Jesus is the word of God translated into human flesh so we can understand it, so that it doesn’t remain abstract, ethereal, theoretical, distant. Jesus is the word, the logos, the wisdom of God translated into a human being so we can understand him.
In the beginning the word spoke creation into existence because the word is with God, the word is God. The word is the second person of the trinity. But in the incarnation the word that spoke creation into existence is now spoken into that creation Himself. So in the beginning, the word speaks creation into existence, but in the incarnation, Christmas, Bethlehem, virgin birth, Jesus in a manger, the word of God is spoken into creation. How do you do? God does not stay distant from his creation, but writes himself into the story so that we can know what He’s like! Jesus is what God has to say. As we look at Jesus, we see the divine logic of God translated into a human being so we can know what He’s like.
More from John, this time from his first letter. “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—” 1 John 1:1 ESV. John says “Look, I’ve seen him. I’ve touched him. I’ve heard him. The word, the logos of God that became a human being. And I’m going testify of Him. I’m going to tell you what Jesus was like so that you’ll know what God is like.” God writes himself into the story so that we can know what he’s like. Jesus is the full, complete, final, eternal self-disclosure of God. If you want to know what God is like, you look at Jesus. Into our world of death, God has spoken the word of Life, and that word is Jesus. And John is going to give us a sign to see how this works.
Jesus is returning from a tour of Samaria and Judea. He’d gone all the way to Jerusalem. He’d worked a miracle in Cana of Galilee, turning water into wine at the wedding. Then he went in a tour through Jerusalem, up through Samaria, meeting the woman at the well. Now he’s come back into Galilee, but instead of returning to his newly adopted hometown of Capernaum, he goes high up in the hills of Galilee, which is where we find Cana, only 5 miles from Nazareth.
25 miles away from Cana, in Capernaum down by the seashore, there is a royal official employed by the king, King Herod. This is not the same Herod from the birth of Jesus, but one of his grandsons. Point is, this official is employed by the king, he’s part of the Herodian elite. He’s wealthy, influential, and powerful. Maybe he’s in Capernaum because it’s an important taxation town, where all the taxes from the fishing that goes on on the Sea of Galilee is gathered, but we don’t know. He’s wealthy, powerful and influential, and he has a little boy, let’s say 2 years old.
This little boy has a fever. Fevers can be dangerous even now, but through all human history before the advent of antibiotics after WWII, fevers were often deadly to small children. His little boy has a fever and it’s not coming down. He’s burning up, he’s become listless, his breathing is shallow, his pulse is weak. He’s afraid his little boy is going to die. He’s waiting for Jesus to come because he believes somehow that Jesus can do a miracle and heal his son. So he’s waiting for Jesus to come back to his newly adopted hometown of Capernaum.
But then word comes that no, Jesus has not come to Capernaum, but instead gone to Cana. So this royal official goes as fast as he can, up, up ,up into those Galilean hills, 25 miles up, to reach Cana as quickly as he could. He finds Jesus, and begins to beg. This royal official is not accustomed to begging. He’s rich, he’s powerful, he’s used to having his way. He’s used to giving orders and not begging. But now he begs. “Please sir, please sir, please come down, come with me back down to Capernaum and heal my little boy, he’s at the point death. I’m begging you Jesus, come heal my little boy.”
Jesus response is surprising, befuddling, confusing, ambiguous. Why does he say that? So Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” What Jesus wants people to do is to believe in Him. He wants people people to believe that He is revealing to them the Father. He wants people to believe in Him, but he knows that unless people see signs they won’t believe. But the signs become a problem, because they have to have the signs in order to believe that he can reveal the Father, but as soon as he starts doing signs people get confused and they become distracted by the sign instead of seeing what the sign is pointing to.
The sign is not the thing itself. If we see a sign for Washington DC, with an arrow pointing north, that’s not Washington DC, that’s a sign pointing to Washington DC. Jesus says “I have to do signs or they wasn’t believe,” but there’s a hint of exasperation in his voice. Because he knows people then get distracted because they just focus on what Jesus can do instead of what the sign points to, who he is, the one who reveals the Father to us.
This is a recurring theme of John’s Gospel. We see after the feeding of the 5000 that they saw the sign. “Jesus answered, “I assure you: You are looking for Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate the loaves and were filled.” John 6:26 HCSB. You saw the sign, you loved the sign. You ate the fish and the bread. But you missed what it’s pointing to. It’s pointing to me as the bread of life. But all the people could see was a free lunch.
