(A) Introduction. (Read the reference.)

The difficulty I have with this miracle is to see why John considered it specially significant. Why did the apostle select it as one of his signs? The feature of the story that is particularly puzzling is the question Jesus addresses to the royal official, "Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders you will never believe." v48. I hope to provide satisfactory solutions to the problems posed by the narrative.

(B) Why did Jesus do signs and wonders.

Jesus was given the power to perform miracles by the Father in order to establish his authority as the Son of God. Otherwise it is unlikely that the Jews would have paid much attention to a carpenter from Nazareth. The supernatural ability of Jesus did impress the people. Nicodemus said: "For no-one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him." John3v2. The crowd present at the feeding of the five thousand said, "Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world." John6v11. When the Pharisees accused Jesus of blasphemy for claiming to be the Son of God he told them: "Believe the miracles, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father." John10v38.

Jesus did miracles to grab the public's attention and advertise his unique status. This is, of course, common practice today. The adverts on commercial television use humour, glamour, a running story, a celebrity or sex to sell their products. Even preachers have been known to introduce a visual aid to capture and maintain the interest of their congregation. When I started a school assembly by holding up a pair of trousers torn from top to bottom the pupils couldn't wait to hear the story. See story: You can do it.

God gave Jesus unique powers because it was of vital importance that the Jews recognised him for what he was - the one and only Son of God - the Word made flesh.

(C) The danger of signs and wonders.

Miracles arouse the wrong sort of interest:

    (a) In Judea and Jerusalem Jesus acquired a certain notoriety. The Pharisees were informed that Jesus was gaining and baptising more disciples than John. John4v1. In Jerusalem many people saw the miraculous signs he was doing and believed in his name. But Jesus would not entrust himself to them for he knew all men. John2v23v24. The nationalists and religious fundamentalists in the Jewish capital were impressed by Jesus' powers and were keen to use him to advance their cause. They were more interested in his powers than his person, in his wonders than his words.

    Very few were like the disciple John. He wrote: We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. John1v14. Eventually John and 10 other disciples saw Jesus for what he was. Many who marvelled at his supernatural powers did not. They wanted to use the Galilean prophet to advance their own cause. Jesus wanted them to see his glory and make a personal commitment to him.

    The Jewish response to the miraculous signs of Jesus provides a warning for Christian fellowships. The church can organise many activities to attract the public like youth clubs, sports teams, facilities for young wives and toddlers, free meals and so on. I think this must be legitimate in so far that Jesus performed miracles to draw attention to his saving ministry. However, we must expect the same reaction as Jesus experienced. Very many will make use of the church without making a commitment to Jesus. I know of a Grace Baptist Church that has run well-attended youth groups for 25 years without seeing a single convert.

    (b) Jesus actually left Judea because he was attracting too much attention and arousing a lot of controversy. He went back to Galilee to escape the fevered, nationalistic speculation. That is the explanation for John's aside: Now Jesus had pointed out that a prophet has no honour in his own country. v44. This is a strange place to introduce that comment unless Jesus returned to his home region for a quieter life. Jesus did not have quite the same mystique in Galilee. He was a local man, a carpenter from Nazareth - one of their own. He had no history of involvement in political causes. The Galileans were more relaxed about Jesus.

    Nevertheless: When he arrived in Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him. They had seen all that he had done in Jerusalem. v45. So even his own people welcomed him for the wrong reason - for his entertainment value. This explains Christ's remark to the royal official: "Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders you will never believe." v8. This seems a very strange thing to say to a man who has travelled 20 miles to beg help for his dying son.

    Now it is highly likely that the official was accompanied by a group of onlookers. Some of them had undoubtedly come along out of idle curiosity to see if Jesus was up to healing a dying boy. The high official begged Jesus which may imply that he asked Jesus repeatedly. The spectators began to make comments to one another - as country folk will! "Bit too hard for him this one." "He don't like the sound of it." "He won't be going to Capernaum in a hurry." Brought up in a Suffolk village I can imagine how the people reacted! So, when Jesus said, "Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders you will never believe." he was partly addressing the sceptics in the crowd.

    We cannot ignore the fact that the comment was made to the anxious father. Jesus may have been testing the official. It is possible that he had come to Jesus in anger. He could have said to himself, "Well I've heard a lot about this Jesus let's see if he can do anything for my boy." That would be an angry, defiant reaction to his son's illness and to Jesus' growing reputation. The official could have thought, "Let this Jesus prove himself. Let him show his worth. Let him heal my dear boy."

    Whatever the royal official thought when he set out to find Jesus it is impossible to doubt his sincerity when he says, "Sir, come down before my child dies." v49.

