Christ Covenant Church
Jon Marq Toombs
8 May 2016
May the grace and truth of Christ be with you!
Our sermon text for today comes from John 4. It is printed in your worship order if you would like to follow along. If you are willing and able, I invite you to stand and give your undivided attention to God’s Holy Word.
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. 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. So Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” The official said to him, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way. 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. This was now the second sign that Jesus did when he had come from Judea to Galilee.
The word of the Lord. May God add his blessings to the reading, preaching, and hearing of his word. All the church says: Amen! You may be seated.
In his novel The Road, Cormac McCarthy tells the story of a father and a son who are on a journey across a “barren, silent, godless” land to only God knows where. It is an extremely violent and dangerous post-apocalyptic world, and the father loves his son and vows to do everything in his power to keep him safe. “He knew only that the child was his warrant. He said: if he is not the word of God God never spoke.” (5) At one point the boy falls gravely ill, and the father desperately tries to save him, but there is no remedy and none of his efforts seem to work. He holds the boy close and feels like it is the last day of the earth. He fears that the boy will slip away into the darkness, but he cannot bear to let him go alone. At one point he walked out to the edge of the light and stood with his clenched fists on top of his skull and fell to his knees in sobbing rage. Then he wrapped his arms around the boy and fell into a dreamless sleep. When the father awoke, the fire was dead, but the boy was alive and watching over him. (250-251)
One thing I love about that story is the way the father loves his son, and the way the son loves his father, not in sappy silly way, but in a serious sacrificial way.
The story under consideration today is about the love between a father and his son. To set the stage we need to look at the backstory.
Between Jesus’s last visit to Cana and this visit, news about Jesus had spread throughout the Galilee.
Undoubtedly, the people of Cana had heard that Jesus had turned water into wine at a wedding. Plus, many of the people of Cana and Galilee had seen what Jesus did at Jerusalem — how he confronted the religious leaders and wrecked shop at the temple; how he made a whip of cords and drove out all the money-changers out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen; and he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables.
As if that were not enough, Jesus also performed many signs (2:23).
Unlike you, the people of Cana and Galilee didn’t know anything about his conversations with Nicodemus or the Samaritan woman. All they knew is that Jesus was gone, but now he is back.
Oddly enough, John quotes Jesus as saying, “a prophet has no honor in his own hometown.” This can be confusing, but he was not referring to his hometown in Galilee. He was actually referring to Jerusalem.
In John’s Gospel, the storyline reveals that Jesus is the God-man, the Word made flesh, the Glory of the Lord, full of grace and truth. First, the Glory of the Lord goes up the temple at Jerusalem — his true hometown (2:13ff); then the Glory departs from the temple, and moves out of his hometown (3:22ff), and then he goes away from his people to the Gentiles (4:1ff). As we saw last week, the Samaritan woman; as we will see this week, the royal official.
So Jesus had no honor in Jerusalem, but he was honored in Cana (which was not his hometown).
When he came again to Cana in Galilee the people welcomed — they patted him on the back, shook his hand, and took hold of him. Why? This is the place where Jesus had revived a dying wedding celebration and revealed his glory to his apostles. So he was a local hero at Cana.
Remember that after the wedding at Cana, Jesus and his mother and brothers and disciples all went to Capernaum for a few days (2:12). Undoubtedly, the people of Capernaum knew Jesus and his mother and brothers. You can rest assured that everyone had heard the story of Jesus turning water into wine at Cana. Mary probably told all her friends and family, and Jesus’s brothers might have told a few folks as well.
The reason that is such a significant detail is because there was a royal official at Capernaum whose son was ill to the point of death.
No one knows if this man was a Jew or Gentile, but it makes no difference. He was a father. When he heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went to him. Based on all the stories he had heard, he knew what Jesus was capable of doing.
How did this man hear that Jesus was in Cana? Someone from Cana who knew about Jesus must have traveled to Capernaum and told someone else.
