I am not sure what is happening with the travel in John’s Gospel. It may be that John is not concerned with telling the story in a historically linier fashion. Because as it is, in John 2, Jesus turns the water into wine, then he goes to Capernaum, then he is in Jerusalem, then into a Samaritan town, then to Galilee, and finally, he is back in Cana. He is all over the place.
Coming back into Cana, John reminds us that this is where Jesus performed the first sign, which was turning the water into wine.
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.
4:46 “Royal official” in Greek is "basilikov" The term can designate either a person of royal blood or a servant to the king. Here, the latter is almost certainly in view; this man is a servant of Herod, tetrarch of Galilee. Capernaum was a border town, so doubtless there were many administrative officials in residence there.
I am not sure it makes much difference – one way or the other here is a person like Donald Trump – powerful. It is someone who is accustomed to giving orders and making demands of others.
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.
So here is this powerful man, accustomed to giving orders, often making demands of others, having power over others, comes to Jesus as one who is powerless and does not request, but begs for Jesus to heal his son who was close to death.
And Jesus has this response:
48 “Unless you people see signs and wonders,” Jesus told him, “you will never believe.”
In the Old Testament the word 'sign’ is used by itself for a pledge or token, between one person and another, or between a person and God. It often refers to something that is yet to come, as in a reflection of the future. In John’s Gospel, a “sign” is more specifically something that draws us to the unseen truths. Like the needle of a compass, it points to an invisible magnetic north pole.
For John, Jesus is doing signs and wonders because without them, people will not believe.
49 The royal official said, “Sir, come down before my child dies.”
50 “Go,” Jesus replied, “your son will live.”
The man took Jesus at his word and departed.
This is a remarkable faith, because this man took Jesus at his word. No evidence at all. Here was a man who did not need to see the sign and wonder, he simply believed.
51 While he was still on the way, his servants met him with the news that his boy was living. 52 When he inquired as to the time when his son got better, they said to him, “Yesterday, at one in the afternoon, the fever left him.”
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 his whole household believed.
54 This was the second sign Jesus performed after coming from Judea to Galilee.
Let’s talk about this business of believing.
Right before this is the story of the woman at the well.
9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.[a])
10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”
11 “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”
This is an interesting story and very typical of the onion like book of John. The woman is on one layer, Jesus is on a deeper level. The woman is talking about water as in H2O, Jesus is talking about spiritual sustenance.
Now jump to the end of that story, just immediately before our text for today with the healing of the royal man’s son, and we come to this…
42 They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”
I wonder if Jesus really means what he says when he says, “Unless you see signs and wonders you won’t believe,” or does Jesus say this as a challenge – “other people need signs and wonders, but you need to be better than that, you need to hear because of the words.”
Now jump to the end of the Gospel of John and you have the story of Thomas meeting the resurrected Jesus.
But he said to them, “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.”
26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written (that is to say, these words are written) that you may believe[b] that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
I think this miracle is here to help us move to the doubts of Thomas and the truth that we can believe the words of Jesus without seeing the miracles of Jesus.
What does it mean to believe in Jesus?
Does it mean to believe that Jesus exists?
What is belief?
Belief might be a matter of the head and the mind –Do you believe the earth orbits the sun or not? You are given evidence, you evaluate it, and you come to believe in a scientific fact. Belief in Jesus for many is a matter of the mind – I believe Jesus lived and taught.
Belief is also a matter of the heart and soul - when a parent says to a child, “I believe in you,” it does not mean “I believe you exist.”
It means “I have confidence in you. I value you.”
If one says to a spouse, “I believe in you,” it means, “I trust you.”
This is the kind of believing we see in the royal official. Understanding the official’s belief as “trust” in Jesus opens some riches in this passage. Trust is what a child has in his or her parents. You see it when a parent tosses a small child in the air, and the child laughs, completely trusting that the parent will catch the child.
Trust is being in a relationship in which a person can be completely vulnerable and open, knowing with utter certainty that he or she will not be unfairly used.
The royal official has only a little evidence, but he comes to Jesus believing Jesus can heal his son. When Jesus refuses to go with him, the man takes Jesus at his word, trusting Jesus with the life of his son.
The passage invites us to explore our own level of belief and/or trust in God through Jesus Christ.
Many of us trust in our savings account, or in our paycheck, or in our ability to hold a job – but these can disappear anytime. To trust that God will care for us even when the visible signs of that care disappears, that is belief!
Henri Nouwen once talked about trapeze artists who swing up high in the air, holding on to the trapeze until just that moment when they have to let go and fly through the air, unsupported, in order to be caught by the hands of the other artist. Trust is in that moment of letting go.
Complete trust is letting go without a net.
(source: Feasting on the Gospels, John, Volume 1, p. 264)
Here are some other interesting things to learn from this passage.
Here is a man who has to come to Jesus, he seeks Jesus. We do better in our spiritual discovery when we are intentional about going out and seeking Jesus than we do when we just wait for ourselves to accidently bump into Jesus.
Jesus was in Cana and this man lived in Capernaum, almost twenty miles away. That is why he took so long to get back home.
Another thing – this man had to swallow his pride.
He was in need, and neither convention nor custom stopped him from bringing his need to Christ. His action would cause a sensation, but he did not care what people said so long as he obtained the help he so much wanted. If we want the help which Christ can give, we must be humble enough to swallow our pride and not care what anyone else may say.
Here is a man in need who refused to be discouraged.
Jesus met him with the, at first sight, bleak statement that people would not believe unless they were supplied with signs and wonders. If the man had turned irritably away; if he had been too proud to accept a rebuke; if he had given up despairingly on the spot – Jesus would have known that his faith was not real. People must be in earnest before the help of Christ can come to them.
Here was a man who had faith.
It was enough faith to take him to Jesus and try to get him to come home with him – and this faith grew to the point at which the man was able to accept Jesus at his word and go home alone.
If Jesus says a thing, it is not a case of ‘It may be true’; it is a case of ‘It must be true.’
Here was a man who did not get his own way.
That is so invaluable. I meet so many people who have to have their own way.
He wanted Jesus to come to his house, and that didn’t happen, and he lived with it – and for the better.
His son was healed, and he and all his household believed.
Additional resources if someone wants to refer to Matthew or Luke.
Matthew 8:5-13New International Version (NIV)5 When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. 6 “Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed, suffering terribly.”
7 Jesus said to him, “Shall I come and heal him?”
8 The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. 9 For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
10 When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. 11 I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. 12 But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
13 Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go! Let it be done just as you believed it would.” And his servant was healed at that moment.
Luke 7New International Version (NIV)
The Faith of the Centurion
7 When Jesus had finished saying all this to the people who were listening, he entered Capernaum. 2 There a centurion’s servant, whom his master valued highly, was sick and about to die. 3 The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and heal his servant. 4 When they came to Jesus, they pleaded earnestly with him, “This man deserves to have you do this, 5 because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue.” 6 So Jesus went with them.He was not far from the house when the centurion sent friends to say to him: “Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. 7 That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. 8 For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
9 When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.” 10 Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well.