WORD OF GOD SPEAK - HOPE SET HIGH
A man approached a little league baseball game one afternoon. He asked a boy in the dugout what the score was. The boy responded, "Eighteen to nothing--we're behind." "Boy," said the spectator, "I'll bet you're discouraged." "Why should I be discouraged?" Replied the little boy. "We haven't even gotten up to bat yet!"
Last week, Pastor Nathan reminded us that Jesus was a hope dealer. Even if you don't have hope for yourself. He has hope for you. If you missed that powerful teaching, go to the website and listen to the podcast. I highly recommend it because my talk follows right along with that one. This week, we're gonna look at a character in the Gospel of John who had a little hope, a childlike faith, but had placed it in the wrong things and had to learn how to set his hope higher. Which just might be something we need to learn to do today. Especially these days. So let's take a look at it. The story unfolds in John 4:43-54. Have you got your Bible here today? "After two days he [Jesus] left for Galilee."
This story is taking place a year after he changed water in wine at Cana in John 2. Since then, he's gone to Jerusalem, cleansed the temple, bragged about his ability to destroy it and raise it again in 3 days, and finally been thrown out of his own hometown leaving Messianic prophecies and clues pointing to the cross scattered all over the hills of northern Galilee. With this context in mind, verse 44 makes a little more sense. "Now Jesus himself had pointed out that a prophet has no honor in his own country."
So instead of going home to Nazareth upon his return to Galilee, Jesus keeps on walking. From Capernaum on the shores of the Sea of Galilee 685' below sea level Jesus power walks his way up to Cana 16 miles northeast and finally arrives and when he does verse 45 says unlike the folks in Nazareth, "The Galileans welcomed him."
Now if we just stopped there, we could all sigh and smile and stop to sing a few bars of "What a wonderful world." But it doesn't stop there. The question is: Why do they welcome Jesus? Answer? Verse 45 continues because "They had seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast for they also had been there."
In other words, the word was out. And in many of their minds, Jesus was the Messiah! This Jesus train was bound for glory and nearly everyone from Judea to Galilee wanted to get on board! Including the nobleman, or literally the King's man, in this story. Which according to the Bible wasn't unheard of. Luke 8:3 describes a guy named Chuza who was a nobleman who followed Jesus. Acts 13:1 describes a guy named Manaen who did the same thing. Whether this guy was either of those guys we don't know. Scholars don't even know if this guy is different than the centurion from Capernaum Matthew 8 and Luke 7 describes that came to Jesus asking him to heal his servant. What we do know from the context in John is this nobleman was apparently one of multitudes considering the possibility that Jesus was the Messiah. Especially after hearing and maybe even seeing all Jesus did in Jerusalem.
What we also know is this guy was no crippled paralytic whom people had pity on. This dude worked for King Herod Antipas. Tetrach of Galilee and Peraea. In other words, he was a VIP. Someone with influence and authority. Someone worth following. And when this guy heard that Jesus had arrived in Galilee from Judea, verses 46-47 says, "he went to him and begged him to come and heal his son, who was close to death."
Which is sort of ironic. Because Jesus is usually the one asking others to follow him. Right? But not this time. This nobleman is turning the tables. Asking it the other way around. Which you've got to have some guts to do don't you think? You've got to have some guts to ask the King who is replacing the one you currently work for to serve him instead of the other way around! But even for a nobleman, this is no small request. Because this was probably a 4-5 hour hike we're talking about here. It’s not like they could just hop in the new church bus. Which we’re picking up next week folks!!! Aw yeah, transportation is on the way!!! This was no holy hike through the tulips. This was a serious trek. Which suggests to me that he came to Jesus with more than a little hope here. He probably thought, "If anyone can get Jesus to change his mind and come to Capernaum, it's me. Who wouldn't want to have a friend like me in high places? Someone with power and position?
But the King of the universe read his heart. He immediately realized this man's hope was built on something else than Jesus' blood and righteousness. Which leads us to point number one for today: Jesus wants us to come as you are. Long before Curt Cobain penned those classic Nirvana lyrics, Jesus lived them. He knew this noble man's heart. He knew his hope was built on something else. That he had some hope. But that it had more to do with his position and power and the people he knew than with the one whom knowing is life eternal. But knowing all that, this is the coolest part, Jesus doesn't reject him!!! It just feels that way sometimes.
Verse 48 says, "'48Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders,' Jesus told him, 'you will never believe.'" Ouch! Right? Unless you people! How many of us could say that to any group of people and not get slapped? And in the course of this conversation, in the English, it sounds especially hurtful. Like Jesus is speaking the truth, but not so much in love. But just because we feel that way, doesn't mean it is that way. We know this is true because in the Greek, the verbs in this verse that Jesus use are plural. In other words, he's not talking to the nobleman any more. At least not directly. He is addressing everyone else. Giving this fellow some time to think.
What Jesus means is, "Unless you guys here in Galilee, unlike those folks in Samaria who already accepted me merely from my words and the words of the town prostitute, unless you guys see miraculous signs and wonders, just like the Jews in John 2:18, and Nicodemus in John 3:2 and the Capernaum crowd in John 6:30, unless you see something with your own eyes, you won't believe. You'll remain hopeless. But if, as point number two reveals, you know your need, then all things are possible. Because I can do all things.
