Jesus Heals at Cana
Written by Pastor Jim Dorman
1. Thoughts by John:
John 4:46–54 (NIV84) “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. 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.
48 “Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders,” Jesus told him, “you will never believe.”
49 The royal official said, “Sir, come down before my child dies.”
50 Jesus replied, “You may go. Your son will live.”
The man took Jesus at his word and departed. 51 While he was still on the way, his servants met him with the news that his boy was living. 52 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.”
53 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.
54 This was the second miraculous sign that Jesus performed, having come from Judea to Galilee.”
2. Passage Outline
I. As Jesus Arrives at Cana, a Nobleman begs Jesus to heal His Son (vs. 46-47)
II. The Miracle Process (vs. 48-53)
a. Jesus notes the Nobleman’s Miniscule Amount of Faith (vs. 48)
b. The Nobleman Asks Again & Jesus Grants His Request (vs. 49-50a)
c. The Nobleman Believed and Returned Home (vs. 50b)
d. Servants Bring Word of His Son’s Healing (vs. 51-52)
e. Miracle Led to Belief and Salvation (vs. 53)
III. This was Jesus’ Second Miraculous Sign in Galilee (vs. 54)
3. Information to Consider
John 4:46–50a. “On this return to Galilee, Jesus also visited Cana (bypassing Nazareth), the location of the water-to-wine miracle recorded in chapter 2. There he encountered a request for help from a royal official who served in the court of Herod Antipas, the tetrarch of Galilee. Some interpreters suggest the man could have been a Gentile centurion, but perhaps not since Jesus directed his early ministry exclusively to Jews. This official had made the journey of twenty-five miles on the basis of Jesus’ reputation.
Notice the verbs as John draws a picture of a desperate man. He heard that Jesus had arrived, and he went to him and begged him. The word describes repeated and persistent pleas. Desperate faith drove him to Jesus and also drove him to his knees.
The Lord’s words shock us as they must have shocked the royal official. He did not address the desperate man but spoke in the plural (you) to the crowd, accusing them of wanting only more signs and wonders. But faith built only on the spectacular is not biblical faith. Perhaps Jesus drew a contrast here between the Samaritans in Sychar who believed because of his message and the Jews in Cana who were interested only in physical miracles.
Before we look at the faith factor, let us clarify a couple of common misunderstandings in this passage. The royal official of John 4 should not be confused with the centurion of Matthew 8 and Luke 7. The town was the same (Capernaum), but in the Synoptics we read about a dying slave rather than a dying son. Many scholars argue that all the Gospel writers drew from a common source and changed the flavor of the story. But John took great pains to establish his eyewitness account and also, writing much later, had opportunity to review all the Synoptic accounts while preparing his own.
Another pointed issue is the phrase signs and wonders which has taken on immense popularity in our day. John generally used the word signs (semia), but this is the only appearance of wonders (terrata). Borchert writes, “In the ancient world miracles and acts of power were linked to the presence of the miracle worker, but here the healer refused to be present. The story, therefore, is an important illustration of the purpose for which John wrote the Gospel.” And again, “Jesus is clearly portrayed in the Gospel as one who seeks to lead persons through stages of inadequate believing to satisfactory believing even if it means denying the person or request” (Borchert, p. 220).
Jesus did not say you may go as the NIV translates. The word go is imperative, so the man has been commanded by the Savior of the world with a promise of life for his son. But if he left, according to his way of thinking, he would leave behind his one chance for help. Jesus demanded that his faith be desperate enough to trust his word, not just his visible works.
Wonders may produce awe, but words produce faith. Remember John’s theme: Believing is seeing. Our modern society assumes everything must be tested by science, explained with logic, or personally experienced. When it passes those tests, it can be identified as reality. But the writer of Hebrews said, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (11:1).
This story is so dramatically human because it is so like life. Any of us who has failed or flunked, been fired or flattened can understand desperate faith. In my view of the passage, Jesus did not criticize the royal official but rather the Galileans who gathered around because they had seen all that He had done in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast.
4:50b–54. The man obeyed, persisted, and received the promise of a miracle. Most notable in this section of chapter 4 is the phrase that appears at the end of verse 50: The man took Jesus at his word. This kind of faith God constantly rewarded in the New Testament, and particularly in the Gospels. The total trust that Jesus will do what he has promised, a response to the Savior, culminates in faith-behavior—actually doing what Jesus says to do.
Apparently it was too late in the day to begin the trip back to Capernaum, but the next day the royal official set out to cover the twenty-five miles. We can only imagine the anxiety of that seemingly endless trip, but the servants brought the good news before he arrived home. The father asked about the timing of the child’s recovery, and his faith was confirmed. Vague and impersonal faith became specific and personal faith. The word believed has no direct or indirect object in verse 53, so we assume the royal official and all his household exhibited intentional faith in Jesus’ person, his deity, and his messianic claims.
