“The Word of Jesus”
July 7, 2019
Faith Presbyterian Church – Morning Service
We return to John’s Gospel this morning. Two weeks ago, in John 4:1-42 we read of Jesus’s encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well and then with the Samaritans in Sychar. That encounter occurred while Jesus was traveling from Judea to Galilee and had to pass through Samaria on the way, and it culminated in many Samaritans in Sychar coming to faith in Jesus as the Savior of the world.
This morning we will look at John 4:43-54, picking up the story as Jesus is departing from Samaria.
Please listen carefully, for this is God’s Word for us this morning.
4:43 After the two days he [that is, Jesus] departed for Galilee. 44 (For Jesus himself had testified that a prophet has no honor in his own hometown.) 45 So when he came to Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him, having seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the feast. For they too had gone to the feast.
46 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. 47 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. 48 So Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.”49 The official said to him, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” 50 Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way. 51 As he was going down, his servants met him and told him that his son was recovering. 52 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.” 53 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.54 This was now the second sign that Jesus did when he had come from Judea to Galilee.
This is the word of the Lord.
“All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord endures forever.” [1 Peter 1:24-25]
Let’s pray …
Lord, let the words of my mouth
and the meditation of all of our hearts
be acceptable in your sight, O Lord,
our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
[Based on Psalm 19:14]
Our text this morning tells us about the second sign that John records in his Gospel: the healing of the official’s son.
And to appreciate what’s going on here, we have to remember what came before it.
As we mentioned, Jesus is leaving Samaria after a very successful time of ministry there. He stayed in the town for two days, and John writes that “many” there believed that Jesus was the Savior of the world. But John, interestingly, does not record that Jesus did any miracles there. Instead, we read in verse 41 that in Samaria they believed in Jesus “because of his word.”
And after that, Jesus leaves Samaria for Galilee.
As he does, we are warned right off the bat that Jesus will not get the same reception in Galilee. Jesus himself warns that “a prophet has no honor in his hometown” and so we are told to expect that things will not go as well in Galilee as they did in Samaria.
And we read in verse forty-five that Jesus came to Galilee and was welcomed by the people because they had seen what he did in the temple at the Jerusalem feast. In other words, they knew he was someone of note at that point. They had seen him challenge the status quo at the temple. And recognizing his status in that way, they welcomed him. But verse 44 has warned us that they didn’t really see him as they should.
And from this point, to get at what this text has to say to us, it’s probably best for us to, in some sense, put ourselves in the narrative. It’s probably best for us to think of the official who is introduced in verse forty-six, and how his situation and his decisions relate to us.
This man, we learn, was an official at Capernaum, and his son was ill. There is no indication that this man was a Gentile, and so this seems to be a different occasion than the healing of the Centurion’s servant in Matthew 8 and Luke 7. We have every reason to assume that this official was a Galilean Jew, and as we read on we’ll see that this interaction goes very differently than the one Jesus had with the Centurion.
And so, as this Jewish official comes onto the scene, place yourself alongside him. You have a need. Your son is ill. You hear of a man who some claim can work miracles, and you hear he has come into the region. And you are desperate enough now with this need that you set out and make the journey from Capernaum to Cana, in order to see him and to implore him to come and help.
You get to Cana. And you approach him. And you ask him to come to your home and heal your son – to come and meet your desperate need. And you want to see him do it. And you don’t want to see him do it out of some skeptic’s challenge or to play some sort of agnostic game with him – you are desperate to have this need met, to have your son healed, and so you want to see it done, so you can know that it is done.
And when you ask, Jesus calls you out on your lack of faith.
He says to you “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.”
And he’s right. Not because you’re even trying to challenge him, but because you care so much about this need – you care so much about your son – and you want to be sure the need is really met. You want to be sure the boy is really healed. You want to be sure that that which is broken is really mended. And in order to be sure, you want him to do it before your eyes.
And so, you ask again. You ask him to come with you and heal what needs healing – to meet the need that is consuming you. You say “Sir, come down before my child dies.”
