Signs of Jesus from the Gospel of John

Jesus Heals a Royal Official's Son

John 4:45-54

Teaching t09862


We’re in the second week of a series on seven miracles in the Gospel of John. The Gospel of John is the fourth book of the New Testament, and John was a disciple of Jesus, eye-witness of these events, and author of 5 New Testament books. John organizes the first half of his gospel (chapters 1-12) around seven miracles performed by Jesus.

These miracles are “shallow enough for babies to wade in, but deep enough for elephants to drown in.” Their basic account of how Jesus supernaturally met real people’s physical and social needs is simple and easy to grasp. But they are also profound “signs”—symbolic acts pointing beyond themselves to Jesus' divinity and designed to lead us to faith in Jesus so he meet our deepest spiritual needs (see Jn. 20:30,31). Let’s see how this works with the second miracle, in which Jesus heals a royal official’s son . . .

The Miracle

Read 4:45,46a. Jesus had gone down to Jerusalem for Passover, and has now returned to Cana of Galilee.

Read 4:46b,47. This man is probably one of Herod Antipas’ administrators, headquartered in Capernaum about 20 miles away. He asks Jesus to go home with him and heal his son (laying hands on?).

Read 4:48-50. Jesus seems to say “No,” the official repeats his request, and Jesus says “Yes” in a way he had expected.

Read 5:51-53. The man realizes that his son got well at the exact time that Jesus said “Yes.” As a result, he and his servants believe in Jesus (as the Messiah).

So much for the miracle—what is the “sign?” Like the first miracle, this is a highly compressed account with no overt explanation of its deeper meaning. But if we closely at the text itself and at its context, we get the clues we need. Actually, I see two distinct lessons.

The “Sign” – Lesson #1: Who Jesus is

This miracle forms the conclusion of this section of John, which begins and ends with a miracle in Cana. John evidently wants us to compare these two miracles and learn something from this comparison.

There are certain striking similarities. As we saw, both miracles take place in Cana. Both occur on “the third day”. In both miracles, Jesus initially responds negatively to the request for help. In both miracles, servants are among the few who witness what Jesus has done.

But there are also significant differences. While the occasion of the first miracle is a wedding (joy & festivity), the occasion of the second miracle is a critical illness (anxiety & desperation). Notice also the difference in the kinds of people for whom Jesus performs the miracle. The first is for a Jewish couple who are presumably poor, (because they ran out of wine). The second is for a man who is probably a Gentile and who is rich (has servants). In fact, this conversation with the royal official is the third conversation recorded between these two miracles—first with a male Jewish religious leader (Nicodemus), next with a female half-Jewish prostitute (woman at the well), and now with a fully Gentile administrator. In each case, Jesus presents himself as their Savior.

The first lesson, then, is about who Jesus is. Jesus is the Savior of all people in all of life’s situations. No matter who you are or what your situation is, Jesus cares about you and can help.

The “Sign” – Lesson #2: What belief in Jesus is

But there is another lesson here—a lesson that helps us understand what it means to believe in Jesus. Note 4:48. This is directed not to the official, but to the people who had crowded around him (“you people”). They had seen Jesus perform miracles in Jerusalem and claimed to believe in him (2:23)—but Jesus objects to and reproves this kind of faith as no faith at all. In his treatment of the royal official and the official’s response, we are introduced to a different kind of faith—the kind Jesus is looking for, the kind of faith that results in having life through him. We can call these “pseudo-faith” and “genuine faith.” Let’s take a closer look to understand the difference.


It is important to realize that both kinds of faith are preceded by evidence. Jesus wasn’t calling on them to exercise blind faith. They had all seen or heard about the miracles he had been performing at the wedding in Cana and at Jerusalem (4:45).

But this wasn’t enough. When they hear the royal official’s request (4:47b), they crowd around Jesus to see yet another miracle. They evidently approved of the man’s request (“Come down and heal my son in person.”), and are ready to follow Jesus and the official all the way to Capernaum to see it.

Jesus’ complaint/reproof is that their “faith” is really a demand/threat: “Unless we keep on seeing miracles, we won’t entrust ourselves to you.” I’m sure you’re familiar with this kind of “faith.” Maybe you have had it yourself (ME: “If you’re there, prove it by doing a miracle/giving me what I want right now.”). Maybe you know people who have it right now (STUDENT: “I’m unwilling to consider Jesus unless you can counter all of my objections to my complete satisfaction.” SCIENTIST: “I will never believe in Jesus’ resurrection unless you can give me irrefutable, laboratory proof that Jesus was raised from the dead.”).

At any rate, because this is their attitude, Jesus refuses to cooperate with their demand. They’ve seen enough, the show is over—and they go home disappointed and (probably) disgruntled with Jesus. (We will see this theme again and again in John’s gospel.)

Why does Jesus reject “pseudo-faith?”

