IIIM Magazine Online, Volume 3, Number 30, July 23 to July 29, 2001

A Sermon on John 4:43-54

by Rev. Russell B. Smith

Here are some actual product instruction labels:

On a Sears hairdryer:
"Do not use while sleeping."

On a bag of Fritos:
"You could be a winner! No purchase necessary. Details inside."

On Marks & Spencer Bread Pudding:
"Product will be hot after heating."

On packaging for a Rowenta iron:
"Do not iron clothes on body."

On Nytol sleep aid:
"Warning: may cause drowsiness."

On a kitchen knife:
"Warning: keep out of children."

On a string of Christmas lights:
"For indoor or outdoor use only."

On an American Airlines packet of nuts:
"Instructions: open packet, eat nuts."

On a child's Superman costume:
"Wearing of this garment does not enable you to fly."

There are some thick-headed people out there — Jesus encounters a bunch of them in our passage this week. Last week we finished up the story of Jesus in Samaria. Remember that we inferred 5 principles of everyday evangelism from the testimony of the woman at the well. These 5 principles spelled out the acrostic "TRUTH:" Tell your story; Rely on God's preparation, Understand enough; Talk like yourself; and Hope for the unexpected. One of the interesting points about this passage is that the whole Samaritan town came out to Jesus and many believed in him, even though he performed no miracles while he was there. They believed completely on the basis of his preaching and teaching.

In today's story, Jesus leaves Samaria and continues his journey back to his home country in Galilee. In Galilee the people receive him because of the miracles he performed in Jerusalem during the Passover feast. The Galileans, unlike the Samaritans, expect the show of miracles and wonders. They are not interested so much in Jesus' message as in his miracles. Still, we can derive an important principle from the healing in this passage: when Jesus healed, he was severe, but hearts were strengthened.

First of all, note that the text points out the thick-headedness of the people. In verse 44, John commented that a prophet has no honor in his own country, but then explained that the Galileans welcomed Jesus. John is not stupid; he didn't make an obvious and silly error. Look at the next verse: "They had seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast" (v. 45). That sentence should ring a bell in your minds. Flip back to John 2:23-24: "Now, while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, 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."

Jesus hadn't entrusted himself to them because he knew that they were putting their faith in the miracle rather than the messiah. Jesus knew that a prophet gets no honor in his home country because his home country wants the power rather than the prophet. The Samaritans, the foreigners, listened to the prophet, they received the messiah. But the Galileans were only interested in miracles and power.

I hear it all the time: "If God really exists, why doesn't he do something about all the starving people out there?" One time I was visiting a man in the hospital, asking him about his faith, and he told me, "If I got better, well then I'd believe in God and praise his name." You know the mentality: "God, if you're so great, show yourself! Prove yourself to me and I'll do whatever you want." But the fundamental error lies in the assumption that we are in a position to dictate the terms. In many ways we're like the young man who went to the Metropolitan Musuem of Art and, after scowling at the paintings for a while, remarked to an old security guard, "I don't think much of your paintings." The guard, with a twinkle in his eye, said, "Son, it's not the paintings that are on trial — it's you."

In verse 48, Jesus responds to this error with severity, "Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders … you will never believe." He's saying this not just to the man, but to the entire crowd of Galileans gathered about, bluntly putting their sin before them. In effect, he's saying, "You're not interested in serving the covenant God. You're interested in having a genie god who will come at your beck and call."

So, Jesus was severe; he confronted the people with the truth of their attitudes. But the flip side of the principle is that hearts were strengthened: the nobleman persisted, and Jesus showed mercy (vv. 49-50). Take note of some things here. The nobleman says, "Come," implying that he believed Jesus' physical presence was needed for the healing to be effective. The implication here is that the people believed that Jesus had to use some kind of technique or magic to make the healing happen. But Jesus says, "Go, your son lives." Jesus shows great mercy — after his severity, he heals the man's son anyway. Then Jesus shows his authority and power by healing from a distance. This isn't some magic trick or healing technique that can be learned. Jesus, as the Word become flesh, can by his divine right declare something to take place and that thing will happen. Jesus does this to demonstrate that he is unlike any other.

Now pay careful attention to what happens next. The man believed and went his way; he didn't continue to pester Jesus. He believed. He didn't understand it, but Jesus spoke with such authority that it had to be so. You see, the man's heart was being strengthened already. After Jesus' severe reply, the man persisted in his appeal for help, and then he trusted Jesus' authority without even seeing the results. That's the main point of the passage. This story doesn't teach that if you're persistent enough, you'll get what you want. The story teaches that Jesus says he is the authority, and that if you trust in him, he'll take care of you. For proof, look at how the passage ends — not with rejoicing at the healing, the healing is incidental. The passage ends with the phrase "And he himself believed, and his whole household." The movement is from grasping at straws to confidence in Christ's authority, to the man's whole household believing. Yes, Christ was severe, but this man's heart was strengthened.

If you've ever seen the film Shadowlands, you're familiar with the story of the relationship between C.S. Lewis and Joy Gresham. You know how the friendship grew into a marital relationship. You know how Lewis ultimately lost Joy to cancer. You know how Lewis cared for Joy's young sons after her death. One of her sons, Douglas, described his version of the story in his book Lenten Lands. In the book he describes his emotions at the height of his mother's cancer. She was in the hospital and expected to die, and Douglas prayed desperately for his mother's health. He told God that he really needed her right then, and he got the sense that God said, "Okay. I understand you need her. You can have her, for a time." Joy got better and came back to the Lewis home. For a time they were a delightful, boisterous family — Lewis and his brother, Joy and her boys. But then the cancer came back. Joy went back to the hospital. Things looked grim. Douglas went to pray again and this time got the sense that God was telling him he was ready to do without his mother. Joy died shortly thereafter.

The point behind the story is that God had some severe things for Douglas: Douglas had to accept that his mother, at some point, would die. But in that severity, Douglas' heart was strengthened; his dependence and reliance upon Christ were deepened. God was severe, but Douglas' heart was strengthened. You think about that. Amen