A number of years ago, Susan and I visited Niagra Falls, our nation's first tourist trap. Like Rock City, everyone should see it once. While there, I found something that was more fascinating than the falls itself. There was this large bulletin board that featured copies of old newspaper clippings from over the past number of years. These were clippings about people who felt it was their life- calling to conquer the falls. Basically it was a chronicle of their stupidity. Most articles dealt with people going over the falls in barrels or other such contraptions, trying to survive. This was often their last act on Earth. Other articles dealt with people who felt the need to go fishing in boats close to the brink for some reason. They ended up being "the one that got away."
One set of articles really got my attention. They were about people who walked across the Falls on a tightrope. I think I'd rather try the barrel. At least you can't see what's going on. The most famous of these was the Frenchman, Jean Francois Gravelet. Fortunately, he went by the name "Blondin." He first performed this stunt in 1859. The journey was 1100 ft. long and 160 ft. high above the troubled waters of the Niagara. He didn't do this once: he did this many times and in many different ways. He did it blindfolded, in a sack, pushing a wheelbarrow, on stilts, carrying a man on his back. One time he sat down at midway while he made and ate an omelette. In 1860, after performing gracefully for the crowds who were just adoring him, Blondin reminded them that he had once carried a man across the Falls on his back. "Do you remember reading about that?" "Oh, yes we remember that." "Do you believe I can do it again?" The crowd roared, "Yes, we believe you can do it again! Then he asked for a volunteer! The silence was just as deafening as the cheers had been moments before.
I have often heard the saying, "Put your money where your mouth is." The crowds faith was only lip-service. Easy to say when surrounded by people who are saying the same thing, believing with all their hearts the same thing. But when asked to stand out from the crowd, their faith crumbled. It did not apply to any one of them personally. Is your faith in God only lip-service only? And, you may not know the answer to that. Maybe we haven't been tested like this crowd was tested. You know, that is a thought I have to consider for myself. Is the faith I express before you as a pastor lip-service? Have I been tested yet? "No." My faith has not been sorely tested. It's easy to believe when you are standing there beside me, but when I step out from this group of believers, do I still believe? Jesus wondered this about some that said they believed in Him. "Oh yes, we believe in You." Do you really? Turn with me to John, chapter 4. The story of Jesus healing the official's son. This is no new story. You know this story. But we're going to look at it today.
This story that is best understood when it is looked at in the context of the stories that surround it. Now this can be done in several ways to bring up several different points. Today we're going to look at the stories just preceding. First we come upon Jesus and He's speaking with a Jewish leader, Nicodemus. And then the story that follows that is about a Samaritan woman at the well. So we have Jesus reaching the heart of a Pharisee man at one end of the spectrum and a Samaritan woman at the other end of the spectrum. Now, Jesus is seen reaching out to a person from His own home land. It is often harder to reach your own people than any other. This time it is a secular leader who needed a change of heart. Jesus is showing that the message He brings is for all people in all walks of life. It's not just for him. It's not just for her. It's for you. It's not just for Seventh-day Adventists, it's for Baptists, it's for Methodists, it's for Christians, it's for non-Christians. It's for most of us. It's for everybody. And Jesus proves that point.
Look at John 4:43-45. After two days He left for Galilee. (Now Jesus Himself had pointed out that a prophet has no honor in his own country.) When He arrived in Galilee, the Galileans welcomed Him. Now wait a moment: those verses sound like they contradict each other a little bit. "A prophet is without honor in his own country." And when they arrived in Galilee they welcomed Him. What's the answer to that? I believe the answer lies in the rest of verse 45: They had seen all that He had done in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, for they also had been there.
Why had they welcomed Him? They had seen what He had done. They had seen miracles, they had seen Him standing up to the status quo. They had seen Him act. That's what they liked to see. That's what they were welcoming. They were not enthusiastic about Jesus. They were enthusiastic about what He had the power to do, and hopefully, to conquer those Romans.
