- Healing Light
- John 4:43-53
- Bill Couch March 6, 2016
Today is the fourth Sunday of Lent, the period leading up to the remembrance of the Crucifixion and the celebration of the Resurrection on Easter—which is just three weeks away! On the Sundays during Lent we are looking at the theme of Light in the Gospel According to John. Jesus proclaims that he is the light of the world. He came into our darkness to show us the way to abundant and eternal life.
To set the context for our scripture reading today, I want us to look at a map of the places that Jesus traveled when he began his ministry. The events and the locations where they occurred have significant implications.
- The first location mentioned in John’s Gospel is Bethany east of the Jordan, John 1:28. Bethany is where John the Baptist carried on his ministry and where Jesus was baptized although John does not mention the baptism of Jesus.
- From Bethany he traveled to Cana in Galilee where he attended a wedding and performed his first miracle: changing the water into the wine at the reception!
- From Cana he traveled to Jerusalem for the Passover feast—among the huge crowds that came from every corner of Israel. He cleared the Temple of the money changers who were reaping exorbitant profits from the pilgrims who came to purchase animals for their sacrifices. John says: “Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many people saw the miraculous signs he was doing and believed in his name.” (John 2:23) John does not record any specific miracles that Jesus performs.
- On his return trip to Galilee he stops at a well near Sychar where he encounters the Samaritan woman at the well and offers her living water. Jesus spends two days inSamaria where many people come to believe in him in addition to the woman at the well. It is not recorded that he performed any miracles in Samaria.
- He resumes his return to Cana (near his hometown of Nazareth) which is where our scripture reading takes place. A royal official has traveled from Capernaum to Cana a distance of about 15 miles to see Jesus. He has heard about the miracle at Cana and perhaps the miracles at Jerusalem. He is desperate for help. This scripture passage does not mention the word darkness or light. However, it describes an experience of deep anguish and darkness—a child is dying.
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 Feast, 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 miraculous signs and wonders,” Jesus told him, “you will never believe.” 49 The royal official said, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” 50 Jesus replied, “You may go. 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, “The fever left him yesterday at the seventh hour.” 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 all his household believed. John 4:43-53
Some of you know what it is like to have a child who is seriously ill. You have heard the words from the doctors, “There is nothing else we can do.” A cloud of darkness, hopelessness and despair envelopes you. The royal official’s son is dying. We know that he has a fever—we don’t know how long. Had it come upon him suddenly or has he been sick for a long time? Perhaps the royal official had taken his son to the best medical care available but all treatments had failed. He is a wealthy man, a powerful man. But he has a problem that money cannot fix. He has heard about Jesus and his ability to perform miracles. Jesus is his last hope. He begs Jesus to come to Capernaum and heal his son.
Jesus responds in a rather odd way: “Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders, you will never believe.” (John 4:48) Perhaps the first verses we read shed some light on why Jesus would say this. He has just returned from Jerusalem with a brief stopover in Samaria. In Jerusalem he had performed many miracles. His hometown folks had witnessed those miracles, so they welcomed him home—hoping to see more signs and wonders. Jesus knew that a prophet has no honor in his own hometown. Other gospel writers tell us that Jesus was not always welcomed in Galilee. Luke tells us that the people in his home town of Nazareth heard about miracles he performed in other places. They wanted a demonstration because they thought of him only as the carpenter’s son, not the Messiah. Jesus challenged their lack of faith. When he did: “That set everyone in the meeting place seething with anger. They threw him out, banishing him from the village; then took him to a mountain cliff at the edge of the village to throw him to his doom, but he gave them the slip and was on his way.” (Luke 4:28,29) Mark tells us that: “He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. And he was amazed at their lack of faith.” (Mark 6:5-6)
The people in Nazareth rejected Jesus. But other people had seen for themselves his miracles in Jerusalem during Passover. They were eager for more. The crowds gathered around looking for more signs and wonders. When the royal official asked Jesus to come to Capernaum and heal his son, Jesus perceived that people were seeking him out just to see signs and wonders. The miracles validated who Jesus was—he was the Son of God, the Messiah. But he did not come into the world primarily to perform miracles. He came to bring light into the darkness. He came to show people who had become separated from God, the way back to God. Sadly enough it is often the most religious people who are the farthest from God. They are all caught up in the wrong things: seeking signs and wonders, spectacular things, spiritual highs, obeying rules, trying to earn God’s approval. They are focused on what they need to do for God in order to get God to do things for them. It is all focused on the benefits that God can do for them. They use God for their own ends. Jesus told them that they were missing the point. It was not about the miracles, it was about receiving the invitation to a relationship. It was experiencing the joy of being with God and His being with us—no matter what is happening in our lives for good or bad. It is focusing on God for who He is and not what He can do for us.
Jesus said to this crowd, “Unless you see signs and wonders, you will never believe.” Jesus does not say anywhere: “Seek after miracles.” Instead he says: “Follow me. Come to me. Abide in me.” Those are invitations to a relationship—being with Jesus through all the experiences of life. Do we love God because of what he can do for us or love him simply because He is our heavenly Father who loves us?
Jesus does miracles to demonstrate his love, but he does not want us to seek the miracles rather than him. In a good marriage, husband and wife love each other because of who they are. To demonstrate their love they will do things for each other. They will do special things that they know are meaningful to their spouse. They communicate love. They will tell each other, “I love you.”
