John chapter 4 opens… “Therefore, when the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John, He (and His disciples) left Judea and departed again to Galilee. But He needed to go through Samaria. So Jesus came to a city of Samaria which is called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph.”
John 4:43-44, “Now after the two days He departed from there and went to Galilee. For Jesus Himself testified that a prophet has no honor in his own country.”
As John returns to the motion of the text letting us know Jesus “departed from” Samaria “after these two days” in Sychar and continued onward into “Galilee,” he adds a bit of his own commentary noting that “Jesus testified that a prophet has no honor in his own country.”
While this recollection appears to be a strange in the moment, realize John is bringing this statement of Jesus to the forefront of our minds within the context of the amazing honor and respect this unlikely group of Samaritans had just demonstrated to Jesus.
In John 4:40-42 we saw that “when the Samaritans had come to Jesus, they urged Him to stay with them; and He stayed there two days. And many more believed because of His own word. Then they said to the woman, ‘Now we believe, not because of what you said, for we ourselves have heard Him and we know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world.’” The sad truth is that you’d be hard-pressed to find this reaction in Galilee or Judea.
John 4:45, “So when Jesus came to Galilee, the Galileans received Him, having seen all the things He did in Jerusalem at the feast; for they also had gone to the feast.”
Don’t forget the flow of John’s Gospel… In John 2 Jesus and His disciples make the long pilgrimage from Galilee down to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover. Upon their arrival Jesus clears out the Temple and then proceeds to teach and preform miracles over the coming week. Note: During one of these evenings Jesus has this conversation with Nicodemus.
Once Passover wrapped up most of the pilgrims Jesus had initially come with would have returned home to Galilee. That said, instead of going with them, John 3 ends with Jesus camping out in Judea at the Jordan River where He preached and His disciples baptized.
The point is that this is the first time Jesus has been back in Galilee since those exciting seven days in Jerusalem. Though His only miracle thus far in Galilee had been the transforming of water into wine at a private wedding, because of “all the things they had seen Jesus do in Jerusalem,” John notes that upon His return “the Galileans received Jesus.”
This subtle contrast of the Galileans “receiving Jesus” while these Samaritans had “believed in Jesus” accepting Him as “the Christ, the Savior of the world” sets the stage for the final story recorded in John 4… A story that concludes in verse 54, “This again is the second sign Jesus did when He had come out of Judea into Galilee.”
John 4:46-47, “So Jesus came again to Cana of Galilee where He had made the water wine. And there was a certain nobleman whose son was sick at Capernaum. When he heard that Jesus had come out of Judea into Galilee, he went to Him and implored Him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death.”
Let’s begin by establishing what we know about this “certain nobleman.” First, the Greek word we have written as “nobleman” can be literally translated as “kings-man.” No doubt this man was an officer of King Herod - who the Romans had given jurisdiction over Galilee. Since “Capernaum” was one of the larger cities in the area, it acted as his headquarters.
With this in mind, it’s safe for us to conclude this nobleman was both wealthy and influential. As the story develops we’ll come to learn this man had “servants” further substantiating this position. In many ways his status within the kings-court afforded him the kind of life that was generally insulated from many of the hardships the common citizen faced in that day.
Secondly, from the text we also know he was a father - specifically of a young boy. While the Greek word translated in verse 47 as “son” is rather generic and nondescript implying a male gender, the word used for “child” in verse 49 indicated the boy was young in age - likely an infant or a toddler. There is no question, as any father, his son was the apple of his eye!
Thirdly, we know this man was facing a personal trial of such proportion he was utterly desperate. Though it’s true this nobleman was largely immune from many of the challenges facing the common man, no position or amount of money can insulate a man from sickness.
Tragically, John tells us this man’s young son “was at the point of death.” In actually, by the nobleman’s later admission to Jesus, it seems this boy’s death was all but certain.
