“If God did a miracle for me now, then I’d believe…” It’s a common complaint, isn’t it – that the claims of Christianity are based on events 2000 years ago? If only something happened today – well then belief would be inevitable, wouldn’t it?
It’s for reasons like this that the end of John 4 contains so many surprises. Let’s pick it up from v43.
An unwelcome welcome
After the two days he departed for Galilee. (For Jesus himself had testified that a prophet has no honour 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. (vv43-45)
It seems like a fairly straightforward description of Jesus’ behaviour, but did you noticed the almost incomprehensible logical progression? Jesus had said that prophets aren’t honoured in their home town, so when he came to Galilee (his home) they welcome him. If Jesus has testified that prophets aren’t honoured at home, why did he get such a welcome?
Well John answers – they welcomed him ‘having seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the feast‘. They had seen the signs that Jesus was doing. But as John 2:23-25 had already hinted, that kind of belief wasn’t necessarily a good thing1. According to Jesus, belief that comes off the back of seeing signs is a bad thing.
“Sign belief” vs “Word belief”
You see it again in 4:48.
So Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.”
Jesus could have been merely providing a commentary. But the tone was clearly exasperated. He was responding to a request from a man whose son was ill (v47). Instead of granting the request immediately, Jesus made the comment above, forcing the official to make the request again (v49)2.
Then notice what happened when Jesus granted his request.
The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way. (v50)
The belief which the man exhibits is belief because of the word that Jesus had spoken. This kind of belief receives no kind of rebuke. On the contrary, it follows the precedent of commended belief which we have seen in chapter 4. Notice the way that the Samaritan woman came to believe following a conversation with Jesus – which involved no signs. Indeed, when many in the local Samaritan village came to believe, it was ‘because of his word’ (v41).
At the end of a section which has been demonstrating the necessity of belief, these verses carry a significant qualification: belief in Jesus’ words is the key.
“If only I was there…”
It presents a surprising challenge to our “miracle-focused” longings. It’s a great thing to see the miracles which Jesus performed – indeed, John has deliberately recorded them for us in this book. But it’s also significant to note that Jesus commends belief in His words. As much as I would love to see Jesus healing a terminally ill person in front of me3, it’s His words that He wants me to focus on.
And the same goes for friends who aren’t Christians. They may find them less persuasive, but it’s the words that Jesus persistently draws our attention to. Signs may be impressive, but they don’t lead to lasting belief4. Belief in Jesus’ words is what counts.
And yet the incredible news of John 4:1-42 still rings in our ears. Eternal life is available to anyone who believes in Jesus’ words.
Be a Samaritan
John seems to record these verses so that we’ll respond like the Samaritans. “Be a Samaritan” has come to mean looking after the poor – which is a great thing to do! But in John 4 it means something very different – and even more commendable. It means to believe in Jesus’ words.
If you’re not someone who would call yourself a Christian, then Jesus’ encouragement is clear, isn’t it? Find Jesus’ words and listen carefully to them! Engage with what Jesus says. Hear Jesus words, and believe.
And if you are a Christian, then keep believing – knowing that whoever you are, you’re welcome in Jesus’ family if you believe in His words. And while we’re keeping the doors wide open for anyone to come in, let’s make sure His words are as widely available as possible.
Indeed, it’s for that very reason that I’m writing this blog.
More on John’s gospel will be published each Wednesday evening, with a bonus blog article thrown in on most weeks at some point before the next Wednesday. Feel free to share posts using the buttons below, and you can subscribe to the blog by using the sign-up form on the right.
- John 2:23-25 – “Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.” ↩
- Little is made of it, but it’s interesting to notice that the miracle is one of ‘removing the threat of death’ – i.e. the son is close to the point of death, but has that imposing threat removed. It’s another link to Isaiah 25 (which we first saw in John 2:1-11), this time referring to vv7-8 which allude to a covering and veil that is cast over all people’s – “death”. As Jesus fulfils this promise, He shows Himself again to be the one bringing in the age which Isaiah promised ↩
- … and I trust that the day will come when Jesus does bring an end to death forever. Read on to John 5 to see more on this! ↩
- See e.g. those who saw the feeding of the 5000 stopped following Jesus in John 6:66 ↩