Trouble can cause us to do many things. It can cause us to lose sleep we should enjoy. It can cause us to spend money we should save. It can cause us to react quickly when we should trust and be still. But not everything trouble brings to us is bad. In fact, trouble can be the very instrument God uses to bring us mercy and grace. In our text today, a deep and distressing trouble comes to a certain nobleman of Capernaum and yet had this trouble not come to him, he and his family wouldn’t have beheld the glory of Christ and been changed forever. So for this family, trouble was the horse that mercy rode straight to their front door.[1]

Before I begin preaching or even read the text I begin with the following quote. On the morning of October 11, 1885 Charles Spurgeon preached this very passage and began the sermon with the following words, “The point today…is not to hear about these things only, but to have them repeated in your own soul. We want to come to real business, and to make the things of God matters of downright fact to ourselves: not only to hear about this nobleman from Capernaum, or anybody else, but to see in our own souls the same work of grace that was wrought in them. The same living Christ is here, and as this nobleman did we too greatly need His help. May we seek it as he sought it, and find it as he found it! Thus may the Holy Spirit, who inspired the narrative before us, be found writing it over again…on the tablets of our hearts.”[2]

Follow along as I read the text, John 4:43-54…pray with me.

The Absence of Household Honor (v43-45)

Right away as we enter into this passage we see something of a puzzling dilemma. v43 tells us Jesus left for Galilee after spending two days with the Samaritans. Then v44 tells us prophets have no honor in their hometown. Yet in v45 when Jesus gets to His hometown of Galilee, He was welcomed. Is there some kind of contradiction before our eyes here? Do prophets find honor in their hometown or not? Some people think this is a massive contradiction, you should know that. I don’t think there is a contradiction here, and I don’t think you should either. Rather I think John is telling us about the Galileans. They welcome Jesus in v45 only because of great miracles they’ve seen Him do. The do truly give Him a kind of honor, but this honor they give Him is a shallow honor because it’s only source is His great signs and wonders. It is not a true honor or recognition for who He really is. Jesus knows this, and is about to address this very issue with a certain nobleman and his sick son.

The Nobleman’s Trouble (v46-48)

In v46 we meet a certain official (or nobleman) and we discover he was experiencing a great deal of trouble. The source of this nobleman’s trouble was his sons’ severe illness. In v52 we learn it was a fever. His dearly loved little boy was nearing death and this broke upon his heart like a tidal wave of panic and distress. You have to imagine that this man tried all the home remedies he could think of, asked all his friends and family about what to do, and had probably already sought out all the doctors in the city. With no avail, he hears in v47 that Jesus, the One who had done such a great miracle at the wedding in Cana, was in town. So fraught with distress and desperation he ventures out to do something he didn’t plan on doing, seeking this Jesus to ask Him to come and heal his son. So here we have an official of the city, a wealthy nobleman, someone who doesn’t beg for anything, seeking to find and beg Jesus Christ to save his son. It is refreshing here on Father’s day to see such an example in this nobleman. A true love for his son; a deep concern for his wellbeing; and a quick willingness to do whatever it takes to get the help his son needs. He is a good Father.

Truly grieved by the near death of his dear little boy, sent him off to seek Jesus. For him this grave and serious trial was the occasion and catalyst of his seeking and reaching out to God. He didn’t know that his own heart needed healing, or that his own blindness to the beauty of Christ had to be taken away, or that he had a true need to be born again himself. All he knew was terror, terror that his son would die, and that if Jesus would come, maybe that wouldn’t happen. The nobleman had never met Jesus. He had never seen any of His great miracles. He had only heard of them. But what he had heard of Jesus seemed to be a true solution to his dire concern for his son. Remember, the Galileans only thought highly of Jesus because of these miracles, so this small spark of faith in Jesus the nobleman reveals here wasn’t a commendable faith, but it was faith enough in Jesus that moved him to embark on a journey to find Jesus. This is of worth to note, because being an official of the city he would’ve had servants upon servants at his bidding. He could’ve said the word and in a moment had a host of servants going throughout Cana and Capernaum to find Jesus. But, he went himself, thus showing how deep the concern for his son was. And once he found Jesus do you see what he said? At the end of v47 we see that he pled the misery of his sons case rather than the nobility of his person. He didn’t say, ‘I am a nobleman, you must do what I say.’ Or, ‘My son is of noble birth, his pedigree demands your presence.’ He said none of those things, all he said was, ‘Please come down and heal my son, for he is at the point of death.’ An honest grief, a true need, and an earnest plea.

