Why Do You Ask? (John 4:43-54)
Last week, we started looking at some of the stories in the book of John about some of the miracles that Jesus performed. We looked at the fact that John was a very careful writer, and that he chose specific stories to communicate certain important facts about Jesus’ mission. Last week we looked at the first miracle that Jesus performed in John, the miracle of turning water into wine. We found that it’s not just a story. Jesus was saying something about the religion of the day. If Jesus came into church today and performed this miracle, he might have used one of the symbols of what we do as church – the pulpit, maybe – to make a say, “Religion is empty. It’s me you’re looking for.” He might have agreed with some of the critical statements that people make about religion, even the church, today.Today we’re going to look at a second miracle that Jesus performed. John calls it the second sign. Calling it a sign means that it has significance beyond its action – it’s communicating something. John 4:54 says, “This was Jesus’ second miraculous sign in Galilee after coming from Judea.” This really wasn’t the second miracle that Jesus performed. John 2:23 says, “Because of the miraculous signs he did in Jerusalem at the Passover celebration, many people were convinced that he was indeed the Messiah.” It is, though, the second one that John records to communicate something important about Jesus.When the Bible was written, it wasn’t divided into chapters and verses, so people had to look for literary clues to find out where the sections ended. This is the end of the first section of the book of John. It’s the bookend. On either side of this section is a miracle that he performs in Galilee. What’s the message of this story?John 4:43-45 says:
At the end of the two days’ stay, Jesus went on into Galilee. He had previously said, “A prophet is honored everywhere except in his own country.” The Galileans welcomed him, for they had been in Jerusalem at the Passover celebration and had seen all his miraculous signs.
Galilee is in the middle of nowhere. It’s not where all the major stuff happened. It’s out of the way. It’s strange to read in verse 44 that Jesus had already concluded that he wouldn’t be welcome in Galilee, which is his home area, especially since the next verse says that the people there did welcome him. I’ve read a lot of studies on this passage in the past week, and discovered no less than ten theories about how to put these two verses together. I think that we can take them at face value. John’s giving us a hint that the welcome really wasn’t genuine. He’s already hinting at the message behind this story.Verses 46-47 say:
In the course of his journey through Galilee, he arrived at the town of Cana, where he had turned the water into wine. There was a government official in the city of Capernaum whose son was very sick. When he heard that Jesus had come from Judea and was traveling in Galilee, he went over to Cana. He found Jesus and begged him to come to Capernaum with him to heal his son, who was about to die.
Cana and Capernaum were about 20 miles apart, separated by hills. You could do the walk in a few hours. This man comes – a man who’s pretty high up in government – and he keeps begging Jesus to come and heal his son. It’s not a one-time request. He keeps asking and asking.Jesus responds strangely. If I had been the father, I might have been offended. Read verse 48: “Jesus asked, ‘Must I do miraculous signs and wonders before you people will believe in me?'” That’s not the response you’d expect. This is an important verse in the story. It’s a verse that gets to the heart of why this story is here. Hold that sentence in your mind and we’ll return to it to try to figure out what this story is all about.The man’s reply to Jesus doesn’t really come across too well in the English. My version says, “The official pleaded, ‘Lord, please come now before my little boy dies'” (John 4:49). It’s actually a bit more abrupt than that. It’s more like an order. He said, “Come down, for my little child dies.” Jesus’ reply was just as abrupt. He said, “Go back home. Your son will live!” (John 4:50). The man issued an order; Jesus issued an order back. The man now had a choice of how to respond. He had wanted Jesus to come all the way to his house to deal with the problem. He had begged Jesus, even ordered Jesus. Jesus wasn’t doing what he had expected. Still, he responded well. The rest of the story goes like this:And the man believed Jesus’ word and started home.
