Seeing Jesus' Glory Gives True Life
Passage: John 4:43–54
Sermon on John 4:43-54 by Bret Rogers, Pastor
Delivered on Sunday, May 12, 2013
Jesus' Uncomfortable Ministry Lifestyle
So we find Jesus on his way to Galilee after spending two days in Sychar with the people of Samaria. This was his intention back in verse 3, to leave Judea and travel to Galilee, but not apart from seeking true worshipers among those in Samaria first, just as his Father wanted him to. So he travels to Galilee not taking the main highway, but taking a back-road through Samaria to gather to himself an adulterous woman and her village for eternal life. All kind of revival was breaking out among the Samaritans as they listened to Jesus’ words. They didn’t want to be with him simply because of the woman’s testimony. The people themselves were trusting that certainly this man named Jesus is Israel’s Messiah—he is God’s promised Deliverer for Israel—and more than that, he is Savior of the world. So there’s a spiritual awakening among the Samaritans, and then here in verse 43, we find Jesus again departing for Galilee.
Does that strike you as odd, as counter-cultural? Why not set up shop for a revival ministry in Sychar among the Samaritans? They just experienced a two-day crusade and now he’s leaving—he’s departing to Galilee. And on top of that, John tells us in verse 44 that the reason he’s going to Galilee—what’s compelling him—is that “Jesus himself had testified that a prophet has no honor in his own hometown.” So first he leaves a successful two-day ministry and then goes to a place where he knows he’ll have no honor. Why return to the wrong side of the tracks if you know your own people will show you no honor? Why go back to your Jewish turf if there’s “greener grass” in Samaria? “This is not a comfortable ministry lifestyle, Jesus.”
A Welcome That's Not Really a Welcome
You might be thinking, “Now, wait a minute. It says in verse 45 that when he came to Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him. So it doesn’t appear that it was all that bad for Jesus to return. The opposition doesn’t look that great.” However, we must remember to read their welcome of Jesus in light of what John says before it and in light of what John says after it. Before it, John says that Jesus was testifying that “a prophet has no honor in his own hometown”—which means that we shouldn’t be quick to conclude that this is a true welcome of the person of Jesus himself, at least in the way that Jesus should be welcomed. What comes after the welcome exposes its true nature. The text says, “the Galileans welcomed him [why?], having seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the feast. For they too had gone to the feast” (4:45).
Turn with me back to 2:23, where John first mentions all that Jesus had done at this feast—because what we’re seeing here in the hearts of these Galileans is the same thing we see there. Verse 23, “Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast [same feast as 4:45], many believed in his name [here’s the qualification] when they saw the signs that he was doing.” [And this is Jesus’ response to the kind of belief that only comes to Jesus for signs but not for who he truly is as God’s Son. Verse 24…] But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.” Welcoming Jesus into your hometown as the Doer of signs is not the same thing as welcoming him as Savior of the world. The people in Galilee welcome Jesus, alright, but John is using irony to help us see that their welcome is superficial. They welcome him as a hometown hero—his miracles make them look good, they give them bragging rights—but they do not welcome him as Messiah, Savior, and Lord.
This is why Jesus testifies that he had no honor in his own hometown. You do not honor Jesus if you just want Jesus to do things for you quite apart from you having Jesus. Jesus is not honored when he’s used for his miracles; Jesus is honored when he’s received for eternal life—when he’s embraced as Savior of the world, the one who takes away my sins and makes me a child of God. When God saves sinners, he always saves them on conditions which honor his Son—conditions that are in line with his Son’s greatness, conditions that recognize who he truly is. God is pleased when a Samaritan woman finally sees her need for living water and embraces Jesus for true spiritual drink—because that shows “Nobody else but Jesus truly satisfies the soul.” God is pleased when many people in the village of Sychar say, “This indeed is the Savior of the world”—because that displays “Nobody can save from the wrath to come like Jesus Christ saves.” God loves it when sinners welcome Jesus not as superficial sign seekers, but as desperate for salvation, because this honors the Son.