Aside from this detail, we’re also told in verse 52 this little man was specifically suffering from a high “fever.” In the Greek the word means “fiery heat.” As a father of two young sons I can tell you that nothing is worse in this world than to have a young child sick with a fever!
Not only are young children simply unable to tell you what’s wrong or where it hurts leaving you to guess, but fever itself is particularly brutal. To hold a child in your arms and feel them burning up… To see the sweat followed by bone-twisting chills is absolutely terrible.
As you’d reason, since this kings-man possessed considerable means, there is no question his sick child had received the best medical care available. He and his wife had consulted with doctors, visited specialists, gotten second opinions, tried various treatments, been visited by the local Rabbi’s and prayed for, even had round the clock nurses - all to no avail.
Because most men are problem-solvers, having a sick child you can do nothing for hits a man at his deepest levels. The inability to do anything simply compounded the torment. I’m sure this man even cried out to God to take the sickness upon himself. Sadly, the diagnosis was terminal. No one knew what to do. Imagine the hopelessness he was experiencing.
Finally, the very fact this nobleman ends up going “to Jesus when he heard that He had come into Galilee” tells us he was keenly aware of the events that had taken place in Jerusalem. Though we can’t say with any certainty he’d been an eyewitness to Jesus’ miraculous power himself or had simply been privy to the gossip mill, he had enough to act.
As John recalls the scene he makes no mention of what Jesus was presently doing only the desperate actions of this nobleman. John tells us “he went to Jesus and implored Him to come down and heal his son.” While this man had enough knowledge of Jesus to believe He had the power to “heal his son,” the only issue centered upon whether or not he could convince Jesus to “come down” from Cana and make the trip to his home in Capernaum.
Though we’re not given the details of his appeal, you’d reckon nothing was off-limits. I’m sure he offered Jesus money or political influence, probably made promises, guaranteed he’d be a better man. In the original language the word translated as “implored” can be better stated as “begged.” His son was dying. He was out of options. He begged Jesus for help.
Keep in mind, in his present desperation, this man cared not what anyone thought of him. His need trumped his pride. Imagine this man, dawning his fancy robes reserved only for dignitaries, dispensing with the pleasantries and formalities falling on his face before Jesus.
In this culture such a nobleman of incredible clout resorting to begging was simply unheard of if not down right shocking in that day. And yet, the circumstance had stripped from him any sense of hubris or decorum. Time was of the essence and he saw Jesus as his final hope.
John 4:48-50a, “Then Jesus said to him, ‘Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will by no means believe.’ The nobleman said to Him, ‘Sir, come down before my child dies!’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go your way; your son lives.’”
While I will admit Jesus’ response comes across as if it were a little insensitive - especially in light of this desperate man laying prostrate before Him begging for help with his dying son, you need to keep in mind that Jesus is articulating a point of the upmost importance.
In making this statement, “Unless you people (plural) see signs and wonders, you will by no means believe” Jesus is issuing both a rebuke of Israel along with a particular challenge to this man in the context of His recent experience with the Samaritans.
While the Galileans had “received Jesus” because of the “signs and wonders” they had seen Him preform in Jerusalem, they had yet to “believe in Jesus” for who He was - “the Christ, the Savior of the world.” In contrast, while Jesus preformed no public miracle in Samaria, they “believed” Jesus was “the Christ, the Savior… Because of His word!”
Not only is Jesus condemning a faith-system based solely on what one “sees,” but He’s illustrating the truth that greater faith is demonstrated when one believes God’s Word and then acts accordingly. This is why in response to the man begging Him to “come before his child dies” Jesus simply says “to him, ‘Go your way; your son lives.’”
Right from the beginning you should note that Jesus is seeking to correct a fundamental misconception behind the man’s request and therefore expand his understanding of who He actually was. Though this nobleman rightly believed Jesus had the power to heal his son, he falsely believed Jesus had to be present to perform such a miracle.
