Meditating on Great Themes in John: 9. The Man of Power
John 4:49,50 The royal official said, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” Jesus replied, “You may go. Your son will live.”
We are, remember looking for big themes in this Gospel of John. Apart from the theology that John has imparted in his writing, we have seen Jesus exercise power just once – turning water into wine. Now what is intriguing is that back in chapter 2 after that miracle we find Jesus going back to Jerusalem to the Passover where he overturns the tables in the Temple but in what follows we find John recording, “Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many people saw the miraculous signs he was doing and believed in his name.” (Jn 2:23)
Now we have already commented on John’s references to ‘miraculous signs’ but when we get to the end of the passage at the end of chapter 4 we are going to find, “This was the second miraculous sign that Jesus performed, having come from Judea to Galilee.” (4:54) Now a careless reading might result in someone saying, “Why only the second miraculous sign; surely he has already done more of them in Jerusalem?” Our answer has to be yes, but perhaps the emphasis should be on the words, “having come from Judea to Galilee,” meaning this was the second sign up in Galilee. The first sign up there had been turning the water into wine, so what happened here and why was it so special and what does it say about Jesus that John wants to emphasise?
Before we go on to answer those questions we need to note something in passing. When we said, ‘that John wants to emphasise’, we are reminding ourselves that this particular Gospel is almost a series of cameos (short sketches making important points). Yes, he puts them in historical context but all we are seeing is the tip of the iceberg as far as the things Jesus did are concerned. Already just now we noted that summary verse about his activities in Jerusalem where he obviously did many things that John just didn’t bother recording, and at the end of the Gospel he emphasises all this when he writes in his closing words, “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.” (Jn 21:25)
So what is so special about the incident we’re about to look at and why did John include it? From our previous study we move on and the Samaritan women has returned home and told her people about Jesus. They come out and meet him: “Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. And because of his words many more became believers.” (Jn 4:39-41) First, some of them believe because of her testimony but when they meet him and he stays with them for two days, more of them believe in him.
After this he continues his journey to Galilee and there he is greeted warmly because a number of others had returned from the Passover at Jerusalem telling of what he had done there. (v.45) It is in this context that we find Jesus returning to Cana where the water into wine incident had occurred and there he is accosted by a desperate ‘royal official’ (presumably from Herod’s palace) who had come from Capernaum when he had heard Jesus had arrived back from Jerusalem (v.46,47).
The man is desperate for his son who is near to death (v.47) and he begs Jesus to come and heal him. Jesus is challenging but it is unclear whether he means the man or the people of Galilee generally when he says, “Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders, you will never believe.” (v.48) Now whether he is simply stating the obvious about their unbelief or whether he is highlighting the words, ‘miraculous signs’, or whether he is simply seeking to provoke the man to outright faith is not clear. The man persists: “The royal official said, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” (v.49)
It is what follows that makes this so remarkable. “Jesus replied, “You may go. Your son will live.” (v.50); it simply lacks drama. Now to make sure we understand the significance of this, John records, “The man took Jesus at his word and departed. While he was still on the way, his servants met him with the news that his boy was living. When he inquired as to the time when his son got better, they said to him, “The fever left him yesterday at the seventh hour.” Then the father realized that this was the exact time at which Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” So he and all his household believed.” (v.50-53) In other words Jesus in Cana speaks the words and the son, some seventeen or eighteen miles away in Capernaum is healed. John identifies this as a miraculous sign (v.54) and so it clearly was.
It is one thing to somehow turn water into wine when you are in the same room, but to heal a dying boy many miles away by a simple word takes us onto a much higher plane where we are considering Jesus. So we have now seen the power to change material things, talk of the power of resurrection and the power to bring about a new birth, the power to bring living water as a new life source and now the power and authority to bring about an amazing healing at a distance by a simple words. Any questions?