After the two days he departed for Galilee. 44 (For Jesus himself had testified that a prophet has no honor in his own hometown.) 45 So when he came to Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him, having seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the feast. For they too had gone to the feast. 46 So he came again to Cana in Galilee, where he had made the water wine. And at Capernaum there was an official whose son was ill. 47 When this man heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went to him and asked him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death. 48 So Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” 49 The official said to him, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” 50 Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way. 51 As he was going down, his servants met him and told him that his son was recovering. 52 So he asked them the hour when he began to get better, and they said to him, “Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.” 53 The father knew that was the hour when Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” And he himself believed, and all his household. 54 This was now the second sign that Jesus did when he had come from Judea to Galilee.
The first thing that would be helpful to do is to walk through this text together and point out some strange things that need to be explained.
Verse 43: Jesus has just spent two days in Samaria, and he is now leaving for Galilee. The time in Samaria was spectacularly successful. It appears that the whole town of Sychar was turning to Jesus as the Messiah and the Savior of the world. The focus there is not on his miracle-working power, but on his word. “We have heard him for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world” (John 4:42). This is a better response than anything Jesus has gotten among his own Jewish people. Strange.
Galilee is where Jesus grew up in Nazareth. About 10 miles north of Nazareth was Cana, where he turned water to wine (back in chapter 2), and about 15 miles east from Cana was Capernaum where the official with the sick son in this story lives. So Galilee is Jesus’ homeland in a special sense. He is leaving Samaria, which is not his homeland, and turning now to his own stomping grounds.
His Own Did Not Receive Him
Now here’s the first strange thing that needs explaining. Verse 44 begins with the word “for” and that means the verse is a reason for why Jesus is going to Galilee. “After the two days he departed for Galilee. 44 For Jesus himself had testified that a prophet has no honor in his own hometown.” So I take John to be saying that Jesus intentionally goes where he is less honored than in Samaria. He’s coming again to his own people knowing that they don’t understand him and don’t honor him for who he is.
This is not new. John 1:11 set the stage for this strategy: “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.” So the argument of verse 44 seems strange to us—go to a place because they will probably misunderstand you and reject you—but it was not strange to Jesus. It was part of the plan from the beginning. He intends to keep offering himself to his own, and overall his own will not receive him. This will in the end get him killed. Which is why he came.
Welcoming Without Welcoming
The second strange thing that needs explaining is the way verse 44 connects to what follows. He goes to Galilee, his own people, because he expects no honor there. Now verse 45: “So [therefore] when he came to Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him.” That isn’t what we expect. They’re supposed to dishonor him according to verse 44. How can John say, “A prophet has no honor in his own hometown, therefore they welcomed him”?
The answer is that the “welcome”—the reception—is not what it looks like on the outside. There is a kind of receiving Jesus that has no true honor for his person in it. It’s just an interest in his signs and wonders.
Believing Without Believing
This is not new in John’s Gospel. We’ve seen it before. Do you remember John 2:23–25?
Now when [Jesus] was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. 24 But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people 25 and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.
They “believed,” John says, but this was not a kind of faith that Jesus accepted. It was simply an excitement with his miracles, not what they pointed to, namely, his beauty and glory as the Son of God, the Messiah, the Savior of the World—the things that the Samaritans saw, even though the emphasis there didn’t fall on miracles, but on his word.
Even His Own Brothers Did Not Believe on Him
Another illustration of this kind of false faith, or superficial “welcoming” or “receiving” of Jesus, is his brothers in John 7:3–5,
So his brothers said to him, “Leave here and go to Judea, that your disciples also may see the works you are doing. For no one works in secret if he seeks to be known openly. If you do these things, show yourself to the world.” For not even his brothers believed in him.
So they believed he could do miracles. And they were eager for him to show these miracles to the world. But John says in verse 5, they talked like this because “even his brothers did not believe on him.” He comes to his own—his own brothers—and they do not receive him. Oh, they think they are receiving him—just like the people in Galilee think they are welcoming Jesus—but they don’t understand him. They don’t have eyes to see. And so they don’t honor him—even though they make much of him as a miracle-worker.
That’s what we are seeing in John 4:45–48, “They welcomed him.” Yes, but then it says, “Having seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the feast. For they too had gone to the feast.” They welcomed him because they had seen works of power in Jerusalem. Jesus is coming to these very people knowing this is their attitude. And when John mentions Jesus’ coming to Cana in verse 46, he draws our attention to the fact that this is the place he had done his first sign in Galilee by turning the water into wine.
