46 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. 47 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. 48 So Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” 49 The official said to him, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” 50 Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way. 51 As he was going down, his servants met him and told him that his son was recovering. 52 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.” 53 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. 54 This was now the second sign that Jesus did when he had come from Judea to Galilee.
Well-known pastor Fred Craddock tells a story about something very awkward that happened to him while he was serving as the dean of a seminary. I’ll let him tell it:
For a brief time, I was acting dean at Phillips Seminary. It was for fifteen months. That’s similar to fifteen years. The secretary said, “There’s someone here to see you.” A woman asked me to come out to the parking lot. I was a little nervous, but I followed her to the parking lot and to her car. She opened the back door, and slumped in the back seat was her brother. He had been a senior at the University of Oklahoma. He had been in a bad car wreck and in a coma eight months. She had quit her job as a schoolteacher to take care of him. All of their resources were gone. She opened the door and said, “I’d like for you to heal him.”
I said, “I can pray for him. I can pray with you. But I do not have the gift of healing.”
She got behind the wheel and said to me, “Then what in the world do you do?” And she drove off.
What I did that afternoon was study, stare at my books, and try to forget what she had said.
I sympathize with that woman. I also sympathize with Fred Craddock. It is, after all, a difficult thing to look into the eyes of a suffering person and be unable to stop their pain. And, in truth, nothing causes a person as much pain as watching a loved one – especially a child – suffer.
This woman who came to Fred Craddock knew at least enough to know that Jesus was a healer, so she came to one of Jesus’ followers looking for the Master’s touch.
The Bible records a similar story, but with a radically different result. At the end of John 4 we find a fascinating account of a father’s cry for Jesus to heal his dying son. It is, on the surface, a powerful drama that grips the attention and moves the heart of the reader. And yet, as is so often the case with Jesus, it is a story about so much more. It is a story about the nature of faith, the nature of Christ, and what it means to believe the amazing gospel of Jesus.
It is a story, ultimately, about the greatness of Jesus and about what it means to place your faith in Him.
I. Saving faith is not perfect faith but it is sincere faith. (v.46-50a)
We have now left Samaria, where Jesus’ ministry bore great fruit. We are returning to familiar territory where Jesus’ first great miracle and revelation of Himself occurred:
46 So he came again to Cana in Galilee, where he had made the water wine.
Undoubtedly Jesus’ name was well known and His reputation as a miracle-worker was well established in the land of Cana. It is not surprising, then, that He is approached by a man with a need that only a miracle could meet:
And at Capernaum there was an official whose son was ill. 47 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.
This man comes to Jesus. At this point we should realize that this man’s coming is one of many that we have already seen in John’s gospel. This man comes just as the crowds went to Jesus seeking baptism. He comes just as Mary came to Him earlier in this same town when the vessels of wine were found to be scandalously empty. He comes to Jesus as His disciples came when He called them to follow Him. This man comes to Jesus just as Nicodemus came, in the night, asking how he might be saved. He comes to Jesus as the Samaritan townspeople came to Him after hearing the woman’s testimony that they should come and see a man who told her all that she had ever done.
John’s gospel is saturated with the consistent movement of people coming to Jesus.
So this man comes. He is no insignificant man. He is, John tells us, “an official.” This almost certainly means he was a man of some importance and position in the royal house of King Herod.
Royal men, important men, do not normally come to others seeking help. But this man, John informs us, had a son who was ill. Who knows what this illness was? Who can say? Perhaps it was a heart problem. Perhaps it was a problem of breathing. Perhaps it was leukemia, or some other disease or sickness.
Regardless, this child is dying, and so his important father comes. And he does not merely come, he calls out to Jesus and asks him “to come down and heal his son.”
How heart breaking, and how very understandable this is! Would we not do the same? In fact, I daresay some of you have done the same. Some of you have stood by the sickbed of your child and cried out to Jesus for help. Perhaps the Lord has healed some of your children. Perhaps, in other cases, it was not in the Lord’s will to grant physical healing.
Either way, I suspect there are those of you in this sanctuary today who understand what this broken-hearted-coming-to-Jesus means.