And Jesus responds … by giving you words.
He says “Go; your son will live.”
And the question at that point is: What will you do with those words?
What will you do with those words?
And as you think about that, we should step back and appreciate that that sort of question is not just hypothetical for us.
You and I, we each have needs that bring us to Jesus. Of course, duty and love and gratitude should also drive us to Jesus, but in this fallen world, and with our fallen hearts, each human being who comes to Jesus Christ comes to him with needs. We come asking him to do something for us.
It’s true if you are a Christian and have been for years: You first came to Jesus in need, and you come back to him every day in need. That dynamic is fundamental to the Christian’s relationship with Christ.
And it’s even true in a sense if you’re not a Christian. If you’re not a Christian and you’re here this morning, you have some need and you are asking yourself the question of whether Jesus can meet it. Maybe you know that and maybe you increasingly believe Jesus will meet that need. Or maybe you’re highly skeptical and expect that he won’t. But in either case the need is there … and the question hangs in the air for you.
Like the official here in John 4, we come to Jesus with a need. With many needs, really.
For one thing, we all come to Jesus in need of forgiveness. We know we have done wrong, we know we fall short, and we come to Jesus knowing that we need to be forgiven for our sins – for the ugly and self-centered things we have done. We need to have our hearts cleansed and our slate wiped clean. We need forgiveness and cleansing.
Or maybe the need we most feel right now is a need to know that we are valued as God’s treasured possession – that we matter. Maybe you worry that your life does not have value. Maybe you fear that your existence is pointless and meaningless. And you long to know that you matter and are valued by a God who made you and that you are not just a meaningless member of a meaningless society in a meaningless universe. You need to know your life has significance.
Or maybe the felt need you come to Jesus with is to know that you are not a slave to the things about yourself that you hate. You see desires in your heart, thoughts in your head, and habits in your actions that you hate. And you fear that you are a slave to them. And you fear that you are powerless before them. And you fear that you will never escape from them. You need to be freed from the sinful parts of yourself that you hate.
Or maybe the felt need for you is to know that in the story of your life and in the story of this world, there is a happy ending. You need to know that in the end, good wins out over evil, that love wins out over hate, that one day everything will be made new and the world will be the way it is supposed to be. You need to know that life, not death, will be the final word – both for you, and for those you love, and for this world around you. You need to know that one day all things will be made new.
These kinds of needs come from deep within us: the need for forgiveness, the need for meaning in God’s love, the need for freedom from sin, the need for a sure hope in the victory of the good and the renewal of all things.
They are needs like … even deeper than … the official’s need for his son to be healed.
And spiritually speaking … like the official, each of us has traveled some distance to bring our needs before Jesus. Some of you, who grew up outside the church, have traveled farther to bring your needs before him. Others of you grew up in believing families may have had less distance to travel. Others grew up in close proximity to Christ, though maybe the emotional distance was farther than anyone around you knew. And still others did not know you were looking for him until he stood right before you.
But whatever the journey looked like, when we came before Jesus, we knew we had needs. And we wanted him to fill those needs.
And we wanted to see him do it. We wanted to see, and believe, and know we had been made whole.
And when we came to Jesus … he gave us words.
We did not get to see, with our own eyes, the slate of our sins in heaven get wiped clean, or see the stain on our hearts be removed. We did not get to see God’s smile – we did not get to feel his embrace, telling us that he treasures us and that we matter. We don’t see chains of sin fall off of our heart, so that we can know we are free. We don’t witness right now the making of all things new.
We don’t see our needs met.
Instead … Jesus speaks to us. Instead we receive Jesus’s word. And he declares to us that our needs are met. And we are left with that declaration, and the need to decide what we will do with it.
As he said, “Your son will live” to the official, so he says to us: “Your sins are forgiven.” (1 John 1:9); he says to us: “You are my treasured possession” (Deuteronomy 26:18); he says to us: “You are no longer slaves to sin” (Romans 6:6); he says to us: “I will make all things new.” (Revelation 21:5).
