The BoundlessRev. Philip Miller | November 8, 2020
Selected highlights from this sermon
Jesus is always surprising us. He doesn’t fit neatly into our humanly preconceived categories. He’s always challenging our assumptions, realigning our expectations, and defying our limitations. Just when we think we have Him all figured out, He comes along and blows the doors off our limited understanding. That’s one of the ways we know we’re encountering the living and divine Jesus and not a god created in our own image.
If Jesus is God in the flesh, He should surprise us. As Pastor Miller walks us through John 4:43–54, we’ll see four surprises Jesus had for those who sought Him out.
Jesus is always surprising us. Have you noticed He doesn’t fit neatly into our preconceived human categories? He’s always challenging our assumptions. He’s always realigning our expectations. He’s always defying our limitations. And just when we think we have Him all figured out, here He comes along and blows the doors off our limited understanding. And that’s one of the ways we know that we are encountering the living and the divine Jesus Christ, because if Jesus is God in the flesh, He should surprise us, shouldn’t He? In fact, if we have a God who never surprises us, who thinks just the way we think, who values exactly what we value, who acts in a way that we would act always, He never blows our mind, He never crosses our will, He never perplexes us, never messes with us, never challenges us— it’s most likely that we don’t, in fact, have the real living God of the Bible. What we are worshiping is a God of our own making, of our own imagination. We know we’ve created a God after our own image when He begins to look suspiciously like us when He can no longer surprise our souls. But when it comes to Jesus, when it comes to the God of the Bible, we don’t have this problem.
Jesus is always imaginative and vibrant. He’s boundless and surprising, and this is true all over the Bible, but it’s especially true in the passage we’re going to look at today in John 4:43–54. And in this passage today, we’re going to see four surprising things: We’re going to see a surprising rebuke; we’re going to see a surprising faith; we’re going to see a surprising healing; and then a surprising healer. And if you would open your Bibles there to John, chapter 4, let’s read God’s Word. But before we do that, would you bow your heads? Let’s pray together.
Heavenly Father, we turn now to your inerrant, inspired, all-trustworthy Word. We ask that you would speak. Surprise us. Change our minds about who Jesus is today. Help us to see Him afresh. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen. Amen.
So the first thing we see here is a surprising rebuke. Now remember, just in terms of context, Jesus is making His way from Judea in the south all the way up north to Galilee, His hometown. He passed through a place called Samaria and a town called Sychar. We saw this last week. He met the woman at the well. She went and told the townspeople about Jesus, and we saw a kind of mini-revival there in Samaria. And they invited Jesus to stay with them for two days. And now Jesus, after spending those two days, is going to get on the move again, back to His hometown up in Galilee.
So we pick it up here in John 4:43: “After the two days he departed for Galilee. (For Jesus himself had testified that a prophet has no honor in his own home town.) So when he came to Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him, having seen all he had done in Jerusalem at the feast. For they too had gone to the feast.”
Now there’s something perplexing here in this little introductory paragraph. In verse 44 it says, “Jesus had testified that a prophet has no honor in his own home town.” Now, on the one hand that makes perfect sense. It’s hard to gain credibility with people you grew up with. You’re always going to be a little kid in their minds. They’re always going to dismiss you. But on the other hand, this is perplexing because of the verse that follows. In verse 45 it says, “So when he came to Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him because they had seen all things he had done at the feast in Jerusalem because they had been at the feast.”
So how do you put these two verses together. Verse 44 says “a prophet has no honor in his home town,” and verse 45 ways, “And the Galileans welcomed Him.” When He came to His hometown, to Galilee, the Galileans welcomed Him. How do you put those things together? Well, I think what John is trying to help us see is that there’s actually a dishonor in their welcome. I know that sounds strange, but there’s a dishonor in their welcome. Oh, they’re welcoming Him enthusiastically, but it is a welcome without real honor. It’s interesting.
John had said something very similar back in chapter 2, verses 23 through 25. This is what he said there: “Now when he (Jesus) was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.”
So in chapter 2 you have many who believed, and yet something is amiss in their belief. They look like they believe on the surface, but deep down Jesus knew their hearts, and He knew it wasn’t trustworthy belief. Here the Galileans welcome Jesus with fanfare and open arms, and yet it is without honor. They are impressed by Jesus and all that He’s been doing: He turned water into wine, He cleared the temple, He confronted the religious leaders, He’s been baptizing disciples in the wilderness—and they welcome Him with open arms, but something’s off. Something’s off. What is it? Let’s wait for it here.
Verse 46: “So he came again to Cana in Galilee, where he had made the water wine. And at Capernaum there was an official whose son was ill. When this man heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went to him and asked him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death. So Jesus said to him, ‘Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.’ The official said to him, ‘Sir, come down before my child dies.’”
