I've been told by those who have done it that to climb a telephone pole, professionally, requires a lot of faith because they give you special equipment and you have to learn to trust that equipment. A special harness is employed, special shoes with spikes to grab the surface of the pole are also used, and they tell you that you have to learn to trust the equipment and to lean back, lean back into the harness, which is so completely counterintuitive. We, at 40 feet in the air, would never think that we would do this--lean back. It makes more sense to us to grab what is closest to us what we can see. But that would be the worst thing you could do. It typically takes only one splintery slide down a telephone pole before the climber really gets it and that person will soon learn to lay back, lean back, and to trust the equipment. We come to John chapter 4, the end of it, is a story about faith, trust, about a man who has a sick son, asks Jesus to heal his son, the Lord will do that, all the while Jesus is sort of pushing the man backward into the harness to trust Him. Now as it's hard for a telephone pole climber to learn to lay back, I've discovered it's difficult for us to learn to trust the Lord with our lives. It's not what we normally do. We usually say I'll fix this or I'll find somebody who can fix it. I heard about a man at the Grand Canyon, he was too close to the rim, and he fell in and he grabbed a branch toward the top and he's dangling now, hundreds of feet, above the canyon floor. And so he cries out to God and what's interesting is that God spoke to him and said, I'm here. You can trust Me. Just let go! The man, after a tense pause, cocked his head back and said, is there anybody else up there? It's just not typical. It doesn't make sense and we're going to read some things that don't make sense to us in John chapter 4 in the 43rd verse to the end of the chapter, we read this: "Now after the two days He departed from there and went to Galilee. For Jesus Himself testified that a prophet has no honor in his own country. So when He came to Galilee, the Galileans received Him, having seen all the things He did in Jerusalem at the feast; for they also had gone to the feast. So Jesus came again to Cana of Galilee where He had made the water wine. And there was a certain nobleman whose son was sick at Capernaum. When he heard that Jesus had come out of Judea into Galilee, he went to Him and implored Him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death. Then Jesus said to him, "Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will by no means believe." The nobleman said to Him, "Sir, come down before my child dies!" Jesus said to him, "Go your way; your son lives." So the man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him, and he went his way. And as he was now going down, his servants met him and told him, saying, "Your son lives!" Then he inquired of them the hour when he got better. And they said to him, "Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him." So the father knew that it was at the same hour in which Jesus said to him, "Your son lives." And he himself believed, and his whole household. This again is the second sign Jesus did when He had come out of Judea into Galilee." The text tells us that the man was a nobleman. What does that mean? What is a nobleman? Literally it's someone who belongs to a king--a king. He worked for a king. He was in the royal court of a king. So here's the big question: what king was around Galilee at this time? Well the only king that it could be referring to, or this man could be attached to, would be a guy by the name of Herod Antipas. I don't know if you've heard that name but I know you've heard about Herod the Great. Herod the Great was the guy who killed all the babies in Bethlehem. He has died by now but his son, one of them, named Antipas is king over a northern region called Galilee. That is the idea of a nobleman. He belonged to the king. He worked for royalty. He was a court representative. And what we see happening here, and we'll go back over it, is there are stages of belief that this man has. He comes with one stage but he leaves with an entirely different level of faith in Christ. And what I want to do in working through the passage is give you three statements of truth, three truth statements that talk about how God develops faith in us. Number one is something we all know. Life can be hard. It drives us to Christ. This man would not have come to Christ at all unless his son was sick. That's why he came. He goes twenty miles, it's twenty miles from Capernaum to Cana of Galilee, where Jesus is. This guy is desperate. His son, it says, is on his deathbed. Now I want you to sort of get the story here. The man, the nobleman, wasn't from Capernaum. There were no noblemen living in Capernaum 2,000 years ago. This man's home was probably Tiberius because that's where Herod Antipas had his headquarters. So I'll help you get the picture. If my hand were the Sea of Galilee, Tiberius would be right on the knuckle of the thumb, the lower knuckle. It's on the southwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee. Capernaum is on the northwestern shore. It's about a 13 mile lake. So the man put his son, probably in