Fighting for Joy During the Holiday Season
By Seeking, Believing, and Remembering Jesus
By Greg Wright
Preached at Grace Baptist Church, Hartsville, Tennessee on December 7, 2008
Welcome to Grace Baptist Church. We are continuing our studies in the Gospel of John. Today we will be considering John 4:39-54, after which we will have finished the fourth chapter. In the text that lies before us, Jesus will perform what John calls Jesus’ second sign. There are seven signs in the Gospel of John; the first one involves turning water into wine. In the sign we will consider today, a dying boy will be healed from a distance. Jesus heals from a distance four times in the gospels. As a result of this particular healing, an unregenerate family will become believers, the deity of Jesus will be further demonstrated, and there will be much joy and happiness.
Speaking of happiness, this is a happy time of year for many people, for on this seventh day in December we are well into the holiday season. The Thanksgiving holiday is over and December 25th is just a few days away. For many this is a joyful season of reunion with family and friends. However, for many others it is a difficult season of loneliness and mourning for those who have passed on.
For while the family in this story received their miracle – their child was healed – other families we know have had different experiences. They prayed, they pleaded, they begged, and they might have even tried to bargain with God. But their loved one did not survive, and when their loved one died, they felt as if their happiness had died with him.
My heart aches for these people, and I especially remember them during the holiday season. I ask myself, what can we do to encourage believers to keep on believing? What can we say to help Christians to stand firm in their faith when trials come? How many believers must we see shipwrecked in their faith because of the things they have suffered? How can we keep people from being washed overboard when they sail through the storms of life?
I am convinced that one thing we can do is encourage Christians to grow in their understanding of how to find joy in Jesus. When the worst happens, Christ is enough, but He won’t seem like enough if your joy is not rooted and grounded in Him. But how do you do that? How do you ground your joy in Christ?
I still remember what a mother said to me after her daughter drowned, “Find my joy in Christ, sure, I would like to do that. Somebody, please tell me how to do that.”
One of the issues in seeking to find joy in Christ is the foundation of joy. Many Christians trust Jesus as the foundation of their salvation but not as the foundation of their joy. Their salvation makes them secure, but it does not make them joyful. Oh, it made them joyful at the point of conversion – at that time nothing seemed more important – but it does not make them joyful now. They have gotten used to their salvation. So in order to have joy, they become focused on other things. Of course we should be thankful for all of God’s blessings, but there is a difference between being thankful and happy about your present circumstances and letting those circumstances become the foundation for your joy. If you let temporal circumstances become the foundation for your joy, your understanding of the value of the spiritual blessings you have in Christ will become clouded and you will be much more vulnerable to falling away if your temporal anchor is suddenly removed.
So how can we learn to find joy in Jesus? One of the ways we find joy in Jesus is by holding onto the truth. We must read truth, sing truth, write truth, speak truth, pray truth, hear truth, think truth, and live truth. Furthermore, we must take this truth to heart. It is not enough to affirm truth intellectually. It must produce in us feelings of delight and affection for our Lord. It is a wonderful exercise to study doctrine. Nevertheless, I am convinced that we have not come close to understanding the beauty of the Doctrine of God until it causes our hearts to explode with love, affection, and zeal, leading us to proclaim with trembling and rejoicing – this God is my God! May God help all of us, me included, to grow in our ability to rejoice in the truth. I think God would be happy to help us; we just need to fervently seek His assistance. After all, believers have the Holy Spirit dwelling inside, and part of the Holy Spirit’s job is to glorify Christ. What better way to glorify Christ than to use the truth to help us to find our joy in Jesus.
One good thing about truth is you can hold onto it no matter how bad you feel. You cannot stop the storm of sadness from coming, but you can prevent the storm of unbelief from coming. You cannot stop doubts from entering your mind, but you can refuse to allow your mind to treat those doubts as facts. You cannot stop the joys of the past from slipping out of your hand, but you can refuse to let the truth slip out of your heart.
For this reason, I am now convinced that the measure of progress as you travel through the valley of bereavement is not how you are feeling but what you are believing. Emotions are unwieldy. They are no measure of progress. They come and go. But if you hold onto the truth, eventually your emotions will be trained to conform to what you believe. So let us all resolve in our hearts, especially those who are presently dwelling in green pastures beside still waters, that our lives will be built on principles, not feelings.
