Summary: Jesus’ signs demand faith even when he provides no miracle.
I love the idea of magic. And I’m fascinated by science fiction – I think because it seems to bring magic into real life. When the situation is desperate – Captain Kirk is being choked by a Klingon while on a planet in the final convulsions before its cataclysmic explosion – “Beam me up!” he says and instantly he is rescued. My problems rarely are resolved by transporter beams, but on Star Trek they are.
It also seems to me that all children love magic. From Harry Potter to Peter Pan, there is something about the ability to overrule the rules which grips the imagination.
Jesus’ miracles seem something like the magic in children’s literature. He uses them carefully and in a limited way, and always and only for good. And his miracles capture the imaginations of the people – they are drawn by the hope of a solution to all their problems. But though his works are real, he is not always pleased with our reaction to them. A miraculous healing drives the action in our text today – but the real story is the response of faith. [Read John 4.43-54. Pray.]
It would appear that we (as a people) do not handle miracles particularly well.
Pastor Rodney Parsley, Founder of the World Harvest Church in Columbus, Ohio, was told by God to “build one of the greatest ministries in America.” The church now has attendance in the tens of thousands and a staff of 400. He tells this story about a Pastor Smith Wigglesworth who was preaching a revival in a small town. While there, he stayed in the home of a couple, the wife attended the church, but the husband did not. As the revival meetings ended, the lady cried out to Wigglesworth, “Please don’t leave, for my husband is not yet saved!” Now you need to know that while Brother Wigglesworth stayed with them, they had let him sleep in their bed. So as he left, he yelled back to her, “Just don’t change the sheets!” [I am not making this up: http://www.breakthrough.net/nurture_room_text.asp?Id=17]
“That night as she and her husband were settling down in bed…something came upon him! He began to break out in a sweat and breathe heavy. He began fanning himself as if trying to extinguish the flames of hell itself, when all of a sudden he cried out. His wife looked at him and said nonchalantly, ‘What’s wrong?’ He cried out all the more, ‘Woman! I feel like I am fastly sinking into the bowels of eternal fire and damnation, and I don’t know what is going on! What have you done?’
“She responded, ‘Brother Wigglesworth slept here and told me, if I wanted to see you saved, I was not to change the sheets!’ That night that man bowed at the base of his bed and gave his life to Jesus! I’m here to proclaim to you today, ‘Don’t change the sheets!’”
There are countless examples of these kinds of claims. Virtually every denomination and branch of the church offers miraculous events as proof of God’s blessing on its work.
Yet in John 4.48, Jesus rebukes the dependence on signs and wonders. Then he heals the child anyway. What are we to make of all this? How do Jesus’ miracles relate to us today?
These are hard questions about emotional issues. As we begin, also be aware that this event is somewhat difficult to interpret and apply. Many Bible passages have plain and simple truths, easily understood. There are also texts more deep and subtle, even as God is complex and vast. Today requires of you some careful thought about miracles and faith. In order to begin to understand this topic…
1. We Must Honor Christ’s Mission Rather than Crave His Miracles (John 4.43-45)
There is some confusion about these events, so let me give you the three alternatives and show you what I believe to be the main point. If you look at the beginning of chapter four, Jesus was in Judea just before he left for Galilee. The road he would take wound through Samaria, and that brought about the interaction between Jesus and the woman at the well. Jesus stayed there two days, evangelizing the Samaritans, but now he resumes his journey toward Galilee, because (John tells us), “a prophet has no honor in his own hometown.”
Many pastors in the early church interpreted John’s comments to mean that Jesus was not honored in Judea (where he was at the beginning of chapter four), and so he departed for Galilee. Though this view is still held, it seems contradicted by Luke 4.24, and Jesus was not really from Judea.
A second view, more common among pastors today, is that Jesus went to Galilee precisely because he would not be honored there. On this view, Jesus goes to where the gospel is most needed. That is possible, but it does not seem to fit well with Jesus pattern of ministry.