Living for Eternity
Challenges to our Faith
John 4:46 – 5:17
Turn to John 4. This morning’s message is entitled, Challenges to our Faith. Talk about challenges. Team Red, our 2-pitch team, got absolutely crushed this week by Team Green. They showed no mercy, it was awful! Well, seriously we have had a lot of fun, enjoying each other on the diamond and sitting in the bleachers. In this week’s text (John 4:46-John 5:17) what struck me was the faith of one man who believed that Christ could heal his son. His faith seems to stand out in the midst of a number of challenges that come upon people in chapters four and five. So, what we see in the passage are four areas of trouble, as well as a tribute to one man’s faith. So, let’s first look at the trouble that is mentioned in this passage the kind of trouble that all of us might face in life or certainly something similar. Beginning to read at vs 46:
“Then He came again to Cana of Galilee where He had made the water wine. And there was a royal official whose son was sick at Capernaum. When he heard that Jesus had come out of Judea into Galilee, he went to Him and was asking Him to come down and heal his son; for he was about to die. So Jesus said to him, ‘Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will never believe.’ The royal official said to Him, ‘Sir, come down before my child dies.’”
John 4:46-49 (LSB)
The first thing I see here that can challenge our faith is:
Certainly, none of us are immune to tragedy. Here we have a gentleman who is described as a royal official, likely very affluent and wealthy. We sometimes think that having the means to make sure things are okay and saves us from the risk of tragedy. We have car insurance to make sure that we do not lose $20,000 if someone runs into us. We have home insurance to make sure that if our house burns down, we really do not lose financially. But we know that we cannot protect ourselves from every tragic accident or protect our family. For all of us are only one phone call away from receiving tragic news. Some of you may have seen on the news that five people who had paid to take a “submersible” a submarine-type unit was lost at sea. This “submersible” unit gives tours of the Titanic at the bottom of the ocean near Newfoundland. The cost for the tour is $250,000 each. Obviously, extremely wealthy folks, who lost contact with the main ship and now considered dead.
And this man in our story was wealthy, likely very respected, and had a great job. Obviously, he loved his son and comes home from work and finds that his son has a fever. Likely something that he and his wife may not have been worried about, but it obviously lingers and grows worse. So much so, that his father knows by now that his son is about to die. And all of a sudden, his wealth, his position, his recognition means nothing to him. All that consumes him is the healing of his son, as he no longer can sleep, he no longer wants to eat, for his son is dying. Now this can be a watershed moment for us, as this will also be a test of our faith. For where do I go when my resources are stripped from me? When I have nowhere else to turn. When I am completely helpless. There have been some who have faced tragedy and it has caused them to abandon their faith. They become angry at God because things did not work out the way they thought, and therefore, they completely walked from Christ or they were never the same spiritually again. There is a second passage in this section where there is more trouble.
“After these things there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now there is in Jerusalem by the sheep gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew Bethesda, having five porticoes. In these lay a multitude of those who were sick, blind, lame, and withered, [waiting for the moving of the waters; for an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool and stirred up the water; whoever then first, after the stirring up of the water, stepped in was made well from whatever sickness with which he was afflicted.] And a man was there who had been sick for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been sick a long time, He said to him, ‘Do you wish to get well?’ The sick man answered Him, ‘Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, but while I am coming, another steps down before me.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Get up, pick up your mat and walk.’ And immediately the man became well, and picked up his mat and began to walk. Now it was the Sabbath on that day.”
John 5:1-9 (LSB)
Now we can read this passage and hurt with this man for a few verses and then we rejoice with him when he is healed, but there is something else going on here, for he had been sick for 38 years. For we see here another type of trouble. Not the sudden phone call that brings tragedy, but the long ongoing weight of:
This too has the same feeling of wanting to fix the situation. Yet again it is something that cannot always be fixed by knowledge or money. For this man had been sick for 38 years and was unable to do anything about it. Now it is hard to understand everything that is going on in this passage. The King James has the latter half of verse 4 and then verse 5, and talks about those who were first in the water would be healed. In fact, it says an angel of the Lord stirred the waters. Older manuscripts that have been discovered since the writing of the King James have not included this story, therefore, more modern translations do not include it. Some translations include it (like the Legacy Standard), but place it in brackets indicating that it is likely not part of the original Scriptures. But we do know from the story that this man had been sick for 38 years, and the waters had some kind of blessing from God or it was at least thought that they had some kind of healing power. But what we know for certain is that this man has suffered for a long time, and he apparently lives among those who are also sick, and he seems to have no one to help him, for he seems to be alone trying to get into the water.
