21 September 2008

Encountering Jesus - The Capernaum Nobleman

This month (the last month I'll be able to teach Bible study to the ladies until after I return to Niger in January :-( ), we looked at another "rendez-vous" with the Lord. So far, we've considered the Lord's meetings with:

  • His mother Mary and the servants at the wedding feast in Cana,
  • Nicodemus,
  • and the Samaritan woman at the well.
This particular study focused on the encounter between Jesus and the nobleman from Capernaum, also found in John 4.

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 inquired 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. (John 4.46-54, KJV)

Jesus had returned to Cana, where he had performed his first miracle. Since this was an encounter that we had already studied, and because I believe that every word written in the Bible is there for a reason and to help us better know and have confidence in our God and Savior (and is a big part of the purpose of the whole book of John - see John 20.31), I was intrigued by the fact that John reminds us that Cana was where he performed his first miracle, changing the water into wine. So we reviewed the things we had learned during that first lesson:
  1. Mary, Jesus' mother, knew that she could approach the Lord with whatever her need, big or small. So can we, for He is the same Lord now that He was then.
  2. Jesus responded to her, and will also respond to us. It is not always the response that we desire, for which we are looking, or what we want to hear. But, He does and will respond.
  3. We can have confidence in Him, just as Mary did, that whatever His response, whatever He chooses to do, it will be very good.
  4. Jesus performs extravagant miracles - things far and above what we could imagine or dream up on our own. He loves to bring pleasure to those He loves.
  5. The servants, those in the position of unquestioning and immediate obedience, where the first to see and recognize this miracle of Jesus. To see God working, we too must be found in the position of obedience.
These are important points to remember as we look at this passage about the nobleman's experience with the Savior.

I bolded in the Bible passage above some of the key phrases that we considered. The first one was that this man was not just "any 'ole man." He was a nobleman. Translated back from the French, he was a high ranking dignitary... but he still had a difficult and serious problem. For the people who live here, in admittedly difficult and challenging poverty and heat, it is very easy for them to think that "the grass is greener" elsewhere. If only I had an education (or a better one)... If only I had money... If only I had "______" job... If only people respected me.... If only I had.... Yet these sorts of things do not function as immunizations against trouble. Education, health, money, position or power, possessions - none of these will guarantee a life of ease, trouble free. It is easy to presume that those with these things live life on "Easy Street," but the truth is that no one who has ever lived, is alive or will live can be exempt from trouble, difficulty and hard times.

This nobleman had a very serious problem. His son was gravely ill. Reading back through the passage and taking note of the words that describe how sick he was as well as the words that talk about to what lengths the father was willing to go just to have some hope that his boy might survive. It was these difficult circumstances that drove this father to a meeting with Jesus. The father didn't know where else to turn. Discouraged, he was pushed to his very limits - leading to an encounter with the Savior.

Just how far did this daddy go to meet up with the Lord, a man he had never met, but of whom he'd heard others speak? The distance between Capernaum, the nobleman's home and Cana, where Jesus was reputedly located, was 42 kilometers (i.e. around 20 miles). That is a good two day's journey on foot. This father was literally grasping at straws - even with the best of information, he could have no guarantee that Jesus would still be in Cana when he arrived there himself. But he was desperate to seek out the only hope he had - that this man who could perform miracles might be able to touch and heal his son. There is a saying we hear often in Niger: "Inch Allah" (I'm not sure of the spelling... sorry.). It essentially means "Whatever God wills..." and can be a sign of acceptance of the sovereignty of God. More often than not, however, it usually signifies a person's refusal to commit... a way of avoiding dealing with some of the realities and difficulties of this life... and is an excuse. "My child was just run over by a car? Inch Allah." I can drive however I want, because "Que sera sera... whatever will be will be." and we carry no responsiblity for our actions because God has already predetermined everything. That sort of belief totally ignores the reality of a Savior who is intimately connected with our day to day lives, of a God who is always ready to offer His grace and mercy, of the One who says, "If you seek me, you will find me if you search with all your heart..."

The nobleman "besought" Jesus. The sense of the word besought is that the father did not come to Jesus once to make his request. It contains more the idea that he followed the Lord around, asking repeatedly and persistantly, perhaps even throwing himself at the feet of Jesus as he put forth his petition.

The first response of Jesus always surprises me. As I read it, polite and sympathetic are not the immediate descriptions that come to my mind. I feel sorry for the father - and can imagine him thinking, "What did I do to deserve that sort of an answer? Why is he angry with me?" It probably was not what he was expecting to hear... certainly not what he was hoping to hear. However, as I prayed about that response and asked the Lord, "Why?" it was as though the Holy Spirit gave me a glimpse of Jesus' eyes as he responded to the man. I picture them filled with love and compassion, because Jesus was pointing out to this man something very important. The father came to him with what he thought was a serious, desperate need - a divine touch to heal his son's dying body. Jesus, in His gracious mercy, pointed out that there was another, even more grave ailment that needed to be dealt with, an illness that would most certainly result in eternal death - a lack of belief in Himself. I'm so thankful that the father persisted - and asked one more time for the Savior's help.