Our heart breaks at the thought of a child dying. I have done funerals for babies before. Hands down, it is the most terrible aspect of ministry. Even though I know that these precious babies are in the arms of Jesus, I can never help but be overcome with grief at the sight of grieving parents. And if you and I are moved to tears by this, how much more the Lord Jesus, whose love is perfect, pure, and undefiled.
No doubt Jesus was moved with sympathy for this man. This fact is what makes Jesus’ response to the man all the more startling. In truth, Jesus seems almost to scold the man:
48 So Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.”
It is as if Jesus is seizing this heart-rending moment to cast the light of His own divine knowledge on the man’s motives and the motives of the crowd. Is Jesus being cold here? Is Jesus being harsh? I think not.
We must understand that Jesus always sees and knows the story behind the story. Even in a moment of great pain, Jesus knows that reality behind what we are saying. Furthermore, Jesus knows that this moment is not only a moment for healing, it is a moment in which and through which he can draw this man’s broken heart into deeper fellowship with Himself.
So Jesus points out what he knows to be true: that the man believes in Him in a sense, but the man does not really appreciate and understand who Jesus is. Why does this matter? Because Jesus knows that if He heals this man’s son without drawing this man into a relationship with Him, the man may come to marvel at Jesus as a powerful magician or wizard or sorcerer or healer, but he will not worship Jesus as Lord.
After all, what if this man gains a son but loses his own soul by missing the entire point of who Jesus is. In this man’s mind, and likely in the minds of many who were initially attracted to Jesus, Jesus had great power. But Jesus came not merely to let people know that He had great power, but, more so, to let the displays of His power reveal to people that, in Him, God had drawn near to seek and to save lost humanity.
The man had a miracles-based faith, but Jesus wanted Him to have a Christ-centered faith. After all, it is possible to love the power of Christ more than we love Christ, isn’t it? I fear this sometimes happens in movements within the Church that focus on healings. After a while, the healings, the signs and wonders, become bigger in our minds that He who heals, than He who performs signs and wonders.
Jesus has compassion on this man, but He does not want the man to miss Him in His healing of the man’s son. The man’s faith has already been revealed to be a bit misguided, a bit shortsighted. But, let us notice that he does not turn away at Jesus’ observation. Instead, he persists:
49 The official said to him, “Sir, come down before my child dies.”
This is powerful! This is significant! Let us not miss what is happening here. Let us not miss that something has happened between the man’s first plea for help and his second. After his first plea, Jesus reveals to Him the true motivations of his heart and faith. Yet, the man persists. He does not turn from Jesus.
Interestingly, neither does the man deny the reality of what Jesus has said about his imperfect faith. He knows that his own cry for help is a mixture of weak faith, desperation, and curiosity to see if maybe Jesus can pull of what no doctor had been able to do to that point. The man knows that his faith is imperfect, but, in staying and crying out again, the man reveals something very significant: that his faith, though imperfect, though small, though mixed with foreign elements, was nonetheless sincere. It was not perfect, but there was a core at the heart of it that dared to believe that this Jesus could heal his dying boy.
Jesus mildly scolds the man the first time, though He did so for the man’s own good. But what will Jesus do with this second cry for help. Let us see:
50a Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live.”…
Dear church, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, saving faith is not perfect faith, but it is sincere faith. Has this man’s faith suddenly grown perfect? No. Is this man’s faith now suddenly completely pure in its convictions? No. This man’s faith is a simple faith. It is not untainted by sheer curiosity. It is not untainted by a sense of consumerism: he wants Jesus to perform a miracle to make everything right. This man’s faith has not really thought out the full implications of what a relationship with Jesus would mean. But I will tell you this: with all of its imperfections, all of its weakness, all of its shaky instability, this man’s faith dares to cry out to Jesus for help and mercy.
And Jesus honors his faith.
Some of you grew up in homes where you were not allowed to ask questions, where you were not allowed to struggle in your doubts. Some of you grew up in homes where Christianity was defined as the absence of struggle. Some of you inherited, and some of you are propagating, an understanding of Christianity in which our faith must be perfect and pristine. Some of you think this is what good Christians believe. Some of you think we’re supposed to have all the answers, never waiver, never struggle in our faith.
