1. This account of the healing of the nobleman's son cannot be the same as the account at Mt. 8:5-13 and Lk. 7:1-10. All that they have in common is the locale (Capernaum) and healing at a distance.
2. Vs. 52 says that the boy was healed at the seventh hour. If that is according to Jewish reckoning of time, 1 pm is meant. But if according to Roman reckoning, 7 pm is meant. We cannot be dogmatic about this. Nor need we be. We do know that the boy was completely restored to health in the moment when Jesus spoke. That is sufficient for us.
3. Very likely this nobleman was a Jew because of what Jesus says in vs. 48. He said this often to the Jews. In this vs. Jesus is not condemning signs. He is objecting because the Jews regarded signs only as sensational wonders and mere entertainment. Jesus brought this nobleman from a "signs" faith to a true saving faith in Jesus' Word. In vs. 49 the nobleman asks Jesus to come to his house before his son would die. Jesus purposely does not go. He focuses the man's attention on God's Word. Jesus says to the nobleman: "Be on your way. Your son is alive." In other words: "Do not worry. My Word can heal your son at a distance." We know that the boy was healed in the very instant when Jesus spoke the Word. The father believed this Word. So did his household, wife, children and servants. More than one person was healed on that occasion.
4. Luther wrote about this text: "Although the Lord performed miracles and signs to make Himself known and to lead people to faith in Him, the underlying purpose was to focus their attention on the Word rather than on the signs which served merely to attest the truth of His testimony. Faith must rest on the Word of God."
5. Another Lutheran theologian wrote: "In affliction faith is practiced and chastened. If a person does not see, taste and experience the help and grace of the Lord, then that person learns to trust the Word and nothing but the Word. That is the true faith, trusting the Lord for its own sake. Such faith comes not from flesh and blood. It's the Lord to which faith clings. That almighty Word works faith." Jesus afflicted this nobleman. He led him from a "miracle" faith to a true faith in His Word. He does this to us also.
6. In vs. 50 Jesus says: "Be on your way. Your son lives." This Word of Jesus was not only a prophecy. It had the power to heal the sick boy. And this Word took the nobleman's worries away.
7. When Jesus cleansed the Temple, Jn. 2:14-17, the Jews asked Him: "What sign do you perform to prove that You have the right to do this?" He said: "Destroy this Temple and in three days I will raise it up." They thought He was speaking about the physical Temple in Jerusalem. But He was speaking about His own body, His death. In vs. 22 John tells us: "When therefore He (Jesus) was raised from the dead His disciples remembered that He had said this and so they believed the Scriptures and this Word which Jesus had spoken." Jesus spoke of a sign which led His disciples to His Word.
8. I Cor. 1:22 tells us: "Jews seek signs and Greeks seek wisdom but we preach Christ crucified, an offense to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks but for those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God." To this day the Jews say: "Prove that Jesus is true God." They want only signs. The Greeks still say: "Give us human wisdom, philosophy." But what do we preach? We preach Christ crucified for the sins of all men. That is what the Word of God says.
9. Just a few months before Jesus' death, the Jews said to Him in the Temple: "How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly." Jesus replied: "I've told you but you won't believe. The works which I perform in My Father's name testify about Me. But you will not believe because you do not belong to My sheep."
THEME: Not By Signs But By Faith In His Word
Evidently this nobleman became a true believer in Jesus because of what Jesus said. When he came to Jesus, Jesus severely criticized his attitude. But the next day when he arrived at his own house we are told that he believed the Word of Jesus. He was changed from merely seeking signs to faith in Jesus' Word.
I. THE WRONG ATTITUDE OF THE JEWS
The miracles of Jesus always did one of two things: Either they helped people to believe that Jesus was the Messiah or it hardened them in their unbelief. St. Paul said later: "The Jews seek signs but we preach Christ crucified." I Cor. 1:22. What did he mean? When Jesus cleansed the Temple (Jn. 2) the Jews asked Him: "What sign do you perform to show that you do these things (cleanse the Temple)?" Jn. 2:18. His answer was about His suffering and death. After Jesus had miraculously fed the 5000 the Jews asked: "What sign do you do so that we might believe in You?" The feeding of the 5000 did not impress them. When Jesus healed the blind man in Jn. 9, the Jewish authorities would not believe that Jesus had performed the miracle. When Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, the Jewish authorities began to plan Jesus' death. About three months before Jesus' death the Jewish authorities surrounded Him at the Temple and said: "If you are the Christ tell us plainly." He answered: "I've told you but you won't believe. The works which I do in My Father's name, these testify about Me. But you do not believe because you are not My sheep." Jn. 10:22-26. Abraham told the rich man in the parable: "If they don't listen to Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead." Lk. 16:31. The Jews do not believe that Jesus rose from the dead. That's what Jesus meant when He said to this nobleman: "Unless you (Jews) see signs, namely wonders, you refuse to believe." This man accepted Jesus' criticism. He said: "Lord, come before my child dies." Jesus said: "Go. Your son lives." This command and promise converted this nobleman. We are told: "The man believed the Word which Jesus had spoken to him and so he went on his way." His going proved His believing.
II. JESUS REQUIRES FAITH IN HIS WORD
The Word of Jesus changed this nobleman's heart and life. Immediately after Jesus said: "Go. Your son lives," we are told that he believed. And the next day he was strengthened in this faith in Jesus' Word. When he learned that his son became well at the moment when Jesus spoke His Word, he believed and also his whole household believed too. What was a wonderful occasion. What happened to this nobleman and his whole family was more important than the healing of his son. The raising of Lazarus (Jn. 11) is somewhat like this. Both Martha and Mary said to Jesus, "Lord, if You had been here our brother would not have died." They were not trusting Jesus' Word as they should have. To Martha He said: "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he dies, yet shall He live. And he who lives and believes in Me shall never die." Then He asked her: "Do you believe this?" and she said: "Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, Who has come into the world." And later He said to Martha: "Did I not tell you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?" Jesus permitted Lazarus to die so that He could teach Martha and Mary a lesson. Jesus permitted the nobleman's son to become very ill to teach this man to believe in His Word.
So it is with us. Because of our sinful nature we often doubt the goodness and power of our Lord Jesus. He wants us to believe that He is the Christ, the Son of God, Who came into the world to die for our sins and prepare heaven for us.