Enter an Official
Now, you might think John is turning our attention away from this sign-seeking attitude of the Galileans when he tells us that the official shows up at the end of verse 46. But not right away. In fact, he is going to make his strongest indictment of the Galileans here.
And at Capernaum there was an official whose son was ill. When this man heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went to him and asked him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death. So Jesus said to him, “Unless you [plural!] see signs and wonders you [plural] will not believe.” (verses 46–48)
Sign-Seeker or Savior-Seeker?
Jesus does not address the man only. He addresses the whole group he has been talking about—the whole region of his own hometown. And now he says explicitly what we’ve been arguing. Verse 48: “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” You are sign-seekers. You are “wonder-worshipers.” You say you believe, but your belief—like those folks in Jerusalem in John 2:23 and like his brothers in John 7:5—is not real belief that honors me. We can call it belief, but it’s not the kind that unites you to me as one who sees and treasures me as the Son of God full of grace and truth. In fact, it dishonors me. So verse 48 is the most explicit indictment of all along with verse 44 that a prophet has no honor in his own home area.
But now what about this official? Was he in that crowd who believed but didn’t believe? Believed as a sign-seeker, but not as a Savior-seeker? A lover of Jesus’ power, but not a lover of his person?
Jesus Tests Him
It seems to me that Jesus is testing him. The official is asking for a miracle for his dying son in a milieu where people love to see miracles. And he seems to be asking for the same reason any unbelieving person would love to see a miracle—I have a health need, fix it. Not: I have sin, forgive it, and give me power to live for you. Unbelievers don’t love God; they use God. So Jesus bluntly says to the man—it says that Jesus said “to him” (verse 48)—that he and the other Galileans are sign-seekers: “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.”
I take it to be a test, like the time a Syrophoenician woman pleaded for help for her daughter, and Jesus at first rebuffed her, but it turned out to be a test (Mark 7:27). How does the official respond to Jesus’ rebuff?
“Go, Your Son Will Live”
He doesn’t even comment on it. He simply repeats his request. Verse 49, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” Neither Jesus nor John comments on the man’s sincerity. Jesus simply gives him a gift. Verse 50: Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live.”
John says (still in verse 50), “The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way.” What is remarkable about this is that the man had asked Jesus to come with him. But when Jesus simply spoke, “Go; your son will live,” the man obeyed without a question. He believed and went. He did not insist on seeing the miracle. He did not complain that Jesus would not come with him. And amazingly, he simply left, John says, believing. I’m inclined to think that in that moment of seeing Jesus speak so sovereignly in spite of his accusations, something awakened in the man. He saw something more than a miracle-worker.
He and His Household Believed
Then the next day we get the confirmation of the healing at the very hour when Jesus spoke the day before. And the confirmation reestablishes the man’s faith, and his household believes also.
As he was going down, his servants met him and told him that his son was recovering. So he asked them the hour when he began to get better, and they said to him, “Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.” The father knew that was the hour when Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” And he himself believed, and all his household. (verses 51–53)
A Connection with Herod?
Was his faith the mere sign-seeking kind? It doesn’t seem like it. He seems to have passed the test. And who is he? The word “official” in verses 46 and 49 is literally “royal one.” It means “connected to a king” in some way. The king-like figure over Galilee was Herod Antipas. He was a wicked man. He had married his brother’s wife and put John the
Baptist to death.
Calling this man a “royal one” or a “royal official,” John makes a connection with this court. So maybe John’s point is: Yes, this man believed. But he is more like the Samaritans than like the hometown folks whom Jesus criticizes as sign-seekers. So his faith may be an added contrast to Jesus’ “own kind” who don’t honor him.
The Main Point of the Story
So, stepping back, what is the main point of this text? What is the writer doing?
He’s doing the same thing he has been doing over and over. The main thing he is doing is showing us the greatness of Christ by this astonishing miracle; but as a part of that, John wants to help us overcome obstacles to seeing the glory of Christ in the text. The way he does this is by showing us the kinds of things that keep people from honoring Christ.
So let’s look at these two aims as they relate to us: first, the kinds of things that keep us from seeing and savoring the glory of Christ, not just his signs; and second, the miracle that he did and what it tells us about him.
