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The Life of Jesus - Series 3: Episode 2

Jesus heals a government official’s son

| Martin Charlesworth
John 4:43-54

Jesus returns to Cana in Galilee. A Jewish royal official seeks him out and asks for healing for his son. The first of many healing miracles. Faith in terms of earnestness and persistence is encouraged.

Jesus returns to Cana in Galilee. A Jewish royal official seeks him out and asks for healing for his son. The first of many healing miracles. Faith in terms of earnestness and persistence is encouraged.


Hello and welcome to series 3 and episode number 2 and in this episode Jesus heals a government official's son.

Introduction and Recap

We're back in John's Gospel for this episode. We're going to be reading shortly from John 4: 43 - 54. In the last episode I was reading from Matthew, Mark and Luke describing a particular account of a key event - Jesus starting his public preaching in Galilee. We'd spent quite a long time in previous episodes finding out what had happened between Jesus' baptism in the River Jordan and his public preaching in Galilee and it turned out that a lot of things happened in that intervening period - many of them recorded by John's Gospel and many of them related to Jesus visiting the south of the country, Judea and Jerusalem. We saw the first cleansing of the Temple; the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus; the amazing encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman and the Samaritan villagers as he travelled back from Jerusalem to Galilee. All these events had taken place but Jesus hadn't really launched his public preaching ministry officially - and certainly not in his home district of Galilee, which was to be his base for most of his ministry. In our last episode, we saw that this is exactly what Jesus did: he started preaching; he said that the time had come; the Kingdom of God was at hand, was near, and that people needed to repent and believe the good news. He moved from Nazareth, his home town, to Capernaum which is a fishing village on the north-west side of the Sea of Galilee - a freshwater lake, which forms the scene, environment and the context for much of Jesus' ministry, with many settlements all the way round the edge of the lake and we'll see reference to many of them during Jesus' ministry.

His base was there in Capernaum and a few kilometres south was the main town on the Sea of Galilee, called Tiberias, which was the headquarters of the local regional ruler called Herod Antipas, or Herod the Tetrarch, one of the sons of Herod the Great (the King at the time of Jesus' birth). Herod Antipas ruled the northern districts of Israel and he's important for our story today because it's one of his staff, one of his royal officials, who has a remarkable need and encounter with Jesus and experiences an incredible miracle and actually becomes a believer. We've no record that Jesus met the local regional ruler, Herod Antipas, during his life until the very last week of his life but they lived in close proximity to each other and this is the first occasion that one of Herod's staff, or one of his officials, becomes profoundly influenced by Jesus and becomes a believer. Doubtless Herod would have heard this story.

The location for our story is the town of Cana - which is the scene of a previous visit of Jesus. In John 2, we see that Jesus visited Cana once before, after his baptism, and on that occasion he was invited to a wedding through family connections. His mother was there; he brought his disciples along. (Probably five or six at the time. There were five disciples who came with him from John the Baptist's encampment at Bethany which we noticed earlier on. He spent time at the wedding and then something supernatural and extremely remarkable took place when they ran out of wine and he turned water into wine miraculously - which John describes as his first sign, his first miracle. So the residents of Cana, which would only be a small village - a few hundred people - would all know about Jesus because there wouldn't be a single person in that community who wasn't aware of that wedding having taken place and this was only a very short time before the event we see described in the text today. In these small communities, as I said when we studied that passage, everyone participated, many were invited and almost everybody was watching the events as the bride and groom passed through the village and the families rejoiced together (celebrations lasted a few days anyway). It's virtually impossible for any resident of Cana not to be aware that this Jesus, who was from the nearby village of Nazareth, the son of Joseph, had performed an incredible miracle that nobody could explain; and that at the end of the wedding ceremony there was lots of wine left over because of the sheer quantity of wine produced. You need to keep that in mind as we come back to Cana for another event. These villagers knew something already and it made them open and favourable to Jesus. Let's read the text, it's John 4: 43 - 54:

‘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, NIV
The importance of Miracles

This is a very remarkable event. It starts off with a rather surprising statement, where Jesus is referred to as having said that a prophet has no honour in his own country and yet it appears that the people in Cana, at least, received him very warmly. He goes on to say that miracles are going to be critical for people to believe and probably what Jesus has in mind in this rather surprising statement, is the recent experience that's happened to him in Samaria. You see the Samaritans believed the Gospel and believed in Jesus, believed he was the Messiah, without any miracle being performed. There's no record of any miracle in that story earlier on in John 4 and yet, here in Galilee, Jesus is implying that miracles are going to be necessary in order for people to believe. The Galileans were more focused on miracles and the Samaritans he'd met were just open to believe him for who he was.

