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What is faith? A sermon on John 4:43-54

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What is faith?  Perhaps this is one of the most misunderstood words, not only in the English language, not only in the world at large, but in the church too.  People do not understand what ‘faith’ truly is.

And so, probably the most famous example of ‘faith’ in the popular imagination is this:  Indiana Jones in the Last Crusade.  He has to get across this seemingly bottomless chasm.  His dying father, Sean Connery, is whispering “You must believe boy, you must believe.”  And so Indiana Jones summons up this heroic amount of faith, and he courageously extends his foot out and falls into the chasm.  But then, thud, his foot lands on solid ground.  The camera pans around and you can see a rock bridge that had been invisible to him before.  Indiana Jones had summoned up enough faith to get across the chasm.

And people think, that’s faith!  It’s a leap in the dark.  Is that how you have thought of faith?  A leap in the dark?

Well if that’s what faith is, most people say – that’s not for me.  And people either feel superior to that kind of faith or inferior to that kind of faith.

You’ve met the superior types I’m sure.  “I’m so happy for you, that you’ve found faith.  But for me... I guess I’ve grown up a bit and learnt to depend on myself.  But it’s sweet that you have that crutch, I’m too mature for a blind leap in the dark.”

You’ve probably met the inferior types too: “I so envy your faith.  I wish I had your faith.  I just can’t seem to trust myself, but I think it’s so brave of you to leap in the dark like that.”

Have you met those kinds of people – those who feel superior to the leap in the dark, and those who feel inferior to the leap in the dark.

Well John’s gospel is here to tell us what real faith is.  Do you see in our passage how often the idea of faith comes up?

48 "Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders," Jesus told him, "you will never believe."

Verse 50:

The man took Jesus at his word and departed.  [Literally, the man believed Jesus’ word]

Verse 53:

53 Then the father realised that this was the exact time at which Jesus had said to him, "Your son will live." So he and all his household believed.

It’s a passage all about faith.  Because, v54, this whole incident is a miraculous SIGN.

As we’ve thought about with the kids this morning – Jesus performs signs so that we might believe in Him.  He doesn’t want our faith to be a blind leap in the dark.  In John’s Gospel faith is walking into the light with our eyes wide open.  And we do it because we’ve seen the signs and followed them to the true Light of the world.

John tells us at the end of His Gospel why he wrote it:

30 Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

Do you see – the whole book of John is a book of signs pointing to Jesus.  And as we see the signs we are directed to the truth about Jesus.  And the truth is – He is “The Christ”.  That means He is the One especially anointed (or you might say) filled with the Holy Spirit.  And He is the One who is especially the Son of God the Father.  So Jesus is Christ – He has a unique relationship with the Holy Spirit, and He is Son of God – He has a unique relationship with God the Father.  Jesus is one of the trinity.  He is a divine Person.  And John’s gospel begins by calling Him God and ‘the Word of God’ and it tells us He made the universe with His Father and the Holy Spirit.

Now – when you see that about Jesus, that is faith.  It’s an awed, loving recognition of the truth of Jesus.  You look at Jesus and you say “Here is the true Master and Owner of heaven and earth.  Here is the Maker and Saviour of the world.  I don’t know much, but I know that Jesus is Lord.”  That’s faith and as soon as you realize “Jesus, you’re the One” He shares with you His life and blessings.  When you trust Jesus, He adopts you into the divine family – and you have eternal life.  Life in relationship with the trinity.  Life that begins now and will go on for eternity.  All of that comes when you have FAITH in Jesus.

So having true faith is very important I think you’ll agree.  John’s Gospel is written that you may believe.  That means if you don’t yet believe Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God – this is written to convert you, that you may believe.  And it means that if you do believe Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God – this is written so that you might keep trusting, keep believing, keep looking to Jesus.

So that’s our hope as we study Jesus’ second miraculous sign in John chapter 4.  That we would believe in Jesus this morning.

We’re just going to examine four things about true faith from this passage:

Faith is common – that means universal.  Everyone has faith.  The atheist has faith, the Buddhist has faith, the Christian – everyone.  You have never met anyone who was not a person of faith.  What we have faith in, well that’s the important difference.

Second, faith is converted.  To have true faith in Jesus we have to switch our allegiances from old dependencies to Jesus.

Third, faith is contemplative.  Faith is a response to seeing and knowing Jesus.  When we contemplate Him we trust Him.

Finally, faith is continual.  We move out in faith and find confirmation for our faith  as we go, it’s a continual and never-ending process of trusting Jesus, stepping out on the basis of that faith, finding confirmation, gaining more faith and stepping out again.  Faith is continual.

But first, faith is common.  Everyone has faith.