Jesus' Counter-cultural Mission from the Father
That’s not how the Galileans welcome him. Their welcome does not honor Jesus as Son of God and Savior of the world, but as Sign-doer. That’s all they’re really interested in. They’ve refused to look through the signs to see his true glory as the only Son of God sent by the Father—and yet Jesus still departs for Galilee. In the face of the superficiality, in the face of surface-level acceptance without repentance and genuine trust, in the face of not honor but opposition, Jesus still departs for Galilee. What’s going on here in Jesus’ counter-cultural approach to ministry? The answer is that Jesus is on a mission, a mission given by his Father but constantly characterized by opposition from his own people. We saw it in 1:10-11: “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world [mission from the Father]. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him [opposition from his people].”
Jesus is on a mission. You don’t come as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world without facing a day of slaughter (John 1:29). You don’t come as the Suffering Servant without being despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. He was despised, and we esteemed him not (Isa 53:3). Jesus faces the opposition; he ministers in the face of dishonor in Galilee, because Jesus is on a mission to save you when he dies on a cross at the hands of his own people.
So goes the preaching of the apostles: “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know—this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men” (Acts 2:23). Despite the signs, despite the miracles, his own people do not honor Jesus to the degree that they eventually crucify him. Jesus knows what their inner disposition toward him will eventually cost him, and he still departs for Galilee. What you are watching take place, brothers and sisters, is a Savior who is never derailed from accomplishing his mission to die for your sins. He’s not even swayed by the good things happening in Samaria. He is resolved to finish his Father’s mission, even to the point of death on a cross, so that you and I will be saved. Jesus departs for Galilee because he’s on a mission.
Jesus' Miracles Are Inseparable from His Mission
Here’s why that’s so important for understanding his next miracle: Jesus’ miracles are inseparable from his mission. Jesus never wants people to marvel at his miracles and miss his mission. If you marvel at his miracles and miss his mission, you miss Jesus altogether. He didn’t come merely to amaze you with his ability to work wonders, he came to save you from your sins and give you life in himself. That’s what he helps the official understand in the next part of our passage, and what we must understand if we are to come to Jesus in a saving and honoring way.
Verse 46, “So [Jesus] came again to Cana in Galilee, where he had made the water wine.” That reminds us of his first sign in Galilee. The problem there was that the people ran out of wine at a wedding party. Jesus then used the occasion to reveal his glory by providing an abundance of good wine that signified the in-breaking of God’s kingdom through Jesus’ mission. Here we have a new problem: “There was an official whose son was ill [very ill, verse 47 indicates]. 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.” And just like he did at the wedding party, Jesus uses the occasion to point others to himself.
Test 1: Are You Coming to Jesus for the Right Reasons
So he gives another one of those soul-searching responses. Verse 48, “So Jesus said to him, ‘Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.’” Can you imagine the anguish this man is in? His son is on the brink of death; he’s desperate for a healer; and all he figures is that this miracle-worker Jesus has the potential to make my son well. “Jesus, come down and heal my son.” Answer: “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” What is Jesus doing? One thing that clues us in to what he’s doing is that “you” is in the plural. Jesus’ has in mind more people than just this official. This official actually illustrates a much bigger problem among all those in Galilee—they’re interested in Jesus to the extent that he can perform miracles, to the extent that he can give them what they want, whether that’s more wine or a healthy son. But they’re not interested in Jesus to save them. So Jesus challenges the official: “Is this how you’re coming to me, simply for a healthy son? Or do you want more of me than that?”
In doing so, he’s simultaneously pressing everyone else to consider the same question, including us. “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” Or, “Who do you really think I am? What is it about me that you really want?” Jesus wants nobody misunderstanding his mission and who he really is, even when it means putting himself between you and your dying child. Even in heart-rending circumstances like this one, Jesus will not be misunderstood—and folks, this is loving. Jesus wants to give this man more than a healthy child; he wants to give him himself. What good would a healed son be if the father and his son were both left with each other but without Christ? Forty, fifty, sixty more years of happiness—playgrounds, schooling, graduation, weddings, new jobs, a family—and then zero minus ten-billion suffering eternal death in hell. Jesus wants to give this man more than health, wealth, and prosperity in this life—all of which is fleeting with this present age—he wants to give him eternal life in himself.
