Do you believe in Jesus Christ? It seems a simple question, but as we have explored already, the act of believing requires more than a cursory "yes" or "no" answer. One major theme in the Gospel of John is that the content of our faith is interdependent upon the exercising of our belief - the what, the why, and the how of our faith all matter and depend on one another. In other words, our orthodoxy (what we believe) is intricately tied to our orthopraxy (how we practice our belief) To develop this idea, John included the story of a father in his Gospel. It is brief account, only lasting nine verses in the entire Gospel of John. Yet in this short encounter, Jesus teaches a great lesson on faith.
When we meet this father in the Gospel account, his reality is one of desperation, as his child has become deathly ill. This man was probably not prone to feelings of helplessness. He was an official from Capernaum, a powerful man, a nobleman. We can be assured he had wealth, including servants always at his disposal. He likely had abundant possessions, and he had status to carry his name.
But none of that mattered when his son became ill. All those feelings of invincibility and prestige quickly crumbled for this official. His son was dying, and all the money in the world could not stop the progression of his illness. Everything this man had become was useless to him now, and he went from being a man of ability to a man of helplessness.
Perhaps you've found yourself in this type of vulnerable, emptied position before?
This official, this father, had heard of Jesus' return from Samaria, and his desperation drove him to make the 15 mile journey to find Christ (John 4:46-47). He did not send a servant to do his bidding, for such was the importance of the mission; he went in person to beg a miracle for his son's life. I wonder if this man had given Jesus any thought before his son became sick. Had he cared at all about the upheaval Jesus' message was bringing to the world of the Jews? Or was it only in his helplessness that he finally considered Jesus? Whatever his earlier opinions on the matter, his hopelessness from circumstances drove him to find Christ. When he found Jesus, the father implored Him to come, to make haste to Capernaum so that He could heal his son.
Jesus was his last hope. His son was dying. We can only imagine how he begged with such angst and despondence, as any desperate parent would.
Jesus answered the man:
“Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will not believe." (4:48)
His response seems odd, misplaced to the father's desperate pleas, and almost uncaring. I wonder what Christ thought as He said these words. Having just left Samaria, were the woman from the well and her people on His mind, with their absolute belief in Him based on His Word, His message? Was He exasperated by the lack of faith He found in Galilee? While it seems odd, Jesus' response shows that He was looking beyond that moment in time. Jesus spoke to the father's (and the people's) greater need.
Maybe He could have said it differently, saying something like this: "What if I say no to your request? What if I perform no more miracles among you? Would you still believe?"
You see, miracle or not, Jesus was still God's Son. Answered requests or not, He is still the Savior of the world. The issue at this point was not whether Jesus wanted to heal the boy or let him die. Compassionate and grace-filled, Jesus delighted to heal the physical diseases and maladies of those who came to Him. However, His mission in coming to earth was more than healing the temporary diseases of humankind; His mission was to rescue the souls of man from our greatest affliction, sin.
In response to Jesus' words, the royal official insisted: “Sir, come down before my child dies” (4:49).
This man believed that Jesus could heal his son, but his faith was imperfect. He wanted to see Jesus work a miracle, and he believed Jesus must be physically present to work a miracle. The content of his faith was in question: would he believe only if Jesus healed his son?
Jesus brought it to a climax, a crisis of faith, when He responded:
“You may go; your son will live.” (4:50)
He gave the man a choice: stay, ignoring Jesus' promise and insisting that Jesus come see his son, his belief dependent upon whether or not he would see a miracle; or go, obeying the command of Jesus and believing the word of Jesus. Do not forget, he was a desperate man and a determined father. To have traveled so far, we can assume Jesus was his last hope, as he had likely already tried everything else in his power to save his son. This father did not have the recorded Gospel of John to ensure his son would live. He only had the word of Jesus.
Now, after all the father had done, Jesus told him to go, to leave behind all his efforts at saving his son, and to instead trust Jesus' word.
Before any miracles.
Before any answered prayers.
Go. Believe. Trust. Obey.
Thankfully, this father got it right, for we are told, "The man believed what Jesus said to him and left" (4:50). He believed. He didn't believe because of what Jesus did for him, and he didn't believe only because Jesus worked a miracle. He first believed in Jesus, trusting His Word. His belief led him to obey, and it changed his life. In his case, his son lived, recovering from his illness at the moment his father believed in Jesus (4:51-54). There was also a greater healing in the official's entire household, for they all believed in Jesus and were saved from their greatest affliction, the sin condition.
Belief that is founded upon what Jesus does for us or offers us will always be shifty, faulty, fickle. Jesus knew this. Faith constructed upon miracles and signs, selfish pleas and personal pursuits, will never last. But faith grounded in Jesus Christ, believing on Him for who He is and not simply what He offers, that is faith that lasts. That is belief that changes.
That is trust that proclaims with the prophet Habakkuk,
"Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food. the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer's; he makes me tread on my high places." Habakkuk 3:17-19