He was their entire life. And they were incredibly thankful. They knew people who had never been able to have children, and even those they only had one, he meant the world to them.
It wasn’t that they couldn’t conceive, that they were able to do, but some cruel twist of fate made his wife unable to carry a child to term. And then she did. It wasn’t an easy pregnancy, and it was an even harder delivery, but they had a son and he was perfect and he was their entire life.
They named him after his grandfather and they doted on him. They said they didn’t spoil their little boy, and when they said that their friends and family just rolled their eyes. The sun rose and set on their child.
And then one day, the boy said he wasn’t feeling well when he woke up, soon he was burning up with a fever and couldn’t get out of bed, and their whole life began to fall apart.
This is week three of our Step Out Series, and we are looking at various times in the Bible that people stepped out in faith.
Over the past couple of weeks, Rob and I have looked at how Abraham’s journey began when he stepped out in faith. A journey that eventually led to the nation of Israel.
And every journey begins with a single step. It doesn’t matter if it is simply walking across a room or flying around the world, your journey begins when you take that first step.
And that is true of a physical journey, a relational journey or a spiritual journey. When we travelled to Australia, it began that morning of August 14, 1990, when we stepped out of our kitchen and walked toward the car that took us to the airport.
The 38-year journey of our marriage began the day I asked Angela to go for a Banana Split at the Dairy Queen in Sussex. The 40-year journey that I’ve taken with Jesus, began when I stepped across the line of faith at First Wesleyan Church in Saint John, New Brunswick on September 2, 1979.
Today’s story happens very early in John’s narrative. We are told that this was the second miracle that Jesus performed in Galilee, the first being when Jesus turned the water into wine at the wedding in Cana.
But this wasn’t Jesus' second miracle, but it was the second miracle that he performed in Galilee. We know that because earlier in the narrative we read this, John 2:23 Because of the miraculous signs Jesus did in Jerusalem at the Passover celebration, many began to trust in him.
And so, it is here that we read the story of a sick child and a desperate parent. And many of us have been there at one time or another. A child, a spouse or a parent is sick and there is nothing we can do. We’d fix it if we could but we can’t. We do everything we can think of, everything we can do, and still, it’s not enough.
This is a story, not of one step but of many steps.
Let’s go back to the fact that every journey begins with a single step. And I truly believe that, I recognize the importance of that first step.
If you want to lose weight, you need to start tracking your food. If you want to get fit, you need to start exercising. At least that’s what I’ve been told. If you want to get control of your habits, you need to start to get control of your habits. You don't take the next drink, you don’t light the next cigarette, you stop doing what you don’t want to do, or you start doing what you do want to do.
You don’t just arrive at your destination, you need to start the journey.
It was Mark Twain who said, “The secret to getting ahead is getting started.”
And that practically perfect nanny, Mary Poppins who said, "Well begun is half done!"
And as much as I believe in the power of the first step, we also need to know and understand that the first step isn’t the only step in the journey.
I said earlier that our trip to Australia began with one step. It began that morning when we stepped out of our kitchen and walked toward the car that took us to the airport. And while that is the reality, there was a pile of steps in between Truro and Brisbane, and at any point we could have stopped taking those steps and our journey would have been over.
We could have stopped in Toronto, or LA, or Fiji or Sydney and that would have been where the journey ended.
When I was a teenager I was really good at starting things. I started my ham radio license, I started my scuba certification, I started my private pilot’s license and I started guitar lessons. But in each of those cases, I didn’t finish what I started, I just quit.
And as a result, I never got my ham radio license, or my scuba certification or my private pilot’s license and I can’t play guitar.
The story of Abraham’s journey begins in Genesis 11, Genesis 11:31 One day Terah took his son Abram, his daughter-in-law Sarai (his son Abram’s wife), and his grandson Lot (his son Haran’s child) and moved away from Ur of the Chaldeans. He was headed for the land of Canaan, but they stopped at Haran and settled there.
Did you catch that? Terah was headed for the land of Canaan, but he stopped at Haran and settled there. And so Terah never got to where he was heading.
Billy Sunday was a professionally ball player who left the game in 1891 to become a preacher. And not just any preacher, he was the best-known preacher of his time, and he said, "Stopping at third adds no more to the score than striking out. It doesn't matter how well you start if you fail to finish."
And Jesus reminded those who wanted to follow him of the same truth in Luke 9:62 But Jesus told him, “Anyone who puts a hand to the plow and then looks back is not fit for the Kingdom of God.”
So, what do we learn from this story?
Let’s go back to the scriptures, John 4:46–47 As he (Jesus) traveled through Galilee, he came to Cana, where he had turned the water into wine. There was a government official in nearby Capernaum whose son was very sick. When he heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went and begged Jesus to come to Capernaum to heal his son, who was about to die.