A wife approached her husband with a troubling look and asked, “We’ve been married for 30 years. Do you still love me?” With a deep sigh, the old husband gruffly exhaled, “Woman, I told you that I love you before I married you. If I change my mind, I’ll let you know.”
It is important to demonstrate our love with our actions and to express our love for each other through our words, but that is not the foundation of a marriage. It is the commitment to share all of life together—not matter what. To love each other and just be together. Sometimes a spouse will contract an illness that leaves them bedfast or paralyzed. They cannot do anything for their spouse. Their speech may even be impaired and they can no longer say, “I love you.” Or a spouse develops dementia or Alzheimer’s and may no longer even recognize their spouse. Because they cannot demonstrate or express their love does that mean there is no longer any love. Quite the opposite is often true. Their love for each other grows deeper because it transcends words and deeds. It is no longer about what one can do for the other; it is just about the relationship. It is a love that abides. Each person knows he or she is loved if only at a subconscious level.
Jesus invites us to experience a love relationship with him that transcends deeds and words. He will express his love to us in that still small voice that says “You are my child. I love you.” He will demonstrate his love through his blessings and sometimes even miracles. But Jesus is saying to us, don’t just seek the benefits of God, the things he can do for us. Go deeper and discover the joy of just knowing him; being with him.
The royal official is not deterred from asking Jesus for what he desperately needs. He has not shown up for a demonstration of signs and wonders. He has shown up desperate to save his child’s life. “Sir, come down before my child dies.” Jesus, out of love, says to him, “You may go. Your son will live.” The official asked for Jesus to come home with him to Capernaum. Instead Jesus says, “You may go.” Jesus is not going with him. I wonder if Jesus was looking the official in the eye at this point and the official saw the eyes of God penetrating to the depths of his soul with powerful love. “The man took Jesus at his word and departed.”
There is no mention that the man believed in Jesus as the Son of God. There is no mention of the man’s faith at all at this point. Jesus grants his wish for his son to live, but he does not go with him.
Some people have the misconception that in order to be healed you have to have faith. Conversely, if you are not healed it is because you don’t have enough faith. When we look at Jesus’ miracles of healing there is no pattern. Sometimes Jesus does not ask if someone believes or not. He just heals them. In the next miracle in John 5, Jesus approaches a paralyzed man who has been lying by the healing pool at Bethesda for 38 years. He asks him, “Do you want to get well?” The man does not answer the question, he just starts making excuses about how there is no one to help him get in the pool when the healing angel stirs the water. Jesus says, “Get up and walk.” At once the man was cured and he stood up and walked. Jesus did not ask him how much faith he had. The man felt his strength return and then he got up.
Four men brought their paralyzed friend to Jesus, and because of the crowd, they could not get into the house where Jesus was staying. So they climbed up on the roof and removed some tiles and lowered their friend on a mat in front of Jesus. He looked up and when he saw their faith, not the paralyzed man’s faith, Jesus healed him. It was because of his friend’s faith that this man was healed.
On another occasion a woman who had suffered from a hemorrhage for 12 years touched the hem of his garment without asking permission. There was a large crowd around Jesus; she thought he would not even notice. Jesus felt healing power flow from his body and turned around to ask who had touched him. She confessed and Jesus said to her, “Your faith has made you well.”
There is no formula to Jesus’ healing miracles based upon faith. Sometimes there is no mention of faith. Sometimes there is a mention of the patient’s faith. Sometimes it is the faith of someone other than the patient that results in the healing.
Jesus did not ask if the royal official’s son had faith. He told the royal official to go home; his son would live. He took Jesus at his word. On the journey home, the official’s servants come running to meet him with the good news that his son’s fever is gone. He inquires at what time the fever left and determines it was the exact moment when Jesus told him that his son was going to live. As a result of seeing the miracle: “he and all his household believed.” It was after the miracle that they came to faith in Christ as the Son of God.
Sometimes our relationship with Jesus begins because of what he does for us, but we need to go beyond that and experience what it means to abide in him whether a miracle happens or not. If a miracle does not come, what can I learn from this experience about trusting and loving God no matter what happens? How can this experience help me to make a deeper connection with God?
Does this mean we should not pray for healing? Does this mean we should not pray for miracles? Absolutely not!! When we are hurting or a loved one is hurting we need to bring it to Jesus and express the desire of our heart for healing—like multitudes of people did to Jesus when he walked this earth. But we need to avoid formulas that say: “If I have enough faith God will make me well.” Or: “If I do this for God, he should do this for me.” We have seen God heals those without any expression of faith. We have seen that he can heal at a distance on the basis of a parent’s plea—a parent who did not yet believe. There is no magic formula.
We bring our requests to God and sometimes the miracle happens. But sometimes it does not. Our relationship with God cannot depend upon the miracles. A miracle by definition is rare. Our relationship with God depends upon one thing: that Jesus has demonstrated the ultimate expression of love when he gave his life for us upon the cross. That is all we need to know he loves us and we can trust him whether we get the miracle or not. He is committed to stay with us and see us through no matter what. There is nothing that can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus. As we receive communion this morning let us remember that it symbolizes unto us the ultimate expression of God’s love for us.