Grace. How amazing this idea that when I was a sinner God saved a wretch like me… That my relationship with Him is founded upon a blessed favor I cannot earn and have never once deserved… That this righteous status I’ve been given is not and never will be based upon my merit or deservingness but solely on the sacrifice, offering, and work of Jesus.
It’s with this in mind that I am deeply grieved when I hear the freedom found in this blessed doctrine blamed when a person falls into sin. Since grace will never lead a person to sin, disobedience cannot be the evidence of a person taking grace too far but not far enough!
And yet, if all that I am in Christ exists because of His work and no work of my own, it’s only logical to then wonder what the role of obedience is in the life of the believer. Does grace void a Christian of any type of personal responsibility or practical involvement? If I don’t need to obey for God to bless me, then why be obedient at all?
While most Christians will agree God’s grace is the motivation for our obedience, sadly our similarities end there. You see there are some who preach that the blessed life offered in Christ Jesus can only be discovered through a blending of God’s grace and our obedience to do or abstain from doing certain things. They’ll argue a salvation by grace alone only to then stress the importance of our obedience in order to receive the blessings of God.
On one extreme side of this position, you’ll find movements like “Health & Wealth” or the “Prosperity Gospel.” What’s ironic is the exact same gospel perversion of grace ends up also justifying fundamentalist and legalistic traditionalism. Sadly, aside from the fact this position is not Biblical, a “Grace, And” outlook ends up making the blessings of God contingent on our obedience and not solely based upon the goodness of God!
This morning I want to discuss obedience and specifically its relation to God’s grace. And to do this, I want to use a fascinating story recorded for us in John 4 as our backdrop.
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. (Geographically, Cana of Galilee was largely considered part of Capernaum proper.) When he heard that Jesus had come out of Judea into Galilee (He was returning from a trip to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover with His disciples), the nobleman went to Him and implored Jesus 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 translated as kings-man. It’s likely this man was an officer of King Herod — whom the Romans had given jurisdiction over the Galilee. Since “Capernaum” was one of the larger cities in the area, it acted as his headquarters.
With this in mind, we can conclude this man was both wealthy and influential. In fact, as the story develops we’ll come to learn he 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 the nobleman was the father of a young boy. While the word translated in verse 47 as “son” is nondescript implying a male gender, the word used for “child” in verse 49 indicated the boy was very young in age — likely an infant or a toddler. There is no question, as any father, his son was the apple of his eye!
Third, we know this man was facing a personal trial of such proportion he was totally desperate. Though it’s true this nobleman was largely immune from many of the challenges facing the commoner, no position or amount of money could insulate him 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 heartbreaking 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 three youngins, I can tell you there is nothing worse in this world than having a young child sick with a fever! Not only are young children unable to tell you what’s wrong or where it hurts leaving you to guess, but fever is particularly brutal. To hold a child and feel them burning up… To see the sweat followed by bone-twisting chills is absolutely terrible.
As you’d reason, since this king-man possessed considerable means, his sick child had received the best medical care available. He and his wife had consulted with the best doctors, visited specialists, gotten second opinions, tried various treatments, been visited by the local Rabbi 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 had some first-hand knowledge of His ministry. Whether he had personally witnessed Jesus’ miraculous power on display for himself or had simply been privy to the gossip mill, he knew enough about Jesus to spring into action.
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 become a better man. In the Greek, the word translated as “implored” can be better stated as begged. His son was dying. He was out of options. He begged for Jesus’ help.
Keep in mind, in his present desperation, this man did not care what anyone thought of him. His need trumped his pride. Imagine this man, dawning the 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 unheard of if not downright 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 being a little insensitive — especially in light of this desperate man lying prostrate before Him begging he come and heal his dying son, you need to keep in mind Jesus is articulating a point of the utmost 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 the Jewish people 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 perform, by this point in John’s Gospel, they had yet to “believe in Jesus” for who He was — “the Christ, the Savior of the world.” And yet, in stark contrast, while Jesus performed no public miracles in His recent trip through the region of Samaria, these men and women “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 a person 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 in order to perform such a miracle.
The other misconception of this nobleman was that a miracle was somehow dependent upon a specific timetable. The man implored Jesus to “come before the child dies.” As illustrated in His resurrection of Lazarus, Jesus was still able to 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 to place his trust into. Jesus calms his fear declaring, “Your son lives!” or more accurately translated, “Your son is going to be fine!”
It’s true a promise is really only as sure as the person giving it! In light of the fact, the nobleman had limited exposer to Jesus at best, this promise not only demanded an improbable measure of faith but challenged the way in which this man viewed Jesus.
The man wanted Jesus to physically come to his home and heal his dying son. Instead, Jesus equipped Him with a promise and sent him on his way. Obviously, the crux of this situation came down to whether or not he believed Jesus’ Word could be trusted.
When Jesus says to this man “your son lives” I think it’s safe to assume so many obvious and natural questions immediately began swirling around his mind… “How can He know that? How can that be true? Upon what authority can He make such a claim? Can I really trust what He just said to me? Is His Word reliable? Can I believe Him?”
