When our Lord walked this earth, people must have asked Him many times if He would heal this person or that person—or himself or herself. Gracious as He was, He never turned away anyone. Whether the person was very poor, such as the woman who had spent everything she had but never was cured, a foreigner such as the Syro-Phoenician woman or someone of high rank such as a Roman centurion, He answered their prayers and requests.
In the text, John said Jesus had come from Judea and already had passed through Samaria and now was in Cana of Galilee. He had performed His first miracle there, changing water into wine (John 2). Now, He’s there again and will encounter someone who has a need that only Jesus is able to fulfill.
The text is from John 4, beginning with verse 46:
So Jesus came again into Cana of Galilee, where He made the water wine. There was a certain nobleman, whose son was sick at Capernaum. When he heard that Jesus had come out of Judaea into Galilee, he went to Him, and asked Him to come and heal his son, for he was at the point of death. Then said Jesus to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders, you will not believe. The nobleman said, “Sir, come down, or my child will die. Jesus said to him, “Go thy way; you son lives.” The man believed the word Jesus spoke to him, and he went his way. As he was going down, his servants met him, and said, “Your son’s alive!” Then asked at what hour his son became well, and they said, “Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.” So the father knew it was the same hour as when Jesus said, “Your son lives.” So, he believed, as did his whole house. This is the second miracle Jesus did when He had come out of Judaea into Galilee.
The Father’s Concern
Some of Jesus’ miracles followed this pattern: Someone made a request; Jesus replied to the request; we read the result. Several examples come to mind, such as the healing of the lepers. One of them came within touching distance of Jesus and said, “Lord, if You are willing, You can (heal me)” (Matt 8). That was the request, and Jesus replied by saying, “I am willing, (so) be healed.” He replied to the request, and the leper was healed! Although we do not read of a follow-up or an “Ah, Lord, it didn’t work,” we can be sure that if the priest found something wrong, the leper never would have been pronounced clean or healed.
Give credit to this father! He was concerned enough to find Jesus and ask Him directly to heal his son. There were and are men who are not concerned about their children’s well-being and won’t bother to ask God for healing. Too many people want to blame God for their problems when they ought to ask God for protection and healing.
Something that we may not catch at first is the distance the nobleman had traveled. In verse 46, we read that Jesus was at Cana of Galilee, where He had turned the water into wine. John 2 gives details of probably the most unusual wedding ever held, when the groom was told they didn’t have any more wine for the feast! Jesus came to the rescue, after His mother, Mary, asked Him to intervene. Cana was only a few miles away from Nazareth, where Jesus and His siblings were reared. Capernaum, though, was on the Sea of Galilee and a long way away, 20 to 30 miles. If the nobleman walked that distance, he probably had gone a good day’s journey; if he had an animal (a horse or donkey), he still would have been on the road for several hours. He did all this to request that his son be healed.
The Lord’s First Answer
I’m a little surprised at what Jesus said to this ruler after being asked to come and heal his son. Verse 48: “Unless you see signs and wonders, you will not believe”! So, what did Jesus mean?
Without referring to commentaries, we could find a number of opinions from reading the text alone. One possibility is that Jesus was testing the man’s sincerity. Jesus was God in the flesh and knew all about the man, the boy, the situation and everything else. Another possible answer is that Jesus was speaking to an entire group of people. He was speaking to the man, but note Jesus used the plural form of you, implying that other people were within earshot. Still another is that Jesus gave the man a rebuke. What was the real reason the man came to Jesus? Of course Jesus knew, but did others? A final possible opinion is that Capernaum was a city that wasn’t going to receive Jesus and His message. Sometime after this, Jesus roundly condemned Capernaum, saying in Matthew 11:23, “And you, Capernaum, which is exalted to heaven, shall be brought down to hell. For if the mighty works that were done in you had been done in Sodom, they would have remained to this day.” Jesus hadn’t performed any miracles in Capernaum, as far as we know, but He knew what was going to happen in that city.
The real reason is probably something we’ll never fully understand, but one thing was sure: Jesus issued either a challenge or rebuke. Only He knows why.
Yet, the father didn’t give up! He asked again, perhaps more pleadingly, “Sir, come down or my child will die” (v. 49). Note the faith as the father was sure Jesus could heal his son. Note the persistence as he didn’t walk away after the first response. Note the results, too, when Jesus spoke to him for the second time!
The Lord’s Final Answer
Jesus then replied to the man, “Go thy way [your son will live].” That was it. Jesus didn’t tell the man to do anything remarkable. Consider Naaman, the Syrian general, who thought either the king of Israel or the prophet of Jehovah would heal him of leprosy. Naaman was furious when a messenger—not the prophet himself—told him to do nothing more than dip himself in the Jordan River seven times. Naaman was not happy with the prescription and grumbled about how he could have taken a bath in the rivers of Damascus, implying he would’ve been cleaner! However, when his own servants told him, “Wouldn’t you have done some great thing had he asked? Why not just wash and be clean?” he did so. He obeyed and received healing! (See 2 Kings 5.)
Jesus did not tell the father to go to the priests, make a sacrifice or anything else. The Law of Moses listed specific guidelines (see Lev. 14:2 and following) for lepers to be pronounced clean, for example, but I haven’t found anywhere that an offering or sacrifice was required for healing from a fever. The father may have given a thank offering afterward, but Jesus didn’t require one, and He didn’t mention anything about offerings here.
My opinion is that Jesus definitely found genuine faith and concern in the father’s heart, then had compassion on the man and his son. Note, though, a contrast: A Roman centurion sent messengers to Jesus, asking in faith for Jesus to heal his servant. Jesus offered to go to the centurion’s house, but he said Jesus didn’t have to do this! Here, we see a Jewish nobleman who exercised personal faith, making a journey of 20 miles just to request healing for his son. Jesus didn’t offer to go with him to Capernaum, and didn’t tell him to stay at Cana. He simply said, “Go thy way.” He healed the boy from where He was at the time.
The man believed Jesus at His words and “went his way” (v. 50). We don’t know if the man went back to Capernaum or stayed in Cana or somewhere in between. Regardless, when he got back to Capernaum, several people were there to meet him! Verse 51: “as he was now going down (Capernaum was at a lower elevation than Cana, being close to the Sea of Galilee), his servants met him…” What a story they had to tell!
There’s something we can glimpse about this ruler, this nobleman, in that not only did he have servants but they went to meet him! They weren’t upset about the ruler coming back home, and they weren’t hiding from him. They welcomed him back to his home. This gives me a glimpse of his character, one of those rare people who have positions of power, yet retains the respect of his servants.
Not only were they glad to see him return, but they also provided good news! The servants told him, “Your son lives” (v. 51). Were they as concerned for the boy as his father was? I would like to think so. If any of my children were at death’s door, I would want others to be concerned for them, too, regardless of my social class or standing.
Once the father heard the good news about the healing, he wanted to know the time when it took place. I’ve always felt this was a bit odd, but then the nobleman may not have known exactly when the boy would be healed. Jesus only said, “Go thy way,” and the man obeyed.
Imagine his surprise when he found out the boy was healed the moment Jesus spoke! The man believed (v. 53), and his whole household believed, too! This man may have been told, “You won’t believe unless you see signs or wonders” (v. 48); but when he saw, he believed!
The man went to Jesus with a burden and returned home to a blessing. The journey was worth it as his son received healing, which only Jesus could provide. Jesus told this man to “go thy way,” and he became a believer at the end of his journey. Oh, that we might do the same.