Healing the Nobleman’s Son

January 31, 2016 / No. 3813

Dear Radio Friends,
Thanks for tuning in these past several months while I spoke on the Reformed Witness Hour. I counted it a privilege once again. For my final sermon I would like to speak for a few moments on a miracle of Jesus. It is recorded for us in John 4:46-54: “So Jesus came again into Cana of Galilee, where he made the water wine. And there was a certain nobleman, whose son was sick at Capernaum. When he heard that Jesus was come out of Judaea into Galilee, he went unto him, and besought him that he would come down, and heal his son: for he was at the point of death. Then said Jesus unto him, Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe. The nobleman saith unto him, Sir, come down ere my child die. Jesus saith unto him, Go thy way; thy son liveth. And the man believed the word that Jesus had spoken unto him, and he went his way. And as he was now going down, his servants met him, and told him, saying, Thy son liveth. Then enquired he of them the hour when he began to amend. And they said unto him, Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him. So the father knew that it was at the same hour, in the which Jesus said unto him, Thy son liveth: and himself believed, and his whole house. This is again the second miracle that Jesus did, when he was come out of Judaea into Galilee.”
The setting of this miracle is Cana in Galilee. We read in verse 46, “Then came he again into Cana of Galilee where he made water wine.” Directly after Jesus’ first miracle, the changing of water into wine, He departed Galilee in order to celebrate the Passover feast in Jerusalem. We find in John 2:23 that Jesus performed miracles while in Jerusalem too. The healing of the nobleman’s son is the second miracle Jesus performed in Galilee, therefore.
After Jesus’ trip to Jerusalem, we now find Him back in Galilee. Because of Jesus’ first miracle in Cana and those He performed in Jerusalem, He had become quite a celebrity. People were beginning to follow Jesus about in order to see a miracle. From this point on Jesus was given little alone time.
The return of Jesus to Cana must have been noised about the countryside, since 25 miles away from Cana in the city of Capernaum, a nobleman heard of Jesus’ presence. No doubt he had heard or even witnessed one of Jesus’ miracles. Whatever the case, this man quickly traveled to Cana in order to see Jesus. The nobleman’s son was sick unto death in Capernaum.
John mentions in verse 54 that this is the second miracle Jesus performed because this miracle is directly related, in his mind, to the first miracle Jesus performed. All miracles are signs. They point to Christ’s divinity, to His power as the Son of God. Miracles manifest forth Jesus’ glory! When Jesus changed water into wine it was a sign of Christ’s divine power to change one element of creation into another. This miracle marks an advance in the proof of Christ’s divinity. Not only is Christ Lord of creation, but He is the life-giving Lord. In this second miracle, Jesus shows His power over life and death.
I. Christ’s Miracle
The identity of this nobleman is unknown. From the term itself we find that he was not himself a prince or a ruler but an officer or steward of a ruler. Since he was stationed in Capernaum, it is very likely that he was a Jew who served as an officer in Herod’s court. It is suggested by some that he could have been Chuza, who, we learn in Luke 8:3, was a steward of Herod and whose wife was named Joanna, one of the few women who ministered to Jesus during His early ministry. While plausible, we certainly cannot say for sure. But we can say that this nobleman was a man in a position of authority and honor. He came to Jesus in Cana because his son lay sick in Capernaum. Again, we are not told the type of sickness that the son suffered, but it must have been serious. We learn in verse 47 of our text that this boy lay at the brink of death. It was not a sudden illness, but one that had lingered, leaving the boy in a severely weakened condition. Nothing could be done from a medical point of view to save this son from certain death. His disease had taken control of him and death was inevitable. Out of desperation this nobleman hurried to Jesus, whom he recognized as the only hope for his son.
We read in verse 47 that he besought Jesus to come down to Capernaum where his son lay sick. This request he put before Jesus at about 1 o-clock in the afternoon. The nobleman pleaded, almost begged, Jesus to come to Capernaum and heal his son. He had laid aside all rank and authority and in humility recognized his need for Christ to heal his son. Humbly he addressed Jesus, “Sir, come down and heal my son for he is about to die.”
Now, I realize that it may be too early in the account to be able to say that this man was a believer. But there seems to be some indication already in this request of the faith of this nobleman. At least he did recognize that Jesus was a man of God who was able to heal his son. That faith was not as great as was the centurion who later came to Jesus and asked Jesus to heal his son without even coming to see him. This man thought Jesus had to come to Capernaum some 25 miles away and touch his son in order that He might heal him. Nevertheless, this nobleman did believe that Jesus would be able to help his son even when all else had failed.
