Series in John’s gospel: Face to face with Jesus, By Rosie Moore.
“Go,” Jesus replied, “your son will live.” The man took Jesus at his word and departed (John 4:50).
Often we hear the expression “Seeing is believing”. But the Bible tells us that the opposite is true when it comes to faith in Jesus Christ: “Believing is seeing.” Or as the writer of Hebrews puts it: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation.” (Heb 11:1-2). In John chapter 4, the nobleman believed Jesus and took Him at his word, before he saw the miraculous healing of his son. The same is required of us if our faith is to grow.
Our Lord did perform a sign for this nobleman, but it was to point him to greater faith in Christ, not the sign itself. The spiritual miracle of faith in the desperate father and his whole household was far greater than the physical healing of the boy’s body.
Let’s read together this amazing face-to-face encounter with Jesus:
43 After the two days he left for Galilee. 44 (Now Jesus himself had pointed out that a prophet has no honor in his own country.) 45 When he arrived in Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him. They had seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival, for they also had been there.
46 Once more he visited Cana in Galilee, where he had turned the water into wine. And there was a certain royal official whose son lay sick at Capernaum. 47 When this man heard that Jesus had arrived in Galilee from Judea, he went to him and begged him to come and heal his son, who was close to death.
48 “Unless you people see signs and wonders,” Jesus told him, “you will never believe.”
49 The royal official said, “Sir, come down before my child dies.”
50 “Go,” Jesus replied, “your son will live.”
The man took Jesus at his word and departed. 51 While he was still on the way, his servants met him with the news that his boy was living. 52 When he inquired as to the time when his son got better, they said to him, “Yesterday, at one in the afternoon, the fever left him.”
53 Then the father realized that this was the exact time at which Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” So he and his whole household believed.
54 This was the second sign Jesus performed after coming from Judea to Galilee.
“Lord, please grow our faith through this true encounter that John chose to write down for us. Show us that we don’t need to first see sensational signs and wonders to believe you. The Bible shows us enough to know that you are trustworthy and good. As we read these words, may you strengthen our faith so that we may put our trust in you as our Lord and Saviour, just as this nobleman did. Grow our faith through whatever desperate or difficult situation we are facing right now. May our crisis be a severe mercy, just as it was for this father. Amen.”
The man who had everything money could buy.
Of all the miracles that Jesus performed, John chose to tell this story of a desperate Government official, known as a ‘basilica’, whose son was lying in bed at home, at death’s door. Jesus was not physically with the boy when he healed him. In fact, the sick boy was at home in the city of Capernaum 32 kilometres away, while Jesus was in the village of Cana. But this father, who had everything money could buy, except what he truly needed, saddled up his horse in the midday heat and galloped many miles to find Jesus. He was the man’s last hope.
Let’s put ourselves in this nobleman’s shoes for a moment.
As a ‘basilica’, he was an official of high rank and steady income. He had everything money could buy, except the health of his beloved son. Verse 46 and 47 are understatements. This man was desperate, because his boy was on the verge of death. Reading between the lines of these verses, one can only imagine the misery of this father, who would have given everything and anything to see light in his little boy’s eyes again, to see him running and playing like a normal child. As a parent, I can relate to his fear. When I went to wake up my own son one morning and found him unresponsive, in a severely hypoglycemic state, there’s nothing I wouldn’t have done to bring him back to life. Thankfully he recovered, but the extreme helplessness of this loving father turns any parent ice cold with fear.
In fact, whoever we are, we have probably known this desperation sometime in our lives. The oldest book of the Bible reminds us that “Affliction does not come from the dust, nor does trouble sprout from the ground, but man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward” (Job 5:6-7). Life is like a fire that sends its flames of suffering upward, regardless of what some prosperity preachers may say. All human beings are born for sorrow, and there are no exceptions. Just think of what money can and cannot buy:
Money can buy us a lovely soft bed, but it cannot buy us sleep!
Money can buy us delicious food, but it cannot make our digestive system work!
Money can buy us fame and followers, but it cannot buy us close friends!
Money can buy us medical aid, but it cannot buy our health!
Money can buy us a luxury holiday, but it cannot buy a happy family!
The man came to Jesus.
There are many things that money cannot buy. Even 2000 years later, our hearts must ache with this man’s heart, because he shows us our own desperately helpless condition.