In many ways holding onto the truth is like a fight. The enemy of your souls will use all kinds of devices to get you to loosen your grip. He will employ all kinds of means to break your hearts, discourage your progress, and take away your hope. Therefore, you have to fight against him. As you fight, the weapons you choose are very important. You don’t want to rely too much on argument, for your enemy brings his best attorney. You don’t want to rely too much on logic and reason, for bereavement clouds your ability to think clearly. No, you need to respond the way Jesus did when He was tempted. What did Jesus say again and again? He said, “It is written.” Jesus responded with the truth of scripture. He fought against Satan with scripture.
Today we know about Jesus from scripture. Scripture is the only fully authoritative source for who Jesus is and what He said and did. Jesus reveals the truth, and He is the truth.
Thus, we have both the title for our sermon and our three points: Finding Joy During the Holiday Season by Seeking, Believing, and Remembering Jesus. The subheadings Seeking Jesus, Believing Jesus, and Remembering Jesus will be the framework for examining the text before us. If you have not turned there already, please go ahead and turn to John 4:39-54:
From that city many of the Samaritans believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified, "He told me all the things that I have done." 40 So when the Samaritans came to Jesus, they were asking Him to stay with them; and He stayed there two days. 41 Many more believed because of His word; 42 and they were saying to the woman, "It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves and know that this One is indeed the Savior of the world." 43 After the two days He went forth from there into Galilee. 44 For Jesus Himself testified that a prophet has no honor in his own country. 45 So when He came to Galilee, the Galileans received Him, having seen all the things that He did in Jerusalem at the feast; for they themselves also went to the feast. 46 Therefore He came again to Cana of Galilee where He had made the water wine. And there was a royal official whose son was sick at Capernaum. 47 When he heard that Jesus had come out of Judea into Galilee, he went to Him and was imploring Him to come down and heal his son; for he was at the point of death. 48 So Jesus said to him, "Unless you people see signs and wonders, you simply will not believe." 49 The royal official said to Him, "Sir, come down before my child dies." 50 Jesus said* to him, "Go; your son lives." The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and started off. 51 As he was now going down, his slaves met him, saying that his son was living. 52 So he inquired of them the hour when he began to get better. Then they said to him, "Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him." 53 So the father knew that it was at that hour in which Jesus said to him, "Your son lives"; and he himself believed and his whole household. 54 This is again a second sign that Jesus performed when He had come out of Judea into Galilee.
II. Seeking Jesus
In verse 43 we read, “And after the two days He went forth from there into Galilee.” Where had He been for two days?
As we discussed last time, Jesus was in Samaria. The Samaritans had been so impressed with Jesus that they had encouraged Him to delay His journey, and Jesus had stayed with them for two days.
Amazingly, this had not been a time of notable signs and wonders. Yes, He had demonstrated His divine power by telling the Samaritan woman about her five prior husbands and her present living situation, but it was not for this that the Samaritans had asked Jesus to stay. As they said to the woman in verse 42, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves and know that this One is indeed the Savior of the world.”
Do you know what this means? This means that the Samaritans found the very words of Jesus to be self-authenticating. They were like the officers in John 7:46 who when they were ordered to arrest Jesus, they returned empty handed saying, “Never has a man spoken the way this man speaks.”
And folks, that is the way it is supposed to be now. We generally do not hear Jesus speak today, but we do read His words in our Bibles, and when we read scripture, if our hearts are right with God, we are able to say never has a book spoken the way this book speaks.
The contrast between the way the Samaritans accepted Jesus for His words, and the way the Jews perpetually demanded some kind of sign and wonder side show must have been on Jesus’ mind when He noted in verse 44, “A prophet has no honor in his own country.”
When He arrives in Galilee, the Galileans are looking forward to another side show. Yes, they receive him – they welcome him – but it is because of the signs and wonders they have already seen Him perform at the feast in Jerusalem, as we see in verse 45, “So when He came to Galilee, the Galileans received Him, having seen all the things that He did in Jerusalem at the feast; for they themselves also went to the feast.”
So it is that in verses 46 through 48 when the nobleman asks Jesus to go to his house and heal his son Jesus answers, “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you simply will not believe.” While the answer is given to the nobleman, the word you is plural, meaning everyone there and possibly meaning the Jewish people in general.
Nevertheless, there is much here to commend this nobleman and to encourage us, for this nobleman sought Jesus dependently, humbly, trustingly, and persistently.
