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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Title:An encounter with Jesus leads in an unexpected direction
Text:John 4:46-54 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Our Salvation

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Hymn 14:1,2

Hymn 63:7 (after the law)

Psalm 135:1-4

Psalm 116:1-4

Psalm 79:5

Scripture reading:  Exodus 7

Text:  John 4:46-54

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of Christ,

A long time ago, a man had a great idea.  This idea was birthed by necessity.  For many years, European traders had been able to travel back and forth to Asia without any difficulty.  However, in 1453, Constantinople fell to Islamic armies and land travel to Asia was no longer possible.  Additionally, to sail to Asia required a long and arduous journey around Africa.  This man had a better idea.  Perhaps he could sail to Asia directly west across the Atlantic Ocean.  He thought it could be done.  So in 1492 he set out to prove it.  The man, of course, was Cristoforo Colombo, whom we know better as Christopher Columbus.  Columbus set out looking for a trade route to Asia, but what he found was something quite different.  On the 12th of October in 1492, Columbus sighted an island in the Bahamas and thus began the modern European exploration and settlement of the Americas.

A man set out to find one thing and he found something different.  He found something surprising and unexpected.  The same sort of thing happens in our text from John this morning.  We have a man coming to Jesus for one thing and by the end of the passage, he has found that Jesus gives him more than what he came for.  This is all a matter of God’s grace and the gospel.  So I preach to you God’s Word, as we see how an encounter with Jesus leads in an unexpected direction.

We’ll consider:

  1. What the official expected from Jesus
  2. What the official received from Jesus

Earlier in chapter 2 of John, Jesus was in the village of Cana in Galilee.  This is in the northern region of Israel.  There at Cana, he did a miracle.  He was at a wedding and they ran out of wine.  Running out of wine was a disaster for a wedding feast that went on for days.  Wine was regarded as important for maintaining a festive spirit.  Jesus performed a miracle to maintain joy at the wedding.  All the water in some large containers was turned into fine wine.  And now at the end of chapter 4, Jesus has returned to this village.  The scene of one miracle is about to become the scene of a second.

Over in Capernaum, there was a family in crisis.  Capernaum was about 30 kilometers northeast of Cana.  In that town there was a certain royal official.  We’re not told his name or his ethnic background.  He could have been Jewish (likely he was), but he might also have been a Gentile.  All we know for sure is that he was an official in the royal house, so likely someone important in the palace of Herod Antipas.  And he had a son whom he loved dearly.  This son was sick with a life-threatening illness.  From later in the passage, we know that the illness involved a fever, but since there are many diseases that include fever, we can’t know for sure what kind of illness it was.  What’s most important is that it brought the boy to death’s door and his father to Jesus. 

The official heard that Jesus had arrived in the area.  Perhaps he knew something about Jesus as a teacher or Rabbi, but he for sure knew that Jesus had the ability to heal.  It’s true that up to this point in John’s gospel we’re not told explicitly that Christ has healed anyone.  However, it does say at the end of John 2 that he had been doing more miracles than are recorded.  From the other gospels, we know further that our Lord did heal many people.  So it’s not unreasonable to go to him for help when your son is dying.  You wouldn’t just go to a Jewish rabbi for that kind of help, but you would go to someone with well-known miraculous powers, with a reputation for healing. 

So verse 47 tells us that the official came to Jesus and asked him to come down to Capernaum.  By the way, the coming down here is literal.  This is a detail that confirms the historical nature of what we find here.  It was literally a down-hill journey from Cana to Capernaum.  Capernaum was actually below sea-level in elevation, whereas Cana was a few hundred feet above.  Jesus is asked to come down to Capernaum so that he could heal the official’s son. 

That’s what the official came for:  to beg and plead with Jesus to come and save his boy.  The boy was at the point of death and he couldn’t bear the thought of losing him.  Any parent can sympathize.  Imagine if your child was almost gone and you had one last hope.  You would desperately plead for your child like this man does.  The man pleads with Jesus to come – he assumes that the healing can only take place if the healer is with the sick.

Jesus listened to his pleas.  And then we find him responding in a surprising way in verse 48, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.”  This is a bit of confusing or cryptic response.  The man was asking for healing, but Jesus responds with something about belief or faith.  We have to dig deeper into this to try and understand. 

Look at verse 48.  Your ESV Bible has a helpful footnote with the word “you.”  It says, “The Greek for you is plural; twice in this verse.”  This is correct.  The NIV captured this by translating it, “Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders, you will never believe.”  So Jesus says this to the man, but he’s actually speaking to or about a broader group.  He’s speaking about the Galileans in general.  They need “signs and wonders.” 