This problem reaches its culmination in the story of Thomas at the end of the Gospel. “So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”” John 20:25 ESV. So a week later Jesus gives Thomas his sign. “Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”” John 20:27-29 ESV. Ok Thomas, here’s your sign. Look, give me your hand, here are the holes. So Thomas believes. But blessed are those who have NOT seen yet have believed.
So there’s a frustration for Jesus. He has to do signs, but the signs can be distracting. People can be obsessed with the sign, instead of what the sign is pointing to. Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe. But the father in this story is not really interested in a theological discussion at this point. God bless him, he just says “Sir, come down before my child dies.” So Jesus tells him “Go; your son will live.” Go, your son will live. Ok, this father is gone on his way home. The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way. He leaves without a sign from Jesus, just the command to go. He travels down, it’s a long journey longer than he can go in a day. It’s 25 miles, rugged terrain, difficult travel. He travels as far as he can, he’s up at first light the next morning. As he’s going, he comes across some of his own slaves (he is a rich, powerful man). As he was going down, his servants met him and told him that his son was recovering. Your son is alright, he’s well. He’s going to be fine, he’s 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.
The official and his whole household believed in Jesus. Believed what? That Jesus could heal the sick? They already believed that. That’s why this man made the 25 mike trek up to Cana, because he believed Jesus could heal his sick son. No, they did not just believe Jesus could do stuff, they believed in Jesus.
Which is what Jesus is after all along. They saw the sign and were not distracted by it. They allowed the sign to point them to faith in Jesus. What do they believe about Jesus? They believe he is the Messiah. Which means king. King of what? King of the Jews, the king of Israel.
Who is this man in this story? He is a royal official. Who does he work for? He works for King Herod. And King Herod is the king of what? He is the King of the Jews, the King of Israel. But suddenly this man has changed, and now he says “I believe the real king, the true king, the king I’m going to put my faith in is not Herod, but Jesus. I’m not putting my faith in that anymore. I’m putting my faith in Jesus.” He and his whole household.
The bible almost always thinks of salvation as an individual thing as we do, but a household thing. A whole household believes in Christ. That’s why we raise our kids in our faith. We raise them as Christians. We don’t ask them what they’d like to be (or maybe we do). Let’s just sample it all…Here’s a little Islam, a little Buddhism, a little Confucianism, a little atheism, a little other-ism. A little make-it-up-as-you-go-ism. No we, we raise our children as Christians. We dedicate them as babies, we baptize them, bring them to church, put them in Sunday school, vacation bible school. Because we raise them as Christians. Because it’s not just an individual thing, it’s whole household believing in Jesus.
Some days it all seems so much harder to have faith, to believe. Some days we just take a sucker punch to the gut. It is on these days when we find out what we really believe. Do we really believe in Jesus? Or are we distracted by the signs? Will we hike that 25 miles uphill, sometimes through the wind and the rain, and ask Jesus, plead with Jesus please come??!! Or will we just seek out all the other -isms of the world, especially my favorite, that my-way-ism, do it our own way, then wonder how we wound up making the whole thing worse??
“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.”
John 4:46-54 ESV
One last thought on Jesus’s first miracle, turning water into wine. Short and sweet, I promise.
Jesus doesn’t just turn any old water into wine. Jesus turned water for ritual purification into wedding wine, and this too is a sign. The sign is that there is about to be a huge shift in how we understand our relationship with God. Instead of always washing, washing, washing, mikvah, mikvah, mikvah, ceremonial cleansing, over and over, repeatedly, several times a week, instead of always washing and never really feeling clean, now the Kingdom of God is going to be more like eating and drinking with close friends with nothing to prove. Because you know you belong and you know you are welcome there.
To be involved with God, Jesus says is not going to be like always bathing but never getting clean. It’s going to be like sitting at a table with your best friends, enjoying good food and drink, with nothing to prove. Things are about to shift from purity rites to shared table delights.
Instead of are you clean enough, are you pure enough, are you holy enough, are you kosher enough, the question is now going to be will you come to the table? Want to come to God? The question has changed. It used to be that the question was are Holy enough, pure enough, kosher enough, clean enough??? But Jesus says that’s not the question any more. The question isn’t are you holy, clean, or pure enough, the question is will you come to the table??
That’s the standing invitation Jesus gives to you. He invites you to his table. And he says I’m not asking you if you’re clean enough. I’m not asking you if you Holy enough. I’m not asking you if you’re good enough. I’m not asking you if you’re pure enough. I’m not asking you if you’re religious enough. I’m not asking you if you’re kosher enough. I’m just asking, will you come?
That’s all Jesus asks of you, is that you come. Just come. Just come to the table and then things will happen. But know that you are welcome here. You are loved here. You are accepted here. Just come as you are.