52. Signs

Short Meditations in John 4:  52. Signs

Jn 4:54  This was the second miraculous sign that Jesus performed, having come from Judea to Galilee

And so to conclude this incident, John summarises it as the second of the signs that Jesus performed in Cana in Galilee. It wasn’t only the second healing miracle because the turning the water in wine had been “the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed at Cana in Galilee,” (Jn 2:11) but “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), so yes, he had done many more healings in Jerusalem but as far as Galilee was concerned this was still the early days of his ministry.

So again, why does John refer to Jesus’ miracles as signs?  The answer has got to be because the whole of his Gospel is given over to revealing Jesus as the Son of God and these miracles act as signs pointing to that truth. Indeed John makes that very clear in his closing chapters: “Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (Jn 20:30,31)

You cannot be more clear than that. Probably for some fifty years or more after Jesus’ ascension John has pondered on all the wonderful things he saw and heard in those three wonderful years with Jesus. Now in old age, as people do in old age, he reflects back to those many years ago which stand out so clearly in his memory and he realises that as good as the other three Gospels had been in laying out the basics of what had happened, they had been just that, factual records picking up on the main things Jesus did or said, but they had not taken in and appreciated the wonder of some of the things he said. This is why John’s Gospel focuses far more on great truths, the greatest of which is the number of ways that Jesus revealed himself to his disciples and to the world.

This was The Son of God but such had been the enormity of what the disciples had seen, that in those early decades, it seems, they had been almost overwhelmed by those staggering healings and the mind jolting events culminating in Jesus ascending back to heaven, that that was all they could think about. They had not had the reflective years that John had now had to ponder on what Jesus had been saying about himself and what was the significance of all of these miracles. Thus again and again John uses this word, ‘signs’ to add that significance. All of these things pointed out this one great truth – the glorious Son of God, who had come down from heaven was in their midst! Hallelujah!

51. Belief

Short Meditations in John 4:  51. Belief

Jn 4:53  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.

We have often noted in these meditations that there appear to be different levels of belief or faith. We recently compared the believing Centurion in Capernaum who just needed for Jesus to speak a word and it would be done, and compared him with this royal official who needed Jesus to come with him to heal his son.

Now the reality is that on most occasions Jesus did go to the sick person to bring about the healing, but there are other notable times when he just spoke and it was done. We mentioned previously the woman up in Tyre who went to seek out Jesus and he simply spoke a word and her daughter was delivered. Let’s not miss in passing this is a power and authority above anything else we might even encounter in life!

But on this occasion Jesus had challenged the man about belief and so when Jesus had said that the man’s son was now well, he had no option but to leave and start off home. But it is not until we get to this verse that we realise that in reality his belief level was at a fairly low level.

So on the road back to Capernaum he meets some of his servants coming the other way to tell him that his son has recovered. When they tell him the circumstances and the time he started getting better, the man suddenly realises that that was exactly the same time that Jesus had declared him well. Suddenly, as we say, the penny dropped! He realises that it wasn’t just a chance that his son had started to get well, but it was the specific word of Jesus that did it. That was incredible! Oh, my goodness! What does that say about Jesus? And suddenly we have a new believer,  both he and his household, because of course all the servants with him also heard and realised what had happened.

The challenge of this particular incident is that it takes us to a whole new level of belief about Jesus. So far in John we have seen him turn water into wine and we have read references to him performing signs and wonders (presumably healings) in Jerusalem and so we no doubt accept him as a healer but this incident shows us a young person being healed miles and miles away, simply because Jesus speaks the word now, in this place. This puts us in mind of the earliest words of the Bible when “God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light” (Gen 1:3). It simply needed God to speak a word and it was done. Now we find the same thing with Jesus; he simply needs to speak a word and it is done. This is God incarnate!

50. Getting the Facts

Short Meditations in John 4:  50. Getting the Facts

Jn 4:52  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.”

If I have been annoyed over the early years of the twenty first century it was because the so-called crusading atheists were given a voice in the media and spoke derogatorily about the Bible and God – but obviously with little knowledge of the Bible.