Look down at verse 42, the verse immediately preceding our reading this morning.  Here are some Samaritans that Jesus has been spending time with.  And they conclude:

42 They said to the woman [of the well], "We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Saviour of the world."

Here are pagans, not Jews, but they see in Jesus that He has the answer to the whole world’s needs.  He is the Saviour of the world.   True faith says ‘Jesus is the Saviour’.  But the world has many other Saviours.

This week I was thinking about all the things the world trusts in to save us.  The bible warns us about loads of them.  Here’s just a selection:

Politics (Ps 146:3f) – 3 Do not put your trust in princes, in mortal men, who cannot save. 4 When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; on that very day their plans come to nothing. 5 Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD his God.

riches1 Tim 6:17 17 Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.

Wisdom – Prov 3:5-7 5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; 6 in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. 7 Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and shun evil.

man (Isaiah 2:22)22 Stop trusting in man, who has but a breath in his nostrils. Of what account is he?”

Family – Psalm 27 10 Though my father and mother forsake me, the LORD will receive me.

religion – Jer 7:4 4 Do not trust in deceptive words and say, "This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD!"

false gods – Ps 115 - 4 But their idols are silver and gold, made by the hands of men. 5 They have mouths, but cannot speak…8 Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them. 9 O house of Israel, trust in the LORD.

Politics, riches, wisdom, human power, family, religion, false gods – people trust in these every day.  There is not a human being on planet earth who does not count on something like these as a Saviour.

Faith is common to all.

Which means when we talk about true faith in Jesus, you’ll see that faith must be CONVERTED.

Having faith in Jesus is not about beginning to trust for the first time in your life.  Having faith in Jesus is about switching your faith from something else that has been your Saviour.

Look with me at verses 46 and 47:

46 Once more Jesus 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 [Capernaum was over 20 miles from Cana – a day’s journey on foot]. 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.

Here is a powerful man.  “Royal official.”  Perhaps he’s royalty himself or he’s high up in King Herod’s court .  This man is used to getting things done.  Power is being able to turn aspirations into action and this man had it.  He was used to getting things done.  So here’s a powerful man and his son gets sick.  What do you think his first response will be?  To what saviour will he turn?

Well I’m guessing here, but I imagine the story went a bit like this.  His son got sick and he thinks, Well I’ll pay for the best doctor and we’ll get this sorted.  His doctor comes, his doctor fails.  His son gets worse.  So he pulls a few strings and gets the king’s own physician.  Still no improvement.  Instead his son gets worse.  Where does he turn?  Well, maybe he’s got a contact at the imperial court who can put him in touch with the best of Roman medicine.  Surely the Romans can sort this out.  But they can’t.  And his son is now on his death bed.  It’s hard to think of something as tragic as a father planning the funeral of his son.  It should be the other way around.  Can you put yourself in the shoes of this otherwise powerful man?

The royal official is brought to the end of his powers.

And when you come to the end of yourself, that’s where faith comes.  Because faith must mean you shift your allegiance.  You used to trust something else, now you trust Jesus.

Do you remember the famous story Jesus told?  A foolish man builds his house on sand.  And of course, for a while a house on sand looks fine.  Until the storm hits.  And then your house comes crashing down.

Well a storm has hit this man, and his own powers are shown to be shifting sands.

So where does he turn?

Well remember, this is a Jewish man.  A man who knows the Old Testament Scriptures.  He knows the expectation for a Messiah who, when He comes, will bring heaven to earth.  The deaf will hear, the blind will see, the lame will leap for joy.  He knows about the Messiah.  And he’s heard about Jesus.  He’s heard that everywhere this man goes, He’s like a little pool of paradise.  Everyone who is sick who comes in contact with Him gets well.  He’s doing everything they promised about the Messiah.  Could he be the one?

Well that’s what he must have been thinking as he left his son’s death-bed and made the long journey to Cana.  He had begun to make the journey from the shifting sands of his own resources and to put his trust in the solid Rock of Jesus.

But let’s face it – if his son was not ill, he probably wouldn’t be seeking Jesus.  If he hadn’t been brought to the end of his powers, you wonder whether he’d be looking to Jesus.

What about you?  What are your saviours?  Where do you turn?  What do you trust in?  The truth of Jesus and the storms of life are all designed to turn you (convert you) towards true faith.

Well what does true faith look like?  Here’s one word for it – contemplative.

Verse 50 is such a surprise.  A day’s journey for this royal official, the worry about his son, the expectations about Jesus – what’s going to happen?  Jesus simply dismisses him again in 7 words. "You may go. Your son will live."

