Taking God At His Word
As we open God’s word together this morning, I hope that you will receive it as loving communication from Christ, which it is, breathed out by the Holy Spirit so that we may be saved – which is to be rescued from judgment, united to God, to love and enjoy his love forever. This morning we are continuing in the Gospel of John, in chapter 4 starting in verse 39. John is the last of 4 Gospels, which are accounts of the good news of Jesus – God’s salvation. They are not different stories but each one emphasizes something different than the other. John’s Gospel, I think speaks to a broad audience, it is theologically rich, full of allusions to the OT, and it is all set out very deliberately for the purpose that we would know the historical man Jesus for who he is and by believing have life, eternal life, in him. This is what happened to a woman from Samaria, who would have been looked down upon by the Jews, not only for her wrong worship, but also for her immoral lifestyle. But Jesus spoke with her and he revealed to her the need she had and he offered her life. He showed her that he is the one who gives life – life for even sinners like us who have been looking for it in everything else except God. Transformed by this encounter she went into her town and told the people what had happened and this is what ensued. John 4:39-54  Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman's testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.”  So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days.  And many more believed because of his word.  They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.”  After the two days he departed for Galilee.  (For Jesus himself had testified that a prophet has no honor in his own hometown.)  So when he came to Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him, having seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the feast. For they too had gone to the feast.  So he came again to Cana in Galilee, where he had made the water wine. And at Capernaum there was an official whose son was ill.  When this man heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went to him and asked him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death.  So Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.”  The official said to him, “Sir, come down before my child dies.”  Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way.  As he was going down, his servants met him and told him that his son was recovering.  So he asked them the hour when he began to get better, and they said to him, “Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.”  The father knew that was the hour when Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” And he himself believed, and all his household.  This was now the second sign that Jesus did when he had come from Judea to Galilee. (ESV) I want you to notice something with me about this passage. Notice the reception that he has from the Samaritans, and in verses 41-42, why it says that they believed in him. Because of his word. They go on to testify that “We have heard for ourselves and we know this is the Savior of the world.” But then after spending time, reaping a harvest there, Jesus moves on but he bi-passes Nazareth knowing he wouldn’t even get a hearing there. But coming to Galilee he runs into people who were also eager to see him, but Jesus is not too impressed by this crowd. Why? Because these are among the people talked about in 2:23, when it says that many in Jerusalem believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. But is goes on to say that Jesus did not entrust himself to those people, he did not draw near to them, because he knew what was in them. And what was in them, was a hardness and an ignorance that Jesus expresses in verse 48. But among these people with misdirected faith is this desperate man who journeyed, it seems, to meet Jesus because he heard he was coming – the miracle worker. Is this man the same as the crowds? The test comes when Jesus refuses to go with him but instead speaks to him. How does the man respond? Verse 50, he believed the word that Jesus had spoken. Now, John is developing a theme here, a theme that I want to consider a bit this morning. Of course, as in all of John’s gospel there is a lot going on in any given passage. We also see the divine authority of Christ shown in his ability to redeem by simply speaking. But for our benefit, I want to see what else John is doing here by thinking about the two different kinds of belief here and what it means for us as we believe what he has spoken. So let’s start with the problem Jesus faced. 1) Unless you see, you will not believe When Jesus says this to the “official” or “nobleman” who has come to him in such a desperate state, it is worth noting that the “you” is the second-person-plural, meaning he is addressing this group as a whole, that had seen or heard about his works in Jerusalem. The problem that Jesus encountered then is the same problem his ambassadors face today. The root of the problem is not that people believe what they see, of course people believe what they see, the problem was why these people wouldn’t believe unless they saw. Any belief they displayed was the result of seeing his signs and not the result of responding to his message. What is wrong with that? Isn’t seeing believing? Didn’t God give many signs and wonders, both through prophets, through Jesus, and even through the Apostles? Were these not meant to encourage belief? Well, here is something important to see. The signs were for those whose faith was becoming sight, not for sight becoming faith. The signs were themselves proofs of a promise kept. A promise believers were hoping in. A promise that had to do with sinners being redeemed and a broken world being restored through God’s anointed one. But the people who saw and believed, were not believing in his message, they were not believing in him as who he was, but instead their belief was that he was one who could give them what they desired – what they felt like they needed. They saw his works and interpreted them to fit their way of viewing the world, to fit their felt needs. (What that is). This is precisely what people do today when they hijack the Bible and its promises, or the person of Jesus, as a means to their own ends. Unlike the Samaritans, this so-called faith that Jesus is exposing was not reshaping their world, rather it was in service to their own world. When people saw the signs that Jesus performed, they didn’t see it as confirming what God has spoken long ago, rather they saw it as a means to their desired end. And when they did see it as fulfillment, they misunderstood the promise itself. People say. We will follow you Jesus, because you can make our water into wine. We will follow you Jesus, because you can feed us. We will follow you Jesus because you can heal us of our sickness. Rather, it is supposed to be, “We will follow you Jesus because what you have done has shown that you are all I need – you are the Savior of the world.” What is the cause of this faulty faith? The cause, is that in our sin we will only give our loyalty and trust to a God who will meet our felt needs and serve our values. Genesis 3. We are a people with a track record of refusing faith in something unless it proves to us that it will give us what we want. Our loyalties, our confidence, is for sale to whoever will give us what we feel like we need. And even more fundamentally, underneath that misdirected faith is that we don’t take God at his word. That means God telling us who we are, why exists, what is wrong with us, and what the solution is. Instead, what these people were doing was, get this, they were believing in Jesus as long as he proved to be the Jesus they