First, he sought Jesus dependently. Nothing brings out our dependence upon God like having a child with an incurable disease. This is true today. We have the best hospitals mankind has ever had. We have the most sophisticated methods of treatment that mankind has ever devised. We know more about the operation of the human body than we have ever known. Yet, every year young children die from cancer and other things. Rich parents, poor parents, wicked parents, Godly parents, unbelieving parents, believing parents, charismatic parents, orthodox parents, the death of children occurs in all classes of society.
So it is with this nobleman. Surely, he would gladly have given all he had to save his son. Doctors could not save him. Drugs could not cure him. Riches could not protect him. Power could not shield him. But Jesus, the nobleman thought to himself, maybe Jesus could save him. Maybe Jesus would save him. It was worth a try.
Suddenly Jesus had the nobleman’s attention. Most people do not spend much time thinking about God until they realize their dependence upon Him. Some never realize it and perish. Others don’t realize it until something tragic happens. Then, suddenly they are awakened to their need for God. But what a wonderful thing, that God would wake us up. What a blessing that God would do what is necessary to get our attention and to make us realize our dependence upon Him. If you are just now starting to realize your dependence upon Jesus, there is hope for you. You need Jesus not only for this life but for the life to come. For it is only in dependence upon His saving work on the cross that you have any hope of entering heaven. And if God has suddenly awakened you, tremble not that you have ignored Him in the past, although you dare not ignore him now.
One of the things for which we depend on God is the forgiveness of sins. Sometimes people stop repenting before God because they no longer feel like they deserve to be forgiven. Oh, let us realize that we never deserved to be forgiven in the first place. Seeking Jesus is always the right thing to do. And is this not a reason to rejoice? You never wear out your welcome with Jesus. Most likely, you are familiar with the idiom of people burning bridges in relationships. But the bridge back to Jesus is never burned. The path back to Jesus is never blocked. The door back to the heart of Jesus is never locked, no matter what you have done. What a reason for joy!
I don’t know whether or not the nobleman had been a Godly man in the past, but I do know this: once he realized his dependence upon God, he did the right thing in seeking Jesus dependently.
Second, we note the humility with which the nobleman sought Jesus. He could have sent servants, just as the Centurion did in Luke 7, a completely different story. The nobleman could have had his servants try to explain to Jesus why he deserved this favor, just as the centurion did in Luke 7:4-5, “When they [the centurion’s servants] came to Jesus, they earnestly implored Him, saying, ‘He [the centurion] is worthy for You to grant this to him; 5 for he loves our nation and it was he who built us our synagogue.’" But the nobleman does not send servants; he goes to Jesus himself.
We see the humility of the nobleman again in how he interacts with Jesus. Jesus had a way of testing people’s faith by giving them a gentle rebuff, which He did when He said, “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you simply will not believe.”
While the answer is given to the nobleman, the word you is plural, meaning everyone there and possibly meaning the Jewish people in general.
For this nobleman is most likely a Jew. Verse 46 says he is a royal official, so he probably works in Herod’s court. As a man of high position, he might have taken offense. Surely he was not accustomed to having people speak to him in this manner.
Many do take offense over the way God has dealt with them. They become angry and bitter towards God.
What about you? Are you angry with God because He did not answer your prayers and heal your loved one? If so, this implies that you believe that God is all powerful, that God has power over all things including disease.
Do you hate God because you are now miserable and lonely? Do you despise God because you know He could have given you happier circumstances? If so, this implies that you believe that God is very wise, so wise that He can make anything happen that He wants to make happen.
You are certainly right to believe that God is infinitely powerful and infinitely wise. But do you not also believe that God is infinitely good? Do you, instead, hate God because you believe He is evil? Do you think He takes delight in seeing you suffer? If you look at just the loss of your loved one, you might be tempted to criticize God. But is that the whole picture? Is that sufficient information for knowing the goodness of God? Even if you think you can accuse God because of your losses, can you look at what God gave up and still accuse Him? Look at the cross. Can you still send a railing accusation against the Father while hearing the groaning of His bleeding son?
The God who is all knowing, all powerful, and all wise sent His only begotten Son to die a miserable death on the cross. Why did He do that – so that you could hate God, reject God, and be tormented forever in Hell? No, He did it so that you could be reconciled to God and enjoy the blessings that God has for you, blessings that begin in this life and that are abundantly multiplied in heaven.
Oh come; look at the dying Savior on the cross, and don’t take your eyes off of Him until you can lay your hatred down. Let your questions be absorbed by the mystery of the cross. See the crown of thorns on Jesus’ head. Feel the lingering sting of the whip that stripped the flesh from His back. Gasp as He pushes His feet against the nails in order to straighten his legs just long enough to take another breath. Let your anger be consumed by His suffering. Let your rebellion be destroyed by His love. Let your sins be washed away by His blood.
