An Unwelcoming Welcome (John 4:43–54)

“After the two days he departed for Galilee. (For Jesus himself had testified that a prophet has no honor in his own hometown.) So when he came to Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him, having seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the feast. For they too had gone to the feast.”

—John 4:43–45

Here, a puzzling statement makes the following statement puzzling. Unfortunately, we’re tempted to grab the hammer and make the pieces fit instead of doing the hard work of finding out how they fit. Rather than knocking off the rough edges of the first piece, it is after connecting its oddity to the second piece (a piece that initially didn’t seem to go with it) that it comes to make sense.

Jesus departs for Galilee because, as He has testified, a prophet has no honor in his hometown. That’s puzzling. To hammer the piece in place, a number of clunky explanations are suggested. The most reasonable of these is that, as in the synoptic gospels, “hometown” refers specifically to Nazareth. Jesus goes to Galilee, but once there, He doesn’t go to that place He is shown no honor—Nazareth. My problem with this explanation is that Nazareth is nowhere in view, the context doesn’t give the slightest hint of Nazareth.

Instead, I believe that what was true of Nazareth is being expanded to apply to the region of Galilee. Galilee, alongside Judea, is being set in contrast to Samaria. What we see in both Judea and Galilee is the truth John introduced in John 1:11, “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.”

But the Galileans have a peculiar way of not honoring Jesus. They welcome Him. This isn’t puzzling in itself. It is puzzling in how it fits with the last piece. There is a way of welcoming Jesus that does not honor Him. The key word to unlocking what a dishonoring welcome consists of is the word “seen.” The Samaritans, we were told repeatedly, believed because of the testimony of the woman and the word of Christ (4:39–42). But these Galileans, like the Judeans, “believe” because of what they see.

“Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man” (John 2:23–25).

Not all welcoming is welcoming. Not all believing is believing. Not all receiving is receiving. And what distinguishes the true from the false is that in the false the eye is elevated above the ear. Marvel takes precedence over meaning. 

And so it is that Jesus is welcomed in many churches today where the eye is awed while ears remain deaf as the word of the gospel which is the power of God unto salvation is not proclaimed. Charismatic churches provide wonders. Evangelical churches have fog and lights. Even much of the young, restless, and reformed crowd has frequently proven to be more about hype than hearing. Such welcoming isn’t excited to receive the King, but the parade of gifts that come in His train. That this is so, that this is the correct interpretation I take to be clear in Jesus rebuff, “unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.”

Sinner, you do not need to see a sign for faith to be. You need to see the significance of the signs that are and believe. Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. John records these signs so that you may believe this truth and that by believing you may have life in His name.

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