On a side note, while this isn’t exactly relevant to this particular story, I should also mention the other misconception was that a miracle was dependent upon a specific timetable. “Come before the child dies.” For example, as we’ll come to see in His handling of His dear friend Lazarus later in this Gospel, Jesus could still heal the boy even if he died.
What is essential to understand about Jesus’ statement to this desperate man was that He was giving him an incredible promise. Jesus calms his fear declaring, “Your son lives!”
Now to be fair believing such a promise demanded an improbable measure of faith in Jesus from this man. Isn’t it true a promise is really only as sure as the person giving it? Once again and in light of the fact the nobleman had limited exposer to Jesus at best, Jesus’ challenge centered upon the way in which this man viewed Him.
The man wanted Jesus to physically come and heal his son. Instead, Jesus equipped Him with a promise that his son was fine and then sent him on his way. Obviously, the crux of this situation and the issue of faith came down to the trustworthiness of His Word.
When Jesus says to this desperate man “your son lives” I think it’s safe to assume so many obvious and natural questions immediately began swirling around in his mind… “How can He know that? How can that be true? Upon what authority can He make such a claim? Can I trust that what He just said to me is indeed true? Is His Word reliable? Can I believe Him?”
In this moment the nobleman is left with a choice… Believe Jesus’ word and the promise that he’d just been given and obey or doubt the promise, fail to believe, and remain hopeless.
As a Christian I’m sure you know the importance of believing in God’s Word and His promises, but let me ask… Do you know why this is the greatest form of faith - greater than a belief based upon signs and wonders - what one can see? Believing in God’s Word and more specifically the promises given to you in God’s Word and then acting accordingly is essential because it requires an absolutely faith in the person of God.
Think about it. In making the appeal for this nobleman to believe, trust, place his confidence in His Word was akin to Jesus asking the man to believe in Him! “Will you believe Me?”
When it was all said and done the man had to make two important determinations about Jesus. First, did Jesus have the power to heal his son apart from being physically present? And secondly, would Jesus make a promise that wasn’t true? Think of it a different way…Was Jesus able and was He the type of man to make a false promise to a desperate man?
John 4:50b-54, “So the man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him, and he went his way. And as he was now going down, his servants met him and told him, saying, ‘Your son lives!’ Then he inquired of them the hour when he got better. And they said to him, ‘Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.’
So the father knew that it was at the same hour in which Jesus said to him, ‘Your son lives.’ And he himself believed, and his whole household. This again is the second sign Jesus did when He had come out of Judea into Galilee.”
There are some who make the case the miracle of this story centered upon Jesus’ ability to supernaturally know the child had gotten better, as if the miracle was a word of knowledge. And while there is some merit to this (apart from the supernatural how else would Jesus have known the boy was alive and would be fine), such a position fails to give Jesus His due.
Notice when the nobleman gets word from his servants that the child had indeed pulled through he “inquired of them the hour when he got better.” In the Greek this would be better translated as “when he began to mend.” “When did my son start turning the corner?”
But it’s the response of the servants to this question that’s really telling. They replied, “Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.” The nobleman wanted to know when the child started to show signs of improvement, but the servants basically respond to him, “There was no gradual improvement. One moment the boy was near death and then in an instant the fever was completely gone!” “The fever left him” or literally, “The fever was sent away.”
Sadly, this is where I think most of the commentary on this passage ends up falling off the rails and in doing so I believe completely misses the point! Let me set up a thought with a simple, but important question many get wrong… When was the boy healed?
There are those who will use this story to emphasize the essential importance of obedience (obeying God’s Word, trusting in God’s promises) when it comes to a person experiencing the blessings of God. They will answer this question claiming the boy was healed the moment the man “believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went” to return home. Regrettably though, this isn’t what the text actually says happened.
Notice, when the man leaves Jesus and begins the trek home - only to run into his servants that are coming to inform him that the boy was indeed fine, he immediately begins to inquire as to the specific moment the healing took place. Then after an exchange with the servants the nobleman determines “it was at the same hour Jesus said to him, ‘Your son lives.’”