We’ll leave the conclusion of this episode until the next verse and next meditation but in order to assess the reality of what had happened (and for us it is too easy to see it in hindsight) it would be quite natural for the royal official to wonder, had he already started to get better so Jesus words just happened to coincide with that, or have we just seen a miracle of healing performed by Jesus? As I say, in his shoes that would a quite natural thing to wonder about. What is needed are the facts of what happened and that is what we find here in this verse. They are able to be quite specific about what has happened and the time it occurred.

We have commented recently here that we are called to walk by faith and not by sight, but Christianity is a faith that is built on facts. Yes, at the end of the day you have to make your own decision about those facts and about how you will let them impact you – but the facts are there. The truths of Christianity are attested to by more documentation – good documentation – than any other world religion. The facts of the existence of Jesus Christ are no longer disputed by historians.  The details of his activities are well documented in the four Gospels and then attested to by the rest of the New Testament. Contrary to public belief the New Testament is not full of inconsistencies, discrepancies and contradictions. Indeed it is incredibly consistent. The only question you are left with is, did these men make this up? And then at that point any serious reader and thinker would laugh! That so many writers would bother to write a fairly tale with such agreement and consistency is unthinkable.

But then you look at the Old Testament and again, contrary to the mutterings of the crusading atheists and contrary to public opinion, that too is not full of inconsistencies, discrepancies and contradictions. Where there is a question mark over a piece of text you will find a note at the bottom of the page – and they are minimal. Moreover when you consider the content in detail (which its detractors never seem to do) you do not find a harsh, judgmental and unforgiving God. Quite to the contrary, again and again and again, the God we see there in those pages is patient, merciful and full of grace, seeking the welfare of mankind as a whole. Read it carefully! We need the facts!

49. Good News Confirmation

Short Meditations in John 4:  49. Good News Confirmation

Jn 4:51  While he was still on the way, his servants met him with the news that his boy was living.

While I am convinced that we are called to live by faith and not by sight, I have come to see that God delights in reassuring us and encouraging us. I have lost count of the number of times that I have prayed and asked for encouragement in some area or activity of my life, and the Lord has given it. Yes, we do have to come to a place of complete trust in Him  but once we are there He delights in bringing us confirmations, assurances and encouragement to strengthen us in the way.

I worry sometimes about the sort of prayer life that just utters petitions day in day out and takes no thought of what we are praying and, especially, whether God is answering. It’s just another facet of this same thing about a God who wants to give assurance and confirmation and encouragement.

Our royal official, that we have been watching in these recent meditations, has come to the point of complete trust in Jesus. Having heard that Jesus was there in Cana, he had left Capernaum and found Jesus and pleaded with Jesus to come and heal his son. When Jesus had said he was healed, that was enough and so the man left, and note he left without any other confirmation that it had been done.

It was only as he was on his way back home that he met some of his servants coming to find him to tell him that his son was living. As far as they were concerned, not knowing what had gone on, this was just a case of him suddenly starting to get better, so they set out to tell their master (perhaps to say there was no longer a need to seek out Jesus?)

But do you see the significance as far as this man was concerned. He trusted Jesus. He left Jesus to go home to find a healed son and it was only as he started off again that the answer came through to him – he is living, he will well!

I believe we are to live in the reality of the present situation. I say this because I hear strange things sometimes in the healing realm: declare your healing before it appears. That sounds fine as long as we check what we are really saying. Don’t say Jesus has healed me, before it has happened. What you can say is, Jesus has said he will heal me and I am rejoicing in that, that my healing IS coming. Jesus’ ministry doesn’t need propping up with our ‘faith statements’ that try to sound faith-filled before the event. I don’t need to ‘believe for it’ before Jesus has said it and done it. If he has said he HAS healed me, then I can get on and live waiting for the manifestation (the change in my body) of it. That is what this man did.

48. Trusting without Seeing

Short Meditations in John 4:  48. Trusting without seeing

Jn 4:50  Jesus replied, “You may go. Your son will live.” The man took Jesus at his word and departed.