But here’s the truth: all of us come to Jesus with an imperfect faith. We speak about “growing in our faith.” But “growing in our faith” assumes that there is a weaker and lesser point from which our faith must grow.
Yes, to be saved you must “confess with your mouth Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart God raised Him from the dead” (Romans 10:9). But I plead with you not to wait until you think you have it all figured out.
Your faith must be sincere, but it must not be perfect.
We say, “Well, I would trust in Christ, but I cannot see it all. I do not understand it all. I cannot comprehend it all.”
Some of you are plagued by doubts concerning your own motivations, “Am I just doing this to avoid going to Hell? Am I just doing this to please my parents, my mother, my father?”
And yet, even while you struggle, you feel drawn to this Jesus. Like this man, your great need for mercy compels you forward.
Oh, listen: if you feel your need for Jesus, if you really desire to know Him and to have Him, do not wait and wait and wait with your faith under the microscope of your own scrutiny. If you feel drawn to Jesus and are willing to confess Him as Lord, cry out to Him now, now, now!
Jesus honors the imperfect faith the official.
And why should this surprise us? Yes, again, you must be sincere in your faith. No doubt you must! God is not mocked. God is not an ATM machine. You don’t get the privilege of mindlessly mumbling some magical incantation and calling yourself “saved.” But neither must you wait until all your struggles are removed, until all your questions are answered.
I plead with you to consider this man’s cry for help, even when Jesus scrutinized His motives. I plead with you to remember that Jesus honors the faithful cry of any person who seeks Him, even when that person is still struggling.
Consider, for instance, the amazing episode in Mark 9 of another father whose son was possessed by an evil spirit that tortured him. After the disciples fail to heal the boy, they bring the boy to Jesus:
20 And they brought the boy to him. And when the spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. 21 And Jesus asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. 22 And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” 23 And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” 24 Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!”
Did you hear that father? “I believe; help my unbelief!” How many of us understand exactly what this means: “Oh, Jesus, I believe enough to cry out to you, to know that you can do something, but I do struggle. I struggle with my own weak faith. I struggle in the flesh with being willing to give it all to you. I’m struggling, Jesus, because my son is being tortured before my very eyes. It makes me wonder where God is. It makes me wonder IF God is. But, Jesus, I believe enough to cry out to You. I believe that if anybody could heal my son, you could. Do I believe, Jesus? Do I? I am trying to. I believe; help my unbelief!”
Or consider how Jesus describes faith in Matthew 17:20
For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”
Do you see? A mustard seed is a tiny thing, but Jesus will take even a tiny faith and multiply it. Do not fail to come to Jesus because you find your own faith to be a struggling faith. Come to Jesus with what faith you have and cry out to Him!
There has never been a sincere cry of faith, no matter how struggling, that the Lord Jesus looked upon with contempt. He looks upon us as He looked upon this struggling father.
Your faith in Jesus may not be perfect, but, if sincere, the Lord God will take it, grow it, strengthen it, and bless you in it.
II. The blessings of faith are enjoyed in the enacting of faith (v.50b-53a)
Jesus said in the beginning of verse 50, “Go; your son will live.” The miracle has occurred, but the man must move to realize it. The healing had taken place by the power and authority of Christ’s word, but the man had to put feet to his faith to enjoy the blessing.
50b …The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way.
The man goes! He brings his struggling faith to Jesus, then he walks in His faith by the word of Jesus. He goes. He has voiced his faith in his cry for help, now he realizes the great blessings of his faith in His obedience to Jesus. When he does so, he encounters something amazing indeed:
51 As he was going down, his servants met him and told him that his son was recovering. 52 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.” 53 The father knew that was the hour when Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.”
The blessings of faith are enjoyed in the enacting of faith. Faith is a verb. When is faith is lived, faith is realized, and the blessing of it are enjoyed.
What if this man had determined to stay at the feet of Jesus instead of walking in the words of Jesus? What if he had said, “No, Jesus! I believe in You. I will stay with You. I will build a church right here and worship you forever!”