And we hear the word of Jesus … and like the official, we then have to decide what we will do with it.
And like the official, we tend to struggle with that. We tend to want to come back and ask a second time … and ask him to show it to us.
And part of the reason we struggle … is because we tend to treat Jesus’s words as if they are one voice among many, presenting Jesus’s theory of reality.
Let me say that again: part of the reason we struggle … is because we tend to treat Jesus’s words as if they are one voice among many, presenting Jesus’s theory of reality.
That’s, in some ways, the situation of this official. He didn’t come to Jesus for his words, he came for his actions. He seems to have heard about what Jesus has done and he wants Jesus to do something for him, and he wants to see it so that he can know that it has really been done. He wants Jesus’s actions.
Because Jesus’s words are just words. Right? And there are a lot of words in the world. There are a lot of explanations and claims about reality. And even if he is right, Jesus’s words are just one more set of words in the mix. Right?
Well … no. No – Jesus’s words are not just words. They’re different. And to see how they are different, we need to join with the official again as this story unfolds.
The official comes to Jesus for action. Jesus exposes this reality in verse 48. Again, the man asks him to come to his home in verse 49. And then Jesus speaks his word on the situation: “Go; your son will live.”
And then we read: “The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way.”
“The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way.”
And he begins to return home.
And then we read:
“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.”
What do we learn here? Well, first, we learn that there was something the official understood and believed at the end of the entire episode that he didn’t yet believe in the middle. In verse fifty we read that he believed. But then in verse fifty-three we read that it was after he knew the timing of his son’s healing that the official believed. What was the difference in the believing that happened in verse fifty and the believing in verse fifty-three?
In the span of those verses the official learns that Jesus’s words are not like the words of anyone else. He learns that Jesus’s words do not just communicate reality … but that Jesus’s words create reality.
Because as John spells out for us in verses fifty-two and fifty-three, the boy was healed at the moment that Jesus said that it was so. When Jesus spoke those words, he wasn’t making a claim. When he spoke those words, he wasn’t even making a prediction. When Jesus spoke those words, he was making reality.
What the official realized in verse fifty-three, on some level, was the same truth that the Apostle John told us back in chapter one.
In chapter one, the Apostle John described Jesus as “the Word” and he told us that Jesus, as the “Word” “was in the beginning with God.” And that “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” The Apostle John told us in the opening lines of his Gospel that Jesus was the one who spoke the universe into existence.
What the official realized in verse fifty-three, on some level, was that Jesus’s words don’t describe reality. Jesus’s words make reality.
Jesus’s words don’t express his theory of reality, they bring reality into being.
Jesus spoke that the boy would live and therefore the boy lived.
And if we have reflected on the implications of the Apostle John’s claims about the relationship between Jesus and creation, then this should not surprise us.
Because we have already been told that Jesus is the Word that all the way back in Genesis 1, all the way back in the opening lines of the Bible – he is the Word that spoke and said, “Let there be light” and there was light. He said, “Let there be waters” “Let there be land,” “Let there be lights in the heavens,” “Let there be birds, and fish, and animals,” He said, “Let there be” and because he said, “Let there be,” it was so.
That’s who Jesus is. That’s the one the official approached with his need … though he did not really realize it at first.
And that is the one we approach as well.
Which means that we need to think about the words of Jesus very differently than we so often do.
Jesus’s words are not just truth claims. They are not just one construal of reality among others. They are not just one worldview in a list of worldviews. Jesus’s words make the world what it is.
What does this mean for us?
Well let’s think of it in the big picture, and then in specific examples.
First, the big picture.
If you are a non-Christian it means that you should know up-front that Christians do not believe that Jesus, that the central figure of our faith, offers just another, (in our view) more accurate perspective on reality than other religious figures do. You should know that up front. Instead, we believe that Jesus, the one at the center of our faith, makes reality.
Which is why Christians have been known for thousands of years for being so stubborn about what we believe. People wonder why Christians won’t bend on the words God has spoken. Why not massage it a bit to fit better with the culture around us?
