08 April 2013

Encountering Jesus - The Capernaum Nobleman (I)

detail from Bartholomeus Breenbergh's Christ and the Nobleman of Capernaum, circa1630
After the two days he left for Galilee. (Now Jesus himself had pointed out that a prophet has no honor in his own country.) When he arrived in Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him. They had seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival, for they also had been there.

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. 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.

"Unless you people see signs and wonders,” Jesus told him, “you will never believe.”

The royal official said, “Sir, come down before my child dies.”

“Go,” Jesus replied, “your son will live.”
 The man took Jesus at his word and departed. While he was still on the way, his servants met him with the news that his boy was living. 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.” 
Then the father realized that this was the exact time at which Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” So he and his whole household believed.

This was the second sign Jesus performed after coming from Judea to Galilee.
(John 4.43-54)
Jesus had returned to Cana. 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 stated purpose of John's Gospel - see John 20.31), I am intrigued by the fact that John reminds us - Cana was where Jesus performed his first miracle, changing the water into wine. What were some of the key ideas learned from that passage?
  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.
Because of John's reminder, because of the continuity and cohesiveness of the message of the Bible, I want to keep those five points in mind as I look at this passage about the nobleman's encounter with the Savior.

This guy from Capernaum was not just "any 'ole man." He was a nobleman, high ranking dignitary. But he still had a difficult and serious problem. Nigeriens, living in admittedly difficult and challenging poverty and heat,  very easily 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 education, money, a great job, the respect of powerful people, power, etc. do not function as immunizations against trouble. Education, health, money, position or power, possessions - none of these will guarantee a  life of ease. Many... or perhaps we all do, at one time or another... presume that those who have it all live life on Easy Street; but truthfully, no one who has ever lived, is alive or will live can figure on a life exempt from trouble, difficulty and hard times. Imagining or expecting anything any different results in disappointment, great distress and grand disillusionment.

This nobleman had a very serious problem, every parent's nightmare. His son was gravely ill, no one local could help and his boy's future did not look promising. Read back through the passage and take note of the words that describe how sick the boy 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 child might survive. These difficult circumstances drove this father to try and meet with Jesus. The father didn't know where else to turn. Discouraged and investing his last and final efforts in the only hope he could see, he pushed to his very limits - which led to a Jesus encounter.

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), and easily two day's journey on foot. 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 - this father did not dispair... yet. Desperate, he sought out the  hope he could muster - a man who had performed miracles and might be able to touch and heal his son. He had to also be thinking that his position as a nobleman wouldn't hurt, either, in attracting Jesus' attention. 

A saying we hear often in Niger, Inch Allah, 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. It allows the speaker to avoid dealing with some of the realities and difficulties of life, and can serve as an excuse. "My child was just run over by a car? Inch Allah." I can drive however I want, because "Whatever will be will be," and men carry no responsibility for their actions because God has already predetermined everything. That belief ignores the reality of a Savior intimately connected with the day to day lives of those who trust Him. It negates the truth of a God, always ready to offer His grace and mercy. It blasphemes the word of the One who says, "If you seek me, you will find me if you search with all your heart..."

The nobleman "besought (KJV)" 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 this nobleman followed the Lord around, asking repeatedly and persistently, perhaps even throwing himself at the feet of Jesus and begging as he put forth his petition.

And yet, first response of Jesus always surprises me. Each time I read it, polite and sympathetic are not the immediate descriptions that come to my mind. Instead, I feel anger towards the Lord, sorrow and sympathy for the father.  I can readily 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 when he responded to the nobleman. I picture them filled with love and compassion, because Jesus as the Savior pointed out something very important, something critical and life-changing that this man needed to hear. 

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. Much discussion occurs in expat and NGO circles these days regarding the best way to help eradicate worldwide problems such as hunger, lack of clean water, arable land, sex and slave trafficking, illiteracy, HIV/AIDS, rehabilitation of forced child soldiering... One thing clearly surfaces from those discussions. Sometimes, that first-impulse-fix-the-immediate-problem-helping hurts, especially when good intentions actually only serve to foster the current status quo.

I'm so thankful that the father swallowed a probable indignant response and persisted. He asked again for the Savior's help.

Jesus' response this time was what I initially expected. One sentence. Six small words. His first response was directed to the father and the crowd of people surrounding Him. His second response was for the nobleman's son... and his daddy. 

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 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  life changing.

The Bible doesn't tell us if the nobleman sensed that incredible power; it says he believed and he promptly demonstrated that belief by his obedience. He left for home immediately. 

The following idea was the most powerful thing I gleaned from studying this encounter probably because it reinforces a truth that God continues to impress upon my heart. 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, likely 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 they experienced the presence of God. But both the servants and the father were in the place of obedience. As I've studied further, I've also come to believe that there isn't "a place" of obedience, but rather "the place-" a unique and singular heart position and sometimes physical locale that God longs to see in those who say they want to follow Him.

There, on that road of compliance, both high and mighty realized the greatness of the miracle that the Lord had performed. As servants, they were the first to know what the Lord had done.

So, to summarize the key points:
  1. Health, money, position, power, possessions  prestige... none of those things can protect 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 persistence in seeking Him.
  4. Jesus responds, not just as we expect or want, but often in a manner that is even more magnificent, extravagant and far beyond what we were actually asking Him to do.
  5. Faith and belief are 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.
  8. Obedience isn't one of several possible alternatives or reaction - it is doing what God has asked, when He asks it, without questioning and with a humble, thankful attitude.
Did you notice that several of these key points are repeated from the water into wine encounter earlier in John? When I first taught this Bible study to illiterate Nigerien women from our church in Niamey, they immediately latched on to that fact and were so excited at how God teaches and reteaches to make sure that we have ample opportunity to learn about Him. He really wants each encounter to bring us into a deeper relationship with Him.

-edited post from the archives;

this week's gratitude list

(#'s 3691 - 3722)

air conditioning

Mexican lasagna

trying out new recipes

husband and oldest boy getting rid of the cobwebs I can't reach

glimpses of what it will be like some day

boys who aren't afraid to write neatly

hearing Frog and Toad stories read aloud over Easter Break

taking turns reading paragraphs

mornings and afternoons at the pool

icy cold coke in the morning when it is too hot for coffee

laughing with a friend when we go out for breakfast and there's no milk for the tea or oil to fry the potatoes... and the restaurant is across the street from one of the best grocery stores in town

being able to choose laughter together instead of just getting mad and frustrated

a play almost finished

peanut butter and banana smoothies on a Friday night

oven baked onion rings instead

finally getting my hands on an exercise video

the single digit weeks countdown about to begin

Zelda music fans

2 kg of bananas devoured, almost before they were washed

finding frozen broccoli when I really wanted it for a recipe

listening to m&m sing songs from her sisters' upcoming musical

first graders in pink camouflage hats

clean and semi-organized desk

food for the week in the fridge

watching the rain, even when it is far away and only high up in the sky, because that means the rains and relief from the relentless heat is coming

thinking about and praying for their afters

counting up the little things

black, battle scarred kitty that make my kiddos smile

workbooks finished

learning all about foundations

another encouraging school observation

true blue roller massage ball

Ten most recent posts in this series: 


  1. A very inspirational Bible lesson! Thank you for sharing. Stopping by from Ann's blog! Happy Monday!

  2. Hi Richelle,

    Nigeria, huh? Wonderful! I used to live in Liberia and Ivory Coast. I miss the people, food, and much more.

    Nice to meet you. I'm hopping over from Ann's link up to count gifts with you. Thanks for letting me peek in.

    Jennifer Dougan

    1. and many thanks to you for hopping over to take a peek and saying hi!


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