Taking God at His Word
Dr. Jim Denison
This week’s news reports that eyelash transplantation is the newest cosmetic surgery phenomenon. For $3,000 per eye, a surgeon will transplant hair from the back of your head to your eyelid. But there’s a down side: the hair grows just like the rest of your hair, so it must be trimmed and colored if it turns grey.
Did you hear about the man in Vienna who went through a nasty divorce, then cut off his ring finger, ring still attached, and gave it to his ex-wife? He says he doesn’t plan to get married again, anyway. That’s good news for the rest of his fingers, I suppose.
Cosmetic surgery and other technological innovations enable us to solve more problems than ever before. But the perennial issues of life are still perennial. We still cannot heal broken marriages and hearts and homes. We still cannot give life meaning and purpose, or end all wars, or raise the dead. For that we need the Great Physician to be our King. As we continue studying his miracles in John’s Gospel, answer this question: what miracle do you need today?
Remember what Jesus has done
Our story concerns a “certain royal official whose son lay sick at Capernaum” (v. 46). This man was a most unlikely candidate for a miracle from a Jewish rabbi. He was not just a hated Gentile, but a court officer for King Herod. He was part of the very army oppressing and enslaving the Jewish people. If Hitler’s military chief of staff came to a Jewish rabbi for help during the Holocaust, we’d be no more surprised than John’s readers were shocked by this scene.
But this man knows what Jesus has done before, and has faith that he will do it again. They’re in Cana of Galilee, where Jesus has saved a peasant wedding. He has returned from Jerusalem, where he cleansed the temple, evangelized Nicodemus, was called divine by John the Baptist, and cared for a Samaritan woman. Perhaps he’ll do the same for this grieving father.
Do you need God to heal you or someone you love? To heal physically, emotionally, relationally, or spiritually? Are you wondering if he will? First, remember what Jesus has already done for you. Think about the ways he has already proven his love for you.
His Son left heaven’s glory to be born in a peasant’s feed trough, just for you. He endured crucifixion, a form of execution so horrific it is outlawed all over the world today, just for you. He has forgiven every failure you have ever confessed to him, and will continue to do so. He knows every sin you’ve ever committed, and what’s more, he sees every sin you will ever commit in the future. But he loves you anyway. He likes you. He finds joy in you even as you hear these words.
He told his prophet, “The Lord longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion. For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him!” (Isaiah 30:18). Think of all the ways he has already blessed you. Does your family love you? So many are trapped in loveless, abusive homes. Has he provided for your material needs through physical abilities and vocational opportunities? So many are trapped in endless poverty. Has he given you the privilege of life in America’s freedom? Who of us earned the right to be born in this country and not in Iraq or North Korea?
I know drug addicts who were miraculously healed of their habit, Satanists who were powerfully converted, prisoners who are now preachers.
I remember a couple brought to one of our worship services in Atlanta by friends. They were planning to file for divorce the next day. But in a Sunday school class that morning, God healed their marriage.
One of our church members here in Dallas came to our country as a Muslim missionary to America, and is now a Christian missionary to Muslims. When he came to Christ, his father back home issued a warrant for his arrest should he ever return. He recently went home anyway, and led his father to Christ.
Think about all the ways God has shown his miraculous power to you and those you know. Remember what he has done. Think back to times when he turned your water into his wine, when he met your needs and those of people you love. Remember what Jesus has done, and you’ll be encouraged to believe that he will do it again.
Bring him your pain
The official in our story is one of the finest examples of biblical faith in all God’s word. He teaches us much about the kind of trust which Jesus can honor with his miraculous power.
First, we trust Jesus personally. “This man” came himself (v. 47), not sending a servant in his place. The Roman teaches us to get on our own knees before Jesus. We must do the same today. Jesus waits to hear from us, not about us. Is he waiting on you today?
Second, we trust Jesus when it’s hard. The Roman official “went” to Jesus (v. 47), walking more than 20 miles and up more than a thousand feet of elevation to reach him. He left a suffering son at home to make the journey. He teaches us to bring Jesus our pain, however hard the journey may be, however difficult such faith is for us.
Third, we trust Jesus in humility. The official “begged him to come and heal his son” (v. 47). He did not order Jesus to do so, though his rank and office would have afforded him such authority. If a high-ranking Army officer stationed in Baghdad were to walk 20 miles to seek help from an Iraqi peasant, we’d be no less astonished. He teaches us to bring Jesus our need, in honest humility, admitting that we cannot solve this problem and asking him to do this in his will and way.
Fourth, we trust Jesus with our best faith. The official did not know Jesus’ divine power as we do. He wanted Jesus to “come” to heal his son, as a physician would. He had no idea that our omnipotent Lord could heal across time and distance, with just a word. But Jesus accepted such faith as he had, and honored it with his omnipotence.