Jesus Asks Hard Questions to Give Us Himself
The same is true in how Jesus relates to you. Think of all your distressing situations—the sicknesses that have plagued your children, the dearest of family members you’ve lost, the assault you’ve experienced in the past, the demons who tempt you with the darkest of lies, the mass confusion of life that paralyzes your zeal—and you’re coming to Jesus like this man saying, “Take it all away! Give me a sign! Answer me, Jesus!” And then he pulls out a “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” Why? Because he can take all of those things away; he can give you a sign; he can provide the answers. But if you have all those things and lack him, you have nothing. Jesus is more than a child healed; he is the gift of eternal life itself—for you and your sick child. And he will stand between you and everything else in this world you’re running to for life in order for you to have him—whether in times of toe-tapping joy or in times of gut-wrenching pain. Jesus’ always moves beyond our self-interest—even when they’re dear to you—so that we might experience true life in him. That’s what he wants the man to get—“I’m not just a miracle-worker who came from Judea to Galilee to give your little boy temporary life; I’m the Son of God who came from heaven to earth to give the world eternal life.”
To be clear, it’s not that the miraculous healing would be bad—he plans to heal the boy—but that the miraculous healing can be interpreted devoid of Christ’s own identity and his own mission to save. And that Jesus doesn’t want to happen, so he loves the official and the others by challenging him. So let’s see how the man responds to Jesus’ challenge?
Test 2: Are You Trusting Jesus' Words
Verse 49, “The official said to him, ‘Sir, come down before my child dies.’” The man accepts Jesus’ challenge: “Come down before my child dies.” And Jesus again doesn’t answer in a way that you’d expect. He doesn’t take the fourteen-mile hike to Capernaum to lay hands on the man’s son. He simply says, “Go; your son will live.” Can you imagine the test of this man’s soul? Twice he’s asked Jesus to come down to rescue his son; and twice Jesus answers in a way that tests the true nature of the man’s faith. Test one is whether the man is coming to him at all for the right reasons—“do you just want a miracle or me?” Test two is whether the man will trust his word.
He’s fourteen miles away from home. You know what consumes you when you’re walking fourteen miles and a son near death at home? Your son! It’s now well after lunch time; he’s desperate for Jesus to come with him. And Jesus essentially tells him, “Go [back home], your son will live.” Talk about crushing if all you’re focused on is your son. Can you imagine the competing voices of your flesh, the world, and the devil against Jesus’ word at this point? Some of you know them well.
Your own flesh grows cynical: “Go? Go, your son will live?! I said come down. Thanks for not caring, Jesus!” Or maybe you’re more often despondent: “This is a hopeless situation. Why do I even try to approach Jesus?” Maybe you respond to your felt needs: “Jesus, what I need right now is not another deepening of my faith in you; what I need right now is a better son. You give me him, and then I’ll worry about the other.” Or maybe the world is feeding you hope in other things: “Just go drink it off. Just pull yourself together—be strong. Just devote yourself to positive thinking.” Or maybe the powers of darkness tempt you with the ancient lies of “Did God really say? Do you really believe that Jesus has your best interest in mind by not going with you?”
What we see in verse 50 is that the man has begun to see something more of this Jesus, which drowns out the other voices competing for his soul. John tells us, “The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way.” He believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and the evidence of his belief is that he acted upon it—he returned home. True faith will always believe Jesus’ word, because true faith will always see that Jesus’ word is more than just trustworthy; Jesus’ word also gives life to the dead. That’s what happens when you’re God’s Son—you have life in yourself. “In him was life,” John says in 1:4. Or what does Jesus say in 5:28-29? “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself.” When you’re God’s only Son, you have life in yourself—your word is a creating, powerful, universe-sustaining kind of word, and so your word is able to give life to the dead. That includes physical life and spiritual life. Notice that Jesus’ word does more than simply heal the boy from a distance [physical life]. Jesus’ word also brings spiritual life to the official and his entire household.
