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 4:46-54)
We are nearing the end of the church year (we have four Sundays left), and as we near the end, the subject matter of the gospel readings becomes more and more eschatological. This means that we are getting more and more concerned with the end times. Last week we had a parable of the wedding feast, which had eschatology all over it. This week we have a healing. In what way does this event near the beginning of Jesus' ministry concern the end times?
First, notice that Jesus responds quite negatively to the official (actually a better word would be nobleman). A few weeks ago, we looked at Matthew 8, in which a whole bunch of healing takes place. Here is Matthew 8, starting at verse 5:
When he had entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to him, appealing to him, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.” And he said to him, “I will come and heal him.” But the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
The centurion comes and asks Jesus practically the same thing, "come heal my servant." The nobleman in our passage says, "come heal my son." Isn't a son more important than a servant? Jesus says to the former, "I will come and heal him." To the latter, Jesus says, "you're just looking for a miracle, you unbeliever!" Now, the nobleman is a Jew and the centurion is a Gentile. The centurion actually stops Jesus from coming, saying he isn't worthy to have Christ come under his roof. Is this the difference between the two? The faith of the Gentile is coming through, whereas the Jewish nobleman is expecting Jesus to come because he himself is a royal official?
A major theme in the Gospel of John is that the people Jesus came to, his own, the Jews of Israel, rejected him. "They received him not," the text says. But we see over and over again in the Gospel the same people, his people, wanting Jesus' miracles, but not wanting him. They seek Jesus' WORKS, not his WORD. Look at John 6 for a great example of this. After Jesus feeds the 5,000, they chase after him to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. Then this exchange happens:
When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform?
They are seeking his WORKS, not his WORD. In the same way, this nobleman is looking for Jesus to heal his son, but Jesus knows that he has no faith. The centurion had faith, because he knew Jesus could heal his servant without even being in the same physical space. It's as if Jesus had said, "come on, let's go do this miracle," and the centurion responded, "wait, you're the Son of God, you can heal him just with a word." This is the faith Jesus sees. The nobleman says to Jesus, "come and heal my son!" He doesn't believe that Jesus can heal from afar with a word.
Another thing is happening here that we can only see if we read deeper and connect some pieces. After Jesus tells the nobleman that he is just a sign-seeking unbeliever, the man just repeats his request, "Sir, come down before my child dies!" Then Jesus does something. He changes his attitude and says, "Go; your son will live." The ESV doesn't render this phrase accurately. The Greek and the NASB say, "Go; your son lives." Then the scripture says, "The man BELIEVED the WORD that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way." What happened?
Jesus turned his heart. The man was NOT altering his point of view based on Jesus' chastisement. He continued to ask Jesus to come. Jesus actually reaches into the man's heart and changes him from a sign-seeker to a man of faith. He changes him from a man who wants Jesus' WORK to one who is satisfied with Jesus' WORD. He has turned the man's heart away from something. What is it? It's the impending death of his son, the most valuable thing in his life--his idol. Jesus has turned the man's heart from idolatry to faith in Christ. All that matters to the man is that his son live, but after Jesus turns his heart, he is okay if his son dies. Why? When we render the text properly, "your son lives," we realize that Jesus is not only talking about the current state of the son's health. He is talking about everlasting life. He is talking about the salvation of the man's son. Your son lives. He is no longer dead in his trespasses. I awaken him from afar, and he will live--forever.
The man doesn't ask again for Jesus to come down with him. His heart is different. He believes in the Word of God and departs. He finds out later that his son was physically healed at the exact moment Jesus said, "your son lives," but the faith already has been put there. The man believes, and through his testimony, all his household believed, too. This goes beyond a physical, temporal sign and into the realm of faith in Christ for everlasting life. So, we, too must believe in Christ's word, but as we see in this passage, the faith to believe Christ's word comes from Christ himself. Nothing we can do, think, or say can give us the power to believe. Only Christ.
See what happens when we stop looking at this event in the life of Christ as a temporal healing and begin to look at it as an eschatological event? We are no longer putting our faith in God for our earthly comforts but looking for him to salvation from the wrath to come. Indeed, with Christianity comes persecutions and trials. When the nobleman was immersed in the traditional covenant of works, all he could think about was his son living. When Jesus transferred him into the covenant of grace, he put his faith in Christ's words. Only trusting Jesus mattered. Believe, you and your household, Jesus can and will save all of you from afar. Your son lives. Your daughter lives. Have faith and live.