We ended a previous meditation from 1 Peter “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” (1 Pet 1:8,9) As a young Christian I sought to lead another young person to the Lord but they resisted. I prayed and prayed and nothing happened. Eventually I complained to God and said (as a young Christian!!!) “How can I believe in you if you don’t turn up when I pray?” The next day was a Sunday and at the Sunday morning service, a Crusader Bible Study birthday in the afternoon, and at an evangelistic service in a little chapel in the evening, each speaker based what they were saying on those two verses in 1 Peter 1. All of them!! Coincidence, or God did that for me???? I got the message!

It’s all about trusting Jesus without seeing. This royal official has come this distance to see Jesus and has pleaded with Jesus to come to Capernaum and heal his child. Jesus has put up a challenge about only believing when you see miracles and has now just said, “Your son will live.” Something about Jesus, something about his words, satisfied this man that it was true. He had had no message from home confirming it yet, but he believed it and so departed.

When we were considering the Samaritans early in this chapter, we noted the difference between them hearing words about Jesus and words from Jesus, and we said then that when God speaks it is something different. When Jesus speaks, faith is imparted to the open hearted. But there is the key – the open hearted. As a very young believer, only a month or so old, I heard those three ‘words’ and they came from God, and I rested, I trusted that God had answered and was basically saying, “Son, I want you to learn to believe without having to see.” Later I would come across the verse, “We live by faith, not by sight.” (2 Cor 5:7)

There is obviously now, a fundamental lesson here. We cannot ‘see’ God and indeed our ‘hearing’ Him is limited but we are still  called to believe in Him and trust Him. When we pray, sometimes we’ll get to a point where it seems that heaven is responding, “It is done,” but we don’t yet see an answer in the material world. It may be about a loved one coming to Him, it may be about a healing, it may be about a dozen and one other things but at the end of it, if we sense God has spoken then all it remains for us to do is rest in it and be thankful and just wait in confidence for the thing to be seen – and give thanks. Faith. Trust.

47. Response

Short Meditations in John 4:  47. Response

Jn 4:49  The royal official said, “Sir, come down before my child dies.”

Jesus looks for responses in us. How obvious and simple that is and yet I observe so often a form of Christianity that goes on, day in, day out, with no change. There is apparently not inter-change between Jesus and his disciple and he or she changes little, if at all.

This official has heard that Jesus is in Cana so travels from Capernaum, his home town, and seeks out Jesus and pleads with him to come and heal his child. Now contrary to some of Jesus’ responses – which are simply to reach out in some way and bring the requested healing – on this occasion Jesus seems to rebuff either this man or all the Jews with him with this challenge about belief. Will you only believe in me if you see me do a miracle, is basically what he has said.

Now when Jesus says or does things, it is always for a reason, a good reason, a reason that is good, that reveals Jesus’ goodness. The only trouble is that so often we don’t bother to think about it and look for that good reason.  So why does Jesus put this provocative statement before these people?

I suggest to you that it is to provoke in them a response and our responses are all-important, for they reveal something of our heart. When a shallow or self-centred person hears this sort of challenge, they will go off grumbling about the sort of person Jesus obviously is. They don’t stop to think about why he is saying it – to reveal me.

Do you remember the woman up in Tyre who went to seek out Jesus and who, we read, “begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter.” (Mk 7:26) Another desperate parent and again Jesus pushes past the emotion and says to her, “First let the children eat all they want,” he told her, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.” (Mk 7:27) but she would not be deterred and responds, “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “but even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” (v.28) and for that he heals her daughter.

It seems we have a very similar thing here. A distraught parent who comes in anguish to plead of Jesus for healing of the child, and gets instead a repost. Jesus wants to take us beyond pure emotion; he wants to take us to the place of belief in him and for that reason he may bring a challenge which, at first sight, seems uncaring. It is not. It makes the seeker clarify where they are at.

The royal official will not be put off. In a sense he says, “I don’t care about this miracle business. All I know is that my child is dying and that you can heal him – yes you can! And that is all that matters.” Jesus has got his response. There is a faith here that will not be put off by concerns of self – I don’t like what you’ve said but you can heal!