Now, I don’t know about you, but when I first read this I was kind of taken aback at the way Jesus responds to this official here. Here he is, this royal official. He comes down from Capernaum, which is about 20 miles from Cana. Capernaum was a civic center. It had lots of government offices. He probably works for King Herod. That’s why he’s a royal official. King Herod was the tetrarch of Galilee. And so he travels here 20 miles, a full day’s journey, with this simple heartfelt request that Jesus would come and heal his dying son.
And Jesus’ response startles me. “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” That’s not very nice, Jesus, is it? I mean why are you being hard on this guy? He just wants his little boy to live. What’s with this surprising rebuke here? What’s going on? Is Jesus just being insensitive? Is there more than meets the eye here?
Well, it is hard to see this in English, but in Greek you would notice in verse 48 that the “you” there is plural both times. So He’s talking not just to an individual but to a group, “you all.” So as Jesus turns to address this official here, He’s actually speaking to the broader crowd at large. He says, “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you people will not believe.” So Jesus here is responding to this official, but He’s rebuking the crowd. And now we’re beginning to see maybe a sense of what Jesus meant by a prophet not having honor in his own home town. See, the crowd here wasn’t honoring Jesus for who He was. They just wanted a show. Jesus has become famous for His signs and wonders, and they’re saying, “Come on, Jesus, turn some more water into wine; come on, clear the temple; confront the leaders; do something amazing. We want to see a trick. What’s your next trick, Jesus?”
And then this official shows up with a dying son, and everyone leans in and they’re like, “Oh, come on. This is going to be amazing!” And Jesus reads the crowd. He sees they don’t care about the official. They don’t care about his son. They don’t care about who Jesus is and why He’s come. They just want an entertainment. They just want a show. They want to be wowed. They want to be dazzled. And friends, Jesus is not a circus performer. Jesus is not a genie in a bottle. He’s not some conjurer of cheap tricks. And so He says, “Unless you see signs and wonders, you won’t believe.” He’s saying, “Look, this is not real faith here. This is not real belief. You’re just waiting around for a show. You don’t want me. You just want my stuff.”
See, friends, there’s a huge difference between pursuing Jesus for Himself and pursuing Jesus for His things. The Galileans didn’t want Jesus. They just wanted His stuff. They just wanted His power, His miracles. They just wanted a show. They were using Him, and Jesus says, “I’m not going to let you do that.”
Maybe an illustration would help here. Imagine you’re a young lady. Okay? And you go off to college and you’re from a very wealthy family. I mean a really wealthy family. You’ve got deep money, deep pockets, and you’re off at school and you meet some guy, and you guys fall in love, and you’re so excited, you get engaged. You’re getting ready to get married, and at some point your fiancée realizes (learns) that the way your family’s wealth is structured, it’s in a trust, and he’ll never be able to gain access to one penny of it. And the next day he dumps you. How do you feel? You feel betrayed, used, dirty, cheap, right? Because he didn’t love you. He wanted your stuff.
And friends, we can do that with Jesus too. We can be more interested in the blessings that Jesus has to offer than in getting the blessing of who Jesus is Himself. We can be more interested in His stuff than actually in Him. And when we do that, friends, we’re gold diggers. But Jesus here refuses to be used as a means to an end. He’s not a circus performer. He’s not a genie in the bottle. He’s not a conjurer of cheap tricks. He’s the Messiah. He’s the Son of God and He will be our life itself if we will have Him, but He does not meet us on our terms, friends. No, we must meet Him on His terms. That’s how it works. “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” The surprising rebuke.
Secondly, we see here surprising faith. Surprising faith. Undaunted, the official says in verse 49, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” and Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way. (chuckles) Now I find this utterly amazing. This guy does not get what he came for, does he? He came 20 miles, a whole day’s journey with one simple request, “Come and heal my son.” Jesus does not come with him. And notice Jesus doesn’t even really make a strong commitment here. He doesn’t say, “I’ll heal him.” No, He says, “Go, your son will live.” This is not a commitment to healing him. He’s just saying, he goes, “Look, my child is dying.” He says, “He’ll live. Go ahead. Go home. He’ll live. He’ll be okay.”
So the crowd here had to be massively disappointed. Right? They don’t get their show. And the official had to be disappointed because he’s not getting what he asked for, and he has a choice to make. “Will I accept Jesus on my terms, the way I want Him to be, or will I submit to who He is and the way He presents Himself to me?” And the official chooses. He believes Jesus. He believes what He says, and he goes home, which is amazing because he has no proof. He has no guarantee. He’s got nothing in writing. He has not much to go on here. All he has is Jesus’ word, but for him it’s enough, and he turns and heads home.