We notice their very welcoming attitude in Cana (verse 45). There are two reasons for this: they'd heard some of the things that he'd done in Jerusalem, some of them had been there at the religious festival known as the Passover which we've discussed in an earlier episode and, of course, the other reason that they would be favourable to him was that they remembered the wedding, the banquet, the water, the wine. They remembered the incident. It's clear that the royal official had heard about Jesus, he'd heard some amazing things about Jesus and he sought him out. He came to him and he begged him (verse 47); he was very persistent. He asked him to come to his home and to heal his son. The distance between the two places was something in the region of 20 km, so he's inviting Jesus to travel with him back to where his son was in Capernaum. The royal official, having come from Capernaum, would perhaps have already been aware that Jesus just moved there; he'd just established his headquarters there and started preaching. He may have even heard him preach in the synagogue at Capernaum.

Certainly, he was very intensely pursuing him and believing that he had the power to do miracles and he accepted him at his word. I love this expression in verse 50: ‘the man took (Jesus) at his word and departed.’ When Jesus said, “Your son will live.” So rather than travelling down to Capernaum and praying for him, or laying hands on him, Jesus just spoke said, “He'll live; he'll be okay,” and the man took Jesus at his word. Faith was rising in his heart and then he traveled back. Probably, he arrived back the following day (he may have stopped over and then travelled the following day). When he was approaching Capernaum, members of his household came to him and said that his son was fine. He was fine now, no problem. When he was enquiring about when he recovered, he discovered that it was one in the afternoon and he remembered, “Well that's the time I spoke to Jesus yesterday, one in the afternoon and yesterday, one in the afternoon, he recovered - exactly the same time. Amazing!” He was amazed and he believed and he told all his family. He probably had lots of other people living in his household because he was an official - he would have had servants. He told them about the amazing power of Jesus of Nazareth, who had healed his son, and they all entered into a living faith.

It's a remarkable story and it reminds us of a story in the other Gospels about the centurion (the Roman centurion), whose servant was very ill and who approached Jesus asking him to come out to heal his servant. Jesus said he would be well and the centurion believed as well. These are two separate accounts and these are two separate people - something similar happened in both cases, but they're not the same. In this case, this is a Jewish man, almost certainly, and he's an official of Herod Antipas. In the other case, it's a Roman soldier who is a part of the occupying military force. We have two different people, two different occasions, two different circumstances, but very similar outcomes.


As we think about this particular passage and bring some reflections, my first reflection is to say this is just the beginning of the story of miracles in Galilee. There will be, literally, thousands of miracles that follow and a handful of them will be recounted in some detail by one or other of the Gospel writers. This is the first one that we get a full story about. It's a lovely and a wonderful story, where Jesus is able to help this man very decisively, very clearly, and bring about a miracle from a distance. The event, the miracle, happens far away from this meeting point of Jesus and the royal official. John describes this as a sign and it was the second sign that Jesus performed. You'll remember that John only gives us seven miracles described in any detail and they are all signs of who Jesus is and how we should respond to him.

Miracles always point beyond themselves; they're not just about the individuals concerned. The royal official and his son (and his household and his wife and others) would have been immensely blessed because they were very afraid that the boy was fading fast and they felt that he was going to be overcome by a fever, which was very common in those days. They were blessed, but the sign points well beyond them. It points to who Jesus is and it points to the truth of his message, a message that we just heard about in the last episode. He was beginning to preach: the time has come, the Kingdom of God is near, repent and believe the good news, that's the message we see in Mark 1:14 - 15. Miracles point to something else; they're not an end in themselves and one of the big challenges that we see in the Gospels is that many people wanted miracles purely for their own benefit and to relieve their own suffering - which is understandable from our point of view but it becomes clear that not all those people believed wholeheartedly in Jesus. They took the blessing and walked away and lived lives independently of him. Miracles are designed to draw us to faith. They are a sign (a signpost) to who Jesus is and how we should live our lives.

The good news about this particular story is that it appears that the royal official and his household believed. It says, ‘so he and his whole household believed.’ That would have been a considerable challenge to Herod Antipas because one of his officials, maybe even a senior official, has now become a believer in Jesus the Messiah. We see signs that his household had a number of other believers in it as we go through the Gospels. For example, in Luke 8: 3, it describes in this passage some of the women who were travelling with Jesus to support the disciple group and organise their practical support and one of them is Joanna, the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod's household. That's interesting: Joanna, the wife of a senior official of Herod Antipas, is on the road with Jesus' discipleship group - that's how strongly she believed. She had money, she had wealth, and she was using it to buy food and to provide accommodation, pay for accommodation, along the road. Here's another person close to King Herod who was converted to Christianity along with this royal official that we see in John 4. This is interesting and often happens to people with influence and power in our society; God begins to speak to them through people close to them who become true believers.

