37: It’s Official (John 4:43-54)
37: It’s Official
“After the two days he departed for Galilee. (For Jesus himself had testified that a prophet has no honor in his own hometown.) So when he came to Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him, having seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the feast. For they too had gone to the feast.” (John 4:43–45)
After Jesus’ journey He did not return home. The Samaritans welcome Him, the Galileans welcomed him, but He was not honoured in His own home town.
The truth of what John says in verse 11 of the first chapter is becoming reality.
“He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.”
But the more powerful truth is that the next two verses of that same chapter are also becoming reality. Many Jews would be offended by this truth.
“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12-13)
They may not have been so offended by the fact that the Samaritans received Jesus, but a strict Jew would probably have been severely provoked by the thought that a Samaritan could become one of God’s children. An uncircumcised heathen could become a child of God and not by going through the regular rituals but simply by believing and receiving Jesus. They had their position as God’s children confirmed over countless generations. Now in one simple act a whole town of Samaritan’s have become God’s children too.
It is a sad fact that the people who “know” Jesus most are often the least ready to receive what He is doing. It is a sobering fact that Jesus is prepared to pass His own by to minister to those who really want Him. Such a man came to Jesus in Cana.
“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.” (John 4:46-47)
The news is out. It’s official. Jesus is a miracle worker. When he gets back to the site of His first miracle in Cana of Galilee there is already expectation and people waiting to be touched by His power.
One such man is an “official” (ESV). If that sounds like a government employee, then his title implies something a little more. The Greek word implies royalty or in the service of royalty. It is only used in two other places in the New Testament, once in Acts 12:21 describing Herod’s royal robes and the other in James 2:8 where James is talking about the “royal law”.
At the very least, this man had connections, probably very powerful ones. Maybe he had gone to them first for help when his son got sick, we don’t know. Either way he was desperate enough to leave them behind to go and find Jesus. We don’t know how long his son was ill for, but now he is “at the point of death.” We don’t know what he was ill from, but his body was spiralling out of control and driving him towards an inevitable conclusion.
Except that Jesus had turned water in wine. After which he had gone down with his friends and family to stay in Capernaum for a few days. That’s where this official came from. Maybe they had even met then. We don’t know. But what we do know is that this man had heard of Jesus and what He was capable of doing. And at his most desperate point, he wasn’t going to go to all his other high connections, he knew they could do nothing to help him despite any wealth or power that they may have had. There was only one man who could help now. Thankfully He was in the neighbourhood. He always is. That’s what “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” means.
There’s always little nuggets of gold in these gospel stories, if we look for them. This official had a choice to make. His son was “on the point of death”. Jesus was in another town. It was at least a days journey away because when he met his servants on the way back home they had been travelling with news from the day before.
The servants. That’s where one of the nuggets of this story is. He had servants. He was an official, he probably had some connection to royalty. He was not poor. He had servants. What of it?
Only this. I said he had a choice to make. Here was his choice, to leave his son who was on the point of death to find Jesus. Someone probably told him that his son would not live to see his return. He might never see his son alive again. Well that is a difficult choice to be sure, but Jesus was known as a miracle worker and any parent would do all they could to save their child.
But that wasn’t the choice. The choice was this, he could have sent his servants. He obviously had them. He could have stayed at the side of his son and sent his servants. But he didn’t. Why not?
Well at this point it is conjecture, we don’t know for sure. But what we do know is that he was an official. He was used to dealing with people in power. He knew how to get answers when he needed them. He knew the approach that would have the best chance of success. If you want something from the market, or from the doctor, you send your servants. He probably could have sent a command to many people to appear before him and they would have dropped everything to attend to his needs.
However, if you want something from royalty, you don’t send your servants. That would not bring success, in fact in most cases it would be an affront to the one you were approaching. No, if you want the best chance of success with royalty and those in power, you needed to go yourself.
So, somewhere in the back of this man’s mind he had to make a choice. He knew he needed to send for Jesus. But was Jesus a doctor or a merchant or something more? He made his choice. He was going to leave the side of his dying son and risk everything on getting to Jesus and somehow bringing him back before his son finally passes away. Two days travel at least. But he would need to go himself. Anything less could compromise the mission. Jesus might not respond to a servant. Jesus might not have been official royalty but this official already knew that Jesus operated outside of the usual political processes. You can’t pull rank on Jesus. No, he knew he needed to go himself.
