An Enemy Subdued

Sermon by Wiley Lowry on February 11, 2018

John 4:43-54

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Let’s open God’s Word together tonight to John chapter 4. If you’re using the pew Bibles, that can be found on page 889. I was listening to a podcast a few weeks ago and it was about a car dealership in Long Island in New York. And the story was about how the staff and the salespeople were trying to meet their sales goals by the end of the month. And one of the salesmen that was featured in this story was named, Manny. Manny asked the interviewer if he had ever read the greatest book ever written about car sales. And the interviewer didn’t know so he asked him what it was. And Manny told him that it was a book that was written by the ancient Chinese general and war strategist, Sun Tzu. And the book’s title is, The Art of War. Now that’s an unsettling thought if you’re about to make a major purchase like a car or at least it is if your salesman is Manny!


But one of the quotes from that book by Sun Tzu is that “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.” To subdue the enemy without fighting. Now there’s probably something a little more sinister in the way that comes from Sun Tzu, but what I thought was, “You know, in some sense, that is part of the beauty of the Gospel – that enemies might be reconciled without fighting.” But that’s only part of the story, isn’t it? Because what the Bible teaches to us and what this communion table teaches us is that those who are at enmity with God and who are at enmity with one another are reconciled only by the blood of Christ and only by the power of His resurrection. And so we want to look to that tonight from John chapter 4 and see the beauty of the Gospel, the beauty of the good news in Christ Jesus; the glory of our Savior Jesus Christ. So let’s pray and then read our section of Scripture tonight.


Our Father, we come and bow down before You and we recognize that we need Your help. We look to You for help, from Your Holy Spirit to guide us and to direct us in all truth, that You would give us wisdom as we understand Your Word tonight. You have helped us and You have given us salvation in Christ. And so we ask that You would bring those truths home to us tonight, that we would glorify and magnify Christ Jesus and that we would rejoice in our salvation this evening. We pray that You would do this for Your glory, and we pray it in Christ’s name, amen.


This is John chapter 4. I’ll start reading in verse 43:


“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.”


The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the Word of our God endures forever.


The Sign

I want us to see two things from this passage tonight. I want us to see first the sign and then secondly, the servant. The sign and the servant. The first thing we see is the sign. Now if you’re familiar with the gospel of John then you know how important signs are, Jesus’ signs, for the structure and the message of this book. Almost any time that I turn to John’s gospel to study it, my mind goes to John chapter 20. It’s John’s purpose statement for why he wrote this gospel. And he says that “Jesus did many other signs which are not written in this book, but that these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” The signs are important in John’s gospel. And there’s some debate over whether there are six or seven distinct signs in this first half of his gospel. John is presenting to us the identity of Christ, the identity of Jesus as the Christ, as the Messiah. And he’s preparing to focus our attention in the second half of this book, above all else, on Jesus’ approach to the cross and His resurrection, His victory over sin and death.


In these verses, John connects the sign that Jesus does hear with the other signs that he has already written down and recorded in this gospel. If you look at verse 45 it says that when Jesus came to Galilee, the Galileans “welcomed him because they had seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the feast.” That’s talking about Jesus traveling down to Jerusalem when He cleared out the temple. And He worked many other mighty acts in Jerusalem at the time of the Passover. And then if you look in verse 46, it says that Jesus, He came to Cana in Galilee, and that was the place where He has made water, wine. That was the first sign that Jesus worked in His public ministry. It was making water into wine at that wedding feast in Cana.


Back to Cana

And so Jesus has come full circle. He's gone from Cana down to Jerusalem, into the Judean countryside, through Samaria, and then back to Cana. He's completed this cycle. It's almost like one of Paul's missionary journeys that are written in the book of Acts where Paul goes and comes back to where he started. What Sinclair Ferguson says about this traveling that Jesus did, these events that happened from Cana and then back to Cana is that there is the focus on one central theme. One central theme of this section. It's that Jesus makes things new. He makes new wine. He brings about the true banquet celebration. And Jesus is the new temple. He is the presence of God. And He brings about the new birth. Those who believe in Jesus are born of the Spirit. And Jesus brings about a new way of worship. He brings about worship in Spirit and in truth. 