46. A Challenge to Believe

Short Meditations in John 4:  46. A Challenge to Believe

Jn 4:48  Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders,” Jesus told him, “you will never believe.”

We have already noted in the previous meditation that there are different levels of faith. This royal official had faith enough to believe that if Jesus came he could heal his son. The centurion at Capernaum understood that Jesus only needed to speak a word and it would be done. But now we find Jesus making what seems like an almost unkind challenging accusation that perhaps could be put in a question form – why won’t you believe without a miraculous sign?

It is clear we are all different and at different stages of faith with God. Thomas had declared after the resurrection which he had not yet witnessed, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.” (Jn 20:25) A week later Jesus came and, knowing where Thomas was at, said, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” (v.27) Jesus met him where he was, so what is behind his words in this present situation?

Well John has told us that Jesus has been welcomed back in Galilee because some of them there had been down in Jerusalem and had seen his signs and wonders performed there. Whether this official had been there we don’t know but Jesus speaks to all of them gathered there. They have faith because they saw the signs.

Now the word ‘believe’ comes up over 50 times in John’s Gospel; he understands its importance and it’s what his Gospel is all about Later on we find Jesus saying, “Do not believe me unless I do what my Father does. But if I do it, even though you do not believe me, believe the miracles, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father.” (Jn 10:37,38) It seems from what we have seen that Jesus is happy to meet people at their point of faith, even if it is limited, such as in the case of Thomas. Indeed generally he has said, “If that’s what you need to believe in me, then believe the miracles that come from the Father.” Nicodemus had said, “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him,” (Jn 3:2) and in that he shows us that it is possible to believe that Jesus is something less than he is by looking at his miracles.

This is what is behind Jesus’ words now. Do we need miracles to believe in him or can we just believe instinctively, knowing who he is? “Even though you do not see him now, you believe in him,” (1 Pet 1:8) is the challenge to us today.

45. Please Help

Short Meditations in John 4:  45. Please Help

Jn 4:47  When this man heard that Jesus had arrived in Galilee from Judea, he went to him and begged him to come and heal his son, who was close to death.

Pride, we noted previously, is a personal characteristic which often keeps people from coming to Jesus to seek help. We think we can get by on our own and some even think that asking for help is a sign of weakness – well, it is, because there are times in life when we are weak. Sadly so many of us feel sufficiently strong in ourselves that we don’t seek out the Lord (and I am including Christians here) and so we don’t come to Him and receive all the good things He has for us. Our ‘strength’ means we remain poor. Yes, the sad truth is that so often it takes a crisis in our lives to get us to face the truth about ourselves – we need the Lord!

So here we have this royal official, a man who no doubt most of the time felt quite superior, but whose bubble of pride has been burst by the prick of anguish for his son who appears to be near to dying. We aren’t told exactly what is wrong with him but whatever it is, is really serious and life threatening. Life threats are probably the best wake-up calls in life. Suddenly our strength is as nothing as we are faced with that one thing we can do nothing about – death.

In the verse above we see two things that indicate the depth of this man’s anguish for his son. First, and we noted this previously, he lived in Capernaum and Jesus was in Cana, some miles away, but as soon as he hears that Jesus has returned to Galilee his desperation makes him pack up and get over to Cana as quickly as he can.

The second indicator of his state of desperation is that we are told that he begged Jesus to come back to Capernaum with him to heal his son. Begging or pleading is an indication of our serious desperation – Lord, please, please, please, come and heal him!

Now here we are about to touch on something very significant about this situation and it may be the most significant thing about it. In Matthew we read of a centurion in Capernaum who came to Jesus to ask him to heal his servant and when Jesus offered to come to heal him, the man said, “just say the word, and my servant will be healed,” (Mt 8:8) indicating an understanding and faith level far higher than we find here in our present situation.

Here is the key question: do we limit Jesus in our expectations of him so, as in the present case we need him to be physically there, or do we realise that as the Son of God he simply needs to speak a word and space and distance are irrelevant. It doesn’t mater how far away he is, it just needs his word. He is God! How do we limit him?