Well, to start with this man’s journey involved A Step of Faith We don’t have all of the back story here. We don’t know what the boy was sick with, we don’t know how long he’d been sick, we don’t know if doctors had been called and dismissed.
What we do know is that the boy was sick and his father journeyed from where he was to where Jesus was and begged Jesus to do something. And he wasn’t just asking Jesus to do something, he was asking him to do something specific. He was asking Jesus to do what nobody else had been able to do, and that was to heal his dying son.
A little background that might help with the story.
The words that are used in the original language to describe this man’s position, could have meant that this man was a member of Herod’s royal family but most commentators feel that he was a Roman official who was serving Herod on behalf of the empire. But either way, socially he would have been far up the ladder from a simple carpenter.
So, I’m sure there were probably issues of pride that needed to be dealt with for the man to come to Jesus. He would have been more accustomed to telling people to do something, instead of asking people to do something. And not only was he willing to ask Jesus to heal his son, but he was willing to walk for a day to make the request.
We are told the distance from Capernaum to Cana was close to 30 kms, so 6 to 8 hours of walking. Now I would suspect that in order for him to swallow his pride and then to spend the best part of the day walking, he must have believed that Jesus could answer his request. And that is called faith.
Faith is defined in the bible this way, Hebrews 11:1 Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see.
What this man hoped for was that Jesus would heal his son, but at this point he couldn’t see the end result he just had to believe the end result.
And faith isn’t just a nice idea it is an essential part of our Christian experience.
The author of Hebrews reminds us in Hebrews 11:6 And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.
Which makes perfect sense, because in order to come to God, you need to believe in God, and that in itself requires faith.
How that happens with our salvation is spelled out in Ephesians 2:8–9 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.
This man began his journey with the simple premise that Jesus could do what others were unable to do. Perhaps his faith was driven by desperation, we don’t know if Jesus was the first option or the last option. And it really doesn’t matter what brought the man to that place, what matters is that he arrived.
As I was writing this message, I remembered a conversation I had with our son when he was probably 3 or 4 years old and was sick with the flu, he finally got tired of being sick and when Angela and I were praying with him at bedtime he said, “Would you ask Jesus to take my sick away?”
Maybe the boy asked his father to ask Jesus to take the sick away, or maybe it was the boy’s mother who asked her husband to make the trip or maybe it was his idea.
We will never know what prompted this man to make the journey to ask Jesus to heal his son, but we do know that he began his journey with faith that Jesus could actually take his son’s sick away.
Often it is desperation that brings us to God. Corrie Ten Boom was a survivor of a Nazi Concentration camp, and she wrote, “You may never know that Jesus is all you need, until Jesus is all you have.”
But it wasn’t enough that he started his journey with faith.
John 4:48–49 Jesus asked, “Will you never believe in me unless you see miraculous signs and wonders?” The official pleaded, “Lord, please come now before my little boy dies.”
So, the man has walked most to the day only to have Jesus rebuff him when he made his request. You ever read a scripture and go “Huh?” This doesn’t seem in character with Jesus. The man begs Jesus to heal his little boy, and in response, Jesus questions his motives. “Is this the only reason you have come is this the only reason you have sought me, to get something?”
Personally, I think Jesus was simply challenging the man’s motives, causing him to think about why he was asking Jesus to heal his son.
What if Jesus asked us that question, “Will you never believe in me unless you see miraculous signs and wonders?”
If we were truthful, how often is that the reality in our lives? When everything is going well we don’t have time for God, but when we lose our job or the kids get sick, then we have Jesus on speed dial.
For too many people, Jesus is seen as a cosmic vending machine. Put in a prayer, pull the handle and out comes a healing, a job or a blessing.
Maybe Jesus should be asking us the same question today, “Will you never believe in me unless you see miraculous signs and wonders?”
And so, while the journey began with faith, the next step was A Step of Determination
It would have been easy for the man to have said, “Fine, don’t heal him.” Or to get all defensive about his motives, or to attack Jesus for what he might have been perceived as a lack of compassion.
But instead, he plows ahead, “Lord, please come now before my little boy dies.”
The man wasn’t going to let his journey be disrupted by the first roadblock that he encountered.
In the book of Luke Jesus tells us a story about a man who has company arrive unexpectedly in the middle of the night. Don’t you hate when that happens? And the man realizes that he has nothing to feed his company, and so he goes next door to the neighbour’s house to borrow some bread.
The neighbour’s first response is to tell the man to go away, that he is already in bed. But Jesus reminds us, “But I tell you this—though he won’t do it for friendship’s sake, if you keep knocking long enough, he will get up and give you whatever you need because of your shameless persistence.”