It is insincere. It claims to be willing to believe if only it gets enough evidence —but in fact it is demanding certainty. Faith by definition is a decision to trust someone, which presumes a lack of absolute certainty. This “faith” actually demands the eradication of all uncertainty before being willing to trust—which is not trust at all. That’s why no amount of evidence was enough for these people (Jn. 12:37).

It is inconsistent. We don’t operate this way in other important areas of life. When we get sufficient evidence, we make a decision to trust (MEDICAL CARE; FINANCIAL INVESTMENT). Why should the rules change when we’re dealing with God/Jesus and spirituality—especially since Jesus is offering to give us a great gift—not take something from us?

It is irreverent. When taken to an extreme, it is unwilling in principle to bow to God. If God exists, we should be willing in principle to bow to him if he reveals himself to us (Jn. 7:17). This reverses the proper role between us and God, and perverts Jesus into a court jester to entertain and serve us, rather than bowing to him as the Messiah who is to be revered and served. Jesus will always refuse to play this role—not only because it falsifies who he is, but also because it would reinforce the most serious problem in our lives.

What is the alternative? What is “genuine faith?” We see an illustration of its main ingredients in the interaction between Jesus and the royal official.

Like the crowd, this man already has evidence that Jesus is the Messiah. He has at least heard from reliable witnesses of the miracles Jesus has been performing.

But when he asks Jesus to come back with him to heal his son in his presence, Jesus refuses. Instead, Jesus gives this man his word (read 4:50a): “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 puts the man in a position where he has to choose whether or not he will personally trust Jesus’ word.

Note carefully the two ingredients of Jesus’ word: a promise (“your son lives”) and a command (“go your way”). These are the same two ingredients found in God’s Word to us (the Bible), as we will soon see.

Read 4:50b. How do we know the man believed Jesus promise about his son? Because he acted on Jesus’ command and started home. 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?”

Read 5:51-53. If the man already believed Jesus (4:50b)—why does it say in 4:53 that he believed? Because his original faith has now been strengthened and deepened by this experiential confirmation of Jesus’ word.

So what? So this is the way the Bible says God deals with each of us. This the way we begin a relationship with Jesus and the way we grow in our relationship with Jesus.

Beginning a relationship with Jesus follows this same pattern.

First, Jesus will give you some evidence that he is real and true. This evidence can vary widely according to what is most compelling to you (EXAMPLES: changed life of friend or family-member; quality of love relationships among Christians; someone “like you” who comes to Christ; uniqueness of grace vs. religions; historical accuracy; scientific plausibility; predictive prophecy in the Bible; multiple exposures to the gospel). Often the timing is significant, because this evidence pops us after you call out to God. Usually, several lines of evidence begin to converge.

When Jesus knows you’ve got sufficient evidence, he will call you to believe in his Word. Just like this sign, his Word will contain both a promise and a command. Take Jn. 1:12; 4:10; Rev. 3:20 (what’s the promise/command?). You may feel, “I don’t know—I’m not totally sure—I’d like to know more before I take this step.” You will likely have conflicting thoughts and feelings—fear of what certain people might say, how your life may change, etc. But after you’ve had the evidence Jesus knows is sufficient for you, he won’t give you any more—he’ll call on you to believe. The ball is in your court at that point . . .

Then, once you entrust yourself to Jesus, he will give you experiential confirmation that he is real and true. It may be a sense of cleansing from guilt; it may be a deep-down sense that you have made the right decision; it may be a re-sensitized conscience; it may be a dramatic and emotional encounter with God; it may that God’s Word comes alive to you; etc. It will likely be many of these things over a short period of time. It will be what Jesus knows you need to confirm that you made the right decision!

Are you at the point where you need to take this step of faith to receive Christ? Is God tugging at your heart and calling you of this? If so, it won’t get any easier than it is right now. Waiting won’t get you more evidence. And if you wind up receiving Christ later, the first thing you’ll wish is that you’d made that decision when you first realized it was time. Go for it!

Growing in your relationship with Jesus follows this exact same pattern.

If you want your faith to grow, you have to get into God’s Word (Rom. 10:17). The word provides the vocabulary of God’s personal guidance—it enables you to recognize his voice and shows you how to respond in faith.

As you begin to learn the Bible, God will personally relate his Word to specific issues in your life. He will draw your attention to a certain promise and call on you to express your trust in that by taking an active step. I call this a “scary step of faith.” It’s scary precisely because you haven’t yet experienced God’s faithfulness here yet; you’re acting according to his will by faith alone.

When you take this step, then you experience the exciting fulfillment of God’s promise in your life. And this in turn deepens your overall trust in God—setting the stage for another round just like this in another area . . .

2 EXAMPLES: confessing sin & healing; witnessing & empowering

How deep do you want your faith to be 5-10 years from now? What is the step God is asking you to take today?

Next: Jesus heals a paralyzed man

Copyright 2004 Gary DeLashmutt