Perception and John 4:43-54

sacks_scourfieldToday I would like to consider the idea of perceptions w/ you. By perception I mean simply the way we see something, or the way we understand something. As I was thinking about this I ran into the work of a neurologist named Oliver Sacks. One of his more famous works is entitled: The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. The book was named after a famous case study of a man Oliver Sacks called, Dr. P. Dr. P suffered from a condition called visual agnosia. w/ visual agnosia a person can visually see things but cannot recognize or interpret the visual information their eyes are giving their brain. In other words, Dr. P could, technically, see the world around him, but he did not always understand it correctly. And so w/ this condition, Dr. P saw his wife, but his brain told him she was a hat. Dr. Ps visual confusion did not end with his wife. Oliver Sacks writes this in his book:

“Not only did Dr. P. increasingly fail to see faces, but he saw faces when there were no faces to see: genially, Magoo-like, when in the street he might pat the heads of water hydrants and parking meters, taking these to be the heads of children; he would amiably address carved knobs on the furniture and be astounded when they did not reply.”[1]

This condition obviously affected the way Dr. P perceived the world. But I would advance that one does not need to have a specific condition to see the world differently than their neighbor. Our upbringings, social circles, and media consumption can all affect how we perceive the world. For example, when I was younger, I remember watching 10 hours straight of the Lord of the Rings movies. And when I finally went outside, the world looked more mythical. The people we surround ourselves w/, or the things we consume can even affect our perception of who God is. And so that is the question I want us to consider today: How do we perceive JC?

In the greater Christian world there is a spectrum of answers to this questions. How you might answer this question could likely depend on the conditions you are coming from and surround yourself w/. For example, a Liberal Christian might say that JC is a man like us. He is there to helps us get through this life, and the bringing of His kingdom is up to us to create. A more Orthodox believing Christian might say that JC is the God of the creeds. But in practice, He might feel detached from reality, and therefore when we speak of His Kingdom we would speak more about our spiritual fellowship w/ God, than anything tangible. There is a spectrum of answers to the question of who JC is, and a spectrum of answers to what His kingdom is like and what it is or is not doing. I believe the challenge we all face is that we see JC through the lens of our circumstances, and often miss out on the greater picture of who He is and what He is doing in our world. The problem is that we see JC incomplete.

This fall we will be looking at the gospel of John, picking up where we left off last fall. My hope is that as we study the life of JC our perceptions would be challenged and we will be confronted w/ a fuller picture of who JC is. NT scholar NT Wright asserts that the task of the gospels is to show us how JC is bringing about His kingdom.[2] And so, our question this fall is: What happens when this God becomes King?

 

Text

To help us explore this idea more, I would like us to turn to John 4:43-54. So grab a Bible and turn to John 4:43. The context of this passage finds JC returning to Galilee. JC left Galilee for the Passover in Jerusalem. There, He talked w/ Nicodemus, cleared the temple, and angered the authorities. JC then decides to head back to Galilee, and takes the direct but sketchy route through Samaria. There, He talks to the woman at the well, and converts the town. And now JC is back in His home turf. He left w/ only His new disciples, and returned a minor celebrity, b/c of His actions in Jerusalem and in between. Perceptions of Him were changing. In John 4:43-54 we will see this. We will see the perception of the crowd, and the perception of an official. So as we read our text ask yourselves the question: HOW DID THE CROWD PERCEIVE JC? And, HOW DID THE OFFICIAL PERCEIVE JC? John 4:43-54:

43 After the two days he left for Galilee. 44 (Now Jesus himself had pointed out that a prophet has no honor in his own country.) 45 When he arrived in Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him. They had seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival, for they also had been there.

46 Once 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. 47 When 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 signs and wonders, Jesus told him, you will never believe.

49 The royal official said: Sir, come down before my child dies.

50 Go, Jesus replied, your son will live.

The man took Jesus at his word and departed. 51 While he was still on the way, his servants met him with the news that his boy was living. 52 When he inquired as to the time when his son got better, they said to him: Yesterday, at one in the afternoon, the fever left him.

53 Then the father realized that this was the exact time at which Jesus had said to him: Your son will live. So he and his whole household believed.

