The Long-Distance Sign (John 4:43–54)

Read John 4:43–54.

Not too long ago, I read that an original, sealed copy of the Super Mario Bros. Nintendo game from 1985 sold at auction for a record $660,000. Now, don’t get me wrong—I enjoy navigating the mustachioed plumber through the Mushroom Kingdom, breaking bricks and stomping turtles, only to find out the princess is another castle as much as the next guy, but that price seems a bit high to me.

The game itself isn’t rare. Used cartridges can be found for just a few dollars at thrift stores and second-hand shops. It can even be downloaded on more recent gaming systems. My six-year-old, Jonah, and I play the game together every now and then. But this particular copy of Super Mario Bros. is so valuable because of its packaging. First off, this edition is rarer than most because the design of the box was changed, just slightly, a short time later. Second, the box is still sealed in its original shrink wrap. It seems someone purchased the game as a gift in 1985, placed it in their desk drawer, and then forgot about it.

I imagine the person who purchased the game at auction will keep it sealed. It will probably end up behind the glass of a locked display case or in a safe somewhere. No one’s going to rip the plastic off the box, pull out the cartridge, and take Mario for a jog around the bricks and pipes of Level 1-1. The game will probably never be played. The winning bidder and their loved ones will just admire the immaculate box.

Packaging is designed to point beyond itself to the thing inside, the thing that matters. In the same way, the signs in John’s Gospel are designed to point beyond themselves to Jesus. The Son of God performs many miracles, signs, and wonders during His ministry, but John focuses on seven, chosen from among them all, to reveal who Jesus is and the sort of life He has in store for His followers (John 20:31). The second is found here in John 4:43–54.

Jesus has returned to Galilee. The people there welcome Him, but it’s not really Him they welcome; it’s His miracles. These same people had been in Jerusalem for the Passover and had seen the signs (John 4:45; compare with 2:23–25). They believe in Jesus’ name, but their belief is superficial. They are fans, not followers. They can’t seem to get beyond the packaging to Jesus Himself.

While Jesus is in Cana, the same village where He earlier turned water into wine, a royal official from Capernaum comes looking for Him. His boy is sick and growing sicker every day. If his health doesn’t turn around soon, he’ll be dead. This official has heard about Jesus and His miracles, so he’s come to this small village on a mission to find hope.

Though John doesn’t tell us much about this man, he is likely an officer of Herod’s court. Herod Antipas is the ruler in Galilee, the son of Herod the Great. But unlike his father, he isn’t a proper king; that title was denied to him by Rome. He isn’t really Jewish either. His father was an Idumean and his mother was a Samaritan. Although Herod Antipas has his opportunistic supporters from among the people, most view him as an illegitimate ruler, a puppet of their Roman oppressors. And so, this royal official, in the eyes of the people, is a traitor to God and those who love Him; he’s not the sort the Messiah came to bless.

As Jesus talks with this man, the two are not alone. Jesus addresses the crowds as much as He addresses the official: “‘Unless you people see signs and wonders,’ Jesus told him, ‘you will never believe’” (4:48, emphasis added).

I have a son—three of them actually. If one of them was lying in bed near the point of death, this isn’t what I’d want to hear from Jesus. I imagine it wasn’t what the official wanted to hear either. Yet he pushes through, focused on two things: his quickly deteriorating son back home and what He believes about the Jewish rabbi standing in front of him. He doubles down: “Sir, come down before my child dies” (v. 49).

What Jesus says next is brilliant. There must have been something in the way He looked at the royal official as He said it, because the two men connect on a deeper level. Jesus tells the man, “Go… your son will live” (v. 50), but in Greek the sentence simply reads, “Go, your son lives.”

To the crowds who are eager to see another miracle for the thrill of it, Jesus appears to be telling the official, “Stop bothering me. Go home and spend time with your boy while you still can.” This fits their expectations, since they believe a man who does the bidding of Herod Antipas doesn’t deserve the blessings of the Messiah. It also reveals the filthiness of their own hearts. They don’t care about the young man dying back in Capernaum. They have no compassion or love for outsiders. They’ve missed who Jesus is. He came for outsiders—every last one of us.

To the royal official, however, Jesus’ words are enough to confirm his faith. After coming all this way to find the source of his hope, he believes his son will recover. “The man took Jesus at his word and departed” (v. 50). Sometime later, while he is still trekking back to Capernaum, a servant meets him on the way to tell him that his son’s health has drastically improved. Things began to turn around precisely when Jesus had spoken His words of assurance. But those words had done another powerful work: they had revealed what was in this official’s heart. Unlike the crowds, he didn’t need to see to believe. He wields the kind of faith Jesus is looking for.

Each sign in John’s Gospel reveals the heart of God the Father and helps us to understand the mission of God the Son. Collectively, they have been given to us so that we might know Jesus and put our trust in Him. It’s easy to be a fan of Jesus. It takes faith to get beyond the packaging in order to place all that is precious to us in His hands.

What’s this all about?

2 thoughts on “The Long-Distance Sign (John 4:43–54)

  1. This blog is a great joy to me.

    Liked by 1 person

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