Now there is nothing to shelter you and me from discouragement if the Lord so chooses. For we may not be struck in a car accident or find out that we have six months to live. But there may be something in our lives that we may have to deal with for many years. In other words, it may be a struggle for us our whole lives. Eight years ago, our oldest son Andy and our daughter Mel were expecting and we received a call early in the morning that our little granddaughter Pepper was born, their fourth child. About an hour later Andy called back and said that the doctor was concerned that Pepper might have Down syndrome. And my first reaction was Lord, this cannot happen, as we have been sheltered from such news. And this was a slam against our perfect family. And this was not a short-term problem, as this was going to be something that our family was going to have to deal with for a long time. I went to work that morning at Peoples Church, and could hardly tell the girls at the office about little Pepper. Immediately, both of them started to share about someone in their family who had Down syndrome, and how they were such a blessing to them and their families, and it made me feel a little guilty for my little pity party.
And now, of course, a number of years later, Pepper is Pepper, and has been such a blessing to all of us. And to see the maturity of her older siblings who have shared such life lessons through the struggle. And Anne and I have just marveled at Andy and Mel as they have loved Pepper so much. A few years later Pepper had cancer and is now doing better, but you also got a glimpse into a world of sickness and young children who must go through many things that I have not. Visiting at Sick Kids, knowing that many children do not survive or must live with such disabilities.
And this is part of the discouragement that many are called to live with like this man of 38 years, where maybe you must live with sickness or some kind of heartache for a long time. As some may live with the discouragement of an unhappy marriage for years and years, where you keep your marriage vows to someone who has made life so difficult. Some live with the sadness of a loved one who does not know the Lord, or someone that may be running from the Lord. And God may step in and rescue that person, or they may be running from God for years and years, and we have no assurance of their salvation. And though we might think of tragedy as more difficult, sometimes time can heal tragedy, yet discouragement never seems to go away. A discouraging situation has likely caused many believers to run from God or ministry, as the joy of church-life is gone, so that they no longer attend church, or they only come out of duty. Whereas some might rebound after a tragic situation, but many others do not do well in a long-term discouraging situation.
A great counter to this has been the life of Joni Eareckson Tada, who at the age of 17 suffered a major diving accident and has lived in a wheelchair ever since. Yet her love for Christ and ministry and the church has been an inspiration to millions of Christians. She once said, “…we will stand amazed to see the topside of the tapestry and how God beautifully embroidered each circumstance into a pattern for our good and His glory.” Here a lifelong discouragement for Joni Eareckson actually drew her closer to Christ, as she said that “Maybe the truly handicapped people are the ones that don’t need God as much.” Challenges to our faith, tragedy and discouragement. Then look at:
“So the Jews were saying to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to carry your mat.”
John 5:10 (LSB)
The next challenge that can be a threat to our faith is:
- Doubts and Questions
Here Jesus has healed a man and God is blessing him. And you have come through a time when your faith is growing and you may be excited spiritually, and then comes doubt often caused by the “righteous,” or at least by those who have influence. As doubt can come from many places, and the doubt is placed often directly on Christ. You might say that the questioning is towards this man who was healed, yet the Jews in this culture condemn Jesus because He is performing a work on the Sabbath. And we do not really get this today, as this would not be something that would be condemned in our day and age. But what I want to focus on here are those in your life who can instill an authority over God, because ultimately the doubt is placed on Christ, for these men are not primarily focusing on this man, but on Christ who healed him. They do not really care about this man, but their main focus is to discredit Christ who healed him. For you will get this in your science class, and you are getting this now in the sports field, as this will come up in almost every major area of your life.
