Teaching series from John

Faith, Experience, & God's Word

John 4:45-54

Teaching t05619

Introduction

Review "sign" definition. This is the second sign John chooses to record in detail, again because it teaches us something about Jesus and how to relate to God.

Read vs 45-47. This man, probably one of Herod's officers and maybe a Gentile, hikes the 15 miles from Capernaum to Cana because his son is "at the point of death," and because he has heard of Jesus' ability to heal. Notice that he requested that Jesus "come down (to Capernaum) to heal his son."

The ensuing conversation and sequence of events teaches something very important, emphasized over and over again in the Bible: the relationship between faith, experience, and God's Word.

The Wrong Way: Sign-Based Faith (vs 48)

Read vs 48. Jesus sounds awfully harsh! But realize that he is not speaking to the nobleman--but to the people crowded around them ("you people" >> vs 45). They had been in Jerusalem during Passover and had seen or heard that he had performed miracles. Now this man's plight gives them the opportunity to see another miracle!

Notice the wording of vs 48. Jesus is rebuking sign-based faith. This is an attitude which insists on seeing miracles (or having dramatic spiritual experiences) as a condition for faith in him. You know the mentality: "Show me a miracle/give me an experience, then I'll believe in you/follow you."

Miracles, along with other evidences (2 WEEKS), played an important accrediting role in Jesus' ministry (Acts 2:22). But they were never the main point and he did not want them to be the foundation of people's faith in him. Ironically, the greatest miracle-worker who ever lived was constantly concerned that people not exaggerate the importance of his miracles! This concern is a theme in John's gospel:

Jn. 2:23-25 Jesus knew that this kind of faith was inauthentic. Nicodemus was one such person (3:1,2), and his "faith" was inadequate for the new birth.

Jn. 12:37 For the most part, the people who witnessed Jesus' miracles did not truly believe in him. It was the same way with the Israelites who spent 40 years in the wilderness. Isn't it ironic and illuminating that the two groups who witnessed the greatest number of miracles are infamous for their unbelief? Genuine faith is not caused by a miracle; it is a choice to trust God's character.

Jn. 20:29 Though witnessing a miracle may help some come to true faith in Jesus, it is better to believe in his based on the testimony of the witnesses.

Why is this kind of faith defective? For two reasons:

It is excessively subjective. Powerful experiences and even miracles can come from other sources besides God. Our own psyche and circumstances can combine to deliver an emotional experience that is powerful and real, but wrong (FALLING IN LOVE WITH SOMEONE BESIDES YOUR SPOUSE; COMING UNDER THE CHARISMA OF A CULT LEADER; POWER OF SUGGESTION & MASS HYSTERIA IN "LAUGHTER REVIVAL")!! People can also be misled by genuine miracles from a demonic source (2 Thess. 2:9; EXAMPLES). Also, people can hype themselves up into believing that miracles have happened even when they clearly haven't (EXAMPLES). For these reasons, faith needs something more objective as a foundation.

It is ultimately self-centered. If your sole or main reason for following Jesus is the miracle or experience he gives you, if you always demand supernatural, experiential proof before you are willing to obey him--then who is the ultimate authority? You are! While healthy faith is based on sound evidence (2 WEEKS), it is willing to trust Jesus' character and follow his will even and especially in the absence of such signs. At best, this kind of faith is immature. At worst, it perverts Jesus into a COURT JESTER who must constantly perform another, more exciting trick in order to merit our attention (Herod in Lk. 23:8,9).

This is what the people of vs 45 were into--they received Jesus as a miracle-worker to be used, but not as the Messiah to be trusted. This is why Jesus objects (vs 48). When the man persists in asking Jesus to come with him and heal his son in his (and the crowds') presence (vs 49), Jesus refuses--and instead calls on him to put his faith in something else . . .

The Biblical Pattern (vs 50-53)

Notice the sequence in the following verses. They capsulize God's way . . .

Hear God's Word (vs 50a)

Read vs 50a. Jesus is saying, "No, I'm not going to do a miracle in your presence. Instead, I'm going to give you my Word alone, without any miracle: Go your way; your son lives." He precipitates a crisis in which the man must choose to take him at his word (and thus trust him personally), or not trust him.

Notice that Jesus' word had two parts: a promise ("your son lives") and a command ("go your way"). This is precisely the pattern in God's Word to us (the Bible). Throughout it, we find promises that God makes to us pertaining to a variety of important issues in life. We also find commands that are connected to these promises. These promises and commands form the proper object of our faith.