Two Sabbaths ago, I was walking with my family to church along the edge of the Rift Valley in Kenya. Along the path we passed a circle of huts. And the circle of huts is connected by this tangled mass of branches and thorns called a boma. At night the Masai bring their cattle into the boma and close it off with more branches to keep the lions away from the cows. But this morning the cows were out and the branches were removed from the gate and I saw two people sitting there; a Masai woman and a Masai man. The man came out on the path to greet us and I wished him a "Happy Sabbath." And he repeated the phrase back to me. I did not know if he were an Adventist or a Christian. But I wished him a "Happy Sabbath." And he parroted the phrase back to me. I invited him if him to go to church with us. He said, "I wold like to go to church with you. In fact, I know a short-cut to church." And he pointed to a little path that went through the fields, and I knew that was the general direction to the church, so I said, "Okay, let's go."
And we walked along the path together toward the church, and he knew English fairly well, and I knew "Mah," nothing. So we were communicating the best we could, and he was making a great show along the way with his walking stick. Those are nice walking sticks, and he was using it to push aside the thorn bushes to make a way for us to walk. Then he would use his walking stick to point out the skeletal remains of the latest lion kill. He would use his walking stick here and there, and he was so proud of his walking stick. I also noticed that whole time we were walking that he kept eyeing the Timex on my wrist. As the church came into view he eyed my Timex one more time and he held out his walking stick and said, "We are friends, aren't we?" Well, what can one say but "Yes. We're friends." I had know him for these ten minutes. He continued. "Since we are friends, I would like to give you my walking stick." I thought, that would be nice. "And since you are my friend you will give me your watch." (The Masai seem to have a thing for wrist watches. Just ask Susan about that. She made a good friend that asked for her watch every day. What's amazing is that they have absolutely no appointments to keep. Not one. I shared with him that even though we were friends, I needed my watch more than I needed his stick. And our "friendship" seemed to end. He was only interested in me as long as he thought I had something for him.
Jesus knew that the friendship He received in Galilee was of similar sort. When miracles dry up so does the friendship. John 4:46. Once more He visited Cana of Galilee, where He had turned the water into wine. And there was a certain royal official whose son lay sick in Capernaum.
Now, there is some debate over who this man was. It seems clear that he was a court official of Herod Antipas, Tetrarch of Galilee. He was a Jew and probably a Herodian (a Jew who supported Herod). These were people who thought Roamn rule was okay, in fact they were gaining position because of it. They were not so interested in stopping the Romans from ruling the Jews. They also promoted taxes because that paid their salary. A Herodian was a person most Jews woulld look askance at. It was highly likely this man was a Herodian. This official had come 16 miles from Capernaum to ask Jesus to come and heal his son. He had heard of Jesus. He had developed a picture in his mind as to what kind of person Jesus was. He had elevated Jesus to be like the royal people that he served. He expected a man of such reputation to look and act a certain way. The book Desire of Ages says, "On reaching Cana he found a throng surrounding Jesus. With an anxious heart he pressed through to the Savior's presence. His faith faltered when he saw only a plainly dressed man, dusty and worn with travel. He doubted that this Person could do what he had come to ask of Him..."
What does it take to make your faith falter? With this man, it was simply the fact that Jesus did not measure up to what he thought Jesus should be. His expectations were not met. Jesus did not look like he expected. Jesus was not kingly in appearance. He did not seem holy enough. He was ordinary. He did not meet this royal official's standards. Jesus looked tired. Jesus was dusty. He did not look like a physician should look.
Last Sunday, I visited someone in the hospital. I was greeted several times with, "Good morning Doctor." and "Excuse me Doctor." and "Doctor, you dropped your pen." It was kind of fun. I usually get mistaken for the stock boy at whatever store I'm in. I'm glad that I didn't get asked for medical advice because I am not a doctor. I don't play one on TV. I am already educated beyond my intelligence. I could not have provided the smallest service needed for anybody in that hospital, even though I evidently looked like I could. Yet here is a man who does not appear as if He can do anything, who has power over all things!
