Below is the sermon on John 4:43-54 preached at MacAlpine Presbyterian Church in Buffalo, New York this morning. The passage gives us a window into the difference between something short of a saving faith and to truly receive Christ and believe in Him. It is the second sign that Jesus did in Galilee, fulfilling the Scriptures. The first point has a strike-through — it is there for organizational purposes but it was not said aloud at that point in the sermon. The sermon audio is available here.
You know John 3:16, perhaps in the KJV, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” The verse is clear that saving faith brings new creation life. In John 3, Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews, came to Jesus by night and thought he was honoring Jesus by saying, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him” (John 3:2). Like many in Jerusalem, Nicodemus believed in Jesus’ name when he saw the signs that Jesus was doing (cf. John 2:23) but this was not yet a saving faith. So Jesus taught this teacher of Israel that one must be born again—or born from above—to see the kingdom of God. The theme of being born again is one of new creation for Jesus speaks and the person is born of God just as in the beginning, God spoke and there was light, land, legumes, and living creatures. The problem was that some of the people of Israel liked the signs that Jesus did but they did not really receive and believe in Him. John said, “He came to His own, and His own people did not receive Him. But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:11-13). Thus we have this pattern of Jesus coming to His own and His own not receiving Him but all who did receive Him were born again. In John 4, Jesus is leaving Samaria, where He has met the woman at the well and where He has been truly honored by the Samaritans who believed in Him because of His word, to go once again to His own people. Hear the word of God:
- To only be interested in Jesus for His signs and wonders is not to truly receive Jesus.
- John tells us that after two days staying with the Samaritans where almost the entire town of Sychar believed because of Jesus’ word (John 4:41), Jesus then departed for Galilee because a prophet has no honor in His homeland (John 4:44). Jesus had gone to that foreign land where the people received Him and now He would go on purpose to Galilee where the people would not truly receive Jesus. This is the pattern John wants us to see: Jesus Christ went to the Samaritans and they received Him but Jesus Christ “came to His own, and His own people did not receive Him” (John 1:11). Galilee was not only the opposite of a foreign land for Jesus because it was populated by Jewish people but it was his homeland in a special sense because Jesus was raised in Nazareth, which was in Galilee. So we expect the Galileans will not honor Jesus—especially because John reminds us that Jesus Himself had testified that a prophet has no honor in his own homeland. Thus we are surprised that John says, “So when He came to Galilee, the Galileans welcomed Him, having seen all that He had done in Jerusalem at the feast.” Why does John tell us that they won’t honor Jesus and then say that they welcomed Jesus? Because they “welcomed” Jesus but they didn’t truly honor Jesus. Yes it is obvious that the Jews in Judea did not honor Jesus. Immediately after our passage, Jesus went up to Jerusalem and healed a paralytic on the Sabbath and the Jews were seeking to kill Him so Jesus said, “The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him” (John 5:22-23). He said so because the Jews in Jerusalem were dishonoring Him. Indeed, in John 8:48 the Jews answered Jesus, saying, “Are we not right in saying you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” Jesus answered them, “I do not have a demon, but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me” (John 8:48-49). Thus clearly Jesus’ own people in Judea did not honor Him, but neither did the Galileans where Jesus grew up. The people of His homeland probably thought they were honoring Jesus, just like Nicodemus in the previous chapter thought that he was honoring Jesus. But Jesus’ own people were only interested in Jesus for what He could do for them – they were only interested in Jesus for His signs and wonders. They did not receive Jesus as their Lord and Savior. The Samaritans had really received and honored Jesus. They didn’t look for Him to do signs and wonders. The Samaritans wanted Jesus to stay with them to teach them all things, which is what they expected the Messiah to do. The Samaritan woman at the well said, “I know that Messiah is coming…when He comes He will tell us all things” (John 4:25). The Samaritans weren’t looking for signs and wonders but listening for the prophetic word of the Messiah. The Samaritans received Jesus as the Messiah and they said, “We know that this is indeed the Savior of the world” (John 4:42). But the Galileans did not receive Jesus as their Lord and Savior. The Galileans did not receive Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah. The Galileans only welcomed Jesus having seen all that He had done in Jerusalem at the feast.