Again conjecture, but let’s take in a possible little scene in the room where his son lay.
Father: Son, I’ve heard Jesus is nearby
Son: (speaking feebly out of his sickness) The One who turned water into wine?
Father: Yes, that’s the One. I’m going to ask Him to come and heal you
Son: Ok, don’t be long (the son notices the strained looked on his Father’s face). How long will you be gone?
Father: Jesus is in Cana
Mother: That’s at least two days there and back and what if he doesn’t come?
Father: (putting his fingers to his lips and speaking a whisper) Shhh dear. Don’t upset him.
Son: I can hear you, both of you. Am I going to see you again?
Father: (holding back tears) I don’t know son, I hope so. But I think Jesus is our only hope.
Mother: Why don’t you just send one of the servants? Stay with your son.
Father: Jesus has to come here, it is our only hope. I cannot risk just sending a servant. I need to go myself, maybe He will listen to me.
Son: Then go Dad, you need to go.
Mother: But hurry dear.
Father: I love you Son, really love you. I will bring help.
Son: Love you too Dad. And if you don’t make it back in time….
Mother: Don’t Son, please, it’s breaking my heart.
The man would have hurried on his preparations and left, probably with a servant or two, but not so many that would have compromised the safety and comfort of his family at home. He was in a hurry. He wanted to move fast. Every step of his journey his thoughts would probably move between hope and fear, the Son of Man who was ahead of him and his own son who lay desperately sick behind.
The mother and son have their own wait. Time is running out and whatever care he is receiving is probably just to bring him some level of comfort. The Doctors are way past any hope of a cure.
They think about their husband and father rushing along the road. They hope that he can make it to Jesus in time. But will Jesus listen to his request? And what are the chances of Jesus leaving all the other people in Cana to come and see this one boy? And even if Jesus did come, would He make it in time? This must have seemed like a real long shot.
When the official arrives he tells Jesus his request. Jesus’ response is not what he would have expected. It’s not what we would expect either.
“So Jesus said to him, ‘Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.’” (John 4:48)
That almost sounds like a dismissive rebuke. There are a number of ways you could interpret what Jesus was saying, but the Father wasn’t interested in them. He only had one thing on his mind.
The official wasn’t looking for signs and wonders, he was just desperate.
“The official said to him, ‘Sir, comes down before my child dies.’” (John 4:48-49)
How does he address Jesus? Remember he is an official, used to walking in high places of power and authority. But he hasn’t sent his servants. He knows Jesus has power that no one else has. He has come himself.
“Sir,” he says. “Kyrios”. Just like the woman at the well. The same honouring respect. The same “you are higher than I am” deference. This is not fawning flattery to get what he wants. This is just the way it is. The official may have stood in the courts of the highest civil and religious authorities in the land, but he has never stood before a man with this much power before. And he knows it. And he is desperate.
“Sir, come down before my son dies.”
Jesus’ response is not what the man wanted to hear either. He wanted Jesus to come back with him. Jesus declines the invitation, but answers the prayer of a desperate man.
“Jesus said to him, ‘Go; your son will live.’” (John 4:50)
A life worth living? This wasn’t just about the son’s life. The Father himself would have struggled to see his own life as one that was really worth living if he had lost his son, never mind the mother. Now Jesus, the Logos, the Word of life, promises Him real life, for all of them.
How would I respond? I think I would be disappointed. I think I would still want Jesus to come. But this man had stood before the highest of authorities. He walked and worked in those places of power and influence. If someone else, another man, came to him with a request and he chose to grant it, that man would have to leave the official’s presence on his own. The official wasn’t going to go with him. How would that man know that the official would follow through and answer his request? Only because the official told him so. The man would have to trust the official’s words.
This official knew how these things worked. He had asked Jesus and Jesus had responded. Jesus wasn’t going to come. But he had Jesus’ word. That was good enough for him.