The point is that news about Jesus is traveling fast from one person to another, from one community to another.
So, when this royal official heard the story of Jesus’s first sign, he believed in Jesus. At least he believed enough to go find Jesus at Cana.
He went to him is not as easy as it reads. It was twenty miles from Capernaum to Cana. All up hill.
To give you a more concrete idea of what that is like, imagine walking from downtown Mesquite to downtown Dallas. Now imagine leaving your sick child at home while you walk twenty miles one way to ask a stranger who allegedly turned water into wine to come down and heal your terminally ill son. How fast would you walk if your child’s life was on the line?
We don’t know how quickly he made the twenty mile trek, but we do know that when he finds Jesus he prayed, “Lord, come down before my child dies.”
That’s quite a prayer!
This is not the polite request of one gentleman to another. This is not the formal request of a royal official to a physician. This is the humble plea of a servant to his Lord; the frantic prayer of a father to his God.
On May 5, 1999 my wife and I had the joy and pleasure of welcoming our third child into world. He was born by C-section. Our doctor let me take pictures of him exiting my wife’s belly. He held the newborn baby over my wife’s face so she could see him slimy and gooey. When the nurses started cleaning him up, I switch on the video camera. Everyone was oohing and aahing over this cute baby boy. I was standing right beside his bed, looking at him through the view finder, when I noticed something strange. He was no longer crying, moving, or tan. He was quiet, limp, and blue. I lowered my camera and stared at him. One nurse pulled me away and the rest jumped into action. The next thing I know they were rolling him down the hall NICU. In the flash of a moment, all our happiness turned to sorrow, fear, and worry.
I am happy to report that the baby boy survived, and turned seventeen years old a few days ago, but I will never forget that moment or the days that followed.
Now, I know that most of you have experienced similar things in your life, with your own children and grandchildren.
Some of you have experienced the heartache that comes from watching your children suffer physical ailments. A weakness or sickness that you are powerless to heal.
Some of you have experienced the heartache that comes from watching your child suffer emotional trauma. A loneliness or emptiness that you are powerless to fill.
Some of you have experienced the heartache that comes with watching your sons and daughters struggle with real spiritual problems. A brokenness, darkness, or stubbornness that you are powerless to fix.
So what do you do? What can you do?
It’s no secret that I struggle to devote myself to prayer as I ought, but there are some things that drive me to my knees in prayer in a hurry. Like my concern for each of you.
But nothing drives me to my face in prayer like the deep concern I feel for my children:
When my sons face physical problems or spiritual crises, or if it seems they are at the point of death, I go knocking on heaven’s door and offering the frantic prayer of the official-father:
Lord, come down before my child dies.
Lord — you are above, I am below.
Lord, come down — you are too high and lofty; you seem too far away!
Lord, come down before — what’s taking you so long? What are you waiting for?!
Lord, come down before my child — he is part of me, an extension of me.
Lord, come down before my child dies — death is the end; after that, there’s nothing you can do.
Anyone who knows the OT will know that this story is similar to stories you hear in the OT.
For example, in 2 Samuel 12:16-18, a royal official sought God on behalf of the child born to Bathsheba. And David fasted and went in and lay all night on the ground. And the elders of his house stood beside him, to raise him from the ground, but he would not, nor did he eat food with them. On the seventh day the child died. (12:16-18)
Later on, in 2 Samuel 13:37-18:34, that same royal official mourned for one of his other sons day after day. When his son was in trouble he requested “for my sake deal gently with my son and protect him.” But when the king heard that his son was killed, he was deeply moved and went up to the chamber over the gate and wept, “O my son, my son, my son…”
That royal official was King David.
In those stories, things did not go exactly as the father prayed. One son died as an infant, the other died as an adult. In both cases, the father was left grieving and mourning his loss.
Some people I know have experienced similar losses.
So, with al those stories in the background of our experience, what might we expect to happen in this story?
