Monday, January 16, 2012

Taking Jesus At His Word - John 4:46-53 - 1/15/2012

He never looked comfortable in a coat and tie. His hands were work worn and he had lost a part of a finger in a work accident many years before. His work clothes were coveralls and you were more likely to find him on a tractor or in his truck then you were riding in the Cadillac his wife had come to love.  He had been raised with some simple but clear beliefs; you work hard, you do right and your word is as good as a bond.  His once rural farm had been surrounded by bustling suburbs and somewhere along the way he had to make the transition from tobacco farmer to land developer - and somewhere along the way had become a man of wealth.  But whether you found yourself talking to him in his role as a farmer – or him in his role as a land developer, those old beliefs still rang true. I liked Omer.  If Omer said it you could believe it – and if you shook on it you could take it to the bank.

There are some Jesus stories that are used in sermons and Sunday school lessons over and over again. We hear about Jesus walking on water, feeding the 5000, and even speaking to wee little Zacchaeus up in the tree. But there are some other stories that seemed to get passed over.  Somehow their story and what it tells us about Jesus is almost lost along the way. This morning’s focal story is one of those stories.  In this story we see Jesus meeting an unnamed and unknown public official whose son is very sick.  In this story we see that you could take wake Jesus said to the bank.  Nolen read the passage as a whole earlier in our service, but let’s take a closer look together. The story begins; 46 Once more he visited Cana in Galilee, where he had turned the water into wine. And there was a certain royal official whose son lay sick at Capernaum. 47 When this man heard that Jesus had arrived in Galilee from Judea, he went to him and begged him to come and heal his son, who was close to death.  

This story comes as the second miracle story that John will share.  John sets the stage by telling us that Jesus was going back to Cana of Galilee the site of his first miracle. If we are paying attention that intro should give us fair warning that something significant was about to happen.  A “certain royal official” with a very sick son enters the scene.  It is interesting reading over the struggle many pastors and scholars put into trying to unravel whether this official was a Jew or Gentile; whether he was an official in the political realm or the religious one. But as I read the passage the personal details of this nameless faceless office do not matter.  John has something much more important for us to hear.

John wants us to hear that this “certain royal official” came to Jesus in person. The gospels provide several stories of where officials would dispatch a servant on their behalf to speak to Jesus. This official could have sent one of his servants or one of his underlings to do his bidding.  It is one thing to send someone – it is something else also together to come in person.  This royal official thought the life of his son was so important that he personally came to Jesus face-to-face.  He came with hope that Jesus could do something to heal his son.  He was not above begging Jesus in front of others if it meant Jesus would come to his home and help. 

Jesus heard him pleading and spoke directly. 48 “Unless you people see signs and wonders,” Jesus told him, “you will never believe.” Jesus was right, so many can only believe when it is accompanied by a grand show.  We are so easily captivated by the grand, the impressive, even the miraculous.  But this officials heart was different.  He did not care about the show, he just wanted to have his son alive and well and in his arms again.  49 The royal official said, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” 50 “Go,” Jesus replied, “your son will live.” How many of us would have looked at Jesus and say something like, “That sounds great, now come to Capernaum with me and heal my son.” But this is not what happens.  What happens next is what makes this story incredible.  John reports simply, The man took Jesus at his word and departed. Wow!  No more pleading, no more begging, he just gets up, scoops up his stuff and heads home.  His action is a remarkable display of faith.

I imagine that many gathered that day must have found his response ridiculous, but what John tells us next should make us stop in our tracks. 51 While he was still on the way, his servants met him with the news that his boy was living. 52 When he inquired as to the time when his son got better, they said to him, “Yesterday, at one in the afternoon, the fever left him.”  53 Then the father realized that this was the exact time at which Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” This nameless faceless official took Jesus at his world and everything changed. The official’s faith was reward. His faith changes the life of his son. Life and love replaced the prospect of death and grief.  John also tells us, So he and his whole household believed. His faith changes his life and the life of everyone in his household. It all begins when he took Jesus at his word.

What do you think our lives might look like if we took Jesus at his word?   Jesus tells us; “Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.’”(Matthew 17:20) He says this in response the disciples wondering why they cannot do some of what they had seen Jesus do.  Jesus wanted it clear that if we really took him at his word we could have the kind of faith to move a mountain – not one shovel at a time, but to push it out of the way in whole, to do what God calls us to do.  Do we have the kind of faith that moves molehills or mountains?

We hear Jesus say; 18 “Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. 19 “Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:18-20) Jesus describes for his disciples the kind of faith and the kind of prayer than can break the power of evil and lead us to praying for the heart of God. We hear Jesus but we are tempted to give up on the power of prayer when we do not immediately get what we want or believe we deserve.  Jesus teaches us to pray for the will of God and to trust God to answer in the way that is best for us. Do we take Jesus at his word when he tells us that God hears and responds to our prayers?

We listen as Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan and when in another setting he is questioned he teaches; “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matthew 22:37-40) We have emblazoned this greatest commandment on the walls of our main hall because we understand that a call to love God and love each other with abandon is at the heart of God’s way.  But, it is one thing to write in on a wall and something very different to chose to emblazon and another all together to emblazon it on our hearts.  Do we take Jesus at his word and live a life defined by our love for God and others?

We hear as Jesus stands on a hillside in Galilee and tell his disciples and us that;”But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  (Acts 1:8) Jesus tells us that our witness is empowered by the Holy Spirit and that God will use us to take his word to our city, nation, and world. If we took Jesus at his word how might it change the vigor with which we proclaimed the good news of Jesus to all that we know?

This story of Jesus’ encounter with a nameless faceless official invites us to embrace a passionate pursuit of God’s way. It is a way that calls for us to take Jesus at his word – to truly trust God and then to pick up our stuff and go – knowing that God has gone before us. It is a bold way not a timid one. When we choose to take Jesus at his word things change.  We are changed. Our way of life is changed. When we take Jesus at his word we get to see God at work and those around us cannot help but be impacted.

The Gospel of John tells a story about a nameless official that took Jesus at his word and he and his household believed.  What will be your story?  What would happen if you took Jesus at his word?  What would happen if you became a household of faith? 

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