So, let me give you a word of caution, that those who cause you doubts about your faith, you need to beware, and therefore, ask yourself, “Does this person have God in His rightful place?” For viewing God for who He is or having God in His rightful place means that this is a person who honours God’s Word, he believes what God has said. But if not, beware this person. And these are not individuals who are obvious enemies, that might be easy for us to defend against or recognize. No, they are often nice people who have considerable influence. And we want to be careful here that we do not become people who live paranoid lives, or suspect everyone at every turn. And it does not also mean that every person without Christ is always wrong or cannot be trusted. I have been grateful for many over the years people in my life who are not Christians, who have shown great kindness to me and my family. People we very much love and respect. I worked for an unchristian boss for many years, who I greatly respected and loved. But here is where we need to be careful, that especially in the area of ethics and morality, that without honouring God’s Word, a person can be way off the mark.
It’s the doctor, not all, who says that an abortion would be a good choice here. A very nice doctor and a person of influence, who seems to care very deeply for you. But here is what we must beware, for this doctor does have God in His rightful place. The guidance counselor, not all, at school that cares for you deeply, that might hint to you that maybe you are a boy inside a girl’s body. And listens to you and desires to help you. Beware, for this counselor does not have God in His rightful place. The boyfriend that says, I love you, and greatly desires to have a physical relationship with you. After all he is your best friend and gives you a lot of attention. Beware, for that boyfriend does not have God in His rightful place. The woman at work that seems to care about you more than your wife. After all, she listens to you and shows you a great amount of attention. And shows great empathy with everything you are going through. Beware, for that woman does not have God in His rightful place.
That science teacher that is so knowledgeable, who knows more about the earth and the universe than you will ever know. And things like, and this happened billions of years ago, just flows from him. That you were at one time an ape, because this is what science claims. Beware, for that teacher does not have God in His rightful place. And today we have the talk show hosts and those who teach that we must love and be accepting. And so we need to fly flags and be accepting of all religions and even those who celebrate all men and women without religion, for why wouldn’t we celebrate such things? Beware, for they do not have God in His rightful place. Or even the kind pastor that says things like, would God really condemn people to hell? Are not men and women generally good? And so they place man in a high position and ignore much of what the Bible says. Beware, for that pastor does not have God in His rightful place.
Ultimately, many of these folks reject Christ, His teaching, and His Word, the Bible, though they may claim to believe in Jesus, they lie. And Beware because they will not be mean, but they will very dangerous. In Jesus day, the Pharisees were very respected and very influential. And on the outside, they looked good, very good. And to cross a Pharisee if you were a Jew was probably not a good idea. Students, it would be like saying no to certain things at school these days, or some of you adults at work, where you know you must say no at times. It will likely cut back your popularity very quickly, and may even limit your opportunity to get ahead within a company. So, when the Pharisees condemn what happens here, but you agree with Jesus, and you oppose the Pharisees, good luck. Just like many are finding out these days in the sports world that if you agree with Jesus, and you oppose the general thinking of the day, good luck.
And so what happens is that when we have so many around who do not know the rightful place of Christ, that He was the One who created everything. That He created you as a male or female and that is what you are. He did not create you as a monkey. And that He taught that is wrong to have sex before marriage. That you need to be faithful to your marriage vows. And that all religions are not right or that no belief if God is not right either. But that a person must have a relationship with Jesus Christ in order to be saved. But not many voices teach that. And if you listen to the many voices you may begin to doubt what is really true. Truth that God has revealed to us in His Word.
So, don’t overlook the dangers and beware of those who cause you to believe what is not true. Jesus did not overlook the dangers, for He said things like:
- Woe to you, Pharisees, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from people; for you do not enter in yourselves.
- Woe to you [Pharisees, you blind leaders].
- Woe to you, Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence.
- Woe to you, Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. In this way, you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are [not].
- You serpents, you brood of vipers, how will you escape the sentence of hell?
Folks, when we hear the many voices out in the world, might we beware that they do not cause us doubts and questions about our faith. It is interesting that after Jesus healed the man who was sick for 38 years, he picked up his mat and then apparently ran into Jesus again later on.
“Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, ‘Behold, you have become well; do not sin anymore, so that nothing worse happens to you.’”
