why Jesus came into the world! “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23).
“God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17). The law came through Moses. Something much better – grace and truth – came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). And there is grace and truth in Jesus Christ for every person here today.
© Colin S. Smith
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