And friends, Jesus wants us to see this is what real faith looks like. This is real honor. This is belief. This is not belief in signs and wonders. This is belief in the word, the promise, the character of Jesus. He simply trusts in Jesus and His word. And what’s surprising again is where this faith is rising here in the book of John. Remember faith didn’t rise in Jerusalem when Jesus was there. He found it in Samaria. He didn’t find it here in the Galilean population. He finds it in an official, a Roman official, [a] “sell-out to Rome.” It’s what John told us. Jesus came to His own, but His own people didn’t receive Him, but to those who did receive Him He gave the right to become children of God. This is surprising faith.
Thirdly, there’s a surprising healing here. This official heads home. It took him a whole day to come to Jesus. It’s going to take him another full day’s journey to get back home. Of course, it’s late in the afternoon at this point, so he travels until the end of the day and then he settles down for the night. And he gets back up on the road the next day after sleeping, and he finds some familiar faces on the road.
Verse 51: “As he was going down, his servants met him and told him that his son was recovering. So he asked them the hour when he began to get better, and they said to him, ‘Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.’ The father knew that this was the hour when Jesus had said to him, ‘Your son will live.’ And he himself believed and all his household.”
(Chuckles) I love this. When did the fever break? One o’clock. And he goes, “That’s exactly when I was talking to Jesus. It’s exactly when He said, ‘Your son will live.’” And it begins to dawn on him, “Jesus healed my boy.” He had asked Jesus to come down and heal his son, and he didn’t get what he asked for. Jesus did not come back with him. He got something far greater instead. He got a healing from a distance. Friends, Jesus’ healing power here travels 20 miles, boom, in an instant. And in a culture without remote controls, without wireless networks and GPS and cell phones and lasers and Bluetooth technology. Friends, Jesus beams supernatural healing power into a dying boy 20 miles away, and his fever breaks instantaneously—and all of this without fanfare or flourish. Just a quiet, “Go; your son will live.”
Friends, Jesus snatched this little boy back from the brink of death without even breaking a sweat. Who does that? Who can pull that off? I mean it’s mind-boggling enough that He might heal like this, but long-distance. That’s category-breaking. This surprise healing points to a surprising healer, a surprising healer.
In verse 54, John wraps up the story this way: “This was now the second sign that Jesus did when he had come from Judea to Galilee.” So the first sign was turning water into wine. The second sign now is this healing at a distance. Now, in the Gospel of John there are seven signs like this, seven miracles that John identifies, plus the resurrection, so really eight in total, but there are seven (plus one) signs. And John, at the end of his Gospel tells us, he gives us lenses through which to understand what He’s doing here.
In John 20:30–31 this is what he writes: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these (these signs) are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”
So in other words he says, “Listen, there are a whole bunch of signs. I couldn’t give you everything, but I’m giving you these seven. I’m writing them down with a particular strategy in mind. I’m going to give you the lenses now to understand what I’m doing. I’m trying to show you that Jesus is the Christ. He’s the Messiah. He’s the one who has come to fulfill all the ancient promises of Israel, and He is the Son of God, come in the flesh, and if you believe in His name, you will have life, abundant life.” In other words, these signs point to the identity of Jesus, that He is Messiah, the Christ, and He is Son of God. And we need to believe in Him.
So let’s look at this. Number one: How does this sign show us that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God? Number one: Jesus is wielding the power of the Messianic Age. Jesus is wielding the power of the Messianic Age.
Isaiah 35:5–6 says this: “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.” You may recognize this passage as the very passage that Jesus quoted from when He came to Nazareth, His home town, in Luke, chapter 4, just down the road here from Cana, and He said as He read the Scripture, “Today the Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
So we understand here that whenever Jesus is healing, whenever He’s wielding His power here, it’s more than just a demonstration of power, it’s a sign. It’s pointing to His identity as Messiah, as the one who has come to usher in the kingdom of God. Later, when John the Baptist was thrown in jail and grew discouraged, wondering if maybe he had put false hope in who Jesus was, he sent a message to Jesus and said, “Look, are You the one who was to come, or should we wait for somebody else?” Jesus replied with this to him in Luke 7:22, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them.” Jesus is saying, “Look, if you’re beginning to question my Messianic identity, look at the signs. They are everywhere. They are pointing always to who I am, that I am the Messiah, that the kingdom of God is at hand, and I’m here to offer you life, abundant life in the kingdom of God.”
And so this healing, friends, is a sign. It is pointing to the Messiah, that Jesus is wielding power of the Messianic Age. But not only that, Jesus here is also exercising authority as the Son of God. This is the second part of John’s lenses here. John tells us these signs show us not only that Jesus is Messiah, but that He is also Son of God. And in this sign we have kind of a moment. Remember in the old superhero movies, you know, the mask would slip at some point, and people would go, “Ah, I know who you are,” right? That’s this moment. The mask slips a little bit, and we begin to see Jesus is more than a mere man. He is, in fact, the Son of God, and we see three attributes of His divinity expressed here.
