A young mother who had rebelled against God and her Christian upbringing wrote these words: ‘On January 5, 2009, there by my daughter’s grave site, I asked Jesus into my heart. I prayed with a pastor of a local church we had never really been a part of. I had thought about God a lot since that day Taylor left this earth. The moment came at the burial, where I thought, this is it! I need God right now! At that moment it all came to me, Taylor was sent here from God, to change my life, my husband’s life and my entire family’s life.[i]
There is nothing like life and death situations that cause us to rethink life. Crisis is one of the most fundamental means that helps bring us to a realization that we are weak and needy. Ultimately it can bring us to a faith in Christ that leads to lasting transformation.
Armies and hospitals have chaplains, while political victory parties and Academy Award celebrations don’t. Why not? Because hospitals and battlefields offer a clear view of death, while celebrations obscure it.
Death serves to draw our attention to what really matters – the state of our souls, and the God and people who will outlast this life. Death is a wake-up call, a reminder that our time here is fleeting and everyone’s going to die.[ii]
We are reminded from Scripture that the day of death is better than the day of birth (Ecclesiastes 7:1b). What this means is that the challenges that a person has faced in life have now been concluded, whereas on the day of birth, the challenges are still before them. The writer then continues to remind his readers that we need to take the end of our lives seriously.
It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart.[iii]
In our culture we do everything we can to avoid the reality of death. Yet, this unwanted intruder eventually shatters all our worlds. The bible takes a different view. Death is the final enemy that Christ came to defeat. Death can be a compass to recalibrate our bearings in this life. Often, we avoid the issue and don’t take it into consideration. We become engaged, as if this life is the only life. The seduction of our society’s prosperity dulls us from the ultimate reality. God spoke through His prophets to warn against becoming indifferent towards Him because of the good life. An example of this kind of warning is found in the book of Hosea.
When I fed them, they were satisfied; when they were satisfied, they became proud; then they forgot me.[iv]
The temptation to forget God when life is good is always before us. So, when trials come, when struggles challenge us, we need to mature to the place where we see them not as enemies but as allies to help us grow in our faith in God. Too many people question God when bad things happen to them. They wonder if God is punishing them or if God has disappeared, or worse yet, if God really cares. The bible paints a different picture of trials. Rather than being seen as a negative, they are seen in a positive manner.
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.
Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.[v]
What is James telling us? That trials, difficulties, challenges, and crisis are God’s tools to strengthen our faith, to mature it and complete it so that we don’t lack anything.
Randy Alcorn reminds us: “To hate suffering is easy; to hate sin is not.”[vi] The natural man draws back from suffering and embraces sin, whereas as we grow in our faith life, we begin to see the value of the struggles that cause us to see this life as it really is. The spiritual man sees the nature of sin as it really is; to see past sin’s seductions and realize the depths of despair that it produces.
Suffering, when embraced with the right attitude, can have amazing results. Peter in his first letter explains one benefit of suffering.
Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because whoever suffers in the body is done with sin.
As a result, they do not live the rest of their earthly life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God.[vii]
Here in our text today we find a man coming to Jesus because his family was in crisis. How many can relate to that? How many can say it was a personal crisis that brought them to Jesus? I can say that for myself. My brokenness and sin brought me to Jesus for forgiveness, healing, and a purpose beyond myself. Crisis still brings me to Jesus.
The main purpose of John’s gospel is to bring us face-to-face with Jesus and what happens when we encounter Him in the various circumstances of life. Crisis can help us realize who He is and what He has come to bring us; a new life.
Earlier in John 4, we find Jesus ministering to a community in Samaria that absolutely embraced Him as their Savior. The incident ends with the testimony of the people from the town of Sychar.
They said to the woman, ‘We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.[viii]
John now brings us back to Jesus’ ministry among the Jewish people in our text. We read in the next verse the beginning of our text:
After two days he left for Galilee.
(Now Jesus himself had pointed out that a prophet has no honor in his own country.)
