Bruner on John 4.48-50a


“So Jesus said to him, ‘Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will never believe.’ The royal official says to him, ‘Sir, please come down before my little boy dies.’ Jesus says to him. ‘You may go home now; your son is alive.'” (John 4.48-50a)

Three rapid changes: (a) a rebuke, (b) a plea, and (c) a promise. Why does Jesus rebuke him at all? We can at least learn from Jesus’ initial remark that he is rather often unimpressed with sings-and-wonders faith (cf. 2:23-25; Matt. 7:21-23; 24:4). Some Christian movements specialize in the promotion of signs and wonders in order to elicit faith. Jesus seems to caution such promotion. The health-and-wealth prosperity gospels and some “word-Faith” movements are placed under serious question by Jesus’ ministry almost everywhere in the Gospels and specifically in these verses.

Signs-and-wonders faith has the innate danger of being sunshine faith, faith that believes when the going is good but that is gone when the going gets tough (Second-soil faith in Jesus’ Parable of the Sower seems to be this kind of faith: Matt. 13:5-6 and 20-22.) Rebuke-withstanding faith, which is the faith the royal official now sustains, is faith that in even stormy weather (even from Jesus!) hangs in there and just keeps asking (as our official now does). Both Cana miracles, interestingly, share rebuke-withstanding faith: Jesus’ mother sustained Jesus’ slightly more temperate rebuke (“Woman, what has this got to do with you and me … ?” 2:4), for she told the servants immediately after Jesus’ rebuke, with surprising equanimity, “What he tells you to do, do it!” (2:5). The official is now rebuked and then simply asks again, “Sir, please come down before my little boy dies.” There may have been a tone to Jesus’ rebukes that was more inviting than repelling. Christian discipleship often experiences what appear to be Jesus’ rebukes. Can we sustain them and keep on believing that he really means us well? (Remember the Canaanite Woman’s remarkable faith despite Jesus’ strangely sharp words in Matt. 15:21-28.) The two Cana miracles teach us, in tandem, at least this: there is promise when we sustain Jesus’ rebukes.

Frederick Dale Bruner, The Gospel of John: A Commentary (Eerdmans, 2012), pp.288-289

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