I wonder…perhaps the same is similar for you today, or has been similar for you in times past? A trial seizes you, wraps itself around your heart, and you find yourself doing what you’re very unaccustomed to doing, seeking and crying out in desperation to God. Even the atheist cries out to the God they deny in moments of the deepest despair. And being so burdened with the terror of the moment, you’re unaware of your own great need for God. If that’s you today, take heart. God is not aloof in your trials. Trials of all kinds are not only the catalyst sent from God intended to move you to seek God, they are often the preface to a great work of the grace of God in your hearts.[3] Just maybe, you’ll find Jesus’ words to this suffering man to be words custom fit for your own sorrows this morning.

So what did Jesus say to this noble official? We see His answer in v48, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” As is His way, Jesus does not respond as we think He would respond. The word ‘you’ repeated twice in this answer is plural in the original Greek, which indicates that though the nobleman asked the question himself, Jesus gives an answer directed to all the Galileans surrounding Him at that moment. In this light, His answer is seen as a rebuke. Why a rebuke? Because as we saw earlier in v43-45 the people in Galilee only welcomed Jesus and were only following Jesus because they thought He was some kind of circus sideshow act. “Hurry, hurry, gather round, grab your popcorn, don’t miss the latest miracle.”[4] It is ironic that the Samaritans truly welcomed Him, while these Jews did not. Too much emphasis was being given to His signs and wonders and the sad thing about them doing this is that they missed who He really was. They wanted to be wowed and amazed by what He could do but showed little interest following Him or listening to His Word.

And, though truly sorrowful over his sons’ condition, this nobleman also fell into this sensationalized deception as well. Hearing this answer, at least initially, would’ve added to the nobleman’s trouble. Not only is his son almost dead, but he’s found Jesus, asked Him to come save him, and in response he gets rebuked along with the rest of his city. I say it only initially added to his trouble, because for him, everything is about to change.

The Nobleman’s Faith (v49-53a)

After being rebuked with the rest of the Galileans around him this nobleman did what only a devoted Father would do. He kept seeking to save his son. Probably quivering with fear, tears welling up in his eyes, angst abounding in his heart, and unsure of what kind of answer he’s going to receive in v49 he utters his request again, “Sir (kurios in Greek), come down before my child dies.” This is the most important moment in the passage. v50 gives us both Jesus’ reply and the nobleman’s response. First Jesus’ reply, “Go; your son will live.” Now for the nobleman’s response, “The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way.” There is so much to unpack in v50. By God’s grace let’s do it justice. This nobleman had formerly believed Jesus could heal his son, if He came with him back home. But now though Jesus remains in Cana and only speaks His Word, the nobleman believes and is forever changed.[5] This deeply grieved Father, receives no sign, no wonder. Only the Word of Christ, and to our surprise as readers, that is enough for him.

I want to ask a question here. What happened to this man in this v50 moment? What happened that made him go from someone sorrowing over the near death of his son in one moment to someone trusting the Word of Christ in the next moment? I ask this question not to be a mere observer of the text, but to engage with this text to see what exactly happened to this man for the purpose of us seeing what we should be crying out for God to do in us! So that we would we seek Jesus as earnestly as he sought Him, and find Jesus’ Word as compelling as he found His Word! Here’s what I think happened to him. By the Spirit of God, in the reply of Jesus, I think the nobleman saw the peculiar glory of Christ. And from seeing this glory he was changed, never to be the same again. Sorrow, angst, and terror turned to a settled, anchored, trust in Christ and in His Word. This is the thing to notice here. This Galilean nobleman who is given to signs and wonders, didn’t see a sign or a wonder, but only received a promise. A promise that he trusted, and once trusted, a promise that changed him.

See here where true faith ought to be placed. Not in signs, or wonders, not in being wowed, no. Our faith ought to be placed in Christ and in His Word. Jesus had indeed done a miracle in healing the boy as soon as He uttered, “Go; your son will live.” But the way Jesus interacts with this nobleman moves him to trust in His Word and not any sign or wonder he could see. He took Jesus at His Word, with no other shred of evidence at that moment! Do you believe in Jesus like this? Trusting His Word alone? Or do you need to see a miracle to trust in Him? So called ‘faith healers’ make bags and bags of money because they know the tendency of man in yearning to see miracles. Yet, it was the Word of Christ that moved this nobleman to believe against his former certainties. It was the Word he heard, the Word he believed, and the Word that changed him.

