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The Word Heals
Summer Quarter: Partners in a New Creation
Unit 2: The Word: The Agent of Creation
Sunday school lesson for the week of July 10, 2022
By Dr. Jay Harris
Lesson Scripture: John 4:46-54
The Signs that Call Us to Believe
There are two emphases in this unit: 1) the Word as the agent of creation, and 2) the power of believing the Word. We learned last week that all who receive the Word and believe in his name, he gives “power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12-13) In this verse, John was contrasting our natural birth to being born of God. Our natural birth is how we get into this world. To be born of God, then, represents a divine rebirth. We are born again.
Today’s lesson deals with how we come to believe in the Word made flesh. How did the people believe in Jesus when he came to dwell among them? How did they come to believe that he was more than just an ordinary man? An important word that we will consider in this lesson is the word “sign.”
The Need Beyond the Immediate Need
Today’s lesson begins with a man with an immediate, urgent need that he will ask Jesus to meet. By the end of the story, Jesus will meet his meet immediate need and much more than that. “Then [Jesus] came again to Cana in Galilee where he had changed the water into wine. Now there was a royal official whose son lay ill in Capernaum.
” (John 4:46)
It would be good to remember what Jesus did the first time he was in Cana of Galilee as recorded in the second chapter of John. Jesus attended a wedding, and at some point, Jesus’ mother came to him and told him that the wine had run out. Jesus asked his mother what this had to do with the two of them. He told her that his hour had not yet come. Up until that point, it had not been the right time to draw attention to himself. At that moment, however, Jesus did decide to do something about the wine, even though it was guaranteed to draw a lot of attention. He turned water into wine. We say this was Jesus’ first miracle. John refers to miracles like these as “signs.” According to John, this would be the first of what was to be a series of signs. The sign “revealed his glory” and “his disciples believed in him.” (John 2:11)
So, Jesus found himself back in Cana of Galilee where he had performed his first sign. This new story began with a royal official, whose son lay ill in Capernaum. “When he heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went and begged him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death.
” (John 4:47) The man begged Jesus to come to Capernaum because he believed that Jesus could heal his son.
Since the man already appeared to believe that Jesus could heal his son, what Jesus said next must have addressed something about belief in a larger sense. “Then Jesus said to him, ‘Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.’
” (John 4:48) Jesus not only wants the man to believe that Jesus can heal his son, Jesus wants the man to believe in Jesus for needs the man has beyond the illness of his son. There is an immediate need and a much larger need beyond his immediate need. Healing the man’s son will serve as a sign and a wonder to call forth a deeper level of believing.
Believing Begets Believing
“The official said to him, “Sir, come down before my little boy dies.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and started on his way.
” (John 4:49-50) Jesus did not have to travel to Capernaum to heal the official’s son. Jesus did not have to be physically present to offer healing. Jesus simply told the man to go back to his son and his son would live. The father of this gravely ill boy did not argue with Jesus and beg him to go to Capernaum with him. The man understood that Jesus was not brushing him off. The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him, and he proved it by starting on his way. Notice that Jesus had not engaged in a long conversation with this father about faith. Jesus did not ask if he believed. Jesus was not looking for the right verbal response. The only response needed was for the man to obey Jesus’ directive to go – to leave for Capernaum where the official’s son was.
“As he was going down, his slaves met him and told him that his child was alive. So he asked them the hour when he began to recover, and they said to him, ‘Yesterday at one in the afternoon the fever left him.’
” (John 4:51-52) After this father heard the wonderful news that his child was alive, he asked about the time of day his son began to recover. He was inquiring about the connection between the word Jesus spoke to him and his son’s recovery. “The father realized that this was the hour when Jesus had said to him, ‘Your son will live.’
” (John 4:53) This confirmed some things for the father. Jesus’ physical touch upon his son was not required to heal his son. The healing Jesus offered was conveyed by Jesus’ word of confirmation that his son would be healed. The only faith response that had been required of the father was the action of leaving Jesus in Cana of Galilee and returning in hope to Capernaum. “So he himself [the official] believed, along with his whole household.
” (John 4:53)
When the scripture says at this point in the story that the father believed, it is after he had already believed that Jesus would heal his son. It seems to be that the father is believing something else about Jesus. The father is believing in
Jesus – all of what Jesus and others are saying about him. The father was putting his faith in Jesus, God’s Messiah and God’s Son. Believing begets believing. Believing that Jesus could heal his son led to this father believing that there is a lot more to Jesus than this single act of healing. Jesus is someone a man could follow his whole life—must follow.
Not only did this official believe in Jesus, his whole household professed their belief. A household might contain multiple generations of the family, servants, and associates. The members of the household had not been present when the official encountered Jesus. Nevertheless, the belief of this official was contagious. Witnessing the boy being restored to life was a contagious experience. Think how incredible it was that the whole household of a royal official now professed to believe in Jesus. Believing begets believing.