54 This was the second sign Jesus performed after coming from Judea to Galilee.

HOW DID THE CROWD PERCEIVE JC? HOW DID THE OFFICIAL PERCEIVE JC? If we are talking about how the crowd perceived Him, from the text we know that many had seen JCs work in Jerusalem – clearing the temple, a signal of God bringing a new era, and performing miracles. This local boy had returned a healer, and the crowd was excited to see the show. The official, who probably worked in Harods court, heard this news that a healer was in the area. And looking at his dying son, he decides to make the 20-mile journey to Cana to ask him to come to Capernaum and heal his son. The perception in this culture was that a healer must be in-person to work their magic on a patient. The official arrives and asks JC to come and heal his son. And the apparent crowd surrounding JC rubs their hands together, ready for the show they have been waiting for. JC responds to this request w/ what seems like a slightly rude response. The Message Bible has JC say: Unless you are dazzled by a miracle, you refuse to believe. What does belief have to do w/ healing this boy? If you are a Liberal thinking Christian you might downplay such a statement, wanting to focus on the tangible sickness. If you are an orthodox thinking Christian you might downplay the miracles, preferring and focus your thoughts on the spiritual beliefs. As we attempt to separate the spiritual from the physical, JC seems to link them here. Either way, JC words seem to lack warmth in His response. But the Greek tips us off to something here. JC is speaking to the crowd, saying yall. Unless yall see signs you will not believe. JC is addressing the crowd from v. 45. They perceive Him as a magician, not messiah. The official would be in this camp of thought. That is why he made the long journey from Capernaum. But he does not care to explore the philosophical connection b/t belief and miracles. He just wants JC to come. So he asks again for JC to come w/ him to heal his dying son. Then in v. 50, JC turns to the man and compassionately says: Go back home, your son will live. And we are told in the NIV that the official took JC at His word and heads home. A more accurate translation says that the man believed the word JC spoke to him. The word “believed” here finds it Greek root in the word for faith. It means to believe to the extent of complete trust and reliance, to have confidence in.[3] This is the same word used in the Greek Old Testament in Genesis 15:6, when it says: Abram believed and it was credited to him as righteousness. The man in our text believed JC. And what is interesting is that the man obeyed the word of Jesus without ever seeing the sign, or the proof. This is in stark contrast to what crowd wanted out of JC. They wanted to see a miracle and then they might believe. In this moment the man became more like Abram than the crowd. Abram believed Gods promise of having many descendants, even though in the moment he did not even have a son. Here the man believed the word of JC, even when it was not linked immediately w/ seeing the sign.[4] His perception of JC had shifted. This total trust that Jesus would do what he had promised resulted in the man doing as JC said – he headed home. And we are told that as he was on his way, he encountered a servant from his household, who told the official that his son was alive and doing well. The official quick does the math, and figures that his son was healed the moment JC spoke the words that his son would live. JC was the source of the healing. Unlike the cultural perception that healers had to be physically present to heal, JC exhibited power over creation, over the laws of nature, and brought life to a dying boy. The creator returned to dwell as King, among His creation. And we can assume that as the official returned home, greeted his son, and then shared the good news of redemption through JC. And as a result of this, we are told that the whole household believed in JC.

The good news I see here is that JC is a king who brings fulfillment – physically and spiritually. The sick are made well and belief is filled out. In one sense, the healing of this boy brought belief. The crowd wanted to see a show so they could determine if JC was legitimate, but that was not the order of events for this official. JC desired folks to believe the Creator King was now returning to dwell w/ His creation, and healings would simply reveal the Kingdom reality of restoration. And I believe that something like this was what the official discovered. The official grows in belief. He first heads to Cana in agreement w/ the crowd that JC was simply a local healer. He then takes JC at His word, believing JC would heal his son even though he was not physically present. This is confirmed, and his son is found alive. And as he shares his discovery, his entire household believed. The officials perception of JC changed. He moves from seeing JC as a magician, to believing in Him as Lord. The good news that JC is a king who brings fulfillment is played out.

 

Today

So the question for us remains: How do we perceive JC? Do we see Him as just a good Jewish guy who helps us along today? Do we see Him the distant creator who is only concerned w/ our spirituality? The challenge is for us to consider how the conditions and inputs around us affect our perception of our God. I would advance that JC is far more greater and present than we know. We compartmentalize JC into terms that suit our current perceptions and as a result we often approach JC incomplete. But imagine how our perception would be enriched if we lived into the realty that the Creator King has now returned to dwell among His creation, and is bringing about the restoration of His people and Kingdom.

This reminds me of the story of Bob Edens. For 51 years Bob was blind. He couldn’t see a thing. His world was a black hall of sounds and smells. He felt his way through five decades of darkness. And then, he could see. A skilled surgeon performed a complicated operation and, for the first time, Bob Edens had sight. He found it overwhelming. He said: I never would have dreamed that yellow is so –yellow. I don’t have the words. I am amazed by yellow. But red is my favorite color. I just can’t believe red. I can see the shape of the moon. And I like nothing better than seeing a jet plane flying across the sky leaving a vapor trail. And of course, sunrises and sunsets. And at night I look at the stars in the sky and the flashing light. You could never know how wonderful everything is.[5]

I have a feeling that we do not know how wonderful everything is either. I have a feeling that our perception of the greatness and presence of JC could be expanded. The good news is that when JC is king He brings fulfillment –physically and spiritually. He is not confined to our perception of Him. He is the Creator king who has become incarnate, dwelling among His people, restoring His kingdom and His people.

My prayer today is we would be confronted w/ how we perceive JC. And my prayer is that He would reveal Himself more fully. My prayer is that we would have the power to understand, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is – and that we would live into the reality of how awesome our savior is.

Amen.

 

[1] http://nymag.com/scienceofus/2015/08/7-of-oliver-sacks-most-fascinating-case-studies.html

[2] NT Wright’s Lecture at Calvin, “How God Became King: Why We’ve All Misunderstood the Gospels.” The NT Wright Podcast (July 21, 2013)

[3] Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition., Vol. 1, p. 375). New York: United Bible Societies.

[4] Borchert, G. L. (1996). John 1–11 (Vol. 25A, pp. 220–221). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[5] Max Lucado, God Came Near, Multnomah Press, 1987, p. 13.

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