a boat, and went all the way across to Capernaum looking for Jesus. Why? Because the Bible says Jesus had His headquarters at Capernaum. So he takes him to Capernaum. Gets to Capernaum, there's no Jesus. He's not there. They say, oh, He's gone to Cana of Galilee, twenty miles from Capernaum. Well by this time the nobleman's son is so sick he can't travel so he leaves his son with his servants at Capernaum and he gets on a horse and goes twenty miles to Cana, finds Jesus, and begs Jesus to heal his son by coming with him. Every parent here who has ever seen a son or daughter suffer gets this man's plight, right? If you've ever had a child suffer, you've looked at that child and you've said, gladly I would trade places with my baby. I would take this pain so that he or she could be healed. That's sort of the predicament that this guy is in. By the way, it doesn't matter how old your son or daughter is. As a parent… my son broke his leg three, four weeks ago. He was skateboarding right out here. He's 25 years old. He's married. He has a baby on the way and he's skateboarding. Now I can't talk, I was skateboarding with him when it happened but he broke his leg and just the pain that was on his face when he was on the pavement and then that night in the emergency room and then two surgeries that followed. It was anguishing because I felt so helpless and I was. And so was this man--helpless in seeing his child suffer. Question: how many here, how many of you, have been driven to God in your trial because you had nowhere else to go? Really? That's all? Just wait then. You're life will get you there eventually. What's the first thing you do when you, when you are in a painful situation, a trial? As a Christian, you pray. The first words out of your mouth: Lord! Dear God! When my wife went into surgery this past year for the mass that they removed, I'll never forget the doctor went he came out of surgery took off his surgical mask, looked me in the eyes, and said, it was malignant. When those words hit my ears, my first inclination was Dear Lord. It is the inclination of every person who's a believer. In fact, I would add to that. I know people who aren't believers, who won't talk to God, who never pray, but in a trial they will. You remember the book of Jonah? It's a fascinating story. Jonah flees from God. He's out in a boat, a storm happens, it says and all of the mariners aboard the ship got so scared each one, get this, each one prayed to his own god. That was their first instinct in a storm. Pray to whatever god you believe in. What's interesting about the story is the only person in it who's not praying is? Yeah. Jonah the prophet of God. He's sleeping at the bottom of the boat. They finally wake him up: Dude, we're all praying! We're gonna die! You need to pray to your God! You know what he says? Throw me overboard. I'm not gonna pray. I don't want to talk to God about this--throw me overboard. They throw him overboard. He still doesn't pray. Now eventually he will pray, when he's swallowed up by what I believe was a celadon macrocephales, the scientific term for a giant masticates sperm whale and when Jonah was down in the mouth, quite literally, eventually he said, Dear God! And he started praying. And he was at the end of his rope, he turns to God. We see so many people come to faith in Christ during difficult seasons. A divorce, death in a family, lingering disease, economic fall-out, relational break-up. We see so many people come to faith in Christ. Why is that? It's simple. Life can be hard. It drives us to Jesus Christ like nothing else can. You know David experienced his own trials. Listen to what he wrote in Psalm 119: Before I was afflicted, I went astray but now I keep Your word. Did you get that? Before I was afflicted, I went astray. I kind of did my own thing, God isn't like in my radar screen. Then I got afflicted and now I keep Your word. Pain has a way of doing that. So here's my question: if your hard, dark, painful circumstance that you're facing perhaps even today, if it drives you closer and closer to Jesus, is it really bad? Can we call those things bad? Why do bad things happen to good people? Why do bad things happen to God's people? I heard one great theologian say well when I meet a good person, I'll let you know why that is. But if it drives us to the Lord then it could be considered good. In fact, I have met people who never talked to God except when they're suffering. God doesn't hear from them. So I can just sort of picture God up in heaven. They're praying and God's saying, oh, it's really good to hear from you again! I haven't heard from you since the last trial you were in! Now that's not to say that you're going through a trial because God wants to hear from you more often or if you're really close to God you won't go through it. That's not it at all. But with some folks, they just need something to get their attention. One of my favorite illustrations is about a farmer who didn't really spend much time thinking about God or spiritual matters. People invited him to church, he didn't care, he never went. He had three sons: Jim, John, and Sam. Sam was the youngest boy. Sam, one day, got bitten by a rattlesnake. They brought in the doctors. Doctors tried everything they