That expression “signs and wonders” also needs our attention.  Those words have a background in the Old Testament.  We first find them in what we read from Exodus 7.  Signs and wonders were what God was going to do in Egypt to deliver his people from Pharaoh.   Turning the water to blood was a sign and wonder.  So were the frogs, the gnats, the flies, and so on – all the plagues.  In the rest of the Old Testament, we find several references to signs and wonders and it almost always refers back to what God did in the Exodus.  Signs and wonders are miraculous things that God does for the salvation of his people, things that also speak of judgment on the unbelieving. 

So Jesus is saying in verse 48 that the Galileans, those people they need amazing signs, otherwise they will certainly not believe.  These words can be taken as a rebuke.  It’s as if Jesus is saying, “It’s not good for you people to be dependent on miracles for faith.”  Certainly miracles can’t be counted on to produce faith, sometimes signs and wonders lead to judgment – think back to the Exodus and remember that Pharaoh saw signs and wonders and they didn’t do him any good.  But there’s also this desperate man in front of him and for him, Christ’s words may be more of a challenge than a rebuke.  What if Jesus does a sign and wonder?  What if he does a miracle to save?  Will the official believe in him as the Saviour?  Or not?  You see, the official came just for healing for his son.  But will there be another, greater outcome?  Will there be faith in Jesus? 

But it doesn’t seem to register at that moment for the official.  He has come to Christ for one reason and one reason only:  to save his son.  That’s what he came all that way for and that’s what he pleads for again in verse 49:  “Sir, come down before my child dies.” He doesn’t respond to Christ’s rebuke or challenge.  He doesn’t defend himself.  The official has his heart set entirely on his son.

Our Saviour is not unmoved by this plea.  He sees this world broken by sin.  Because of the sin of Adam and Eve, there’s sickness and death in this world.  These things don’t belong here.  Even though death is now common, it’s not natural.  There was no death before the fall into sin.  And even more heart-breaking is this world where children sometimes die before their parents.  Death shouldn’t be here at all, but we expect that when it does happen, parents should die before their children do.  No parent should have to stand by the grave of their son or daughter.  And yet it happens.  It happens because this world is messed up and broken down by human sinfulness.   

Jesus has come to do something about it.  Christ has come to bring life and healing and as a sign of that, he has compassion on this desperate father and grants his wish.  Jesus says in verse 50, “Go; your son will live.”  Literally he says, “Go, your son lives.”  It’s not that the healing is going to take place in the future, it’s right now.  As Jesus says the words, his words accomplish the action.  The son lives as the words come off his lips.  Death is sent packing.  All because Jesus merely said the word.  He didn’t have to travel the 30 kilometers to Capernaum.  He just had to say the word and the healing happened from a distance.

What does that tell us about Jesus?  He’s compassionate.  He has a heart for this father and his plight.  Your Saviour is still like this today.  He still has compassion on the broken and troubled.  If you’re weighed down by concerns right now, he cares.  We also see that Jesus is able to do signs and wonders.  He can do something about this broken world because not only is he compassionate, he’s also all-powerful.  As the omnipotent God, he can merely speak healing into this world.  He does still today through the preaching of the gospel.  Through the proclamation of his Word, he speaks spiritual life and healing into this world as almighty God.  And someday, as almighty God, by the word of his mouth, he will also right every wrong, heal every sickness, raise every dead body, and turn everything right side up.  Loved ones, this is our Saviour as he’s revealed here.  Let’s see his compassion and be encouraged to run to him.  Let’s see the almighty power of his Word, listen to him, and hope in him. 

Back to our passage and verse 50 tells us how the man responded to what Jesus said:  it says that he believed the word Jesus spoke and went on his way.  We can’t read too much into the use of the word “believed” here.  The NIV captures the sense, “The man took Jesus at his word.”  There’s an element of trust here.  He trusts that what Christ says is true and therefore he goes his way.  He’s come to Jesus for the healing of his son and, from what he knows of Christ, he believes that what he says has come to pass.  He expected healing from Jesus and he seems to have gotten it.

But he gets more and that becomes evident in the rest of the passage.  The official started on his way back down to his home in Capernaum.  As mentioned, this was a journey of about 30 kilometers and the man probably had to walk it.  If that’s true, that’s a journey you can probably make in a day on foot, depending on your age and health.  But from what follows in verse 52, we know that the healing took place just after mid-day.  So likely the official had to overnight somewhere on his way back home.  He didn’t make the trip all in one day.

But on the second day of travelling, he encountered his servants.  They’re coming to find him with some good news:  his son was on the improve.  What an awesome thing to hear!  How his heart must have soared.  To hear that it’s true, that it’s really true that your son’s life has been spared – wow, that must have relieved him enormously.