Perhaps you think I’m making too much of v50? I don’t think I am, because of the contrast in the nobleman’s first journey to Jesus in v47 and his second journey after meeting with Jesus in v50.

In v47 he was in a dreadful terror over his sons’ condition, journeying, no doubt, in haste to find Jesus. In v50 we see quite a different man as he goes home in leisure confidently trusting in the Word of Christ. We know his return home was a leisurely ride because of two things: first, it was only a 20-30 mile trip, and if the nobleman wanted to make it home sooner rather than later he could’ve begun heading home after his encounter with Christ, ridden into the night, and made it home easily before the dawn of the next day. Second, we know his return home was a leisurely ride because of the word ‘yesterday’ in v52. Notice how the chat with his servants goes. On his way home the servants meet him, tell him that his son is recovering, and when asked the precise time of the healing they say, “Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.” He then concludes in v53a that the seventh hour was the precise moment Jesus spoke the words “Your son will live.” So here’s the timeline. The nobleman found Jesus a tad before 1pm, Jesus healed his son at 1pm, the nobleman then trusted in the Word of Christ so much that he didn’t rush home right away but took his time. How do we know he took his time? Because on the next day when he meets his servants he’s still on his way home. He’s not lazy, he’s full of confidence that his dear little boy is ok, so he’s in no rush.

So I don’t think I’m reading a transformation into v50 that’s not there. In order for the rest of this text to stand as it does, v50 must mark a deep and lasting change in this man’s heart. A change away from trusting in signs and wonders, to truly trusting in Christ and His Word.

The Presence of Household Honor (v53b-54)

We began this passage in v43-45 by seeing the absence of household honor, see now that we end this passage by seeing the presence of household honor. In v53b-54 we read, “And he himself believed, and all his household. This was now the second sign that Jesus did when he had come from Judea to Galilee.” I imagine this nobleman arriving home, being welcome by an alive and well little boy and an astonished wife. I imagine him sitting them down and saying something like, “Reason, intelligence, and my senses would’ve taught me that I will returned to find things exactly the way I left them, despairing and troubling. But I met Jesus, and as He spoke to me, my heart seemed to open up, soften, and come alive all at the same moment. As I heard His words, “Go; your son will live” my troubled heart turned into a trusting heart. So I left, and knew that I would return to find him healthy.[6] Of course we’re not given the details of that conversation, but now we do indeed see that trouble was the horse mercy rode into the heart of this family. Their trouble resulted in a great faith in Christ’s Word. And we can only assume that there was a great household baptism after this moment as we see in the book of Acts.

Conclusion:

Church, the meaning here for us to see isn’t new. Abraham left the land of his birth without knowing where the Promised Land was, only to find it abundant and plentiful just as God said it would be. Moses led out the host of Israel, and stood on the shores of the red sea without knowing how God would save them, only to find God powerfully fighting for them just as God said it would be.[7] Here this troubled nobleman goes searching for Jesus without knowing if his dear little boy would be healed, only to find the Word of Christ strong, faithful, and true just like we know it to be.

And here you are today, perhaps as troubled as the nobleman, as worried as his wife, or as sick as his son. Whatever your trouble is where will you look? Signs? Wonders? Such a faith is childish and misplaced. Look and look alone to the Word of Christ for faith in Christ. Why? Romans 10:17, “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ.” Or we could go to 1 Corinthians 1:22-24, “…Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”

Many seek signs, wonders, and wisdom in what the eye can see. But to those who are called, to those who have ears to hear, and to those who have eyes to see, Christ crucified is not folly but the very power and wisdom of God for sinners like you and I. The same living Christ is here, and as this nobleman did you too greatly need His help. May you seek His Word as he sought it, and find it as strong and sure as he found it!

 

Citations:

[1] Charles Spurgeon, Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, vol. 31, page 565.

[2] Ibid., page 565.

[3] Ibid., page 566.

[4] R. Kent Hughes, John: That You May Believe, Preaching the Word Commentary, page 144.

[5] Charles Spurgeon, Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, vol. 31, page 572.

[6] Martin Luther, Reformation Commentary On Scripture, John 1-12, page 154.

[7] Philipp Melanchthon, Reformation Commentary On Scripture, John 1-12, page 154.

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