could, didn't look very good, situation looked pretty grim. Finally they're at the end of their rope and they called in a pastor. Pastor appraised the situation and prayed a very unique prayer. Let me read it to you: Oh wise and righteous Father, the pastor said, praying over the boy, we thank Thee that in Thy wisdom Thou did send this rattlesnake to bite Sam. He's never been inside the church and it's doubtful that he has in all of this time ever prayed or acknowledged Thy existence. Now we trust that this experience will be a valuable lesson to him and will lead to his genuine repentance and now, O Father, wilt Thou send another rattlesnake to bite Jim? And another to bite John? And another really big one to bite the old man? For years, we have done everything we know to get them to turn to Thee but all in vain. It seems therefore that what all of our combined efforts could not do, this rattlesnake has done. We thus conclude that the only thing that will do this family any real good is a rattlesnake. So Lord send us bigger and better rattlesnakes. Amen. That's quite a prayer, isn't it? Somebody once said prayer is the gymnasium of the soul. So when was the last time you were at the gym and had a really good workout? I read a Newsweek magazine some time ago that revealed that Americans pray, in fact, according to the article, don't know how true it is exactly, 78% of Americans pray once a week. It's a chunk. Same article said 57% claim they pray every day. There's one little section of the article I want to read: "Some of these prayers are borne in extremis, that is, in extreme situations. There are few atheists in cancer wards or in unemployment lines." Why is that? It's simple. Life can be hard! It drives us to Christ. Here's the second statement of truth based on this passage: not only live can be hard, it drives us to Christ, Christ can be surprising. He wants us to grow. When this man finally comes to Jesus, Jesus says something to him that this man did not expect to hear ever from the lips of Jesus, even though he didn't know Jesus all that well, this would be surprising for anyone. Look at verse 48. The man says, my son's at the point of death. "Then Jesus said to him, "Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will by no means believe." Now you know, one of the problems with reading the Bible for many years is that we sort of become numb to its impact. I'd like to nominate this verse as one of the most surprising things Jesus ever said to a person. This is surprising. He did not expect to hear that. He certainly did not want to hear that. In fact, this man might have thought, my son is dying and He said this to me? This Jesus guy is rude! When I read this passage this week, I paused because it stuck out at me and then I started thinking, you know there's a lot of things Jesus said that were surprising. The way He handled people isn't like we would like to think of gentle Jesus, meek and mild, look upon this little child. He just, like, blows doors on all that! He says some pretty surprising things because He's working with people. I'll give you a sample. There was a Canaanite woman that came to Jesus. Her daughter was demon-possessed. Again, very difficult situation. You'd think that Jesus would immediately respond in favor to this woman. And He does answer her prayer but not at first. The woman comes, imploring Jesus to heal her daughter, here's what Jesus said: It is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to their dogs. Hello! What's up with that statement? That's a surprise, right? There's another statement of Jesus and He's in the synagogue one day and there's a man with a withered arm. It's probably at his side, maybe scrunched up, he was unable to move it. Jesus goes to the man with the withered arm and says, hey--you. Stretch out your arm. Stretch out your arm? Ahh… he can't do that. That's, like, impossible. Now if I were in the synagogue and I overheard this conversation, if I didn't know who Jesus was, I think I'd step in and defend the poor man. I'd say, excuse me, who do You think You are? This guy can't stretch forth his arm! Don't make fun of him! But we discover that whenever Jesus gives a command, even though it's impossible, He'll give the person the power to do what He commanded. We discover that later--but not at first. Or how about the man in John chapter 5, he had a lingering, 38 year disease, he's at the pool of Bethesda, along with a lot of other sick people who want to get well, that's why they're there. Jesus goes up to this man and says, hey, do you want to be made well? Duh! Who doesn't in that place? It's a surprising thing. Or how about to Peter when Peter said that You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God? And he got the answer right and Peter's a friend of Jesus and a follower of Jesus. But then Peter says we're not gonna let You go to Jerusalem because we don't want You to get hurt. And Jesus turns to His friend and says, get behind Me, Satan! You are not thinking like God but you are thinking like man. All very surprising things. Here's what I want to point out. If you're a child of God, He will always answer your prayers. Always! But not like you would expect. He might just surprise you in His answer. It might