Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Mercy of Affliction - John 4:46-53

"He came therefore again to Cana of Galilee where He had made the water wine. And there was a certain royal official, whose son was sick at Capernaum. When he heard that Jesus had come to Galilee, he went to Him, and was requesting Him to come down and heal his son; for he was at the point of death.

Jesus therefore said to him, 'Unless you people see signs and wonders, you simply will not believe.' The royal official said to Him, 'Sir, come down before my child dies.' Jesus said to him, 'Go your way; your son lives.' The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him, and he started off.

And as he was now going down, his slaves met him, saying that his son owas living. So he inquired of them the hour when he began to get better. They said therefore to him, 'Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.' So the father knew that it was at the hour in which Jesus said to him, 'Your son lives;' and he himself believed, and his whole household."
(John 4:46-53)

Affliction is a fact of life. It happens - more often than we'd like. It crosses all of our paths. It breathes down all of our necks. It finds a way across the threshold of all of our homes. Sooner or later it hunts us down and hits us hard. In this life we will have trouble - some way, some how, some time.

Affliction is common to man. What is not always common to man is how we view it and how we respond to it. This passage in John 4 is a telling text on suffering. Several things pierce me this day as I meditate on this section of God's precious Word.

First - the characters in this true story teach us much about those who are the recipients of affliction. In the opening scene, we meet the father - a royal official. He is a man of power and prestige. He is no commoner and he is no pauper. This is a man of means and of influence. Yet this is a man who is facing a terrible trial - his son is at the point of death. Power, pomp, prestige nor purse can keep us from trouble. The rich and mighty face tough times as well as the poor and wretched.

Next we meet the father's son. In my reading I find myself assuming that he is a young man, though the text does not clearly spell that out. In this character we find sickness and the real possibility of death falling upon a son and here we are reminded that youth is not a guarantee of life and that being in the spring of life is no promise of having eternal summers of health. The first death in this world was the death of a son - young Abel - who was killed by his own brother. Suffering is common to man and it is no respector of persons young nor old nor in between. Be not surprised if it strikes you or your loved ones - no one is exempt from heartache and affliction.

Second - the ultimate outcome of this story teaches us much about the good purpose of affliction. At first glance, there is nothing pleasant about this scene - nothing! It's a BAD day! A son is dying! A father is desperate! But, praise God that a sovereign Savior is near!

What is amazing, beautiful, and wonderfully encouraging to me is that this horrible situation is the very thing that serves as a catalyst for the greatest blessing and grandest good that will ever happen in both this father's life and in his son's. This dastardly sickness drives them to Jesus. The father had a need - his son's failing physical condition - and that need caused him to flee to Christ. If suffering forces us to Jesus then praise God for suffering and may He bring it on as needed for our growth in grace!

The father cried out to the only One he thought might be able to help. As is His custom, Christ would show Himself compassionate to the father's cries and full of healing power for the son's dire situation. What a great God we serve! He would show Himself able to heal the body of the boy and, even more wonderfully, able to heal the souls of the boy's entire family.

Had a son not lay dying, had a father not been grieving, then perhaps the Great Physician would never have been sought out. Had He not been sought, He would have never been found. This affliction served a greater purpose than the temporary heartache. This difficult trial served as the entry way to eternal good. This suffering brought about the salvation of an entire family - and while ultimately they would all die a physical death at their appointed hour - this was the appointed hour for the sting of death to be removed - forever!! Had there been no temporary trial there would have been no eternal triumph. Know that is is true for us as well, Christian!

Ryle writes: "Affliction is one of God's medicines. By it He often teaches lessons which would be learned in no other way. By it He often draws souls away from sin and the world which would otherwise have perished everlastingly. Health is a great blessing, but sanctified disease is a greater. Prosperity is what we naturally desire, but losses and crosses are far better for us if they lead us to Christ!"

Psalm 119:71 records that "it is good for me that I was afflicted, that I may learn Your statutes."

Some of us know the truth of these words from experience. I do. I have seen time and time again that "God causes all things to work together for the good of those who love Him, for those who are called according to His purpose" (Rom 8:28). I have seen over and over and over how, in God's economy, some of the most difficult times of my life have ultimately been the greatest times of growth and refining. I have gained MUCH more in the house of sorrow than in the house of laughter. Yet I seem apt to forget these truths in the midst of trial and am prone to wander and lick my wounds and wallow in self-pity when I am in pain. I am a stubborn and often stupid sheep. Not only that, but I seem to find myself a stubborn, stupid sheep with a bad case of amnesia!! How grateful I am for a gentle, patient, and preserving Shepherd. I am also thankful that the sanctifying outcome of all the lessons in the school of life are ultimately dependent upon the promise of God and not upon the performance of me!

That fact brings me to the third lesson I have learned from this text: this story teaches us much about the reliability of the Word of Christ and of our need to trust in it during affliction. The declarations of our God as found in His Word are an anchor that will hold fast in any storm that blows our way in this fallen world.

Look at how the scenario before us unfolds. The royal official hunts Jesus down and pours out his plight before Him. "Please have mercy on my son, He lies dying." Christ responds simply with these words: "Go, your way; your son lives." And live he did! Jesus didn't jump up and run to the boy's bed. He didn't send a potion nor even pray a prayer. He simply made a statement and it was so!

The next day, as this father is walking home, his servants meet him on the road and inform him that indeed his son is healed. He asks them when this healing occurred and discovers that it was at the seventh hour - precisely the hour when Christ spoke His word of promise. Christ's Word is sure. It is a firm foundation. It is a safe haven. What He says He will do.

Oh beloved, do we believe the word of Jesus? Do we hold dear the precious promises that He has given to us? Do we trust Him to bring about what is best for us - even if it has to hurt for a moment - even if it has to hurt for many moments? Do we doubt Romans 8:28 and the character of the One who stands behind its promise?

The scalpel of the Great Physician is not always pleasant and quite often it is very painful. But the instrument of affliction wields an eternal good for the patient who bears up under it. It is the very tool that will remove the cancer of sin from our hearts and make us more like our Master.

Do not grow weary in your affliction. Do not doubt that He will accomplish that which He has ordained for you. Do not fear, He is near though we see Him not. Do not despise the day of sorrow. As the father of this dying son did, flee to Jesus for help and mercy in your time of trial.

Christ did not have to be physically present for this miracle to occur - He spoke and it was done! The same is true this day. "Christ's word is as good as His presence and what He has said He is able to do. What He has undertaken He will never fail to make good!"

May we not be foolish regarding trials - they will come to rich and poor to young and old. They will come and they will come with providential purpose. Most importantly, if they cause us to fall more fully upon Christ then they are truly of the greatest value and we need to beg Him for mercy and strength to embrace affliction as a merciful gift rather than fear it as a destructive force.

In His glorious grace,

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