Lord Over Disease and Distance
22 February 2015
A study in the series on the Gospel of John by John Dugas
Grace Bible Church, Tulsa
Full Audio Message
Lord Over Disease and Distance
Numbers don’t lie. But numbers CAN be misleading. Let me illustrate. If we look at crime statistics at two sections of a large city, we might find something like this. Section 1 had only a 1% increase in the number of murders that happened last year. However, Section 2 had a whopping 100% increase in the number of murders. It would be easy to assume that Section 1 is far safer than Section 2. However, the exact opposite is the case. Both sections only had one additional murder when compared with the previous year. Section 1 had 101 murders while Section 2 had 2 murders. Do you see how the first set of numbers I gave were misleading?
Let me give you another example. When I was in Bible College, a professor asked his class, “Why are numbers important when looking at church growth?” One of my friends answered, “How else can you measure growth?” That was precisely the answer that the professor was looking for. But I would give a different answer. I would first answer that you’re measuring the wrong thing and second, that you’re using the wrong method to measure. Turn over to 2 Peter 1:1-11.
What we are to measure are spiritual character traits. Our method must simply be to observe ‘continual increase’ rather than a certain increase in number or percentage. Your assurance comes from the fact that you DID grow, not in how much you grew. Applying that to a church, we should rejoice when we see growth in spiritual character traits among the flock.
Numbers can be a cause for praise, but not a measure of progress. John the apostle takes the opportunity in today’s passage to prepare his readers to understand that. Is it OK for us to desire more people to join our family? You bet! Can we rejoice in growth when the flock comes to love Jesus more and to hate sin more even if there are fewer of us? You bet!
John shows us in a second sign that Jesus is Lord over both disease and distance. Jesus is the promised Messiah. Isaiah prophesied that Messiah would heal people. In fact, when John the Baptist was suffering in prison, Jesus quoted Isaiah 35:5-6 to assure him that indeed Jesus was the Messiah.
Jesus’ miracles will draw huge crowds. People come to Jesus by the thousands. But John wants to prepare his readers for the equally relevant fact that people leave Jesus by the thousands. We’ll see in 6:2, when Jesus is ministering near the Sea of Galilee, “a great multitude was following Him, because they were seeing the signs which He was performing on those who were sick.” But just 64 verses later, John reports, “As a result of [Jesus’ teaching] many of His disciples withdrew, and were not walking with Him anymore” (6:66). John forewarns us in today’s passage that many people will be attracted to Jesus. But only those with genuine faith will understand the real meaning of His miracles. Let’s look at this first group.
I. Fascination of the many (John 4:43-45).
After spending those two days in Samaria, Jesus and His disciples resumed their journey north to Galilee. John helps us to see a flaw with how the Galileans received Jesus. Their reception was based on fascination with Jesus’ miracles. Some of these Galileans had witnessed all the things that He did in Jerusalem at the Feast. They were impressed by His clearing of the temple and His miracles (2:23). They came home and spread the word.
To warn his readers against jumping to conclusions about the crowds who will come to Jesus, John refers to a proverb that Jesus used, a prophet has no honor in his own country. The Galileans received Jesus warmly. But there will be wholesale rejection of Jesus here in Galilee (6:66).
As fallen humans, we all tend to be gullible toward outsiders. We see them as experts. We view people closest to us as authorities on nothing. Think of how children won’t believe their parents but will believe practically anyone else. It’s hard for us to accept one of our own as an authority. Sin has corrupted our ability to judge rightly. Fortunately though, it isn’t like this for everyone.
II. Faith of the few (John 4:46-53).
In all of the excitement caused by Jesus arriving in Galilee, we’re going to see a man stand out from the rest. To help us see the contrast between this man and the crowds, John puts this man’s faith under a microscope so we can see how it develops. First, look at his…
A. Faith budding (John 4:46-47).
This man was a royal official. He may have been a centurion or a minor official in Herod’s court. As such, he could have been a Gentile or Jew. If he was a Gentile, it is tempting to view John 3 and 4 as a mini version of Acts where the Gospel went from Judea, to Samaria, then to the rest of the earth (to the Gentiles). But we don’t know for certain. We do know that this man was requesting Jesus to come heal his son. He was persistent not because he wanted to see a miracle but because his dear son was near death. God’s Spirit is working faith in him and prompts his urgent request.