    The story illustrates a variety of inappropriate attitudes to Jesus:
    (1) Jesus was considered good entertainment value. His signs and wonders were very exciting. Jesus was treated like a high-class magician. This is a very bad attitude. No-one cares about what sort of man a magician is; the only thing that matters is his tricks. So the people who welcomed Jesus for his signs and wonders never got to see the man behind the miracles.

    Wherever entertainment is used in a church to capture attention and draw a crowd the danger is that people will focus on that and ignore the message. A speaker may hold the attention of children with visual aids or a well-told story but as soon as he tries to draw a moral the youngsters switch off.

    (2) A sceptical audience kept challenging Christ to perform ever more impressive wonders. It was up to him to prove his credentials. They kept hoping that he would fail! Jesus was obliged to convince them he was special by his miraculous powers.

    This type of person still attends church. They will not become Christians until Jesus proves himself. They demand that Jesus intervene miraculously in their lives. These sceptics want Jesus to do for them what he did for Saul of Tarsus. The Holy Spirit must be given in such a way that it is impossible for them to disbelieve.

    (3) There are suffering folk who angrily tell Jesus that if he did something about their pain, their dying child, their loneliness or their childlessness then, perhaps, they would believe. They rail at Jesus, crying out in defiance to him, challenging him, putting the Lord to the test.

One of the reasons that signs and wonders have been discontinued is because of the dangers inherent in them. They become an end in themselves. Signs and wonders actually hinder men and women seeking Jesus for the right reason - to be saved from their sin and given eternal life.

(D) Why did Jesus go ahead and heal the official's son.

There are at least three reasons:
(1) The royal official was in earnest. He got up at 4.30am to walk the 20 miles or so from Capernaum to Cana to plead for his son's life. He begged Jesus to help his boy. The anxious father is not put off by Jesus' remark about signs and wonders but beseeches the Master with growing urgency: "Sir, come down before my child dies."

(2) Jesus had been given the power and authority to do miracles by God the Father.

(3) Jesus in his common humanity felt for those who suffered. We read on more than one occasion in the gospels that Jesus was moved with compassion. He longed to help, he could help and he did help.

Many would ask at this point: Why doesn't Jesus heal now?

(a) Parents with terminally ill children pray in earnest for God's help. There is no doubt of that. Gloria Hunniford was on TV only last week talking about her daughter Caron Keating and her final two years suffering from cancer. She said, "I prayed a lot during those final years." Caron Keating - a beautiful and vivacious TV presenter - died nonetheless.

(b) Jesus healed the official's son from a distance. He may be at a distance now - in heaven - but that should not stop him coming to our assistance. He is alive at God's right hand, our Great High Priest - one who is not untouched by the feeling of our infirmities. AV. The writer to the Hebrews leaves us in no doubt of this: For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses. Heb4v15.

Some of our school friends forget all about us when they move on to higher things. Christ has been exalted to the highest place but he remains the compassionate and sympathising Jesus vitally interested in his own

(c) The difference is that Jesus no longer has the authority to heal as he did when here on earth. God has authenticated the life and work of Jesus by raising him from the dead and sending the Holy Spirit to bear witness to him.

Miracles of healing can never be common because:

    (1) It would involve the suspension of the law of cause and effect. The universe would be different. It would no longer be predictable.

    (2) God has a purpose in disease, pain and death. They would not exist in the world unless they were in the will of God. Suffering and death are part of God's redemptive plan.

    (3) If miracles were regularly done on behalf of Christians then many people would become Christians for the wrong reasons.

(d) Jesus did not come to earth to heal the physically sick and dying. He came to save his people from their sin. Jesus came to give eternal life to all who believed in him. He said: "For my Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day." John6v40. It is worth reminding ourselves what the writer to the Hebrews said about Jesus our Great High Priest: Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. Heb7v25. The main priority of Jesus and his ongoing work is to save completely those who come to God through him.

(E) The good example that the official sets us.

The official is a good example of faith:

(a) He asked for help. The official came himself. He didn't send his servants to ask on his behalf. It required some humility for the courtier to wait on the carpenter. It always shows faith to plead for help. You must have some belief that the person you approach will give it.

(b) He took Jesus at his word. Jesus made the official a promise: "You may go. Your son will live." The man took Jesus at his word and departed. v50.

It is highly significant that John makes the observation that the man took Jesus at his word. That is why he included the story in his gospel. The Galileans demanded signs and wonders but the official required only Christ's promise.

(c) He made the appropriate response to the evidence. If the official left Capernaum early to reach Jesus between noon and 1pm it is not surprising that he did not make it home the same day. (There is a difference of opinion on whether John named the hours by the Roman or Jewish method. I think it likelier that he would have spoken to Jesus at 1pm than 7pm - so I plumb for the Jewish method.)