And in that instance, I think the nobleman got it. Something clicked inside him. He knew His need. To rely not on his riches, but his relationship with Jesus. To rely not on his prestige, but on his position. Not as a nobleman. But as a beggar. Who believes. James 1:5-7 says, "If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord."
Come as you are I hear Jesus is saying. Because nobody is noble except me. And if I am for you, who can be against you? I'm straight out telling you I won't find fault in you. Even if you come for the wrong reasons! Why? Because I don't care why you come! I only care if you come! Why? Because I love you all like crazy!!! That's what I'm trying to get you to understand. First it was a Jewish Pharisee named Nicodemus. I let him come in the middle of the night. Then there was the Samaritan prostitute. I let her come at high noon. Now it's this nobleman serving a puppet king of a pagan government. Talk about a sell out!!! But I love him too!!!
Why is it that Samaritan prostitutes and tax collectors and drug addicts and homeless guys understand this before you noblemen do? Stop worrying about how to approach God. Because He will help you sort out how to get to a place of humility. Eventually, he will lead you to a place of recognizing your need for him. And while it may not feel good when He does, it is a good thing!
I believe the royal official recognizes this and snaps out of his selfishness and pride before begging in verse 49, "'Sir, come down before my child dies.'"
He means, "Don't come down because I'm someone worthy to follow. Come down because I'm not! I'm begging you! It's not about me anymore. I promise. It's about my son." The NLT most accurately says "It's about my little boy." It's a matter of life and death!
It's interesting. In this verse, John uses a different word for son in verse 49 than that the word he uses in verses 46-47. The word in verse 49 is a more personal word. A more honest description. It means, "My little boy." Undoubtedly, the Son of God was moved by the plight of this father. The nobleman hoped to see before he believed. That’s why he wanted Jesus to literally come with him. But Jesus, out of love, required him to believe before he could see. So Jesus replies in verse 50, "'You may go. Your son will live.' Which was good enough for him. So the man took Jesus at his word and departed."
I love this part. The Bible says this man took Jesus at his word and departed. But he apparently didn't depart all that quickly. Because verse 51 says, "51While he was still on the way, his servants met him with the news that his boy was living. 52When he inquired as to the time when his son got better, they said to him, 'The fever left him yesterday at the seventh hour.' 53Then the father realized that this was the exact time at which Jesus had said to him, 'Your son will live.' So he and all his household believed."
Did you all catch that? The servants finally met the father coming home the next day because they said at the 7th hour yesterday his fever left him. Which means 1pm. Four or five hours later running or even power walking downhill to Capernaum would've got him there by supper the same day. But the Bible says it wasn't until the next day that his servants go looking for him to tell him the good news he already knew. That his son was alive. Which were the very words Jesus spoke. Why? I think the answer is because once you come to Jesus as you are and He helps you know your need, your heart and life is immediately filled with peace that passes understanding. A confidence that cannot be shaken. Time is no longer short. Time is long. Every day with Jesus becomes sweeter than the day before. Even in the end times. Riddled with terrorism. Drought. Wild fires. Hypodermic needles. War. If your hope is set high, you can take your time. Focusing on that which is good. Living a life worth living. And a life worth sharing. And believe it or not, there are plenty of things that are still good on earth.
Taking a nice slow walk. Dancing in the leaves. Filling up your photo album. Learning to play piano. Watching the birds. If there is any lesson we need to learn more today I don't know what it is. Take your time! Relax. Breathe deep. You are accepted. Just as you are. You are loved. Just as you are. You are challenged. Just as you are. Because hope always helps.
David and Cynthia are newlyweds. They're young guns. But like the nobleman in our story today. They get it. They understand that hope always helps. So they adopted 3 special needs adults with the IQ's of children. Take a look.
The question is: How do we do that? With wildfires raging and ice caps melting and droughts lengthening and genocide threatening, can we too help the hopeless? I think the nobleman showed us how. We do that by coming and keep coming to Jesus just as we are. Proud. Fearful. Selfish. Addicted. Jealous. Whatever. We come and keep coming to him and when we do He immediately promises not to find fault in us. Although he could. Instead, he looks us up and down, asks us some challenging questions, and begins a process in us that helps us know our needs. He challenges us to slow down long enough to walk humbly with our God. Wherever we live. Helping others hope simply by the way we live.
So let me ask you a challenging question this morning. Are you dying for the touch of Jesus? Or are you waiting and watching for a miracle? If you are, you could be waiting a while. Because the real miracle is not whether or not the fires are extinguished. The drought ends. Or the boy lives. The real miracle occurs when we come and keep coming to Jesus. The real miracle is when we become willing to know our real need. The real miracle is not when the church marches forward but when it slows down to take the time to walk humbly with our God. Whatever he allows and whatever the future holds. Is that your desire this morning?
From Parade magazine comes the story of self-made millionaire Eugene Land, who greatly changed the lives of a sixth-grade class in East Harlem. Mr. Lang had been asked to speak to a class of 59 sixth-graders. What could he say to inspire these students, most of whom would drop out of school? He wondered how he could get these predominantly black and Puerto Rican children even to look at him. Scrapping his notes, he decided to speak to them from his heart. "Stay in school," he admonished, "and I'll help pay the college tuition for every one of you." At that moment the lives of those students changed. For the first time they had hope. Said one student, "I had something to look forward to, something waiting for me. It was a golden feeling." Nearly 90 percent of that class went on to graduate from high school.
Come as you are. Know your need. And take time to help the hopeless. That’s how you too can set your hope high.