John 5:14 (LSB)
Now why would Jesus say this to him? Was this just a further encouragement to him that maybe Jesus had not said to him before, or was this man struggling somehow? I would suggest that this man was struggling. Obviously, he was sinning, or Jesus would not have said to him what He did. And we sin as believers, for if we say we have no sin the truth is not in us. But there is a major difference between the Christian who sins, and the Christian who hates his sin and repents of his sin. That passage in 1 John actually says:
“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
1 John 1:8-9 (LSB)
I would understand the warning from Jesus here, to have been caused by this man encountering Christ, believing in Christ, but living in sin. As those are pretty strong words, “… do not sin anymore, so that nothing worse happens to you.” What could be worse than 38 years of sickness? An eternity of sickness and suffering in hell. In other words, you cannot say in words only that you love Christ, and then walk away and not serve Him. So, the final thing I see in our passage that can be a threat to our faith and that is:
- Falling into Sin
The Bible is very clear in its teaching that a true believer cannot lose his salvation because salvation is a work of God. But the Bible is also very clear in its teaching that there will be some who believe themselves to be saved, but have never truly been saved. This is why Peter wrote:
“Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and choosing sure; for in doing these things, you will never stumble; for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you.”
- Pet 1:10-11 (LSB)
Yes, the Christian will still struggle with sin. But the true believer in Christ will struggle with that struggle. In other words, he will not be content there, because he cannot be content there. Therefore, Jesus said to this man, sin no more, In other words, don’t stay there brother if you truly believe in Me. Thinking of this man, Arthur Pink wrote:
“‘Sin no more:’ renewed health ought to send us back into the world with a greater hatred of sin, a more thorough watchfulness over our ways, a greater determination to live for God’s glory”
Arthur W. Pink, Exposition of the Gospel of John: Vol. 1 253
Many troubles are going to come upon you and me that may threaten our faith: tragedy, discouragement, doubts and questions, and sin. Some of these are outside of us. In other words, God may just allow them in our lives, tragedy or those things that might discourage us are outside of our control, sickness, or a family struggle. However, some are self-inflicted, listening to the wrong folks and falling to sin. But each of them will ultimately prove or disprove our faith, as Peter said that as we persevere, each of these things, will prove the genuineness of our faith. And genuineness of faith is what the first man had in our passage. The man who had the son that was dying:
“The royal official said to Him, ‘Sir, come down before my child dies.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go; your son lives.’ The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and started on his way. And while he was still going down, his slaves met him, saying that his son was alive. So he inquired of them the hour when he began to get better. Then they said to him, ‘Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.’ So the father knew that it was at that hour in which Jesus said to him, ‘Your son lives’; and he himself believed and his whole household.”
John 4:49-53 (SLB)
Here we have a mini-revival breaking out again as we did last week, maybe not to the extent of the woman at the well. But remember this man was likely quite wealthy. So, his household coming to faith likely included his spouse, children, and servants, and possibly many who were connected with him in one way or another. I love what it says here (vs 50) that the man believed what Jesus had said and started on his way. It just seems that he was now on the right path. It reminds me of Proverbs 3:5-6:
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding, in all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths”
Prov 3:5-6 (LSB)
And what did the Lord do for him? Not only is his son healed, but the Lord allows him to find out that the healing took place at the very time that Jesus had said. In other words, God assured him of his faith. We spoke last Sunday night about the early church and all the things they did. And one of the things that stuck out in my mind was the truth that they were a powerful church. The signs and wonders that were being done in the early chapters of Acts authenticated the Word of God that was being written, and therefore, authenticated what they believed. Here in this story, what the man heard from Christ was authenticated when he came home and his son was well and further authenticated when he found out at what time. I mean he could have just thought it was a coincidence that his son got better. But not when he found out that it was the exact time Jesus had said.
And this is what we must believe, that everything recorded for us in God’s Word is also for our assurance. Because we need the assurance of truth. For, if not already, we will face a tragedy, or may be asked by God to go through a long period of suffering. Or we might get trapped into listening to the wrong voices, or get off track and start dabbling with sin. Yet this man, started on his way as a Christian as a new believer in Christ, because he had heard and believed the words of Jesus. We could say that Elim Bible Chapel heard the words that Christ spoke to them, and they started on their way, and they faced great opposition out there. Some from God and some self-inflicted. Yet they persevered for the glory of Christ. And all God’s people said, amen.