The Meaning, or
Message, of the Sign
Faith in His power (cf. John 4:49). The fundamental meaning of the incident lies in its contribution to the understanding of the development of faith in a believer. And the first stage of it is faith in the power of God in Christ.
The ability to perform miracles, however, is not a sufficient base upon which to reset confidence in God (cf. Matt. 24:24), but so far as it goes it represents a genuine stage of faith.
Campbell Morgan has some interesting things to say in connection with this. He writes, “In this sign then we have first of all a revelation of absolute power. We use the word supernatural. I am not objecting to it, if it be rightly apprehended. As a matter of fact, however, what we call supernatural, is only super-understandable. All this was perfectly natural to One who like Jesus, lived in unbroken fellowship with God, so that God could operate through Him, as He could not through others.”1
Faith in His word (cf. John 4:50). The second step in the development of the faith of the nobleman is seen in his response to the work of our Lord that he should go home and find his son healed. “He went his way,” John said, after he had believed the word spoken to him by the Lord. Cf. 5:24; 20:29.
Faith in Him (cf. 4:53). The final stage in the faith of the nobleman is reached, when he is met by his servants as he returned to Capernaum and is told, “Thy son liveth” (cf. v. 51). He asked them the hour of the son’s improvement, and they replied, “Yesterday, at the seventh hour, the fever left him” (v. 52).
John adds, “So the father knew that it was at the same hour in which Jesus said unto him, Thy son liveth; and he himself believed, and his whole house” (v. 53). The faith in the power of the Lord has become an absolute faith in Him, stronger than the faith that Nicodemus had, which was a faith in His miracle-working power (cf. 3:2). One is reminded of the faith of the Samaritans (cf. 4:41-42). Cf. 14:40-11.
As we ponder the account of the miracle, we note these things. In the first place, a faith in His power did bring the nobleman’s son to safety (cf. Luke 17:6). And it is a great comfort to reflect in the midst of our trials that He has the power to do anything that He wills, for many of our trials do require for a satisfactory solution a measure of what seems to us to be supernatural power.
One day Mr. Wesley was sitting by an open window looking out over the bright and beautiful fields in the summer-time. Soon a little bird, flitting about in the sunshine attracted his attention. At that moment a hawk came swooping down towards the little bird, and the poor thing, very much frightened, was darting here and there, trying to find some place of refuge. But there was no hiding place, until it saw an open window. Immediately it flew in extreme terror towards the window, and with beating heart and quivering wing found refuge in Mr. Wesley’s bosom. He sheltered it from the threatening danger and saved it from death by the hawk.
Wesley at the time was suffering from some severe trials, and he was himself feeling the need of a refuge from them. It is said that he, after saving the trembling little bird, took up his pen and wrote the sweet hymn,
“Jesus, lover of my soul,
Let me to Thy bosom fly.”
What an encouragement to fly to Him in our trials and troubles!
In the second place, faith in His word brings assurance (cf. 5:24). One should notice the word “yesterday” in the words of the servants who told the nobleman about the time of the healing of the son. There is some doubt about the exact time signified by the expression “at the seventh hour” (cf. v. 52), but it is clear that the nobleman remained for a time where he was, after learning that the son was going to get well. Many feel that seven o’clock was our seven in the evening. If so, then he remained overnight, before making his way back home.2 Others believe that seven o’clock was our one o’clock in the afternoon. If then the use of the term “yesterday” seems a bit strange, but the Jews reckoned the passing from one day to another as occurring at sundown, so this may be the better way to understand the time reference here. At any rate, the nobleman seems to have remained for awhile where he was, perhaps because of his confidence in the power of the Lord to heal with a word. If so, it illustrates the assurance to which faith in Jesus’ word had brought him.
Finally, faith in Him brings satisfaction (cf. 14:1; 1 Pet. 1:8; Rom. 15:13). He not Only has received the salvation of God but has given testimony to the Sonship of the Lord Jesus Christ, and he has been the instrumentality for the sweeping of his whole house into the kingdom of God (cf. v. 53).
John Calvin makes the point that this final step of faith of the nobleman, when he believed the word that his son would live, his faith was not of a different sort. “But now,” Calvin writes, “he begins to believe in a different way, in that having embraced Christ’s teaching, he professed openly that he was one of His disciples. Thus he now not only believes his son will be cured by Christ’s blessing, but he acknowledges Christ to be the Son of God and takes his stand on the side of the Gospel. He has his whole family for company, who witnessed the miracle. Nor can it be doubted that he did his utmost to bring others with him into Christianity.”3 May that be our response, too.
1 Morgan, pp. 85-86.
2 cf. Westcott, p. 79; Godet, II, 138; Morris, pp. 291-92.
3 Calvin, I, 115.