Jesus' response this time was what I had expected. One sentence. Six small words. His first response was directed to the father and the crowd of people surrounding Him. This second response was for the nobleman. I wonder if the nobleman sensed the power that was contained in those 6 words? We know that the words of God are powerful. He calmed the wind and the waves with mere words. He used words to create from nothing all that is. He resurrected Lazarus with a single sentence. And with His final cry on the cross, "It is finished!" tore the curtain in the temple, opening the path of grace for us to approach the Almighty God directly. Isaiah 55.11 says "So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it." God's Word - spoken or written - is powerful, giving and changing life.

The Bible doesn't tell us if the nobleman sensed that incredible power; it says he believed and demonstrated that belief by his obedience. He left for home immediately. And I think this following was my favorite thing that I pulled from studying this encounter. Who were the first ones to recognize that Jesus had performed this miracle? It was the servants and the nobleman who met each other en route, 1 1/2 days after the nobleman had left the Lord's presence. Both the servants and the nobleman had demonstrated a believing faith - without seeing the whole miracle. The father never saw the Savior touch his son, nor had he already seen his son healed. The servants knew that the boy was well, but had not heard the words of the Lord, neither had the experienced the presence of God. But both the servants and the father were in the place of obedience. And there, on that road of compliance, they both realized the greatness of the miracle that the Lord had performed. As servants, they were the first to know all that the Lord had done.

So, to summarize the key points:
  1. Nothing protects us from problems during this life. If we are alive, we can expect trouble and difficulties.
  2. It is often those troubles and difficulties that push us to seek and search for the Lord.
  3. Jesus is approachable, and longs to see our persistance as we seek Him.
  4. Jesus responds, not just as we expect or want, but often in a manner that is even more magnificent, extravagent and far beyond what we were actually asking Him to do.
  5. Faith and belief are best demonstrated by obedience.
  6. God's Word is infinitely powerful.
  7. Those in the position of a servant, those set on obeying the Lord, are the ones who first recognize His hand and His miracles.

Did you notice that several of these key points are repeated from the water into wine encounter earlier in John? The ladies at Bible study did!

There was one other thing that the Lord so impressed upon my heart as I prepared for this Bible study: the father's dedication and engagement in the life of his child. Most parents will tell you that they love their children and would do anything for them - but one priority that I need to make even more of a priority is to truly pray for my children, to spend time before the throne of grace truly interceding on their behalf. Do I pray? Of course. Could I pray more fervently. Definitely! And prayer according to the will of God is an investment into the lives of our children (or the children who the Lord has placed into our lives) is an investment with eternal dividends. Several years ago, just before Nadia was born, I attended a baby shower where I was given a bookmark titled: "16 Things to Pray for Your Children." I've carried that bookmark around in my Bible ever since - trying to frequently pray through that list for each individual child. I decided to translate that list and share it with the ladies at Bible Study. They loved it - and the ladies who can read asked me to make a bookmarks for them to carry around in their Bibles. They also committed to pray for their own children along these lines - several were ideas they had never considered before - as well as to pray for the youth and children who attend the church or who they have the potential to influence in their homes and neighborhoods. It is wonderful to see them get excited about an opportunity for ministry such as this!

16 Things to Pray for Your Children
1. Their salvation.
2. Their mate.
3. That they would fall in love with God's Word.
4. That God would keep them from evil.
5. That they would have a conscience void of offense before God and man.
6. That character would be more valuable to them than credentials.
7. That they would stand up for what is right even if it means standing alone.
8. That they would be kept from the love of money.
9. That they would be kept morally pure.
10. That they would have the heart of a servant.
11. That eternity would burn in their hearts.
12. That sin would always be distasteful to them and that they would not be broken easily over sin.
13. That they would love each other.
14. That they would trust God with their parents and not allow rebellion to set in.
15. Regardless the hardship, that they may never become bitter against God.
16. That our boys would be glad to be boys, and our girls glad to be girls.

Open Bible photo found at www.bible-truth.org .
"16 Things..." bookmark was made by Tom Harmon and Faithful Men of Michigan.


  1. I know you posted this four years ago, but I wanted to let you know it really encouraged me today and helped me see God's amazing truth in a whole new light!

  2. yeah... still challenges me every time i go back and reread that portion of Scripture. this is probably the most popular post i've ever done. :-)

    thanks for saying hi, and thankful that the Lord used these musings to encourage you.


  3. Thank you for your insightful study on this passage. Just what I needed to tie it all together for my Sunday School class this morning. God bless you.


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