You need to understand that if what we believe about Jesus is true, then we have no right to do that at all. Because we don’t believe we have just a religious leader who may have been mostly right, but also wrong on a couple points here or there. We believe we have a leader whom we confess made the universe. He spoke all things, including human beings into existence. Which means there is no way we or any other human, or even billions of humans in agreement, can know what is true about reality better than he does.
If he says something is true, it must be, and no majority vote can overturn it, because Jesus’s words make the universe. If he says something is, it is. If he says it is not, then it is not.
And similarly, if Jesus says something is right or wrong for human beings, there is no wiggle room. There is no room for debate. There might be room for discussion to seek better understanding, but we cannot debate the Maker of human beings on the topic of what human beings are for, or what human beings were made to do and made not to do.
If you are not a Christian and you are considering Christ … you should be aware of the one you are considering. He is not just a man with some helpful ideas. But he is the one who speaks, and it is so.
That’s for non-Christians. What about for Christians?
If you’re a Christian, then you need to acknowledge that far too often, your default way of thinking is to treat Jesus’s words as one voice among others … that even if, in the end, it is Jesus’s words that you believe above all those other voices, your default is still too often to treat his words and the words of others as if they are on the same level. You might not mean to … but you often unintentionally give them equal footing.
You do this when you line them up and you think to yourself “Well … Jesus says this … but Richard Dawkins says that.”
Or “Jesus says this … but my favorite politician says that.” Or “Jesus says this … but my peers, or co-workers say that.” Or “Jesus says this … but that man or woman I admire so much says that.”
When we think that way – when we put the two voices side-by-side on equal footing, even when we choose to continue to believe the words of Jesus, we are guilty of forgetting the ways that Jesus’s words are not the same as anyone else’s.
We also do the same thing when we say to ourselves: “Jesus says this … but it doesn’t feel true to me.” Then we put Jesus’s words and our own perspective on the same footing.
And we do that more often than we think. And even if you are one of those stoic, rational, non-emotive Presbyterians of Northern-European descent, I bet you do this – you let your feelings rival the words of Christ more often than you think.
Because when you have sinned – especially if it’s one of those sins you feel especially guilty about … one of those sins you feel especially ashamed of – when you sin, and you confess it to Christ … and when you don’t feel forgiven afterwards … then I bet more than you realize it, you allow yourself to wonder if you really are forgiven. You walk around with doubt that you really are forgiven for your sin.
When you do that … you are allowing your feelings an equal footing with the words of Jesus, regarding what is true.
Because Jesus said in Luke 18 that the one who confesses their sin to God from the heart and asks for mercy, will go home right with God. [Luke 18:9-14] He said, through his Apostle that if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us of our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. [1 John 1:9]
You have heard him say it in his word. You hear him say some variation of that through his word, spoken by his minister, every Sunday morning here, in the declaration of pardon.
But often … if you still feel guilty … then you doubt that you are forgiven.
And when you do that, you put the words of Jesus in the wrong category.
Jesus is not just telling you he thinks you are forgiven. Jesus is not just urging you to believe in a theory of God and salvation in which you are forgiven. Jesus speaks it and it is so. You are forgiven because Jesus has declared it, and his words make reality.
As surely as he said, “Your son will live” and the boy revived, so surely he says “You are forgiven. You are cleansed” and you are forgiven and cleansed. Whether you feel it or not, it is true – just as the official’s son was healed whether the official felt it was so that minute or not.
Or what about the question of meaning and value. Jesus, before the incarnation, declared that his people are his treasured possession [Deuteronomy 26:18]. But when you feel worthless … when your life feels meaningless … when you feel as if you have no value … then you often begin to allow your feelings to question the words of Jesus.
But the words of Jesus make it so. If Jesus says you are treasured, then you are, because he said it. If he regards you as having value to him, then there is no greater objective measure of value outside of that. There is no reality above or beyond the word and the claims of Jesus. If he says you have value and worth to him, then there is no other more objective scale in which you do not have value or worth. If he has chosen to value you and declared it to be so, then it is true – even if you are not sure why he has chosen to value you.