44. Another Need

Short Meditations in John 4:  44. Another Need

Jn 4:46  Once more he visited Cana in Galilee, where he had turned the water into wine. And there was a certain royal official whose son lay sick at Capernaum.

Later in John Jesus says, “the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing.” (Jn 5:19) and the implication has to be that the Father in heaven initiates all things and Jesus follows and does them. Thus when we find that “once more he visited Cana in Galilee” it was not a casual thing, but a heaven-directed thing for the Father saw and knew the situation there are knew the possibilities for the outworking of the kingdom there.

Already we have noted that Jesus was welcomed by the Galileans because some of them had been in Jerusalem and had seen the healing miracles he performed there, but now he comes back to Cana which is significant because it had been “where he had turned the water into wine.”  Put the two things together and we have the potential for faith to be stirred. There is from the word go here, an expectation. The miracle working aspects of Jesus’ ministry are brought to the fore. What will now happen?

The obvious question to ask in the light of these things is what need is there in Cana that Jesus has come to meet or, to put it another way round, whose faith is likely to be stirred to start something off? And John gives us the answer: “there was a certain royal official whose son lay sick at Capernaum”   We don’t know anything more about this man but these two things. First, he is a royal official,  probably from Herod’s court. Such people can often be proud and haughty but when confronted by personal need, pride gets put aside, for the second thing we are told about him is that his “son lay sick at Capernaum.”   

Now there are two things that follow from this. First, we’ll see in the next verse, this sickness meant his son was close to death. Which father will remain unmoved when his son is close to death. This man is moved to seek out Jesus. Now note the second thing which is easy to forget – his home is in Capernaum which is a number of miles away from Cana. Now what is strange is that if Jesus had come to Cana to perform his healing ministry we would have assumed that he would come to someone who lived in Cana but that isn’t so. No, this man and his family live a number of miles away and so when he hears Jesus has returned to Galilee and gone to Cana, he makes his way there. Something very significant is going to happen here and it is all to do with the distance Cana is from Capernaum. It seems God wants to make a specific point and it is to do with distance, which is why Jesus goes to Cana and not Capernaum.

43. Warm Reception?

Short Meditations in John 4:  43. Warm Reception? 

Jn 4:45   When he arrived in Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him. They had seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, for they also had been there.

It is difficult when observing the responses to Jesus to determine, shall we say, the quality of the heart responses. In the Samaritans we have just seen a very simple and open response. Responses of others often were grateful thanks for Jesus having healed them or having healed someone close to them. The record shows however that at the end of his story (well not quite the end!) most of Jesus’ followers fled from him and so the quality of their commitment did not run deep enough to cover the threat against themselves.

There was also the case where, later in John’s Gospel, a number drew back from him simply because they could not understand what he was teaching: “From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.” (Jn 6:66)

Now when Jesus eventually gets back to Galilee he finds that the locals welcome him because a number of them had also been in Jerusalem for Passover and saw what he was doing. Now earlier in chapter 2 John spoke of the first sign that Jesus performed (the water into wine) and at the end of this chapter he is going to soon refer to the second sign, but we should be careful to note that these were signs in Cana!

We say this because earlier in John we read, “Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many people saw the miraculous signs he was doing and believed in his name.” (2:23) Note the reference to miraculous signs, presumably healings, performed in Jerusalem and these Galileans had been around in Jerusalem when he had done them, Thus now they welcome him as a performer of miracles who has come to their area, and the assumption must be that he will carry on performing such healing miracles (which he does!). There is therefore a certain element of ‘following for personal benefit’ which is understandable and yet not the best motive for a disciple.

The truth is that we became a Christian when we recognized our need, recognized that we fell short of God’s standards and were therefore alienated from Him and were hopeless and helpless. We needed Jesus to deliver us from our sin and bring us into relationship with the Father. Now I am never sure how many of these things most new believers are clear about because sometimes people come to Christ on what seem to be very superficial reasons and yet their conversion is absolutely real and genuine. Perhaps we should simply note that reasons for following Jesus were many and varied and some of those reasons would not hold up with time.