second sign | John 4.51-54
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 4:51-54 | ESV
As the man was making the descent back down the road to Capernaum, when his servants intercepted him, ecstatic with good news, telling him his son lives! He grabbed the servants and asked when his son’s health began to improve. Then they say, still incredulous at this turn of events, “Yesterday at about one o’clock the fever broke, just like that!” And that clinched it. This father knew that was precisely when Jesus had said to him, “Your son lives.” Any doubts remaining dissolved. He believed – and when they heard the full story, so did all of his family and friends.
Teaching sign two. The second major clue provided by Jesus, without fanfare, once again in the backwaters of Galilee after leaving the Bible Belt of Judea. MAV
“Truly you are a God who hides himself,
O God of Israel, the Savior.”
First it was water turned into wine in Cana in a sign that was evidently not in the original playbook. A sign unfolding in a huddle of whispers. The servants knew; the disciples knew. That was about it.
Now back in the neighborhood in Cana, Jesus is sought out for what is the first detailed act of healing in this Gospel. From all appearances it was a private conversation. No mention of the disciples or a crowd. Just a private exchange and a word, and the wealthy man is gone almost as soon as he arrived. I can imagine the disciples asking Jesus what the rich guy wanted, and Jesus shrugging, “Oh nothing.” Jesus could have gone with him, an entourage in tow to witness the deed. In fact, he could have conducted a full-blown healing service in Capernaum and healed with quite the flourish of attention – all for God’s glory, of course.
But it was just a private word.
And even the healing left room for doubt, the sign potentially ambiguous. Was it Jesus? Was it coincidence? It’s as if intentional wiggle room is left for either faith or doubt, leaving the ball in our court as to what we will do with it. And then, to top it all off, both private demonstrations thus far occur not in the “Bible Belt” of Judea, the center of religious, cultural and political power. They both occur in Cana of Galilee (oh yeah, where was that town again?).
If God can be an off-putting God, he also appears to be left-handed. I think it was Martin Luther who observed God’s inclination towards “left-handed” demonstrations of power. “Right-handed” demonstrations of power are direct, open, undeniable power plays leaving no room for doubt. Biblically this would be like the Flood in Genesis or the plagues and Red Sea crossing in Exodus – but notice even these dramatic demonstrations in biblical history remain debated when it comes to proving their historical veracity. Still he hides himself. “Left-handed” demonstrations of power are a rhapsody of indirectness. Signs of God’s intervention that to many would seem to show just the opposite – the cross being the ultimate example. Failure is success; shame, glory; crucifixion, life. The aristocrat’s journey in search of healing for his son did not exactly look as he had expected it to.
No doubt this off-putting homeless rabbi left him scratching his head. But on the other side of the mountain, back home with a son who was alive and well, he read this sign clearly.
And he believed.
Would you describe God’s work in your life more in terms of obvious “right-handed” displays of his power and presence, or more indirect “left-handed” displays? Why? What impact has this had upon your faith?
Lord, deliver me from this generation’s penchant for proof and undeniable demonstrations; give me the eyes to see the deepest truths in the most obscure places, and with this Galilean noble, let me be untethered from cynicism and doubt and let me believe. Through Christ.