In verse 48 we read of Jesus’ response to this request of the nobleman: “Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe.” Now, at first glance this reply of Jesus may seem rather hard and cruel. It seems as if Jesus took the attitude, “Sigh, another one of these people who are simply curious to see Me perform a miracle!” But this was not a rebuke. It was merely a test of what was in the nobleman’s heart. It was a test of his faith. Of course, Jesus already knows what is in the heart of every man. He knew what was in this nobleman’s heart too. Jesus knew this nobleman was not simply curious to see a sign performed by Him as so many others. This man had indeed come out of faith! But Jesus wanted this nobleman, as well as those who witnessed this miracle, to know that a miraculous faith is not a true faith. Those who believed in Jesus simply as a great miracle-worker were not true believers. You see, from the beginning of Jesus’ ministry masses of people followed Him merely out of curiosity. Nothing more. All they wanted to see was another miracle. On top of that, there was another group of people that would not believe in Jesus despite all of the signs He showed them. The Pharisees and Sadducees desired of Jesus a sign of Christ’s earthly kingship. They were looking for an earthly king who would defeat their earthly enemies. They did not seek a heavenly kingdom. To them Jesus said in Matthew 16:4, “A wicked and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given unto it.” It was really to these gainsayers that Jesus was making reference when He said to the nobleman, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” The nobleman was fully aware what Jesus meant by this too. But, as we will find, he was yet insistent in his request.
Before we address the faith of the nobleman, however, we must recognize that every miracle Jesus performed was a sign. It was a mark or a token—proof—that speaks to us of who Jesus is. This miracle proves to us once again Christ’s divinity. Every miracle reveals the glory of Christ as the Son of God. But each miracle does this in its own unique way. This one does too.
In the illness of this boy we are made to see the fatal disease of sin. The human race as it perished in Adam is doomed to eternal death. And it is because death reigns in us that we are given over to the incurable disease of sin. Sin reigns in us unto death, Paul writes in Romans 5:21. We are conceived and born in sin, incapable of doing any good. We walk in unbelief, despising God and His commandments. And we must realize the hard reality that sin is a fatal disease. There is no escaping it of ourselves. Just like the nobleman’s son, we have no hope of recovery.
We know our sin, do we not? We know we are liable to death on account of our sin! And we in faith come to Jesus because we know He is the only way to be healed from the loathsome disease of sin that threatens us with eternal death! The Pharisees saw no need for salvation from sin. They thought they had no sickness. They were whole. They were righteous by their works, so they thought. We know we are sick! We know that death threatens us. For this reason what Jesus told the Pharisees comes as the greatest relief to us. Mark 2:17: “They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” Our Savior has come to heal us and to bind up our spiritual wounds. When we witness this miracle of the healing of the nobleman’s son, we give God thanks for that God has revealed to us our sin in order that we might come to Jesus to be healed. “Lord, heal us of our sin before we perish in it!”
II. The Nobleman’s Faith
We cannot help but notice the humility that the nobleman revealed in his plea to Jesus. He addresses Jesus as “sir.” That is the Greek word for “Lord.” Here we have a man of rank and position, a man carrying his own authority addressing Jesus as lord. He recognized something in Jesus. He recognized that Jesus carried His own authority—that, though Jesus may have been a man of lowly birth, He was a noble man in His own right. That was not something that the Pharisees would have admitted. They impugned Jesus because of His lowly birth. Nothing good could come out of Galilee. But here we have a nobleman who in faith recognizes that Jesus is indeed a great man carrying the very authority of God Himself. This nobleman reveals his humility as well when he does not even attempt to argue with Jesus. He did not try to defend himself. He had one thing on his mind: that Jesus was the only hope for his son. He was focused on that: “Lord, come down to Capernaum lest my son die!”
