Landing on Jesus
Series: The Gospel of John
We all have visible, sensible problems in our lives to varying degrees, and Jesus cares about them. But how do we also get beyond them to Jesus Himself? We must follow the signs to Jesus, and this passage shows us how.
I’m currently trying to drop a few pounds before the holidays; I gained what Alyson Fox, a member here, told me was called the “COVID 19” over the past year. And any time you’re trying to lose weight, it seems reasonable to weigh yourself occasionally. It’s a nice visible, measurable way to see if what you’re doing is working. Nonetheless, there are some diets that prohibit you from weighing yourself. Why? Because they realize it’s possible to get overly fixated on the number on the scale, and miss the point of a healthy diet and exercise: To be healthy. With many things in life, we get fixated on what we can see and lose sight of what is ultimate. At this point in the Gospel of John, Jesus has done a lot of visibly impressive things, what He calls in this passage “signs and wonders.” That’s cool, right? Those things helped people believe in Him, but they also came with a danger. The danger was that people get too fixated on them, and so stop with them, instead of seeing through them to Jesus. And we too can get so fixated on things in our lives that are visible, sensible problems, that we lose sight of Jesus. The main character in this passage besides Jesus was an official who had a visible, sensible problem, and at the beginning of the passage, he was fixated on it. But by the end, he and his whole household believed in Jesus. How’s that happen? How do we get from the very real visible, sensible problems in our lives, that really do matter not only to us, but to Jesus, how do we get from them to faith in Jesus? We must follow the signs to Jesus. How do you do that? Bring Him your wants, trust His Word, and then get beyond your wants.
Bring Him your wants
After Jesus’ time in Samaria he departed for Galilee, and the reason given is that a prophet has no honor in his own hometown. It’s not entirely clear how that proverb relates to Jesus’ travel plans, but it probably means that Jesus chose to go to the surrounding region of Galilee rather than his hometown of Nazareth, which was in Galilee, as a kind of judgment on Nazareth’s unbelief.
So He comes then to Cana in Galilee, and John even reminds us of that first sign, where Jesus had turned water into wine there at a wedding. But at Capernaum there was an official whose son was ill. This official had apparently either heard of or had himself seen some of Jesus’ signs, so he goes to Cana to ask Jesus to come to Capernaum and heal his son, for his son was near death. One of the scariest thoughts a parent can think is the thought that their child may die. This man was an official, so he was probably well off, and yet even to him, this scariest of situations happened. The wealthy and titled seem to have so much, and in a sense of course they do. But at some point our weaknesses and limitations confront even the wealthiest and most powerful among us. Kobe Bryant died in a helicopter accident last year at the age of 41. Chadwick Boseman, the Black Panther, died of colon cancer last year at the age of 43. And of course, COVID-19 has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives unexpectedly over the past 2 years. Zach, a member here, lost his dad to it this year.
And that part of watching it happen, knowing someone is near death, can sometimes be just as hard, if not harder, than grieving the death. We got the call this past year that my father-in-law went into cardiac arrest, a situation with a 5% survival rate. By God’s grace he ended up being part of the 5%, but the hours and days of not knowing, oscillating between hope and beginning to grieve a death that hadn’t yet occurred were brutal. Zach went through that this year with his dad when he was on a ventilator. Nick, another member here, has just been going through it the past few weeks as his dad experienced heart failure. But now here is an official going through it with his son! Where do you go in times like that? The common, immediate answer we give today is you go to the doctor. And that’s a good answer, by the way; God does ordinarily use means to accomplish His purposes, and medical professionals are a wonderful means God uses to bring healing in many cases. But medical professionals aren’t omnipotent; stories like Chadwick Boseman’s remind us of that.
So here’s another great thing about Jesus: You can bring such wants to Him. This man’s son was ill, and like any father, he wanted his son to be healed; where did he go? We can probably assume he tried whatever medical interventions were available at the time, but he went to Jesus. And with whatever wants you have, that’s where you should go too. If He could turn water into wine, why couldn’t He turn whatever hard situation you are in into something good and glorious? He preserved my father-in-law’s life as hundreds of people prayed for him. He’s currently preserving Nick’s dad’s life. He’s provided healing, jobs, money, spouses, children, houses, and much more to many in more dire situations than your own. Why couldn’t He provide for your wants?
