You need to see signs? Well, here is one!
Jonathan Rowe, 6 November 2022
John 4: 46–54
How many signs have you seen today? I expect it’s a great number if we count up the road signs we passed on the way to church, the icons on our phones, the words in our newspapers, buttons on various home appliances, and so on.
Signs are all around us. Most often, they point to something else; they are like road signs. But sometimes a sign does more than that. It is related to the thing it points to; there’s a connection between the sign and the thing it signifies.
That’s the case with Jesus’ signs. Can you remember what Jesus did? He healed the royal official’s son, bringing him back from the brink of death. The healing of just one boy is a sign of new life for everyone.
The healing of just one boy is a sign of new life for everyone.
It’s interesting that John, the writer of the gospel, identifies this healing as Jesus’ second sign. Many readers find a total of seven signs. The final one is the resurrection, another sign that demonstrates the thing it points to. The resurrection to new life signals the definitive defeat of death: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory’ (1 Corinthians 15: 54).
At the end of the gospel, John explains that the whole book was written to record Jesus’ signs. John says, ‘Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples … but these are written so that you might come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life’.
Like all signs, the signs of life that Jesus gives invite us to take notice and do something about them. The red traffic light tells us to stop; the green to go. Jesus’ signs invite us to believe in him and enjoy the life he gives.
Sometimes, though, it can be quite hard to believe. Jesus recognises this. When he says, ‘Unless you see signs and wonders’ he is not, I think, frustrated at people’s unbelief, but simply saying that because people often need a bit of help with believing, he will give it. You need to see signs? Well, here is one!
This attitude of grace is clear in how he helps the royal official believe one step at a time. The official has rushed 15 miles uphill from Capernaum to Cana to ask for Jesus’ help, urging him to travel down to Galilee. Jesus says that he will provide a sign – a promise that the official believes, while still urging Jesus to come with him. Jesus doesn’t do that but tells the official to go on his own, because, Jesus promises, the official’s son will live. The official believes just that much, and returns home.
On the way, he learns that his son has indeed been healed. John says he believed not just ‘the word that Jesus spoke to him’, but believed. John means ‘believed’ in the sense of the Bible’s most famous verse, John 3: 16, ‘Whoever believes in God’s only Son shall not perish but have eternal life’.
You may have noticed that all the people in our reading are on the move. We, too, are pilgrims on a journey, and I think there are two things, in particular, which our reading highlights for our travels.
First, belief grows step by step. Like any journey, our pilgrimage of faith doesn’t require that we reach our destination in one leap. Jesus meets us where we are; we simply need to notice the signs given to us and respond as we are able. I wonder, what does that mean for each one of us, today?
Second, the church is intended by God as a sign of his kingdom. So we must ask, how does our church reveal, not merely point to, God’s presence? We could talk about the many things we do. And that is important. But I think there’s something more: we need to expect God to be working.
One of my friends asked me recently, ‘Do I expect Jesus to show up in church?’ It’s a good question. It’s also, perhaps, a challenging question. But it’s also a hopeful question, because when he does, he brings signs of a new life for us all. Amen.