Understand, the man’s inquiry leads him to an important realization… When Jesus spoke those three words “your son lives” the “fever left” and his son was healed!
Don’t miss this, but the way in which John sets up the story tells us the miracle of the boy being healed happened when Jesus spoke and not when the man believed! The implications being that the healing occurred before the man’s obedience and was therefore independent of the nobleman’s actions altogether!
Yes, it’s true the passage tells us “the man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went his way” before he saw any tangible results - for this we should give him credit. And it’s also true it was only on his way home, equipped with and acting upon this promise, that “his servants met him and told him that his son lives!” An amazing fact one also can’t dispute.
Obviously, we know this man possessed a genuine faith in Jesus’ Word that his son would live because he was willing to act as if the miracle had occurred before seeing any evidence the miracle had indeed occurred. Sure, his obedience was the evidence of a real faith.
But… (And this is the question I personally could not escape and one I didn’t hear any commentator even consider) Was it the nobleman’s obedience and faith in Jesus’ Word that yielded the healing? Think of it maybe another way… If the nobleman had not believed, would his son have died? No! This might be controversial, but I honestly believe the young boy would have been healed regardless of the actions of his father.
Let’s say the man, upon hearing Jesus’ promise “your son lives,” proceeded to scoff at His word and left to go some place other than home, would the boy have then died? No, absolutely not! In actuality, I’m not sure the story wouldn’t have had the same conclusion.
At some point the nobleman would have eventually returned home only to learn his son had been healed when Jesus spoke those three words. You see the man’s obedience didn’t yield the blessing of Jesus, because the blessing came before his obedience!
Here’s why I can say this with absolute certainty the boy was healed the very moment Jesus spoke the three words and that the healing had nothing to do with the man or his faith…
According to Isaiah 55:11 the Scriptures declare an undeniable truth - “God’s Word never returns void!” This means, if Jesus (the Son of God) utters the words, “Your son lives” - the man’s son was going to live regardless of anything else that happened!
Don’t miss this… Since Jesus uttered the words before “he believed the word,” his son living and the fever leaving was not dependent upon his belief or subsequent obedience. Obviously, this leads to a logical question… What’s the point of the story?
Look back at two progressions that occur within the text… First, John tells us “the man believed the word” and was obedient to head home, but following word the miracle had actually taken place and realizing it had been Jesus who healed his son we’re told “he himself believed” along with “His whole household!” So, if earlier in the passage we read “he believed the word of Jesus,” at the end of the story what did he now believe?
As I’ve mentioned this nobleman was hopeless. Life had thrown him a nasty curve he couldn’t catch. He was completely desperate. What could he do? He’d done everything he could and nothing worked. His son would die and he was powerless over this circumstances.
Yet, the truth about this man was that his pressing need was not his core problem. While his son was sick and likely to die, the truth was that this man along with his entire household was lost in theirs sins and would die an eternal death. His core need was a Savior.
Consider that when this man initially came to Jesus he did not believe He was “the Christ, the Savior of the world.” This was not his confession. All he knew was that others had said Jesus could do the miraculous and that was enough for him. He came to Jesus and proceeded to beg Jesus to come with him and save his son! What did he have to loose?
You see life, as it does to all, had driven this nobleman to his knees, and to his credit it drove him to his knees before Jesus. But please notice… Jesus wanted to do more in this man’s life than heal his son. Jesus wanted to reveal Himself to the man as his Savior.
Come back to the progression… The nobleman was willing to come to Jesus - not really knowing who Jesus was. Since this was the case he’s convinced Jesus would have to come back to Capernaum in order to heal his son. Jesus then rebukes the people for seeking “signs and wonders” before turning to the man and saying, “Go, your son lives!”
