Christ Speaks to the Problem of Desperate Circumstances
John 4: 46 - 54
I think this is every parent’s deepest fear—that somehow, someday, in an accident or by illness or through some other means our children will be taken from us. Nothing seems more unnatural than the death of a child. Having to bury one of our own children is a tragedy we silently pray we will never have to endure. But it does happen. Death has come and will come to all of us sooner or later. But when death draws near to the young, it brings the parents to a moment of personal crisis. When your child is sick, you don’t care about test results, x-rays, percentages, new medicines, research or anything like that. People just want to know one thing: ‘Is my child going to be all right?’ Nothing else matters. Everything else is just details.
This very important man had a very important conversation with Jesus. As a result, he received a most incredible miracle. What happened to his son was not due to luck or coincidence. His son was dying and Jesus healed him. The wonder of the story - Jesus never met the child and the child never met Jesus. It was a long-distance miracle recorded for our benefit.
This story also illustrates how faith grows in our hearts. None of us is born into God’s family with our faith fully developed. We all go through various stages to arrive where God wants us to be. Here we see 7 stages of faith. Let’s see how faith grows in the midst of very desperate circumstances.
Stage 1: Crisis v.46
Faith almost always starts in a crisis. When things are going well, it’s easy to forget God, but when life tumbles in around us, we suddenly start looking to heaven for help. This man was rich, powerful, and influential. He was in the upper crust, a power broker, a man others feared and respected. He was accustomed to giving orders and having them carried out. In his own corner of the world, he had enormous authority because he answered to the king and the king answered to Caesar. People came to him to have their problems solved. But now he has a problem he can’t solve.
Even the rich have their troubles. Behind the smiling face is a story of sadness and heartache. No matter how much money you have, you never reach the place where you are protected from trouble. Trouble comes alike to the rich and the poor. Arab proverb - “grief is a black camel that kneels at every tent.”
This sickness, whatever t was, broke the father’s heart and consumed all his energy. This man who could do so much had no power to help his son. He watched day by day as his child grew weaker and the fever raged without breaking. If his son had not been sick, he might never have met Jesus. God often uses trouble to focus our attention on him. Through this sickness, God now has his undivided attention. The doctors must have done all they could do and they evidently said, “There is no hope.” In such a situation - Desperate men take desperate steps. Desperate times call forth desperate measures. What will this man do?
Stage 2: Humility v. 47a
Jesus had become well known in Galilee. He had performed the amazing miracle of turning water into wine. Word had spread that this carpenter from Nazareth had the power to heal the sick. Word of Jesus’ healing ministry reached the little fishing village of Capernaum on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee.
When the nobleman heard that Jesus had come to Cana, he decided to go see him. His plan was simple. He would meet Jesus face to face, explain his son’s sickness, and ask him to come back to Capernaum so he could heal his son. He is a man of action, of courage in the face of uncertainty. If there is any chance that this man called Jesus can help his boy, he will go to Jesus himself.
At this point he doesn’t really know who Jesus is. He has heard about Jesus and wonders if he can help his son. Who can blame him? He loves his son and wants him to be healed. He could have sent his servants to Jesus. That would have been appropriate but he came himself. He doesn’t know Jesus, never met him, knows only his reputation, but that is enough. He risks everything, for he does not know how Jesus will receive him, and he knows his son could die while he is gone. He leaves in the desperate hope that his son might be healed. He doesn’t know! But he goes anyway. Faith doesn’t know the future but it steps out anyway.
As he travelled, he rehearsed what he would say, he made up his mind that he would do whatever it took to convince Jesus to come to his son’s bedside. He must humble himself and go to Jesus pleading for his son’s life. In this desperate moment his money and power meant nothing. His friends could not help him. He comes with nothing to offer - only a desperate plea.
Stage 3: Request v. 47b
The best prayer is born of desperation. Only needy people pray. Those who aren’t needy don’t need to pray. And they don’t! That’s why people in hospitals call for pastors. They don’t want to die with burdens on their soul. They want to be healed, and if they cannot be healed, they want to make sure they are ready to meet God. When hard times come, we cling to God like a drowning man clings to a rope. In this case desperation turned a powerful man into a beggar. I do not doubt that this powerful official got on his knees and begged Jesus to come and heal his son. Even a sceptic will pray at a time like this.
His request was very simple and very direct: “O Jesus, come and heal my son!” That’s all. No King James English, no long preliminaries, no formalities. He got right to the point.
*He knew what he wanted: Jesus to come with him.
*He knew what he needed: Healing for his son.
*He knew why he needed it: His son was near death.
Time was of the essence. “Jesus, you must come right now. My son may die at any moment, but I know you can heal him.” There is something positive and something negative. On one hand the father totally believes Jesus can heal his son. But his faith is defective because he thinks Jesus must be personally present for the miracle to happen. Most of us would feel the same way.
He didn’t try to use his wealth or his power and he didn’t try to argue that he deserved special treatment. He didn’t say, “My son is popular and handsome and gifted.” His son was dying. That was all that he needed to mention.
Stage 4: Persistence v. 48 - 49
Jesus’ answer is unexpected and appears to be almost rude. It’s as if he is irritated and doesn’t want to bother with this man’s sick son. Jesus was putting this man’s faith to the test. “Are you coming to me just because you want a miracle or do you really know who I am?” Because we want to see signs, we put conditions on the Lord before we will believe in him. We like to say, “Seeing is believing.” That’s backwards. First you believe, then you see. Faith must always come before the miracles. Miracles have no use except to point to Jesus. If we get miracles but don’t fall in love with Jesus as a result, we’ve missed the whole point. Jesus is moving him to a higher level of faith. We want proof but God honours faith. Strange as it seems, Jesus is actually helping the man by refusing his first request. Could Jesus have gone to Capernaum? Sure. No problem. But that would not help this man’s faith.
