Go thy way: when Jesus healed a nobleman’s son

by Jonathan Spurlock
(Holts Summit, MO)

When our Lord walked this earth, He must have had people asking Him many times if He would heal this person or that person, or even himself/herself. Gracious as He was, He never turned anyone away. Whether the person was very poor, like the woman who had spent everything she had but never was cured, or a foreigner like the Syro-phoenician woman or a Roman centurion, or even someone seemingly of high rank, He answered their prayers and requests.

In the context, John tells us that Jesus had come from Judea and had already passed through Samaria, and now was in Cana of Galilee. He had performed His first miracle there, changing water into wine, as in John 2. Now He’s there again and He will encounter someone who has a need that only Jesus Himself can fulfill.

The text is from John chapter 4, beginning with verse 46:

John 4:46-54 KJV 46 So Jesus came again into Cana of Galilee, where he made the water wine. And there was a certain nobleman, whose son was sick at Capernaum. 47 When he heard that Jesus was come out of Judaea into Galilee, he went unto him, and besought him that he would come down, and heal his son: for he was at the point of death. 48 Then said Jesus unto him, Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe. 49 The nobleman saith unto him, Sir, come down ere my child die. 50 Jesus saith unto him, Go thy way; thy son liveth. And the man believed the word that Jesus had spoken unto him, and he went his way. 51 And as he was now going down, his servants met him, and told him, saying, Thy son liveth. 52 Then enquired he of them the hour when he began to amend. And they said unto him, Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him. 53 So the father knew that it was at the same hour, in the which Jesus said unto him, Thy son liveth: and himself believed, and his whole house. 54 This is again the second miracle that Jesus did, when he was come out of Judaea into Galilee.

I The father’s concern

Some of the miracles Jesus performed could easily be described in terms of a pattern: someone made a request, Jesus replied to the person/s making the request, and then we read of the result. Several examples come to mind, such as the healing of the lepers. One of them came within touching distance of Jesus and stated, “Lord, if You are willing, You can (heal me)”, as in Matthew 8. That was the request, and Jesus replied by saying, “I am willing, (so) be healed”. He made the reply to the request, and the result was that the leper was indeed healed! Even though we do not read of a “follow-up” or a “Ah, Lord, it didn’t work”, we can be sure that if the priest found something wrong, the leper would have never been pronounced clean or healed.

Give credit to this father! He was concerned enough to find Jesus and ask Him directly to heal his son. There were and are men who are not concerned about their children’s well-being and won’t even bother to ask God for healing. Too many people want to blame God for their problems, when they ought to be asking God for protection and healing.

Something that we may not catch at first is the distance the nobleman had traveled. In verse 46 we read that Jesus was at Cana of Galilee, where He had made the water into wine. John chapter 2 gives details of probably the most unusual wedding ever held, when the groom was told they didn’t have any more wine for the feast! Jesus came to the rescue, after Mary, His mother, asked Him to help out, apparently. Cana was only a few miles away from Nazareth, where Jesus and His other brothers and sisters were raised.

Capernaum, though, was on the Sea of Galilee and was a good ways away, maybe 20-30 miles. If the nobleman walked that distance, he had probably gone a good day’s journey; if he had an animal (a horse, or donkey, for example), he still would have been on the road for several hours. He did all this to make a request for his son to be healed, as the boy was at the point of death, according to the father.

II The Lord’s first answer

I for one am a little surprised at what Jesus said to this ruler, or nobleman, after being asked to come and heal the man’s son. The words recorded in verse 48 are, “Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe”! So, what did Jesus mean?

Without referring to commentaries, we could find any number of opinions, just in the text. One possibility is that Jesus is testing the man’s sincerity. Jesus was God in the flesh and knew all about the man, the boy, the situation, and everything else. Another possible answer is that Jesus was speaking to an entire group of people. He was indeed speaking to the man, but note, Jesus used the word “ye”, the plural form, which implies other people were in hearing distance than just the man himself. Still another is that Jesus gave the man a (mild?) rebuke.