But there is something else in the attitude of the nobleman that perhaps does not meet the eye immediately. And this attitude revealed that his faith was genuine. Jesus responded to this man’s request with the very simple statement, “Go your way, your son lives.” Mind you, Jesus did not have to ask God to give Him the power to heal this man’s son. Jesus did not bow in prayer before God asking God to heal this man’s son. Jesus revealed His power and authority as the Son of God simply by responding to the man, “Go your way, your son lives.” And the man left. He did not say to Jesus, “Are you sure? How do you know? Shouldn’t you come to Capernaum with me to make sure?” We are told in verse 50 that the man immediately went his way. But here is what revealed this man’s faith. It was not until the next day that he met his servants along the way. He asked them exactly the time his son was better and they told him the seventh hour. It was one o-clock the day before. This was, of course, exactly the time Jesus had said, “Thy son liveth.” But it was the day after this that he met his servants. Now, 25 miles is a bit of a ride or maybe more of a walk. But it is obvious from the account that this nobleman was in no hurry to get back to Capernaum to see if what Jesus had said was true. He could have hurried back the same day. But it was the day after that he met his servants. This, by all means, indicates that the nobleman believed Jesus! He knew that Jesus had done what He said and the nobleman trusted Jesus. And that is faith!
The nobleman came to Cana already trusting that Jesus was able to heal his son. He recognized in Jesus one who carried the very authority of God Himself. The very way that Jesus said to him, “Go your way, your son lives,” was enough to convince him that Jesus was who He said He was. In other words, this nobleman was given by God’s grace a certain knowledge of Christ as the Son of God. From a distance, without even laying hands on his son, without even having seen him, Christ healed him. How could Jesus, without even having met this boy, know who he was, much less heal him? What, do you think, people of God, did this make of Christ in this man’s thoughts? Who but God could perform a miracle such as this! This nobleman was given a certain knowledge of Christ as God. And that is the knowledge of faith. But this man was also given an assured confidence that what Jesus had spoken was true and had of a surety come to pass. All worry for his son was alleviated. The man left with peace and assurance in his heart. He did not hurry home in doubt of what Jesus said. And that too is faith, an assured confidence that Christ does what He has set out to do.
Now, let us not forget the significance of this miracle—what it points us to. It points us to the disease of sin and the inevitable death that belongs to the human race that is fallen in Adam. It points to our sin and our need for a Savior. That Savior, who alone can deliver us from the power of sin and death, is Jesus Christ. Even as Jesus by His power healed that son of the nobleman from his illness and saved him from death, so also Jesus delivers us from our sin and from the death we so much deserve. Christ has accomplished this for us through the power of the cross. He has taken on Him our sins and offered Himself as a sacrifice for sin in our stead. By means of His own death on the cross, Christ has won the victory over our sin and death and has delivered us from it.
The question is, Do we believe this? Certainly we do if we truly are able to see and know our sin! If we think sin in us is a little matter, if we think we are righteous in ourselves and really have no need of salvation—then we reveal no faith. But when we know our sin, when we know our need for the cross of Christ, when we see in Christ the only way to eternal life, then by God’s grace we are given that knowledge. When we know that Christ has died to take away sin and its guilt, when we know that Christ has overcome sin for us, then we are given by God’s grace a knowledge of our salvation. And that knowledge is the knowledge of faith!
But there is more. Faith is also an assured confidence that, having been forgiven in the blood of Jesus Christ, all is well with our souls! Nothing will separate us from God’s love. God will use everything He sends us in the valley of tears for our profit. No heartache, pain, sorrow, or burden we bear, as did this nobleman and his family, will destroy us. We belong to God for Christ’s sake! All things will work together for our good and eternal life in heaven. We know that. We are assured of that! And that is faith!
III. The Servant’s
We have already learned of the confirmation of this man’s faith by his servants. He left for home, perhaps early the next day. The servants must have done likewise and met their master along the way. Their news to him only confirmed for him what he already believed to be true: “Your son lives.” Then, not out of doubt, but to confirm that it was indeed Jesus’ word that healed his son, he asked, “What hour of the day did he begin to amend?” This does not imply, of course, that the son may have begun the healing process that would eventually lead to his recovery. The question literally was: When was he healed? When was his son made whole again? The answer was the seventh hour, which was, as we mentioned, 1 o-clock in the afternoon. The nobleman knew that this was exactly the time that Jesus told him his son lived. Again, this was but a confirmation of this man’s faith. He needed to know in order to inform his servants and his family that Jesus had healed the son. He returned home, and then, we are told, “he himself believed and his whole house.”
This means that not only did this miracle prove to him that Jesus was the Christ. It proved it to his whole house. It proved it to the servants of the household and it proved it to his immediate family too. His wife believed, his son who was healed believed, and if there were others in his family they too believed. How thankful we can be that God not only works in the hearts of individual saints but in families as well. Truly, this miracle gives abundant testimony to you and me who believe, that Jesus Christ is Lord. He has healed our sicknesses and soothed our pains.
Blessed be the name of the Lord.