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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at / Published Life BPC 10:45 am , 2007-11-25

Text: John 4:43-54

With the advances that are being made in medical science, the day may soon come when a medical emergency can be handled over great distances without any need for travel. A missionary who is very far away and who needs surgery can then be operated by a doctor in Singapore without having them together at one place. Within the last few years some long-distance operations have already been done successfully with the use of robotic arms that are controlled by a doctor at another location. And it is hoped that long-distance robotic surgery may one day be used to allow a surgeon on Earth to operate on astronauts in space!

There are however two major limitations about such long-distance surgery. The first limitation is the high cost of it. It requires the setting up of very complex and costly robotic equipment and it incurs huge telephone charges that run into thousands of dollars. The second limitation is the speed at which signals can travel, which is the speed of light. It takes a bit of time for the image of the surgery caught on a video camer to reach the surgeon, and it takes an equal amount of time for the surgeon's response to reach the robotic arm. This poses no problem at all when the distances are short. But over long distances, even a slight delay can cause a major problem. When a major blood vessel bursts during an operation a delayed reaction of only one or two seconds can make the difference between life and death.

All this helps us to appreciate how awesome the power of God really is - It reaches over the longest distances and is not hindered at all by cost or by speed. A wonderful demonstration of divine long-distance healing can be found in our text of Scripture where Jesus heals a nobleman's son without going to him. 

Although the critically sick child was about 40 km away, Jesus healed him at the father's request and the healing was effected at that very moment! This was truly an amazing miracle. But there is a greater miracle that our Lord Jesus accomplished through this: It was the salvation of an entire family from sin and eternal death. And this is the first recorded instance in the New Testament of a family that was brought to salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. The story of how that faith developed is quite interesting. We shall look at the passage now to trace the things that happened.

I. The Circumstances for Faith (vv. 43-47)

According to v.46, Jesus came again into Cana of Galilee. This was the place where He had performed His first miracle - turning water into wine during a wedding feast (John 2). By the time Jesus returned to Cana the news of this miracle would have spread by word of mouth to other parts of Galilee. And added to this were reports of other great miracles that He had done recently in Jerusalem and Judea. Many Galilean Jews who had been in Jerusalem for the feast of Passover and witnessed these miracles must have talked about them when they returned to Galilee. 

This is probably the reason why the Galileans received Him so warmly when He came as v.45 says. We can imagine their great excitement and their high expectation that Jesus would now favour them all with miracle after miracle. But for one very anxious father at Capernaum, which is on the northern coast of the Sea of Galilee, the news of Christ's coming to Cana was the only hope that he had of saving his child from dying.

His little boy had fallen ill, and since the father was a nobleman in the king's service he had probably sought the help of all the royal physicians and the best doctors in Galilee. But none of them could cure his son. Day after day he watched his restless boy tossing and turning with fever and getting weaker and weaker as his life drained away from him. I think every father and mother can identify with that awful feeling of helplessness and fear that grips the heart as you watch your little boy or girl tossing in bed with a high fever. Then the nobleman heard news that Jesus had returned to Cana. This was the bright ray of hope he had been looking for! 

What a wonderful coincidence it was that Jesus should be there at this desperate hour. But was it just pure coincidence? No, it was nothing less than God's providence working with clockwork precision to work out His glorious purposes. 

The lesson we can learn from this is that nothing ever happens by chance! 'All things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called, according to His purpose.' (Romans 8:28) May our hearts always be encouraged to know that God's marvelous providence is constantly ordering all things to work out His eternal plan for our lives. 

And so, without delay the nobleman set off for Cana on his fastest steed or chariot to fetch Jesus to Capernaum to heal his dying son. Throughout that long 40 km journey going up from the sea coast to the highlands of Galilee we can imagine how he must have prayed that Jesus would be kind enough to come with him to Capernaum and that his little boy's life would last until Jesus arrived to heal him.

According to v.47, when the nobleman found Jesus, he 'besought him that he would come down, and heal his son: for he was at the point of death.' The word which is translated 'besought' in this verse is in a form which implies continuous, repeated action. While Jesus was busy preaching and attending to the needs of many people, this nobleman kept on calling Him and begging Him persistently 'Please Sir, you must come with me to Capernaum at once and heal my dying son!' 