Or what about your relationship to sin? What about those feelings that you are a slave to your sin and things will never change and there is no hope that you can grow in repentance, and so as temptation approaches you feel like there’s no point in even trying to fight it? What about that?
Jesus says, through his Apostle, that if you are united to him, then “You are no longer slaves to sin” [Romans 6:6]. And if you allow your feelings over your slavery to sin to compete on equal footing with the words of Jesus, then once again, you have misunderstood the nature of the words of Jesus.
If Jesus says it, it is so. And he has said it in his word, through his chosen Apostle. If he says it, then as Charles Wesley put it, you chains have fallen off, and your heart is free. Whether you feel it or not, it is so, just as surely as Jesus, the eternal Word, said “Let there be light” and there was light.
And what about hope? What about the sense when you look around you and it seems like darkness is going to prevail? When you look around you and see the brokenness and the evil of the world, and it doesn’t look like good is victoriously on the march? What about when you look at death … and it seems so final? And you wonder if maybe in the end, death does win – in your life, in the life of those you love, in this world?
But then Jesus says of everyone who believes in him: “I will raise him up on the last day.” [John 6:40] Jesus said of the future “Behold, I am making all things new.” [Revelation 21:5]
If the one who said, “Let it be” and it was so … if the same one says “Let it be new” then it will be made new.
And if the same one who said “Let us make man” … and man was made – if that same one says “Let us raise man” then man will be raised.
Far too often we Christians treat Jesus’s words as if his words are proposing a theory of reality, rather than understanding that his words are making reality.
Jesus did not speak of a theory of God’s forgiveness, or a theory of humanity’s value in God’s sight, or a theory freedom from sin, or a theory of hope for the future.
Jesus spoke, and his word actively forgave, and valued, and freed his people, and one day his words will raise humanity and make all things new.
So, where does that leave us now, in our lives?
Well … it leaves us in verse 50, doesn’t it?
Jesus has spoken. And his word has made it so. But we do not yet see it. And now we are called to respond to the words of Jesus. Now we are called to live by faith, and not by sight. Now we are called, knowing who Jesus is, to believe the word that Jesus has spoken to us … and then to go on our way. We are called to live as if it is true – to live as if it is true because we believe that Jesus speaking it will make it true … even if we cannot yet see it.
That is what the official did – even with how imperfectly he knew what he was doing at that moment.
He believed, and then he walked forward as if Jesus’s word was true. And only later did he get to see how it was.
Living our lives as if Jesus’s words to us are true is not easy. We want to see. We long to see that he has done for us what he has claimed to. We want to see our guilt erased, we want to see our value from God’s perspective, we want to see our freedom from sin in Christ, we want to see our future hope. But instead, like the official, we stand here seeing none of it … but having Jesus’s word.
And if Jesus is who he says he is … if Jesus is the one who spoke the world into being … if Jesus is the one who said, “Let there be” and it was so … then his word is enough.
Brothers and sisters in Christ … you have the word of Jesus telling you who you are in him. Many other voices, in the world around you and in your own heart claim otherwise. But none of those other voices spoke the cosmos into being.
Your calling now is to live your life in light of the words of Jesus.
Your calling is, like the official, to believe the word that Jesus has spoken to you and to go on your way.
Your calling is to walk now by faith … in eager anticipation of that day in the future when you too will see the reality that the word of Jesus has created in your life.
This is what the official did. Let us go and do likewise.
This sermon draws on material from:
Augustine. Homilies on the Gospel of John 1-40. Translated by Edmund Hill. Edited by Allan D. Fitzgerald. The Works of Saint Augustine. Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 2009.
Brown, Raymond E. The Gospel According to John. vol.1. Anchor. New York, NY: Doubleday, 1966.
Carson, D.A. The Gospel According to John. PNTC. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1991.