You say, “Well yes I know Jesus works powerfully in the lives of others, but He’d never do that in my life.” Do you see that’s a kind of pride? You’re making something about you the qualification for whether Jesus does good to you, and you assume that because you don’t have it and someone else does, He won’t answer your prayers. So why bother bringing your wants to Him? That’s pride. It’s also pride to not bring our wants to Him because it suggests we don’t need Him. Jesus taught us to pray for our daily bread; how dare we say to Him, “Nope; I think I can handle that”? It is right and good to bring Him our wants in prayer, and to ask Him to act in such a way as to meet them. This is often where faith begins, as here in this man’s case. The Lord allows us to feel our need and weakness. We recognize that we can’t do it on our own. We recognize that not even our money or position can really save us. There’s a reason the first step in 12 step recovery programs is admitting that we are powerless over our addictions. The beginning of faith is often just learning to say I need help, and to say it in Jesus’ direction.
It’s one of the good things God is doing any time we or someone we love are sick, and one of the things we most commonly miss. When you or someone you love is sick and especially when the medical treatments aren’t obviously fixing it in a hurry, what’s that showing you? It’s showing you that body you’re in isn’t going to live forever, and no amount of money or technology can fix that. It’s showing you that you need help, and ultimately, only Jesus can give it. None of us will come to Jesus unless we are in some way awakened to our need of Him, and sickness is one thing God often uses to do just that. As J.C. Ryle put it, if this man’s son had not become ill, he may have died in his sins, never knowing Christ. But faced with wants he could not meet, he brought them to Jesus, and you should too.
That said, Jesus does respond at first with something of a rebuke. He says in verse 48 that unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe, and the “you” there is plural, as the ESV footnote should indicate. So Jesus is speaking to the Galileans along with this man, and He’s basically saying, “Now be careful with this request. As it stands, I can tell you’re looking for a visible sign from me to believe.” Contrast that with the Samaritans with whom Jesus had just spent time. There He met a woman and told her He was the Messiah, and she believed. Then she went into town to tell others, they came to hear Him, and they believed. No signs and wonders in their cases. But here He is with the Jews in Galilee, His own people, and He can tell that they’re making signs and wonders the condition of their faith.
So it’s one thing to bring Jesus your wants in prayer; that’s exactly what you should do. But it’s another thing to make His answering your prayers a kind of condition to believing in Him; that’s exactly what you should not do. That’s getting fixated on the signs themselves, and I see this happen to people all the time: They have a particularly strong want, to be healed of a disease, get a house, have kids, or something, and it’s all they think about. They aren’t just praying for it; it’s the only thing they’re praying for. You ask them how they’re doing and all you hear is, “Well; still not healed.” That’s getting fixated on the signs, and you can’t fool Jesus: If that’s what’s in you, He’ll see it, and He’s not afraid to call it out. He’s not a means to an end.
Nonetheless, this official, like many of the people Jesus speaks with, and like us, is a bit thick. It’s like that comment from Jesus didn’t even register. He is fixated on the sign, because look at how he replies: “Sir, come down before my child dies.” “Enough with all these rebukes; can’t you see my son is dying? And if you don’t start travelling now, you aren’t going to make it in time!” Aren’t we so much like this guy? Don’t you know what it’s like to feel panicked like that? And how would you expect Jesus to reply to this? Brace yourselves, here it comes: “Alright buddy, you clearly aren’t even listening to me. I’m not just a genie in the bottle here to do what you want. If you’re not even going to acknowledge my rebuke, take a hike.” Is that what He says? Look at verse 50: Jesus said to him, “Go, your son will live.” He heals the son anyway! Isn’t Jesus great? He ministers even to our weakness.
