Taking God at His Word
At the beginning of every chapter in this book I have repeated the idea that in this series John brings together 3 themes and interweaves them into his gospel: Jesus as the God/Man; reactions of faith; reactions of disbelief.
These are the themes that appear repeatedly, however, John's objective with his book is singular and stated in John 20:30-31:
Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.
Whether the people in the book believed or not, and whether all of Jesus' words and miracles are recorded or not, the main objective of John's book is that those who read it will believe that Jesus is the divine Christ. That includes us today!
We are part of the group that either believes or disbelieves. The purpose of these profiles of believers and disbelievers is to enable us to see ourselves in them. The purpose of the accounts of Jesus' ministry was to influence the reader to choose belief over disbelief. We need to keep in mind, as we study the book, that we are not simply disinterested students examining an ancient record of events. We are participants because John had us specifically in mind when he put together this account of Jesus' life.
Proof of divinity
Now that we are familiar with the main objective of John's gospel, I want to move on to briefly review Jesus' own approach to making a witness about Himself.
John describes the very human activities of Jesus as He walks and eats, is tired and thirsty. We see a normal human being interacting with others and the world around Him. We also see, however, Jesus' divine nature from time to time as John presents this in three ways:
1. The witness concerning Jesus
There are things said about Jesus that witness or point to His divine nature.
- John the Baptist with his own special birth and prophet's stature witnessed that He was the Lamb of God.
- The witness from heaven was made about Jesus at His baptism. The Father spoke and the Holy Spirit appeared confirming Jesus as the Son of God.
- And then there is Jesus' own witness about Himself. What He said to the Samaritan woman for example, "I am He" meaning He was the Messiah.
2. The teachings of Jesus
The teaching is like no other, with authority, and it provides revelation. We see this with Nicodemus, himself a respected teacher among the Jews, but totally eclipsed by Jesus' revelatory teaching.
We see it in the woman at the well who recognizes Him as at least a prophet when she first hears Him teach her.
Later on He will teach about His death and resurrection that is confirmed by a voice from heaven (John 12:27).
In all of these, the people come to the conclusion that He is the messiah simply from hearing Him teach. For example, the people of the Samaritan village:
and they were saying to the woman, "It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves and know that this One is indeed the Savior of the world."
- John 4:42
3. The miracles of Jesus
I mention miracles last because we are always quick to go to these first. We forget or overlook the fact that Jesus was also proven to be the divine Messiah by witness and teaching as well as miracles. Remember that many prophets and leaders had been instruments of God's power in the past, so doing a sign or miracle did not automatically confirm Jesus as the Messiah. The witnesses about Him, the teaching and prophecies He made along with the miracles closed the case concerning His true identity as the divine Son of God.
In this we see a cycle within a cycle. The larger cycle is Jesus' ministry and peoples' various reactions to it. The smaller cycle contains the various ways Jesus demonstrated His divinity within His ministry. Now that we have stepped back to look at the overview of the book and how it functions, let us go back to the text and finish chapter 4.
Jesus' return home – 4:43-45
These events are taking place early in Jesus' ministry. If we were to chronicle His life so far:
- He was born in Bethlehem and spent some time in Egypt before returning to settle in Nazareth in the north near the Sea of Galilee.
- He travelled to Jerusalem in the south each year with His family to celebrate the Passover.
- As a grown man of 30, He lived in Capernaum which is on the edge of the Sea of Galilee, the same town where Peter and his family lived.
- At that age He came to the area around Jerusalem to be baptized by John and begin His ministry.
- He spent 40 days in the Judean wilderness in a spiritual battle with Satan.
- He returned home and attended a wedding at Cana, a town not far from Capernaum. Here He performs his first miracle.
- He goes to Jerusalem, cleanses the temple, teaches, and speaks with Nicodemus.
- He preaches and his disciples baptize where John the Baptist is working.
- To avoid mounting opposition, He returns again to the northern region of Galilee by way of this Samaritan village.
- He speaks to the woman there and remains there for two days teaching these people.
Verse 43 picks up the story from here.
Vs. 43-45 – After the two days He went forth from there into Galilee. For Jesus Himself testified that a prophet has no honor in his own country. So when He came to Galilee, the Galileans received Him, having seen all the things that He did in Jerusalem at the feast; for they themselves also went to the feast.
Now that His reputation is growing and many are becoming His disciples, He once again returns to His hometown region. It is a fact of human nature that we rarely take seriously those who are from our hometown until they make it big somewhere else.
In Jesus' case, He had been to Jerusalem and while there performed miracles, taught the people and provided a witness concerning Himself. Now, because of His reputation there, even the people of His hometown are impressed. Apparently some had seen or heard of His reputation in Jerusalem and had come home to spread the news.
Jesus is not looking for personal glory or fame. He is, however, taking advantage of the situation so that He can preach to the people.
It is the same idea with TV, websites, VBS, newspaper articles and any form of advertising the church does. These things do not convert people; they are not designed to do this. These things make us stand out among the others; give us some familiarity with the community. People feel they know us because of that and are less afraid to visit. It also gives our members an edge when inviting someone to church because people feel they have already had contact with us through our different outreach efforts.