Let us reflect on the tender love that this father had for his dear child. It speaks to every father and every mother here this morning. God has entrusted a precious life to you, and you have the awesome responsibility of loving that child and providing for all his needs. Please do not neglect this responsibility. Let all of us who are parents love our children enough not only to care for them when they are sick, but also to bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4).

II. The Conflict of Faith (vv.48,49)

Now, when the earnest cries of the nobleman finally caught the Lord's attention, the reply that Jesus gave to him was almost unbelievable. He said, 'Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe.' (v.48) This does not sound at all like Jesus. He did not seem to be a kind and compassionate Saviour to that grieving father. But we must be careful here not to make a premature judgment. Let us observe what the text says. Jesus said, 'Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe.' I want you to notice that the word Jesus used is 'ye' which is plural and not 'thou' which is singular. These words were therefore not addressed to that nobleman alone, but also to all the entire class of people that he represents - the Jews!

The Jews were always asking Jesus to show them miracles. They were not like the Samaritans in John chapter 4 who had believed in Jesus without seeing any signs and wonders. Paul stated plainly in 1 Corinthians 1:22 that 'The Jews require a sign.' And when Jesus cleansed the Temple in John 2, the Jews had immediately asked Him, 'What sign shewest thou unto us, seeing that thou doest these things?' (2:18) Such constant sign-seeking is not good because it betrays a very weak faith. A faith which has to be constantly supported or strengthened with miraculous signs is obviously a weak faith. 

I am sure that we all know people who would love to see signs and wonders. If you were to ask them why, they would say, 'Seeing is believing.' Perhaps even some of us may be like that. We really want to see miracles, signs and wonders before we are prepared to believe who Jesus is. Tens of thousands of people attend faith healing rallies because they want to see whether these so-called faith-healers can actually achieve the transformation of a cripple, open the eyes of the blind, make the deaf hear, or raise the dead back to life before they would belive in Christ.

When Jesus said, 'Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe' He was therefore lamenting that this was true of most Jews of His day - they flatly refused to believe in Him unless they see Him doing convincing signs and wonders. And so when Jesus spoke the words of v.48 to the nobleman He was not being unfeeling or unkind to him but actually testing his motive for making the request.

If the nobleman's motive was the same as the other Jews who craved for signs and wonders in order to believe, he would probably have been very offended by what Jesus said to him. He might even have stopped asking Jesus to heal his son and returned home empty-handed. But the nobleman's response showed that his motives were different from the rest. In verse 49 he continued to ask Jesus to come to Capernaum to heal his son. Why did he do this? Because he was not asking Jesus at all for signs and wonders in order to believe. All that he had heard about Jesus had already convinced him that Jesus can heal his son. With such initial faith he had rushed all the way to Cana to fetch Jesus to Capernaum and persisted in begging Him to come.

But at this point the nobleman's faith was just like an uncut diamond, in need of refinement. And what our Lord did next was designed to accomplish that. Let us look at what he told the nobleman in v.50 'Go thy way; thy son liveth.' We notice that Jesus only granted part of the nobleman's request. 

He did not grant the part about coming down with him to Capernaum, but He did grant the part about healing the son. And in this answer we also notice that Jesus gave the nobleman a command 'Go thy way.' Here now was the real test of the nobleman's faith. If he did not go but kept on insisting that Jesus must come with him to Capernaum, he would be doubting what Jesus said. But if he were to go back to Capernaum without Jesus He would be returning with absolutely no outward proof that he would find his son alive and well. And if he were to find the son still unwell then there would be no one to heal him. Here the nobleman had to make a very difficult choice - to keep pleading with Jesus to go with him or to obey His command and go empty-handed. What would you have done if you were in his shoes? 

Perhaps some of us would have said something like this, 'Lord I fully believe your word that my son lives, but please come with me anyway so that my son can personally thank you for healing him!' This may sound ingenious but it is certainly not an answer that comes from full-grown faith at all, and such a lame excuse will not hide the real motive.

There is a good lesson for us to learn from this - a lesson on prayer: Sometimes we tend to limit God in our prayers. We make our needs known to Him in prayer, but we also go on to tell Him exactly how these needs are to be met. But God may choose to meet our needs in a very different way. There is a lovely poem by Annie Johnson Flint entitled 'The Answered Prayers' which goes like this:

I prayed for strength, and then I lost awhile 
All sense of nearness, human and divine;
The love I leaned on failed and pierced my heart; 
The hands I clung to loosed themselves from mine;
But while I swayed, weak, trembling, and alone, 
The everlasting arms upheld my own.

