Two days after the little revival that took place down in Samaria, where the woman at the well came to belief in the Messiah, as well as many throughout Samaria, Jesus took a trip back north to Galilee, to the area where he did his first miracle of turning water to wine in Cana.
John reminds us, to set up this next story, that Jesus himself had been saying that “a prophet has no honor in his own country.” In other words, don’t expect the wide acceptance of Jesus as the Messiah in Galilee. He’s not going to get the same welcome there that he got in Samaria or earlier further south in Judea. Here the people have very little faith and seem to be fixated more on Jesus’ miracles and what he can do for them more than anything else.
45 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.
This sounds great on the surface. But we find out soon enough that “being welcome,” is not the same thing as “having faith.” John tells us that this crowd is mainly those who had seen his miracles down in Jerusalem (see John 2:23-25). But there in that text it’s clear that their faith is only cosmetic and shallow. Their faith allows them to believe that Jesus can do miracles. That, they don’t doubt. But that faith is not leading them to the conclusion of who Jesus is. They are believing in miracles, not believing in him.
And again Jesus senses that same shallow faith here when he goes to Galilee, to Cana.
46 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. 47 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.
To be clear, Jesus sees this man along with the entire crowd as one of the wonder-seekers. This doesn’t mean that the man doesn’t really want his son to live, but that again, the man is looking to Jesus as a miracle worker, not as his Messiah, the one who he can believe in to have “living waters” (John 7:37-39). To this man, Jesus was “that guy who turned water to wine.” He was not the “man who told me everything I ever did,” as in the case of the Samaritan woman earlier in chapter 4.
This opens up an interesting feature about Jesus’ ministry. So far in the first 4 chapters of John we’ve seen Jesus have great success in southern Judah (which was made up of mostly tiny little villages, and even in Samaria among the people that the Jews hated. Where Jesus was not getting any traction was in the larger cities, such as we saw in Jerusalem in John 2 and here in Galilee (the area of the Decapolis) in John 4. The larger cities were indeed more cosmopolitan and tended to be filled with people who were just too busy for a Jewish prophet.
This is a theme that runs all through the gospels. The common people tend to come to Jesus and the rich, more city dwelling people tend to not. We saw this again in the case of Nicodemus, the rich city dweller from Jerusalem who came to Jesus at night, in response to miracles no less. And again the contrast being with the poor small town woman from Samaria who believed in Jesus as her Messiah.
Luke 10 gives us a little more insight into the lack of faith in these larger cities:
13 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. 14 But it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon at the judgment than for you. 15 And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the heavens? No, you will go down to Hades.
Let’s get back to our text here in John 4…
8 “Unless you people see signs and wonders,” Jesus told him, “you will never believe.”
The “you” in the text is plural and thus Jesus is not only speaking to the man who apparently came down knowing that Jesus was the one who had turned water to wine, but to all of them who were there just to see more miracles.
49 The royal official said, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” 50 “Go,” Jesus replied, “your son will live.” The man took Jesus at his word and departed. 51 While he was still on the way, his servants met him with the news that his boy was living. 52 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.” 53 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. 54 This was the second sign Jesus performed after coming from Judea to Galilee.
I find this last part of the text very encouraging. John told us back in John 2:25 that Jesus knew what was in man’s heart. And even though he knew the man was only looking for a miracle, not a Messiah, he showed grace to him anyway due to the love the man had for his dying son. And the beautiful thing is that what was so rare in that town, faith, was born in that man after Jesus spoke the words and said that his son would be healed.
Again verse 50 says, “The man took Jesus at his word and departed.” Now that’s faith. That’s real faith. It is taking Jesus at HIS word, for who HE IS, knowing that HE is the one who has the power and authority to do this or that. And when the man finally returned home and saw that his son was healed and that he had been healed in the very hour that Jesus spoke the word, the purpose of the miracle was finally realized. The man came to believe not just in the miracle, but also in the man—Jesus.
53 “So he and his whole household believed.”
Do we tend to serve God in our own lives for what God can do for us or do we serve God because of who He is regardless of what happens in our lives? It matters little if we live in the midst of miracles if we don’t first have a relationship with the one who works the miracles. I have experienced miracles in my own life. Real miracles. But the truth is they always pointed me back to the one who performed them, the One in me who loves me, whose name is Jesus. Miracles should never make us focus on miracles, they should make us love Jesus more and more as our Messiah.