I want, as another reflection, to talk a little bit about this royal official and his faith. Faith is the marvellous and wonderful ingredient of life that we're always seeking to develop and grow; and I'm trusting and praying that the teaching that we're giving, as we discuss the life of Jesus and study the Gospels, will increase your faith. One way of doing that, is reflecting on the people who respond very positively to Jesus and this royal official is a good example. What we see in him is that he was earnest; he was serious. He came to Jesus and he begged him to help. It's interesting to reflect that he was a senior government official and Jesus was just some new travelling preacher who hadn't really got established yet and yet, this person with a high standing in society comes and he humbles himself and he asks Jesus, sincerely and intensely, to intervene in his life. Faith, living faith, has that kind of intensity: when we face a need within our lives, as we come with earnestness to Jesus in prayer, he's very inclined towards us - he sees our heart, he sees the seriousness of our prayers and our petitions, and he wants to answer them. So earnestness is very important.

Not only earnestness but persistence because, in verse 48, after he's been begging and saying that his son was close to death, Jesus said (in a way that could be seen as a little bit rude) “Unless you people see signs and wonders…(you'll) never believe.” And the royal official said, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” So he presses in; he doesn't want to be put off by that statement - he indicates his persistence. When obstacles come in the way, the one with faith will persist and pray and trust.

The other thing is that he exercised a steady faith in Jesus before he saw the result of Jesus' promise. Jesus said that, “Your son will live,” but it wasn't until the next day that he was able to verify that (because it wasn't until the next day that he got back in the vicinity of his home and met some of his household, who told him the wonderful news that the boy had been healed at the time that Jesus had spoken to the man 20 kilometres away). We need to exercise a steady faith in Jesus and trust in him before we see the answers to our prayers - or if we see a slightly different answer, that we didn't expect - and we have to trust him as we press ahead in life. Steady faith in Jesus' words is a very key part of Christian discipleship and this man, in this short timeframe, showed that type of faith. He went away, took Jesus at his word, so as he was travelling back (either on foot or on horseback, or whatever) he was able to know for certain that his prayers had been answered - he just trusted Jesus. Jesus is asking us, as individuals, to trust him with the complexities, the pains, the suffering and the difficulties of our lives. There will be many, in your life and I want to encourage you to trust him actively and to take inspiration from this story in your journey of faith.

The alternative is that some people just want to receive miracles and blessings from God. If there is a God, they'll bring their needs to him and they're hoping that they can get their problem solved and then just move on in their life. We see this happening time and again in the Gospel narratives. It's impossible to count, or even imagine, the number of people who flocked to Jesus to get healed. We hear of crowds travelling in from north, south, east and west, travelling up to 50 or 100 kilometres; some of them disabled or carrying people along in order to be healed, in order to receive that blessing but those same numbers don't become disciples of Jesus. The one thing we learn from this particular passage is that this man became a true believer. We can't track the rest of his life because he doesn't appear again in the Gospel narratives, but we can only assume that he gave a positive witness about Jesus to King Herod Antipas along with Joanna, the wife of Chuza, and perhaps others in his household and told the king about Jesus. Herod Antipas became very interested in Jesus and so when he had a chance to meet him and to interview him, in the last week of his life, he was very interested to get Jesus to perform a miracle for him because he'd heard about all the miracles he performed for other people.

This is a wonderful story, not often emphasised in the study of the Gospels; sometimes confused with the story of the centurion and his servant. This is a different episode, a different story, a different person and a different context but with a similar outcome. We see faith arising from an encounter with Jesus where someone pleads with Jesus to intervene in an area of need and trusts Jesus when Jesus promises to do it for them - even before they saw the result, they trusted in him. We need faith like that. Faith that believes in Jesus and trusts in God before we even see the full results of our faith. I want to encourage you to develop such faith and to use these studies to strengthen your faith.

I'm going to conclude with just a lovely definition of faith from Hebrews chapter 11, which summarises in a more direct form the things that I'm drawing out of this particular story. Hebrews 11, verse 1, says:

‘Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.’

Hebrews 11:1, NIV

That's exactly what the royal official had; he had confidence in what he hoped for and assurance about what he did not yet see when Jesus said that his son would live. Hebrews 11: 6, and with this I conclude:

‘And without faith (it's) impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.’

Hebrews 11:6, NIV

We need two things to have faith: we need the belief, but we also need the seeking after him. ‘He rewards those who earnestly seek him.’ He rewarded the royal official and he will reward you as you seek him with the same attitude of faith for the issues of your life.

Study Questions

The following questions have been provided to facilitate discussion or further reflection. Please feel free to answer any, or all the questions. Each question has been assigned a category to help guide you.

  • Exploring Faith
    Exploring Faith
    1. In what ways are miracles ‘signs’, as John’s Gospel calls them?
    2. How can you grow in faith?
  • Discipleship
    1. Miracles are important for belief. Talk about some modern miracles that you know about and think about how these increase your own belief.
  • Further Study
    Further Study
    1. Why do some people experience miracles and still not believe?
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