The Greatest Miracle Is Being Reborn
Verse 51, “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.’ The father knew that was the hour when Jesus had said to him, ‘Your son will live.’ And he himself believed, and all his household.” So no longer is it just the man, showing a single act of belief in Jesus’ life-giving word, but now his entire household enters a life of belief because of his life-giving word. The official and his household become a believing-type people. The official finally connects Jesus’ miracle with Jesus’ mission. The official finally looked through Jesus’ miracle of giving his son physical life to see Jesus’ mission of giving the world eternal life; and he believed, he and all his household believed. That’s the greatest miracle of this story—not merely that Jesus’ word caused the boys health to be restored, but that Jesus’ word caused boy’s entire family to be reborn.
The official could have missed it altogether and kept coming to Jesus as a sign-seeker, but he doesn’t. He listens to Jesus’ words—all of them. Jesus’ words have compelled him into genuine, saving faith—a faith that would honor the Son. The official had come to see a miracle performed on his son, but he returned possessing infinitely more than a healthy son—he now possessed eternal life and belonged to the Savior of the world. Far greater was it that he has Jesus than all the health of a son.
Heed Jesus' Powerful Word Instead of Ignoring It
There are a couple of applications I’d like to close with. The first is this: if Jesus’ word is so powerful, if his word is able to give such life to our souls, then why is it that we find ourselves in seasons of ignoring it? We can consider this at an individual level—my relationship with the Lord—and at a corporate level—my relationship with the saints. Why is it that we find ourselves in seasons neglecting Jesus’ word if it’s Jesus’ word that gives life—and I don’t mean the read letters, I mean the whole Bible?
Consider this: Jesus’ word reveals God. 3:34, “For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure.” Jesus’ word creates faith. 4:41-42, “Many more [Samaritans] believed because of his word. They said to the woman, “It’s no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.” Jesus’ word heals. 4:50, “Go, your son will live.” Jesus’ word reveals heavenly things. 3:11-12, “Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” Jesus’ word stimulates joy. 3:29, “The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice.” Jesus’ word gives life to dead people. 5:24, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” Jesus’ word nourishes us with spiritual life. 6:66-68, “…many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, ‘Do you want to go away as well?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life!” Jesus’ word leads us into the care of our Good Shepherd. 10:27, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.”
If Jesus’ word has such live-giving power, brothers and sisters, then let us be all the more diligent to heed the apostle Paul’s words when he says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Col 3:16). Don’t let the many opportunities we have simply pass by without saturating ourselves with Jesus’ live-giving word. Press each other into his word that more and more we might find life in Jesus himself and instead of looking for it merely in his gifts.
Love Jesus Himself More Than What He Does For You
A second point of application is this: may we love Jesus himself more than simply what he does for us. It’s a very good thing and a biblical thing to ask Jesus to do for us what we cannot do on our own—strengthen our parenting, meet our financial needs, write a sermon, give us wisdom, provide a job, heal the sick. And he desires to answer our requests so that thanksgiving might abound to his name. But he is the ultimate gift in this story, not the gift of healing. That’s not to minimize the good things and the dearly-loved people the Lord gives us to enjoy in this life—like our own children. It’s simply to give us Jesus’ perspective on what is truly satisfying and infinitely valuable, namely, himself.
He is the only glorious Son from the Father, full of grace and truth; and everything exists through him and for him. He is infinite in holiness, superior in majesty, immeasurable in love, awesome in splendor, ultimate in power, unbounded in joy, and unflinching in faithfulness toward you. He is God’s ultimate gift from heaven. He sent him not merely to perform miracles, but to accomplish a mission for your salvation and mine—which includes not only the forgiveness of our sins, but the promise of eternal fellowship with the all-glorious God in his final kingdom. When we have him, we really do have everything. When we have him—not merely as Sign-doer but as Savior, as eternal life itself—everything else in life serves to strengthen our faith in him, until Jesus finishes his Father’s mission and we behold his face by sight. Then “[we] shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike [us], nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be [our] shepherd, and he will guide [us] to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from [our] eyes” (Rev 7:16-17).
More in The Gospel According to John
May 24, 2015Eyewitness Testimony to the Greatness of Jesus
May 17, 2015Loving Jesus & Feeding His People at All Costs
May 10, 2015Believing the Apostle's Testimony When Not Seeing Jesus