Capernaum was 20 – 25 miles from Cana. This man came a good distance for Jesus’ help. Privilege and money didn’t help. Maybe this Jesus can help. This man still didn’t completely understand who Jesus was. He wasn’t sure that Jesus could heal from a distance. And he didn’t believe that Jesus could raise the dead. But God’s Spirit is at work causing faith to bud. Next look at his…
B. Faith blossoming (John 4:48-50).
Jesus doesn’t make it easy on this poor soul. Jesus responds to this man’s request saying, unless you people see signs and wonders, you will not believe. Now I believe that this was directed to the crowd (you people). While they gave Jesus a warm welcome, we’re going to see that they are nothing like the Samaritans. Here among His own people Jesus finds resistance to faith.
In spite of Jesus’ rebuke, the man persists. This gives evidence that the Spirit is at work. His situation was desperate. Only Jesus’ power will save his son. So all that he could do was plead his case and wait for Jesus’ response.
While Jesus did do good to people who would never believe in Him, at the same time, He insisted on faith as the real goal of His ministry. This is instructive for us as we embark on a more robust benevolence ministry. Seek to build relationships with the people and pray for opportunities to introduce them to Jesus.
So Jesus challenges the faith of this man by not going with him to his home. He assures the man that the boy is now better. The man’s faith faced a dilemma: he can doubt Jesus and insist that Jesus accompany him home—needing to see Jesus exercise power; or he can believe Jesus and make his way home confident that Jesus’ word is the truth. He chose the latter and headed home.
As the faith of this man is forming, he took Jesus as His word and started off for home. See his faith blossoming now—the man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him. Jesus’ challenge to the man’s faith is working! This man believed before he saw the miracle. And finally we see his…
C. Faith bearing fruit (John 4;51-53).
On the return trip home, servants met the official and delivered good news. His son had recovered! He asked to know precisely when his son began to improve. It happened at the seventh hour, which if Roman time was 7:00 pm. Was the recovery due to Jesus’ power from a distance. Indeed it was!
The man’s faith grew and proved itself to be genuine, unlike so many others in Galilee who just wanted to see miracles. First, we see that he himself believed. We’ve seen his faith in slow motion so that we can better understand how it forms in a person’s heart. Faith is not something that we are born with. It is a gift (2 Thess 3:2 “not all have faith”; Eph 2:8 “it is the gift of God”). While we normally will not see the process as faith develops, nevertheless the Spirit of God performs this work in a person’s heart. They hear the message of the Gospel (Jesus is the way to God). They come to understand what God is requiring of them (faith in Jesus alone). And finally they put their trust in Jesus for their salvation. Even though faith develops, it’s important to know that justification is NOT progressive. There is always a point in time when a person truly believes.
Notice what comes about next. This man brought his whole household to faith in Jesus. Obviously, John means all within this man’s household who were old enough to believe. Like the Samaritan woman, coming to faith turned this man into an evangelist. He couldn’t keep the Gospel to himself. Why then was this man not like the many Galileans around him? Consider the…
III. Function of miracles (John 4:54).
Although Jesus had already performed many signs (John 2:23), this is the second sign that John wants his readers to think about. Jesus’ miracles were not just displays of power. They tell us something important about Him. What does this sign tell us? Jesus’ word has the power to heal, even over long distances. His power goes forth and accomplishes its intended outcome (Isa 55:11). The royal official took the miracle for what it was meant to be—a sign that this Jesus was the Messiah who has come into the world to save sinners. That distinction is the difference between curiosity and faith.
Faith enables a person to see Jesus’ miracles as signs that He is truly the Messiah. Many people will respond to the show. But only in some will true faith grow. As you take the Gospel to the lost and they respond positively, take this warning seriously. Many will come. But many will also leave. Let it not discourage you. Be encouraged by the few who have true faith. Pour your life into them, helping them to grow in grace as Peter explained in 2 Peter 1. Watch as they too become evangelists.