A New Creation

And it’s all pointing to the fact that Jesus brings in a new creation altogether. A new creation. That’s exactly what we’re meant to see in Jesus’ interaction with this official who comes to Him from Capernaum. Because what is this man’s problem? It’s that death has come to his home. Now there are several families in our congregation who have experienced the loss of a child. And you can never forget the cry of a mother when her child takes his last breath. There was one pastor who experienced that same tragedy and he set his grief to poetry. And this is what he wrote. “My son, thou was’t my heart’s delight. By morn of life was glad and cheery. That morn has rushed to sudden night. Thy father’s house is sad and dreary.” That’s the situation that’s facing this man and his household as he makes his way to Jesus. Because his son has a fever and he is at the point of death.


The Urgency of Death

Don’t you see, that’s the problem all of us face because sin reigns in a fallen and sinful creation. No one can escape its grip; nothing is immune to the effects of death. That’s what Paul writes about, isn’t it, in Romans chapter 8 where he says that the whole creation is in bondage to corruption. You see, the groans and the anguish that this man experiences are the same groans and anguish that we all face at one time or the other when we go through trials. Whether it be illness or the breakdown of mind and body, the loss of a loved one in grief – it’s the same trials that the whole creation endures as it is subjected to futility and to the effects of sin. And it’s in that distress that this man makes his way to Jesus looking for help.


And I know some of us have had the flu come to our home over the past few weeks. We know what that’s like. Imagine what that would be like to experience that fever without the benefit of Advil or Tylenol to control the fever. I’ve held one of my own children as fever caused seizures to come over him. We can sympathize with this man as his son is sick unto death and facing this severe fever. There is an urgency about this man as he comes to Jesus. He needs help and he needs help desperately. He’s a man with a burden. And yet, what do we see with Jesus? That Jesus, as He’s done in in this gospel, as He’s encountered others in this gospel, He engages this man at what this man thinks is his greatest need and Jesus exposes his heart. Jesus examines this man’s faith and He reveals to him what is his true need, what is his real need.


And Jesus says to him, verse 48, “Unless you see signs and wonders, you will not believe.” What’s Jesus saying there? What’s He doing? He’s searching this man’s motivations. He’s wanting to see if this man is more interested in the benefits that Jesus can bring to him or is he gripped by Jesus Himself? Is this man more focused on his own concerns or is he concerned about truly responding to Jesus for who He is?


The Challenge

I’ve been teaching in the Pilgrims Sunday School class over the past few weeks and we’ve been studying through the life of Abraham. And you know that passage in Abraham’s life where God calls him, God tests him to sacrifice his son, Isaac. One of the parts of that test that God is doing in that account is that He’s seeing if Abraham has a fair-weather faith. Will Abraham trust God only when things are going well, or will Abraham trust God and submit to His will, submit to His Word, no matter how hard and how difficult it is? We know in that account that Abraham trusted God. He obeyed in faith and God provided a substitute for him.

But that’s a similar thing to what’s going on here in this passage. Jesus is posing a challenge to this man. He’s challenging him with a challenge that we may need to be challenged with as well. Do we look to Jesus only for what He can bring to us? Do we look to Jesus only for comfort or encouragement? Or for peace of mind or for community? Do we look to Jesus with contentment only when things are going well in our lives? Or do we rest in Jesus Christ as our Lord and seek to follow His Word no matter how difficult things are for us. That’s the challenge to the man here in this passage.


Response of Faith

And how does he respond to Jesus? How does he respond in verse 49? He says to Jesus, "Sir, come down before my child dies." Now that seems like a somewhat demanding response that he makes to Jesus. Doesn't it? But notice what he calls Jesus in that verse, in that response. He calls Jesus, "Sir." Now that's a word that could be translated as "Sir" or "Lord." Now "Lord" would obviously have a much more religious connotation to it; "Sir" is probably the right translation there for this passage. But who is this that's calling Jesus, "Sir"? This is an official. This is a man who is prominent. He is important. And already here in this passage, he is submitting himself to Jesus and he's calling Him, "Sir" or "Lord." And so Jesus says to him, verse 50, “Go, your son will live.” Another way we could say that, translate that, is, “Go, your son lives.” There’s a definiteness about Jesus’ command there. And verse 50 says that the man believed the word of Jesus, the word that Jesus spoke to him. He’s not relying on signs and wonders. He’s not relying on the signs but he believes the word that Jesus speaks to him and he responds in faith to the word of Christ. He acts on that word of Christ. And it is the word of Christ that is effective to heal his son. It is the word of Christ that brings about the salvation of his son, the healing of his son.


