What Is Better Than Wonders?
Wonders don’t work. When I was a child the time of the year when we got our toys was Christmas. And part of the excitement of Christmas wasn’t just seeing what presents we got, but also seeing what presents our friends got. And I remember visiting a neighbor up the road. He got the Millenium Falcon. That was the sort of gift that very few children got both because it costed lots of money and because they were usually sold out before you got to the store. But my friend had that sort of gift that would inspire the thought, “wow!” inside me. But weeks later I went over to visit him. And the Millenium Falcon was in pieces in his room. Here, he had this wondrous toy that so many only dreamed of having. But it was wasted on him. Why? Wonders don’t work. The problem is not with the wonders that wow us. The problem is us. That’s the thought that Jesus brings to our brains as we begin to read these words in John 4: “46 Once more he visited Cana in Galilee, where he had turned the water into wine. And there was a certain royal official whose son lay sick at Capernaum. 47 When this man heard that Jesus had arrived in Galilee from Judea, he went to him and begged him to come and heal his son, who was close to death. 48 “Unless you people see signs and wonders,” Jesus told him, “you will never believe.”” (John 4:46–48 NIV11-GKE)
There’s a man who comes to Jesus expecting and pleading for a wonder. And in response Jesus says, “unless you people see signs and wonders, you will never ever believe!”1 Jesus brings up here a fact of every day life in a fallen world. We look to wows and wonders in our lives. But what happens when we receive them? We become bored with the wonders and even worse: we are tempted to trust in the wonder rather than the one who gave them. Look at our lives. Our good and gracious Lord gives us peace from wars and disasters so that we are able to use our brains to develop technologies that would be truly wonders to every other generation before us. But the wonders we see around us become boring. And we are tempted to trust in them instead of the one who gave them to us. And yet, what does this man do? He is persistent and tells Jesus: “The royal official said, “Sir, come down before my child dies.”” (John 4:49 NIV11-GKE)
It’s good for us to have a look at this man for a moment. He is a royal person.2 When you are rich or royal or both you have people to travel for you. But notice what happens here. The royal official leaves his boy on his death bed and walks out to find Jesus. And he begs Jesus to come with him. But what does Jesus do? We read: ““Go,” Jesus replied, “your son will live.” The man took Jesus at his word and departed.” (John 4:50 NIV11-GKE)
Jesus gives him a better gift than wonders. Jesus does not go with him. Instead, he sents him away with the bare-bones skeleton of a promise. In our english versions Jesus says, “Your son will live.”3 And that sort of gets at the point. But a little more precise is that Jesus is saying, “your son continues to live.” Jesus tells him that his son is still alive and hints that the situation will work out.
Jesus gives him a better gift than wonders. He gives him the ability to wait. Now, here is where both this royal man and we today might ask the question, “Why is waiting better than wonders?” The problem with wows and wonders is that they don’t work. We receive something that truly “wows” us and then aren’t content with it. We receive a wonder and then we are tempted to trust in the wonder rather than the one who gave it.
But look at this man. Look at what Jesus did with the waiting. This royal man walked more than a day to get to Jesus. He has a short conversation with Jesus and then he has to take a two day trip back home. If a man were unburdened, had food and water, and were in really good shape, he could make the trip in a day. But this man isn’t an olympic runner. And the road is steep and there’s a mountain pass. So he walks back home throughout the day and sleeps overnight—or at least tries to. And the entire time he is asking himself, “Is my boy still alive?” He, not doubt, is saying to himself, “If he dies before I get there I will not have had the chance to say ‘goodbye.’” He wonders whether this man who he had never met before would keep his word. This man has to wait. And the waiting yields results: As every hour goes on, the wonder he was looking for became more needed. And as every hour dragged on he realized that Jesus was the only one who could provide this wonder. And finally he arrives at home. And then what happens? “51 While he was still on the way, his servants met him with the news that his boy was living. 52 When he inquired as to the time when his son got better, they said to him, “Yesterday, at one in the afternoon, the fever left him.” 53 Then the father realized that this was the exact time at which Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.”” (John 4:51–53 NIV11-GKE)
The royal man arrives at home. His servants run out to meet him. And they tell him that the fever left his son and his son was well and healthy. But that isn’t enough for the man. He has to ask that next important question: what time? What time was he healed? And he learns that it was the precise time when Jesus was speaking to him. And in this we see why the waiting was worth it. His infant, fragile faith grew up. His faith drove home the fact that Jesus was the only one who could work this wonder. And Jesus worked this wonder not from ten feet away, but instead from miles away. And we see then the result of all that waiting: “53 So he and his whole household believed. 54 This was the second sign Jesus performed after coming from Judea to Galilee.” (John 4:53–54 NIV11-GKE)
What Jesus did for this royal man he does for us. Waiting is so much better than the wonder. Because in the waiting Jesus so graciously gives us one gift after another. First, Jesus gives us contentment in our waiting. How often is it that we receive a wonder in our lives and the joy and contentment is washed away by by the next problem and stress? But, as we see one promise fulfilled after another by Jesus, that teaches us to be content even while we wait. Second, Jesus gives us trust in our waiting. We learn not to confuse the gift with the giver and the wonder with the wonder-worker. The waiting, just like this man walking on the road, causes us to see and appreciate that our Triune God is the one who works all wonders and gives all gifts. And finally, in this waiting we remember the one who waited perfectly in our place. When I think of waiting I think of a different boy than this boy in Capernaum. I think of the boy Jesus in the temple. There he is, with more knowledge than all his teachers. They are wowed by him and surround him to talk about God’s word with him. But then his parents come back and what does he have to do? He has to go home with them, submit to them, and most of all wait. He waits for a decade and a half before he can officially and publicly be who he is. But my dear friends, he did all of this waiting willingly and perfectly in our place.
And so, my dear friends when those times of waiting come, remember this royal man. Remember that so very often what is even better than the wonder is the waiting. When you have to wait till you grow up; when you have to wait for your children to come home at night, when you have to wait for results of the doctor’s test; when you have to wait for Judgment Day itself—when you have to wait for all these and more, remember that it is precisely in the waiting that God gives us contentment, trust, and the powerful reminder of his great forgiveness won for you in your place. Amen.
1 “ⲉⲁⲛⲙⲏ … ⲓ̈ⲇⲏⲧⲉⲟⲩⲙⲏⲡⲓⲥⲧⲉⲩⲥⲏⲧⲉ” (John 4:48 GNT-ALEX)
2 “ⲃⲁⲥⲓⲗⲉⲓⲕⲟⲥ” (John 4:49 GNT-ALEX)
3 “ⲟⲩ̈ⲓ̈ⲟⲥⲥⲟⲩⲍⲏ·” (John 4:50 GNT-ALEX)