In this moment, the nobleman is left with a really profound choice… He can choose to believe Jesus’ word and the promise he’d just been given and obey by returning home or he could doubt the promise, fail to believe, and remain hopeless without any remedy!
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 through God’s Word and then acting accordingly is essential because it requires an absolute faith in the person of God.
Think about it. In the appeal for this nobleman to believe, trust, and place his confidence in His Word was akin to Jesus asking the man to believe in Him! “Will you believe Me?”
In the end, 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 that would make a false promise to a desperate man?
John 4:50b-53, “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.”
There are some who contend the miracle 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 that apart from the supernatural how else could Jesus have known the boy was alive and would be fine, such a position fails to give Jesus His due.
Notice when the nobleman receives word from his servants 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?”
And yet, it’s the response of the servants to his question that’s really telling. They reply, “Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.” This phrase is literally, “The fever was sent away.” The nobleman wanted to know when the child started to show signs of improvement but the servants respond to him, “There was no gradual improvement. One moment the boy was near death and then in an instant, the fever was totally gone!”
Sadly, this is where I think most of the commentary on this passage ends up going off the rails and in doing so warps the relationship between the blessing of the boy being healed and the man’s obedience to God’s Word! Let me set up a thought by asking a very 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 when it comes to a person experiencing the blessings of God — obeying God’s Word and trusting in God’s promises were paramount. They will answer this question claiming the boy was healed the very moment this 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 it doesn’t take long for him to run into his servants who are coming to inform him the boy was indeed fine. Upon receiving the incredible news, the nobleman immediately inquires as to the specific moment the fever had left his son. After an exchange with the servants, the nobleman finally determines “it was at the same hour Jesus said to him, ‘Your son lives.’”
Don’t miss this… The man’s inquiry leads him to the realization that when Jesus had spoken those three words “your son lives” the “fever left” and his son was healed!
Incredibly, 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 the healing of his son (the miracle) occurred before the man’s obedience and was therefore independent of his actions altogether!
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. It should be commended — his obedience was the evidence of a real faith.
But… (and this is the question I personally could not escape) Was it really the nobleman’s obedience and faith in Jesus’ Word that yielded the healing? Let me make this point by phrasing it another way… If the nobleman had not believed, would his son have died?
I know this might come across as sounding 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 someplace other than his home, would the boy have then died? Absolutely not!
In actuality, I’m not sure the story wouldn’t have had the same, identical 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. Again, the man’s obedience did not yield the blessing of Jesus, because the blessing came before his obedience!
Here’s why I can say this with complete certainty the boy was healed the very moment Jesus spoke those 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 said the words before “he believed the word,” his son’s healing and the fever leaving were not dependent upon his belief or subsequent obedience. This obviously 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 mentioned in the setup of this story, this nobleman was completely hopeless. Life had thrown him a nasty curve he couldn’t catch. In light of his son’s deteriorating condition, he was totally desperate. What could he do? He’d done everything he could think of and yet nothing worked. His son would die and he was powerless over these circumstances.
That said, the truth about this nobleman was that his pressing need (a dying child) was not his core problem. While his son was sick and was likely to die (which is terrible in its own right), the truth was that this man, along with his entire household, was lost in his sins and would die an eternal death. You see the nobleman’s 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 to come. He came to Jesus and proceeded to beg Him to save his son! What did he have to lose?
You see life, as it does to all, had driven this man 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” but it was only when he came to realize it had been Jesus who’d actually healed his son that he finally comes to see Jesus for who He really was — “The Christ, the Savior of the world!” Is there any surprise the story ends with this man “believing” in the Lord 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, but our story is clear… It was the very moment the man realized the miracle had taken place before he’d done anything that caused him to receive Jesus as his Savior!
Consider… What deepens your faith in Jesus and love for Him? Obedience or the moment you come to realize God’s blessings were never dependent upon your obedience? This man believed in God’s Word and came home. Once he realized Jesus had healed his son before he obeyed, he accepts him as his Savior. Friend, grace changes everything!
Let me try to illustrate this idea 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 manifesting without any preconditions at all? When you earn love or when it’s freely given?
Think about marriage… Ladies, what’s more meaningful… 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 it’s the least he could do!
Fella’s what’s better… Your wife giving in 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 off to Grandma’s for the night and she’s picked up something sexy from Sam’s Club?
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 obedience? The nobleman believed Jesus’ Word and was obedient, but it was the revelation that Jesus had healed his son before he’d done anything that changed his life forever!
Christian, here’s the really thought-provoking component to this story… Your obedience is not the linchpin to the manifestation of God’s blessings! This man’s son was healed by Jesus before he did anything! The blessing came before his obedience. And yet, was his obedience important? Sure. Why? The man’s decision to trust God’s Word and obey by returning home expedited the process of him experiencing God’s blessings!
Again, imagine if this nobleman had disobeyed Jesus’ command to return home and took a different path… The boy would still have been healed, the miracle performed; and yet, it would have taken him that much longer to experience the blessing for himself! Jesus had worked in this man’s life. His willingness to obey enabled him to see that work more quickly.
In closing… The reason obedience to God’s Word is so important in the life of a Christian is not that God’s blessing are in some way contingent upon it, but that your obedience enables you to experience God’s grace sooner than you would otherwise!
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