That’s not what the royal official expected.  Verse 47, he wanted Jesus to come back with him to Capernaum and heal his son.  And I wonder whether he expected Jesus to bring with him some magic ingredients, or at least some special words or prayers.  In the Old Testament, there’s a story of Elijah the prophet raising a boy from the dead (1 Kings 17).  And Elijah does all this elaborate stuff.  He picks him up and lays him on his bed and he cries out to the LORD and then he stretches himself out on the dead boy three times and each time he uses a special prayer.  Maybe the royal official was expecting that.  Jesus does none of it.  He just says “Go.  Your son will live.”

And in that moment, the royal official saw the truth about Jesus.  Jesus is not some shaman wrestling with the spiritual powers.  He doesn’t work up a sweat trying to conjure up a healing.  He doesn’t just engage with the mighty power of death – He towers far above it.   “Go.  Your son will live.  I’ve said it, it will happen.”

And the royal official suddenly realizes – I’m not just dealing with an amazing man here.  Jesus is the One who speaks and it comes to be.

Does that phrase sound familiar?  It was in our Old Testament reading this morning.  Psalm 33 talks about a Person called “the Word of the LORD” who created all things.  It’s very like John’s Gospel.  The Word of the LORD who creates all things is so powerful, v9:

9 For He spoke, and it came to be; He commanded, and it stood firm.

This is what the Creator does.  He speaks and it happens.  “Let there be light.  And there was light.”  He speaks realities into existence.  Genesis 1 doesn’t say, “Let there be light, and then He went off and made light.”  The speaking and the making are not two different things.  He speaks and it comes to be.  That is the mark of the Creator Word of God.

And here is Jesus – even in the face of that great enemy death.  He’s not phased, He doesn’t work up a sweat, He doesn’t even pray.  He’s not calling on a higher power – He is the Higher Power.  Here is the One the whole Old Testament has been proclaiming.  The Messiah who makes the blind see and the lame walk – who restores heaven to earth and He does it by the power of His word.

That’s why v50, the royal official takes Jesus at His word.  He recognizes in Jesus the Absolute Trustworthiness of the Creator God.  And when He contemplates the truth of Jesus – faith is born.

Because faith is contemplative.  By that I mean, when you contemplate your true Saviour, you SEE in Him things that are SO compelling, SO beautiful, SO trustworthy, that you simply must trust Him.  True faith comes when you contemplate Jesus – when you see Him for who He is.

Which is why, if anyone says to me “I wish I had your faith”, I’ve got to reply – well just contemplate Jesus.  Look at Him, read about Him in the bible, see Him for who He really is, and you too will have faith.

Someone who says “I wish I had your faith” is a bit like a man who comes late to a conversation, a cracking joke has just been told, everyone’s laughing and the man says “I wish I had your laughter.”  What?  “I wish I had your gift of being able to laugh.  I don’t really feel able to laugh, but here you are – you obviously have a talent for laughter.”  What do we say to that?  We say ‘listen to the joke!  Contemplate what we’ve been contemplating.  Then you’ll laugh.’

Or a woman who comes late to a concert and the audience is giving a standing ovation.  The woman says “I wish I had your talent for applause.”  What?  “I wish I had your gift of enthusiastic clapping.  I don’t feel able to applaud, but here you are clapping – you obviously have a talent for applause.”  What do we say?  We say “Listen to the music!  Contemplate what we’ve been contemplating.  Then you’ll gladly applaud.”

Or the ten year old boy who says “Girls smell.  I will never ever fall in love.”  What do we say?  We say, “You just wait.  When you meet the right girl, it’ll happen.”  Once you contemplate the right person, love will come.

Faith is like laughter, it’s like applause, it’s like falling in love.  It’s not a talent I have or a power I exercise.  It’s a response to something out there.  I’ve encountered something fantastic and once I’ve contemplated it, it’s changed me – He’s changed me, swept me off my feet.  Something – someone – overwhelmingly solid and trustworthy has captured my heart and I trust Him.  That’s faith.

Well there’s one final thing about faith – it’s continual.  Look down at v51:

51 While he was still on the way, his servants met him with the news that his boy was living. 52 When he enquired as to the time when his son got better, they said to him, "The fever left him yesterday at the seventh hour." 53 Then the father realised that this was the exact time at which Jesus had said to him, "Your son will live." So he and all his household believed.

In v50 the royal official believed Jesus.  And in v53 he believed Jesus again.  Faith is continual.  We don’t trust Jesus once and then get on with our life.  Our life is a life of trusting Jesus.  And we do it like this royal official.  You see he had an initial faith – he took Jesus at his word – and he acted on the basis of that faith.  Then later this faith was confirmed – Jesus really was able to do what He said.  And so with this added confirmation, the man believes again.  And he believes more, because now he has contemplated more of Jesus’ power and grace.  He’s seen it up close and personal.