When he arrived in Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him. They had seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, for they also had been there.[ix]
In the background to this incident we find an interesting comment about the attitude that Jesus is about to encounter in Galilee. Jesus has just left Samaria, where an entire village embraced him as the Messiah, the one who came to save the world. What we are about to witness is another significant miracle that happens while in Cana that leaves us with a challenge. Here in our text today we find some powerful steps that lead from crisis to transformation.
THE FIRST STEP IN TRANSFORMATION IN CRISIS IS THAT IT’S DESIGNED TO BRING US TO CHRIST
Difficulties, pressures and disturbing situations can paralyze us from doing anything or they can cause us to turn whole-heartedly to Jesus. John Maxwell in a message entitled ‘What to do in Crisis’ points out how often our emotions take over.
We’ve all succumbed to our emotions at one point or another, and we will again – probably soon. You’re emotionally hooked when your emotions are in control, when you can no longer think logically.[x]
Surrendering to our emotions in panic mode does not bring about healthy solutions to our crisis. So what should we do? Our first response should be to turn to Jesus, casting our pain, our confusion and our hurt over to Him.
Peter reminds us when we are tested, to turn to God and not let our emotions go unchecked. Rather than struggle, the suffering in the tests are designed to make us strong in our faith.
Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.
Be alert and sober minded. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.
Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.
And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.[xi]
What seemed like it was created to destroy us was designed to make us stronger. Trials exercise our faith and develop spiritual strength. It is interesting in our text that this is the results that occurred in this royal official’s life when he realized that his son was dying. John tells us that when this man heard that Jesus was in the vicinity, he quickly went to where Jesus was.
Once more he visited Cana in Galilee, where he had turned the water into wine. And there was a certain royal official whose son lay sick at Capernaum.[xii]
Capernaum is about twenty-five miles from Cana. We learn from John that a royal official hears that Jesus is nearby. Rather than send a servant, he is so concerned about the condition of his son who was dying, that he made the trip himself. He came to Jesus to beg him to come and heal his son.
We also need to understand that not all crisis leads to faith. For some, crisis produces only despair and distrust. When our focus is only on the problem and we don’t move past the pain, then we remain where we are at. What we need to do is to get our eyes off the problem and ourselves and begin to look to Jesus for the answer.
We tend to resist change unless a number of factors impact our lives. I remember years ago, John Maxwell pointing out the three elements that motivate change in a person’s life.
1. We learn enough that it empowers us to change.
2. We hurt enough that it motivates us to change.
3. We grow enough that we’re able to change.
Pain is a powerful motivator to bring about change in our lives. So, how do we come to Jesus?
A. Prayer is the first step away from the problem and the pain that ultimately brings us to a place of surrender to Jesus.
As we are about to see, this man is motivated because of the crisis to move outside his comfort zone. He was desperate and it brought about an amazing change, not only to his son but to his entire family.
When this man heard that Jesus had arrived in Galilee from Judea, he went to him and begged him to come and heal his son, who was close to death.[xiii]
John is focusing in on Jesus coming to the area. In telling us the story, John gives us a clue to where the emphasis should lie. In the story in Greek, certain verbs are in the active present which gives the reader the clue that this is an emphasis. The fact that Jesus had come is a key idea. We could say that when Jesus comes on the scene, we can expect something to happen. That is true in our lives too. We know God is ever-present, but when we become aware of His presence in our lives and situation, amazing things happen.
The man comes to Jesus, and we read that he starts begging Jesus to come and heal his son. The verb beg here is in a tense that implies a repeated and persistent action. There is a sense of desperation in this man’s petition. What strikes me in so many of the stories of Jesus’ miracles in people’s lives is the persistence that some of them demonstrated. Their faith was in Jesus to do what was desired. What we need to understand is that faith in God makes what is impossible, possible. God is moved by faith, because faith pleases him.