While he was on his way, some of his servants met him with the news that his son was alive and well. He asked them when the boy had begun to feel better, and they replied, “Yesterday afternoon at one o’clock his fever suddenly disappeared!” Then the father realized it was the same time that Jesus had told him, “Your son will live.” And the officer and his entire household believed in Jesus. This was Jesus’ second miraculous sign in Galilee after coming from Judea. (John 4:50-54)
Okay, nice story. It may be a little hard for you to believe; that’s okay. The question is, what’s the point of the story? Why has John included it here? If John didn’t just put this story in as another episode in the life of Jesus, what purpose does it serve here? What’s the message for today?If you look at this story, you pick up a few themes. You pick up the thought that it’s possible to welcome Jesus, and get excited about Jesus, but not really understand what he’s all about. It’s possible to want miracles, but not be aware of what God is really doing among us. I think Jesus and John are getting at the question of motives. Why do you follow Jesus? Why do you ask him to do certain things? Here’s an even deeper question. Why are you giving him commands, instead of taking commands from him? What happens when he doesn’t respond to you the way that you want him to?We’re all the same in some ways. We’re all looking for God to do something. Isn’t that true? We’re all praying, at least from time to time. We pray when we need God to come through for us, to help our marriage, to take away an illness, to do whatever. We all pray, we all ask God to come through for us. That, in itself, isn’t a bad thing, but it can become a problem.God looks at us and knows what’s in our best interests. He knows that it’s best for everyone if we don’t just see him as a dispenser of our wants, a granter of our wishes. I mentioned the Simpsons last week, and I hate to bring them up again, because you may figure out that I really like the show. Last week, Homer started praying to get God to do whatever he wanted. He prayed crazy stuff like, “Oh Lord, thou who has made two types of clam chowder, I beseech you to…” He started to get the idea that God was there to serve him, to do his bidding. It’s a danger that we all face.Read this story again. This government official actually issues a command to Jesus. I think there’s this danger in all of us to begin to think that God exists for our benefit. We begin to think that God is there to do us good, and to make our lives better. We’re here because we want better marriages, better lives, eternal life. That’s okay, but it’s easy to begin to follow God because we’re interested in what he can do for us.Have you ever thought, “Man, God should be grateful that I showed up in church today. What if nobody showed? How embarrassing would that be for God?” You probably haven’t put it that way, but we come close to thinking that sometime. We begin to think that we’re doing God a favor with our obedience and worship. Without even realizing it, we put ourselves in God’s place, and we begin to ask him to serve us, rather than the other way around.Here’s the crux of the question that this story is getting at: Why do you serve him? Why do you want to follow him? Are you serving him for what he’ll do for you, or simply because he’s God? How will you respond if he doesn’t do what you expect, and you never get some of your questions answered? The reality is that even if God never did anything for us, he’s still worthy of our devotion and praise. Are you following him because he’s God, or because you think he’ll do something for you?Last year was a tough year for me in a lot of ways. One of the things I had to wrestle with was my preaching. I was unhappy with it, but I couldn’t put my finger on what was wrong. After a while, it seemed that God was telling me two things. I discovered that my problem wasn’t one of technique, but one of the heart. I had lost a bit of my passion. But the other problem was with my content. It seemed that sometimes I focused too much on us, on our needs, on solutions to our problems. It’s easy to begin to see God as someone who’s there to help us, to make our lives better. I began to realize that instead of offering simple answers to complex questions, it’s better to show people Jesus.Why do we serve him? Ultimately, because he’s God. Even if he never answers another one of our prayers, and even if many of our questions are never answered, and our lives are unbearably hard, it’s enough that he’s God. That’s why we follow him. Not because we can give him orders, but because he is who he is.The irony is that when we clarify this question, God usually gives us what we need anyway. Once God clarifies why we serve, he provides what we always wanted but we never wanted to surrender to him. Remember Abraham and Isaac? God asked for Isaac. Abraham said yes, and God said, “That’s okay, you can have him.” Sometimes I wonder if some of the issues we face in our lives are because we’ve never really clarified whether we think we’re serving God, or he’s serving us. Until we get it straight that we’re serving him, and until we serve him unconditionally, we never experience what Jesus promised: “Whoever clings to this life will lose it, and whoever loses this life will save it” (Luke 17:33). We’re all looking for God to do something, but we never really find out what a relationship with God is like in which we serve him not because he’ll do something for us, but because he’s God.This week, we find out if Joe Millionaire gets his girl when she figures out he’s not a millionaire. I know that you’re much too cultured to watch that show, and I really hesitate to draw any comparison between Joe Millionaire and God. But the issue is the same. What’s the motive? Why are you serving him? What happens when you don’t get what you think you’re going to get?I never noticed before this week, but the guy in this story turns around and goes home after Jesus tells him to. He leaves at around 1:00 pm, and it’s a twenty mile trip. Some people think that he could have made it back home, and would have been motivated to do so since his son was so sick. But he doesn’t. He stays the night, and his servants meet him the next day. He hadn’t seen the answer, maybe hadn’t had all his questions answered, but he believed Jesus. It was okay. It’s enough that Jesus has spoken, even if I haven’t seen the answer yet.Prayer
Forgive us that we sometimes make the mistake of following you for what you’ll do for us. Forgive us for commanding you, rather than taking commands from you.We serve you because you are God. We believe.