I love the way this desperate man responds. He simply repeats his request. It’s as if he’s saying, “I don’t know anything about signs and wonders, but I know you can heal my son.” He will not be turned away. But his faith is still immature - not only making a request, he’s telling Jesus how to answer his prayer - trying to tell God how to be God. 1st Rule of Spiritual Life: He’s God and We’re Not. Who has been the Lord’s counsellor? Who gives him advice? Who can trace his path across the starry skies? No one! This man has faith and a plan. The faith is good, the plan isn’t so good. Jesus’ plan - something bigger and better.
Stage 5: Obedience v. 50
Man said, “Come!” Jesus said, “Go!” “Jesus, you’ve got to go with me. You don’t understand how sick my son is. I can’t take a chance. If you come, I know you can heal him.” But something gripped his heart in that moment. I think the Holy Spirit whispered in his heart, “You can trust the words of Jesus.” And he did. 2 miracles - the healing of the son, the healing in the heart. It must have been hard for him to leave Cana and make the journey back to Capernaum alone. He has nothing to go on but the words of Jesus: “Your son lives.” This is naked faith. Simple faith.
Would we have gone easily or would we have stayed to argue? This man didn’t ask for a token or a sign. He didn’t know what would happen. He had no outward proof. But he left anyway. If he is wrong about this, his son will soon be dead. He is risking his son’s life on the bare words of Jesus Christ. He left without a written promise and there were no visible angels to accompany him. He had nothing to lean on but the word of the Lord. He believed that what Jesus said, he would do. Augustine - “Faith is to believe what we do not see, and the reward of faith is to see what we believe.” Soon this man will have the reward of his faith.
Stage 6: Confirmation v. 51 - 52
Delightful part of the story. As the man is making the journey home, many thoughts are running through his mind. He knows what Jesus has said and he believes it. He remembers how sick his son was when he left. Could the words of Jesus really be true? He wondered how long it would take his son to fully recover.
Then he saw before him in the distance a crowd of people coming his way. They seemed to be in a great hurry. As they got closer, he heard shouts and he realized it was his servants. For a moment, his heart sank as he considered what their coming must mean. Is it bad news? But no … they are laughing and shouting and smiling. “Master, we have good news. Master, your son lives!” Then they surrounded him, and the party started right there in the middle of the road. Cheering, laughing, dancing, shouting. The father weeping with joy. “How did it happen? When? Tell me everything.” The father wanted to know when his son started to get better. The laughter increased. “Master, you don’t understand. He didn’t ‘begin’ to get better. He got better all at once. It’s a miracle!” But when did it happen? “At the 7th hour.” That would be 1:00 p.m. And the man paused for moment and began to think. He started counting the hours. Then it hit him. The 7th hour! That was the very moment when Jesus said, “Go your way. Your son lives.” Jesus healed the boy in Capernaum even though he was 40km away in Cana. The boy was healed the very moment Jesus spoke to the father. That’s not a coincidence. That’s a flat-out miracle. It proves that Jesus is the Lord of time and distance.
Stage 7: Commitment v. 53 - 54
There is one final stage in this man’s faith. 3 different times he believed in Jesus and each time his faith moved to a higher level.
*He believed once when he came to him in Cana—faith in his Miracles.
*He believed again when he left to go home to his son—faith in his Word.
*He believed ultimately when his son was healed—faith in Jesus himself.
He believed so fully that he swept his whole family and all his servants with him into the kingdom of God. He came and they came with him!
Now not every prayer for help is answered in the same way as this prayer. Not every child is healed in a miraculous way. Oswald Chambers - “Faith for my deliverance is not faith in God. Faith means, whether I am visibly delivered or not, I will stick to my belief that God is love. There are some things only learned in a fiery furnace.”
Let us learn from this that all the roads of human experience lead ultimately to Jesus Christ. When we find him, all will be well. Behind everything else in this story is the sovereign hand of God. Though the father could not see it in advance, his son was brought to the point of death that the entire family might be brought to eternal life. God works through our adversity, our pain, our trials, and our sorrows. When we are in the midst of desperate circumstances, we see only our problems and we come as children begging for help: “Lord Jesus, come quickly. We need you. The world is falling apart and only you can help us.” Jesus quietly says, “Go your way. Be in peace. I will take care of your problems.” Will we have faith to go in peace, trusting him? When we do, we discover that Jesus is as good as his word. Very often we look back much later and say, “I didn’t see it then. In my sorrow and sadness I thought the Lord had forgotten me. I thought my prayers had been ignored. But now I see clearly that the Lord was there all the time. He answered in ways I did not expect. If it had not been for the Lord, I would not have made it at all.” Many times we can see that a greater miracle has been done than the one we asked for in the beginning. So we learn again that his ways are not our ways. Give God enough time and all will be made right. He will be proved in all things and his Word will be proved true. Our part is to trust him and to obey the light we have. Once we bring our problems to him, we must then go our way and trust him to do what he knows is best. This is true faith.
Tom Landry - head coach of the Dallas Cowboys - strong Christian – “the job of a coach is make men do what they don’t want to do so that they can achieve what they’ve always wanted.” That’s what Jesus does for you and me. He continually puts us in places we didn’t want to go, and he makes us face things we didn’t want to face, in order to achieve in us what we always wanted but didn’t know how to find. This is a blessing no one wants but everyone needs if our faith is to grow and mature. If desperate circumstances bring us to Jesus, then those circumstances are a gift from God. Amen.