And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.[xiv]
This is similar to the incident recorded in Matthew’s gospel of a Canaanite woman whose daughter is tormented by demons. Jesus’ silence doesn’t deter her, rather she continues to press for a favorable answer. How do we handle the silences of God? Do we give up or does it cause us to persist? Notice this woman’s response to the silence of Christ. She keeps crying out for help.
Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, ‘Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.[xv]
His answer to them and her was that He was not sent but to the lost sheep of Israel. However, the woman came to him and would not take no for an answer. Why? Because she was desperate. Crisis is a vehicle that can bring out amazing faith in us.
The woman came and knelt before him. ‘Lord, help me! she said.’[xvi]
Once again Jesus refused to do anything for her.
He replied, ‘It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.’[xvii]
What Jesus was saying was that healing was a covenantal provision for God’s people, and she was an outsider. She did not have that as a grounds to petition Jesus for this miracle for her daughter. So how did she respond to this refusal? Once again she persisted and made a case for Christ to answer in a positive way. It is not that we manipulate God, but God is moved by our confidence and faith in Him. Persistence in prayer is one measure of that genuine faith that finds its hope in God.
Yes it is, Lord, ‘she said. ‘Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’[xviii]
So what was the result? What happened to her in her crisis?
Then Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.’ And her daughter was healed at that very moment.[xix]
B. So what is Jesus’ response to this Royal Official?
Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders,’ Jesus told him, ‘you will never believe.’[xx]
Jesus is concerned about what is motivating the people who are coming to him for healing, rather than trying to understand what the healing is really communicating. Here we see that John is making a comparison between the response of the Samaritans and that of the Jewish people living in Galilee.
The welcome of the Galileans displayed was so dependent on miracles (unlike the faith of the Samaritans!) Therefore on visiting Cana and being petitioned to perform a healing, Jesus detects in the royal official a welcome and a faith that desires a cure but that does not truly trust him. Indeed, the royal official, in Jesus’ view, exemplifies what is wrong with the Galileans as a whole: Jesus’ rebuke (v. 48) is in the plural, addressed to the people at large.[xxi]
In other words, the royal official’s desire and want for a miracle is motivating him, but once his desire or want is met, will it address the greater need in his life? Will this miracle bring him to faith in Jesus as the Savior of his soul? Will he come to serve Jesus not for what he can receive from him, but because of who Jesus is? That is the question that Jesus is raising, not only to him and to the people that live in the province of Galilee, but also to us. Why are we serving Him? Do we serve Him for what we get out of it or because of who Jesus is? Will we serve Him at whatever cost to ourselves? Do we have a superficial or a genuine faith? Trials have a way of answering that question.
Like the Canaanite woman, the royal official persists in his petition in spite of the rebuke. He is in a desperate situation.
The royal official said, ‘Sir, come down before my child dies.’[xxii]
Here we see that this son is actually a child. There is nothing that moves the heart of a caring parent than to see their children suffering. Here this young child was dying. The father was desperate. Love is a powerful motivation. This man’s only hope was Jesus and he wasn’t taking a setback as an answer.
Persistence in prayer is seen as a powerful expression of faith.
THE SECOND STEP IN TRANSFORMATION IN CRISIS IS THAT IT BRINGS US TO FAITH IN GOD’S WORD
Will we act in obedience upon God’s word. It is only as we put our trust in what God has to say that we’ll really see faith grow in our lives. We know that faith comes from hearing God’s word.
Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message and the message is heard through the word of Christ.[xxiii]
Jesus now challenges this official to act out in faith. Here this man had come to bring Jesus to Capernaum in order for Jesus to heal his son. Jesus has challenged his faith, and does so again by sending him away with the promise of his son’s healing.
‘Go,’ Jesus replied, ‘your son will live.’[xxiv]
Merrill Tenney brings out the possible conflicting emotion of the Father.