And He does the healing in a particular way that is suited to this man’s weakness. He doesn’t do it in such a way that the man, or any of the other Galileans present, can see it. He doesn’t give them a visible sign at this point; that’s coming. For now He gives them a word. And we read in verse 50 that the man, without seeing a sign, believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way. So if you want to get through the signs to Jesus Himself, don’t just bring Him your wants. Trust His Word.
Trust His Word
Remember when the man came what was he saying to Jesus? “Come to Capernaum.” When Jesus rebukes him what’s he saying again? “Hey, we gotta get going.” He assumes that for Jesus to heal, Jesus would have to be bodily present with his son. But Jesus says, “Well; you can go. But with my word, your son is healed.” That’s the power of the word of Christ. It brings life. So when He promises something, whether you can see it now or not, whether He’s bodily present or not, you can trust it. And He has promised complete and total healing to everybody, like literally every body, that comes to Him by faith. This sign here points beyond itself to something even greater. In this case, Jesus did heal this child, yet the child was still going to die again one day. His ultimate promise, recorded in John 11, is that whoever comes to Him, though he die, yet shall he live. Trust His Word and you will be healed forever.
But to trust His Word, we do have to also be clear on what He has not promised. To this specific official, Jesus said, “Go; your son will live.” But He hasn’t made that specific promise to me or you. At the end of the passage John says this was Jesus’ second sign, meaning He didn’t do infinitely many of these, and meaning we aren’t entitled to them. There is a false teaching that got started in America and which we’ve exported to other nations that teaches you can basically manipulate God into healing you if you just choose to believe that He will. You don’t just ask Him to heal, like the man in this passage did; instead you start saying things like, “God will heal my son,” meaning not just that God will heal my son with a resurrection body after he dies, but meaning God will heal my son in this life of this disease so that he lives through it. Sometimes these false teachers will even encourage people to “name” and “claim” promises like this one for themselves. And sometimes Christians who are looking for hope in a dire situation want to think their fears won’t be realized, so they tell themselves that God is going to bring the healing this life, and then they ascribe that to God Himself. We have a bad habit of assuming every strong impression we have is God speaking to us.
But there are numerous problems with this approach; I’ll name just a few. First, it takes the Lord’s name in vain in violation of the 3rd commandment. The point of that commandment is that if you are going to attach God’s name to something, you better do so with great care. It’s ok to have a strong impression; it’s ok to have high hopes; it’s right and good to have great expectations that God hears our prayers and delights to answer them, but there is no reason in any of that to attach God’s name to something He hasn’t clearly said. Second and perhaps obviously following this one, we bring dishonor to God when we say He has promised things He hasn’t, and then they don’t happen. It makes Him look like a God who doesn’t keep His promises, and that’s just not who He is. Here’s the fact we all must face: There are many times where Christians pray for healing, and God doesn’t give it in this life. Those are the stories the false teachers never tell. I’m sure Chadwick Boseman prayed for healing; reports are that he was a Christian. And I know Zach prayed for healing for his dad; I was praying with him. And in those cases, God chose to bring them to the healing on the other side of the grave, rather than preserve them from it. How much dishonor would it have brought to the Lord if through that whole process we’d been saying, “God is going to save his life!” And how much worse would the pain have been for those grieving? They would then not only have the grief of the loss, but the added confusion that God didn’t do what they thought He’d promised. That’s the third problem with this: It hurts people. It makes them feel like they didn’t have enough faith, or worse, it makes them question whether God even cares or exists. And fourth, it hurts unbelieving people. Because they see the facts: They know not everyone who “names and claims” a promise gets healed, and it makes the whole Christian faith just look like wishful thinking.