not always be what you want to hear. For example, you might pray for something and He would say to you, yes, I'll give that to you or I'll do that for you. We like that answer. That's, like, the best answer. But what if God says to you when you ask Him for something, no? And then you go, He didn't answer my prayer! I think no is technically an answer, right? That's an answer. God can I? No! That's an answer. The most frustrating answer, the one we hear a lot and we don't like is this one: wait. Not now. Maybe later. But wait. But Lord this is… Just wait. But Father would You? Wait. Wait. Why would Jesus say those things that I mentioned that He said or say this to this man who has broken-hearted condition comes to Christ and ask that his son be healed? You know why? Because He wants us to grow. Christ can be surprising. He wants us to grow. When He said what He said in verse 48, one commentator calls it an arrow of tender rebuke. Notice that it says He said to the man and then He pluralizes it. "Unless you people," and it's in the plural. And here's why: when Jesus had the conversation with this guy, there was a crowd around Him. They're from Cana of Galilee. What happened in Cana of Galilee? Water was turned to? Wine. That was the buzz in town. The guy who did that is back! More than that, we heard that He did a lot of signs of healing in Jerusalem. Back to verse 43, you'll notice it: "Now after the two days He departed from there and went to Galilee. For Jesus Himself testified that a prophet has no honor in his own country. So when He came to Galilee, the Galileans received Him". Now that doesn't seem to make sense. Here it's saying a prophet doesn't have any honor in his own country so He goes to His own country, Galilee, and they receive Him. But the way they received Him wasn't with deep, heartfelt faith in Him. They simply received Him because they wanted a fireworks show. They wanted another miracle. He turned water into wine, He healed people, what will He do next? It was a shallow faith. It was a sign-based faith. It wasn't a commitment to Christ. They did not care about His message. They did not care about His mission. They only cared about His miracles. And so He says to him about them all, "Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will by no means believe." I have a question for you. Do you believe God is in charge of your life, of your existence? Do you really believe He's in charge? Do you believe that Father knows best? That your Father knows best? He knows the best thing for you? So if you say yes to that and I'm with you, I believe that, too. I'm right there with you. If we believe that, then the next time God says no to you when you want an answer to your prayer or wait to you, are you ok with that? Are you ok with that, if His answer to you is no? Oh, but God! No. But Lord, You don't understand. No. Are you ok with that? You might say well why would God ever say wait to me or why would ever God say ever no to me--I'm His child? Can't I just say I'm a child of God, I claim right now by faith in Jesus' name that I'll be healed? Yes you can. But He might say no. And you know why He'll say no? Write this down. He is more interested in your spiritual growth than He is in your physical comfort. That's why He would say no or why He would say wait. Somebody put it this way: adversity is the diamond dust by which heaven polishes its jewels. That's beautiful. Do you need any polishing in your life? I'll put it another way. Do you have any rough edges in your personality? Are you… maybe not, maybe you're perfect and you really don't need God to do anything deeper than that, if you think that I'll ask that question about you to your wife or your husband or your children. They may have a different answer. Don't we understand that God allows and prescribes hardships because He wants to knock off rough edges? Peter said the trials that you experience are so that your faith, which is of greater worth than gold which perishes, even though it is refined by fire, may be proved genuine. P.T. Forsythe said something that struck me. He said it's a far better and greater thing to pray for pain's conversion than to pray for pain's removal. We usually pray for pain's removal, right? God, please stop this. Don't allow this anymore! Get rid of this pain! But how about something like this: pray for its conversion. Lord, I hate this. I don't like this. This really hurts but I do trust You. I don't know why You're saying no or wait to me. I don't know why You won't just say yes to me. But now show me what it is You want me to learn. And may this be used for Your glory. Here's the third statement of truth based on our text: first is life can be hard, it drives you to Christ, Christ can be surprising, He wants you to grow, here's the third, faith can be weak--it must be developed. The man who came to Jesus had faith. Very weak faith. It was faith in power. Faith in power. Jesus said unless you people see signs and wonders, you won't believe. There's a certain kind of belief that is in the force, you might say. Some generic power. They wouldn't necessarily trust in Christ specifically, but they believed there's a power generically. The cosmic good. The cosmic force. May the force be with you. Here's