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Lord’s Day 40, 2009

I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord.”

BALAAM’s wish (m)    Numbers xxiii. 10.
by John Newton (1725–1807)

HOW blest the righteous are

   When they resign their breath!
imgNo wonder Balaam wish’d to share
   In such a happy death.

   “Oh! let me die, said he,
   The death the righteous do;
When life is ended let me be
   Found with the faithful few.”

   The force of truth how great!
   When enemies confess,
None but the righteous whom they hate,
   A solid hope possess.

   But Balaam’s wish was vain,
   His heart was insincere;
He thirsted for unrighteous gain,
   And sought a portion here.

   He seem’d the Lord to know,
   And to offend him loth;
But Mammon prov’d his overthrow,
   For none can serve them both.

   May you, my friends, and I,
   Warning from hence receive;
If like the righteous we would die,
   To choose the life they live.

—from Olney Hymns. Book I: On select Passages of Scripture.

imgJohn 4:43–54

Christ Is Received by the Galileans

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.

Christ Heals the Nobleman’s Son

   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.
imgFour great lessons stand out boldly on the face of this passage. Let us fix them in our memories, and use them continually as we journey through life.
   We learn, firstly, that the rich have afflictions as well as the poor. We read of a nobleman in deep anxiety because his son was sick. We need not doubt that every means of restoration was used that money could procure. But money is not almighty. The sickness increased, and the nobleman’s son lay at the point of death.
   The lesson is one which needs to be constantly impressed on the minds of men. There is no more common, or more mischievous error, than to suppose that the rich have no cares. The rich are as liable to sickness as the poor; and have a hundred anxieties beside, of which the poor know nothing at all. Silks and satins often cover very heavy hearts. The dwellers in palaces often sleep more uneasily than the dwellers in poor cottages. Gold and silver can lift no man beyond the reach of trouble. They may shut out debt and rags, but they cannot shut out care, disease, and death. The higher the tree, the more it is shaken by storms. The broader its branches, the greater is the mark which it exposes to the tempest. David was a happier man when he kept his father’s sheep at Bethlehem, than when he dwelt as a king at Jerusalem, and governed the twelve tribes of Israel.
   Let the servant of Christ beware of desiring riches. They are certain cares, and uncertain comforts. Let him pray for the rich, and not envy them. How hardly shall a rich man enter the kingdom of God! Above all, let him learn to be content with such things as he has. He only is truly rich, who has treasure in heaven.
   We learn, secondly, in this passage, that sickness and death come to the young as well as to the old. We read of a son sick unto death, and a father in trouble about him. We see the natural order of things inverted. The elder is obliged to minister to the younger, and not the younger to the elder. The child draws near to the grave before the parent, and not the parent before the child.
   The lesson is one which we are all slow to learn. We are apt to shut our eyes to plain facts, and to speak and act, as if young people, as a matter of course, never died when young. And yet the grave-stones in every churchyard would tell us, that few people out of a hundred ever live to be fifty years old, while many never grow up to man’s estate at all. The first grave that ever was dug on this earth, was that of a young man. The first person who ever died, was not a father but a son. Aaron lost two sons at a stroke. David, the man after God’s own heart, lived long enough to see three children buried. Job was deprived of all his children in one day. These things were carefully recorded for our learning.
   He that is wise, will never consider long life as a certainty. We never know what a day may bring forth. The strongest and fairest are often cut down and hurried away in a few hours, while the old and feeble linger on for many years. The only true wisdom is to be always prepared to meet God, to put nothing off which concerns eternity, and to live like men ready to depart at any moment. So living, it matters little whether we die young or old. Joined to the Lord Jesus, we are safe in any event.
   We learn, thirdly, from this passage, what benefits affliction can confer on the soul. We read, that anxiety about a son led the nobleman to Christ, in order to obtain help in time of need. Once brought into Christ’s company, he learned a lesson of priceless value. In the end, “he believed, and his whole house.” All this, be it remembered, hinged upon the son’s sickness. If the nobleman’s son had never been ill, his father might have lived and died in his sins!
   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 and worldly comfort, are what all naturally desire; but losses and crosses are far better for us, if they lead us to Christ. Thousands at the last day, will testify with David, and the nobleman before us, “It is good for me that I have been afflicted.” (Psalm cxix. 71.)
   Let us beware of murmuring in the time of trouble. Let us settle it firmly in our minds, that there is a meaning, a needs-be, and a message from God, in every sorrow that falls upon us. There are no lessons so useful as those learned in the school of affliction. There is no commentary that opens up the Bible so much as sickness and sorrow. “No chastening for the present seems to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yields peaceable fruit.” (Heb. xii. 11.) The resurrection morning will prove, that many of the losses of God’s people were in reality eternal gains.
   We learn, lastly, from this passage, that Christ’s word is as good as Christ’s presence. We read, that Jesus did not come down to Capernaum to see the sick young man, but only spoke the word, “Your son lives.” Almighty power went with that little sentence. That very hour the patient began to amend. Christ only spoke, and the cure was done. Christ only commanded, and the deadly disease stood fast.
   The fact before us is singularly full of comfort. It gives enormous value to every promise of mercy, grace, and peace, which ever fell from Christ’s lips. He that by faith has laid bold on some word of Christ, has placed his feet upon a rock. What Christ has said, He is able to do; and what He has undertaken, He will never fail to make good. The sinner who has really reposed his soul on the word of the Lord Jesus, is safe to all eternity. He could not be safer, if he saw the book of life, and his own name written in it. If Christ has said, “Him that cometh to me, I will in nowise cast out,” and our hearts can testify, “I have come,” we need not doubt that we are saved. In the things of this world, we say that seeing is believing. But in the things of the Gospel, believing is as good as seeing. Christ’s word is as good as man’s deed. He of whom Jesus says in the Gospel, “He liveth,” is alive forevermore, and shall never die.
   And now let us remember that afflictions, like that of the nobleman, are very common. They will probably come to our door one day. Have we known anything of bearing affliction? Would we know where to turn for help and comfort when our time comes? Let us fill our minds and memories betimes with Christ’s words. They are not the words of man only, but of God. The words that he speaks are spirit and life. (John vi. 63.)

—J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels (Baker Books, 2007) [Westminster (PB) | Amazon (HC)], 3:251–254.

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Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

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