You may think your faith too small to receive a miracle from God, but if it is the best you have, it is all he requires. One of my favorite prayers in the Bible is the request of the father whose son was possessed by a demon. Jesus said to him, “Everything is possible for him who believes” (Mark 9:23), and he replied, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (v. 24). And Jesus did. He receives such faith as we have, by grace.
Take him at his word
Here’s the key to the story for us: “The man took Jesus at his word and departed” (v. 50). He did not beg further, or try to change Jesus’ mind. He simply trusted that what Jesus said, he would do. And it was so–his son was healed at that very hour. As a result, he and his entire household believed in Jesus–not just as a doctor, but as their King and God.
Today you and I are called to do the same, to take Jesus at his word. He is not just a Great Physician–he is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Imagine that I were to call our family doctor, begging him to come to our house and heal our son. He replies, “Your son is well.” I don’t give him Craig’s symptoms, nor does he ask. He doesn’t see him; in fact, he’s miles from me. But his word heals my son. I would know that something divine had happened. This is Jesus’ omnipotence today. This is the word we are called to trust right now.
Where do you need Jesus’ power for your problems this morning? Let’s consider some familiar promises, passages we should all know.
Do you wonder if he cares about you? Remember John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” We all know this verse. Do you believe that it applies to you today? Will you take him at his word?
Are you struggling with temptation, wondering if you will ever conquer this “besetting” sin in your life? Claim 1 Corinthians 10:13: God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”
Are you wondering if the Lord is present in your life and pain? Claim Romans 8:35-39: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: ‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Does it seem that God is deaf to your prayer, that he is ignoring your cry? Claim John 15:7: “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.” He is giving you what you ask or something even better. You may not know or see it now, but it’s true.
Do you need his guidance for a decision? Claim 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 make your paths straight.”
For every problem in life there is a promise from God. Have you found yours?
In weeks to come we’ll learn what happens when we take God at his word, and we’ll examine reasons we don’t. Then we’ll discuss the hard question: why doesn’t God always heal and help as we want and need him to? But the first step to experiencing the truth of God’s word is wanting to. The first step is taking him at his word today. This is his invitation to us this morning.
When was the last time God’s word changed your life? When last did you seek a promise or principle in Scripture before you made a decision, then acted in accordance with the truth you found? When last did you take God at his word? That’s the last time you put yourself in position to experience the omnipotence and purpose of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Will you make this kind of commitment a lifestyle?
Let’s close with an example of our text in life today. Jim Cymbala is the renowned pastor of the Brooklyn Tabernacle, one of the most respected leaders in the American church today. Some years ago he told the story of his daughter’s healing in answer to prayer:
“Up until age 16, my oldest daughter was a model child. But then she got away from the Lord and involved with a godless young man. She eventually moved out of our house and later became pregnant.
“We went through a dark tunnel for two and a half years…in February, we were in our Tuesday night prayer meeting (the choir and the church leadership now knew about Chrissy, but we didn’t spread the news any further in the church). I had not talked to my daughter since November.
“An usher passed a note to me from a young woman in the church whom I felt was a spiritual person. ‘Pastor Cymbala, I feel deeply impressed that we are to stop the meeting and pray for your daughter.’ Lord, is this really you? I prayed within myself. I don’t want to make myself the focus. At that moment Chrissy was at a friend’s home somewhere in Brooklyn with her baby.
“I interrupted the meeting and had everyone stand. ‘My daughter thinks up is down, white is black, and black is white,’ I said. ‘Someone has sent me a note saying she feels impressed that we are to pray for her, and I take this as being from the Lord.’ Then some of the leaders of the church joined me, and the church began to pray. The room soon felt like the labor room in a hospital. The people called out to God with incredible intensity.
“When I got home later that night, I said to my wife (who wasn’t at the prayer meeting), ‘It’s over.’ ‘What’s over?’ Carol asked. ‘It’s over with Chrissy,’ I replied. ‘You had to be there tonight. I just know that when we went to the throne of grace, something happened in the heavenly places.
“Thirty-six hours later, I was standing in the bathroom shaving. My wife burst into the room. ‘Chrissy’s here,’ she said. ‘You better go downstairs.’…I wiped off the shaving cream. I went to the kitchen, and there was my daughter, 19 years old, on her knees weeping. She grabbed my leg and said, ‘Daddy, I’ve sinned against God. I’ve sinned against you. I’ve sinned against myself. Daddy, who was praying on Tuesday night?’
“‘What do you mean? What happened?’ I said. ‘I was sleeping,’ she said. ‘God woke me up in the middle of the night, and he showed me I was heading toward this pit, this chasm, and Daddy, I got so afraid. I saw myself for what I am. But then God showed me he hadn’t given up on me.’
“I looked at my daughter and saw the face of the daughter we raised. Not the hardened face of the last few years. So Chrissy and our granddaughter moved back into our home. That was three years ago. Today she’s directing the music program at a Bible school and was married this past year to a man from our church (Leadership, Fall 1993).”
God always keeps his word. Not always in our timing or according to our wishes. But when we live by his promises and truth, he is faithful. Where do you need to take him at his word today?