And then Jesus sums up the story by saying Luke 11:9–10 “And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.”
Two weeks ago, I quoted Georges-Louis Leclerc Buffon but it’s fitting for today as well, “Never think that God's delays are God's denials. Hold on; Hold fast; Hold out. Patience is genius.”
In 2003 we listed our house in Kingswood, we were 4 kms in and it seemed that most of our life happened in Bedford. That’s where the church was meeting, where the church office was located and where Angela’s parents lived. So, we decided to sell in Kingswood and move into Bedford.
We had a conditional offer on a house across from the school on Basinview, which we thought was perfect. And our house was on the market for ten months, not so much as a nibble. We prayed about it, had others pray about it, but nothing.
It wasn’t long after we took it off the market that it became apparent that the new church was going to be located in Kingswood. We still needed to sell but decided that it would be best if we lived in the community where we were building our new church home.
So, five months after we took our house off the market we put it back on the market and sold it in less than two weeks for ten thousand more than we’d been asking six months before.
Prayer delayed is not prayer denied.
So, let’s go back to our story, John 4:50 Then Jesus told him, “Go back home. Your son will live!” And the man believed what Jesus said and started home.
This is the central point of the entire story because it is here the man took A Step of Belief
It is one thing to say you believe, it is another thing to act on the belief. I love the story of the man who fell over a cliff and instead of plunging to his death, he grabs hold of a branch growing out of the mountain. As he hangs there, he begins to shout “Help, is anyone up there?” when suddenly he hears a voice saying, “This is God, I will help you, but you must have faith, you must believe.” To which the man said, “I believe.” And the voice says, “Let go of the branch.” There’s a pause and the man yells, “Is there anyone else up there?”
Faith will never ask more than that you believe. When I preached on Abraham I reminded you of what James said about Abraham in James 2:22 You see, his faith and his actions worked together. His actions made his faith complete.
The man had faith that Jesus could heal his son and he knew exactly how Jesus would do it. He would come to their home, touch the little boy and he would be healed. But Jesus decides to do it differently, and now he’s asking that the man believes in something he can’t understand and maybe doesn’t even agree with.
How often are we guilty of asking God to do something, and then telling him how to do it? I remember when I was a teen, dad took his car to the dealer to have some work done and there was a sign up in the garage that said, “Labour charge 15.00 an hour, if you watch 20.00 an hour, if you help $30.00 an hour.”
I’m as guilty as everyone else of assuming that I know what God should do and how God should do it. Hopefully, I’ve stopped bracing my feet when he chooses to do it differently than I would have.
Jesus didn’t need the man’s direction or the man’s help, he just wanted the man to believe. And he’s still asking us to believe.
William Barclay wrote in his commentary on this passage, “It is of the very essence of faith that we should believe that what Jesus says is true. So often we have a kind of vague, wistful longing that the promises of Jesus should be true. The only way really to enter into them is to believe in them with the clutching intensity of a drowning man. If Jesus says a thing, it is not a case of “It may be true”; it is a case of “It must be true.”
Let’s go back to the story, John 4:51–53 While the man was on his way, some of his servants met him with the news that his son was alive and well. He asked them when the boy had begun to get better, and they replied, “Yesterday afternoon at one o’clock his fever suddenly disappeared!” Then the father realized that that was the very time Jesus had told him, “Your son will live.” And he and his entire household believed in Jesus.
I don’t know what the man was thinking on his way home. I don’t know if he had doubts. I don’t know if his faith wavered. It’s one thing to believe when you are looking into the eyes of Jesus, another thing to believe as you make your way home and the devil starts to whisper doubt.
There was another man, who sought healing for his son from Jesus as well, and he summed up this dilemma so with his response in Mark 9:24 The father instantly cried out, “I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!”
What we do know is that His Steps Were Rewarded. The greatest answer to prayer here was not when we read the words, “his son was alive and well.”
Whether the man knew it or not the greatest answer to prayer was the last line when John records, and he and his entire household believed in Jesus.
We cling so tight to this physical life, but every one of us comes with an expiry date. For some it is too early and for others it is too late.
The man’s son did not die that day, but he did eventually die. You understand that barring the return of Jesus, every one of us will die.
But the healing that came to the man’s house that day was not just a physical healing, it came with a spiritual healing. And that healing, conquered death in a way that a physical healing could never do.
Early in John’s Gospel, we have this promise, John 1:12 But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God.
John would go on to write in 1 John 5:13 I have written this to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know you have eternal life.
Do you know that you have eternal life? Maybe you’re thinking, “Well I hope I do.”
That’s not what I asked, what I asked was “Do you know that you have eternal life?” Because the word of God says that you can have that assurance.
Have you crossed the line of faith, the line that says I know that I will have eternal life? You can have that