It did leave one question in his mind:  was it merely a coincidence?  Did it just happen to be this way?  Maybe his son started getting better right after he left, before he even spoke to Jesus.  It seems like a reasonable question.  So he asks it:  what time did he begin to get better?  Let’s confirm this.  Their answer is that it was around the seventh hour, so 1:00 PM.  The official knew that this was the time when Jesus said, “Your son will live.”  This confirmed that Jesus healed him.  It was Jesus who delivered his son from death. 

Then we find some amazing words at the end of verse 53:  “And he himself believed, and all his household.”  If we go back to verse 41, we read about the Samaritans:  “And many more believed because of his word.”  They believed that Jesus was the Saviour of the world.  That’s the kind of faith that John’s gospel is aiming for.  That’s also the faith where this official ends up.  The language John uses here in verse 53 is used for someone who believes that Jesus is the Saviour.   He and his household believe that Jesus saves from physical death, but also and far more importantly from spiritual death. 

The official came for one kind of salvation and that just for his son.  But he ended up receiving the most important salvation, he and everyone in his family.  This was all grace.  Jesus had challenged him whether he would believe and he did.  But this wasn’t his own doing.  As Ephesians 2:8 reminds us, this faith was a gift of God.  God granted him the gift of his son back from death’s brink, and then God also granted him the gift of his own Son as the one who would experience eternal death in his place.  This father didn’t deserve any of this.  He was a sinner like all of us are.  He didn’t deserve to see his son live.  He didn’t deserve to see eternal life along with his son.  But God showed his mercy and grace through his Son Jesus.  The unexpected stuff that happens here is divine grace through and through.

The miracle Jesus performed here accomplished something far greater than the healing of a beloved son.  That son would go on to live his life and then eventually he died.  He’s not around anymore and neither are his father or mother.  They all died.  But because of what happened in our text, they all lived.  They all lived eternally.  When their hearts gave up and their lungs fell flat one last time, they immediately went to be with God in heaven.  Because of Christ, they received the gift of eternal life.  Someday, because of Christ, their bodies will be raised from the dead and they will live forever on the new heavens and new earth. 

This passage is meant to point us to that reality too.  There’s a miracle of deliverance and this points to the greatest deliverance Christ came to bring.  People initially come to Christ for various reasons.  I’ve known people who first said they believed because they were just interested in having Jesus heal their marriage.  It was only later that it dawned on them that it wasn’t their marriage that needed saving, it was them.  Through God’s sovereign grace, they had come to Christ at first for one thing, but then later received the other thing they needed the most.  Loved ones, let’s see that Jesus is not merely a miracle worker.  He’s the Saviour.  The miracles of Scripture are recorded not so that we get focused on them, but that we look to the way these point to Christ and his saving power.  He can save any sinner.  He saved not only that official, but also his family – including his son.  As we believe in him, we can be sure that what the official and his family received, we’ll also receive. 

 Our text rounds off by telling us that this was the second sign Jesus did in Galilee.  That connects back to verse 46.  The first sign was the turning of the water into wine in Cana.  The second sign was the healing of the official’s son.  Both of these miracles are called signs.  Why?  Because they point us to Jesus, who he is, and what he does.  This healing pointed to the fact that Jesus saves from death.

We’re going to sing from Psalm 116 in response to God’s Word.  I like to think of this Psalm as being the Psalter’s version of Amazing Grace.  There’s nothing wrong with the hymn Amazing Grace, of course.  But Psalm 116 is its equal, if not its better in some respects.  As we sing this Psalm, you can perhaps imagine the official from our text singing this psalm back home in Capernaum with his family.  These words would have had a deeper meaning for him.  God heard his cries.  He saw the tender mercy of God in Jesus.  The cords of death were holding on tight, there didn’t seem to be a way out.  He turned to God in the person of Jesus Christ and pleaded for salvation.  He pleaded for the sparing of the life of his son.  And as his son was delivered from death, he and his whole family were delivered from eternal peril and affliction.  Truly that was a man who could sing, “God in his mercy has been good to me.”  If we know Christ as our Saviour like he did, we can sing the same Psalm with joy and thankfulness in our hearts.  AMEN. 


Father of love and mercy,

Our world is messed up and broken and so are we.  Around us we see sickness and death.  We see sinfulness in our lives and in the lives of others.  Father, we know that we all need restoration and salvation.  Thank you that you sent your Son Jesus as the Great Physician.  We praise you for how he healed that official’s son in our text.  Lord Jesus, we praise you for your compassion, mercy, and power.  You merely spoke and things happened.  Your lips commanded the healing of that child.  Please continue to bless us with your Word.  Through the Word of the gospel, bring healing into our broken lives.  Lord God, Father, work in all our hearts with your Spirit so that we and our whole households look to Christ only in faith and find all hope and salvation in him.   



* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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