And so this man makes his way towards his home and his servants come out to meet him. Doesn’t that show us just how miraculous this healing was? His servants couldn’t wait for him to come home to tell him. They had to go out and meet him, to find him on the way and to tell him that his son had been healed; his son is recovering. And what this man recognizes, he asked them, “When did this happen?” It was at the seventh hour. He recognized that the healing happened at the very moment that Jesus spoke that word. And so the man believed and all of his household believed with him. He’s recognizing who Jesus is. He’s recognizing Jesus’ uniqueness and his need for Jesus. There it is, in this gospel of John – it’s that connection between the sign, the sign which shows who Jesus is, and faith, belief in His name. There’s the sign. We’ve seen the sign. This is the sign that Jesus does.


The Servant

Now, what does the sign teach us about Jesus? How does this sign show us that Jesus is the servant? That's our second point tonight – is the servant. What does this sign show us about Jesus? For one, it shows us that Jesus has the power over death, that He has come to undo the effects of sin in a fallen creation. Instead of sorrow and sickness, Jesus brings about healing and joy. And that's just a glimpse of all that He will accomplish by His death and His resurrection. But the message is clear. Jesus is the Messiah. Jesus is that servant, the suffering servant that had been prophesied by Isaiah in the second half of his prophecy. Jesus brings about good news to the poor. He binds up the broken-hearted. He gives liberty to the captives. And yet, He was the one who was despised and rejected by men. He was a man of sorrow. Doesn’t He say that even in this passage where He says that “a prophet has no honor even in his own hometown”? Jesus is that suffering servant from Isaiah. He is the Messiah. And so the message is clear – believe in Jesus. Believe in Him to find life. Believe in Jesus to have life in the new creation. This was the second sign that Jesus did when He came from Judea to Galilee. And the enemy that Jesus subdues is death. Jesus subdues the enemy of death.


Celebrating Jesus’s Death

We all face that foe every day to some extent. There’s no way to avoid aging. There’s no way to avoid illness, pain, and suffering. There’s no reversing the effects of death. I had a funeral director tell me one time that he was good at, he was really good at restorative art. That was sort of a sanitized way of saying that he gets the body ready to be viewed. He was good at restorative art. I thought, “No he’s not! Because there’s no restoration happening in a mortuary.” But with Jesus, in Him was life. He brings about restoration. He brings about healing. And the one in whom there was all life, submitted Himself to death, to death on the cross, so that those who were dying and dead might have life in His name by faith in Him. That’s what Jesus brings about. Death is our enemy. And yet, as we come to this table tonight, we come to the communion table, we come to celebrate death. Don’t we? We come to remember and to look to the death of Jesus because it is by His death and by His resurrection that He has defeated death for us.


I said it at Sarah Wright’s funeral a couple of weeks ago. That the Christian can forget about sportsmanship when it comes to death. Because we can rub it in. You see, death was defeated. There is no victory for the grave. That’s our confidence. That’s our boast when times of trials and difficulties come to us because we know that Jesus has defeated death. He has taken the sting away from it. We have life in Christ. Life is ours by faith in Him. That is good news and that’s news that all of us need to hear today.


An Enemy Subdued

But let’s look at little closer at these verses because there is another enemy that is subdued in this passage. Think back with me to the gospel of Matthew. Do you remember at the beginning of Matthew’s gospel that at the time of Jesus’ birth, Herod the Great was the King of that time? And what did Herod the Great want to do when he heard about Jesus’ birth? He wanted to eliminate Jesus. He wanted to get rid of Him. And so he killed all of the young boys that were living in Bethlehem at that time. And it was because of that event, because of the threat of Herod the Great, that Mary and Joseph took Jesus and they lived in Egypt until Herod had died. And once the danger had passed, they went and made their way and settled in Nazareth. Once Herod the Great died, his territory was divided among his three sons. One of his sons, Antipas, or Herod Antipas, received the region of Perea and Galilee, the very region where Jesus is as He works this sign in John’s gospel, the region of Galilee.


Now it was Herod Antipas, you remember, who arrested John the Baptist. He ultimately beheaded John the Baptist and when Herod Antipas heard all of the things that Jesus was doing, he thought that it was John the Baptist who had come back from the dead. We are told in Luke’s gospel that Herod Antipas wanted to kill Jesus. In fact, it was at the end of Jesus’ ministry, at the time of His arrest, that Jesus was sent to Herod Antipas. And we’re told that Herod and his men treated Jesus with contempt and they mocked Him and they sent Him back to Pontius Pilate to hang Him on the cross.


