“Again.” That word again frames today’s Gospel reading, where Jesus heals a nobleman’s son. “Jesus came again to Cana of Galilee where He had made the water wine.” And then another again at the end: “This again is the second sign Jesus did.”
John is reminding us of the structural framework of his Gospel. John organizes his Gospel around seven signs. Some Bible translations call them miracles instead of signs, but that obscures the meaning: A sign doesn’t exist for itself. A sign points to something important; in this case, something even bigger than the amazing thing in the moment.
So let’s put ourselves in this nobleman’s sandals and figure out what could be bigger and better than saving his son from death. First of all, he’s run out of options, which is why he’s run the two-day journey from Capernaum to Cana. His son has a fever. It’s not going down. He’s burning from the inside.
Have you been there, where your child is desperately sick and you don’t know what to do? Or someone you love is drawing near death, and you cannot imagine life without that person?
The cross comes to us and it feels cruel. The cross seems too heavy to bear. Yet the adversity is designed to make us see the world as it really is: broken, suffering, dying. In the anguish we see man’s end without Christ, that we are dust and ashes. Though our years be 70 or 80, yet they soon fly away, and we are gone.
Seeing this truth, seeing the inexorability of death and loss and emptiness, the cross does its work on this nobleman in driving him to Jesus. That’s how the cross is to function in your life also – driving you to Jesus.
The nobleman comes to Jesus with a certain measure of faith. He believes Jesus can help.
But he doesn’t get everything at once. He just gets from Jesus a Word. “Go your way; your son lives.” He has the Word, but does not see it. Though in retrospect he sees that his son was healed at that very hour, still he must begin the long journey back home. He journeys in belief; and yet did he also doubt? And could we blame him, if he wavered, if he worried about his little boy? All he had was the Word to go on. Sometimes it feels like it’s not enough. That’s why this story is recorded – for us, as a reminder that the Word is enough, that we can cling to it with confidence when the way is dark and the road uncertain.
And then, along the road, comes the surprise meeting with his servants, running to meet him. They repeat the words of Jesus: “Your son lives!” The fire has left him.
Now we get a strange saying: “And he himself believed.” What is this? He already believed, we were told.
This belief is something more. First, we notice that this belief is passed to the entire family. “And he himself believed, and his whole household.” That’s the language used in the book of Acts, when an entire family would be baptized, including the little children, and they all became disciples of Jesus. The healing of his son was not the end of faith for the nobleman, but the beginning. Faith was not for the miracle, but now for the greater thing: that Jesus would finish, for all creation, what He had begun in the child burning from fever.
So his belief is new and yet continuing the belief already begun. It still is confident that the Word of Jesus is true – but now it is stronger and more vibrant. When next a cross comes, the memory of the Word strengthens these disciples of Jesus to believe in the greater thing – to confess that the sick and dying one lives, not just for a moment, but unto the ages of ages. Though the body die, yet shall it rise.
That’s where all these signs in John’s Gospel are going: to the resurrection. The disciples, including Thomas, see all seven of the signs in John’s Gospel, and yet the news of the resurrection of Jesus seems a bridge too far. When Thomas finally sees with His own eyes the risen Jesus, and is invited to touch the nail prints in His hands, and thrust his hand into His side, then Thomas confesses, “My Lord and my God.”
John then tells us why he wrote down the story of the nobleman and his feverish son, why he wrote down the turning of water into wine, the multiplying of bread and fish for the five thousand, the raising of Lazarus, and finally the eyewitnesses to the risen Jesus. All of it, he says, is for us to go home, like the nobleman, with the strong Word in our heart and mind, believing that Jesus will do what He says even if we do not experience it just yet.
John says, “Truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name” (20:30-31).
To you who have felt the sting of death, and to you who feel it approaching, this Word of forgiveness and resurrection is for you. In the very next chapter from today’s account, Jesus says, “As the Father raises the dead and makes [them] alive, so also the Son makes alive those whom he wills … Whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life….. He has passed out from death into life” (John 5:21, 24 Weinrich).
You and I, then, will still have crosses and troubles in this life. Indeed, they are gifts from God, even though they don’t feel like it always. They are designed to draw us closer to Jesus. Feeling the bite of the serpent, we say, “Ah, Lord Christ, You helped me before, when I could not understand what was happening. Now, all around me is darkness and woe again. I am certain that You will help, though I do not see it yet. I have the one thing needed: You are risen from the dead. You have taught me to believe and confess that whoever eats Your flesh and drinks Your blood has eternal life, and You will raise him at the last day. So this I believe, though I stand upon the ruins of the world and feel only my sin and anguish. Do what You promised: Absolve me, raise me up, and let me be with You. For where You are is life, and light, and joy. This is most certainly true.” +INJ+