The Fifteenth in a Series of Sermons on the Gospel of John
It was not all that long ago (the 1980-90's) when many Christian leaders told us that in order for Christianity to survive in the modern world, it must be presented as a religion of signs and wonders. In an age of science and skepticism, these Christians argued, the best way to overcome secularism and unbelief is to do what the early church did, perform signs and wonders to prove that Christianity is worthy of consideration. In fact, we worship not far from the church (the Anaheim Vineyard) where the modern signs and wonders movement was launched (the “third wave”). Why mention this? At the end of John 4 (vv. 43-54) we discover that Jesus performed signs and wonders to confirm his messianic mission and to demonstrate that he was the Son of God who was fulfilling Old Testament prophecy. But, as we will see, Jesus did not perform miracles to attract followers and large crowds. He did not perform signs and wonders to create faith. Whenever people flock to Jesus because they think he is a miracle-worker who can help them, his miracles actually become an obstacle to genuine faith in God’s word of promise spoken by Jesus.
As we continue our series on the Gospel of John we come to the final section of John 4, and the account of Jesus returning to Galilee when he heals an unnamed Galilean official’s son. Before we turn to the details of the passage and the healing which took place, there is one matter we need to address. Since this account sounds very much like the healing of the centurion’s servant as recounted in Matthew 8:5-13, critical scholars claim that what follows in John 4 is a reference to the same event. Critical scholars assume that John’s Gospel was not written by John (the disciple) and therefore does not contain eyewitness testimony. So, in their view, the author of John read or was familiar with the healing of the centurion in Matthew’s account, took it as his own and modified it (garbling it in the process), and then sticks it here in John’s Gospel to make a theological point.
When I speak of critical scholars I am referring to those who assume that miracles are impossible, and that the gospels do not describe factual events and really do not need to. The Gospels are essentially a group of “Jesus stories,” which reflect more of what the author of John thought and believed about Jesus, than what actually happened in Galilee when Jesus arrived there after returning from Jerusalem. To the critical mind what matters is the point of the story and the experience we derive from retelling it, not whether the events described therein actually happened. So, if you have two miracle stories in the New Testament which sound alike, critical scholars jump to the conclusion that you have two versions of the same story–the version in John’s Gospel may get the details wrong, but is inserted at this point in the Gospel to beef up the narrative and create drama as the story takes Jesus back into the Galilee region.
What critical scholars refuse to consider is that everything we have read in John so far has the ring of truth about it (the places John mentions are real places which can be located on both ancient and modern maps, the historical events fit at the right time and place as John recounts them, etc.). John himself tells us in the last two verses of his Gospel that “this is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true. Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” Critical scholars act as though such declarations are not important, or even that someone else (who was not an eyewitness) can write this gospel in John’s name and falsely make the claims we have just read, and supposedly such practice was commonplace.
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