I prayed for light; the sun went down in clouds, 
The moon was darkened by a misty doubt,
The stars of heaven were dimmed by earthly fears, 
And all my little candle flames burned out;
But while I sat in shadow, wrapped in night, 
The face of Christ made all the darkness bright.

I prayed for peace, and dreamed of restful ease, 
A slumber drugged from pain, a hushed repose;
Above my head the skies were black with storm,
And fiercer grew the onslaught of my foes;
But while the battle raged, and wild winds blew,
I heard His voice, and perfect peace I knew.

I thank Thee, Lord, Thou wert too wise to heed 
My feeble prayers, and answer as I sought,
Since these rich gifts Thy bounty has bestowed 
Have brought me more than I had asked or thought.
Giver of good, so answer each request 
With Thine own giving, better than my best.

Dearly beloved, when you ask the Lord for anything, please leave it to Him to answer your prayer in His own way, and do not be disappointed if it turns out to be quite different from what you had expected. What you must do is trust that God always knows what He is doing, and you must simply obey whatever He directs you to do.

III. The Confidence of Faith (v. 50)

Coming back to our text, we see that this was exactly what the nobleman did. The latter part of v.50 tells us that 'the man believed the word that Jesus had spoken unto him, and he went his way.' He did not need to see that his son had been healed before believing. He simply took Jesus at His Word and believed. This shows that his faith had been refined through testing and had matured into a higher form - a form that believes in order to see, instead of seeing in order to believe. From being a faith based only on what he had heard from others about Jesus, it had progressed to a faith that is based on the word of Jesus Himself. 

And that mature faith produced obedience to Jesus. The nobleman obeyed Him without asking any questions. This is the kind of faith that God wants you to have - a faith that produces obedience to Him. If you say that you truly believe in Christ, are you obeying Him as you should? Do you listen to Him when He speaks through His Word? And are you willing to do whatever He wants you to do? Let every one of us show forth the confidence of our faith in Christ by living in full obedience to Him. We must obey His command to love Him and keep a vibrant daily walk with Him through His Word and through prayer. Obedience to Christ also requires us to love one another, serve Him with our spiritual gifts, and to reach out to the lost.

If you are married, obedience to Christ requires you to be faithful to your spouse. Husbands, you are to love your wives. Wives, you are to submit to your husbands. Parents, obedience to Christ requires you to teach your children to know the Lord and love Him. Children, you are to honour your parents. 

If you are working, obedience to Christ requires you be honest and diligent workers, not shortchanging your employers, and also not doing anything that is questionable. If you are studying, obedience to Christ demands that you always honour Him in your studies. Dearly beloved, the life of faith in Jesus is a life of obedience to His word. And obedience to Him brings the confirmation of our faith in Him.

IV. The Confirmation of Faith (vv.51-54)

When the nobleman obeyed Christ his faith was marvelously confirmed. Verse 51 tells us that as he returned, his servants came out of Capernaum to bring him the good news, 'Thy son liveth.' It is interesting to see that these words are the same words that Jesus had spoken in v.50. When they were first uttered by Christ, the nobleman's faith in them commenced. And when he heard them again from his servants, his faith in them was confirmed. And then when he learned that his son's fever had left him at the seventh hour which was the exact time when Jesus had said those words to him, his faith was now complete. Now he not only believed what others had said about Jesus, and what Jesus had said to him. He had reached a new level of faith - he now believed completely in the person of Jesus Himself.

And verse 53 tells us that the nobleman was not alone in doing this -His whole family also believed in Jesus Christ and they were gloriously saved! And all this had happened because the little boy in the family, who was loved so dearly by his father, had fallen sick. Truly God works in mysterious ways, His wonders to perform! He brings light out of darkness and life out of death. And we must be ready to respond with faith to all that He does in our lives. Our faith is not only to be in what Jesus does. Our faith is to be in who Jesus is.

Dear friends, how has your faith in Christ developed since the time you first heard about Him? Have you trusted in Christ salvation? If you have, are you living by faith in Him? If you have not, will you trust in Him today? May the Lord grant us the faith to trust in Him for salvation and for living the Christian life. Let us pray.

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

December 3 & 10 - Holy Living

Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, 2 Peter 3:11