Signs, Intellectual Arguments, or Faith?

Then Jesus said to him, “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will by no means believe.” The nobleman said to Him, “Sir, come down before my child dies!” Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your son lives.” So the man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him, and he went his way. (Joh 4:48-50 NKJV)

 I have been pondering this little story found at the end of John Chapter 4. I have been reminded afresh that I don’t always understand the statements made by Jesus. We don’t see a lot of dialogue, really only two short statements by Jesus. The first seems to reprimand a man for asking for help and the next statement by Jesus, speaks healing, but with a businesslike tone and all this in response to a very desperate need in a family.

As this story is set up we have Jesus entering Galilee. Verse 44 gives us a bit of primer on His mindset in revisiting His hometown and states that Jesus is quite aware of the cool reception by locals for hometown prophets. Verse 45 tells us that He is received because of the things that He did in Judea. There was a great entertainment value in Jesus. There were bragging rights for the individuals who actually saw the miracles. Jesus was welcomed as long as He continued to dazzle with a performance. The people didn’t really believe His claims to be the Messiah, He had done a lot of cool things.  They were eager to be around Him, not out of honor for God but with curiosity for the sideshow.

I don’t like how often that last sentence describes my motives. I love to shout hallelujah and praise the Lord, when I see a miracle, but just as often as not I doubt whether He still can do it. Well, maybe I don’t outright doubt it but I worry, as if I doubt it. I like to be around the “miracle” Jesus, but I shrug off the ordinary Jesus, the Jesus who challenges me to be faithful through long trials, and insists that I walk the course of life while patience is being perfected in me.

So Jesus arrives in Cana, a small town in Galilee. On top of the miracle of turning water to wine, there is the recent memory of the miracles in Judea and as usual, there is a crowd of thrill seekers gathered around Jesus wondering what the next miracle will look like.

Enter the hapless man with a dying son. He begs Jesus to come and heal his son but Jesus seems to rebuke him for His request and perhaps even questions the man’s motives. Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” How do you like that?

This man is described as a nobleman, perhaps a bit of a celebrity in those parts. It is possible that Jesus grouped the nobleman with the rest of the crowd of thrill seekers. Or perhaps,  He was speaking for the benefit of the crowd even as He addressed the man. At any rate, Jesus speaks the truth when He states that these folks are incapable of believing without seeing.

These were folks who simply did not believe that Jesus could be who He claimed to be. These were devout Jews with a high regard for God and their traditions. They considered themselves to be the final say on what was from God and what was not. Many proudly considered that for a person or movement to be authentic and from God, it needed their expert stamp of approval.

The Apostle Paul spoke to this phenomenon, when he wrote that “…Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (1 Cor. 1:22-24 NKJV) So the Jews demanded a sign from Jesus because they felt they needed proof and rather than accept Jesus as the judge of their lives and motives, they clung to their right to judge the actions of God. Devout religion and tradition were the criteria by which they judged Christ and they demanded a sign (many signs) to change their minds.

The Greeks or pagans, on the other hand, were not impressed as much by the signs because they rejected things that couldn’t be explained by natural processes or rational thought.  Therefore, the Gospel and the story of a resurrected Christ were rejected. These were considered foolishness. They were impressed by concepts and stories that made sense. Human reasoning was the final authority, if it didn’t make sense, it had no value.

So here we have Jesus, about His Father’s business. He is confronted by a “celebrity” with a desperate family situation and He speaks bluntly to the motive of chasing notoriety.

Under ordinary circumstances this man may have been a “sign chaser” but the desperation of his situation moved him to cry out in faith. In his situation, he didn’t desire to be the judge, he desperately wanted life for his son. He wasn’t trying to make sense out of anything, he simply needed God to work in his life. “Sir, come down before my child dies.”

The desperation wrenches your heart. He doesn’t deny his own motives, there is no argument from him. He simply, truthfully makes his need known to Jesus.

Jesus’ next answer is very kind but brief, “Go your way; your son lives.” Jesus doesn’t go with the man to visit his son. The healing is not by a physical touch and Jesus is not visibly involved. But the healing happens nonetheless. The man’s expectation was not met, but his need was.

This is something I am learning in the process of being about my Father’s business. I must be able to hear the voice of my Father because I am so often mislead by a desire to meet the expectation of others. I believe ministry is often directed by our perspective of the need rather than the Father’s perspective of the need. In many cases, whether in prayer or action we often minister to the expectation of people rather than the direction of the Father.

Jesus was about His Father’s business and therefore spoke and acted in ways that were unexpected and unwelcome at times, and yet He met the needs of the people. He met them with love and compassion. The fruit of His work brought life.

The nobleman’s response to Jesus statement is wonderful. It was neither the response of a man looking for a sign, nor of a man trying to intellectualize the statement. “So the man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him, and he went his way.” He believed. He had faith in the simple Word spoken by Jesus.

The Message translation puts it this way, “The man believed the bare word Jesus spoke and headed home. On his way back, his servants intercepted him and announced, ‘Your son lives!’ He asked them what time he began to get better. They said, ‘The fever broke yesterday afternoon at one o’clock.’ The father knew that that was the very moment Jesus had said, ‘Your son lives.’ That clinched it. Not only he but his entire household believed.”

Incredible story, It wasn’t about the sign, nor the man’s ability to make sense of everything, but faith in the Word of Jesus. Wow!

This story has implications for how I come to the Father for my needs and the needs of others. Can I take Him at His Word and follow through? It also has implications for how I go about my Father’s Business. Can I hear and follow His directives in ministering to the needs around me rather than the expectations around me?

 

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