After the two days he left for Galilee. (Now Jesus himself had pointed out that a prophet has no honor in his own country.) When he arrived in Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him. They had seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, for they also had been there.
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. 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.
“Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders,” Jesus told him, “you will never believe.”
The royal official said, “Sir, come down before my child dies.”
Jesus replied, “You may go. Your son will live.”
The man took Jesus at his word and departed. While he was still on the way, his servants met him with the news that his boy was living. When he inquired as to the time when his son got better, they said to him, “The fever left him yesterday at the seventh hour.”
Then the father realized that this was the exact time at which Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” So he and all his household believed.
This was the second miraculous sign that Jesus performed, having come from Judea to Galilee.
John 4:43-54 (NIV)
As with every gospel writer, John doesn’t put everything that Jesus ever did in His gospel (cf. John 20:30-31), nor everything that ever happened to Him. But the one line, “(Now Jesus himself had pointed out that a prophet has no honor in his own country),” really makes me scratch my head. There is no story here of Jesus being dishonored; just a statement that the Galileans welcomed Him, because they had seen the miracles that He had done in Jerusalem. But if you read just a little bit between the lines, you really do get the idea that Jesus wasn’t really accepted in His home region of Galilee for who He was; He was just hounded by the people to do some miracles.
So when this royal official showed up to beg Jesus to come and heal his son who was close to death, Jesus came across as kind of exasperated. “Unless you people (plural, addressed to all those standing around) see signs and wonders, you will never believe.” I imagine that it would have been desperately frustrating for Jesus to have people just come to Him when they wanted something, but then, once they are healed, once they have seen the miracle, not wanting anything to do with what He said; not wanting to actually live the kingdom life that He was teaching them about. And now, here was one more person who wanted Him to drop everything and go do a miracle for him.
In the end, it was Jesus’ compassion that carried the day. After all, this man wasn’t just wanting to see a miracle so he could tell people about it. He wasn’t looking for a thrill at Jesus’ expense. He was simply desperate. He probably didn’t even know about the kingdom of God yet. He was simply reaching out in his absolute powerlessness, grasping at this one straw in his desperation to save his son’s life. His heartfelt plea touched the feeling heart of the Son of God. I can almost see Jesus’ face soften, a slight smile playing around the corners of His mouth, as the volume of His voice lowered to an intimate level that was only heard by the man and the few disciples who were standing closest: “You may go. Your son will live.”
The man had intended to bring Jesus back with him to Capernaum; back to where his son lay dying. And I’m sure that he was willing to go to any lengths to make that happen. But when Jesus looked him square in the eye and told him in that soft, intimate voice that his son would live, that was enough for him. Immediately, his one thought was to get back home and see that his son really was going to live after all.
Some time the next morning he met his servants on the road. They were coming to tell him that his son had suddenly gotten better; not just a slight improvement, but all the way well. One instant he was fading, and the next he was out of bed and ready to go. And the miraculous change had happened the previous day, precisely at the time that Jesus had told the ruler that his son would live. At this point, the final sentence, “So he and all his household believed,’ is kind of anticlimactic. Of course they did!
There is a point here that is vital to understand. Even in Jesus’ day there were two kinds of people who sought Him out for a miracle. On the one hand were those people who asked Him for a miracle because they wanted to see a miracle. Jesus never gave in to them. But on the other hand were those who begged for a miracle because they were helpless in the situation in which they found themselves. They had nowhere else to turn except to Jesus. They weren’t ordering Him to do something for them; they were simply pleading with Him to help them when there was no one else to help. And when someone came to Jesus that way, He always helped. And He still does today.