Do not try to evaluate the goodness of God based on temporary circumstances. This world and its suffering are passing away. In contrast, what Jesus did on the cross has eternal value and significance. It is at the cross that the goodness of God is most fully displayed, and it is at the foot of the cross that we must see every accusation against God silenced. Instead, humble yourself before Him. For the day is coming when the reason for the abundance of suffering will be understood, not just by you, but by all redeemed intelligent moral beings.
Perhaps you are in pain right now. Humanly speaking, you see no way there can be any good in it. Nevertheless, it is a necessary deduction from God’s word that there is good in it. For God ordains all that comes to pass, directly causing some things and indirectly permitting other things. He ordains all things with wisdom, power, and love. Now, if God does indeed ordain all things, then it is logically inconsistent that any of your pain would be random or wasted. So even while you are hurting you have reason for believing that your pain is not in vain. Now, if you know enough about God to realize that your pain must have a purpose, even if you do not know that purpose, is this not a reason for joy?
Third, we note the trust with which the nobleman sought Jesus. In the passage before us, the nobleman probably did not know what Jesus would later do on the cross, but he did trust Jesus enough to seek His pity. Certainly, we would not seek pity from a man who was indifferent towards us. We would not willingly seek pity from a person we knew to be devoid of compassion. That this nobleman would seek pity from Jesus reveals his trust in Jesus’ character. We see this in the nobleman’s choice of words, as he begins to plead with Jesus again and again, saying "Sir, come down before my child dies."
This time the nobleman uses an especially tender word for child, paidion. In using this more intimate term, the nobleman is perhaps hoping that Jesus will be moved by the tender affection that a father as for a son when that son is on the verge of death. He is hoping for the compassion and empathy of Jesus, and He is hoping that this compassion and empathy will move Jesus to go down with him to Capernaum. In doing this, he affirms the tenderness of Jesus’ heart towards people, especially people who are suffering.
We could learn from this. It is easy for us to forget this while we are urgently pleading with God to save a child’s life. It is almost as if we were saying, “Jesus, I love my child. Won’t you try to love him as much as I do?” If we stopped to think about it, surely we would realize that God loves them more than we ever could.
In the months ahead, Lord willing, I am looking forward to preaching on John 11 where Jesus resurrected Lazarus, but do you remember what happened before that? In John 11:3 Jesus received a message from Lazarus’ sisters saying, “Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.”
And what did Jesus do? He let Him die. Before he resurrected him, He let him die. What kind of love is that? And when our own loved ones are taken we are tempted to ask, what kind of love is that? Is this love? But consider, it’s a love that marks the end of suffering and the infancy of immortality. It’s a love that brings believers into the very arms of God, and this is a reason for joy.
Fourth, we notice that the nobleman sought Jesus persistently. When dealing with Jesus we must be persistent. I have heard of people who have said the sinner’s prayer, hoping to become Christians, and who upon finding that they were just as wicked as before decided that Christianity was not real. Rather than persisting in seeking God, they showed their insincerity by giving up.
But I ask you, is God an errand boy waiting to do your bidding? Is God anxiously waiting for you to make some nonchalant profession of faith? Is God a beggar, pounding on the locked door to your heart, pleading with you to let him inhabit a tiny corner of it?
Or maybe you regard yourself as some kind of magician. You imagine that by saying the right words and praying the right prayer you can obligate God to save your soul.
Think again. God is sovereign in salvation. He responds to the faith He has given. Temporary, counterfeit, insincere faith does not force His hand.
In the same way, God is sovereign in healing. Even today, sometimes when people seek God in prayer, diseases are healed without any kind of natural explanation.
Regardless of the outcome, what a wonderful thing it is that Jesus is not offended by our persistence in seeking Him. A mere man would become angry and resentful if we were persistent. Not so with Jesus. He delights in all that brings us close to Him. So should we. And is this not a reason for joy, that Jesus is not offended by our persistence?
In summary, those are the ways in which the nobleman sought Jesus. He sought Him dependently, humbly, trustingly, and persistently.
III. Believing Jesus
Then something wonderful happened. When Jesus responded the second time, he said, “Go your son lives.” The nobleman believed Jesus.