I suspect Jesus would likely have said, “Man, do you not see that faith is not a stationary declaration, it is a continuing journey. When you walk in obedience to my commands, you walk in faith. As this happens, your walk becomes your worship. I have healed your son. I wish for you now to see and know and marvel at My greatness. When you see your boy alive and well, your faith will grow even stronger and you will see even greater things.”
How many of us miss the blessings of faith because we do not wish to walk in our faith? How many of us miss the greater blessings of faith because we will not obey Jesus?
If we truly believe, we will want to obey, so Jesus says, “Go…”
Had the man not gone, he would never have seen his son healed. He would have missed opportunities for greater worship because he would have committed himself to lesser obedience.
Some of us say, “Well, Jesus has spoken salvation over me. Jesus has spoken healing over me. That is enough. It is enough.”
Is it? What if Jesus has more to show you, more to teach you, more blessings to bestow upon you, but you miss it because you refuse to walk in His ways?
III. True faith is contagious faith (vv.53b-54)
The man believes as best he can, and the man obeys. In doing so, his faith becomes stronger and his convictions more pronounced:
53b …And he himself believed, and all his household. 54 This was now the second sign that Jesus did when he had come from Judea to Galilee.
Ah, he believed enough earlier for Jesus to heal his son, but here John says that “he himself believed.” It is as if true conviction begins to take root. He has grown from an imperfect faith based on a desire for a miracle, to a substantial faith based on an understanding of Jesus’ kingly authority.
But that is not all, is it? “And he himself believed, and all his household.”
What is this? His household believed? Yes, they did: not just the man, but his household.
Let us note here a powerful truth about faith: true faith is contagious faith. True faith spreads. Faith, by its very definition and properties, touches those with whom it comes into contact.
How many of you have been drawn into a stronger belief in Christ because of the example of belief you have seen in others?
His household believed. This likely means his family and his servants.
Of course, it also means his boy, the one who was sick.
I try to imagine this man’s reunion with his son. When he left, he thought he would never see his son alive again. He left his son on his deathbed. I imagine this father leaving Jesus, coming home, and being greeted by his son:
Son: Daddy, what happened? I was so very sick. I felt the cold creeping up from my feet. Oh, daddy, I felt the grip of death closing in around me. The world was growing dim and shadowy. I could feel myself slipping away. And then, daddy, just before the darkness washed over me completely…
Father: Yes, son?
Son: Oh, daddy, just when the darkness was about to swallow me up, I saw…
Father: Yes, son? What did you see?
Son: No, daddy, not “what” but “Who.” Who did I see? I saw, daddy, that man that was at that wedding a while back, that man who turned the water into wine. I saw that man daddy. I saw Jesus.
Father: You did, son? You saw Jesus?
Son: Yes, I saw Jesus. And He came to me as I was slipping away. He came to me, daddy, and, and…
Father: Yes, what happened…
Son: He came to me and reached out His strong hand. He grabbed me as I was sinking into death and drew me to Himself. He held me tight and whispered to me, “Not yet, boy. Not yet. Behold, I am making all things new.” He held me, daddy. And I buried my face in his chest, and when I awoke, I saw the servants standing in amazement. Oh, daddy, have I said something wrong? Why are you crying? Don’t be mad.
Father: Wrong? No, boy, you have done nothing wrong. I cry because, if I don’t, my heart will burst in half. I cry, son, because I saw Him too. I saw Him, son, and I begged for your life.
Son: And did you know He would heal me, daddy?
Father: Know? No, I did not know, son. You see, I went there with you on my mind. But when I looked into His eyes, I realized that you were not the only one that needed saving. So did I. I did not know at first if He would heal you. But I now know that I would follow Him anywhere, whether He healed you or not. Oh, son, do you understand?
Son: Yes, daddy. Oh, yes, I know exactly what you mean. I felt the same. It’s not the miracle I love, daddy. It’s Jesus. And I will give Him my all.
Father: Yes, me too. Me too, child. Me too.
How about you? Have you trusted in Jesus? Will you? Will you come? Will you dare to believe? Will you?
 Fred Craddock, Craddock Stories. eds., Mike Graves and Richard F. Ward (St. Louis, MO: Chalice Press, 2001), p.21.