To the man’s credit “he believed the word of Jesus” that his “son lives,” but it was only when he came to realize it had been Jesus who’d actually healed his son that he ultimately came to see Him for who He really was - “The Christ, the Savior of the world!” Is there any surprise this man now “himself believed” in Jesus along with “His whole household?”
The willingness to obey Jesus’ Word undoubtedly set this man upon a journey by which he could see the miracle and have Jesus revealed for who He actually was (disobedience and doubt concerning His promises would have naturally prolonged this), but our story is clear… It was the moment the man realized the miracle had taken place before he’d done anything that caused him to receive Jesus as his Savior.
Think of it this way… The reason belief in and obedience to God’s Word is so important in the Christian life is not that God’s blessing are contingent upon them, but that they enable us to experience God’s grace sooner than we would otherwise!
Friend, please don’t be mistaken your obedience is not the linchpin to God’s blessings. Obedience just expedites the process of you seeing these blessings quicker.
Consider for a moment… What deepens your faith in Jesus and love for Him? A belief in and obedience to His Word or the moment you come to realize God’s blessings were never dependent upon your obedience or performance? Friend, grace changes everything!
Let me try to hammer home this point another way… How do you know someone really loves you? When their love manifests as a reciprocation to your love or when you see their love manifest without any conditions at all? When you earn love or when it’s freely given?
Think about marriage… Ladies, what’s the more meaningful moment - your husband giving you a spa day after he returns from a two week business trip or when he unexpectedly drops the kids off at Grandma’s so the two of you can go to the spa? Ha! After two weeks alone with the kids the spa is a necessary reward… The truth is that’s the least he could do!
Fella’s what’s better… Your wife capitulating to a little nookie because you begged and there was nothing good on Netflix or coming home from work only to find the wife has sent the kids to Grandma’s for the night and she’s picked up something sexy from Home Goods? Honestly, that was the safest way for me to say this so you can use your imagination.
Back to my point… What yields a greater endearment - When Jesus works in response to your obedience or when His blessings manifest apart from your specific involvement? “Zach, don’t you think that sounds a bit Calvinistic?” No! Not at all. Freewill is all over this passage.
Don’t be mistaken… The nobleman in his desperation and obvious need still had to make a decision to act upon his limited knowledge and come from Capernaum to Jesus. Once he arrived the man still had to humble himself and make a request of Jesus to heal his son.
His decision to then obey God’s Word and trust in His promises undoubtedly expedited the entire process and reveal. And yet, when it was all said and done, this man still had to accept the fact it had been Jesus who healed his son. And the very act of “believing” in Jesus as “the Christ, the Savior of the world” demanded the most important decision of his entire life.
While there is a lot you can glean from this passage the fundamental reason John includes this story in his Gospel is that he wants you to see that, while belief in and obedience to Jesus’ Word will set you on the path of seeing all the blessings God has for you and more importantly Jesus for who He truly is, it’s His grace (a love demonstrated without conditions) that ultimately endears a person to Jesus for the rest of their life! A belief in God’s Word sets the stage for a person to experience God’s grace and place their faith in Jesus!
The nobleman believed Jesus’ Word, but it was the moment he saw that Jesus had healed his son before he believed that changed his life forever! The man came to Jesus desperate to see his son spared a physical death. And yet, when it was all said and done, this man along with his entire household now believed in a Savior who’d give them eternal life!
As we close, if these truths concerning Jesus strike a cord in your heart you’re willing to accept and surrender yourself to, please in the depths of your soul pray…
“Dear Jesus, I know I am a sinner and that I cannot save myself. I believe You are the Son of God who died on the cross to atone for my sins. I place my complete faith in that work as the only basis for my forgiveness, restoration, and righteousness before You. I confess that on the 3rd day You rose from the dead providing me a relationship with You today. Right now, Jesus I choose to repent of my sins and ask that by Your grace You fill me with Your Holy Spirit. Take my broken life and make it whole. Transform who I am from the inside out. Jesus, I confess You as both my God, my personal Lord, and my eternal Savior. Amen.”
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