What was the real reason why the man came to Jesus? Of course Jesus knew, but did others? A final possible opinion is that Capernaum was a city that wasn’t going to receive Jesus and His message. Sometime after this, Jesus roundly condemned Capernaum, saying in Matthew 11:23, “And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.” Jesus hadn’t performed any miracles in Capernaum, so far as we know, but He knew what was going to happen in that city.

The real reason is probably something we’ll never fully understand. But one thing was sure, Jesus issued either a challenge, or a rebuke, or perhaps something else. Only He knows why.

Yet, the father didn’t give up! He then asked again, perhaps more pleadingly, “Sir, come down ere my child die (verse 49)”. Note the faith, as the father was sure Jesus could heal his son. Note the persistence, as he didn’t walk away after the first response. Note the results, too, when Jesus spoke to him for the second time!

III The Lord’s final answer

Jesus then replied to the man, “Go thy way, thy son liveth”. That was it. Jesus didn’t tell the man to do anything remarkable. We can remember Naaman, the Syrian general, who thought either the king of Israel or the prophet of Jehovah would (magically?) heal him of his leprosy. Naaman was furious when a messenger, not even the prophet himself!, told him to do nothing more than dip himself in the Jordan River seven times. Naaman was not happy with the prescription and grumbled about how he could have taken a bath in the rivers of Damascus! But when his own servants told him, “Wouldn’t you have done some great thing, had he asked? Why not just wash and be clean?”, he did so. He obeyed and received healing! The story is found in 2 Kings 5.

Nor did Jesus tell the father to go to the priests, or make a sacrifice, or anything like that. The Law of Moses had specific guidelines (see Lev. 14:2 and following) for lepers to be pronounced clean, for example, but I haven’t found anywhere that an offering or sacrifice was required for healing from a fever. The father may have given a thank offering afterwards, but Jesus didn’t require one, nor did He mention anything about offerings here, either.

My opinion is that Jesus definitely found genuine faith and concern in the father’s heart, then had compassion on the man and his son. Note, though, a contrast: a Roman centurion sent messengers to Jesus, asking, in faith, for Jesus to heal his servant. Jesus offered to go to the centurion’s house but he stated that Jesus didn’t have to do this! Here, we see a Jewish nobleman who exercised personal faith, making a journey of up to 20 miles just to request healing for his son. Jesus didn’t offer to go with him to Capernaum, and didn’t tell him to stay at Cana, but simply said, “Go thy way”. He healed the boy from where He was at the time.

IV The Outcome

The man believed Jesus, at His words, and “went his way (verse 50)”. We don’t know if the man went back to Capernaum or stayed in Cana or somewhere in between. Regardless, when he got back to Capernaum, several people were there to meet him! Verse 51 states that “as he was now going down (Capernaum was at a lower elevation than Cana, being close to the Sea of Galilee), his servants met him . . .” And what a story they had to tell!

There’s something we can glimpse about this ruler, this nobleman, in that not only did he have servants, but they went to meet him! I don’t read of any of them being upset about the ruler coming back home, or hiding from him. No, they welcomed him back to his home. This gives me a glimpse of his character, one of those rare people who have positions of power and yet retains the respect of his servants.

Not only were they glad to see him return, they provided good news! The servants told him “Your son lives! (v. 51, paraphrased)”. Were they as concerned for the boy as his father was? I would like to think so, that if any of my children were at death’s door, others would be concerned for them, too, regardless of my social class or standing or any such thing.

Once the father heard the good news about the healing, he then asked about the hour or the time when it took place. I’ve always felt that this was a bit odd, but then, the nobleman may not have known just exactly when the boy would be healed. Jesus had only said, “Go thy way”, and the man had done so.

Imagine his surprise when he found out the boy was healed at the moment Jesus had spoken! The man believed (v.53) and his whole household believed, too! This man may have been told, “you won’t believe unless you see a sign or wonder (v48, paraphrased)” but when he saw, he believed!
The man went to Jesus with a burden, and returned home to a blessing. The journey was worth it, as his son received healing which apparently only Jesus could provide. Jesus told this man to “go thy way” and he became a believer at the end of his journey. O that we might do the same.

Scripture quotations taken from the King James Version of the Bible (KJV)

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