Summary: Sometimes the capacity to receive answered prayer lies within our willingness to obey the clear-cut commands of Jesus.
THE NOBLEMAN’S SON
After the wedding in Cana, Jesus visited Capernaum with his mother, brothers, and disciples; went up to Jerusalem for the Passover; cleansed the Temple; had His famous encounter with Nicodemus; and conducted an itinerant ministry with His disciples in Judaea (John 2:12-3:22). On the way back to Galilee, He “must needs go through Samaria” for the sake of an encounter with one single woman which would lead to the conversion of a whole district. There He was proclaimed to be “the Christ, the Saviour of the world” (John 4:4-42).
As He came into Galilee, Jesus was already anticipating His eventual rejection by His own people, but for the time being He was received as something of a local hero after His exploits in Jerusalem (John 4:43-45). Back in Cana where Jesus had turned the water into wine, He was met by a royal official from Capernaum whose son was sick, even to the point of death. The man entreated Jesus to come down and heal his boy (John 4:46-47).
A delayed answer to prayer may not always be a refusal [that may depend upon what we are asking for (James 4:3)]. We should look at it rather as an exercise in faith and motive, as in the case of Mary (John 2:4-5), the Syro-Phoenician woman (Mark 7:27-28), and the courtier here (John 4:48). We may believe even as the devils believe, and tremble (James 2:19), but our belief system has to get beyond the demand for signs and miracles to a trusting encounter with the One who alone knows the heart of man (John 2:18; John 2:23-25).
This high ranking Civil Servant on King Herod’s payroll was not to be put off by Jesus’ seeming rebuff, however. Like the stubborn persistence of Jacob of old, and all good prayer warriors, he was willing to wrestle it out until He procured the desired blessing (Genesis 32:26). Echoing the importunity of the widow in the parable (Luke 18:1-8), the prayer became even more passionate, practical, and focussed (John 4:49).
As the man found out, perseverance in prayer does pay dividends. Having suffered the seeming refusal of a delay, he heard the gracious words of Jesus, “Go thy way, thy son liveth.” In a moment he had to graduate from the kindergarten of miracle-seeking to the exercise of a believing, trusting response to Jesus which bore the fruits of obedience in his life (John 4:50).
The miracle had not been witnessed by this father, but he set out for home in the belief that it had happened. As usual, obedience has its payday. Sometimes the capacity to receive answered prayer lies within our willingness to obey the clear-cut commands of Jesus.
However long it took the nobleman to travel the twenty miles from Capernaum to Cana, it would take him until the next day to get back. God knows what temptations to doubt may have befallen on him on the way, but his servants had the presence of mind - or perhaps orders - to meet him with the good news in the same words as Jesus had used: “Thy son liveth.” Perhaps his resolve was still being tested until the very moment that he was able to embrace his healed son, and lead his whole household into faith (John 4:51-53).
This, we are told, was the second significant “sign” in John’s Gospel, conducted when Jesus came back from Jerusalem to Cana in Galilee (John 4:54). It is no surprise that John gives details of five more as the early chapters of his account unfold, making a total of seven. These are not miracles for miracles’ sakes, but indications of who Jesus is, calling as ever for our response to His claim upon our lives (John 20:30-31).