The courtier was particularly impressed that the fever left his son at the exact time Jesus had said to him, "Your son will live." v53. It was evident that Jesus had miraculous powers and so the official and his household believed in him as Messiah.

Charles Spurgeon the great, 19th century, Baptist preacher has an interesting sermon on the official's faith. He explores its development from a spark to a flame to a fire to a conflagration. I am not so sure about this. Surely the courtier showed greatest faith when he took Jesus at his word. The discovery that his son lived provided the assurance that Jesus was the Son of God.

Lessons for us:

(1) It is good to ask Jesus for help - whatever that help is for. Jesus is compassionate. So I would still pray for a little lad who is dying of cancer. I would pray for the success of his treatment. If an operation was needed I would pray that the surgeons might be on top form. I always pray in faith believing that Jesus will do all he can.

(2) Whenever we take a person at their word we show faith in them. Last week I took my friend Ivy to Stanstead Airport. After I had agreed to take her Ivy did not keep checking up on me and demanding that I would be at her house on time. She trusted that I would keep my word.

Peter Webb used to buy and sell sheep at Bury Market. One day he bought 500 worth to fatten up on his pastures. He said to Mr Scott, the auctioneer, who was a wizened little man, "I h'aint got no money, can I take 'em?" Mr Scott replied, "I know you Mr Webb. Yuss you can." Most deals in those days depended upon a man's word being taken on trust.

Let us take Jesus at his word:

    (a) If we long to be happy. Now and again I visit the website to see how my old pupils are getting on. I was pleased to discover that Anna is very happy. She lives in California with her gorgeous husband. Both have good jobs. Anna is proud of her two lovely children. Recently she had a book published on embroidery.

    Anna's is the happiness many of us pray for - success, prosperity, pleasure and both romantic and filial love. Jesus does not promise us any of these things. He said to one man eager to follow him: "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head." Lk9v58.

    Jesus has his own recipe for happiness. He said, "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they shall be filled." Mt5v6." If we have an eager appetite for good works the food is plentiful and filling. There is satisfaction in helping others. My old friends Edward and Dorothy were going through a difficult period. Both of them had a painful hip and impaired mobility. Then their curtains collapsed. It was the final straw. But Roger and Pat were soon on hand to help. Roger fixed a new rail to which Pat attached the curtains. It made Dorothy feel a lot better! Who can doubt that Pat and Roger were happy to have helped Dorothy and Edward out of a muddle.

    If we want to be happy and have confidence in the words of Jesus we shall take the Beatitudes seriously. See my expositions on the Beatitudes.

    (b) If we long for power and enlightenment. Jesus promises: "How much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him." I do ask the Holy Spirit to help me to understand difficult passages of Scripture.

    (c) If we long for security. We are assured over and over again in John's gospel that those who believe in Jesus will be given eternal life. Jesus assures us: "My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, no-one can snatch them out of my hand." John10v7. We are eternally secure in Christ. This should give us confidence and equip us for service.

    Mr Clarkson told me a story about Oliver Bacon last week. I remember Ollie well. He used to attend our chapel and say to us children: "If you can recite a text I'll give you a sweet." Oliver was very easily put out but he died from throat cancer with great courage. Anyway, Oliver spent several nights working in Mr Clarkson's barn to change the pistons of his car. Friday night he completed the job and on Saturday morning Mr Clarkson and his family intended to drive off on holiday to Derbyshire. Ollie was not happy - the car had not been road tested. Mr Clarkson told him, "Don't worry Oliver. I have every faith in you." Next day Mr Clarkson drove off in happy confidence. The car went like a dream. He and his family had a wonderful holiday.

    We Christians would enjoy our lives more if we took Jesus at his word and had a sure and certain hope of our ultimate salvation.

(3) The Official's faith in Jesus grew with experience. He received extraordinary confirmation of Christ's saving word. The fever left his dying son at the moment Jesus promised that he would live. Our faith should grow during our Christian lives. Many receive glorious assurance of sins forgiven when they surrender to Jesus. This in itself strengthens what in the first instance is, perhaps, only a tentative faith. Our faith develops as we witness the change Jesus brings to the lives of others who put their trust in him. Our faith matures as we exercise it during times of testing.

(F) Conclusion.

C.H. Spurgeon in his sermon on this miracle of Jesus asks three questions of our faith:
(1) Does your faith make you pray.
(2) Does your faith make you obedient.
(3) Has your faith brought a blessing on your household.
Such was the royal official's faith and such I hope is your faith and mine.