When we brought Timothy home from the hospital, I was struck by an amazing reality. Here was little human being that was completely dependent on us. Having children changes things – and in God’s ordering of creation it is meant to do so. Children reorient our life away from ourselves and toward another.
Most parents, I think, feel the sense that their child’s needs come before their own. We will make sacrifices for them in order to support and nurture them. It’s not as if there isn’t joy in that process, but the fact remains that on a regular basis the parent is putting the needs a child before him or herself.
If that is the case in the normal circumstances of life, it becomes all the more a driving force when they are seriously ill. As parents we will do anything necessary – everything possible – in order to see that our child recovers and is healthy.
This fact explains the situation that we find in our Gospel lesson today. John begins by telling us: “So he came again to Cana in Galilee, where he had made the water wine. And at Capernaum there was an official whose son was ill. When this man heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went to him and asked him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death.”
Jesus had been in the southern part of Palestine – in Judea. Now he had passed through Samaria as he made his way back to Galilee in the north. He arrived at Cana, where previously he had worked his first miracle by turning water into wine at a wedding banquet.
We learn that in Capernaum there was an official – someone in the service of King Herod Antipas – whose son was ill and about to die. When he learned that Jesus had come to Galilee, he went to our Lord. It’s sixteen miles from Capernaum to Cana. Fever ridden, there was no way he could bring his son to Jesus. So instead he made the journey to see Jesus by himself. Of course he did. As his son’s life hung in the balance, he saw in Jesus a chance to save him.
When he arrived at Cana, the official finally had the opportunity to request Jesus’ help. We learn that was asking Jesus to come down to Capernaum and heal his son. Luke uses a Greek tense that indicates the repeated and insistent nature of the request. The father was desperate to save his son.
So Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” It’s not what we expect. It seems like a harsh response from our Lord. It could have been the occasion to discourage the father, or even anger him.
When we face challenges and difficulties in life, we do the same thing as the official. We turn to God and ask for help. Sometimes it seems like God is silent. Sometimes it seems like God is almost rebuking us because the exact opposite of our prayers happens and things get worse. The response of our old Adam - the sinful nature that still drags us down – is to turn away from God; to give up hope in him; to get angry with him.
Yet Jesus was not rejecting or ignoring the man, just as our heavenly Father is not doing this to us. Instead, our Lord was leading the man from superficial hope – a last ditch effort if you will – to real faith. What you can’t see in English is that Jesus’ statement is expressed in the plural. It was not spoken only to the official, but instead is a general statement addressed to all there. It described a spiritual problem, and at the same time by pointing it out, Jesus led beyond this to real faith.
The official did not turn away. Instead, he asked Jesus directly: “Sir, come down before my child dies.” He asked Jesus to come back to Capernaum with him and heal his son. Yet Jesus didn’t do this. Instead Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live.”
Jesus didn’t give the man what he wanted. He didn’t go with him back to Capernaum. Instead, he gave the official what he needed. He gave him a word that dealt not with mere healing, but instead one that led to faith. For John tells us, “The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way.”
The man believed the word Jesus spoke to him, and so he headed back towards Capernaum. He began the sixteen mile journey home. He believed Jesus’ word. Yet all he had was faith in Jesus’ word. He had no way of knowing whether healing had taken place or would take place. Instead, sustained by that faith in Jesus’ word he made his way toward Capernaum.
That is how we live as Christians. We have Jesus’ word of promise the he loves and cares for us. But very often the only things that seem to be concrete and certain are the difficulties that we know exist. There are several among us who have cancer. There are those who grieve because of losses they have experienced. There are those who experience worry and anxiety about what the future holds. These things are there. Yet Jesus’ word calls us to faith. It calls us to believe and trust in him as we journey in life.
That’s what the official was doing as he made his way back to Capernaum. Yet we learn in our text that as he was going down, his servants met him and told him that his son was recovering. So he asked them the hour when he began to get better, and they said to him, “Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.” And the father knew that was the exact hour when Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.”
John concludes our text by saying, “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.” Before, the man had believed Jesus’ word about healing. Yet know John simply says that the official “believed.” The experience had led him to a firm faith in Jesus Christ. And it had not just done this for him. It had done this for his whole household as well.
The official made his way back to Capernaum, and as he did so he was met by his servants who reported that his son was healed. This experience led him and his household to faith. You and I don’t live in first century Palestine. We can’t have this same experience. So what is the basis for our believing? How does God sustain us in the faith?
John is telling us by the way he introduces and concludes our Gospel lesson. He begins by saying, “So he came again to Cana in Galilee, where he had made the water wine.” Then he ends it with the words, “This was now the second sign that Jesus did when he had come from Judea to Galilee.”
John is leading us to see our text in relation to Jesus’ first miracle when he turned water into wine at Cana. After narrating that miracle, John adds, “This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.”
Like the first miracle at Cana, this second one in our Gospel lesson is a sign that manifests Jesus’ glory. His glory is that of God himself, because Jesus is the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity. John had said of the incarnation in the first chapter, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
The signs reveal Jesus’ glory. But John lets us know that they all point to the great sign of the Gospel. They all point to the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ. During Holy Week Jesus said, “Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” The John adds, “He said this to show” – literally, “to sign” – “by what kind of death he was going to die.”
Jesus’ signs point us to his death and resurrection. Jesus gave himself as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. But he also showed on Easter that his is the resurrection and the life. In the resurrection, Jesus has provided the saving action that gives us faith. He has given us the event that provides confidence in the present. We are able to make the journey in faith because we have faith in the risen Lord.
After providing the account of what happened on Easter, John says, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but 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.” The signs of the Gospel, and especially in the sign of Jesus’ death and resurrection ground our faith in Jesus; they sustain our faith in Jesus. And this caries us through the journey of life.
This sign of the resurrection of Jesus is a witness that God’s Spirit continues to provide to us. Jesus told his disciples, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” He said, “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.”
The Spirit borne witness to the resurrection of Jesus provides the signs that cause us to believe. He gives the sign that sustain us in faith. This is the witness that God himself gives to us, and so there can be nothing more sure. In fact in John’s first letter he says that we dare not ignore or reject it. There he wrote, “If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God that he has borne concerning his Son. Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son. And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.”
Because of faith in the Son of God we already have life now. We have life with God. We have eternal life. This is the life of the risen Lord who gave himself for us so that we can live with him. And so we are able to face the challenges of the present in faith.