We too must never confuse wanting to see Jesus do miracles with truly receiving Jesus. To welcome Jesus for the signs and wonders that He does is not to truly receive Jesus. To welcome Jesus because He heals people is not to receive Jesus as your Lord and Savior. This kind of welcome is simply using Jesus for what He can do for you. To truly receive Jesus is to honor Him for who He is. He isn’t just another miracle-worker—Jesus is the Messiah, the King of Israel, even the divine cloud-riding Son of Man. To truly receive Jesus is to honor Him as sent by the Father. One of the things that this passage is doing is showing how Jesus is the Messiah who fulfills Isaiah 9. That’s why John stresses that this is the second sign that Jesus did in Galilee that manifested His glory. The first of His signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee when He turned water into wine—foreshadowing Jesus’ death. The second sign He did in Galilee was to heal the official’s son—foreshadowing Jesus’ resurrection. In Isaiah 9, the prophet said, “In the latter time [the Hebrew word means the opposite of “in the beginning,” so it might be better to translate it, “in the end-times”] He has honored/glorified the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness on them has light shown.” Thus John talks in these opening chapters of the Gospel about light and darkness and Jesus doing signs that manifest His glory in Galilee. To receive Jesus is to receive Him as the Messiah prophesied by the prophets like Isaiah. (To only be interested in Jesus for His signs and wonders is not to truly receive Jesus. Likewise, we can add,…)
- To only be interested in Jesus for His signs and wonders is not to truly believe in Jesus.
When Jesus spoke to the official and said, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe” Jesus was not addressing the official alone. The “you” is plural. Jesus was saying, “Unless you guys—you Galileans—see signs and wonders you will not believe.” The people of Galilee were like the people of Jerusalem. John 2:23ff says, “Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in His name when they saw the signs that He was doing. But Jesus on His part did not entrust Himself to them, because He knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for He Himself knew what was in man.” The people of Jerusalem believed in Jesus when they saw the signs He was doing, but they didn’t truly believe in Jesus – they didn’t have a saving faith in Jesus—they didn’t have a faith that brought them from death in their sins to life in Christ. The fact that they needed signs in order to believe was an indictment in the first place. Hearing His prophetic word should have been enough—like it was for the Samaritans. Then seeing His signs they believed in Him as a miracle worker sent by God, but not as Lord and Savior. And yet Jesus did the signs so that they might truly believe in Him and be born again. (One such sign was healing this official’s boy.)
Jesus challenged the official to be different than the Galileans. The Greek term translated “official” is actually the term for a royal official. This man probably worked for Herod. Thus he probably was not even Jewish. This official was more like the Samaritans than the Galileans. What remained to be seen was whether the man would be more like the Samaritans and believe in Jesus’ prophetic word or whether he was yet another sign-seeker who wanted to see a miracle happen. So Jesus challenged him, “Unless you guys see signs and wonders you will not believe.” Then the official simply repeated his request that Jesus come down and heal his boy: “Sir/Lord, come down before my child dies.” So Jesus said, “Go, your son will live.” John tells us, “The man believed the word that Jesus spoke and went on his way” (John 4:50). Something seems to happen in the man. No longer is he asking for Jesus to come heal his boy, he is believing in Jesus. And as the man is going down, he meets some servants who have come to tell him that his boy is getting better. So he asks them what time it was that his son started getting better and they said that the fever left him the day before at the seventh hour and the man knew it was the same time that Jesus said, “Go, your son will live.” Thus the confirmation of this prophetic sign led his already saving faith to grow. It is not an accident that Jesus spoke and this boy was healed – like God spoke and creation. The man was born again and his son was a new creation too. He himself believed and all his household. This new creation theme is only complete in Scripture in Revelation where we see the new heavens and earth. But the royal official already belongs to that new creation. He was different from the Galileans. He truly believed in Jesus when he heard Jesus speak. Jesus is speaking to us too – in the Scriptures – and faith comes by hearing the word of God. And in those Scriptures we see signs and wonders and our saving faith grows when we see them. Thus we don’t look to Jesus for what He can do for us – we don’t use Jesus to get what we want like healing – we receive and believe in Jesus, the Messiah, who died for our sins and gives us new life. In the words of Revelation, “To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever” (Rev 5:13). Amen.