By dismissing the official with the statement that his son was alive, Jesus created a dilemma of faith. If the father refused to return to Capernaum without taking Jesus with him, he would show that he did not believe Jesus’ word and would consequently receive no benefit because of his distrust. On the other hand, if he followed Jesus’ order, he would be returning to the dying boy with no outward assurance that the lad would recover. He was forced to make the difficult choice between insisting on evidence and thus showing disbelief and of exercising faith without any tangible proof to encourage him.[xxv]
Other writers take a different approach and state the fact that the father left was an expression of his confidence in Jesus’ word. What we see is that this official chose to take Jesus at his word and acted upon that word.
The man took Jesus at his word and departed.[xxvi]
That is the challenge for us today. We must take God at His word. When there is no evidence that anything has changed in our situation, how will we respond? How will we respond when everything points in the opposite direction in our crisis? What will we do?’ Will we succumb to our fears? Or will we stand on God’s word?
While he was still on the way, his servants met him with the news that this boy was living.[xxvii]
Here we find the final emphasis of John in the story. The boy lived. Yet, the use of the word that is translated in John is generally translated as eternal life. Craig Keener points out that he makes an exception here. He raises the question: “Is it possible that John intends the restoration of life here as an allusion to Christ’s gift of eternal life?”[xxviii]
Not only was the father relieved with the news about his son but he was very interested in knowing the exact time of his improvement.
When he inquired as to the time when his son got better, they said to him, ‘Yesterday, at one in the afternoon, the fever left him.’
Then the father realized that this was the exact time at which Jesus had said to him, ‘Your son will live.’[xxix]
What was the result of this information?
So he and his whole household believed.
This was the second sign Jesus performed, after coming from Judea to Galilee.[xxx]
This miracle was designed to help this man and his family come to a life-transforming faith in Christ. Our crises are designed to strengthen our faith in God. We can see a positive outcome here that led to faith, but what happens when what we desire doesn’t materialize? How do we handle it when things don’t improve, or they get worse? How do we handle those moments? How do we handle those trials like Job where God seems distant and we don’t understand what is happening? The trial is still designed to bring us to Jesus. Job had an encounter with God that changed his understanding of God and ultimately changed him.
How many of you are going through a great trial? What to do? Run to Jesus! Persist in your cry! Despite setbacks, silences, and discouraging circumstances, persist. The result will be a stronger faith and a transformed life.
[i] Randy Alcorn, If God is Good: Faith in the Midst of Suffering and Evil, (Colorado Springs, Co: Multnomah Books, 2009), 404.
[iii] Ecclesiastes 7:2, the New International Version of the Bible, Zondervan, 2011.
[iv] Hosea 13:6.
[v] James 1:2-4.
[vi] Randy Alcorn, If God is Good: Faith in the Midst of Suffering and Evil, 405.
[vii] 1 Peter 4:1-2.
[viii] John 4:42.
[ix] John 4:43-45.
[x] John Maxwell, What to do in a Crisis, tape from the Injoy Life Club Vol. 9, no. 6.
[xi] 1 Peter 5:7-10.
[xii] John 4:46.
[xiii] John 4:47.
[xiv] Hebrew 11:6.
[xv] Matthew 15:23.
[xvi] Matthew 15:25.
[xvii] Matthew 15:26.
[xviii] Matthew 15:27.
[xix] Matthew 15:28.
[xx] John 4:48.
[xxi] Don Carson, The Gospel According to John, (Grand Rapids, Mi: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1991), 236.
[xxii] John 4:49.
[xxiii] Romans 10:17.
[xxiv] John 4:50a.
[xxv] Merrill Tenney, John and Acts, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 9, (Grand Rapids, Mi: Zondervan, 1981), 60.
[xxvi] John 4:50b.
[xxvii] John 4:51.
[xxviii] Craig Keener, The Gospel of John: A Commentary, Vol. 1., (Grand Rapids, Mi: Baker Academic, 2003), 633.
[xxix] John 4:52-53a.
[xxx] John 4:53b-54.