Not only did the royal official himself believe, but he shared the entire experience with his family. The concept of “household salvation” is certainly not uncommon in the New Testament, and we are reminded here of the Philippian jailer in Acts 16. Let us keep a good balance here. While recognizing the strong influence of the major male member of a household in first-century Middle Eastern culture, we must also acknowledge that everyone in the house knew how sick the boy was as well as when and why he recovered. In fact, the faith of the members of the household, not having spoken with Jesus as their master did, represents the kind of faith John describes throughout this Gospel.
John did not record any other witnessing done by this man, but the story obviously got back to him so it could be included in the Gospel. A very private miraculous sign moved a petty politician from desperate faith to deliberate faith. Jesus came to save us from sin. But he does not want us to trust him just because we are desperate and have no other choices. He wants us to believe in his word and trust him with every part of our lives.
In a classic work published almost a hundred years ago, Archbishop Trench describes the growth of the noblemen’s faith: “But did he not believe already? Was not this healing itself a gracious reward of his faith? Yes, he believed that particular word of the Lord’s; but this is something more, the entering into the number of Christ’s disciples, the yielding of himself to Him as to the promised Messiah. Of admitting that he already truly believed, there may be indicated here a strengthening and augmenting of his faith. For faith may be true, and yet most capable of this increase” (Trench, p. 131).
MAIN IDEA REVIEW: The emptiness of the Samaritan woman’s life could not be filled with the physical water from a well; after every drink, her thirst would return. But those who have trusted Jesus have within them a bubbling spring, a vigorous stream which guarantees no continuing spiritual thirst. Such is the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers.
4. Questions to Ponder
- Who was the Nobleman? (vs. 46, cf. Luke 8:3; Acts 13:1)
- Why did he not meet his servants until the next day? (vs. 51-52)
5. Author’s Comments
As Jesus was initiating His earthly ministry, we find Him returning to Cana a second time. During this visit, a Royal Official arrives seeking His help in a moment of great personal need. During my years of ministry, I have had the privilege of sharing many moments of great personal need with many families and individuals. During these difficult moments, I have observed and participated in times when these human beings found themselves facing challenges beyond their ability to face and handle on their own. During these overwhelming experiences, many of the individuals and families came to the conclusion their only basis for hope would come from the God who had created them.
John introduces us to a Royal Official who was going through the same heart wrenching decision. When he realized his son was approaching death’s doorstep, he turned to the only person he believed had the power of life over the death which was entering into his son’s life – Jesus. Like so many of us, when facing situations which go beyond our ability to handle on our own – the Royal Official traveled to Cana to seek Jesus’ help in restoring his son’s health.
Having heard the request of the Royal Official, Jesus turned to the crowd and asked them if God’s responses to their deep personal needs would be the only pathway which would lead them to the throne of their Heavenly Father. While God’s responses during our times of great personal need often opens the door for re-establishing our broken relationship with Him, Jesus desired for the members of the crowd to also seek God through the other avenues available to them – some being prayer, the Gospel, the testimony of other believers and truths contained within God’s Word.
Within this passage, we also find an additional insight by John – “this was the second miraculous sign”. One of the ways God chose to affirm Jesus as His Son was through the times He would display His supernatural ability to overcome the natural limitations each of us have during our time here on Earth. Jesus’ supernatural ability was displayed in this passage when Jesus declared the Royal Official’s son “will live”. A reality the Royal Official experienced upon his return to his home in Capernaum. Only God has the ability to terminate terminal illnesses by simply declaring health over the reality of death.
The final insight this passage provides us is the transformation of the Royal Official and all who lived in his home. While we are unclear of the type and depth the Royal Official’s faith in Jesus prior to his son’s recovery, we can be confident his faith in Jesus was firmly established following the recovery and it was a faith he shared with those he knew and loved. His Christian faith impacted the lives of those who were closest to him and it led to an entire household of new believers with whom he would spend all eternity.
I hope our personal experiences with God deepens each of our personal relationships with God and leads to others being introduced to God’s family as we testify about God’s involvement in our daily lives.
6. Closing Prayer
It is a wonderful privilege to discover the truths contained within the pages of Your written Word. Thousands of years after Your thoughts were written down, we have the ability to discover them anew as we spend time reading the Bible.
As we uncover Your insights, allow us to grow in our understanding of Your truths. Let us adopt them as our own and allow them to guide our daily lives. Please let Your truth deepen our faith and may our trust in You allow us to share our hope in You with our family and friends.
In Jesus’ Name,
7. Answers to “Questions to Ponder”
1. The word literally means “king’s man”. He was most likely an officer of Herod Antipas, the tetrarch of Galilee.
2. The nobleman, probably encountered his servants after sundown. This would cause John to refer to the time of previous daylight as yesterday.
 Gangel, K. O. (2000). John (Vol. 4, pp. 83–85). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.