the problem: with so many people that believe in some generic spiritual force, they don't care about the source of the force. They don't care about the source. This man didn't care about the source: I just want my son healed. I don't care who does it. I don't care how it happens. I just want my son better. That's faith in power. That's why the man came to Jesus. He heard there's a miracle worker! There's a magician! He can do tricks! He makes wine out of water! He didn't know Jesus any more than that. I heard about a man who was in battle in a foxhole, bullets were flying around him, he had his buddies in the foxhole with him, and this soldier had around his neck on the necklace a cross, a Star of David, a crescent moon, that's Islam, a Buddha, and a rabbit's foot--all on the same necklace. One of the soldiers said, what exactly do you believe? And the guy said, I don't know but in my position, I can't afford to make anybody mad. I just sort of believe in it all. I hope I get it right somewhere along the line. That's where this nobleman started: faith in a greater power that he hopes Jesus has. So Jesus gives him a faith lift. He lifts his faith from that level of trust in power to a higher level. And that's why He gives the man the answer He does in verse 48. Jesus said to him, unless you people see signs and wonders, you won't believe. I'll tell you what it's like. Faith is like a muscle. If you don't exercise a muscle, it gets flabby. If you don't exercise faith, it gets flabby. If you want strong faith, you need pressure against it. So here is a man, he comes to Jesus, he has faith enough to say my son's dying, help! So he can bench press that. So Jesus slaps more weight on it. Unless you people see signs and wonders, you won't believe--more weight. Now the guy didn't say, You're right, ok, I'll go away. He comes right back and he bench presses that and he says, please, please, come and heal him. Come with me. And so Jesus adds more weight to him in developing his faith. Look at what He says, again it's surprising, verse 50: "Jesus said to him, "Go your way; your son lives." So the man believed," look at this, "the man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him, and he went his way." Did you notice that the man asked Jesus to come down with him to Capernaum and Jesus says, go. The man says come and Jesus says, uh-uh. I'm not coming anywhere. You go--away. Go your way because your son lives. Why didn't Jesus just go with the guy? That's what he wanted. That's what a lot of us expect Jesus should do. Just go with them! Do him a favor--heal his son! No, He didn't go with him. you know why? That would be too easy. This man's faith wouldn't grow at all. See, he was a nobleman. He's used to giving orders and people responding to his requests. Jesus says, uh-uh. I'm gonna give you a command. I'm gonna exercise My authority and see what you do with My command. Go your way! And then a promise is attached to it: your son is alive. He lives. Let's see what he does with that. How do you treat the Word of God, the promise of God? When you come across in your Bible a very specific promise about God taking care of your life, do you just go, ok, that's all I need, I can rest right there, take that to the bank? I had the Lord spank me pretty hard in this one a number of times. But one that really comes to mind: I was in college. My funds were really low and I just thought, God wasn't taking care of me like He should. I was pouting all week long. I had run out of food. This is what I had left: a jar of peanut butter and a spoon. That was my meal and then my next meal and my next… till it was gone. God, You don't take care of me! And I've been reading the Bible, I read all about His promises, I just didn't see it. End of the week, you know what I got in the mail? A check from the IRS. It was my tax refund. I shot out of my chair so excited that God… that a check was coming my way. And it was like the Lord tapped my heart and said, you didn't get that excited Monday when you read My Word and I gave you a promise that I would never leave you or forsake you. You didn't jump up. You've been moping around all week long with your face in the peanut butter. Now you get a check from the IRS and you're so excited? Well, yeah, it's a government check, Lord. You can trust the government, they said they're gonna come through with this. You get the drift. I was ready the trust Uncle Sam's promise that I would get money rather than God's promise that He would take care of me. Faith in power or faith in the promise that He will never leave you or forsake you? Here's the, here's the third level and we'll close with this: faith in a Person. Now watch this. There's three times the word believe is mentioned in this, in this section. Number one is believing in wonders and signs, power. The next is believing His Word. But watch this. Verse 51: "And as he was now going down, his servants met him and told him, saying, "Your son lives!" Then he inquired of them the hour when he got better. And they said to him, "Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him." So the father knew that it was at the same hour in which Jesus said to him, "Your son lives." And he himself believed, and his whole household. This again is