This is why it is so important for us to regularly expose ourselves to God's Word if we want our faith to grow. As we do this through teachings, personal study, etc., God's Spirit draws our attention to the promises and commands that apply to our situations and problems, and this stimulates our faith (Rom. 10:17).

Exercise Faith in God's Word (vs 50b)

Read vs 50b. John tells us the nobleman exercised faith in Jesus' word. How do we know that he trusted Jesus' promise? Because he acted on his command! What would you think about his "faith" if he had responded by saying "I believe you that my son is well--now will you come home with me to heal him?"

Here is a profile of authentic faith. It is a decision to trust God's promise for a specific issue in life, and it manifests itself by acting consistently with the command connected to that promise. EXAMPLES:

Read Jn. 4:10. Jesus promises he has a gift of living water (EXPLAIN). He is willing to give you this gift, but you must be willing to do something, too. You must be willing to ask him for it (EXPLAIN). This is how you begin a relationship with God. Have you done this?

If you are already a Christian, God continues to work with you in this same way. Not with regard to your salvation (that is permanent and secure), but with regard to your spiritual growth. As you learn his Word, he will continue to precipitate situations or call your attention to issues and then call on you to respond with faith in his Word in a specific way.

LONELINESS: Heb. 13:5; Ps. 23 >> TURN AWAY FROM SEXUAL IMMORALITY/IDOLATROUS ROMANCE, COME OUT FROM YOUR ISOLATION & CULTIVATE CHRIST-CENTERED RELATIONSHIPS

GUILT OVER PAST SINS: Col. 2:13,14; Jer. 31:34 >> QUIT BEATING SELF; CONFESS THEM TO OTHER CHRISTIANS; FORGIVE OTHERS; DRAW NEAR TO GOD WHEN FEELING GUILTY

MATERIAL ANXIETY: Matt. 6:33; Phil. 4:19 >> GIVE FINANCIALLY TO GOD'S WORK; PASS UP PROMOTION/JOB WHICH TAKES YOU AWAY FROM GROWTH & MINISTRY

FEAR IN MINISTRY: Acts 1:8; Phil. 4:13 >> STEP OUT IN FEAR & TREMBLING TO WITNESS, ENCOURAGE, CONFRONT, etc.

      WARNING: If you're like me, you will probably want God to "give you a sign" (do a miracle; grant an experience) before you step out in faith to act. Sometimes he may do this, but normally he will not. Rather, as with this man, he will simply give you his Word alone and call on you to act on it. This is something very personal between you and the Lord. You will most likely feel afraid and weak and part of you will argue that you'd be crazy to trust God with this. But it is these decisions that make such a difference in our spiritual growth . . .

Experience Confirmation of God's Word (vs 51-53)

Misread vs 51,52: " . . . I know--you don't need to tell me. My son was healed at the seventh hour . . . " No! Read vs 51b-53 correctly. It is clear that the nobleman had considerable doubt as he left Jesus and headed home. He was surprised and amazed to discover that his son had been healed at the very time that Jesus gave him his word. Although he believed (vs 50) enough to head home, now he believes (vs 53) in a stronger way than he did before.

This is God's way for us. REVIEW SEQUENCE. He delights in giving us experiential confirmation of his Word--but he normally gives this as a result of our choice to trust him and act consistently (REVIEW ABOVE EXAMPLES). These experiences are wonderful, and we should rejoice over them.

Why is it that, over the course of a year, some Christians report experiencing God's confirmation in perhaps several areas of their lives--while others complain that "God isn't doing anything" in their lives? Why is it that some of us can remember God confirming our faith in the past, but we haven't seen him doing this lately? Usually (not always, but very often) the reason is embarrassingly simple: we haven't been willing to respond in faith to God's Word in the specific, concrete areas in which he has been calling us to do this.

If this describes you, ask God to show you where you are holding back--agreeing in advance to trust him. As he does so, step out--and you'll experience his confirmation!! Things can turn around quite quickly . . .

Even more wonderful is the gradually deepening confidence in God's faithfulness as we build our own personal history with him in this way in area after area of our lives.

What level of confidence do you want to have 5,10 years from now? Do you realize that you are either building in that direction (or in the other direction) by how you respond to the steps of faith God is asking you to take today?