Number one: We see Jesus’ boundless presence, Jesus’ boundless presence. The theological word for this is “omnipresence,” that God is all–present. He is everywhere present at once. And Jesus here is showing us that He is not bound by the limitations of the location of His body, that He can reach out and heal this little boy at a distance as if He were right there in front of him, just as easily as if He could reach out and touch 20 miles. No big deal. Jesus is showing us that His presence knows no bounds, which means, here’s the takeaway for us friends: Jesus is near. Jesus is near.
Friends, no matter where we go, no matter what we face, no matter how lonely we feel, Jesus is near. He’s right there with us always. He promises, “I will never leave you, nor will I forsake you.” In fact, He’s closer than the very air we breathe, and we are never alone. His omnipresence.
Secondly, we see His boundless knowledge. The theological term for this is “omniscience,” that God is all-knowing. He knows all things, past, present, and future. That Jesus demonstrates here—knowledge beyond the ordinary, doesn’t He? For example, (chuckles) how does He know which boy to heal? How does He know? He didn’t ask for a name. He didn’t get an address. He doesn’t get some description of this child. There’s no medical ID bracelet to check and make sure He’s got the right kid, you know? Jesus doesn’t even ask for the father’s name. He simply knows. He knows exactly who this little boy is, and exactly what he needs, and precisely where he’s located. He knows his name. He knows his home. He knows this little kid’s dad. He knows his favorite toy. He knows the tone of his voice. He knows about those four hairs on the back of his head that never seem to stay down, you know? He knows all of his hopes, all of his dreams, all of his greatest fears, his failures, everything, because Jesus is wise. Jesus is wise.
Friends, Jesus knows everything there is to know about us. He knows everything. He sees us all the way down. He knows our frame. He knows our weakness, and He loves us. And like this little boy, Jesus has come into the world to fetch us back from the brink of death, hasn’t He? He came not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him might not perish but have everlasting life,” so that, friends, when we believe in Jesus, no matter how far away we might be, His healing and saving power will meet us right where we are because Jesus knows us completely.
The third thing we see here is Jesus’ boundless power. Jesus boundless power. The theological word for this is “omnipotence,” that God is all-powerful, that He is free to do whatever He pleases with or without regard to the physical limitations of His creation. And in this case, Jesus’ healing power changed the course of this young boy’s life, no doubt overriding numerous laws of thermodynamics and disrupting the space-time continuum. (chuckles) But when you are God in the flesh, you get to do that sort of thing because the take-away is this: Jesus is able, friends. Jesus is able.
Friends, Jesus wields great power, and there is nothing in our lives that can possibly intimidate Jesus. You know, Jesus never looks at your biggest problem and says, “You know, I’ve never seen that before. Ooh!” You know? “You’re on your own with that.” No. He never looks away at [sic] the ugliest, deepest, most broken parts of who we are. He sees us with our addictions, with the drinking and the drugs and the prescription medications. He sees us with our pornography problems, when we’re cutting, eating disorders. He sees our hearts full of anger and bitterness and rage, with all of our failed marriages and trashed careers and zero options. And He says, “Come. Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
Won’t you bring all of that to Jesus, friends? He’s more than able. See, friends, as we bring all of our brokenness, all of our pain, all of our loss to Jesus, He can heal us, but we’ve got to remember He’s not a circus performer. He’s not some genie in a bottle. We can’t mistake Him for some conjurer of cheap tricks. No, He is the Messiah. He is the Son of God, and He will give us life if we will have Him. But friends, He will not meet us on our own terms. No, we have to meet Him on His. This is the real living God. This is not a God we’ve invented. This is not a God we’ve made in our own image. This is a God who is making us in His own image. See, Jesus will not be pushed around. He will not be manipulated. He will not be coerced. He is utterly free. He offers Himself to you and to me if we will have Him as He is. Won’t you open up your heart, open up your life, and invite Him in, not as you prefer Him to be, but as He really is because, friends, He’s right there. He is near. He’s wise. He knows you, and He is able to change you from the inside out. Won’t you come to Him?
Would you bow your heads and pray with me?
Father, we thank you that Jesus has come to rescue us, and you know, beggars can’t be choosers. We need rescue. We need help. We don’t need some figment of our imagination. We need the real living God to come break the categories and to come change this world, change us, change our expectations, change everything. And so, Father, we admit that we are sinners. We’re helpless. We need your rescue. We believe that Jesus has come to save us, to heal us, to redeem us, that He came and died on the cross in our place and for our sake so that we might be made right with you.
And so we commit ourselves to Him. We say, “Here we are. Come be our Savior. Come be our Lord. Come be our everything. And we embrace this Jesus, this surprising, living, free, dynamic, category-altering Jesus who has come to change the world, and change everything in us. Thank you for giving us life in His name. We pray this in His beautiful name, in the name of Jesus, Amen.