the second sign Jesus did when He had come out of Judea into Galilee." Do you get this picture? Here's this nobleman. He has traveled twenty miles to see Jesus. Didn't get what he wanted to hear. Jesus finally says go your way. Now the man goes back how many miles? Twenty miles from Cana to Capernaum with nothing to hold onto except a promise that his son was alive. And he goes. And he goes and he hears what he hears. Your son is alive. But there's a word that jumps out. it arrested me and I just can't let it go. It's the word yesterday. When did this happen and they said, "Yesterday at the seventh hour". Now the Jewish reckoning of time begins early in the morning, a twelve-hour count to the sunset of the day. So the seventh hour, by the best scholars that I read, was one o'clock in the afternoon. Do you know what that means? That means when Jesus said to the father, your son is alive, at one in the afternoon, he stayed in Cana until the next day. He spent the night in Cana. He didn't go back home to go to Capernaum until the next day. Now it's twenty miles, a horse packed down with goods can travel at a good speed, twenty miles a day, take a couple hours to get there by horseback. Why didn't the guy get on the horse and book it to Capernaum as soon as he heard it? I can't answer that but I can say this: he really must have believed what Jesus said when He said your son is alive. It's like, ok, I believe that. I'm gonna get a good night's rest and I'll hit the trail in the morning. When he got there the next day, they said it was at one o'clock yesterday, which is exactly the time Jesus said what He said. And notice, he himself believed and his household. Now the word believe means to believe personally in Jesus. That's why some modern translations like the New Living Translation say, and he and his entire household believed in Jesus. That's a different kind of faith. First was faith in a generic power. Second was faith in the promise. This is faith in the Person of Jesus Christ. They believed in Him. Here's the lessons I want you to go home with. God allows trials. He allows trials. If you're a Christian, you're going to have trials. Please never say to anybody else or let people say to you, well if you just become a Christian, all of the problems you have, like little birdies, just fly away because you're God's child. Blech! That's just so not true. You have them and when they come, they will drive you to Christ. Second lesson: God will always answer your prayers not just exactly how you want them answered. And if you wonder why, and you're like me and you want to mope in the peanut butter, it's because your faith grows best in the dark. It doesn't grow in the light. It doesn't grow when everything's perfect and everything works out just like you planned it--doesn't require any faith. Your faith grows best in the dark when you can't see God but you cling to Him. Here's the third lesson: God wants you to believe. That's the theme of the book. That's the reason John wrote it. That's why it's mentioned three times in this paragraph. Believe, believe, believe! God wants you to believe, but not just to believe in belief, to have faith in faith. A lot of people say oh they have faith in whatever they're into, they just really are sincere. He wants you to have faith specifically in Jesus Christ personally. That, that it would be that you would lean your life back completely into His care. That's where He wants to take you and He is committed to that process. There was woman who was dying. She was on her deathbed, very poor, she lived in the fifth story of a beat-up tenement apartment building. She had a friend who would visit her frequently. On one particular day this friend decided to bring one of her friends who was very wealthy and had never been to that part of town ever. So she took her into the apartment complex and this wealthy woman was stunned by what she smelled and what she saw. It was so run-down. There was no elevator. They walked up the steps. On the first level, the wealthy woman said, this is horrible! This place is filthy! And her friend who brought her said, don't worry, it's better higher up. So they climbed to the second floor and the wealthy woman said, this looks worse than the first floor! And her friend said, it's ok, it's better higher up. They finally go all the way to the fifth floor. It is not better physically. There's a woman dying in her bed. It's clean, the apartment is, but dimly lit and very poor and stark. The wealthy woman is just overcome with what she sees and she rushes over to the woman in the deathbed and says to her, I'm so sorry you have to be in this kind of a place going through what you're going through. And the woman in the deathbed smiled and said, but it's better higher up. And then she understood what that other friend was saying all along. It's not about what level of the apartment building you are on or what is your view out the window, it is what is your view of life because you're so close to God that you rise above all of the things that happen to every person. And that is the trials and suffering of life. It's better higher up. That's faith. That's leaning back instead of grabbing the pole because you can see it. That's where He wants to take us.