Monday, May 31, 2010

An Unnamed Hero of the Faith ... Go.Ask.Trust.Tell.

One of my favorite little stories in the entire Bible is found in the fourth chapter of John’s gospel – just after one of my other favorite stories, the famous “woman at the well”, for which El Pozo is named. This story is about “a certain royal official” – we don’t even get his name – whose example has much to teach you and me about how to live a life of faith…

43After the two days [Jesus] left for Galilee. 44(Now Jesus himself had pointed out that a prophet has no honor in his own country.) 45When he arrived in Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him. They had seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, for they also had been there.
46Once 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. 47When 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 miraculous signs and wonders," Jesus told him, "you will never believe."
49The royal official said, "Sir, come down before my child dies."
50Jesus replied, "You may go. Your son will live."
The man took Jesus at his word and departed. 51While he was still on the way, his servants met him with the news that his boy was living. 52When he inquired as to the time when his son got better, they said to him, "The fever left him yesterday at the seventh hour."
53Then the father realized that this was the exact time at which Jesus had said to him, "Your son will live." So he and all his household believed.
54This was the second miraculous sign that Jesus performed, having come from Judea to Galilee.

Here’s what I love about this guy:

First, he WENT. Although his son was sick and nearing death, this man left his boy’s side and hoofed it to where Jesus was. As a new dad, I am struck by the difficulty of that moment of leaving. How beautiful it is to know that we have a God who pursues us – the God of the prodigal son who runs out to meet us as we stumble toward home. But we also have a part to play. God allows us to live our lives. He’s always there with open arms – but we have to choose to stumble toward home. How often we fail to take even the simplest steps TOWARD CHRIST. Instead of spending 10 minutes reading my Bible I hit “snooze”. Instead of grabbing a few moments of prayer, listening to God, I turn on the TV and watch another brain-draining detective drama. Instead of going to that meeting where I know I will be challenged and/or filled up by God and His people, I just … stay where I am. Sometimes out of comfort, sometimes in my pity party. But not this guy. The official in the story did NOT sit still. In a time of crisis, he was a man of action. He got up, hugged his son knowing it may be their last hug but believing that it didn’t have to be, and with tears in his eyes he started hiking. I have an aunt who, if I ever asked her to do something for me when I was a kid, responded with “Is your leg broke?!?!” Meaning – “Do it yourself! Don’t be lazy!” Surely there are some times when our “legs are broke” – when we have done all we can and our friends must put us on the mat and carry us to Jesus’ feet. But the rest of the time we must do what we can to cast all else aside and GET TO JESUS…

Step one: GO to Jesus.

Secondly, the man ASKED. So often in this life of faith it comes down to this: “We have not because we ask not”. What loving father refuses to give good gifts to his children when they ask? And the man in our story, he didn’t just ask… We are told that he BEGGED. This royal official humbled himself. Our silly pride goes out the window when a loved one is ill, doesn’t it? It’s like when a mom shaves her head in solidarity with her cancer-plagued child. Whatever it takes. It’s about PURPOSE. That bald head is not a weird or self-centered fashion statement. It is an act of love, totally others-focused. That is the spirit in which this man comes before the rabbi and begs Jesus to come and heal his son. Help me, Jesus! I need your power. My son is all but dead, but you can bring life…

Step two: ASK Jesus for what it is that you need.

Thirdly, the man TRUSTED. Notice this detail of the story: In v.47 the man begs Jesus to COME and heal his son. Then Jesus rebukes the people for always demanding signs in order to believe. Then again in v.49 the man begs, “Sir, COME down before my child dies”. I imagine he might have been thinking “Good grief, save the sermon for later! Time is of the essence! Come NOW and heal my son, please!” But then an amazing thing happens… Jesus says, “You may go. Your son will now live.”, and the man … LEAVES! If this had been me, I think I would have refused. I may have even attempted to chain myself to Jesus like some radical political protestor until he agreed to COME with me and heal my son. But this royal official, he had faith on a whole other level. He – gasp! – TOOK JESUS AT HIS WORD, trusted that Jesus could heal his son even from afar, and turned around and left! To me, this is one of the most subtle and amazing acts of faith in the entire Bible. He went, he begged Jesus for what he thought was needed (COME and heal my son…), he got a clear answer from the Lord (though NOT exactly the answer he sought), and he trusted Jesus enough to pick up his stuff and head back home, leaving Jesus to continue his work and heal some more folks. To truly “believe” is much more than some kind of intellectual assent. Real faith = trust + action. I want that kind of faith in my life…

Step three: TRUST Jesus.

And finally, last but not least, the royal official / desperate dad went back home and he … TOLD people what had happened. How do we know this? That beautiful last sentence in v.53 – “So he AND ALL HIS HOUSEHOLD believed.” Why and how did the rest of his household believe? Most certainly because he went back and told them the story! The timing was clear – at the moment that Jesus spoke, the son was healed. But if this man had just kept silent, thanking God in private but never telling others what had happened? One or two would have been saved, but not a whole household – not to mention future generations and other friends and neighbors, etc., as the story rippled outward into geography and time. I think of the parable of the talents. It’s clear that God desires to MULTIPLY our talents. Often – and rightly so – we apply this to money, resources, opportunities. But perhaps the thing that you and I have that is most multipliable - and perhaps the thing we are most tempted to "bury in a hole in the ground" - is this: our STORY. God fed 5,000 with a few fish and loaves – when the disciples turned what little they had over to Jesus. God saved a whole household by healing one little boy – when the grateful dad went back and told everyone what had happened. I am bothered these days by the lack of passion for evangelism, especially among young Christians. The focus on the "social gospel" and meeting physical needs has, among many of my friends, gone so far that there is a perceived lack of need to tell the story at all. I agree that often the “telling” need not involve so much talking; as St. Francis of Assisi famously said, “Preach the Gospel always; if necessary use words.” But the Gospel must be communicated, nonetheless. Lived out, spoken, whatever - it is essentially a MESSAGE that we have for the world. One thing is for sure: However he told it (and I’d bet it was with great energy and passion!), this royal official in John 4 made the story of his son’s healing by Jesus known, and many were saved as a result…

Step four: TELL your story, what Jesus has done in your life.

It’s a simple formula: Go. Ask. Trust. Tell. And it only works in the context of an ACTIVE faith in which face-to-face, real encounters with Jesus and with other people are the norm.

God bless you, unnamed royal official! I have learned so much from your example of faith. I would love to sit down with you someday in eternity and hear you tell this story again in your own words. Thank you, St. John! For seeing the importance of recording this little bit of the Jesus story for future generations.

I am reminded just now – and so let’s end with the words of – a great old hymn that we used to sing in my church growing up – “I Love to Tell the Story” (by Arabella K. Hankey, 1866):

I love to tell the story of unseen things above,
Of Jesus and His glory, of Jesus and His love;
I love to tell the story, because I know ’tis true,
It satisfies my longings as nothing else would do.

I love to tell the story,
’Twill be my theme in glory,
To tell the old, old story
Of Jesus and His love.

I love to tell the story, more wonderful it seems
Than all the golden fancies of all our golden dreams;
I love to tell the story, it did so much for me,
And that is just the reason I tell it now to thee.

I love to tell the story, ’tis pleasant to repeat,
What seems each time I tell it more wonderfully sweet;
I love to tell the story, for some have never heard
The message of salvation from God’s own holy Word.

I love to tell the story, for those who know it best
Seem hungering and thirsting to hear it like the rest;
And when in scenes of glory I sing the new, new song,
’Twill be the old, old story that I have loved so long.

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