We might expect the royal official’s prayer to go unanswered — or at least answered in a different way than he wishes.
What will Jesus do?!
Now, before we see how Jesus responded to the man’s prayer request, I must to say that I am struck by this father’s eagerness and willingness to do whatever it takes to get to Jesus — not only for himself, but also for his child.
He leaves his post, takes a pilgrimage, and goes the distance to seek the Lord while he may be found. No excuses. No pretense. No complaints. No ifs, ands, or buts.
What would you do to seek the Lord in prayer on behalf of your son or daughter? Is there anything that could hold you back or deter you from crying out to the Lord on their behalf?
When this man found Jesus he prayed, “Lord, come down before my child dies.”
The father believes enough to seek the Lord Jesus, yet he imagines that Jesus’s power is limited, constrained by space and time realities. He believes Jesus can heal, but he must minimize the distance between himself and the sick boy to do so. He believes Jesus can heal, but he must do it quickly before death takes the boy. He believes Jesus can heal, but only within the bounds of natural and physical laws.
In other words, the official-father believes Jesus can save his son, but certain conditions and limitations apply. He must do it on his terms and in his way. The man believes, but his faith in Jesus is shaped by his experience in the world.
Now, if he had understood the sign of water turning to wine, he would have known that the Word made flesh is not constrained by space and time.
Jesus brought a wedding feast back to life from the dead by the power of his word.
If he can bring wedding feast back to life with a little wine, surely he can bring your heart back to life with his Spirit, surely he can change your despair to hope, surely he can transform your broken past into a healed future, surely he can refill your empty soul; surely he can revive your marriage, surely he can rescue your child from the point of death.
And Jesus said to the father who was also a royal official, “Go — your son will live.”
The father ask him to come, Jesus told him to go.
The father said before my child dies, Jesus told him your son will live.
Jesus challenges everything the man knows and understands about life in the real, human experience under the sun. He brings the man to the edge of the light and charges him to walk by faith, not by sight; to walk by divine revelation, not by personal experience.
“And the man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went.”
Put another way, the man believed the word of the Word who became man. He knew only that the child was his warrant. He thought: If the Christ is not the Word of God, God never spoke.
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 his whole household.
Here we see a household conversion. The whole family comes to Jesus because the father first believed on behalf of son.
It is generally true that as the head of the household goes, so goes the household. Like fathers, like sons. First, the royal official trusted in Jesus, then his family followed suit.
Ironically, when it comes to the father seeking the Lord for his son’s physical well-being, no one bats an eye. Everyone thinks he’s just being a good father. But when it comes to the father trusting the Lord for his son’s spiritual well-being everyone loses their minds, as if he’s somehow imposing his will and forcing something bad on his son.
In reality, he was doing what all fathers are supposed to do: take care of their children by taking their children to Jesus, in sickness and in health, in righteousness and in sin, come what may, no matter what.
So, fathers and mothers, if you want your sons and daughters to know the Lord, you must first seek the Lord while he may be found. You must show them that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life.
Sons and daughters, if you want to live, you must trust and obey the Lord Jesus Christ from the heart.
This was now the second sign that Jesus did when he had come from Judea to Galilee.
In this story we see the love between the Father and the Son. Anyone who knows the NT will know that this story is similar to the story of all stories.
It foreshadows the story of the Son who will drink the cup his Father gives him. He will be hung on a tree, suspended between heaven and earth, to the point of death, for the life of the world.
It foreshadows the story of the Father who will look upon his beloved son, taking up our sins, laying down his life, giving up his spirit, and he will cry (as it were) “my son, my son, my son.”
But no one will come down before his Son dies!
Why? This is how God loved the world: he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)
In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. (1 John 4:9-10 ESV)
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but this sign was written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
All you have to do is heed his mother’s wise counsel: Do whatever he tells you. Take him at his word. Obey his voice. Trust him.
Go — your son will live.
If you believe, you and your whole household shall be saved.