Nevertheless, Jesus’ response must have been startling. I would have been tempted to say, “Wait a minute, how do you know he lives? You have not even seen him. You don’t even know what he looks like. You don’t know where I live.”
But the nobleman didn’t ask any of these questions. He simply believed Jesus. In this way he was like the Samaritans, who without the benefit of signs and wonders believed Jesus because of His word.
And is that not what we are called to do today? We do not have Jesus physically with us – Jesus is in heaven – but we have His word, and we are called to believe it.
The nobleman would have to keep on believing for some time. There is a distance of about twenty miles between where Jesus was and where the nobleman lived. The nobleman would not see the fruit of his faith until the next day.
For many of us, we have to believe for even longer. Not everyone gets the answer the nobleman got.
Here is the kind of answer some of us get. There has been an accident. All they can tell you over the telephone is that your child’s condition is serious. You take some comfort in the fact that your child is a Christian. You know his soul is safe. Still, you wonder what you will find when you get to the hospital. When you arrive you are escorted to a conference room. The doctors sit on one side. You and your spouse sit on the other side. The attempts at gentle euphemisms are overshadowed by the harsh truth now revealed – your son is dead.
But there is another voice, an even louder voice, a voice that resounds in that place where believing children go, a voice that delights those who dwell in the safety of heaven. And although you cannot hear it with your natural ears, you hear it with the ears of faith – your son lives.
Just as the nobleman believed Jesus for a few miles, by the grace of God you will be able to believe Jesus for a lifetime, until Jesus Himself brings you across the border that separates between death and immortality, points you in the right direction, and says to you, “There he is, go, your son lives.” But that day will come, and since we know that it will come, is this not a reason for joy?
IV. Remembering Jesus
We have a lot of joy to look forward to. Meanwhile, the nobleman was about to know joy too. Imagine how delighted his servants were on the next day to be able to tell him that his son’s fever was gone. A lesser man might have been so overcome with joy that he would have forgotten the God who made this joy possible. People often forget Jesus once they get what they want, but not this man. Instead, he looked for reasons to keep on believing. He inquired regarding the hour his son’s fever went away, thereby confirming that it was at the same time that Jesus said, “Go, your son lives.”
In the same way, whenever we face trials, it is useful for us to try to remember the faithfulness of God in the past. If you look for reasons to keep on believing, you will find them.
A very discouraged Christian might complain saying, “Why should I be encouraged? Why should I find joy in Christ? My miracle never came. God never did a miracle for me. He never said to me, ‘Go, your son lives.’”
No miracles? What kind of miracle are you looking for? You don’t need the miracles of holiday fantasy. You don’t need the kinds of miracles you see in television shows and movies. You need real miracles, miracles with eternal value. And these you have.
You don’t need angels earning wings every time a bell rings; you need the Holy Spirit leading you through this life and into the life to come.
You don’t need self-centered, irresponsible dads who through some kind of Christmas magic suddenly become Santa Claus when Santa retires, thereby becoming responsible people who make their sons proud of them. You need the real Savior who loved you so much He died for you.
You don’t need the nebulous spirit of Christmas that the Grench could not steal and destroy; you need the real nativity, the real miracle of Christmas that took place in Bethlehem.
You don’t need the miracle on Thirty-Fourth Street. You need the real miracle that took place in the tomb at Gethsemane when Jesus was raised from the dead, and this you have.
And there is another miracle coming your way. Sooner than you realize, you are going to be leaving this world, and when you do, don’t be surprised if you find an angel standing beside, his arm outstretched, pointing you towards heaven’s gates, and shouting with joy and delight, “Go, God’s Son lives.”
Meanwhile, because God’s son lives – because Jesus lives – you have every reason you need for living. In fact, it’s not even your life anymore. It is the life of Christ lived through you via the Holy Spirit.
He will be there for you. You will never be alone. You will never be unloved. You will never be forgotten. You will never be without counsel and direction. In this life you will experience the presence of Christ through the Holy Spirit, and in the life to come you will see Jesus face to face. Remember the faithfulness of God in the past. Cling to His promise to be with you always. And as you remember the faithfulness of Christ regarding what He has already done for you, is this not a reason for joy?
Joy to the world, the Lord has come.
Joy to the world, the Lord abides with you now through the Holy Spirit.
Joy to the world, the Lord will come again.
Let us pray. Dear heavenly Father, even in the midst of pain and sorrow, You have given us many reasons for joy. May they animate our zeal, undergird our faithfulness, and lift our hearts towards heaven. Amen.