So Jesus returns to His hometown where He is a celebrity of sorts because of the stir He has caused in Jerusalem.
The people seek signs
Vs. 46-47 – Therefore He came again to Cana of Galilee where He had made the water wine. And there was a royal official whose son was sick at Capernaum. When he heard that Jesus had come out of Judea into Galilee, he went to Him and was imploring Him to come down and heal his son; for he was at the point of death.
John skips over the rest of the journey and picks up the story with Jesus back up north in the city of Cana, the site of His first miracle. Doubtless the people there have heard of His ministry in Jerusalem, but many of them were aware of the great sign He performed at the wedding.
A royal official is a servant of the king who, in this case, would have been Herod. The official was from Jesus' adult hometown, Capernaum, which was close by on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Herod had many palaces, garrisons, and fortresses throughout the land and was continually building so it was not unusual to have his officials scattered at different posts throughout the land. This official is at the end of a painful episode as his son lies close to death (no cause is given). Reaching out to Jesus was risky for a man in his position to do, but he was a desperate father.
Vs. 48 – So Jesus said to him, "Unless you people see signs and wonders, you simply will not believe."
Note how Jesus' answer seems at first harsh considering the circumstances. But there are reasons why He answers in the way He does:
1. The man's motivation
The man did not come for Jesus' witness or His teaching, he came in a desperate attempt to save his son. People who are in danger of death will try anything to save their lives, things they would scoff at in other times, they embrace when desperate. This man had a kind of faith, the faith you have in faith-healers and snake-oil salesmen, faith created out of desperation.
2. Incomplete faith
Jesus is commenting on the kind of faith that stood only on the witnessing of miracles. Unless He "wowed" them with signs, they would falter and no longer believe.
The faith of young Christians is often like that, unless prayers are immediately answered, unless they continually experience the excitement of new faith (like the "new car" smell), unless they feel the comfort of the Spirit at all times, they doubt, they become discouraged, they begin to go back to the world.
Mature faith perseveres on Jesus' word, Jesus' promise, Jesus' presence, regardless of the feelings we have or the circumstances we are in.
This is the kind of faith the Lord asks of the man (and of us): to take Him at His word.
Vs. 49-52 – The royal official said to Him, "Sir, come down before my child dies." Jesus said to him, "Go; your son lives." The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and started off. As he was now going down, his slaves met him, saying that his son was living. So he inquired of them the hour when he began to get better. Then they said to him, "Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him."
Note that the man had asked Jesus to come with him in order to heal his son. Jesus then "challenges" the official to greater, more mature faith by taking Him at His word concerning the healing of his son.
If you remember our last chapter on the seven steps of Jesus' "multiplying method" of personal evangelism you will note the following:
- Step 1 – Contact has been made with this man through Jesus' reputation and signs.
- Step 2 – The challenge to believe only in the Word Jesus speaks to him has been given.
We note in the passage that after the man responds to the challenge, his faith is rewarded with the news that his boy has been saved and is recovering, exactly as Jesus said.
The system complete
Vs. 53-54 – So the father knew that it was at that hour in which Jesus said to him, "Your son lives"; and he himself believed and his whole household. This is again a second sign that Jesus performed when He had come out of Judea into Galilee.
In these verses we see the completion of Jesus' personal evangelism system. We see all seven steps in this account, just as we saw it in the account of the Samaritan woman:
- Contact – The man knew Jesus by reputation and witness.
- Challenge – He is called to step up to a more mature faith in taking Jesus at His word.
- Confirmation – When the father does so by returning home, he learns of the miracle done.
- Call and Conversion – These are compressed into one action as the father reacts to the proof with belief in Jesus.
- Conversion – These are compressed into one action as the father reacts to the proof with belief in Jesus.
- Consecration – He tells his household of the witness, word and miracle of Jesus.
- Multiplication – The entire household believes in Jesus.
So what begins as a desperate man crying out to Jesus for help – "Do something!" – turns into the conscious and mature faith of not only this man but multiplied by his entire household.
Let us summarize some of the key things we have looked at in this chapter:
- Jesus demonstrated His true nature as divine Messiah in three ways: witness from others and Himself; the power of His teachings; His miracles.
- The point of John's book is to bring his readers to believe in Jesus as the divine Messiah.
- Mature faith is that which takes God at His Word (Matthew 4:4). If He says, "I will take care of you," "I forgive you," "Do this or do not do this," a mature faith will act and persevere based only on God's Word. That is enough. Signs and miracles were given to make people pay attention, to lead them to Christ and His Word.
This man learned this lesson as every great servant of God from Adam to Paul and forward has learned, that you can only do great things for the Lord, you can only know the Lord, you can only become fruitful for the Lord if you learn to act on His Word, and His Word alone.
Our response is not based on how we feel, not on perceived signs, not on what is new, what is safe, what others say or do, but only on the Word of the Lord.