wanted him to be. (Example: parents; So God also had showed his people over and over his care. They had his Word as a record of his trustworthiness. So this is why Jesus would say that a wicked and perverse generation was seeking for a sign. Because, listen to this, it is wicked to demand evidence, proof, confirmation, of what God has already said.) What is the alternative? It is that we take him at his Word. 2) God wants us to take him at his word – What would this man do? This man, this official as the text calls him, was desperate. He said that his son was at the point of death. Any parent can shudder with a sense of the urgency this man felt. The agony. Why would Jesus at this moment cry out against the people’s deficient faith? Well, Jesus, is so full of compassion that he doesn’t coddle people. He takes opportunities to shine light. It is because Jesus is using this as an opportunity to call the attention of the hearers, including us, to the nature of our faith. What is the foundation of our faith? Why do we pray? Why do we gather as a church? And in this case, how would this man respond, when not given a miracle but given a word? How do you respond when life crumbles, jobs stop, money is gone, sickness overtakes, relationships break, and persecution mounts? Do you fly to and rest in Words? Or do you demand signs? As it turns out. Like the Samaritans, for this government official, the word of Jesus was enough. And it must be enough for us as well. And not just for the individual moment, but to shape our reality. The daily life of a Christian is to walk by faith in what God has said, and not by immediate sight. Hebrews 11 style, where it says of many named and unnamed men and woman down through the history of God’s people, that, “These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.” (ESV) Having heard the word of Jesus this man went his way, at least a full day’s journey away to where his boy was on the brink of death. There were no mobiles. No email. No recourse. He was walking away from his son’s last and only hope only believing the words Jesus had spoken! This is the faith of the people of God. Enduring the journey, with all the cares and anxieties that could assault, believing the words that have been spoken to us by God through the Scriptures. For this man, the promise was healing for his son and it was so. But the confirmation of his faith, was deferred. So it is for us. Living by faith in the promise that has been spoken, that though my heart and flesh my fail, my God will not. Will we believe when he says it is going to be okay, that he is going to rescue us, even if that rescue comes through poverty, through broken relationships, or the other side of a heart monitor flat-lining? Oh, beloved, how would our lives look different. Pause and think about this. What you spend your time doing. What you worry about. What you spend money on. How would it be different if you walked daily by faith in what God has said? Not just when things get desperate. Not just when you are backed in a corner. But daily walking by faith in the reality and promises set forth in God’s word, breathed out by God and penned by prophets and apostles? Oh, friends, build your life there. Construct your view from that. God can be trusted. Because just as Jesus showed such grace to that Galilean official, so he has shown grace to us by proving all he ever promised in the person of Jesus Christ. He is the true Word. Will we hear him? This theme will continue in John’s gospel. And it will be poor Thomas who will forever be remembered as the one who did not believe Christ’s word, but demanded proof of the resurrection – which Jesus graciously gave, while saying for our benefit in John 20:29 “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (ESV) And this is what is amazing. Jesus was leaving to go to glory, to be our Priest, but he left his Word and Spirit, so that he would be forever with us. Jesus did not go with this man, but his word went with him. And the effect was as real as if Jesus had gone and laid hands on this boy himself. Which leads to the final matter of emphasis that I hope will help us to lay hold by faith in what God has said. We take great comfort in the spoken Word of God because… 3) Christ is with us through His Word We see in this account something that is great reason for comfort. That there is a sense in which Christ, as the Word made flesh, is present when the Word is proclaimed. As one writer said of this passage, for this dying boy, “Christ's word is as good as Christ's presence.” There is sufficiency in God’s word to create life, to transform, to guide us – to fill us and fuel our confidence. This is why Paul said that faith comes from hearing the word of Christ, and this is why nearing his death he would tell Timothy to keep preaching the word. There is power and presence in the Word proclaimed to bring the dead to life, to transform us, to sustain us, to guide us. But we must have faith in it. We must trust in it. We must close our eyes perhaps for a moment so our heart can see clearly the sufficiency of God’s word to us – that through it, by the Spirit – he is with us. This is the hope that Peter gave to suffering Christians in his first epistle. 1 Peter 1:8-9 Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory,  obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (ESV) Why did they love him? How did they believe in him? What was the ground of their faith? 1 Peter 1:23, “The living and abiding word of God. And this fortifies their confidence and helps them persevere, because “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.” How will we endure trials? How will we leave this world’s goods and priorities and live for the kingdom to come? It is by receiving the Word of Christ as if he were present with us and having our reality shaped by it. He still, through his Word, gives life to all who come to him in desperate faith. It is not signs and wonders and prosperity that saves souls and sustains saints. It is not therapeutic preaching about a God who meets your felt needs that brings wholeness. It is nothing other than the Word of Christ - the Lamb of God slain for the sins of the world. 1 Corinthians 1:22-24 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom,  but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles,  but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. (ESV) Where this is preached the power of Christ is unleashed. It is believing this Word that will sustain you through storms. It is believing this Word that will transform you. And yes, it is believing this Word which will be the end of the grave for you. Wherever you are at in relation to God today, he is once again coming to you through his Word with the command to hear and to believe. Not because he comes and solves today what you feel that your problems are, but because his Word reveals what is the depths of your soul, even the ugliness inside, and his Word speaks – believe and live. Because the Word of God is not just prohibitions and guidelines for life – it is news. News of how sinners can be restored. News of forgiveness for faithless fools who live for themselves, in their own wisdom. News of the love of the One who endured divine judgment in your place. And the promise is that all who put their trust in him will live. As Christ spoke to the Galilean noble, the presence of Christ in the Word of Christ brought a boy back from the brink of death. So also, Christ is with us through His Word by his Spirit. Let us rest as if he were by our side. Right now as we gather, as we unfold his word, and eat the bread and drink the cup, he is here. Take comfort! Be changed. Be brought from the brink of death. Hear his voice in the Word. And then let it shape your reality. Take God at his word.