Now with all of that in mind, who is this who approaches Jesus in John chapter 4 and needs help for his dying son? It’s an official. It’s a royal official. Some say that that word for “official” could even be translated or it could even mean someone who is a relative of Herod’s family. You see, this man coming to ask for help from Jesus is associated with the household and the reign of those who had sought to kill Jesus from the very moment that His birth was announced. Jesus is face to face with the opposition in John chapter 4. And what does He do? He shows mercy. He shows mercy to this man and to this man’s son. He heals this man’s son and this man believes in Jesus. He comes to faith in Jesus!


You see, this is the story of an enemy subdued, an enemy who is reconciled to Christ. And think about how important that would have been in the early Church as Jesus gives that great commission to go out and make disciples of all nations. Yes, to the Jew and to the Gentile, but surely not those who had put Jesus to death; surely not those who were bringing persecution in the Church. But yes, to those just like this official, those who are enemies of Christ and enemies of the Church.


And isn’t that what is so compelling about the story of Jim Elliot and those missionaries who gave their life in Ecuador? You know that story well of Jim Elliot and the other men who sought to take the message of Christ, the message of salvation to the Aucas. And as they approached them, they were speared to death and left dead in the water, in that river. And yet what happened a few years later? Jim Elliot’s widow and his young child went to live in Ecuador and they went back to those people and they brought the message of reconciliation, the message of grace, the message of forgiveness, the message of Jesus. They took it to the men who had killed her husband, who had killed this young girl’s father. How could they do that? That’s shocking. And they were reconciled in Christ. They came to faith in Christ. It’s a shocking story. It’s an amazing story of God’s grace and of the reconciliation that can happen between enemies.


A Table for Enemies

Isn't that more challenging, in some ways, than the story that we saw earlier in John chapter 4 – Jesus and the Samaritan woman? Because in some ways, it's easier to get over prejudices. Yes, we know, Jesus transcends social and cultural differences, but this is personal. This is personal here. This person is a threat to Jesus' life and His well-being. But Jesus is for him too. In fact, what makes this so incredible is that to truly show mercy to this man and to give this man life in God's kingdom, Jesus gave His life for this man. He went to the cross for this official. That's what's so incredible about this communion table. It is a table for enemies – enemies of God, enemies of the cross, enemies who have been subdued and reconciled by the blood of Christ.


That’s the beauty of the Gospel. The beauty of the Gospel is that Jesus’ flesh was broken, His blood was poured out to make enemies His friend, to invite all of those who trust in Him to have life in His name and to receive all of the blessings that only He deserves. Only He is worthy of those things and He gives them to us. That exchange should fill us with wonder. It should fill us with wonder as we come to the table to eat and drink this evening because we were enemies. We were enemies of Christ. We were restored by the amazing love and grace of God. If He did that for us while we were sinners, while we were opposed to Him, how could we ever think that He will let us go? How could we ever think that He will not also give us all things? Because He did that for us when we were still sinners. That’s a reason to celebrate tonight, isn’t it?


But there’s one more thing we need to see. One more thing we need to see before we go to this table. And that is, that this love which Jesus shows to this man when he was opposed to Jesus, this love that Jesus shows to us when we were opposed to Him, is the same love which heals and restores people when they are at enmity with one another. Isn’t that what John says? John says it in his letter, the first epistle – 1 John chapter 4. John says, “If anyone says, ‘I love God and hates his brother’ he is a liar. This commandment we have from him. This commandment we have from Jesus. ‘Whoever loves God, must also love his brother.’” And if we know the love of Christ for us, if we know His grace and His forgiveness, shouldn’t we be able and ready to go and to ask for forgiveness from someone else whom we have wronged? And if we know the love and the forgiveness of Christ to us, shouldn’t we be ready to forgive when someone comes and asks us for forgiveness? You see, there’s no place for grudges or for animosity at this table tonight. This is a time of fellowship. It’s a time of fellowship with Christ and with His people. And as we take of the bread and the cup, let that be a reminder to you. Let that preach to you of how deep the Father’s love is for us. And let that love bring you to repentance for whatever animosity, for whatever discord there may be in the body of Christ, and let that love lead you to restoration for past wounds. Because you see, the wounds of Christ are for the healing of His people. And we praise God for that.


Let’s go to Him in prayer.


Our Father, we give You thanks that You have given us this Word from the gospel of John to show us Your love and Your power, Your grace and Your might. We thank You that You have brought us to this table, to taste and to see how good You are to us. We pray that You would strengthen our faith by it. That You would, by the Holy Spirit, work through the reading and preaching of Your Word to strengthen our faith and to send us out in faithfulness to You and obedience to Your Word, in love for You and love for one another, and that You would be glorified by it. We pray these things in Christ’s name, amen.

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