But did you notice that this man got on his horse and found Jesus? He didn’t just bemoan his situation. He rode for 32 kilometres to find the one man whose miracles he had heard about. He must have heard about the story of the first miracle Jesus had performed in Cana of Galilee—when he’d turned water into wine. He must have known that this Jesus was no ordinary man. So the wealthy, finely dressed basilica came personally to meet the carpenter, to beg him to come home with him to heal his son.
Notice that this nobleman didn’t send his wife or servant to fetch Jesus. He didn’t send a proxy to ask Jesus to pray for him. Instead, he cared enough to come himself to seek the help that he desperately needed, and fell down at the feet of the one man who alone could do for him what he was unable to do for himself.
And he called Jesus, “Sir”, putting himself under Christ, even though the nobleman had legal authority over the carpenter. Coming to Jesus and throwing himself at Christ’s mercy was his first act of faith.
This man’s humble trust reminds me of how Hebrews describes the kind of faith that God will always reward: “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him (Heb 11:6). This man was earnestly seeking Christ to meet his desperate need.
Unless you people see signs and wonders…
Jesus’s reply in verse 48 is startling and hardly what you would write if you were making up a story of an empathetic hero. Jesus was speaking to the crowd who depended on signs and wonders for their faith. Their focus was not on Christ. But this father was no sensation seeker. He did not need to see the miracle he sought before he would believe. He didn’t take offense at Jesus’s charge but he knew that Jesus was his last hope. His eyes held onto what he knew about the Lord, even though Jesus gave him no sign.
Jesus replied, “Go your way, your son lives. The man took Jesus at his word and departed” (John 4:50).
The man took Jesus at his word.
What an astounding response. This man’s faith was true, not superficial! Unlike many who craved signs and wonders, the nobleman didn’t need to see his son’s healing before he would believe. The man trusted Jesus’s bare word and acted upon his faith, even before he saw the evidence. He didn’t question Christ’s command to go home, but departed immediately. He simply trusted and obeyed.
The man somehow knew that distance was of no concern for Jesus, and so he obeyed without hesitation. He didn’t bribe Jesus to come home with him, but seemed at peace with Christ’s promise. And when he questioned the servants on the time of his son’s healing, it was at precisely 13h00, the time that Jesus had spoken the word of healing.
When the man saw for himself that Jesus had been true to his word, he couldn’t contain himself. He must have shared his divine encounter with his entire family and those who worked in his home, leading his whole household to faith. They saw for themselves that this miracle was authentic, not just an illusion or the power of positive thinking. The boy was obviously and visibly healed the moment Jesus had spoken the word. On that basis, the basilica’s household believed and put their faith in God’s Son (John 4:53). As Jesus himself described his miracles, “This is the work of God, that you may believe in him whom he has sent” (John 6:29). That is what each and every one of us must do if we are to put our faith in Christ.
A picture of growing faith.
What a beautiful picture of blossoming faith emerges from this story! Whether we are thinking of coming to Jesus for the very first time, or whether we have been Christians for many years, faith is always taking Jesus at his word and trusting his promises more than we trust our perceptions or our doubts.
A little further on in John’s gospel, Jesus made a promise that is almost incredible to believe. He said,
“I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty. But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away” (John 6:35-37).
This is Christ’s promise to each and every one of us: He will satisfy our deepest longings. He will never drive us away. We do not need to see Jesus face-to-face in order to come to him and believe. Like the desperate father, we can come to Jesus in prayer. And like him, we can take Jesus at his word, and believe every one of the promises contained in his Word. The Bible contains the very words by which we can live our lives, and this is how our faith will grow, even when we cannot see or understand.
John reminds us why he wrote his gospel in the first place: “These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31).
This story reminds us that it’s not enough to say we believe that Jesus is a great miracle worker, or a wise prophet, or the Saviour of the world. It’s not enough to believe that Jesus can take care of our problems and desperate situations. Faith is acting in accordance with those beliefs. It is doing as the desperate father did, when he got on his horse and galloped 32 kilometers to meet Jesus personally. We need to meet personally with Him, by prayer.
Faith is coming to Jesus as Lord, and submitting our entire lives to him. It is praying,
“Jesus, only you can save me from my sins! Only you can help me in this situation! Only you hold the keys to eternal life, and I desperately need you to unlock the door to let me in. I believe you are the Son of God and your promises are true, so I come to you for forgiveness, for light, for life. I beg for your mercy and grace to fill my desperate need. I will take you at your word and do anything you ask me to do.”
This is how faith is born and this is how faith grows. We will never graduate from the humble attitude of trust that this royal official displayed, as he knelt at Jesus’s feet and begged for what only Christ could give him.