Our man himself was in a dilemma. His son was sick to the point of death. He was a man of high position, standing before a man who looked to be of low position. This couldn't be right! He could go back home and complain about falling standards and a wasted trip and save face. "You know, dear, I found the doctor." "You found the right person?" "Yes, I found the right person, there was a crowd around Him. We wouldn't want Him in our house, dear. He didn't look right. He didn't smell right. He was tired. He couldn't have done anything anyway. It was a wasted trip." He could have saved face, and his son would have died. And he would have died the second death. After all, saving face is what complaining is. When we criticize and complain about things in others, it is simply a way to make excuses for self and save face. Criticism is as much an attempt to elevate self as it is to tear down others. To lift up ones self and ones own ideas is stepping into self-righteousness. "My way is better." "Why didn't they do it this way? It would have been so much better." "The person I follow is of higher moral fiber so that means I am too." These were all common arguments of the Jews in Jesus' day. These are arguments I hear today. This is what was said by many a Pharisee when confronted with Jesus. "Our laws are more complex than His, so they must be more holy ." "Our way of doing things meets higher standards." "I follow such and such a teacher so I am of greater purpose." Similar thoughts were going through the mind of this man as he stood before Jesus. "I'm used to serving before the king." To elevate oneself to a higher level is an excuse yourself from looking at who you really are. Jesus predicted this attitude in His last day church in the book of Revelation. Revelation 3:17 says, "You say, 'I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.' This isn't talking about money. It's talking about spiritual wealth. "I know the Scripture." But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked."
This message is not about them. This message is about me. This message is about us, His last-day church. It matters not who we think we are. It matters greatly who we think Jesus is.
The life of this man's son was on the line, so he humbled himself a step,.. just a step. This is the first recorded instance of someone asking Jesus for healing, by the way. This man was used to being obeyed, not begging for a favor. He reasoned that Jesus would want to help him because of his lofty position. "After all, Jesus has a thing going here, it's a movement evidently, and wouldn't that movement get a little boost If I endorsed Him?" We see that going on in the political campaigns right now. Somebody dropping out of a race and then endorsing somebody else. "Oh, that gives me a boost. Now I have his voters behind me. Eventually I can be President." He assumed that Jesus operates it on that same mode. All the endorsements He can get is better. But Jesus doesn't care about endorsements. Jesus care about this man. help the prestige of Jesus' cause to have someone like him behind it.
Look at John 4:47. When he 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. There, he did it. He begged. He asked, even pleaded. "How much more humble can you get?" But he still had a card up his sleeve. A card of pride that had not been laid on the table, for you see, he had come to this conclusion: "If". If is a dangerous word. "If Jesus comes and heals my son, then I will believe!" "If God answers my prayers a certain way, then I will follow Him more gracefully." "If He meets my conditions..."
I've prayed that. Maybe you have, too. In fact, I'd be surprised if you haven't. I've prayed: "Lord, I want to follow You so completely. Please do anything that it takes to make me walk humbly before You, but please don't let it hurt me." You know, you don't pray that way, but you think it. "I hope He doesn't embarrass me publically with my sins that are in the past, or the ones that are in the present. Don't bring those out, no, no, no. Anything but that, Lord." If You do this, then ...No!" Jesus does not accept the 'if and then' scenario. Praise the Lord.
John 4:48. Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders," Jesus told him, "you will never believe." It sometimes takes straight talk to shake us out of our self-righteousness. Jesus went straight to the core. "Unless you people..." He wasn't talking to this man, he was talking to everybody that is there. They're all Jews. They are all from His homeland. "Unless you people that have welcomed Me so see signs and wonders, you'll never believe."
Jesus is bringing in a contrast between His own people and the Samaritans He has just visited. The Samaritans believed with only words. The Jews needed fireworks. No, Jesus was not truly honored by His own.
This official realizes that Jesus has looked at his heart. This forces him to also look at his own heart. He saw there a man burdened with self-righteousness and unbelief. He knew that His son's life was hanging in the balance of his belief in this dusty tired Man. From the anguish of his newly and completely humbled heart he cries out in faith in the next verse (John 4:49), The royal official said, "Sir, come down before my (little) child dies."