“The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way.” (John 4:50)
To go back to the imaginary picture of another man coming to this official’s office with a request, let’s imagine the official has said “yes” and dismissed the man from his office. What then? Well the man leaves, hoping that the official will be as good as his word. Hoping that once he leaves, the official will summon his servants or employees and give orders and instructions to deal with the issue that the man had raised. Those servants or employees would then get to work to carry out the official’s orders. That’s how government works. A public request becomes a private process that takes place behind the scenes, but things get taken care of. That is why the official is fine about leaving without Jesus. He has made a request to the highest power he can find in the land. That power has said “yes” to his request and now he can leave, trusting that the Man in power will be true to His Word and give orders to His servants to carry out His will and there will be now a private unseen process that will bring his son the life he needs.
What was the result?
“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.” (John 4:51-53)
Let’s look at this from two perspectives. Firstly the official. He immediately turns around and sets off for home. Maybe, like most people who put in a request to some level of government, he has moments of doubt that Jesus will follow through on His words. It was a long trip back. There was plenty of time to think. All he had to go on were Jesus’ words. The only thing standing between him and the death of his son. Thankfully, that was all he needed. Just the words. Just the words of the Word of life.
His servants meet him with the good news. They tell him when the boy was healed. He works it out in his mind. Right when Jesus spoke. Jesus didn’t need to send a bunch of human servants on a trip to ensure something would happen. He just released his words into the atmosphere, as He did at creation and, as at creation, darkness fled before them.
Something would have entered the official’s heart that day that probably never left him. He had been in the courts of the highest rulers and governors of the land, but they were nothing to what he had experienced here. Nothing to Who he had experienced here. He lived a simple life, in simple clothes with nowhere that was His own to lay His head, yet He is the King of all Kings, the Supreme Ruler above all the rulers of the world and His Word is truth. What He says, He does. Always His Words become the laws that govern the universe and all that happens in it. Everything else needs to bow down before Him.
The second perspective is that of the official’s home. The mother probably never left her son’s side. Servants quietly shuffling to and fro bringing whatever they required. She is watching the sun in the sky. What time of day is it? Where will her husband be? The son is getting worse by the hour, her anxiety is growing all the time.
She knows how long it will take to get to Cana. She knows at what hour her husband will be in the same town as Jesus. She is imagining him approaching Jesus. She knows her husband’s ways. She knows how he will approach this. She can imagine him asking Jesus to come with him. She wonders what the response will be.
Suddenly there is a gasp from beside her. A sudden intake of breath. She looks down at the failing body that lies on the bed beneath her. Eyes flicker open in surprise. Colour rushes to the white cheeks. Suddenly the burning heat is gone from the skin. It is like a wind has gone through the room. A wind of change. In a moment. In a breath. The Breath of Life, at the command of the Word of Life has just washed over her son. He is sitting up. He is smiling. He is utterly well. He has been given a life worth living. They have all been given a life worth living.
She hugs her son with incredible relief and she can only say one thing, over and over through her tears of joy.
“Jesus, Jesus, he must have met Jesus.”
It only becomes clear to her once her husband returns and they have shared their stories, which were probably repeated many times over the years to whoever would listen. Jesus didn’t have to come in person. He just had to come in Word. She didn’t need His body in the room, she just needed His Word to be released.
That is primarily why Jesus didn’t go with the man. It seemed like almost a cruelty at the time. But Jesus is never cruel. He was being kind to this man and his family and especially kind to all of us who have called on His name since. We could have been left believing that, without Jesus’ physical presence in the room, the son would not have been healed. That would have been a heartwarming story, but do little to encourage us 2000 years later. But we know Who we are dealing with now. We can come before His courts in heaven in prayer. We can make requests of Him. If He releases His Word, the moment He speaks, it is as good as done. Every time.
As he went his Son was healed, even though he did not know it. Is that familiar? A miracle at Cana. As the servants took the water to the master of the feast it changed into the most wonderful of wines and they did not know it. As they went the miracle happened. As the official went, the miracle happened. Well it wasn’t just that they “went”, they went with the Word of God. Sons were healed and water was changed into wine not by the touch of God, though that would happen many times, nor even by the presence of God, but by the Word of God. Jesus spoke it and so it happened as they went in obedience to His word.
The son and the wedding guests ended up with a life worth living or a wedding certainly worth attending. That’s what happens when you walk in obedience to the Word of life.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:1-5)
The Word of life is in the house.
It’s Official!Posted on: June 12, 2018Peter Todd