There’s a better way. Trust what Jesus has said, rather than putting Him on the hook for what He hasn’t said. I got to see Zach do this while his dad was intubated. In times like that, in times like the one this official was in, it’s so easy to set our minds on what isn’t true. We can do that through false promises, like we’ve been talking about, but we can also do it through false pessimism, where we begin to worry and function as though the person we care about is already dead. In talking to Zach during that time, he felt that temptation, but I saw him coming back to what is true, what he could trust in that moment. His dad wasn’t dead, and Jesus did have the power to heal him with a word from heaven. So we prayed for that. And Zach was also holding on to things Jesus did promise: That He was with Zach through this, and that He would continue to be, whatever happened. That as a believer in Jesus his dad would live, even if after death. That Jesus was going to work this for good, and nothing that would happen could separate him from the love of God in Christ Jesus his Lord.
So also this man believed the word Jesus spoke to him and went on his way. On his way, people came to him to tell him his son was recovering, and he asked when he began to make the recovery. When they told him the time he realized that it was the hour when Jesus had spoken to him, telling him his son would be healed. Then we read in verse 53 that he himself believed, and all his household. So in the end, he got beyond his wants, and put his faith in Christ, along with his household. That’s really the essence of following the signs to Jesus. At some point, you get beyond the signs, and you yourself believe in Jesus. So finally, get beyond your wants.
Get beyond your wants
I mentioned earlier how easy it is for us to not only bring our wants to Jesus, but to get fixated on them. And in this passage, Jesus rebuked the Galileans for their fixation on signs. Believing in signs only is to miss the whole point of signs. A sign points beyond itself. It signifies something. So in the end this man believed not in a sign, but in a person. He came to Christ at first looking for a visible sign, but he put his faith in an audible word instead, a faith which was then confirmed and strengthened by the visible healing his son experienced. How then can we get beyond the sign in this passage to the one whom it signifies? What can we see here about Him?
First, we can see the utter patience of Jesus. This man really did come to Jesus in the first place just because he wanted his son to be healed. And even after Jesus rebukes that fixation on a visible sign, the man doubles down and keeps talking about Jesus coming to heal his son. But instead of cutting the man off at that point, Jesus still healed his son, though in a way that forced the man to trust His Word rather than look for a sign. Over and over again in the Gospel of John already we see Jesus in conversation with people who just don’t get it, and over and over again we see Jesus speaking to them words of life. Come to Jesus and you won’t get it all right. But that’s ok. He knows that, and He will be patient with you. If you wait until you have it all right, you’ll never come to Him at all.
We can also see the power of Jesus. He has power over disease, and it’s not the power of technology, as helpful of a gift as that may be. It’s the power to effect healing with His Word. And it’s not just a wild, erratic power, like that of a hurricane. It’s a power ordered to the giving of life. It’s a power He exercises on behalf of, rather than against, weak, powerless people. And it’s a power that He exercises to keep His promises. We can trust his Word because there is nothing it is unable to accomplish.
But ultimately, His ability and willingness to give life to weak, undeserving people awaited a still greater sign. The hour was still coming when it would not be an official’s son facing death, but Jesus Himself, the only son of God. The hour came when one of His own people betrayed Him and handed Him over to be killed. When He was questioned by a Roman official, He told him that His kingdom was not of this world, otherwise He would be avoiding death. Jesus didn’t come to keep everyone from dying; He didn’t even keep Himself from that. Instead, He willingly went into it, looking forward to a better healing in another world. And so He went to the cross for weak, undeserving people, for people who get fixated on signs, for people like this official, and like you and me, and suffered there for our sins. God did not deliver Him from that, nor did God keep Him from dying. Instead, God raised Him from the dead, and because He died before He was healed, we too, though we are sinners, can now trust His Word that though we die, we will live, and we look forward to the day when we will see that promise fulfilled with our eyes.
So bring Him your wants; He cares for you. He is both powerful and willing to hear your prayers. How could you draw nearer to Jesus amid your wants? Bring them to Him, but don’t stop there. Don’t get so fixated on them that you miss Jesus. Trust the words of His that we do have, recorded for us in Scripture. This story is here not because God is going to handle the illness of people you love in the exact same way, but so that you might be able to hear the same news that this man heard, and see through that not the healing, but that to which it points: A patient, powerful Savior, who will give eternal life to whoever comes to Him for it. Follow the signs to Him, and He will give it to you.