The language used here reminds us of Jacob holding on to the Angel of the Lord. Who was this angel? Jesus. Jesus has been here before. "I will not let you go unless you bless me!" The stories are almost identical. Unbelief until the point "I do believe!"
Did Jesus care about this man's son? Did he want to cure the little boy's disease? Yes, with all of His heart. But there was a worse disease already in His presence that needed curing first. A disease whose symptoms are worse than any cancer. A disease whose end result is worse than death. The disease of self- righteousness. This man needed to be healed more than his son. And that is what the Great Physician did! That is an even greater miracle than what took place in the next verse.
(John 4:50). Jesus replied, "You may go. Your son will live."
The man took Jesus at His word and departed.
Notice this. When the man opens his heart to Jesus, he still does not know how to ask. But he knows how to believe. He still is asking Jesus to "come down" to Capernaum to heal is son. Jesus does not need to meet this condition. Jesus is the Author of all life no matter where it is. Why do we put conditions on how Jesus can answer our prayers? But when Jesus told him that his son was healed, he believed! He now had faith without evidence. The next verses share something about this man's new saving faith.
John 4:51. While he was still on the way, his servants met him with the news that his boy was living. When enquired as to the time when his son got better, they said to him, "The fever left him yesterday at the seventh hour."
Now, remember how far it is from Capernaum to Cana. It was sixteen miles- down hill. He could easily have walked home that day and arrived before dark. (Since the Roman daylight was divided into 12 hours, the seventh hour is about 1:00, p.m.) He could have gone straight home to check on his boy, but he didn't feel the need to. His boy was fine, and he knew it in his heart. There is no rush. We don't find him arriving home till the next day. He has faith that Jesus has healed his son. He has faith that Jesus is his Savior! When Jesus is in charge, why the stress? Why the rush? That is something you may never see a Masai do, --rush. The missionaries that work with them have a saying to express the attitude of people who live on the Equator, "There is no Winter. Why the rush? No winter is coming! Tomorrow is just like today, forever!" Why should we be so stressed out about so many things if God is truly in charged of our lives and we don't have to worry about what's coming?
I picture this man taking his time on the way home. He may be literally taking time to smell the roses. Enjoying the things that Jesus has made. Enjoying walking without the burden of self-righteousness hanging on the shoulders. Enjoying thinking of ways that he can joyfully live for his Savior.
The servants, on the other hand, know their old master. When they see the miracle take place in the middle of the day, they assume their master will want to know immediately. They wonder what is taking him so long and run out to find him to bring him the good news which he already knows. Look at verse 52.
John 4:52-53. 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.
He was no longer the only believer. His whole household believed. When Jesus comes into our hearts we can't help but to share Him with others. This was not just for his household either. This event helped prepare the way for Jesus to officially begin a work in that region. All from the new found saving faith of one man.
Are you waiting for one more sign that Jesus is competent to handle your life? You have a whole Book of signs in your lap right now. A lot is hanging in the balance. New signs are lining up every day. This country is quickly dividing over moral issues. Are you watching the news? Jesus is coming SOON! We are about to be crossing some really troubled waters that make Niagra Falls look like a stream through the meadow. Will we be found quibbling over this and that? Or will we be found with open hearts full of saving faith in Jesus? Will you step out in faith? Will you step out of the silent crowd and climb onto His back and allow Him to carry you across on the only road to Eternity? Your name will not be posted on a bulletin board of fools but in the Book of Life!
Sources: Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, Vol. 5 The Desire of Ages, by E.G. White Jesus the Messiah, by Alfred Edersheim The Abundant Life Bible Amplifier: John, by Jon Pauline Hymn of Praise: #15, My Master and My King Scripture: John 6:28,29 Hymn of Response: #517, My Faith Looks Up to Thee
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last updated 4/12/04 by Bob Beckett.