What Keeps Us from Seeing Jesus’ Glory
Verse 42 tells us what stood in the way of a true understanding of Christ and a saving belief in him: “a prophet has no honor in his own hometown.” There is something about being part of Jesus’ home that hinders their faith. Now none of us is part of Jesus’ hometown. So you may think this doesn’t apply to us. But the inner sinful impulses that made it hard for his own people to receive him and honor him—those same impulses may be in us. What are some of them?
1) Pride of Attachment to Someone Special
I see three. First, the pride of attachment to someone special. A kind of vicarious sense of importance. The people could say that this great miracle-worker grew up in their town. This makes them want for him to do his miracles. So they “honor” him in that way. But why do they want him to do these miracles? Because the more he does, the more their attachment feeds their ego. They don’t see the glory of humble service. They don’t feel the need for his grace. They use him. His power and fame feeds their pride. And so they don’t honor him for who he is, even though they think they are.
This impulse is very much alive today and can infect us and keep us from knowing Christ the way he really is. We can be attached to a church, or a movement, or a music style, or a person, or a ministry in a way that starts to feed our ego. And it will seem justifiable because it’s Christian. And subtly we begin to want this Christian thing to thrive not for the glory of Christ, but because it feeds our ego. And when that happens, it becomes harder and harder to see Christ for who he really is—the one who saves by grace alone, and who calls us to lowliness and servanthood.
2) A Sense of Entitlement
A second hometown impulse that may be in us even though we are not part of Jesus’ hometown is a sense of entitlement. If he is from our town, then we get first dibs, or at least special dibs. O how this mindset is still with us and creeps into our souls. If you ever start to feel entitled in yourself to the blessings of Christ, you are falling away from grace. A sense of deservedness or entitlement will keep us from knowing Christ. We will not honor him for who he is if we slip into this mindset.
3) Over-Familiarity with Jesus
And third, almost the opposite of the first two (but that’s how devious and subtle sin is) is a sense of over-familiarity with Jesus. This man is one of us. We know his mother and his brothers. He has always been so ordinary. How can he be what he claims to be? That same mindset can be in us: We are so familiar with the Bible, and with Jesus, and with Christianity, that it can’t shock us. He can’t do anything really mind-blowingly powerful. He’s too familiar.
O how we need to guard against these three impulses in our own souls. The first two (the pride of attachment and a sense of entitlement) minimize his grace. And the third (over-familiarity) minimizes his power.
What the Miracle Tells Us About Jesus
And in conclusion, notice that this is exactly what John wants us to see in his healing of the official’s son. He wants to help us overcome these blinding impulses and see the grace and the power—the mercy and the might—of Jesus as he heals the dying boy.
1) Jesus Is Gracious
First, notice the grace of it. He heals this child in a very unbelieving atmosphere. The first thing he says to the official when he pleads for his son is, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe” (verse 48). Jesus does not commend the man or the people around him. He is provoked at the sign-seeking false faith that abounds in Galilee. And in that context, he gives the free gift of healing.
And he gives the gift to a man he’s never met, who has attachments in some way probably with the court of wicked Herod Antipas, and who says nothing about the person or the power of Jesus. He just wants him to come.
In other words, when Jesus decided to heal this boy, it was grace. He was not looking at anyone’s merit or desert. It was a free, gracious gift. “We have seen his glory full of grace and truth, and from his fullness we have received grace upon grace.” If you have the pride of attachment or a sense of entitlement, you won’t be able to see this.
2) Jesus Is Powerful
Finally, John wants us to see not only the grace of the healing, but the power of it. The boy was dying of a fever. The power of Jesus to heal is seen in the fact that he did it with a mere word. He simply said, “Go, your son will live” (verse 50). And at that one word, the physical chemistry of a boy’s body changed.
The power is seen in that distance was not hindrance. The boy was 15 miles away in Capernaum. He could have been 15,000 miles away. It would not have mattered. When Jesus speaks with authority, there are no spatial limitations to his power.
And the power of his healing is seen in the fact that it was immediate. John draws special attention to that. They say in verse 52 that he recovered in the seventh hour—1 p.m. the day before. Then John says in verse 53, “The father knew that was the hour when Jesus had said to him, ‘Your son will live.’” At the very moment Jesus spoke, it was done.
See His Glory
A dying boy healed with a word, over distance, at once. Such is the power of Jesus. Grace and power. Mercy and might.
We beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father. And from his fullness we have all received grace upon grace. May the Lord remove all pride, all entitlement, all blinding familiarity, and reveal to us the glory of the grace and power of Christ.