This is how faith works.  You trust Jesus.  You move out in faith.  You see how trusting Jesus makes sense of life and in that confirmation your faith increases and so you trust Him a bit more.  And on it goes.  Faith is continual.

Do you realize that your biggest need this week is to trust Jesus?  Think now: what  do you think of as your greatest need for this week?  ... Now think of all the possible saviours you might look to, to provide you needs.  Money?  Power?  Intelligence?  Beauty?  Charm?  Hard work?  Family?  What saviours might you look to?  Well Jesus offers Himself to you again this week and says trust ME – I am the God who speaks and it happens.  I am the God who raises the dead.  I can handle this week, trust me.  Continually.  Our biggest need this week is to trust Jesus.

So let me close by trying to help us trust Jesus.  How do you think I should get you to trust Jesus more?  Indiana Jones style?  Summon up the courage for a blind leap of faith?  No – faith will come as we contemplate Jesus.  So while you still have your concerns for this week in mind, let me tell you about Jesus.

Before the universe existed, He was there – full of the Holy Spirit, the beloved Son of God the Father.  He made all things even the starry host by the Breath of His mouth.  He said “Light shine” and light was.  He spoke and it came to be.  He rules and upholds the entire universe by the word of His power.  And yet, He’s not too big for your problems and mine. He is concerned for our problems.  He saw us perishing in our sins and He decided to do something about it.  He came to planet earth.  He was born as a weak and speechless baby – the Creator of heaven, laid in a manger. He grew up and lived a life of such utter love and self-giving it continues to astonish the world.  And then for you and for me He laid down His life, was lifted up on a cross to suffer hell in our place.  He shed His own infinitely precious blood – the blood of God – so much does the Creator of the cosmos love you.  He was laid in the tomb but three days later He burst out again the conqueror of death and of sin, of wrath and of evil.  He has ascended to the throne of God and He rules the universe as our Brother, as our Priest, as our Lamb, as our Lord, as our Jesus.  And soon He will return to raise the whole creation to new, perfect, resurrection life.  And so soon we will be feasting at His table and praising Him – the One who loves us more than His own life.  This Jesus – He rules the universe.  And He rules your week.  Will you trust Him?


6 thoughts on “What is faith? A sermon on John 4:43-54

  1. cath

    The role of the signs is very interesting & important, but mightn't there be a problem if somebody reasons to themselves that they believe because of the signs? The signs, arguably, only corroborate his own testimony to himself, meaning that his own testimony to himself is the real reason for believing (because of its intrinsic truthfulness/authority). Ie, faith takes him at his word, no more and no less, as you have it in one of your quotes in the post.

    (The applause/laughter analogies are extremely helpful btw. There's that line in Bunyan's Holy War, when the delegate from the township finally meets Emmanuel - The Prince to whom you sent me is such a one for beauty and glory, that whoso sees him must both love and fear him: I, for my part, can do no less. Analogously the soul seeing his trustworthiness can only trust.)

  2. Glen

    Hi Cath,
    Corroboration is very important - a corroboration both with His own testimony yes, but perhaps at least as importantly, corroboration with the Hebrew Scriptures (which is the Father's testimony - 5:36ff). So, for instance, the sign of bread in the wilderness when seen in the context of the Father's testimony (Exodus) means He is the Lord of Israel. Just thinking out loud here, but maybe we say the signs match up the two testimonies - the Father's words in Scripture and Christ's words in the flesh. Does that fly??

    Jesus says His own witness by itself should be enough (8:14ff) but in fact the Father bears witness too (8:17-18). And, most extraordinary of all, Jesus even says: "If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father." (John 10:37-38).

    The testimonies are mutually interpenetrating just as the Father and Son are. They ought to be understood in terms of one another but it is possible to come to true faith just through witnessing 'the works' (though obviously the works must be interpreted in terms of the Scriptural backdrop).

    In all of this faith must be directed to the *Person* of Jesus - faith is receiving HIM.

    Don't know if I've clarified anything here, but it's been fun thinking out loud. Thoughts?

  3. cath

    Ok :) I'll need to think more, I think.

    Thoroughly appreciate your insistence on faith laying hold of the Person of Christ.
    There is a little book by Andrew Bonar with the title The Person of Christ, which was not obviously intended as deep theology, although it is, but theology for devotional purposes. (Which is all the more worth mentioning to yourself because he quite unselfconsciously has the patriarchs and all the OT believers saved by faith in the person of Christ :) Yet another C19th Scot, I'm afraid.)
    (Actually online here - )

  4. Courtney

    This is just what I need to read. I have a question would you mind if I read this sermon to my church?

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