The Power of Signs
“Now this was the second sign that Jesus did after coming from Judea to Galilee.
” (John 4:54) Notice that John counts the signs. John’s gospel lifts up seven signs. Toward the end of his gospel, John admits that “Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may continue to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30-31) At the end of his gospel, John went on to suppose that if every one of the amazing things Jesus did were written down, “the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” (John 21:25)
So, we understand that the listing of seven signs is a curated list. Seven is the number symbolizing perfection in the Jewish understanding. The seven signs are:
- Transforming water into wine (2:1-2)
- Healing the official’s son at a distance from Cana (4:46-54)
- Healing the paralytic at Bethesda (5:1-15)
- Multiplying fish and loaves (6:1-15)
- Walking upon the sea of Galilee (6:16-21)
- Healing the blind man in Jerusalem (9:1-41)
- Raising Lazarus from the dead (11:1-53)
John’s stated purpose in selecting the seven is so that we may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through believing, we may have life in his name.
What is this business about signs? Haven’t you ever wanted a sign? Haven’t you ever wanted God to make himself known in your circumstances? In Isaiah 64:1, the prophet cries out, “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down.” Somewhere along the way, God has shown up in your life in a way that testifies to his existence. There are times in your life in which the love of God has been made real to you.
A sign is something that points beyond itself to something greater. The signs in John have been called “sign-acts” because they are signs given in the form of special acts that Jesus performed. The sign-acts in John point beyond themselves to Jesus himself. A sign opens us up to experience something greater. In the case of the official whose son was healed, his son’s healing was a sign that led the official to believe in Jesus himself and begin to experience all that Jesus offers. We say that seeing is believing, but it is also true that believing is seeing. A sign is something we see, but once we begin believing we are ushered into a reality in which we are able to see and experience a whole lot more. Believing begets more believing. Believing is seeing.
The Limitation of Signs
In John’s gospel, in the sixth chapter, there is a cautionary word given by Jesus about the limitation of signs. The chapter begins with Jesus feeding 5,000-plus people with five barley loaves and two fish. When the crowd approached Jesus the next day, he knew they had been looking for him. He said, “You are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate your fill of the loaves.” They were hungry again and wanted Jesus to perform the same miracle he had done the day before. Jesus said, “Do not work for the food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.” (John 6:26-27)
They didn’t understand what Jesus was saying. Jesus knew that if they missed the point of the sign that was given the day before, they were not going to get it if Jesus fed them again. They said, “What sign are you going to give us, then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing?” (John 6:30) They weren’t satisfied, so they wanted Jesus to feed them again. They even pointed out that during the time of Moses, God provided manna on a daily basis. Couldn’t Jesus match Moses?
Then Jesus said that it was not Moses who gave their ancestors the bread from heaven. It is Jesus’ Father who offers the true bread from heaven. The bread of God comes from heaven and gives life to the world. The people said that this sounded like the bread they wanted, and they wanted this bread to be provided for the rest of their lives. That’s when Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” (John 6:32-35)
The people had a physical hunger for bread and a spiritual hunger for signs of God. The satisfaction that bread gives does not last. The satisfaction that a miraculous sign gives is just as short-lived. The value of a sign, any sign of God, is that it points to the Word made flesh. We will never be satisfied with signs if we do not take a leap of faith and embrace Jesus and all that the true bread of life offers. It is true that we have a spiritual hunger for signs of God, but our true hunger and thirst is for God himself as revealed in Jesus Christ through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
The Word Experienced Both from Far and Near
Jesus had a reason for staying in Cana in Galilee and not leaving to go to Capernaum to heal the official’s son. Jesus knew that he could heal the man’s son from a distance. Jesus used the father’s obedience to head to Capernaum as the means through which Jesus acted in the life of the man’s son. Distance is no barrier to Jesus. The action of Jesus’ love was manifested in Capernaum in the body of the boy and brought about his recovery from near death. Furthermore, the sign which originated from Cana of Galilee brought about the belief of an entire household in Capernaum.
The reign of the risen Christ originates today from heaven, but through faith in him, his divine life is manifested in our daily lives here on earth. Distance is no barrier to Jesus. The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us 2,000 years ago, but in countless ways, the Word continues to be enfleshed in the lives of believers.
Dear God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son performed signs to point beyond the signs to himself. Move us to use all the means of grace available to see and feel your presence in our daily lives so we may embrace the Word made flesh and grow in grace and knowledge, through Christ our Lord who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever, Amen.
Dr. Jay Harris serves as the Assistant to the Bishop for Ministerial Services for the South Georgia Conference. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find his plot-driven guide to reading the Bible, the “Layered Bible Journey,” at www.layeredbiblejourney.com.